The time has come, the day is here! This is exciting, so you'll forgive me for gushing a little. If you follow me on social media, you might have seen my two most recent YouTube videos, one with Big Ben chiming and the other with the palace guard riding past me on their way to the changing of the guard. As I'm sure you guessed, I was on vacation in London for several days in September.
Just as a side note, I also spent a few days in Paris at the end of the trip. When we were scheduling this trip together, my friend and I found that flying out of Heathrow Airport was more expensive than flying out of Charles De Gaulle Airport. So, we saved money on our plane tickets taking the train from London to Paris and flying home from there. Of course, the upside is that we saw both London and Paris!
When we were leaving London to head to Paris for the second leg of our trip, and I realized we were across the square from King’s Cross, I admit that it was my idea to go see Platform 9 3/4. The thrill of finding a place you've read about in a beloved book is irresistible.
The platform itself has its charm. The actual area between platform 9 and 10 is not safely accessible. So, the spot for tourists to visit the "platform" is actually in the main lobby area. There is nothing there but a sign, half of a luggage cart bolted to the wall so it looks like it's going through, and two overly friendly (and likely overly caffeinated) but quite charming employees who will manage the line while you wait to get your photograph taken. The photographs themselves are fun. The ever smiling employees will give you a wand, put a Hogwarts house scarf on you, and even throw it up into the air so it looks it's waving behind you as you pass through the wall and into the wizarding world. Of course, after you pass through the line, you are funneled by the staff into the conveniently placed gift shop. It's cheap. It's silly. I absolutely loved it.
Why then, if it is so silly, is it so much fun? I suppose there's no real way to explain it. After I got back, I was speaking to a friend of the family who admittedly had never read the series, but asked about what made them so wildly popular. I answered that the author, J.K. Rowling, had created a world that people want to inhabit.
At King's Cross, it was as easy as putting up a sign and a cart and funneling espresso into some entry-level employees to make something that people wanted to see; something I wanted to see. Why, because I will never go to Hogwarts, but I did go to King's Cross. And, I don't think that all the spectacle at the theme parks would have made me quite as happy as knowing that I was in the real-world location mentioned in the work of fiction.
Why is that, you might ask? I believe it's because when we read we know that the stories and characters are not real. But, when we can find something like a physical trace, it feels like there is a thin veil between the real world and the world of fiction that can be pulled back and looked through. But, that's the power that books have, and that's the power places have.
Vicariously living through fictional characters who live in fictional worlds is the reason we read, and the reason I write. And getting to do something so silly reminded me of that.
I hope to post some more travel and vacation stories on this blog too. So, let me know if you want to hear more.