DM and MM's Britain 2009 Diary

Day 22 - Harry Potter, Spitalfields

Sunday, 21 June, 2009

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Pizza Express, Euston Road. 19:00

Platform 9 3/4 We're having our last dinner in England and decided to have pizza one last time. The sun is still high in the sky as we sit at our window table and watch the traffic and people pass by on this busy thoroughfare. I'm going to have the four seasons pizza, while M. is doing the "Padana" spinach and goat's cheese one again. We're also going to try the dough balls, which look so intriguing on the starters menu.

We had another relatively relaxed day as we ease towards our lengthy flight home. We rose late and had breakfast at the nearby Pret a Manger again - it's a cheaper and less heavy option than eating at the hotel. M. went back to the muesli and yoghurt after trying the hot oatmeal yesterday. I also had that, plus one of their very nice almond croissants. We used the free wi-fi to check e-mail from M.'s family, and I posted a quick blurb to LiveJournal.

Following breakfast, we headed off to Spitalfields to check out the Sunday market there. We attempted to get a single train to Liverpool St Station by walking over to King's Cross and St Pancras tube stop. Since we were there, we wandered into King's Cross station itself to see the Platform 9 3/4 installation - a brick wall with a luggage trolley half embedded in it. The station was being refurbished and we could only see platforms 1 to 8, but a quick look around spotted a sign pointing down platform 8 to platforms 9 to 11. Figuring it must be that way, we wandered off, only to find a sign directing Harry Potter fans to a temporary site off platform 8. Following this we found the 9 3/4 site, where two young women were posing and taking photos of themselves with the trolley and sign. They left as we arrived and we had the site to ourselves. We posed for some photos and then a young girl and her mother arrived. We let them take some photos as we swapped around, and by the time we were ready to do another round of poses, they had gone already!

King's Cross Train King's Cross Station itself looked rather old and decrepit, and not at all the grand open space shown in the movies. I suspected that the movies might have used St Pancras Station right next door as the location, so we went to go have a look at that too. St Pancras indeed was a more open and airy space inside, and much more impressive looking. But as an international station, it had security barriers, meaning we couldn't get out on to the platforms.

Done with the overground stations, we took the stairs leading down to the combined King's Cross-St Pancras Underground station. We planned to get the Circle or one of its parallel lines along this section to Liverpool St Station. But as we entered the station, we found signs saying that that part of the line was closed for the weekend! It suggested alternate bus routes and said to allow an extra 45 minutes for journeys! But fortunately, there was also an alternative using trains, catching the Picadilly line south to Holborn and the Central line from there to Liverpool St. It took a little longer than direct, but not as much as taking the bus, for which we would possibly have needed to change buses twice according to my study of the bus map.

Spitalfields Market At any rate, we made it to Spitalfields and walked over to the market, which was marked on my map as "Old Spitalfields Market" and described in the Lonely Planet as inhabiting a Victorian warehouse. What we found was a bright, modern space with new cafes and restaurants backing on to large open areas under a gleaming steel and frosted glass roof, where hundreds of market stalls were set up. The whole thing could easily have been built in the last year or two.

Whatever the provenance, the market was an interesting mix of clothes, jewellery, leather goods, crafts, books, music, art, flowers, fresh food, and cooked food. It was the best of the markets we've seen after the brilliance of the Borough Market. There were hundreds of people browsing the stalls and more sitting in elevated eating positions on a mezzanine above the action. It was a very well organised and laid out market and contained some interesting stuff.

Baklava Vendor For lunch we bought some intriguing looking spicy potato "wraps", which actually resembled a naan filled with a potato filling. They were chewy, delicious, and filling. The savoury side satisfied, I also got a huge "American style" chocolate brownie, which was truly enormous, very chocolatey, gooey in the middle, and contained numerous chunks of chocolate throughout. It was awesome. M. got a take-away coffee from one of the adjacent cafes.

By now it was about 14:00 and we needed to make tracks back into the city to pick up our planned Harry Potter walking tour with London Walks at 15:00. The original plan to take the Circle line train from Liverpool St to Temple was scuttled once again by the Tube closure along that line, so we hopped on a 388 bus along Bishopsgate and Victoria Embankment. Alighting on the embankment adjacent to the Thames, we walked along to Temple station, wondering how many people would be there for the tour. We saw a crowd of about 50 people, including many children, and knew we had the right place.

Harry Potter Assembly A man in a cream linen suit and straw hat, who looked exactly like Mr Weasley, was taking money off people, so we paid our £7.50 each for the guided walk. More people trickled in and we must have numbered close to one hundred, if not more, by the time we left. The guide took us a short distance up a street to a spot where he could address everyone, and introduced the walking tour. He explained that it was boring seeing the film locations because many are only used in establishing shots or altered so much in production that you don't even recognise them. This tour was instead a tour of locations that inspired J. K. Rowling and provided some of the geography and history behind the events and locations in the books. Having said that, he admitted that the first stop on the tour would be a film location, since it was one that you could actually recognise and was largely unaltered for the movies.

