*Author’s Note: This is the first installment of a new series of articles where I’ll write travel diaries as if I spent a week in a fictional land. Hogwarts seemed a natural selection for this, except for one thing, you can’t really vacation at a school. So for this article I’m pretending to be an education writer for The New York Ghost.*
Hello loyal readers! After a long (and storied if I do say so myself) career chronicling the myriad issues plaguing America’s wizarding education system, my counterparts at The Daily Prophet invited me to take “a leap across the pond”, as a no-maj might say, and tour their prestigious Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry.
I accepted their invitation and decided to make a (very well deserved) vacation out of the trip, so beloved readers, enjoy my travel diary.
After arriving in London via portkey I decided to give the famous (though surely some would argue infamous) Diagon Alley a visit.
I stayed at the world renowned Leaky Cauldron, an ancient establishment most well known, outside of England anyway, for having once housed one Harry James Potter, and yet, I found it rather lacking.
While it is impossible for this writer to determine what it may have been like to stay there during these more exciting times, I must confess to you that I found the entire experience underwhelming.
The entire hotel seemed to be nothing more than a Harry Potter/Order of the Phoenix themed tourist trap. It was crowded and loud at all hours and many of the bar’s patrons were unseemly to say the least.
I was fortunate enough to only be staying their for the first two nights of my trip however so it did nothing to diminish what would turn out to be a wonderful vacation.
While I was unpleasantly surprised with my choice in accommodations, Diagon Alley itself did anything but disappoint.
Bustling with activity both days I was there, I still found the whole thing to be a great deal of fun. While it doesn’t quite compete with some of our largest shopping districts here in the States, it was still a singular experience for this reporter.
A large portion of the shops in Diagon Alley cater heavily towards students, selling everything they would need for their year at Hogwarts, including for extra-curricular activities such as Quidditch. The prices in some of these items were extravagant, for required materials no less, and I found the second-hand options to be rather lacking.
I did take the opportunity to visit several other establishments as well. Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes was truly exceptional. Although the shop’s famous founders were nowhere to be seen of course, the products they sell and their innovations in pranking are remarkable. Suffice to say this writer made off with quite a few objects he plans to make use of in the coming years. Colleagues beware!
I also took the time to visit Rosa Lee Teabag, a tea shop with a sister location in Hogsmeade, since I was in London afterall. Much like the non-maj, or as they would say muggle, population of England, the wizarding community enjoys their tea. And while I must confess, the tea I got from Rosa Lee’s was quite good, it pales in comparison to a good cup of coffee.
The final noteworthy establishment I visited was Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour, and trust me when I tell you, it is worth a visit to Diagon Alley almost by itself! Hands down the best ice cream I’ve ever had. It is truly unfortunate they include anti-everfreeze ingredients in all of their recipes, preventing me from bringing any home with me.
After an eventful and hectic two days in Diagon Alley I was very ready to continue on to my reason for visiting England, my tour of Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Students, as well as the occasional professor, arrive at Hogwarts via train, however I was given the exceedingly rare privilege of arriving by using the floo network.
As you may, or may not be aware, Hogwarts is typically inaccessible via floo travel, only occasionally will one of its fireplaces be activated into the network. Despite this however, I must confess that I would have preferred to have arrived via broom.
Upon my arrival at Hogwarts, I was greeted by several members of the faculty, including Minerva McGongall herself. What an honor that was! It is not very often this reporter gets nervous, but that woman has a way about her that had me, I’m not the slightest bit ashamed to say, downright anxious!
Despite her imposing demeanor, I found Headmistress McGongall to be a very pleasant, if firm, host. She warmed up tremendously once we happened upon the topic of quidditch.
After a fair bit of ribbing from her on the fate of USA’s team in the last World Cup (though my colleagues that cover the team assure me their 2020 team is looking great, and may even be a contender), she was quite friendly.
As school was not in session, most of the professors and administrators were nowhere to be found, however I did have the opportunity to meet a few. After a quick history of the school from McGongall, along with interjections from the portraits of several former Headmasters, she passed me off to a rather grouchy man trailed by a truly disturbing cat to begin my tour.
