20 Hours Spent at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro

On Sunday, yes Easter Sunday, I spent 20 hours at Glasgow’s SSE Hydro, one of the major music venues. Why do you ask? Well, Ed Sheeran of course. Why else?

Let me rewind.

I took the train from London’s King Cross Station to Glasgow Queen Street Station on Saturday morning. There I met my friend Claire who was attending Ed’s concert with me (YES ON EASTER). We dropped our bags at the hotel and then went to the venue to scope it out for the next day. We found the main doors and then the doors inside that our tickets specifically told us we had to enter through.

We were set for the next day.

For the rest of the day, we walked around Glasgow. This didn’t take too long as I really didn’t feel like there was much to the city. It had a big shopping district which was pretty busy as it was a bank holiday. We also went to Glasgow Green, one of the larger parks in Glasgow. In the park, there was also a botanic garden so we spent some time there, then headed for dinner. After dinner it was early to bed for us as we had a VERY early wake-up call for the next morning.

Fast-forward seven hours. Our alarms went off at 5 a.m. It was time to get dressed and head out the door. The SSE Hydro was a fifteen minute walk from our hotel and we arrived at 5:50 a.m., dark and early! We were the first ones to the venue, but the next group of people showed up five minutes later.

IMG_1088

Queuing had begun!

People continued to show up, but the first larger wave of people came around 8:30 a.m. Then it was quite slow again until around noon. It rained all morning which was most likely why there was a much lower amount of fans queued up early on.

While in line all day, I made friends early on with a few other fans who were at the front of the line near me. One of them I had also seen at BBC Radio 1 when I met Ed and knew of because of Twitter. I also made friends with two girls who had traveled from Norway to see Ed in Glasgow because he didn’t have any tour dates there, one girl from Germany who was living and working in Glasgow, and a couple who went to uni in Dundee. Not only was it really cool to talk with so many people from all over the world, but it also meant you could get up and go to the bathroom without the fear of losing your spot in line. All good things.

Around 4 p.m., the lines finally started to really fill up. By then, the rain had ended so it made sense. An hour later, everyone was standing in line as there was only an hour left until the doors opened. The crowds were buzzing with excitement. And I was at the front. Amazing.

Five minutes to six, I could see the security guards and ticket takers meeting in the entry way, going over what a real ticket looked like compared to a fake as there have been many problems with this when it comes to Ed concerts in the past. They opened the doors one minute late and I was the first one through to have my ticket scanned and bag checked. Then the sprint was on. I ran to Door B, where I got my hand stamped for GA and was told to walk in the arena. Good thing I’m a trained speed walker. I made it to the barrier and had a spot dead center.

I was at the barrier. Dead center. For Ed.

IMG_0553

At the barrier with Claire, the students from Dundee, the girl from Germany, and the two girls whose names both start with M, from Norway. (Sorry I’m awful with names!!)

Ed had two openers, Ryan McMullan and then Anne Marie. Both were so different as Ryan was a singer-songwriter and Anne Marie was pop, but both put on an incredible set! They went on at 7 p.m. and Ed went on around 8:30.

The lights went down and when he came out, I could not believe how close he was. Despite the large venue, it was so easy to forget how big the crowd was and being so close reminded me of the first show I ever saw Ed at in 2012 in Milwaukee because he was literally feet away. The show was amazing, and really rivals my first show as being my favorite time seeing Ed. I swear that he looked at me during one of the verses of You Need Me I Don’t Need You (my FAVORITE song), which helps to make this concert rival my first Ed concert as my favorite.

After the concert finished, Claire and I went with two other fans to the back of the venue to wait for Ed at the stage door. Ed had been to the Hyrdo two years ago on Halloween, and they had both been there and waited for him after where they eventually met him. We were hoping that he would also come out tonight to meet fans as it was the first leg of the U.K. tour and he was playing a second show at the Hydro the next night so he had nowhere to rush off to.

At this point, it was about 10:30 p.m. and was about 38 degrees outside. Not great. There were people standing outside the gate already, so we joined them to make a crowd of about 23. As the night went on, people continued to leave either because it was so late, or cold or they gave up on thinking Ed would actually come out.

We had heard from security that the venue ultimately had to shut-down around 1 a.m. so that everyone working could go home, therefore meaning Ed would eventually have to leave.

By 1 a.m., there were only 13 of us left standing outside in the cold. A few minutes later, there was movement from the stage door and a couple walked out, came outside the security gate, looked at us and then started smoking a cigarette. We didn’t think much of this. A few more people came out of the door, two women and two guys and we didn’t think much of this either. We all started quietly talking again when suddenly a voice interrupted us.

“Hey guys.”

We all turned. We knew that voice.

“Want to take some photos and sign some things?”

It was Ed. Our waiting had pulled off.

He was dressed casually in a black Hoax hoodie with the hood up. It was so weird because we were oddly so relaxed and so was he. Well, besides his body guard Kev. Kev never seems relaxed though, so its fine.

