Guide to Pop-culture Pilgrimages
Your Coke-bottle glasses are about to fog up with delight – save up your pennies and make your next holiday a real nerd fest with some of these pop-culture meccas.
Fandom is funny thing. When you get a certain level of pop-culture adoration, just consuming the film or TV show or album you love simply isn’t enough anymore. You have to go that one step further to declare your undying devotion. As the ultimate expression of fandom, you have to make a pilgrimage to the birthplace of your favourite piece of pop culture – or at the very least, the place they shot that one scene. Pop-culture tourism has existed since the boom of studio tours during the Golden Age of Hollywood, but now it’s a lucrative business. Tourism boards will exploit the most tenuous link to lure in pop-culture fans, like the small rural town of Vulcan in Canada, which boasts itself as a Star Trek destination for Spock fans, because it shares the name of his home planet. Some people make religious pilgrimages to ancient temples, others leg it to Graceland.
Welcome to Hogwarts! If you read Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone as a pre-teen, then you’ve probably entertained a very vivid fantasy in which an owl arrived to inform you that you were in fact, a wizard. That probably didn’t happen (unless it did, and you have to adhere to the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy) so the next best thing is visiting the real-life shooting locations from the films. The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry from the Harry
Potter films is actually spread across a few locations. The exterior Quidditch scenes were filmed at Alnwick Castle in England, where you can actually attend a ‘flying’ lesson, and the rolling green hills of Glencoe in Scotland. The winding staircases and Great Hall were filmed in Christ Church College in Oxford, but many of the ghost-filled corridor shots are from Gloucester Cathedral. Of course it’s not all about Hogwarts; maybe you want to visit London Zoo where Harry first spoke Parseltongue to a snake and freaked everyone out, the Millennium Bridge where Death Eaters attempted to murder muggles for sport, or the classic Platform Nine and Three-Quarters at King’s Cross Station in London. A piece of advice: don’t try to run through the brick barricade.
Don’t forget your camera When The Blair Witch Project came out in 1999, one of the first films to utilise the found-footage genre, it seemed so real that people had to go investigate the place in which it was made. Why would tourists even want to visit the site of (fictional) murders by a terrifying witch ghost in the woods? It’s unclear. But the town in which it’s set, Burkittsville, Maryland, is very much real and is a site that Blair Witch fans still flock to, despite the legend being entirely made up by the film’s producers. The main shooting location for the film was actually the Seneca Creek State Park (about 50km from Burkittsville), which is where the cemetery and convenience store from the movie are situated. The Blair High School is even further away, in Montgomery County. However Burkittsville’s welcome sign, which appears in the film, was stolen so many times by tourists that the local council had it redesigned with bright colours and little stars so it appeared less spooky and thus less of a collector’s item.
I’ll have what she’s having! Of all the pop-culture pilgrimages you could make, this has to be the most delicious. Even if you haven’t seen
When Harry Met Sally (what are you doing!?) you’re probably familiar with the scene of Meg Ryan sitting opposite Billy Crystal at lunch and teaching him how easy it is for women to fake orgasms. Sure, this is a funny and conversation-provoking premise, but have you checked out the sandwiches they’re eating in this scene? Oh, mercy! Katz’s Delicatessen is a New York institution and has been around since 1888. Think mouth-watering mounds of brisket, pastrami sandwiches you need to cut in quarters to fit in your mouth, the biggest chilli dogs you’ve ever seen, and a Reuben that will make every sandwich you eat thereafter seem like garbage. Wash it down with an egg cream and you’ve just had an authentic New York lunch. A word of warning: this is a fast-paced place, so make sure you know exactly what you want because they do not look kindly on lollygagging. If pop-culture restaurants are your thing, you could also visit Tom’s Restaurant on Broadway in New York, which was used as the exterior for Monk’s Diner in Seinfeld.
The fab four When the Beatles released Abbey Road in 1969 they inadvertently made one zebra crossing in England very, very famous. Photographer Iain Macmillan took the album’s cover image in ten minutes, standing on a stepladder while police held the traffic behind him. Apart from being one of the most famous photos ever taken of the Beatles it was also the most controversial, birthing the urban legend that Paul (who was shoe-less in the image) was actually dead and the other Beatles were trying to leave fans clues about the cover up. It turned out that Paul was actually fine but the intersection of St. John’s Wood in North London would never be the same. While locals may resent the fact that every few minutes tourists disrupt traffic by posing for photos, the area has been deemed so culturally significant that the UK has given the crossing protected status for its “historical importance”. Like Jim Morrison’s grave in the Père-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris and Elvis Presley’s Graceland mansion in Memphis, making the pilgrimage to Abbey Road is an expression of true rock'n’roll fandom.
It’s a long way to Mordor The Lord of the Rings film trilogy still remains the source of obsessive fandom, even more than a decade after the last movie was released. This is in part due to the immersive quality of J. R. R. Tolkien’s description of Middle Earth, combined with Peter Jackson’s ambitious re-creation of sweeping fictional landscapes. Really, it was the best thing that could have happened to New Zealand; as soon as the first film came out fans started flocking. Lord of the
Rings tours are now a thriving business: you can visit the tiny houses of Hobbiton in The Shire two hours from Auckland, the Elvin city of Rivendell in Wellington and the rocky country of Edoras in Christchurch. You can take an official tour or try to track down shooting locations yourself, but one thing is for sure: you don’t want to risk going to Mount Doom on your lonesome.