More Harry Potter Adventure In Oxford

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

To follow on our magical Harry Potter trip to Edinburgh, we headed to Oxford on a stormy day. Yes, typhoon Doris was in the UK and we definitely felt its presence through the strong winds. Luckily, there was no rain so it was a little more comfortable to walk around Oxford.

The main purpose of our trip to Oxford was to see "The Great Hall" and "The Stairway". As a clueless Harry Potter wanna-be, I didn't know anything else apart from that. I later found out that one of my favourite structures in Oxford was in four of the Harry Potter films. The  Divinity Hall was used as  Hogwarts Infirmary, and the Duke Humphrey's Library was the Hogwarts Library, where Harry became invisible. Both of which are located inside the Bodleian Library.

A certain  tree in New College was used in The Goblet of Fire.  This is where Draco was turned into a ferret- this I remember quite well.  The tree is actually visible from the "Bridge of Sighs" - another Oxford favourite of mine.

When we arrived in Christ Church, we were told that The Great Hall was closed until 2pm and were instructed to go back. We bought the tickets anyway, and because we had more or less than two hours to spare, we explored the grounds of Christ Church and then went for coffee at a nearby cafe.

I can't remember if I have been inside the Christ Church Cathedral before, but I am glad I did this time. The interior of the church is a sight to behold. 

We did as we were told, so we were back at The Great Hall just after 2 o'clock. 

I have seen The Great Hall at least twice before but for some reason, this time it was more fun and exciting. Perhaps because I was with my niece, who is a true Potterhead. We did a two-day Harry Potter tour on our own and that was a revealing experience to me. This whole adventure was a reflection of how passionate she is about the things that she loves. A lot of times, I stared at her and admired her for being such an intelligent, enthusiastic and determined person. Quite like Hermione Granger really. :)

So, our Harry Potter adventure ended in Oxford but our Auntie-Niece bonding didn't end there.

When we got back to London, we went straight to The Ritz for our afternoon tea. It was an amazing way to end our 4-day UK adventure. 

I surely miss her writing this because God knows when we'll see each other again (although we're hoping in the next few months). Farrah is a proof that no matter how distant of a relative you are, it's that special connection that brings you closer together. To be honest, I have a better relationship with her than most of my second-degree relations. This is why I treasure our relationship  so much.


The Day After The Westminster Bridge Attack

Thursday, 23 March 2017

When I left home this morning, I wasn't sure if Westminster Bridge would be open but I still took my normal route, more vigilant than usual. When I reached Trafalgar Square, I learned that Whitehall was still closed. Police and reporters still gathered in the area. I picked up my early morning almond croissant and skinny latte, afterwhich I approached a policeman and asked if I could take The Mall to my workplace but apparently, Westminster Bridge was still closed so I took a detour and walked towards the Southbank instead. The walk was longer than usual but I felt that I needed those extra few minutes to reflect on what happened yesterday. I know I am not directly affected by the incident but I feel sad that this happened in London and to innocent people. 

While crossing the Golden Jubilee Bridge and looking at Westminster bridge from a distance, I felt a terrible sense of guilt. Not so long ago when I was in New Zealand, I dreaded the thought of coming back to London. Today reality struck me. Reality that  sometimes you don't realise how important something is until something horrible happens.  I felt heartbroken and all of a sudden, my love for London grew stronger than ever before. Suddenly, I felt nothing but gratitude. I am grateful simply for the opportunity to live in a city known for its formidable courage and extraordinary resilience. I arrived at work humbled, grateful, and with my love for London completely renewed.
I took this photo the day before the attack.

At work, we briefly talked about the incident but it wasn't long until we were soaked in our daily routine. I looked at today's paper on my lunch break and the photos I saw were heartbreaking. I still couldn't  believe that this happened. 

At around 3pm, I looked out the window and noticed buses, cars and pedestrians on the bridge. I could only assume that Westminster Bridge was finally open. 

I left work just on time this afternoon. I decided to take my favourite route and walked towards Westminster Bridge. Unsurprisingly, it was less busy than usual, especially on a good day like today.

