Harry Potter Studio Tour!

When we visited London in December, E got tickets for us to go to the Warner Brothers Studio – The Making of Harry Potter tour! The Harry Potter books and films were very important to our family, so we were thrilled to be able to go. We went on a weekday when our son-in-law had to be at work, so we were a party of five – my spouse B, our daughters E and T, our granddaughter ABC, and me. E was the only one who had been there before.

The Studios are outside London, so we needed to use trains and buses to get there. The last segment is on special studio buses. One of the first things you see after entering is a very large dragon in flight. We weren’t sure how ABC, at two and a half, would react to such things, but she loves dinosaurs and accepted dragons as a dinosaur-variant. (T is holding ABC in the foreground.)
HP flying dragon

Because so many people visit, the start times of the tour are staggered throughout the day. There are some introductory remarks from tour guides and a short film before your group is ushered into the Great Hall. Because we were there in December, everything was decorated for Christmas, including, of course, Christmas crackers at each place at the table.
Great Hall

You can see little details of the set, like the tree-toppers with flying witches…
HP XMas tree-topper

and the wreath around the crest on the fireplace.
Great Hall fireplace

After the Great Hall, the rest of the tour is self-guided, laid out in a uni-directional way. There are lots of sets, like Harry’s Gryffindor bedroom,
Harry's bedroom

costumes, like these from the Yule Ball,
HP costumes Yule Ball

and props, like this display of wands.
HP wands

There were certain displays that ABC did not like, such as these disembodied hairpieces.
HP wigs

Sometimes, context mattered. For example, we rushed ABC out of the dark Forbidden Forest Set with its spiders because she was not a fan, but, later, when we saw the huge model of Aragog, Hagrid’s former pet giant spider, which was several meters wide, mounted on a wall, ABC decided to sing “The Eensy, Weensy Spider” to it.

As a big fan of trains, ABC enjoyed the Hogwarts Express.
Hogwart's Express

Even better, we got to walk through the train cars!
Ada on the Hogwart's Express

For some reason, I had to rush ABC through the grand Gringotts Bank set, because she did not approve.
Gringotts

The destroyed Gringotts was much more to her liking! She insisted on watching the scene multiple times. It must have been the attraction of the dragon…

The last part of the display before the obligatory exit-through-the giftshop was the model of Hogwarts used for the external shots. ABC was a big fan!
J and Ada at Hogwarts model

It was a beautiful model. Because it was winter, we got to see it with snow which made it look even more magical!
Hogwarts model

We all had a lovely time. I hope we will be able to visit again in the coming years. It will be fun to see how ABC reacts over time. Warner Brothers also continues to add new displays, as well as having various limited time features, so there will be new things to see each time.

Eventually, ABC – and any future siblings – will be able to read the Harry Potter books and see the films. Perhaps, E and L will embark on our family tradition of reading each book aloud as a family.

Maybe, B and I will be able to join in via videochat…

Family time in London

One of the great things about going to visit family living in a historic and dynamic city is that you get to experience non-touristy, neighbourhood life. (I hope all my UK and Commonwealth friends will appreciate my remembering to put the u in.) L, E, and ABC live with L’s parents in Plaistow. The row houses there remind me of ones that you see in some US cities.
Larry's parents' house in London
L’s parents love gardening. The weather in London is mild enough for flowers outdoors in the winter. There were definitely no flowers co-existing with Christmas wreaths at our house in upstate New York!

We were surprised to see a tree full of parakeets! Apparently, escaped parakeets have led over the decades to thousands of these birds flying about London.
parakeets in London!

We learned that while most of the utilities are underground, the phone lines are not. Londoners get a lot of use from one utility pole!
London telephone lines

While we sometimes went in a family car, we most often got around by train or bus. Never having lived in a large city with good public transportation, I appreciated the extensive network of routes. While people in the US tend to think of double-decker buses as tourist vehicles, they are the common bus on most routes. They can carry twice as many people as regular buses and there are definitely a lot of people on the move.
London bus station
ABC loves to go on the buses and trains, especially when she can sit in the front of a train car or the top level of a bus. She likes to pretend she is driving.

Another advantage of being with Londoners is that they can direct you to phenomenal neighbourhood fish ‘n chips shops that a tourist would never find. We decided on haddock and there was so much food it overflowed the plates!
London fish 'n chips
It was also great to have so many home-cooked meals, especially when we had Filipino dishes. Given that most of us came down with a cold, it was especially great to have homemade soup.

