British Isles 2015:
Day 15 - London, England


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British Isles 2015: [Day 1 - London] [Day 2 - Dover/Calais] [Day 3 - Southampton] [Day 4 - Guernsey] [Day 5 - Cork] [Day 6 - Dublin] [Day 7 - Liverpool] [Day 8 - Belfast] [Day 9 - Glasgow] [Day 10 - At Sea] [Day 11 - Invergordon] [Day 12 - Edinburgh] [Day 13 - At Sea] [Day 14 - Versailles] [Day 15 - London] [Day 16 - London]

Saturday, August 1, 2015: Southampton looks a little different in the sunshine.

We left another pile of unwanted clothes in the trash bin. Our cabin steward, Michael, was probably a little baffled, but we use vacations as our opportunity to wear old, stained, or worn out clothing for the last time then we discard it so we regain suitcase space for souvenirs.
Disembarkation was very easy and we were dismissed earlier than our assigned time slot.
We met our driver 10 minutes earlier than we had booked, which was nice.
We drove through Southampton ...
... and were at our hotel, the Sheraton Skyline, 80 minutes later. We left our luggage at the front desk, confirmed that we truly would have a room waiting for us, and headed back out.
Debbie had previously found that there was a McDonald's a couple of blocks away, so we headed there to get some breakfast.
Tom ordered a Bacon and Egg McMuffin, and Debbie had a Breakfast Wrap, described as "Sausage, Bacon, Egg, Potato Rosti, Cheese, Ketchup or Brown Sauce all in a Tortilla Wrap." She opted for brown sauce, which tasted a little like Worcestershire sauce.
Let's look inside, shall we? The wrap was exactly as described, and Tom's McMuffin differed from the US version in that it used British bacon instead of the ham-like Canadian bacon we are used to.
We had finally finished our collection of British coins featuring the shield design on the back, courtesy of the front desk clerk at the Skyline, who gave us a new 50p coin for our old one. At the top is the one pound coin, featuring the entire shield design. The back of the 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, and 50p coins fit together to create a shield. Now that our collection was complete and photographed, we could release those coins back into the world.
Next, we needed to get a taxi to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour - The Making of Harry Potter. Instead of walking back to our hotel, we walked to the closest one and asked them to call a taxi for us. It cost us 55 GBP + tip to get there, but coming back only cost us 45 GBP + tip.
The journey was just under 30 minutes. A security guard asked to see our tickets before the taxi was allowed onto the grounds. For an attraction that regularly sells out, there's probably no such thing as just showing up and buying a ticket.
One option for getting here was to take a Hoppa back to Heathrow, a bus into Watford, and then a Harry Potter shuttle from Watford. Estimated time: two hours. No thanks, but it might have been nice to ride on one of the specially-decorated buses.
The other option is to buy the package deal that includes transportation from London on an almost identical bus. Since we were departing the next morning, staying at Heathrow worked out much better for us.
Can you hear the angels singing? We are finally here!
We had arrived much too early for the time slot we had purchased: 1:30 - 2:00. It was only 11:00 AM so we had some time to kill.
This was not a problem because Warner Brothers had three things: free wi-fi, a snack bar with outdoor seating, and the best gift shop ever.
Where to start? Bertie Botts' Every Flavour Beans, perhaps!
Chocolate frogs!
Stuffed chocolate frogs!
Fizzing Whizzbees and Honeydukes chocolate!
Jelly slugs!
Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit! Yeah, we'll take one please.
Check out this display of wands.
Replica wands for each of the main characters in the book were available for purchase.
Here's the reason that all this exists: the Harry Potter book series.
One of these came home with us.
These Marauder's Map items were cool -- especially the light activated design on the t-shirts that made additional words and footprints appear. There's now one less in the store.
You can have your very own collection of Dolores Umbrige kitten plates! Perhaps you can serve some Exploding Bonbons on them.
While enjoying some Diet Coke and dessert outdoors, we made a list of the items we wanted to buy so we could remember once we were done with our tour.
We had exchanged our vouchers for paper tickets -- one for admission, one for a digital guide, and one for a souvenir book.
Finally, it was time! We picked up our digital guides and got in line ten minutes before our tour time as instructed.
The digital guides were basically iPhones on a lanyard with only one app loaded. Just going through the gallery of photos kept us entertained for the entire time we were in the queue.