Before we started taking photos though, Ed had more to say. He introduced us to the two women with him who turned out to be his “awesome cousins.” He informed us that they were supposed to have come to the show the next day, but decided to go today, so they just so happened to have two extra tickets that they wanted to give away to us. He asked if anyone was in town the next day and didn’t have tickets or had friends who wanted to go and didn’t have tickets. He then let his cousins pick someone to give the tickets to.

Next order of business was the chocolate bunny he held in his hands. He asked if anyone wanted it, as it was Easter after all, and ended up giving it to one of the girls I had spent the day in line with who also just so happened to have gotten his setlist that night as well. It was a pretty good night for her!

IMG_1037

Then Ed began taking photos and talking with us. I stood to the side with Claire, Kel and Rebecca (the two girls I had met in line). While standing there, Ed’s cousins started talking to me and quickly realized (thanks to my strong American accent so I’ve heard) that I was not from Scotland or the U.K. for that matter. They asked where I was from and I replied with “Wisconsin, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” They were so amazed that they yelled over to Ed who was still taking photos and talking with other fans and said, “Ed, this girl came all the way from Wisconsin to see you!” He looked over, gave a head nod and smiled, then went back to what he was doing. I continued to chat with his cousins, and quickly informed them that while I was from Wisconsin, I was currently studying abroad in London. They were still confused as to why I was in Glasgow then. By this time, Ed had moved closer and he asked if I had just not gotten tickets to his London shows and I said I was leaving for home in a week and wouldn’t be here then. He nodded again, then continued talking and taking photos with other people.

I kept talking with his cousins, who kept saying how they always tell Ed how dedicated his fans are. I said I had seen him a few times before in the U.S., had met him at BBC Radio 1 a month ago, and had just been to his concert at Royal Albert Hall. They thought it was so cool.

Then it was finally time for Claire and I to take photos and talk with Ed. Somehow, I wasn’t freaking out on the outside (inside was a different story though). I was actually able to form complete sentences and carry on a conversation. I first told him that I was from Wisconsin and had seen him in 2011 when he first came there. He looked puzzled for a bit, then said “I don’t think I came to Wisconsin in 2011. You mean 2012?” Yes. 2012. I got corrected by Ed. Go me.

I then went on to ask him about something that happened at that first concert. A girl in the audience had made a goat noise and he had stopped playing to ask “Was that a goat?” And went on to tell us that he had been given a goat and had it somewhere in the world. I asked him if he still had the goat or knew where it was.

Again, he looked puzzled for a bit, then he got excited and said “Oh yes! The goat. I wasn’t actually given the goat, I adopted it. Its living somewhere in Peru now.”

So now I finally have an answer to the goat question that many from Wisconsin have been wondering about for five years.

Here’s a link to a video with the goat banter from that first Milwaukee concert in 2012.

After that, I took a couple of photos with him and then asked if he would sign my ticket, which he did (with my handy dandy Sharpie that I’ve kept in my purse for years just waiting for this moment, no joke).

I then took a photo for Claire, and Kev, Ed’s bodyguard, was really yelling at us to hurry up because they had to leave. Ed was relaxed and not rushed though. But Kev started to get on him too about leaving so he started heading to the car when I realized I hadn’t asked him for a hug. So I quickly did and he stopped to hug me before getting in the car.

Then he was off.

We all stood there for a second looking at each other like “did that really just happen?” The whole time, everyone was so relaxed and it seemed so normal. And I actually had a real conversation. And had my ticket signed. Got a few photos. And last but not least, a hug.

Well worth the three and a half hours we spend out in the cold after the show.

Apart from meeting Ed, the day itself was one of my favorites to date for a few other reasons. Despite waiting out in the cold for so long, both before and after the show, I was able to meet with and talk to so many people from all over the world. Its so incredible how music and people like Ed, can bring people together. I was so surprised by how kind everyone in line was, offering their blankets to others when they left for a bit, sharing food, or telling stories about how important music, specifically Ed, was to them. While some people may call us crazy for the time we spent there, (I call it dedicated), I personally enjoyed the long, cold day. I got to spend it with people I never would have met otherwise, sharing stories related to traveling, culture and of course, Ed. Its amazing what music can do to bring individuals of different backgrounds together.

Since I saw him in 2012 (yes 2012, not 2011, thanks for the correction Ed), I’ve always dreamed of meeting him. Really meeting him, not like I did at BBC, and this was exactly what I was waiting for. Since he has become so big, I never though something like this would ever happen again, but its nice to see that he still makes time for his fans.

“Still the same as a year ago, but more people hear me though,” holds true today.

Thank you Ed.

IMG_1036

Playing Tour Guide, Stonehenge & Bath

Its been just over a week since I last wrote a blog post, but so much has happened in that span of time! With only eight full days left in London, everything seems to be going at lighting speed around here. Let me catch you up.

First off, my family came to visit last week! I picked them up from Heathrow on Friday morning and threw them right into the mix as we took the tube into the center of London. They brought four suitcases with them, but we were able to “easily” manage lugging them up the tube stairs! (Really, we did!)

