Munich

We visited Munich in southern Germany, and suddenly the weather was cold!

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We happened to be there during the world’s largest folk festival, Oktoberfest. During these two weeks there are more people in Munich than in the rest of the world combined. Almost 7 million liters of beer were served this year!

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Ryan bought Karen this entire stall of “love cookies.”

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We also ate a huge pretzel.

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Here stands Ryan beneath a giant plate of meat.

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We couldn’t afford the 10-euro liters of beer, but we visited each beer tent just to check out the crowds and decorations. Each brewery has its own tent with its own look and feel.

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It was jovial, crowded, and fun, but one day at Oktoberfest was plenty for us. How can people do this for two weeks?

We took a day trip out around the Bavarian countryside, stopping in the picturesque village of Fussen. Here is Karen enjoying the autumn leaves, and a few shots of St. Mang’s Abbey.

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One stop left on our way home: a few days in Iceland!

K&R

Interlaken

For our Switzerland adventure we bussed to Zurich, then took a double-decker train to Interlaken in the Jungfrau region of the Swiss Alps.

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Karen shows the map of the area.

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The water here in the lakes and rivers is a bright, opaque blue. We think it’s because of high mineral content.

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We took a hike up above the town. It was so great to finally be back in the mountains!

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Find the Ryan.

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We were up among fields of cows and goats jangling their bells as they grazed. Occasionally one would shake its head wildly in a brief solo performance. This one was our friend, and kept mooing loudly when we had to leave. If you ever visit Interlaken, tell him hi for us.

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We also met some alpacas or llamas. What are they??

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Our hike took us back down into a beautiful mountain village.

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In the evening we visited the lake.

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Here is the view from our campground. You can see the peaks of the Eiger, Monch, and Jungfrau, which comprise the “top of Europe.”

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A few more sights around the town.

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Switzerland is our new favorite place. The mountains, the culture, the chocolate, the cows. It’s grand and majestic, yet cozy and quaint at the same time. And Ryan could finally practice his German. And his mountain sketching.

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Speaking of German, Munich is next!

-k&r

Bruges

There’s a movie called “In Bruges” starring Mad-Eye Moody teamed up with John Smith against Voldemort. And there’s an actual Bruges in Belgium, which we visited and loved. It was once the commercial capital of the world, when its port was situated in a strategic spot, but eventually the river filled in, ships got bigger, and trade moved seaward, leaving this town to be forgotten by time while the rest of the world modernized. Then when tourism was invented, this preserved medieval town became a prime destination. See for yourself:

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A sketch of the famous belfry, where the city employs a full time bell ringer to give free concerts upon its 48 bells. And a couple other scenes.

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Bruges was a nice short stop on our way to our next destination….Switzerland! See you there!

-k&r

Prague

Prague is Ryan’s mom’s favorite city in Europe, and we can see why. Everyone forgot to bomb it during the wars, so it’s one of the best collections of preserved architecture from across the ages. That being said, the first part we visited was the huge forested park, just as the leaves were changing.

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There in the distance sits Prague Castle on its hill.

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Magically we transport within the castle walls. Here are some views in and around the biggest castle in the world.

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Karen said it looks like a poofy dress. Ryan said it’s a beard. Who is correct? Don’t delay, vote today.

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We couldn’t get a good angle of the cathedral inside the castle, but we found this cool gingerbread version in a shop in town.

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Here we are at the Charles Bridge, and there’s a swan, and there’s the really great Bridge Band.

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At the other end of the bridge, up above the archway, a horn quartet was playing traditional fanfares. Three trombones and a tuba. Look closely!

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The famous Astronomical Clock, and a couple glimpses of Old Town Square.

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The less famous statue of more famous author Franz Kafka.

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Prague was chilly, so we got some hot mulled wine, a common cold-weather treat across Europe. Here Karen tries to drink it through her nose.

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Powder Tower at night.

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Lastly, a couple of Ryan’s best sketches yet, according to Ryan, who is the recognized authority on the subject.

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-k&r

Budapest

This hungry lion was waiting for us on the Chain Bridge in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, but Karen was smart enough to keep her distance.

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Our first exploration was in and around the Fisherman’s Bastion, on the Buda side of the Danube.

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Here is the Matthias Church with its beautifully tilted roof, a typical feature of many historical Hungarian buildings.

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The leaves in Budapest were just starting to turn for the autumn.

