London Day 8 – This way to the Ministry of Magic

This was our last day in London and my last full day in the UK after two months. It was a really amazing experience to work and live abroad for a summer and I’m really grateful for this opportunity. 

We spent our last day on a tour scoping out more Harry Potter spots and going walking around the shopping districts before everything closed at 6. 

This way to the Ministry of Magic
This way to the Ministry of Magic

The Harry Potter walking tour we took went to a lot of major tourist places that were significant to the films as well as some more hidden areas around the city. In addition to the landmarks that the Death Eaters destroy, we saw 2 different entrances to both the Ministry of Magic and Diagon Alley which were used in various movies. This picture is where the telephone booth was located and the toilets are somewhere in the City of London near Leadenhall Market. 

Remy is going to Hogwarts too!
Remy is going to Hogwarts too!

The tour ended up at King’s Cross Station that has a fake Platform 9 3/4 for people to take pictures with. The queue was about 45 min long but I did eventually get to take my picture running into the wall. There were two little girls who brought their own stuffed animals to take with them to Hogwarts and they were so cute! There’s also a Harry Potter store nearby the wall with the cart that sells slightly different stuff than the store at the studio tour.  

Lego bus stop outside of Hamley's
Lego bus stop outside of Hamleys

After attempting to go to Hogwarts, we headed down to Oxford Street to get some shopping in before we left. We went to Selfridge’s that looked nothing like the PBS show about the department store as well as Hamleys which is a giant toy store located along Regent Street. The store was packed with families looking for toys and the aisles were full of employees demonstrating toys. I wish I knew about this place earlier!

Last dinner!
Last dinner!

For the last dinner we headed back to South Kensington and had pasta at a restaurant called Loves by the museums. Each table had a tablet to order your meal from and it even allowed you to choose between al dente and soft pasta. It wasn’t exactly British but it was a good way to finish off my two months in the UK!

 

London Day 7 – A trip down Abbey Road and Harry Potter Land!

I’m a huge Harry Potter fan so one of the things I knew I needed to do was to visit the Harry Potter studio tour in Leavesden. It was definitely worth it and pretty much exceeded all of my expectations! We changed our date about a month before so we got an evening ticket but we ended up staying almost till closing. Since we went so late, we visited some of the museums in the South Kensington area, went to the Borough Market, and walked across the famous Abbey Road.  

 

macaron meringue from the Borough Market
macaron meringue from the Borough Market

After museum hopping we went to the Borough Market for lunch. It was really really crowded but the food was worth it. I had a halloumi veggie burger as well that was pretty tasty. I had been wanting to buy one of these for a while because they looked so cool and I discovered that it’s pretty much a puff of crunchy sugar. Not too sure what else I was expecting. 

Everyone trying to cross Abbey Road
Everyone trying to cross Abbey Road

Abbey Road is located a few blocks from the exit to St. John’s Wood. The street crossing was crowded with tourists like us trying to take pictures walking across the street as cars angrily honked at everyone trying to cross. It was probably the only spot that we visited that hadn’t really been capitalized on by companies looking to make money and it was refreshing and fun to visit. The studios are located across the street and are covered in Beatles themed graffiti. The signs that say “Abbey Road” are kind of hard to find. I’m guessing it’s because so many people have tried to steal them. If you look high up (like almost to the second story) on the surrounding buildings you’ll be sure to spot one. 

Diagon Alley!
Diagon Alley!

The Harry Potter studio tour was probably the highlight of my entire trip! If you go be sure to book months in advance especially for weekends because they sell out fast! It was really nice that they controlled the amount of people they let in so there weren’t suffocating crowds everywhere. The first part of the tour takes you through some sets, props, and costumes used in the making of the movies and the second part leads you through the creature shop and right down the real Diagon Alley! It was really impressive to see everything up close and in real life. A lot of things that looked computer generated were actually real like the door to the Chamber of Secrets and the door to Bellatrix’s Gringotts vault. 

