Next stop? Platform 9 3/4

Happy Wednesday everyone! I hope you are all enjoying your week so far. If you read my last post, you may have noticed that I completely ignored my entire trip to Universal. I did this so I could make an entire post dedicated to Universal Studios and all of its glory!


My family and I arrived in Orlando Sunday night (after driving from St. Augustine), checked into our hotel room, went for a dip in the pool, and then hit the sack to save our energy for our 3 days at the parks.

My Monday morning wake up call was about 5:30 (thanks dad) so that we all could shower, eat, and chug some coffee and still get to the park at 8am when it opened (we got early entrance because we stayed on a Universal resort… highly recommend!!)

First and best view

The first thing we did was head to Diagon Alley to ride Escape from Gringotts. Another thing I would totally recommend doing first thing in the morning (honestly just do both Harry Potter Worlds first because it gets SO crowded later in the day) because the line was a breeze so early but we went back later and the line was much MUCH longer.

Entrance at Escape from Gringotts

Since we were running to the roller coaster, I wasn’t fully able to appreciate Diagon Alley in its glory, however, when we emerged from the ride (as a changed woman I might add because it was INCREDIBLE) I was completely in awe of Harry Potter world (and was still in awe each time we came back after). The attention to detail, how interactive the whole park was, and how I actually felt like I was getting ready to go to Hogwarts; after I bought my books, wand, and robes of course.

After we had thoroughly explored Diagon alley (don’t you worry we come back 2 more times), we took the Hogwarts express to Universal’s Island of Adventure, which held Hogsmeade. Just as Diagon Alley had done, I felt submerged in Hogsmeade. They captured everything, from the snow and icicles adorned by each building, to the various characters, to Moaning Myrtle in the bathroom, everything felt, looked, and smelled real.

There were 2 rides in Hogsmeade, The Forbidden Journey and the Flight of the Hippogriff (nothing special… just your typical kiddie ride). We rode the Forbidden Journey first. This ride navigates you through Hogwarts, where you can see Dumbledore in his office, moving pictures, the Gryffindor common room, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione sharing a bit of information about what the ride will entail. Once aboard the ride, you begin soaring through Hogwarts (you’re told that you’ll be watching a Quidditch match), battling dementors, seeing dragons, dodging the Whomping Willow, and getting an earful from Draco Malfoy. This ride is pretty much stationary, tilting you up, down, and every which way, moving when scenes change to shake it up with real-life figures (dementors, trees, etc.). Finally, you make it through the ride where Dumbledore and the entire Gryffindor Quidditch team thank you for helping them with the game. This ride was my personal favorite across the 2 parks because of the tilts, turns, movie screens along with actual moving parts.

Hogwarts!

Once we mustered up the courage to leave Harry Potter World (you wouldn’t want to either… trust me) we explored the rest of the Islands of Adventure park, riding the Jurassic Park water ride (kinda cool kinda scary and I didn’t even really get wet), seeing lines quickly getting longer before we decided to just ride the rest of the rides in this park early the next day, grabbed lunch, and then heading back over to Universal Studios.

Once back at Universal Studios, we explored LA, New York, London, and San Francisco (the park is divided up into cities) before going on the Race Through New York ride (hosted by Jimmy Fallon), a 3-D ride where you literally do not move but it 100% feels like you’re bouncing around New York streets, rocketing to the moon, and falling from 75 story buildings. To finish off this day at the park, we went on the Shrek 4-D ride where Lord Farquad somehow comes back to life ????? and we have to kill him again ???? before retiring to our hotel, grabbing dinner, waited for the pool to reopen post lightning scare, and then hitting the sack early for a long day ahead of us.


Tuesday was definitely the longest day of activities for us (I walked more Monday though because of all of the exploring we were doing). Our day started out once again at 5:30-6:00 with our assembly line of showers, teeth brushing, getting dressed, coffee drinking, getting HYPED for my birthday, etc.

