If you area visitor in the LA area right now – and, alright, even you locals as well – the first thing I have to say is sorry: these fires suck! Air quality is bad, lighting is all screwy from the ash clouds, and it is so hot that no one really wants to do anything. This is not the California I signed up for when I moved home but at least us locals are used to fire seasons and the burning in the chaparral – again, for you visitors, I am so sorry.
But this week and into the weekend there is a pretty cool excursion which more or less helps you escape the orange lighting which makes LA city look a lot like an angry Mordor upon approach:
From young surfers to older and more experienced pros, these athletes are quite the sight. The event has spaces for two simultaneous surf competitions, as well as BMX and Skateboard arenas.
Whether you are a beach junkie (yes!), photo-bug (yes!) or a fan of any or all of these sports (a little calmer but still, yes!), then this is worth the drive. These are also pop up shops including a Van’s mega-pop up which sells exclusive 2016 US Open gear if the heat gets too much for you or you are just looking for a break.
We went last Saturday which was day 1 of the competition and it was already pretty crowded so I’d plan to get there early especially as the finals roll in this weekend. There is lot parking but that usually fills up hours before things get truly underway and parking on the street isn’t crazy expensive so I would plan to park on the street and walk in – again, be wary as you may have to walk a fair amount!
Unfortunately, while we were there, the fog was so heavy that there wasn’t much to see on the water. For the three hours (two of actual surf time) we snapped pictures, each site seemed to get less than a single heat scored. Still, a lot of photographers – my father and myself included – did pick up a few good shots of practice runs from the pier during the standstill.
Photographers! Remember to set up and protect you camera and gear for the conditions (moisture, wind, sun, heat, salt, ect) and that the pier gets crowded so finding a good vantage point can be really hit or miss.
I didn’t mind the conditions except for the little bit of fuzz in my pictures, so as long as you enjoy watching the surfers do their thing regardless if you get perfect shots, you’ll have a great day.
Because of scheduling and the fog, we only stayed a short while but I have heard that you get quite a show from the other competitions as well, so they are worth stopping into. The skate and BMX competitions start closer to noon so keep an eye on the schedule. If I managed to get back out there this weekend, my camera and I will definitely be running around every inch of the competition!
Until then, remember your hats, glasses, and sunscreen and stay safe out there LA!
This past week, my sister and I camped with our barony at Potrero war outside of San Diego as part of a SCA event. I’ve written about the SCA – The Society for Creative Anachronism – before but this is the most intense part of the society we’ve been apart of yet.
Potrero war is a 5 day event – including the set up and pack up day – where you are fully garbed and in persona. We bowed to royalty and their chairs; we saw a knighting and a court where many were elevated to new ranks; we shopped in the marketplace; we partied with Romans, Romani, and other baronies (though I never made it very long in the party arena…); and we watched the battles while other ladies and gentlemen worked on their crafts.
And it was so much fun!
Down the road, I’ll talk about all the things I wish I had brought or left, that I had done (like volunteering more!) and explored. But for now, I am going to de-gunk my system – a lot of greens, teas, and yoga in my immediate future – and get a whole lot of sleep.
This past weekend – while coinciding with Easter – was Long Beach’s Carnevale Festival.
Carnevale is the Italian celebration which traditionally proceeds the Lenten season – aka Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. This celebration is huge in Venice which has create an aesthetic of masks and costumes on top of the already great party atmosphere that has become a staple prior the long fast of Lent.
This LA based version was a bit later in the season – read: after the technical end – due to the earlier (and properly dated) celebration of French/widespread Mardi Gras.
While we never went down for Mardi Gras and only stayed down in Long Beach for a small part of the celebration (we had to make it back to the valley for Easter vigil), everything we saw and experienced was fun and boisterous.
Most of the people dressed up were there for the express person pf being photographed and later competing in the costume contest. These costumes ranged in both style and the extent of detail worked in. There was everything from geisha inspired to fantastic creatures – ie. unicorns and fairies- to cartoon-colored Victorians and beyond.
The only problem I had with the event was some of the attendees. A lot – if not most – were professional to semi-professional photographers which made many of them cut throat and, often times, rude. I can’t count the number of times I was forcibly moved by hip checks or being banged into by cameras as someone else moved me for a better shot. While watching a dance performance, someone banged into my face and then continued to use the side of my glasses to steady their camera – this was after they used my leg as bag support. Yea, I was ticked.
