London Snapshot

I am quite behind on getting this snapshot post up, but for good reason: I’m working on a little website sprucing/redesign project and I’m hoping to go live with it soon! In the meantime, here are the highlights (and one lowlight) from our most recent trip to London.
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Best Moment

Well, it’s hard to rate any other moment up against seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on stage in London so I’m not even going to try! My full recap of that day is here.

Worst Moment

Ah, the worst moment would be when we were on the way to afternoon tea at Sanderson. In a moment of jet-lagged haze, I misjudged the walking distance, failed to memorize exactly where we needed to go, and neglected to look at the weather forecast, so Chris and I found ourselves a little lost during a heavy downpour on our first day in London. Knowing how predictably unpredictable the weather can be in the U.K. I can hardly blame this one on anyone but myself. We managed to arrive just in time for our reservation looking only slightly soaked, and we ended up having a lovely time, but I did get a little cranky on the way.

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Funniest Moment

In my way-over-excited state right before seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, I missed the directions for exactly where to pick up my tickets before the show and I entered the Palace Theatre through the front doors like I knew what I was doing. Never mind the fact that the entrance was roped off and the doors were tightly closed – I simply walked behind the roped barrier and happily let myself inside. The staff were genuinely surprised to see me in there and they were friendlier than I deserved for not properly reading the directions. A woman gently directed me to the side of the building where I would find the box office. Oops! Minus one for Americans – I did not represent us well that day I suppose.

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Best Meal

We ate so well while we were in London! Chris and I both loved our mid-theatre dinner at Burger & Lobster, but I really enjoyed the afternoon we spent wandering through a very crowded Borough Market gobbling up goodies from various food stalls. It was a meal and an adventure all in one!

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Something We Learned

We learned how to use Uber! Isn’t it weird that we hadn’t used it yet? Our first Uber ride experience went off without a hitch, and we’re now both fans of the ride-sharing world.

We’re Thankful We Packed

My Harry Potter socks.:)

We Didn’t Need To Bring

An umbrella, because I ended up buying a new, fancy one from James Smith & Sons.

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Trip Regrets

A classic regret: this trip solidified London’s spot in my most favorite cities ever list, and I wish we could have spent more time there!

Reasons To Go Back

I have a feeling London will always call to me. I could go back any time, for any reason!

Favorite Photos

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2016 in Review

Well, Happy New Year everybody! I’m late in saying so, but I hope your holiday season was lovely and full of all the joys and comforts your heart desired. I spent a very quick weekend with my family in Colorado, and then promptly whisked myself back home to work on a busy project. The holidays went by in a blur and I can hardly believe we’re well into January, but that’s how it goes, right?

Oh, 2016. I know you weren’t a favorite for so many people and therefore I feel a little guilty saying that Chris and I had a blast. We packed just about as many trips in as possible, and managed to visit a total of eight countries outside of our own. We also took a handful of domestic trips, so suffice it to say our 2016 theme was indeed travel. Our wanderings took us to Belgium, The Netherlands, Mexico, Austria, Slovakia, Germany, Czech Republic, and England. We checked off multiple boxes on our bucket list including seeing the tulips in Holland, attending Oktoberfest, and swimming with whale sharks! Another one of the highlights (for me) was getting to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on stage in London.

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Travel was such a huge highlight of the year, I can hardly remember anything else that happened. 2017 is already shaping up to be a good one, though perhaps not quite as busy. I’m looking forward to visiting a couple of new continents, working on some fitness goals, and celebrating a big milestone birthday (eek!) along with Chris! I’m also just starting to plan for a big trip in 2018, and I always love that process.

Anything exciting on your calendar in 2017? Either way, I wish you peace, good health, love, and happiness in the upcoming year!

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: A Spoiler-Free Review of the Play Experience in London

You guys. I’m almost not even sure how to write this post for two reasons: 1.) I’m supposed to #keepthesecrets so that all fans can enjoy the sheer magic of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and 2.) I don’t know if I can truly express with words how I felt before, during, and after this show! But I will try. If you want to skip the retrospective part of the post and get to the review, skip to the photo of my English breakfast and start there.

First, let’s go back to when the script was released in July 2015. I devoured it as quickly as Crabbe and Goyle gobbling Sleeping Draught-laced cupcakes. I read it in one sitting as per my usual Harry Potter book routine. I enjoyed the story, but I quickly realized it needed to be consumed in its proper format on stage. So I reserved my final thoughts until if and when I could see the full production.

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Skip ahead to October 28, 2015, the day that tickets first went on sale. I didn’t actually think I would be able to score tickets, but just in case luck was on my side, I had signed up via email for priority booking which was to start at 11am GMT on October 28th (6am my time). I was supposed to get an email that day at 10:45am (5:45am my time) with an access link to purchase the tickets, but it didn’t show up on time. Panic ensued, but I’ll make a long story short – I finally received my access link three hours later after hitting refresh on my email every few seconds for three hours straight.

