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I don't like the Crimes of Grindelwald

Photo of AJ twirling in a black dress with a Gryffindor scarf. Her hair is bright orange and she's standing in a cobbled mews in Central London with plants and coloured doors on either side.

There. I've said it. And I know I'm not alone.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald is not what I had waited so eagerly for. And, do you know what, I don't think I'm excited about the next instalment either. After speaking to SO many people in person and furiously texting others, it's definitely a common theme, both within the Potter Community and those 'new' to the Wizarding World Franchise.

Now, don't think this post is just going to be me hating on Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald and insulting every part of it. There will be a little bit of it, because it's me, I just mostly want to explain why I'm beyond disappointed and how elements of the film are problematic. My background as a Film and Broadcast production graduate won't come into play either, because we do know the film itself is beautiful, but there really isn't much to go on through analysis except spectacle and unnecessary 'breakthroughs' of randomly thrown in 3D (which I refused to see and made a lot of scenes just look weird in 2D). Although, I do have an idea for a later post on gener and masculinity explored within the entire Harry Potter Universe...

I'm going to desperately try to keep this post as spoiler free as I possibly can, but as I write, that may completely change because #emotions. Who knows. I'm going in with good intentions at least. Anything that may be deemed a spoiler will be labelled with SPOILER so do keep an eye out just in case my intentions go astray.

A pile of brown leather suitcases. The top one is open and contains the House of Mina Lima Crimes of Grindelvald book. The book is brown and gold with a big blue diamond on the front and the text is gold

I'm clearly a massive Harry Potter fan, some would even say that it's bordering on obsessive, and I loved the first instalment of the new franchise. I thought that, even though lacking in all the beasts I imagined, it was a great intro to the wider Wizarding World. We finally got to see more magic from the adults, rather than our favourite 'Wizards in Training'. It was funny in all the right places, dark when it needed to be and showed us beyond the UK witches and wizards. It was new, it was exciting and it worked.

Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald was an entirely different kettle of fish. We already knew that this would be darker than the first movie and the whole Dumbledore/Grindelwald relationship is one that has always been something we, as fans, have been fascinated by as it was only ever alluded to throughout the series.

But it really wasn't what we wanted.

I ended up seeing the film twice to be absolutely sure. I would normally be at the midnight release of anything Harry Potter related, but on release day I was living it up in New Zealand. Didn't stop me seeing it on release day though when Gary and our friend kindly offered to spend a gloriously sunny day in a dark room just to make me happy. Bless them.

After I left that first cinema, I couldn't really talk about it much. There were obviously parts I really enjoyed, but as a whole it would need A LOT of thinking. I really didn't know how I felt about it. I need to digest it more, and that's pretty much what half of my 20 odd hour flight back to the UK consisted of.

My first (to be fair, ridiculous) comment about the movie is how The Crimes of Grindelwald weren't exactly explored. All we really see is his manipulation and sway over the magical community in America and Paris. I know this one is petty but it bothered me. If you're going to introduce the idea of Grindelwald's horrendous ways (which we all know exist), then surely you should explore at least some of the crimes themselves? We know this guy is evil, right? Like a magical version of Hitler in the wizarding community (conveniently running parallel to the the growth of Nazism in Germany post World War 2), but other than the opening scene, we see nothing. I completely understand that it's only the second movie in a series of five so they shouldn't go down The Prisoner of Azkaban route and make it too dark, too quickly, but give us something. It just felt that the title told us one thing and the film another. Maybe that one is just me.

A collection of the flyers and posters from Fantastic beasts and Where to Find Them. One features the slogan 'witches live among us' and another has the portrait of Shaw

The pace of the film was all off. As many other 'middle films' do, they tried to cram so many different story lines into one film but didn't round many of them up or focused too little on what I believe should be major plot points. Many of the newer characters were undeveloped when they should have been given the time to shine, so I felt like I couldn't resonate or care about any of them. When we lost one, I really wasn't bothered and I know that's mean.

I was too busy caring about other relationships that were left in the shadows, like seeing very little about Grindelwald and Dumbledore's relationship. We have always needed answers about this, even now I'm having discussions with the girls over whether Grindelwald was ever truly in love with Dumbledore but, again, we got squat. I'm not going to hate to Rowling for this like so many other people are doing though because I know it is coming... eventually.

The relationship between Newt and Theseus was touched on in the previous film and we all thought that since Theseus was making a key appearance this time, we'd have the opportunity to learn more about this sibling rivalry. In reality, there was only one thing and that story line was hit and miss with several key parts leaving us with more questions than we had before. It was nothing short of infuriating.

