Tag Archive | museum

A Long Long Time Ago…

I used to blog consistently. Now, it seems that nearly a month has passed and no one has heard a word from me (unless you are my friend on Facebook or in person frequently, which seems to be rare as well). I will admit, I went through a phase where I questioned whether or not to continue. After all, I’m back from Oxford for the foreseeable future and when I say that nothing of interest ever happens in my hometown, I’m not exaggerating. So who would want to read about my day to day, the grindstone of being a waitress or the battles of lacking motivation on my days off? Highly doubtful that it would be entertaining, hence I dropped off the blogging world to question yet another thing I was doing in my life.

Sorry if that sounds melodramatic, but since I’m writing a post right now, it obviously has a happy ending!

I realized something the other day, however. Yeah my hometown may be small and often the only thing to do for fun is grab a cup of coffee or leave, but then shouldn’t the responsibility to entertain my readers be a really good excuse to take advantage of those days off and go do something? Okay so this responsibility may only be made up in my head, but if an imaginary duty helps me find interesting things to experience, then I’d be silly not to milk it for everything its worth. Which is how today’s reappearance blog came to be! I won’t give up! I’ll keep detailing randomness and making up travels and sharing the moments of clumsiness with all of you…just maybe not as daily updated as it was while I was in Oxford.

So what was on yesterday’s Day Off agenda? History of the distant and recent time. Whoa, sounds deep doesn’t it? Sounds philosophical? Sounds like…mini golf?

The California Science Center, near that Other College in Los Angeles that no one of importance cares about, is hosting a traveling exhibition on Cleopatra, the last Pharaoh of Egypt. Two archaeologists dredged up over 150 artifacts and pieces from the edge of the modern city of Alexandria that came from Cleopatra’s Alexandria and two temples in neighboring cities.  Being a sucker for anything ancient and with a whole morning to call my own, I blasted out on Facebook if anyone was interested in joining me on my own explorations.

No affirmative responses. Sadness.

Luckily a superhero, aka Mom, graciously agreed to accompany me despite her not really caring about the exhibit. Once again, I owe her one. Especially as we got lost on our way there (that would NEVER happen around UCLA, I’m just saying…) and the exhibition didn’t end up living up to my unfairly high expectations. I don’t know a lot about Cleopatra’s story, because it was so long ago and so many historical records were destroyed by the Roman invaders most of the world doesn’t know either, but I do remember her having a fascinating minority before coming to the throne at age 17. But the exhibit completely passed over that, focusing instead on her reign and her relationships with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony. I did learn a lot of interesting facts that I faithfully wrote down (once a student always a student), but I still felt that the exhibit was lacking in some key entertainment value.

And the worst part? The gift shop. One of my favorite things about museum exhibitions are the book portions of the gift shops. I just recently picked up a gigantic biography of Walt Disney at the D23 Archive exhibit at the Ronald Reagan Library, and was looking forward to perusing similarly thorough titles here. Alas, nothing. Not a single book about her, her life, Egypt in general; nothing except the official exhibition guide book. I feel cheated. That alone took the exhibition’s total possible awesome score from a maximum of 10 points on a scale down to 6. Meaning the exhibit ended at a 5. So sad. But at least we found our way home without getting lost!

So that was the ancient history. For the foray into more recent history, I turned to a new friend. A waiter I met from a different sushi restaurant booked up my night with the promise of shenanigans. Unfortunately, I am a sucker for shenanigans, and luckily for me, shenanigans were delivered in full swing.

I mean swing literally as well; we went miniature golfing!!! And I’m embarrassed yet proud to admit that…I suck at mini golf. And not just a little sucky, but epicly sucky. I scored an 11…on a single whole…at mini golf. Children don’t even do that! At least we had a ton of laughs. We skipped around like children, talking about everything under the sun as well as trying our darndest to not humiliate ourselves in front of any children playing ahead of us. It was a total flashback to childhood, and so much fun.

Overall, a successful and satisfying day off from waitressing, but that isn’t what really motivated me to return to blogging. No, that distinction goes to…cookies. Fall deliciousness all the way. Oatmeal cookies, with an added boost from vanilla bean and white chocolate chips, surrounding a Hershey’s Pumpkin Spice Kiss. They. Are. So. Good. I’ll post the recipe next post once I’ve worked out some of the kinks (this recipe is completely my own so kinks are an unavoidable part of the recipe building process). But trust me, go to your nearest Target and buy at least two bags of these seasonal kisses. Your friends would be requesting them all the time if any of them ever get to try them. Unfortunately, you’ll probably eat them all yourself so no one else will get that opportunity! Talk to you soon!!!

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Quick! Call the Doctor!

Somebody take my temperature and get me some Advil because I have Olympic fever! It’s not really surprising since I am a full blown Anglophile and consider England my second home, so I’m kind of bursting with “national pride” as the city I love hosts these games. But I’m taking this year’s Olympic viewing to extreme levels compared to what I normally watch.

Usually the summer games have only three big draws: American swimming, women’s diving, and women’s gymnastics. That makes me seem like I am feminist and American supremacist, but hey during Olympic season we call that nationalism. This year (okay granted it is only three days into them) I have already watched swimming qualifiers and finals, men’s and women’s gymnastics qualifiers including those heats that did not include the USA team, diving, a little bit of volleyball, and the men’s and women’s road races. Seriously, the road races! And those road race coverages are not like snippets of the races interspersed with other events; we are talking four to six straight hours of nonstop cycling through London and Box Hill. I’ve never even heard of this event and yet was so utterly engrossed with my mom and brother trying to figure out the etiquette of cycling and why teams would help out each other and where on earth they came up with the name of peloton for the massive pack of riders behind the leaders. I was actually rooting for the Brits in those races, but watching a 38-year old man win was pretty cool as well.

And don’t even get me started on my swimming and gymnastics obsessions.

I sat here on my couch late last night, trying with all my might to figure out why I suddenly found all of the Olympic events and interviews engrossing. Was it my love of the country and “homesickness” for anything relating to England? Was it a newfound national pride in American athletes? Was it my improved understanding of the sport of gymnastics since my best friend is an Olympic level gymnast? Was it all the giant guys in swimsuits?

Conclusion: It’s finals week.

Yup it’s my last week (hopefully) of UCLA classes, which means two final exams and two presentations and a whole lot of procrastination. Who wouldn’t use the Olympics as an excuse to not stare at information on gladiators or gender psychology? Um no one!

Can I get my finals waived with a doctor’s note for Olympic Fever? Highly dangerous and contagious illness!

