Friday, June 13, 2014

A Trip to England for my Birthday Weekend!! Feliz Cumpleaños to me!!

In the midst of the chaos that is currently our lives, my birthday has arrived.  I don't know how it happened as it doesn't feel like it should be June yet.  In fact, my aunt sent me a message the other day wishing me a happy early birthday and my first thought was, "is she crazy, my birthday isn't for months".  Then I realized, time is passing by incredibly quickly here these days and in fact, it's here. Never in my life have I almost forgotten my birthday but it almost happened.

The kids and I flew into London Luton Airport on Friday night.  LATE.  Very. Very. Late.  So late I almost considered leaving Barcelona Airport and saying screw the whole trip.  The kids, more so Aidan, were that much of a mess.  Flying anywhere after 8PM is a bad idea.  But we made it and Josh had arrived about an hour ahead of us so he already had the rental car and we were off and running for our hotel, just 20 minutes away.

We checked into the hotel at midnight.  Seriously painful for us all.  But knowing the fun we had in store for the rest of the weekend, we trudged thru and got ourselves settled and into bed.  For the next morning we were heading bright and early to the WB Studios to visit the sets of the Harry Potter movies!!

Our very cool Fiat that also looks like a mini cooper yet much bigger car... we've decided though it's a little too big.  How un-American of us!!!

So while this was not my ideal birthday plan, I can't say that I didn't enjoy every moment of it either, because I did.  Josh and I were huge Harry Potter fans before either of the kids were even born (ok, that's suddenly making me feel very old!).  Our original plan was to do this trip the weekend of Liam's birthday (which happened to be a long weekend) but the cost of flights were double what they were for my birthday weekend (also a long weekend). And so off to London we went!

There were huge amounts of people visiting on Saturday at the WB Studios.  I knew this would be a popular site, but at the same time, it's  bit of a ways outside of London so I didn't expect quite so many people.  But then, Harry Potter is quite the phenomenon worldwide and has been for several years now.

Getting excited as we head in!

Chess pieces from the Sorcerer's Stone

Do you think they are really the originals???  That's a pretty big risk to keep them outside where everyone can touch them (despite the sign).


Gift shop... for the end... it was torture for them to have to wait!

If I recall, I think it said they made 17 versions of the flying car for varying purposes.

Working the audio guide - he was much more into listening to it than Aidan

Awesome quote

Where the story all starts... and from here we started the tour...

The studio was amazing and tour was self guided.  There were a few speakers along the way that would get you in to the spirit of things.  And often times they would remind you that while it takes a village to raise a child, it takes close to a city to make a movie of this caliber.  The details that went into the making of the movie truly stunned me.  The set design and props alone were awe inspiring.  Details such as the Hogwarts insignia in the fireplace in the Great Hall to the candy boxes Fred and George created - all were made by someone.  And to see the scale model of Hogwarts that was used in the fly over scenes - well that was just amazing.  There was a video showing the making of Hogwarts in fast forward motion - it took 8 weeks and many people to construct this huge castle and it's surrounding grounds.

We watched a short movie about the making of the films, then the screen went up to show us the entrance to Hogwarts and the Great Hall... very cool entrance!

The boys in the Great Hall

The fireplace

The insignia in the fireplace - an amazing detail!

This is the Gryffindor boys dormitory.  On the tour they said that when they started filming the boys were only around 10 years old and fit into the beds fine... by the last year of filming they were all so tall that they had to bunch up their legs to fit on the beds.

Checking out the wands and the Mirror of Erised (and if you look closely, it's us on the right)

The kids loved the tour.  They are very into the movies as well and slowly getting into the books.  So for them to see how it was made put some things into perspective for them, especially for Aidan who has a fascination with the movie / tv world and how it works.  He was especially impressed with all the props and the details of them.

Gryffindor common room

Common room fireplace

The griffin that leads to Dumbledore's office and on the right, Dumbledore's memories

The Golden Egg from the TriWizard Tournament

Dumbledore's office


Green screens for where we would see the portraits come to life... and Aidan with the portal from the Chamber of Secrets

Door at Gringots

Cart they took in Gringots from the 7th book when they are trying to find the horcrux in Bellatrix's vault with the green screen for filming

Hagrid's motorcycle and sidecar with the green screen

Broom with green screen

Moody's trunk

The Burrow

Some of the many many props

They even made custom tapestries for the movie

Is that brotherly love???  Must keep this photo!

Liam really loved getting to "fly" on a broomstick.  The unfortunate part is that while we got our photos right away, they told us we would need to collect our video at the gift shop.  And guess who forgot the video?  Yup, Josh and I.  Shhhhh we haven't told Liam and are hoping he forgets that part.  But at least we got the pics!

Excited to fly!!!

We went out to the outdoor sets - #4 Privet Drive, the bridge and Harry's parents' house.  It was also home to butterbeer.  Aidan was quite the fan of butterbeer, but hey, who wasn't??  And butterbeer was totally not what I expected.  It was something like a cross of cream soda and butterscotch with a dob of heavy whipped cream on top.  Delish!!  Liam drank it a tad bit quickly and didn't feel so great after, I think perhaps a sign of too much of a good thing...

In front of the bridge to Hogwarts

The Knight Bus

Creepy head on the Knight Bus

Gravesite of the Riddle family


#4 Privet Drive

Anyone home???

