01
Jul

Another Sneaky Bologna Update

By: muttler

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Hi again everyone.

I know I said I probably wouldn’t post again, but thought I would do a quick cheeky one since I just had a bit more of a wander after a day of beavering away in my conference working group. We wound up at about 6pm, and everyone was in different states of jetlag and preoccupation, so rather than all head off for dinner together, we parted ways for the evening. Rather than go back to the hotel, I decided to wander back to the centre of town for a bit more of a look about and to grab some food.

 

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I had read about an apparent stunning series of terracotta statues in the Sanctuary of Santa Maria della Vita, so decided to go for a look. In fact I had walked straight past this church just the day before, unaware of what lay within. I had an hour to visit, so legged it down to take a look.

 

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The church itself was quite pleasant in its (relative) understatement and smallness. But the undoubted highlight is the “Compianto sul Cristo morto”, a terracotta group of life-size separate figures standing in a semicircle around the dead Christ figure. This is quite compelling to see, with the facial expressions unlike anything I had really seen before. This is accentuated by the fact that the figures are made of terracotta and are approaching 600 years old, which just adds to the incredible nature of the piece. I found it hard to believe that this was not something that visitors to Bologna are directed toward by default.

 

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I then explored the rest of the church. There was also another incredible terracotta sculpture that, while not as dramatic, was just as impressive. Again, a gem likely undiscovered by most visitors to Bologna.

 

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The evening was still young, and thanks to the Italian propensity to have a rest in the middle of the day and eat late, some things were still open. I discovered a special photography exhibition in the main piazza that was still open, so I decided to pop in for a look. This was a history of Bologna in photographs and was quite stunning. The city had been well documented, from the early days, through two world wars (especially WW2), through Italy’s dark times with fascism, protests in the 60s and 70s, and to what it has become today. Bologna certainly has an interesting history, in particular with political turmoil in the mid-late part of the 20th century and the photos captured it well. But it wasn’t all serious history… Sophia and Alfred made an appearance.

With that, it was time to wander some more. I was not too hungry, but being in Bologna I felt compelled to have something delicious for dinner. That makes it sound like it was a chore, but quite the opposite 🙂

 

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I came across a deli / wine bar and plonked myself on a table and ordered a board of meat and cheese. Yep, all kinds of meats and cheese and bread which summed up Bologna perfectly. And boy was it delicious! Simple pleasures.

Even though it was a Saturday night, I didn’t feel the need to be out on the town, so slowly wandered back to the hotel, stopping for some gelato on the way. Mmmmm stracciatella… I could get used to a place like Bologna.

30
Jun

A Quick One From Bologna

By: muttler

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Buongiorno everyone!

A quick post from gorgeous Bologna. Most of you know but I am here for just under a week for a conference. From Saturday to Wednesday I will be all go go go with work, but for much of today I have been able to get out and see some of what the city has to offer. It has been quite surreal, as it is about 17 years since I was last in Italy, and it is my first time here in Bologna. I have been to Florence (just up the road) but not to here, so I took the opportunity to see what it has to offer.

I have to say upfront, Italy was not one of my favourites when I first did the whole whizzing around Europe thing back in the day. For no reason really, just that I fell much more for France (and Germany), so those have been my destinations to go back to, while Italy hasn’t seen me since 2000. So I was pretty jazzed to be able to come back and see what I thought nearly 2 decades later.

My initial thoughts? I really dig the vibe of Bologna. For one of the largest cities in Italy (7th maybe?) it feels really laid back. Hardly seems crowded, everyone seems to be just hanging out, and as expected it is quite gorgeous. My memories of the places I visited in Italy all those years ago was just of crowds. Granted I was doing the “tourist” thing, but it was winter. I was expecting the warm weather here to have brought out all the tourists, but maybe they are down the road in Florence?

Anyway, what did I get up to? I had a very rough plan, mainly to see a couple of the main churches and a couple of the museums, as well as wander some streets, chasing LP’s and the like. Oh, and to eat lots of prosciutto, mortadella, salami, etc etc.

 

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First up was a visit to the Basilica Santo Stefano. But on the way I saw one of the main landmarks in Bologna, the two towers (yep, that’s what they’re known as). One of the towers is supremely wonky making it a bit of a tourist spot, but it also made for a good landmark to get the bearings.

 

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Santo Stefano was nearby and it was quite a low key church. It seemed to be a series of interconnected buildings rather than one big one. As such it was quite cool to wander through archways, and in small courtyards. Not too much in the way of religious iconography or show which probably explained the lack of visitors in there.

