A Harry Potter Weekend in London

It’s the blog who lived!

All thanks to my good friend Harry and his cursed child.

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You may (or may not) have noticed that things have been pretty quiet around here. Shane has been feverishly writing and trying to wrap up this Ph.D. thesis. He’s in the phase now that I like to call “edit purgatory”, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s getting brighter. Hopefully, within the next month – month and a half there will be some good news to report!

While Shane’s been working his a** off, I’ve been doing important things too, ya know. Like making sure I know how my friends on Jersey Shore enjoyed their family vacation, and fully investing myself into the career of our beloved American princess – pardon me, Duchess of Sussex – Meghan Markel. Which could have potentially come in handy last weekend because we headed to London to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!

In case you don’t know – I love Harry Potter. Last summer, my sister, mom and I did a pretty serious HP tour of London and Scotland. We weren’t able to see the play though; tickets just weren’t available.

I bought these tickets in February 2017. So, after our travel drought (darn you, thesis!) and the long and much-anticipated wait, I was itching to get out of Groningen for a weekend!

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We arrived pretty late on Friday, so we didn’t really do much. This time we stayed near St. James Park in a hub – by Premier Inn. Wasn’t sure what to expect out of this hotel (it’s advertised as a budget hotel that emphasizes technology), but it was great! The rooms are small, but it reminded me of what (I assume) it would be like to live in a tiny house – clever storage and layout – the bed was comfy, it was across the street from the tube, and (most importantly) there was free coffee. All in all, it was a win.

Anyway, the next morning we were up bright and early to find a good ‘ole English breakfast! And we won the breakfast lottery thanks to this gem.

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It was the English equivalent of a hole-in-the-wall American diner – delicious & cheap. Dutch breakfast just doesn’t do it for me…


The play didn’t start until the afternoon, so we had all morning to do something new in London. Our intention was to visit the Churchill War Rooms, but we severely underestimated the line for this museum (mostly due to online ticket sale and the size of the museum itself) so we abandoned ship and ended up walking around St. James Park and down to Buckingham Palace.

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You may notice all the barricades in the background. They were clearly setting up for something in the future. Little did I know that in only two short days the entire royal family would be out on that balcony for a flyover celebrating 100 years of the Royal Airforce. I always seem to be just a bit too early or just a bit too late for these types of things…

We did get to see some of the Guards up close though as they marched down the street. I (naturally) ran to the road for an up-close view.

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Shane felt just fine staying where he was. (hah)

We continued our pre-show wanderings and ended up at the Wellington Arch.

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Shane noticed you could go up, and a trip surely isn’t complete without dragging him up a few flights of steps for a nice view. He might complain (especially when there’s an elevator available) but it’s always worth it. We even got lucky and saw the Royal Calvary coming through for the changing of the Guards at Buckingham Palace.

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Arch horses up close and personal.
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And of course, there’s always time for a pint!

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To top off the weekend, it was Pride day AND England was playing in the World Cup. It’s safe to say the city felt quite festive and was super busy! We were in the play for most of the England match, but we were out for the very end…. not that we could see anything though. You definitely weren’t getting into a pub, and there were crowds watching TVs through the windows.

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And, when England won… chaos! In a fun way.

Now, for the crème de la crème: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child!

Unfortunately, I can’t say much. JK Rowling sent a personalized email after the show asking to #keepthesecrets. And what JK asks, JK receives. What I can tell you is that this story is supposed to be the 8th of the series, and picks up where the books left off – Harry sending his 2nd child, Albus Severus, off to Hogwarts on Sept. 1st, 2017 (which is also why Sis & I lived the dream last year and went to King’s Cross station on Sept. 1st).  I can also tell you that the magic in the show was fantastic. It really felt like the world of Harry Potter, and if you’re a fan and have the chance to see it, then do it!

I’ll be honest, it’s a long play; Part 1 and 2 are ~2.5h each. It really doesn’t feel like it though. Shane was also happy because they serve ice cream at intermission.

We had a few hours in the morning on Sunday before we flew home, so we headed to the British Museum. Fun fact: it’s free. Another fun fact: if you go in the back entrance then you avoid the long lines in the front! This was quite by accident, but thanks, Google maps!

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We eventually made it to the front of the building.

We only had about an hour and a half before we needed to start heading to the airport, but conveniently enough the museum was prepared for this! And let’s be real, the average person’s attention span for looking at old stuff is probably only about 1.5 – 2h anyway.

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So we hit the highlights, the Rosetta Stone, an Easter Island man, and we took our time through the Egypt section just because we like Egypt.

All in all, I love Harry Potter, I love London, and we’re already looking for an excuse to go back!

And keep those fingers crossed and positive thoughts coming – hopefully next post I’ll be reporting a submitted thesis. 😉

Tot ziens,

Whitney

A Fangirl’s Harry Potter and Outlander Journey Through the UK

aka: The Best Darn Mom & Sis Trip: Part 2

London & Scotland! 

