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.

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.