 

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From there I wandered to the main centrepoint of Bologna, Piazza Maggiore. This is the central meeting place of the city, home to the main square as well as the main basilica, library, museums, and tourists. I took the opportunity to pop into the main basilica of the city, Basilica di San Petronio. This was more like your typical big Italian basilica! Huge and full of sculpture and painting and stained glass and arches, it was quite a sight to behold. I’m not religious, but religious iconography is immensely fascinating, and this was up there.

 

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I wandered back out into the perfect weather and around the piazza for a bit. One of the museums I was keen to visit was nearby so in I went to the Museo Civico Archeologico. There are a number of museums and galleries in town, and in some respects with such little time I picked the couple that seemed to pop out to me. This was obviously filled with archeological artefacts from the area, which would make a nice change from the religious paintings I would no doubt be seeing a bit more of. In the end this was a good choice. Not huge, but a really great museum filled with sculptures, pottery, and all sorts of other finds. They even had a pretty decent Egyptian section, however the Italian parts were much more interesting. The courtyard was also a nice spot to just take a seat and relax.

It was lunchtime, so down a small sidestreet I popped to find something. When you see a bunch of locals outside a small deli, then that is where you go, and in I went to Bella Vita, a tiny cafe deli. It was the perfect time for a Campari soda as well as some prosciutto and other delights. I could get used to this.

I kept moving, and decided to just wander some of the smaller side streets. I was keen to see what I could chance upon, but I also knew the area where a record store or two were hiding. And yep, found one! Disco D’oro was one I read about and I gotta say, it was fantastic. A HUGE selection of LPs to wade through which was ace. I don’t really tend to buy LPs while travelling as I can typically get anything I am after, but it is always nice to browse. And in this case I also couldn’t resist picking up a limited colour LP version of the Radiohead OK Computer 20th anniversary release. It will be nice to play it remembering where I bought it from.

 

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The day was creeping away from me, so I decided to head to the other museum I was keen to visit, the Pinacoteca Nazionale di Bologna. This is the national art gallery of Bologna, so for that reason was worth a look. But by all accounts it housed a pretty decent collection, so I popped in for a look. While not huge, it had a decent collection of 13-18th century works that were related to the city. So given the time period and the focus, yep, they were mostly religion-themed works. From that perspective it was quite good, however with such a strong focus it meant that there wasn’t too much variation (for someone like me anyway). So while it definitely housed some impressive works, they did start to blur in to each other after a while.

With that, it was time for a quick refresh and to get on the job for the first time. We had our first get together of our conference working group, to start to chat and get ready for the busy 5 days to come. And with that, my exploration of Bologna came to an end. Hopefully there will be time to sneak a look at something here and there, but for the next 5 days it will be work work work!

 

04
Jun

Adventures in Costa Rica (Summary Post with Links)

By: muttler

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Hola!

Here is the summary post for our Costa Rican adventures. Be dazzled by tales of sloths and monkeys and hummingbirds and tarantulas and Matt getting addicted to Costa Rican salsa! You will be happy to know I have already acquired Lizano salsa here in Australia 🙂

Day One: A New Stamp In The Passport

Day Two: Welcome To The Jungle

Day Three: Patrolling The Beaches

Day Four: Adventure Awaits

Day Five: Scaling Waterfalls, Flying Through Trees

Day Six: Bridges, Sloths and Snakes

Day Seven: Heading For The Clouds

Day Eight: Warning… Tarantulas Ahead (But Also Cute Hummingbirds!)

Day Nine: Flying High

Day Ten: Heading West

Day Eleven: I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside

Day Twelve: Chillin’ On The Pacific

Day Thirteen: Adios Costa Rica

 

04
Jun

Eight Days in Florida (Summary Post with Links)

By: muttler

NASA!!!

 

Hello everyone!

Now that I have posted all about our recent holidays, here is a summary post with links to all the posts, first for Florida. Happy Disney (and astronauts and wizards)!

Day One: Into the Disney Bubble (Magic Kingdom)

Day Two: Fly Me To The Moon (NASA Kennedy Space Centre)

Day Three: STAR WARS!! (Hollywood Studios)

Day Four: The Big Ball (Epcot)

Day Five: The Wand Chooses The Wizard (and Springfield, Springfield!)

