London part two – or when I didn’t actually make it to Oxford

In a post-Harry daze, I wandered around Watford a little bit, and decided to have some Polish food for lunch. My pierogis were, unfortunately, mediocre (or maybe I just don’t like Polish food? So much for trying to find my roots). By the time I got back, it was still only about 3:00, so I decided to go to the British Library. The library is, in fact, a library, but they also have an exhibition with their “treasures” – and they were incredible! I saw so many amazing things, including the Magna Carta, a Gutenberg bible, original Beatles lyrics (including one written on the back of a birthday card, notebook paper, etc), original Sylvia Plath, Mozart, Handel, Bach, Beethoven, Galileo, da Vinci… something about seeing the original work of these geniuses was an incredible fulfilling experience.

After, I headed to the British museum, famous for the Rosetta stone and their mummies, among other things, but I was tired and it was crowded so I didn’t really stay more than an hour. Plus, I had already seen mummies in Rome. Rough life, right? I decided to walk home, and indulged in some retail therapy on Oxford Street on the way. That night in the hostel, I had an interesting talk with one of my roommates (really the only one I talked to, it was a pretty antisocial hostel). He is Lithuanian, but has been working in London for years now, although he is actually living in the hostel right now because flat prices are so crazy, although he is searching. But anyway, we had a nice talk about the bullshit of prices in London and Capitalism in general. He grew up when Lithuania was in the USSR and he actually pointed out some positives to the system. But, as we both agreed, we haven’t seen any system that actually works. I can’t even imagine having a hostel as a home – even when I am traveling, knowing I have somewhere to come back to, whether it be Sevilla, DC, or Florida, is always comforting. (Although perhaps I have two many homes, and it tears my heart up sometimes).

Saturday morning, I headed to Buckingham palace to watch the famous changing of the guards. I actually think I saw the horse guard training the day before in Hyde Park! The event was cool, I guess, but honestly a bit boring. Very little action and a lot of waiting around. I think it must just be something people do to say they have done it. Well, I did it! After a delicious suchi lunch by the Thames, I walked down Strand street and stopped in the Twinings shop. I bought a mixed box of tea, which was obviously overpriced, but they had really cool flavors and I wanted to try everything! I’ll let you know how salted caramel green tea tastes after I try it. They also have a small museum and tea tasting in the back. I walked a bit more, crossed the Thames and walked to the other side to the Borough market, which is apparently one of the oldest markets in history. It was definitely a feast for the eyes and the stomach. I had a good old American-style brownie (does not exist in Spain) and bought some crumbly English fudge. So yummy. I then went to the Tate modern. Thank goodness it was free, because I felt how i do about all modern art museums – I love about half of all modern art, and the other half just perplexes me. After, I walked a few more hours before taking the bus back. I tried to use public transportation as little as possible, but when I had the time, the red double-deckers were way more fun than the tube, and with way better views!

So the video isn’t the best, and it is just of the band playing, but at least it’s mine!

Sunday morning I woke up with a lack of energy or desire to do anything. My roommate gave me a nasty cough before I left and I had it all throughout my trip, maybe that explains it? I walked to Regents park and plopped down to enjoy the sun and read for a bit.  I then walked through Camden town and the Camden markets. They were so cool! If I had more money and room in my backpack (although lets get real here the only thing stopping me from going on a shopping spree was the fact that easyjet physically would not let me take it all back to Spain) I would have bought so many things! They also had a bunch of great looking food stalls, though I eventually decided on Thai food because that, tied with Indian food, has got to be the type of food I miss the most. I then went on a lengthy walk to Piccadilly to meet Sheridan and Clodagh for high tea. They are two of my friends, one from elementary school and one from high school, that both go to UF but met on their study abroad program to London and are now friends. They had finals the following week so couldn’t spend more time than just an afternoon, but I am so happy I got to see them! It was like no time had passed and we talked for a few hours while enjoying high tea at The Wolseley. It was so fancy, I felt bad I was there in my worn-out travel clothes. Also, on the way there, I saw several people who had just run the London Marathon earlier that day. They all looked so tired, but fulfilled and incredibly happy. It was super inspiring, and I resolved that one day I’m going to run it too! We’ll see how that goes…I have to run a marathon first before I try to run one in another country. Good thing there’s the Rock n Roll marathon in DC next March! But okay wayy off track.