When I clicked the “Book Now” link in the email, I was placed into an online queue where I was number 16800. At that point I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get tickets without a vial of Felix Felicis, but I’m stubborn if nothing else and I figured I could just leave the queue running while I worked. Every once in a while the queue would get stuck or pause with updates and messages, and my expectations lowered even more. After a couple of hours, I was actually at the very front of the line…only to find out that tickets had just sold out. Aw, bummer.

But THEN the screen refreshed to let me know another section of tickets had opened up for later dates! And I was at the front of the queue! It was my turn within minutes, and I quickly selected a date and put tickets in my cart. Upon successful checkout, I managed to purchase Row A tickets in the stalls! WHAT?! Basically I caught the golden snitch during the Qudditch World Cup.

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So it actually happened. The tickets were mine, and I immediately got started on planning a little trip to London! I screen-printed everything just in case because I couldn’t believe it. I heard stories of people who had tickets in-cart but lost their selections due to system glitches, so I feel quite fortunate to have had the opportunity to see the show. I hope everyone who wishes to go is soon able to do so. They continue to open up new dates in London, and there is even news of the play coming to Broadway. It’s worth the wait, I promise!

Fast-forward to November 2016, and there we were in London! We arrived on a Thursday with plans to see both parts of the play on Sunday. I dragged Chris to the Palace Theatre on the first night of our trip to see the facade with my own eyes and pinch myself.

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Our hotel in Seven Dials, the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street, provided the perfect point for easily reaching the theatre district and the bustle of Covent Garden while still remaining quiet enough for sleeping at night. It sits about two blocks from the Palace Theatre, and we loved it. We’d happily stay there again.

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Sunday morning Chris and I enjoyed a big brunch at Bill’s. I made reservations to ensure we had plenty of time to pick up tickets and settle into our seats before the show started. The St. Martin’s Courtyard location is pretty close to the Palace Theatre (and also to our hotel) and it was a fantastic choice. The Bill’s Breakfast with the addition of bubble and squeak filled me up so I could last through Part 1 of the show.

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After our late breakfast, we headed over to the theatre to pick up the tickets. Note: the box office is located along Shaftesbury Avenue, not on Charing Cross Road. I may or may not have let myself in through the front entrance of the theatre in a moment of over-excitement. It may or may not have been a little embarrassing when the staff, surprised to see me inside the closed doors, politely explained that I was not supposed to be in there and that the box office is on the side. Oops.

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We queued up with hundreds of other people about an hour before the start time for Part 1. The line wrapped around all sides of the building, but it moved quickly and we were inside with plenty of time to spare. Of course, I purchased a program along with the Souvenir Brochure. Pro tip: a few souvenirs are sold at the refreshments stands, so if the lines are too long at the main gift counter, check the other spots.

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Obviously photography is not allowed once the play starts (which people dutifully respected), but I did snap two pre-show iPhone photos including one of the stage. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler, especially since the image quality is quite terrible!

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And then the show began. I spent at least the first 15-20 minutes of Part 1 trying not to sob. The score is overwhelmingly beautiful, the stage production and magic are simply brilliant, and seeing the characters from this beloved world one more time felt like, as my friend Casey so eloquently put it, “greeting long-lost friends you thought you’d never see again.”

Eventually I settled in and managed to enjoy the show without a giant lump in my throat. I felt a huge relief as my original suspicions were confirmed, that reading the script as a standalone book hardly does the story justice. It must be seen as it was meant to be consumed, as a stage production with loads of talent and passion poured into the acting, set design, lighting, costumes, music, and effects. Granted, I still treat Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as a bonus side story and not part of the original series, but I welcomed the opportunity to hear from Harry and the gang one more time.

Part 1 ended on a huge cliffhanger and also left us quite hungry so we opted to do an early dinner. I highly recommend an amazing restaurant nearby perfect for a pre- or post-show meal called Burger & Lobster. We ate there in between Parts 1 and 2 and absolutely loved it. The Soho location (Dean Street) is pretty convenient to the Palace Theatre and service was prompt, allowing us to return for Part 2 in plenty of time. Only burger and/or lobster are available on the menu, so it’s pretty easy and quick to decide on your order when your mind is swimming with thoughts from the play. Chris opted for both selections, and I tucked into this delicious burger with fries.