DSC_0923

With them here, I was back in tour-guide mode. Soon after dropping their bags at the hotel, we headed outside (literally out the back door as the hotel was on the London Eye Pier) to the London Eye! Luckily, we had pre-booked tickets and the line was pretty short so we were on the Eye in no time!

While the London Eye is definitely a really cool experience to take advantage of while in London, I’ve learned its not the only place to get great views of the city. For much less, or for free, you can visit other locations in London to get a sky high view. Two of my favorite vantage points include the top floor of the Switch House at the Tate Modern and the Sky Garden. Both are free to the public and great alternatives to the London Eye. If you are interested in going to the Sky Garden though, be sure to keep checking their website up to two weeks in advance in order to reserve spots.

After the London Eye, we walked around the South Bank for a while and then made our way over to Covent Garden. There, we went to a Three Phone store to get SIM cards for my mom and brother. For only 20 pounds, they were able to get a SIM card with 12 gigabytes of data on it to use for their week here. Later in the week, my family was leaving to travel to Ireland where their phone would also be usable. If you are staying in London for longer than a week or will be traveling in surrounding cities, getting an international SIM card is a great option rather than paying the outrageous data packages offered in the states for international travel.

On Saturday, I took my family on one of my favorite walking trips to see my favorite part of London! We took the tube from Westminster to Ladbroke Grove in Notting Hill. We started at the end of Portobello Road Market (my absolute favorite market London has to offer), and made our way all the way down until we reached Notting Hill High Street. From there we walked to the north entrance to Holland Park, a new favorite park of mine. In Holland Park, you can find the Kyoto Gardens, a Japanese garden complete with koi fish and peacocks! What more could you ask for?

We then made a pit stop at the Design Museum on Kensington High Street. This is my favorite museum in all of London as it focuses on both old and modern design of all types including furniture, electronics and logos just to name a few topics. The stop at the Design Museum was also a good break from all the walking we had already done.

From there, we walked to Hyde Park and visited Kensington Palace and the Kensington Gardens which were in full bloom. Everyone was getting hungry, so we made our way to Nando’s in South Ken for lunch!

Post lunch, we made a stop at Harrod’s, the worlds largest and most expensive department store, for my dad. It was quite the interesting place, with a large food court (fancy!), and tons of boutique stores inside (fancy! think Dolce Gabbana and Versace). Quite the day.

On Sunday morning, we got up early to take a train from Waterloo Station to Windsor. We were visiting one of Her Majesty the Queen’s royal residence’s, Windsor Castle. We were able to get there right as they began letting people in and didn’t have to wait in line for long. We toured the grounds, which were beautiful, and then went inside the State Apartments. The coolest part about the visit was that the Queen was actually there at the same time as we were! She spends Easter at Windsor Castle every year, so it was really cool to see her “standard,” aka her flag, outside signaling she was there!

On Tuesday after class, I took my family to Victoria Train Station where they took the Gatwick Express to the airport. They were off for Ireland for the next few days! It was so great to finally see them after being apart for almost four months! Only a week till I see them again, this time at home!

Today (Friday), I took a day trip to both Stonehenge and Bath with two friends from the flat across from mine. Abby, Brooke and I enjoyed having a photo shoot in front of the infamous rocks. They were big. Apart from that, there wasn’t much to Stonehenge apart from the beautiful rolling green and yellow hills. SO PRETTY. The English countryside is stunning in the spring!

We then boarded our bus again and traveled to the Roman City of Bath. Because it was a Bank Holiday, Bath was incredibly crowded. We had about three and a half hours in the city, but an hour and a half was devoted to touring the ancient Roman Baths. The Baths were really cool, but also really gross. The water was a bright green color and you could see filth floating around in it. We were specifically told not to touch the water as you were highly likely to get sick if you did. It was amazing how many people you could see ignoring these simple instructions and touching the hot, germ-infested, bath water. Why people, why?

As I write this post, I’m currently waiting for my laundry to be done so I can pack for my final trip abroad. Tomorrow I leave bright and early for Glasgow, Scotland! I’m taking the train and can’t wait to see Scotland! Apart from that, I also can’t wait to see Ed (again)! Until then!

IMG_0131

Because I had to include this photo.

Let’s go to the Beach, Beach

Last Saturday, all of the UW-Madison students went on a trip I had been looking forward to since the beginning of the semester: Brighton.

Brighton is directly south of London and is an English seaside resort town. It is also known for its nightlife, shopping and festivals. We took a coach bus from London to Brighton and got there in about an hour and fifteen minutes. The bus dropped us right in front of the PEBBLE beach and Brighton Pier. From there, our tour guide took us on an hour-long walking tour of Brighton.

DSC_0172

On the walking tour, we mainly walked through the shopping and restaurant district in the main part of downtown Brighton. There were tons of people out shopping as it was a Saturday morning. There were the classic chain stores like Gap and H&M, but the smaller, more local shops outnumbered these big box stores. Apart from these local stores, there are also many local restaurants in Brighton. Many of these restaurants happen to be vegan and vegetarian, not something that is quite as common in London.

