Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Universal Studios - Hollywood, California

As you know I'm a very lucky girl and one of the highlights of our California trip was a day out at Universal which was a Christmas present from my lovely family.  Now as most of you regular readers know the highlight for me was not only having my American Mom with us but also the Wizarding World of Harry Potter which I have posted about separately. Now most of the time you can guarantee the weather in LA but not at the start of the day we went it was drizzly to say the least.

First things first is parking. We got there in time for the park to open at 9am however opening times change throughout the year so best to check this on their website. Parking was easy, well marked, themed and very organised however it did cost us $20 for general parking on top of the ticket price. It was only probably a 10 minute walk to the entrance from here:


A nice rainy welcome from Universal Hollywood:


Usual bag checks and security are in operation but it wasn't too invasive and we were in!! We were advised to start at the back of the park which we were going to do but we got temporarily sidetracked by the Grinch doing Christmas. We met the Grinch - it was hilarious but I can't bring myself to talk about Christmas in March...... 

Now we had queue jumping passes and if you were to spend your money on one thing then I would spend it on this. The passes meant that the longest we waited for any ride was 15 minutes and bearing in mind that some of the queues were 90 minutes long this was a god send and enabled us to get on every single ride in the park. The front of line passes cost around $100 depending on time of year, which is a lot of money but like I say we felt they were worth it as we only had enough time to spend a day there. However if you are here for a few days and want to spend a lot of time here then you're better to buy a season ticket which is only about $20 more than normal entrance fee depending on the time of year you visit as there are black out days in peak seasons.

We decided that we would head on the studio tour first as this lasted about an hour and we assumed would get pretty busy. This is the more traditional side of Universal and if I'm honest the first 20 minutes was, in my opinion, pretty boring as it was just looking at back lots etc. If you want to get off and explore then you need to upgrade to VIP.


I honestly didn't take too many pictures of this mainly because it was raining and the splash guards were down so I figured they wouldn't turn out well anyway and I was too busy being entertained but our crazy tour guide!! I did enjoy touring Wisteria Lane and seeing bodies being carried out of the Bates Motel. The fun for me really started when we got to the action rides and although it's probably a bit outdated now my favourite was Jaws:


Some of the more modern interactive, virtual experiences were cool too. My favourite of these was definitely the Fast and the Furious one as you felt like you were flying. The King Kong and dinosaur fight one made me feel a bit sick but that's more down to my ear problems than the actual experience.

From here we headed to the back of the park and did Jurassic Park log flume which was brilliant, the Mummy rollercoaster (not for me!!) and Transformers ride too. The man and the girl enjoyed these whilst I visited with my Mom. We may have found some time to peruse the giftshops too. I am loving these photos and the ridiculous happiness of them:


This one of O is pretty much my favourite of her from the whole trip and it makes me giggle everytime I look at it:


We then headed back up top to Harry Potter and food at the Three Broomsticks (AMAZING!!). We spent quite a lot of time at Harry Potter mainly because I am huge fan! From here we took in the waterworld show which we loved so much we watched it twice, both times sitting close enough to feel the spray but not close enough to get absolutely drenched:



We also spent some time in Springfield meeting the Simpsons:




The man went on the Walking Dead walk through attraction which he said has a lot of the sets of the key scenes from the film. The animatronics are decent and the actors jump out at you. It was shorter than he expected it to be and if you have slow people in front of you then you know what's coming. It's certainly not for youngsters (or for me) but he said it's not that scary. We attended a civilized story telling session with Cindy Lou whilst he was scaring himself!!


Then we moved on to Despicable me:



 From here we went on a couple of the rides that were meant for smaller kids and then hit the gift shops. As it started to get dark we went back to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter so that we could see everything lit up at night including the castle. It's just so damn magical and my photos in no way do it any justice:


At this point it was getting towards closing time but as we were heading back there was a concert taking place back in Grinchland so we stayed and watched that for a while before heading back to the car. We'd taken a picture of our car parking details so that we knew exactly how to find a way back. Getting out was easy and no traffic hold ups.

Overall I would say that the majority of the park is getting a bit outdated now (Waterworld is from the 1990's!!) however that it no way detracts from what a brilliant day out it is or how much fun we had. In mine and O's opinion it was worth it for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter alone however the man isn't that big a fan. 

It is an expensive day out though although on a par with Disney! Have listed costs above to give you a rough idea but these are based on December 2016 prices and do change depending on the season and how far in advance you book. It's also cheaper to book the entrance and front of line passes together as you can save yourself about $30 each by doing this.

