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Secret Wood

I’ve never been one to wear a lot of rings. I did try to do the hippy loads of sliver rings thing in college, but that didn’t last very long. I work with my hands a lot, baking, and crafting; heck, in college, I was sewing, drafting, and embellishing things left and right. With my short stubby fingers, rings just felt like they got in the way, and constantly taking them off and putting them back on during a project seemed, frankly, like a waste of time. It’s one of the reasons I have a modest engagement ring and wedding band set, and it still took the better part of a year to get used to them. So when I talk about liking a ring, it’s a pretty big deal; it has to be something special to turn my head. The Secret Wood ring collection did just that. Yes, they are on the bulkier side, but they look like rings from fairy tales long ago or the cat collar necklace bauble from Men in Black. Tiny worlds contained within a simple object.

Incredible, right? My favorites, of course, are the ones with flowers, but I think all of them are something special. Plus, no two are exactly alike, so each ring is a unique piece of art.

Images from here.


Diagon Alley

You guys got to hear all about Hogsmeade last week, so now it’s time for Diagon Alley. First of all, I have to give the Universal people serious props when it comes to giving you the most “realistic” experience possible. After a short train ride from Hogsmeade, you find yourself exiting the wizarding world and into modern day London. Granted, the Knight Bus is parked right outside the station, but as we all know, muggles can’t see it anyway so it isn’t like it matters. From there, you walk down the street past a record shop and what I believe is a book store and then you make your way into what looks like, to me at least, a nondescript public restroom alcove. Duck around the corner, and you’ll find yourself in Diagon Alley.

As you enter, you’ll notice the Leaky Cauldron to your left and Weasley Wizard Wheezes on your right. Straight ahead will be Gringotts Bank; just look for the dragon, it’s hard to miss. Depending on how he is feeling that day, the dragon may or may not be sending a plume of flames onto the streets below every 10-15 minutes, just for funsies.    Head down the way to your right and find yourself in the right place for a tasty brew or a sweet treat or two, even though it’s still no Honeydukes. Watch out for the fountain though; sometimes it likes to spit at passersby.   Talk about resting bitch-face, right?  Okay, now I have to warn you about something. Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour is super dangerous. We tried the Earl Grey & Lavender ice cream the first day, and we had to go back every single day we were there. We even got one to eat as we were walking out of the park. I feel like no other ice cream is ever going to be as good. Seriously, I have three pints in the freezer right now, and when I see them, it’s like “why bother?”

 Also dangerous, and not pictured, are the damn Pygmy Puffs. Those fluffy balls of pink or purple made the cutest little coo-ing noises, and Andy had to physically make me leave the store because I was getting upset about not being able to take them all home. What if I picked the wrong one? What if one of them was broken and couldn’t find a loving home? I couldn’t pick between the colors, that would be racist (puffist?). It was a thing. It shouldn’t have been, and looking back now I don’t even understand what happened, but standing in the pet store, I seriously almost cried over a stuffed animal. Something I missed on my first trip last year was Eternelle’s Elixirs. This stand offers chilled Pumpkin Juice, Gilly Water, and a quartet of delightful elixirs you can infuse your drinks with (I’d stick to the Gilly Water for the base since the Pumpkin Juice doesn’t mix well). I chose the elixir to induce Euphoria, I mean it is vacation after all, and my mom opted for the Fire Protection Potion, something to do with avoiding sunburns I think. Both were highly concentrated, so we only needed have an elixir each. I was only mildly impressed, but my mom went back the following day to procure two more to take home as souvenirs.  We did nip down and around to Knockturn Alley to get out of the sun for a bit, but lighting is a bit dodgy and not at all conducive to photo taking.    Our last big stop was Gringotts bank; we briefly considered exchanging some of our muggle money for wizarding coins (seriously, there is a set you can buy), but we ultimately decided that dollars and cents would be an easier way to pay for things once we were back in the park.


Hogsmeade

As most of you know, I celebrated turning thirty last year by taking my very first trip to Universal/Islands of Adventure. As you’d imagine, I had an absolute blast. So much so that I knew I had to take my mom there ASAP. It took me a year to get things figured out and set up, but by the end of last month, my mom was in Florida and we were loaded up and heading to Orlando. We spent two and a half days running around from park to park, so for the sake of not completely oversharing in a single post, I’m highlighting what were her favorite parts of the parks in two posts. First up is Hogsmeade.

