The Most Magical Place on Earth: WB’s Potter Studio Tour

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Butterbeer mustaches = a must.

Forget Disney. I could visit the WB studio tour over and over and over and over and over…
Along with the theme parks, of course. My second visit to the studio tour was no less magical than my first. We got tickets that included the audio guides and souvenir guide books. I absolutely love the audio guides. Sitting on the overground to Watford Junction, we saw a few other families who were also on their way to the tour. And I was just as ecstatic as the first time around.

The experience itself was also just as brilliant the second time around. They estimate that visitors will spend an average of 2.5 hours inside the tour, but Kate and I were there for 4 whole hours. We didn’t get bored at all. 13522840_10206721511943588_4997574288365891661_o (1)

The newest exhibit I hadn’t seen yet was the Hogwarts Express. They had it set up
perfectly, with smoke billowing around the red train. You get to walk through the carriages, with each compartment set up as they had been in different scenes. This section of the sound stage is why you definitely want to book an early entry time – the earlier you get in, the less people there will be. I wouldn’t want to be standing in a late afternoon line to get through the Hogwarts Express…. or to get on the brooms!

IMG_2864It might just be impossible (for me, anyway) to resist the green screen brooms. As cheesy as they are, I had regretted not getting the mp4 of my broom flight the first time around… so this time I sprung for it, along with two other pictures. Don’t we look happy? Who wouldn’t? We were in a flying Ford Anglia!

Another new addition to the studio tour was BUTTERBEER ICE CREAM. Yes, you saw that correctly: butterbeer ice cream. It may just have been the best ice cream I’ve ever tasted, and if I hadn’t already downed so much sugar between that and my glass of butterbeer, I would have gone for a second cone. If you even remotely like ice cream and you are in the studio tour: get it. You won’t regret it. IMG_2866

The actual butterbeer is still great, of course. Even if I prefer the frozen version of the theme parks. (Some pumpkin juice for sale also wouldn’t be amiss. Something to think about, maybe, Leavesden?)

We also happened to get tickets for the last few days of the Privet Drive exhibit. We were able to walk through the entry way of that perfectly normal Number 4 house… And it looked as if the post had just arrived via fireplace. Dudley had his many awards hung on the walls, and it was very Dursley-ish. (But what else would you expect?)

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No post on Sundays! 

And, of course, the behind the scenes info is always fascinating. The detailed paper models, full-scale sets, and costumes all show just how much effort it took to pull off an 8-movie franchise. But my favorite room is still the gigantic Hogwarts model, under dramatic lighting, with a ramp all the way around.

I still say that the studio tour is a must-see for any Harry Potter fan who happens to travel to London. It’s definitely worth the cost of the ticket.

 

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In Which I’m a London Tour Guide Once More

I’m always in favor of taking a free walking tour. But since I figured I was a local for 5 months or so that one time a few years ago… I could handle showing Kate around without the guide. And there’s something about missing your second home for two years that makes you eager to revisit even the tourist spots.

I had scouted out some great looking cafes on Instagram earlier in the month, so we left our little Notting Hill AirBnB for Farm Girl Cafe, which was a 10-minute walk down the road. If you’re ever in Notting Hill, I highly recommend it. We ended up going twice in the week we were here! The lavender lattes are A+.

From there it was time to show Kate some Royal London! The first stop was, obviously, the Mall and Buckingham Palace.

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It’s amazing how little the crowds of tourists get on your nerves after 10 hours of sleep! Yes I know we were tourists too.

With the jet lag gone, my internal London map and sense of direction was back. We managed to catch the tail end of the Changing of the Guard Parade. (Which I really recommend over squishing up against the palace fence with the rest of the tourists to catch the actual changing of the guard… The parade is much more interesting. There are fewer people to make you claustrophobic, and more ponies! Ponies are always a bonus.)

I gave the tour guide spiel I’ve now memorized about why Green Park is green (3 guesses) as we took a detour through it, and re-lived some of my Longines Global Champions Tour excitement as we passed Horse Guards Parade. We took a stroll through the National Gallery, both of us gravitating toward any artwork that contained horses. (Painters used to have a really hard time with the head to body size ratio.) I mentioned how the lions in Trafalgar Square resemble Cocker Spaniels from the mane down.

