My cousin got married last month, in her new hometown: Orlando, FL. Naturally, that meant the clan planned a fabulous vacation around our gala. I am one of the odd birds out there who was never really interested in visiting Florida, except to see family that is, and I had been putting it off. The wedding made for the perfect excuse to go, finally. I am so glad I partook in the festivities.

Not only was the wedding everything we dreamed of, and more, but we all had a delightful time enjoying the city of Orlando, and surrounding environs. Okay, so my mother and sister did not enjoy driving in Orlando traffic so much, but everything else was delightful. On my first day there, my sister chose St Augustine as the place she wanted to explore for her birthday. What an unexpected treat. St Augustine is charming. We enjoyed an authentic Mexican meal at Playa Chac Mool. If you go, I can recommend their chicken flautas. Very yummy. Our service was impeccable. After lunch, we enjoyed a walk on the beach and St Augustine Pier. This was my first time seeing pelicans up close. I had no idea they could be so charismatic. Having worked the night before, then taking an early flight from Milwaukee, I was too pooped to climb the St Augustine Lighthouse, but there was plenty to do and see on the grounds, in the Keeper’s House, and in the gift shop.

After St Augustine, we headed to my aunt’s house in Altamonte Springs. We had a nice spaghetti dinner to celebrate my sister’s birthday. By the time we got back to our time share, I was ready for my pajamas.

Aside from the wedding, Wednesday was the highlight of the trip for me: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I had heard so many good things from friends and family, that I just could not wait. I really must give a shout out to Ms Brenda Wheeler. Without your generous gift of complimentary passes, I would never have been able to afford this dream come true. I don’t think you understand what a Harry Potter fan I am, or how perpetually poor I am. Now that I think about it, I may never have had this experience without your help. So, I thank you, and my family thanks you, for your hospitality.

Wizarding World. Wow. Where do I even start? I must remember to add pictures to this post later, once I get them transferred from my phone. The rest of my party had been to Wizarding World once before, so they were anxious to see the new addition. I could not be more happy with that choice. I feel as though I began my wizarding adventure the same way Harry Potter did: In Diagon Alley. Universal Studios treated Harry Potter with such love and attention to detail. To say I am impressed with the hard work Universal put into making the park a wizarding experience, would be to sell it short. Everywhere you go there are sights and sounds that make you feel as though you could really be a witch or wizard. The quality clothing you can by in the park only add to the experience. People of all ages don their robes immediately. If they have purchased an interactive wand, the set off casting spells at cleverly arranged points throughout the parks. The result is a park full of witches, wizards, and muggles having a grand time interacting in every way with the park and the park’s staff. Seeing my 20-year-old Hufflepuff niece cast Wingardium Leviosa for the first time is one of my all time favorite #proudaunt moments. #badgerpride

Lunch at The Leaky Cauldron was fantastic. I know I have never had food nearly as good in any theme park. I forget the name of the chicken sandwich I had, but it was very good. The Butterbeer’s reputation is well earned. Now I see what all the fuss was about. It. Is. Delicious. My sister had a shepherd’s pie that I think I might have to go back for. The highlight of The Leaky Cauldron is really the staff. Yes, the food is great, and the atmosphere is spot on, but the staff works so hard that they don’t even look like they are working. They all seemed to be having a great time making sure we had the best experience possible.

Diagon Alley was such fun that we actually spent most of our day there. No one was in a hurry to leave the wand shop despite the crazy crowd in there. You want a wand? You got it. Name someone from Harry Potter. Their wand is there. You could spend a long time there trying to think of obscure characters whose wands you know Universal would not bother making, but don’t hold your breath while doing it. You will lose that game. If you do not want a character’s wand, but instead prefer to get the wand that would choose your wizarding self, Universal has that covered, too.

