New trailer for Fantastic Beasts: Crimes of Grindelwald is out

I overuse exclamation marks. That is the only reason why I have not added ten exclamation marks to this headline. Be assured, I am thinking them.

To me, this looks like it’s going to be way better than the first Fantastic Beasts. Maybe I just like maximum mayhem.

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Em and Stu do America part 7: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

As lifelong fans, we are among millions of poor saps who will pay basically anything to see this beloved world brought to life for a day. The cunning folks at Universal Studios Orlando know this, and put half of it (Diagon Alley) in their main park and the other half (Hogsmeade), in adjacent theme park, Islands of Adventure. So if you want to see the lot, you gotta pay for two adults x two parks: total nearly $AUD500!

Hogwarts!

Hogwarts!

This is why it was the ONLY activity in a week in Orlando. It was no hardship to lay low and eat in, though, blessed with the second of three planned resort stays amid a sea of AirBnB. We rolled into town and aside from a Grand Canyon training hike, parked our arses poolside for six days.

And on the seventh day, God gave us Harry Potter.

OMG! We are at Harry Potter World! And it is ALREADY VERY HOT!!!!

OMG! We are at Harry Potter World! And it is ALREADY VERY HOT!

We started bang on opening time on the Hogsmeade side with the premier ride “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey”, reached through Hogwarts Castle. A half-hour wait in a line threading through the castle was made awesome by the atmosphere inside, complete with moving portraits on the walls, and holographic appearances specially filmed for the purpose with the movie actors, so they would pop up from time to time in the corridors and talk to you.

This ride was the highlight of the day, showcasing mind-boggling modern theme park tech – indoor rollercoasters combined with elaborate 3D simulations and real interior puppetry and special effects, including fog, fire and water, a completely immersive experience. The ride, in which you escape Dementors, play Quidditch and fly with dragons across the castle ramparts, was both scary and exhilarating – not really one for a child, unless you count the inner one.

Excitement level: rising uncontrollably.

Excitement level: rising uncontrollably.

We then waited perhaps 15 minutes to catch the Hogwarts Express, a real train and an experience in itself, to Diagon Alley at Universal Studios – a five-minute ride. On the other side, you go through a “London” street complete with Ministry of Magic phone box, Knight Bus with actor playing Stan Shunpike, and full-size facade of 12 Grimmauld Place. We stepped through the magical hole-in-the-wall to Diagon Alley, which centres around a beautiful full-scale Gringotts Wizarding Bank. It even has life-sized animatronic goblins intimidating you as you walk through the entrance hall in line for the ride “Escape from Gringotts”, a line that takes 45 minutes even soon after opening time and from the size of the waiting pens the lines clearly grow until they are hours long. These pens have to be kept in specially made yards behind the main tourist attractions as there is no space in the Alley itself.

You can totally imagine you are Hermione, impersonating Bellatrix, about to be sprung by this guy.

Intimidating. You can totally imagine you are Hermione, impersonating Bellatrix, about to be sprung by this guy.

The Gringotts ride, a simulation of Harry and the gang’s journey through the vaults on a rail cart then their escape aboard a dragon, is also very good in the manner previously described but should probably be done before the Forbidden Journey as, with expectations now sky-high, we found it shorter and less astounding.

We didn’t do the Dragon Challenge coaster as it catered more for children, but wandered Diagon Alley which has all the shops from the books and more. You can go to Ollivander’s and buy a wand, which can be used to activate extra little touches in the window displays throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. We skipped the line and the expense and just watched other people do it.

The dragon atop Gringott's. Go to the end to see the video of it breathing fire!

The dragon atop Gringott’s. Go to the end to see the video of it breathing fire!

You can look in the window at Flourish & Blott’s, go to the magical creatures store, buy crap, get fitted for a robe at Madam Malkin’s, buy more crap, and even visit spooky Knockturn Alley with a Borgin & Burke’s, where you can buy darker-style crap.

We heroically resisted buying crap, but did do lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, a perfect replica where you can get eye-wateringly priced English pub grub as well as Butterbeer and pumpkin juice. While the food was ordinary the decor was spot on, the pumpkin juice delicious (a kind of spiced fruit juice, presence of pumpkin debatable) and Butterbeer, though sadly non-alcoholic, also unbelievably good. Then to Florean Fortescue’s Ice-cream Parlour for dessert, a flagrant money-grab with little atmosphere.

