London Day 4: A stabbing and Harry Potter Studios!

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On the fourth day of visiting London I finally got my head screwed on straight.  I should have explained this earlier but I’ve always shied away from blogging about Payam’s diabetes and health problems because he’s pretty private about it himself. He’s the kind of guy who seems incredibly healthy outwardly. He’s so full of life. Like Joon, he throws himself enthusiastically into anything and everything and if you didn’t know any better you’d think he was in the prime of his life.

Recently however, he’s been prescribed some pretty strong new medication by a new endocrinologist. While he adjusts to the new medication, his night pills give him waves of nausea. This is normal and expected and usually manageable when we are home because he sleeps through most of the symptoms. BUT when you travel across the globe and night becomes day, that nausea now becomes a day problem instead of something you can sleep through. And thus the reason Payam has been sick every morning of our trip. Poor guy!

You’d think I’d be more understanding but I’m a go-go-go kind of traveler. I hate wasting time and money AND Payam is pretty good at fooling everyone that he is fine usually. So sometimes I forget that he is sick.  If I could go back in time I would manage my expectations and schedule in an intentional down day, or two! I would send myself off on tours by myself and stop pushing everyone else to go with me. Sadly, it’s too late now. But I have learned my lesson and I will apply it in the future, believe me!

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Back to screwing my head on straight: I finally accepted that Payam wasn’t going to be in the mood for any touring and exploring in the morning. It just wasn’t happening so I took the girls and we did our thing, like we often do at home! We are a crew. We always go off and get doughnuts and treats just the three of us so why not do that in London too!

I wasn’t up for exploring any new parts of town (still too scary) but I was up for taking the girls and myself out to coffee at our new favorite cafe, Notes, on the other side of Trafalgar Square. It’s just a few blocks away in the super trendy (thirty-something-party-time-hang-out) neighborhood of Soho. Joon loves sugar with a side of hot tea and Bug loves iced lattes.  I know, bad for both of them but we were on vacation so I looked the other way and downed my own hot latte.

On that particular morning it rained!!! The girls and I were so excited to have traditional London weather that we’ve read and seen so much about. Wet stuff from the sky! Where are our boots and umbrellas?!  Of course we didn’t pack boots or umbrellas with us (who has room for that?!) so we bought one umbrella (that changes color when you get it wet!) in this really cool bookstore by our hotel and two more from a souvenir stand outside.

Then as we were walking with our new umbrellas down the sidewalk (or pavement as the Brits say) we spied this really narrow alley. It was literally about three feet wide and you couldn’t even walk down it with your umbrella all the way open. The girls were immediately intrigued and begged to walk down it. It was long and dark and you couldn’t really see what was at the other end but it was mid-morning so I wasn’t really afraid of meeting Jack the Ripper or anything.

BUT THEN!!!! Halfway down the alley, as the light from the other end started to shine in onto our path, we saw AN ACTUAL STABBING!!!! I kid you not. One guy in a black coat groaned and bent over suddenly while another man standing beside him thrust something into him (or maybe it was the other way around). There was no blood and all we could see were movements and coats but I failed to mention that above this whole scene was a sound boom and a man with a big movie camera and several fancily dressed crew members to the side.

Yeah. We walked straight into a movie set. Here’s a close-up of the shot I took of Bug with the movie crew in the background super pixelated.

We stood there in our tracks fascinated. We didn’t know whether we should keep walking towards the crew or turn around and head back the way we came. There really was no other way to go and we were obviously right in the middle of their shot because we could see the big black shiny circle of the movie camera pointing directly at us and everyone was staring at us. No one shouted at us to move or anything so we hovered there for a bit until I was overcome by shyness and hustled the girls back the way we came.

We saw a stabbing!! A stabbing in London! The irony of it was not lost on the girls because all of us have been watching the news and we are all well aware of the terrorist attacks in London lately. We’ve gotten the warning travel emails. We’ve seen the barricades at the bridges and the entrances to squares to keep cars from running over people. We’ve shied away from crowds and hurried through touristy areas, trying to keep the statistics of us being involved in anything threatening to a low number. But we were also fascinated by the thought of a real movie being shot right in front of us. The girls begged to go around and watch from the other side but by that time we were running out of time so I had to say no. One side of a movie-making scene would have to suffice. Who knows, maybe we’ll be befuddled tourists in the background of some blockbuster someday. You let me know if you see us.