I heard a total of two complaints the entire time I was in the park, and they were not lines and crowds. One Hufflepuff girl I happened to be shopping near complained to her boyfriend that the Hufflepuff clothing is all gray. After visiting a few shops, my niece and I could see her point. There were many shirts that were gray with black and yellow designs, whereas the other houses all enjoyed clothing that were house colors. Hufflepuffs want black and yellow, Universal. If it has to be gray, then perhaps something more like a charcoal would work better. That plain gray was, well, plain. Hufflepuffs aren’t that boring. That, as I said, was one of two complaints I heard. The clothing choices are in all other ways outstanding. I mean, really, you can buy a wool sweater with an H on the front that you would swear Molly Weasley knitted with her own wand. The other complaint, I think actually speaks well for the parks. Most of the shops are actually facades, false storefronts that guests are no meant to enter. They are decoration. While I thought they added to the imagination of the place, and enjoyed thinking about what the wizarding community might buy in those shops, the more action-oriented people in my group were frustrated by these locked doors. They were that enticing. Personally, you can’t prove to me that these are simply doors that are locked to Muggles and Squibs.

My favorite moment happened outside one of these shops, actually. I was pondering the window across from Ollivander’s when two ladies rolled a cart past. They looked like they were on a mission, and the dramatic music only added to that feeling. I thought surely something was about to happen, but it turned out it was a merchandise delivery to the clothing shop. That my head made an exciting adventure out of something I would not have even noticed somewhere else was highly amusing. But soon, I was truly in awe as the dragon atop Gringott’s breathed fire over us.

A trip to Diagon Alley needs a stop at Knockturn Alley, naturally. I was impressed with the creepy vibe. It certainly felt like someplace naughty. Of course I bought a lovely Dark Mark scarf there. I love that I could wear it out and hardly anyone would notice I was sporting Potter gear.

The longest line we waited in that actually felt like a line was for the Hogwarts Express. There were seven of is in my group, and we were still all having so much fun, that it didn’t even matter that we were in line. We were at King’s Cross, in line to get on the Hogwarts Express! There was a moment, just before reaching Platform 9 3/4 that helped restore my faith in humanity. The people in front of us noticed that Universal had set up an optical illusion. From the spot we were standing, the people ahead of us just seemed to disappear when they got on the platform. Our neighbors said we needed to do it better than those people, who just walked through the wall like it was no big deal. We played it up for the people behind us. Do the people behind you a solid. Act nervous about what is ahead, and then “do it at a bit of a run,” like Molly Weasley taught us. Or do whatever. Just don’t walk through like it’s just a tunnel. You’re part of someone else’s experience at that moment.

The Hogwarts Express could have just been a fancy tram to get you from Diagon Alley to Hogsmeade, but no, Universal turned this into an impressive ride. Your windows will tell you a fun story and then before you know it you are there. Hogsmeade. Honeyduke’s. The Three Broomsticks. Shopping galore. Here we split up for a while. My mom, my nephew, and I were ready for a rest and some refreshment, while the others went in search of a ride. You may prefer to hear about the ride, but trust me when I tell you to treat yourself to apple pie and ice cream at The Three Broomsticks. The pie itself is good, but the pile of brown sugar and cinnamon crumbles on top is ridiculous! It’s a pile of delicious that makes this a dessert you will have fun sharing as you make a mess attacking it with spoons.

I’m a postcard fan. I send postcards to myself and a few others whenever I go away. If you would like to do the same, bring stamps to the park. You can send mail from Hogsmeade Owlry. Just drop it in the mailbox.

As most of our day was spent in Diagon Alley, we went right to Hogwarts to take the tour. Really, you are in line for the ride, but it is set up like a tour, and things happen along the way. Characters talk to you. You don’t have to ride the ride. You can go through the tour and then bail out, but unless you get motion sick, you want to ride the ride. When else will you get to fly around Hogwarts’ Quidditch Pitch with Harry? Be warned. There is a dragon (yea!) and some rather large acromantulas after you (boo!). And they spit. I screamed. I can admit that. Bags of any sort are not allowed on the ride because you will lose them as your car throws you this way and that. There are lockers. The locker room is a madhouse, but the cast makes sure it’s a controlled chaos. As with any good ride, you exit through the gift shop. If I were a wealthy woman, I would have gone crazy in all of these stores, I am telling you!