Beggars at the Chocolate Feast (Brussels, Part 2)

I don’t know if I have ever gotten as good of a night’s sleep as I did that first night in Brussels. What I do know is that it was desperately needed, considering the amount of walking around we did the day before and the amount that would be done today. While by far a  more leisurely day than the one before, we still had a lot we wanted to see, meaning a quick breakfast at this cafeteria/cafe thing called EXK(carrot I) was all we had time for, though it was absolutely perfect to get us through the hunt for Jannekin Pis.

Yeah like I said, the people of Brussels are obsessed with statues of peeing children; Jannekin Pis was the feminists’ response to Mannekin Pis, a statue of a squatting little girl hidden down a side street in the Ilot area we walked around last night.

Female Peeing Child Fountain

This area looked so different in the light of day. In fact, if it weren’t for the street names I don’t think I would have even realized we were in the same part of town. The awnings had been pulled back and the bright signs stored inside the restaurants. The maitre d’s were replaced by kitchen boys spraying down the cobblestones with hoses. Not at all the touristy hub of Brussels nightlife that we remembered.

We headed back towards the Place du Grand Sablon for a peruse of the antique market. We had seen the end of the market yesterday, as everyone had been clearing up their stalls, and there seemed to be some interesting things necessitating a trip back when all the sellers were open. A totally worthwhile and fascinating decision as well.

Place du Grand Sablon

As it was an antique market, with some items older than our entire country, most things were out of our price range so no souvenirs were picked up (other than yet another stop at some chocolate shops, but do those really count as souvenirs since they barely lasted a day?

Blackcurrant Cakey Yumminess

), but it was still interesting to look around at what finds people had made. Being from the United States made for some bizarre feeling comparisons: we found a coin that was minted back when our country was still made up of 13 colonies. Even some of the older, more novelty items like an ancient iron were being sold for next to nothing, and here we were completely floored by their age and the amount of history that each iron must have been privy to! But I guess that’s what happens when your country isn’t even 300 years old yet, anything historical is a novelty (ironically). I did buy one thing at the market, though. Instead of a cheap and touristy souvenir from the countries I visit that I am never actually going to use/wear, I instead buy a ring from the first city I visit in the country. So I found my ring for the country of Belgium at this antique market, which felt very fitting and special.

From there we wandered to the Palais du Justice, the Belgian Supreme Court. We couldn’t actually enter the building, partially because it is a working court and also because it was a Sunday and the courts are closed on Sundays, but we could sit there and marvel at the sheer size of the palace. Every building around it was easily dwarfed both in size and in grandeur. On the side of the building was an accordion player and an elevator. Yeah the two are completely unrelated to each other, apart from in proximity. And no, the elevator was not for the Palais du Justice, but to get to Lower Town.

View from the elevator to Lower Town

Seriously. There was an elevator to get from the Upper Town directly to the Lower Town…talk about a unique method of getting around a city? As there were no stairs, we settled for a ride down with about 10 other people crammed into this box. I hate elevators. Especially crowded ones.

Once down and safely out of the claustrophobic torture box, we sat down at a cafe to soak up some sun (for me) and drink some tea (for Dan). We also took advantage of the cafe’s WiFi network to take the opportunity for Dan to Skype home. Did you know that this was on Father’s Day? I’m assuming you all did, and that you all were extra nice to your dads. Well, I believe you should always be nice to your parents and that we shouldn’t need a day to remind us of that, but that rant is irrelevant to our Brussels trip so I’ll shelve it. Dan’s dad was away so we spoke to his mom, politely informing her that instead of Oxford–the place she expected our call from–we were actually in Brussels. That was quite the shock for her! It would be for anyone to find out that their child was in a completely different country and time zone than you were expecting I’m sure! I had told my parents, but I’m only 21 so they are generally more in the loop regarding my whereabouts than Dan’s need to be.

In a departure and contrast to the antique market, we next went to our first ever flea market. I felt like I was in an open air version of The Hob from The Hunger Games. Neither of us have ever been to a flea market so we had fun making a list of the random things we found among the mostly junk.

List of Random Things We Found Among the Mostly Junk

  • A mallet
  • TV remotes
  • 2 1/2 Lira coin
  • 10 key calculators
  • blade with a squirrel sheath
  • refrigerators
  • chandeliers
  • spray painted copper shoe mounted on a block of wood
  • South African masks
  • Wedding dress (just one)
  • neon yellow Top Flite golf ball
  • mini spinning wheel

And that was just a sampling of the treasure trove! I have no idea how all these people accumulated such…stuff. And why would you want to have all this lying around? I’d just get grossed out and feel too crowded. I believe we can safely say that a flea market seller is not in my future career goals.

Looking for a Mockingjay pin

We next partook in yet another typical Belgian fare: falafel and frites (aka fries). Well, okay, falafel may not be typical Belgian but that’s the only thing I would eat at the Pitta and Frites stand outside of Notre Dame de la Chapelle we stopped at for lunch. I had no idea that frites (again, aka fries) were so popular or quintessentially Belgian, but they are, and they are usually served with mayonnaise which thank goodness Dan also has an aversion too otherwise I’d have been utterly nauseated while we ate lunch. He opted for Brazil Sauce, whatever that was, and it was pretty good. He couldn’t figure out what flavor was so different from the fries one gets in the States, until I tried one and figured it out instantly. It tasted of potatoes! What a novel concept!

After frites, it only seemed fitting to learn more about the true point of going to Belgium, chocolate (duh). There is actually a small and quaint Chocolate and Cocoa Museum down a side street of the Grand Place. It was no more than a retrofitted out residence of three floors about the harvesting and roasting of cocoa beans all the way to processing and packaging of both chocolate bars and drinking chocolate.

Chocolate and Cocoa Museum

There were two really interesting highlights: a demonstration about how they make proper Belgian pralines and the free chocolate covered Speculoos cookies. Did I mention I’m obsessed with those cookies? Dan said my eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. The museum was actually really interesting, if small, and as Dan has been to Belize and seen the whole harvesting process first hand, he confirmed it’s accuracy. I’m big on accuracy. Fun chocolate factoid: There are actually regulations on what can be labeled as each type of chocolate (white, milk, or dark) and these include what percentage of the chocolate is made with cocoa butter. Nowadays, most chocolate is made with up to 30% of the cocoa butter replaced with some form of vegetable fat. In order for it to be labeled as Belgian chocolate, however, it is required to be 100% cocoa butter, no substitutions. This is supposedly why Belgian chocolate is so much better tasting!

