The Studio Tour was Perfect and Nothing Hurt

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As a rather large fan of Harry Potter, it was a natural decision to go see the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London. Almost as soon as it was affirmed that both Jen and I would be going to London, we bought the advance tickets for the studio tour. Add in a souvenir book each, and we were in this for about 50 pounds, give or a take a few. At the time we bought the tickets, it seemed like a far-off dream that would take ages to come true. If you’ve ever experienced time in the midst of something enjoyable, you know it moves way too fast and all of a sudden POOF it’s time to do the next big thing. As you can imagine, seeing the studio tour was definitely one of those big things that came up too fast.

I remember when I first arrived in London and set up a calendar on my cork board. I looked at all of the dates, filled in things Jen and I already planned, and smiled excitedly. In the middle of November, we were slotted to take our tour and it seemed so far into the future that I couldn’t possibly get excited too soon. But then, before I knew it, the tour was the next day and I had no time to process what this meant. Not only did I get to see the legitimate sets from the Harry Potter movies I love, but my time in London was coming to an alarmingly fast close. Needless to say, this day was a very bittersweet one but one of my favorites in the entire trip.

Jen and I had our outfits planned before we even left the States. Although a tried-and-true Ravenclaw (according to the most legitimate source, Pottermore), I donned my closet Gryffindor pride complete with Deathly Hallows necklace, Gryffindor socks, Weasley Quidditch shirt, and a Gryffindor sweater from the Wizarding World park in Universal Orlando. Jen sported quality, albeit understated, Slytherin wear with her green-and-gray raglan tee and Slytherin socks to boot. If nothing else, we were geeking out in style.

For future reference, if you ever wanted to travel there yourself and you’re thinking “but Riley, I don’t have a car! how do I get there?” Well, like you get most other places, you simply take the Tube (or Lunderground if you’re so inclined) to Euston, take the Overground to Watford Junction, and take the obviously-labeled Harry Potter shuttle bus to the studios! All in all, it took us less than 15 pounds to get there and back (shuttle is 2 pounds roundtrip).

If the bus wasn’t exciting enough–I mean come on, it was fully decked out in Harry Potter scenes and wonder–seeing the actual building where wizardry occurred was breathtaking. The building itself wasn’t anything spectacular from the outside, but what was inside was what truly mattered. And, yes, I may be partly talking about the Starbucks inside. But, I digress.

Jen and I, being way too excited for our own good, arrived about 2 hours before our scheduled time slot. If that’s not dedication, I’m not sure what is! We had some Starbucks, but obviously that doesn’t take a while to consume. Luckily, Warner Bros. understands that Wi-Fi is a necessity in this modern age, so fear not if you’re taking a trip there sometime in the future. After the Starbucks was consumed, the gift shop seemed like the next best place to go. The way I saw it, I could get all of my “should I get this? Oh surely not if I get this! GET ALL THE THINGS” out of my system and actually think about what I’d buy after the tour gets out. It was a foolproof system, I highly recommend it.

Though, a word of warning to my fellow American visitors: check what you buy. What I mean is, a lost of the merchandise there at the Studios is also sold in Universal’s HP theme park for obviously less money. The pound is an expensive currency to us Americans, so check the Universal Orlando’s online shop to make sure what you want is there! That way, you can either visit in person (recommended) or buy online. Save yourself some money! Though, to be fair, I did buy a pretty rockin’ mug with the Marauders Map on the back and footprints that appear when hot liquid is poured into the cup. COOL, RIGHT?

After our gift shop jitters were expelled, it was finally time for our wondrous tour into the world of Harry Potter. I was getting myself so worked up that when I saw the cupboard under the steps (they have it while you wait in line to get in for your tour), I took way more pictures than I needed to. For goodness’ sake, it’s only a staircase… THAT HOUSED THE MOST FAMOUS WIZARD FOR 11 YEARS.

As you can see, we have entered the part of the post where I begin using capital letters excessively. Hopefully you don’t mind; I do get terribly excited when Harry Potter is involved.