Inside Knockturn Alley

Inside Knockturn Alley

Heavy with sugar we ran through the Simpsons street at Universal, which includes a life-size Moe’s Tavern where you can get Duffs and Flaming Moes. We did the Simpsons ride through Krustyland, me trying not to hurl. All the rides are of the type described, with 3D simulations making you feel as though you are travelling very fast and far, much more sickening and overwhelming than an outdoor rollercoaster.

After a sweltering 45-minute wait we reached Platform Nine ¾ to get the Hogwarts Express, an experience that changes on the return journey (with Dementors!) back to Hogsmeade. Here we wandered through more shops selling crap, including Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes joke shop, and Honeydukes, which was beautifully done, and hard to resist! We poked our heads inside the Three Broomsticks, another perfect replica pub, a similar deal food-wise to the Leaky Cauldron, and entered the Hog’s Head, a darker pub where we obviously had to try firewhisky, a kind of spiced sweet whiskey brewed in Savannah specifically for the purpose of bringing the books to life in this park. Tasty, but pricey!

All aboard the Hogwarts Express... eventually. In the meantimre, look at Hedwig in her cage!

All aboard the Hogwarts Express… eventually. In the meantimre, look at Hedwig in her cage!

Exhausted and dripping, we exited Islands of Adventure by way of the Jurassic Park ride and Amazing Spiderman rides, both super fun, and by another 100 souvenir shops, further testing our resolve. We were utterly shattered, but all the money and waiting and sweat was totally worth it! And can you believe we didn’t buy ANYTHING? Our Money Mustaches grew long and luxurious that day my friends.

StuMobservations: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

  • Wands that activate various 10-second attractions can be experienced by following someone else’s kid around. Saved 50 bucks.
  • Still should have brought my wand though.
  • Ride simulators have come a long way.
  • Finally saw a fire breathing dragon! #lifegoalachieved
  • The Flaming Moe is non-alcoholic and doesn’t even contain cough syrup.
  • Providing in-queue entertainment is genius and should become industry standard.
  • You can view post-ride photo and have a laugh without buying it.
  • Matching family holiday T-shirts are not lame.
  • Putting cinnamon in everything does not make it ‘magical’.
  • Couldn’t decide on what to buy and came away with nothing.
  • The wait times displayed at each ride entrance are inaccurate.
  • Seeing a little girl point her wand at her brother and shout ‘Incendium’ is amazing.

What we’re reading 
Em: The Ersatz Elevator and The Vile Village, Lemony Snicket; The Apprentice, Tess Gerritsen; Rich Habits, Poor Habits, by Michael Yardney
Stu: The Long Walk, Stephen King; Eric and Moving Pictures, Terry Pratchett;

What we’re listening to
Cuban singer Jorge Moreno, who sings a lot about going to Texas and Mexico and how girls should just accept it when he doesn’t call, cause that’s just the way he is, baby. This is in preparation for visiting his Cuban restaurant in Miami Beach.

What we’re watching 
Game of Thrones finale… holy moly!
Miniseries of Stephen King’s The Stand (super good and classic eighties, with Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald)

Em and Stu do America part 4: New York City (warning… epic post)

StuMo’s Guide to Broadway

  • Book of Mormon justifies our entire trip to the states.
  • 1984 replaces important literature with offensive noise, felonious lighting and graphic torture scenes. People walked out.
  • Marvin’s Room like a high-school play but with famous people. (to clarify: I did like it and would recommend)
  • Aladdin: If you have to change the lyrics to one of the songs because you cut a main character (Abu), you are doing it wrong. The Genie had to take breaks mid song, even pausing mid line to catch his breath. Jasmine was utterly woeful.  My year 7 graduation version of A whole new world was more on point. “Hold your breath it gets better” = bad advice, because it most certainly did not.
  • Lion King was everything and more. Dance fighting with animals! When Zazu sang Let it Go instead of It’s a small world I died. Such an unforgettable way to spend our last day in NY.

But to go back a month in time…

We left PEI and drove six hours through an ever-denser grey abyss of fog and cloud that swamped the Canadian horizon, a Twin Peaks-esque tableau as surreal as it was beautiful.

It was a long haul, though (“LANE!!!”) and we were ready to surrender to a bus driver after returning the Chevy to Bangor. Another fabulously kind local, Pat from Rent-a-Wreck, gave us a lift to the station.