Despite these – literal – bumps and bruises, I loved the event and the setting. What’s great about Long Beach events is they can last all day but there are many other things to do and see in the area which makes the drive – and relatively cheap parking – worth the day trip.
Anyone who has been keeping up with me knows that my schedule has been more than hectic. Tonight, I am writing from Philadelphia but wrapping up all my time in London with a final look at one of London’s overlooked treasures…. especially for anyone who loves a good story, a good play, and a good mystery.
For anyone who isn’t aware, London’s Saint Martin’s Theatre, located between the Covent Garden and Leicester Square stations, holds the record breaking run for the longest running production of Agetha Christie’s “The Mousetrap.”
In fact, this is the only place you can watch this play and discover the ending to the mystery.
The play is a fun labyrinthe of twists and turns set against the backdrop of a newly opend boarding house and a sudden murder spree. My favorite part is the fact that after 60+ years of near constant showings, audiences still agree to not share the ending.
This theatre holds the rights to put on the production which means that you can only access it within the theatre. Apparently, the contract states that until the theatre stops it’s production, they hold all the rights, meaning no print or film version may be made.
Still, this is a play that – at least in my circles – was little known. For those who did know about it, most hadn’t been able to go and see it. But you should!
Saint Martins is a small, easily accessed theatre. The tickets can be a bit pricey for those on student budgets – this is London after all – but you can usually get last minute tickets, especially for weeknights.
I really do recommend this show as it’s something only London can offer you and is a true historical staple in the world of London theatre. It also helps that this thriller is immensely entertaining.
But this wraps up my London life, at least for the present, but it’s onward and upward from here – or at least that’s the hope!
Don’t forget to check out my lifestyle blog every Thursday – a month in and I’m sticking to it – but until then:
WARNING: MAJOR FANGIRL ALERT AHEAD! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
A few weeks back, I was once again so lucky to hit the Warner Brothers’ Harry Potter Studio Tour, which is amazing. I talked about this once before back in June 2014 (after my first visit), but it was a brief mention hidden in my nerd/fandom post about traveling around the fandom-centric sites of the UK.
This post is going to get more specific, but I won’t tell too much and give anything too big away—you’ll have to visit and experience it for yourself!
First to explain where I’m coming from (because, no, Harry Potter is not just for kids, DA’s honor! too far? too far…) :
I’ve grown up with these books, these characters, and this world. We listened to them on cross-country road trips narrated by Jim Dale, I’ve gone to book and film midnight releases dressed in Potter-bound apparel (I’m not a full out costume person), slept curled around the seventh book during my mid read nap so no one in the house could steal it, been to the Los Angeles’ WB Harry Potter/Costume/Lot museum, the London tour twice now, the theme park in Florida and can’t wait for the opening in LA. There are probably more—including the Ravenclaw cardigan I am currently sporting and its Slytherine double hanging back at my flat which have begun to grace my work and everyday wardrobe—but this list feels sufficiently long enough.
I’m technically a Ravenclaw (through and through—thank you, Pottermore), but I have a not so secret desire to fall a bit more on the green side, and that streak is strong. There is a whole theory I have behind this (which doesn’t even touch on my high school feminism and Harry Potter thesis), but alas, I digress (feel free to ask me about it, however!).
Anyway, as one of the cast members explained to a nearby group, where Florida is a theme park, The lot tour in London is a giant museum—and I emphasis giant.
Filling two large sound stages and some of the outdoor space between them, this is really The Harry Potter museum. Each of these sound stages is filled with the real costumes, props, hair pieces, and sets used to film the film adaptations. While you can’t walk onto (most of the sets) you can take as many pictures as you want of everything you see and a few bigger sets even have small interactive aspects.
You are led through the tour by videos playing across screens throughout the tour as well as large information signs, but you can buy (either with your ticket or before entering the tour) a personal media tour guide which will give you more digital commentary on what you are seeing, behind the scenes stories, and image galleries you wouldn’t see otherwise.
My suggestion: if you are a big fan, you’ll want to get the earliest entry time available. We went in at 10 am and left the lot at around 5-5:30 pm; they announced the last tour entry when we still had a few rooms left to go—rooms where we spent the most amount of time as well! This being said, we listened and read absolutely everything, stopped for a quick bite at the midway point, and spent more time than I’d ever considered in the wand room (which I’ll get to in just a minute).
