Posts Tagged With: London

My Parents Arrive in London Or, My Brief Time as a Tour Guide


Family selfie on our walking tour of Westminster. You can tell dad’s really getting into the tourist spirit.

I had a few days between the last day of my internship and when I picked my parents up at Heathrow. I met them at the Heathrow tube station and we dragged all their stuff to their hotel as I navigated. It was really good to see them again after 4 months away – and its always fun when they both have to rely on me to get around. haha.IMG_2396

Gotta love how my parents get to the UK and I go from hostels to Hilton gold member executive lounges. That executive lounge sure came in handy with the free breakfast and dinner-time snacks. (I was particularly fond of the scrambled eggs & toast.)

IMG_2321My schedule of touristy things to do kept us occupied as I took them to see the V&A museum, the poppies at the Tower of London, St. Dunstan-in-the-East, and signed us up for Sandeman’s free walking tour of London (Westminster). It was the most walking I had done since my Italy adventure, and my chance to say goodbye to my temporary home.

We also got to meet up with Amie for a Westminster Abbey service. What a priceless last evening with a precious friend! Between the breathtaking Westminster choir and the incense that was breathtaking in an entirely different way (my scarf smelled of incense until I got back to the States), I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget that service.

It was a fun final few days, and I’m pretty sure I exhausted my parents. Oops? We didn’t get through everything I had planned, but I count it a success that mom and dad had the public transportation mostly figured out by the time we left.

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Warner Brothers Studio Tour (AKA, the Magical Harry Potter Studio Tour)

4 midnight movie premieres. (1 in costume.)
1 midnight book release.
6 books read in 2 weeks, and the 7th in 2 days. Plus multiple re-reads.
2 trips to the most magical place on earth, the Wizarding World in Florida.

And now… 3.5 magical hours at the Leavesden studios where the 8 Potter movies were filmed.


I asked the one intern left with me in the office (well, this Saturday was his last day, so now I am the only intern left) to go with me, because fangirling alone is just not as fun as fangirling with a friend, even if that friend isn’t quite as enthusiastic about Potter as you are. Vincent as my witness, I was skipping and bouncing on the way to the tour, and at several points during the tour. I checked my phone for the time at each Overground stop on the 40 minute ride to Watford Junction. I was telling myself to not hyperventilate. (Yes, much excitement.)

IMG_2074I have been waiting to go on this studio tour since I realized they were opening it up to the public. I knew I had to come as soon as I was accepted into my intern abroad program. And as you might be able to guess, it definitely lived up to expectations! Seeing original sets, costumes, props, models, designs, and effects was amazing. There was an intro video recorded by the trio, of course, and we entered the tour through the great hall set. (Unfortunately, we could not see the sky in the ceiling.)

Daniel’s first ever set of robes (and that pointy hat!), along with other tiny wardrobe pieces, was adorable. One of my favorite sections, of course, was the green screen section. I got to sit on a broom and fly through different scenes. (The employee made me mount the broom from the right side though. It felt really awkward, especially when trying not to trip on my huge Ravenclaw robe. Which I specifically asked for after they tried to hand me a Gryffindor one.) Once I have access to a decent scanner, those pictures WILL  be up. The other great interactive section of the tour was getting a chance to follow video instructions from the set’s wand combat
IMG_2098coordinator/coach. I had Hermione’s wand (since Ginny’s wasn’t available, and my favorite is a toss up between the two) and I’m pretty sure I could have taken the 12 year olds that went before me in a wizard’s duel. (That video is already up.)

I had to get some butterbeer, of course (though they didn’t offer it frozen, which is my favorite from the park). Their back lot had the outdoor sets, like the wooden bridge at Hogwarts, Number 4 Privet Drive (where everything was perfectly normal, thank you very much), the Knight Bus (which looked way better than taking a plain night bus), and Goderic’s Hollow. If I allow myself, I’ll just excitedly list everything. But I won’t. But all in all, it was seriously fantastic. The behind the scenes prop design 20140830_203217and makeup prep was fascinating, too. And seeing all the paper set models was amazing. There is a lot of talent on display at the studio. The absolute BEST model was the giant Hogwarts castle they used with green screen for exterior shots during the movies. Music was playing, there was dramatic lighting, and it was so incredibly detailed.

