England, France, Belgium 2016

Harry Potter Studios

We had talked about going to see the Warner Brothers Studios where the Harry Potter movies were made, but hadn’t booked a visit.  We looked into it after our day in Stonehenge and Bath and realized that the tickets sell out well in advance.  We found out that the only way we would be able to go at all would be to do a super exclusive VIP tour.  So, we went for it.  And it was fantastic!

We were chaperoned on the train from London to the station at Watford Junction.  Then, our Warner Brothers guides met us and a double decker bus drove us to the studios.  There, we passed by the film lot where they were just wrapping reshoots for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  We could just see the sets of 1920s New York!  Once inside, we bypassed the huge lines and went right in.  There were a couple of introductory films, and then the screen lifted and we were standing in front of the doors to the Great Hall.

All of the sets, props, and costumes are the authentic ones used in the films and they are spectacular! 

We saw Dumbledore’s Office,

the sword of Gryffindor and the sorting hat.

Here is Snape’s Potions classroom…

and Hagrid’s Hut interior…

These vault doors were super cool….

and here is Malfoy Manor…

and the Black Family tapestry…

Almost everything is life size and beautifully made.

Our guides took us outside for a quick Butterbeer away from the crowds and then we were on to the second half.  We saw the Knight Bus, 4 Privet Drive, and Godric’s Hollow.  

Next, we saw the wing dedicated to the creation of Magical Creatures.

and then on to Diagon Alley.

We saw many, many more things, but it would take all night to write about them all.  At the end of the tour, we saw the model of Hogwarts Castle.  This was used in all of the overview and fly by scenes.

It was so unbelievable.  Even though we love Harry Potter world at Universal, this was just so much cooler because everything was real.  It’s something all of us will remember forever.  

Tonight, we are packing up and getting ready to fly home in the morning.  I wish we could stay longer!  I’m usually ready to go home by the end of our spring vacations, but this time, I wish I had another month or two.  It could be that this trip was shorter than our usual overseas stays, but I think it has more to do with England itself. We truly, truly love London, and England in general.  I would be very happy to live here….maybe someday!!

Kids’ Day!

We declared today Kid Day in London and Hayden and Violet got to choose everything we did.  The first thing on their agenda was a trip back to Holland Park adventure playground this morning.  Here they are on the zip line.

After spending an hour or so at the park, we took an Uber to Regent Street…

to spend some time at Hamley’s, a 6 story toy store.

We went to lunch and then took the underground to The British Museum. 

We only had about 25 minutes before the museum was going to close, so we tried to see the main sights as fast as we could.

This is the real Rosetta Stone!

We saw a few more Ancient Egyptian artifacts…

and then on to the Greek gallery.

It was interesting to see these pieces that were taken from the Parthenon because when we were in Athens, the New Acropolis Museum points out all of the missing frieze sculptures and makes it very clear that they are in London, where they do NOT belong!

We only had time for a few more sights before they politely told us to leave.

When we got back home, Neil and Violet decided to go back to the park and met this peacock!


Tomorrow is our last day here.  We are going to the Harry Potter studios to close out this trip.  Can’t wait!



My favorite family photo ever!

Today was so incredible!  We took the train from London to Liverpool this morning and met our fantastic guide Jackie.  The first thing we saw was St. Georges Hall.  Its where Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them was just filmed.

Next, we saw Paul McCartneys LIverpool Institute for Performing Arts, and this cool sculpture just outside the campus.  The Magical Mystery Tour Bus pulled up just in time for our photo op.

Our next stop was the house where Ringo was born.  Since the whole block is scheduled to be demolished, we were able to sign our names.

This pink and white house is the place Ringo lived with his family until he was about 20.

We stopped at Penny Lane

..and the kids got to play a bit in the middle of Penny Lane!

Heres the barber and the shelter in the middle of the roundabout

Next, we stopped by the house John Lennon lived in until he was 5.

..and Georges childhood home

and Johns house on Menlove Avenue.

