Thursday, October 31, 2013

London (part 4): Palaces, Books, Movies and Magic

This post in particular is going to be the geekiest one, by far, that you're going to read on here-- so fair warning. Day 4 of my London trip MAY have been my favorite. Why? Well, first of all, I got to see Buckingham Palace. But that's actually not why it was probably my favorite day. It was my favorite day because I got to go to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London. And I am a MASSIVE, unapologetic, die-hard Harry Potter fanatic. Before I dive into THAT part of Day 4, I guess I'll start at the beginning.

I meant to go to the Tower of London on Day 4, but after getting on the bus to go to Parliament Square that morning, I realized that I didn't have enough money on my oyster card to get to the Tower of London right away, meaning that I had to go to the Underground station (where I would have had to go anyway, but it meant taking more time) to reload it. Unfortunately, there were some other tourists who, frankly, couldn't grasp the concept of buying a ticket and were causing the line to add money to the card to be EXTREMELY long. I ended up getting out of line and going to the information line and just adding money through them. However, this took awhile and I just didn't have enough time to go all the way to the Tower of London, explore that area AND make it to the Harry Potter Studio Tour on time. I ended up deciding to walk to Buckingham Palace.

I actually wasn't positive that I wasn't going in the right direction because there was construction being done and I was walking for awhile. However, I saw a crowd of tourists walking in one direction (I swear I didn't just make a One Direction pun in post about London.....okay, I did), so I figured I was probably getting close to Buckingham Palace.

There were A TON of tourists there, which makes sense. The royal family and all. Buckingham Palace itself (in terms of appearance) actually reminded me a bit of the White House. I waited awhile, trying to get up to the front of the gates to properly see. Hardly anyone was speaking English, or at least it seemed that way. We were all waiting around, hoping to see the Changing of the Guard, but it wasn't actually occurring until the next day. After realizing that, I walked over to St. James Park, which was right next to the Palace.

Buckingham Palace photos (all the pictures are my doing, so some of them aren't all that great)

I think this statue is devoted to the Queen

Outside the Palace

Palace guards (I had a video of him and his counterpart on the other side marching, but it was too big to attach here)

Monument to the Queen

This is the guard outside of what I think might have been an alternate entrance to the Palace

I just liked it, also-- you can see my shoes (and shadow)

St. James Park, right outside the Palace
Anyway, I was REALLY anxious about getting to the Harry Potter Studio Tour, so I walked back to the Victoria Underground station and got on the Tube. I actually had to switch stations and take the Overground, for the last leg of the journey. The Tour was actually outside of London. It took awhile to get there, maybe an hour and a half. After getting to the last station, there was an actual Harry Potter Tour bus that was specifically for the Harry Potter people, which took us to the Studio.
I reserved my ticket for the Tour a month in advance, when I started planning the entire London trip. It was the one thing that I REALLY wanted to do (aside from all of the sightseeing). Anyway, I got to the Tour about two hours early (mostly because I incredibly excited and I wasn't too sure how long it would take to get to the Tour). I got dinner and wandered through the gift shop. If I could, I would have bought EVERYTHING in the store. But, seriously, the setup of the Tour was AWESOME. First, the whole thing is THE place where all 8 of the Harry Potter movies were filmed. Everything is REAL. The costumes, props, sets etc. It was ALL in the movies, none of it is fake or just produced for the tour.
I was like a kid in a candy store (actually, better put: I was like my little sister-who I love very much-in a candy store).  See, I'm that person who was completely willing to wait in line for the books to come out at midnight or see the movie the first day it came out. I was Hermione for Halloween at least 3 times. I wrote a paper freshman year of college for my composition class about the phenomenon of Harry Potter and why it became so massive. (I said this was going to be the geekiest post you're going to read...) And, possibly more importantly, Harry Potter was (both literarily and not, to some degree) my childhood. I'll never love another book series the way I love the Harry Potter books. So much of who I am and how I understand the world is because of those books. Friendship, family, life/death, growing up etc., are all major themes in the books, and so much of what I understand about them can be traced back to reading the Harry Potter books as I grew up. The opportunity to see the place where the filmed the movies, to see the place where this entire world that I saw in my head while I read the books, was filmed--spectacular.
The tour was not really structured all that much, we had free reign to look at whatever we wanted for as long as we wanted. They flat out said that it generally takes about 4 hours, (yes, FOUR) to complete the whole tour and that we could stay until closing if we really wanted to. They weren't even exaggerating, I'm pretty sure I was there for about 5 hours total. Mostly what they've done is split the sets, props, costumes etc. all across two lots, then the back/outside lot. There is so much to see. Anything you wanted to see from the movies, it's there. Want to know how they filmed the Quidditch scenes? That's there. Curious about the creatures like dragons, house elves, hippogriffs? That's there. It was awesome. There is also a section where you can get on a broomstick and they'll do the green screen behind you and make it seem like you're flying.

 *Like I said before, they are all the photos I took while I was at the tour, so the quality isn't that great*



But the first of my favorite four parts had to be the very beginning: the Great Hall. See, they took us to this little movie theater inside the tour at the very start and played a brief video about Harry Potter and then we all got up and they pushed open the doors (just like in the movies) and there is the Great Hall in all its spectacular beauty. I'm pretty sure I couldn't breathe for a second because it was RIGHT THERE. I walked through the Great Hall. (I'm sorry this is so geeky, but this was seriously one of the highlights of the entire London trip) I think my second favorite part was the backlot, where you could try butterbeer (it's essentially cream soda--no alcohol or anything), and it tasted really good. Also in the backlot were the chess pieces from the Philosopher's Stone movie (that was actually one of my favorite scenes in that movie), the Knight Bus, Number 4 Privet Drive, Godric's Hollow etc. My third favorite part was Diagon Alley, because it EXACTLY like it was in the movies, with all the different storefronts and everything.
The last of the four favorite parts was probably my favorite. It was a model (a HUGE model) of Hogwarts. I don't know if you've ever been to the Science Center in downtown Pittsburgh, but they have this massive train/city model that takes up a whole room and the Hogwarts (and the grounds of Hogwarts) model reminded me of that. Only on a much larger scale. I can't even begin to explain how fantastic the model was. To be perfectly honest, I actually got choked up at the end of walking around it. It was like the books had ended all over again. I honestly had to sit down and stop for a second because I basically started crying a bit. See, the combination of the replica/model of Hogwarts mixed with the massive TV screen that showed a J.K Rowling quote (see below), literally had me in tears. It was the best possible way to end the tour.

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