For my birthday, I requested that we eat at Harry Potter World (because if you’re going to have your birthday at Universal, you might as well have it at the best part) so we ate at the Three Broomsticks at Hogsmeade. We had a cute little bird join us for a few minutes, who finally left after she figured out we weren’t going to feed her. I tried pumpkin juice for the first time (very good BUT SO SUGARY) and enjoyed a nice first meal of my day.

Well what did you expect? Pumpkin juice?!

Right after breakfast, we hurried around the park trying to get in all of the rides we wanted to ride but didn’t want to wait long for. These included the Kong, Fast and the Furious, and Hulk rides. The Kong and Fast and the Furious rides were basically the same just different plots. You’re on a bus, there’s a conflict, and the driver and you have to save the day. Neither were that great to me. Had we waited 85 minutes for the Kong ride the day before, I would have been highly disappointed. The Hulk coaster was definitely very cool. Your standard roller coaster: first drop, upside down, corkscrews, a photo taken at the WORST second, etc. It was nice to ride a real roller coaster in the midst of all of the CGI and 3-D features.

We were then taken back to our childhood days as we visited Dr. Seuss’ world. We rode all 3 rides (carousel included), visited all of the shops, and reminisced about the good old days. We were the only group there without a kid under the age of 10 but we didn’t care.

By this time today, our feet had begun hurting again so we took the Hogwarts express (the only way to get from park to park without leaving) to head back to Universal Studios.

There, I had my first legal drink in San Fransisco at a wharf-style restaurant, before returning to our hotel for some more drinking and a dip in the pool.

Once we were feeling up to it we headed back to Universal’s city walk for dinner. We ate at the Cowfish (contradictory since I’m vegan I know), a restaurant with the most amazing black bean burger and veggie sushi I’d ever had! My mom then proceeded to tell the wait staff (without my knowledge) that it was my birthday so I was sung to in front of the whole patio of people. Was I embarrassed? Yes. Will I remember it forever? Also, yes. Happy 21st birthday to me!


With much chagrin, my time in Universal had to come to an end. That morning, after packing up our car and checking out of the hotel, we got into the park early so we could ride Escape from Gringotts again only for it to break while we were on it (we got to ride it again). We took the Hogwarts express one final time to Islands of Adventure where we ate at the Three Broomsticks again (my mom bought us a meal plan for the trip and we’d only used half of it so we had to spend it all today and that restaurant accepted it), rode The Forbidden Journey again, explored the rest of what we hadn’t seen, including a SpongeBob store and an E.T. ride (which was actually super adorable). We completed one final lap of the park, grabbed some Ben and Jerry’s and a few trinkets before making our way out of the park.


Have you ever been to Orlando? What parks did you visit?

❤ Alicia ❤

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Road trippin’

Happy Monday everyone! As most of you know, I spent 2 weeks ago in Florida. What some of you may not know is that my family and I road tripped there, making a couple stops along the way to Universal and one on the way back! I’d never been to the three cities we visited so I wanted to share my road trip experience and the places we visited.


Chatanooga Tennessee

While I’ve driven through Tennessee many times (on trips to Florida) + I’ve visited Graceland in Memphis but I’d never been to Chatanooga. My parents always remarked on the “Come visit Ruby Falls” signs when approaching Tennessee but we never decided to pay it a visit. However, on this road trip, we wanted to see what Ruby Falls was and if it was worth the extreme advertising.

So, after 9 is hours of driving ( and lots of bathroom breaks) we made it to Chatanooga and headed over to Ruby Falls.

Ruby Falls is a 145-foot high underground waterfall inside of Lookout Mountain. It was discovered by Leo Lambert in 1928 while drilling.

After taking an elevator down 100 or so feet, we walked through this cave (guided by our very southern tour guide Doug) for about a mile seeing various cave structures before reaching Ruby Falls, which was definitely worth the extensive advertising. Once at the falls, we watched a light show which lit up the waterfall which played along with some music!

Sadly, we had to walk back to the elevator an head back up into the heat. However, despite having to re-enter the 90-degree weather, we were able to see lookout mountain which is basically just a deck that looks out to all of Chatanooga.

