A Celebration of the “Girls Trip”
Adeola and I have been friends for nearly 10 years now. We met through Teach For America. “We were randomly paired as roommates for Induction!” is one of our favorite facts to hurl at people when they ask us how we met. In our first meeting, I was already in our dorm room, unpacking every single item of clothing I owned (we were only going to stay in that dorm for a week, but I hate keeping my clothes in suitcases so…) when she walked in, glanced around the room, and immediately stated, “I need to lie down.” From that moment on, I knew we would be friends.
As our 30th birthdays’ approached, we listed off a few places we might enjoy visiting– Islands in the Caribbean, cruises from Florida… when suddenly, London came up in conversation. I’m not sure who mentioned it first, but immediately, we joked about visiting the Harry Potter sets, taking the Hogwarts Express, and crossing platform 9 ¾. I had never been to London, and she had only really been to visit family. If we really thought about it, we met through travel, so it seemed only fitting that we would celebrate our 30th birthdays together, traveling across the Atlantic, to a little group of islands known as the United Kingdom. Like most 30 somethings who grew up in the US during the early 2000s, Adeola had one common obsession that solidified our friendship– Harry Potter. In fact, we independently wanted the same exact Harry Potter quote as a tattoo and decided to get this quote tattooed on our ribs together during our first year of teaching. And with that, nearly 8 months before our trip, we started planning, buying tickets, and scheduling events. Being teachers, we understood the importance of a healthy sense of imagination backed by a perfectly executed scope and sequence of events.
Side note: I want to acknowledge that I’m extremely fortunate to have a partner who not only respects my independence, but also supports it. My fiance, then partner, happily watched our kids so I could take this trip. It was the longest I’d ever been away from them, and I didn’t know how it would work out. Thankfully, he’s an incredible father, so things went on without a hitch.
Day 1: Arrival
When I first arrived in London, I had a few hours to kill before Adeola arrived. I decided to store my bags at a train station for the day (at ￡6 it was a bargain) and walk around. I wasn’t expecting the Late May/Early June weather to be so chilly, so I made sure to bundle up. I first spent a few hours strolling Regent’s Park, taking in the beautiful sculptures and fences. I later stopped by the British Museum and fawned over historical artifacts like The Rosetta Stone and other incredible antiquities. It was strange, however, to see so many historical items away from their ancestral lands. I left the museum inspired but a bit melancholic. I continued to walk around the city, stopping for
some fish and chips for lunch. After a good meal, I suddenly felt an incredible urge to lie down. I made my way to our Airbnb and took a nap. A few hours later, Adeola arrived. We decided to try some delicious curry at a neighborhood restaurant, then spent the night in our room, like the true homebodies we are.
Day 2: A Market and A Play
Once we got a healthy night’s sleep, we felt ready to take on the day. We spent the morning in Leadenhall Market, the inspiration for Diagon Alley. It’s a breath a fresh air in a sea of similarly shaped modern, concrete buildings. The market features gorgeous Victorian touches and dates back to the Roman Era. The slatted ceilings, red and gold paint, cobblestone streets, and filigrees make any visitor feel as though they’re stepping back in time. We spent some time at a pub, enjoying some beer and desserts, then ate a quick lunch of fish and chips (yes, in that order).
After this, we headed off to the West End so we could watch The Cursed Child. I know
many Potterphiles have strong feelings about this play, but we personally really enjoyed it (though it should have been a musical!). We didn’t know much about the play before we watched it. I’m a firm believer that plays are meant to be enjoyed on stage, not through reading, though I recognize that not everyone feels the same way. But I think not knowing anything about the show worked in our favor; we were mesmerized by the effects, and sucked into the story line. Imogen Heap’s soundtrack truly set the mood for each scene. During intermission, we stopped for tapas at a tiny Spanish restaurant
Once the show was over, we wandered around Trafalgar Square, popping in and out of souvenir shops. When the sun finally began to set, we made our way back to the Airbnb, reminded of all the carefree nights we spent walking home in downtown Memphis, after a long week of teaching.
Day 3: A Studio of Magic and a Visit to King’s Cross Station
Early morning the next day, we ate a quick breakfast on the go and made our way to the WB studios where all the Harry Potter movies were filmed. Adeola surprised me with a Gryffindor blazer (she donned a matching Ravenclaw one). Both blazers contained hidden wand pockets, so we slipped ours in and headed to the studio. We took a bus (double decker, naturally) and made our way towards the suburbs. After we crossed the security check, we wandered through the sets, hitting peak nostalgia as we entered “The Great Hall”. The set was smaller than we’d anticipated, but it looked just as we remembered– long wooden tables lined up, stone floor, and wooden beams finishing out the view. The costumes of each of the professors stood at the head of the room, detailed and beautiful, just out of reach thanks to security guards and some velvet rope.
Once we walked through The Great Hall, we made our way to the rest of the set pieces, peering into “The Burrow”, admiring the “Prefect’s Bathroom”, and eventually exiting through a replica of “The Forbidden Forest”. As we left the studio, we admired the model set of Hogwarts, a gigantic structure that put the entirety of campus into one room. We left the studio in the early afternoon, a bit of jealousy creeping in as we watched school groups and young children bask in the magic they were still young enough to wholeheartedly believe in.
We then made our way to King’s Cross station and attempted to cross Platform 9 ¾. Though we didn’t make it through, we took some amazing pictures and purchased more souvenirs to add to our ever growing collection. We then took a quick tour of “Little Venice” and rode a small boat with a Kiwi who taught us some slang while pointing out
some sights on the Grand Union Canal. We then made our way to a pub, drinking pint after pint and reminiscing about the years we’d known each other, reminded of our first “date” in a bar in downtown Memphis so similar to this pub (it’s called Bardog, and they have stiff drinks and delicious sliders). With all the walking we’d been doing, we made up for the calorie loss in fried food and heavy beer. Sluggishly, we made our way home for the night, our last night in the Airbnb.