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But we definitely have a good story for when we get back home!

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We hurried back to the apartment to tell Payam all about our adventure and get ready to head off to The Warner Brothers Studio Tour of the Making of Harry Potter ! What a crazy day, right?

We were a little excited about Harry Potter if you can’t tell from the photo above. I’ve read all the Harry Potter books but I desperately need to read them again because I have speed-readers syndrome and I remember next to nothing of them. Joon is a huge fan, which you already know from her Harry Potter birthday party. Bug likes to think she’s a Slitherin and Payam knows next to nothing about the whole Harry Potter phenomenon.

Here’s a fun fact: The Harry Potter Studios are 20 miles away from Central London. Guess how long it takes to get there? It can take anywhere between 45 minutes to two hours if there is traffic! We failed to research that fine point. Since we are from Southern California and don’t use public transportation very often, we just assumed an uber would be the fastest way to get there. We allowed ourselves one hour because we thought it would take 30 minutes and we like to be early. Bah-hah-hah!

So the fact that the girls and I took a little bit longer than we should have due to the whole stabbing incident  to get back to the the apartment was a leetle bit of a problem.

Good thing we had the fastest Uber driver in all of London. He was so fast! His Waze traffic app was going off every five seconds because he was ignoring the speed limit regularly and probably getting himself fined by uber. He was great though.

We had a lot of uber drivers while we were in London (because we are idiot Southern Californians who don’t know how to take a bus or a subway) and some were really happy and talkative while others were stone cold.  They barely said hello. It was like they might catch something if they engaged in any conversation with us. Whatever. We got over it.

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In a streak of good luck, lots of side routes and expert driving we made it to Harry Potter Studios only ten minutes late.  Can you believe it?!!  And they totally let us in, in spite of the threatening warning notices that our ticket slots were not guaranteed. Those Brits. All scary warnings and no follow-through. We were so relieved. The whole crazy drive there we were sweating it that we’d pay all this money and have to turn around and go back.

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Harry Potter Land was AWESOME. It isn’t a theme park with rides or attractions like Universal Studios Wizarding World of Harry Potter theme parks in Orlando and Hollywood. It’s a giant five warehouse tour of the behind-the-scenes making of the movie and it is a-maz-ing. Well worth the money, I say.

I really loved how they gave credit to every artist, craftsman, sound crew member, animal trainer, animator… etc etc etc that worked on the movie. It really was a way to let everyone shine instead of the usual movie stars stealing the show. Of course they were part of it too but you really got to see what a great big happy family all the crew members became over the course of TEN YEARS. Ten years! That’s a pretty good gig for a lot of people and by the popularity of the studio tours it doesn’t really show much sign of stopping. Harry Potter is wildly popular and probably will continue to be so for a really long time.

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All because of Butter Beer! Just kidding. But I will say Butter Beer was a pretty big draw for my kids and every other kid who likes sickeningly sweet drinks. No, I didn’t try it. I hate sweet drinks! Why would I do something stupid like that? So that was fun.

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Everything was fun. Even Payam who hasn’t read the books or seen the movies had a great time. He’s probably the best actor in the family and he had an especially fun time interacting with the green screens. Me, I’ll keep my day job.

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Yes, that’s a dementor sneaking up outside of our railcar window. Don’t worry though it was done really well and just spooky enough to be fun. I think even toddlers would have a blast on this tour. It really is amazing for all ages.

As an artist, I really was impressed with all the attention to detail and the behind-the-scenes how-it’s-made aspect. You know I love making things. I would die of happiness working on these movies. It must have been a dream ten-year gig. You could take days going through this tour examining every detail and learning about everything. They say most people take two hours to walk through the tour but one guy spent FOURTEEN HOURS (!!). I don’t think I could do that but I can definitely imagine it. It was all crazy interesting. Every little bit.

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I’m wrote up a really big post about the Harry Potter Studio Tour over at alphamom.com if you’d like to read more about it. It really was exceptional and I’m so glad we added it to our travel plan.  Four cheers for Harry Potter!

Day Four: Happiness Achievement Unlocked.

