Friday, April 29, 2011

Southern California Renaissance Faire

Last Sunday I attended the Renaissance Faire that's about 20 minutes from my house.  And what a faire!  These folks have clearly been doing this a while.  The layout is like a giant snake--so every single stage, shop, and eatery is on the path from the entrance to the joust.  They have an NC-17 stage where I spent most of the morning replenishing my levels of bawdiness.
The Belles of Bedlam
Then it was off to watch Jack the Dagger do some impressive knife throwing.  Yes, that blurry grey thing in the middle picture is the knife.

I ended the day by watching the final joust, which was excellent as well. Lots of fighting on both horse and ground. Altogether a wonderful way to spend a day!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Catalina Island

California continues to amaze me.

Prior to coming to Claremont as an undergrad, what I knew about California I learned from TV and movies:  San Francisco is hilly, Napa Valley has great wine, and Hollywood is full of movie stars.  That's what makes my new discoveries of the gems that lie within California all the more exciting.  

Avalon Harbor viewed from above
One such gem is the Channel Islands.

Those who pay attention to such things probably have heard of them already.  A long ago getaway for movie stars, places such as Catalina Island grew up on the twin pillars of their beauty and mild inaccessibility.  Today it is still a gorgeous place to visit, with many plant and animal species that only live on one or more of the Islands, and a wonderful harbor lined with shops, restaurants, and the occasional candy factory.

I went there for the first time with my Mom, who was visiting during her Spring Break.  One very exciting thing to do is to take one of the semi-submersible undersea tours:  the next best thing to scuba diving.  We saw loads of fish during the tour, including the easy to spot Garibaldi.
Garibaldi fish in the ocean
The Island ethos of tourism with conservation was put in place by the Wrigley family, and the Wrigley Memorial and Botanical Gardens is a great way to see many of the plants (and animals!) that only grow on Catalina or other Channel Islands.
Mark and Tam in from of a Catalina Mahogany Tree
The trip back is also a lot of fun.  The jet ferry takes about an hour to cover twenty miles of open ocean.  Pelicans and seagulls like to follow the wake churned up behind the boat.
Pelicans accompanying the ferry ride back

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Universal Studios Hollywood

I hadn't been to Universal Studios Hollywood since I was an undergraduate in college.  What a difference sixteen years makes!

When I last visited with my brother, the Studio Backlot Tour was the only real ride, and even that was very different from any other theme park in the world.  The rest of the day you could spend watching stunt shows and other performances, but there were no roller coasters or other big rides.

Since then (like that other theme park), Universal Studios Hollywood has brought over the best ideas and rides from their two Florida Parks.  The result is a great way to spend a day.  It's still a lot lower key than a Disney adventure--which isn't a bad thing.  The Backlot Tour is still the gem in their crown--and with recent updates including a ride through the 3D jungles of Skull Island where Kong battles dinosaurs it is still a favorite of mine.
Yep--he's still terrorizing Amity Lake
This time I went with my Mom, who was visiting during her Spring Break.  I splurged on the "Front-of-the-line" passes.  These helped a bit with the lines to the attractions, but their main benefit was the extras you receive with the shows.  Most of the shows had a short Q-and-A session with the actors where they describe some of the behind-the-scenes parts of the show.  Lots of fun!  Also, there are nice reserved seats for these shows, so you don't have to worry about getting there too early.
Meeting the cast of Terminator 2:3D