We only had one night in Chatanooga, so after leaving Ruby Falls, we ate dinner at the Waffle House, swam in the hotel pool, and hit the sack for another long day of driving Saturday.


St. Augustine, Florida

Driving to Florida from Chicago is honestly one of the worst things ever. You start driving at 4 am, don’t stop until it’s dark, and then finish however much more the next day. Not this time though!

We drove about 9 hours day one, and about 7 hours from Chatanooga until we reached St. Augustine, the oldest (colonized) city in the United States.

We arrived in St. Augustine at about 5 or 6 in the evening on Saturday, so we opted to relax in our hotel and just swam and ate dinner to gather up our energy for another long day on Sunday.

Sunday morning, we packed up our stuff and headed to the heart of St. Augustine. Initially, we thought we would be visiting the Spanish Fort, but found SO much more.

The Spanish fort was incredible, made of coquina (Spanish for small shells), and aged wonderfully. I loved learning about how so many tried to take down the Spanish, yet the coquina held up and no one succeeded in entering the fort.

Once I’d had my history lesson for the year, my family and I all wanted to see more of what St. Augustine had to offer so we decided to take a trolley tour of the city. The trolley tour is something I would 100% recommend to anyone who visits. On this tour, you’re carted around St. Augustine for about an hour, seeing historic buildings, museums, Flagler College, plantations, restaurants, specialty (chocolate factories, wineries, boutiques) shops and so much more! I wished we had more time to hop off at every stop to see everything St. Augustine had to offer. If I ever go back, I’m definitely going to make sure I spend at least 2 whole days to see everything (and eat everything!). Sadly, our time in St. Augustine had to come to an end. Onto Universal!


Sarasota, Florida

Something I never wanted to do was leave Orlando. Universal was all I could have hoped for and more (in my opinion better than Disney World) but eventually, we had to part ways. On the way back (well sort of out of the way) we visited Sarasota for a few days to visit some friends of ours. They retired to Florida a few years back and they are loving the laid-back atmosphere of Florida, and so did I. Their house was cute and cozy with a lovely lanai off the back. To top it off, they have 2 Shih Tzus and they’re both vegan (for health reasons) so needless to say I was in heaven! We spent the first full day there just relaxing, swimming in their community pool, and eating good food.

We were exhausted and had hurt feet so doing nothing was the only thing on our agenda for the day. However, we ended up going to the beach to see the sunset, shelling, and taking really cute pictures!

Day 2 of our visit we woke up bright and early, hit the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru, and drove about an hour to Myakka River State Park see some alligators! At the State Park, we took an hour-long airboat ride around the river and got to see so many birds, fish, and alligators.

My sister and I agreed that we hadn’t picked enough shells the night before so we wanted to go to another beach to find some. This next beach we visited, however, had a rather pathetic selection of shells and it was excruciatingly hot so we decide to head home, pack up our stuff, and hop in the pool to prepare for the 20-hour drive that would happen over the next 2 days.


Have you guys taken a road trip lately?
❤ Alicia ❤

Best day of my life

Good afternoon everyone and welcome to the final post in my super late Peru series. This post is dedicated to one of the best days in my entire life: the day I visited Machu Picchu.

There are physically no words to describe my time at Machu Picchu. My entire day was surreal and went by far too quickly; from waking up at 330 to returning home close to 24 hours later. I met so many people from all corners of the globe and while I would love to say something more about my time, no words can amount to the indescribable day I spent there. So, instead, please enjoy some of my favorite photos from one of the best days of my life.

The train station in Aguas Calientes

Rescue horses and rescue inhalers

Well with a title like this, what do you expect? Just this. Rainbow mountain was an experience like no other, for many reasons: the magnificent mountain itself, the amazing people I met along the way, and of course the title of this post.

Rainbow Mountain, or montaña vinicunca in Spanish, is a 3-4 hour hike from 4500m to 5200m in height to the top of a beautiful mountain of colors and many more in the distance.

