Monday, September 14, 2015

An American Family in Europe: Day 13, Oxford and Harry Potter Studio Tour

(Previously: Day 12, Warwick Castle)

I didn't know what to expect out of Oxford. Many people had suggested we go, some with a passionate, "Oh, you gotta go to Oxford."

But still, it's a college, and it's not like we would go there and attend class. So what would we see?  I wasn't sure.

I had imagined, since we were arriving on a Monday morning, that we might find Oxford kind of sleepy.  I sure didn't expect the fleets of sightseeing buses and hoards of tourist groups that we found. OK, Oxford's not just a college, it's the college and a lot of people like us just gotta go there.  Apparently.

Parking was a hefty 12 pounds at the Oxpens parking lot on the edge of town, but that was cheaper than roundtrip fares into town on the bus for the four of us.

I had booked an "official" 2-hour Oxford tour for our family, for 29 pounds total, and it's a good thing I made reservations. They were sold out when we arrived at the busy Oxford Visitor Information Centre.

Our guide, Victoria, did a nice job, covering a lot of ground, showing us various colleges, libraries, courtyards and architectural curiosities. It reminded me a bit of Bath.  It was interesting to see, but honestly it didn't wow me. One thing Oxford lacks: A centerpiece. The school is divided into individual colleges, but could use a big quad, or central plaza.

We had lunch in a small cafe, and then walked to Oxford's Natural History Museum, which is free. It has a nice mix of fossils, artifacts and historical displays. I also liked that they have, get this, chairs sprinkled around the museum. How many times are you walking around a museum and thinking, "Geez, I just wish I could sit down and rest my feet for a bit." Yet how often is there a place to sit?

Even with the many chairs, we didn't stay long at the museum, because we had to a date with Harry Potter.

We drove to Watford, north of London, for our 6 p.m. Warner Bros. Harry Potter studio tour. This attraction sells out, so I had made this reservation weeks earlier. Total cost for our family of four: 101 pounds (about $157).

We got a little lost getting there and went to the gate for the actual studio. The guard was nice enough in pointing us in  the right direction. "You're not the first and you won't be the last," he said.

We got in the door at 6:10 and got in line, and at 6:40 we were heading into the attraction (so note that even with a reservation you may still have a little wait). First, we were led into Hogwarts' Great Hall, the actual set used in the movies. It's big, but not as big as it appears in the movies.

From there, we could wander into a selection of actual sets from the movies. This was cool, and you could see the amazing attention to details. For example, in the potions lab there were over 100 bottles of ... well, something weird-looking. Each one of those had to be individually created and labeled.

I was impressed by how for so many scenes the moviemakers made full-size props of unusual beasts or monsters. With so much possible these days with computer animation, it would seem tempting to create illusions digitallly instead.

Elsewhere in the complex you can see the Hogwarts Express train, Diagon Alley, and the cart going into the wall at Track 9 3/4. There were various displays and videos showing how certain tricks were accomplished in the movies, like flying on broomsticks. About halfway through, there's a snack room where you can get "Butterbeer" -- it's pricy, but I gotta admit it's good. Sort of a deep butterscotch flavor.

The final room features a huge model of Hogwarts.

While there were certainly plenty of other visitors there, there so much to look at, I never felt particularly crowded. We spent about two and 40 minutes here.

We went back to our Premier Inn for a good night's sleep.

Next: Day 14, this is London

The full trip, by day: 

Days 1 and 2, Los Angeles to Paris

Day 3, Paris

Day 4, the Palace of Versailles

Day 5, the Eiffel Tower

Day 6, Goodbye France, hello England

Day 7, Windsor Castle & Stonehenge

Day 8, Bath

Day 9, Doctor Who and Swansea's LC

Day 10, the waterfalls of Wales

Day 11, Blists Hill and Ironbridge

Day 12, Warwick Castle

Day 13, Oxford and Harry Potter Studio Tour

Day 14, this is London

Day 15, British Museum and British Library

Day 16, the Tube goes on strike

Day 17, Greenwich, the Thames and Westminster Abbey

Day 18, the Tower of London

Day 19, heading home  


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