Day Six: The Tree of Life (Animal Kingdom)

Day Seven: Bouncing Around (Epcot – Hollywood Studios – Disney Springs)

Day Eight: A Final Day in the Kingdom (Magic Kingdom)

 

04
Jun

A Final Day In The Kingdom

By: muttler
one last look at the castle

one last look at the castle

06/05/2017

How times flies. A week ago we had arrived after a fairly long journey and were at the gates of Magic Kingdom at 8am. Now, 7 days later, it was the same situation, however in the past week we had done all 4 Disney parks, Universal Studios, and the Kennedy Space Centre. One last day to act like kids (well, some would argue I do this most days and you are probably right).

 

into the beast's lair

into the beast’s lair

 

Of course it was another early morning to do a Disney breakfast, this time in the Beast’s Castle. There were no character meet and greets, but it was just to have a good brekkie in elaborate surrounds, and be in the park nice and early. The castle was pretty cool, with all kinds of Beauty and the Beast ephemera about.

From there it was all about filling some gaps of things we hadn’t done (and getting on some of our favourites again). We were right next to Peter Pan’s flight so jumped on. For reasons unbeknownst to both of us, the line is always huge for this ride. I mean, it is fine, but it is just an elevated boat type ride through the Peter Pan story. We went on since we were literally first in line, but neither of us think it is worth the typical 90 minute wait.

From there we went to our first fast pass ride, Splash Mountain. Lucky we sorted fast passes as the line was… non existent. Nope, a 5 minute wait. That was OK… on we went and got nice and wet as we hoped… and then went straight back on. Why not?! It was already warm, and we may as well get doubly wet now than wet again later! So back on started our day nice and soaked. Oh yeah.

We jumped back on to some of our other favourites. Big Thunder got a run (still better than 7 Dwarves Mine Cart) and also onto Jungle Cruise (sorry driver this time… you weren’t as good as our first one last week).

 

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In our travels through Adventureland, I finally got myself one of my Disney must-gets. Dole Whip Float! That super sweet Dole pineapple whip with pineapple juice is so delicious and perfect in the Florida heat. So much better than the Beer Float from a few days ago.

 

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It was then into Tomorrowland to jump on a couple of rides. We popped on to one of our usual favourites, Buzz Lightyear Astra Blasters, which was actually named something slightly different. Once on the ride we found out why. It must have been the first version of the ride as it was very lacking compared with the usual. Everything about it (the guns, the targets) just seemed off. Oh well, now we knew.

Space Mountain also seemed a bit different. Neither of us could remember it being more of a sled that you rode in (single file, just like a bobsled). The ride itself seemed the same… rollercoaster in the dark with things flying about… but again it just seemed a little different. This must have been how they tried to differentiate Disneyland and Magic Kingdom a bit decades ago when this was built.

 

doing his best to cut me out of the photo

doing his best to cut me out of the photo

 

While in Tomorrowland we bumped into another character… Mr Incredible! We met the big guy and he was hilarious. He was “busting moves” onto Kate so I had some banter, and then in our photos he proceeded to block me out of all of them. Gold! It is great when the characters have some fun like this. I imagine it must be a tough gig being in these suits for hours, so I am grateful when they have fun with it.

We got one last ride on Haunted Mansion. It seemed a number of the rides were suffering technical difficulties at the park, meaning longish lines at most rides. We got our final fastness sorted for our favourite ride, so back on to Haunted Mansion for one last time. It was nice to get the buzz of our spooky hitchhiker mentioning Australia again.

 

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It was getting dark and in our last hour or two we did some of the shows, like Country Bears and the Tiki House, as well as go around Pirates of the Caribbean again. Fitting since tomorrow we would be on our way to a country on the Caribbean. Maybe we would run into a pirate or two on our travels.

And so with that we were done at Disney World. I have to say, it was a super fun week. I like my Disney, but having the 4 parks, all quite different experiences, and staying in the resort with magic bands and easy fast passes and the systems that worked a treat, it was great fun. Kate did a great job of organising things which, while I was worried was going to mean we were TOO planned, actually meant we had a smooth and line-free Disney, which is the best type of Disney.

We got back to the room and did a pack, ready to embark on a new adventure… to Costa Rica!

04
Jun

Bouncing Around

By: muttler
speeding through hollywood studios

speeding through hollywood studios

 

05/05/2017

Having done the parks, we had the luxury of picking and choosing what to do for our final couple of days at Disney. We knew we were going to do one more full day at Magic Kingdom, but today we thought we would bounce around a bit between a couple of parks and Disney Springs. So with a relatively lazy start (leaving the room at 9am), we made our way back to Epcot to start the day.

