Flashback Friday: London, United Kingdom

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Review: Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour

As I was searching online for things to do before heading to London last June, I came across the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio tour in which you get to visit the set and see the making of the films. Being a Harry Potter junkie, I knew I couldn’t leave London without doing this. I booked my ticket online with Premium Tours and got the student discount for 51 pounds (I later found out you can get cheaper tickets on the official website for 33 pounds. This price doesn’t include transportation like the former does although you can get there for 2 pounds by shuttle – details provided on the site). The tour operates daily at different times throughout the day and takes around 6-7 hours with transport. I recommend going in the afternoon so that you can do some sightseeing in the morning and grab some lunch before you head out.

Once I arrived and entered the venue, I couldn’t contain my excitement. Since I had booked with a tour company, we skipped the queues and began the tour right away. First stop was the Great Hall, the famous dining area of the four Hogwarts houses (Fun fact: In the first film, real candles were used to create the illusion of floating candles in the Great Hall ceiling, up until wax started dripping on the actors and they had to replace them with animated ones). Throughout the Great Hall and the entire studios, there were mannequins dressed in the actual wardrobe that the characters wore which was really cool.

From the Great Hall we continued out to the main studio which contained all the well-known sets such as the Gryffindor common room, Dumbledore’s office, the potions lab, Hagrid’s hut etc. I was a little disappointed that they were fenced off and that we couldn’t go inside; nonetheless I was happy to see them up close. Along with the many sets scattered around the studio, there were countless props on display. My favorites were the golden snitch, the golden egg from the Triwizard tournament, and the door of the Chamber of Secrets (Fun fact: The opening of the door was real mechanics and not animation, they actually built a mechanic door which they were able to operate and open with a remote!) There was plenty of interactive things to do as well, like having a video shot of yourself riding a broomstick around London, but you were charged extra for these things.

Walking out of the main studio, we made our way to the back lot. This area is home to the famous Privet drive, Godric’s Hollow, the Hogwarts bridge, the Knightbus as well as the enchanted car that Ron and Harry used to get to Hogwarts in the second film. There’s also a small shack that sells butterbeer (Fun fact: This is one out of only two places in the world that you can get butterbeer). Of course I couldn’t resist trying it and happily snapped a photo. It tasted pretty good, like a carbonated vanilla drink.

After sipping on butterbeer, we went into the second studio. In here were the man-made magical creatures and beasts featured throughout the films, such as Aragog the spider and Dobby the elf. Next, we walked into the set of Diagon Alley! This was probably the best set out of them all because we were able to walk up/down the main street which included places like Ollivander’s wand shop, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezies, and Gringott’s bank.

Lastly, we entered a dark room where a model of the Hogwarts castle and grounds that was used for the long shots in the films was on display. From there we entered the gift shop and that marked the end of the tour. The gift shop itself was just as impressive as the studios. There were hundreds of items to buy, from house robes and scarves to chocolate frogs and wands. Unfortunately, most items were expensive so I walked out with only a scarf, a mug, and key ring.

Verdict: It was a truly magical experience. The amount of work and effort that went into making the Harry Potter films really impressed me. I thought I knew everything there was to know about Harry Potter but I learnt a lot in visiting the studios. The fun facts provided in this review are courtesy of the super friendly studio staff, most of whom were extras in the films. I rate this tour 5/5; it’s definitely a must-see for any fan and definitely worth its price. Best part is that I can finally say that I’ve been to Hogwarts 😉

P.s: A new set, platform 9 & ¾, is expected to open March 19th!

Are you a Harry Potter fan? Have you been to the Harry Potter Studios or theme park? Let me know your thoughts and make sure to check out the gallery below xx

Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Oxford: Day Trip

While on vacation in London a few months ago, my sister and I decided to get out of the city for a day to visit Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, and Oxford with Evan Evans Tours. I highly recommend it to anyone looking to discover more of England besides London, as it takes you through the vast countryside and far away from the chaos of the city. I wish I’d had time to do another tour, the company has a variety of options and I was very happy with the service. All up, the tour cost 84 pounds per person but because I was a student I paid 79 pounds.

First stop: Windsor Castle

I’ve always been fascinated with the British Royal Monarchy. Monarchies in general greatly interest me and it was nice to see the British monarchy still thriving till this day, given that many monarchies around the world have dissolved or are slowly dissolving.