They ushered our group into this black-walled room with different screens displaying different HP movie posters from around the world. I kept ooh-ing and ah-ing at these posters despite the fact I’d seen them a million times over in the English language. They gave a little speech about Harry Potter and then ushered us into a large theatre where they claimed they’d show us a video.

And show us a video they did! Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint appeared on screen and gave the audience a rundown of what kind of work went into these films. Obviously they weren’t the only ones who made them possible; so many crew members and people behind the scenes made the movie magic we love so much. After they gave their touching tributes to those hard workers, the screen lifted and the doors to the Great Hall were there. THE GREAT HALL, I TELL YOU.

The lady went through this whole process of saying words and having a little girl help her open the doors, but the real magic was when the doors revealed the Great Hall at last. I’ll admit I was pretty much a ball of sentimental mush. I had to turn away and wipe the persistent tears away; I am 20 years old, darn it! I remember telling myself it was just a couple walls and wooden benches, but obviously that didn’t help much, as you can imagine. But Harry Potter is so much more than a children’s story, and seeing that set where so many wonderful scenes happened made me happy beyond belief. It made everything seem more real, more tangible. Magical, even.

They give you a set time in the Great Hall because, obviously, it’s the most popular set and the one you’re introduced to at the start of the tour. The rest of the tour is completely self-guided and you can take as long as you want to meander and take as many pictures as you can muster. Being the mature adults we are, Jen and I picked up passport books that you could stamp with paper imprints of different symbols from around the tour. I was dissolved to three year-old excitement when I saw those stamping stations, I’ll be honest.

All of your favorite sets were there including the Gryffindor common room & boys’ dormitory, Dumbledore’s office, Potions dungeon, the Burrow’s kitchen, Umbridge’s office, Hogwarts Bridge, and even Number 4 Privet Drive. One of the coolest features of the tour, though, was the green screen experience. It was optional and free to do, but the price came with the purchase of a picture or video of the experience. There were two to participate in: the Ford Anglia car from HP2 and a general broom ride through what I assume to be scenes of the different movies. They give you a robe for the broomstick one, which I found amazing. I purchased a picture from each one, and I’m not even sorry about it.

Word to the wise: if you claim to be affiliated with Harry Potter in any way, you better have Butterbeer. Luckily, the Studios didn’t cheap out on this, my favorite Harry Potter product. Butterbeer is the devil’s drink because I’m almost certain it brought me dangerously close to diabetes from the high sugar intake, but it is so worth it. I haven’t been to Universal recently enough to compare it, but it pleased me for the moment and that’s what matters.

One of the most popular parts of the tour is towards the end when you walk into the final room and see a beautiful scale replica of Hogwarts and its surrounding property. Because we went during the “Hogwarts in the Snow” event, the castle was dusted with snow powder and it looked absolutely breathtaking. There’s really not much else to say because it is a sight you need to see for yourself, but take my word for it that it’s definitely part of what makes the tour worth the pounds.

I was quite sad when the day was over, but overall Jen and I spent 3 and a half hours moseying around and taking as many pictures as possible. I am so happy we took the time out of the semester to visit the studios that made the HP movies so special and real; it was almost like I was able to say thank you just by visiting. Even though the stuff inside the tour doesn’t change, the studios have different themes throughout the year that would be cool to see. For example, in the summer they had a special about Quidditch and in October they did a lot of things with Deatheaters. If you have plans to go, book well in advance and see something cool! I’d love to hear about it.

The Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, while it was a bit expensive, was definitely worth every penny. The staff are wonderful, the sets are fantastic, and the whole experience is so surreal. Even if you’ve been to the Universal park, seeing the real thing is completely worth the travel to get there. Though, if you don’t have enough money to travel across seas (I mean who does, really?), the Diagon Alley in Orlando will suffice.

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Oxford is Hogwarts

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It is a Tuesday night as I write this and I am happy to say my cold has diminished to a tedious cough that attacks out of nowhere. Hey, it’s better than the blocked up sinuses I had last week!

