Tag Archives: Harry Potter

UK, Harry Potter special – somewhere near Watford…and London

Skip this if you are not even slightly into Harry Potter but if you are here are some experiences I had at Warner Brothers – The Making of Harry Potter near Watford – an easy day trip for anyone in or visiting London (trains to Watford Junction and then 10 minutes on the HP bus for GBP3 to the Studio.)

I visited with my friend Christine who knows everything about the Harry Potter books, movies and memorabilia – she even has her morning alarm set to hear Stephen Fry reading from somewhere in the Harry Potter books (for the record I wake up to the Four Tops – baby I need your loving!).

Anyway this blog is especially for Christine and also Ella in Melbourne who I know is a huge fan and just has to visit this place.

On arrival you are greeted by newspaper cuttings and large signage so you know you are in the right place. Take three hours as your minimum for looking around – it is huge and fascinating. One guide told us she had been 28 times before becoming a guide and the first time she spend 7 hours here – and honestly that would be easy to do as there is so much to see and take in. This place is a homage to the movies and the creativity and love with which they were made over 10 years.

The external entrance area to the studios

The cupboard under the stairs and the original glasses worn by Daniel Radcliffe are on the shelf

Some of the HP movie posters

The Great Hall

Wands anyone? Christine has 32 – now 33 as she bought Draco Malfoy’s while we were there. Also set items from the Yule Ball

Potions Classroom, Dumbledore’s office, the cauldron and more

The Quidditch, Tom Riddle’s grave, the deathly hallows (I think?) and the fabulous Ford Anglia

Dobby, Hagrid, scary spiders, Prof Umbridge’s office

The train to Hogwarts and me making attempting to crash through Platform 93/4. The lovely purple Knight Bus.

Gringotts Bank in all its glory. I think JKR does not like banks – they are staffed by miserable goblins and then the bank is totally destroyed!

Some of the gruesome goblin latex faces

The treasure in the bank vaults and the total destruction of Gringotts

Diagon Alley – they looked for somewhere to use but decided they could only build something to match the imagination of this place as described in the books

The giant model of Hogwarts

An amazing day out and then followed the next day by a visit to MinaLima in Soho. An incredible four storey narrow building with everything Harry Potter but things like limited editions of book prints, spells, wallpaper etc. It is an amazing place to walk around whether you are a fan or not and it was doing a roaring trade too (Christine you helped with their takings on that day) – and there was not one child there – indeed hardly anyone under 40! Def worth a stop.

Christine outside MinaLima – a place I had to drag her out of as I wanted my lunch!

UK, Alnwick Castle (Hogwarts)

Ominous clouds on a typical summer’s day in the UK did not lead to any actual rain – although as I’m writing this things have changed for the worse.

Nice to drive through the North East countryside from the Cruise terminal at Newcastle to Alnwick Castle – the ruined castle below is at Warkworth and the bridge is crossing the River Coquet (and I’d never heard of them either!

The countryside in the north east of England

First impressions of Alnwick Castle are impressive – it is owned by the Duke of Northumberland and has been inhabited continuously since the 1100s. After Windsor it’s the second biggest inhabited castle in the UK.

Approaching Alnwick Castle

But it has seen a 40% rise in visitors since the first two Harry Potter movies were filmed there and then a couple of the Downton Abbey specials were also filmed there.

The two ladies below are visiting from LA (one works at the Universal Park there in the HP section). As you can see they were dressed to fit in perfectly and no doubt tried the broomstick training on offer! I loved their style.

Two Harry Potter fans dressing the part

The castle design is very “trad English Middle Ages” and fearsome too. Not an easy place to attack – and the Scots did try back in the day. No interior photos allowed – ridiculous!

Scenes from the castle

The gardens are arguably an even bigger draw. Developed from a derelict state by the Duchess of Northumberland – she used crowd funding to enable a complete revamp of the grounds (I should point out this family is worth about GBP 350 million but hey, if you can convince others to give you more – then good luck to you!).

Below is a falcon who was doing his thing and part of the children’s garden where a female giantess lives hence the massive bloomers and bra on the line:)

Falcon, the Giantess’ bloomers and the water feature

The gardens are huge and a mix of ornamental gardens, space for adults to relax on giant swings, water features, forests, rose gardens and a maze as well as a stunning wrought iron gate that only the Duchess has the key to.

Clematis, roses and poppies

The wrought iron gate and the maze

The Ornamental Gardens

The best part though was the 20 minute tour of the Poison Garden – the largest in the world. And yes it is what it sounds like and that’s why you have to be taken around because touching anything in here let alone breaking a twig and having contact with the sap is potentially a killer. The guide takes you around looking at plants that many people have in their gardens and tells you all sorts of stories of how people came into contact with the berries, the sap, the smoke of burning twigs or the poison generated by cuttings in the back of a car and tells you all the gory ends that many had. It is not for the squeamish but it was fascinating. They even have a “legal illegal” marijuana plant.

The point of all this is to educate kids about the dangers of drugs and how seemingly harmless plants can kill you!

By the time we were done I was glad I’d nearly always lived in apartments with a pot on the balcony – way safer……

The Poison Garden

And then I saw something I’ve never seen in the wild before – a baby hedgehog. Not many of those in West Kensington where I grew up so was very excited!!