To be on my way to la montaña de los colores, I had to be awake and ready to go by 330 am. At 315 I was ready and walked down to the Plaza de Armas where I waited for over an hour with another man (who waited longer as we weren’t in the same tour group) until a woman in patterned leggings yelled out my name. I shot up to meet up with her and another couple before boarding our bus to take us to Rainbow Mountain.

Catedral en Plaza de Armas at 330 AM

After stopping for breakfast, getting a talk about the history of the mountain, time limit, and random facts about the area, we were off on our hike. I met a few nice people at breakfast and the bus whom I talked and walked with for a bit. 1 was from San Francisco, 1 from London, 2 from Lima, and one from a small town in Chile. We discussed our travels and lives back home, before myself, and the ladies from Lima and Chile started not being able to breath too well. We trudged on (we were far too gone to turn around and get a horse) but all of a sudden none of could breathe at all, so we sat down. I took a few hits of my rescue inhaler as one of the guides ran to get us oxygen. The 2 guys from San Francisco and London had been all through South America and had done hikes like these frequently throughout the past 6 months. Us ladies, however, had not. Along with the oxygen came some rescue horses for our group and another group of people past the halfway mark.

 

We all mounted the horses, oxygen in hand, and continued up the mountain.

 

The horses can’t take you all the way up the mountain, so for final 200m or so we had to walk up to the top (which happens to be the steepest part of the way).

 

My new friends and I finally made it to the top and with the little breath I had left in my lungs, it had been taken away by the unbelievable sight I witnessed. The colors of the mountains were unlike anything I’d never seen. I know it’s just how the minerals formed, but it was absolutely surreal. I never had seen something so enchanting in my entire life.

 

I spent about 20 minutes up there, recovering from the rest of the hike up, taking pictures, taking other people’s photos, and just enjoying the earth’s creations.

 

I finally started my descent from the mountain and made it as far as I could with no horse until, oh yeah, I couldn’t breathe anymore, so I found a horse, and all of my other rescue horse friends, where we descended the rest of the mountain together.

When we made it back to the start of the hike, there were 10 of us in the bus. Our guide came and told us that we would be waiting a minimum of 2 hours for the rest of the people. We all figured that we would just nap until it was time to leave. Luckily, another guide said that he had an empty van ready for us if we wanted to go now. So, the 10 of us (each friend of mine I’d made that day was on the van with me which I thought was pretty ironic) and our guide started back to Cusco, stopping for lunch and then finally back on the road to Cusco, everyone napping on and off until we were each dropped off at our hostels where we had ample water, ample air, and a nice warm bed for the night.

Alicia

On to Cusco

Hi everyone, once I’d finished my time in Lima, I took a 22 hour bus ride to Cusco, Peru. Since I was there for about a week, I’ve decided to make 3 posts on my time there: 1 for Cusco in general, 1 for Rainbow Mountain, and 1 for Machu Picchu.

I would first and foremost like to say that Cusco is a magnificent city, oozing with culture and history alike. I wish I had more than one week in this magical city because my time was not nearly enough (even though I did spend an entire day in bed recovering from Rainbow Mountain and one day recovering from Machu Picchu).

My first full day in Cusco was a Sunday. I made the quick walk from my hostel to Plaza de Armas, where there was a parade. I wasn’t sure what the parade was for, since I arrived in the middle of it, but from what I saw it was very important and there were speeches and flag raising and marching.

After maneuvering past the parade and all of its viewers, I began walking the streets of Cusco. All through the streets of Cusco there are cafes, hostels, high end stores, and other smaller shops filled with homemade goodies and tourist items.

I weaved in and out of people, exploring cafes, statues, churches, and shops alike looking for gifts for my friends and family along with trips to Rainbow Mountain and Machu Picchu. I ended up finding a trip to Rainbow Mountain for 60 soles at an agency that had a cute cat who felt the need to sit on my lap the whole time I was there. My Machu Picchu trip ended up taking a bit longer to book. When you’re paying $20 USD for something (Rainbow Mountain) it’s a lot different than paying over $200 USD for something, so i knew I needed to compare prices.