Up until now, I had been doing mostly free stuff, but bought the London Pass for one day so I could do some of the more typical London attractions that also happen to be super expensive. So Monday morning, I woke up early to queue up at Westminster Abbey. On one hand, it was just another church, and I have seen many, but it was impressive because it contains so much history. There are so many kings buried there, but also famous poets, such as Lewis Carroll and even famous scientists such as Charles Darwin (am I the only one who finds it ironic that Darwin is buried amongst several people who probably think his theories are bullocks?) So the history made it interesting, and the fact that it is still used today for important events such as coronations. Next, I used my pass for a short river cruise along the Thames, which was great because of the great weather, to arrive at the Tower of London. The Tower of London also has a lot of really interesting history. Take your pick – my favorite was learning about its famous prisoners (Anne Boleyn for one). It was also a fortress and a residence for kings. And of course today, it is famous mostly for being the place to see the Crown Jewels. They were incredible! There were precious gems so big they almost looked fake, I had to keep reminding myself that yes, that was a real diamond! Crazy. Next, I went to a monument to the Great Fire of London, where I got a decent view of the city, then meandered over to get a tour of the Globe Theatre, which was probably my favorite thing of the day.

The reconstruction of the Globe theatre is not built exactly on the same site as the old one, but rather, a few blocks away. I think this is because there is already a building on the site of the old Globe. Anyway, the tour was most interesting in that we learned how the Globe was constructed to be as accurate as possible and as true to the original. The only difference they have today is to conform to modern day fire laws (the proper number of exits, emergency sprinklers, etc). Other than that, the Globe is completely built in oak and with wood pegs, like the old one. The brick they use for the base is even true to the original- although it was much more expensive, they special ordered bricks that were the same size as the ones used 500+ years ago. The structure is also the same – even today, there are groundlings that pay 5 pounds to stand right up on the stage. Although today, thankfully, people shower and the odor isn’t quite as offensive as it must have been back then. The most interesting thing, though, was the guide’s insight that this theatre changes actors. Normally, in a theatre, the actors cannot see the audience. But as it was in the Globe centuries ago and now in the reconstruction, the actor is forced to interact with the audience. The Globe uses daylight, so the actor can see the audience, and the groundling’s faces are pressed right up to the stage. The layout forces actors to change their acting because the audience essentially becomes part of the play, as it was in the time of Shakespeare. This is why Shakespeare’s plays often have lines directed at the groundings/audience, because in effect the majority of his plays were written explicitly for the Globe theatre. It was so interesting! I wish I had more time in the museum there, but my tour was one of the last ones so unfortunately I couldn’t go back after. After that, I used the rest of my pass to see Hotel Budapest at the movie theatre. The London Pass cost around 47 pounds, and I got around 87 pounds worth of value from it. Some of the things I did I wanted to do anyway, but other things, like the river cruise and the movie, I would not have paid for separately. So, overall, was it worth it? I probably could have gotten by without it, but I am glad I did it at least for that one day. Plus, the movie was super good and ACTUALLY in English! It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie at a movie theatre in English, so that was a perfect ending to a busy day.

