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On the Trail of Harry Potter

Published in the Battle Creek Enquirer 3/18/2012

Just how far will a Harry Potter fan go to connect with the bespectacled hero now that the last movie is done? How about two countries and three cities?

Our love of the teenage wizard and his friends first led us to a city not too far away, Orlando, Florida. Orlando is home to the Wizarding World at Universal Studios, and this park has been a blockbuster for Universal since it opened a little less than two years ago.

By standards of neighboring Disneyworld, the park was pint-sized (three attractions), but still wonderful. The ‘not-to-miss’ ride was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Adventure, the latest in thrill ride technology, including a robotic-arm roller coaster.  As we squinted our eyes and suspended our grown-up sensibilities, we were in the story for a few glorious moments as we soared high above Hogwarts on a magical bench!

Three Broomsticks was the place for lunch, with delicious fish and chips and atmosphere to match. Ollivander’s wand shop was the next stop.  Honeydukes, the sweet shop, and Zonko’s, a toy and gag shop, lined the short Hogsmeade street. The Hogs Head Pub was our last stop for a real British beer.  All in all, the park was a worthy replica of the movies.

As Harry Potter asked,  “Can we find all this in London?” And as his friend Hagrid answered, “If yeh know where to go.” The Harry Potter movies were all filmed on location and in a studio in Great Britain. Our next stop on the Harry Potter trail was London, and our trip had to include a Harry Potter tour. For two hours we trooped all over London, looking at familiar sites from the movies that we never would have noticed without our well-informed guide. The walking tour came as part of our Big Bus double decker tour ticket.

The entrance to Diagon Alley, introduced in the first film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, leads to a real alley.  The filmmakers used a red telephone booth near Scotland Yard as the secret entrance to the Ministry of Magic. We imagined Harry, Mad-Eye Moody, Nymphadora Tonks and their friends in the chase sequence from The Order of the Phoenix high above The London Eye, the 135-meter tall Ferris wheel along the banks of the Thames River.

The walking tour was broken by a quick stop at Hardy’s Sweet Shoppes, where we got free samples and a discount on purchases. While not quite Honeydukes, it was a great place for unsanctioned Potter-themed souvenirs such as Dumbledore’s favorite lemon sherbets and the wizard wands (black licorice with pixie stick filling).

The new Warner Brothers Studio Tour London will be opening on March 31, giving fans a behind-the-scenes tour of where all eight movies were made and showcasing a huge array of sets, costumes and props. The Studio Tour is located at Warner Brothers Studios Leavesden.

One more British city was on our Harry Potter journey—Oxford, home to the renowned British university of the same name. Christ Church, with its battlements and pinnacles, is one of 38 colleges comprising Oxford University and was eerily reminiscent of Hogwart’s School of Magic.  We got goosebumps as we walked through many of the locations used in the movie. As Harry and the new first-years enter Hogwarts, Professor McGonagall greeted them. We walked up the same 16th century staircase that led up to the Great Hall. Walking between the trestle tables towards a raised platform at the end of the long room, we almost felt ready for our own sorting ceremony.  What house would be chosen for us?  We’ll never know.

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