James and Lily Potter's house

I could go on and on about the tour to be honest.  The props alone were worth the tour - the detail that went into making this movie is beyond crazy.  It's well worth it if you are going to be in London and are a fan of the Harry Potter series.  The kids were thrilled to get "authentic" wands.  Liam's is Harry Potter's and Aidan got both Ron and Hermione's wands.  Liam would have loved a cloak but they were sold out and it turns out they only sell "authentic" ones that run 70 pounds each.  Yeah, not paying that for a dress up costume for my 7 year old.  We'll find something else on :)

This was a case with automated, remote controlled props

The hypogriff actually was a fully functioning robot.  There was video to accompany it which made it even cooler to watch.  The thing was huge!

Bigger than my children...

Diagon Alley

Notice it says Olivanders has been in business since 362 BC!

As you can see, the lighting was pretty dark around Diagon Alley

Some of the architectural plans for the movie production.  There were even plans for Dumbledore's chair - not a detail was missed with this movies.

Some of the plaster models

The GIANT Hogwarts - this model easily took up about 20-30 feet of space when you add in the grounds and other buildings.  This is the Hogwarts seen in all the ariel shots and any shots where you see the entire castle.

It took 8 weeks to build the model.  There was a video doing a time lapse.  Very cool!

There is a wand case for every single person that worked on the movies.  This is just one wall of the cases - but they filled an entire room.  It takes a village...or perhaps a small city...

We got back from WB Studios and then lunch around late afternoon.  After a quick dip in the pool, we just took a few hours to relax.  Between our late night arrival and a busy early part of the day, I think we were all a little bit exhausted.  We did a lovely dinner out at an Italian place near the center of town. And bonus, it was on a park.  So after dinner, since it it light out til after 9 in England in the summer, the kids ran (and beat the crap out of each other) and played (and beat the crap out of each other) for a while getting a bit of energy out.  I'm excited for our new adventures in Amsterdam where they will finally, hopefully, have grass to play on regularly - you can totally tell how much they miss it...and beating the crap out of each other on it (hard to do when your apartment has no soft flooring and there are very few green parks to play in).

Park alongside dinner

Walking to dinner

This is the restaurant we went to for my birthday - notice the vines completely encompassing it!

Some much needed rough housing after dinner.  I'm amazed they are both still in one piece!

Oh don't worry Aidan, Liam will get you back...

And he did...

The little guy can hold his own!

Failed attempt at wheelbarrows

But the birthday wasn't over just because the clock struck midnight.  No, it's a birthday weekend!! :) On Sunday we met up with some old BFIS friends that moved at the end of last summer.  My friend Eleanor and her daughters Faith and Hope (and Faith's friend Zoe) met up with us at Chessington, an amusement park that reminded me a bit of Six Flags.  Faith and Aidan were in the same grade for 3 1/2 of Aidan's 4 1/2 years at BFIS.  And while the two didn't do a lot of talking with each other on Sunday, I could tell they were happy to see a familiar face outside of Spain.  It's a nice reminder to Aidan that we do, in fact, stay in touch with those we care about and make a conscious effort to see them when we can.  It's especially important now that we are leaving that he understand this... and I know from previous experience that he does, but it's nice to be able to reinforce that (coincidentally) right before we leave Barcelona.

The day could not have been more perfect weather-wise for Chessington.  Mid 70s (warmer than Barcelona lately) and beautiful out.  Given that ti's England, that's a long shot and we're glad we got in under the radar on that one!  There were rides for all, adventurous and not so much so.  I think all the kids had a great time and by the time 5 o'clock came around, I think they were all pretty spent.  And to think I thought it was odd they closed at 5 on a Saturday.  Nope, it's just about enough time for both the parents and kids before meltdowns set in!  With lots of traffic on the way back to the hotel, the kids had a little catnap on the way back and it was definitely a night for eating in at the hotel rather than heading out.

Aidan is in the red tee shirt - he loved the swing!

And the bumper cars

Aidan and Josh on an insane rollercoaster - thanks!!!

Aidan claimed this was super easy... Ha!!

Liam immediately agreed it was not!

 Eleanor and Hope on the bumper cars

All the kids at lunch - a mini reunion

This also was a bit much for me.  Even Aidan freaked out a little when they first got on.  In the end he loved it.  It spun around and went up and down a track (like the pirate ship ride of the "olden" days).

Spinning as it goes along the track

Yeah they love it... crazy family!

Madagascar LIVE!!

Carousel - more my speed too Liam!

There was even a small aquarium here!

And the end of a super fun day!!! 

Liam's new favorite thing - "moose ears"

Monday was our last day in England.  It was a totally mellow morning spent in the town of St. Alban where we had been staying.  There was an adorable center of town with lots of shopping and of course, a bookstore.  As always, this is the one really big thing Aidan likes to do when we travel to an English speaking country - go to the bookstore.  And you know, even though I have a kindle now, it's one of my favorite things to do too.  So we bought a few more books to add to our ever so huge collection and everyone was pretty happy.

Center of St. Albans

English books!!!

Cathedral of St. Albans

Chilling at the park for a few before we head to the airport

After a delicious lunch, it was time to head to the airport and off to our next adventure, Amsterdam for house hunting.  No, the long weekend isn't over yet, just the vacation portion of it.  Now it's hard work, albeit fun hard work, for the next 2 days as we find a place to live in Amsterdam - but that's a whole other blog entry.

So my birthday weekend is now done.  I'm a year older and a year wiser.  Thirty-eight wasn't my best year with much of it spent in a bit of a depressive state and feeling like our lives were forever in limbo. However, as I enter the last year of my 30s I can't help but think of how ridiculously wonderful my 30s have been overall.  We've worked hard, played hard and have done our best to enjoy every single moment of what life has to offer.  I'm really looking forward to what 39 brings this year - I know that this coming year will not be easy as we transition into yet another new country, but I'm excited for the new changes it will bring to our lives and how we will grow from the experiences.


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