A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Off to London


View Weekend in London on bejjan's travel map.

Finally, time for a weekend in London with my brother. All planning started with purchasing tickets to Heroes & Villains Fan Fest at Olympia, London, this weekend. But more about that later.

My brother arrived at 1.40 pm at the Central Station in Uppsala and we drove out on E4 towards Stockholm Arlanda Airport. The last few days had been warm and sunny, but today was all cloudy with a comfortable temperature. We parked the car on a long-term parking lot and rode the transfer to terminal 5. It was crowded in the departure hall, which could be explained with upcoming holiday season and that all the fans visiting the football game between Ajax and Manchester United the day before in Stockholm were getting home. We had a lot of time and could in peace print out boarding cards and check in our bag at Norwegian’s baggage drop. It’s so convenient to check yourself in on the plane at home the day before and the next day arrive at the airport to print out the baggage tag and check in the bag. My brother and I had time to eat at Mc Donald’s (McWrap Menu of course) before they announced the gate number of our flight. A long line slowly moved forward towards the Security Check and once you’ve cleared the metal detectors you feel one step closer to departure. But surprisingly I realized that we had to pass through a border control to finally get to our gate. My initial thought was that United Kingdom actually still is a member of the EU, so it just felt weird with a border control. But it hit me pretty fast that it probably had something to do with Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement that the country had raised the threat level for international terrorism from critical to severe, meaning the highest level on a scale from 1 to 5. All this only days before our trip, after the terrorist attack in Manchester just after a finished concert at Manchester Arena.

The flight was 20 minutes late and we got to board the plane at 5.30 pm. It was a fully-booked flight and of course a lot of football fans who had watched the game the day before. But the flight was quiet and nice, no fuzz or noise. The two hours in the air were slowly moving forward. Because there was no entertainment system with movies and games etc (due to short flight) but also because my mp3-player, which I had planned to listen to during the flight and therefore updated with new playlists just hours ago, refused to start up. After some swearing and frantically pushing the buttons at the poor little mp3-player (which still wouldn’t start) I came to realize that this would become a veeeery long flight. Lucky enough, I had a few songs downloaded on my cell phone but not as many.

20170525_193920.jpg

The pilot must have flown somewhat faster since we landed at London-Gatwick Airport on time at 7.40 pm. Gatwick is the second largest airport in London and an important relief to the largest and heavily busy London-Heathrow Airport. Though Gatwick is the largest airport in the world with only one active runway meaning all aircraft take off and lands on the very same runway. It got to take a lot from the air traffic controllers to get all aircraft to take off at the same time as aircrafts are landing, with only one runway.
It’s very convenient getting from London-Gatwick Airport to the central parts of London (Victoria Station) with Gatwick Express. A train depart every 15 minutes and if you’ve bought tickets in advance you can just pass through the entrance without lining up for tickets. We had of course pre-ordered tickets and went straight to the train and got seated. We leaned back and imagined a calm and nice trip – but no. Two 20-year old girls sat down just across the aisle and one girl started with high voice to lecture (with a pretty tough Swedish dialect) about how hard it was living in London and pretty thoroughly about her life situation… she seemed to have no idea that she was disturbing the rest of us with her talk and that perhaps we did NOT want to know all of that. *SIGH*

The landscape outside the train window was typically “British” and very green. Very beautiful! When the train approached London brick houses with the classic chimneys started to appear. The girl with the need to tell her life story for the rest of us kept on going until the end station at Victoria Station. When we disembarked the train, we were so tired physically from the hours in the air but also mentally drained after the involuntary listening at someone’s memoirs for 30 minutes. Nor my brother or I had previously been to London and it wasn’t that easy to orient yourself inside Victoria Station to leave the building on the right side. But with help from home printed maps and some luck we managed to get out on the right street and then it was pretty easy finding our way to Stanley House Hotel, our staying for this trip.

20170526_191639.jpg

Stanley House Hotel was no luxury hotel, more of a budget staying that can to do if you don’t want to spend a fortune on accommodation (it is relatively expensive to stay at a hotel in London). I will probably not stay here again, but rather spend a little more money on accommodation next time. Despite the low price we had a double room with our own bath, WiFi and breakfast included. But the room’s standard wasn’t the best, if I may say. We took the bags upstairs to the 3rd floor to our room (there was no elevator) and a warm and muggy air hit us. It had been warm in London the last few days and the room was pretty heated up by the sun. No air-conditioning. Even though we fully opened up the window the heat stayed in the room. Great! We made a few attempts to sign in to WiFi but without success.

