Christmas at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Last holidays I had the amazing chance to spend some days in Los Angeles. As I was going to be there during Christmas, I wanted to think ahead what to do on Christmas day taking into consideration that most places are closed. I was glad to find out that Universal Studios would be open on the 25th and so without second thoughts I booked tickets online for that date. I couldn’t believe that I was going to spend Christmas Harry Potter style. It couldn’t get more perfect.

Here I share with you some recommendations:

The earlier you arrive the better:

As Universal Studios opens its doors at 9 am, I highly recommend you to get there as soon as it opens so that you can make the most of your time there. And also take into account that it gets busier every hour and if you don’t have a VIP ticket you’ll have to endure long wait lines for the rides.

Download the universal studio’s app:

It will give you all the information you need regarding wait times and special shows plus interactive maps.

Hogwarts, your first stop:

Once you step into Universal you’ll find attractive stores and other sections of the park such as the Simpson’s or The World-Famous Studio Tour. You’ll have time for all that, so I encourage you to head first to Hogwarts where you’ll find Harry Potter’s most popular ride: The Forbidden Journey.

It’s a motion simulation ride that will give you the thrills. The ride itself is not very long, what is long is the waiting time (for me it was more than an hour).  The good thing is that as you get closer to the ride, you get to step into the castle’s corridors and classrooms making your wait more bearable.

After the castle, meet the hippogriff:

Once you step out of the castle you have another ride: The Flight of the Hippogriff.

This one is a low-intensity (child-friendly) roller coaster. The waiting time is shorter and you get to see Hagrid’s hut exterior.

Lunch at the Three Broomsticks:

So, if you arrived at Universal at 9 and you did the two main rides, that means that it’s way past noon and you are starving.

Fortunately, Hogsmeade has the place for you. Inside the Three Broomsticks, you’ll find an English style menu: fish and chips, Shepherd’s Pie and of course, the famous butterbeer (only for people who can bear highly sweet beverages). I must go ahead and say that this is not a very cheap tavern (obviously), the food isn’t exactly delicious either, but the place inside is spectacularly set. It really makes you feel inside Harry Potter’s world.

enjoy Hogsmeade:

After a hearty lunch, just have fun walking around Hogsmeade.

There are several attractions happening every hour. You can get to see Beauxbatons Academy’s girls making their elegant presentation, Hogwarts student’s choir singing with their huge frogs or even, during some evenings, enjoy a magical snowfall.

There are several stores with original merchandising (you can even buy Hermione’s famous gown).

Don’t forget to visit Ollivanders and see how a wand chooses its wizard and even cast your own spells.

the grand finale:

At nighttime (during selected dates) there is a light and music show outside the castle that takes your breath away. It’s certainly a glorious ending to a perfect day.

Goodbye Hogwarts, see you next time in Orlando…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kerouac’s Big Sur: From San Francisco to Los Angeles

I started 2019 in San Francisco. It was certainly a perfect place to begin the year, watching new year’s eve fireworks from The Embarcadero and enjoying a flask with hot tea while trying not to freeze (mental note for next time: just because you’re in California doesn’t mean it won’t get cold).

Knowing that I would have to head back to L.A. soon and Buenos Aires after that, I decided to plan for the Kerouac part of my trip inspired by his 1962 novel “Big Sur”.

City Lights, Jack Kerouac Alley, and the beat museum

‘But instead I’ve bounced drunk into his City Lights bookshop at the height of Saturday night business…’

So, I also bounced (but not drunk) into City Lights Booksellers & Publishers in San Francisco. Founded by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 1952, this iconic bookshop saw published famous beat works such as Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems (1956).

Located at 261 Columbus Avenue in Chinatown, the store has the advantage of being near other must-go places such as Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 and Lombard Street.

Inside you’ll find a paradise of books. If you want to hurry into the beat’s section you will have to go to the second floor where you’ll find Kerouac, Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and more. As I already had most of their books I ended up buying Joyce Johnson’s Minor Characters which I hadn’t been able to find in Buenos Aires.

Once you step out of the bookstore (for me it was three hours later) you find two Kerouac related places.

Just around the corner stands Jack Kerouac Alley with authors’ quotes on the floor and nice artwork on the walls.