While the Queen resides in Buckingham Palace on weekdays, she likes to spend her weekends at Windsor Castle and I can understand why. It is truly magnificent. The architecture is breathtaking and just being on the grounds takes you back in time.

We were given some time to roam around and were pleased to see that much of the Castle’s interior is open to visitors although photography is banned in most rooms. After watching the changing of the guard ceremony, we made our way to St. George’s Chapel where many monarchs are buried. We then visited the State Apartments and got a quick glimpse of Queen Mary’s Doll House (easily my favourite piece in the Castle) before making our way back to the coach.

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Second stop: Stonehenge

What’s intriguing about the Stonehenge is the mystery behind its formation. The impeccably large stones were placed in the middle of nowhere with nothing but endless green fields surrounding them. The only way to get to the site is by shuttle bus, and we were given about an hour to spend there. We were provided with audio guides to use as we walked around the site, but after about 20 minutes my sister and I were ready to leave. Although it’s unlikely I’ll return, I’m glad I got to see this landmark up close and was able to take plenty of nice photos. It’s certainly a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, however, I don’t believe it’s worth an entire day trip on its own.

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Third stop: Oxford

This charming town was definitely the highlight of my day. After a 30 minute walking tour we were given about two hours of free time. It wasn’t nearly enough to see all that Oxford has to offer, I wish we’d had more time there. Nonetheless, we made the most of it.

Oxford is known for its high academic standard and there’s a university at just about every corner. It’s not unusual to see students walking around in their formal dress robes. For the Harry Potter fans, the town looks a little like Hogwarts and I was delighted to learn that many scenes from the Harry Potter films were shot in Oxford, as per the request of J.K. Rowling.

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Have you been to Windsor Castle, Stonehenge, or Oxford? What were your thoughts?

6 Misconceptions About London

After finally visiting London this past summer and experiencing firsthand what it’s like to live there, I can now say that not all of my expectations were met. I managed to crush a few stereotypes and misconceptions during my stay, but hey at least I became a more informed individual in the process.

1. The Size of London: The city of London is actually very small covering an area of only 1.12 square miles with a population of less than 15,000 people (2010 estimate). Nowadays when people speak of London what they are really referring to is the Greater London area which consists of many boroughs and 8.1 million people (2011 estimate).
 
2. Tower Bridge is Not Falling Down: When I first arrived in London I couldn’t help but notice the extravagant Tower Bridge. Of course, I was quick to assume it was the bridge that the popular ‘London Bridge is Falling Down’ song speaks of, but in fact that was another simple, less extravagant, boring bridge. Bummer.
 
3. The Weather Isn’t THAT Bad: While I was in London the weather was surprisingly pleasant. Some may disagree considering I was there in June; others may say I got lucky, but after speaking with some locals they shared the same opinion. It’s true they experience harsher winters than other cities but during the spring and summer months temperatures can reach a high of 25 degrees Celsius. I wore short sleeve clothing each day of my stay, only throwing a jacket on after the sun set and it got a bit chilly. Note to self: with so much to do in London, you can’t let the weather bring you down and you most definitely cannot use it as an excuse to not go out (Well, maybe sometimes but not always).
 
4. Openness of the Royal Family: Being a tourist, I was surprised at how much the royal family allows us to see. Large sections of the royal palaces and castles are open to tourists; even the crown jewels are on display for all to see. While tourists pay a price to visit these landmarks, I can’t imagine the security concerns that they are faced with each day.
 
5. The Red Uniformed Guards: I’ve watched countless movies where people attempt to make the royal palace guards laugh since they are required to be serious and keep a straight face all the time. When I was at Windsor Castle a group of teenage Spanish tourists were laughing at one of the guards and a police officer approached them and told them off for being disrespectful. It’s a great honor to be asked to defend the sovereign of the country, only front line armed forces can do so therefore it’s best to just take a photo and not linger around and poke fun at them.
 
6. For The Love of Tea: Many people tend to associate British people with high tea intake but while I was there I saw people drinking more beer and coffee than I did tea. Maybe I was going to the wrong places but tea is simply not as popular in England as foreigners make it out to be.
 
Do you agree with this list? Is there anything you can add? Let me know in the comment section below.