When I was about ten, my mom gave me a book that she had read as a little girl. It was an old dusty volume with a green linen cover that was worn at the edges and ready to fall apart. Next to the gift of life and the gift of my sisters, I think that's probably the best thing I've ever received from her.
The book was The Hobbit.
I flew threw the pages eagerly, completely engrossed in the world I was discovering. Little did I know that as I followed Bilbo's journey to the Lonely Mountain, I was taking my first steps on an incredible journey of my own.
Fast forward to now. I'll leave the details of how the Lord of the Rings shaped my professional life for another blog ramble. A little over a week ago, I had the extreme pleasure of visiting the Hobbiton movie set in New Zealand. It's one of those things I've been dreaming of doing since the first time this imaginary world appeared on screen in 2001.
Hobbiton is located on a private farm outside the sleepy farm town of Matamata, New Zealand. The town itself looks enough like the Shire without any help from a movie studio; nestled among rolling hills and green sheep pastures. After filming wrapped on The Lord of the Rings, the owner of the farm asked to have his land returned to it's prior state. But when filming for The Hobbit began, the set was completely rebuilt from permanent materials, and full tours were made available to the public.
The weather had been toying with us all day, alternating between gorgeous partly cloudy skies and dismal pouring rain. The beautiful green farmland comes at a price, after all. I boarded the tour bus to head up the hill to the Hobbiton tour base. Just in time the sun broke out, much to my delight.
But, as my tour group waited to board the second shuttle that would take us to the actual set, the clouds rolled in again. It began to sprinkle.
As we boarded the bus and drove up the hill, it began to pour.
But it didn't matter. When we came around the bend in the road to see Hobbiton, like, the REAL Hobbiton, my heart swelled up. Even if it did look like this:
When we had been off the bus for about ten minutes or so, the rain and clouds seemed endless. I was beginning to lose faith that God had heard my childish prayers for sunshine. The tour guide was beginning her routine, and I resolved myself to enjoy the tour, downpour and all.
Suddenly, it stopped raining. Faces turned upwards as umbrellas were closed down. I'll always remember looking up towards Bag End as the storm clouds were swept away by a gentle breeze. The setting sun finally beat through the dissipating clouds, warming us. Birds slowly began to sing and everything twinkled with rainwater.
After I finished kicking myself for doubting that God would come through, I took a deep breath and tried to memorize everything I saw. It's a funny feeling, being somewhere you've always dreamed of being. You've seen the pictures and movies and read the accounts. But being there yourself is very different indeed.
The details were meticulous. Each hobbit hole was decorated with props that indicated the lifestyle of the hole's dweller. Not a thing was overlooked.
As the tour of Hobbiton village neared its end, I was only getting more excited. I had purchased the special "evening tour" ticket, and my friends, I cannot recommend it highly enough. This tour is the last one held every Wednesday, and as the sun set over Hobbiton, the fun was just about to begin.
The special evening tour concludes at the Green Dragon Inn. Inside a hall beside a roaring fire, we were served our choice of various ales and ciders and sparkling juices, crafted especially for Hobbiton and available nowhere else in the world. They let you mill about for a while, enjoying the drinks and the company of fellow visitors. And then with a grand flourish, they pull aside these curtains, leading you into the dining room. An even larger fireplace cast warm light on three great tables, covered in food. Fresh baked rolls, roast chicken and ham off the bone, potatoes, sausages, and various roasted vegetables. Platters were spilling over onto the table. It was a true feast.
(Note: Unfortunately there are no more photos from this point on in the story, because the lighting was too dim and quite honestly, I was too busy eating as much as humanly possible. But you can check out more photos of the day in the gallery.)
I've never experienced anything quite like this meal. They had encouraged us to eat like hobbits, but we didn't need much encouraging. Everyone in the room was laughing heartily, talking eagerly, passing platters and serving food to one another. It was loud and warm, like the perfect Thanksgiving dinner without any grumpy relatives. Arms reached across the table and mugs clinked and plates clattered while the fire roared on in the background. It didn't matter that we were strangers. It felt more like eating a meal with old friends.
At one point I looked down the table and was somewhat astonished to see that there was not a single cell phone out. People were making eye contact; grinning, eating, and laughing with all they had. I don't know how to describe the feeling other than I felt...very human. It was a precious moment.
After we had eaten our fill, we were given lanterns to guide us back through Hobbiton below a magnificent starry sky. The holes were all lit up; little chimneys smoking. The Party Tree was lit as well, and you could almost imagine Gandalf's fireworks bursting over the lake.