 

good ole figment

good ole figment

 

Why Epcot? We were pretty content with our day at Animal Kingdom, that we got everything done we wanted to. We planned to go back to Hollywood Studios to go on our favourite rides again, but we rushed through a bit of Epcot and also were frustrated by the wait (and non-ride) of Frozen Ever After, so we headed back to fill that gap.

Frozen Ever After, as I alluded to earlier, is the most popular ride at Epcot. In part because it is Frozen, and mainly because it is the newest ride. As such, Fastpasses are very difficult to get. So first thing we headed there and had the luxury of only having to wait 15 minutes or so to get on.

 

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back in norway

 

thankfully they were not singing let it go

thankfully they were not singing let it go

 

And how was it? It was alright for one of the slow boat-type rides. Given it is a few decades newer than most of its type (i.e Pirates), the animatronics were a lot better, with animated faces rather than the weird puppet like figures that is the norm. There wasn’t too much “Let It Go” either which made even more pleasant. As we docked to end the ride, there was basically no queue, so around we went again! Why not given we were going to head off from Epcot soon.

We wandered the international part of Epcot for a bit, which we had some trouble doing last visit due to the rain. In many respects if I had an annual pass to Disney here, I would end up spending a bit of time in the International Showcase at Epcot. Mostly because it is not about waiting for rides, rather than chilling out eating and drinking, so I could imagine it would be fun with a bunch of people to pick a country and hang out there for a few hours.

So after a couple of hours of wandering, we decided to head off to Hollywood Studios. Conveniently, a boat connected the two, so on to the boat we jumped and 20 minutes later we were at the doorstep of our second park.

 

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We didn’t really have much of a plan here… we just knew that we were more likely to jump on random rides we liked here more so than Epcot. I went straight for Star Tours to see where I could end up. Sadly another pod race, but I did get to zoom around the Wookie planet which was fun. No Endor unfortunately. Kate took the opportunity to have some Darth Vader waffles from the nearby eatery. Why not hey?

 

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With our magic bands and the app we scored some fast passes for Toy Story Mania which is always ace fun. We even bumped into some Army Men out front and joined in with their drill.

I had neglected one main ride here, mostly as it was a Kate no-go-zone, but also because, well, it seemed a bit kitschy. Rockin’ Roller Coaster starring Aerosmith. Yep, Aerosmith. That immediately dated the ride a bit, but it was a full on rollercoaster, so the opportunity arose and I jumped. The ride was just as I thought. After a VERY dated kitschy opening (apparently we had to rush to the gig!), it was onto the rollercoaster and off on what is probably the most adrenaline filled ride in the Disney Parks. Imagine Space Mountain but way faster and amped up and that is Rockin’ Rollercoaster. Good fun once it got underway… they probably just need to think about replacing Aerosmith.

 

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As you may notice too, it was May 5th. May 4th is a BIG day in the Star Wars universe, but sadly the parks don’t seem to do too much. We had checked, and there was nothing worth coming to Hollywood Studios yesterday that was special, outside of a chance to buy a limited t-shirt. So we kept our Animal Kingdom plans. But being there on May 5th (which is also the lesser known celebration day… i.e Revenge of the 5ith) gave me a chance to pick up to limited pins that are only sold on these two days, one for each day. I nice specific memento for our trip.

We rode some rides some more (I hit up Tower of Terror again) and then at dinner time decided we should head to Disney Springs for an opportunity for some better food and drink. Kate had found a bar to try out, so on to the bus and in no time we were there.

 

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The destination was Jock Lindsay’s Hanger Bar. Who is Jock Lindsay? He is the water-plane pilot at the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and it was his bar apparently. It was pretty cool, done up with all kinds of ephemera, including the gold idol hiding up on a shelf. Here they also had special cocktails and mugs, so of course we opted to try the one that came in the monkey head. We also had some good food to go along with our strong drinks which made a nice end to the day.

A bit of a wander around the rest of Disney Springs, and we drew a close to the penultimate Disney day.

03
Jun

The Tree of Life

By: muttler
the tree of life

the tree of life

 

04/05/2017

Our last Disney park! Not our last Disney visit, but our final park to visit, and my last park to see to get the set (i’m not counting Disneyland China yet). Animal Kingdom! This was the one park I really didn’t have much idea what to expect. Magic Kingdom I had basically visited in a bunch of other countries, Hollywood Studios there had been variations in Japan and California, and Epcot has been in the pop culture consciousness for a while. but Animal Kingdom was a bit of an enigma for me.