Grand Place

We made a pit stop back at the hotel after stopping in a Godiva chocolate shop, just for laughs because it would have been silly to buy Godiva chocolate in Belgium when you can buy it in the States, for a power nap before heading back out to the Ixelles neighborhood for dinner. While we had already found Little Morocco down by Gare du Midi, here we stumbled across Little Thailand. There were two streets where every single front was a carbon copy Thai restaurant, much like the seafood restaurants of Ilot yesterday. Looks like we were limited to Thai food or Thai food, so we went with Thai food at Fanny Thai. We felt super European eating a long, drawn out dinner at 8:30 pm. Of course even after we finished eating the sun was still out, the sky not even beginning to turn darker. It would have been such a shame to waste the sunlight, especially having seen none for the last two weeks in England. Therefore it was the perfect night for a nighttime stroll through a garden.

The chosen garden was La Botanique, though the main gates were all closed so we had to sneak through a bar/concert location to enter the garden. By this point it was getting darker, and the garden had some well manicured hedgings interspersed with overgrown corridors of trees and bushes, making it feel like a labyrinth straight out of Alice in Wonderland. It was beautiful. And there was this adorable cat that was literally begging Dan and me to pet him. I obliged; for some cruel reason Dan didn’t. And I’m the one who is allergic to cats!

We had to sneak back through the bar area to get out of the gardens and to walk back to our hotel. Maybe it was because it was a Sunday night, the night of the penitent, but there was only one unfortunate lady of the night as opposed to the dozen we saw last night, so I felt safer even with the knowledge that our hotel had to put a chain and padlock on the door each night.

Muscles in Brussels (Brussels, Part 1)

First off, yes I am home in the US safe and sound, though already “homesick” for Oxford. I had no idea how attached I was to the place until I stepped off the plane and was immediately having trouble breathing from the thick blanket of exhaust fumes characteristic of Los Angeles. Of course, my parents picked me up at the airport with my handsome puppy, easily making up for any sadness I would have felt from re-entering the world of Southern California. Can you blame me? You’ve probably all seen a billion pictures of my boy so everyone should understand. And thankfully, he remembers me, something I was actually really worried about having been out of his world for 7 long months.

But you all really want to hear about the trip to Brussels, don’t you? I can’t blame you; it was a pretty great trip and was so jam-packed that I had to write down everything in my little moleskin notebook so that I could remember it to blog about now. I’m kind of impressed that I made it through the weekend to be honest. The night before we were leaving I ended up not sleeping at all, choosing instead to join some of the other visiting students in a massive goodbye hangout. And then I had to “wake up” at 4:45 am to meet Dan at the bus stop into London anyway (can you wake up if you don’t fall asleep?), so sleeping somehow just didn’t happen. It’s a good thing that Dan was around to keep me awake when I was fading.

One of the biggest reasons we chose to go to Brussels was because of the direct Eurostar train to Gare-Midi. Dan and I feel like old pros at getting to the Eurostar at St Pancras by this point, and everything went as smooth as could be imagined between getting on the bus to London and arriving in Brussels. Did you know that it takes less time to get to Brussels than it does to get to Paris? Why haven’t I gone to Brussels before?!

The area around the train station in Brussels is not the most savory of locations. It is in the poorer part of the town, and on every block was about 10-15 run down Moroccan restaurants. We actually nicknamed the area Little Morocco, so I guess I don’t need to go to Marrakech?

Little Morocco

Well that’s not true. I’m totally going to Marrakech one day! I don’t think that Little Morocco in Brussels is really the best model for what Morocco would be like. At least I hope not, as Little Morocco felt really dangerous, definitely a place where I clutched my Coach bag a little bit tighter to my side and was grateful that my jacket’s hood covered the Oxford embroidery. We found our way to our hotel on the other end of Anspach from the train station (that walk felt like it took forever!), dropped off our bags, and headed out into the city.

Brussels is the home of the European Union so we made a visit to the EU Quarter the first stop on our three day exploration. Dan had been to Brussels for all of three hours a few years back, but somehow his sense of direction was still impeccable, and he led us around the edge of the city up to the EU without hesitation. We did get a little sidetracked by a statue of a mussel (moules in French, a Belgium specialty) and the subsequent opportunities for pictures of our muscles with a mussel.

Mussel Girl

I love how Dan is so willing to do random stuff that potentially makes complete fools out of us. Makes vacations more fun!

Muscle Man

We were also distracted by some big orange wooden canopy thingy…and yeah that’s about the most accurate way to describe it. I have no idea why it was there, who made it, or what the purpose was, but Dan went a little giddy over the engineering aspects of it. I’d be a little concerned if he didn’t marvel at it considering his DPhil is in Civil Engineering. Otherwise he might want to be considering a career change!

Reddish Orangish Wooden Thingy

The EU buildings themselves were really nothing to write home about: giant testaments to steel and glass and rather nondescript. A cool thing though was to learn from Dan and the guidebook about why certain buildings were designed the way they were, such as how they used glass slats over the windows to make the building’s heating more energy efficient. That kind of info was pretty cool, but also pretty short, and we spent no more than ten minutes in the area before heading out to the Natural Science Museum.

Dinosaurs! Shiny rocks! Animal skeletons! I was really excited and eager to find the museum, so naturally we ended up lost in Parc Leopold, unable to find the entrance to the place. It was a really nice park and we saw the craziest looking ducks I’ve ever seen in my life, but I really wanted to see the Iguanodon exhibit at the museum! If only we could find the entrance! Signage in Brussels doesn’t really seem to be the most user-friendly, but we did finally find the doors and after a quick spot of lunch and a thorough examination of the mineral exhibit on the bottom floor (some incredible pyrites and calcites!), skipped up to the dinosaur room and closer to the ultimate moment of my stupidity.

I was never obsessed with dinosaurs growing up; in our house that was Kevin’s area of expertise so I’m not really the most well-knowledged person about the creatures that walked this earth before we did. I know about the geology and the extinction theories, as well as some of the archaeology techniques, but relatively little about the dinosaurs themselves. But an exhibit of 600 perfectly intact iguanodon fossils was a guaranteed fun for the whole family situation. So there Dan and I were, marveling at these huge dinosaur bones, a whole herd of them preserved behind glass, when I looked down at the placard and read: Iguanodon somethingorother. Confused for about half a minute, something dawned on me and I turned to Dan in shock: “Wait, these are the iguanodons? Uh iguanodons aren’t a type of iguana are they?”

Iguanodon!

Yeah, this is a true story. I was really picturing iguanas every time something said iguanodon.

Dan must have laughed for a solid ten minutes, and I can’t really blame him. I can sometimes be really intelligent, but more often than not I am dumb as wood and quite the ditz. I don’t think I ever recovered from that moment of stupidity once further into the museum, so I decided to embrace it and completely unleash the inner child and start mimicking dinosaurs, playing with the hands-on exhibits, measuring my height compared to a brachyosaurus’s leg, etc. Dan joined in the fun as well. We went down a level to another iguanodon exhibit that talked about how they found the iguanodons and preserved them on the trip from their site to the museum. That room was quite creepy, dead silent, and full of the reminders that there were 600 of these gigantic creatures found in a single location, layered on top of one another in a mine.