I was still (literally) skipping along with excitement when we left. (I was suddenly 12 again. For the entire day.)

The ONLY thing that disappointed me: You could not hear Moaning Myrtle in the bathroom, like you do at the theme park. (How hard is it to rig up a few extra speakers?)

Now – who is ready for a Potter movie marathon?! I’ve already been listening to the soundtrack nonstop.

“I solemnly swear I am up to no good.”



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Longines Global Champions Tour


The things I would do to be able to ride in that arena…

Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook is most likely well aware of the fact that I got to see the Longines Global Champions Tour one Thursday. I think I uploaded a picture every 10 minutes for most of the day – and I was there for 13 hours!

The weather was actually quite nice at the start, and the classes started at a relatively low height with riders I had never heard of. (One of the USA riders was named Tara Couch – the coincidence made me laugh.) It was all held at the Horseguards Parade in Westminster – where Henry VIII used to have jousting tournaments… and there I was watching one of the largest global showjumping competitions. The arena also had the gorgeous backdrop of the surrounding Westminster buildings and a view of the top of the London Eye.IMG_1561

Of course, I was really there to see Beezie Madden ride. I think I’ve had a Beezie poster since I was still subscribed to Young Rider magazine at 12 or 13. I was sitting – for the first part of the day – on one of the short sides of the arena right in front of the combination, which is where most rails were dropped and about 80% of the falls happened. (It was a very exciting place to sit. haha.)

IMG_1539And since it was London… the skies opened up and dumped buckets of water on us all. I pulled out my cap and pushed the hood of my jacket up and huddled in my seat until the rain got so bad I could feel it seeping into my boots. The things we do for horses….

Once we got up to the Grand Prix riders (Beezie, Eric Lamaze, Reed Kessler, Jessica Springsteen, etc.) it got more exciting. There was rain, people were running for cover, horses were a bit more spooky… Unfortunately Beezie knocked too many rails to get into the jump off, but the jump off was fantastic.


Ireland v Wales

Throughout the day, I was also one of the few people who cheered and clapped for all the Team USA riders… And I did so loudly. I felt proud and patriotic during the awards ceremony for the class where USA got gold and silver. Towards the end of the day, as the jumps got higher and the riders were more well known, Team GBR got loud cheers from the entire audience… so I felt I should try to make up for the lack of Americans in the stands. haha.

Then, I got to enjoy some polo! Ireland v Wales and then England v Bangkok. At that point I was soaked all the way through because no matter what I did… the rain had been falling sideways. It got under my coat and down in my boots… But it was one of the best days I’ve had in London! If any of the dappled grays go missing….. (It won’t be me, but that’s just because I don’t currently have anywhere to put one…)



I was cold and wet and happy about the ponies

A horse is the projection of peoples’ dreams about themselves – strong, powerful, beautiful – and it has the capability of giving us escape from our mundane existence.  ~Pam Brown

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Exploring England

IMG_0789The fact that I’m almost too busy traveling to update my travel blog is definitely a problem I am not complaining about. Europe is on my doorstep now – so traveling is an almost-every-weekend occurrence – but I’m also determined to explore as much of the UK as possible while I’m here. So far, I have seen Hampton Court Palace, the Tower of London, and the White Cliffs of Dover. I’m looking at going to Brighton as well as a few more of the royal historical palaces on the list before the end of July. I really do love the UK, and I’m glad I’m getting the chance to explore the country I’m temporarily living in.

Hampton Court Palace: Laura, Lily, Angela and I hopped on the train out to Hampton Court Palace late one Saturday morning. (I like train travel more than tube travel, I think.) The cute little lady that worked in the ticket office was so excited to give me my temporary historical royal palaces membership card as I wait for the official one to come in the mail. I think we spent a solid 5 hours at Hampton Court. Can you imagine living there? The palace and the grounds around it were all gorgeous. We only left because it was closing time.IMG_1134

The Tower of London: A group of us got to the Tower in the middle of the afternoon one Sunday (we had just arrived back in the
UK from Dublin that morning – remember the whole too busy to update thing?). There was a fantastic display on armor for past kings and their horses, with life size horse replicas – I didn’t expect the horses from those years to be so huge! Since we had arrived too late for the Beefeater tour, the armor display was definitely the highlight for me. And the crown jewels, which were gorgeous. (Also, I’m definitely going back later on to listen to the Beefeater tour!)

