[The whole gang at Warner Brothers Studios, London, Unknown]
Welcome to the first post in my study abroad series! Please feel free to enjoy my modified journal entries and come on my adventure, and if you have any questions, reach out. This is London Part One: A Portkey to Platform 9 3/4.
Before this trip, I hadn’t been on an international flight since fifth grade. Thanks to entertainment from half of Bohemian Rhapsody and Josh and Ollie sitting next to me, it didn’t seem as long as I remembered.
My first look at London was Paddington Station, the namesake for Paddington Bear! It was just as cute, and the trains from there to King’s Cross were a lot nicer than I was used to in New York City. King’s Cross also didn’t disappoint with its high, sweeping ceilings and glimpse of platform 9 3/4!
The hotel we stayed at (The Belgrove Hotel, right across from King’s Cross), wasn’t exactly the lap of luxury, but we weren’t sitting around in it for long. The first item on our schedule was lunch, so the group headed to Nando’s for our first taste of UK cuisine. I had a fantastic (but messy)chicken sandwich with mango and lime sauce, and I tried Roobios for the first time.
[Peach Roobios was amazing despite the fact that I had no idea what it was, London]
The big activity of the day was a muggle walking tour of London. Our guide, Greta Granger, was fantastic! She made the experience feel authentic and catered to our group perfectly. I loved seeing the Thames and London Bridge (which turned out to be quite underwhelming compared to its neighbor, Tower Bridge), and especially the Clink Prison and its alleyway, which were a part of the inspiration behind Rowling’s Knockturn Alley. In the past, the area was considered the most dangerous in London, so it was surreal to see it filled with so many people now.
[Did they want London Bridge to fall down so they could build a cooler one?, London]
[The much more impressive Tower Bridge, London]
Other highlights of the tour included walking past the London Eye, Scotland Yard, and Big Ben (which was unfortunately under construction). The last official stops of the tour were a second inspiration for Knockturn Alley and the basis of Diagon Alley, which also happened to be a book lover’s paradise. Greta was kind enough to show us to Covent Garden from there, where my group went to Battersea Pies. I enjoyed a butternut squash and goat cheese pie, and later, a gelato and some tea samples while we shopped.
[Casually pointing a wand at an owl in an alley, London, Unknown]
[Non-meat meat pies are pretty good, London]
I also had my first experience with paid bathrooms at Covent Garden. While I don’t know how I feel about paying to use the bathroom, I did appreciate the resulting cleanliness of the space.
The morning of day three, I really felt the jet lag, but as soon as we got to King’s Cross to see Platform 9 3/4, it melted away. I was instantly excited when we joined the line to get a picture at a place where magic seemed to come alive, despite my earlier worries that the experience would feel cheesy. Thanks to the engaging staff, it was nothing but fun, even for grownups!
[A step away of faceplanting into the wizard world, London]
After buying some souvenirs, including a Scottish wool Slytherin scarf made by the same company that made the movie versions, we had some free time before meeting back up at King’s Cross. From there, we took the Piccadilly Line west to the theater district.
The building (Palace Theatre) where we were to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was made even more stunning by the details added for the show, including little dragons and griffins wrapped around the light fixtures.
Unfortunately the view from my seat (H10) wasn’t the best, but I didn’t let it stop my from enjoying the experience: I treated my perspective as a little window into another world. And what a world it was! While the actual writing of the play wasn’t the best in the world, the cast did an outstanding job of bringing the characters alive in nuanced, real ways. Without revealing too much (#keepthesecrets !), the effects used in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child had me convinced that magic was real. If you have the chance to go see it, please don’t pass up the opportunity!
[In front of The Cursed Child, London by Josh S.]
The last big event of London was the Warner Brothers Studio Tour! We took the Tube to a designated pickup area and got to ride on a double-decker bus to the studio, an experience in itself, and were greeted by an array of Wizard’s Chess pieces at the drop off point.