This past Saturday, Jen and I decided to take a bus out to Oxford to see some sights. Unfortunately, most cool things like museums and botanical gardens close at 5, so not much sightseeing was done as we had hoped. But, what we did see was fantastic and definitely worth the trip. We woke up rather early to get to the Tube station for 8:30, rode the District Line to Victoria, and made our way to the coach stations there. We took the Oxford Tube bus from Victoria to St. Aldate’s and it was only 13 pounds roundtrip (we paid the bus driver when we got on the bus, no reservations needed)!

As many of you may know, Oxford is famous for Oxford University, but also the origins of Alice in Wonderland and the shooting of scenes from Harry Potter. Jen and I are a fan of both things, so of course going to Oxford was a no-brainer! The first stop on the monstrous list of things to do was Christ Church. We had to pay to get in, 7.50 pounds, but it was well worth it. One of the social halls on the Church’s property was used as a model for the Great Hall in the HP films, so seeing it in person was extremely cool. The stained glass windows were gorgeous and intricate, the ceilings even more so, and pretty much everything about the entire Church felt historical. But, history aside, I was mainly interested in the locations from Harry Potter.

I am pleased to say that I walked up the stairs McGonagall greets the students on in the first HP film (Christ Church), sat in the room where they filmed the dance lesson scene from the fourth film and any shots from the infirmary (Divinity School), and saw the library where they shot the “Restricted Area” scene from the first film and the library shots (Duke Humphrey’s Library)! It was so cool and surreal to be in the same places that some of my favorite movies were filmed; I can’t even really describe the feeling!

After Christ Church, we ran off to the Bodleian Library and purchased a half hour tour of the Divinity School and Duke Humphrey’s Library (5 pounds), both extremely cool because of their historical contexts and Harry Potter associations! If you like the smell of old books, Duke Humphrey’s Library smells IMMENSELY like old books. You walk up the stairs and through the doors and WOOSH you are assaulted with history and time. Even though it is cool, the smell does get a tad overwhelming.

With the library behind us, we only had fifteen minutes before any museums closed. Luckily the Science museum was across the street from the library, so we hopped in and ran about the ground floor taking pictures. Even though we didn’t get to see even a fraction of the place, what we did see was extremely cool and interesting. I would definitely go back! We also hopped into a bookstore nearby called Blackwell’s and had some coffee at the indoor Cafe Nero. The bookstore was really cool, but the coffee I had was what made it great. Caramelatte… yum!

Of course in between our tour of Christ Church and the Bodleian Library, we had about a four hour gap. In that time, Jen and I finally ripped off the band-aid and decided to eat at… believe it or not… PIZZA HUT. And, let me tell you, it was fantastic. We got cheesy-bite margherita pizza and it was heavenly. I’m not sure if the pizza itself was actually great or if I just really needed some actual pizza in my life, but either way I was a happy camper. After the best Pizza Hut experience of my life, we went to do some shopping as our families requested various clothing items donning the “Oxford” moniker. I will admit I spent some serious cash that day, but it was worth it. Between walking tours and a cool sweatshirt and t-shirt saying I’ve been to Oxford, I couldn’t have asked for a better day!

I can’t say our flatmates had the same, however.

When Jen and I returned from our fun day at Oxford, we walked past one of the buildings to see a lot of people sitting in a common room. I commented that they must be a club having a meeting or something, but we soon found out that was not the case. We were just about to walk towards our dorm when a lady stopped us and asked for our flat numbers. We told her, and then she told us to sit in the room where all of those people were sitting. Needless to say, they were not a club and they were not having fun. They had been sitting in that (cold) room for four hours, were promised pizza and drinks, and only received the latter. A bunch of our flatmates were in there livid because they were woken out of naps and had to come out in pajamas in the 50-degree weather. Turns out there was a fire in one of the flats’ kitchens and everyone had to evacuate, naturally, but security checking the rooms took almost five hours to finish. I’m glad I missed most of that waiting, but I still feel terrible for everyone from our dorm building that had to wait that long. Gotta love college, am I right? Thankfully no one was hurt and the person who unintentionally started the fire now knows that trying to put out an oil fire with water NEVER WORKS.

