Friday, November 26, 2010


In July, I, and three friends, Cindi, Carrie, and Jackie grabbed a portkey to Orlando to visit Universal Studio's newest attraction, THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER!

We're all pretty big Potterheads, so seeing our favorite places from the books and movies come to life was fantastic. The castle, was utterly amazing. Granted, the surrounding palm trees do take away a bit of the authenticity, but, eh, when you see something that doesn't make sense, just claim a Wizard did it.  

We got to the park a little before it opened, but they actually let us in early. There were NO lines whatsoever! We immediately made our way to The Forbidden Journey, the ride inside the castle. We tried to take our time as we went through the Halls of Hogwarts, but like I said, no line! We saw the founders in their portraits, and of course, they talked and moved, just as any good magical painting should. I think my favorite thing was the Dark Arts classroom. I don't have any pics from the interior, but if I can snag some from Carrie, I'll update them here! Anyway, on with the rest of the show!

The crest of Hogwarts outside of Argus Filtch's Emporium, which also serves as a locker bay for Muggles who can't use shrinking charms.

Before I get ahead of myself, running off to the Tri-Wizard Tournament, let me tell you a bit about Hogsmeade. You enter the HP section of the park by walking into Hogsmeade. The day we were there, it was overcast and a bit drizzly, which really enhanced the atmosphere. True, it was a bit warm, but at least it looked the part!

Here, you can see the large number of Muggles that are waiting to get into Ollivander's Wand shop. Ollivander's was, by far, the most popular attraction. We got into the shop, but we didn't stay for the show. More on that later.

As you enter Hogsmeade, you are greeted by this happy little Gryffindor snow Wizard and his owl.

I loved the stack of Cauldrons in front of Potages. The entire design of the village is so whimsical.

Hermione's lovely dress robes in the window Gladrags. The robes very gently float as they are displayed. Harry's are in the opposite window.

The rafters outside of the Owl Post are of course, filled with owls! I do regret the fact that I didn't get to send a letter from Hogsmeade to myself, simply for the fact that I really wanted that postmark. Yep, it's a functioning post office!

Speaking of post offices, you usually see wanted posters in them, but this one was just hanging out near the Hogshead, behind the Butterbeer wagon. I'm pretty sure Sirius Black was cleared of all charges, so we didn't bother to look for him. Honeydukes and Zonkos were next on the list!

You could find pretty much anything you wanted, from a stack of chocolate frogs or Bertie Botts to a Sneakoscope, they had it. I will say, the cauldron cakes are excellent, and they make the best cookies and cream fudge I've ever had.

The shelves at Zonkos, packed with many an item from the books and movies!

All I can think of is Umbridge!

Ah, frozen butterbeer. How does it taste? It's like a thick, slushy cream soda with a creamy butterscotch head. Honestly, it's amazingly delish, but have more than one and you might contract diabetes. It really is that sweet. So sweet in fact, that Cindi actually got a little ill from it and decided to call it a day. If it's a bit much for you, there's always pumpkin juice, which, though sugary, isn't nearly so saccharin as butterbeer.

Thankfully, the Hogshead offered water, so I didn't die from a sugar overload. One cool thing, the head snorts and moves and talks, but of course, you expect that of magical taxidermy.

Speaking of Hogsmeade pubs, here's a quick shot from inside The Three Broomsticks, where you'll be happy to see that there are, indeed, three broomsticks.

What visit to Hogsmeade would be complete without a visit to the Hogwarts Express? Not ours!

Aw! Look at all the little Muggles!

Another nifty attraction in the WWoHP is the Dragon Challenge, based off of the Tri-Wizard Tournament.

Don't touch it! It's a portkey! Voldemort is such a total jerk if you do.
You can choose to ride either the Chinese Firebolt or the Hungarian Horntail. (Now, long ago, this ride used to be the Dueling Dragons, and I've previously ridden it. The ride is the same, but the walk to the ride is much cooler now that it's HP themed.) Between the two coasters, I have to say the the Fireball is the winner.

