This was Aditya’s first experience in Los Angeles and in the city of a million dreams and where everyone either is a star or looks like one it was only fitting that we went to a shrine of filmdom The Universal Studios! This was his birthday gift and we had to do it ‘Divya Style’–first-class all the way! So weeks in advance I signed us up for UNIVERSAL STUDIOS- THE VIP EXPERIENCE! I had been here before and had even seen Bill Cosby walking to ‘work,’ but this was Aditya’s first trip and I wanted it to be magical- The Universal Tour- VIP Experience!
This meant you were taken around the studios with only 10 people, never stood in a line… but here’s where it gets interesting you were allowed access to the prop rooms and sound stages and even a couple of sets which were used for active shooting! To call Aditya a movie fanatic is a complete understatement…He remembers dialogue , the framing of scenes, trivia on the movie and the actors. He can tell you what they wore, what the director ‘said’, what production problems they went through… He LOVES FILM- so essentially this was the perfect gift!
We chose a 10:30 am. time and checked into the VIP section at about 10:15 am. If you drive, they will valet park your car but we weren’t driving. We went to the VIP lounge ordered a quick cappuccino and a juice, munched on a wonderful chocolate muffin and were then given our VIP Access cards- which are just so cool to keep that we knew the day was going to be amazing (yes, we’re silly that way!). And then we were off in our own personal buggy just for the 10 of us where we started our tour with a private tour guide who not only ensured we went through all the attractions of the theme park…he also let us wait just a little longer for that picture perfect moment!
And then while other Universal Studios visitors headed back into the park..we were taken past the CSI Shooting Stages and down Wisteria Lane (where Desperate Housewives was shooting)and into a sound stage where we met technicians and saw where sound is mixed for some of the most wonderful films we have seen.
Then it was off to the Prop Room….though it’s more like a building of props where you have everything from ET masks, to cutlery, to the head of a sphinx and even a Ganesha!!! Fascinating, wonderfully kept and logged and so incredibly comprehensive it’s no wonder that every show and every film can have such an individual flavoring and styling!
We were also then shown the coveted Oscars that Universal Studios had won and then it was time to wander around one of the sets…We then visited and walked around a plane that had been used for War of the Worlds.We saw a small town shooting lot in what could be used for a Western.We walked in to the empty ‘bar,’saw the shop fronts and walked in and around the sets and then went to an active stage being used for the TV Show parenthood. The house with its many rooms and with each room’s individual detailing was a trip to see! It was wonderful how they used perspective and painting to show the other houses on a lane while just shooting in a single, individual stage!
After a hectic morning, it was time for a VIP lunch of salads and fries, pasta, burger and sides. While a musician serenaded us with show tunes we enjoyed a restful lunch and cappuccino ( yes I do love my coffee!) . It was then on to rides and more fun!
The Simpson ride was my personal favourite and after the tour and the rides since there was still a few more hours till closing , I proudly flashed my VIP Badge and got access to the ride once more before we left!
I loved the Revenge of the Mummy and am a sucker for a good roller coaster… The day started on an incredible high and with the VIP Tour just went higher after that!
It’s an experience that I definitely recommend for any movie buff and an experience absolutely catered to you!
Tour Cost- $270 so it does cost a bit… but for a once-in-a-lifetime super personal experience it’s wellllllll worth it! Would I do it again? ABSOLUTELY!
The only day trip we decided to do on this trip to Paris was a trip to the Palace of Versailles. The court of Versailles was the centre of political power in France from 1682, when Louis XIV moved from Paris, until 1789 after the beginning of the French Revolution.
We chose a half day tour on Viator only because we wanted to get back to Paris and stroll and wander and stroll the streets of Paris and while away our time in cafes and restaurants, boutiques and boulangeries and we didn’t want to spend this trip in Paris just doing tour after tour which is what most people (and ourselves the first time ’round) get caught up in doing!
Our arrival was imminent when it seemed the sun was shining off the earth! We later saw the magnificent golden gates, ornate and beautiful and understood why it looked like the sun had stopped to take a break in Versailles! There with a knowledgeable tour guide we were ushered straight into the palace where we were given the interesting histories and stories behind some truly incredible rooms !
With stories being immortalized on ceilings and with the plushest of materials , the most expensive of chandeliers and the most ornate and expensive furnishings, this was the most enthralling account of an era of plenty which quickly gave way to one of the most radical social and political upheavals of the Eighteenth century- the French Revolution.
The Royal Chapel (above) was breathtaking and it was an experience to be ushered through several of the palace’s very unique interior rooms, including the King’s and the Queen’s State Apartments where we were that as the King slept all his Court-men were to wait around his bedside till he fell asleep. We also saw some very interesting, curious, hidden corridors where the King could escape to sleep with one of his mistresses if he chose to do so! What was also interesting was that if the King wished to sleep with his Queen, he had to meet her in her own State Apartment.
The Hall of Mirrors was also stunning and I have to admit that this was my favourite room and it was the favorite for several – we spent a lot of time there! I guess vanity hasn’t changed over the century’s!
The Queen’s State Apartment was feminine , floral and a bit ,well over the top…! But much like the rest of the Palace it seemed to fit perfectly!
The Palace was filled with interesting stories, legendary tales and very historic. A Private walking tour made it even more interesting and allowed no time to go to waste!