Do let me know if you are planning a trip!

  

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Area 51, Rachel, Nevada

When we first started planning our California and Las Vegas road trip we were keen to get a balance of number of things. Obviously we wanted to make sure that we all had an input and that we would be interested in what we saw but as I lived out there for a couple of years we wanted to do new things for me too. When the man first suggested that he would like, time allowing, to go out to Area 51 I thought that he was just being a geek but as I'd never been there was willing to give it a shot!

Edwards Air Force Base (the official name for Area 51) is about and hour and a half drive North from the bright lights of Las Vegas. The first half an hour of the drive is freeway and then you turn off to the Extraterrestrial Highway:


Which is where things start to get weird......   So from the start of the highway to Rachel is 70-something miles from memory and I think in that drive you only pass a couple of one horse towns and not too many other cars. There is also about a 90 mile gap between petrol stations! We stopped at one point to take photos in the middle of the road just because we could:


Now if you don't know much about Area 51 there are two supposed entrances. One being the front gate and one being the back gate, neither of them being anywhere near whatever they are actually hiding there!! As we were in a hire car (that had already broken down twice-  but that's another story) we decided to take the least risky route and head to the back gate. On the route to the back gate however you pass the 'black mailbox' which indicates the start of the road to the front gate:


And at this point you start thinking that maybe people are crazy!!! The poor guy who lives here must get so fed up. I did hear that they have removed it several times because people keep stealing it. Funnily enough we took this photo on the way in to Rachel and when we left it had gone again! Assuming it had been stolen yet again!!

Everything that we had read, obviously there is no official guide, suggests that you start in Rachel. Now the man had told me that it was a small town but it was a teeny, tiny small town. Like, there is nothing there about from 30 houses and the road to the back gate. There is a motel the A'le'Inn which is made up of about 5 rooms but also has a gift shop, cafe and rest room. It is actually a really fun place, the food was good and the staff there are so friendly. 




Lots of people leave a dollar with their names and location on it in the bar and when the ceiling is full they donate all of the cash to a local children's hospital. Here's ours:



From here it's only about a 20 minute drive along the dirt road to the back gate. Until this point the trip has been a lot of fun and then you start to head out to the dirt road and the signs start:


Now it starts to get a bit scary. I don't know if you just get caught up in the seriousness of the signs or if it was paranoia kicking in but the whole way along the road it felt like we were being watched. Obviously the scenery may not help because you are genuinely in the middle of nowhere and all you can see are plumes of dust from unseen vehicles and tumbleweed and unidentifiable objects in the distance. There is no missing the back gate as there's nothing else along the road and like I say we were beginning to feel a bit paranoid so we stopped further away than we probably needed to and walked as close as we dare:


I think we may have scared Chick with all of our talk of guards with guns etc as she was begging us not to get any closer at this point. I did get a pic of me though:


It is the strangest place. It is desolate, windswept and completely isolated and I would LOVE, love, love to know what goes on there. I'm not sure I buy the fact that it's only a weapons testing area. Apart from the couple of structures you can see behind me we saw nothing else. No guards, no aliens, no secret vans coming and going. Nothing apart from being unable to shake the feeling that we were being watched all the way too and from Rachel. We got back in to the car and then drove as close as we dared to the gate thinking that we could escape if they came out and told us off! We got a closer shot of the back gate:


The worse thing about it is that the man has now turned me into an alien geek conspiracy theorist. When we got home I had mahoosive jet lag for about a month and read everything that I could get my hands on. Pretty sure I'm now on a US government hit list ;) If we're ever back in the area again I think we'll be heading to the front gate to check that out. Apparently that's even more scary as they shoot you if you cross a certain boundary!!!!

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Chatsworth House, Bakewell, Derbyshire

Bakewell is a lovely village set in the Heart of the Peak District National Park, a beautiful place in Derbyshire and dating back to the Saxon times.  The Church dates back to 920 a.d although much of the ‘modern’ building dates from the 13th Century!

Jane Austen is rumoured to have stayed in The Rutland Arms hotel which is still standing today and is mentioned in Pride & Prejudice where Elizabeth meets the Darcy’s and Mr.Bingley. Their greatest claim to fame though is that their Chef in 1859 invented the great Bakewell pudding by mistake. Plenty of shops in the Town sell the puddings, all claiming to have the ‘original’ recipe! 