And crossing Columbus to 540 Broadway you’ll find the Beat Museum which exhibits beat memorabilia and also offers also walking tours of the city. For more information visit: http://www.kerouac.com/

Monterey

‘In a half hour into a bus seat, the bus says “Monterey” and off we go down the clean neon hiway and I sleep all the way, waking up amazed and well again smelling sea air…’

So my following stop was also Monterey. Located on the southern edge of the Monterey Bay, it is approximately a 2-hour drive from San Francisco.

It is a nice place to stop and stretch your legs. You can visit the Fisherman’s Wharf and grab some food (there are some excellent candy shops and bakeries) or go to the Bay Aquarium.

Big Sur

‘Now all I’ve got to do to complete my scape is get 14 miles down the coast to the Raton Canyon Bridge and hike in.’

Next, I headed south to Big Sur, a mountainous sector of the Central Coast of California between Carmel Highlands and San Simeon. From Monterey, I took the famous Highway 1 for 28 minutes and I marveled at one of the most breathtaking landscapes I’ve ever seen.

 

Along the serpentine-shaped way, you’ll find several vista points where you can park your car and take a moment to appreciate the view.

You’ll find beautiful beaches (most not easily accessible), redwood forests, State parks, and local fauna.

Before continuing my journey south I stopped at Big Sur Bakery for reinforcements. I had the best cheese scone ever and a good cup of coffee. There was a sign on the door that said “help wanted” and I wondered what if I left everything behind and stayed there…

And then I found myself heading back to L.A., and then back to Buenos Aires where I started writing this post.

‘Big elbows of Rock rising everywhere, sea caves within them, seas plollocking all around inside them crasing out foams, the boom and pound on the sand, the sand dipping quick…’

For more on my journey between San Francisco and Los Angeles read: http://prenomcinthia.com/the-west-coast-in-10-filming-locations/

 

The West Coast in 10 Filming Locations

Last Christmas I went to California for the first time. I spent a week in L.A. followed by a trip to Big Sur and then another week in San Francisco.

I was very excited to visit some of the places I knew from my favorite movies and TV series, and even though I made a list of all the places I wanted to see, I ended up discovering more…

Here is my eclectic selection of filming locations along the coast of California (in ascending order from south to north):

1. The O.C.: Redondo Beach Pier

Well, of course, I had to start with the best show in the history of television. I remember as a teenager singing over and over again “Californiaaaa here we cooooome….” and dreaming of one day visiting Newport Beach. But much to my advantage, prior to my trip, I discovered that I didn’t need to go that way south of Los Angeles to visit the place where everything happened (or almost everything).

Only a 30-minute drive from Downtown L.A., and very close to other filming locations I will be telling you about next, Redondo Beach Pier is a charming place to visit with a beautiful ocean view and places to eat and shop.

Remember the diner where the gang used to eat?

2. LA LA LAND: HERMOSA PIER

Just a 10-minute drive north from Redondo or a 40-minute walk (as you prefer), is Hermosa Pier. You’ll remember this place from the scene where Ryan Gosling starts singing “City of Stars” after leaving The Lighthouse Café (that you’ll also find right by the pier).

3. THE DOORS: VENICE CANALS & VENICE BEACH

In 1964, Jim Morrison moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA. He lived a bohemian life in Venice Beach where he started The Doors and also met Pam, his love partner.

In Oliver Stone’s movie, you can see Venice Beach when Jim sings Moonlight Drive to Ray Manzarek and the canals when he sees Pam for the first time and climbs to her balcony at night.

It is a 30-minute drive from Downtown Los Angeles and also a 30-minute drive from Hermosa Beach, our previous stop.

4. SPIKE JONZE’S HER: Santa Monica Pier

Only an 8-minute drive from Venice Beach, Santa Monica Pier has been featured in several movies and TV series. You’ve seen it in Forrest Gump and also in Gilmore Girls (remember the episode in which Jess goes to find his father?). It also appeared in Private Practice and Grey’s Anatomy.

In the movie Her (2013) you can see Joaquin Phoenix’s character having a great time walking among the rides at night accompanied by Scarlett Johansson’s voice. You can even see during that scene the rollercoaster and some other attractions.

5. taken 2: Malibu Pier

Just a 22-minute drive from Santa Monica Pier, with the most breathtaking views of the ocean, is Malibu Pier.

Picturesque and fortunately not as crowded as the other piers we visited before in this post, Malibu’s is featured in the movie Taken 2 when Liam Neeson’s character eats with his family at the restaurant.