Dervish and Bangs had The Monster Book of Monsters, safely caged! They also sold cauldrons, Quidditch kits, robes, and all kinds of HP paraphernalia. From D&B, you could walk directly into Ollivander's shop, which was small and cramped, and so crowded that you literally couldn't turn around inside.

Here is one of the few pictures I was able to take in Ollivander's. Few because the crush of the crowd was just ridiculous. I had to raise my arms over my head and just snap there you go...a ton of wand boxes and a giant owl. Did I buy a wand? No. I couldn't see spending 30+ bucks for a replica when I can very easily make one.

...And one more quick shot. Sure, I didn't buy a wand, but I did get some souvenirs. Usually, I don't buy theme park junk, but I couldn't pass it up this time. I'm now the proud owner of three HP t-shirts,  a Slytherin mug, a Dark Mark wax seal set, luggage tag, and House bar glasses. Oh, but I am a nerd!

Well, I've got many more pictures which I could post, and kind of want to, but this post is already ridiculously long and not very linear, so I'll go ahead and wrap it up now. Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you were amazing and my friends and I really enjoyed our time, so thanks. I hope to see you again soon.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Zombies, Zombies, Zombies!

What do you get when you take a bunch of people, some fake blood, and a hot June night?

I like to call this pic, "victim's last snapshot."
You get the Birmingham Couchsurfer's Zombie Crawl!

What is couchsurfing you ask? Well, it's a great travel organization used by millions of people. I'm not going to take the time here to explain it, but check out the link for more info. Birmingham has a very active CS community, and there is often a function taking place, as well as a weekly meet up. The Zombie crawl was my first official function. I'd been interested in joining the CS group for a while and this seemed like a good opportunity to get involved. 

The undead football player, 80's mall pop singer, and granny.
We started the night at The Barking Kudu. At first, it seemed like there might only be three or four of us, which...well, doesn't make for a very good horde. However, as the dark and heavy blanket of night came to settle over the city, legions of the undead began to walk the streets...and get organized. After all, we were a Zombie horde with a purpose, not just a bunch of aimless, brain-hungry undead. Once a pretty good crowd had gathered at the Kudu, we broke off into teams and were given lists detailing a scavenger hunt and several meet up times. 

"Haha! Pointing!"
Here we are finding one of the Couchsurfing stickers that had been placed in various locations throughout the city. There were many things on the list, 'find all the CS stickers, take a picture with an Elvis statue, etc, etc. 

Most unattractive picture of me ever.
This however, was worth bonus points. There were two cops in the middle of the intersection and Vickie, aka, undead granny starts to hobble over to them. "Excuse me! Excuse me, officers!" The officer takes one look and goes for his gun. He doesn't draw, but you can tell he's freaked out to the max. Vickie proceeds to explain what we're doing and asks if we can get a picture. He laughs and says that he thought she'd just been attacked. As far as the picture, he didn't mind, "as long as it doesn't end up on myspace." No worries won't be on myspace. (However, you never mentioned blogger.) So, thank you to one of Birmingham's finest for playing along. Also, apparently I didn't get the memo that we were all going to be really happy in this picture. 

Rowdy Roddey Piper!
We continued to drag ourselves through the city, stopping to stare into windows, startling unsuspecting restaurant patrons, disturbing local pubs, and causing general confusion and mayhem. Eventually, we invaded Innisfree Irish pub where the music was live and loud. Thank you Jasper Coal for a fun show!

Who doesn't love a little rough-throated Celtic punk, especially when they bust out the bagpipes! Yes, I admit it. I love bagpipes and I'm proud of it. Eh, anything that's got a Dropkick Murphy/Flogging Molly kind of feel to it is always good in my book. 

To quote a friend: "Hoppppppps, GRAIIIIIIIINS!" 
Zombie Michael Jackson up there is actually wearing my jacket. Why is the majority of my closet also ripe for costuming?

There was much dancing, singing, and clapping of hands...

