Museum of Flight

Seattle is airplane country.  Boeing’s headquarters is here, which means any time you look up at the sky, you’re likely to see a brand new jet on its test flight.  You’re also likely to see hundreds of general aviation aircraft zipping through the skies, as well as the seaplanes that make up Kenmore Air‘s fleet.  I remember a time, before the threat of terrorism became too serious, that my dad and I would head out to the airport to watch the planes.  Back then, we could get up closer that you can now.  Planespotting was something my dad and I could always bond over.

Now, when I have the urge to be around airplanes, but don’t have a ticket to go anywhere, I can head over to the Museum of Flight.  The museum provides visitors with excellent exhibitions on the origins of flight, as well as an exhibit centered around space exploration.  Retired aircraft hang from the ceiling for everyone to enjoy. They’ve just completed their Aviation Pavilion, where visitors can get up close and personal with some amazing aircraft.  I just came from the Members’ Preview, and they have done am AMAZING job putting this all together.  The Aviation Pavilion opens to the public on June 25th.  Boeing’s first 747-100 is on display, which visitors can enter.  It isn’t set up like a passenger jet, as it only made test flights.  The same goes for the Boeing 787-8 on display.  Visitors can also step inside a retired British Airways Concorde, which was the fastest passenger jet ever in service.  Docents are always on hand to answer questions about the various aircraft on display.

I’ve been to the museum several times, and still haven’t seen everything yet.  Every time I go, I see something new and interesting.  If you live in the Seattle area, or visit several times a year, I suggest purchasing a membership.  It ends up paying for itself, if you are an aviation geek like me and would like to go back a couple of times.  I have the lowest tier of membership, and I can always bring a guest for free.  Members also get 15% off at the gift shop, and I never leave empty-handed.  If you haven’t been to Seattle yet, definitely put this on the top of your list of places to visit.

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Movie Magic…All Aboard The Hogwarts Express

Everywhere you turn, London’s sights and sounds mesmerize.  When I was there in February, I had the amazing opportunity to visit the Warner Brothers Studio in Leavesden, just outside of London.  The studio is where the Harry Potter movies were filmed, and they’ve opened some of the sets to visitors.  I purchased my tickets through a third-party site, which offered me transportation to the studio, as well as entrance to the tour.

While queuing up to enter the tour, various props hang from the ceiling, and visitors file past a mock-up of the cupboard under the stairs that Harry slept in.  Visitors file through into a theatre and take their seats in front of a giant screen.  Cast and crew members take the screen to share with visitors how magical it was for them to work on such an amazing set.  Artists and craftspeople worked their magic to bring the sights of Hogwarts alive, leaving no detail untouched.

After the film ends, the screen raises up and visitors are instantly transported to the giant doors that lead into the Great Hall of Hogwarts.IMG_1871.jpg  Once the doors open, visitors move onto the set and stand where Harry, Ron, Hermione and all the other students ate there meals and listened to Dumbledore spout out his mysterious riddles.  IMG_1880.jpg

Various costumes are on display through out the Great Hall.  While I was there, the studio had the Sorting Hat on display, which is usually kept in archives.

Visitors shuffle through the side of the Great Hall into a giant room filled with various props and set pieces.  The Weasley’s kitchen is on display, as well as Dumbledore’s office, the Gryffindor common room, and the dormitory.  Visitors can also file past the classroom of Professor Snape, with potions brewing.  It’s pretty amazing that set designers and decorators put so much work into bringing the stories to life on the big screen.

Platform 9 3/4 is the next stop, with the Hogwarts Express steaming up and ready to take the next batch of students to Hogwarts.  Visitors can enter the passenger cars, and look into the compartments where some of the scenes were filmed.  Each compartment is decorated to the theme of each film.IMG_1939.jpg

It may be time for a break, so the next stop on the visit is a large seating area with a place to purchase food and sample some butter beer.  I didn’t try the butter beer, but others on the tour seemed to like it.  Looking back, I probably should’ve given it a try.

While waiting for the next portion of the tour to open, visitors can step outside to view some of the outdoor sets.  There’s the Knight Bus that whisks harry from Privet Drive to the Leaky Cauldron after he causes Aunt Marge to take flight.  The Dursley’s home on Privet Drive is also on display, as well as Harry’s childhood home in Godric’s Hollow.  The giant chess pieces were also on display.