Where were the beasts, yo? Now, I know the whole concept of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them has evolved beyond the 'text book' we all got for Comic Relief 2001, and has become more of a journey itself, but STILL, where were the beasts. In a book that's supposedly featuring Newt Scamander and his discovery and research into Magical Creatures, they probably took up about 10 minutes of screen time, and a lot of them weren't new. The revelation about Nagini was exciting when we saw it in the trailer but we weren't given much else. Any explanation behind the very concept of what a Maledictus really is was completely pushed to the side and, as a character, that was pretty much all we got. Very little dialogue or action making her feel like she was just slotted in for the hell of it.

It is not canon. This is, possibly, the thing that pissed me off the most. After 21 years, we are all so familiar with the Harry Potter universe, history and lore that big plot changes come as more than just a shock to the system. One thing that is already known so I don't deem it a SPOILER, apologies if it is, is that Professor McGonagall is already teaching at Hogwarts in 1927. Originally she wasn't even born until 1935... how she was already teaching when she was supposedly not even a foetus, I have no idea. Her birthday was changed on the likes of Pottermore to back up her appearance in the film but it's still wrong to me.

Without going into too much detail, the whole lineage of the Elder Wand appears to have been thrown out of the window. Technically this started with the disarming of Graves/ Grindelwald in the first movie but it's still continuing to plague me, especially since we see the Elder Wand in action in Crimes of Grindelwald. It's one of the things I can't stop thinking about and every time I do, I get all wound up into a ball of fury. I mean, this is the very thing that lead to the Downfall of Voldemort, the reason why it would never work for him because he only saw defeat by means of death and not disarming. I'm hoping it's something that will be answered in the future and not another one of those plot holes we see in movies that are graciously brushed aside. In the mean time, I'll still be constantly angry and shout at my TV.

I know this post has been, essentially, one long rant. But I have SUCH #opinions. I just haven't been so disappointed in something I was looking forward to so much in such a long time. I'm still angry 4 months later! We have been left with more questions than we had before, the movie betrayed new characters leaving them with very little emotive attachment from the audience and fractured elements of the Harry Potter Universe. I was going to say 'flat out broke' but am aware that's just me and my penchant for hyperbole.

I'm more than happy to debate so if you think I am completely wrong in any part of this, do let me know in the comments below or on Insatagram.

Why I stayed at the ariport before our Big Trip with Premier Inn

Photo of AJ in a checked shirt smiling and holding up a class of Champagne
Not at the hotel, but I hardly took any photos 

If you're going on the Holiday of a Lifetime, I'm a firm believer that your holiday officially starts the second your Out of Office switches on and not just when you get on the plane. It makes everything feel more exciting because it's holiday then and now, rather than holiday tomorrow, or holiday at the weekend.

For our Big Holiday to New Zealand last year, we managed to get an absolute steal on flights from Jack's Flight Club, that were even cheaper if we flew from Manchester instead of London. What with it not exactly being a local airport, Gary and I decided (well, mostly I decided) that we should stay at the airport the night before we fly.

I'm a bit of a panicker before big things and always imagine the worst case scenario.

- What if the trains are cancelled and we don't make it to the airport?
- What if there are delays and there's no time to get from the station to the airport?
- What if we oversleep and miss the train?
- What if we fall asleep on the train and wake up in Glasgow?

Welcome to what it's like in my brain...

 Also, I did feel like continuing my 30th Birthday celebrations a little bit longer and a stay in a hotel seemed like a fabulous idea. Big thumbs up to Gary too for getting us First Class train tickets for a grand total of £60 for both of us. A little bit of extra comfort AND Wi-Fi.

The front of the Premier Inn at Manchester Airport. The building is grey against a cloudy sky

If you didn't know, I'm a mega Premier Inn faingirl (and no, this post isn't sponsored by Premier Inn, just genuine love). After researching hotels at the airport, we realised that the Premier Inn was the best value for quality. I mean, we didn't want to spend hundreds of pounds for just one night, but at the same time we didn't want to end up staying somewhere uncomfortable or grotty. Treat yo' self... but cheap.

After experiencing trying to get to Heathrow on the Tube in the past, I definitely don't want to go through nonsense like that again. It takes way longer than you think it would and no one wants to be weighed down by all the luggage when you're travelling from one end of London to another. It's a pain in the arse and other passengers will tut and hate you.

The journey from the train station was surprisingly easy. Faster than I thought and with the friendliest driver known to man (how you know you're in the North). This made my stupid brain calm down because the whole 'what if we couldn't check in because we were too late?' thing was chucked out of the window. It was all chill and completely hassle free. Amazing after the stressful Must Finish Everything day at work I had!

Staying at the airport, was genuinely one of the best decisions I have made on a long time. There's no better feeling than waking up completely refreshed (thank you, Good Night Guarantee), with my favourite beds known to man. Seriously, I will own one eventually.

A bubble bath before bed, a cup of tea and the typical Family Guy in bed ensured we were totally relaxed and completely stress free because you know the airport is two minutes away. Typically this meant we turned up WAY before check in happened as a result. But something had to go 'wrong' didn't it?

