Road Trip Wednesday – Day Seven: Central London
Way back at the beginning of our road trip, we got a brief glimpse of the city of London. But back at that time, I was focused on adjusting to driving on the opposite side of the road, on the opposite side of the car, which hardly gave me time to appreciate the city itself.
Driving back into it at the conclusion of our road trip was a pretty wonderful moment. I had spent a good deal of my life wanting to travel to the UK, specifically London. When I first set my eyes on the city, my heart was full of happiness.
Our first order of business was stopping by our hotel to drop off luggage, then head to the airport to drop off our rental car. There was absolutely nothing enjoyable about driving through the heart of London to get all the way out to Heathrow. I hope to never do it again.
But with the car dropped off, we headed back to our hotel, at which we would be staying one night, before moving to our next hotel for the duration of our stay. This hotel was a truly wonderful thing: three levels of complete comfort. I still think about that hotel sometimes. It came with a huge living area, a full kitchen, washer and dryer, dining area, two separate upstairs rooms, two bathrooms, and many closets and compartments in which we probably could have gotten lost.
Our first big event in the city was meeting up with MinaLima, the wonderful graphical design team for the Potter films. But first, Kat and I stopped for a bite to eat while Alex met up with some friends. We sat down at a restaurant in Leicester Square, which claimed to serve “Tex-Mex” food. As a native Texan, I was eager to find out how England labels such food. Needless to say, I’ll stick with the original Tex-Mex food back home.
We next went to MinaLima’s studio, which was an incredible experience! Not only did they welcome us into their working area, but showed us a few amazing props from the film. More than anything, I remember holding and flipping through The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore by Rita Skeeter and several other books from the Potter world. It was truly magical. They had brought so much to life!
Following this visit, we spent a bit more time in the city, before Kat and Alex headed off to see Daniel Radcliffe in The Cripple of Inishmaan. While they watched the play, I went site-seeing around London, seeing the places I had yearned to see for so long.
I walked down to the Thames and then to those token London sites: Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. The pictures you see online, TV, or in any book do not hold a candle to being there in person. There’s just an epic majesty to the area that you cannot fully understand unless you visit. After spending plenty of time soaking up that environment, I used the next couple of hours to journey more through the city, feeling a new spurt of joy around every corner.
Our second day in London was even busier than the first, as we got to spend time with even more amazing people from the world of Harry Potter.
First we had a lovely meeting with a few members from the Pottermore team. Over tea, we chatted about Pottermore’s progress thus far and its recent changes. They were really interested to hear our opinions on several matters, and we eagerly listened as they talked through some of their own work.
Our next adventure involved a lunch meeting with a few WB reps from the Studio Tour. We sat down for a gorgeous meal at an English country club just outside of the city. Through the meeting, we talked about the great work going on at the Studio Tour and some of the work we’re doing at MuggleNet. It was an incredible dynamic: first meeting with the very book-focused Pottermore group, then chatting with the very movie-focused pair from the WB Studio Tour.
Finally, we made our way to the Studio Tour, finding many LeakyCon attendees anxious to enter as well! Coming into the experience, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. Needless to say, I was overwhelmed from the very start. I have never been through anything quite like it. It’s something every Harry Potter fan should try to see. It is, without a doubt, every bit worth it.
Through the Studio Tour we saw just about everything you can imagine from the films: props, costumes, elaborate sets, models, the Knight Bus, and so much more. It’s impossible to capture with words everything that was there. We even all took to a Wizard’s chess board (the pieces moved!) and stood in for some of the pieces.
The end of the Studio Tour is something of a surprise, and I won’t sell the experience short or spoil it: but it is breathtaking. I was completely overcome with emotion for something I have loved for so long. It was beautiful.
Needless to say, our first two days in London were terrific – and we still had LeakyCon ahead of us!
When we awoke on the morning of Tuesday, August 6th, lord were we excited. It was the day to drop off the car! Mind you, we had an absolutely AMAZING trip, one we would remember for the rest of our lives, but we were all very done with the car and more than happy to be rid of it. After dropping our bags at our hotel for the night (our last one night stay, thankfully!), Caleb & I headed to Heathrow and Alex went to meet some fellow Aussies in Central. The drive was supposed to take around 15 minutes. It took us two hours, round trip, and made me insanely thankful that I don’t have to live or drive in a city!
Caleb & I had a nice, relaxing lunch (which I thought was yummy, for the record) in the hot London sun before taking a few quick tours. We had such little time in Central and since I had been there before, I just wanted to go visit a few of my favorite works of art. We walked through the National Gallery to visit ‘The Arnolfini Portrait’ by Jan Van Eyck, one of my favorite paintings from the period, before heading to The National Portrait Gallery. We then took a stroll through Trafalgar Square and reminisced about the Deathly Hallows – Part Two premiere so many years before. Then we made our way to our first stop for the day – the offices of MinaLima, graphic designers in the Harry Potter films.