 

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We arrived early for a planned breakfast. Another brekkie with characters and one that would get us into the fairly new Rivers of Light show in the evening. Animal Kingdom obviously has a strong African theme, and breakfast setting was no exception. Kinda funny given almost a year to the day I was in actual Africa. Breakfast was a pretty extensive buffet and I made sure to have lots of granola and yoghurt… as well as my fill of bacon. Mmmm.

 

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With a hearty brekkie to kick start our day we went to our first “ride”, Kilimanjaro Safaris. I say “ride” as it is actually much more like a zoo experience, where we loaded into big jeep like trucks and made our way through their african animal enclosure. It was a mini Ngorogoro Crater (well, kind of). They actually had quite a collection of animals… zebras, lions, elephants, rhinos… all the big ones. It was not quite as a big a deal for me as many others in the jeep, but it is still always fun to see those animals.

 

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The day was much like our other Disney park days. We made our way to all the rides thanks to our well planned fast passes and Kate having a good idea of what we needed to visit. The centrepiece of the park is the massive Tree of Life… a statue of sorts that represents all the animal kingdom and it was a sight to behold actually. We would keep coming back to the tree as we moved from area to area of the park.

 

expedition everest!

expedition everest!

 

There was a bunch of fun rides here at the park. Given it was a nice warm day we decided to get on to Kali River Rapids nice and early. It was a classic water rapids ride. There were warnings about getting wet and we indeed did get wet. So nice! Very refreshing in the warm Florida morning. I also had fun on Expedition Everest, a rollercoaster type ride around and through a mountain, getting chased by the elusive yeti. Love some backwards roller coaster action.

 

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We also had a chance to meet a bunch of characters. Mickey and Minnie were hanging out there as expected, but we also ran into Russell from Up (yay!) and even the cheeky Rafiki. We also went to a few musical shows. The Lion King show was pretty good, and the Nemo show not too bad either.

As the sun began to set we decided to jump on to Kilimanjaro Safaris again. At dusk the animals start to get a bit more active, and while it wasn’t too much different to the morning, it was fun to get out there again.

 

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It was dark and time to head to our seats for the Rivers of Light show. On the way, the Tree of Life was starting its “awakening”… a series of projections on to the tree at different times that would make some of the animals carved into the tree spring to life. We saw the opening one as we headed to the show and it was quite stunning. The tree was teeming with life as animals got up to all kinds of things all around the tree. There are a series of different awakenings meaning we would need to get back to see some more.

 

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We got to our seats ready for the Rivers of Light show. As mentioned, this was a fairly new show and quite hard to get in to. Unlike many other evening shows and parades, there was set seating so we were quite lucky to get a spot. It was a pretty cool show, a fairly straightforward boat-float-water projection type show. Being new gave it novelty for most, but for me I thought it was pretty good without being stellar.

With that it was time to head back to the hotel. We caught another tree “awakening” on the way out, and like most nights it was approaching midnight before we got the chance to jump into bed. Phew.

03
Jun

The Wand Chooses The Wizard (and Springfield, Springfield!)

By: muttler
hogwarts!

hogwarts!

 

03/05/2017

Today was our one other day outside the Disney bubble. The Orlando area has a bazillion things to do, and the other main theme park to visit is undoubtedly Universal Studios. I had visited Universal in California many many years ago, and while it is fine it is not somewhere I would rush back to. It’s a little different these days with the addition of the Harry Potter franchise.

 

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In reality, Potter was the reason we were visiting the two Universal parks. Yep, two. They have a good scam going on, with the Harry Potter rides and experiences split between the two parks, meaning you had to have a special 2 park ticket to get to both. Of course they did. That ticket was also the only way to get onto the Hogwarts Express that runs between the two parks. There was never a question of not going, but it made it a bit of a bitter pill.

 

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But it was not only Harry, but also the Simpsons that I was keen to see. As gates opened and we headed straight for Diagon Alley, we made our way through Springfield. Yes! We would come back later in the day, but I couldn’t help but stop with pictures with pretty much everything. The Springfield sign! Jebediah Springfield! Chief Wiggum! The Comic Book Nerds store! The Quickie Mart! Moes! Duffman! Queasy, Surly and Remorseful! I was grinning from ear to ear.

 

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We moved quickly through there and arrived in ye olde London, specifically just near Kings Cross Station and also the hidden entry to Diagon Alley. Kate stopped for a quick chat with the conductor of the Knight Bus, as well as the shrunken head hanging off the read view mirror, who was actually pretty hilarious.