Then, we headed to the church where Paul first saw John play with the Quarrymen.  The graveyard here has Eleanor Rigbys tombstone.

Next, we went to Strawberry Fields.it was amazing!

We also saw Paul’s childhood house…

and went down into the Cavern Club.

And so many other cool things, but there’s just too many to write about them all!

We were all excited to see all of the Beatle sights, but we weren’t expecting Liverpool to be such a beautiful, vibrant city.

We really loved Liverpool.  It was an incredible day and we are so thankful we got to see it in person!

Brussels, Belgium

We caught a super early Eurostar this morning and headed to Brussels.  We weren’t worried about our visit, but I know a lot of our family and friends had concerns about us coming.  It was a little disconcerting that the first thing we saw when leaving the train station was the Molenbeek district, notorious for terrorist cells.  It definitely wasn’t a place we wanted to hang out, but the other areas of the city felt safer.  Our guide was very opinionated (to put it nicely) and talked a lot about European and American politics.  It’s always intersting to hear what the rest of the world thinks about our government.  

Our first stop was the Atomium.  It’s a giant model of an iron molecule and was part of the world’s fair in 1958.

From here, we headed to the European Neighborhood, home of the EU Parliament.

We got to go into the Parliamentorium, which was very cool, and explained how the EU Parliament works.

Next, we happened upon Auto World, a very happy accident for Hayden!

We saw lots of buildings in the Liberty Style….

and we also visited the St. Michael St. Gudula Cathedral…

and the Triumphal Arch…

Last, we walked through the old city and checked out all kinds of old pubs and shops, and sampled a real Belgian Waffle.


There’s still so much more to do in London, so that is our plan for tomorrow.

Tower of London and the National Gallery

This morning, we got up and planned on taking an Uber to the Tower of London, but after about tweny minutes into the ride, we realized it was going to take forever to get there by car.  So, we hopped out and took the tube instead.  The whole Tower of London complex is huge and has a very bloody history.  Lots of royals were executed just outside its gates.  

I think our favorite part was seeing the Crown Jewels.  Unfortinately, photography wasn’t allowed, so you will have to imagine.  Lots of gold, lots of diamonds, huge sapphires and rubies.  They were really incredible.

After the Tower of London, we took the tube to the National Gallery.  We didn’t see everything, but we covered a lot of ground.  Here are a few highlights….

We went out to dinner and are back home now, getting ready for an early morning tomorrow.  We will be on our way to Brussels at 6:00 am!

La Ville des Lumières et de la Pluie

Paris!  Sunday morning, we took the Eurostar under the English Channel and two hours later, we were in Paris! We stayed at the gorgeous Hotel Chambiges Elysées, right in the heart of the Champs-Elysées in the 6th arrondissement.  We dropped off our luggage and went for lunch at the same café we went to our last time in Paris, six years ago!

After lunch, we walked along the Seine and soaked up the atmosphere. 

Our driver and guide Philippe picked us up in the evening and we headed out. We basically covered the entire city and saw so much, like the Opera House...

…Notre Dame (where we kind of re-created a picture from six years ago!)

…the Moulin Rouge...

…and we finally ended up at the top of the hill at the spectacular Sacre Couer.

We found a restaurant that was open for dinner at 10:30 pm and were there until almost midnight.  After dinner, we headed back to the Seine to see the Eiffel Tower in the mist.

We walked back to the hotel and planned to get up the next morning and head to Le Louvre.  Except…we didn’t wake up until 11:00!  We threw on our clothes and grabbed an Uber, but when we got to the museum, the line was the longest we have ever seen, and we would never have had enough time.  So, we headed back to the hotel for hot chocolate and coffee, and then back to Gard du Nord to catch the train back to London.

The plan for tomorrow is to check out the Tower of London and maybe Abbey Road, if the weather cooperates.  If not, then we will go to The National Gallery.


