Harry Potter Studio Tour

Well, this is a bit embarrassing, isn’t it? Sorry for the long pause between my last post and this one. New semester of grad school started up and I’ve been eyeball deep in books for reading. Not a great excuse, but that’s about it. Anywho. This is a post I have been so excited to share with everyone.

To give a small reminder, I was in London in December. One of the most exciting things that I did was the Harry Potter Studio Tour at WB Studios right outside London. If you have never been, I highly recommend going. They have sets, costumes, props, and so many other things for you to explore. I think it was well worth the money to go.

You do have to prebook your tickets and select a time, so I would say you should do that well in advance. I think I booked mine four months before going just so I could have the most times to choose from. You also need to allot between three and four hours to complete the tour. Only a small part of it is guided (the beginning), so I also recommend you get the audio guide. When I booked, I got a ticket that included the audio guide (£5 normally if I’m remembering right) and a souvenir booklet (around £15 in the gift shop). While the tickets were more expensive, I think it was worth it.

In August of last year, I went to the Brussels Exhibition which had the traveling Harry Potter exhibit. There were a lot of similarities between that exhibit and this one, but the studio tour had so much more to offer. While it isn’t necessary to see something like that, I was glad that I had as I had an idea of what to expect at the larger tour.

Honestly, the tour was absolutely amazing. My friend and I had so much fun finding out the facts about the movies, seeing the amazing costumes and sets, and just nerding out a little inside. I think one of the more fun things we did was the green screen photos. We were given robes and took a picture (which we purchased later). It’s a pretty funny picture. I also took the opportunity to “ride” a broom through London. This was also done on a green screen. I didn’t buy the video, but it was a lot of fun to experience it.

The highlight of the tour, though, was the butterbeer. Throughout the years, I have seen recipes for homemade butter beer. I have even tasted some (but never made it). None of them compare to the actual butterbeer they served in their cafe. It was absolutely delicious and I thoroughly enjoyed it, which you can definitely tell in the pictures of me taking my first sip (included below).

Overall, what’s not to love about the studio tour? I got to learn more about one of my favorite series, see items from the movies up close, tried butter beer for the first time, and just thoroughly had a good time. I highly recommend it to anyone in the area.

As a side note, it’s fairly easy to get to the tour also. It is about an hour or so outside London, but there are a few options to get there. We ended up taking an Uber simply because the cost wasn’t that much different from taking the train (when we were there at least) and it was easier for us overall. You can also take the train and then hop a bus from the train station to takes you to and from the studio tour. You can’t miss the bus as it is covered with Harry Potter related things. You just need to check the studio tour site for specific information on how to get there from London by rail.

Ah, London Town

Before delving too deeply into my most recent excursion to London, I do feel the need to specify something fairly important. This trip is the first that I have handled planning mostly on my own and done on my own. Yes, I flew to Korea by myself. But Jon was at the other end waiting for me. With this one, I was on my own when I landed in Heathrow. Granted, I am very familiar with London, so getting to my hotel wasn’t overly difficult. But it was still nerve-wracking.

I arrived the day before my friend from the States did, so I had the joy of finding the hotel and figuring out my relation to everything. I really didn’t do too much that first night, just checked into our hotel (Grange Rochester by Victoria) and made my way to Oxford Street for shopping. Since it was Christmas, I hoped to knock out some gifts for people. I’m ashamed to admit that everything I bought there was for me, but that’s mainly because it was somewhat late, crowded, and cold.

Oxford Street, however, was beautiful. They strung Christmas lights and it was just magical all around. The first time I visited London, I was introduced to Oxford Street by my friend Erica. She took me into Top Shop, showed me the end at Hyde Park, and a few other things. So it was fun and interesting to compare this experience with that one. Honestly, it was vastly different. I don’t remember too much about Oxford Street except that it was busy and had a lot of shops. This time I let myself wander a bit (and find Lush) before heading to Covent Garden for dinner.