 ...Oh, and of course eating of brains, that too. 

The crawl was great fun, and our group scored pretty big in the scavenger hunt, but still, it wasn't the main event of the evening. You see, by now, it's close to midnight, and something evil's lurking in the dark...

 White tights need to stay in the 80s.
What Zombie crawl would be complete without a performance of Thriller in the heart of downtown at the stroke of midnight? Yes, yes, I know, probably a lot of them, but ours wasn't! We had some audio problems and it's not like we're professionals, but the crowd seemed to enjoy it. We sure did!

At this point, with this many post dance, sweaty, thirsty Zombies roaming around, Dave's had the funk of forty thousand beers. It was a great night, and a fun event for a CS newbie. Oh, and why did we choose June instead of say October? Because, much like the Spanish Inquisition, no one expects it.

A big thanks to the wonderful Crystal Murphy for the pictures and for organizing such a great event, and to Vickie Edwards for such a great welcome into the CS group!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Return to New Orleans, or Meeting MIKE ROWE!

That's right. I met MIKE ROWE.


However, I didn't meet him right away, so I'm not starting there...just keep that in mind...because I did, and it was awesome.

Where I am starting is around 11:55 AM, June 5th, 2010. At this particular moment in time, I was sitting in the back of my father's car as he and my mother drove me to the Amtrak station to meet my train to NOLA. I'd never truly traveled by train before, just taken one for a short sight-seeing trip in Colorado, and I don't think the train at the zoo really counts. I mean, the engineer rides ON the engine. It doesn't ring of authenticity.

My train was scheduled to leave at 12:30, and with fifteen minutes of driving yet ahead of us, I was cutting it close, which for me, is fairly standard operating procedure. Still, you only have to arrive thirty minutes beforehand, so I wasn't that worried.


I looked at my ticket again, and then once more, and saw that 12:30 was actually 12:03. Thank you, random moment of dyscalculia! This of course, brought about my loud exclamation of "OH CRAP!" After explaining my moment of retardation. 1.21 gigawatts and 88 mph later, I was there at 12:01. I grabbed my bags, kissed the folks goodbye and ran for the platform. Thankfully, Amtrak was keeping it real by running late as well. Mom had followed me and after another frantic goodbye, I was left standing by my train, a frantic, disheveled mess, suitcase and ticket in hand when I heard from behind me, "Elizabeth?" Turns out, my friend Brannon, who I hadn't seen since college, now lives in New Orleans as a tattoo artist. It was nice to catch up, and a reminder of how funny life can be.

And now, time for some pictures:

I just thought this was a gorgeous scene.

Flying into New Orleans last time, I wasn't treated to a view of one of the "Cities of The Dead." I was amazed by this. Yes, I know that due to the water table, folks are placed in mausoleums instead of buried, but WOW, at the size and scope of these cemeteries.

Why aren't more Zombie movies centered in New Orleans?

I was really enjoying the train ride. I had a huge window, an entire row to myself, and having dinner in the dining car was a novel experience. I read. I wrote. I drew. I took a nap. All was going smoothly until we hit Slidell, and then, things got strange.
gentleman who I have affectionately named "The Crackhead from Slidell," and his lady-friend boarded the train, lawn and leaf bag luggage in tow, and settled into their seats. A couple of minutes later, I'm minding my own business, leafing through the book I brought, when I hear from behind me, "I gonna keel ya" (phonetics for your pleasure!) "I gonna crack ya skull, cause you a n-word, bit**! I'm a man, a mother fu**ing man! I am Naw Awlans, ninth ward, born n' raised!" (on the playground where he spent most of his days...) He repeated this roughly thirty to fifty times, standing up and pointing at his lady-friend, who sat in her seat, doing nothing, as if this was par for the course.

Everyone else in the car was obviously uncomfortable, except for one old lady, God bless her, who actually berated him for his callous and casual use of the n-word and profanity. As I watched, ducked down, between the crack in my seat, I assumed he was about to kill her, but instead, he apologized and acted humbled. Then, he turned to his lady again, looked at her lovingly and said "gonna bash ya skull in."