Standing over an iguanadon skeleton

So bizarre! And also a great source of evidence for the asteroid theory of mass extinction in my opinion. We also saw an intact skeleton of a blue whale, the largest animal ever found. And it definitely deserved that distinction; the thing was HUGE!

We then meandered our way, drifting off along numerous side streets and through the Parc de Bruxelles (there are a lot of Parc de’s here), to the Place de Palais. This area, part of the Upper Town, could not be any more different from the comparative slums of the quarter around Gare-Midi. The buildings were all palatial, white, Roman inspired mansions surrounding an open cobblestone square. From gaps in between the intricately designed buildings you could see expansive views of the rest of Brussels emanating into the distance. Lower Town, the outlying suburbs, the grassy fields beyond…in Upper Town you were really on top of the city. We did have a purpose in going to the Place de Palais other than gawking at the architecture that was so different from any of the other cities I’ve been to: the Museum of Musical Instruments. Dan plays the cello so it was only natural that we make a stop into this small museum of the various types of instruments and variations on them. Otherwise it would have been like me refusing tickets to a ballet, just unacceptable. We only had an hour to explore the four floors as the museum was near closing, so we did a pretty cursory tour. Which ended up being perfectly fine. The cool thing about the museum is that they give you headphones and some of the instruments have boxes with jacks next to them where you plug in your headphones and can listen to the music that features the surrounding instruments. That part was pretty awesome and rather a brilliant idea in my opinion. Unfortunately the captions and explanations were not in English at all, so I was stuck looking at the cool and sometimes bizarre instruments while listening to their sounds, and nothing else. We made it through easily in an hour and headed back out into the Place de Palais.

Musee des Instruments Musicales

Our next destination was the Place de Grand Sablon, with detours into the Eglise St. Jacques sur Coudenburg and Notre Dame du Grand Sablon churches to compare the more austere Protestant decor with the opulence of the Catholic/Anglican churches you see in Paris and England. Once we made it to the Grand Sablon, however, the real fun began, with the commencement of our chocolate quest! What would Belgium be without a chocolate quest, after all? Grand Sablon was the perfect place too since it seemed like every shop lining the street was a chocolate shop or patisserie with window displays just beckoning you in to drop a fortune on their confectionary. Dan and I made an agreement to exercise self control, for the sake of our waistlines as well as our wallets.

Chocolate or macarons? Can’t decide! Everything is too yummy!

We would alternate who paid for the chocolates, and were limited to four truffles from any one shop, each picking two. Then of course we would share all four, because that’s what dance partners are for. This way we could try a larger variety of chocolates with really cool flavors. I’ll post a list of them later so that you can all drool in jealousy 😉 Each chocolate place tried to offer a unique spin on things, whether in products or atmosphere. Wittamer was decked out in candy cane bright colors; Patrick Roger had two chocolate hippo sculptures. The Belgians take their national industry very  seriously!

As do I apparently

Continuing our wanderings led us to Easy Tempo for a pizza dinner. The pizza was delicious, but oddly gigantic. I mean, yeah it was an extremely thin crust, but it was easily double the size the pizzas at Fire and Stone! As soon as we ordered a pizza each (we didn’t know the size and that we could have easily shared one), they traded our normal knives for steak knives, eliciting strange looks from the two of us. But we definitely needed those knives! The pizzas were so hard to cut (and you must cut a pizza in order to eat it like a European) that I actually had a projectile piece, which we agreed to ignore its flinging off our table when the waitress walked by. And then as we were leaving we got stuck in this absolutely torrential rainstorm. Buckets were literally dropping from the sky (ok yeah that’s really figuratively, but still) and we cowered under random awning and doorways as we made our way towards the Grande Place in search of waffles–what? It’s Belgium people!

I swear it must have been 6 inches in an hour.

I can’t even begin to explain how magical the Guildhouses that enclose the Grand Place were in the sun after the rain. The sculptures and gothic-esque architecture are so intricate and detailed that they don’t even seem possible. I mean how could someone actually design and build these?!

Grand Place

Tonight the Grand Place was the busiest we would see it for the whole vacation. Tourists and groups were everywhere, all eating waffles and carrying bags from Godiva and Leonidas. They were also heading in the same direction, which it turns out was down the side street to Brussels’ most famous and stupidest statue: Mannekin Pis. With all seriousness, it is a teeny statue of a toddler boy peeing. And tourists and any shop catering to tourists are obsessed with it. Chocolate sculptures of the kid, t-shirts, magnets, golf balls, corkscrews…you name it, they made it and stamped it with the peeing baby.

Mannekin Pis, pointless?

We only saw it because it’s like the Belgian Mona Lisa, but I even preferred the Mona Lisa. The only upside was that it brought us closer to waffles (Speculoos for me

Newest Addiction: Speculoos!

and Strawberry, Cream, and Chocolate for Partner), which were as delicious as promised by every tour book I ever looked at.

It was heading towards 10:00 pm and the sun didn’t seem anywhere near close to setting so we continued to walk around the Grand Place, just in the interest of exploring. We walked down this street called Ilot (I think) that was wall to wall seafood restaurants all serving the same food and all with “maitre d’s” attempting to usher unsuspecting passersby into their restaurant that is identical to the one next to it. We came across a small theater that shows a marionette puppet show; unfortunately we were an hour late and they had no more shows for the weekend. Such a shame. From there, the search for a loo sent us back to our hotel and an instant pass out on my part. This is what happens when you don’t sleep the night before a vacation!

The Big 100th Post

Isn’t it amazingly fitting (and completely coincidental) that my 100th post is my leaving Oxford to return home to the States? This was never my intention; I didn’t plan out all of my blog posts for my entire year to make sure that I ended on the 100th post. I can’t even really believe that I’ve had 100 posts!

In fact, this post is truly the last part of me in England at the moment. In case no one noticed, the time stamp on this one is 4:15 pm, GMT, which means that as this is being blasted into cyberspace, my plane towards Los Angeles has just taken off and I am now in the air, eleven and a half hours of a plane ride ahead of me. Let’s hope there are no screaming children!

So as this is my 100th milestone, in typical blogosphere fashion, I thought I would do a little fun listing, an almost sum-up of my incredible time abroad. Nothing is in any particular order. Enjoy!