The next day, I met Lindsey at the airport, dropped her at the room, and then went to Westminster Abbey. I hadn’t visited it to this point, so I was excited to delve into it since I knew there is a special little place inside called Poet’s Corner. Besides the price (£20, ew), it was well worth it. I remember seeing it when William and Kate married, so it was cool being where they were that day. The audio guides are free, so I definitely recommend grabbing one before starting your tour otherwise you can try to book a guided tour or just wander with no guidance.

The Abbey is stunning and, unfortunately, guests are not allowed to take photos of the inside. So I don’t have anything to show you for it. But, let me tell you, Poet’s Corner lives up to everything I imagined. They have a beautiful floor mural that honors some of the most famous British authors. Then, the walls are covered in busts and memorial’s to some of the same as well as different authors. It is awe-inspiring. I sat down for a little bit to come to terms with being somewhere I taught about and that is full of so much history.

It was disappointing that I not only could not take pictures, but that they didn’t have a postcard in the gift shop of that floor mural, so I had to settle for a Shakespeare postcard (and what a way to settle, right?). I also picked up a few other knick-knacks before taking some more touristy pictures outside and heading back to the hotel. Lindsey and I did do something that night, but it deserves its own post because it was epic. Just know that it was…magical.

Overall, London is one of those places that I just love returning to. While planning out what I wanted to do while I was there by myself, I came across so many different things I still haven’t visited. I definitely plan to return to London at some point to try and knock some more off my list.

Round Four of England

If you follow me on Instagram or are even a friend with me on Facebook, then you know that in December I went to England. Again. I just can’t stay away. In August, I started planning a trip with a friend from graduate for a week in England. She stayed longer than I did–about a week and a half–but it was so much fun.

Once we agreed to meet up, it came down to flights, travel dates, and tourist attractions to visit. We started in London and then went to Oxford. After we finished in Oxford, I came back home to Germany. But, she continued to Edinburgh. I am so jealous of her trip there, to be honest. I have to visit Scotland soon!

Anywho, back on topic. We planned what we hoped would be an absolutely amazing trip. And, let me tell you, it was. I’m not going to go into too much detail about everything here. This post is just to whet the appetite for more. I mainly want to talk about how we got around.

London has the obvious Tube to utilize. We also used Uber for one part of our trip in London, but more on that later. While researching transit options to, from, and in Oxford, my friend came across the Oxford Bus Company. We were discussing taking the train to Oxford as it would be about an hour and some change to get there. The price was just a bit of a problem. Unless we left super early, we pay through the nose.

Enter Oxford Bus Company. They have a bus that runs from London to Oxford and back. A round trip ticket is £20. Because of that, great reviews, ease of loading, and time on the bus, we decided to go that route. It was a nice change from riding a train. We got to see more of the English country side and even see parts of London we hadn’t seen before. Honestly, though, because of price, I don’t think it ultimately matters about the scenery.

This same bus company also operates some local buses in the Oxford area. There is an app for it–search Oxford Bus Company–that you can search stops, timetables, and prices in. You can even purchase your tickets and have an e-ticket instead of a paper one or buying one from the driver. We were pretty lucky, also, that there was a stop right around the corner from our Airbnb. That made getting into Central Oxford a breeze since it would take about 20-25 minutes to walk there.

Really and truly, I think this particular trip was one of the easier ones for getting around. We didn’t have too many issues getting around and figuring out the transit. And, ultimately, by utilizing more of the public transit, we were able to save some precious money that we put towards other things, like food, souvenirs, and tickets to exhibits.

These Boots Were Made for Walking…

YORK SERIES 3

As promised, here is part 3 of my York series. To recap, last weekend (first weekend of July), Jon had a four day weekend off from work and we ended up going to York for it. I’m so glad we did. While we did a lot and felt like we could use a weekend to recover from our weekend, we so thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We will definitely look into going back at some point.