Stonehenge and Bath

Today, Jeff, our driver, picked us up and we drove a couple hours until we reached Stonehenge and met our guide Cheryl.  We started off at the site’s museum, which was very cool.  We learned that Stonehenge is about 5000 years old and that is was partly used as a burial site.  We also learned that there was a village of huts nearby that was only discovered eight years ago.  After touring the museum, we headed up to the stones themselves.They are massive and they fall in line with so many natural phenomena, it’s no wonder the ancient people found them magical.  They are aligned with the sunrise and sunset on the solstices, and they follow “lay lines” or energy fields.  Our guide brought divinig rods, and we were able to feel the energy ourselves when the rods crossed each other when we were in the field, and separated when we weren’t.  It was unbelievable!

 After spending quite a while walking around the stones, we headed to Bath.

The Romans built a spa using the natural hot springs in 60 AD. They are incredibly well preserved and the water is still flowing.  An entire city was built on top of the abandoned spas in the 16th and 17th centuries and it wasn’t until the 1800s when one of the houses had a leak in the cellar that the baths were discovered.  The excellent Roman engineering kept the original water system running for all of those years.

This picture is at the current town’s street level looking down on the baths at their original level.

This is where the natural hot springs flow into the bath.

After touring the Baths and their museum, we headed up to the Royal Crescent.

The Royal Crescent is a beatiful row of 30 terraced Georgian style homes by John Wood the Younger in the 1700s.  When constructed, the purchaser bought the facade length, and then had their own architects design the interior.  So, each townhome is identical on the outside, but completely different on the inside. From here, we headed to the Circus.


These are three separate townhouse buildings, also Georgian, that form a circle following closely with Stonehenge’s dimensions.  There are intricate carvings above the doors which represent all different arts, sciences, and masonic symbols.  

It is a truly unqiue place and we are so glad we saw it.  Today was another great day, and a long one.  We just have to power through because after our 11 hours on the go today, tomorrow morning we have to get to the train station early to head to Paris.

Big Ben…Parliament

Today was a fantastic day in London!  Before I get to that, this is the house we are renting in Kensington…

We love it.  Our guide for today, Joe and our driver, Jeff picked us up this morning and our first destination was Trafalgar Square, the center of London.

We learned so much about the significance of this square and these lions (they took the artist 25 years to complete!).  Our next stop was Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey.

Next, we stopped at the House Guard arch to honor the grand tradition of harassing the guards.

We saw the changing of the house guards…

and on our way to Buckingham Palace, we saw the filming location for Number 12 Grimmauld Place in the Harry Potter movies…

Then, we saw the ceremony for the changing of the guard at the palace.

We aren’t totally sure, but think we saw the Prime Minister go by with his police escort…

From here, we checked out St. Paul’s Cathedral 

and Leadenhall Market which dates from Roman times...

We headed down to the Thames...

and went to the fabulous Borough Market which has absolutely every time of food and drink you can imagine.  It was so cool to walk around and sample the dishes.

We walked along the Thames, and stopped in the Tate Modern before continuing down to the London Eye.

Violet was a little scared because she doesn’t love heights, but she was a good sport about it.  From here, we took an Uber back to the house and are relaxing a bit before we head out for dinner.  Tomorrow, we start early and head to Stonehenge and Bath.  


We made it to London this morning.  Our flight was super easy, but felt longer than we expected it to.  Once we made it to Heathrow, we took the train to the Hilton.  We rented a day room so we could sleep for a while.  Our driver picked us up and drove us to our amazing house in Kensington.  It’s so beautiful here!!  We dropped off our bags, explored the house a bit, and then hit the road.  We grabbed lunch at a cool restaurant…

 and then headed to Holland Park.  We walked through the gardens and walkways and ended up at an incredible playground.  The kids had the best time on all of this fun equipment.

It was a great first day, but today was really just about getting settled.  We are all feeling great now, having some dinner at home, and looking forward to a good night sleep so we can get into the heart of the city in the morning.


Heading to London May 2016

We are traveling back to England this year, and will be spending a little time in Paris and Brussels as well.  It’s been eight years since we have been in London, so we are all really looking forward to it.  We have rented a house in Kensington, and that will be our homebase for this trip abroad. 

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