Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dream Vacation - Day 32

Today I headed back into downtown London to find Baker street, 221 B Baker street to be exact. If you do not know the address then you must not be a Sherlock Holmes fan. It's the address of this fictional characters home. At the time the Holmes stories were published, addresses in Baker Street did not go as high as 221. Baker Street was later extended, and in 1932 the Abbey National Building Society moved into premises at 219–229 Baker Street. For many years, Abbey National employed a full-time secretary to answer mail addressed to Sherlock Holmes. In 1990, a blue plaque signifying 221B Baker Street was installed at the Sherlock Holmes Museum, situated elsewhere on the same block, and there followed a 15-year dispute between Abbey National and the Holmes Museum for the right to receive mail addressed to 221B Baker Street. Since the closure of Abbey House in 2005, ownership of the address by the Holmes Museum has not been challenged, despite its location between 237 and 241 Baker Street.

I had planned to walk through the museum but there was a two hour wait just to get in and I didn't have the time so instead I went into the gift shop and looked around a bit. I purchased a very cool Sherlock Holmes silver coin to remember my visit. I also got some cool Sherlock Holmes business cards.

The big thing today and one of the most important things I wanted to do on this trip and that was to visit Leavesden studios. This is were the majority of the filming for all eight Harry Potter movies have taken place. They have even turned a portion of the studio into The Warner Bros. Studio Tour: The Making of Harry Potter. It opened a few years ago and it's been on my bucket list since. My buddy Markus was actually treating me to this and was going to join me for this adventure. Taking a train in from Worchestershire.

First thing I had to do was find a way to get to Watford Junction as this is where you pick up the bus to the studio. I headed to one of the many train stations to catch a train to Watford. I didn't know the system but the guy at the ticket counter was very informative and told me that I wanted a train that had Watford Junction listed more towards the top then at the bottom, meaning less stops and more direct. I purchased my ticket and went to the waiting area... while there I went to grab my phone and realized it wasn't in my pocket. I quickly looked around the area to see if it fell out but there was not sign of it. The only thing I can think of is that I was pick pocketed while milling through the crowds of people on the tube.

What make it even worse was this wasn't even my blackberry. It was my friend Thomas who loaned it to me while I was visiting him in Ireland. I felt horrible, this was the worst thing that had happen to me on this trip. When I told Thomas that it had been stolen I could tell he was upset and that just made it worse for me.

I had to shake it off as I was about to do something that I've been wanting to do for several years and I couldn't let this damper that experience.

The train ride was nice, I got to see a bit of the countryside. It was about a 45 minute train ride. Once at the station I headed out front to wait for me buddy Markus. I was there for about 30 minutes when he arrived. We had just missed the bus to the tour but we were first in line for the next one.

The bus arrived and Markus and I headed to the top level and sat in the very front. It felt like forever but it's only a 15 minute drive from Watford Junction to  Leavesden Studios.

Once there I couldn't stop smiling, they had huge posters and statues outside the studio that I had to get video and pictures of. Once inside Markus surprised me and had purchased the audio tour as well, so we were given equipment so we could punch in the number on the display and hear interesting and fun facts about said object.

We started the tour with a group of people in a room and watching a video explaining the studio and such. Then a few people who were celebrating a birthday get to go up front and push these huge doors open to reveal the Great Hall. And when I say the great hall it's actually the Great Hall that they used to film on. There are house tables filled with Wizard foods and behind those tables are costumes from each house. At the other end of the hall is the professors dining tables along with costumes wore by the actors. It's all a bit overwhelming.

You get about ten minutes to walk around and look at things before the next group comes in so you exit to the left into another room that's kind of section off and there are props and costumes everywhere. There are several staged areas like Harry's dormitory, the Gryffindor common room, Snapes potion class, Hagrid's Hut, Dumbledores office, The Weasley house and Professors Umbridge's office.

There is also a section that shows you how the special effect work and a place were you can be filmed flying on a broom using green screen technology (for an additional cost). There is so much so see in just this one room. Unfortunately my cameras SD cards were getting full. I couldn't take as many pictures as I would have liked but I got a fair amount. They say the tour on average lasts about three hours. Well I stayed in just the first section for three hours. I had three more hours left before the last bus to Watford Junction and I didn't know how much more I had to see. Markus had done the tour before and was on a time crush as he had to catch a train much earlier then mine so he was going through things much faster then me as I wanted to stand there and take it all in, so we split up about 10 minutes into the tour. Unfortunately I didn't get to see him the rest of the tour or say goodbye and to thank him for the tickets.

Once you leave a section you can't go back so I had to make sure I had seen everything in this first section before heading to the next. Between the two buildings is an open courtyard where  you can get food (but since it was so late in the day they had run out). I did get a butter beer, which was just as amazing as the ones you get in Florida at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Outside had larger set pieces. The Weasley's Ford Angular, Hagrid's Motorcycle, the triple decker Knight Bus, alot of the chess pieces from the first movie, Privet drive #4 (Harry's Aunt's House), the Trestle bridge from the later movies and James and Lilies destroyed house. I spent about an hour outside here leaving me two hours to finish. As a treat to attendees they had the actual film owls visiting the studios today, Hedwig was in front of privet drive so I got a picture with her.

I headed into the second building and into the first section with actually special effect crew members there working on making a feathered Buckbeak, it was pretty good. This section looked to be all about the special effects. The second room had more props like the huge Aragog spider, or half of one of the dragons from movies.

You then turn the corner and enter Diagon Alley and I have to say it's pretty AWESOME!!! Here is were the other 2 owls are, Pigwidgeon and Errol. I couldn't get over how much the Wizarding World of Harry Potter Diagon Alley looked like this one. It's almost an exact replica.

After Diagon Alley you entire another room with a ton of concept drawings and art from the films. There are also paper mock ups of buildings and such. After this area you walk into a very dark room and your breath his taken away as you stare this large model of Hogwarts Castle.

The model was built for the first film - Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - and has been used for exterior shots in every film since. When all the time spent by 86 artists and crew members is added up, it took an incredible 74 years to build. Measuring 50 feet across, it has more than 2,500 fibre optic lights to simulate lantern torches and students passing through hallways. It even has miniature owls in the Owlery and hinges on the doors. It's one of the most impressive pieces that I have seen.

At the end of the tour you walk through Olivanders wand shop and there are thousands of boxes embedded into the walls with the names of every single person who had worked on the films. I spent about 10 minutes looking for names that I knew.

You then exit through the gift shop. I had about 15 minutes before I had to catch the final bus and I wanted something to remember this experience. And they had so many cool things. So in the end I got a T-shirt (exclusively sold there) and a Silver Harry Potter commemorative coin.

I took a few final pictures in the lobby before getting in line for the bus. The trek back to the hostel was uneventful. I had spent six hours at the tour, doubling the "average" stay and I could have spent another six hours if they allowed me. This will defiantly be on my list of things to do when I return to London for another visit.

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