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Here is a graceful picture of Karen in the Castle Hill area.

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We couch surfed with a German gentleman named Mario (he was also part Italian), who moved to Hungary with the company he works for, and loves the sunny weather. He says, “I tease my German friends back home. I say ‘I don’t know what a cloud means. I have to check Wikipedia.'” He took us on a boat ride up the Danube, from which we viewed the spectacular House of Parliament, on the Pest side of the river.

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And here’s the Chain Bridge from below.

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We disembarked from the boat and walked to St. Stephen’s Basilica, which was gorgeous inside and out.

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Later, we visited this big empty square where the Soviets used to have parades.

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Nearby was a unique castle / museum which was pieced together from many different styles of architecture.

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On our last day we soaked in one of Budapest’s many hot springs, and later visited the huge indoor market.

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A few sketches. The one of Parliament is one of Ryan’s best, he thinks, the style he’s been trying to achieve all along.

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Budapest was grand and huge, and, contrary to Mario’s praise of the weather, gave us our first real day of blustery autumn. Next up…Prague!

-k&r

Venice

Ah, Venezia! One of the most beautiful and unique cities in the world. Made up of over 100 small islands connected by bridges, Venice is navigated by boat and gondola in the canals and by foot through the narrow, winding alleyways. No matter where you go in this city it feels special. As Rick Steves says, “Don’t worry about getting lost in Venice. In fact, get as lost as possible. Just keep telling yourself, ‘I’m on an island and I can’t get off.'”

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We camped on the mainland, and splurged on a canvas hut with real beds!

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Here’s the famous Rialto Bridge, lined with shops.

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The Grand Canal, the superhighway of Venice.

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Every other shop here seems to be a fancy mask store.

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1 gondola, 2 gondolini.

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Back at the campsite after a big day of canals, we cooked a campy version of traditional Italian pesto ravioli. Magnifico!

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Day 2: More bridges…

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…canals…

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…fascinating facades…

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…and gigantic St. Mark’s Square.

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St. Mark’s Basilica (left) and the Doge’s Palace (right) trying to squeeze together into one photo.

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Pink street lamps.

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Karen did an experiment to see if our rain umbrella also worked as a sun umbrella. It did!

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We mostly encountered Americans here in Venice. In Barcelona, we seemed to be surrounded by Germans. In Ireland it was the French. In Scotland, the Spanish. In England, the Chinese. It seems every country has their own unique tourist population. Anyway, here are a couple views across the lagoon to islands near Venice.

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Sketch Time.

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Our third day in Venice was Karen’s birthday! She got this beautiful scarf…

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…stood on a bridge wearing the beautiful scarf…

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…we took a gondola ride…

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…and ate dinner on the Grand Canal.

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And now for our Big Exciting News: After dinner Ryan took Karen up to the Rialto Bridge to see the city at night and proposed. Karen said yes! Here’s the ring Ryan made and kept secret the entire trip.

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Here we are happily engaged. Where? In Venice!

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-k&r

Barcelona

Barcelona is a huge city in Spain, in the Catalonia region, which is trying to break away and become its own country. Either way, it’s beautiful here on the Mediterranean coast.

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The city is known for its wealth of architecture by Gaudi, which is easily recognizable in its extravagance, and is where the term “gaudy” originates. Here is Casa Battlo, or the House of Bones. The spookiest part is that not one right angle appears in the house.

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Another curvy creation by Gaudi, Casa Mila.

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Gaudi’s masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, is a cathedral begun in 1882 and still under construction. They expect to complete it in 2026, a year still far away in The Future.

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We finished our visit with a stroll through Park Guell, where Gaudi himself lived and worked. What a crazy guy!

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Here’s Gaudi’s house, which, ironically, was probably the most sensible building we encountered.

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Also ironically, we had sun and blue skies during our entire three months in the UK, but here in Spain it rained and rained and nearly washed our tent away. Thanks Gaudi!

Next stop……. is a secret!

-k&r

Strasbourg

Where does one go after Paris? Strasbourg, of course! It’s a smaller French city right next to the border of Germany, in the Alsace region.

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We stayed with a friend named Alex, who is between jobs (just like us!), which meant he was our personal tour guide during our visit. Alex was one of the friendliest people we’ve ever met, and his fellow Frenchpeople seemed to think so too because every day we met more and more of his friends. We went to a unique self-serve pub with a different beer on tap at each table. You load funds onto a card and swiped it at a tap and it only charges you for the amount you pour. We also tried the traditional Alsacian food, tartes flambe, which is kind of like a French quesadilla, with ham or cabbage or mushrooms. We didn’t get pictures of all that stuff, so you’ll have to take our word for it.