My nephew wanted to see Jurassic Park before we left for the day. He kept dropping clever hints at The Three Broomsticks. “You’re a Lizard, Harry,” may have been his best line of the day. We exited The Wizarding World. With Hogwarts still in view, we were at the impressive gate of Jurassic Park. Alas, the light was not with me, and my party was in a hurry, so I could not get a picture with the castle and the gate in it. Certain things were already closing up by the time we entered Jurassic Park, but that was alright with me. We split up again. The others went off for some more adventure while Mom and I rested and took some refreshment.

Once rested, Mom and I ventured into Marvel Superhero Island (I hope I got that name right). I am a Marvel fan from way back, despite the Green Lantern t-shirt I am wearing as I write this. I was happy to get myself a handsome new Spider-Man mug for my morning tea, which I used several times before even leaving Orlando. I will remember by trip with fondness whenever Spidey and I have tea.

It is getting late, and I have been pecking away at this travel log here and there for most of the day. I do have more to share, but it will have to wait for another day. Or maybe it will be years before I blog again. One never knows.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NaNoWriMo 2009 is upon us. I will do it, but I can tell you I will not finish. I have too much going on this month between moving (new apartment, yea!), a short trip back home, and other fun stuff, I won’t have much time for that kind of writing. Just getting back in the habit of writing will be accomplisment enough this NaNoWriMo. Have a great time, WriMos!

New Moon location shooting in Montepulciano (serving as Volterra), Italy are about to begin. The pictures I’m seeing online remind me to my own trip to Italy a few years ago, when our tour stopped briefly in Perugia.

Perugia Fog

Perugia Fog

 

Perugia - San Sisto

Perugia - San Sisto

Perugia Street

Perugia Street

 

Perugia - Fontana Maggiore

Perugia - Fontana Maggiore

Since I posted I Saw A Unicorn there has been some talk on Letters to Twilight about Unicorns, essentially men who read Twilight in public. The discussion got me thinking about my actual first Unicorn sighting. As I mentioned in what I believe was my first post about Twilight, Hello from Forks, WA, the first person I remember reading Twilight was Bryan. We happened to be traveling together on a business trip. I witnessed him reading Twilight at the airport, a couple days later I finally asked him what he was reading so obsessively. By this time he was on New Moon. He was pulling it out every chance he got, including while we were on our bus tour to the Chinese Theater. I had to break my rule of not interrupting public reading to ask because his behavior was beyond ridiculous. He told me about it briefly and went back to reading.

Now that I look back on this with a new perspective, I realize that Bryan was a Unicorn. I don’t know how he ever picked it up, but I do know that he was obsessed. He’d brought both Twilight and New Moon on a 4-day business trip and was worried about having enough reading material to make it back to Phoenix from LA. This was an awards trip, where the focus is having fun with fellow award winners and he was spending it reading whenever possible. I’m glad that I did not start reading until after I got back from my trip. If I had been in LA when Edward left Bella, and I’d had to leave my room to go to a dinner or to take a tour or to attend a meeting, it would have been a very different trip. Or maybe I would have been reading New Moon next to Bryan on a bus instead of Mr. 24a on a plane. Ok, I’ll be honest. I still would have been reading it with 24a.

So, have you spotted any Unicorns? Were they all in airports? I’ve spotted two at work, but to be honest, they were people in my own coven. That is, I turned them myself.

And by that I mean a mythical beast: a grown man reading New Moon in public.

Let me preface this story by saying that I may have had a break with reality or two yesterday. I was thirsty, tired from too much Guitar Hero the night before (I rock Linkin Park, BTW–99%!), my flight was delayed making me worry about making my connection, and our plane was taken out of service meaning we had to run to our new gate. That being said, I thought I saw Robert Pattinson at O’Hare, from a distance, until I reminded myself that my friends at Letters to Rob had informed me that Rob was in London for his holidays. Then when I  boarded my plane a man who looked remarkably like Peter Facinelli was sitting in First Class. No lie.

