A Journey to Distant Lands

Dramatic, eh?  No, really.  I did go to Distant Lands!

I’ve lived in the same house since I was 2 and a half, within about 15 minutes from Pasadena’s “Old Town” district.  The area has had its ups and downs over the decades — it was pretty run down and grody when I was a kid, but it’s getting a lot more nice stores recently.

The light rail was extended to the area about 10 years ago, so now there are more apartment buildings and whatnot in the area to attract people to be in the area rather than just passing through and leaving after regular business hours.

I’ve always passed by this travel book store, Distant Lands, for years, but never stopped in.  Busy busy busy.  Apparently the store has been in Old Town since 1989!

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Aurora borealis (Arctic tour, but maybe on the eastern side of Canada? I forget) — from Quark Expeditions site. (quarkexpeditions.com)

I had to hang around the area, I was doing a favor driving someone home after an appointment.  So I decided “coffee it is!” and parked in the nearest city structure.  I decided to stop in to Distant Lands first, since it was just across the street — so glad I did!

The store isn’t enormous, but it uses all its available space efficiently.  It is two tiny stores connected — one side is the books and travel agent desk, and the other side is luggage, packing knickknacks, clothing, and other travel gadgets. They have a travel agent who can help suggest places, can book Europe rail passes right there, and lots of other stuff.  I love that such a niche store can exist!

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Kayaking on Antarctica tour — from Quark Expeditions site. (quarkexpeditions.com)

Right when I walked in, I didn’t have an agenda, but the lady that greeted me seemed to like to chat, and I love chattering when I can (can you tell?).  Although I can’t really travel right now — more’s the pity, so much free time…  :(  I said I was interested in Germany and Belgium, and that my friend was interested in Antarctica.  (Same friend who went to the coroner’s shop with me.)

What luck!  This lady said she had just taken a trip to Antarctica in November with Quark Expeditions, and she was going to be hosting a talk with slideshow about her trip.  Whee!  She told me all about it, and I learned so much — I can’t wait to go to the talk and report back to you guys!

For example, did you know all the boat companies get together and organize their travel routes so that they never see each other during any boat’s entire trip?  How awesome is that?

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Artic tour — from Quark Expeditions site. (quarkexpeditions.com)

I’m going to ask her permission to post some of her pictures, but for now — go check them out!!!  She’s got pictures from Antarctica, the islands nearby, Russia, Uzbekistan, Tibet, France, Yemen… so cool.

…for a cool $5,500 to $20,000, an Antarctic or Arctic trip could be yours!  Oh well.  We can dream, right?  She said she got hers 50% off by booking last minute (a month before the trip).

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Antarctica tour — from Quark Expeditions site. (quarkexpeditions.com)

What’ll it be, polar bears or penguins?

Roadside America — A Quick Visit to the Coroner’s Office

Apparently it used to be the “Los Angeles County Department of Coroner”.  (Where is the “the”?  This is confusing.)  Now, it’s officially the “Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner”.  The change is important, trust me!

…let me back up.  A few weeks ago, a friend of mine came to visit me.  She’s a NICU nurse, who worked around here for a few years.  We’ve gone on a few road trips since we’ve been friends, and our group of friends likes… wacky things, to say the least.

She likes checking the Roadside America site/app for things to see wherever we are.  Haven’t heard of Roadside America?  You tell it where you’re going, and then you can find out where the bizarre sights are — biggest strawberry in the US?  Window cattle portraits? (I have another post coming for the “Exotic Meats and Dinosaur Farm!” trip we took.  They have velociraptors.)

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Raaawr! (Picture by K.C.)

So, before I dropped her off at the airport, she said “The coroner has a gift shop!  Let’s go!”

What?!

For about a year or so, when I would drive home from work on city streets rather than the freeway, I would pass by the LA County USC Medical Center, and the sign announcing the LA County Coroner.  I…never knew they had a gift shop.

Well they do!  And, guess what — it’s called “Skeletons in the Closet”.  Awww. :D  And they have a website!

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“We have our work cut out for us.” Hahah. From the gift shop website.