After walking through the shopping district, we made a stop at the Royal Pavilion, also known as the Brighton Pavilion. It was built as a seaside retreat for George, Prince of Wales, in 1811. This building looks as though it should be placed somewhere in India, rather than on the English seaside coast. I guess it just adds to the quirks of Brighton.

We were then free to explore on our own until we had to meet the bus to go back to London at 4 p.m. We had spent most of our time further inland where the shops were, and headed directly for the beach and water.

Normally, I am not a fan of resort towns and beaches. I hate beaches. Brighton is different though. It doesn’t have a normal beach, it has a pebble beach. Its fantastic.

DSC_0296

After lunch, I spent a lot of time on the beach taking photos with a few friends (probably the most time I have ever spent on a beach if I’m being honest). We had so much fun throwing pebbles around and a few people almost got caught by some of the waves coming in.

Post photo shoot, we headed up the stairs to walk along Brighton Pier. The pier is totally commercialized for tourists as it boasts stands selling 99 Flake ice cream cones (usually for 2.50 instead of 99 p…typical), carnival games and rides. The rides are at the end of the pier where there are typical rides similar to the Tilt-A-Whirl and Scrambler, but there are even two small-sized roller coasters. Its quite an interesting set-up.

We still had a few hours left and were yet to find the famous colorful beach huts of Brighton. From the pier, we weren’t able to see any sign of them, so we ended up asking a girl working one of the stands which direction we needed to walk in to find the beach huts. The beach huts are west of Brighton Pier, so we walked along the pavement near the beach. This path is lined with water-front restaurants, bars and shops. Being a Saturday, it was incredibly packed but began to thin out the further we got from Brighton Pier.

Eventually, after about a 25 minute walk from Brighton Pier, we spotted the beach huts. These beach huts are used by locals in the summer to keep food in, change clothes and just hang out in. They are pretty small but do the trick. It was a beautiful day out, and while still early spring, there were a few owners sitting inside reading a newspaper in their beach hut with the doors open. Quite cute.

The colorful beach huts again called for an impromptu photo shoot.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

It was then time to head back so we could catch the bus home. Along the way, we stopped to get a 99 Flake ice cream (for two pounds), and made it back with plenty of time to spare. If I had more time here in the UK, I would definitely make another trip down to Brighton to explore for a longer period of time. It is such a cool city and we barely scratched the surface of what it has to offer as we had a limited six hours there. Until next time!

Finally, a tourist in London

Last Saturday morning, I went to Heathrow to pick up my boyfriend, Ethan, from the airport. I was incredibly excited to see him as it had been just over three months since I had last seen him, but I was also excited to show him the wonderful city I currently call home, London.

DSC_0929

Since arriving in London in January, I have primarily been living life in London as someone who both works and studies here. Personally, I have not felt like a tourist here, someone who is only here for a few days to a week, frantically trying to see all the main attractions and sights. Instead, I’ve found myself seeking out different boroughs in London to explore in order to get a full taste of the area, rather than specific attractions. Because of this, I was actually quite excited to “be a tourist for the week” as I haven’t visited many of the main sites London is famous for.

While Ethan was here, I attempted to balance showing him some of the unique, pretty and eclectic boroughs I have visited and enjoyed with the well-known sites of London such as Big Ben, the London Eye, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace and so on.

The same day that he landed, I was able to combine these two ideas as we headed to Borough Market first thing. Borough Market is on the South Bank of the Thames River and is best known for its diverse food options ranging from fresh fruits and vegetables to delicious pastries and full cooked meals from different parts of the world. Being that it was a Saturday morning, it was quite busy, so I was throwing Ethan into the hustle and bustle of London as he had just gotten off an eight hour plane ride. After walking through Borough Market and sampling some delicious pastries, we headed across Tower Bridge and then past the Tower of London which was also really busy.

As if I hadn’t overwhelmed Ethan enough, I took him to a Fulham vs Wolverhampton football match in the afternoon. It was the first football (soccer) match I had been to while in London and the atmosphere was absolutely amazing. While we couldn’t understand any of the cheers, we shouted along anyways. Our seats were between the corner flag and the goal and only about six rows back, aka fantastic seats.

On Sunday, we took a train out to Cambridge for a day trip. While I had previously been to Oxford, I was more excited to go to Cambridge and just have a relaxing day walking around looking at the pretty old school buildings. We wandered through the main part of town and then went towards the river to watch the punters (the people on the gondola-esque boats with the long poles). We had brunch at a really  cute restaurant and then spent the rest of the day walking around.

Ethan’s birthday is in early April, and  as I will not be home for it, I decided to surprise him by getting tickets to a West End show while he was here. His favorite childhood Disney movie was Aladdin, and they just so happen to have Aladdin playing at the Prince Edward Theatre, so I bought tickets for us to go on Monday night. He absolutely loved the show and I was very happy with how surprised he was when we turned the corner and he saw the Aladdin sign over the theatre entrance!