Tuesday…well… I screwed up. I was supposed to go to Oxford, and had already bought a cheap bus ticket which I happily presented to the driver and was about to happily step onto the bus when he said “You’ve got a problem.” “Uh oh, what problem?” “This ticket is for April 14” “Yeah, and today is…oh…today is the 15th.” I had thought the ticket was for Tuesday, and it was actually for Monday. So I could have bought new tickets for around 14 pounds each way. I was running out of money and didn’t want to go to the ATM again, so I decided not to, but in the end I still had to get money from the ATM so I probably should have just gone to Oxford! I spent the day wandering mostly through Chelsea and South Kensington, and it was nice to see some less touristy, super-posh neighborhoods, but I did end up getting kind of bored. I went to the science museum but left because it was full of screaming children. I ended up seeing another movie to pass some time, and then headed to the bus station that night to get a ride to the airport. Since my flight started boarding around 5 in the morning, it didn’t make sense to spend another night at the hostel, so I spent a very uncomfortable night in the airport instead. Still way better than trying to get from the hostel to the airport in the middle of the night. Overall, London was incredible, and I definitely want to return to the UK again to explore more!


London part one – I basically only came here to fangirl over Harry Potter

London was by far my most expensive trip – the flight, the duration (6 days), and the fact that it is LONDON, probably one of the most expensive cities in the world especially due to the conversion rate. BUT, I had the time and the funds, so, why not? I left on a Wednesday morning and returned back to Sevilla the following Wednesday.

After I landed, my first problem came when the bus ticket I printed out to get from the airport to the city wasn’t, in fact, a “ticket” but a “confirmation” of the ticket, and therefore not valid. Awesome. So I wasted the money I spent on that and had to buy another ticket (for another company because honestly it was kind of ridiculous and I was not giving them any more of my money) to get to London. But in the end, it worked out. The bus ride to the center of London was actually kind of beautiful – instead of driving on highways, we drove most of the time on small two lane roads through countryside and south London suburbs. With the sun shining, it was lovely, and I was thoroughly entertained just looking out the window. One of the good things about having so little luggage is that when I got to the bus station, instead of going straight to my hostel, I decided to wander around a little bit. I wandered over towards Buckingham palace and the surrounding gardens, popped in the National Gallery for an hour or so, and wandered a little bit through West End and Soho before I decided to take the tube towards my hostel in Paddington. What struck me as strange about the tube (compared to the metro in DC) is that there were actual humans on the platform giving directions. There were also couch-like seats on the inside lining the walls with room in the middle to stand – very strange.

Anyway, I arrived at my hostel, which can only be described adequately as a shithole. You get what you pay for, I guess, an in London 15 pounds a night gets you a shithole. In the end, though, it was bearable, mostly because I was only there at night. I decided to walk to a supermarket to get some groceries so I could make breakfast and dinner in the hostel most nights. On my way, I saw a few interesting things, such as the Lamborghini and the Maserati I saw about 5 seconds apart from one another. Crazy! I was also struggling a little bit with the traffic, but a lot of sidewalks have “look left” and “look right” painted on the road at crosswalks to help out the tourists, which actually helped me to not get run over. The supermarket was in an Arab part of town, I’m not exactly sure what nationalities exactly but I saw some Iraqi and Lebanese restaurants. I also saw some of the same disconcerting things I saw in Morocco, namely the fact that there were only men at the cafes…and everyone was smoking hookah. Anyway, I had fun at the supermarket trying out some English groceries, and went to bed relatively early to take advantage of the first full day in London on Thursday.