Each tour stop was numbered so you could walk through the exhibit at your own page.
This mini-set was next to the queue to whet our appetites.
The start of the tour consisted of entering a large room where the guide told us about the exhibits and we watched a film about Harry Potter films.
From that room, we went into another room where we were all seated for a few minutes, then the large doors were opened to ...
... the Hogwarts Great Hall. The real thing!
There were costumes from each of the Hogwarts houses.
The Hogwarts crest can even be found in the back of the fireplace. Look closely.
Costumes from some of the main characters were on display at the head of the room.
As everyone was slowly moving out of the room, we got the best shot we could of the whole thing.
Moving on, here are costumes from the Yule Ball, ...
... along with decorations.
Here are props from the Chocolate Feast.
This is Fleur Delacourt's costume, pattern, and hat form.
This is the exterior of the Griffindor Boys' Dormitory, ...
... and here's the interior.
Incantation Records -- Music to Charm Your Ears and Spell-o-Fonix -- Sparkling Sounds for the Discerning Wizard.
The Potions classroom set was our favorite.
Cauldrons were stirring automatically.
The textbook had amazing detail, ...
... as did the hundreds of potion bottles and jars, each hand-labeled.
Here are the Tri-Wizard Cup and the Golden Egg.
Creepy props.
Face of the Hogwarts Clock Tower.
Behold the Mirror of Erised. Yes, getting a photo of ourselves in this was mandatory.
Here's the Gryffindor Common Room set ...
... and here's more of it.
This gargoyle statue guards the entrance to the Headmaster's office.
This is the Headmaster's (Dumbledore's) office. 
The Pensieve, used to store and review memories.
Here's Remus Lupin's trunk. You could wave your hand over a sign to get it open up automatically.
The seven nested chests that make up Mad Eye Moody's trunk.
This was the Quidditch display. Don't get Debbie started on how awful the Quidditch scoring system is.
This is the set for Hagrid's Hut.
Check out the door to the Chamber of Secrets ...
... and a Gringott's vault door.
Here is the Weasleys' cottage kitchen.  It featured magically self-chopping carrots, self-scrubbing dishes, ...
... self-ironing clothes, and a self-knitting scarf.
The Seven Horcruxes, including Harry, of course. If anyone's still trying to find them, they're all here.
Lord Voldemort holds a meeting of the Death Eaters, where they try to extract information from an unfortunate Charity Burbage. 
This was a Ministry Munchies stand, displaying prop versions of the treats that were on display in the various sets.
The one on the left is real, the one on the right is a prop.  Hard to tell the difference, huh?
Dementors floated in the ceiling. Scary.
The grave of the Riddle family: Thomas, Mary, and Tom Marvolo.
Offices in the Ministry of Magic. 
Fireplaces in the Ministry of Magic.
This was a fun set to examine: Dolores Umbridge's office. 
Her desk contains the Ministry's Most Wanted Posters.
The more power she gained, the pinker Dolores Umbridge's wardrobe became.
This was one of two displays of Educational Decrees from the Hogwarts High Inquisitor.
The new Hogwarts Express exhibit had just opened in March. It featured the original steam engine used in the films.
Here are a few of the trolleys in the exhibit, featuring luggage of Fred Weasley and Luna Lovegood.
There were two of these for people to pose as though they were going to platform 9 3/4.
There were four Hogwarts Express simulated compartments where you could sit and watch scenery go by. Sometimes, that scenery involved frogs hopping away, and sometimes, it involved dementors and windows fogging over.
There was a line to get inside the Hogwarts Express, so we didn't go in.
The costumes for Ginny, Harry, Ron, and Hermione used in the final scene of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, part 2.
Interior of the Hogwarts Express with Harry and Ron gorging themselves on sweets from the Honeydukes trolley.
Props from the graphics department: The Daily Prophet, example OWLS exams, various Ministry of Magic forms.
The Quibbler, Yule Ball invitations, Defence Against the Dark Arts textbooks, and of course, Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.
More gorgeous Yule Ball stuff.
The Backlot Cafe for sustenance at the half-way point of the tour.
And Butterbeer!
It turns out that Butterbeer is pretty expensive. We opted for the cheapest serving at £2.95 for a cup (approximately $4.75).
Debbie had a pulled pork on a brioche bun, and Tom had a chili hot dog.
So, how was the butterbeer? Very delicious. It seems to be butterscotch soda with a magical topping of butterscotch whipped cream. Worth every pence.