On Tuesday, we took the classic tourist route. First, we stopped at Buckingham Palace, then walked through St. Jame’s Park and then walked through Westminster. In Westminster, we first stopped outside Westminster Abbey and then Westminster Palace to look at the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. We then made our way over Westminster Bridge to get a different view of Big Ben, then went back across to continue walking down Whitehall Street, stopping at 10 Downing Street where the Prime Minister lives, the Horse Guards Parade and finally, we ended at Trafalgar Square. The National Gallery overlooks Trafalgar Square, so we went inside and wandered around a bit before making the walk east to St. Paul’s Cathedral with our final destination being the Sky Garden.

The Sky Garden is one of the few skyscrapers in London and is uniquely shaped, some call it the walkie talkie. It is best known for its top-floor viewing deck and restaurant that boasts a large indoor green garden. It is quite difficult to get tickets to go up to the top, despite the tickets being free. They sell out weeks in advance. Luckily, I had been watching the website and was able to book two tickets for us at 4:45 p.m. so we were able to see all of London in both the daytime and as the sun was setting. If you ever come to London and are looking for a fantastic view of London and don’t want to spend money to go up in the London Eye, I highly suggest getting tickets to go up to the Sky Garden! (Its the cheaper and better version of its skyscraper neighbor the Shard.)

Throughout the rest of the week, I was able to take Ethan to see the area where I work, in the borough of Shoreditch. I work on Brick Lane, which is known for its Indian Food, the Spitalfields Market and street art. While I wasn’t able to show him around most of the day, we still managed to see the market and some street art. On Thursday after I got out of my internship, we took the tube to Camden town where we wandered through Camden Market. Personally, I’m not the biggest fan of Camden, it is quite different from the rest of London. There is more of a hipster and goth influence and is usually quite busy. Ethan had similar feelings about the area, so we didn’t spend much time here and ended up walking to Regents Park and Primrose Hill where we were able to watch the sunset. Primrose Hill also has amazing views of the London skyline and is well worth the climb to the top of the hill.

Saturday morning, we got up bright and early to make it to Portobello Market in Notting Hill. Of all the markets in London that I have been to, Portobello Market tops my list and it ended up being one of Ethan’s favorite places in London as well. We slowly made our way through the crowds of people as we walked down the street. We stopped to get donuts from a street vendor, and they ended up being the best apple and jam (not jelly, that’s not a thing here!) filled donuts we had ever had. Highly suggest! When looking for nice and cheap souvenirs in London, I also suggest going to Portobello Street Market as they have many permanent shops that sell sweatshirts, mugs, t-shirts, etc. and for good prices! After Notting Hill, we made our way back to Westminster and across to the area by the London Eye. We were going to do the London Eye, but had not made reservations and sadly they had sold out for the day. Instead, we decided to do a boat tour of London that actually ended up being really pretty. It was also such a nice day out and I swear I got sunburned as we sat on the top deck of the boat!

The next morning, Sunday, Ethan and I took the tube back out to Heathrow where he was flying out of. We had such a full, fun week and I still cannot believe how much we were able to fit in, despite the fact that I was still in classes and an internship on the weekdays!

Seaside Towns and the Harry Potter Studio Tour

Do you ever have one of those day where you just have an urge to go out and explore someplace on your own? Yes? No? Well, last Saturday was one of those days for me.

Despite being back at the flat for less than a week after my long spring break, I already needed to get out of my flat, out of London, and spend some time on my own.

Earlier in the semester, the Imperial College Woman’s Football Team that I am on had tried to gather enough girls to take a trip to Bournemouth on the southwest coast of England to play a match. Sadly, that never happened as there weren’t enough girls able to go on the trip, but since then I was intrigued by Bournemouth and wanted to visit.

When looking up photos of Bournemouth online, it looked beautiful. The ocean and cliffs were stunning (some would add the beach into this category but as I’m not a fan of beaches I’ll skip over this part…) and it seemed like a good break from the rush of the city of London.

On Saturday morning, I took a bus from London Victoria Coach Station to Bournemouth Coach Station. It was about an hour and a half long ride and was quite pretty the closer we got to Bournemouth. When I arrived in Bournemouth though, I was met not with the views of the ocean from over the cliffs, but instead with a view of the incredibly thick fog. Standing on the sidewalk near the beach, I wasn’t even able to see the water. It was that thick.

IMG_8603

I decided to go explore the city center and quickly discovered that Bournemouth was in fact known as a resort town. How I missed that when researching the city before going is still unclear to me.

As I couldn’t see much and wanted to explore more, I  decided to rent a bicycle and bike down the coast toward Southbourne and Christchurch. As I biked along the coast, the fog slowly began to clear up and I was able to see more of the ocean and the cliffs. I ended up biking 10 miles to Christchurch and back to the main center of Bournemouth. While it was a leisurely bike ride, it was still a long distance and I was pretty tired after.

As I biked along the coast, I passed many of the little beach huts that lined the cliffs. Many of them were brightly colored and so cute! Most of them were closed, but a few of them were open and you could see their owners sitting inside drinking tea or coffee and reading the newspaper. They were so quaint. I wish I could take one of the little beach huts home with me!

IMG_8736

The next day was a day I had been looking forward to for most all of the semester. It was the day we traveled to Leavesden, home of the Warner Brothers Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter.

