Fortunately, I know how to say “my throat is sore” in French, so I was able to go to the local pharmacy for some kind of over-the-counter spray that tasted like a hospital but made my throat feel blissfully anesthetized.
Husband and I hopped on the enormous train, and before we knew it, we had zipped across the French countryside, under the English Channel, and into King’s Cross/St. Pancras Station in London!
After catching the London Underground (AKA “The Tube”) and stopping off at our hotel in Hampstead to leave our luggage, we made our first foray into the city, to Piccadilly Circus.
Now, if you’re like me, you’d be expecting to get off the train and see elephants and lions, not a construction zone like this picture above. However, as Husband and I discovered, virtually EVERY landmark in London has some part of itself under construction, as part of the general nationwide shining-up in time for the 2012 Olympics. Also, though, the “circus” in Piccadilly is more of a figurative thing…
Anyway, we stopped there to get our London Passes, which granted us a magical day’s access to the entire Tube network and entry into just about anything in London that was open to the general public. Sweet deal! And in Day 7, as you’ll read soon enough, we made excellent use of the passes.
“Come on!” Husband beckoned. He had taken the lead on all of our London escapade-planning. “We’ve got places to go!”
“Where?” I asked, my eyes wide with ingenuous excitement.
“You’ll see,” he answered with a mysterious grin that usually means I’m in for a marvelous surprise.
Well, Husband did not disappoint. He took me first to a Tube stop that had THESE for wall tiles:
Can you divine where we were? Why, it’s quite elementary – but here’s another clue:
221B Baker Street, the home of Sherlock Holmes!
Of course, Holmes was, ahem… fictional (shh!), but his residence on Baker Street is real enough, right down to the constable outside the door! The interior is a complete museum, but we did not take the tour because we were apparently on a tight schedule to the other mysterious destinations ahead of us. I did slip my camera through a doorway, though, and get this shot of the study:
Our next stop looked awfully familiar for a city I’d never visited before – we had returned to King’s Cross station! BECAUSE THAT’S WHERE PLATFORM 9 ¾ IS, GUYS.
YEAH. The portal to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Husband saw it way back in 2005, soon after it was opened to the public for gratuitous tourist photos. We marched confidently to Platform 9, knowing that between it and Platform 10 waited a modern literary legend.
Remember how I said London is totally under construction right now? Apparently that applies to magical folks, too. We searched Platform 9, part of which was partitioned off. We searched Platform 10. Platform 9 ¾ was GONE!
I implored Husband to ask somebody what had happened to it. He approached a station employee, and before Husband could say a word, the man said, “Platform nine and three-quarters is through that way and out the door.”
Apparently a lot of people have been trying to find Hogwarts lately.
So many, in fact, that the kind management at King’s Cross printed this placard for us!
Wasn’t that nice of them? We found the relocated platform, and I got my gratuitous tourist photo:
By this time, Husband was champing at the bit to keep moving. “We’ve got somewhere else to go!” he implored. “The most important place!”
“Where?” I demanded, but he was tight-lipped about the whole thing, and off we went to another part of town. I snapped this picture of him looking all excited and Cheshire-Catty on the way:
After we got off the Underground, we walked and walked… and walked some more. I started making guess after guess, hoping that Husband would give something away.
“Is it that bookstore?” “Is it that pub?” “Is it from a movie?” “Does it have to do with Mary Poppins?”
He didn’t crack. But as soon as I saw where we were, I did.
Husband had led me to 48 Doughty Street, where Charles Dickens lived.
When I saw the plaque, I literally (and literarily) burst into tears. This is the very house in which Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist were written.
Charles Dickens, in case you don’t know, is tied with C.S. Lewis as my favorite author OF ALL TIME. His writing is so beautiful, his characters so memorable, and his love and respect of the written word so obvious in every paragraph he ever committed to paper, that reading his work is like sitting down with a treasured friend I’ve known forever.
I could not stop the tears leaking out of my eyes as I stood in front of this house. Husband asked me if I was okay, and I nodded vigorously. Husband thought I was crying because of this, though:
You’ll note that he’s about to cry as well.
Remember how I said that practically all of London is under renovations? Well, that apparently includes the Charles Dickens Museum. Husband was SO DISAPPOINTED! I felt so bad that the impending Olympics had spoiled his surprise.
Except that they hadn’t. It was still the best surprise I could have wished for on this trip, and just standing on the threshold, looking in the windows that Dickens himself looked out over 170 years ago, was more than enough for me.
We also pushed open the mail-slot and papparazzied a picture of the hallway before we left.
Another Dickensian pilgrim approached the house while we were still there, and we shared the tidings of the museum's refurbishment with her. She was kind enough to point us to another historical spot nearby (though nowhere NEAR as significant): a building that was originally erected in the fifteen hundreds!
Not quiet Dickens cool, but still cool. We rounded out the day by returning to the Hotel Britannia in Hampstead for all-we-could-eat fish and chips. I liked this statue in the lobby, so I took a picture of it.
I hate to end such a jolly blog post on a very serious note, but I have a pressing question in need of an answer.
What is a Brolly?