Here's the Knight Bus, serving all destinations (nothing underwater).
The interior of the Knight Bus was actually a separate set for filming.  This looks pretty cosy though.
Number Four, Privet Drive, of course.
Wizard Chess pieces.  They actually moved, and never trampled anyone that we saw.  Must be magic.
Potters' Cottage, where Lord Voldemort gave Harry his famous scar.
The Hogwarts wooden bridge.
More chess pieces.
Entrance to the creature shop, featuring various werewolf costumes and what appears to be Hagrid's hair and beard.
A Thestral, and baby Thestral. 
Aragog! Scary!
Here's Buckbeak the Hippogriff.
Do you have your shopping list?  It's time to visit Diagon Alley.
It's lovely, isn't it?
Mr. Mulpepper's Apothecary: for all your potion and cauldron needs.
Scribbulus: for your quills and scrolls.
Mr. Mulpepper's Apothecary has it all.  Except Unicorn Blood.  That is forbidden.  Do not ask.
Here's a close up of the goods in the Apothecary.  Need an Eye of Newt or Brace of Batwing?
Ollivander's: makers of fine wands since 382 B.C.
Wiseacre's Wizarding Equipment: for your telescope, crystal ball, and glass phial needs.
More prop sweets. 
Eeylops Owl Emporium.  Take your pick of the many owls that are available: Snowy, Tawny, Barn.
Flourish & Blotts is having a sale on all of Gilderoy Lockhart's best selling books, including "Magical Me."
Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, where you can buy all of your practical joke necessities.
In case you weren't sure how Weasleys' Puking Pastilles work, the giant in the doorway is happy to demonstrate.
Another glimpse into Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, with a Fanged Flyer, Boxing Telescope, and the Weasley Mega Box.
Quality Quidditch Supplies: robes, bludgeons, quaffles, and of course, the latest brooms are available.
Madam Malkin's Robes is the perfect place to buy robes for both school and formal occasions.
The Magical Menagerie: for all your magical pet needs.
The model department had scale drawings for everything that was built for the various sets. 
A paper model of Hogwarts Castle.
Dumbledore's Office, 3/8" = 1'.
The Hogwarts Model was enormous.  It was used for the sweeping, wide shots of the exterior of the castle in all of the films.
This 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts was created by a team of 40 artists and crew members.  It took more than 50 sculptors, painters, and other artists to maintain it during the production of all seven films.  There are more than 300 fiber optic lights to simulate lanterns, torches, and silhouettes of students moving through the castle.
The greenhouses.
Touchscreens were available throughout the area to allow you to learn more about the model and to see how it was used in the filming.
The bridge.
The walkway down to the Hogwarts Dock.
The final display before the gift shop contained the film credits. Every person who worked on the movies was immortalized in a huge display of wand boxes (this is just one small portion). There was one wand box per person.
Here's a closeup of one section that just happened to contain actor Domhnall Gleeson, who played Bill Weasley.
When we finished the tour, we headed back to the gift shop to buy Harry Potter Trivial Pursuit, a Marauder's Map t-shirt and Harry Potter Quidditch shirt for our grandchildren (current and future), Bertie Botts' Every Flavour Beans, a Hogwarts writing journal, and a Marauder's Map notepad. We also picked up two souvenir books that were a part of the ticket package we purchased. Then we asked the nice folks at the Information Desk to call us a taxi, which they did.
The taxi ride back to the hotel was 45 GBP, 10 less than the trip there. We retrieved our luggage, checked into our room, ...
... did some quick freshening up, and then left again.
We bought Hoppa tickets from the front desk and got right onto a waiting bus.
It took a while but during the ride we finally got a good shot of the mini Etihad jet outside of the airport.
We were headed to the Heathrow Hilton at Terminal 4, ...
... where we met our friend Dana for drinks. We rarely get a chance to see each other in the US, so why not meet up in a foreign country instead?
We took the Hoppa back to the Sheraton Skyline, ...

... and bought a sandwich and slice of cake at the Starbuck's in the lobby before heading up to our room. We laughed at the references on the coffee packages to Pike Place, where we had been less than two months earlier.

Day 16 >


British Isles 2015: [Day 1 - London] [Day 2 - Dover/Calais] [Day 3 - Southampton] [Day 4 - Guernsey] [Day 5 - Cork] [Day 6 - Dublin] [Day 7 - Liverpool] [Day 8 - Belfast] [Day 9 - Glasgow] [Day 10 - At Sea] [Day 11 - Invergordon] [Day 12 - Edinburgh] [Day 13 - At Sea] [Day 14 - Versailles] [Day 15 - London] [Day 16 - London]

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