 

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But we had rides to get on, so into Diagon Alley we went and headed straight for Gringotts. Having only one day at both parks, we had the aim of doing everything Harry, so made sure to get our ride on early. It seemed to be a quiet day so it didn’t seem like it would be too hard, but regardless we headed straight into Gringotts for the escape ride.

 

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We wove our way through, meeting goblins and Bill Weasley who acts as your guide throughout. The gist of the ride is we are in a Gringotts cart when we meet Voldemort and Bellatrix and have to escape. So it is a fast mine cart like ride with amazing visuals and all kinds of thrills. BEST. RIDE. EVER. It was sooooo good. If it isn’t the best theme park ride it is right up there. The cart bit was great but the visual were stunning. Even Kate who doesn’t do motion rides was giddy. We got out and saw basically no line so went straight back on. We knew we would be back again later too.

 

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We spent the rest of the morning exploring Diagon Alley. That meant heading into Olivanders, where Kate spent time pouring over the wands and trying to make a choice. We also saw a few performances by the local acting troupe, who acted out stories of Beedle the Bard with some great puppets (similar to the style in the Deathly Hallows film).

 

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But a close second to the escape from Gringotts was the frosty goodness of frozen Butterbeer. Oh man. It was soooo tasty. My sister had given me a heads up about it, and it did not disappoint. Delicious!

By now we had seen much of what Diagon Alley had to offer, so on to the Hogwarts Express it was to head to the other park. The train ride is actually a bit of a ride, which makes it quite cool. You are in cabins just like in the movie and you are attacked by dementors on the way. A nice touch.

 

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We arrived into Hogsmead at the other end and were greeted with a huge Hogwarts towering over us. It was pretty stunning and was actually the home of the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride, another dark motion ride. Again Kate was sucking up her dislike of motion rides to go on. Like Gringotts, there was lots to see in the line, but as there were so few people we moved through very quickly. In no time we were on the ride. This was similar to the Gringotts ride, however involved much more zooming and swooping and massive screens giving the impression we were zooming all about Hogwarts on our broomstick. Every now and then a dementor would pop out to give us a fright. At the end I LOVED it. Another best ride contender. Kate, not so much. This one was a bit too zoomy and was not her cup of tea.

It was time for lunch so into the Three Broomsticks it was for a bite, before exploring Hogsmead some more. We went on the Flight of the Hippogriff, a small roller coaster type ride, and I also went on the Dragon Challenge ride, a full blown upside down roller coaster. They certainly up the adrenaline at Universal.

 

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Like Diagon Alley there were some shows to see, with the students from the Beauxbaton and Durmstrang putting on a show. We experienced all Hogsmead had to offer and with only an hour before this side of the park shut, we did a quick scoot around the rest of the park. To be honest, there was not much in the rest of the park of interest. I went on to a Spiderman ride that was a mix of motion and sets and 3D that was actually pretty good. But otherwise not much else was of interest.

 

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So back onto the Hogwarts Express it was back to the other park to get some more Gringotts, before exploring the Simpsons land a little. I went on the main Simpsons ride that was a Star Tours type ride… a motion simulator ride that was kinda fun. They had a fair bit of the Simpsons humour in there.

 

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And with that we were done. 9pm had arrived and it was park closing time. We were happy to have gotten everything we wanted done, and as we thought, Harry was the clear highlight. With the Potterverse done, we were content and ready for more Disney.

03
Jun

The Big Ball

By: muttler
that's a big golf ball

that’s a big golf ball

 

02/05/2017

Another day, another Disney park! Today was one I was really looking forward to, Epcot. Why was I looking forward to it? Well, I knew of Epcot and it’s big ball at the entrance, but didn’t know that much about it to be honest. All I knew was that it tried to capture Walt Disney’s view of the future to an extent. I was expecting it to be a little kitschy… and I wasn’t disappointed.

The whole park just felt really… 70’s. And not in a way where they tried to make it feel dated, but just that it had now become quite dated in places. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is about it, but the front half of the park certainly seems like a product of its time (the back half, the International Showcase, is a bit of a different story). But there was a charm and certainly lots of fun to be had. It was also their Flower Festival, so the entire park was adorned with flower representations of their characters which nice to see in the warm Florida sun.

 

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Epcot is especially encapsulated in the famous big ball at the park entrance. I was super keen to finally see it, and it still looks like a 70’s view of the future. Ask me why and I can’t tell you, but to me it is certainly quite iconic as a particular view of the future.