The departure board at Manchester Airport, our 14:10 flight to Doha doesn't have a gate desk number because we arrived too early

I'd 100% recommend making the decision to extend your holiday a wee bit and treat yourself to a stay at the airport. I'm definitely going to do it again for my next big holiday, and maybe even before our trip to Poland in February, because why the hell not, eh?

Tips for seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child for the first time

Back in 2015, the Harry Potter Community had a mini explode when tickets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child were announced.

On 28th October 2015, I went into work early to do that thing where you hit refresh constantly and jump between multiple different browsers, and even your phone. At one point, I'm pretty sure I was 10,000th in the queue but that may be an exaggeration.

I got tickets.

Turns out, I'm a god damn idiot and booked the tickets for the following June for when we were supposed to be at Glastonbury. So I gave them to my friends.

It was then announced that Coldplay were headlining Glastonbury so I didn't end up going. Typical, eh?

On 30th October (my birthday), the next run of tickets for the following September were released. Cue me on the sofa with Gary surrounded by wrapping paper, going through the rapid refresh process all over again. I got tickets for 22nd and 23rd September 2016.

But it turns I didn't have to wait that long. My best friend invited me to be her plus one so a showing with Lumos (who I am now an ambassador for) on 18th September 2016.

Thrilled doesn't cover it. I cried. A lot. #NoShame.

As I have seen it twice now, like the lucky madam I am, and even though it was a few years ago now, I thought it would be useful to share my tips / advice for those who may be planning on seeing it for the first time. Aren't I nice?

Sign up to the Friday Forty

I'm sure everyone knows what the Friday Forty is by now, but just in case...

Tickets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child sell out fast. At the moment, you'll be looking at waiting until 2020 (unless you get really lucky).

I completely understand that sometimes people don't want to wait that long. I don't know how I had the patience to wait as long as I did! This is why the Friday Forty is your friend.

Every Friday, 40 tickets for every performance the following week are available for £40. That;s £20 per part (#bargain). Not only does this mean that you might get to see the show sooner, but it can also be more affordable as some seats can cost serious dollar.

However, it is a lottery so not everyone gets them, and you can only enter between 12:01pm - 1pm. It's always worth a try!

See both parts in one day

This one may not be everyone's cup of tea but after seeing it twice, once in one day and once over two days, I 100% prefer the one day event.

Sure, it's likely you'll be tired afterwards but I felt like it was more of an experience when you see it in one. The anticipation for seeing part two dwindled and wore away a tad when I knew I'd have to wait longer.

But if that's not for you, I totally get it.

Book for the Dress Circle if you can

When I first booked tickets, I got them right in the heavens. You know, those vertigo inducing seats you get in every old theatre. I did this intentionally though because I have epilepsy and I know that strobe lights and other lighting effects are used so I wanted to be safe. Turns out they were absolutely fine (for me, maybe not for everyone with the same condition)

When I went with Lumos, we were in the Dress Circle and it was a much better experience.

Sure, I know that when you're in the theatre, it doesn't always matter where you sit bit I feel like it does for this particular show. Like how it's better to sit up the top for 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time'. 

In the Dress Circle, you were close enough where your neck didn't hurt from either looking up at the stage or constantly having to lean around the taller people in front of you (which happens to me everywhere I go) and also, you could see everything, rather than just little blurred shapes across the stage.

Most importantly, these seats made you feel as though magic is real. some of the stage tricks in this show are absolutely out of this world. I felt absorbed in in. When you're up in the heavens, the illusion was shattered because you could see how some things were done and you didn't have to look closely.

Buy your merch before the show starts

I'm sure my fellow experienced gig goers would tell you exactly the same thing.

The queues at merch stands can be insane, as with any other theatre / concert / festival.

During the interval, you don't want to be wasting your precious pee and bar time in yet another queue and at the end of the show, you sometimes leave via a separate door so you won't always pass a merch stand. Better to get it all beforehand and eagerly await your badges as you leave.

Start your day at House of MinaLima

This one is more of an added extra than anything else, but it's the perfect way to make the magic last even longer. It's probably about 2 minutes walk away from the Palace Theatre so it's not like you'd be going out of your way.

My main recommendation here though would be to get there as it opens then grab some lunch nearby before Part One of the show starts.

House of MinaLima can get absolutely rammed and I'm sure you'd want the opportunity to take everything in in peace.

That and get the perfect Instagram shot of the Marauders Map floor.

So there we go. A handful of advice. I hope at least some of it was useful and not all of the same stuff you have heard before. If you have any other questions, feel free to hit me up via DM on Instagram. After all, we still need to Keep the Secrets.

Into 2019

AJ and Gary wearing Christmas Jumpers on Christmas Day

So, there we go. 2018 has flown past before we even noticed.

