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.

How to Do Rome on the Cheap

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…eat tons of gelato and pasta and pizza and have no regrets.

It’s been just about a month since I’ve blogged on here, but that’s not for lack of trying. School decided it wanted me to pay more attention to it, so assignments were due in the last couple weeks that I needed to get done. In the next couple weeks I’ll have the same dilemma. But, for now, I am enjoying a weird 2-week period of assignment nothing-ness and am using it to blog about my Reading Week Adventure: Roma!

So, last week was a wondrous period of time known as “Reading Week” when there are no classes to attend but a bunch of homework in return. Naturally, Jen and I planned a trip to Rome, Italy with this knowledge in mind. To be honest, we did a pretty bang-up job in terms of spending money. A very helpful fact is, at the time we went, the dollar-to-euro exchange was “cheaper” than the dollar-to-pound exchange, so it was almost like Rome was on sale, if you know what I mean.

If there’s one thing I learned on this trip, it’s that 4 days in Rome is either just enough time or not enough depending on how much money you want to spend and how many things you want to do. For Jen and I, 4 days was the perfect amount because we got everything done on our list and then some. Plus, we managed to spend the least amount of money possible. How? Well, I’m glad you asked!

1. Book Hotel & Flight Together
Of course booking a hostel is always an option if you’re of the younger crowd, but our hotel and flight package wasn’t that bad. All together, it was around 400 USD for four nights in a “4 star hotel” and roundtrip flights out of Heathrow and into Rome Fiumicino. If we booked each thing separately, we would’ve been paying a lot more. Plus, Heathrow is the main airport in London and easiest to access so it was perfect! For those curious, we booked this package through British Airways. The only caveat would be that the times for flights aren’t exactly prime: on Monday we had a flight at 4 o’clock so we pretty much stayed in that night. The return flight was 6:45 on Friday so we had to ask the hotel to keep our bags during the day, which they did gladly. If you don’t care about times really, then I’m sure you’ll be fine.

2. Eat Breakfast and Dinner
Definitely one of the biggest perks of our hotel, Hotel Augusta Lucilla Palace, was the amazing breakfast served every morning. It included proteins and pastries and juices and espresso machines so that it was impossible not to have something you liked. Every morning I ate a rather large breakfast and it kept me full until the early afternoon. Once we’d start to get a little peckish, we’d just buy gelato for around 3 euros and be set until dinner time. Might not be the healthiest option, but it got the job done for a cheap price AND it was delicious! I was told by my Uncle Frank that if you stop into any restaurant in Rome, it’s going to be amazing. He sure wasn’t kidding! We walked around for a while trying to find a good pizza place, but we eventually settled on a random place that looked cute enough. Of course, it was delicious and, amazingly, it was cheap! Jen and I split a pizza and bruschetta and it only cost us about 8 euros each. Considering we didn’t eat a full lunch, 11 euros total for food is fantastic. The second night we had pasta at a restaurant close to our hotel and it was fantastic, naturally. The next night we had pizza again (with spicy salami) and on the last day we ate sandwiches at the airport. If I had to give a rating for Rome’s food, it would be through the roof. No place disappointed, not even the airport!

3. Walk, Walk, and Walk Some More
So what if you eat gelato for lunch everyday for four days? Think of it this way: you’re doing enough walking to probably burn it off and then some. At least, that’s how I interpreted it! We didn’t take any public transport and walked everywhere, even to Vatican City. In that week, Jen and I walked so much I couldn’t believe I was still walking by the end. The first day we went to the Colosseum which was surprisingly not far from our hotel. It was 17.50 euros for a ticket that included the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, and the Palatine Hill. We also received an audio guide with that price and it was extremely helpful and educational. The Colosseum, obviously, is AMAZING and surely not to be missed. The Roman Forum and Palatine Hill were cool as well, but the Colosseum was definitely the highlight of that day. We also walked to the Trevi Fountain (sadly under renovation) and the Pantheon that same day. The second day, we hiked all the way across the Tiber River to the Vatican City, a bit of a walk from our hotel. We saw the Pope, visited the Vatican Museums (8 euros for students), saw the Sistine Chapel, and saw St. Peter’s Basilica. We paid extra to go up into the cupola (an extra 5 euros if not taking the elevator, 7 euros if you are), an amazing experience that I would recommend to anyone. Except… don’t save the 2 euros. Just take the elevator halfway up and walk the rest of the steps because, trust me, it’s NOT WORTH IT TO WALK SO MANY. My legs were shaking and I felt weak for the rest of the day. And we still had to walk back to the hotel! So, unless you’re super athletic or like torturing yourself, don’t walk the 551 steps. You’ll thank me later. That same day we also saw the Spanish Steps which are just a bunch of steps really. Nothing too special there.

