Monday, April 11, 2016

Rewards That Aren't Food or Shopping

I crossed paths with this delightful list of rewards that aren't food or shopping, and it inspired me to gather some of my own. I'm a biiiit of a sybarite, so I indulge in wonderful relaxing things as much as possible—proudly. Here's how I reward myself without food or shopping.


  • Weekend recovery sleep. Bonus if I can finagle coffee room service from the hot bellboy. (I can.)
  • Take a long lunch—whether it’s running errands or seeing what's new at Sephora.
  • Sing along to Joni Mitchell’s Blue from start to finish. Cry. Husband is not invited to the party. (Best song)
  • Catch up on blogs and then read the shit talking about said blogs on GOMI.
  • Find books to read and leave blunt (but fair) reviews for ones I hated on Goodreads.
  • Visit someplace new from my list. I’m determined to hit every good museum and garden in the area.
  • Use my very special PTO move: take off Monday and Friday for two instant long weekends.
  • Online window shop, then put anything cute safely into Covvet or add it to one of my many wish lists.
  • Take an extra Bar Method class, because I’ve become a deeply annoying person.
  • Borrow new goodies from the library or wander around the Strand.
A photo posted by Anna (@heyimanna) on

  • Finish an entire series on Netflix or Prime, even if I don’t love it—because finishing is the BEST.
  • Walk instead of taking the subway. Rent a Citibike instead of walking.
  • Spend some QT with my plants—pruning, polishing leaves, fertilizing, singing them lullabies… I have a dumb hippie belief that people should reconnect with their star signs when they get stressed. As a Taurus, I know hanging with a book in full view of my plants calms me down more than anything else. Except Valium. Those work great too.
  • Read a magazine. I get Martha Stewart Living and Bon Appetit, but I’m always game to sneak a gossip rag into the stack.
  • Plan a dream trip—but only the fun parts. Actual mind-bending details, like browsing flights or paying for anything, are horrible.
  • Do an extra-long pamper session. I always make time for my beauty routines—because ACNE!—but as a treat I’ll do a really long facial massage or use a bath bomb while drinking red wine, as God Herself intended.

A photo posted by Anna (@heyimanna) on

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Harry Potter Studio Tour, and Now I'm Dead

Okay, guys. GUYS? Guys, listen up. This whole thing is about the Harry Potter Studio Tour just outside of London. Naysayers can fook right off. Spoilers lurk around every corner. You’ve been warned.

Here we go!

Untitled

So. If you didn’t know, now you do: I’m a psychotic Harry Potter fan. And as a psychotic Harry Potter fan, I have had the pleasure of seeing two different Potter film museum exhibits over the years. As my three week sabbatical was drawing to a close—and this is the LAST POST, PROMISE—I wavered on whether or not to make the (essentially day-long) trek out of the city for the WB Harry Potter Studio Tour. Would it be worth it? Would I have fun alone? But on a whim, I snatched the last ticket available and got to planning.

Tip the first: if regular tickets are sold out—and they usually are, so book a month in advance—look for the more expensive ones that include an audio guide! I probably would have bought an audio guide there anyway, so I wasn’t fussed about the price. HOWEVER you do not need an audioguide to enjoy the tour whatsoever. In fact, most of it’s redundant and kind of gets in the way of the ambience of the whole thing. I was loosely using it by the end, if at all.

Tip the second: You MUST buy a ticket ahead of time since they have timed entry. I ended up getting there early and they let me in right away. I was on my own and nobody seemed to mind, but that might not be the case for everyone.

How do you get to the Harry Potter Studio Tour? Leavesden is located in Watford Junction, about 20 minutes train from Euston Station. The line is a very common commuter rail, meaning trains tend to leave at least once an hour. Euston has an army of helpful employees roaming around, so I swallowed my tourist pride and straight up asked for help. Wham, bam, done.

When you get to Watford Junction, a Harry Potter Tour double decker shuttle, which is disappointingly NOT modeled after the Knight Bus (stupid.) picks you up right outside the station for the quick trip to the experience. I think the bus cost about £2.50 round trip, and you need cash. Easy peasy.

Not expecting much, I wandered in early by myself and took a gander at the gift shop.

Untitled

And FREAKED OUT. This shit was LITTTTTTT! It only got so, so much better from there.

Really guys, spoilers ahoy:

When you walk into the experience, a small room with video screens introduces you to the series and gets everybody realll hyped up. When the kids, moms, adults in full costume are all frothing at fever pitch, the wall literally opens and you’re standing in front of the doors to the Great Hall. It sounded like a Beatles concert in there.

