Tag Archives: travel

Universal Hollywood Wizarding World

I have so much to write about the garden and the animals, and I’ll get caught up on that very soon – but first I just wanted to blog about a quick little trip I took to Los Angeles. I primarily wanted to visit the FIDM museum’s exhibit of Hollywood costumes (I’m completely obsessed with this one canary yellow dress from Crimson Peak) but since Universal just opened a Wizarding World in their Hollywood park, of course I had to visit!

hogwarts express

I was a little concerned that it would be too crazy busy since it just opened on April 7th, but since we bought our tickets in advance, we were given admittance to the park an hour before the general crowd was allowed in. This made for a lovely visit.

It was just my friend and I – and a small handful of others.

The amount of detail was astounding. And you really had to pay attention to see it all. For instance, the hog’s head in the Hog’s Head Tavern was animatronic, but only sporadically.

There were animatronic owls in the Owl Post.

And this is the sort of thing I adore – there was fake owl poop underneath them on the floor!

Some of the shops lining the street were genuine, others just fronts, but all of them had fascinating displays.

This picture didn’t turn out well because of the reflection, but that’s a cat. Made out of a measuring tape!

The icicles were completely believable. Even though this was Southern CA.

Hogwarts Castle was fantastic, inside and out.

It was really too dark inside to take good pictures, but the detail and fantastic whimsy continued flawlessly.

And the rides were wonderful. The hippogriff roller coaster is worth riding, even though it’s pretty tame and clearly for the kids – you are taken past a recreation of Hagrid’s hut that isn’t to be missed. And the Journey to Hogwarts 3D ride is the best of it’s kind. So much fun!

While we were at the park, we also rode almost all the non-wizarding rides (the Transformers ride is particularly good) and took in the shows. I enjoyed seeing a trained chicken as part of the animal actors show.

We stayed at the Millennium Biltmore hotel for most of our stay in LA, and it was gorgeous.

And perhaps our favorite part of the entire trip, was seeing A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder live on the stage.  I can’t even tell you how witty and fun this was – and it had the most brilliant staging I’ve ever seen.  If you get the chance to see it, absolutely do!

And if you have seen it, and wonder how the lead does all those amazing quick changes into different characters…watch this! Amazing costuming!

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Venice, part II

According to my favorite custom of getting up early to explore new cities while the rest of the tourists are still sleeping, I grabbed a quick bowl of fruit for breakfast, then went to see St. Mark’s in the morning.

The previous night’s rain made lots of bathing pools for the pigeons.

But there’s always some folks that prefer a good shower.

Since the Palace and the Basilica weren’t open yet, I spent awhile just taking pictures of the carvings outside.

Some of it was rather creepy.

And then they let me into the Basilica, where I couldn’t take any pictures. Bah. It was beautiful, and had a feeling of immense age about it, which I didn’t feel inside the English churches.

Next was the Doge’s palace, which did allow photos.

One of the my favorite parts of the palace was the views through the windows.

The prison/dungeon was MUCH larger than I thought. All these little passages…if there hadn’t been signs to direct me, I’d probably still be there.

In one of the rooms, there was a little slot in the wall.

I peeked through it, and found myself observing a woman in the next room who thought she was alone. You just never know who’s watching.

My ticket included entry to the Correr museum, so I took a quick run through there. I found the chopines particularly fascinating.

I also loved these illustrated books.

Entirely hand-painted, and so tiny.

There was also tons of sculpture and paintings, but I’ve never seen the point of taking photographs of those. If I like a painting, I’ll just buy a postcard or print – much better than a snapshot!  I did take one, though, just to show you something amazing.

The Correr is a series of little rooms, and in most of them, there’s no guards or docents or anyone at all.  A lot of the time, I was the only person around. And there is no glass or barrier of any kind between you and the art. There’s not even any signs not to touch!  How do they keep people from messing with it? In America, you’d have kooks bringing in bottles of spray paint or something…or at least leaving fingerprints all over it. It’s puzzling, but awesome.

The last thing I did in Venice was take a boat ride down the Grand Canal.

It’s so much fun, because the boats rock with the waves.  After we reached the Canal, we slowed down, and I went outside beside the driver so I could get better pictures.