25 Great/Funny Experiences

  1. Meeting my amazing dance partner, Dan, is probably the best thing that happened to me here!
  2. Being pelted with snowballs outside the Sheffield competition. First time in the snow!
  3. Disneyland Paris
  4. Harry Potter Studio Tours in Leavesden
  5. Seeing Les Mis on the West End…twice
  6. Dan running into a bollard at Blackpool. This was mostly funny because of the email his dad sent him afterwards, but it’s a favorite inside joke with the two of us now.
  7. Blackpool IVDA!
  8. Thinking that Iguanadons were the same thing as Iguanas (you’ll understand this one later)
  9. Baking parties in the Acland kitchen
  10. Dan’s birthday BBQ
  11. Days spent at the Missing Bean
  12. Keble Ball
  13. Meeting up with Dale in Paris
  14. The Port Meadow Photo Challenge
  15. My family visiting!
  16. Driving in Ireland
  17. Finding Charles Brandon’s grave in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle
  18. Becoming friends with all the people on the dance team
  19. Dancing on a table in Wahoo with Ania 😉 and nearly getting kicked out
  20. Flying off to Zurich alone, completely random! Sidenote: Awesome zoo
  21. Seeing the town that  my family has lived in for hundreds of years (Harlech, Wales)
  22. Walking through horse pastures in the Cotswolds
  23. Varsity Match for OUDC
  24. Going to tutorials in a room that is older than any of the original 13 colonies
  25. Stonehenge in the pouring rain with my brother

25 Things I’ve Learned

  1. The Rose has the best cream tea in Oxford
  2. Custard, cream, and mayo might as well be their own food groups here
  3. Pants=underwear, not trousers
  4. Pimms is awesome. There is always an excuse to drink Pimms.
  5. The instant the sun comes out, expect the streets to get very, very crowded.
  6. Blackwells is the most deadly store in the world.
  7. Sometimes it is cheaper to take a train to a foreign country than to Cornwall.
  8. You can get to Brussels or Paris from Oxford faster than you can get from Oxford to Cambridge (they must have planned it like that!).
  9. Awesome words like keen, overkeen, and knackered should be incorporated into our everyday vocabulary.
  10. British people think that all Americans are gun-toting, obese rednecks.
  11. Cobblestones do not mix well with high heels.
  12. Punting is not just a type of kick in football.
  13. At a BBQ, Brits bring their own meat. Americans bring desserts and sides. Plan accordingly.
  14. Stand mixers are necessary to avoid baking catastrophes.
  15. 14lbs=1 stone. This is how they measure weight. But then they use kg? Wth?
  16. Fancy dress means costumes, not cocktail attire.
  17. Stealing ties and bow ties makes night clubs into a game.
  18. You never wait for a cross walk to cross the street.
  19. Buses will run you over and they get really close to the curbs.
  20. Salad means assorted vegetables that you can have put on your baguette at lunch or lettuce with delicious toppings. However, salads are rarely meals.
  21. You need a television license just to stream a show online.
  22. Everyone, and I mean everyone, watches and loves Downton Abbey.
  23. I know more British history than a lot of British people.
  24. Waffles are dessert, not breakfast. And for that matter, pancakes are basically crepes, not the fluffy goodness we get in the States.
  25. If you forget an umbrella, you’ve guaranteed that it will rain. If you brought an umbrella, it will still probably rain but at least you will be dry.

25 Things I’ll Miss

  1. Nightly tea parties with my dance partner
  2. My friends on the dance team
  3. Olives (the sandwich shop not the food item)
  4. Cream teas
  5. Being able to walk everywhere
  6. Saying Cheers instead of Thanks
  7. Spur of the moment day trips into London
  8. West End shows for cheap!
  9. Being surrounded by history everywhere I go
  10. My bay window
  11. How happy everyone is when its sunny
  12. Oxfordshire Public Library
  13. Free entry to museums and galleries
  14. Everyone in the Keble MCR/Acland
  15. The collective understanding when someone mentions Jamals or Park End
  16. My scouts (aka the women who clean my room every week and empty my bins. They were the nicest people!)
  17. The accents
  18. Ease of travel, unless you want to go horizontally across the country. Good luck with that.
  19. Baking for Dan’s friends and Keble events. Love easy taste testers
  20. Laughing as Dan and I attempt to Quickstep/Waltz/Jive/Cha/Foxtrot/Viennese Waltz
  21. Hearing everyone’s opinions on LA
  22. Dirty Chais
  23. All the literature and film links in the city
  24. Feeling like I’m constantly at Hogwarts
  25. My coworkers

25 Places that I Didn’t Get a Chance to Visit, But That I Definitely Will Someday

  1. York
  2. Cornwall
  3. Dover
  4. Calais
  5. Norfolk
  6. Budapest
  7. Prague
  8. Vienna
  9. Pompeii/Rome/Venice/Naples/Italy
  10. Warsaw/Other Places in Poland
  11. Berlin/all over Germany
  12. Geneva
  13. Istanbul
  14. Marrakech
  15. North Carolina
  16. Athens, basically all of Greece
  17. Slovenia
  18. The Netherlands
  19. Northern Ireland
  20. Brighton
  21. Denmark
  22. Russia
  23. Bruges/Antwerp
  24. The Caribbean
  25. Portugal

Yeah, it’s a long list, but hopefully I’ll have a long life in which to fulfill it, with wonderful friends and family by my side. Now don’t think that because I’m back in the US that this blog is ending. I’m still going to be traveling and I’m working on finding my way back to England for a bit longer of a term. So stay tuned!

And thank you to everyone and everything in England that made this the most amazing year of my life.

A Week of Lasts

Warning, it’s a long one. My advice: Grab some tea and scones before settling down to read this novella. Trust me, tea and scones makes everything better 😉

It has been a week for lasts. Which is completely fitting as this was 8th week, meaning my final week here in Oxford. Pardon me for waxing nostalgic for a blog post, but what a year it has been. Right now Dan and I are exchanging stories of our favorite memories from the past nine months via Facebook chat, and it blows my mind just how much has happened since I stepped off that plane back in September. But a full reminiscing might wait until a milestone blog post, so I’ll refrain for the time being. Not only is it my final week, but it has also been a crazy busy one! So let’s begin with the list of Lasts. Head’s up, it’s a long one!