It's been a year of ups and downs for me, as I'm sure with everyone else. Some pretty major ups, and the downs? A pretty big struggle, especially MH wise. But, whatever doesn't kill us makes us stronger so I'm getting there now.

I'm hoping 2019 will be an entirely different kettle of fish and I'm quite determined to make it so. I'm pretty darn happy and settled in my career (who else can say that at 30 these days?), so it's more of an internal focus than anything else.

It's obviously that time of year where every man and his dog have made new Year's Resolutions and we all know the gyms are going to be busier for the next two weeks than they were for the majority of next year. I personally think that if you set solid 'resolutions' and drastic changes to your lifestyle every January 1st, you're setting yourself up for failure and that's not for me.

I did set some 'goals' last year though and I did quite well. This is because they weren't drastic changes to my lifestyle, more like things I was already kinda doing anyway. I just wanted to be better at them.

This year, I want to do a little more than I did in 2018, but something that's still relatively easy to achieve rather than do something stupid like say I'm going to go to the gym every day but only last a week because I'm shit.

AJ holding Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts books while wearing a library print dress from Joanie Clothing

Read More

I have always been a book worm ever since I was a little girl. My 'to be read' pile is currently building up on the floor in my living room because I have run out of space on my bookcase and I carry a book with me everywhere I go. In 2018, I barely read at all and it felt so unnatural. It took me well over a year to finally finish The Belle Sauvage which Gary bought for me back in October 2017. This year, I'm not going to let one of my passions slip away again. 

I'm lucky enough where I don't have to commute to work but this does make me feel like I don't have as much time to read as other people. I mean, even an extra hour sitting on a train really makes a difference. So now I'm just going to make the time, even if that means actually taking a lunch break rather than eating at my desk.

AJ wearing Gryffindor robes

Get more involved with the Harry Potter Community

Last year, I made the effort to show more of my nerdy side and what I am truly obsessed with 

Harry Potter has been a HUGE part of my life for 21 years (God, I'm old) and it really has influenced who I am today. 

Not only did this little step perform well for me and help me reach milestones, it also introduced me to a fabulous bunch of people I'm now lucky enough to call some of my closest friends. 

Most importantly, it inspired me and made me happy.

Over the years, I have had opportunities to work with the Warner Brothers Studio Tour and Lumos, so who wouldn't want to keep that up?

Dedicate more time to self-care

This was actually one of my intentions for last year and I really wasn't very good at it. 

Despite encouraging myself to say 'no' more, I didn't do that at all. I was busy all the time, whether it was helping friends, meeting friends at the pub, or playing (at one point) 5 performances in one month. Little things like constantly having chipped nail polish because I had no time to do them really affected me and I was exhausted all the time, which obviously impacted my mood.

Moving forward, where realistic (obviously), I'm going to have one day a week where I just focus on me. Bubble baths, face mask and nail polish galore. 

Eat less meat

When I was a teenager I was a vegetarian for a good few years. I got ill, really thin and even now, 15 years later, I still have issues with my iron levels.

It's far from possible for me to go veggie again because my health does need to come first, but we cannot deny that this lovely little planet of our is fucked. Hopefully not beyond repair.

For the sake of the environment and my future children's lives here, I want to reduce my damage as much as possible. Last year, I kept to my aim of using less single use plastic so I may as well step it up a notch and do even better this year.

All of these 'goals' are relatively small and definitely achievable. I just hope I'm better at sticking to them than I was last year!

A Self-Guided Harry Potter walking tour of London

A picture of me framed by the arches of Leadenhall Market in London

One of the amazing things about London is that you can walk in the footsteps of your favourite movies practically on every street corner.

It may come as a surprise to you but I, of all people, haven't been on a Harry Potter walking tour of London yet. At least, I haven't paid for one. I have done pirates, ghosts and general history, but never one of my favourite things of all time.

One sunny day in the Summer, Gary and I decided to have one of our rare 'date days' around London. It mostly consisted of doing our own self-guided walking tours of Harry Potter areas, lord knows why Gary agrees to do all of these things with me but he is a bit of a hero.

There are obviously way more places around London that have been used for Harry Potter orientated things, but we did not leave in enough time... typical us. Here are just a few things every Harry Potter nerd should visit when they're in London.

The Harry Potter floor of Hamley's

Not exactly hidden away in the basement with a Diagon Alley inspired archway entrance is the the dedicated area to all things Harry Potter. As you enter you a greeted by Hogwarts 'students' in their robes showing off all the toys and merch, a giant Hagrid, which I really hope is to scale, and the soundtrack playing in areas.

Giant Lego Hagrid in Hamely's toy store

If you're after the collectibles rather than just toys and stationery, my advice is to pop back up to the top floor where the Noble Collection can be found. The Harry Potter section of Hamley's didn't have the fancy Ollivander wands, only the toy versions and it was so busy I got a bit stressed out! The Noble Collection is way quieter and I left happily with the Ollivander's version of the Elder Wand in hand. My collection is ever growing!