Then ti was back to the city and some much well deserved time spent at Opera (the area near the Opera House). We enjoyed walking Opera, stopping at some poster and music shops before finally walking back via Concorde and ending up at Avenue des Champs-Elysees and then shopping some more…!
Interesting note -: This time , after visiting Rome and Italy, sadly I have to say that the shopping in Italy was far better than in Paris for me! Maybe I expected too much or maybe too many high street brands have taken up the small boutiques that used to dot Champs Elysees on our earlier trip there! I miss those boutiques because well, high street fashion, is high street fashion and well Italy allowed me to find my own style and I loved that!
The adventures were to continue and we were off to Amsterdam …. exciting , exciting, exciting!
More on that next week!
MY RECOMMENDATIONS! Paris sample itinerary-:
DAY ONE – Walk Champs Elysees and shop, stop, and pause at the Arc di triumph! Day One evening- Book in advance a dinner at the Eiffel Tower restaurant- the view memorable, the experience – unforgettable!
DAY TWO- Walk the Latin Quarter and the Student’s area – enjoy the bohemian vibe of the city!
DAY THREE- Visit the Louvre and see the Monalisa (though I had built it up a lot more in my head and was left a little let down), wander through Concorde!
DAY FOUR- Do a day trip to Versailles and spend the rest of your day in your favourite part of Paris.
DAY FIVE – Make your own Parisian memory!
My personal Waste of Times & Money- The lido show and the Moulin Rouge… ! With even 10 year olds being allowed into these cramped dimly lit rooms, it is definitely an experience to AVOID! The show is unremarkable and any sub-standard Las vegas show or Cruise show is far better and when you are cramped on tables with cheap champagne and soggy snacks you’re really missing walking the streets of Paris. SO SPEND YOUR MONEY ON SOMETHING BETTER!:)
Pompeii and Vesuvius are MUST -DO Trips from Naples. They’re not very far – Vesuvius is about 9 km from Naples and Pompeii 8 odd kms from it. The tour we booked was a small group tour on Viator and we found that Viator for the most part, gave us great deals and interesting tours! The tour started post a fabulous, filling breakfast at our beautiful hotel and soon we were on our way. We had barely 8 people on the tour and it was a small, quick bus ride to Pompeii.
I have never been particularly interested in history but had wanted to go to Pompeii and am so glad I did. The few hours that we spent in Pompeii took me to another time. The ruins are so well preserved and the city so incredibly planned , it takes almost no imagination to transport yourself to a forgotten time and to the 7th- 6th Century BC where this city flourished and thrived! Well laid out roads , perfect shop fronts with little houses on top, schools, gladiator training areas and theatres; the planning then was infinitely better than in some of our modern cities even now! Our guide was knowledgeable and interesting and I could imagine the life of a Roman man as he came to work in the city of Pompeii. I stared in awe at the amphitheater and marveled at the Roman spa. I saw holes in the footpath where horses could be tied to ‘park’ them. The vision and foresight was incredible ! I was amazed that a pizza oven even back then looks so similar to a pizza oven now. I also loved how the roads were tilted so that water and dirt could be swept downwards. Should you need to pass there were three rocks at regular intervals for you to walk across. Shopkeepers had a store front facing the road and most lived just above their store. Traders and visitors would come early in the day for trade into Pompeii and after trading through the day , eat lunch in the city. Then it was time for the spa and based on your status in society you’d move to the spa meant for you. Steam rooms and sauna rooms were still preserved and because the day we traveled was a particularly sunny day- I suddenly wished to have a quick plunge myself! They also had mosaic tiles which were still there.Bright and colorful- you could see that Romans really lived life King size!
Then there were also the brothels where in case you didn’t understand the language images were painted on the walls and you could choose what you’d like to do with the prostitute of your choice! An incredibly interesting time and an even more eye-opening experience for me!
What was also really fun were the drinking water taps all carved with Gods and Goddesses with the taps becoming the mouths- they also served as road names and helped in directions for the city. it was also interesting to see the water wells had a small indent for the left hand allowing you to drink with your right.It’salso interesting to note that the water can still be drunk and is drinkable even today!
Molds of people who died during the eruption can also be seeing which gives you an idea of how truly horrible that explosion was!
We saw temples and Piazzas(squares),remnants of a time once forgotten but so ahead of it’s time in planning and in structure, you couldn’t help but imagine what if? What if Vesuvius hadn’t erupted? What if the city hadn’t been lost? A tragic loss.I was privileged to have been able to gain just a little bit of insight into history. This is an absolute MUST DO on any trip to Naples!
And then after a quick pizza it was off to Mount Vesuvius. Here the tour got a little less interactive. You were now advised to trek on your own and meet back in an hour. Vesuvius is an active volcano and is the only volcano on the European mainland to have erupted within the last hundred years. The climb is steep and the black volcanic mud makes climbing tricky. They offer sticks to help climb- take them! Even if you think you can do without them – they help you keep your footing firm. I didn’t take them- I regretted it! The climb is long with very few (almost none) stops to catch a breath. It gets hot. So wear comfortable clothes and very comfortable shoes. The walk down is also tricky because the black sand slips and moves quite a bit. You can also see a black river of ash from Vesuvius which gives you an idea of how the ash and steam moved down from the volcano! Truly terrifying!
An active volcano, a lost city, a dramatic past- history came to life for me that day!
Price Factor-: About $120 for the day trip! Absolutely worth it!
Dress-: Comfortably with very , very comfortable shoes and carry lots of water.
Best times to travel-: August to October.