Last Shift at Work

Sunday afternoon I ended my time waitressing. Ironically it was one of my toughest shifts; I was far from focused and we filled up the entire restaurant for about 90 minutes. With only two waitresses, two bartenders, and one chef, a full restaurant can get overwhelming really quickly. And although I can normally handle a busy shift, for some reason my brain was just not turned on enough to manage it. I choose to blame it on having three long and busy shifts in a row (Friday-Saturday night-Sunday morning) and being once again plagued with insomnia, two things which would make any waitress a little bit off her game. The breakfast/brunch crowd is also a bit more difficult when everyone orders omelettes and you end up confused about which table ordered which omelette because there are two waitresses managing the same tables. So if I didn’t take a table’s order, I didn’t necessarily know that they had ordered food–the specific table in question had told me they were waiting for one more person to join them, who never showed up–and Table 15’s omelette and yogurt and granola ends up at Table 16, and Jenna gets a lecture from the other waitress. All in all though, it was a fun shift and I am surprised at how much I’m going to miss waitressing. Though the tips have a lot to do with that! 😉

Last Essay for Tutorials

It also happened to be my longest essay of the term. My major tutorial is an Independent Research Project, and because we didn’t have time to actually run the study during term (I’m supposed to figure out a way to run it over the summer from the opposite side of the world?), we decided that I could at least make progress on the eventual final write up by writing the Method section and the Introduction of the paper before we even made the stimulus. The Method section was turned in a few weeks ago, so the Intro needed to be written by Thursday’s tutorial. When I set my mind to finishing an essay early, I rarely rest until I do, hence why this week’s essay was researched, outlined, and written between Saturday and Monday afternoon. Granted, three paragraphs were copy-pasted from a previous essay that was a foundation essay for the Intro (so it wasn’t cheating to reuse it), but the majority of the research was new articles and the paper ended at a concise 2200 words. Not really sure how I was able to churn it out that fast, but I certainly wasn’t complaining as it allowed me more time to experience and appreciate the remaining Lasts as there wasn’t an essay hanging over my head.

Last Ballroom Practice

Only ten people showed up! So disappointing as I was planning on using this last Tuesday at Wychwood to say goodbye to everyone. The rest of the week was shaping up to be a crazy busy one, so I wasn’t sure how much time I would have to make the rounds among my friends (as it turned out, I was right in thinking not much) and really wanted to see as many of them as possible at rehearsal. Unfortunately exams are going on for a lot of people and as such the crowd was small. Sadness. Guess I’ll be leaving without notice for many people. I guess this is the advantage of Facebook; at least I can stay in touch as much as possible.

The actually dancing was exactly what Dan and I wanted. Bruce started with our new favorite dance: Foxtrot. I bet my ballroom coach back home will laugh when he hears that I love International Foxtrot, since he practically had to bribe me into practicing it back home! But Dan and I love the smoothness of the music and the technique seems to come very naturally to us, always a bonus. After 90 minutes of Foxtrot, Bruce switched it up to teach us Viennese Waltz. I’ve done Viennese Waltz before, and after spending an entire academic year watching the main team couples dance it, Dan was able to pick it up really quickly. The steps themselves aren’t difficult, it’s all about the speed and stamina. We found it easier to dance when the tempo was quicker, rather than the slowest Viennese that Bruce had, possibly because the slowest Viennese switched timing so often through the song that it was difficult to keep in time. Our last Viennese was the perfect ending to an incredible year dancing with my best friend: it was the theme to Harry Potter!!!! Couldn’t have chosen better myself 😀

Last Baking Experiment

I insisted last week that my making a gigantic batch of sugar cookies to distribute was going to be my last baking day of the term. It just goes to show you that sometimes people eat their words, literally in this case. I blame my mom’s telling me that our peach tree back home is bearing an insane amount of peaches and asking me for some peach dessert recipes to try. She blames Dan for suggesting that we try out one of the recipes ourselves. He blames my telling him about her plans to make peach pie and other assorted peach desserts and sending him the recipes to tempt him. Basically, it’s a blame circle that worked out for everyone in Acland on Tuesday night after our rehearsal. We started off making Strawberries and Cream Pie (recipe below), and it would appear that I still haven’t learned my lesson to read a recipe all the way through before I attempt it, because I neglected to notice that the pie not only took 1 hour 10 minutes minimum to bake, but also needed to chill in the refrigerator for 4 hours before serving. Darn it! I really wanted to try something we baked, but I was not about to stay up until 3 am for a slice of pie. I am definitely not that crazy! Luckily for the little petulant child in me, we also had had the foresight to bake a Honey Almond Cake (also below) that did not need chilling for eternity and was delicious right out of the oven. Our friend Pippa came over after her law dinner and was greeted with huge hugs and a slice of cake. Yeah, she likes us. Plus both desserts ended up great successes, though I found the cake too simple of a recipe too eliminate my baking craving. Guess I’ll just have to make a really challenging recipe next week at home! In my own, fully stocked, clean kitchen!

Oh and did I mention that since neither of us had a pie pan, we made the pie in a 8×8 square pan? Do you know what that means? That Pie R Squared! Sorry, math joke. Dan came up with it.

But really, making a pie in an 8-in square actually was super convenient and came out just as tasty, if a tad unconventional. It was a lot easier to cut it into even slices as well.

Last Spontaneous Weekend Trip Booking

While I won’t reveal where we booked a vacation to, just know that Dan and I booked a last minute trip to somewhere and leave tomorrow morning at 5:30 am!!! So excited though. And I realized that now all three of my terms ended with me spontaneously leaving Oxford on a vacation. Michaelmas I went to Paris to visit my junior high school friend, Dale. Hilary term I flew off to Zurich alone. And tomorrow we head to…like I was really about to reveal it! I will give you a hint though. We are not flying 😦

Last Day Trip into London

With all my work for the term completed, I had a few free days to lounge around Oxford if I so chose. Of course, the weather not being the greatest lately, that would literally entail lounging around my room while all my friends were either in their respective labs or exams. Not exactly the way I wanted to spend my final Wednesday in England. Traveling around the UK, while easier than in the US, can actually be quite difficult and time consuming for simple day trips by yourself, so I just copied what I did a few weeks ago and caught a bus into London with the intention of snatching some discount tickets to some West End productions. I really wanted to spend the evening with Dan, so I chose to only do a matinee and not a double feature (plus I wasn’t really keen on walking around London alone at night again or getting back at 2 am). After buying a ticket at Leicester Square–I tried to get a ticket to War Horse, which would have been the only show I’d have stuck around for a double performance to see, but unsurprisingly it was sold out–and resisting the urge to make it Les Mis for the third time, I walked to the National Portrait gallery to kill some time. Free museum entry is definitely something I am going to miss when I go back to California. I love how England has made it accessible to visit a museum or gallery multiple times because entry is free. I rarely feel rushed through a collection, frantic to see every single piece, because I know that I can return for only the cost of transportation into the city. Unlike in the US where we have to pay an arm and a leg just to visit a pretty garden (not that it has ever stopped me…). After the Portrait Gallery I ate lunch in the National Gallery’s cafe, sat in yet another bookstore adding to my list of books to look up when I get back in the States, and then made my way to the Adelphi Theatre for the matinee of…