To fully understand the importance of this trip we need to take it back a decade (omg) to 2007 when the final Harry Potter book was released. The epilogue was titled “19 Years Later” and given the age of the characters and the time of the book release the math worked out to be 2017.

Spoiler warning! …if for some crazy reason you’ve never read/watched/heard the end of the HP series.

On September 1, 2017 Harry Potter takes his son, Albus Severus Potter, to King’s Cross Station to send him off to Hogwarts for the first time.

Sis and I promised ourselves back in 2007 that ’19 years later’ we would be in London at King’s Cross Station lookin’ for our main man, Harry.

We kept that promise!

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In the 10 years between then and now we’ve also developed a love – thanks to mom – for the historical fiction book series, Outlander, which is based in Scotland during the Jacobite rising of 1745. Therefore, our trip mostly centered around important Harry Potter and Outlander locations.

What?

Isn’t that how everyone plans their vacations?

anyway….

I’ll start with Harry Potter.

King’s Cross Station,  Where: London, England

I’ve covered why King’s Cross is important above, but King’s Cross was a filming location as well. During the first movie the wall between platform 3 & 4 was used as the entrance to platform 9 3/4. In reality, platforms 9 & 10 aren’t next to each other inside the station.

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Tour for Muggles, Where: London, England

If you’re a HP fan and in London then DO THIS TOUR! Our lovely tour guide, Greta Granger (below) was seriously THE BEST (I mean, she carries her wand with her to pubs. New bestie). We saw HP filming locations, and real life spots that inspired J.K. for places that appeared in the books, like Knockturn and Diagon Alley. We also got a bit of London history to top it off. You will not regret this tour.

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The Millennium Bridge, Where: London, England

This bridge, known to locals as the ‘Wobbly Bridge’, was featured in the beginning of the 6th movie when it was destroyed by Death Eaters.

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Doing a little scene reenactment, naturally.

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Glenfinnan Viaduct, Where: Glenfinnan, Scotland

Which you might recognize as the Hogwarts Express!

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…or the Jacobite Steam Train. Either one.

Initially, we planned to ride the Jacobite train which you can catch in nearby Fort William. It’s a full day trip from Fort William to Mallaig and back and the views can supposedly be spectacular. Overall though, the reviews online were hit or miss. Basically, if you were really into old trains it was great. If you wanted to see the viaduct, it was OK, since it passes over the viaduct fairly quickly and to get just the right view you needed to be on a particular side of the train. We opted to go to the Glenfinnan Visitors Center, which has not only a nice exhibit on the Jacobite Rebellion & Bonnie Prince Charlie, but a guide to walking trails taking you to the Glennfinnan Monument and various viewpoints of both the monument and viaduct.

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You can walk right up to the viaduct and the views are fantastic, even on a day when it was literally pouring rain. Perhaps it’s also good to know that the visitors center sells umbrellas…

The Elephant House Cafe, Where: Edinburgh, Scotland

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The “birthplace” of Harry Potter since J.K. Rowling spent a lot of time writing here. We intended just to walk by, but we went in the evening and there was seating available so we channeled our inner J.K. and stopped for a coffee.

And, I was amazed to find that the bathroom was covered in HP graffiti! Fans over the years have come and written notes on the bathroom walls. Apparently, the cafe used to paint over it and discourage people from writing on the walls, but eventually they realized it was never going to stop and just embraced it. So if you happen to find yourself here, go check out the bathrooms. It’s quite overwhelming – all the HP love!

Greyfriars Graveyard, Where: Edinburgh, Scotland

Voldy’s Grave!

Ok, ok, not really. But Thomas Riddell was the real life inspiration for the name Tom Marvolo Riddle – aka: Voldemort.

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now, on to Outlander!

Oh Claire! Oh Jamie! ….seriously if you haven’t read these books you NEED to. It’s also a show now on Starz (which is surprisingly close to the books) but let’s be real. You can’t replace the books. First up…

Glencoe, Where: Glencoe, Scotland

The opening scene of Season 1, and other great shots throughout the series.

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This view is of the “Three Sisters” mountains. We were staying in a B&B about 15 min. away, and had nowhere near enough time here. Some of Scotland’s best walking/hiking is in this area, including the highest peak in the UK – Ben Nevis. We were able to do one short hike in Glen Nevis, but if you’re into the outdoors you could easily spend a week or more and not be bored.

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Steall Falls hike in Glen Nevis.

“Craigh na Dun”, Where: Kinloch Rannoch, Scotland

So, unfortunately for us Craigh na Dun, the stone circle where Claire is transported back in time, is only fictional. Fortunately for us, where the filmed the scenes for fictional Craigh na Dun is real! With a little email help from blogger Susanne from Adventures Around Scotland, we headed down some windy-two-lane-but-really-only-big-enough-for-one-car roads we found THE spot!  (clearly the top image is not mine)

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We also saw TONS of darn cute sheep on the way. It never got old.