The third day we went to the Villa Borghese, the Bioparco (the zoo), the Galleria Borghese, and the Capuchin Crypt. The Villa is free because it’s a large beautiful park, the Bioparco was 15 euros and quite large (and mostly in Italian), the Galleria was 11 euros (unless you’re studying art or architecture, then it’s cheaper), and the Crypt was 6 euros. Again, everything is really close in terms of walking distance, so there’s little to no need to take public transportation. After only seeing the entrance to the Metro stations, I wouldn’t want to anyway… and there are certain buses known as the “Pickpocket Express” because of how tourist-y and packed they are. So, as always, be careful.

The final day we decided to catch a train at 3, so we had a good chunk of the day to play with. We went and saw the Imperial Fora, a free area around the Colosseum with some old ruins and statues of various Caesars. We also walked into this large building with two large horse statues on top (I forget the name) and there was a beautiful church inside. I bought a couple souvenirs from there; an ornament among them! The shopkeeper didn’t speak great English, but he knew enough to tell us that the Americans seem to buy ornaments more than any others because of the “big trees” we decorate at Christmastime. I told him he was exactly right! It’s beautiful too. So, long story short, walking gets you everywhere (if weather holds out) and it’s cheap! Plus, you walk off the calories from the delicious gelato you eat, so it’s a definite plus.

4. Go During Off-Season
This may be easier said than done, especially if you live in America and work full-time, but the off-season is definitely the time to go to Rome. While you may run into the problem of some attractions like the Trevi Fountain being under repairs and renovations, there are significantly less people and less instances of pick-pocketing. While I was on high alert everyday when I left the hotel room, I was never approached in that way. There were of course people dressed in gladiator costumes asking if you wanted a picture, but they always ask for money afterwards. There’s plenty of people on tourist-y spot corners holding selfie-sticks available to purchase (though they just seem to be offering them out of the goodness of their hearts HA), and of course the guys with umbrellas when it rains. If nothing else, I’ve learned that some Italians are extreme opportunists. But, as long as you just avoid these types and take the normal precautions against pickpocketers, you should be fine and keep all of your cash.

Helpful Tips

  • Worried about getting euros before going to Italy? Fear not! Just take them out of ATM’s when you get to Rome. There are plenty of banks, and you can usually go inside to take out the money instead of on the street for everyone to see. Plus, they have an option to read in English! Bonus!
  • Worried about looking like a tourist? You’re not the only one! I found it extremely helpful to open my map on well-lit corners and in the presence of others doing the same. That way, Jen and I weren’t targets for being the only ones engrossed in our maps. Trust me, you’re not the only one lost on the many Roman streets.
  • Worried about getting lost? Get a map! Plenty of hotels (at least in the Termini area) have plenty of maps with large pictures of the big spots so you can locate them easily on the map as you go. While the streets may be many in number, just take a second to locate it and continue on your way. Guidebooks are also extremely helpful and worth the money! The pull-out map we had didn’t have all the names of the streets, however.
  • Worried about anything else? Shoot me a comment; I’ll help in anyway I can. While I don’t pretend to be an expert, I might be able to offer some helpful advice.

 While I am sad my trip to Rome is over, I’m excited for the upcoming London adventures. I should hopefully have a blog post up in the upcoming days regarding a rather exciting trip for this weekend… I’ll just say this: It’ll be a magical experience! ;D

Day 11 – Wicked Homework!

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Tuesday was certainly a great day. I woke up with no worries (hakuna matata, am I right?) because BAM I had no classes. It felt so luxuriously easy and natural to just wake up at 9 without worrying about finding the right building or room; I was completely calm and at ease. I made myself a bowl of cereal, sat down with some Youtube videos, and began enjoying my morning.

Then I remembered I had homework to do. Siiiiiiigh.

I have a short essay due Sunday (and every Sunday until I leave QMUL) that I had to work on, so I whipped out the poem I had to write it on. After a couple minutes of barely glazing the page with my eyes, I returned to Youtube. The poem would have to be done later. In case you’re asking, I have half the essay written (don’t judge).