After getting a good look around at everything in this portion of the tour, visitors are then sent on a walk down Diagon Alley.  The shop fronts are decorated as though another Harry Potter film is about to be shot.  IMG_1968.jpg

The final portion of the tour leads visitors to a ‘miniature’ of Hogwarts Castle.  This was breathtaking!  I’ve always had a fascination with miniatures, so I was like a kid in a candy store when I came across this.  Now, you’re probably thinking of those little light-up houses you put out for Christmas.  No, this is a HUGE miniature.  The lighting changes so you can see it in the daylight and at night.  IMG_1979.jpg

I looked in the gift shop to see if I could find a miniature to take home with me, but it was much too crowded to really do any browsing.

For more pics of my London trip, including pics from my visit to the Harry Potter sets, click here.

For information about the tour from the official website, click here.

For Golden Tours UK, where I purchased my tour package that included transportation, click here.

If a trip to London isn’t on your radar anytime soon, YouTube is an awesome place to get a little taste of tourism.  Several people have filmed their tours, and here is my favorite:

Windsor Castle

Windsor Castle sits in the quaint village of Windsor, which is just a short train ride west of London.  With just a quick change in Slough, you’re there in no time. It may seem like a hassle to leave London, but it is definitely worth it and not as difficult as you might think.  I had The London Pass, which not only granted me admission to the castle, but also got me from London Paddington to the village of Windsor.  I wasn’t sure if it included the return trip (it only mention the trip out to Windsor), so I just purchased a cheap ticket back into London when I was ready to go back.

Now, I’m a sucker for anything that has to do with the British Royal Family.  I greatly admire the Queen, especially, and would probably faint or die of a heart attack if I were to be invited to meet her.  Windsor Castle, for me, was a definite MUST for my trip to London.  My trip would not have felt complete.

First off, you should get there early.  I arrived about 15 minutes before the gates opened, and I’m glad I did.  I looked back, and there was already a huge line waiting behind me to get in.  Also, be sure to check that the Queen isn’t in residence, which you can do from her official website, or the Royal Collection.  With The London Pass, I received fast-track entry, and completely bypassed the lines.  Once through the entryway, I was immediately captivated by the breathtaking sight.  Perfectly clipped grass lead up to the medieval masonry of the walls that made up the castle.  The Union Flag flapped in the wind, and the clouds scurried away.  I walked down a pathway that immediately lead me to imagine the millions of people who had walked the same path since the middle ages.  IMG_1996Would Henry VIII have walked through here at one point?  How about Queen Victoria?  Perhaps, even my own idol, Queen Elizabeth II?  Did people in medieval times really dress like they were in an episode of Game of Thrones?  Oh, to be able to listen to the conversations that were had by the people who lived hundreds of years ago.

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After freezing and looking around the outside, I followed the cobblestone pathway past Saint George’s Chapel to the entrance of the State Apartments.  Sadly, photography is strictly prohibited in the interiors, so I only have my memories of this portion of my visit.  I was so amazed, however, that I doubt those memories will ever fade.  I was ushered into a darkened room where Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House sits.  What an amazing piece of craftsmanship!  The dolls’ house was definitely fit for a queen, and no detail was spared.  I’ve always had a fascination with miniatures, so this was right up my alley.

I moved through into the meat and potatoes of the tour: the State Apartments.  I was completely in awe of everything I saw.  There were suits of armor, priceless paintings and furniture, ornate details and designs.  I was overcome with emotion when I walked through these rooms.  I could imagine kings, queens, princes, and princesses walking through these corridors, dining at the tables, and lounging on the chairs and couches I passed by.  There was one table in particular that I passed by, which had a ring on it from a glass that didn’t have a coaster under it.  I could imagine that being caused by cheeky old Prince Phillip saying, “I don’t need a bloody coaster!”

I wonder what the castle is like from the perspective of a young prince or princess.

I truly cannot say enough wonderful things about Windsor Castle.  I could write for days and break the internet with my inane ramblings about it, but I won’t.  Windsor Castle should be on everyone’s list when they visit London.  If you have another hour to spare, here’s a great video about the castle and its history.  In the video, you will be shown the State Apartments, as well as Queen Mary’s Dolls’ House.

Minimalism

I remember when I was younger, and I would always dream of having a fleet of beautiful cars, a mansion or two, and anything else that I could ever possibly desire.  I don’t know if I can attribute this to age, but I desire the exact opposite now.  I’m looking for simplicity in life, with as few headaches as possible.