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Classic London Tourist, in her natural habitat.

Then, naturally, it was time for some fish and chips, because we were starving. And because London is not just about the royal post codes, we took a bus up to Camden for Poppie’s. I think they will always have my favorite fish and chips… Their sticky toffee pudding isn’t bad either. Camden has a completely different vibe, which I was ready for after dodging tourists most of the morning.

And as became habit for Kate and me over the next few weeks… we went back to the flat, took a late afternoon nap, and then ventured back out for a picnic dinner. With Pret, of course! We parked ourselves on a bench in Kensington Gardens to people watch and enjoy the fantastic weather. Really, London weather has always been good to me on the whole.

As it got dark we continued to walk around to get a glimpse of a few landmarks all lit up. The Royal Albert Hall at night really is gorgeous. I think I did a pretty good job as tour guide. Even if I knew there was some history I knew I was forgetting. I got to revisit some places that have some pretty good memories attached to them. Which is almost everywhere I’ve set foot in Central London, really. So if anyone needs a personal tour guide of London in the future… Take me!

When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life. – Samuel Johnson

 

 

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10 Things I’ll Always Miss About Living in London

I lived in London for a short time and then I was back stateside again, but it still feels like home when I return. Even if your Visa is short-term, London tends to make a big impression – especially once you start to feel like not just a tourist but a resident.

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When I stepped onto the Heathrow tube station platform after two years away, everything I missed came rushing back. I don’t think these ten things are in any particular order, but they are the things I thought about while I was separated for so long from the city that is now my second home. Let’s not stay apart so long next time, okay London?

  1. Public transport. Do I need to say more? London’s public transport system has permanently spoiled me to the point I feel disappointed in every other city’s transportation system. I could live here for years without needing a car at all! Which is good, because there is zero parking.
  2. The diversity. You can walk through Hyde Park, down The Mall, or through a random market and hear 5 different languages spoken in 5 minutes. It reminds me of how small the world really is, and how closely we’re all connected.
  3.  The history. Walk down the street. Almost any street. Look around. Look up. There are historical buildings everywhere. Little “___ person lived here” signs. Memorials. An old medieval church that is still halfway standing after the Blitz. After living in London, the States seem so… young. (Which, comparatively, they are.)
  4. Pubs. Chain pubs, local pubs, pub food, pub TVs with the match on. Pubs are now my favorite place to sit around and write, think, chat with a friend, or simply people watch. There are few people watching opportunities more enjoyable than watching a football match in which you have no loyalty ties, surrounded by fans, from a small little local pub.
    • The fact that half of London goes for after work drinks on every weekday and there are so many people they spill out into the streets for an hour or more of chatting and winding down still delights me. I’ve never been anywhere else that does after work drinks like London.
  5. The Evening Standard. I never really got excited about newspapers… Until that one seat on the rush hour tube opened up and I needed to occupy my hands. Now every time I travel I try to pick up a free local paper. Thanks, Standard.
  6. Food markets. Pretty self-explanatory. Street food anywhere in the general vicinity of Europe is my favorite type of food. And Borough Market? Just leave me there with a wallet full of cash for a few hours and I’ll be happy.
  7. The parks. You can be walking down the most crowded city street, and all of a sudden you’re surrounded by acres and acres of grass and trees and people playing badminton or fetch with their dogs.
  8. Empty tube platforms at night. There’s just something so soothing about them to me. The sound of a train through the tunnel, and the automated voice over the speakers that sounds crisper when you’re surrounded by fewer people. Mind the gap. Not competing with crowds of commuters for a seat. The few hushed conversations half a train car away.
  9. Day trips. Get on a train and in one hour you can be at Hampton Court Palace or on the coast in Brighton. It’s so easy. (And still, no driving required!)
  10. The culture. Museums. West End. Parks. Locally owned cafes and boutiques. London has everything, half of it free, for you to do on any given day of the week. Something is always going on, even if your biggest calendar item for the day is people watching.
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*London is Always a Good Idea

Sure, Audrey Hepburn (in Sabrina!) was talking about Paris… But I think I feel the same way about London. Plus, I’ve never actually been to Paris. London is definitely always a good idea. And after neglecting my poor passport for over two years, I breathed a sigh of relief as we stepped past border control at Heathrow and onto the escalator that took us down to the tube.