As I moved on, more people appeared from the stairs on the  West side of the bridge. I carried on walking and saw smiling tourists taking selfies, parents and their kids taking family photos, some other tourists taking photos of the iconic Big Ben and some just hanging out on the bridge. It was clear that tourists and locals alike were back in their own business. 

I took a few more steps and stopped briefly to look at the flowers left on the pavement, and so I could pay a little respect to the victims as well. It was hard to believe that I was actually walking on the bridge where the terror attack happened. I watched as   vehicles drove past, and admired the people confidently crossing  the road. There were cyclists and runners too. The people walking on both sides of the bridge appeared to act as if nothing has happened. Then something hit me. It could have been any of us, especially those who  cross the bridge more than once a day. The mere thought gave me shivers. 

I continued my poignant walk towards Bridge St but unfortunately, it was still closed so I turned right on Victoria Embankment. Outside The New Scotland Yard gathered a number of media people doing interviews. At the same time, strangers were taking photos of them too. 

I overheard someone say that Whitehall was opened so I made my way there. Whilst I was rushing home,  people were making their way to Trafalgar Square for the evening vigil. I could see policemen everywhere. One or two helicopters were flying in the air. The sound of sirens were constant. Some roads were and I believe are  still on diversion. 

When I finally got home, I told J about my heart-rending walk over Westminster Bridge. Everything seemed surreal to me for some reason.   Perhaps because Westminster Bridge has been a part of my daily life for more than three years now. 

From our flat, I could hear some people chanting, laughing and talking aloud in the street . The sound of sirens remain constant, but from what I saw today, London is back to normal. As Theresa May said yesterday:

"Tomorrow morning....We will come together as normal.   And Londoners - and others from around the world who have come here to visit this great City - will get up and go about their day as normal.They will board their trains, they will leave their hotels, they will walk these streets, they will live their lives.And we will all move forward together. Never giving in to terror. And never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart."

Edinburgh: Where Wow Is The Word and Harry Potter Is A Magical Surprise

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

I wasn't intending to travel until July but three weeks ago, I finally went to Edinburgh after more than fifteen years in the UK. Thanks to my niece for suggesting that we should go to a place where we both haven't been before. 

So, it was time to see my old friend again (that is Easyjet) as we took the 0825 flight from Gatwick Airport. The forecast was rain and wind, but luckily when we arrived in Edinburgh at around 10am, the sun was shining. It wasn't that windy until about midday.

Our first stop was at the Edinburgh Castle. We decided not to go inside the castle because we only had five hours in Edinburgh, but just being at the castle satisfied the tourist in me. I loved the brick cobblestone pathways and castle walls the most, and of course the astonishing view of Edinburgh from the castle.

As we walked down from the Edinburgh Castle, the towering gothic spire of The Hub caught my attention. It is apparently the highest point in central Edinburgh.

We then passed through the beautiful cobblestone street of The Royal Mile.

As you would expect when I travel, we took the wrong turn on our way to Old Town. We turned right at The Hub instead of going straight through the end of The Royal Mile towards the High Street. Luckily, my niece is one of those people who likes getting lost and taking the road less travelled. Therefore, we had fun going around the circle and finding our way to where we were supposed to be.

We might have lost at least half an hour taking the wrong route, but at least we came across some really great finds like the attractive door of St Columba's Free Church.

And the view of the Edinburgh Castle sitting on Castle Rock, plus a very blue sky.

That was it for me really. I just wanted to see the Edinburgh castle. But apparently, I was in for some magical experience as my niece took me on a surprise Harry Potter walking tour. No, we didn't  join an official tour. We did it all by ourselves. Just like how JK Rowling did it- but not quite.

So, to begin our Harry Potter adventure, we went back to The Royal Mile. Along the cobblestone street is a strikingly beautiful architecture with its stunning crown spire- the St. Gile's Cathedral. Unfortunately, we were unable to enter the church due to time constraints.

Between (Royal Mile) High Street and Lawmarket is George IV Bridge where our Harry Potter walking tour began. Now, I am not a Potterhead to know exactly everything about the "magical" places that we went to. In fact, I only learned about these places after my niece told me about them. But I did a bit of research, so hopefully, somehow I can give justice to our Harry Potter experience.

