The Birthday List: Go to Harry Potter Studios.

harry-potter-studio-tour02I’ve been reading the Harry Potter books since I was 11 and waiting for my Hogwarts letter ever since. Growing up, when one of the new books would come out, we’d always have to preorder two copies and pick them up the day they came out so neither my brother or I had to wait to read it.

Naturally I’ve been wanting to visit the Harry Potter studio tour since moving to London but I wasn’t sure it would be worth the expense (tickets are £33) and it requires a whole day as it’s out in Leavesden. But my dad bought me a ticket for Christmas so a couple of weeks ago, Colette came into town and we made the journey.

harry-potter-studio-tour01 harry-potter-studio-tour03You can take one train from Euston to Watford Junction and then there’s a shuttle bus that will take you directly to the studio. It was an easy journey and we had fun drinking pink cava and gossiping on the way.

I was looking forward to the day but had no idea what to expect but the entire experience far exceeded what I could have dreamed up. From the second we entered the studio doors until we stumbled out the gift shop doors over five hours later, we were squealing giddily and running around in nerdy glee. Whether you’ve reread every book obsessively or just watched the films, I’d recommend a visit to any Harry Potter Fan.

harry-potter-studio-tour05 harry-potter-studio-tour04You have to buy a time-specific ticket in advance and there is a bit of queuing when you arrive and then you enter as a group, first watching a short introductory film and exploring the Great Hall together. After that you’re free to explore the rest of the studios at your own pace and to stay as long as you’d like (they told us the record was 13 hours!).

Our approach to the day was to do it all. Get the audio guide. Ride the broom (and fly the car!) in front of the green screen. Drink butterbeer. Take pictures in front of every photo op worthy set piece (there are a lot). Stamp pieces of paper at the stamping stations because we didn’t have passports. If it was on offer, we gave it a try.

harry-potter-studio-tour06 harry-potter-studio-tour08I think soaking up every part of the day really enhanced our experience. Looking back, you’re not going to regret standing in one extra queue and it sure is fun to have a giggle thinking about how silly we looked swinging around on those broomsticks.

There’s so much to see and do and we didn’t want to miss a second of it. You get to look at fully laid out sets, interactive exhibits, costumes, props, the creature studio, the conceptual models for the films, and a to-scale model of Hogwarts that they used with a green screen for filming all of the flying scenes. They’ve done such a wonderful job making it both visually stunning and really informative. We watched the Deathly Hallow films over the weekend and kept exclaiming that “We saw that!” or “We know how they did that!”

harry-potter-studio-tour07 harry-potter-studio-tour09Plus they’re adding and changing the tour all of the time. The Hogwarts Express is arriving in March and depending on the time of year, they have different seasonal exhibits.

We’re already planning a return visit for next year!

harry-potter-studio-tour10harry-potter-studio-tour11If you’re planning visit, be sure to put on your witchiest costume and wear a comfortable pair of shoes. I generally don’t have a long attention span for exhibitions but we were there for over five hours. And if it had been warmer out or we’d started earlier in the day, I think we’d easily have been there longer. There’s so much to see and do and when you get to the end of it all, there’s an amazing gift shop. I could have emptied my bank account in there but made due with a black “Witch” mug.

In the end, it actually felt like fantastic value for the cost of the ticket. The entire experience created a real sense of child-like wonder and it was absolutely amazing to see one of my favourite fantasy worlds brought to life!

Are you a Harry Potter fan? Have you been on the studio tour?

Love, chocolate frogs, and butterbeer moustaches,

This is London: Brixton Market

brixton-market3brixton-market2I’d never been to Brixton Market until recently, but having spent the last two Sundays there, I can attest to it being a great place to mooch around for the afternoon.

Brixton is an interesting neighbourhood and very much feels like a transitional space. It’s undergone a lot of gentrification over the past few years, but seems to maintain much of its original vibe. Trendy coffee shops and boutiques stand beside traditional fish mongers and tiny food shops selling ingredients from around the world.

In some way the multicultural atmosphere and vibrant, eclectic mood reminds me of Toronto. And Brixton Market is definitely worth a visit, whether you live in the city or are just visiting.

brixton-market1brixton-market6When we were there last weekend, Matthew and I planned to just eat our way around the market. There are so many restaurants and food stalls, featuring cuisines from all over the world, so it’s great to just get a little something at a few places and sample the selection.

The dumplings above were from Mama Lan – they’re stuffed with wood ear mushrooms, spinach, and vermicelli. So much yum!

And vegan bakery Ms. Cupcake is just around the corner. They boast “the naughtiest vegan cakes in town” but I taken by the vegan nanaimo bars. This Canadian girl’s day was made!

The weekend before I had brunch at Senzala Creperie and it was amazing.

If you’re visiting the market, be sure to go hungry.

brixton-market4brixton-market5There are so many cute shops to poke around in, so even if you’re not in the mood to shop, you’ll still find lots of interesting things to look at. You’ll find lots of homewares, vintage clothing, knickknacks, unique gifts, handmade goods, and original artworks. I picked up some beautiful rose-scented soap from France and a handmade, coconut-scented candle.

brixton-market7brixton-market8Brixton is a colourful neighbourhood and the surrounding area is full of interesting things to look at. So after you’ve strolled around the market, be sure to go for a wander to rock on to Electric Avenue (yep, the one in the song) and then check out the great street art, independent shops, and speciality food stores.

Do you have a favourite spot in Brixton? I’d love to get tips of more places to eat and shops to check out on my next visit.

Love, disco balls, & neon spray paint,

This is London: Backyard Cinema.

Backyard Cinema Shaun of the DeadBackyard Cinema Shaun of the DeadLondon is full of the weird and the wonderful, so I shouldn’t be surprised that I spent the Sunday afternoon after Halloween in a military safe zone trying to survive the zombie apocalypse.

Backyard Cinema started as a homemade cinema project that has grown into large themed events complete with immersive theatre and over-the-top sets for a film experience unlike any other. So when Sarah invited me to join her at the Apocalypse show for a screening of Shaun of the Dead, I happily said yes, even though I seriously doubted my ability to outrun a zombie.

We met outside a warehouse in Hackney Wick, where we were debriefed by a rather surly sergeant (whom we quickly befriended) before heading into the decontamination room and through to Cyba Corp Headquarters.

Inside we sipped Zombie Antidote cocktails, learned a bit about the ‘situation,’ checked out some very alarming zombie experiments, and then settled in to watch the film.

I don’t want to give too much away, but here are a few photographs to wet your whistle.

Backyard Cinema Shaun of the DeadBackyard Cinema Shaun of the DeadBackyard Cinema Shaun of the DeadBackyard Cinema Shaun of the DeadBackyard Cinema Shaun of the DeadThis was such a fun way to spend the afternoon! We spent lots of time laughing and also feeling rather tense about whether a zombie was about to jump out at us at any minute. And to both of our surprise: we survived!

The Apocalypse show is on until 9 November and they’re screening a variety of zombie films during that time. I’d highly recommend checking it out.

If you’d like to see more of the action, check out Sarah’s post with the YouTube video she put together.

Have you been to Backyard Cinema? What’s your favourite zombie film? And perhaps most importantly: how did you celebrate Halloween?

I watched Rocky Horror Picture Show with some of my co-workers and taught a bunch of strangers how to do the Time Warp.

Love, fake blood, & silly dance moves,

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