20170526_190651.jpg

So instead, we decided to go out and buy something to eat. We decided for a pub that wasn’t too crowded and ordered a drink each. But we realized rather quickly that this particular pub didn’t serve any food. Oh well, on the way back to our hotel there was a store which had opening hours “until late” that we visited and bought some snack. Once back in our hotel room we made several attempts to connect to WiFi and succeeded after a while. Desperately we tried to find information about how to buy EU surf on our cell phone operator website. We got text messages right after landing at Gatwick about how much it cost, but now how to get it. So, for almost an hour we both sat down and searched for instructions about how to buy internet surf abroad. Finally, I found what we were looking for, on the bottom of a page in italic fine print. It was really simple, as soon as you knew how to do it! Now time had run late, after midnight, so we went straight to bed.

Posted by bejjan 17:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london traveling Comments (0)

Harry Potter Studio


View Weekend in London on bejjan's travel map.

Up early in the morning to get ourselves ready and in time for breakfast at 7.30 am. Breakfast was down in the basement and we were referred to a table. A lady came and asked us if we wanted English breakfast and if we wanted coffee or tea. We quickly decided to try out the English breakfast (don’t know what the other alternative would have been) and a cup of tea each. We were served at the table with newly roasted bread, eggs, bacon and beans. Juice and tea. Full and satisfied, we went upstairs to the room and packed for a one-day trip to Harry Potter Studio in Watford. This was really something my brother wanted to do, but since he was joining me for tomorrow’s convention, I joined him for this. You have to give and take some ;)

20170526_083202.jpg 20170526_103557.jpg

20170526_090138.jpg

We had booked a return bus tour from Coach Station, departing at 10:30 am. We were way in time, since we were not really sure of where Coach Station was situated. Once inside Victoria Station it was well-posted signs where to go. Coach Station and Victoria Station are two separate buildings and if you do not know that, it could be a bit confusing.

The bus arrived at Coach Station at 10:30 am and once everyone was onboard, we started our trip out of London towards Watford. Though, it was Friday and this particular weekend also Bank Holiday, which meant all British were having Monday off as well. So, traffic was not easy and it took close to 45 minutes to get onto the highway but then it went smoothly all the way up to the studio. We got our tickets and the instruction to be back at the bus at 3.30 pm. I had hoped that we could ride a bus of our choice (by Premium Tours) back to London since we were requested to pick up our tickets for tomorrow’s activity between noon and 8 pm. But it wasn’t possible to change. 3.30 pm was the time. A little disappointed and nervous about maybe not getting VIP-tickets for photography with Stephen and Emily for tomorrow’s fan fest (only the first 50 people got to choose if they wanted tickets for Saturday or Sunday), I now felt my whole planning went south. Oh well, just to deal with the situation. Nothing you could do about it now.

20170526_115718.jpg 20170526_115620.jpg


So, we started to line up, first at the security check of all bags and then we were searched with metal detectors before we could even enter the building.

20170526_120404.jpg 20170526_122613.jpg

Then there was a line again to the actual studio. Though I must admit, I’m not a Harry Potter fan nor have I seen the movies or read the books, but it was still interesting to see all props, clothing and masks done for the movies and it was totally worth the money.

20170526_131040.jpg 20170526_144430.jpg

20170526_144421.jpg

20170526_125751.jpg 20170526_130507.jpg

They have built up the Great Hall again...

20170526_141133.jpg 20170526_141244.jpg

... put up Hogwarts Express at Platform 9 ¾...

20170526_144724.jpg 20170526_131400.jpg

... built up Diagon Alley and you can look into Dumbledore’s Office inside the Studio, all for a magical experience.

20170526_135919.jpg 20170526_140056.jpg

20170526_144616.jpg

New for two months was that they had put together the Forbidden Forest that we walked through. The forest consists of 19 trees each with a diameter of more than 3, 5 meters and gigantic root systems that made you feel very small. Amongst the trees a full-sized Buckbeak showed up, used during filming Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Each feather on the magnificent animal has been glued by hand and required a whole team working hard to finish the Buckbeak before filming.

20170526_144533.jpg20170526_140726.jpg

Aragog lurks further into the forest and crawls out from his dark nest. The spider with its legs is more than 5,5 meters big, so all people with spider phobia should avoid that part of the forest ;)

20170526_143839.jpg

In the middle of the tour there is a restaurant where you can order food. Pretty much needed with a break to sort out all impressions. And then the tour continues with props outside with the triple-decker and Privet Drive where Harry Potter grew up.

20170526_145808.jpg 20170526_145954.jpg

Then the tour continues inside again with things like the Hogwarts model built in 1:24 and filmed with greenscreen in the background together with digital effects to create Hogwarts Magical School. Eventually you’ll end up in a souvenir shop – what else ;) But the time had run away quite well and we had to hurry through the shop without buying anything and go straight to the bus. It was warm outside, probably around +27 °C and the sun shined with full strength. So, it was very nice to sit down in a well air-conditioned bus. Amazingly everyone was back on the bus in time and we could start our return to London.

