Harry Potter Studio Tour!

When we visited London in December, E got tickets for us to go to the Warner Brothers Studio – The Making of Harry Potter tour! The Harry Potter books and films were very important to our family, so we were thrilled to be able to go. We went on a weekday when our son-in-law had to be at work, so we were a party of five – my spouse B, our daughters E and T, our granddaughter ABC, and me. E was the only one who had been there before.

The Studios are outside London, so we needed to use trains and buses to get there. The last segment is on special studio buses. One of the first things you see after entering is a very large dragon in flight. We weren’t sure how ABC, at two and a half, would react to such things, but she loves dinosaurs and accepted dragons as a dinosaur-variant. (T is holding ABC in the foreground.)
HP flying dragon

Because so many people visit, the start times of the tour are staggered throughout the day. There are some introductory remarks from tour guides and a short film before your group is ushered into the Great Hall. Because we were there in December, everything was decorated for Christmas, including, of course, Christmas crackers at each place at the table.
Great Hall

You can see little details of the set, like the tree-toppers with flying witches…
HP XMas tree-topper

and the wreath around the crest on the fireplace.
Great Hall fireplace

After the Great Hall, the rest of the tour is self-guided, laid out in a uni-directional way. There are lots of sets, like Harry’s Gryffindor bedroom,
Harry's bedroom

costumes, like these from the Yule Ball,
HP costumes Yule Ball

and props, like this display of wands.
HP wands

There were certain displays that ABC did not like, such as these disembodied hairpieces.
HP wigs

Sometimes, context mattered. For example, we rushed ABC out of the dark Forbidden Forest Set with its spiders because she was not a fan, but, later, when we saw the huge model of Aragog, Hagrid’s former pet giant spider, which was several meters wide, mounted on a wall, ABC decided to sing “The Eensy, Weensy Spider” to it.

As a big fan of trains, ABC enjoyed the Hogwarts Express.
Hogwart's Express

Even better, we got to walk through the train cars!
Ada on the Hogwart's Express

For some reason, I had to rush ABC through the grand Gringotts Bank set, because she did not approve.
Gringotts

The destroyed Gringotts was much more to her liking! She insisted on watching the scene multiple times. It must have been the attraction of the dragon…

The last part of the display before the obligatory exit-through-the giftshop was the model of Hogwarts used for the external shots. ABC was a big fan!
J and Ada at Hogwarts model

It was a beautiful model. Because it was winter, we got to see it with snow which made it look even more magical!
Hogwarts model

We all had a lovely time. I hope we will be able to visit again in the coming years. It will be fun to see how ABC reacts over time. Warner Brothers also continues to add new displays, as well as having various limited time features, so there will be new things to see each time.

Eventually, ABC – and any future siblings – will be able to read the Harry Potter books and see the films. Perhaps, E and L will embark on our family tradition of reading each book aloud as a family.

Maybe, B and I will be able to join in via videochat…

Piran

On Friday, the Smith College Alumnae Chorus and our travelling companions visited Piran, a beautiful, historic town on the Adriatic coast of Slovenia. Slovenia, before its independence in 1991, had spent centuries under the dominance of other entities. Piran shows the influence of its time as part of the Venetian republic.

The main square has a statue of Italian composer and violinist Giuseppe Tartini, whose birthplace, now a historic landmark, is on the piazza.
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As you would expect, some of the streets, now used as footpaths, are very narrow.
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Consequently, the cars are very small by US standards. (For scale, I am 5’1.5″ or 156 cm.)
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We walked up to the Church of St. George, shown here from Tartini Square.
St. George, Piran, Slovenia

The baptistry is the small, octagonal building whose roof you see to the right of the belltower, which is itself a smaller replica of the tower of St. Mark’s in Venice.
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The restoration of the church is amazing! The wall on the left has a sculpture of St. George slaying the dragon.
St. George church, Piran, Slovenia

The ceilings were especially eye-catching.
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Because I was an organist, B took a special photo of the organ.
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A path leads down from the church to the point and lighthouse.
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Piran affords views of the coast of Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia.
Piran view of the Adriatic

We loved our visit to Piran and definitely recommend including it in your itinerary if you visit Slovenia.

Lake Bled

Our first excursion away from Ljubljana was to Bled, which is northwest of Ljubljana and close to the border with Austria. Bled is famous for its beautiful lake, which has an island with a church and belltower.
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As you can see in the foreground of the photo above, one common way to visit the island is by pletna boat, powered by a single (very adept) oarsman. This is a job that tends to be passed down within families; our rower had a brother working on the lake, both following prior generations of their family.
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One must climb 99 steps to reach the church.
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The current form of the church dates from the the 17th century but there has been a Christian church at the site since the 12th century. In earlier times, it is believed that a temple to a Slavic goddess stood at the site. The church is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary, but is sometimes called, for obvious reasons, Our Lady of the Lake. Here is the main altar in the Baroque style; on the side walls are fresco remnants of the prior Gothic-style church, which was damaged in an earthquake. img_0180

After spending some time in the church, we climbed the belltower.
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B took this interesting shot as we ascended the stairs, showing the weights that make the clock work.
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We were in the tower at noon. Unlike many clocktowers which would just ring the hour, these bells rang for several minutes. It was a bit loud, being that close to the bells, but it was interesting to watch the mechanism work.
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After our time on the island and the return to shore by pletna, we took our buses up to Bled Castle. And I do mean up! Here is what Bled Castle looked like from our boat.
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And here is what Lake Bled looked like from the castle.
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The castle paths were quite steep, but we were rewarded with a fancy lunch at the restaurant. It was the first time I have had trout caviar; probably the first time I have had caviar at all.
menu from Bled Castle

And because it never hurts to end a post with dessert…
dessert at Bled Castle

Centered in Ljubljana

One of the nice features of the Smith College Alumnae Chorus’s tour of Slovenia was that we stayed for the whole week in Ljubljana in the City Hotel, just on the edge of the (mostly) pedestrian-only Old City. It was nice to be able to settle into our hotel rooms and walk to rehearsals, meals, shops, etc. in the Old City, only using our buses when we ventured further afield for sight-seeing or singing.

Because I needed to be in rehearsal, B had the chance to do more exploring than I did. I happily delegated picture-taking to him and want to share a few photos of places he/we visited.

One of the really nice features of our hotel rooms were that they had large murals of black and white photographs of Ljubljana by Slovenian photographer Žiga Koritnik. Here is the one in our room: CIty Hotel Ljubljana

While walking around the city, B found the exact location and took this photo, with the river walls in the foreground and the castle on the hill above:
matching our hotel room mural

While I did get to go to the castle on the hill by funicular,
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B walked up several times, enabling him to get some shots of the city and the Alps beyond:
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And a close-up of the castle clocktower, flying the flags of Slovenia and Ljubljana:
tower of Ljubjlana castle

The Ljubljanica River flows through the heart of the Old City:
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where it is crossed by many bridges, including the Triple Bridges:
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One of the most famous of the bridges is the Dragon Bridge, guarded by this fellow:
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with the help of some griffins:
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Every day in the Old City, there are farmers and artisans selling their wares from shaded booths:
Ljubljana open air market

And sometimes, just the walkway itself is interesting:
sidewalk in Ljubljana