[Would have been cooler if Ron was still on the knight’s horse, London]
From the moment I saw them, I knew the studio was going to be amazing—I just didn’t know (because I couldn’t) how magical the experience would really be. When we first walked in, we were greeted by an exhibit featuring clothes worn by the actresses and actors in the Fantastic Beasts movies. The costumes were beautiful.
[I wonder if there was a Niffler in that suitcase?, London]
From there we walked down a long hallway and took pictures with the quotes and Marauder’s Map on the walls.
[A disheveled but excited picture in the hallway, London, Unknown]
The hall spilled out into a cafe and, following that, a bathroom and gift shop. Of course, as “Tour Starts Here” requires, we began with the gift shop. After a lot of deliberation and mental calculation, I decided to buy a forty-eight pound Wizard’s Chess set. I still spent less than most of the others. We sat around for a bit after the shop until it was time for our tour to start. I was expecting it to be a bit like the rides in Disney when it started with a movie (which actually almost made me cry), but when the screen rose and revealed the actual front door to Hogwarts, I was thrilled to be wrong. The employee pushed the door open and welcomed us to Hogwarts and I felt things I don’t even know how to begin to describe as soon as I saw what lay beyond. The Great Hall wasn’t exactly as it was in the films, but it was closer than I ever dreamed I’d get. I was overwhelmed by the emotions making every part of me tingle as I walked across the stone floors of the heart of Hogwarts. Everything else in the tour was great, but nothing compared to how these first steps into Hogwarts tangibly affected me.
[The best place to have dinner, aka the Slytherin table, London]
When we exited the Great Hall, we were spit out into the chaos that I was waiting my whole life for. Props and sets sprawled out as far as I could see, each more exciting than the last.
Our first real stop was costumes, where we were lucky enough to have a kind employee show us Luna Lovegood’s dress and sweater and Gilderoy Lockhart’s capes and robes up close. She definitely enhanced the experience.
[This sweater originally belonged to Evanna Lynch, but it ended up being kooky enough for Luna to wear, too, London]
From there we saw a LOT, too much for me to actually go into everything, but the highlights included the Gryffindor common room, Hermione’s Yule Ball dress, Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor dormitory tower, Hagrid’s hut, the potions classroom, Mirror of Erised, and an interactive broom.
[Moving staircases, London]
[Yule Ball looked better than Prom, London][I would have preferred the Slytherin bedchambers, but this will do, London]
I LOVED the interactive broom! You commanded, “Up!” and it rose into your hand. It made me unbearably happy!
[Up!, London, Unknown]
That’s possibly the reason I decided to spend twenty pounds on riding one. I donned my house robes, which felt surreal in itself, and then climbed onto a broom in front of a green screen. As the employee instructed us to dodge and fly and wave, I felt pure childish happiness racing through me. I had to buy the pictures to remember just how amazing I felt (since you couldn’t take any with a phone).
[Fifty points to Slytherin!, London]
[Smiling like I’m not afraid of heights, London]
After our broom rides, we continued on into the rest of the tour, including the Forbidden Forest, Diagon Alley, and finally the food court. I got a lame chickpea burger and completely opposite of lame Butterbeer! The drink itself was great, but the foam on top was what was to die for.
[Accio Butterbeer!, London]
After lunch we saw 4 Privet Drive, the Knight Bus, the Hogwarts bridge, and the mandrakes.
[Attack of the Hogwarts Acceptance Letters, London]
[It’s gonna be a bumpy ride!, London][We almost cried at the hole in the roof of Harry’s childhood home, London]
After making our way through those and then a hall of concept art and sculptures, we made it to the Hogwarts castle. It was breathtaking! Much like in the Great Hall, I couldn’t identify my feelings besides pure joy and amazement.
[A selfie with the model used for sweeping overhead shots of Hogwarts, London]
The last stop after the castle (and before the gift shop) was a mock Ollivander’s wands with the names of people who worked on the movies. I got a cool photo op with a glowing wand there to put a proper end to the experience.
[Lumos!, London, Sam G.]
My first trip to London was a lot, but thank you for coming with me and allowing me to relive it again through writing! Stay tuned for my next study abroad post later in the week, as well as my normal music reviews.
On to Edinburgh!