I am now in Week 3 of school and things are going by a little too fast! In just a couple weeks, my first assessments for classes are due. Jen celebrated her 21st birthday yesterday. Jen and I did the London Eye today (finally) because the weather was nice. Side note: it was fantastic and really breathtaking! Definitely worth the money. In terms of school, my readings are getting longer and more convoluted. I’m simultaneously missing my friends from home and absolutely LOVING my new friends here. It’s a weird feeling, both liking here and missing home, but it’s so much better than pouring all my feelings into homesickness. I’m already a fourth of the way through the semester… is it going to slow down any time soon?

Day ?? – So… I’ve Been Sick

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No, I have not forgotten what number day it is! I have forgotten, though, how long each of these blog posts takes to write and how little time I actually have in the day. So with that in mind… I’ve realized that daily blogging isn’t exactly realistic with the amount of reading and writing I’ve been having to do even in these two weeks; prepare for less posts (BOOOOO). However, there is also another reason I haven’t been posting anything. If you’ve read the title, you probably already know… I’ve been sick.

Yes, you’ve heard me correctly! I contracted the wonderfully contagious “fresher’s flu” that usually hits hardest in the first year students because they party hardy every single night during welcome week. I was not one of those people, yet I still caught the disease. Thankfully, I don’t have to bear it alone because my whole flat is coughing up a collective lung (not to mention the symphony of mucus-laden coughs and gags during the Shakespeare lecture last Friday)! I still wonder where I got the illness from, though… a girl has to wonder.

Before I drowned in a mix of hot tea, cold medicine, and mucus, I had a pretty enjoyable weekend. Jen, Danielle, Nicole, and I all headed out to London Chinatown on Saturday night to get some fancy-pantsy dinner (at a reasonable price) and other things around the area. Once we left dinner at the Golden Phoenix (or something like that; there were many-colored phoenix restaurants), we had no idea what to do. Planning is everything, friends! We walked into what claimed to be the oldest bar in London, saw it was too busy, and promptly left. We wandered into a frozen yogurt place accurately named Snog (sarcasm), met an Australian guy who thought Texas and Pennsylvania were close to each other, and saw a West End show. Wait, what? You saw another show?! Yes! At around 7:30, we weren’t sure what we wanted to do to end the evening. We looked down the street and, as if placed there by angels, “Shakespeare in Love” presented itself. So, we figured, why not check out what seats they have available right before the show starts?! Long story short, we got decent seats for 15 pounds. Pretty amazing, if I say so myself, especially for a Saturday! The show was FANTASTIC and I loved it so so so much. I would definitely recommend it; for Shakespeare fans, it’s HILARIOUS. For non-Shakespeare fans but fans of good theater, it’s HILARIOUS. Either way, you’re winning!

Saturday was pretty awesome, so naturally Sunday had to be the beginning of my sickness. Jen and I pretty much did homework all day seeing as we both had copious amounts of reading for classes on Monday, and towards the end of the night I began to get a runny nose. I had been complaining about a scratchy throat for a day or two, but the nose thing was new and completely unwelcome. I remember Jen saying something like “I swear if you get sick I’m disowning you” to which I replied “Trust me, I think it’s just a weather thing I’ll be fine.”

No, you won’t be fine, Riley. You just won’t be.

I woke up Monday morning not being able to breathe. My nose was congested and my voice sounded blocked up, the perfect recipe for a cold! With these wonderful thoughts in mind, and no medicine with which to doctor myself, I trudged off to class. Though, I will say, I did take an ibuprofen for my throat pain and all of the tissue packs I had on my person. Needless to say, I barely had enough tissues for the whole day.

Now, Mondays are my worst days in terms of class because I pretty much run from 11 until 5 with crummy one hour breaks in between.  With this cold as my cross, Monday was even more atrocious. I attempted to get some medicine in between class by travelling to each of the three campus stores, but none of them had anything worth my pounds. The line in the bookstore was too long for me to give it a fair look, but it’s safe to say their wares were probably too expensive. Such is London.