Thursday morning I rose early and went on a beautiful walk through Hyde park towards the museums in the Kensington area. Seriously, how did I get so lucky weather-wise in London?? It was sunny literally the entire time I was there! I strolled right into the Victoria and Albert Museum, an art and design museum, and it was really interesting! I was a little wary since I am a bit museumed out this year, but it was really nice, interactive, and unique. I especially liked the insights into British life through the ages (teacups, anyone?) and the fashion exhibit they had showing style evolution over the last 100 years. Next I hopped across the street to the natural history museum, but it was crowded with screaming children and I was fading, so I didn’t find it quite as enjoyable. Next, I strolled to Harrods, a deluxe department store. It was ridiculous. I didn’t even have to multiply by the exchange rate to be shocked at the prices. One of the most shocking finds was an iphone, covered in diamonds or something similar, that they were selling for around 36,000 pounds….I will never understand anyone who feels the need to buy something like that. Anyway…I took advantage of the fact that my starbucks card works in London to take an afternoon break with a much-missed chai-latte and my Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal. Energy restored, I walked back to the National Gallery to see a few paintings I missed as well as the neighboring National Portrait gallery. The National Gallery was my favorite, as they have some awesome Impressionist-era paintings. Lots of Van Gogh, Monet, etc. There was even a free exhibit on Van Gogh’s sunflowers that I saw while there. That was a pretty full day, and I was getting up early on Friday for my 9:30am tour of Warner Brother’s studio, so I headed home around 7.

Friday: This was it!!! The moment I have been waiting for since a very nice Australian I met in Rome gifted me his ticket to the Warner Brothers studio tour. To see none other than the very place where 8 magical films were filmed and countless lives were touched. Needless to say I was excited. The morning of was a disaster. I woke up late. My hostel, being shitty, did not have an outlet near my bed so I had to plug my phone in the kitchen and hope to hear it. Obviously I did not. In my haste to run out the door, I must have gotten my phone wet, putting it on the fritz in that the LED light would not turn off. Not even when I turned off the phone. And for that whole morning, my camera was also barely working. I also made the mistake of taking a slower train, so the entire time leading up to the studio tour made me panicky, grumpy, and sad. I got there barely on time, got in line and waited to enter, but my morale was rock bottom. But…as I should have expected, the magic of Harry Potter pulled me through. The tour was absolutely incredible. Whole sets were there, including the boys dormitory, the Gryffindor common room, the potions classroom, the Burrow, Diagon Alley, Umbridge’s office, Dumbledore’s office, the Great Hall…as well as thousands of props I hadn’t even considered the process of making or hadn’t thought of in years, including the professor of Muggle Studies that was killed by Voldemort at the Malfoys’ house in the beginning of book 7! There were also so many interesting behind the scenes facts, like the fact that the 1000s of jars in the Potions classroom were filled by actual objects – a crazy example being that one of the prop designers went to the butcher’s for bones and charred them herself.

Honestly, I was only a tiny bit scared that learning the secrets of the film production would take a way a little of the magic for me, but it only increased it. It really made me consider, all over again, my deep love for Harry Potter. Harry Potter was, truly, my childhood. My first Harry Potter memory was in 1st grade, at age six or seven. My 1st grade teacher was reading aloud to the class, a part of what I think now is the beginning of the Chamber of Secrets, about Dudley sitting in a chair and his fat bottom drooping to either side. Although just then developing my reading skills, I was hooked. I started reading them with mom, then on my own, catching up with Rowling’s release schedule (actually having to WAIT to get the next installment, what Dark Magic!) by the Order of the Phoenix at age 10. Countless childhood fantasies about Hogwarts being real, then dealing with the disappointment of not getting my letter. Later, the slightly-more-sophisticated hope that maybe Rowling had made a deal with the wizarding world- because us muggles don’t see what is right in front of our eyes, maybe publishing the truth of the wizarding world was the only way to ensure muggles wouldn’t find out about it, because we would think it was fiction! (I still want to believe this one). A lot of Harry Potter memories happened at camp. I remember crying in Cabin 4 as I waited for Grace Shawhan to get to the part of Half Blood Prince where Dumbledore died, so we could cry together. I remember reading at activities, lunch..wherever, participation be damned. I remember going to the first movie with Alix, my elementary school friend, her parents, and my mom, obviously not being old enough to go to a movie by myself. Subsequent midnight showings at camp, and the last movie being released as I headed off to college, a true closure of childhood. Harry Potter is and always will be such a huge part of me, encompassing not only my love of the story, of the world she created, but my love for fantasy and literature itself.

