Home: West Hollywood VRBO
Today was the main reason for our extended stay: record rainfall was predicted, and it came to fruition. It started overnight, and continued through most of the day. My impromptu rain gauge measured nearly 4 inches, which would be more than a quarter of the normal Los Angeles yearly rainfall! Official measurements weren’t quite as high, so maybe West Hollywood got especially dumped on, but still, a bunch of daily rainfall records were broken across the region.
So it was a perfect day to sit inside and drink. Drink to Rett’s mom, who would have turned 71 on this day, and would have been excited to have a small taste of the Trader Joe’s giant-holiday-bottle Prosecco, and then left the rest to her loved ones. All the more reason her absence is so unfair. It’s a constant weight on Rett, but one she somehow manages to pull up every hill along with everything else brought along on this road. So having a day to wallow a bit in that weight is both welcome and dreaded; at least the timing and the weather gave us some space to handle the unknown emotions in whatever way was necessary.
Even before we started our travel, Rett had been planning a post-New Year’s visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood. But since we suddenly found ourselves within one subway stop of Universal Studios, with days free, it seemed silly to wait and return later. So today we became wizards!
Rett is the major Harry Potter fan, but I’m a big fan of fantastical built environments, and she had been raving to me about the incredible recreations of Hogwarts and the surrounding village ever since she visited the Wizarding World in Orlando a few years ago with her mom and sister. And I was not disappointed. It was shinier and more-corporate than the long-running lived-in Renaissance Faire villages we love so much, and not nearly on the new-stuff made-to-look-old level as the Castello di Amorosa winery we visited in Napa, but the way that it brings you inside the world that has inspired the imaginations of millions of J.K. Rowling readers, still brought tears to my eyes.
In particular, the snow-covered buildings of Hogsmeade, which is set up year-round as a winter scene, fit more-perfectly against the low-angled sun and crisp blue skies than they would any other other time of year.
And Hogwarts Castle, unlike the building facades with no backs that we saw on the Universal Studio Tour, is a genuine, fully-built, three-dimensional mountaintop castle that rises with a scale and grandeur beyond anything possible at the above-mentioned places, as no one else has the budget available to make such a ridiculous but nearly risk-free investment.
Getting there early, and on a winter weekday, meant that we barely waited in line for any of the attractions. This actually was a bit of a problem, since half of the environment creation is done inside the long winding (and today, empty) queues. We needed to intentionally slow down, and let other people pass us (and in one case, do the ride a second time) just to enjoy all the mini-attractions hidden along the way. Not unlike how traveling at bicycle speed vs. in a car lets you see so much more of the little things!
In another bit of perfect timing, we were able to stay until the 5:30pm Christmas light show projected onto the solstice-darkened Hogwarts Castle, with the made-to-order nearly-full moon rising behind it. We’ve seen so much natural beauty in our travels that it was both a bit strange and a bit refreshing to be reminded how the hand of man is also capable of creating beauty and jaw-dropping grandeur. So then experiencing nature and man working together in concert was nearly overwhelming.
Eventually though we had to return to the non-magic Muggle world. Unlike in Orlando, there is no Hogwarts Express train to ride at the park, so our version was the LA Metro. Though it actually was a nearly-magical part of the much scoffed-at LA transit system: while we traveled only one stop each way, we tunneled under the Hollywood Hills, and went quite a distance at a rather high speed, which made the Metro a super-efficient first-choice transportation mode, at least for this particular hop.
Of course traveling to Hollywood and Highland means you’re likely to encounter beings more-frightening than Dementors encountered on the way to Hogwarts. Our Dementor in this case was a hopping, talking-to-himself/anyone, shirtless, pants-around-his-ankles demon. He got onto our car, began devouring food scavenged from the floor of the train, and then, almost like he was shadowing us, got off at the same stop. We let him bounce on ahead of us and figured we were free for our mile walk back home. We passed the Scientology building and bypassed its well-dressed evangelist beckoning us into its well-lit chamber, and headed into the 7-Eleven a few blocks from home for desserts. At that moment, our Dementor reappeared, invading the store and frightening everyone inside by jumping behind the counter to completely scour the place. Luckily a Sirius Black-like security guard revealed himself just at that moment and expelled him from the shop. That luckily remained our final experience from the wild world of Hollywood on an otherwise magical day.