So anyway, I was flying from Chicago O’Hare to Las Vegas yesterday, 28Dec08, on AA1599, on my way home to Phoenix. I had just sat down when Mr. 24A showed up. I was on the aisle. Being the nice girl I am, I let him get to his seat quickly, then sat back down to rummage through my backpack and get situated. As I reached for my copy of New Moon, anxious to get on with my fourth read-through, I noticed the back of a familiar book. It was a Twilight book. I waited to see which one, and then I saw the flower. We were reading the same book. I laughed and he looked at me as I pulled out my book and said, “Yeah, me too.” He nodded at me, and dove into his book. The man did not utter a word to me then, nor through the rest of the 4 hour flight. I believe the only times he looked up from his book were when the beverage service took his order, and when he suddenly gasped/sighed and leaned his head back, eyes closed. He was only distracted for a moment in both cases. He chugged his OJ, I assume so he could get back to his book.

I was so uncomfortable on the plane that I was fidgeting a bit, plus I really had to pee and was waiting for the pilot to turn off the Fasten Seatbelt sign. My mind wandered to the curious gentleman next to me, and why he did not speak to me at all. Common courtesy would dictate that we spend a moment discussing the books, and maybe how we liked the movie, before opening our books and returning to Forks. So why did he not do anything but nod?

Once I wondered if he’d taken some sort of instant dislike to me, or if I smelled. I even sniffed my hair at one point, and then laughed to myself when I realized that my mousse smells like lavender and my deodorant like freesia. Delusional as I was, I started imagining something along the lines of Edward and Bella in Biology. I of course shook that off. He just didn’t feel angry. I was still curious though so I checked him out.

Stocky Frat Boy type. Unkempt facial hair, but not completely wooly. American-style of dress. Under Armour shirt. He had two hats which was puzzling. He wore a knit cap (ironically there was a unicorn embroidered on it). He also had a fitted ball cap, which rested on his knee through the whole flight. It said Taylor U on it. I believe the knit hat was green and the cap was purple. He also had some strange green gloves, maybe motorcycle gloves. They certainly didn’t seem like they’d be warm. He mostly held his book in his left hand, so I could not tell if he wore a ring. He was about 100 pages behind me when we started. He was only 50 pages behind me when we landed. These are all things I noticed while I fidgeted. Mostly I just enjoyed my book.

Today at work I was telling Random about the strange experience. He theorized that 24A was gay and was eager to call it case closed. I tried to tell him that 24A didn’t ping on my gaydar at all. What ensued was sheer hilarity, as we came up with theory after theory about Mr. 24A’s silence. If he had only spoken to me this would never have happened. As Random said, I was stood up by a single serving friend and feeling rejected.

Theory 1: He’s gay – I don’t think so. He was much more Taylor U Football than Rip Taylor Footloose.

Theory 2: He’s shy, in which case Denise is sad for him and thinks I should have bought him a drink. I tried to make eye contact and initiate conversation, I swear!

Theory 3: He doesn’t speak English – This took some thought. I don’t remember seeing any words on his book, just the flowers. Then I remembered that he ordered his OJ with no problems and without any detectible foreign accent. Debunked.

Theory 4: He’s mute. Debunked by the memory of him ordering OJ.

Theory 5: He is a US Marshall, and New Moon was his cover. I guess I’ll never know.

Theory 6: His girlfriend/wife/SO made him read it. I couldn’t see a ring, so who knows?

Theory 7: Not only did he/she make him read it, but he/she won’t let him talk to girls on flights. That would be so sad.

Theory 8: Old Man Bobby paid him to sit next to me on the flight to test me. While I passed the test on the flight, I am now failing, as I am quasi-stalking him. Old Man Bobby laughed nervously when I told him this theory by the way.

Theory 9: He was a spy sent to the US to study teen reading habits. Terrifying.

Theory 10: He thought I was a tweeker because I couldn’t sit still and I went to the bathroom an inappropriate number of times just to have an excuse to walk around.

Theory 11: He was too embarrassed to have been caught reading a chick book to speak to me.