Last West End Show

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet…Street! I never saw the movie with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, but I really wanted to, and now I want to even more after seeing the stage show. My ticket was great (middle of second row orchestra!) though I ended up with a slight crick in my neck from having to crane it up a tad to see the whole stage. It was a great show, truly. It was different from anything else I have seen in that there wasn’t a big fanfare before the show began. No overture, no entr’acte after intermission, not even a curtain rising. In the ten minutes before the actual start of each act (five for the second act) the chorus actors just meandered on stage as if they were going about their daily lives, chatting to one another, doing laundry, writing a letter, fixing a door. Really a unique way of beginning a show. The music was great and some of the songs were absolutely hilarious. I actually laughed out loud multiple times, which was unexpected as I had been under the impression that Sweeney Todd was a really dark musical. And it was, even the colors were mostly darker neutrals, but it was darkly humorous as well. And bonus! Imelda Staunton was playing Mrs. Lovett. Recognize the name? Yep, Professor Umbridge from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part One can actually sing and be comedic. I’ve had such good luck with my spur-of-the-moment musical selections yielding the opportunity to see some famous talents. I mean, Raza Jaffrey in Chicago (as much as I hated that show) and Imelda Staunton now, not to mention a few years ago seeing Daniel Dae Kim in The King and I at the Royal Albert Hall. It was a great and very satisfying last show to experience in London.

Last Tutorial

I don’t really have much to say about this other than yesterday (Thursday) was my last tutorial here in Oxford. While I was definitely far from happy about being left in the rain as the tutorial before mine went 20 minutes over, it was a productive meeting. I really like the tutorial system of education and have no idea how I’m going to readjust into massive lectures and multiple choice exams this summer at UCLA! Here’s hoping my GPA doesn’t take a sudden plunge because I’m used to creating my own research topics.

Last Performance at the New Theatre

This might actually be my last performance in the UK, unless some unforeseen tickets come mine and Dan’s way this weekend. The show was a really unique one, titled Against Time, and it was a joint venture with the England National Ballet (my second time seeing them) and Flawless, a UK hiphop/breaking troupe. The story of the production was kind of meh, but I really couldn’t have cared less what the story or the message of it was because the dancing was so incredible and the music was amazingly fun to listen to. The choreography blended hiphop and ballet, with the two styles mirroring and complementing each other and the music was almost all contemporary music. “Moves Like Jagger”, “Party Rock”, “Sexy Ladies” by Justin Timberlake, as well as a bit of Swan Lake and some other classical stuff thrown in. There was also the requisite hiphop/electronic/house/whateverpeoplebreakdanceto music. Absolutely loved it! And now I can’t wait even more to get back into a dance studio.

Last Tea Night with Dan

After the play, Dan came over to Isis for possibly the last time, well at least for a tea night (and pie. He brought me a slice of our pie. Good Partner). The guy really is a godsend; I’ve been freaking out a little bit because repacking up my life to return to LA is stressful, especially when you only have two duffel bags and a carry-on in which to do it. Dan was great about keeping me company while I made the tough decisions about what stays in Oxford for trash, what gets donated to bookstores/libraries/Oxfam, what goes to Dan for either consumption or safe keeping (he was excited about that part), and what gets packed up for this weekend or going home. I had to harken back to the day of the amazing Ziploc bag and “vacuum seal” everything in them once again to make it fit, but Dan seems to share my dad’s incredible packing skills and fit everything I needed in, without me having to through away my unused toiletries! Quite an accomplishment! Dad would be so proud of us. After I was completely packed up, we had some tea and talked about our weekend plans, trying not to think about my leaving in five days. It was 1:30 am before he finally left with two of his four bags of new stuff and a plan of what to do with every item in my room set out. The guy is such a blessing to have around when you are stressed.

Last Full Day in Oxford

It finally came. It still hasn’t hit me that it has, that today was my last consecutive 24 hours in Oxford for this time around. And I definitely spent it all around the city. There were errands to run, banks to visit, people to say goodbye to. To give just an overview of my day: wakeup at the ungodly hour of 6:30 am yet again (curse insomnia!), grab items to donate, go to Teddy Hall to donate items, go to Missing Bean, go to NatWest, go to Barclays, go to Covered Market, go to Library, go back to Isis, meet Dan there, move refrigerator that had melted all over my carpet from Isis to the taxi downstairs, move refrigerator from the taxi downstairs to Dan’s room in Acland, go to a High Street shop to finally buy a new iPhone case that I’ve been eyeing for weeks, go back to Isis, grab more items to donate, go to Sobells and Oxfam to donate items, go back to NatWest, go to The Rose, go to IT office at Teddy, go to Collections at Teddy, go to Sainsbury, go back to Isis. Lots of running around! There is so much to do today since I obviously won’t have the weekend because I’ll be in…gotcha, not giving it away!

Last Dirty Chai

So sad that I had my last Dirty Chai at the Missing Bean. I met a friend from the dance team there for breakfast and coffee and a two hour catch up session before I go to the US and she studies in Paris and Brussels for the summer. But it was such a great 2 hours. And a great Dirty Chai.

Last Cream Tea

All that cream tea tasting and reviewing practically necessitated me going to tea for the last time this year at the place that I consider to have the best cream tea in Oxford: The Rose on High Street. It is the entire package of delicious and warm scones, real fruit in the jam, smooth clotted cream, and a delicious loose leaf vanilla tea in a minimalist but warm atmosphere. And all for a great price in my opinion. Had to end with the best.

Last Time at St Edmund Hall

It’s a little bittersweet ending my time at this college. Granted, I really didn’t spend a ton of time on the site since I lived out for the year, but I still felt like I belonged to St. Edmund and loved that the place had such character. But I left it completely satisfied and with some beautiful pictures in my head from all the seasons. Bye Teddy! Thanks for welcoming me into your quaint world for a great year.

Now all that’s left is a super awesome trip with my dance partner and a twelve hour flight.

Strawberries and Cream Pie (aka the Pie R Squared pie)

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

Yield: 1 pie

 Ingredients
  • 1 refrigerated pie crust (I highly recommend making your own pie crust as I find the pre made ones really bland. You only need a bottom crust, so make a single crust or else the crust will be too thick in my opinion.)
For the Filling
  • 2 pints strawberries, stems removed and halved
    • Other fruit options to try: Strawberry-Banana, Peach, Blueberry with Lemon Cream, Cherry (though not having tried them myself I can’t vouch for them, they are just ideas I had)
  • 1 cup sugar (I used just over 2/3 cup)
  • 1/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
For the Crumb Topping
  • 2 1/2 tbs. brown sugar
  • 2 tbs. sugar (I used 1 tbs.)
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 1/2 tbs. all purpose flour

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Roll out the raw pie crust and press into a pie dish. Shape the edges in to desired shape. Set aside.
For the Filling
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour and sugar together.
  2. Add in the eggs, sour cream, and vanilla extract. Mix for about 3 minutes. (Not having a stand mixer, I whisked it by hand for 5 minutes)
  3. Place the strawberries into the pie crust. Pour the filling evenly over the strawberries.
For the Crumb Topping
  1. In a bowl, combine the brown sugar, sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir in the melted butter.
  2. Add in the flour and use your hands or a spatula to combine until the mixture has a crumbly texture.
  3. Distribute the crumb topping evenly over the top of the pie.
  4. Bake the pie for approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes.
  5. Let pie cool for at least 4 hours before serving.