Traffic was, if possible, even worse when back in the central parts of London. We disembarked the bus close to Victoria Station and went back and down to the subway and took District Line to Baron’s Court. It took a while before we got there and to get to Olympia, we now had to walk by foot for 10 minutes. Olympia is a big convention center with multiple exhibition halls and it wasn’t that clear where we were supposed to go.

20170526_181502.jpg

But once we were on the right place it was clearly signed and staff wearing t-shirts with the Heroes & Villains Fan Fest logo on. I probably had expected mile-long queues and the tickets for photography on Saturday with Emily and Stephen, the two most high demand celebrities, to be gone by now because the will call had been open since noon and time was 6 pm now. But all worries for nothing, because there was no queue at all for GOLD-VIP will call and there were a lot of tickets left for photographs with both Stephen and Emily on Saturday. *YAAY* I also took the opportunity to collect the tickets for the rest of the celebrities I had booked. Unfortunately, one actor had cancelled just yesterday and wasn’t going to show up at all and one actor I had to cancel myself due to time issues (too close to another photography session).

Since everything was settled (gotten tickets for Saturday) we could relax and go back to Victoria Station in peace, leave all tickets in the hotel and go out to eat. We went back to the restaurant Giraffe which is very close to Victoria Station and the had Happy Hour. Cheap drinks and even a bottle of red or white wine for only £10. An easy choice ;) It was a cozy restaurant, relaxed atmosphere and very friendly staff. Great food and as usual large plates with much food so I couldn’t finish all. But it was really great! Can really recommend this restaurant. We summarized the evening and started focusing on tomorrow’s convention.

Posted by bejjan 17:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london harry_potter_studio Comments (0)

Arrow and Medieval Fest


View Weekend in London on bejjan's travel map.

Saturday was fully devoted entirely to Heroes & Villains Fan Fest at Olympia, London. The evening ended with a Medieval Fest.

20170527_080256.jpg

We got up even though we had been awaking on and off during the night (screaming baby and creaking ceiling), got ready but skipped breakfast. We had to get to Olympia before 9 am at the latest because then I (with GOLD-VIP) was allowed in. Yesterday we had clocked how long it would take us to get to Olympia. Despite that we managed to get early. Oh well, we then had time to buy well-needed breakfast. Due to previous terrorist attack in Manchester a few days earlier, the security had been raised even more during this event with additional security checks and restrictions on type of bags and their size. All permitted bags were searched by staff and the handed out free clear plastic bags for those who needed. However, water was allowed and Cosplay weapons at some extent.

20170527_072654.jpg

Before we were allowed in, we all got sniffed by dogs looking for explosives in the queue outside and then all our bags were searched by security staff at the entrance to the waiting hall. But it was nice they had taken security seriously and it felt safer to be in here than out on the street in central London. All people with any kind of VIP-ticket (was three different levels) were let in at 9 am. Now we had 90 minutes in calm and peace to visit the actors we wanted, before the rest with General Admission. It felt nice. Though everyone with VIP had separate lines and priority to everything inside the convention, all weekend.

20170527_103718.jpg

Many of the actors from TV-series “Arrow” attended the convention, both signing autographs and photographs, so called “Celebrity Photo Op”. No less than nine actors from the series were there which I had the opportunity to meet and greet IRL.

Stephen Amell – Oliver Queen/Arrow
Emily Bett Rickards – Felicity Smoak
Charlotte Ross – Donna Smoak
John Barrowman – Malcolm Merlyn/Ra’s al Ghul
Colin Donnell – Tommy Merlyn
Katie Cassidy – Laurel Lance
Brandon Routh – Ray Palmer
Josh Segarra – Adrian Chase
Michael Rowe – Deadshot

An impressive gathering, if you like the TV-series “Arrow (guilty ;) ). But, of course, there were other celebrities from other TV-series as well, including; Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl, Gotham, the Flash, The Hunger Games and so on. What about Stanley Tucci, Robbie Amell (Stephen Amell’s cousin) and his enchanting wife Italia Ricci, and Michael Rooker? One actor I had booked Photo Op with was Chris Wood (Vampire Diaries) but he had a last-minute cancellation due to work.