I’m not ashamed that it was the first of very many times I audibly gasped and/or said “WOOOOW” aloud to myself.

Untitled

As a group, you move into the Great Hall for a looksie. Unlike the great hall at Christ Church in Oxford, the movie set has less ceiling—but more purple light. Plus they have a few professor costumes. (Snape, sniff.)

Untitled

Untitled

A tour guide gives a quick rundown, and then you’re let loose to do the rest of the trip at your own pace.

I was absolutely blown away by the sheer breadth of… everything.

Basically, the experience is broken up into two parts with a little cafeteria/outdoor space in between. The vast majority of it is set up like a museum, but there are a few hilariously overpriced “rides” or activities sprinkled throughout. As a 28-year-old woman there by herself, I passed up doing the broom flying experience. What would I even DO with a CGI video of myself flying a broom over London. But I completely got my fill on examining props and reading up on all the behind-the-scenes info.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

In the Mirror of Erised I see myself... at the Harry Potter Studio Tour.

Untitled

Untitled

Dumbledore's office was probably the coolest complete set in the first half of the experience. So many teeny little details.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

The little cafeteria sells the usual theme-park grub, but it’s one of the three places in the world that sells Butterbeer. Butterbeer tastes like cream soda with some kind of sticky, solidified whipped cream on top. That’s a bingo.

As a nice bonus, the little rest area in the middle has an outside section with Privet Drive, the Knight Bus and the wonky wooden bridge from the Prisoner of Azkaban. It’s perfect for stretching legs and trying to begin processing what is happening.

Of course, NOW I see that they do an afternoon tea, so obviously that would be a huge tipo numero tres for the next time.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

I licked most of the cream off my ‘beer and then boogied into the second part of the experience.

So, second half.

I loved the King’s Cross reconstruction—and getting to walk through the Hogwarts Express. After that, they also had a section filled with the paper goods and products designed for the movies. They were painstakingly detailed, and I could have spent an hour with my nose pressed up to the glass.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Two sections really blew my face off. The first? Diagon Alley.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Excuse me, would you please take a picture of me looking like I could die happy now?

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

I think I did spend about 20 minutes here, walking up and down and looking into every window. It felt BIG, and they really know how to twist the knife with the theme music drifting out around you. 

And the second face blowing moment was the scale model of Hogwarts.

Untitled

This room was special. The castle is huge, and the room is designed to wrap around it, descending as the lighting shifts and changes from bright daylight to dusky purple. There are touchscreens that do mini tours of certain sections of the castle. Being able to see the care and detail put into every single angle of the castle was huge for me, as a fan.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

It took me a really long time to work through the room, but then I went happily out and into the gift shop. Nothing really tugged at me, although I did spend several minutes deliberating over a print by MinaLima, the graphic designers. Their work is also available online, and I’ve been trying to pick out a birthday present.

I’d say I spent about 2 hours total on the experience, with 10 minutes at most on the Butterbeer break. If I’d gone with another die-hard fan and had tea, it could have easily stretched to 3 hours. A determined individual could do it in 90 minutes.

Getting back to London was a breeze, since I floated back on a cloud. Yep. Best trip ever.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Ballad of Londontown

High on Oxford, scones, tea, roundabouts, history, the National Trust, southwards!

And so back to London.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

The last four days of my three week trip were set up to be luxuriously loose. On the night of our return, Mom took me to see Farinelli and the King, starring Mark Rylance of Shakespearean genius. What I was NOT told before getting there was that our seats were ON the stage.

Untitled

Untitled

And now I’m more than a little ruined for theater forever. Thanks, Mom.

Nothing can really compare to being a few inches away from Mark Rylance as he both screams to the back of the house and whispers to himself, barely even audible to the stage-dwellers. I was captivated.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

We went to Borough Market, one of my favorite places on Earth. And dinner that night was St. John, another unparalled experience.

Untitled

Untitled

Speaking of experiences without parallel, I went to Leavesden on my second-to-last day. That deserves its own post—stay tuned.

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Untitled

Our last Airbnb was small but perfectly situated in Chelsea—easy to hit up Liberty, devour the Imperial War Museum (including the Holocaust exhibit, whoosh) and just generally soak up as much beloved London as possible (humanly or not). One weird standout was Sir John Soane’s Museum, of which I have no pictures because they take your bag hostage!

Untitled

Untitled

And and and…. that was it, really.