On my seventh day in England, Jenni and I took a cab to the most magical place on earth: Hogwarts! Well, to be exact, we went to the Warner Bros. Studios where the films were shot. The Studio tour (The Making of Harry Potter) was one of the first things I reserved when planning my trip, and I was looking forward to it the most.
Jenni had already been once, but she was excited to go again, and it was fun to have another Potterhead with me. Jenni’s a Hufflepuff and I’m a Gryffindor and the first thing we did when we arrived was go to the gift shop. I kept debating whether or not to get a prefect badge, but I did get a few small things like a Christmas ornament that would be easy to send home to Korea.
After about an hour of shopping and taking pictures with all the signs leading into the main exhibit, we decided we should probably head inside. We were led into a room with a big screen and sat theater-style and a staff member told us, “Now we are going to watch all 8 films, so see you in about 20 hours!” which all made us laugh appreciatively. We watched a short video about the making of the movies and what we could expect to see inside, and then the doors opened into the Great Hall.
The whole studio tour was magical – from seeing the sets and costumes to watching video clips of all the actors talking about what it was like to essentially live on the lots we were visiting. We got to eat in the cafe, take pictures of ourselves with all the set pieces, walk through the house on Privet Drive, etc. They update the tour often, and Jenni said she’d never been allowed on the Hogwarts Express when she first went. This time, we got to walk onto and through the train and then the staff helped us take pictures inside the actual train cars they used for filming!
After the tour, we went to King’s Cross to extend the experience of being in the magical world. Jenni had never been, even though she’d lived in London her whole life. We got in line to get our pictures taken doing the iconic trolley-through-the-wall pose. The line was long but we talked with one of the staff members – a Slytherin – for quite a while. All the staff members were so sweet and upbeat. We got our pictures taken with our house scarves and went inside the store to pay.
We both decided to get individualized Hogwarts letters – wax seal and everything! I received a ticket to the Hogwarts Express when I got my 7th book after standing in line at midnight when it was released, but I couldn’t find it, so I bought another at the store. Then we decided to go to a few bookstores, since I’d had bad luck until then. I’d tried going on a Sunday when shops were closed and I’d been kicked out of Foyles because of a fire alarm. Third time’s the charm, right?
Jenni and I shopped in Waterstones, Foyles, and a few used bookshops and we got a lot of great book recommendations by the staff and other shoppers. I bought a lot of books and shipped them back to Korea before I left because I was not about to go to London and not buy books. Also, in the German language section of Foyles, I was testing out my German skills by perusing a few books and a German man behind me said, “Entschuldigung,” as he passed and I was excited that a) he thought maybe I was German and b) I understood him!
Then Jenni dropped me off at the Palace Theatre where I had tickets to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. When the play was first announced, I had little hope of ever seeing the play. I thought it’d be a short one-year run in London only and I’d never make it in time. How wrong I was.
Despite the script’s poor reviews and many fan’s claims that it’s strictly NOT canon, the play gets great reviews and has been running for over 3 years. I’d debating buying tickets, since they are so expensive and hard to get, but all the reviews for the play I’d seen were positive and encouraged me to go. I love theater and I love Harry Potter, so I was optimistic.
I’d read the script when it came out and was unimpressed. Like many fans, I don’t consider it canon at all, but I was impressed by the play. I got lucky – tickets were available for the week that I was visiting, even though July is a popular Potter month and a popular vacation time for tourists to London.
I got to the front of the building and there was a line, so I started to follow it, expecting the end to be in sight. I ended up walking all the way around the building – the line was practically circling the whole building. I arrived just as the doors opened so it didn’t take too long to get inside. I found my seat in the back and settled in for the show.
The show is long – over 5 hours – and one either has to book an afternoon and evening performance on the same day or two evening performances. My shows were both in the evening, a Thursday/Friday set-up. I loved the play! It was really well done and it really immersed me into the wizarding world, which is all I wanted. I won’t give anything away, but if you’re a Potter fan, I’d recommend it. The original cast retired right before I saw it, so I saw the second wave of casting but I loved everyone. My favorite was definitely Scorpius!
