Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Buttoning Down Oxford and the UK

October 3-6, 2019 – South-central England

Written by Jim

We are back home from our UK adventure, catching up on our blog.

When we first planned this trip, Diana had expressed interest in going to Oxford. The town is famous for its university and some of the world’s greatest scholars. I had a preconceived notion that it was loaded with scholars walking around in tweed jackets and button-down collars. That is, after all, where they got the name for the Oxford shirt, correct? That was my dress shirt of choice during my career, so maybe I could pick up a few deals on some snazzy threads while we were there. Boy, my assumptions were way off. Oxford was anything but a stuffed shirt. We discovered a city that was cosmopolitan, vibrant, and an all-out fun place to be.

As had become our mode of navigating a city with a motorhome, we researched ahead of time to find which park-and-ride lots allowed large vehicles. In the case of Oxford, we used the Redbridge lot on the south end of town. Hopping on the double-decker bus, we quickly scrambled up the stairs in hopes of securing a front seat. Bagsy! We plopped down behind the windshield and enjoyed the ride from the outskirts of town. Hang on!

What a ride! We were downtown in a flash.

Oxford University is not one centralized campus, but rather more than thirty independent colleges throughout the city. Our choice for a visit that day was Christ Church College, a rather famous place in its own right.

Upon entering the gates, we realized we were in a very special place. Was this a church or a college? That building towering in the background looked a lot like a cathedral to me. It actually wasn’t…but more on that in a minute. 🙂

For a split second, I thought we were at an agricultural school in Iowa. This was actually just the grounds department doing a little maintenance. John Deere has a huge presence in the UK, as it seemed that we saw their familiar green tractors wherever we went.

Check out that courtyard! This was actually supposed to be a cloister…or covered walkway…when it was started by Thomas Wolsey in 1525. You can see the beginnings of the arches on the walls and the pedestal bases that were meant to support the columns. At the opposite side of the courtyard sits Tom Tower, which houses the largest bell in Oxford…Great Tom. Weighing in at an impressive 12,500 pounds, it is also the loudest bell in town. The college rings it 101 times at 9:05 PM every single night…a 20 minute process… so no sense in hitting the pillow early. The 101 is for the original 100 students plus an extra one that was added for a bequest made in 1663. The five minutes past the hour signifies the fact that high noon occurs five minutes later than it does in Greenwich…the measuring point for time on Earth. Whew…I knew I would get a higher education by coming here!

And that cathedral-looking structure I referred to earlier? Well, the interior might look familiar, if you’ve ever seen a Harry Potter film…

The infamous dining hall! We weren’t able to get in, as it was being used by the students while we were there.

We also visited the chapel while we were on the campus.

This gorgeous building has seen its share of influential people over the years. Countless leaders, writers, academics, theologians have been here.

It was within these walls that John and Charles Wesley, founders of the Methodist Church, were ordained in the 18th century.

The stonework on the ceiling was outstanding….

…as were the carvings throughout the chapel.

From Christ Church, we went in search of lunch. One of our favorite grab and go items on our trip has been Pieminister meat pies, as they come in a gluten free version for yours truly. They are available in Tesco grocery stores.

Luckily, Oxford happens to have a Pieminister Pie Shop in their Covered Market.

Their gravy was even gluten free…a rarity! 😋 Downright delicious.

Once we were done in Oxford, we found our way back to our first campsite of the trip, Town Farm in Ivinghoe. It was there that we managed to shoehorn all of our belongings back into our suitcases for our trip back to the States. Once that was done, we put on our Oboz hikers and took one last foray through the sheep meadow to grab some dinner.

We answered the locals question as to why their sleepy pub saw so many foreigners. They are within walking distance to the closest campground to one of the UK’s largest RV rental companies! Worked for us!

One last stroll back home through the sheep poop and we were ready to roll.

The next morning, we bid farewell to our trusty Scout. We were thrilled to have made it back to Just Go without clipping a mirror on the narrow roads along our month-long journey. One of the other returning couples wasn’t so lucky, as their mirror was held together with duct tape. The first words out of the rental agent’s mouth was “is everyone ok?” We found Just Go to be a first class company and we highly recommend them.

And, right on cue, our favorite Uber driver Dhana pulled up to haul us back to our hotel near Heathrow! We prearranged our trip with him when he dropped us off at Just Go in early September.

Diana, Dhana and Jim. 🙂 Thank you so much for the excellent rides, advice and friendship, Dhana!

And our nice little surprise we spoke about in our last post? Well, what started out as a sour note ended up being an exclamation point. After arriving for our flight early the next morning, we were scheduled to fly out at 10:20. As first class lined up to board, an issue with the plane came up, causing a 3-1/2 hour flight delay while British Airways found us another 747. As we were sitting around in Starbucks, we overheard one of the other passengers mention an EU law that stated we would get a considerable sum of money back for our troubles “if the delay was longer than four hours.” She lamented ours was shorter, so we were out of luck. With my curiosity piqued, I went on a web search. There actually are different amounts of money for different lengths of delay, and the time is calculated in how late you arrive at your destination…not how late you depart. Being pushed into the afternoon allowed the prevailing winds to pick up over the Atlantic, causing us to arrive 4-1/2 hours late in Chicago. Long story short, we were each awarded €600, which covered most of our round trip fare. If you’ve ever been delayed on a flight originating in the EU, look into it…as there is no statute of limitation. In our case, Brexit hadn’t happened yet, so the UK was still in the EU. You have to request the compensation from the airline, as they aren’t required to automatically hand it out. The delay has to be caused by something within their control, such as a mechanical issue. We had the money within a few days of our return.