Leadenhall Market at the Leaky Cauldron

All Londoners know of Leadenhall Market and a weekend is the perfect time to go and see it, especially if it's mostly for the gram. On a weekend, that whole area of London is pretty much a ghost town. Even the New Look on the corner isn't open when the banks and businesses aren't. Obviously, it would have been lovely to see the market in action, but I was having one of those weird head moments where I'd much rather not have to deal with people! I also work 9-5 so I guess the only time I can bloody go to the market is when it's bloody closed!

Leadenhall market London

The eagle-eyed Harry Potter readers out there will recognise Leadenhall Market from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone when Hagrid takes Harry shopping in Diagon Alley. Did you know, around the corner from here is the actual Leaky Cauldron?

The Location of the Leaky Cauldron in London. It's a blue opticians.

It's not nearly as creepy looking as in the movies and it's actually an opticians... but it's the Leaky Cauldron, guys! I promise!

Trying to find the Ministry of Magic in Westminster

This one was a little bit tricky because my GOD DAMN SCAFFOLDING CURSE STRUCK AGAIN. Also, I was an idiot and forgot the red phone box Mr. Weasley and Harry used to get to the Ministry was actually a prop. Out of my annoyance I didn't get a picture but you can find it 5 minutes walk from Westminster Tube Station, just past Downing Street.

Grimmauld Place - AKA Claremont Square near Angel

You know that Scaffolding Curse? Yeah, it struck again here too. Fan-fucking-tastic, right? Luckily for me, most of the houses on Claremont Square look exactly the same so I staged a photo in front of one of the scaffolding free houses anyway, much to the bemusement of one of the residents who was playing in the street with his little girl.

Location of Grimmauld Place in London

 Not as dark and dingy as the House of Black is in the movies and the majority of them are covered in beautiful flowers. Kind of dampens the aesthetic a touch but I have to remind myself that Harry Potter isn't real sometimes and that set design is a thing...

Platform 9 3/4 King's Cross

Everyone knows this one but it is most definitely my happy place. I go here often even if it's just to feel a bit happier after a bad day. It's one of the few places in London where I can deal with lots of people in one place and that's only because I know it's a magical pilgrimage all Harry Potter fans go on and that not everyone is as lucky as I am. I only live 20 odd minutes away so can go as often as I like!

Platform 9 3/4 shop King's Cross

We missed so much off, including the Millennium bridge! Bless Gary, he has already agreed we can do another one again soon and has promised that we'll wake up earlier to fit more in. Maybe even do it over two days!

Regardless of how much we missed, I well and truly had the best day nerding out with one of my favourite people and I cannot wait to do it again.

Have you ever done a Harry Potter walking tour of London?

Making potions at the Cauldron

It finally happened, guys. After missing out on tickets last time, I finally got to go to the Cauldron with Love Pop Ups London and I couldn't have been happier. Let's face it, who wouldn't want the opportunity to feel like an actual Witch making potions while drinking delicious cocktails at the same time? Not this girl, I was all for it.

If you don't know about the Cauldron (where have you been?), it's a molecular / immersive bar in Elephant and Castle where you make your own drinks Sure, making your own drinks isn't the most original idea BUT you use a magic wand... and make your drinks in an actual cauldron.

The Cauldron is very unassuming from the outide. In fact, if I wasn't so uncomfortable about being in unfamiliar surroundings at night alone, I would have walked right past it. Once you're inside though, it's as if you have just stumbled into the Wizarding World.

Display and gift shop at the Cauldron featuring Gargoyles and potions bottles

With books balanced precariously all around the room, crystal viles, even photography by Xavier Boldu everywhere. It was an absolute delight to see some of my favourite Harry Potter fans, like Weasley's Book, over the walls and it felt like I was in a combination of Flourish and Blotts and The Apothecary.

You could see that they had gone through every effort to include the tiniest of details. From Rhunes carved into compartments on the tables, to giving you robes as you walked through the door. I obviously wore my own because I'm a loser.

On to the important bit. The drinks and the magic.

Before the experience really begins, you get a little welcome drink of Poetic Mead. It's hidden away in one of the compartments on the tables which you open with the wand. that's right. You Alohomora that shit for booze. I cannot explain to you how happy this made me. I even did a little squeal.

The drink itself was nice, it was just very tiny. It added to the charm though especially since it was in the smallest jar ever.

After the welcome bev, you had the choice of two drinks to make yourself. Just so you're aware, they're served in pairs so you'll need to make sure whoever goes with you is happy with the choice too!

The Potions Master delivers all of the ingredients to your table as well as step-by-step instructions, which we were RUBBISH at following. But that all adds to the experience, right?

