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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.
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.
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.
As most of you know, Andy and I recently spent a wonderfully chilly week in North Carolina. For the first part of the trip, we were in the small mountain town of Murphy visiting my mom and her family. We fit a lot into three days despite the dreary weather, one of first stops was the Holiday Folk Art Festival at John C. Campbell Folk School.
The bulk of the event was set up in the Keith House, which is where the school also teaches Contra dancing and hosts musical events.
Not only were there all manner of awesome crafts, the school was decked out for the holidays. Of course there were no store bought trappings for these dedicated artisans, only gorgeous handmade pieces would do.
Admittedly, I am always a little more interested in the jewelry than some of the other crafts at events like these, but some of the vendors surpassed even my high expectations.
These bracelets are tiny seed beads woven into elaborate patterns. Absolutely gorgeous and I don’t even want to think about how long it took to create them.
I picked up one of these Swarovski studded snowflakes for a friend; I would have bought the entire tree if I could have (Fox Den Designs, NC).
Holiday shopping aside, I did break down and buy these incredible hand wrought copper calla lily earrings for myself. They also had dogwood blossoms, which would normally be right up my alley, but something about these delicate bells called to me. I’ve worn them every day since (Stuart Nye).
The weather was pretty awful: cold, rainy and more than a little muddy. Everyone was holding their coats close and umbrellas high as we dashed from building to building.
At first, I felt horrible for this poor little guy; he was wet and cold, and he had the saddest brown eyes. I felt a little less bad after I noticed he was well fed and had a collar. Even less so after he used those eyes to con some of my fellow event goers out of half a hot dog and two biscuits, which were promptly eaten and then said pitiful puppy trotted happily away, tail up and everything.
It was a lot of fun talking to the local artisans and seeing the incredible pieces they spend their days creating. I’d love to come back and take some classes, perhaps during the summer when I can take a few vacations days. Now I only have to decide what I want to learn first.
Hello friends, I am back on EST and only slightly singed. Our beach trip got off to a bit of a rocky start. Friday started off with a little work drama, and it looked like I would have to work late, but one of my coworkers took pity on me and offered to cover so I could leave at my normal time. She has cookies, brownies, cinnamon rolls, or some other “thank you” baked good coming her way. Anyway, there wasn’t any beach on Friday due to the torrential downpour that followed us from Tallahassee to Orange Beach, but we still had fun hanging out with our Friends and laughing over how completely drenched we got running to and from the car. I also found another of the Ben & Jerry’s vegan ice creams while we were picking up basics for the condo. That was pretty cool bonus.
Saturday dawned chilly but clear, and we all made it down to the beach to soak up a little sun. Okay, the others soaked; I covered myself head to toe in 100SPF and held out as long as I could. After I started turning pink, Andy and I went off and did a little adventuring. Nothing too crazy; just exploring the area and enjoying the sprawling sand dunes. The day wrapped up with dinner at a local greasy spoon and everyone staying up way past their bed times laughing and reminiscing. Sunday we went out for brunch, and then it was back to Tallahassee. It was a quick trip, but we had a great time.