The first thing we did upon arriving in York (after checking in and finding food) was go to the office that sells York Passes to buy one. If you’re not aware of what this is, most major cities have a version of this. Essentially what it is is a pass you can get in varying day lengths (anywhere from 1 to 3 or even longer) that will get you free or discounted admission into museums and attractions in the city you’re visiting. Depending on what you want to do, this can be a major money saver. You have to pay out on the front end, but by the time you finish your sight-seeing, it will have paid for itself. We definitely saved quite a bit of money with it. We also lucked out that our passes (we got a 2 day pass) included a free ticket for each of us to the York Hop-on/Hop-off Sightseeing Tour (that I mentioned here we went on).

There is so much that I want to tell you about our trip! I feel like fully going into everything might bore people though. So, I’m going to include a list of sorts of the places we went (with pictures if they were allowed) and what we enjoyed about each place.

York Minster
img-0024_1This was such an amazing place to visit. It was filled with things from the Mystery Plays they had going on at that point, but it was still beautiful. We got there towards the end of the day, so we were also fortunate enough to hear their choir practice and part of their Evensong service. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite like being in a church that old with a choir that impressive (especially considering the size; they were fairly small).

We also, much to my torture, walked to the top of the tower here. In case you were unaware, that is 275 steps up a tower as well as a walk across a very windy walk way to get to the second part of the stairs. However, let me tell you, though my legs might have been angry at me for that special kind of torture, the views up there were amazing. If you ever have the opportunity to go, you should (even though you might feel like you will die going up).


 

Walls Around York

img-0055This was free. There are several sections of the original wall open for people to walk along throughout the center of the city. There was an entrance very close to where we were staying, so when we got up Sunday morning, we went up the stairs and decided to go for a walk. All together, it’s about 3.4 kilometers (just over 2 miles) to walk the entire thing. It was rather impressive to walk the walls. You could almost imagine what people in the past saw when they looked over it. One gate in particular was neat to visit (can’t remember which one) because it had the portcullis still up in the wall. It was the main gate if I remember right, so we could almost see invading armies coming up through there and being stopped by the gate.

We also visited the next exhibit I’m going to discuss, the Richard III experience. This was located in one of the gates and dealt with, you guessed it, Richard III. If you’re a history buff, this is the place for you. They detailed his rise and fall to power. They also had some helmets that people could try one (which we did, with hilarious results). We could have also done the Henry VIII experience, but we forgot about it a little in trying to see some of the other sites.

York’s Chocolate Story

What is life without chocolate? It would be pretty said in my opinion. We went to the chocolate museum (essentially) that York has. I honestly had no idea that some of the most well known chocolate bars originated in York. This was essentially a walking tour of the origins of chocolate (all the way back to the Mayans and their interesting drink of water and cocoa with chili powder) to today. We got to sample chocolate along the way and then make our own chocolate lollipops. It was delicious.


 

York Art Gallery
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This was a nice experience. Jon says I don’t seem too jazzed about stuf
f like this (to a point I’m not), but they did have a nice facility and collection. I did particularly enjoy the exhibit on the ground floor of the museum as it dealt with World War I and was incredibly moving. Worth a visit if you’re going anytime soon.

Clifford’s Tower (pictured in photo at the top)

When we got here, it was windy and a bit cold, but it was still worth the visit (even with the massive amount of steps we climbed). You could see a good bit of York stretched out in front of you. After our visit here, we popped right over to the York Castle Museum.

This museum was pretty cool because it outlined a lot of different parts of York’s history. It outlined the prison history as well as the history of the area. We got to see replicas of items from various time periods as well as actual items. We saw the history of toys, the prison, the 60s, and a few other things.

The York Dungeon

This is one experience I was really worried about if I’m being honest. I’ve never done well with haunted houses and these types of places are usually like a haunted house. I was mainly worried it would be one of those places where you got touched by random actors throughout. Thankfully, that was not the case. It was a very interactive experience that walked you through some of the grisly bits of York’s history, starting with the Viking and Anglo-Saxons and right on up to around Guy Fawke’s time. It was a lot of fun and I was glad we went after we were done. We even got a pretty nifty souvenir picture to commemorate being there.