Day 4: Scotland or Bust
No Harry Potter themed trip can be complete without a trip to Scotland, birthplace of Jo herself, and the true location of Hogwarts. We took an early morning flight to Edinburgh, excited to get a change of scenery. This is where our troubles began. I had booked a tour of Edinburgh Castle that came with an afternoon tea. We decided to get some tea before checking into our Airbnb. Armed with our luggage and purses, we hiked up Castle Hill, confused at how it had grown so much warmer in this northern climate. After finally making it up the top, we realized we weren’t allowed to bring our bags with us. I scrambled for our tickets and realized they said the same thing. After apologizing profusely to Adeola, I decided to go to the ticket counter and see if we could push back our tea reservation while she hiked down the hill, both bags in tow. After a few phone calls and a few trips too and from the ticket counter, we got our tea time rescheduled. We made our way through the castle, exhausted and clammy. Between the crown jewels and views of the city below, were were soon dizzy and ready for some rest. We sipped our tea and laughed about my confusion. We then made our way back down Castle Hill, then hopped on a train back to the airport to pick up our rental car. We had big plans for the next day that involved driving on the left side of the road. But first, we needed time to practice.
Let me tell you. I already have a tough time driving, but add to that a complete reversal on every aspect of the practice… let’s just say driving was quite interesting this way. We survived our trip back to our Airbnb, parked the car, and turned in early for the night, sleeping beneath the gorgeous wooden beams in the attic of our hosts home.
Day 5: The Road to the Hogwarts Express
We woke up early Saturday morning, fighting off the bitter cold (well, bitter for my Florida born and bred behind). We didn’t even eat breakfast, figuring we could just grab something on the road. We had 4 hours to make it to Fort William so we could check in to the first leg of our train ride along the Glenfinnan Viaduct. We’d both driven in other countries before, so even if we weren’t totally confident about driving on the left side of the road, we figured we’d make it to our destination with time to spare.
We were wrong.
I took the first leg of the journey. Scotland is… breathtaking. Literally. We had to stop at one point just to admire the mountains and lochs we kept passing. I’m 98% sure I saw a unicorn at one point. Definitely some pixies. After a couple of hours, we stopped for some food, then Adeola took the next leg of the journey. That’s where things got tricky. The road noticeably narrowed. Soon, shipping trucks passed us by, dangerously close to our tiny car. With maybe an hour to reach our destination, we started to get nervous. We almost reached the city when another truck came and POP! went one of our front tires. Adeola looked mortified, but frankly, I was just glad we didn’t get into an accident. She apologized profusely as we waited for the tow truck. The rental agency didn’t give us a spare; instead they left us with a faulty compressor. We watched Ally Wong’s Baby Cobra special and laughed at how ridiculous our plan had been. Why didn’t we just drive to Ft. William the night before? But what’s a trip without some hiccups? At this point we realized we were even and just decided to roll with the punches. The tow truck picked us up, dropped off our rental at a mechanic, then took us to the train station. We didn’t get to ride the steam engine, but we did take an electric train to Mallaig. We saw all the sites we would have seen on the other train, though we didn’t get to hop off and explore some of Scottish towns that were the inspiration for Hogsmeade.
Later, we arrived in Mallaig just in time to catch the Steam Engine back to Fort William. We found our train car and had a pleasant ride with two married couples. One pair was an older couple who purchased a tea service for all of us. The other was a younger couple; the husband was as big of a Harry Potter fan as us which made for great conversation. We relaxed and laughed during this second trip, enjoying some wizard inspired cocktails from the bar cart.
Finally, we made our way back to the mechanic, picked up our car, and sped our way back to Edinburgh, this time mindful of the rocky edges of the road. We returned our car with no issue, picked up some pizza on the way home, and promptly stuffed ourselves while watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, laughing at the ridiculousness of our day.
Day 6: Potion’s Class is in Session
On our last full day in the UK, we ate a hearty Scottish breakfast, complete with haggis sausage, and flew back to London. We checked into a tiny hotel room near Victoria Station and made one last trek to a Harry Potter themed destination: The Leaky Cauldron. This pop up bar was the perfect mix of nostalgia and alcohol. We walked down a narrow, dim staircase. At the base of the stairs, we were given robes and wands, then offered seats at a high top table. We had 4 rounds of drinks. The first round involved a quick potions lesson where we made a color changing drink. The second one involved waving our wands at the “Tree of Life” so we could procure some beer and cider. The third involved rhythmic dancing and chanting. We then added a bonus drink which involved some fire (and prayer). Four drinks later, we were perfectly buzzed and found a tiny fish and chips shop. We made our way to the hotel for the night, vegging out and making sure we were packed for our flights the next day.
Day 7: It’s so Hard to Say Goodbye
My flight left before Adeola’s. She graciously offered to eat breakfast with me and see me off to the train station. Though I was more than ready to go home and spend some time with my family, I was sad the trip was over. It’s so rare to find a friend like Adeola, someone you can easily travel with, someone who inspires you to be your best self, someone who gives so much and expects so little in return. I met her in the most difficult time in my life. My mother had just passed away, we both moved to a new city, and we both were adjusting to one of the most difficult professions– teaching.
As I boarded my flight, I realized how privileged I was to live the life I do. I’ve never seen Buckhingham Palace in real life, I don’t know where Parliament is, and I’m not sure that I’ve heard Big Ben ring. But I got to live out a piece of my childhood with my best friend, and that is more than enough for me.