The second half of the tour is great for anyone interested in the design aspects of film making from prosthetic work to models while CGI falls near the end of the first soundstage. This second half also showcases artists’ renderings and concept art which are so beautiful you’ll want them for your house—again, you can take pictures of all of this!
Before we get to the wand room, as promised, I want to touch on the food situation. This was updated from the first time I’d gone on the tour three years ago, so it’s a fully enclosed area. There are two areas you order from: one is everything (food and drinks) and the other is the Butterbeer stand. The set up gets crowded so if you have a few people, after ordering, leave one or two to grab the food (party size depending), a few to pick up the drinks, and anyone else to grab a table.
This is one of only three places in the world that carry Butterbeer and, if I may say, the taste has definitely improved from my first try. There are different variations depending on where you go—Florida had warm, cold, and frozen when we visited—and here in London the Butterbeer is served cold or in ice cream form. If you just go to the drink stand, you won’t see the ice cream option so be aware it’s there because it is absolutely worth it! (I can’t say the same for the Mac’n’cheese, however, just so you know.)
But onto the Wand room.
My other post touched on the beauty and awe of the large scale castle model—again, I almost burst into tears and probably spent a good hour in this particular room on each of my visits—but I never even considered until this last trip, how long a person could find themselves wandering the wand room—the last room you enter before hitting the gift shop.
This room looks—at a simple glance—like a neater version on Ollivander’s Wand Shop. These wand boxes, however, are not real props and do not contain wands—instead, each box end has a name of a person who worked on the film in some way over the course of the 8 films. this rangers from actors and directors, to prop designers and camera crews; if a person was listed on the workers books, they have a box.
Most visitors fly through this room without a second thought, however, inside this room, there is always a robe employee who you can ask to point out anyone whose box you’d like to see. We spent probably the same amount of time in this room as we did with the castle model, asking the employee about everyone we could possibly think of and she pointed out a few extras we hadn’t even thought to ask about (don’t forget, J.K. Rowling has her own box as well!).
If you are lucky and really give the employee some tough things to remember, they may even give you some extra stories they’ve learned for the sets and about people named in the room. This room was truly so much fun!
Once you are out of the wand room, you enter the most dangerous room in the whole tour: the gift shop. A neat tip we got from the girl in the wand room: You can try on and take pictures with anything without buying it—robes, sorting hat, ect—though I’d note, within reason! This is great if you can’t afford to buy these items but want to instagrm a picture souvenir.
My go to purchases are the house sweaters and cardigans, and this is the place I’d go to buy them because, unlike the shop you will find in King’s Cross station (another thing I missed from fandom locations I’ve visited), these sweaters do not have house logos!
There are pros and cons to this fact, however, both dealing with the fact that they look like normal clothing. This means you can get away with going Potter-bound anywhere and no one is the wiser. It also means that your cosplay is closer to the films where they aren’t patched. Unfortunately, this means that the sweaters look like your everyday, inexpensive sweater, but with a fandom price tag which (at least) doubles the cost.
With that in mind, it’s a tossup. Since I’m not growing anymore, I’m fine with what I have now, but I’d be wary about buying for kids.
Also, make sure you get the washing instructions from the checkout; the sweaters shrink up a lot in the wash so the directions are very important since you are paying so much you don’t want to ruin them!
For all the other logistics from prices to how to get to the lot (plan well ahead for this; if you are late and miss your window, they say you may not be allowed in), check out the site. And a final note from me: be aware of the season and times you are going. Tourist season has heavy traffic through the tour as do various times through the school year (like in September!) when school trips come through!
And with that, I think this post has gone on long enough. If you have anything to add, questions to ask, whatever, comment below!
Since September, I’ve been feeling a bit lost in Wonderland—or, in my case, London. It’s a place so much like home and yet so strangely different in its details that I find myself feeling a bit like a wandering Alice in a new mad world where I’m never quite sure if I’ve slipped through the looking glass forever or if I’m just searching for the best path home.
And then, within my wanderings, I began to notice that London has developed its own Alice fever… the girl is everywhere from emerging patters and silhouettes and color themes in fashion to afternoon teas (1,2,3,4), to advertised events across the city (1,2,3,4,5), even stamps! It’s only recently that I discovered why:
2015 is the 150th Anniversary of Alice and Wonderland’s first publication.