White Cliffs of Dover: Dover was windy and slightly rainy (it may be on the coast, but Dover is still in England), but it was the best picnic I’ve ever had. The girls and I trekked up the road (the long way) from the town center to the cliffs, set out our towels and unpacked our food with an amazing backdrop of hills and cliffs and the ocean. If you ever get the chance to see IMG_0876these cliffs in person, DO IT. It’s only a 4 hour bus ride from London.


Dover was a bit last-minute, because our plans to go to the Isle of Wight fell through. I have to say, this was the best last-minute destination I have ever helped make a decision for. I also love how easy it is to do things like this last-minute from London – we went to the coast – but in the entirely opposite direction we had first planned. Thanks, list of Best British Beaches!


“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.”

Lao Tzu


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Making Friends in a Foreign Country


risking life and limb to reenact the Abbey Road cover

Being in a foreign country by yourself makes for a unique social experience. The type of friendship that takes weeks or months to develop back home in the States takes about two hours when you’re abroad. What is this phenomenon? Is it shared experience? Is it gravitating towards other expats? Is it a different mindset? Is it fear or loss of inhibitions?

I think it could be a little bit of all of the above. Before arriving in London, I read somewhere to say yes to everything, and b aggressively friendly in order to make friends abroad. I guess I kind of took that to heart, because I went from being by myself to suddenly having a facebook group full of friends overnight. I’ve already been on a pub crawl, to dinner, shopping in markets, exploring public transportation, and even to Abbey Road, with girls that feel like good friends. Somehow, getting almost run over while trying to get a fantastic picture of your Beatles-moment is funny instead of traumatizing when there are friends nearby. Someone is rearranging their trip to the Harry Potter Studios London tour so I can tag along, and I have jumped into a weekend trip to Brussles during the last minute planning stage. There is no awkwardness, no wondering if I’m annoying others with my constant requests to go find something to do, and a degree of comfort I usually don’t feel with people I have known for less than a week.


Me, Lily, Amie! Photo cred to Amie.

I have made a conscious effort to say yes to everything I think I can reasonably afford, and so far everything has paid off! We all know that we’re in the same boat, I guess. The same things brought us all to London, and we’re all looking to have an unforgettable experience. Regardless of the reason, I am thankful for this phenomenon because I know some of the memories I’m about to make couldn’t happen without these girls and the other people I have yet to meet. So, if you ever find yourself alone in a foreign country, remember: the key is aggressive friendliness. Become a stage 5 clinger, even. Because others secretly want to be aggressively friendly, too.





“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” Tim Cahill.

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Travel Day(s)

Tuesday May 20- Wednesday May 21

Two suitcases, an entourage at the airport, and two flights.

20140521_150636For my first solo international flight, things were pretty low-key. I was excited, of course, but it is hard to feel too excited while on a nine hour flight. And hey, AISLE SEATS the whole way.  I also think I heard the hallelujah chorus when the line for the UK border was short, because I had already made my way through a good half mile of the London Heathrow labyrinth. Another happy event was when my suitcase rolled past me right as I walked up to the conveyor belt.


(Don’t Blink!)

So far, so good. The currency exchange was a bit more painful, even though the man at the counter was friendly. He gave me advice on transportation, and told me I had a good plan to use the tube. “You look tough, you’ll get there no problem.” Thanks, I think?

One day travel card purchased and a 45 minute tube ride later, and I was at Earls Court. YES! There was no lift (elevator). Sigh.
Thus began my trek all over kingdom come with my huge suitcase, carry on suitcase, and purse to find the hotel. It took me about 10 minutes to make the 5 minute walk due to stopping for directions multiple times, and stopping to rearrange my luggage.

But I made it! I was too tired to rush off to the free walking tour I had planned on, so I set off on my own. I forced myself to walk around until it was almost dark so I could nip jet lag in the bud. It worked out pretty well, since I found a Pret, a really cool old cemetery, and my first TARDIS sighting.

Then all I had to worry about was finding a place to live.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Mark Twain

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