 

York Ghost Bus

img-0048We went on this on a lark and it was fun, but it also wasn’t quite what we expected. When you think of a ghost walk or a ghost tour, you think of going to various places and they mentioning the hauntings that happen there. That wasn’t quite what this was. That was thrown in with a little bit of humor and some other tricks, but it had a lot more history than anything. While I enjoy history, I was a bit disappointed there wasn’t more ghostly business going on since that was what I was expecting.

York Boat

This was something that we hadn’t really planned on going on, but when Erica (and super cute son Riley) came to York to see us for the day, we thought that it would be something fun to go on. And, it was. The day was nice (though it looked a bit nasty by the time we finished our ride) and it allowed us to all just enjoy the ride. And, it was pretty child and stroller friendly.

Those are the main places we visited. I tried to give an overview of what we did without going into too much detail, though, if you want to know more, don’t hesitate to ask me. I definitely think York is a place we will look into visiting again to hit up some of the other things we didn’t do. And, honestly, the highlight of the trip for me was being able to see Erica and meet Riley and having some familiarity in this very unfamiliar journey that Jon and I are embarking on.

Until next time, my friends.


Just Another Plane Weekend

JUST ANOTHER
As promised, here’s the second part of my York series. You can thank my husband for the catchy title (I’m notoriously bad at naming things). He even helped pick which picture I’d use! Any who, let’s get on to the reason you’re all here: our travels. The main bulk of this will be the travel itself with a bit of the touristy things thrown in. The bulk of the touristy things will come out later this weekend, so stay tuned!

To get to England, there was a variety of options: plane, train, or automobile (hehe). Seriously though, those were our options. Since neither of us has an international license that will work outside of Germany, the driving option was out. We weren’t too keen on spending the better part of a day on a train to get there. So, that left a flight. Honestly, that was probably the best option. Price wise, it wasn’t too different. When you take into account the price of gas and the ferry ticket or a train ticket, it all would work itself out in the end.

We initially booked our trip through British Airways into London City Airport. Because of delays associated with that flight, they popped us on a flight into Heathrow. I have to say, after those two flights through British, I feel pretty spoiled. We sat Coach (because we aren’t millionaires, haha) and just had our carry-on luggage. Overall, it was a nice experience. There was plenty of leg room and the seats themselves were pretty decent. The staff was also incredibly friendly to everyone on board. The flights were also fairly short: 1.5 hours going to London and about an hour coming back.

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While in the customs line (we were there for an hour about), you can register as a preferred traveller. To do this, you have to meet certain criteria: be over 18, have traveled to Great Britain a certain amount of times, and a few other things. Or, barring that, you can look into becoming a Global Entry passenger. What this allows, same as the preferred traveller, is fast track through customs and you can use EU kiosks or other clearly labeled kiosks in the countries that the US has an agreement with. Check out the Global Entry page for more information. It’s good for 5 years and if you travel a lot, worth the investment. Jon and I will definitely be looking into it.


Anyways, back to our travels! After making it through customs, we got to get on one of my favorite things: the Tube! I’m not sure why, but I absolutely love riding on trains. I think it’s because in the US we don’t really rely on them for travel, so I think it’s a treat. We hopped our tube to King’s Cross, got our tickets to York, picked our train, and off we went!

The train trip was relatively quick, around 2 hours, and it allowed us some recharging time. We left for the airport  around 5 a.m., so we were pretty tired by the time we landed and made it to the train. Let’s just say, while I scrolled FB, Jon passed out.

Upon our arrival in York, we didn’t do anything too fancy. We grabbed a taxi to our lodging, a bed and breakfast called Friar’s Rest (totally awesome stay there by the way), and we walked the majority of the places we went. We did get a ticket to the hop on/hop off site-seeing bus that did a loop around the city so we could come and go a bit quicker to certain places. It was totally worth it.