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We got quite attached to our little street.

We got quite attached to our little street.I’ve never been in love with big cities, but London is the exception. I felt like I was back home, and my feet still wanted to hit autopilot as we passed Victoria station on my old route to Pimlico.

For the 7 days I got to be back in London, we stayed in Notting Hill. It was an area I had never really explored while living in Pimlico. There’s just too much London to explore all of it in even five years’ time, much less five months! Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Notting Hill!

It’s a posh little neighborhood, full of stereotypical white facades with pillars and tiled stoops. Our host was really lovely, and the room was twice as spacious as the little shoebox I was used to during my internship. It only took until the jetlag wore off for my mental Central London map to start working again, and to get back that instinctual grasp of North, South, East, and West.

It was especially fun showing Kate around central London since she had never been there before. I’m sure I was dragging her from place to place more than was strictly necessary, but I was also eager to see all the sights I had missed in the last two years.

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When One Has 6 Hours to Kill in Boston

Kate and I had possibly the longest travel day I’ve ever experienced on our way to Heathrow, as we were trying to save on airfare. So it meant we had some unavoidable layover time… the longest of which was in Boston. I don’t believe I had ever been to Boston before, and since we were in an incredibly small and boring terminal of the airport… I decided to see what we could possibly get up to with our backpacks and some public transportation. 13310483_10206583893063202_956201012420799792_n

We sorely needed some fresh air and time away from other tired terminal travelers. I found an easy route from the airport shuttle to the Boston subway station, with the help of an information desk and tourist map. From there, some cheap short-term tickets got us a few stops away to what appeared to be somewhere close to downtown and out into the sunlight.

We walked out to a harbor that was full of people and spent a little while wandering aimlessly before parking ourselves on a bench that had a great view. We did still have our heavy backpacks with us, after all. Just sitting in the breeze did a world of good.

So, if you’re ever stuck in the Boston airport for an inordinate amount of time… Getting a map and subway ticket will be worth it.

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Much happier campers with fresh air!

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7 Steps for Your Language Learning Foundation

As I mentioned in my #Add1Challenge Recap, I had quite a few resources I used to learn. I also had a schedule that I (mostly) stuck to. I’m now halfway through 2016 and I’m ignoring my self-imposed deadline of being conversationally fluent in a year with determination, just attempting to keep up my study schedule and methods without overwhelming myself.

Not overwhelming yourself is key. 

So, in an attempt to keep everything for myself organized, and to help others who may be learning a language, I’m laying out the steps to start – and continue – learning.

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Tina Learns Italian: #Add1Challenge Recap

The day I sat down to record my Day 0 video, I could fit everything I knew in Italian into less than 30 seconds of video. And I managed to make it to Day 90!

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Grazie, Blessy!

I am now at the end of a 2 week Italian study break, after completing the challenge! My brain needed a break. But with my trip to Italy getting closer I’m jumping back into studying now. ( I know I have some homework from Blessy I need to revisit. 🙂 )

I wanted to give a quick rundown of my thoughts about the whole challenge, now that it’s done.

The #Add1Challenge goal: To set a non-negotiable study goal, follow it, track your progress (recording a YAY, NAY, or break day), and speak with a native speaker entirely in your target language for 15 minutes at the end of 90 days.

We received emails every day for the first 15 days, divided into (optional) mastermind and study groups, and were equipped with some learning resources. The rest was up to us. In order to be eligible to complete the Add1Challenge, we also had to complete 3 mini-challenges, and upload videos for Day 0, Day 30, Day 60, and Day 90. 