I decided to sell my car, purchase a bike, and rely on Seattle’s public transportation system to get me where I need to go.  This is also motivating me to get off my lazy ass and get myself back into shape.  I thought I was going to be super fit living in Seattle.  There are beautiful parks all around, miles of trails right outside my backdoor.  I always opt for the lazy route.

I can’t wait to fully embrace this new lifestyle, and share my experiences.  It’s been 2 weeks, and I don’t have any regrets yet.

Under The French Sun?

On a daily basis, I reminisce about the most magical year of my life.  From mid-1999 to mid-2000, I lived in France with a study abroad program.  I had begged my mom since seventh grade to let me go on a study abroad program, and my persistence paid off.  I graduated a year early, and hopped on a giant airplane across the Atlantic.  At this point in my life, I had never been overseas.  During that year, I lived like a French person.  I went from speaking no French, to becoming completely fluent.  The desire to see the world and experience everything in the eyes of the locals.

My love for France has never diminished.  Although I have been to several other countries since my magical year, France will always remain my second home.  I speak the language, and have wonderful friends there.  I know I could easily move my life over there, and never look back.  Well, I’d have to look back a little by way of coming back to the U.S. to visit my family and friends over here.

What I’m looking for is something similar to an experience from that movie, Under The Tuscan Sun.  If you haven’t seen the movie, Diane Lane’s character goes through a divorce, her lesbian friends send her on a tour of Italy, she gets off the bus and buys a villa, fixes it up, has sex with an incredibly handsome Italian man, goes through a breakup and some turmoil, and then lives happily ever after.  I want that, but I want it to happen in France, without a divorce, though, because I’m not married.  Ideally, I’d love to find a nice home in   the South of France, just outside of Marseille, Cannes, Nice, or Monaco.  Something a bit secluded, so I could really embrace French village life, but just a stone’s throw from a bigger city.

Love seems to happen a lot easier for me in France, too.  That’s something that’s missing from my life at the moment, and I think it’s fueling this desire for change.  I keep going after straight guys here, and that isn’t working out too well for me.

Is this something that only happens in the movies, or to millionaires?  With immigration laws, it can’t be that easy, can it?  Who knows?  A guy can still dream, can’t he?

Most Important Meal of the Day

Breakfast is often heralded as the most important meal of the day.  In the Columbia City neighborhood of Seattle sits Geraldine’s Counter.  When I moved here, I did a Google search for the ‘best breakfast joints in Seattle’, and this was the first one to come up.  It’s a trendy little place with vibrant colors, delicious food, and wonderful staff.  If you don’t get there right when they open (8am), you may have to wait a while for an open booth or a spot at the counter.

Helpings are generous and the food is great.  I usually go for the Counter Special, which is a huge helping of two eggs cooked however you like, hash browns, and toast.  Their pancakes and French toast are also phenomenal.  Oh, and for something really hearty, don’t miss their biscuits and gravy.

If you find yourself in Seattle for any length of time, make your way to Geraldine’s.  You won’t regret it.

Staycations

I’m very fortunate to live in such an amazing place.  I’ve been in Seattle for almost two years, and I can’t seem to get enough of it.  Whether I’m exploring some place new, or hitting up an old favorite, all my troubles and cares fade away.

When I’m staycationing here in the area, I usually have my dog, Chloe, with me.  She’d much rather be running around an 0ff-leash area, but I drag her along with me on my adventures.  It’s like trying to travel with a moody teenager.  I’ll have a post later on about the Disneyland of dog parks.

I especially love staycationing, because I get to go home to my own bed at night.  When traveling elsewhere, I tend to go for the higher-end hotels that make me feel at home.

Back to Seattle…There’s always something to do.  I never grow tired of walking through Pike Place Market, but it can get a bit hectic in the summer when the cruise ships dock.  It seems like everywhere you turn, there’s a beautiful park to explore; some big and some small.  Discovery Park is a great place to get lost.  Sunday’s, if you get there early, you can take a ride on a sail boat on Lake Union with the Center For Wooden Boats.  Sunny days are incredibly busy, and there’s only limited space.

Take a camera out and explore where you live.  Put yourselves in the shoes of tourists.  Go out and see something you may not have thought to go see.  The world is ours to explore.