After I suffered through all of my classes and refused to talk because of my disgusting voice, I convinced Jen to travel to Sainsbury’s and Budgens to find medicine. I ended up buying, after much deliberation, “Sainsbury’s Max Strength Cold & Flu Day & Night” (wow so generic) which is pretty much Dayquil/Nyquil and some Sudafed Nasal Spray for my terrible sinus congestion. One of my flatmates was sweet enough to give me a box of her tissues, but the day proved to me that I would need much more than just one box. Therefore, I bought two boxes of Kleenex, one called “balsam mansize” (what I’m assuming to be the lotion kind) and a normal one. Both were softer than the toilet paper and napkins I had been using, obviously, so they were both cherished.

Two days later, I am feeling much better. The cold has moved down to my throat where it kills me with random coughs that make people jump (trust me, it actually happened today on the Tube). My wonderful friend Nicole bought me some cough medicine because we have twillnesses (twin illnesses… too much?), so that has been helping somewhat.

Cold aside, I actually did some cool things today as well. Nicole and I went to Chiswick House for our Architecture class today, a trip with a travel time of about 50 minutes by Tube. It was pretty cool, kinda bland, but I guess that’s what Lord Burlington was going for when he attempted to revive the Italian Renaissance in England. After Chiswick House, I had to travel to Blackfriars to get to Shakespeare’s Globe as I had bought a ticket for “The Comedy of Errors.” I was nervous about travelling there on my own, but I survived unscathed! I feel like a true Londoner. I may have arrived to the show 20 minutes late, but I can’t say enough how cool the Globe is. I had a standing seat (LOL) and everyone literally just stands in front of the stage. It is so cool! The show itself was hilarious (and the guys in it weren’t that bad to look at either) and I am so glad I went, even if I was late. Growing experiences, yay! I will say, my favorite part of the show was when two of the guards came out and did a silent filler scene. An explosion had just happened onstage, making one of the statues’ heads break off. The one guard picked up the head and held it in the air Hamlet-style, looking at the other with a knowing look. Everyone was chuckling; ha-ha, Shakespeare joke in a Shakespeare play ha-ha. But the real kicker was when both of the guards picked up brooms that were lying on the ground, put them between their legs, and tossed the head between them LIKE QUIDDITCH. Everyone in the crowd cheered and clapped; how cool is it that Shakespearean actors incorporated Harry Potter into one of their plays? INCREDIBLY COOL!

To end the post, I will say a few things: Even though I won’t be doing daily blogs, I will still try and keep this blog updated at least weekly. You guys (especially my family and friends) deserve to know what’s been going on! Hopefully this post sufficed. See you next time!

Day 10 – You Can Call Me Ravenpuff

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With today being the official start of teaching, I was destined to have a stressful day. I always wig myself out during the first day and week of classes because I think of all the things that can go wrong and expect them. Today, though, I had an idea in my mind that I would brave today out and just play it by ear, trying not to worry about anything that could go wrong. It was probably for the best that I did this because a lot of things did go slightly astray. Luckily, I was able to overcome those road bumps.

I just switched into Modernism from a Gothic Literature class on Friday, so the times weren’t completely updated and set in my online portal. I went to the English department today to get my updated timetable, but they were unable to provide me with one. With a promise of one by lunchtime, they told me where to go for the first lecture and they told me to ask the module convenor (main contact for the course) about a seminar group I could be assigned to for the time being. Luckily this road bump wasn’t too big of a thing, but it was just enough to set me off balance for a good part of the day. I wandered into the lecture hall way too early, met some new people, and actually enjoyed the presentations given by the different professors. The seminar, however, was a little wonky.

I spoke to the convenor as I was told to and she just told me to tag along in her seminar for the day. The seminars, compared to lectures, are small groups that basically run like normal classes back at my home institution, so I was pretty prepared for it. However, I suppose the awkward silences common in small group seminars is a universal thing because it happened more than I wanted it to today. The only thing I didn’t really appreciate about the seminar was that the convenor much rather wanted to hear us students talk than actually give us feedback on our points. For example, I said something that I thought was beneficial to the conversation, but she just responded with a “yep” and looked for the next person. I don’t really care for this type of call-and-response only because I’m never really sure if I got the gist of something or not. Maybe it’s a standard here in England, but I don’t think I’ll warm up to it well.