We left on a coach bus from Kensington to the Harry Potter Studios at two in the afternoon and got to Leavesden around three. Then, it was time to enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. After watching a short film where Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint welcomed us to the studios, the doors to the Great Hall opened and suddenly we were transported to Hogwarts. Two long tables lined the walls and at the end of the hall stood mannequins of professors such as Dumbledore, Snape, Hagrid, McGonagall and more. The life-sized mannequins wore the actual costumes of the characters and it was incredible to see up close. Sadly, the ceiling to the Great Hall was non-existent and therefore there were no magically suspended candles in the air.

We then walked into a large room of the studio that housed many of the props, costumes, wigs and major sets from the movie series. Some of my favorite parts included the set for the potions classroom, Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor common room. It was so interesting to learn how long it took to perfect each set, costume or prop and how they were maintained for the duration of all of the films.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After this room of the studio, was turned a corner and were suddenly at Platform 9 3/4 and the Hogwarts express filled the length of the room. It was unreal. After taking the classic Platform 9 3/4 photo, I boarded the Hogwarts Express. Okay not really, but I did get to walk inside the train and down the hallway. Each compartment depicted an important scene found from each film that featured the train.

IMG_8964

We then came to the cafeteria where they served Butterbeer and Butterbeer ice cream. We decided to go outside to see a few more of the sets before sampling a Butterbeer treat. Outside, we saw the Knight Bus, 4 Privet Drive, the main bridge at Hogwarts, the flying car and Hagrid’s flying motor bike. WOW. So many cool, magical things in one space! After that, it was finally time to go inside and get a Butterbeer product. I opted for the ice cream as I’m not a soda person, and was pleasantly surprised by the butterscotch taste of the ice cream.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

The next portion of the studios included a walk down Diagon Alley (pronounced diagonally by the Brits), introduction to some of the most important technical props like Dobby and Buckbeak (the Hippogriff), and then a large replica model of the entire Hogwarts Castle and surrounding campus. This was probably my favorite part of the entire tour as the Castle was so detailed and large. The model itself was created so that the directors could film the castle with a green screen in the background and it would look life sized in the films. Crazy what a camera and the perfect set can do!

 

The tour ended in the gift shop where I spent almost 45 minutes trying to find the perfect gifts and souvenirs. Apart from that, there was just so much to look at in the shop that it took me three times longer than it really should have.

I still cannot believe that I was able to go to the Harry Potter Studios and see how the Wizarding World I grew up with was really brought to life. While this was so cool to see, it also made me a bit sad and nostalgic inside. Also, I’m currently feeling the urge to do a Harry Potter marathon of all the films. Where is ABC Family when you need them???

Week-Long Whirlwind of Travel in Italy, Switzerland & Liechtenstein

On Saturday morning I arrived back in London after traveling for ten days in Italy, Switzerland and Liechtenstein. I have been in London for four days and I still feel exhausted from my travels.

I visited five major cities over break which include (in order): Rome, Italy, Florence, Italy, Pisa, Italy, Venice, Italy and Zurich, Switzerland. I traveled by plane, train, car and bus and needless to say, it was a whirlwind of a trip.

The trip itself had taken a few weeks to plan and I was constantly adding places to it. It wasn’t until I was actually in Rome and leaving for Florence that I decided to book a train to take a day trip to Pisa while staying in Florence. So some things I did were spontaneous and others were planned well in advance. One thing I learned through this trip, was how easy it really is to travel once you are on the mainland of Europe. My preferred means of travel is easily by train. Trains are usually really cheap and stations are easy to get through and are in basically any city you could ever want to go to.

My first destination was Rome. For this leg of my trip, I traveled with five girls and two guys from my flat. I stayed at an AirBNB with the five girls and it was really nice and big as well as in a good location in Rome. We arrived at about 2:30 a.m from the airport and our host, Luca, greeted us as soon as we got out of the taxi. He showed us up to the apartment and provided us with a map and suggestions about what we should see, do and eat while in Rome. This was my first time staying at an AirBNB and I was surprised at how easy it was.

On our first full day in Rome I set off with my friends Abby, Sophia and Kendall to do many of the touristy things of Rome. We went to the Colosseum, the Roman Forum (ruins), Palatine Hill, the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon. It was a full day of walking but I was incredibly happy with how much we had seen. I will add that we walked everythwere, which seems like a lot, but walking at least 8-13 miles in a day became a regular occurrence for me over the next nine days.

The next morning, Sophia, Abby and I got up and made the trek over to Vatican City. While the city is historic and grand, I was disappointed with it because as soon as we hit the main square outside of St. Peter’s Basilica, we were bombarded with panhandlers attempting to sell us selfie sticks and phone chargers. Not only that, but in both Rome and Vatican City, it is extremely difficult to know who to trust. Everyone acts as if they are an official guide with a discounted tour to sell you that has a fast pass to the front of the line. WARNING: THEY ARE ALL FAKE. Literally every person is just trying to rip you off and make money and sell tours that are about $10-20 over the  actual price.