More in London

Earlier, I posted about the beginning of our trip to London. Continuing on…

sign for London slide
Why, you may ask does London have the “world’s tallest and longest tunnel slide”?

Olympic torch-slide
Answer:  Because the Olympic torch structure was very, very tall and curvy.
When we watched the 2012 London summer Olympics, we didn’t really appreciate the scale of the torch, but we certainly did standing near its base and looking up. We did not go on the slide. It was very windy, damp, and chilly the day we were there. Maybe on a future visit when it is warmer.

Parts of the Olympic Park are open for walking, biking, etc. There are gardens from the different continents, which were interesting to T, who has a master’s in conservation biology of plants, even though it was winter. The former Olympic stadium is now home to the West Ham football (soccer to US folks). Interestingly, the old West Ham stadium used to be next to L’s church. That site is now being redeveloped as housing and such.
West Ham stadium at Olympic Park

I’m sure you notice the crane and construction site in the foreground. Much of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park area is under development. (It’s good to be the queen! You get lots of things named after you.) Most of the new venues will be cultural and/or educational. In the future, there will be museum space, a theater, the London College of Fashion, the BBC music studios, and more, including a hip hop academy.

There are already many stores open near the Park. We spent quite a lot of time at Marks & Spencer, a London-based chain of stories that combines a department store, grocer, and cafe rolled into one. Here is ABC sharing her grandpa’s chocolate cake. We think she may have eaten more than he did! ABC was also rockin’ the ever-expanding dinosaur section of her wardrobe.
Ada and chocolate cake at Marks & Spencer

We also visited E’s favorite chocolate shop, Hotel Chocolat. They offer lots of yummy treats, including vegan chocolates for the lactose-intolerant segment of the family and white chocolate for me, who, sadly, can no longer eat cocoa. It was a fun place to shop for Christmas chocolates to bring home. Just in case you needed a reminder of how long it has taken me to roll out London posts…

 

Sightseeing in London

Last month, my spouse B, younger daughter T, and I made our first family trip to London to visit daughter E, her spouse L, our granddaughter ABC, and L’s family. After almost three years of waiting, E’s spousal visa finally came through and she and ABC relocated to London in October.

Yes, I am horribly late posting about the trip. I came home sick and had a hard time shaking it and there were holidays and technical issues – I am notoriously bad at dealing with photos – but I’m hoping to get out a few posts in the coming days.

We arrived in the UK on Saturday and did central London sightseeing on Sunday, after attending mass the church where Larry serves as organist and director of the adult choir. We had bought advance tickets to ride the London Eye, also known as the Millenium Wheel.
London Eye

It was nice to see some of the historic London landmarks from above. Here is the Palace of Westminster, where Parliament meets. You can see the clocktower which usually houses Big Ben shrouded in scaffolding as part of the ongoing restoration project.
Parliament

Two-and-a-half-year-old ABC was much more impressed with the boats on the Thames than the buildings!

After our ride on the Eye, we grabbed some lunch and went on a walking tour. On future trips, we may try to tour some of the buildings. We anticipate many trips to London in the future!

Because daylight hours are short in London in the winter, as we walked in the area of Trafalgar Square and Piccadilly Circus, we were able to see some of the holiday lights.
London holiday lights

In Trafalgar Square, we were drawn to the sculpture on the Fourth Plinth, part of “The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist” by Michael Rakowitz, a US artist of Iraqi ancestry. It is a replica of Lamassu, a protective deity from the gates of Nineveh in 700 BCE which was destroyed by the Islamic State in 2015. This sculpture is made from 10,500 empty date cans; dates were once a major part of the economy in Iraq, but 90% of the 30 million date trees have been destroyed in the long years of war. Rakowitz is trying to recreate all the art that was stolen from the museum in Baghdad or destroyed at sites across Iraq.  The art on the Fourth Plinth changes every couple of years and this sculpture will be replaced in 2020, so we were fortunate to have seen it.
Lamassu sculpture in London

As we were walking in the Piccadilly shopping district, I was delighted to see this building with Advent calendar decorated windows. It is Fortnum & Mason, a fancy department store. We went in to browse a bit, but it was so crowded we could barely move. We are definitely not used to that!
Advent calendar F & S

It was fun to see some of London with holiday lights. While we expect to visit frequently in the coming years, I don’t know how often we will be able to go in December. Time will tell…

Photos courtesy of B
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Ash down

In November, I posted about the ash tree in our backyard being massively damaged by emerald ash borers, with an assist from woodpeckers.