Yes, I guess it could be morbid.  It could be awkward.  There’s notes in the Roadside America app saying “please make sure to not be disrespectful to family members who may be at the coroner on business, so please don’t laugh in the lobby on your way to the shop”.  Ouch.  No worries.  We’re professional.  The store’s purpose is “to promote how fragile life is and create awareness and responsibility toward one’s actions”.  Good on them.

But that doesn’t stop their sense of humor…

The lady in the store is super nice, and she showed us all the neat things celebrities have signed and given to her, pictures of people… they have a couch made from a coffin, a sparkly black mini-Christmas tree, and fun merch.

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Signs at checkout. ;D From Shannon V. on Yelp.

Apparently ours in LA, and Las Vegas, are the only cities/counties with gift shops.  Hmm.  I wonder what that says about us…

Anyway — if you’re in the vicinity, and don’t mind morbid humor — stop by!  The lady is really nice. :D

AND — some of the merchandise is going to be collector’s items, because it still has the old name on it!  Hee.  Get it while it’s hot!

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One corner of the shop. From Shannon V. on Yelp.

Coming next — either more Roadside America (exotic meats!) and a mountain snow drive, or more Wyoming.   We’ll see. :)  Thanks guys for sticking with me!

Once Upon a Dream — Throwback Thursday

A week ago (the 9th), I had the unique experience of seeing the Disney animated version of Sleeping Beauty (1959) on the big screen!  What a treat!

I was poking around facebook (as you do…) and noticed around 3 pm that the El Capitan Theatre would be playing it that evening.  The El Capitan Theatre is an old-style movie theater in Hollywood (along the Walk of Fame, across from where they hold the Oscars, etc, aren’t we fancy) and owned by Disney.

Flashy lights! Sparkly LED screens!  This is the marquee above the front entrance of the El Capitan.

Flashy lights! Sparkly LED screens! This is the marquee above the front entrance of the El Capitan.

They play exclusively Disney films there, and between runs of shows, they invite people to vote on facebook to choose an old movie to replay for one night only — Throwback Thursday.  (They just were playing Frozen, and now it’s on to sing-along Mary Poppins!)

Back in September 2008, they played it for a few days but I was unable to go.  Bummer.  I wasn’t going to lose my chance!  Sleeping Beauty is one of my favorite Disney movie I’ve come to love as an adult.  The art style is so detailed and incredible, it’s mindboggling to think of all the time spent on it.  Sleeping Beauty was the first (and one of the few) that they made in 70 mm — all the backgrounds were painted individually.  Eyvind Earle was the head designer, and did AMAZING work.

Background art by Eyvind Earle, from theartofsleepingbeauty.tumblr.com.

I love the soundtrack — it’s all from the Tchaikovsky ballet “Sleeping Beauty” (which I just had the fortune to see around my birthday this past year, what a treat!)  so it’s quite beautiful.  And, okay, I love Prince Philip and his voice actor’s singing.

“Father, you’re living in the past!  This is the 14th century!”

Love the old style poster!

Love the old style poster!

So, being determined to see it, and realizing it was too late for anyone to really respond to facebook and say they wanted to come, I bought myself a ticket and headed down to Hollywood and Highland to be at the theater early to poke around.  So glad I did!

Rob Richards, resident organist, playing before the show.

Rob Richards, resident organist, playing before the show.

Before every show, they have a live organist playing Disney music for a good 30 minutes beforehand!  His name is Rob Richards, and it’s an old pipe organ from a theater in San Francisco.  So awesome.  …I totally didn’t realize I asked him and another staff member if there were any costumes or props on display in the basement — they usually do a rotation of stuff every so often.  lol.  Good job, self.

I love pipe organ music — I’m probably in the minority though.  Check it out!  This clip is of the well-known song “Once Upon a Dream” as he’s finishing his set.  Sorry for the less than stellar quality and interference — people wouldn’t shut up, and my camera is old and sad. :(

It was really fun watching the movie for the first time on the big screen — everything was enormous,  the music was great, and it’s such a different experience getting to see it with a full audience.  There were lots of laughs about the small jokes, and it was cute to hear the little kids go GASP when Maleficent did something wicked.  (You know you’re in a herd of fans when they CLAP when the villain comes on screen for the first time…)

My next challenge is to get a better camera, borrow a tripod, and camp out to take pictures of the theater when there are less people inside.  Onward!