20170527_115138.jpg


So, an entire day strolling around with celebrities, getting autographs and photographs, not bad huh? But the two persons meaning the most to me was Stephen and Emily. An autograph and photograph with Stephen Amell, wow… and yes, he looks as good in real life as on TV, if not even better ;) Stephen was as calm, cool and solid in IRL as he gives the impression of in Arrow. Also, an autograph and photo with Emily Bett Rickards, not to bad either. In reality, she was shorter than you expect her to be, no wonder she always wears super high heels in the TV-series. I also noticed her personality which really differs from her role as Felicity Smoak in Arrow, in other words, she is a darn great actress!
The whole arena was searched by security and detective dogs all day, which felt very safe and secure. The organizer had taken the latest terrorist attack seriously and really gone all in with security. Beside all celebrities were of course merchandise to buy and look at, like t-shirts, coffee mugs, posters, board games, key rings and more.

20170527_182338.jpg 20170527_183826.jpg

So, after nearly eight hours I had made all autographs and Photo Op’s, both my brother and I were done with the event. We walked to the subway and took the District Line all the way to Tower Hill. From the subway station, it was well-posted signs to Tower Bridge and therefor easy to find. A beautiful bridge and one of London’s many landmarks. About a week later after our trip, yet another terrorist attack was carried out on this particular bridge. One of many despicable actions in London/UK connected to Islamic extremism in a short period of time.

20170527_185434.jpg 20170527_192233.jpg

St Katherine Docks was close to Tower Bridge where tonight’s dinner with performances took place. The restaurant Medieval Banquet was in an old wine cellar with arches where tables had been set for visitors. We were served at the table with a four-course dinner with free access to water, beer and red wine (other beverages at purchase in the bar).

20170527_202428.jpg
20170527_202733.jpg 20170527_202911.jpg
20170527_210047.jpg

Between the dishes skilled performances as trapezoidal art, jugglers and even sword fighting were done. No blood was drawn, but all to fit the Medieval theme. After a nice evening, we took the subway back to Victoria Station and thereafter walked back to our hotel. You definitely didn’t have to go to bed hungry, not after that dinner anyway.

Posted by bejjan 17:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london fan_fest medieval_banquet Comments (0)

Bye Bye Big Ben


View Weekend in London on bejjan's travel map.

Last day in London.

20170528_090159.jpg 20170528_092209.jpg 20170528_090510.jpg 20170528_090606.jpg

After breakfast and final packing of all things, we checked out and left the big bag at the hotel to store until we headed back to the airport. The plan for today was to watch Queen’s Life Guard Changing, which takes place at Horse Guards Parade every day of the week at 11 am, except from Sundays when it goes down at 10 am. Here, the “old” guard is being released to a new one by performing a short ceremony and the amount of mounted life guards depends on whether the Queens is present in the Buckingham Palace or not.

20170528_100022.jpg

20170528_093511.jpg 20170528_093544.jpg

But a little unexpectedly, the Queen’s Life Guard Changing had been moved to 8 am this day (we hadn’t checked the schedule that thoroughly) due to a race, Vitality Westminster Mile 2017, taken place today just outside Buckingham Palace. There were cordons around pretty much all of Buckingham Palace and of course the change of guards in front of the palace (Changing of the Guard) had been cancelled. We had some bad luck there… but next time I will plan better and make both Queen’s Life Guard Changing and Changing of the Guard.

20170528_103111.jpg 20170528_104123.jpg

20170528_132458.jpg20170528_130756.jpg

After missing out on all that we walked across Westminster Bridge and took some photos of Big Ben and then went to London Eye. We had bought so called “Fast Track” tickets, in believe that we actually would do so – skip the lines. But no! The ticket emailed to you must be turned into another ticket once at the attraction, which then can be used in the actual line to the London Eye. So, after waiting in line to cash in the printed ticket from home, we were scheduled (an hour ahead) for a time when we were welcome to enter the “Fast Track” line. Not very practical… and a tourist trap to say at least. I bet it had gone faster without buying “Fast Track” … anyway. Once it was our time to enter the line, only then did we get ahead of everyone else… But it wasn’t that impressive to ride the London Eye one round. But, been there, done that…

Now it was time for us to grab our bag and get to Gatwick Airport again. The bag was picked up at the hotel we had been staying at and we got to Victoria Station. With Gatwick Express, we go to Gatwick Airport and checked in. Now we had a few hours to kill, so we grabbed something to eat and use all of our EU-surf we had left (that we had managed to buy a few days earlier). Unusually many flights were marked as delayed on the screens and now afterwards I found out that it depended on computer failure at British Airways. But why would that also affect all non-British Airways flights with delays? Apparently, our aircraft from Norwegian had landed on time but had been waiting out on the apron and not been cleared to enter the gate.

20170528_223548.jpg

Out flight was scheduled to depart at 8.30 pm and land at Stockholm Arlanda Airport at 11:50 om, but due to the delay it had been delayed by one and a half hour.

Posted by bejjan 17:00 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged london london_eye big_ben Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 4 of 4) Page [1]