Just 4 miles away from Bakewell,  is one of my favourite places, not just in the East Midlands but in the whole of England.  From the main road you take a sharp right and drive a mile or so and when you reach the peak of the hill laid out before you is this sight which always makes my heart soar:



This is Chatsworth House which I believe is one of the most beautiful of all the stately homes in the UK.  Some of you may recognise it from blockbusters like Pride & Prejudice and The Duchees but the house dates back to the Saxon times. Building on the current house was started by Bess of Hardwick in 1553 and it’s now owned by the 12th Duke of Devonshire, son of one of the Mitford Sisters.

It’s hard for me to know where to start with telling you what I love most about Chatsworth and what makes it so amazing for me!  I don’t know if it’s that it awesome in every Season.  In the Summertime the gardens are just out of this world and you could spend a whole day exploring and enjoying and discovering new things.  There are gardens designed by Capability Brown or maybe the Arboretum that has some of the oldest specimens of Giant Seqouia in the UK.  They have Fountains that were made especially for the proposed visit of Tsar Nicholas I of Russia and a Maze. My favourite of all the things in the gardens is the Cascade Fountain:


It’s so impressive from every angle and has 24 cut steps, each slightly different and with a variety of textures so that each gives a different sound when water runs over and down them.

I love the house as well but my favourite time to visit is at Christmas. The decorations and trees are awesome and the atmosphere is just sooooo lovely!  It has 126 rooms most of which aren’t seen by the public but you would never know that and there isn’t a particular style to the house.  It’s a little bit mis-matched and I think that’s part of what endears me to it! They also have a River running through the front garden:


If you are ever in the UK long enough to make it out of London you should head up to the Peak District and explore.  Not only to see Bakewell and Chatsworth but for the walking, spa breaks and history.


We've even recently had a themed picnic at Chatsworth held on the front lawn. It was soooooo much fun:




Prices for Chatsworth vary depending on what you want to see and do. To park and explore is about £4 for the day. Tickets for the gardens are currently £12.90 and range up to £21.60 for a ticket that covers everything including free parking. More details available at the Chatsworth website

Monday, 27 February 2017

Bradgate Park, Leicestershire

Another post that was written for Smitten by Britain back in 2010 and yet another favourite local place of ours to visit.

I was going to start off by saying that Bradgate Park is one of Leicestershire’s best kept secrets but then I read that it has a million visitors a year so that may well not be true!! Since I was a child Bradgate has been the place that we go to as a family for bike riding, fishing, dog walking and hiking, no matter what the weather.  Glorious in Summer and beautifully wild in Winter, it’s a truly awesome place all year round.

Bradgate was originally created as a hunting park around 750 years ago from Charnwood Forest.  The park is 840 acres and once you are surrounded by the slopes, bracken and rocks, it’s hard to believe that you are only six miles from the Centre of Leicester.  There are three different routes into the park and each one is vastly different. 

From the lovely village of Newton Linford with its pretty thatched cottages and lovely pubs, you can take the route along the River Lin down to Cropston Reservoir. This is the favoured route for most people as its easy and very scenic. The river is shallow enough in places for us all to paddle and break out the fishing nets to catch tiddlers......only in summer obviously being England ;-) One of the things that I like most about the park is that everyone is friendly, something that can’t often be said about the streets of England!



The park also contains the ruins of Bradgate House home of the nine day Queen, Lady Jane Grey. The Grey family were related to Henry VIII and in 1553 Lady Jane married the Son of the Duke of Northumberland.  After the death of her cousin Edward VI she was proclaimed Queen only to lose the throne nine days later and then executed for treason. The ruins hold a chapel which contains the tomb of the Grey family and a small exhibition.


Deer have been kept at the Park almost since it was first designated as a hunting park.  There are certain areas of the park that are for the deer only but generally there is no problem with seeing them as they mingle among the ramblers.  


Another route into the park is up the hill to Old John Tower. Old John is a folly that was built around 1784 and stands 700 feet above sea level.  The views of Leicestershire from here are amazing and you can even see Old John when travelling North on the M1.  It’s also a brilliant hill for sledding down in winter!!!


If you are ever in the area then be sure to give me a call and I’ll take you on a tour!! The park is free and you only need to pay for parkign which is about £4 for the entire day regardless of amount of people. There is some on street parking too if you don't want to pay the parking fee. I always do pay as the money goes to the upkeep of the park but that's just a personal preference.

Photo credit - Bradgate from the Air - Avril Hunt and Old John Folley - David Elliott. Both used with permission.