Our first 'potiion'  was the Blood Boiling Curse. It consisted of gin, a bouncing magic bean (which you used the magic wand to control), troll bogies and the sands of time. Because of course it did. Cue me saying 'bleurgh, troll bogies' very loudly. I am but basic.

It was a nice combination of sweet and bitter. I felt like it could have done with a bit more gin but that's mostly because... well, gin.

The Botony Brew was my favourite part of the experience, mostly because of the cauldron. A simmering and smoking concoction that would have made Professor Slughorn proud, but only because there's no pleasing Professor Snape when you're a Gryffindor.

I don't have a sweet tooth and it was a little too much for me. But that could have been because we added too much Montenegro (whatever that is). Watch your measures, peeps and don't stray from the instructions! Bonus was though, there was enough in our cauldron for three full glasses each, so they're not exactly stingey there!

In short, if you're a fellow nerd like me, the Cauldron is an experience you wouldn't want to miss. The whole experience lasts about 1hr 45mins so make sure you're not late for your pre-booked spot. Make sure you make the most of your time there and explore everty nook and cranny. You'd be amazed by the tiniest things you see and little nerdy references hidden around the place, and more than just Harry Potter too! I'd wholly recommend taking a peek in the wardrobe... if you're not too squeamish! Make sure you book tickets soon though, if this round is anything like last time, slots fill up pretty quickly.

Have you been to The Cauldron yet?

*Discalimer: I went to the Cauldron as a guest of Love Pop Ups London but honestly couldn't recommend it enough. All ramblings and appreciation are 100% my own. 

Why it’s O.K. to not want to visit again

Ruins in Cyprus

As you may have heard, I didn't exactly fall in love with Cyprus when I went on a Villa Holiday with the girls. Now, I'm not saying I hated every second of it because that would be far from the truth. It's just not my favourite.

Unlike some of the girls, I have never been to Cyprus, Greece or Turkey so I really had no idea what to expect from that side of the world. I only really know what I've seen in History books and movies. Plus, none of us bothered to do any proper research before we arrived. After several years of wanting to visit, I was really excited so it was a shame to be so underwhelmed.

Boats in a harbour in Cyprus

There aren’t many places I have visited where I felt no desire to go back. With Cyprus, it felt like I was doing something wrong because I have heard so many people rave about it. Sure, we were there off-season and we didn’t really know where to go and explore, but at the same time, it was all a bit ‘meh’. I had a great time at some points, but I don’t miss it at all.

So far this year, I’ve been to two countries that I definitely want to see more of so it’s almost like Cyprus is the let down of the bunch.

Now, don't get me wrong, there are many reasons that could be why I didn't enjoy it as much as I imagined. I'm not blaming the country at all.

Temple Ruins in Cyprus

As we were there on a blogger trip (NOT being ungrateful here, at all), half of one of our days was spent with activities of the resort. A resort I could NEVER afford in my wildest dreams. It was very much forced fun with golf and tennis, which we made fun, but definitely not something I look for in a holiday. It made the day feel a bit forced. Like we had to have fun. We had to enjoy resort life, even though I'm the kind of person who's more than happy to go camping in a field.

View from Aphrodite Hills Resort in Cyprus

Because we went in the off season so the weather was unpredictable. Sure it was a lot warmer than back in London but we seemed to go on one of the only weekends in the whole year where there wasn't blazing sun. It wasn't exactly bubbling or bustling with people either. At times, I felt like we were the only ones on the resort! I'm sure this would have been entirely different at the height of summer but I'm not sure that would have made me feel any better. The British Expat area we passed with its Red Lion pubs made me feel uncomfortable. Like some of the magic that could have been in Cyprus had been sucked away and replaced with a mini British replica to stop people from feeling homesick.

Most importantly, I didn't feel inspired by Cyprus. It was all very beige. The blue seas were a beautiful contrast but from where we were (and the weather) we couldn't really appreciate them. We only really popped to the sea to visit Aphrodite's Rock on our way to the airport on our last day.

The beach and sea at Aphrodite's Rock in Cyprus

The whole point of this isn't to slag of Cyprus, not at all. In fact, I have had conversations with so many people recommending areas to visit that may be more my style of travelling, or simply to go at a different time of year. My main reasoning is how it's OK if I'm not too fussed about going back. As much as I look forward to seeing all the new places and seeing as much of the world as I can, there are a couple of places I will always go back to. Cyprus doesn't feel like one of them though and I don't feel like I should be bothered about it.

I have had a couple of people say 'oh, you should really give it another go', but I really don't want to and that's OK. You shouldn't force a relationship if you're not happy, just like you shouldn't just keep going back to the same place in the small hope you might end up liking it eventually. I wouldn't want to waste money on something I'm not going to enjoy either. Although I know it doesn't matter how much you spend on a holiday, you always don't want to just throw money away (essentially).