Anyway, security eventually, forcibly, removed him to his own compartment, where I'm sure he had a wonderful time, because when he returned, as we reached New Orleans, he was in a fantastic mood.

Now, instead of focusing his crack filled rage on his lady, he enlightened us all to his evening plans. "I gonna take on all a Bou'bon street tonight, all a Bou'bon street wit mah man, Reggie Bush! We tight, we tight, me and Reggie Bush, me and Reggie Bush! Tonight, we gon' git all the p(meow!)y on Bou'bon street. Me an' Reggie Bush..." We, the other passengers, let him leave first.

And that, my friends, was my first train ride.

After this, I was glad I wasn't venturing out in the Big Easy alone, (and certainly not to Bourbon Street...not with Reggie Bush and the Gentleman Crackhead were on the prowl.) I was again meeting up with my good friend Cindi! After dinner and a restful night at our hotel, we hit the town. We shopped, toured the city, and ate wherever the locals said was good. I snagged a new book and a Mardi Gras mask at the French Market and lusted after a dress a couldn't afford. That afternoon, we were meeting up with Captain Keith,  Florence, and Monte at a local oyster festival, but first, some pics:

Not Reggie Bush.

Saint Jeanne d' Arc, The Maid of Orléans.

 Jackson Square

After downing a quick lunch of a shrimp po'boy and a drink of the frozen persuasion, we headed down to the oyster fest for the main event. The Captains and crews from Deadliest Catch were in town for the After The Catch Filming and several of the guys, including Monte, were participating in the oyster eating contest. 

Jake and Edgar were representing the F/V Northwestern.

Monte was standing up for the F/V Wizard. Mike Fourtner was ready to chow down for the F/V Time Bandit, and Wild Bill of the F/V Kodiak was also willing to put down his beer for a round of oysters.

I'm just going to say that Mike Fourtner is a beastly beast of a man. Everyone was fighting their way through the plates of the slimy, wriggly oysters. Some even gave up, but he was downing them like his life depended on it.

Welcome to Monte experiencing oysters for the first time. We later informed him that you aren't supposed to chew them. I think he finished with a grand total of four. Mike there, yeah, still going.

Edgar put up a pretty good fight, but I think he's about to blow out a vein in his forehead. 

Unsurprisingly, Mike walked away with the championship boot and the admiration of at least four other crab fishermen. I can't recall how many he actually ate, but it seems as if it was something along the lines of 38 in a minute...

After that, the guys headed off to do some filming and Cindi and I headed back to the hotel for a little relaxation and swimming. I met up with my friend Brannon and we took a tour of the wax museum, talked about art on the steps of his house, and grabbed a beverage at a local coffee shop. 

A night at the wax museum. Can't you feel the history come alive?

Later that night, Cindi, Travis, Keith, Florence, Monte, and I all ended up at the Spotted cat for a little live jazz. Live music is always a good thing, and at one point, there must have been ten or more musicians all playing at once in this tiny venue. It was loud, it was packed, it was awesome!

One of the musicians playing a solo.

Cindi, Florence, and me enjoying the music.

Keith and Monte with the rockin' trumpet player.
(all spotted cat pics thanks to Cindi!)

And so went the night. The next day the 'round table' portion of the filming was taking place and Cindi and I were really hoping we'd be able to sit in on the actual shoot. However, that was not to be. The set was completely closed during filming so we made our way to the back lot and watched the live feed from the trailer with Florence.

Thanks Cindi!
The filming was fun to watch. Of course, you see more than what makes it to the final cut, and let me just say, some of my favorite moments were left in the editing room.

Thanks Cindi!
Between takes or while another group was being filmed, the guys would come out to the lot to talk, hang out, or watch the filming as well. Judging by my face, Monte is telling a story that I obviously don't believe. ;)

I think I caught Trav in the middle of a sentence.