There are some nice places to eat and very beautifully decorated shops.

6. KUBRICK’S SPARTACUS: HEARST CASTLE (SAN SIMEON)

We drive north on Highway One to the central coast of California and we find this magnificent and eclectic castle near the town of San Simeon (4-hours drive from Malibu).

Famously known as an inspiration for Orson Welles’ Xanadu mansion in Citizen Kane, Hearst Castle was a residence for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.

“La Cuesta Encantada” or simply “The Ranch” as Hearst called it, was designed by architect Julia Morgan and features several European Revivals.

This section of the mansion, called “The Neptune Pool” was used as a filming location for Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus.

In order to visit the Castle you have to book a tour through their website: http://hearstcastle.org/tour-hearst-castle/daily-tours/  It costs $25 and lasts 60 minutes.

7. MICHAEL POLISH’S BIG SUR: BIG SUR

Between San Simeon and Carmel Highlands spreads Big Sur. Absolutely stunning with its forests and beaches, Big Sur has been an inspiration for several artists. One of them was Jack Kerouac, who spent a few days in early 1960 at friend poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin in Bixby Canyon and based his novel Big Sur on his time there.

In 2013, Michael Polish directed an adaptation of Kerouac’s novel and used this dramatic scenery as filming location.

Even though in this post we are traveling north, if you plan to visit Big Sur I highly recommend doing it southbound. That way you can get a better view of the ocean and park in the different vista points along the highway.

8. Big Little Lies: Monterey WHARF

Following our path north and past the beautiful city of Carmel by-the-sea, we reach Monterey Bay.

One of Monterey’s most visited places is the Old Fisherman’s Wharf, where you’ll find several restaurants, candy stores, and gift shops.

Nowadays, Monterey is also known as Big Little Lies setting. You can actually eat in the restaurant used as a filming location during the show.

9. GIRLBOSS: GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE

Finally reaching San Francisco, we hit its most famous landmark: The Golden Gate Bridge.

In the epic and also very nostalgic episode 4 of Girlboss (Ladyshopper99), Sophia, the protagonist, has to cross the Golden Gate Bridge on foot in order to deliver a wedding dress.

Even though she is afraid of bridges, she faces her fears and runs from end to end reaching her goal to the sound of Imogen Heap’s “Hallelujah” (in reference to The O.C.’s heartbreaking third season finale).

It takes approximately 30 minutes to walk the bridge from one point to the other and it is totally worthwhile.

10. VERTIGO: FORT POINT and palace of fine arts

With an epic view of the Golden Gate Bridge, we reach Fort Point, a seacoast fortification at the entrance to San Francisco Bay.

Right here is where Kim Novak’s character suddenly jumps to the water on Hitchcock’s movie Vertigo.

Just an 8-minute drive from there is the Palace of Fine Arts, a monumental structure constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition.

The Palace is spotted several times during the movie and more closely during a scene in which  Scottie takes Judy on a date.

It is open from 10 am to 5 pm and has no entrance fee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around New York in 10 Locations

Last April I made a quick visit to New York. As I didn’t have any time to waste I made a list (a very eclectic one) of films and tv series locations in the city.

Without further due, here are my favorites:

1. Angels in America: central park’s angel of the waters

Central Park Angel of the Waters

We start at Central Park. Located in Manhattan, between the Upper East Side and the Upper West Side, Central Park is one of the most filmed locations in the world.

The final scene of Mike Nichols’ Angels in America  (2003) was shot in Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace. On the lower level of the terrace is the fountain with the Angel of the Waters statue.

Central Park's Bethesda Terrace

Other TV series shot in this location: in Season 1, episode 3 of Gossip Girl, Blair and Serena meet at Bethesda Terrace and put their differences aside (but not for long). It is also the place where Blair and Chuck tied the knot during the series finale.

2. SEINFELD: TOM’S RESTAURANT

Tom's Restaurant New York Seinfeld

We walk some blocks north of Central Park and we find Tom’s Restaurant. Located at 2880 Broadway Street (Upper West Side), this restaurant’s facade is the iconic establishing shot of Seinfeld’s Monk’s Cafe.

It is open every day, and some days for 24 hours. Even though the inside is different from what you see in the series (the diner scenes were shot in a studio), Tom’s Restaurant is a great place to get a good cup of coffee and some scrambled eggs (and maybe a pie after that).