  • The Add1Challenge community is the single best source of motivation for studying outside of school I’ve ever experienced. The A1C Italian community was meraviglioso! I highly recommend joining study groups for A1C. Everyone gave me a general sense of accountability, especially with the study group.
  • I set my study goal to be 4 days a week, for 45 minutes per day. A bit on the light side, but I was able to surpass it on a regular basis, which was motivating. I only took all of my allowed break days while I was sick with a cough and couldn’t speak.
  • Sometimes you progress in leaps and bounds, and sometimes you can’t see that you’re actually progressing at all. That’s what the monthly update videos are for. I’m glad I had them to re-watch.
  • I went from “Ciao” and “Mi chiamo Tina” to having a (still very basic) linear conversation! That daily routine, even if I did the bare minimum amount of studying, really had an impact. Without the A1C, I probably would have gone to bed without studying at all for half of those three months.
  • Posting videos of your face on Youtube will always feel weird. You just have to ignore that.
  • Listening to your own voice feels the same in a second language as it does in your first language. Another thing to ignore.
  • I mentioned the Italian learners, but all the challengers were highly motivating, no matter the language. Watching their videos as they progressed was inspiring! (Because if they can do it, so can I.)
  • italki is the single best learning resource I have ever found, and is almost tied with the A1C for motivation. I clicked with 90% of the tutors I booked lessons with. And I would get corrections on journal entries from native speakers.
  • Committing to a finite amount of learning resources is important. There are too many out there to keep up with them all. Figure out which ones work best and leave the rest.
  • I had a cough for almost 6 full weeks right in the middle of the challenge. I did get a little panicked about my progress then. At Day 60 I felt like I had regressed, but I doubled up on my italki lessons during the last 3 weeks of the challenge and made it! If it weren’t for the A1C community I probably wouldn’t have bounced back as fast.
  • The most successful way I found to not get overwhelmed about my 90 day goal…. Was to ignore it. Haha! But it worked, right? And the advice of the other A1Cers who had done the video before helped as well.
  • I met some of the best tutors on italki thanks to recommendations from other A1C participants!
  • Another grazie mille to Blessy! 

The Add1Challenge is something I would definitely recommend to anyone who wants to make a lot of progress in a short amount of time! I’m going to join another challenge in the fall in my push for conversational fluency. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to complete a 30 minute conversation at the end of 90 days without tracking my study time, participating in mini-challenges, and my study group!

List of Favorite Resources

 

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Tina Learns Italian: #Add1Challenge Completed!

The #Add1Challenge Goal: Have a 15 minute conversation entirely in your target language after 90 days of study.

I did it! Actually, I had a roughly 30 minute conversation completely in Italian – though by minute 20 my brain was pretty fried. Of course, I had gone 10-20 minutes completely in Italian during previous lessons and study sessions, but those usually ended up sounding more like stream-of-consciousness sessions than linear conversations.

Grazie Blessy, my fantastic teacher, for helping me so much!

I had a super short lesson with another tutor first to get my brain “warmed up.” My call with Blessy felt great! There were lots of pauses for thinking about grammar and vocab, but it was an actual linear conversation. I also noticed I make weird faces when I’m thinking.

Now, I just feel… relieved. And accomplished! I went from knowing “Mi chiamo Tina” to this conversation in 90 days! Of course, I will keep studying before my trip to Italy in June. My end goal is to be conversationally fluent, where it isn’t a struggle to communicate in most everyday situations, by the end of 2016. But for now, I’m enjoying how far I have come since late January.

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Tina Learns Italian: To Boldly Go to Day 60

Space, l’ultima frontiera!

When Assignment #3 (make a short, fun video in your target language) of the #Add1Challenge was given, I wanted to do something different from my other videos. One challenger made a video of her dog obeying commands in German, one discussed a children’s book about animals in Chinese, and a few others featured their cats in various languages.

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Tina Learns Italian: Mini-Challenge #3

#ADD1CHALLENGE

Mini-Challenge #3: Put in as much speaking practice as possible in 14 days.

This one was only really difficult in terms of scheduling. Taking italki lessons and speaking with those tutors is my favorite way to put in some good time on progressing in Italian.

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