HOGWARTS
HOGWARTS

The last surprise is the real Hogwarts itself! They used a model for all the external shots so there’s a giant room that houses the entire school! It was really cool to see it in person and it was extremely breathtaking and beautiful. Pictures really don’t do it justice. You need to come see it for yourself.

London Day 6 – Day Trip

On Friday we took a day trip out west to see a few famous landmarks outside of London. We visited Winsdor Castle, the Roman Baths, and Stonehenge with a tour. These places were pretty far apart so most of the day was spent riding in a bus.

Windsor Castle
Windsor Castle

We started off the morning at Windsor Castle which was about a 45 minute drive outside of London. Because it’s the residence of the queen, the only areas open are the estate rooms, doll house, painting gallery, and the church. The rooms were ornately decorated like how you’d expect a castle to be but apparently it was originally built more for defense than for luxury living. We didn’t have much time here so we just saw the estate rooms and left.

The Roman Baths and Bath Abbey
The Roman Baths and Bath Abbey

After we drove about two hours to Bath. The city was really lovely and I kind of regretted not going by myself earlier since it’s not too far from Oxford. All the buildings are historic and crafted out of limestone (I think) so the entire town has this sort of ancient feel to it. We spent all our time at the Roman Baths Museum and it was a lot bigger than I thought it would be. The audio guide also had an additional Bill Bryson commentary track which I listened to instead of the regular one. Over the past few weeks, he has become one of my favorite authors and I’m currently trying to read through most of his books. If you visit be sure to try the water at the end!

Stonehenge
Stonehenge

Our last stop before heading back to London was the mysterious Stonehenge. It was pretty interesting to see it in person and up close because it really makes you wonder why and how it was built. The historians think it’s part of some type of burial ground but it must’ve taken some kind of massive effort to complete it. This place was also really nice because of the fact that it wasn’t suffocatingly swarming with people. The open areas surrounding it made Stonehenge a really nice place to visit.

London? Day 5 – Return to Oxford

I went back to Oxford to show my parents around town and visit the Mini factory. I finally got to go to some of the places that I hadn’t been to yet too. We started off at ChristChurch College, climbed up to the cupola at the Sheldonian, and visited New College. After we went to the Mini Factory for a tour of their production facilities and had dinner at Eagle and Child. 

View from the Sheldonian Theater
View from the Sheldonian Theater

Due to all the graduations and ceremonies going on during the weekends I never had the chance to visit the Sheldonian Theater. It was smaller inside than what I pictured but the view from the cupola was fantastic. It was pretty much a 360 degree view of spires topping all of the campus buildings.  

Furry Car
Furry Car

After visiting some of the campus buildings, we took the bus down to the Oxford industrial park to the BMW Mini Factory. They had a showroom of various artistic takes on the car and the best one was this “Pet Mini” covered in cow fur. There was even an Olympics car and the car from Austin Powers. The factory was pretty neat and it was completely automated. There were robotic arms everywhere so it kind of looked like the rise of the machines or something. 

The Eagle and Child pub
The Eagle and Child pub

One of the places I had always wanted to go to but never did was this pub that was the favorite hang out of famous authors such as JR Tolkein and CS Lewis. The inside was pretty narrow and dark but full of history. All of the furniture looked like it was from a hundred years ago and the books and pictures lining the walls were antiques. It was probably the first pub I had been to that seemed like what I envisioned a pub to look like. The cider and veggie burger were delicious as well!

London Day 4 – Westminster to the West End

We continued our journey around London starting at Westminster Abbey then took a ferry to the lovely maritime town of Greenwich. From there, we took the rail to the Beatles store on Baker Street and continued on to the West End to see the Book of Mormon! 

Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey

Westminster Abbey was probably the largest church I’ve ever seen and by far the most historic. It took me a little while to realize that the abbey is basically a giant crypt for England’s most illustrious people. There are effigies of deceased nobility everywhere and hundreds of stones on the ground that note the people buried underneath them. It was really weird to think that we were just walking over the graves of some of the greatest people in British history including Darwin. I’m not a huge fan of creepy things so I admittedly went through as fast as I could. 