After seminar let out, I met Jen in front of the Student Hub (QMUL’s student activities building) so we could pay our dues to join one of the most exciting things about this semester: the Harry Potter Appreciation Society. We paid our four pounds and took the sorting quiz in order to be officially ready for the sorting ceremony later in the night. Feeling pretty good about the odds of getting into our respective self-proclaimed houses, we parted ways and I went to my second and last class of the day, Lyric Poetry.

Now, I was and still am pretty nervous about this course because it is a level 6. The Modernism course and Shakespeare are levels 5 and 4, respectively, and my Architecture course is a level 5. Level 6 modules are reserved for year 3 students, a rank I suppose I would be the equivalent of. One of the professors in the English department assured me that, since I am an English major, I should be able to get along just fine in a level 6, but after today’s class I’m not so sure. Especially since the topic of the level 6 is lyric poetry, a topic I’m not too strong or confident in (but I guess that’s the point of class, to learn).

After ambling aimlessly through the correct building to find the classroom, I finally found it. Because it is a level 6, this class is a two-hour seminar with 13 people in it. To be honest, it feels just like home! The conversations we had about a poem we were working on were good, but overall I felt quite overwhelmed by the subject matter. I feel that the approach the professor is taking with the poems is a bit too philosophical for my tastes, but I am certainly not going to tell her how to teach her course! I briefly contemplated switching out of the lyric poetry course, but then I also figured I might as well stick it through. Even though we have a paper due every week, I’ll try my best to not explode.

The good thing about the poetry class was that immediately afterwards I had to attend the sorting ceremony for the Harry Potter Appreciation Society! I was so excited and pumped to meet others from my House, Ravenclaw. Jen, Caitlin, Alaina (new friends!), and I all arrived in the room to see a rather large group of people waiting to be sorted. I will say, the governing team did a great job to speed up the process while still keeping the feeling authentic. People were called up in groups of ten and seated individually under the Sorting Hat. Even though the quiz from before determined the House you would be in, they made a list of those results and called out the House as they placed the Hat on your head. As they called my name, I couldn’t help but feel a bit nervous. Would I get into Ravenclaw as I had hoped? Or maybe I would fair better in Gryffindor? Would Slytherin suit my fancy for some unknown reason? Or would the loyalty and great scavenging abilities of Hufflepuff truly call me? Let me tell you, nothing prepared me for the House that was announced as the Sorting Hat graced my head.

Better be, HUFFLEPUFF!

Uhm, excuse me, what? I tried not to look horrified as Hufflepuff was assigned to me, but I truly felt torn. I had been prepared for Ravenclaw and always considered myself a Ravenclaw, but apparently the quiz thought differently! I happily took my place, though, as I realized I was in good company. I have no qualms with being a Ravenpuff; who said I had to choose just one? Caitlin was also sorted into Hufflepuff, so I was glad I had someone I already knew in the same House as me. The club coordinators made a great speech about welcoming us to the Opening Ceremonies and about the upcoming events this semester (it’s some pretty cool stuff). They gave us cookies and drinks, candies and chocolates, and everyone happily talked away two hours of the night. We elected two prefects to each House as well! As the night came to a close, the coordinators told us we could take the free food and drink home, so I did. I currently have two and a half sleeves of cookies in my “pantry” of sorts along with soda and fruit juice to last me a couple days. I would say I earned back more than four pounds worth of food in just one night of being in the club! I can tell that I’ll enjoy this a great deal.

Jen and I returned to our flat after saying goodbye to our new friends (Ellie and Kelly included, you guys are great!), and we watched “A Very Potter Musical.” If you don’t know what this is, please look it up on Youtube and devote three hours of your life to it. The music is incredible, it features a pre-fame Darren Criss, and the humor is just hilarious. You’ll love it, truly, if you’re a fan of Harry Potter. After we were finished with the musical, I called my parents and had a lovely chat with them about the past two days. There’s something calming to me about talking about my day to my parents; it really helps me unwind. Jen is with me pretty much all day, so she knows my stories well. My parents, however, are eager to listen to me spew on and on about the smallest things even when I know I sound annoying. It is with a heavy heart that I go to sleep tonight, as I had such a great night, but I am excited for what tomorrow will hold. Stay tuned to find out what happens!