About two months ago a little picture showed up on my Facebook feed with the words: “Chestnut Hill Harry Potter Festival.”
Actually, a guy I’d never met before posted it and tagged my good friend Margaret. She is a big Harry Potter fan and everything of “Harry Potter” origin finds its way to her attention. I am also a big Harry Potter fan and so as soon as it appeared I messaged her and in no time we had a trip to Chestnut Hill inked into our calendars.
Wherever the hell that is.
It turns out that Chestnut Hill is in Pennsylvania and is up in northwest Philadelphia where all the swanky people live. People like Joe Daley, the golfer, and David Morse, who acted in The Green Mile and The Rock.
This is an old, old neighborhood. The houses are stone masterpieces with wide lawns and loads of mature trees. It’s easy to see why people want to live here.
We didn’t see anyone famous, but we did see a TON of people.
This is the 5th year that Chestnut Hill has hosted this festival. It is in conjunction with the Harry Potter Conference at Chestnut Hill College. It is a one-day conference where speakers present theories and hold discussions about the books and films; from connecting the history in the book to actual real-world history to analyzing the character archetypes.
They even hold a Quidditch Tournament at the college in conjunction with a Potter Pub Crawl on Friday night and a street festival on Saturday.
The whole town was a mob-scene. People where everywhere. Even though it was chilly and rainy there were over 15,000 people there. Wherever we looked we saw kids and adults sporting Ravenclaw scarves, Hufflepuff stocking hats, Slytherin coats, and Griffyndor sweaters.
And this picture doesn’t even do it justice. This was around 11am. The real crowds didn’t get there until about 1pm. By that time it was almost impossible to walk around and all the Harry Potter merchandise was sold out.
One vendor that was selling crocheted hats with Potter colors and Dobby ears was totally sold out when we saw her and was taking orders only.
Every restaurant had lines about 50 people deep waiting outside of it. We, however, managed to get immediate seating at this little place called Paris Bistro that changed its name to Beauxbatons Bistro for the day. Magically, it had no line yet at 11:30am, but as soon as we were seated about 30 people appeared behind us. They had a special Hogwarts menu and the food was actually delicious.
We were lucky, I think. The vendors – both food and merchandise – that were outside were surrounded by people. They were pushing out sandwiches, cupcakes, and butterbeer as fast as they could to the ravening hordes. I think by about 2pm Whole Foods was the only place outside where you could still get sandwiches and cupcakes. People were buying butterbeer from somewhere by the 4-pack and just wandering around with the glass bottles. We couldn’t find any to buy ourselves.
And that was one thing – the glass bottles. Kids were getting them and dropping them and, of course, they were breaking. It’s not like the whole street was lined with glass, but there were enough broken bottles to make me think they should consider a different option next year.
Every store on the street had lines to get in. Our cafe wasn’t the only one who had changed its name for the day. All the stores had gotten into the Potter spirit of things.
Especially the bakeries. They had lines that had lines! And it’s hard not to be pulled in when these kinds of cakes are in the window and they promise delicious pumpkin pasties and cauldron cakes!
I feel like the misty rain kept a lot of people from really busting out their full Harry Potter costumes, but there were plenty there who were fully committed. I saw a perfect Lucius Malfoy costume (complete with snake head cane) and was too struck to even snap a photo. But I did manage to find my camera for Mad-Eye Moody and Professor Trelawney.
The entire town was decked out. People from as far away as Michigan came to Chestnut Hill. Even the organizers were surprised. I feel like this festival is in its infancy. They woefully underestimated the number of attendees and next year they will be better prepared to deal with this kind of crowd.
But don’t feel like you have to wait until the next Harry Potter Festival to come to this part of Pennsylvania. Right by Chestnut Hill is Bucks County.
Bucks County is very historic. It is a whole county, not just a town, and William Penn is actually the founder. It’s where George Washington’s troops camped before they made the famous crossing of the Delaware River.
It’s also beautiful. As we drove along Highway 202 out of Philadelphia towards New Jersey we were surrounded by picturesque fall foliage. We were so distracted by the beauty that we crossed the Delaware River (ala Washington) and got into New Jersey by accident. Thankfully, New Jersey has plenty of places to turn around and we were back on the right side of the river in no time.
The New Hope area and up along Highway 32 is famous for all the antique and curiosity shops that are nestled in among the yellow and red leaved trees. It’s a beautiful drive. One that should be done at a modest pace with your favorite music playing on the background.
We stopped first at a place called FP Kolbe. The awnings hint that FP Kolbe has been here forever, but Margaret informs this this used to be called Poor Richard’s. They had a plethora of garden statuary, which I loved. Not just the gnomes and gargoyles I’ve featured below, but a frog in the lotus position, fairies, birds, and a disturbing image of an astronaut.
They had fountains perfect for an English garden, Japanese lanterns of all sorts, and ceramic pots large enough to conceal a body. (Not that I’m planning anything…)
And that was just on the outside. The inside was a visual cacophony. Lace, wood, metal, leather. Clocks, tables, antique knickknacks, and folk art. I was quite taken with a horse weather vane. Mark was relieved that I left it behind and only purchased an antique leather hatbox of a manageable size.
Then we traveled up the road to Peddler’s Village, which is pretty much it’s own town, but is really attached to New Hope. It’s really cute. It has neat shops and beautiful walks and several great restaurants to choose from. We tried to eat at Cock and Bull, but they were having a pre-ticketed Henry VIII feast (as you do) and so we ate at Earl’s, a trendy restaurant too large to be considered a bistro, but with the most amazing crab bisque I have ever eaten.
This whole area is just begging you to come and stay the night. Margaret and I didn’t, but there are B&Bs along with big and little hotels available to create a little get-away weekend. And autumn is a wonderful time to go up to Bucks County for a weekend away. I can’t wait to go back!