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And as if I wasn’t already hyper-excited enough, we also happened upon the most amazing you-have-to-go-here gallery and store dedicated to Harry Potter artwork called House of MinaLima. Seriously, if you’re a Harry Potter fan, I implore you to visit this shop or at least check it out online. It’s a fantastic collection of gorgeous artwork and I had a difficult time not walking out with one of everything. Not to mention the decor is so fun – even the floor is decked out in mischief.

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When we were at the WB Studio Tour on Friday, I had scoured the gift shop looking for something Harry Potter-related to commemorate this London trip, something subtle that wouldn’t look out of place hanging on our wall at home. I didn’t find anything like what I envisioned short of asking if I could purchase copies of the Hogwarts blueprints in the Art Department (the answer was no).  Lo and behold, I found exactly what I wanted at MinaLima, this truly lovely Whomping Willow print that I am having matted and framed as we speak. I love it.

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Part 1 was definitely my favorite, but Part 2 had its moments. There is a scene in Part 2 so painfully moving and brilliantly executed by the cast, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to breathe again. The show ended with the entire audience on their feet for a standing ovation perhaps more enthusiastic than I’ve ever experienced.

My final spoiler-free thoughts on the play? I loved it. It’s bewildering and bewitching. Pure spell-binding magic. It’s not completely without flaws (there are a couple of plot points I find a little silly and at times I felt like the story could have been trimmed/tightened up a bit), but the superb acting, the gorgeous score, and the costumes, illusions, and sets more than make up for it. It’s such an incredible theatrical experience that surprised me so many times in ways I didn’t expect since I had already read the script. And I really don’t want to say too much more than that! #keepthesecrets, right?

On the whole I found the play worthy of a special spot in Harry Potter fans’ hearts including mine. I officially give it an Outstanding on the O.W.L. grading scale.

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Muggle Girl Geeks Out at Harry Potter Studio Tour in London

How is that for a headline straight out of The Quibbler?

I fully intended to do plenty of London-y things on our recent trip to London (and we did do just that), but I couldn’t possibly pass up the opportunity to head outside the city proper to visit Leavesden. Why Leavesden you ask? To visit The Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter, of course!

First things first, I’ll mention right now that if you’re planning to tour the studio, try to purchase your tickets well in advance. So if you’re about to visit and you haven’t booked your tickets yet, do it now! I hopped onto the website to buy tickets a month ahead of our trip, and I just narrowly squeezed into a date and time that worked for our schedule.

Tickets are issued with a specific time slot, which works well to control the flow of the crowd. We ended up with tickets for a Friday at 3:30pm, though I would have preferred a little earlier in the day. More on that below.

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We arrived on an absolutely gorgeous day which might have been better to swap with other things outdoors on our short trip to London, but I was (of course) utterly happy either way. On that note, the studio tour is a perfect rainy day activity as there is only one short portion of the tour that takes place outside.

There was plenty to look at while waiting in line before we even entered the tour, including photos of the actors, and a peek into where we first get to know The Boy Who Lived, in the cupboard under the stairs.

Spoiler alert! If you don’t want to see photos from throughout the entire tour, please stop scrolling now! Know Before You Go info is at the bottom of the post.
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Before we knew it, we were herded into The Cinema for an introduction before the tour. After a short film about the making of the movies, I could hardly contain my excitement as I stood before the massive doors to the Great Hall. Our group was ushered in, and the geeking out began. I’m thankful I didn’t pass out from over-excitement, but my photography skills did take a hit. You might notice a few of my selfies are quite blurry!
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I purposely didn’t read anything about the tour ahead of time because I wanted to be completely surprised. I didn’t realize we’d get to stand in the actual Great Hall used in the movies. I didn’t know we’d get to see the costumes and props used in the movies. (Now that I think about it, I’m not even sure what I thought we’d see.)04-harry-potter-studio-tour-london-blog

From the Great Hall we entered into The Big Room. Despite having a desperate feeling of I-don’t-know-what-to-look-at-first-or-next-because-everything-is-amazing, the tour is incredibly well-planned and organized. A natural line of progression took us through all of the main lot’s offerings.

Here we are in the Mirror of Erised! And I was so overwhelmed that I cut off the top of the mirror in the photo. Oops.

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I probably could have spent days pouring over every little detail. And they do provide you with the opportunity to see every little detail! The rooms at Hogwarts, the portraits, the props, and even details you might not notice even if you watched the movies 100 times. (If Mrs. Weasley’s owl dish in the kitchen is ever missing it might be because I found a way to get my hands on it. I WANT IT.)07-harry-potter-studio-tour-london-blog08-harry-potter-studio-tour-london-blog

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I loved staring into the potions classroom and imagining myself attending Professor Snape’s lectures. “Turn to page 394.”

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No worries if you don’t have time to find Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross railway station. There is a perfect photo op at the studio tour, complete with cart!