We had met MinaLima several times throughout the years, and were excited to finally be in London at the same time – and to be invited to their gorgeous studio space. We met up with Alex and headed to the very top floor of the building – and wow the color! The studio is full of gorgeous artwork, books, posters, and people. There team has grown a bit over the years, so we were introduced to those we didn’t know, and settled in for our visit. While chatting, I was letting my eyes wander the walls of the room. Hanging everywhere were little tidbits and background pieces from the Potter films. I pointed out a length of signage with some quills stuck to it, branded Weasley – and I pointed to it, and jokingly asked, “What other goodies are you hiding from our eyes?” To my surprise, Mira answered, “Oh, there is more where that came from.” She then retreated into the office space, and gestured for us to follow.
I couldn’t possibly begin to tell you about all the amazing things that we saw, held, and gawked over that day. I will say that something I had been wishing and dreaming about for months now, to be able to flip through an actual copy of The Daily Prophet, came true. I held back tears of awe when I was handed the original, hand-written copy of Dumbledore’s last will & testament. It felt like I was holding a piece of long lost, sacred paper from millions of years ago. I will forever treasure that moment. All of these amazing artifacts were in the office due to a presentation they had just given at LeakyCon in Portland, but alas, the pieces have since been sent back to Warner Brothers to live in their vault.
We bid adieu to Mira, Ed, and the MinaLima crew, hung around in Central for a while, and eventually split up. Caleb went off to explore the city he had been dying to see, while Alex & I headed for the West End to see the lovely Daniel Radcliffe in The Cripple of Inishmaan! It was my own rotten luck that I had missed Dan both times he was on Broadway, so I was not going to miss out this time. I bought one of the only non-magnet souvenirs that night, a program which would become priceless (to me, at least) a few days later. We settled into our seats and enjoyed the magnificent show. The entire cast was incredible, and Dan shone brightest of all. In fact, we have a nice review of play, which you should definitely read.
We decided after the show to be one of the insane people that try to get his autograph – or dare I say, a photo! We had three programs between us (Alex bought two. One was for a friend.), and although we did make it out alive, we only managed to get one of the programs signed. We vowed to come back a few days later to get the other signed – because really, how would we ever decide which of us got the autographed copy?
We spent the rest of our evening enjoying each other’s company in the lavish comfort of our incredible hotel room, which was in reality an apartment. We were to join four friends the next night, so we enjoyed the space – and free laundry facilities – while it lasted.
After moving hotels the next morning, we met up with MuggleNet’s UK Publicity Assistant, Claire. None of us had met her before, but when you work as closely as we do on MuggleNet, it’s like meeting a long lost family member! We headed into a gorgeous whiskey bar of all places, and met up with the team from Pottermore, who like our fellow staff members, feel more like family than co-workers. It was nice to finally put faces to the emails. We had a nice long chat about the past, present, and future of Pottermore & of MuggleNet. I wish I could say that they divulged deep, dark secrets to us regarding what is to come, but what they did expand upon was very exciting. It’s safe to say that the future of Pottermore looks bright.
After saying ciao to Claire, the three of us made our way north to Watford. Here we were to meet the publicity team from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. We enjoyed a lovely tour of the gorgeous Grove Hotel, plus a lunch on the patio, before making our way to the tour itself.
That night at the tour was reserved for LeakyCon guests and friends/family of guests. The last time I visited was for the Grand Opening Celebration back in March 2012. That was a very special experience for me, because I walked through studios J & K totally, and completely alone. That day was also the day that video crews were going through the tour, so every barrier was down and I got to do things that most visitors can only dream about – like sitting at the tables in the Great Hall, or on the steps in Dumbledore’s office. So, this time around, I knew the visit would be different, but equally special because I was there with my closest friends in the World!
We had an amazing time at the tour, even running into HP alumni and friends Ellie Darcey-Alden, Scarlett Byrne, and Rohan Gotobed. We had a ton of fun taking really dorky photos and videos (which you will see next week!), drinking the yummy Butterbeer (not as yummy as in Florida though), and in general basking in the magic flowing through those studios. It was an awesome night – one that I won’t soon forget.
That night we finally had a chance to “unpack” a little bit and settle into our home for the next 5 nights. It was nice to be able to actually take clothes out of the suitcase, put toiletries in the bathroom, and settle in a bit! The road trip had wiped us out, but we had so many amazing memories because of it. Speaking of memories – LeakyCon London started the next day. Come back next week for our recap of the fun filled weekend!