Hello NYC: a dancer makes the most of a stunning Brooklyn Bridge backdrop for her rehearsal.

Hello NYC: a dancer makes the most of a stunning Brooklyn Bridge backdrop for her rehearsal.

The cloud continued through Augusta, Portland and Boston, then the rain began. But despite the weather the day seemed brighter in the USA. In fact it seemed to me, as I stared from my front-row seat through the windows, an oddly glorious greyness, tinged with gold. The sort of light that made you feel something grand and mysterious was imminent, the perfect light to herald our entry into NYC – a month I’ve waited my whole life for.

It was then I realised I’d been gazing through the bus driver’s special barrier window which was sepia-tinted and through the rest of the windows was a prosaic, sullen grey. Ha! No matter – nothing could dim the excitement inside.

We arrived ready to party and luckily NYC was more than happy to accommodate with a rooftop celebration on the Fourth of July.

We arrived ready to party and luckily NYC was more than happy to accommodate with a rooftop celebration on the Fourth of July.

It’s not literature that brought us to NYC, I’m sorry to say, but good old television. Friends, Seinfeld and Sex and the City have been our cultural bread and butter since hitting puberty, and before you open your mouth, Stu’s knowledge of SATC is even more comprehensive than mine.

Not to mention the movies – the classics, the crap and everything in between. All of it stamps in your memory the sights of Coney Island. Empire State Building. Central Park. Broadway. Fifth Avenue. Times Square. Greenwich Village. They’re not just emblematic of a country, a state or a city, though they are all this – they are also our neighbourhood, just around the mental corner. To people born and raised on the box, these places are larger than life and on shows like Seinfeld and SATC especially, they’re not settings so much as characters, as inseparable from the content as the actors.

Yep. Central Park looks just like this. Stu spotted this classic "boyfriends of Instagram scene"; girl preening, guy on double duty as oarsman and photographer.

Yep. Central Park looks just like this. Stu spotted this classic “boyfriends of Instagram scene”; girl preening, guy on double duty as oarsman and photographer.

As I have grown older I have become more aware of the odd paradox represented by the allure of a hyperreal land I have never visited. NYC is venerated as the centre of the universe, the common wisdom is that it’s mecca for anyone who wants to be at the top of their profession, be that arts, finance, or anything, or just live in the most exciting place on earth. After so many years of hungering for a Manhattan apartment of my own I had to ask myself, Carrie-style: is it real at all?

This is why we gave ourselves a month: to get the apartment (Brooklyn, though), pretend hard to be locals, and find out.

The answer is of course it’s real. It’s, ye gods, a bigger, hotter, louder, pricier, denser, sadder, funnier, dirtier, stinkier real than the scrubbed, noise-controlled screen versions can truly render (just try to capture the utter surreal madness of Times Square with a point-and-shoot).

Thanks for the parties guys! How's this for a spot to watch the fireworks?

Thanks for the parties guys! How’s this for a spot to watch the fireworks?

We caught up with locals – my old friend Paul and his partner Stephanie, relatively recent Australian expats, treated us to penthouse parties on the Fourth of July; a newer friend Joe, from Brooklyn (Dom and Jess’ best man) took us out to dinner. They all tell me for the time being at least they would not live anywhere else, despite the expense, the long work hours, the high-impact lifestyle.

It’s easy to understand when every day you walk past icons – Liberty, the WTC, the Empire State Building, NBC, Radio City, the MET, the almost supernaturally beautiful Central Park, why New Yorkers would feel like they’re at the centre of the universe and love it.

Lady Liberty: up close, she is colossal, powerful and moving.

Lady Liberty: up close, she is colossal, powerful and moving.

It is also easy to understand why it could make native New Yorkers somewhat insular, give the impression that they’re living in their own little world, that nowhere else is quite real. We observed this and ran it by our friends, and came to the conclusion: of course NYC-dwellers are living in their own little world. It’s complete, it’s self-sufficient. They don’t need to consider what it would be like anywhere else, because they have everything they need. Not to mention all the stuff they don’t need, evidenced by the confronting mountains of rubbish that are part and parcel of this life as much as the glamour.

But they all need to get out of the city from time to time, the natives I meet tell me. Whether it be to the Hamptons, upstate NYC or further, they build down time into their lives.

Central Park provides some gorgeous moments of downtime.

Central Park provides some gorgeous moments of downtime.