Post filming, we were allowed in for the after party.

Jeff Conroy, Andy Hillstrand, MIKE ROWE, unsure, unsure, Trav.

Now, let me just say that Cindi and I don't often get starstruck. The guys we work with are just our friends. The other guys are just the other guys that happen to be on the show. However...I will not lie about this, meeting MIKE ROWE was a dazzling, starstruck, act like a stupid fangirl moment. Cindi was all but shaking and I was pretty sure my face was cracking from my smile. Coherent thought and for that matter, basic tact and manners were...well, it just wasn't going to happen.

Andy Hillstrand saw Cindi and I standing off to ourselves giggling like retards and he asked us what the deal was. We told him we wanted to meet MIKE ROWE.

"MIKE ROWE? You want to meet MIKE ROWE?" he says, "Well, come on!" 

He proceeds to grab Cindi by the arm and I follow in hot pursuit. He then tells MIKE ROWE that "these ladies here want to meet you and get a picture," or something like's all a blur.

MIKE ROWE! and me!

MIKE ROWE! and Cindi!
Thanks Cindi! 
The following is the conversation that took place upon meeting MIKE ROWE! 

Cindi: "You're MIKE ROWE!"
MIKE ROWE: "Eh, everybody's gotta be somebody."
Cindi: "But you're MIKE ROWE!"
MIKE ROWE: *laughter, classic MIKE ROWE sigh,  "Doesn't anyone introduce themselves anymore?"
Me: "Hi MIKE ROWE, I'm Liz, and you'll have to forgive our inability to be anything but raging fangirls right now."
Cindi: "I'm Cindi, and I'm sorry, but MIKE ROWE!"
MIKE ROWE: *smirks, laughs, continues to be awesome.
(not verbatim, but pretty darn close.)

 Thanks Cindi!
MIKE ROWE and Monte enjoying a big plate of crawfish, cold beer, and a laugh. Cindi and I shamelessly photographed him the entire time.

"Oh, hi MIKE ROWE., no, I'm not sneaking candid photos of you like a rabid, tabloid paparazzi...I'm just...uh...aiming my camera in your general direction...constantly. Stop looking at me."!

He actually wasn't even looking at me here. Someone was beside me was calling his name and I snapped this just as he looked in my direction.

Thanks Cindi!
MIKE ROWE signed autographs for us on the only thing we could find, drink coasters. I'm just glad that as an artist, I always have a sharpie with me.
"Keep it dirty Liz" -MIKE ROWE

Of course, not everything centered around meeting MIKE ROWE. Here, Sig takes command of the bar mixing up, if I recall, a vodka cran.

Russell Newberry showed up which was a real treat. I was not expecting to see him, and it had been a while since we last talked. Russ is a total goofball...and I mean that in the best possible way.

Travis takes over for Sig.

On a more somber note, Phil was remembered and given an honored spot on the wall by the round table. The table itself had been made specifically for the show and had the image of Phil's necklace, a king crab in gold, painted onto the top.

The lovely Florence with Chef Kevin Belton of The New Orleans School of Cooking. Kevin was on ATC showing the guys how to make gumbo. He also gave a very interesting talk about the history of gumbo and how its name is a derivative of West African word for Okra, "ki ngombo."

Speaking of Kevin, cooking, and gumbo, that brings me to this:

After the party, Kevin took us to the famous K Paul's, the restaurant of Chef Paul Prudhomme. Kevin is a regular there and we got top notch service and excellent food. Since I'd never had it before, I ordered the rabbit, and it was spectacular...along with everything else. Still, nothing topped the company. It was a great finish to a great trip. After dinner,we roamed the quarter for a while, were treated to an impromptu concert by a large street band, and surprised a fan or two. To close the night, we dropped by one last party where Cindi and I bid our farewells to all in attendance. I've been to New Orleans twice now and it has yet to disappoint. I'm looking forward to the next time I sway on down to the Big Easy.

I do believe this is the longest post I've ever written. I hope someone out there enjoyed it.