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The Backlot part of the tour is where I experienced just the slightest of disappointments – there was no frozen Butterbeer option in the Backlot Café! I suppose it makes sense that the frozen version of the drink, found at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in hot-as-you-know-where Florida, wouldn’t be as appealing in England. But it was fun to try the Butterbeer ice cream that my lactose-intolerance and I opted to skip during our last visit to Universal Studios.

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That minor disappointment quickly vanished when I found out that the Backlot Café was situated only half-way through the tour! I was so jazzed with everything that was in The Big Room, I missed seeing any kind of studio map and didn’t even know there was a Backlot or another half of the tour with tons more magic ahead!

We had spent so much time in The Big Room that it was dark outside when we arrived to the Backlot. (Note: If it’s important to you to see Privet Drive and Godric’s Hollow in the daylight, keep sunset times in mind when you book your tickets.)

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After Creature Effects and Diagon Alley, we reached my two favorite parts of the tour: the Art Department (I actually asked if it’s possible to purchase copies of the blueprints shown below. It’s not.) and the Model Room, where we circumnavigated around the model of Hogwarts with my jaw dropped the entire time.

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The tour ends on a sweet note in Ollivanders, where each and every person involved in the production of the Harry Potter movies has their name inscribed on their very own wand box.

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Know Before You Go:

  • PRICE: Tickets are £35.00 for adults without any of the add-ons like the Digital Guide or Paperback Souvenir Guidebook. We didn’t opt for the digital guide because I wanted to go at a literal snail’s pace and stare at every little detail, but in hindsight I suppose I could have just paused the guide.
  • ARRIVAL: Your ticket is set for a specific time slot. The website states: “Plan to arrive 20 minutes before your allocated time slot. If you miss your time slot we cannot guarantee entry.” We arrived about 15 minutes ahead of time and it worked out fine, although I felt a little anxious about printing our tickets from the machines, getting through bag-check, and queuing up in time. So if you’d rather have a relaxed entry, earlier is better.
  • OPTIONS: You can also pre-purchase Butterbeer along with your tickets, but I’m not sure if we really saw a difference between purchasing it in advance vs. on-the-spot. The line seemed to be the same. (Note: There is no frozen Butterbeer, but you can try the regular version of the drink and also Butterbeer ice cream!)
  • CROWDS: The time slots control the flow of the crowd so you probably don’t have to worry too much about when is the best time to go. There were lines for the green screens (you can have your photo taken riding a broomstick!) and in the Backlot Café, but other than that we didn’t feel crowded on a Friday afternoon/early evening in November.
  • TIMING: Chris and I spent about 3.5 hours on the tour including a short Butterbeer break in the café. Chris is a casual fan of the movies. If my mega-fan friend Casey and I had toured, we could have entered at opening hour with a need to be manually kicked out at closing hour. So I would say the tour takes anywhere from three to thirteen hours (which would be the max if you arrive at 9am on a day that closes at 10pm).
  • DIRECTIONS: Group tours from London are available including transportation, but it’s easy enough to get to and from the studio from London if you want to be on your own schedule. There is a Journey Tool on the studio website for assistance with directions. Most routes from London will involve taking the tube to the train station, and then taking the train to Watford Junction. When you get to the Watford Junction station, go outside and look for a “The Making of Harry Potter” bus. That bus takes you straight to the studio via a 15-minute journey.
  • TRANSPORTATION: We actually ended up taking an Uber to get to the studio because we were running behind schedule and I was anxious about arriving at our time slot! The Uber cost £41.74 from the Seven Dials area and it took a little over an hour to get there. We used the studio bus + train + tube to get back to London which also took about an hour and it was super easy. If you plan ahead and leave yourself a little buffer, you’ll be perfectly fine taking public transportation to get there.
  • WEATHER: There is a portion of the tour outdoors called the Backlot. If it is raining on the day of your tour, you may wish to be wearing a hooded jacket or bring an umbrella. Also, if it is late in the year when the sun sets early, you may reach the Backlot after dark like we did.
  • PHOTOS: Photography is allowed almost everywhere (yay!), just not in the Cinema or at the green screens, and they do not allow the use of a tripod or drones.

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Photo Friday – Unfocus

I meant to catch up on a few more London blog posts this week, but alas the week leading up to Christmas is always a busy one and I just didn’t get everything done. It will have to wait until next week or beyond perhaps.

The holidays add so many items to our to-do lists, don’t they? I’d like to suggest adding one more important item to your list: Relax. Or unwind. Or breathe deeply. Or whatever action item brings to mind a moment of peace for yourself. You deserve it! Take a moment or two (or more!) to ignore focusing on that to-do list and in fact, unfocus for a bit. It will help, trust me. Happy holidays to all!

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