Jen came back from class and we were off to Westfield Stratford Mall to hit up Primark; I needed some new pillows desperately. The one provided by the college is so thin and grossly uncomfortable that to even feign comfort I had to fold the pillow in half, a feat that was surprisingly easy. So, we set out for Primark with pillows in mind. I also figured I’d look for a slightly bigger purse as well seeing as the purse I am currently using doesn’t hold most items larger than four inches. Once we entered the mall, we actually took a turn into Marks & Spencer, a department store that reminded me a lot of a Macy’s / Nordstrom type deal. It was gorgeous inside with higher-end groceries and teas, multiple cafes, and multiple floors to house the cafes. Finding a random obsession with interior design, we ran up to the homegoods floor.

While everything is quite expensive in Marks & Spencer, it does seem like good quality. You’d have to go and check it out yourself, but I would say that if you have the money to spend, go for it. It seems like it would be worth your while.

We entered Primark, bought pillows and a purse, and set back out into the mall. I had a hankering for some Starbucks, so Starbucks we bought. I purchased some weird mango tea drink that tasted like heaven, so I made a mental note for future reference. Although I do appreciate the frequent Starbucks littering every corner of London, they are ungodly expensive. If you think the States are bad, just take a gander at British prices. If my memory serves correctly, a small frappacino was 3.25 pounds (roughly 5 USD), which is insane for such a small and sugary drink. I’d pay $3.25 for it, but not in pounds.

After Starbucks, there really wasn’t anything else we wanted to see in the mall, so we headed back to campus. After all, we had to get ready for the biggest part of the day: WICKED! Jen and I bought tickets to see Wicked for about 17 pounds for pretty decent seats. They were up on the next level, but they were aisle seats with a pretty clear view of the stage below. I was so excited, but first I had to worry about travelling the Tube during rush hour and then finding a place to eat. Then, of course, we had to worry about getting to the theater in time. PHEW.

The Tube was surprisingly not busy, but finding a place to eat was still difficult. We wandered around the London Chinatown and took a gander at each menu to find decent prices, but it still took a while to assess each place and look at the food options. We finally decided on the Golden Dragon (or something like that; they all sound the same) and I was unimpressed. I ordered a standard chicken fried rice, and the chicken kind of seemed undercooked. I only ate a couple pieces that looked normal enough and I didn’t get sick, but the taste in my mouth afterwards was pretty revolting. The rice itself was fine, but I did have to add a bunch of soy sauce to taste. Jen’s food looked good, or at least the dim sum did. I’ll let you figure out what that is for yourself; it’s heavenly.

We departed from the restaurant and instantly began looking for a map to start out trek to the theater. After about forty-five minutes of walking around at lightning speeds, we finally reached the correct theater to see Wicked. I was really excited! All in all, the show was fantastic and everyone involved did an amazing job. I was blown away by Defying Gravity almost to the point of tears, but my feelings weren’t really any less for the rest of the songs. It was enjoyable, hilarious, depressing, intriguing, and so many other descriptive words. I would most definitely recommend it to anyone, even if you’re not the biggest theater-goer. The seats were cheap enough, the view was decent, and the vocals were fantastic. I couldn’t ask for too much more!

All in all it was a good day, even though I did want to flop and sleep at the end of it. Unfortunately, I ended up staying up quite late to read for my class for this morning… again, don’t judge. I only have one class left this week, so I am looking forward to that. And although I still have to finish my essay for Sunday, I am certain it will get finished. You know, eventually.

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 9 – Brick Lane, Spitalfields, and School Nights

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My second Sunday in London was a bit relaxed, but that’s quite all right. Much like last Sunday, Jen and I went to church a bit early and returned to campus for some lunch. We each had a cup of tea and sat down with our lunches to watch Oliver & Company on Netflix, a relaxing early afternoon before heading off to one of the busiest places I have seen so far in London: Brick Lane Market.

Instead of hopping on the Tube or bus to get there, Nicole, Jen, and I opted to walk the mile and a half it took to get there from campus. At about halfway, my feet started throbbing from my poor choice in shoes, but I pushed forward. Keep Calm and Carry On, as they say. It took some time, but we eventually arrived in this alley-type street with market stalls lining each side and people selling handmade and antique wares. It was pretty cool to see independent designers and jewelry makers selling their work, like at a school craft fair but slightly scarier. I will admit I was apprehensive once I saw the throngs of people shuffling and bumping into one another, but once you enter a storefront or room it dies down somewhat. There’s pretty much a sampling of goods for anyone: from food to jewelry, dresses to graphic tees, pastries to Asian entrees, there’s literally everything you could hope for. I think I even saw a couple juice bars, if you were so inclined.