The Cutty Sark
The Cutty Sark

After leaving the Abbey we took a ferry from Westminster Pier that stopped off at the Tower of London and Greenwich. Since we had already been to the Tower of London, we decided to take the boat all the way to the home of the Prime Meridian. Along the way, the captain made jokes and pointed out places of interest along the side of the river such as Ian McKellen’s house, some super expensive hotels, and a pub called the Mayflower which was actually the place from where the pilgrims set off to come to America. After landing in Greenwich, we were greeted by the Cutty Sark which was an old tea ship that used to sail around the world. 

The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval Academy
The Painted Hall at the Old Royal Naval Academy

The Old Royal Naval Academy in Greenwich has a beautiful painted hall and is free to enter. There are mirrors located along the center of the room that allow you to look up without straining your neck. There’s also papers with descriptions of who everyone is on the ceiling and on the far wall. I think the hall and the neighboring chapel are actually part of the University of Greenwich. After, we went to the covered market, got some really good teri salmon, and picnicked on the school grounds. 

The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theater
The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales Theater

We then took the tube up to Baker Street where there’s a Beatles shop as well as the Sherlock Holmes Museum. There was a super long line of middle schoolers in colorful jackets leading up to the museum so we didn’t have the chance go to in. After, we went to the West End which is the theater district to see The Book of Mormon. I think this was honestly the best and most ridiculous musical I’ve ever seen and it’s totally worth seeing. The theater was packed on a Wednesday evening and for good reason. 

London Day 2 – Royalty and Rock

On the second day we took an open top bus tour, saw the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, went on a walking tour of spots made famous by various rock musicians around London, and visited Kensington Palace. 

Tower Bridge
Tower Bridge

The open top bus tour took us to pretty much every major site around the city. We saw everything from Trafalgar Square to Tower Bridge. The whole tour took about 2 hours but it can vary depending on traffic. This would be really good if you only have a few days to visit London. 

Changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace
Changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace

We got to Buckingham Palace about 15 min before the changing of the guard started and the place was already super packed. The area to actually see the changing of the guard was completely full and the only available viewing spots were alongside the road leading up to the palace. Apparently it’s really popular in the summer because that’s the only time the full ceremony takes place with the band and the horses and everything. We could hear them playing “Thriller” inside the palace gates but it was way too crowded to go up and watch. 

The Spirit of Soho
The Spirit of Soho

A lot of sites related to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones are hidden away in London Alleyways. The studio used to record “Hey Jude” is actually not Abbey Road but one in Soho. This mural is called “The Spirit of Soho” and if you come on the hour you can see Karl Marx drinking a can of Coca Cola. 

Kensington Palace
Kensington Palace

Our last stop was Kensington Palace which is now the home of Will and Kate. Unfortunately you can only see the older parts of the Palace though. I left pretty confused about who was related to who and what the royal lineage was. There were so many different parts of the palace attributed to so many different queens and kings. 

Last Days in Oxford

Quickly my five weeks have come to an end and it’s time to move on to more adventures. I used the past few days to see and do all the things I’ve been putting off for the past few weeks (sadly we never got to go punting).

First English style breakfast
First English style breakfast

Started off the morning with a flat white at Quarter Horse and learned that espresso drinks in England are comparable to the size of a double shot glass. We paid a final trip to the East Oxford Farmer’s market behind Tesco and headed down to the Magic Cafe on Magdalen Road. I had my first English style breakfast and was absolutely stuffed after. 

Magdalen College Chapel
Magdalen College Chapel

After saying goodbye to my friends, I attempted to gain free access to all the colleges I could after being inspired by our tour at Cambridge. I think the most impressive one was Magdalen with its beautiful chapel that housed not only these super cool statues but several monochrome/sepia stained glass windows, a statue of someone lying in a coffin, and a giant painting of the Last Supper hanging on the wall. 

Insider’s tip to Oxford is that it’s best to visit on a weekday if you come in the summer. A lot of the colleges close their grounds to visitors because of weddings on the weekend. Not even university staff are allowed in. 