We were heading for the line for the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel and were accosted by numerous fake tour guides and panhandlers both on the way to the line and even while we were in line for an hour. They don’t give up and its quite obnoxious.

Finally, we made it into the Vatican Museum and made our way through the “museum” which was only a long hallway filled with old relics and no information that eventually led to the Sistine Chapel. There, the crowds of people were herded in and only allowed to stand in the middle to look at the beautiful ceiling. While the ceiling and Chapel itself was stunning and so intricate, it was difficult to concentrate on how pretty it was as the security was constantly yelling at people for “SILENCE” and “NO PHOTOS.”It really took away from the overall experience. While I am happy to say that I’ve been to Vatican City and seen the Sistine Chapel, it was not a great experience in my opinion.

On Sunday morning, I left for the next leg of my trip. I was off to Florence by train and was traveling on my own for the next two days. While for some this might be nerve-wracking, it was a part of the trip that I was most excited for. In London, I share a room with three girls and a flat with with 11 other people. It is incredibly difficult to get any alone time, so two days to myself was a very exciting idea to me.

On my first day in Florence, I was able to check into my hostel and then go out and explore for the afternoon and evening. I first went to get lunch at el Mercado Centrale, an indoor food market in Florence that is really more like a nice cafeteria with authentic Italian cuisine. I found a pasta place and asked for “spaghetti with marina sauce” and was quickly corrected by the man over the counter. He pointed across to the pizza stall and said “Pizza uses marinara sauce. Pasta? No marinara sauce. We use a rich tomato sauce with special herbs and spices from Tuscany. Got it?” Oh, yes. I got it. Mistake made,  never calling red sauce for pasta “marinara sauce” when in Italy ever again.

After el Mercato Centrale, I walked to the Piazza del Duomo where I climbed Giotto’s Campanile, a free standing bell tower. To reach the top, one must climb 414 steps up an incredibly narrow spriraling cement staircase. That wasn’t great, but I made it to the top and the views of Florence were phenomenal. Definitely worth the climb. I also went into the Florence Cathedral that was right next to the bell tower.

I walked across the oldest bridge in Florence, Ponte Vecchio, that houses many shops. Sadly many of the shops were closed by the time I was crossing it, but there were still huge crowds of people crossing over the river via the bridge. It was getting close to sunset so I made my way to one of the highest places in Florence to watch the sunset. I walked up to Piazzale Michelangelo, where an outdoor replica of Michaelangelo’s David overlooks the city. The sunset and views of Florence were amazing from here. I sat on the crowded steps enjoying the sights and did some people watching.

A friend who had studied abroad in Florence last semester had suggested some of her favorite restaurants in Florence to me before I had left. I was off to Gusta Pizza after watching the sunset. Well-known and loved by locals and tourists alike, the pizza place did not open until 7 p.m. and there was a line outside with people waiting for the doors to open. I got a pizza from there that was AMAZING and made my way back to the hostel.

On my way back, I got a few texts from my mom, but didn’t respond right away as I was using my phone’s maps to get back. I then got a call from her. She simply said, “I’m not telling you why I’m calling, look at what I texted you,” then hung up on me. Okay? So I looked and OH MY GOODNESS. She had been going through the online version of People Magazine and came across a photo of ED SHEERAN AND I from the BBC Radio 1 studios from a few days before. Needless to say I freaked out then called her back and continued to freak out for the rest of the night. Still can’t believe that happened.

IMG_0131

Anyways, the next day, I woke up and took the train to Pisa. The main sights of Pisa, including the Leaning Tower, Pisa Baptistery, the Orto Botanco di Pisa and Pisa Cathedral are all located in the Piazza Demi Miracoli. I spent a couple of hours wandering around the square, taking photos for strangers and asking them to do the same for me until I got my perfect Leaning Tower shot. No shame. It started to rain right as I was leaving, perfect.

The next morning, I left early in the morning to take a train to Venice. There, I met up with my friend Allie who I did the rest of my traveling over break with. We spent the first couple hours carrying our luggage around the narrow streets and over the tiny bridges of Venice because our AirBNB lady wasn’t responding so we couldn’t check in yet. That was quite the experience… We were finally able to drop our stuff off later and did some shopping. We were searching for deals in the leather stores as both of us were looking to get an Italian leather purse. We were eventually able to decide on a purse and do some bartering to get the price down.

We met up with two other girls from our program to do one thing that Venice is most famous for, its gondola rides through the canals. Each gondola ride costs approximately 80 euros for “about” a thirty minute ride. TripAdvisor suggests doing the ride with a group to help cut down on the costs. Luckily we were able to meet up with the two other girls so it was only 20 euro a person because the gondolier conned us out of our time on the gondola and to me, was nowhere near worth the 80 euros we had to pay for it. Despite my arguing and displaying the stopwatch I had that showed how long we had been in the gondola, the gondolier ended the ride after about 20 minutes. We refused to get out of the boat and sat in it while it was docked for our final ten minutes. Needless to say, I wasn’t happy. The experience itself was cool, but not for the amount of time we were in the boat and the price we had to pay for it.