Portugal, Porto

It’s been four years since I was last in Porto so I did fewer of the obviously touristy things but instead enjoyed wandering about and seeing some art museums and taking a couple of easy day trips from here (Aveiro and Guimarães – see separate posts).

Last time I stayed a couple of kilometres out at a lovely palace hotel along the river: this time I stayed in the centre of the town in a great apartment (strongly recommend Leftheshomes if you are thinking of coming).

The city retains its charm and is very colourful.

The bridge below connects the old town to the port wine cellar area. Didn’t visit any this year but if you haven’t been port wine tasting while sitting outside and surveying the old town on the other side of the river is a must.

Like Lisbon there are plenty of old style trams and fabulous tiles everywhere you look. Coffee shops abound tempting me to enjoy far too many pasteis de nata and pretty green squares.

The building below is officially one of the worlds most beautiful book shops Livraria Lello. Thankfully I visited last time I was here. Why so popular that you have to pay Euros 5 to get in? It is supposedly the bookshop that JK Rowling used as a model for parts of Hogwarts – they urban myths abound as she lived here for a couple of years before she became famous. Still even from the outside it is gorgeous.

This the beautiful Sao Bento station interior with spectacular tiles – this is a place I never get bored of visiting.

The week I arrived happened to be student graduation week when the city goes a little crazy with celebrations and lots of different outfits warm on one day when thousands of students walk down the hill on their knees in the costume of their college. On the Sunday which was calmer I snapped the more formal – with parents – grad day. The colours and badges they wear relate to the nature of the course they have taken. The urban myth is that JK Rowling took these as inspiration for the clothing worn by Harry Potter and others in the four houses of Hogwarts. Could be …..

As usual I took an evening food walking tour which involved a lot of wine and a speciality chicken sausage. Not my favourite but interesting to me because it is based on the sausage the “converso” Jews used to make and hang outside their doors during the inquisition to prove they had truly converted to Catholicism- apparently back then no-one has the imagination to believe that a sausage could be anything other than pork!

Loved the coffee grinders in the old style grocery store we visited. Locals come just to grind their coffee in these machines.

In the 1930s Guyana cafe the artwork was cool and there was a local poet doing his thing as apparently he does every day. Loved that.

I also visited Serralves – a museum/garden that I’d never heard of before. I especially loved the art nouveau house and garden.

The interior was mostly empty except each room had one feature left from photographs from its heyday. I really liked that idea and it gave the opportunity to appreciate the architecture.

The gardens (and it was raining by then) are lovely in their own right but also had an excellent exhibition of giant sized sculptures by Joanna Vasconcelos whose world enjoyed – especially the giant stilettos made out of saucepans and lids!

Inside the museum these sculptures made me smile. Two made from irons, an adult roundabout (that you can ride on) made from old office chairs and a telephone switchboard.

Australia, Returning to Melbourne – friends, food, art, theatre and one of the loveliest cities around

As Melbourne feels like home to me have decided to just do one large blog on this three week visit., Will be back to more frequent blogs once I am in new places again later in March.

MELBOURNE – the place.

Still one of the loveliest cities. Never tire of wandering the lanes and cafes and always find new ones just when I think I have tried them all. Only downside at the moment is that a lot of central Melbourne seems to be under construction as they are building an extended subway system. Lots of very large holes in the ground.

Nice to finally see the scaffolding off Flinders Street Station though


Always one of my favourite reasons to be in Melbourne – and that includes drinks too of course. It is the city of cool bars – many are hidden speakeasys or rooftop sites. Here is the kind of thing you can expect here including some home cooking if you have nice friends who entertain you (thanks Mike and Maria)


As usual I had to visit the NGV – not just once but twice. I loved this exhibit of dogs as fashion models.

And some examples of the more modern permanent collection,

but the best thing was the Escher X Nendo exhibit. M C Escher is a Dutch graphic artist who makes most of his drawings using woodcuts and lithographs – quite amazing the detail and colourations he can create through this medium. My woodcuts at school never looked like this! Then to make it even more interesting the exhibit is displayed in an environment created by Japanese Design studio – Nendo – just brilliant. And watch how Escher plays with perspective and you mind with some of his works. Where does one bit start and another begin? And how do this birds turn into fish?

A visit to the Melbourne museum included a look at the Mandela – my life exhibit just before it closes. It was done very well and it remains shocking to read and watch videos about how people were treated under apartheid so recently.

Then a trip to Heide to see the Mirka Mora exhibit of dolls – drawings and stuffed ones. I am a huge fan of Heide and always like what they show – Mora was a prolific artist who spent a lot of time at Heide as an exile from Paris. She died last year. I like her naive style.


I saw some wonderful shows in Melbourne this trip – Miriam Margolyes in Woman in the Van; MSO doing the Beatles at Hamer Hall; Eddie Izzzard at The Arts Centre; Macbeth in the Botanical Gardens; Evita with Tina Arena and my favourite – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It must be the magic……


Always the best bit of coming back to a place after some time away. Catching up with my pals has been amazing – many of my friends I made during the time I worked at ANZ here for 10 years and it is fantastic that we are still buddies. Some I’ve even known since my HSBC days and it was also really special to have a few drinks with my former HR team from ANZ – so exciting to see them all and already looking forward to doing the same thing next year.

And BIG HUGE THANKS to the lovely Tania and Shane for opening their home to me and putting up with my comings and goings. They are the GREATEST xxxooo