10 Days in London - Days 7 & 8

Day 7 - Sunday

Our first Sunday in London. Sundays are meant to be easy going, and that’s exactly how we took it. We left the apartment around 10am to go market hunting once more.

First, we payed a visit to Columbia Road Flower Markets - and by gosh they were packed. It’s one street with stalls on either side, and walking through the center is like diving into the heart of one long mosh pit. Though, admittedly mosh pits move much faster.

Despite the pushing, shoving and trudging through the streets, there was still quite a lot to admire. Being cherry blossom season, many of the stalls had beautiful stock of both white and pink cherry blossom branches. We’re also coming into tulip season and starting to to see a taste of the of what we’ll be seeing in the Netherlands in a few week’s time. This is the thing that a Ash is most excited for in the whole trip.

From the flower markets, we made our way a few suburbs over to Brick Lane Markets. These markets have a bit of everything - vintage clothes, electronics, furniture, art and crafts. Because we’re travelling for over 4 months though, anything we’d buy would need to be carted around with us for a long time (and our bags are full as it is!). So we’re not buying anything, but we probably would if we were on a shorter holiday.

Ash had put Brick Lane on the itinerary for a different reason though. She knows (too well) how much I love bagels, and Brick Lane also happens to be home to Bagel Bake - one of the most famous bagel shop in London. And you can see the line from far away:

The queue for Bagel Bake - and it’s a 24 hour joint too!

The queue for Bagel Bake was long, but it moved fast. To my surprise, when we got inside we found that the bagels were much smaller than we usually find in the US and back home in Australia. And they were a softer consistency as well.

We both had a bagel with cream cheese and salad, and it was good… but not great. I’ve grown accustomed to different varieties of bagels being available. For example, my favourite bagel is a garlic bagel with sriracha smear from Odelay Bagel Co in Phoenix, Arizona. Most other bagel stores I’ve visited have a range of different flavoured bagels to choose from and those flavours are what gets me most excited about bagels - especially the savoury ones. I found Bagel Bake’s bagels a bit soft and doughy for my liking, as well as limited in choices of both flavour and toppings.

After finishing our bagels, we started walking through the surrounding streets of Shoreditch to admire the street graffiti that seemed to decorate every road we walked down. I was busting to go to the toilet, so we didn’t spend as much time taking photos as we ordinarily would have. Looking back, I wish we did. Here’s the one that caught my eye most though;

Shoreditch Street Art

We deliberately left the rest of the afternoon open in our itinerary, so that we could explore the city without an agenda. So we kept walking through Shoreditch and taking whichever turns seemed right. Our intuition (or something to that effect) must have paid off because a couple of streets away we came across The Boilerhouse Food Hall and its weekend vegan food markets were in full swing.

Being vegetarians, we got pretty excited when we saw the signs inside for vegan food. There was so many good stalls that were 100% vegan, but the one that caught my eye and my wallet was Nulla Mors. They were selling a vegan brisket burger with mac and cheese as a side, and I’m a sucker for that brisket flavour. I queued up for one, and was not disappointed. Afterwards I stalked them a bit on Instagram and found out that the ‘brisket’ was a smoked seitan with sweet and tangy barbecue sauce - two more things to add to my “to cook” list when I get home.

It was only mid afternoon, but we definitely wouldn’t be needing dinner. That was a surprise second lunch and I was full to the brim.

With bellies full, we walked a little bit further to Spitafields Markets which would be our last stop for the day. The markets were larger than some of the other ones' we’d been to, and had a mix of fashion, trinkets and food, but there wasn’t anything we needed so we made our way back home for an early night. After all, we had a big day coming up tomorrow.

Day 8 - Monday

Our day started at the British Museum - the oldest public museum in the world.

We arrived shortly after opening time and the grounds were not yet packed with students and tourists. Looking about, the museum sure had all the hallmarks of an ordinary museum; big columns out front, large areas designed for queuing and a tall wooden door at the entrance. Once inside though, the museum immediately starts to feel extraordinary.

As you enter, you come across the central hall of the museum which is a large open space with a central stairway that connects to exhibitions on three floors of the building. We made our way straight up the stairs to level three where the ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt exhibits are.

In case the large central hall wasn’t a giveaway of the sheer size of the museum, walking into the third floor we were immediately greeted by case after case and room after room of amazing artifacts. First from Mesopotamia, where Ash and I were most interested in the ceramics, jewelry and weapons. We then moved to Ancient Egypt section which represented the period from approximately 4000BC to 30BC. The amount of Egyptian artifacts at the museum is staggering too. I lost count of the amount of mummies and sarcophagi we saw - and not just human ones, there were cats, crocodiles, fish and more. There are also Roman mummies and sarcophagi, which I didn’t realize was a thing. Evidently, when the Romans came to Egypt they adopted some of the local customs and this included mummification. This lead to very interesting sarcophagi to, with roman portraiture and decoration around it.