We started our Harry Potter journey in Victoria Street, the inspiration for Diagon Alley.  

Then we carried on towards the top of George IV Bridge to Greyfriars Kirkyard.

I have been to at least three cemeteries in the past to look for tombs of famous people ( Edgar Degas and Oscar Wilde in Paris, Franz Kafka in Prague and Karl Marx in London), and I can't say that I enjoyed the experience. The quietness of the cemeteries was disconcerting. I could almost feel the spirits around me.

But Greyfriars Kirkyard was different. It was like walking in a garden. I didn't find it creepy at all despite the fact that it is apparently the most haunted cemetery in the world. Perhaps because I was imagining JK Rowling exploring the area one winter day in her black trench coat and knee-high boots, hands in her pockets and just gazing  at each and every grave.

I am going to say this as a wanna-be Potterhead, but it is in Greyfriar's Kirkyrad that JK Rowling found the inspiration for Lord Voldemort's real name - Tom Riddle. 

Of course I didn't know that until my niece told me about it. I am one of those people who watches films and will never remember  the name of the characters. 

Anyway, Tom or Thomas Riddle's grave was seemingly difficult to find. We started right from the back of the cemetery. We probably would have spent another 30 minutes looking for it if someone didn't scream, "it's here!". Eureka!

Basically, in order to find Tom Riddle's grave easily,  you have to walk towards the back of the church and go straight past the Flooding Wall. Take immediate right and then slightly right then turn left.  The view should be the one in the photo below. Tom Riddle's grave is the second to the last one on the right.

At the back of the graveyard is the private school George Heriot's School- the inspiration for Hogwarts.

Then it was time to have lunch. J's Mum sent us a magazine that featured the top 100 best restaurants in Britain a few days before our Edinburgh trip, so I looked into it and found Ondine Restaurant.   It was our best choice because we (my niece and I) both love seafood. It's a bit expensive but it's worth every penny.

The food was so delicious that even if my niece has an allergy to seafood, she indulged herself like she didn't have a care in the world. I only found out about her allergy when I noticed that her nose was suddenly blocked. Of course I panicked, but she reassured me that this has happened a lot of times before so I didn't have to worry. Phew! But I still gave her an anti-histamine just in case.
Ondine Restaurant
2 George IV Bridge
Edinburgh EH1 1AD

And then came the highlight of our Harry Potter tour- coffee at The Elephant House. This is apparently where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book, and my niece being a proper Potterhead, had to re-enact the moment. 

The Elephant House provides a magnificent view of the Edinburgh Castle and the Greyfriars Kirkyard.  No wonder JK Rowling chose to write her book here. It is such an inspiring little place.
The Elephant House
21 George IV Bridge
Edinburgh EH1 1EN

Our Harry Potter adventure didn't end there. We headed to Edinburgh's New Town to check on The Balmoral Hotel, where JK Rowling finished the last Harry Potter book. The route via North Bridge provided us with some stunning views.

The last thing on our itinerary was the Holyrood Palace. It was a good 15-minute walk from The Balmoral Hotel. It appeared that my niece is more knowledgeable about the British Monarchy than I am. Her fascination is quite admirable. 

So, she was telling me all about Mary, Queen of Scots as we strolled down Carlton Road on our way to the Palace. I was being educated amidst magnificent views and beautiful historic buildings.

When we arrived at the official residence of The Queen in Scotland (Holyrood Palace),it was almost time to go back to the airport.

This trip to Edinburgh is special to me as it was my first time to actually hang out with my smart and inspiring  niece. I saw her in California a few years ago but we only spent time in the car on our way to meet another friend for dinner. This trip was our proper bonding moment. It's amazing how much we've learned from and about each other. I am so glad that  we had this opportunity to spend time together.

Edinburgh on the other hand, is a wonderful, wonderful place. This is all I can say about Edinburgh, if all else fails in London, I would move there. Sorry Cambridge.

This trip is indeed one of the best five hours of my life.

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