At park open, I raced for Soarin’, aplane ride simulator through different key locations around the world. This is an update of the one in California Adventures, and is a great ride… being suspended in a big glider with dozens of others, and zooming around in front of a big screen that consumes your whole field of view. It is definitely one of the best rides in the Disney parks, and the long queue as I got out was testament to that.

The other main rides in the front half of the park are really showing their age, but in a kinda interesting way. I went on to a ride called Mission: Space, another simulator ride, but this tie for space travel. I had the option to choose normal or intense, and of course chose intense. You take the role a member of a space travel crew and get into a small simulator with only 3 others and then take off. DAMN! The feeling of taking off is nothing like I have ever felt in a ride. It was intense! And awesome! There are also moments of slight free fall feeling, as well as zooming around planets. If only the whole preamble to the ride part didn’t take so long, this would be almost the best ride in Disney.

 

us in the future!

us in the future!

 

The other space themed ride was one inside the big Epcot ball, Spaceship Earth. Riding in small carriages, you move throughout the ball, glimpsing at what the future may look like. Not sure how accurate it is, but it is certainly fun to see how we may be zooming around with jetpacks in the near future.

Around this time, the wether decided to take a turn. And I mean a TURN. Our bright blue skies became torrential downpour. So much so that much of the park was under half a foot of water. Kate and I made a break for the Nemo ride, and by the end of the dash my shoes were absolutely full of water. Looked like Florida weather had caught us.

 

baymax!

baymax!

 

It was still raining when we emerged so took the opportunity to catch up with some more characters, two of my recent favourites, Joy and Sadness. Alas Anger wasn’t about for me to rage with. We also got to meet Baymax and he was indeed as squishy in real life as he seems in Big Hero 6.

 

weird drink!

weird drink!

 

In between bouts of rain, we also found our way into a weird pavilion that simply had a bunch of soda fountains with strange drinks from around the world. Yes! My kind of place! It was funny to watch that people just would not try certain flavours, in particular the Japanese carrot based drink. Of course we had them all and they were all fine. Sadly the Italian soda was not there, one it seemed was a chinotto type drink. Damn! I love me some bitter Italian beverage.

The weather proceeded to have moments of torrential rain until about lunchtime when the sun emerged and we were able to wander more freely around the park. This coincided with moving into the back half of the park, the International Showcase… or as I like to think of it, World Expo ’88. Epcot truly is a weird place. You have all this (now) retro-future vibe at the front half of the park, and in the back half around the lake, it is all about celebrating a random assortment of countries in different ways. All areas had their own architecture in the style of the country they were representing, and then there would be different things to do. Not rides as such, but often 360 degree films about the countries, or maybe a slow boat ride through the country. The there was the food and (quite amazing to me) the booze you could have at each stop. We started heading counter-clockwise, starting with Canada for some lunch.

 

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We planned to visit Canada for lunch, as apparently it was home of a quite fantastic poutine, a Canadian speciality. So in we went to Le Cellier and strapped in. Of course we wanted to eat everything, and even our choices of a cheese soup each and a poutine each ended up being way too much. But it was so delicious! The soup was great, but the poutine was awesome. I went with a bacon based poutine (of course) while Kate went for the Le Cellier Signature Poutine… the chips with Canadian cheddar cheese, black truffle and a red wine reduction. I have to say Kate’s was the winner. Super rich but super delicious. We had plans for dessert, however that didn’t eventuate when we were so full after that.

 

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So with full bellies, it was off to explore more countries. We went from Canada to the UK to France and to Japan, meeting characters and sampling food and drink on the way. Japan gets a special mention for actually feeling quite Japanese actually. Of course the main beverage oddity I would come across was there… a Kirin Beer Float. Yep. It was basically Kirin beer with frozen beer on top. While it sounded OK and looked great the frozen beer was not necessarily the greatest thing I have ever had, even on a warm day. Oh well, live and learn.

 

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We kept moving around the lake… Germany to Italy to a generic African country to Norway to China and to Mexico. While in Mexico we went on the 3 Caballeros ride, and met a Mexican themed Donald Duck as you do. And while in Mexico we took the opportunity to get stuck into some empanadas. Mmmm.

With that we had made our way around all the countries. We had plans to see the light show on the lake, so decided to fill in some time by visiting a ride dedicated to Figment, the Epcot imagination dragon. Kate seemed to have a fascination with Figment. Me… I just thought it was all a bit odd. But keeping with the spirit of Epcot I guess!