Although I didn’t take nearly as many as I could have done. I mostly just wanted to be there. Unlike some folks. This girl is in a gondola, on the Grand Canal, and she can’t be bothered to look up from her phone. I kept glancing over at her, and nope. I tell you, I hate smart phones.

 

Labor in Venice is interesting.

There was one small street I walked down, and workmen were gutting the inside of a building. All the stone rubble was taken out by hand, put in a wheeled cart, and handwheeled to the canal. Where it was emptied into a boat to be taken away.

I loved all the little gardens.

Sadly, a lot of the destruction of Venice is happening due to large cruise ships traveling up the canal. The residents are trying to stop this, but so far, no one is listening.

Although I loved it, two days in Venice was enough for me. I was ready to go back to London for one day…before I headed home to America.

My last day was all about bookshops and tattoos. My first stop of the day was Cloak and Dagger Tattoo in Shoreditch. They are super friendly and nice, and just the perfect place for a complete newbie to get her first tattoo!

I’d been thinking for years about getting one, and finally I’d settled on a place to put it – and a design that was properly meaningful to me. I went with a simple black silhouette of a dragonfly on the back of my ankle.

Dragonflies have a unique lifecyle. Depending on the variety, they can spend years living in a wingless form, underwater, completely aware of what they are truly meant to become. It is only when they leave the water, that they understand they are creatures of light and flight. I find it a perfect analagy for our life here on earth. We are wingless creatures, living in a world that isn’t truly ours. A lot of us are completely unaware that we are meant to be something else – and even those of us who do understand, well…is it possible to truly know the joy we will feel when we are finally able to leave this murky world and find our wings and the Light, our Saviour, Who is meant to live in us?

Everyone told me that having a tattoo done on the back of my ankle would be incredibly painful – but it hardly hurt at all. It felt like the artist was just scraping the tip of a safety pin over my skin! Even when he hit a sensitive spot, it was barely a 2 on the pain scale.  Even afterwards, it didn’t hurt. The hardest part was remembering to take proper care of it, since I kept forgetting it was even there.

After the tattoo, I went to Hatchard’s Bookshop to pick up a couple copies of the new illustrated version of Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone. It was just being released on this day and I was super excited to be getting the British version, rather than waiting for the US one to come out.

Hatchard’s Bookshop is the oldest surviving bookstore in the UK, and it’s glorious. If bookstores were anything like this in the US, I might be tempted to give up my Kindle in favor of printed books again…but honestly…probably not. Kindles are just too perfect!

They didn’t have any of the Harry Potter books out yet, but when I asked, a clerk got them from the storage area for me. I took them up to pay, and the guy at the register refused to sell them to me (very politely, calling me ‘madam’.) He said the release date they had on their computers wasn’t for two days from now. I said I’d checked the publisher’s site, and they said it was today, and could he double-check that?  It took two clerks ten minutes, but they finally discovered I was right and their computers were wrong.  So I was the first one to buy one of the HP books at Hatchard’s – and possibly, the first one in the whole of Britain, if the stores had been given the wrong date (the US release date instead of the UK one.)

It’s a marvelous book. Well worth hauling it all over the airport the following day. It’s VERY heavy…and I had two of them. Look at these illustrations!

hpbook

hpbook2

The most common question I’m asked is a variant of: Don’t you wish you were still there/could have stayed? The answer is: No.

Before I left on this trip, I was feeling very burnt out and stretched thin, like too little butter over too much toast, as Bilbo likes to say. Because I was saving for this trip, I hadn’t gone anywhere new in two years, and I was really feeling it. The trip itself was often stressful, because constantly having to find my way in new places (when I have zero sense of direction!) and figure out how to handle new things every day for twenty-three days was…out of my comfort zone, to say the least. This was my first solo trip, the longest trip I’ve ever taken, and only the second time I’ve been out of the States (unless you count Canada, which I don’t.) By the end of it, I was ready to come home. It was amazing and incredible and I’m so glad I went, but I was definitely ready to come home.

But it did its job of rebooting my brain. The final morning I woke up in London, I woke up with a new short story ready-made inside. The exact words were just there, like a gift. Before I went to the airport, I dashed out to the first shop that sold notebooks. On the plane from London to Reykjavik, I wrote the words down, non-stop. After a two hour layover in Reykjavik, I wrote for another three hours non-stop on the way back to Seattle. These gifts. These marvelous gifts.