“The stories we love best do live in us forever. So, whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home. ” – J.K. Rowling




I am SUPER behind with my posts, but now I am back from England, so I’m going to start recapping everything before I forget it all!

The weekend before mom and dad came to visit, I went with a friend to Granada for the weekend Granada is famous for the Alhambra, probably the best and most impressive example of Moorish architecture in Spain. I went with my friend Leticia, who I had met last fall on the bus on the way to Bilbao. She’s from the north of Spain but studying in Seville.

So Friday afternoon we went in blablacar to Granada. Blablacar is another example of technology making some truly awesome things possible. It is a ride share system where drivers have profiles and put, for example, “Sevilla to Granada Friday 16:00” and a price. Then, through the site, you can ask to go with them and agree to their price. For Granada, this ended up begin way cheaper than both the bus and the train, at around 12 Euro each way. And it’s safe because the drivers and passengers are peer-reviewed. However, that didn’t stop me from getting horribly carsick on the way there. You win some, you lose some. We got to Granada at night and walked around to try and get a night view of the Alhambra and the neighborhoods. We then went for tapas (Tapas in Granada are one of the few places you still get a free tapa when you buy a drink- awesome!) and went back to the hotel because Saturday was to be a long day.

On Saturday morning we left the hostel and went in search of some great views. We walked a famous route called the “Paseo de los tristes” and started walkin up some hills in search for the miradores – and were rewarded with some stunning views of Granada. The combination of the mountains (including the snowy Sierra Nevada in the background), the white houses with dark roofs, and the Alhambra really did make for some stunning views.


After we had explored the higher parts of the city, we headed back towards the Alhambra. The Alhambra is huge and divided into four parts, so we spent all of the afternoon there. It is seriously impressive. I am no stranger to Arte Mudéjar because Seville has a lot of it, but the Alhambra is on a whole other level. Everything is crazily intricate, and when you think that it was built over 700 years ago, it becomes even more incredible. It’s indescribable. Clearly I am not doing a good job, so I’ll leave some pictures.

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We also went to a garden next to the Alhambra called, Carmen de los Mártires, which was beautiful and even had peacocks! After the day of walking up and down hills, we were dead tired, so we went back to the hostel a bit to rest before heading out to the WORST TAPAS RESTAURANT EVER. We saw a deal from outside, “6 pitchers of Sangria and 4 tapas, 6 Euros.” Okay, pretty good deal. I told the man I was a vegetarian, but unfortunately forgot to tell him that included fish…so he brought back a double portion of Ensalada Rusa for me and two sandwiches for Leticia. Now, I normally like Ensalada Rusa, and sometimes it isn’t made with fish, but this was the fishiest Ensalada I had ever eaten or smelled. I took a small bite and spit it out. Leticia thought I was being dramatic, so she tried it and spit it out too. It was that terrible. When I told the waiter I didn’t eat fish, he brought me a heated-from-frozen tortilla española slice… and Leticia’s sandwiches were apparently also inedible. After that we were super frustrated by the restaurants we had experienced thus far in Granada (apparently everyone says you can eat really well in Granada but we just had not seen it) so we finished our night with fro-yo instead of taking our chances with more horrible tapas. Although now it’s something to laugh about, we were pretty frustrated at the time.

The next day was a little more relaxed. Armed with our hostel map, we went on a hunt for some corners of Granada that apparently had really good Graffiti. It was impressive, but I’ve seen better in Seville. We also went to a reaaaaly cool café, called Café Bohemia. It was in the style of a speakeasy in that we weren’t even sure if it was open from the outside, but on the inside it was full of life! They apparently have jazz music at night, and the decor was really cool, with records and books everywhere, musical instruments…a little bit of everything. Definitely an awesome hangout I would frequent if I lived in Granada. We got our blablacar ride back, and thus completed our weekend in Granada. Granada was a beautiful city and I’m so glad I got to see it.