We hopped into each storefront we saw, but we were all working on tight budgets and opted not to buy anything for a bit. It wasn’t until we approached a fruit stand that we scored some great deals (10 apples for a pound!). Of course there were plenty of secondhand book stalls, and naturally I looked into every single one. Luckily Jen caught my next big find: a British (Bloomsbury) edition of Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince. I got so excited I couldn’t contain myself! I really would have preferred Deathly Hallows, but Half-Blood Prince is just as good AND it was in hardcover! For only 4 pounds, I say it was a steal and a great find.

After a couple more stops, we ambled out of Brick Lane and towards Old Spitalfields Market, not a far walk from where Brick Lane ends. The same sorts of things were being sold at Spitalfields, so we spent about half the time there and headed back to campus. The cool thing about Spitalfields, though, is that it’s a market comprised of local vendors but it’s among chain restaurants and well-known shops. Also, if you’re worried about atmosphere, Spitalfields seems to be a bit safer and more controlled than the hectic vibe that is Brick Lane.

On the way back, we stopped at a Tesco Express to pick up groceries. It’s partly my fault that we stopped at this one; I didn’t know there was one closer to campus. In hindsight, it would have been better if we waited. We trudged about a mile holding our heavy bags; I felt like the personification of death when we finally returned. Jen’s hands were swollen from all of the pressure put on them from the bags! Tesco is one of the cheaper grocery store options, so I guess I’m glad we stopped, but I wish I had known there was a closer one. My hands will never feel the same.

So, like I said, the day was almost uneventful. The markets were cool to see, but we had to return early because I had some preliminary reading to do before classes tomorrow (EW). After being out of class an extra month than I’m used to, I don’t think I’m fully ready to dive back into the swing of things. I guess I’ll find out if I’m ready, won’t I?

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.

Day 7 – English Induction & Anxiety

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So… today was a rollercoaster of emotions that left me exhausted and (you guessed it) just a bit homesick. However, those feelings did pass and now I just feel exhausted. That’s when you know the school term has begun.

This morning was the final induction I had to attend: the induction for the School of English & Drama. The two women who headed the induction seemed brilliant and nice enough, but the words they were saying seriously worried me. There were a lot of “don’t do this” statements and not enough “do this” ones to balance them out. Overall, the messages they were giving us seemed negative and not at all encouraging, so naturally I had a bit of a breakdown. I had entered the induction with the hopes of switching out my Gothic course for something a little lighter on reading, but then the words they said seemed to tell me that I couldn’t switch. Jen, always the voice of reason, told me to just go ask her anyway because the worst that she could say was no. It was sage (albeit obvious) advice, so I took it.

After waiting in a line of ten students for about forty-five minutes, I finally switched out of my Gothic class without a hassle. The head of the English department (or one of the heads), Dr. Bari, is extremely nice and told me that, despite the stern tone of the induction, they just want us to be happy and comfortable. So switching out of my class was no big deal! Unfortunately the Victorian Fictions class I wanted to replace it with didn’t work in my schedule, so I opted for a Modernism course. Hopefully it isn’t as bad as I’m thinking it will be. -crosses fingers-

After all of the hullabaloo with my classes was sorted out, Jen, Nicole, and I decided to travel to Buckingham Palace for a tour. These plans were thwarted, however, when the random London rain started to arrive. The droplets came slowly at first, but then they picked up speed and fell sideways. Then, as if we were experiencing all of the seasons at once, it started to hail. Shortly after the hail, thunder rumbled through the clouds and cleared up the skies. We were off to Buckingham Palace!

Unfortunately, by the time we arrived, the last tour had already left and we were left with nothing to do. We decided to find Charing Cross Road (home to many amazing bookshops), but I believe we ended up at the wrong place. We walked down a couple streets, our feet throbbing and our legs aching from the extended amount of time we had been walking. Luckily the path we were taking included walks through Green Park and St. James Park, but we didn’t find any bookshops. At long last, we just decided to take the Tube back to campus; we were all exhausted anyhow.

We arrived safely back at campus and went our separate ways. Jen and I made ravioli and watched Memoirs of a Geisha on Netflix (it was quite good, by the way). The flat was uncharacteristically quiet, which was an interesting change, and we were actually able to hear the sound of the movie coming from the iPad. It was a relaxing night and I’m grateful for it!

We then FaceTime’d with my parents because it’s their anniversary (yay! plus I just wanted to talk to them), watched some episodes of Pokemon Indigo League, and that brings us to now. I’m looking forward to a good night’s sleep before the exciting events we have planned tomorrow. Classes commence in three days; best to make the most of the next two in preparation! Though, I do have to find some time to complete the preliminary reading for some of my classes… wish me luck.

P.S. – Happy first week in London to me! I’ve been enjoying my time here so far. Hopefully I can continue to enjoy it even as classes begin.