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