This week, with the ground frozen and the tree service available, it was cut down. The last time we had a tree removed from the backyard, the tree service parked a truck with a boom in our driveway and worked over the garage roof. They have gotten some new, more flexible equipment since then. Our favorite was this platform vehicle.
remote control platform vehicle
It operated by remote control! Biggest remote control vehicle I’d ever seen…

When it was in the backyard and in use, it looked like this:
tree platform in the backyard

The first thing that happened was trimming of some encroaching limbs from two nearby maple trees. Next, the branches of the ash were sawed off and lowered to the ground to be picked up and fed into a chipper that was parked along the street. Then, the upper parts of the trunk were cut until what was left could be brought down without hitting the house.

They used a chainsaw to cut a huge wedge near the base of the trunk.
a big chip!

And, finally, this:

Because other trees are so close, they didn’t try to grind down the stump for fear of damaging the roots of the maples and oak. I wonder how long it will be to adjust to the new look of the backyard?
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“Moonrise” by Kyle Laws

My friend, fellow Boiler House Poet, and Pushcart Prize nominee for 2019, Kyle Laws, has a new poem up on Amethyst Review. For some reason, I couldn’t get the reblog to work, but you can find the poem here:  https://amethystmagazine.org/2019/12/21/moonrise-a-poem-by-kyle-laws/
This is the photograph by Barbara Jabaily on which the poem is based.
photograph by Barbara Jabaily

Enjoy!

Remembering Nana in Slovenia

Our Smith College Alumnae Chorus tour of Slovenia was only a few weeks after the death of my mother, known here at Top of JC’s Mind as Nana. One of the things that was comforting to me was saying prayers for my mom at the various churches we visited. Sometimes, I was even able to light a candle in her memory.

In prior tour posts, I have shared some photos from some of the churches we visited, but I wanted to share a few more. The ceiling from the chapel of Ljubljana Castle:
img_0137

Most of the churches we saw on our trip had kneelers that were built into the wooden seats. I loved the curves of these pews from the Ljubljana castle chapel:
Ljubljana castle chapel pews

A cross silhouetted against Lake Bled in the entrance to the Mary of the Assumption:
img_0172

The beautifully painted Stations of the Cross there:
Stations of the Cross at Lake Bled

In Trieste, the organ and a bit of the rose window, which was a later addition to Saint Just, when technology had progressed enough to have that large an opening in the wall:

img_0236

Catholic altars contain relics, but one seldom sees them in such a conspicuous way:img_0233

A crucifix at St. George in Piran that had been restored from one of the older iterations of the church. I was struck by how contemporary designers have recalled this centuries-old style in their own work:
img_0300

The main altar:
img_0296

And the ceiling above the chancel:
chancel ceiling - St.George, Piran

There were two churches that I visited that were not part of the official tour. Because I was there as a pray-er rather than a tourist, I don’t have photos inside the churches, but they remain close to my heart. One was in Trieste, near the amphitheater ruins. Nana’s ethnic heritage was northern Italian, so it was special to be able to spend some quiet time in the church there. The other was when I went to Mass on our last morning in Ljubljana. It was comforting to be there as part of the congregation, even though they were speaking a language I didn’t know. All the same, I felt that the prayers in my heart were understood.

Besides my private prayer pilgrimage, I also silently dedicated my performances of the Duruflé Requiem to my mother.  This requiem is based on chants from the early church and is sung in Latin, as it would have been before the Second Vatican Council. Much of it is spare and meditative, beautiful but difficult to perform because the individual vocal lines are often exposed.

The most moving of these text for me is the “In Paradisum”, which is the final commendation of the deceased to God at the end of the funeral rite. The text translates:

May the Angels lead you into paradise:
may the martyrs receive you at your coming,
and lead you into the holy city, Jerusalem.

May the choir of Angels receive you,
and with Lazarus, who once was poor,
may you have everlasting rest.

At my mother’s funeral, this was the point at which I was most emotional, so I worried that I might have difficulty singing through it, especially as Duruflé sets the first stanza for sopranos only. I found, though, that it was comforting for me to bring my mother to mind at that moment, making the traditional prayer even more meaningful. In the powerful silence after we very quietly finished the piece, I could find peace.