Before we left though, he requested some assistance and recruited from the children present a rather young "Harry", on whom he arranged a mop-top wig and round glasses, transforming the boy into a respectable Harry Potter. He also got a girl to volunteer to be "Hermione" and placed a pointy black witch's hat on her head and a broomstick in her hand. He chose well, since so decked out the girl was a spitting image for Hermione in the first movie.

Hermione and Harry Thus assisted, Mr Weasley led the way north to the Strand, in particular a spot at Aldwych with which we were familiar from our previous travels through this bus junction. He stopped right in front of the doors of Australia House, home of the Australian High Commission, which we'd noticed in passing earlier in the week. But this time, primed by our journey to Platform 9 3/4 and in the mindset of Harry Potter, a very different thing sprang to mind: Gringott's Bank. Indeed, as Mr Weasley now explained, the Gringott's scenes were filmed at Australia House. We couldn't go in, it being a Sunday, but he said the foyer, with its expansive ceiling and huge chandeliers, was exactly what was shown in the first film. He also went on to explain why Rowling had made the bankers goblins - basically because she didn't like bankers, although he embellished the tale with suitable theatrics. The tour group was so large that it was hard to get close enough to hear him all the time, and the loud traffic nearby didn't help.

Harry Potter Walking Tour Mr Weasley next led us behind the Lyceum Theatre, which was quieter, and told us the story of why Bram Stoker's name was engraved on a stone there, and his connection to vampire lore and how it inspired Rowling (mentioning an incident referred to in Order of the Phoenix in which Hagrid tangles with a vampire). Next stop was a small square opposite the Coal Hole, where Aleister Crowley used to hang out, of course renowned for magic and alchemy. Mr Weasley related various stories of Crowley and his relation to the inspiration for Voldemort, leading into the search for eternal life and the Philosopher's Stone.

This led us onward to a back-alley which used to be called Exchange Alley (recently renamed to Exchange Court), where share exchange deals used to take place. Mr Weasley told a story of a man who sold a thousand shares in a business to be revealed for a down payment of £2, to be increased to £100 after his business plan was announced. The shares sold for the measly cost deposit of £2 each, and the guy skipped off with £2000 and was never seen again. This related back to Harry Potter in the form of a similar scam to sell people the false hope of turning lead into gold - by using a "wand" full of sulphur to make a pot of molten lead turn yellow like gold. The alchemist would flee with a hefty fee before the dupe discovered the truth. Mr Weasley then told the story of Nicolas Flamel, who supposedly died at a very old age and was buried, but then spotted alive 300 years later. When unbelieving people dug up his grave, he wasn't in it! And apparently he's been sighted a few times since.

Ministry of Magic Entrance The next stop was the spot described by Rowling as the entrance to the Ministry of Magic, at the west end of the Strand, turning north to an impressive government building with a phone box outside. This turned out to be the Charing Cross Police Station. Mr Weasley put "Harry" in the phone box and had him dial 62442 as described in the book to gain entry to the Ministry, and proceeded to generate a smoke effect, but Harry failed to vanish. Mr Weasley blamed it on the Ministry being closed on Sundays.

The final stop was through a very narrow passage between buildings - single file required - that led out to an alley containing antiquarian and esoterica shops with swinging wooden signs above the doors - the inspiration (as stated by Rowling herself) for Diagon Alley. One of the shops even had owls for sale! - stuffed ones. Mr Weasley said that since he started these tours, their sales of owls had really taken off. What a hoot! Finally, he ended the tour with a birthday surprise for one of the kids - some demonstrations of magic and recruiting all the kids in the group to help him despatch the dreaded basilisk, which was a giant spring-loaded snake that popped out of an enormous wand that he used. A collapsible sword was produced and the basilisk duly slain, to cheers from the kids.

Pizza x2 The whole walking tour had taken just on two hours, and was a lot of informative fun. Mr Weasley received a round of applause and crowd slowly dispersed. Being 17:00 how, we returned to our room by bus to relax a bit before dinner. I had a shower to freshen up and did some stretching exercises. Then just before 19:00 we went out for dinner.

Premier Inn. 21:430

Cheescake Shot Dinner was good. After the meal, we ordered some dessert. I was intrigued by the strawberry and lemon gelati, but wondered if they were dairy-free or not. I felt like having them, but only if they were sorbet-like as fruit gelati often are at home, and not if they were dairy based. So I asked the waiter if they had any dairy in them. He went back to the kitchen to check and returned to announce sadly that they did have dairy in them. I said that that was okay, and ordered the banoffee pie instead. This was a banana and toffee pie, smothered in whipped cream, on a biscuit base.The waiter went away and returned a minute later, looking a bit confused and said the banoffee pie also had dairy in it. I explained that I knew and it was okay, I was just interested in the fruit gelato only if it was sorbet-like, but I was fine with dairy in general.

The pie was excellent, and M. had a mocha to round off her meal. Done for the day, we returned to our room to relax before our big travel day tomorrow. Our flight doesn't leave until 22:00, so we have most of the day to see some more of London. The plan is to take it easy though, and simply to try to work our way through some more of the British Museum before we have to leave for the airport.



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