I kind of expected to come back home swathed in the Union Jack from head to toe, but the only things that really caught my fancy were Harry Potter themed. Which is weird, because I’m not that big a Potterhead. Still, I’m pleased.
Platform 9 3/4 is the place to go for anything Potter-themed. There are wands to be had, stuffed owls, sweaters, shirts, scarves, toques, satchels, keyrings, socks and sweets, including Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans. It’d be an absolute delight if it wasn’t swarming with people. Because it really is in King’s Cross Station, it’s a mecca for the fandom, and who hasn’t heard of Platform 9 3/4? There’s even a trolley that’s half disappeared into the wall where excited youngsters can have a photo snapped for a price. The queue is crazy. I don’t know if there are off peak hours, but we were there in the morning and it was already packed. (No, I didn’t pay for a photo, much to your relief.)
The House of MinaLima on 26 Greek Street in Soho is the place to go if you don’t want to be caught in a swarm of excited youngsters or do the (pricey) WB Studio Tour. It’s a shop run by Miraphora Mina and Eduardo Lima, the graphic artists behind all eight HP movies along with the newest one, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. The windows are currently styled to look like Honeydukes Sweet Shop and there are Hogwarts acceptance letters all over the steps and floor. With four floors in total, the ground floor is the main shop where you can buy the actual goods. The other floors are purely for spectacle and Instagram. The second floor has copies of The Daily Prophet and The Quibbler (complete with giveaway spectrespecs) strewn about willy nilly, while the third floor boasts a huge Marauder’s Map underneath your feet and proclamations from Umbridge are on all the walls. The fourth is inspired by the Fantastic Beasts movie. It’s kitschy and bright and fun. Best of all, it isn’t slammed with people, and it’s free. (Are you sensing a theme yet?)
Chinatown is just around the corner from Soho, which makes it doubly advantageous if you’re looking for souvenirs of a certain type. Pro Tip: don’t buy your souvenirs at the airport. They may be duty free, but the prices are always sky high. The best quality souvenirs are usually found in the gift shops of museums, but if all you want is a bobblehead of Her Majesty, Chinatown is the place to be. Every major city has a Chinatown, and every Chinatown always has souvenir shops where things are dirt cheap. Dirt cheap compared to the airport or tourist traps anyway.
Upon the sage advice of my waxer, I also headed to Oxford Street, making a beeline for a store called Primark. Its main attraction is that everything in it is affordable, which is a welcome relief in London, a notoriously expensive city. Think a mash up of H&M and Forever 21, with a more British feel and a slightly higher quality. I kind of went a little nuts in Primark, truth be told. Soft flip-flops for 98 pence? Gimme! (I had forgotten to pack my slippers.)
Harrods however, is on the opposite end of the spectrum. The flagship store of hoity toity Sloane Street in the Kensington area, it’s not normally a place I would spend a lot of time in because it’s the kind of store where everything costs an arm, a leg and your birthright. Really, there’s more to life than showing off the latest designer thing, but to each his/her own, I suppose.
Still, Sue had asked for a Harrods shopper bag (it sounded weird to me, but that really is what it’s called) and I had promised to get one for her. I ended up getting one for myself too – the Harrods gift shop, where everything is Harrods themed is a fun place to get items that aren’t as costly as everything else in the place, designer labels from top to toe. The Christmas window displays were done by this Italian duo. Have you heard of them? They call themselves Dolce and Gabbana. I didn’t spend too long in there, though. Le Hubs dislikes overly commercial places, and Harrods at the start of the Christmas season is as commercial, and as crowded as it gets.
I tend to get one or two little doodads to remind me of whatever country I was fortunate enough to visit, even though I never left its airport. It’s usually a magnet, and yes it’s trite, but I don’t care. I have decided it still counts.
Weirdly, my favourite tchotchke from this trip is something I got in Iceland. It’s a hand-painted wood carving of a particularly fat Viking which I snapped up in Keflavik International. I know airports are notorious for doubling their prices and I had earlier decided to hold off on getting it, but when we returned to Reykjavik for the connecting flight home, I knew I had to have him. He makes me giggle.
I’ve been steeling myself from the damage I know I’ve done to my finances over the past few days. In a rather unusual move (for me) I decided to close my eyes, forget about the exchange rate and just have unfettered, glorious fun picking up whatever caught my fancy like some sort of tourist magpie. As much of a tourist magpie as I can be, anyway. it’s not in my nature to splurge all that much on things and as hard as I tried to ignore it, the words “exchange rate” still kept popping up underneath my eyelids.
Anyway, I’m keeping up the suspense. I’ve yet to see the final tally on my chequings.