After visiting over 12 different travel agencies, I finally booked my Machu Picchu trip. Initially I booked it for 2 days (leave on day 1, Machu Picchu and come home on Day 2) because I had already booked my hostel for the night. However, I accidentally booked my hostel in Aguas Calientes Mexico instead of Aguas Calientes Peru, so I had to do all of the traveling and Machu Picchu in 1 day. It did work out, but I was a little anxious bout it at first.

Once I booked my trips, I enjoyed a celebratory coffee and went back to bed, awaiting the next few days.

Also while in Peru, I was able to meet up with Martina (one of the girls I met while volunteering) and her boyfriend. I helped them book their tours and we explored Cusco and had a couple meals together. It was so much fun to be able to see her once more before returning home and to be able to see her being super cute with her boyfriend.

Alicia

A very bussy Easter weekend

Hi everyone, During my third weekend in Peru, it was Easter. The volunteers had a 4 day weekend, so I and most of the other volunteers had the opportunity to take a long vacation. I initially was going to go to Machu Picchu, but Marissa and Skylar got angry with me when I wanted to do my own thing, so I decided to nix Machu Picchu for that weekend and do it later (why I extended my trip a week) because I didn’t want to see one of the 7 wonders of the world being annoyed by 2 girls because I wanted to do my own thing.

So, bright and early Thursday morning I boarded the 8-hour bus up to Huaraz Peru. During that bus ride, I saw so many animals, from pigs to cows, to llamas. Not to mention the views were spectacular. As you soon as you leave Lima, the tall buildings and the hustle and bustle of the city turns to rolling plains, lush forests, and exotic birds. I stared out the window for almost the entire ride.

 

When I arrived in Huaraz, It was pretty late, so I took a taxi to my hostel, made arrangements for the rest of the weekend, and then passed out in bed.

The following morning I had to be up and ready at 7 because I was going on a bus tour of Huaraz and its surrounding area. I got into the bus we would be taking only to be told that I had to exit because there wasn’t enough room. I patiently waited for the next one to come, and then was told once again that I would have to get onto the next bus that was available because yet again, there still wasn’t enough room. At around 10 am, a man from a different tour company told my tour company that he had 8 open spaces. I, a couple, and a group of 5 jumped at that opportunity and finally were able to start our bus tour.

I was seated next to one of the people from the group of 5, whom I later learned his name was Che. He only spoke Spanish, but we were still able to communicate, with a few barriers, but we could still have a conversation or a few, which was nice.

We made a few stops during the day, the first being at a view point of a luscious mountain range. I was being a bit awkward as I didn’t know anyone yet, so I just took a few photos, walked around, and then hopped back on the bus.

Our bus next docked at a Plaza de Armas in Ancash where we enjoyed fresh sorbet, warm weather, and magnificent views. I sat in the plaza for a few minutes before hearing “AMERICAN TOURS” which was our groups signal for returning to the bus.

 

After a few more hours on the bus, we arrived at our final destination, Huascaran National Park. There we stopped for a little over an hour to look at the lakes, Llanganuco and Chinacocha, and snap a few pictures of the water, the animals, the foliage, and the waterfalls.

 

Once I’d taken my fair share of photos and touched an alpaca, I faintly heard “American TOURSS” from our tour guide, signifying the end of our time in Huascaran for the day. I trudged back to the tour bus, snapping a few photos as I exited. As I sat down in my unassigned assigned seat, Che took a seat next to me, and we discussed our time at the park.

 

Our guide, Bruce, asked if we wanted to make another stop to check out some ruins from a terremoto (earthquake) in 1970, and of course, we all obliged. Once there, Che paid my 10 sol entrance fee for me (how sweet) and we walked along all of the ruins, sharing stories of our times in school, home, and what we liked to do. I met his friends and we all talked as well until it was finally time to get back to Huaraz.

 

With sore feet, and droopy eyes, not a word was spoken on our way back to Huaraz that night.