 

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The sun had gone down and it was time to head back to the lake to watch the Illuminations show. We sorted fast passes so went to our spot and had a great view of the show. This fast pass thing was working very well for us.

We still had an hour or two before park close, so we decided to head back to Norway and try and give the most popular things at Epcot a go, meeting Anna and Elsa, and jumping on the relatively new Frozen Ever After ride. We got to Norway and basically walked in to meet the two Frozen gals. Frozen Ever After was a different story. Only 30 mins the sign said. Yay! However when in line we realised that was not the case. Close to an hour later and we were not really getting anywhere. It seemed the ride was suffer a fair degree of technical difficulties. I guess we can say we went on “Frozen Ever After – The Line Ride”.

So we decided to cut our losses and legged it to the USA area to catch their “America, F’ Yeah” show. Well, it was a historical animatronics show but did end up being very “USA USA USA”. It was fine, and it was quite funny to be in an auditorium that probably could hold a thousand people with like 6 people in there. When we were done it was 11pm and time to make our way back to the front of the park and head back. Another midnight night, and another early morning coming.

02
Jun

STAR WARS!!!

By: muttler
watch out! it's an at-at!

watch out! it’s an at-at!

 

01/05/2017

After a brief sojourn, it was back to Disney! Today was Hollywood Studios, and what we were dubbing my official Star Wars birthday celebrations. At Disney you can just ask for a badge indicating it is your birthday, so I started the day with a birthday badge adorned, ready for a big day.

 

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This park is the “Hollywood” Disney park as the name suggests… focusing mostly on other side properties like Pixar and especially Star Wars. So I was going to be in my element! Rather than give you the blow by blow details of what did, I will just point out the highlights for you all…

 

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We obviously had a whole day of more rides and meeting characters. As I alluded to there was a distinct Star Wars flavour to much of it. I started with Star Tours, a ride that has been in Disneyland for quite a while, but it has had a recent revamp,with much of the content updated. A simulator type ride, its key aspect now is that you don’t know what experience you will get before riding. I have heard there is dozens of different experiences you can have, all about what content they choose and how they put it together. The basic idea is you are in a shuttle escaping the Empire, but how you do that changes. My first flight put me in the middle of a Pod Race (fun even though it was Phantom Menace related), but after that I had a Hoth experience which was what I was hoping for. So ace to be speeding through the snow and tripping up AT-ATs.

 

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We also took the opportunity to met the handful of Star Wars characters there, which was an interesting assortment. First Order Stormtroopers continually wander the park, and interact in hilarious ways. They won’t stop for photos, and any attempt to interact will be met in a variety of different ways, depending if they see you as a rebel or part of the First Order. A sneaky photobomb was all I could try and do which was fun.

 

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The characters that were formally there to meet were mostly Force Awakens ones, with BB-8, Kylo Ren, and Chewie there. BB-8 was a bit disappointing as he just sat there on a podium, but both Kylo and Chewie played their parts well. Kylo was a jerk, just like in the film 🙂

 

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Hollywood Studios is the park where I can get some of my more thrilling rides on, so I relished that opportunity. The Tower of Terror, a staple at a number of other Disney parks, got a couple of rides, as did a big fave of Kate and mine, Toy Story Mania. We first played that in California, and it was just the same here and super fun as always.

 

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We managed to fit in most the other attractions in the park too, like the Indiana Jones Stunt show, and the Great Movie Ride, all pretty fun.

 

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There were two other main super fun things we did during this visit. First up was lunch, booked into the Sci-Fi Diner. This was a kitschy experience of sitting in old cars while watching 50’s drive-in content. It was totally cheesy but super fun, sitting there eating burgers, drinking beers, and watching old cartoons. Everyone gets right into it, making it a great way to take a break for lunch.

The day ended with one of the main things Kate organised, which was another dessert party. More exciting for me with this one was that it was Star Wars themed, with not only desserts but endless cocktails too! After getting our fill of those, including the Vader Peanut Butter cupcakes, the dessert party also gave us a primo spot for the fireworks show, which was the Star Wars Galactic Spectacular. Woo!

 

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my kind of princess

my kind of princess

 

Of course this was my kind of fireworks show. With projections onto the main theatre at the centre of the park, this was a celebration of all things Star Wars, mostly the original trilogy. The projections were great and everybody was loving celebrating Star Wars? And who wouldn’t? Especially on my birthday celebration day.