Give me new adventures and new places to fall in love with instead.

Standing in the ruins of the Tombs of the Kings in Cyprus

A day in Covent Garden

Sitting in a flower display in Covent Garden

When I say I live in London, I don't live in PROPER London. I live in quiet East Finchley, tucked away in Zone Three. It's far from the bustling crowds and fast paced life you generally see in the movies. It's got tree lined streets, the smell of open fires in autumn and winter and frequent community festivals. It's peaceful. It's quiet. Tourists don't know it.

When ever I do head into central London, it feels like an adventure. Visiting Covent Garden is something I generally reserve for when friends and family visit because, even though I know my way around after living in London for 11 years, it's nice to feel like a tourist sometimes. For our anniversary at the weekend, Gary and I were up at, what felt like, the crack of dawn to go and explore Covent Garden and celebrate each other. But on the cheap... it was the weekend before payday after all!

Where to Explore / Instagram

We got to Covent Garden for before 9am because if I know anything as a Londoner and an Instagram fiend, it's best to get to your destination before the shops open. This way, you'll have more space to capture those gorgeous pictures you're after, and also you can spot new things that you may not have noticed before. I for one, didn't know that Covent Garden was now surrounded my flower displays everywhere you look. It does make sense though, what with how it used to be a flower market.

It felt more private, like we had stumbled across something secret, being there so early. There was no one around and it felt more like the *that* scene from My Fair Lady. I'm not ashamed to admit that I ended up singing 'Wouldn't it be lovely' to Gary at one point. Ideally I wanted to take a photo sitting on the church steps a la Audrey Hepburn, but it was the set up point for all the street performers! Oh well.

Neals Yard is a destination for any Instagrammer but my scaffolding curse struck once again. I obviously wanted to to replicate THE photo of the gorgeous buildings that every other Londoner has on their feeds, but alas. I am cursed...

Also, bonus nerd spot. Did you know Monty Python used to live here? I didn't until I decided to #LookUp!

Where to Eat

For breakfast, we chose to leave the main Covent Garden centre and headed to Dishoom on Upper St Martin's Lane. Having been to Dishoom before, I was so excited because I know how good their food is. However, I have never had their breakfast before and their infamous Naan bread is something I've wanted to try for so long. As we were nice and early (are you spotting a theme here?), we didn't have to queue at all when normally you would have to as they don't take reservations. All I can say, it's definitely worth the early wake up call.

Where to shop

It wouldn't be me if there wasn't something nerdy in here, would it? My ONE destination while we were in central London was to visit the Noble Collection UK on Neal Street. The Noble Collection is the home for nerdy and movie replicas and collectibles. From the Lord of the Rings to Harry Potter, 300 to Suicide Squad. Whether you're after a fluffy Niffler, or a board game, new wand (me) or a fantastic headdress so you can be Galadriel for the day, this is the place for you.

It honestly felt just like being in Olivander's and I did get a chuckle from Gary who was timing how long it took me to choose between two wands. Personally, I don't think 25 minutes is long enough. Quite fast if you ask me.

Where to drink

Now, to be fair we went for the easy choice here. The heavens opened on us and we were not dressed for the ocassion, what with being idiots and not checking the weather that morning... We opted for the Nags Head on St James Street, and this is mostly becuase I'm a sucker for a blue plaque. And I didn't want to get wet anymore...

What's nice about this pub is how it feels homey even though it's always busy. I go to this pub whenever I'm in Covent Garden because it does still feel like a local even though it's full of strangers. They do a banging Guinness too which was the best way to finish up our anniversary celebrations.

Obviously, there is so much more to do in Covent Garden than what we got up to. I'm still slightly kicking myself that we didn't go to the Transport Museum but I wasn't up for the queue in that rain... If you have been, do let me know what I missed out on! 

How would you spend a morning in Covent Garden? 

*Disclaimer: £75 of spending money was kindly gifted by Hotels.com but all views are my own. 

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets at the Royal Albert Hall

Harry Potter Cosplay

Since Gary took me to see Beauty and the Beast at the Royal Albert Hall with a live Orchestra for my birthday last year, it's been my mission to see as many of those shows as possible. As a musician and a film buff, it's pretty much two of my favourite things combined.

Last year, I was absolutely gutted that I missed out on the showing/performance of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone due to the crazy demand, I watched instagram stories with such envy. This year, I refused to let that happen so I was online on release date desperately trying to get tickets but I once again failed.

Somehow, the gods (old and new) smiled down on me. A friend knew someone with spare tickets. At the very last minute and £60 lighter (worth it), I had my hands on a pair and poor Gary had to deal with my excitement and happy tears. Again.