I don’t remember dreaming at all while I was on the trip, but for two weeks after I got home, my brain was an explosion of color and sound and vivid, vivid dreams every night. More gifts.  These are the things you don’t think of, when you consider traveling, the benefits that you don’t realize will happen. I was in the middle of writing a particular novel when I left, and I was a little worried that I’d lose the thread of it – because it was already giving me trouble.  Now I’m back, it’s just bursting out of me, and I can’t wait to finish it, because the next book will be all about the things I saw in Europe – as seen through the eyes of a monster-hunting steampunk girl in Queen Victoria’s court.

But I’m happy to let Winnifred Sebastian-Veals do the traveling for awhile now, while I return to the calm solitude of my garden, my animals, and my art.

Besides, my chicken missed me.

 

Venice 2015

From Bath, I took the train back to London. I was really excited to do a little guided mudlarking along the Thames with LondonWalks.  At low tide, you can walk along the shore and discover all kinds of cool things, many of them from the 1700s or earlier. As my guide stressed, however, you do have to be careful. Wear gloves and don’t touch your face until after you wash up, because you can catch a really nasty (and sometimes fatal) virus.

The south shore of London is very modern, and thus not very nice in my opinion, but it did give me a chance to walk across the Millennium Bridge.  Didn’t see a single Death Eater, though….

I found several interesting things on the beach.

beachcombing

The red shard is part of an 1700s pottery plate, and the guide said it was unusual because it’s glazed on both sides. The long narrow pieces are also from the 1700s – the pipe stems from disposable clay pipes. Smoke once, throw it in the Thames. The piece in the upper right corner is my favorite thing, though. Since it has a fragment of writing on it, the guide was able to narrowly identify it as part of Victorian marmalade pot!

Then it was back to St. James Park for a look at the pelicans, which, once again, were on the far side of the island. Sigh.  I did see lots of young swans.

And this bird, which I saw all over Great Britain. I think it’s a magpie?

And this lovely heron.

I made an early day of it, because the British cold that I started in the Scottish Highlands was really starting to kick in. I felt so bad by the time I was settled into my hotel, that I even considered whether I wanted to catch my flight to Venice at all. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to enjoy it, and I was a little nervous about flying if my head was all congested. I stopped by Boots Drugstore, and threw myself on the mercy of the salesgirl. She set me up some special travel ear plugs, some fizzy Vit. C and zinc tablets, and some decongestants.  So I went to bed, and before I’d even properly gotten to sleep, the fire alarm in the hotel went off. I got up, and went out into the hall, but there was absolutely nothing going on, and after a couple of seconds, the alarm cut off. Another girl opened her door, and we discussed the odds of their actually being a fire, and decided to go back to bed.

I had to get up at four am, and fortunately, I was feeling better. And I’m so glad I didn’t miss Venice! My flight was fine, and the airport was simple to navigate. One tip: don’t buy your Aliliguna (water bus) tickets inside the airport. Everyone does that, and there’s a long line. If you wait until you get to the dock itself, there’s no line at all.

To get to the dock, you have to walk for about 11 mins through a parking lot and down the street (it’s well-marked), and then suddenly there’s the water, with a long line of water taxis and buses.

Around 1pm, I arrived at St. Marks.

All it took was one quick glance toward the square itself, and I decided to delay that part of Venice until evening. (Thank you, Rick Steves. Your Venice Guidebook was SO helpful, and never steered me wrong!)

Geez. Even in October, there’s too many people during the midday –  I can’t imagine the hell of summer!

I booked at the Casanova Hotel, which was right behind St. Marks Square, and easy to find. I was stymied briefly by the light switches – until a maid showed me how to insert the brass part of my room key into a slot to activate the power.

Also interesting was a bell pull inside the shower. To pull in case you fall, and need emergency assistance!

After I checked in, I went and got myself lost. On purpose, since good old Rick Steves told me I couldn’t get really lost.  All ways eventually loop back around to the Grand Canal, and San Marcos.

Once again, the weather was flawless.