One thing we would do different next time we visited is look into a bus pass or ticket. We didn’t really investigate into it too much and just walked the majority of the time (let’s just say, we definitely earned all the food we ate because of the number of steps we walked and the distance we traveled because of it). However, much like a larger city has a well oiled public transit system, York did as well. We constantly saw buses going everywhere in the city and it probably would have helped our aching feet and legs.

 

Speaking of food, we didn’t branch out too terrible much, but we did try to just find places as we went. Our first visit was to Nando’s (we have to have cheeky Nando’s). If you aren’t aware of what Nando’s is, imagine Bojangles and Wendy’s had a baby. This would be it. They cook primarily chicken (with a few other things if you don’t like chicken) and they add some awesome spices to it. Totally worth a visit. Just know, that you either love Nando’s or are fairly indifferent to it.

For breakfast one morning, we went to a local cafe, Cafe Concerto. Our B&B included breakfast with the price, so we could have gotten a traditional English breakfast there. However, we had that one morning, and while it was lovely, we decided that we definitely wanted to try as many places as we could while in York. That’s how we came across this cafe. I was perusing the map, found one that had a decent breakfast menu and we went for it.

When Erica came for the day, we did go to The York Roast Company, got something to go, and ate it together in the Museum Gardens. That was pretty nice. The day itself was beautiful and it was nice for all of us to have the opportunity to do a bit of catching up (and eat some good food).

For dinner, we ended up going to Gourmet Burger Kitchen which had one of the best burgers I’ve had in a while. If we go back, I’ll definitely try to add some more stuff to it (I went with my usual, plain burger). Jon went whole hog and got a burger with a chili component and he said it was kicking. He said that it might have even been too hot for him to handle even (which is saying a lot considering how much he loves his spice).

I’d love to hear from you with any places we have to visit next time we’re in York or in England in general. Expect the final part of the series out early next week! Cheers!


First Adventure, Done!

PERFECT
Whew! I don’t know about y’all, but I’m exhausted. Jon had a four day weekend this past weekend so we decided to make the most of it and travel somewhere. We threw out loads of places to visit: Italy, Spain, Ireland, Germany, England. You name it, we looked it up. Ultimately, we picked York, England.

Now, you might be sitting there thinking, “York, of all places, you pick York. What could it possibly have to offer?” Well, let me just tell you that it has a ton to offer. I’ll go into more detail in a later post or two about the travel bit and the tourist bit. This post is simply to let you know more is coming and to let you know why we picked it.

First, I bought this amazing guidebook before I left the States. It’s by Lonely Planet and it’s called Europe on a Shoestring. They have literally taken all of Europe and condensed it into this book. Some people might not like that each section is brief (though some are much, much larger than others), but it’s great for an overview of places. And, I figure if I need more info, I can always go buy a specific book for a place.

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My awesome guidebook!
So, just why did we pick York? One reason is no language barrier. It was so nice to be able to (mostly) understand people trying to talk to you. Those accents can be a bit tricky. I’ve gotten to the point in Germany, though I know it’s bad, that I’ve started to tune out background noise of the people talking around me since I know I won’t understand them. Listening and paying attention might help me understand them, but I digress.

On top of the no language barrier, it is a place I’m somewhat familiar with. This was my 3rd visit to England (Jon’s second), so it was familiar territory for both of us and I was definitely wanting something semi-familiar.

And, probably the most important thing, I have friends that I could see if we went to York. So I campaigned hard for a visit there! And, thankfully I got to see one of them (and their super cute son, but more later!)

Honestly, until I cracked this book open, I had no idea there was so much to do in York! There were a plethora of places to visit (free and not free) and it had a really nice shopping district. It is definitely a place to consider visiting again.

I’m going to sign off here so I can plan out my other posts. If there’s anything in particular you’d like me to write about, drop me a line below and I’ll try to include it! My next post will be about the travel aspect of it (including accommodation and probably food) and the one after will be the more touristy bits. Look forward to hearing from you!