While that wraps up our trip to the UK and Ireland, we are going to do one more post on some of the unique differences we encountered on our trip, as opposed to our daily lives in the United States. We hope you will enjoy that one. Until then, safe and happy travels to all!

Exploring in Florida 

One thing we’ve discovered about being in the town of Melbourne Beach for the winter is the fact it is somewhat isolated from the rest of the state.  That is a good thing, in the sense that it doesn’t experience the crowds that other areas of Florida see.  The downside is State Route A1A is the only way in and out, so we don’t see a lot of new scenery.  That is just fine for many folks, but when your identity is exploRVistas a little break is called for every once in a while.  And when we are able to look for adventure with other explorers, it’s even more fun!

At the end of our last post, we left you with our just having a new suspension installed on our rig.  Taking a tour of Florida would allow us to test out our modifications before we headed west in April. My sister Judy and her husband Dale had recently arrived at Lovers Key near Ft Myers Beach, so we made plans to head that way to see them.  Diana had also contacted her cousin Tom, as we wanted to see him and his wife Lisa.  They live just southwest of Orlando.  Tom suggested that we meet at Disney, as he works for them and could get us all passes for the day. We jumped on this opportunity!

We decided on Epcot, as it is one of our favorite parks.  Diana’s dad actually worked on the construction of one of the Communicore buildings near Spaceship Earth back in the early 1980’s, when Michigan’s economy was in the doldrums.

We sure had a great time with Tom and Lisa!

Disney sure knows how to provide a pleasant atmosphere at their facilities.  If you choose the right day when the crowds are down, they are very enjoyable places to be!

Next up, we visited with Judy and Dale.  We were able to grab four days at Marco Naples RV Resort. It was less than OK, but served its purpose.  The four of us checked out some of the area’s dining establishments, the pool at Lovers Key, and Barefoot Beach.

It’s always fun hanging out with my big sis and her hubby!

From Naples, we decided to take Alligator Alley across to the east coast and head north from there.  That was the first time we had been on that stretch of road since we were kids, so it was interesting to see.  We were impressed with the rest areas that came complete with boat launches. There was one family that had just put in a pontoon boat, and another gentleman was fishing off the dock.  Peering into the water, we could see it was teeming with fish.

And that’s not all it was teeming with.  I guess that’s why it’s called Alligator Alley!

One thing I mentioned earlier was our suspension.  We are happy to report that everything is working tremendously well!  On the way to Orlando, we had our rig weighed by Bob and Sherry Frizzell of RVSEF.  They weighed each individual wheel of the entire rig when it was hitched together, and of just the truck disconnected from the trailer.  Armed with this information, I transferred some weight from the truck to the trailer to balance everything out.  We also now know the proper inflation level for our tires, given the weight of our rig when loaded. Throughout the trip, I monitored the tire temperatures using our infrared thermometer.  Everything checked out great!

This is the second time we have went through this weighing process with RVSEF. The first time was before we hit the road in 2014. It is very important for our safety and the safety of those we share the road with. Just because there is room in a cabinet or drawer, doesn’t mean you are allowed to fill it and haul it down the road. We are constantly aware of our cargo carrying capacity, pin weight, tire pressures, etc. Most fulltime RVers practice the rule that if you bring something new in, something of equal weight has to go. The last thing we want is to blow out a tire at highway speed.

Back in Melbourne, we met up with our friends Fred and Bonnie for dinner.

We had met them at the RV-Dreams rally in 2014, and we caught up with them in Fruitland Park, Florida in 2015. They are in Melbourne for the month of March, so we will be spending more time with them while they are here. It sure is great to see them!

While we were at Disney, Lisa mentioned that she had recently retired from Universal Studios Orlando.  Diana said that we wanted to go there sometime, as she really wanted to see the Harry Potter areas of the park. These books came out while she was teaching and made it cool to read big thick books. Diana read the J.K. Rowling series as a way to stay current with what the kids were excited about, and fell in love with them too. Lisa said she still had tickets available to her, and she offered two of them to us. That was extremely generous, Lisa…thank you!  We ended up going this past Friday and had a fabulous time!

The attention to detail in Hogsmeade was amazing!

Here we are outside Hogwarts Castle.  We must admit, we didn’t do so well on the ride through the castle, as it was an all-out assault on our senses…but we survived!

We rode the Hogwarts Express between Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley, which was also very much like the Harry Potter movies.

Diagon Alley itself was also well done, complete with the shops that were featured in the books and movies.

It was fun to watch the children (and several adults) in their capes wave their interactive wands to set the displays in motion.  

In other parts of Universal, we met up with other famous people.

There was Jimmy Fallon…

Popeye and Olive Oyl…


…and Diego and Dora the Explorer!  Hey…let’s explore that vista!  We had a tremendous day at Universal.  😃. Thanks again, Lisa and Tom!

In less than a month, we will be headed west. Be sure to stay tuned to see what our next adventure might be!


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