Daily Archives: 31 December, 2008

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London Day 3 – Day Excursion to Oxford (Harry Potter!) and New Year’s Eve Countdown

OMG, I can’t imagine that it was already the last day of 2008! The day dawned pretty much crisp and clear, and at the spur of the moment, I decided to make a day trip to Oxford, and visit the location where Harry Potter was shot.

On to Oxford! At the train station

The one-hour train ride from Paddington station was pretty uneventful. But I almost missed the damn train. Went to buy some sandwich, coffee and cookies for the ride, and in the end had to run on the platform to get on the train. The moment I sat down, the train started to move. Talk about being onboard at the nick of time.

I was very impressed by the train system in London. The train itself is very spacious and comfortable, with convenient announcements on stops. I would love to explore England one day by trains.

City of Oxford

After an hour ride on the super comfortable train, I arrived at Oxford. And man, it was cold! I was freezing to the bone, but I really enjoyed it. This is what winter should be like. Snow would have completed the picture perfectly!

Oxford is a city, and the county town of Oxfordshire, in South East England. The rivers Cherwell and Thames run through Oxford and meet south of the city centre. Oxford is home to the University of Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world.

Buildings in Oxford reflect every English architectural period since the arrival of the Saxons, including the iconic, mid-18th century Radcliffe Camera, the hub of the city. Oxford is known as the “city of dreaming spires”, a term coined by poet Matthew Arnold in reference to the harmonious architecture of Oxford’s university buildings.

Christ Church, Oxford

And so after walking around Oxford city center for a bit, I found what I was looking for. Christ Church was the location of choice for some of Harry Potter movies. It is one of the largest constituent colleges of the University of Oxford in England. As well as being a college, Christ Church is also the cathedral church of the diocese of Oxford, namely Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford. The cathedral has a famous men and boys’ choir, and is one of the main choral foundations in Oxford.

Harry Potter at Christ Church!

After paying for an entrance ticket, I turned on my iPod to play Harry Potter soundtrack, and off I went to explore Christ Church!

Stairway Outside The Great Hall of Hogwarts

I followed the footsteps of the world’s favourite wizard. Many of the scenes in the Harry Potter feature films are shot in various locations of the College. As I walked around the cloisters and quadrangles it is easy to see why.

The Great Hall of Hogwarts

The Great Hall was replicated in the film studios to create Hogwart’s Hall. As Harry and the new first-years enter Hogwarts they are greeted by Professor McGonagall. This scene was shot on the 16th century staircase which leads up to the Great Hall. It was just as well they didn’t film this when the Hall was first built, since the wonderful vaulted roofing was only put up 150 years after the staircase.

Christ Church, Oxford

The cloisters in Christ Church were first built 1000 years ago. This ancient vintage made them the ideal setting for various scenes. It is here that Harry is shown the trophy his father won as a seeker in Quidditch.

Here’s a video I took in the Great Hall. In addition, I took a great many photos here at Christ Church, of which you can view on my Flickr set.

Outside Christ Church, Oxford

Leaving the compound of Oxford was quite an adventure in itself. The scenery was great, but since I had absolutely no idea where I was heading to, I was very worried that I wouldn’t be able to find my way back to the city centre. It did not help that the sky has started to take on the downcast look. After some half an hour of frantic walking, I managed to find the main road again. PHEW!

The Eagle and Child, Oxford

So off I went to find the “Eagle & Child” pub, recommended by Lonely Planet, to taste some authentic British pub grub. The building dates from the sixteenth century, and is popularly known as the “Bird & the Baby”. It has been a pub since 1650 – talk about being historical! As I walked through the main door, I found myself in a series of passage ways with varying height of ceiling, adorned by wooden tables and chairs of no particular designs… I was in a real British pub!

The Eagle and Child, Oxford

Happily I placed my order for (what else?) fish & chips and a pint of beer at the counter, and sat down to enjoy my meal. I noticed various interesting items decorating the pub – like the series of Tolkien’s LOTR books on the mantelpiece, and a canoe signed by some athletes hanging from the ceiling. This place was just oozing with character! There was an easy level of chatter among the early pub-dwellers – mainly university students and the odd professors.

But I couldn’t linger for too long since I need to get back to London before it’s dark, and I wanted to be a little early for my next destination…

London King's Cross Railway Station

King’s Cross! The train station was featured in the Harry Potter books, by J. K. Rowling, as the starting point of the Hogwarts Express. The train uses a secret platform 9¾ located by passing through the brick wall barrier between platforms 9 and 10. Unfortunately, platforms 9 and 10 are in a separate building from the main station; also, rather than being adjacent so that a barrier could be between them, they are separated by two intervening tracks. Rowling intended the location to be in the main part of the station, but misremembered the platform numbering.

The London Eye on New Year's Eve 2008, London

And soon I head down to River Thames, to make my way towards the London Eye. There was a huge celebration for New Year’s Eve at the London Eye area, along River Thames. Along with thousands of Londoners, I joined the madness for the countdown to 2009. Following the chimes of Big Ben at midnight, a spectacular ten-minute fireworks display was fired from the London Eye, organised by the Mayor of London and renowned pyrotechnician Christophe Berthonneau.

The crowd at the London Eye on New Year's Eve 2008, London

The crowd was total madness! I couldn’t get into the “real” party area, so a kind policeman told me to head off to an “unsecured” area which is near enough to all the actions at London Eye. And boy do the Londoners know how to party! Granted, things got a little too rowdy due to copious amount of alcohol, ladies in skimpy dress and guys too horny for their own good. I was totally on my own, an Asian in a sea of people. I was rather scared…. but when fireworks took over the sky, all my fears were forgotten!

The crowd at the London Eye on New Year's Eve 2008, London

The madness was in going home after the countdown. Human jammed for 3 hours for a mere 300m walk. I was literally sandwiched between people, and the crowd shuffled forward at snail pace. Though I managed to have some small talk with fellow party dwellers, including a group of teenagers who were very friendly and shared their travel stories with me.

That marked the end of my NYE celebration in London. Was it fun? Yes, definitely. Would I do it again? Hell NO. No way I am going to subject myself to that torture again. Once in a lifetime is more than enough!