The following morning, I was awake bright and early at 4 am, where I was picked up from my hostel, boarded another bus and made our way back to Huascaran National Park, but instead of stopping at the lakes where we’d stopped the day prior, we continued on for another hour, until we got to the start of the trek to Lagona 69.
From there, I, and my three gallons of water started trekking the mountain to Lagona 69. I met some nice girls from China, who took pictures and videos with me, and just shot the breeze until I marched a little bit ahead (I ended up meeting back with them towards the end).

 

Tired, and sweaty, I reached a lake. This lake was much less than I had expected, but it was still nice and had some snowy mountains in the background to spice it up a little bit. After taking pictures with it, and taking pictures of other people with the lake, I found out that this was not Lagona 69 and that we had another hour or 2 of hiking before reaching it. Disappointed and exhausted, I trudged on awaiting my final destination.

 

 

After another 90 or so minutes of hiking, I saw it. A lake of the bluest blue I had ever seen. A sight that made the long hike, the sunburn, and the frequent uses of my rescue inhaler worth it. I plopped down on the ground, gazed at the too good to be true lake, hydrated, fed myself, and just enjoyed my peaceful few minutes that I had.

 

I decided that even though the view and the rest were amazing, I should start making my way back down the mountain to avoid being late. I don’t remember much of the walk back down, just that I tripped a few times, and made far too many water stops, but I finally made it back to the bus, where I sat down, drank the rest of my water, and waited for the rest of my group members to pile in.

The bus ride back to Huaraz is about 3 hours from the bottom of the mountain. However, 30 or so minutes after departing, the bus broke down so the driver got out of the bus, messed with something under the bus, and we were off again. We broke down again at a small store where everyone restocked on water, Gatorade, and crackers and spoke of how our feet hurt and how we just wanted to goto bed until the bus had been fixed and we were on our way back to Huaraz.

The following morning was Pasqua (Easter). I witnessed part of a parade in Huaraz before driving back to Lima, where I watched Bridget Jones’ baby in Spanish (twice) and saw my very first bone sticking out of someone’s body (6 or 7-car car crash). All I wanted to do was return to Lima, meet all of the new people, and hit the sack.

 

Alicia

Sand sand and more sand

Hi all, as I mentioned a few posts back, I would make one post about volunteering, and then make a collection about my adventures in Peru. I already discussed my first weekend in one of the two posts I actually wrote in Peru. The first weekend we spent exploring Lima, getting acquainted with Peru, and just enjoying a bunch of free time.

During our second weekend, we (Marissa, Skylar, Tresia, and I) took a 4-hour bus ride south to the city of Ica, Peru. We then taxied to Huacachina, a small oasis surrounded by miles and miles of sand. There we checked into our hostel, the Wild Olive, booked a dune buggy tour and settled in to our room.

 

When 330 approached, we made our way to the travel agency we booked through and found our dune buggy and buggy guide, where we buckled in and waited for the rest of our group to arrive.

I’d never been on a dune buggy, and I’d never seen so much sand in my life. Dune buggying is absolutely exhilarating and sand is nice until it gets into every nook and cranny on your body. Our very attractive Peruvian driver weaved in and out of dunes, going back and forth across the sand; it was like the best roller coaster I’d ever been on.

We made a stop at the top of a dune to take photos of the oasis before piling back into the buggy to continue our ride. After a few more minutes of riding the dunes, we made another stop at the top of an even higher dune. From there, our guide pulled 10 boards from the back of the buggy and told us we were going to sandboard. I’d never done any sort of boarding before, so to say I was terrified was an understatement, however, I mounted my board, kept my legs up, arms in, and cascaded down the dune with ease (and a mouthful of sand) along with the rest of my group.

After a few more dunes we made our way to the perfect sunset spot, where we were able to bask in all that the earth has to offer. Seeing the sunset in Ica was by far one of the most breathtaking moments of my life.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end, so we boarded our buggy one final time and were dropped off at our hostel, where we were able to empty our clothes and shoes of sand and hop in the shower.

The following morning we enjoyed a yummy breakfast with the oasis as our view and then laid out by the pool until we had to catch the bus back to Lima. By the time we arrived home, we were all exhausted, sandy, and I was as red as a lobster.

Until tomorrow

Alicia