The water was so gorgeous. So many different colors. I kept trying to capture its true colors, but I don’t think I ever did.  Beside the Grand Canal, it smelled purely of saltwater, but in some of the smaller canals, it smelled of deeper, riper things.  Not unpleasantly, though.

I spent almost all time in Venice just wandering around. The shopping wasn’t much – mostly very high-end designer stores, which I find boring – and glass/mask/paper stores, which after awhile,  all start to look alike. I did buy a beautiful wire mask, and a handmade black glass cat for myself, as well as a few Christmas gifts for people who might be reading this blog. 😉

I kept passing signs for McDonald’s, but never actually found it.

One thing you should know about me is that I am not a foodie. I really don’t like restaurant food – homemade is so much better! The only real reason to eat out, in my book, is for simple convenience – or because you’re being social with friends. Since I was solo on this trip, I had no reason to be social, so it was all about convenience. I never did eat at any of the sit-down restaurants in Venice; I just walked up to one of the many sandwich places when I got hungry.  I would have actually eaten at the McDonald’s if I’d come across it, because one thing I do find really interesting is how different a chain restaurant is when it’s in a foreign country. The menu is different, and and there’s all these odd little cultural details that fascinate me. In York, I ate at KFC – and I swear their chicken is a million times better than here. And you get little pots of gravy to dip your fries in.

The displays of fresh seafood along the street were beautiful, though.

After wandering until I was exhausted (I was still feeling a bit under the weather), I had a little rest in my hotel room until around 7pm. Then I finally went to St. Marks.

Most of the people had left, and the lighting had changed to one of those evenings where the sky is half stormy and half still blue.

Every so often, a flock of pigeons would take flight and fly by me, so close on both sides that sometimes their wings would brush my shoulders.

And then it started to rain, which drove away pretty much everyone but myself. The bells in the clock tower were chiming, and it was the closest thing to pure magic I’ve ever felt.

I walked down by the water, and managed to take the best two photographs of the whole trip:

And I think I’ll end this post here. Next up,  Venice, part II.

Cardiff and the Doctor Who Experience

From Bath, it’s a short train ride to Cardiff, Wales. And from the Cardiff train station, it’s a short walk to Cardiff Castle.

Cardiff Castle is, hands down, the most ornate place I have been ever inside. It’s mind-blowingly beautiful.

Literally every inch of the place is decorated. Look at these ceilings!

And the walls and floors are equally splendid.

Some of the details were so whimsical. Like this fish.

Cute little animals were sculpted in everywhere.

Stained glass, too.

I think you could live in this castle for years and not notice all the details.

The library was beautiful.

They have a small collection of birds of prey, too. I was especially taken with the owls. As I always am.

During WWII, the exterior castle walls was used as bomb shelter. They have a fantastic walkthrough, with it set up just like it was.

Canteens,

and metal bunkbeds.

Plus, they had sound piped in, of bombs falling, and sirens, and period music, and other things. I spent a long time in here, it was so deeply evocative for me.

Afterward, I walked along the Animal Wall. The story goes, that the owner wanted to put in a zoo, but the townsfolk refused to allow it, because of fears of the animals escaping. So he built a wall with stone animals perpetually in the act of escape. Some of them have glass eyes, and they are pretty creepy…in a completely awesome way.

This wall and its animals are definitely making it into the next book series I’m going to write.

Cardiff has several Victorian-era shopping arcades, with lovely little shops under a glass roof. This one, Castle Arcade, was my favorite. Largely because of the button shop. I bought a bunch of cool hobbit-y buttons there.

When I finished shopping, it was time to grab a cab to Cardiff Bay, and the Doctor Who Experience!  After you travel with the Doctor through an interactive experience, you get turned loose in an immense warehouse filled with costumes, props, and sets.  Nothing is behind glass – although they do have the occasional guard to make sure you don’t actually manhandle the treasures.

The TARDIS set was particularly cool, because you could walk around inside it.

There was creepy stuff.

And you always need to remain on your guard…

But I was thisclose to Ten. His suit, anyway. Guys, you don’t know the struggle it was not to reach out and touch…

It was awesome being able to get so close to all the costumes.

I took a billion pictures, including closeups of most of the costumes. You can find them here, if you’re so inclined.

I really liked Cardiff. It’s definitely on my list of places I’d love to visit again.