Harry Potter at the Royal Albert Hall

It's obviously been forever and a day since I last saw a Harry Potter  movie on the big screen (no, I'm not including Fantastic Beasts this time), so it took me straight back to those earlier years. The anticipation of what was going to happen and seeing young kids and many adults dressed up in costumes for the occasion. I'm a weirdo who likes to dress up, dress up for the theatre so only took my scarf and wand this time. A little bit gutted about that after I saw someone wearing a Keeper costume... Why don't I have one?

For me, the orchestra added a new layer of magic to the whole experience. That could be because of the musician in me, but there were moments where I felt more involved and almost a part of it all. It was even more moving than just watching it at home. Every crescendo was even more intense and finally listening to Hedwig's Theme live definitely brought a tear to my eye. Also, the difference to with my little community orchestra is VERY clear.

One of the things (other than the obvious demand) that put me off tickets for other, non Harry Potter related,  Royal Albert Hall performances was what I thought the cost would be. It turns out, it's really not that much, you just need to know where to look! With our second hand tickets, I paid the full price including booking fee because that's fair (and I normally refuse to buy tickets from other sources). Seats where we were are only £30 each and as you can see, the view really wasn't bad! Much better than when Gary and I stood in the heavens for Beauty and the Beast.

With tickets for The Prisoner of Azkaban now available, I'll be going straight there to book tickets. It's conveniently playing just before my birthday which is pretty much a sign that I must go anyway. I just hope there are still tickets available on payday... turns out booking holidays is expensive other wise I would have booked already!

Nerding about in Oxford

How many people do you know who will take a day off work just to run around Oxford in Hogwarts robes? Just me? Oh, ok then. I'm cool with that.

As part if my 12 in 12, I'm trying to see more of the UK as well buggering off to far off countries. There's so much more than the usual beer gardens, streets and sights I see every day. Oxford is one of those places I have always swung through on my way to other events/places, never really spending an hour or two. It's home to so many literary inspirations that a Pilgrimage had been on the cards for a long time. All I needed was some fellow nerds, a couple of wands and robes.

The inspiration behind the door to Narnia

Many people already know that Oxford is essentially 'home to Hogwarts' in a way but it's also the inspiration behind the Shire, Lyra's home and the start of the journey to Narnia. Basically everything I love. As we're ridiculously unorganised people sometimes, we booked our travel on what felt like the ONLY day there wasn't a free literary walking tour happening so we mostly survived off Google Maps and finding our own way to things.

Out first stop of our nerdy adventure was to sit where Tolkien and C.S. Lewis used to meet, the Eagle and Child.

The Eagle and Child is a nerd's dream, even if the pub as a whole leaves much to be desired. You're not there for a 5 star meal and beautiful surroundings. You're there for the geeky decor and banter with the bar staff. You'll have a great time even if one of the toilets does overflow while you're there. It's all part of the charm, really! Just make sure you do what we didn't do and check the opening times, Otherwise you'll be those losers hanging outside an empty pub for half an hour...

Just being there made me beyond excited for my trip to New Zealand later in the year. Especially after I saw this sign.. something I quote far too much for my own good!

I guarantee you, I will say this at least once in Hobbiton, even though they don't serve pints in the Green Dragon.

With Oxford being as small as it is (in a way), we walked everywhere and managed to find everything we wanted to see as well as other little bits we weren't looking for, such as the inspiration behind the door to Narnia (above) and stunning architecture every where. The only REAL thing on our list was to pay a visit to Christchurch university. We wanted to go up those stairs, huddle in the cloisters (despite Umbridge's Educational Decree number 26) and hang about in the Great Hall. in robes. Looking awesome. I have no idea how many tourist pictures we're in now but they all LOVED us... and copied our poses.

There are a lot of things we didn't get to do because we were disorganised and ran out of time. If we had arrived a wee bit earlier, we would have been able to get to Christchurch earlier and therefore wouldn't have had to pick between the Colleges. Bodleian Library is still up there on my list now so I guess I'm just going to have to go back soon. Jordan College from His Dark Materials, (called Exteter College in real life) is still up there but getting lost in the streets of Jericho has finally been ticked off.

Oxford is a magical place and I'm going to stop just using it as a stop off point and try and see more of it, especially since it's practically around the corner. If you want to be a nerd like me and take your own visit to this literary heaven make sure you:

Book tickets in advance

The queue to get into Christchurch was HUGE and it was raining. If you book in advance you can skip ahead

Actually make a plan

We ran out of time. One day with no plan wasn't enough to see everything we wanted to

Do a tour but also make your own

We resorted to Google to find out some things but if you manage to get there on a day when the Literary tours are happening (i.e., not on a Bank Holiday) you'll be able to find out so much more than we did. At the same time, make sure you get yourself a little bit lost and enjoy the beauty if the city. Take a moment to look up and around you.

Get there early

Don't make our mistake, guys. Get there early or spend an extra day if you want to do everything.