The grouchy man, who simply muttered his name under his breath while complaining about the impending return of students, took me through a veritable maze of revolving staircases and corridors to arrive at the main entrance to the castle, from there I was greeted by a litany of ghosts.
Sir Nicholas (or as the students know him Nearly Headless Nick), patron spirit of Gryffindor, gave me a very boisterous and triumphant history of his house, dating back to Godric Gryffindor himself. His history included his boasting of several prominent members of the House including current Minister of Magic Hermione Granger, the Weasley Family, Albus Dumbledore and of course Harry Potter.
I was also given a history of Ravenclaw by Helena Ravenclaw, Slytherin by the Bloody Baron and Hufflepuff by the Fat Friar. Although each house had their fair share of extraordinary alumni, it seemed quite plain that Gryffindor was a cut above the rest of them.
Despite my best efforts, I was not allowed entry to any of the houses common room areas, but the ghosts did lead me on a tour of the building.
The tour lasted most of the day and I felt I scratched hardly anything approaching the surface.
Hogwarts is truly a maze unlike any other, it is a wonder students can get anywhere without becoming lost forever!
After we finished with my tour I was greeted by a fierce, decidedly hawkish woman with gray hair, who introduced herself as Madam Hooch. After a quick appraisal of my broom skills, she deemed me “adequate” (which I must confess hurt my feelings considerably, I was after all the starting seeker for Thunderbird’s quidditch team all my years at Ilvermorny) and we began an aerial tour of the grounds.
Now, Hogwarts from the sky is a breathtaking sight.
And despite all my talents as a writer, as authenticated by numerous awards, I lack the words to describe it. It is a marvelous castle and one does not wander why Isolt Sayre was inspired simply by second-hand stories about it.
After an all together too short aerial tour of the grounds Madam Hooch and I landed in Hogwarts’ quidditch stadium, where I found myself enthusiastically greeted by the largest man I have ever seen.
It didn’t take much for me to deduce that the famous Rubeus Hagrid was to take me on the final part of my tour.
Hagrid brought me around the grounds, showing me the green house (where Neville Longbottom teaches Herbology (it is truly remarkable how many famous names Hogwarts employs)), and several stables.
The stables housed creatures ranging from hippogriffs to some invisible beasts he informed me brought students to Hogwarts via carriage.
Hagrid then invited me back to his cabin by an intimidating forest for some tea and wholly inedible fruitcake. I must admit that I found his tea to be even better than that which I enjoyed at Rosa Lee’s, though still not as good as good coffee.
After that, Hagrid sent me on my way to Hogsmeade, which I traveled to via carriage, pulled of course by those invisible creatures I mentioned earlier.
Hogsmeade is the only entirely no-maj free village in all of England, and as such is a rather peculiar place. The energy was similar to Woodstock, though not entirely the same.
I lodged at the Three Broomsticks Inn, and was treated to an iced cold, entirely refreshing Butterbeer. My word was it tasty.
Although I was only there for the evening, I enjoyed my time at the Three Broomsticks considerably more than the Leaky Cauldron, and enjoyed a delicious bowl of stew.
In the morning I made a quick stop off at Honeydukes, hoping to settle my sweet tooth, and soon spent an embarrassing amount of money on candy, which I’ll have to ration until I can make a return trip to Hogsmeade Village.
After my visit to Honeydukes, I returned back home via portkey and began munching on the candies while working on this piece.
In terms of beauty, Hogwarts matches, if not surpasses my beloved Ilvermorny, but I wouldn’t trade our school for it. The halls, passages and secrets of Hogwarts are too intimidating, while Ilvermorny offers a more comforting and protective learning environment.
Though, perhaps that is due to my unfamiliarity with the English school. While I found Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade to have their charms, I’d favor a day in New York City over either.
Despite all their history and grandeur, I dare say, I am quite happy being an American Wizard.