The museum also does an exceptional job of providing information about each of the artifacts and timelines that help put all of them in context with one another as well as other key points / events in history. Ash was particularly fond of the timelines, and spent a decent amount of her time figuring out which events and artifacts were from similar time periods.

We could have spent many more hours in just the Egypt and Mesopotamia exhibits, but we went and quickly saw the Japan exhibit, presented by Mitsubishi, and was the Rosetta Stone on the ground floor of the museum before heading out.

I found the Japan Exhibit quite good and with a mix of ancient and modern elements it provided an interesting contrast to the things we’d just seen from ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. The pieces that caught my attention most were the Urushi (lacquer) Art, the modern hoop built tray using ancient techniques, and the intricat Katuni ceramic style.

The Rosetta stone was particularly fascinating though. While the Rosetta stone had featured in many of the stories I’d grown up with, I’d never really understood how the peoplee who made it would have managed to speak and write both Egyptian and Greek. After visiting the Egypt exhibit and learning the Romans and the Egyptians lived side by side for so long, it finally made sense. And that was a great learning to leave the museum with.

From the grandeur of the British Museum, we made our way to one of the smallest Museums in London - The Grant Museum of Zoology. The museum is located on the campus of the University College London and gets its namesake from Robert E Grant who founded the museum in 1828 as a way to help teach students about biology and zoological specimens.

By comparison, the Grant museum is tiny. All contained in a single, albeit somewhat large room. What it lacks in real-estate though, it makes up with the sheer quantity and variety of specimens on display. The museum has approximately 70,000 specimens on display, including turtles, elephants, deer and even a walrus penis. There is also one of the only complete specimens of the extinct Tasmanian Tiger on display, which - as an Australian - I found somewhat funny that I had to travel to the other side of the world to see that for the first time.

They also have a Micrarium which displays a selection of the museum’s 20,000 microscope slides of some of the world’s smallest animals. They say that 95% of known animal species are smaller than your thumb, but most museum’s only pay homage to the large animals - but not the Grant Museum of Zoology!

A particularly cool thing that we found though is that as a visitor or a member of the Grant Museum you can sponsor a specimen - which provides much needed funds to the museum to maintain the collection and the individual specimens. So as you go around the museum, you’ll see all kinds of quirky specimens, like a jar of moles, a variety of squids, and even a whole elephant skull, that each have little “Sponsored by <INSERT NAME HERE>” stickers on top of their name plates. That’s pretty neat.

Again, we could have spent much more time looking at the specimens in the gallery but we had to move on because we were on a hard schedule. We had to catch a train then a bus to Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden for The Making of Harry Potter.

I should start by saying that I like Harry Potter, but I’m not a super-fan of it like I am with Zelda or Pokemon. I’ve seen the Harry Potter movies, and they were good but I haven’t sunk the time into reading all the books (yet). Ash on the other hand has read all the books, several times. Knows all the bits that got left out, and all the things from the books that only get the most subtle of allusions in the movies. I’d say she’s somewhat of a super-fan, so her expectations going into this were pretty high and mine were somewhat lower. That said, we both walked out of the exhibition impressed and amazed at some of the things that were on show.

The Making of Harry Potter is located at the actual studio that all the movies were shot at in London and features a large and growing collection of the fully decorated original sets that were used as well as the props, costumes and other behind the scenes materials from the movies’ production.

The tour starts with the Great Hall of Hogwarts, which is just as grand as in the movies - though without the enchanted ceiling, unfortunately. The detail on the set is incredible and it really feels like you’re inside an ancient castle’s hall, rather than a fabricated room from 2001. You’ll get that feeling again and again as you make your way through the 3+ hour journey through all the sets and props.

From the great hall, you exit into an open area that’s filled with costumes and props from the movies - including all the horcruxes, Dumbledore’s office, Hagrid’s hut, the potions classroom and displays of some of the prop team’s favourite items, like the Triwizard Trophy. There’s even a few places where you can ride a broomstick and have yourself green screened flying over Hogwarts - although we didn’t stop for that, lots of people did.

The next section was the Forbidden Forest, where I came into contact with a seven foot tall, animatronic and articulated Buckbeak. Although completely fictional, the realism of the Hipogriff was astonishing. I’d always just assumed that it had been completely visual effects in the movies, but was intreagued to find that many of the creatures and things that seemed inherently effect based were actually build for filming. Further into the forest we found a Aragog which was another example of this, and another they told us about was the locking doors of the Gringott’s Vaults from Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone.

We then walked through the Platform 9 3/4 and the Hogwarts Express, before grabbing a Butter Beer at the cafeteria that marked the half way point in the tour. Beyond that we explored 3 Privet Drive, Bellatrix La Strange’s Vault, Diagon Alley, Olivander’s Wand Shop, an astounding scale replica of Hogwarts and were even given a sneak peek at the Gringotts Vault Exhibit that would be opening the following week.

We had a fantastic time at The Marking of Harry Potter at Warner Bros. Studios Leavesden, and would definitely recommend the trip for any fans of Harry Potter. We walked away especially happy we got some Fizzing Whizzby’s and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans from the gift shop on the way out too!