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We did get pictures of our favorite part of town, called Petite France, the picturesque medieval quarter.

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We also toured the cathedral. It’s missing a tower because when they started adding it the whole corner of the building started sinking so they just left it off.

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Inside there’s an ornate organ hanging up. Where else are you gonna put an organ?

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We climbed up to the roof of the cathedral and viewed some views.

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On the way back down we met a couple from Loveland, a town right next to ours back home. Small world? Colorado conspiracy?

Alex is into music and sci-fi, so we got along quite well. A highlight was watching anime in Japanese, subtitled in French, translated into English by Alex. At the end of our stay we rode bikes to Germany, passing over the Rhine, to meet even more of his friends at a lake for swimming and badminton.

It was a great visit. We met more local people than anywhere else so far, and felt really at home by the time we had to leave.

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Ryan did a lot of drawing this time.

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See you in Barcelona!

-k&r

Paris

Two weeks in London was a great way to wrap up the UK chapter of our trip. By the end of it we were rested and ready to get moving again – all across continental Europe. Here’s a glimpse of the white cliffs of Dover I snapped before our bus drove onto the ferry across the English Channel.

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Here’s Karen steering the ferry with her mind and acting like it’s easy.

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We couch surfed with a couple – Laura from France and her boyfriend Simone from Italy, who cooked delicious pasta the first night. They both worked, so we were left to explore Paris on our own each day. Here’s our first glimpse of the Seine.

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Notre Dame, sans hunchback.

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The metro stops had cool font before font was even a thing.

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The streets in France are distinct in their wideness and tree-linedness.

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Here’s the Pont Neuf, the oldest bridge in Paris. Sticking out from it there in the middle is the western point of the island that was the medieval birthplace of the city.

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And here’s the Louvre, on a blazing hot day. Can you see the heat blaze?

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Going west from the Louvre you pass through the Tuileries Gardens with lovely fountains, where you can sit around on chairs on the dusty gravel paths under the trees and look at the grass.

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Here’s the “Lovers Bridge.” If you look closely you can see that it’s covered in locks locked by lovers to symbolize their enduring love. We did one of our own, of course.

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A boat.

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A sketch of the boat.

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Speaking of boats, we took a Paris night cruise through Paris at night, which ended with a dramatic view of the illuminated Eiffel Tower.

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The next day we walked from the flat along an old elevated train line that has now been converted to a pedestrian walkway. Here’s the view.

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Another stroll through the Tuileries Gardens brought us to the Luxor Obelisk and the beginning of the Champs-Elysees, known as the most beautiful avenue in the world.

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Along the avenue is the Grand Palais, a beautiful glass-roofed exhibition hall that was hiding in the trees.

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Here’s the Arc de Triomph, which Napoleon left right in the middle of the street so they built a roundabout round about it.

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And now…. the Eiffel Tower! It was built as the entrance to the 1889 World’s Fair, designed to be taken down twenty years later. They forgot, and now it’s the cultural icon of France.

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Here’s some sketches. Note the change in style inspired by Ryan’s favorite children’s books, the Madeline series.

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We expected Paris to be rather quaint, with small streets of cafes centered around the Eiffel Tower. Instead, it was one of the most sprawling cities we’ve visited, with some of the most grandiose buildings. It was a nice surprise. Next stop: Strasbourg, a small French city on the border of Germany. At least, that’s what we expect……

-k&r

London

London! For two weeks! This was our longest stay anywhere during our trip, made possible by the generosity of our friends Charles and Morgan, who let us inhabit their flat and coexist for the whole time.

Every day we’d wake up, walk to the Turkish grocery store on the corner for a gigantic flat loaf of fresh bread, and take the Underground (known as “The Tube”) to our various destinations around the city.

First stop: King’s Cross Station. They have a photo-op set up at Platform 9 3/4. Here’s Karen off to her first day at Hogwarts!

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Next, Leadenhall Market, where the entrance to the Leaky Cauldron was filmed.

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Then across the Millennium Bridge, featured in HP6, to the Tate Modern, where we browsed modern art, including an entire room of looming Rothkos.