Bath

I’ve been to Bath before, on my last trip to England, but it was part of a day long group tour to Bath AND Salisbury AND Stonehenge, so really I was there only a couple of hours, just long enough to see the Roman Baths.

But since I have done that, I skipped them on this trip.  First of all, my guest house, The Kennard, was wonderful. Highly, highly recommend it. Perfect location, in a quiet residential street that was within a short walk of Pultney Bridge. And the owners are SO nice and helpful. The morning I checked out, the husband came up to carry down my bags and get me a cab to the station. It’s a lovely old building, too, built in the 1700s, and comes with the coziest beds with down comforters!

The day I arrived, I just wandered around, taking pictures. With the gorgeous gold stone, it’s a very photogenic

This restaurant is a chain, because I saw one in several different cities. I don’t know…maybe it’s because I’m a gardener, and thus very familiar with slugs on lettuce, but I didn’t find this a particularly appetizing name!

The second day, I visited the Bath Fashion Museum. They have a HUGE collection of historical garments, of which only a very small percentage is on display at any given moment.

They also have modern-era clothing, including some by big name designers, but I only popped my head into those rooms. Not interested!  Although, this one did catch my eye:

Remember the stir Jennifer Lopez caused by wearing this? How funny to think it ended up here, in Bath!

Although the light and reflections made it difficult to take pictures, I was thrilled to see a dress by one of my favorite designers, Titanic survivor Lady Duff Gordon, aka Lucile!

Lady Duff Gordon was a fascinating woman – and she wrote an fascinating autobiography A Woman of Temperament. I highly recommend it!

Also at the Fashion Museum, I booked a 2 hour slot in their Study Facilites. It’s pretty amazing, really. Email ahead, and let them know what types of fashion you’re interested in, and they’ll pull pieces from their collection and let you handle them and take photos/sketches. If you’re interested in seeing what I looked at, more info on this is on my costuming blog.  https://dragonflydesignsbyalisa.wordpress.com/2016/05/26/bath-costumes/

For lunch, I had crepes at a little creperie around the corner from the Abbey. So good. I went for lunch again the following day! I took my crepes to go, and ate in the parade park, with the lovely views of Pultney Bridge.

In the late afternoon, I took a boat ride up the river. We were promised a sight of kingfishers, but none materialized. There were some really pretty houses along the river.

Instead of doing the trip back via boat, I went into the little village of Bathampton, and walked back to Bath along the canal.

I got back into Bath just in time to see Bath Abbey lit up into pure gold.

Magical.

Glencoe and Loch Ness

I probably would have skipped this tour and spent more time in Edinburgh if I’d known what it was going to be like. I chose Rabbie’s because they offer smaller, more personal tours. With bus tours, a lot depends on the driver/guide you get, and I just didn’t really get on with my guide. He didn’t talk enough during the drive – I love a guide that just tells you everything about the country and the history you’re passing through. This guy was more into playing music, which would have been ok, if he’d stuck to Scottish music, and didn’t keep veering off into random music like Pink Floyd. (That was when he really lost me…I hate Pink Floyd. Nails on a chalkboard…)

The largest horses in the world; who knew they lived in Scotland?

And I was just a bit underwhelmed by the scenery too. The Highlands are beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but they are so very much like where I live, in the Pacific Northwest.

Everyone else on the tour was oohing, and I was just…it looks like home. Yeah, by this time I was completely spoiled by all the things I’d already seen, in Iceland and elsewhere.

I don’t remember the name of the place those first three pictures were taken. Some loch on the way to Glencoe.

Glencoe, at least, did live up to my expectations of beauty. That is definitely a place worth going to. And different than home, yes!

And here’s an example though, of why I didn’t like my guide overly much. He told us basically nothing about the history of Glencoe. I knew the basics, of course, but I’m sure there are tons of fascinating details I don’t know – and in opinion, a guide shouldn’t assume his tour already knows even the basics.  I had perfect weather, again, and the guide did a great job of beating the large tours up here, so we got an unspoiled walkaround.