We did our best to do NYC justice in a month of touring combined with hard book editing –editing of my first novel is now complete and regardless of what happens now I am proud. I had the experience of finishing the macro edits in the New York Public Library’s Rose Reading Room, which I’ll never forget.

I’m also proud of how much we managed to do in a month. We walked as many of the neighbourhoods of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens as possible, ticked off the big tourist boxes and also did community stuff like farmers’ markets, local theatre, a doggy fashion show. We saw the stuffing out of Broadway. We devoted hours to art galleries and devoured food, glorious food. We quickly abandoned the mid-to-fancy range – there, Perth holds its own – so we concentrated on “only in New York”… bagels, pastrami, corned beef, babkas (yes! Found cinnamon babka!), pizza, international street foods, hot dogs, diner comfort food, cheesecakes, Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. The only thing we failed to find was a good pretzel. It’s probably a good thing we leave, before I eat anything else.

A Black Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn Heights.

A Black Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn Heights.

And I don’t know about Stu, but I’m excited about a return to nature. As stunning as Central Park and Prospect Park are, they’re not the nature I know, but a tamed, designed version, despite the “wild” zones – the Ramble in CP and the Ravine in PP. Nowhere do you escape the deafening drone of helicopters, the incessant scream of ambulances, the murmur of twenty million airconditioners running continuously to cool the throbbing heat of this city. It’s so exciting, so stimulating, and yet my heart longs for wildness, for real silence.

NYC is full of incredible beauty and also ugliness, each more intense than I’ve ever encountered. A land of extremes that prompts reflection, but gives you scant time for it. I might be sorry to leave if this were the end of the trip, and I have had mad urges to go and see two plays on the same day, just to fit more in, but we are only excited about the adventures still to come and perhaps finding that reflection time as we travel slowly through North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida.

But first: two days each in Philadelphia and Washington, here we come!

Central Park's Bethesda Terrace

Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace

StuMobervations part 5: NYC

  • Beer is not sold at bottle-o’s. It is sold at supermarkets with groceries.
  • You can’t pee quietly in an American toilet, the bowl is so full. Average flush = 6 gallons (22.7 litres)
  • Just because it is devoid of all nutrition does not mean it is not food
  • A sweat mop is an essential item.
  • Australia needs the “everything bagel” as a standard lunch option.
  • Never buy a pretzel from a street cart. Look great, but taste like salty cardboard.
  • Maps just give you something to look at while you argue about where you are.
  • Doggy fashion shows are as awesome as you think.
  • I now understand Mitch Hedberg’s – “Would you like anything else with the pastrami sandwich?” “Yeah, a loaf of bread and some other people!”
  • I saw Starry Night!
  • Junior’s cheesecake is better than your cheesecake.
  • Coney Island = Sideshow alley plus horrible beach. P.S. not an island.
  • It is illegal to take your dog on the subway unless it’s in a bag.
  • Times Square should be avoided.
  • Real Kramer Tour means now need to rewatch all of Seinfeld. We got soup!
  • East Village Pub Crawl is the best idea. BYO local guide.
  • Need a book? People leave them on their front porches, or “stoops”, for free.
  • Freegans are people who eat out of garbage cans by choice.
  • Talk to people on the subway if you want, just don’t smile at them. That’s weird.

For the exceptionally committed readers (hi mum) this is exactly what we did… have only named outstanding eateries

Week 1
Stonewall Inn, Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village Walk tour, Tick Tock diner, Brooklyn’s Park Slope walking tour including Prospect Park, farmer’s market, New York Public Library, Fourth of July party day, Fourth of July hangover day, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island immigration museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Empire State Building, Central Park walking tour part I, Al-di-La restaurant, Peppino’s Pizza part I.

The MET

The MET

Week 2
Downtown Brooklyn walking tour, Bagel Hole, Shake Shack (thanks Juji), Whitney Museum of American Art, 9/11 Museum and Memorial, Hudson Riverpark, Museum of Natural History, Bricolage restaurant, Guggenheim, Broadway 1984 (average), Junior’s cheesecake, Brooklyn’s annual doggy fashion show, Peppino’s pizza part II.

The memorial incredibly beautiful and sobering, the museum a raw and confronting exhibition. A must do.

The memorial incredibly beautiful and sobering, the museum a raw and confronting exhibition. A must do.