The next day, I took another side trip to Oxford. Many scenes in the Harry Potter movies were filmed at or inspired by places in Oxford and I was dying to go. My first stop was to get some afternoon tea, so I found a cute little cafe on the river Thames and ordered their afternoon tea set, which came with adorable scones, sandwiches and pastries on a three-tiered stand. I got hot tea with milk and sugar but they also gave me a fruity ice tea. It was really peaceful and enjoyable (except for the first 20 minutes when a family behind me had a bunch of screaming kids) and although I was worried before that doing afternoon tea alone might be weird, I liked it.
Then I made my way to Christ Church. I struggled a bit, searching for wi-fi, using my offline maps, etc. but eventually found the church and knew I was in the right place because even the grounds were full of tourists. I got in line to buy my ticket and stood there for a good 40 minutes. I was behind a Korean family who were sometimes speaking English, sometimes not, and I said hi to them and asked where they were from. They were surprised that I live in Korea and can speak Korean – they lived in the U.S. but were originally from Seoul.
The ticket prices were reduced because the main attraction for fans of HP – the Great Hall – was prepping for an event that night so people weren’t allowed inside. We’d still be able to see inside, we just weren’t allowed to go too far in. I followed the hordes of people up the stairs they used to film the steps on which Malfoy met Harry and then staff offered to take my picture for me. The films were inspired by the room but were actually filmed in the studios lot – the one I went to the day before.
After that, I just wandered around Oxford a little bit. I was kind of unlucky because it was graduation day, so it was extra crowded and lots of things were closed off. I was able to find the courtyard they used for a few scenes in the HP movies by sneakily following a guided tour group, which was cool, but the library where they filmed the restricted section wasn’t selling tickets anymore – all the guided tours were full. I was pretty bummed about that, being a bibliophile, but I went to a museum across the road and found a lot of interesting stuff, including the lantern that Guy Fawkes held during the Gunpowder Plot. That night, I saw the second half of the Cursed Child play and my two days of non-stop Potter were over.
My last full day in London, I spent it doing all the things on my list that I could fit into a day. I went to the British Library and was forced to leave because about ten seconds after I walked in, the fire alarm went off and they evacuated the building. What is it with me and fire alarms?? Eventually, I was allowed back in and I lingered in the Treasure Gallery, where they had writings by Jane Austen, original bibles from all over the world, including a Gutenberg, sheet music of Mozart, maps, and so much more. I was amazed at how all those things were in one place and all free to look at.
Then I found 221b Baker St. and Speedy’s Cafe where they filmed the outside of Sherlock’s home in the BBC series (that I recently hooked my husband onto). It’s not actually on Baker Street. It’s on N Gower Street, near King’s Cross and the British Library.
Then I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum. It’s free and it’s HUGE. It has over 2 million objects. I saw a lot of cool stuff, including a palanquin like the one I was carried in during my Korean wedding. A couple of British guys stopped to look at it and remarked how interesting it was, and I had the strongest urge to go over and tell them, “I rode in one of those for my wedding!” but I didn’t want to seem like a weirdo.
It was at this point that I was actually a little tired of museums, so I didn’t spend much time inside the actual museum, but I did sit in the courtyard outside for a while. There was free wi-fi and they sold slushies so I sat on the grass with my slushie and called Junkyu. He was really impressed how beautiful the courtyard was, and how so many people were outside just sitting around or playing in the fountain. I felt so relaxed and so European.
Next, I found myself inside Harrods, in awe at all the beautiful cakes, desserts, and the enormous amount of tea. It was a beautiful day (never rained the entire time I was in England) so I took a stroll through Hyde Park. The park is vast, so it took me a while to get to all the spots I wanted to see. I visited the Diana Memorial fountain, the Animals in War Memorial, and saw a huge, weird-looking red thing floating in the river (which is apparently and art piece).
I also found the time and energy (don’t ask me how) to visit the Churchill War Rooms. That was a really interesting place – a museum inside the actual bunkers used in WWII. They were setting up for a bike race, so many roads were closed and it was hard to get around later in the day. I just did some shopping, got some food, and headed back to Jenni’s house.
I had a lovely time in England. I met wonderful people, saw amazing things, and got to spend time with one of my best friends. I wasn’t quite ready to leave London but it was time to hit the real part of my solo trip. The next morning, I had a train bound for Brussels and I wasn’t going to miss it.
(To be continued)