After Glencoe, we went to Loch Ness. I was super pleased with my guide here, because instead of taking us to one of the touristy, busy parts of the lake, he brought us to a little village whose name I have forgotten.  Queen Victoria came here, though, on her tour of the Highlands. She was eating her lunch on the deck of her boat when they came through the canal locks, and was very displeased by the rudeness of the villagers who all crowded around the banks to stare at her while she ate. In reality, though, it wasn’t to see her eat, but simply because they always gathered to watch boats pass through the locks.

I got to watch four boats go through the locks while I was there, and it was fascinating.

One thing that was on my must-do list was try a steak and kidney pie. I finally had my chance. I took it down to Loch Ness to eat.

It was good! I’m now a fan.

Loch Ness itself was very quiet and peaceful. I sat beside the water for almost an hour. So pretty. And so much like home.

From the Loch, there’s a canal through the village.

On the way back to Edinburgh, we stopped briefly in Pitlochry. It’s another village that Queen Victoria visited. Another solo girl from the tour and I foraged out together, first to find a restroom, and then ice cream. She had the familiar choice of raspberry. I tried the Traditional.

The girl (as we’re waiting for the clerk): “What flavor is that? Vanilla?”

The clerk: “No. It tastes like…like milk.”

The girl, making a disgusted face: “Milk????”

It was good. It did taste like milk, very very creamy rich milk. There was another flavoring in there, too, but I couldn’t identify what it was.

Continuing on in the bus, we had to stop for some hairy coos.

I was so delighted.

And so was everyone else on the bus.

Edinburgh 2015

My new favorite city in the whole world.

I boarded the sleeper train to Edinburgh at a little before midnight. Each car of the train has its own attendant, and mine was a super nice gentleman with a gorgeous Scottish accent. I think a Scottish accent is my favorite when it comes to men. (For women, it’s Welsh.)

I loved the sleeper train; I’d love to do it again. The motion of the rails was so relaxing. At about 6:30am, my attendant “knocked me up” and brought me breakfast – porridge with honey. Here’s a tip I have for traveling in the U.K.: carry little packets of salt in your pockets. I don’t know why, but no one pre-salts the food. French fries are unsalted, porridge is unsalted….I learned this pretty quickly, as they don’t include salt packets in Takeway orders, either.

But Edinburgh!

At 7am when they kicked me off the train, the city was pretty much devoid of tourists. It was all mine. I left my bags at my hotel, and went immediately to the Royal Mile. None of the shops were open yet, and I just walked down it, looking in all the windows. I just felt so happy here, like I’d found a place where I really belonged.

If I ever come to the UK again, I’m bypassing London, and flying directly into Edinburgh. Edinburgh was another of my Five Best Experiences.

There were several old churchyards, and of course I wandered through them.

I visited the Elephant House, where JK Rowling wrote much of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

It is justly named the elephant house. There are elephants everywhere inside. Big ones, medium sized ones, and a display case of little ones…and a signed first edition of Rowling’s first book. Plus, a personal thank-you note from her to the cafe.

I visited St. Giles Cathedral, which I liked so much more than Westminster Abbey.

Here, the stained glass was gorgeous and within reach.

It was just much warmer, and more welcoming. But still awe-inspiring.

The St. Giles churchyard was where Rowling used to wander for inspiration. Many of her characters’ names are taken directly from the gravestones. Including Tom Riddle’s.

One of the most haunted places in the world is here, at the Mackenzie mausoleum, home to a violent poltergeist.

All was peaceful when I was there.

Loved the grave art.

The architecture in Edinburgh is so spiky and beautiful. I found myself just repeating “I love it here” over and over inside my head as I walked around.

There are famous dogs,

and pigs I’ve never heard of.

And everywhere, cunning little “closes” or alleys.  I took an interactive tour of The Real Mary King’s Close, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Incredibly informative about Edinburgh’s early days.

The other really amazing thing was Holyrood Palace. Besides being still a lived-in palace by the British monarchy, it was Mary Queen of Scot’s palace. I saw the place where her jealous husband and his friends dragged her male secretary out of her breakfasting room and stabbed him 50+ times in front of her. History gets real when you’re actually standing in it!

Let us talk of graves, of worms, and ephitaphs. Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth. Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories of the death of kings. How some have been deposed, some slain in war, some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed. Some poisoned by their wives, some sleeping killed, all murdered.

Richard II, Shakespeare