If you get the opportunity, you should absolutely take advantage of the “magic hour.” Hogsmeade is the most popular thing at Islands of Adventure, and later in the day the lines are maddening. However, during that hour, you can literally walk on to any ride available. Plus, the lines for the shops and the pub are much more manageable.  As Andy and I are now seasoned pros at this whole theme park thing (insert eye roll), we decided the very first thing we needed to do was procure a wand for my mother. We went to Olivanders, watched the sorting ceremony (with plenty of elbow room since the “show” was only half full), and then ducked in next door so she could make her selection.  In my opinion the interactive wands, while a bit pricey, are the hands down best souvenir you can buy if you are a Harry Potter fan. Not only does it look spiffy on display when you get home, you can use it to cast “spells” at dozens of locations in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. It takes the world immersion to a whole new level and is fun for any age.  We also took advantage of the smaller crowds and headed to the Three Broomsticks for breakfast after the business with the wand was squared away. I highly recommend the Traditional Breakfast (full English breakfast). While it might seem a bit strange at first, we thoroughly enjoyed it, and for you meat-a-vors, it has three different types of breakfast meat. Andy and my mothers generously split mine and compensated me with some fresh fruit and additional sautéed mushrooms. Andy went nuts for the ham, which he said tasted more like a “flat pork chop” than the salty variety we’re more familiar with. Don’t rush this part of the park; the world building is incredible, and there are so many cool things to discover if you take the time. Peer into shop windows and down alley ways; one of the best views of the castle is on the back porch of the Three Broomsticks, and both times we went out there, we were alone.  Honeydukes is another must see for this area. It’s a great place to find unusual sweet for yourself as well as anyone back home. We always make sure to pick up a chocolate frog and another story themed treat to try out.  Something else I’d like to note is how many of the rides have walk through options. My mother and I both get motion sick very easily so we can’t always do a lot of the larger park rides, but with the way Hogsmeade is set up, we were able to use a whole other “line” and walked through at our leisure. Then we just stepped out a side door and headed into the inevitable gift shop at the end of the ride. 
Hogsmeade is solidly my second favorite place to hang out in the Islands of Adventure/Universal Studios parks. Next up with be my absolute favorite, Diagon Alley.


The Florist Bandit

As anyone who has ever received flowers as a gift can tell, there is nothing quite like a bouquet of colorful blooms to brighten your day. Now imagine how wonderful it would be to surprise hundreds of people with flowers. I read an article by Vogue about the “Florist Bandit” who is creating floral installations all over New York City. Best known for his elaborate and fantastical party and wedding creations, florist Lewis Miller started creating these “floral flashes” for the single purpose of creating a joyful moment for commuters and city dwellers. The flashes are never advertised and are usually created quickly by a team between 5:45am and when the sun rises, giving the artist time to clear out before the deluge of people heading into the office. This is without a double my favorite piece. The Alice in Wonderland statue is already incredible and then to add flowers? I don’t think it could get any better 🙂 Miller says that he and his team have no plans on stopping any time soon, and although these pieces literally pop up in a mater of hours, you can keep up with what is being created where by checking out the artist’s Instagram page or by searching the hashtag #LMDWasHere.

 

Images from here.


Disney Springs

As I mentioned in my previous post, although our Orlando trip was technically a “Universal/Islands of Adventure” trip, we did manage to squeeze in a quick visit to Disney Springs on Thursday night. 1 – because I love Disney Springs and 2 – because my mom hadn’t been there since it was Downtown Disney. #2 was basically an excuse for me to indulge in #1.

One of the things that had to happen was Andy & my mom experiencing the delight and sheer wonder of the the Sprinkles Cupcake ATM. Although they missed the best part because they turned around to excitedly tell me it was working and missed the whole camera to the cupcake robot part of the transaction. *Sigh* It wasn’t disappointing enough to buy another $6 cupcake though.  There really should have been an in between shot with the actual cupcake, but it seems when you put a single cupcake in front of three starving adults it doesn’t last long…… And of course we had to make sure we picked up some candy from The Ganachery “for later.” If you get the chance, do yourself a favor and try the Dark Chocolate & Orange and the Dark Chocolate & Pistachio. You’re welcome.
Even though we were there for several hours, there was a ton we didn’t see, and we just quickly ran through a lot like the Undersea Bar at T-Rex. And then spent way to much time in others like the new fascinator/corsage area in the Co-Op (completely my fault). I’ve also new decided that I need a large bow hat with feathers. I’d wear it to afternoon tea and the grocery store. You know, the important things.  I’ll do a full post on our vacation dining choices later, but the chandelier at Frontera Cocina was too good not to share. It reminded me of all the lanterns they released in Tangled. We wrapped up the evening with a visit to Amorette’s Patisserie to procure some pretentious pastries, also for “later”, and to admire the prep work the the pastry chefs were already undertaking to garnish the desserts for the next day. I found out that they offer (for a fee of course) a class where you can learn some decorating techniques and walk away with your own Mickey butt cake. I’ll need to do a bit more research, but I might have to try it the next time we visit.