Week 3
High Line walking tour, Strand Bookstore, Katz’s Deli (of pastrami sandwich and When Harry Met Sally faked orgasm fame), Eileen’s special cheesecake, Brooklyn Bridge walk, Prospect Park part II, Times Square, Broadway Marvin’s Room (excellent)Magnolia Bakery of SATC and red velvet cupcake fame, Central Park walking tour part II (Strawberry Fields and the Dakota Building, Ghostbusters sights, Plaza Hotel); Broadway Aladdin (average), the Museum of Modern Art, dinner at Junior’s, NY Public Library part II, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in Brooklyn (excellent).

Subway terminal seen from The High Line

Subway terminal seen from The High Line

Week 4
Coney Island, lots of book editing, Kenka Japanese in East Village with Joe (the end of the mashup video below is Emma failing at the fairy floss machine there), Broadway Book of Mormon (excellent), Ess-a-Bagel, Jim Henson exhibition at Queens’ Museum of the Moving Image, Queens food tour consisting of slice pizza and shawarma, kayaking by the Brooklyn Bridge, Museum of Modern Art part II, epic East Village pub crawl with Paul and Stephanie, ate terrible pretzel off street cart when hungover, regretted this, Kramer’s Seinfeld Tour (yes, Kramer was based on Larry David’s actual neighbour, who cashed in and now does an amazing behind the scenes of Seinfeld tour); Broadway The Lion King, Prospect Park part III.
Last hurrah: back to Peppino’s Pizza for a third time, for what the staff there now know as the “drunk Australian special”.

Spiderman takes a moment to call his folks on Coney Island, a place as grungy and weird as we could have hoped for.

Spiderman clocks off to call his folks on Coney Island, as grungy and weird a place as we hoped.

What we’re reading
Em: On Writing, Stephen King; Wet Magic, E. Nesbit; Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel
StuMo: The Stand, Stephen King

What we’re listening to
Music: The Gospel Album, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (RIP)
Aladdin and Little Mermaid soundtracks by Alan Menken
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 
read by Jim Dale

What we’re watching
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Excellent 1962 horror movie. Well worth it. 
Game of Thrones 
(hurrah!)

My most inspiring podcasts right now

Podcasts: for Type A individuals who enjoy learning in their downtime.

Podcasts: for Type A individuals who enjoy learning in their downtime.

I’ve decided I can’t stand blog posts that make you wade through a bunch of personal crap before they get to the reason you clicked, so without further ado:

The Tim Ferris Show
My favourite podcast. Usually the top-ranked business podcast on iTunes, and iTunes’ “Best of 2014” and “Best of 2015.” Tim Ferriss is the author of the Four-Hour Workweek, the Four-Hour Body and the Four-Hour Chef. Despite how gimmicky these sound, they are intensive. A long-form show usually in intimate interview format, with diverse and fascinating guests, sometimes famous and sometimes not, dissecting their high-achieving lifestyles along with Tim Ferriss, who they are usually as impressed by as he is with them. Listen to this if you take self-improvement and learning deadly seriously.
Recent favourites:
Conversations with Richard Fidler 
Lovely 45-minute interviews that are reliably wide-ranging, humorous and touching. Recent favourites:

Chat 10 Looks 3
How could you not already be charmed by a podcast whose title is a quote from A Chorus Line? Annabel Crabb (Kitchen Cabinet host, ABC political writer and author) and Leigh Sales (famously tenacious journalist, host of ABC’s flagship 7.30) get way less serious in this podcast in which they bake for each other, eat the things they bake, name-drop, review books and TV shows and movies, and generally crap on about things they like. They are hilarious when bouncing off each other. If I could get paid to make a show like this I would die happy. Has recently been made into an iView show called When I Get a Minute. It’s completely unstructured, so just dive in at any starting point you like.

The Minimalists Podcast
The Minimalists talk about ‘living a meaningful life with less stuff’. If this topic doesn’t interest you, probably don’t start. If it does, hop into it, because these two are pretty much the faces of modern minimalism.
Inspiring and encouraging for anyone who feels like life is a bit of a rat race at times, and provide a sense of community. They repeat their own stories a shade too often, but I kind of like this, I find it weirdly soothing. They are a good team and bounce off each other well – they’re not preachy or overly serious.
If you’re looking at this for the first time, I’d avoid their more recent guest podcasts and the ones done live from cities,as these are all kind of filler episodes while they’ve been touring their new documentary. Yes, I have preordered the documentary and the six hours of bonus footage. I’m a sad lady.

Enjoy!