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 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!

Day 8 – Being Productive in a Touristy Way

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Today did not turn out as planned, but that’s definitely not a bad thing. Jen, Nicole, Danielle, Michaela, and I had plans set to travel into Leicester Square to purchase tickets to see a Saturday matinee show. After being unsuccessful and disappointed with the seating options for the prices given, we traveled to the theater of each show we wanted to see. We did this in the hopes of being able to get a student or “day of” discount for any of the shows, but the best we got was some helpful advice: come on the weekdays. The box offices open at 10 on all days, and during the week they have fire sales of 15 front row seats for, at the very least, 15 pounds. After being a bit distraught over the unsuccessful attempt to get tickets for tonight, this bit of information was very exciting. We made plans to have a couple of us run down to Leicester Square at some point during a weekday (you could get 2 tickets per person), so the play will happen another day! Now it’s just a matter of which one…

After the long quest to find a play ticket ultimately crashed and burned, we decided we were hungry from our efforts. The selection of a place to eat, though, took longer than expected because our budgets aren’t exactly the biggest. We finally settled on a Pret A Manger (an apparently common chain around these parts) and were satisfied with the results. I bought a chicken caesar and bacon sandwich, crisps, and a water and it cost around 8 pounds. It was cheaper than our other options and it tasted great! I would definitely go back again, though it is a toss-up as to whether it’s better than Eat.

Danielle, Nicole, and Michaela decided to head back to campus, but Jen and I decided we wanted to explore a little bit more. After all, now that my week-long travel Oyster card is expired, the pay-as-you-go is slowly burning a hole into our pockets. We figured that, as long as we were in the area, we’d walk around and see some sights. The worst we could do was get some exercise and save some money while doing it!

First things first, we entered the National Gallery. It was right across the street from where we parted from our friends, so it was the logical place to go! The paintings in the Gallery were absolutely breathtaking and beautiful, some of which I actually studied in Art History last semester which was super exciting. It was amazing to see in person paintings I had studied from a projector screen just months ago! I truly felt so lucky. After prancing around and gawking for an hour or so, we exited and took off on our next adventure: to Buckingham Palace!

We arrived at the ticket booth for the Palace only to find that they were selling tickets for the 3:15 tour… and it was only 1:00. We had hoped to do something in addition to the Palace, so we actually ended up buying tickets for later in the week. I am very excited to see it! But I’m also excited that we were able to buy ahead of time; it left us time for other big sights we wanted to see. Yep, you guessed it, like Big Ben and Westminster Abbey!

It is needless to say we did a lot of walking today. To be honest, I’ve probably gotten more exercise in today than I have ever in my life. We followed maps and street signs all the way from Piccadilly Circus up to Victoria Road, finally ending up in front of Westminster Abbey and Big Ben. We saw the legendary clock tower on the bus tour a couple days ago, but that far-away glance paled in comparison to being close enough to breath on it. Jen and I each took an obligatory picture in a phone booth just in front of Big Ben and took way too many pictures of “just a clock.” After fangirling over an inanimate legend, we crossed a bridge and ended up next to the London Eye and in front of the SeaLife Aquarium. It still amazes me how close all of the big sights are to one another! It certainly helps when you’re on a budget and can easily walk between each thing.

The line to get tickets to the Aquarium was supposedly an hour long, but we decided to wait anyway. Luckily the line (or queue I guess) only took about 40 minutes, and we were inside! It was absolutely beautiful and one of the bigger aquariums I have seen. In recent years, I have developed a certain love for aquariums. I just think there’s something calming to watching and taking pictures of fish swimming around. I also enjoy the shark tanks and interactive activities like touching starfish and sea anemone. It took a couple hours to walk through the whole building, but it was certainly worth it. I’m not sure I’d go back again (because once you’ve seen an aquarium, it pretty much doesn’t change), but I would recommend it. Jen and I paid for a combination SeaLife Aquarium + London Eye ticket for 33 pounds each. We can use the London Eye ticket any day for the next thirty days; I think it was a good deal, considering the tickets for the London Eye alone are 17 pounds each!

The exit of the aquarium spit us out next to the River Thames and in front of a mini carnival. It was cute and all, but certainly a bit overpriced. We simply walked past the attractions and street performers and walked across the pedestrian bridge back to where we had come from. It was time for some dinner!

We wandered a bit aimlessly for a while (after all, we were told we should get lost in London a couple times to fully experience it) before finding a cute alley (those words should never be next to each other) lined with bookshops. We stopped in a couple of them before we reached the end of the alley and saw… that’s right… a Chipotle.

I am not lying when I say that Jen almost had a heart attack. She loves Chipotle more than anything in this world, I’m convinced, so naturally that’s where we had dinner. It satisfied a certain craving I had for American Mexican food and filled me up quite nicely. I topped my chicken burrito off with a Raspberry-Apple juice and called it a successful dinner! Off to the next place, we said.

Since the night was still young, we hopped on the Tube to head to King’s Cross station. We had already been there earlier in the week, but it was only for a short amount of time as we had prior commitments to honor. This time, though, we went with a reason and no time limit. I was going to get my picture taken at Platform 9 3/4! I was so excited to finally get the picture taken. Even though it took a little while to get through the large line, we finally arrived at the front and I was able to select my scarf. Naturally I took Ravenclaw and took my place at the cart. I felt too legit to quit, as the kids say these days! Now that I have my official picture at the platform, I feel like a true Potterhead. As if I wasn’t already one, am I right?

We stopped in the Platform 9 3/4 shop (of course) and I bought a pin with “Platform 9 3/4 King’s Cross London” on it and a lanyard with the same text that holds a “ticket” to Hogwarts. I walked happily out of the store clutching my purchases and felt lighter than air! And to think I thought today would be bad because we didn’t get play tickets.

After agreeing that our feet hurt and that we should return to campus, we hopped on the Tube and took it back. We stumbled into our dorm rooms and now here I sit, writing this post. I am so happy that I got to see all I did today, but I’m even happier that I got to spend it with my best friend! Today was one of those days I would like to put on repeat and never stop; it was that good. If I could bring my family back to see all the sights, I would. In a heartbeat.