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London Day 3: Hop-On-Hop-Off Bus Tour

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By day three in London I was waving my white flag of failure. Jetlag had won and there wasn’t anything my wonder-woman-go-getter-self could do about it. I was so angry about it too. Jetlag took one look at me and laughed. I see you want to go visit eleven museums and take a tour of the underground railway system. Hah! I present you with two whiney children and raise you a domestic partner who feels nauseous every morning at breakfast. Have fun with that list of things you really wanted to do. Cheerio!

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Does anyone remember that comedy skit where the comedian says something like,  Don’t get married. Just go find someone you really like and take a trip with them. If you still like them at the end of two weeks then you can get married. You’ll save yourself thousands of dollars…or something like that… Heh. It’s pretty good advice. Take a trip with me twelve hours out of my time zone and my true self raises it’s ugly head of rage.

What? Little ol’ mouse-voiced Brenda?! Who knew!  Probably everyone but if Payam was thinking of marrying me someday he might not be thinking so much about that now. Just kidding. I kept  my anger under wraps for the most part but it is really true that if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

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By day three I pretty much had my will to explore drained completely out of me. I didn’t care anymore.  Wanna go sit on a bus for three hours? Sounds good to me. In fact, it was the perfect thing to do. I was so tired and the kids were so tired. All we wanted to do was sit on a bus and listen to a humorous tour guide rattle on about buildings and history.

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I couldn’t tell you what those humorous stories were now. Something about a wedding cake and a really great architect who was buried in a crypt without any flamboyance, just a little plaque that said the church itself was all the headstone he needed… or something like that.  It was all very very interesting! I loved every story! I wish I had a transcript of the tour guide’s spiel because it was great. Really great.

It was like bits and pieces of European History that I didn’t pay attention to in high school suddenly falling into a timeline that I could understand and laugh about because it was about real people! Except my brain was running on random access memory because of jet lag and I turned off my computer before it could save anything so now all those stories are gone. Kablooey! Out my ears and off into the nether, never to be remembered again.

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If you should find yourself in London, I strongly recommend this tour. But don’t go when you have jet lag or anger issues about your family having jet lag. Go after a day or two. Take a notepad and write down the places you want to learn more about and write down the streets and addresses because guess what, your wifi won’t do squat for you (even though you bought the $10 a day plan) and your mapping apps will mock you. It will be like 1992 all over again and you forgot to print out a map before you left your hotel.

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On the far end of our bus tour we decided to get off and take a river cruise back. It was nice. We had a late lunch on the water while another tour guide told us even more funny stories.

We had the forethought to stop into one of those EAT shops before we got on the boat and bought sandwiches and a hot dog for Bug from a nearby cart vendor. The sandwiches were so cheap and for the most-part eatable. A little dry but not un-delicious. Everything is expensive in London so finding an egg-salad sandwich for two pounds was something to get excited about. I kinda wish we had something like that here in the states. I love to picnic and if I could just pop into a little store and buy a sandwich for two bucks all packed in a cute paper sack I would totally do that! Plus, they have every kind of sandwich you can think of and chips (aka crisps) and a zillion other things too. It’s a family’s rainbow of tastes dream come true. And believe me, we are a challenge when it comes to finding a restaurant that has something for everyone.

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After the boat ride, Payam went back to the hotel to rest (again. He really wasn’t feeling well still.) and we went back to our old favorite stomping grounds around the River Thames and the London Eye. This was like our backyard by now but not unpleasant because there was always ice cream and street entertainment.

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That night we yelped a hamburger restaurant (and finally found it two hours later thanks to our lack of wifi and our ever moving marauders map) that I loved. Payam wasn’t as keen on it as I was (the flavor of the meat was just a little bit different) but it was so nice to find a quiet spot after bustling through throngs and throngs of London thirty-somethings.

London seems to be the supreme place to party if you are young and without kids.  If you have kids, it’s a fun game of “Hey, don’t look over there. Let’s look at something else. No, you don’t see a drunk guy vomiting in a dark corner. Let’s look away!” So that was fun. Payam and I would have had a blast partying the night away but not so much with kids.

We had a fun party back home in our apartment instead.

But don’t worry tomorrow’s post will be all about the kids and FUN, FUN, FUN!!! Harry Potter Land did not dissappoint.

A quick little addendum note: Please notice all the photos that Joon took while I was feeling un-photographer-esque. I’m so glad I packed my old camera and had the thought to let her use it. Because if I hadn’t, this post would not exist. Also up tomorrow: A stabbing in London! Don’t worry, it’s not what you think.

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