So many fancy details!

So many fancy details! This is one of the balcony areas on the second level.

Alright, sound off!  What’s your favorite Disney movie(s)?  Do you like seeing them on the big screen, or at home?  Would you ever go  to an event like this, Disney movie or other type?

Impromptu iPod Eavesdropping

Alright, I can’t be perfect and alliterate everything. This is a first and a test — I’m posting from a tablet!  (Okay, I may have cheated…I centered the pictures and added captions from a real computer.)

A friend of mine and I met for lunch, but the first place we tried was closed! Yelp and their site said they open at 11, we got there at 1…ghost town.

So we got BBQ instead. I haven’t had BBQ in a while — I can’t even remember what style they had. Memphis maybe, but I also have a sneaking suspicion they just mix and match anything they want to give people options.

Since it was 86 F/30 C and sunny here (sorry folks everywhere else!) we decided on an unscheduled stop at Trader Sam’s Tiki Bar, which is located near the pool area of the Disneyland Hotel (adjacent to Disneyland, Downtown Disney, etc). PERFECT. The weather felt great, they have outdoor couches to sit on (and fireplaces when it’s cold), and since it was midweek around 2:30 pm, it was nearly empty.

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The front of the menu, and the view from the patio. Sorry iPod, you’re not the best camera…

Score. We sat outside in the warmth like lizards for about a hour, blissfully eavesdropping on the business people at the table near us — they were discussing ideas for small Disney-themed products for places like the Dollar Store. Choice quotes include: “we gotta jump on ring pops” and “light up suspenders” and “just to be clear, Jumbo Eggs are NOT an innovation”. Hahah!

Moral of the story — take some time to relax and take a break, sometimes you’ll be unexpectedly entertained. :)

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Everything is themed. Everywhere.

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They updated the pool area to have slides that look like the monorail and with the retro sign, plus waterfall! How cool. It’s pretty new. Again, apologies for terrible quality. :(

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I can’t resist walking by the candy shop in Downtown Disney — you never know what new candy apples will be on display!

Billy Hill and the Hillbillies, or… All I Wanted For Christmas

I’m a Disneyland nut.  I’ll just put that out there.  So when I heard a few months ago  that a certain musical act from Disneyland was going away at the end of the holiday season, I went on a tiny panic.

Billy Hill and the Hillbillies — they have played at Disneyland for 20 years, mostly in the Golden Horseshoe.  They mostly play bluegrass and folk music, though on occasion they would do heavy metal in bluegrass style… ;D  Lots of jokes interspersed.

So when I heard that January 5 would be their last show, I was sad and wanted to go visit to see their show one last time.  (I heard today’s shows were great, and they were packed!)  Now, despite living in Southern California… I don’t have an annual pass.  I wish I did!

I got very lucky though — a former professor of mine just happened to send out a mass email to my old department email list, and asked “Does anyone want to go to Disneyland on December 23 or 24? We have two extra tickets!”  … … … DO I?!  YES!  I hemmed and hawed, thinking “well, it’s been three hours since she emailed, I’m sure they’re snapped up already.”  … … … Then I said what the hell, and emailed her anyway.  I was the first person to respond, so we got them!  YES!

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My mom and I first went when I was in junior high, and we LOVED the show and its ridiculous humor.  See, they’re “all” named Billy.  “My name is Billy Hill, and this here is my brother Billy.  And my other brother Billy.  And this is Billy.”   Then he would eventually bring out his “pros-teeth-us” to help him get into the country music mood.

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Ahh.  I guess you have to grow up with it… hahah.  I’m going to miss them.  The fiddle and banjo renditions of holiday songs were a great last memory!  I’m a big sucker for nostalgia and memory, so Disneyland feeds right into that with their love of anything retro and constant anniversary of this or that.

Anyone have any favorite shows or attractions that don’t exist anymore, but still hold a place in your heart?

I don’t think the castles are going away any time soon, but lit up at night, they just look amazing.  Ahhh!  Swoon.