Finally got to walk on the grass at Trinity College
Finally got to walk on the grass at Trinity College

After many weeks of staring from the outside in at this beautiful lawn of grass, I finally got to enjoy the one lawn that people are allowed to walk on in front of Trinity college. It was as glorious as an experience as I thought it would be. I had to really restrain myself from rolling around on the green carpet because I didn’t want to cause a scene…

The spires at sunset
The spires at sunset

This is the view down High Street in front of Magdalen College at sunset. I’ve really had a nice time in this beautiful city but it’s goodbye for now and on to more adventures!

Cambridge Day Trip

On Tuesday we had the opportunity to go visit our intern counterparts at Cambridge and we got the chance to learn more about what they’re working on. We also had a lovely tour from one of the staff there who was very well informed about Cambridge. 

Look at the beautiful grass!
Look at the beautiful grass!

We started off by going through a bunch of the colleges. I honestly don’t remember the names of them but they all had these beautiful lawns that I really wanted to run across. There were keep off the grass signs everywhere (I think more so than Oxford) to preserve the beautiful checkerboard of grass that was the centerpiece of every quad. 

King's College Chapel
King’s College Chapel

This was undoubtably the most beautiful building we visited on our tour. The King’s College Chapel was seriously impressive and beautiful! Luckily we got free entrance into all the colleges courtesy of the Cambridge sustainability staff. We visited a few other colleges as well but this was by far my favorite. It really inspired me to attempt to go college hopping at Oxford (I’ve only been to the ones that were Harry Potter sets) but alas they’re almost always closed or holding some sort of wedding when I’m not at work. 

Punters on the Cam
Punters on the Cam

In the back of the colleges is the famous River Cam where everyone goes punting down. Apparently students try to climb over the bridges and jump back down on their punt while they go down the river. There were a bunch of students ferrying around tourists and a bunch of people punting their own boats and trying not to fall in. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to go punting at Cambridge but I still want to try it out before I leave Oxford!

Oxfordshire

For those of you who don’t know Oxford is actually part of a larger area called Oxfordshire. Since it’s our last full weekend here I decided to take a few day trips around the shire to some places that were suggested by our coworkers and other students. Unfortunately there were no Hobbits.

Front row seats on the double decker bus to Bicester Village
Front row seats on the double decker bus to Bicester Village

On Saturday some friends and I decided to check out the outlets at Bicester Village which is about 20min north by bus from Oxford. We got lucky and snagged the front seats on the S5 coach that we caught near the Ashmolean. It was pouring rain the entire time we were there and all the stores were designer brands. It was admittedly much classier than any outlet mall that I’ve ever been to in the states but the conversion rates made everything much more expensive. Nothing was within our budget range but we had some awesome gelato before we left. 

A view of the Cotswolds from Wytham Woods
A view of the Cotswolds from Wytham Woods

Another thing I was told to do here in Oxford is to go visit the Cotswolds. I spent a long time trying to figure out exactly where this Cotswolds place was only to find out that it was the name for the entire region left of Oxford. We got the chance to visit the university research woods earlier in the week and this view is basically the start of the Cotswolds. 

Secret entrance to the palace grounds
Secret entrance to the palace grounds

One of the closest towns that’s considered a Cotswolds Village is Woodstock, which is not the music festival venue but the home of Winston Churchill. A few weeks ago one of my coworkers mentioned a back entrance to Woodstock’s famous Blenheim Palace and I managed to find one of the public rights of access by searching online. The admission charges are steep but you can have full access to the gardens behind the palace through this gate for free! Some locals were there to help me open the gate (you need to twist the handle) and I got to explore the lovely grounds. This gate is located off of Oxford Road a little past the main shopping area and down the hill. Look for the Black Prince Pub and a green gate that says “95”. 

Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace

This place was probably as extravagant as Versailles but I didn’t go in so I don’t really know… Walking around the grounds and looking in from the outside were well worth the 10 mile bike ride from the city though.