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Blackness Castle, Where: Linlithgow, Scotland

Blackness Castle acted as the Fort William headquarters during the 1st season of Outlander.

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Linlithgow Palace, Where: Linlithgow, Scotland

Real life residence of the Stewarts, and the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots. Wentworth Prison in Outlander.

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Doune Castle, Where: Doune, Scotland

This one was a triple whammy! Not only was it used as Castle Leoch in Outlander, but most of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed here as well as the interior scenes for Winterfell during season 1 of Game of Thrones. The audio guide here was quite entertaining, as it was narrated by Terry Jones (Monty Python actor/director) & certain areas by Sam Hueghan (Jamie in Outlander).

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Glenfinnan Monument, Where: Glenfinnan, Scotland

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As one might expect, the monument is not part of the Outlander books or a filming location as it was built after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745. Regardless, this place marks an important piece of history because it was here where Prince Charles Edward Stewart, the Bonnie Prince who lead the ’45 rising, first landed in Scotland. Essentially, this location marks the beginning of the rebellion that eventually lead to the Battle of Culloden and the end of the Scottish clans.

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View of the Glenfinnan Monument from above.

Inverness, Where: Inverness, Scotland

Modern day Inverness also wasn’t a filming location, but it was a prominent setting in the books. Quite a charming city, and well worth the visit.

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Culloden Battlefield, Where: Inverness, Scotland

If you’re an Outlander fan, then you know that this is the location where sh*t goes down. In real life, this was the location of the final battle of the Jacobite rising which resulted in the slaughter of the Scottish, and the end of Galic culture and clan system.

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Today, you can walk the battlefield. Blue flags indicate the position of the Scottish troops, red flags for the English. Stones mark the location of mass graves for each of the clans who fought in the battle.

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And that was about all the time we had! And don’t worry. We WERE able to fit in other things not related to Harry Potter or Outlander. (hah) We saw Kinky Boots in London, stumbled upon some Kelpies, looked for Nessie from Urquhart Castle, toured Fort George in Inverness, admired the views over Edinburgh, and took it upon ourselves to learn the ins and outs of Scottish whiskey. 😛

Take home message?

  1. Read Outlander (& Harry Potter if you really haven’t!).
  2. Go to Scotland.

Sláinte (cheers)!

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Tot ziens,

Whitney

Oh America, how we missed you… Special Events Edition !

as promised…

Special Event #1:

We’re Engaged!!!

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to be married of course!

Shane mentioned in the previous post that we spent some time back in Pittsburgh visiting friends. What he didn’t tell you was that he proposed while we were there!

It’s New Year’s Eve, and he wakes me up at 5:30am. “Get up, let’s go somewhere!”

How did he get me out the door that early with no questions asked?

The promise of coffee and that he wanted to steal a moment for just us in our old city. Logical explanation.

Why did it have to be at 5:30 in the morning?

We may or may not have had a FaceTime date with Meatball at 8am…

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Anyway! Off we go, up to Mt. Washington. If you’ve ever been to Pittsburgh then you know why it would be our favorite spot in the city. The view there is incredible. Even in the dark & cold.

A little back story. We basically live our lives by the TV show ‘How I Met Your Mother’. It’s the best. In the very first episode, Ted (the main character) steals a blue french horn for Robin as a romantic gesture for screwing up the first date, and the blue french horn remains a theme throughout the entire series.

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Shane didn’t screw up any first dates, but he did give me a blue french horn the morning he proposed on top of Mt. Washington. 🙂

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And my friends even threw me a mini-bachelorette party (while in North Carolina)!

December 31st was full of reasons to celebrate: New Year’s eve itself, the engagement, and my birthday!

Speaking of birthdays…

Special Event #2:

Harry Potter World!

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For my 30th my parents and sis surprised me with a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter!!

Sis and I have only talked about wanting to go since before it opened. I don’t know how many years ago that was but it’s too damn long. But don’t worry.

OUR DREAMS CAME TRUE!

(even though sis missed the ‘we’re making an exaggerated excited face’ memo)

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This place is magical.

LITERALLY! (get it?!?!)

We started the day in Hogsmeade where we sipped butter beer, toured Hogwarts & checked out the shops. The Hogwarts ride is probably one of the best rides I’ve ever been on. It’s a blend of roller coaster and 3D. One minute you’re riding your broom around the castle with Harry and Ron, and the next minute you’re zooming down the track escaping a dragon! It’s fantastic.

Naturally, we couldn’t stay in Hogsmeade all day so we hopped the Hogwarts Express to head into London & Diagon Alley.

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When we got there, we were in awe!

Diagon Alley did not disappoint. We saw the Daily Prophet, The Weasleys’ Wizard Weezes, Gringots, Knocturn Alley, and ate lunch at The Leaky Cauldron.

Oh, and took a few goblin selfies.

Thanks again, family, for the perfect present!

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Well, I think this about sums up our American adventures!

We’re heading to Prague in a few weeks, so stay tuned!

Tot ziens,

Whitney