Honey Almond Loaf Cake

4 eggs

2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream (38% fat) *Note: This is whipping cream in the UK. Single and Double Cream have too high of a fat content*

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 ½ cups granulated sugar

½ teaspoon salt

2 cups (280 grams) self-rise flour

For the topping

200 grams slivered almonds

3 teaspoons honey

Turn the oven on to 170°C/350F. Combine all the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ones in another (eggs, vanilla, cream). Mix the contents of each bowl, separately. Pour the cream mixture into the flour and mix well with a whisk (no stand mixer needed). Pour the batter evenly into one large loaf pan and one small one, or pretty much whatever type of pan you want to bake it in (just adjust cooking times accordingly). Scatter a handful of almonds over the top and drizzle a spoonful of honey. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until toothpick/knife inserted into the middle comes out clean. Cover top of cake with aluminum foil if top is browning too much before the cake is finished baking.

Serving suggestions: As is! Drizzled with a bit more honey. Any way you would serve Angel Food Cake (cherries instead of strawberries would be really good). With bananas. 

Off to Hogwarts…no, really!!!

I WENT TO HOGWARTS!!!!! I stood in the Great Hall, the Gryffindor Common Room, Dumbledore’s office, the Burrow, and so many other places that just remembering them all makes me giddy. And the best part is, that this wasn’t in some extremely vivid Harry Potter dream (unlike my Hunger Games dreams, which trust me are just scary), this was real life!

As blatantly obvious from the title of my blog, I am a huge Harry Potter fan, and as such there was no way that I was going to miss the chance to visit the Warner Brother Studios Backlot in Leavesden and see all the sets, props, and costumes from my favorite book series’s film adaptations. What kind of self-respecting Potter addict would I be if I did that? Certainly not one worthy of having the name of my blog invoking the School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. So I immediately snatched up two tickets for the May 2nd tour of the studios, intending on taking my travel buddy/partner extraordinaire.

Harry Potter Studio Tour!!

Only one small problem, Dan hasn’t finished the book series yet OR seen any of the movies.

Oops.

Unfortunately Dan is not a speed reader like I am and he doesn’t have any of the books with him, so I couldn’t pester him into finishing the series before we went on the tour, and I refuse to let him see the movies before he reads the books. What? I’m a purist! But I couldn’t exactly bring him along on a tour of the studios without him having the prior knowledge to appreciate it. So the solution was to watch the first movie only (we were planning on more, but our schedules got in the way) so he had at least seen the magical world before and I could feel more at peace for bringing him along.

Totally. Worth. It.

We set out at 7 am, giving ourselves three hours to reach the Studios for our tour, but I had underestimated London rush hour traffic and we ended up over 20 minutes late to our scheduled entrance time. But it ended up not being a problem as the employees were really understanding. I think it must happen all the time and the tickets are more of, guidelines, than actual rules. We queued along with other swarms of Potter fans, ending up right next to Harry’s Cupboard under the Stairs, and his glasses!

The Great Hall!!!!!

At first I felt a little silly for being so excited over seeing movie sets and props, but that self-consciousness fell away as I was struck with the awe-inspiring Great Hall set, surrounded by other people from all over the world who had been touched by JK Rowling’s incredible world as much as I had. Talk about instant camaraderie and International Magical Cooperations!

Yet another situation where words cannot do the experience justice, and there was so much packed into two sound stages that I wouldn’t even been able to describe everything we saw. Every corner you turned there were more sets, more props, more costumes, more people, more excitement than a kid in Honeydukes. And these were all originals, used in the films, not replicas like in the amusement park in Florida. We got to see how they made some of the coolest effects like flying broomsticks and the basilisk, and even see some effects that you wouldn’t think were effects at all like the crooked hallway of The Leaky Cauldron and how they made it not only crooked but also appear three times it’s actual length!

The Leaky Cauldron: This was actually only 20 feet long!

We saw the centerpiece from the Yule Ball, the Potions classroom (including self-stirring cauldrons and Harry’s Advanced Potion Making textbook), the Hogwarts Gates and thestrals, the Horcruxes, Malfoy Manor, the Griffin staircase that lead’s up to Dumbledore’s Office…see what I mean by there was something everywhere we looked? Things were even hanging from the ceiling, like the Great Hall’s ceiling model and the Hogwart’s clock. And I could keep listing for probably hours: the doors to Gringotts vaults, the Triwizard Cup and clues, the Goblet of Fire, the Hogwarts portraits, the sculptures from the Ministry of Magic, Umbridge’s office from the Ministry–outfitted with over 206 kitten plates–broomsticks, wands, Diagon Alley, everything!

Death Eater costumes at Malfoy Manor

And that was just inside.

Outside our first stop was to get a cup of butter beer, which ended up being something akin to butterscotch soda topped with cream to mimic foam. There are four stages to butter beer drinking. 1. Buying Butter Beer “OMG I am actually going to drink butter beer! This is so cool!” 2. First Sip of Butter Beer “Hey this actually isn’t that bad. And so cool!” 3. Second Sip of Butter Beer “Ok this is a little on the sweet side. But still, so cool!” 4. Third Sip of Butter Beer “I can literally feel cavities forming. Anyone want the rest of my butter beer?”  Still, it’s a novelty you must try when you can. And take a picture of the “foam mustache” you get from the cream!

Butter Beer Foam Mustaches

The rest of the backlot was pretty sparse, but that didn’t stop us from getting pictures in the flying car, the Knight Bus, knocking on the door of Privet Drive, and in front of the Potter’s Cottage. And the giant chess pieces from the first film were outside too, which made it totally worth having forced Dan into watching the first movie a few weekends ago, not that it really took much forcing. Throughout the tour, I made sure that I was always one location ahead of Dan so that I could prevent him from seeing some things that would give away story lines beyond book 5. And then of course I made Dan be in some of my 287 photos taken and promised him that he would appreciate the gesture later.

He’ll thank me one day! The Goblet of Fire

There was one more room of special effects and a magical surprise that, much like I refuse to ruin the storyline of a book, I don’t want to spoil for anyone who goes to the tour so I won’t reveal it here. Just know that I was not the only one getting teary eyed!

And what would a visit to Hogwarts be without an exit through the gift shop and the purchasing of a few treats from “Honeydukes”? 😉