Tom's Restaurant New York Seinfeld

And if you want to exercise a little bit after your visit to Tom’s I recommend going to Columbia University just 2 blocks from there. You can walk around the campus just like any regular student and check out its beautiful architecture.

3. Seinfeld: the original soupman

The Original Soupman New York Seinfeld

We make our way south, keeping to the west side, and we find other Seinfeld related site.

Located at 259 W 55th St, The Original Soupman is a chain of restaurants that served as an inspiration for “The Soup Nazi” (Season 7, episode 6) where Jerry, George, and Elaine have to follow a strict set of rules on how to order the soup and bread.

4. WOODY ALLEN’S MANHATTAN: SUTTON PLACE PARK

WOODY ALLEN'S MANHATTAN SUTTON PLACE PARK

With an amazing view of the East River and the Queensboro Bridge, Sutton Place Park is famous for the iconic scene from the 1980 movie Manhattan.

In order to find it, you have to walk to the E 58th and Sutton Pl. It’s quite easy to spot.

Should you have any time left, I recommend a visit to Roosevelt Island. The Roosevelt Island Tramway station is just a few blocks from this location (E 59th and 2nd Av.).

5. 30 ROCK: ROCKEFELLER CENTER

ROCKEFELLER CENTER

Located between 48th and 51st Streets and facing Fifth Avenue, the Rockefeller Center is one of the main attractions in New York City.

ROCKEFELLER CENTER top of the rock skyline sunset

Many 30 Rock outdoor scenes were shot in this place. There are many things to do in this complex, such as visiting the Top of the Rock Observatory to marvel at New York’s Skyline ($39.20), being part of the audience at a Jimmy Fallon’s taping (https://fallon.1iota.com/show/353/The-Tonight-Show-Starring-Jimmy-Fallon), doing the NBC tour ($33), and if you are lucky enough to be here during Christmas time, you can ice skate at The Rink (https://therinkatrockcenter.com/).

jimmy fallon audience

6. GOSSIP GIRL: GRAND CENTRAL Terminal

grand central station clock

Gossip Girl’s opening scene takes place at Grand Central Terminal, located at 42nd Street and Park Avenue (Midtown Manhattan). Serena arrives at the city after a long absence and is spotted by one of Gossip Girls’ spies.

grand central station ceiling with astronomical constellations

With a wonderful ceiling decorated with astronomical constellations and an impressive architecture, the central part of the station is featured in many films and TV series such as Broad City (Season 1, episode 8), Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, Brian de Palma’s The Untouchables, and more.

7. FRIENDS: WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK

WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK

Located in Greenwich Village (Lower Manhattan), Washington Square Park is an iconic location in several TV series. In Friends, it is often seen as an establishing shot between scenes. It also appears in Marter of None (Season 2) and several times in Mozart in the Jungle.

WASHINGTON SQUARE PARK

8. WHEN HARRY MET SALLY: KATZ’S Delicatessen

KATZ'S Delicatessen

Located at 205 East Houston Street, Katz’s Delicatessen is the place where the iconic orgasm scene from When Harry Met Sally (1989) takes place. It is open every day from 8 am till late night hours. I ordered Katz’s Pastrami which was delicious but so big I couldn’t finish it. Next time “I’ll have what she’s having”.

9. SEX AND THE CITY THE MOVIE: THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

Completed in 1883, The Brooklyn Bridge connects Manhattan with Brooklyn, across the East River. It is a very popular attraction and it is always very crowded.

THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

In the first Sex and the City movie, this is the place where Miranda and Steve reunite after their separation.

THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

10. MR. ROBOT: CONEY ISLAND

Deno's Wonder Wheel Amusement Park

Finally, we end our New York location’s tour at Coney Island. Home of the hacking group Fsociety, Coney Island is a peninsula on the western end of Long Island.

Coney Island

You can easily get there by subway taking the B line in Manhattan and then the Q at Sheepshead Bay. It is a 1 hour and 10 minutes journey.

Coney Island

Once you are there you can enjoy a nice walk at the boardwalk, have fun at the Luna Park and Deno’s Wonder Wheel Amusement Park, or devour a delicious hot dog at Nathan’s.

Coney Island

Note: the Amusement Park is not open every day, so I recommend checking out its website for more information: https://www.denoswonderwheel.com/hours/