This week has been busy and a bit stressful, but absolutely wonderful. This post is a bit long, with so much to tell! A nice quote from Rachel that describes our week so far, “We’re going to get hit by a bus or a pigeon before this semester ends.”
On Monday, we lived the dream. Michaela, Rachel, and I finally made the trip to London to tour the one and only Warner Brothers Harry Potter Sets. If you know me well, you know that this is basically the only thing I couldn’t leave here without visiting. We took a bus to London (around a 3-hour trip), then took the tube to the outskirts of town. It felt good to smell that oily, stagnant, underground air once again. When we arrived at Watford Junction, we followed all the signs to the Harry Potter bus stop. Yes, the studios have their own buses. I was disappointed that only the outside was decorated–the inside just looked like a regular bus. We were surprisingly the only people freaking out with excitement, which was actually annoying because everyone kept staring at us. But we were so, so happy that we didn’t care. There is so much to tell about the tour, but I’ll try to keep it short!
Our tour began by entering the Great Hall, where tour guides pointed out so many small details that the naked eye can’t catch. Walking into a space that I’ve read about and watched for so long…it was incredible. It was filled with wardrobes, O.W.L.S., and place settings. Then we headed to the first soundstage, which was filled from top to bottom with sets and props. Make-up stands, wardrobes, The Leaky Cauldron, the Yule Ball decorations, Hogwarts Gates, the Boys Dorm, Gryffindor Common Room, Dumbledore’s office, the Potions Classroom, The Burrow, The Ministry of Magic, Umbridge’s Office, Special Effects…stuff was everywhere. That list doesn’t even cover it. It was like heaven.
An outdoor area houses the Knight Bus, Hagrid’s motorcycle, Tom Riddle’s grave, the Dursley’s House, the Potter’s Cottage, Hogwarts Bridge, and the chess pieces. It was a lot to handle. We spent our time taking pictures, drinking butterbeer, and chatting with the workers.
But then, there’s more. Entering soundstage 2, we walked into the Creature Room. Another slice of heaven. Goblin heads, Dobby, Kreacher, Hagrid, Lupin as a werewolf, Buckbeak, Aragog, the Hungarian Horntail, the basilisk. It had everything. The Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite movie, so seeing Buckbeak right in front of me…yea. Freaked out.
Then we saw the entrance to Diagon Alley and it was just…too much. We were so happy. It’s amazing, all the small details that audiences miss on screen. Everything was amazing and truly a dream come true.
The grand finale: Hogwarts. Any aerial or landscape view of the school is actually a 1:24 scale model of the castle, with a green screen behind it. That concept was hard to understand until they showed us a video of how it worked, and seeing the castle literally right in front of us. It was mind-blowing, to say the least. Words seriously cannot explain how incredible it was, and how happy I was that day.
We stayed in a hostel on Monday night, then woke up the next morning to pick up Savannah and Hannah from the coach station. We spent most of the morning and afternoon walking around Hyde and Kensington Park until our tour of the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace. I wasn’t super excited about the tour, but I am so glad I did it. It felt very similar to seeing the Biltmore; so much history, so many magnificent rooms. It was a self-guided audio tour, and we only saw a small portion of the Palace, but I learned so much. Because the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee was last March (the 60th anniversary of her coronation), the tour was filled with special exhibitions from the coronation. The dining room was converted into more of a showcase for pieces like her coronation dress, etc. It was pretty amazing. To be standing in a place where so many important people have visited, and to see things we’ve only seen in textbooks or pictures. Also, the Duke of Edinburgh was a serious hunk in the 50s.
On Wednesday, we took our last group field trip. We hit the road early and headed to Oxford, where we heard one lecture and then spent time with the ACU study abroad students who are based in Oxford. It was fun to talk to other Americas (and to not have a language barrier with accents), and to hear about how similar our programs are, but it’s always a little bit awkward being forced to spend time with people you don’t know. The ACU students took us on walking tours around town, but that was definitely not as educational as a guide would have been. We missed Tony on Wednesday. My tour guides for the day, Victoria and Maggie, took us to the Ashmolean museum…but Allie, Rachel, and I may have skipped out on that and explored Oxford for a little bit. Surprisingly, Victoria never figured that out. We did, though, get to see Christchurch (the inspiration for the Great Hall in Harry Potter) and visited the pub where C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkien used to regularly meet at, The Eagle and Child. That was pretty cool. We ate dinner at the ACU house, then headed back to Bath.
The stressful part of this week has been school work. Because we have to remember that we are, in fact, studying abroad. After knocking out our first test this morning, the group took a walking tour of Bath (rescheduled, we were supposed to take it the day we arrived here). Although we’ve seen most of the city and know our way around, it’s still interesting to hear the unique history of the city. Every tour guide has different stories to tell and different details to point out.
We learn so much, everywhere we go. It doesn’t matter whether we’re riding the tube, listening to a boring tour guide, or ditching a museum. There’s always something new to see, a new detail to notice. This weekend, I am officially heading to the continent! Although I love Bath, it’s about time to get off this island. Amsterdam. here we come!