The celebrations are bigger than any un-birthday the Hatter and Hare could ever come up with, but many are probably just as mad.
Of all these events, the maddest of them all would have to be the interactive experience worth visiting again and again: Alice’s Adventures Underground.
I was able to attend this event a few weeks back, in what one website led me to believe was the last weekend, and it was an amazing evening. And, luckier still, the event is NOT over. In fact, it’s running through August, which means I’ll be lining up to go at least one more time-seriously, I’ve booked the tickets!
This event has multiple parts from a children’s show, a literary talk series, the interactive experience for the more grown up folk and a club area that stays open later, each of which has a separate ticket and therefore price—make sure you’re buying for the right thing! (The children show is for children; no adult permitted without child—check that ticket!)
In this post, I’ll be focusing on the Interactive show.
Since this is ongoing and who knows which of you might be gearing to go out, I don’t want to give too much away, but I’ll tell you a little more about what you are in for than the main website does:
So, what you’ll learn from the website is that this is an interactive show based on the works by Lewis Carroll. You’ll get to explore a unique version of Wonderland by being part of it, all located within the bowels of The Vaults under Waterloo station.
When you pick your time, you should be aware that you MUST arrive 15 minutes before that allotted time (again, this is on the site), however, if you want to have something to drink when you get to the in-world tea party (you must prepay and pre-order before going into the show), get in the right mind set, have a pre-show drink, go to the bathroom, check your coats and bags (it costs 1 pound for each checked item), or anything else you feel you need to do, get there even earlier. It’s also a little bit crazy trying to find the entrance so set out earlier than you think you need to; you’ll thank me later.
There is also a dress code: you are in the land of the Queen of Hearts so it’s all red and black here.
Please, guys, for me (yes, this is begging) stick to the dress code! One thing I hadn’t realized before this adventure was that I’m an Alice. My wardrobe would be fit for playing the character, all blues and collars and, with my blond hair and petite frame, even the actors played with the resemblance! Still, there were a few blues popping in and out of groups and it was the biggest pain as someone who was embracing the whole experience. Seriously, enjoy the night and go all in—it’s more fun that way!
Like I said, you have to check your coat and bag, but I encourage you to keep cash on you. You are let out into a great club space where you can get more drinks and some food, and while you can go back and get your stuff and return to eat, it’s just easier if you have the cash stashed on your person. And it’s hot down there, so keep your layers light.
Now, onto the stuff they don’t tell you:
The set is amazing and you will have choices as you interact within it. You enter in through this maze of boxes which let out into a room full of artifacts; pictures hanging from the ceiling, book shelves climbing the walls at impossible angles, mirrors and toys. Take a wander and explore—it’s not exactly a museum so you can touch, just don’t disrupt anything. Beware: don’t get too close to the walls as the doors are hidden and spring open to let you down the next passage ways.
Storytelling wise, you are entering Wonderland after Alice has come and gone, her name and person is a banned subject. The black cards (the clubs and spades) are part of an uprising in Wonderland, fighting to take down the King and Queen of Hearts. The reds (Hearts and Diamonds), on the other hand, are solving the conspiracy against said royals. Each suit will follow its own adventure—even coming in a group won’t guarantee you’ll all stay together, so you should choose if you want to try sticking together as much as you can or all meet up at the end of the line.
If you are anxious about talking to characters or being approached, you should be aware that it’s possible that this is going to happen. You can either fight through or, if you are struggling, an actor will help you out. Even then, you very rarely have to do anything completely on your own. Don’t not go because you don’t want to be singled out—it’s worth it, I promise.
When you do get to the end, don’t think this is just a room with a band. Besides the wandering characters (who are definitely worth having a chat with), live music, and food, there is a maze that leads through to a second bar as well as the makings of a royal flamingo croquet course for you to play with some friends (through the “PIES” door and up the stairs). This is also the only space besides the pre-show room that you are allowed to take pictures in—yes, of and with the wandering characters as well.
That’s all you’re getting from me, at least, for now. Let me know with a comment if you have any questions and I’m sure to answer what I can. Also, here’s a master list I found with other Wonderland inspired events going on in and around London, so check your local listings.
Remember: It’s a mad world and we’re all mad here, but the best people usually are…