Friday, December 21, 2012

London: Days 5-6

We had only two things on our agenda for Monday: to take a studio tour of "Harry Potter" and to take in a performance of Billy Elliot in the evening. Needless to say, we were all incredibly excited for our first stop of the day. I probably could have peed myself with anticipation. After a hectic and somewhat scary combination of tube rides, trains, and buses, we managed to arrive at the WB Studio Lot around 12:30 p.m. Our first stop on the tour was the Great Hall, all decorated for Christmas with beautiful trees and sparkling lights. Prop food was piled high on the tables and at the head table stood all of the costumes worn by the professors of Hogwarts, including Dumbledore, Snape, McGonagal, and Hagrid! It was so cool to stand up at the front of the Hall (which is massive!) and pretend it was the beginning of term and I was being sorted into my house (Gryffindor, of course).

We worked our way through the remainder of the first Studio Lot, which was positively crammed full of amazing props, costumes, and set pieces. There were items and set pieces from the Yule Ball (including all of the characters' formal attire!), the Hogwarts gate, the Leaky Cauldron, Gryffindor common room and the boys' dormitory, Dumbledore's office, the Hogwarts potion dungeon, the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets, Hagrid's hut, the Weasley family's enchanted kitchen, the Ministry of Magic, and Dolores Umbridge's office (complete with kitten plates!). We even got to explore the magic behind the Weasleys' flying car and Quidditch by taking flight in our own green screen experience, which was so much fun!

Other highlights of the studio tour included drinking butterbeer and seeing Hagrid's flying motorcycle, the Knight Bus, Privet Drive, the Weasley car, Diagon Alley, and the MASSIVE model of Hogwarts, used for all of the exterior shots and panoramas of the school. I cried upon seeing it. This particular trip of ours may have been the absolute highlight of our time in London for me, simply because it made the kid inside me even more alive than usual, reminded me how much I love dreaming, and reawakened my sense of enchantment with literature and its capabilities.

On Monday night, we attended a performance of Billy Elliot at the Victoria Palace theatre. I had never seen the show prior to that night (I've never even seen the movie before!), but I knew the basic plot and I absolutely love dancing (especially tap!), so I was really exited! Even though we had nosebleed seats, I could see and hear everything perfectly. And what a show to see and hear! The music was pounding, the dancing was incredible--the boy who played Billy Elliot was simply phenomenal and brought tears to my eyes (okay, I was bawling) during his "Swan Lake" duet with his older self. The actress playing Mrs. Wilkinson was also excellent, and I did enjoy the actor who played Dad, as well.

Such a cool thing happened on our tube ride back to our flat that night! Some random man handed me a sealed blue envelope as he alighted from the train. I had been busy rereading Trainspotting so I was disoriented by this sudden action and didn't manage to catch a glimpse of his face. In some ways I feel that it made what happened next even more magical: I opened the envelope (labeled "Open Me =)") to find a £10 note and a post-it explaining that it was "Give Mondays" and that he "hoped it put a smile on my face." Well let me tell you, I was beaming from ear to ear, but not because of the money! This little action was so life-reaffirming and one of those moments that restore your faith in humanity. What a beautiful, beautiful soul. I feel touched to have been the random recipient of his thoughtful gesture-- it made my week! I am still so happy and moved by it, and I participated in my own "Give Mondays" the following week when I paid for the coffee of the woman standing in line behind me at a café.

We moved out of our Upton Park flat around 10:30 a.m. and arrived at Hyde Park just before noon. We completely lucked out with the weather because it was such a beautiful day in London! Hyde Park is absolutely gorgeous, even with the trees bare and the ground a dirtier brown than usual. Imagine what it must look like in the spring, summer, and early fall! With Christmas just around the corner, Hyde Park is currently home to a holiday fair called "Winter Wonderland" (similar to the Christmas Market in Edinburgh)-- lots of stalls festively decorated, the delicious smell of roasted peanuts wafting through the air, Christmas music playing, bright lights, and the screams of positively charmed children running around. It definitely felt like the holiday season was in full force! (Still no snow, however!) 

We wandered around the fairground for a while before venturing off through the rest of the park in search of Speaker's Corner. We finally did find the area, though it turns out the soapbox is only out on Sundays (it was Tuesday). Little did we know! No worries, however! As crafty Mount Holyoke women, we took it upon ourselves to create our own impromptu "soapbox" using a picnic table, and proceeded to deliver speeches to each other. Ahlam discussed how glad she was to have had the opportunity to spend time in London with me and Victoria; Victoria said she wanted to recite an Ecuadorian poem but couldn't remember it; and I sang Mount Holyoke's Alma Mater. There was literally no one else around to hear our speeches besides the three of us, but we had a great time anyway!

We next traveled to 221b Baker Street, the home of Sherlock Holmes! I took to the museum solo and had an absolutely geeky delight exploring his flat and all of its oddities, curiosities, pictures, paintings, books, etc. The detail of the place is just wonderful! I loved the extensive collection of pipes (but of course) and the impressive array of medicines (both commonplace and unusual) arranged in colorful apothecary bottles by the window. There were wax statues devoted to some of the most memorable characters of Sherlock's adventures, including the Man with the Twisted Lip. Perhaps my favorite part of the museum, however, was the scrapbook featuring a collection of letters written to Sherlock Holmes over the past few decades. Some were funny, some were serious, all were charming!

Our final stop of the day (and the very last stop of our trip!) was a quick visit to Abbey Road. Yes, that Abbey Road. We stumbled around for a bit before we found the right crosswalk, but we knew we had come to the right one when we saw dozens of people idiotically crossing the street back and forth, holding up traffic for the sake of a picture. Not ones to ever take ourselves too seriously, we joined in on the silly tourist action, snapping our own replicas of the famous Beatles album cover. We also stopped by Abbey Road Studios on our way back to the tube--so cool!

All in all, my trip to London was absolutely amazing! We saw so many things in such a short period of time--talk about a whirlwind experience!  And it was so nice to spend a week bonding with Ahlam and Victoria. I can't wait to visit London again someday and take more time to just wander the city on foot, to spend more time getting lost and reveling in the city. I have definitely fallen in love with London and all its poshness, history, charm. Every part of London feels slightly different, and I loved all of it.

Thanks for reading! Keep an eye out for my final post about my last few weeks in Edinburgh--likely to appear once I'm actually back in the States! Things have just been too crazy busy. Ah well. When in Edinburgh, right?

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