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Just next door was Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, a historically accurate reconstruction of the Bard’s performace hall. Our timing was perfect, and we managed to slip in for a few photos while the crowd was exiting an afternoon play.

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Another day brought us to the Natural History Museum, where we found an actual Dodo (an actually dead and stuffed specimen of this actually extict species that actually died out before our ancestors’ very eyes, which is actually quite a pity)…

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…some dinosaur skeletons…

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…and a life-sized model of a blue whale.

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Next we went to Harrods to marvel at a more modern, but equally as mind-boggling, display: stores and stores across floors and floors of the world’s most expensive merchandise.

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The toy section was the best. Ryan met some Lego fellows.

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They even had high fashion for pets.

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Here is just the chocolates section of the food court.

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Next day was the Londonest part of our visit, with visits to Buckingham Palace…

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…Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament…

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…the London Eye…

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…and the Olympic Stadium.

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In a tiny, random park in the middle of the city, they’ve installed little bird hotels in the trees.

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Nearby is an impressive hotel for humans.

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We went into the British Library just to look around.

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Just inside the entrance they have a free exhibition of literary treasures, and we got to see Jane Austen’s writing desk, a letter from Michelangelo saying that he’d completed that “chapel I’ve been painting,” handwritten Beatles lyrics, Da Vinci’s sketchbooks, a Gutenberg Bible, the original manuscript of Beowulf, and the Magna Carta.

We visited a park with a bridge.

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In this park was the London Zoo, where they filmed the Reptile House for the first Harry Potter movie.

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There’s a network of canals that run right through the middle of this big city.

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In a bustling market in north London Karen hugged a large horse.

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Charles is studying music production and booked us some studio time at his school to record our annual Christmas song. It was daunting to work in a real studio. The mixing desk alone was something like £200,000. But it was also awesome. Dauntingly awesome.

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Here’s the Albert memorial.

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Speaking of Albert, we also went to the Victoria and Albert museum, full of art, relics, fashion, and even furniture from all over the world.

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We tried on some frills.

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Next we visited Kensington Gardens.

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That night we played drums and percussion with Charles and Morgan’s band, Perfumeman. Here they are before we joined them onstage. Charles plays guitar and sings, and Morgan plays cello and sings. This was her first show playing cello standing up, like a cello rock star.

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We also went to the museum of science. Ryan joined an astronaut on the moon but forgot his space helmet, so he had to hold his breath.

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Karen found a lighthouse lens for her mom. It would cost a fortune to ship, so we’ll take it as a carry on.

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Here are three enigma machines stolen from the Germans in WW2.

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And here was Ryan’s favorite thing: Alan Turing’s original Automatic Computing Engine (ACE), a precursor to the modern computer.

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While walking around near Leicester Square, we saw posters for a play starring none other than Daniel Radcliffe!

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We phoned the theatre, expecting tickets prices to be impossible, but we ended up getting balcony seats for 12 pounds each. Surely this would be the zenith of our adventure – to see Harry himself in person.

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Here are some sneaky pictures we took of the inside of the theatre before the play began.

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It ended up being a great play, hilarious and heartbreaking, like all of playwright Martin McDonaugh’s work. It was about a small island in Ireland where a Hollywood movie is being filmed, and the townsfolk who aspire to be part of it, including Daniel’s character, known as Cripple Billy. Before we went in, we noticed a long queue out back of the theatre, and asked what it was for. Dan comes out after the play to sign autographs, of course! So the next night we stood in the queue for four hours, and it was totally worth it. When the play was over, he came out the stage door, and a desperate chaos filled the air as the crowd pressed forward.

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Everyone was pressing in, waving flyers and tickets for him to sign, and when Karen asked nicely for a picture, he said sure, took the camera, and took this photo, and even made sure it was a good one before moving on. Look at that! There we are with Harry Potter!

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He seems like a good chap. He really doesn’t have to come out and sign autographs every night, exhausted from starring onstage just minutes before, but he does anyway. And he’s cheerful about it, and takes his time to make sure everyone gets an autograph or picture (everyone right in front of the barriers, at least).

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Here’s our ticket with his autograph:

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Then, just as quickly as he appeared, he ducked back through the doors and was gone, leaving those of us in front not quite believing our luck, and those behind us considering waiting four hours in a queue the next night.

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Well, for a Harry Potter trip it doesn’t get any better than meeting Harry himself! Next stop: Paris!