The next day, Wednesday, was a full travel day for Allie and I. We took a bus from Venice to Milan and then transferred to another bus that took us to our final destination of Zurich, Switzerland. While the bus took the whole day, I treated it as a tour of Italy and Switzerland as the views as we drove through the mountains were stunning. It was also a good rest day for us as we were about halfway through the trip and already exhausted from our traveling.

The next morning (Thursday), we met up with our friend Kendall again and did a free walking tour of Zurich. The guide was really informative and we saw a lot of Zurich during the trip. I was surprised at how clean and small Zurich is. It is known as one of the banking capitals of the world, so is very modern, but it’s Old Town is very rustic looking and is home to some great shopping. Kendall left later that afternoon to go back to Italy, but Allie and I were staying for another full day. We spent the rest of our afternoon hiking.

IMG_0129

I knew we were hiking, but at the time, I was not aware that we were hiking up the side of Uetliberg, Zurich’s local mountain at almost 900 meters high. We literally went from the city center of Zurich where our AirBNB was, to the top. We didn’t pass on anyone on the path we took, which was muddy and filled with sketchy stairs, and it wasn’t until we reached the top that we discovered that there was a paved path that went all the way up. Go us. The hike was worth it though and I felt fully deserving of the awesome view that rewarded us at the top. Needless to say, we didn’t walk back down and instead opted to take the train that goes up and down the mountain back to the city center.

The final full day of our trip was Friday, and Allie and I decided to take different day trips. She went to Jungfraujoch, one of the highest points in the Swiss Alps, and I decided to take the warmer route and travel to Raperswil, Switzerland, Vaduz, Liechtenstein and Heidiland. I really enjoyed my day trip and the cute little villages that we stopped at on our way to Liechtenstein, one of the smallest countries in the world. There wasn’t much to do in the capital city of Liechtenstein, and much of it was under construction. I was able to see the castle where the Prince of Liechtenstein lives with his family, but sadly no flags were out so they weren’t in the country. After leaving Vaduz, we went to Heidiland where the book written about Heidi takes place. It was a quick stop, but we were able to get out and enjoy the mountain views for a bit.

The next morning, Allie and I flew out of Zurich and into London Luton Airport. It felt so good to be back in London. While traveling and seeing so much of Europe is incredibly fun, it is also extremely exhausting. But I’m not complaining! I’m just happy to be back in London, walking less and sleeping more!

The Day I Met Ed Sheeran

Yes. I’m devoting an entire blog post to this day. Would you expect anything less from me?

On Tuesday, I did something I’ve been trying to do for over seven years: meet Ed Sheeran.

I woke up at 6 a.m. and was to the BBC Broadcasting House by 7:30 a.m. And NO MOM, I was not the first person there! I swear. I sat on the ground at the corner of the barrier that stood outside of the BBC Radio 1 studios.

After sitting on the cold, hard ground for just over two hours, it was time to stand up. Ed’s manager Stuart Camp, his guitar technician Trevor Dawkins, and the rest of his small team had arrived. Ed was not far behind.

stuart-and-mark

The forever sassy Stuart Camp and Mark 

At 9:52, a van pulled up and he got out. At first I was unsure if he would even stop to say hi to all the fans as the radio show he was going to be on started at 10 a.m., but in true Ed fashion, he did. Not only did he stop to say hello to us, but he literally stopped to take a photo with every single fan along the barrier.

I stood in the corner (the best spot), as I was able to take photos on my camera as he approached, and then, once he was in the corner, he spent the most time there as there were more fans in the area.

As Ed came closer, I noticed something very odd. When Ed got to an area of fans, everyone went silent and instead only stuck there phones out in his face. Barely anyone actually said hello or talked with him. It was weird.

Once Ed was in the corner, I worked up the courage to say hello. While it wasn’t the longest of conversations or filled with the most content, it is one that I will never forget. It went a little something like this:

Me: “Hi Ed!”

(Ed turns and looks at me, I freeze inside, what the heck did I just do???)

Me: “Happy belated birthday!”

Ed: (A small smile spreading on his face) “Aw, thank you!”

(Ed continues to smile, then turns back to take photos. I die inside.)

Then he approached and I handed him my phone to take a photo. It was amazing.

ed-and-i

Ed then went inside and was interviewed then performed five songs in the BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge.

I waited outside with a few friends in the off chance that he came back outside to say hello again after. Good thing I did because the BBC Radio 1 doors are a hot-spot for celebrities I guess.

I ended up talking to Jedward, twin brothers from Dublin that are pop-singers (Ed is also obsessed with them). And then Nick Grimshaw, the host of the Radio 1 Breakfast Show, and then Katy Perry also spontaneously came out and talked to the crowd. You could say it was a casual morning. I now know where I will be hanging out on days when I don’t have class…

I still can’t believe this happened and it is most definitely a day I will never forget. 7 years in the making.

P.S.

I will be traveling on spring break for the next week and a half and will not have my laptop so this will be my last update for a while. You can expect a long blog post about my travels in Europe when I get back!