TRAVEL | Universal Studios Hollywood, Los Angeles

The place that I think should be renamed Harry Potter Land.

When preparing for California, I had only one real request: that my boyfriend took me to the Universal Studios. Being the big Harry Potter nerd that I am, there was no way I missed seeing Hogwarts for real. So there we went, arriving from San Diego to LA at six in the morning to have access to the park as early as we could and beat traffic. 
I didn't take a lot of photos in the park, but I really wanted to share about this experience and maybe give a few tips and tricks for those planning a visit in the future. Universal Studios Hollywood are a fun amusement park and if you love cinema, you'll enjoy exploring it. Now, should I start with my favourite area? Oh yes.

YES. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The place where the dreams of thousands and thousands of fans come true. This had been on my bucket list ever since the park opened in Florida, and being able to visit it in LA this year is something I never thought would happen. Being a Harry Potter fan since the Philosopher's Stone film came out, this is a pretty big deal to me. It felt magical to walk around Hogsmeade, wander in the perfectly-recreated streets, get some sweets in Honeydukes and even buy your own wand at Ollivander's.

Working on my Beauxbâtons moves.
By the way, I've said this on my post about the Warner Bros Studios in London (post), but Butterbeer is sickly sweet and you probably won't drink more than one sip of it. While you're there, make sure to check out Honeydukes, where you'll find the most amazing sweets and extravagant displays. Ollivander's is also rather impressive, I got my boyfriend a wand there (living the geek life to the fullest haha) and you're sure to find the one that matches your personality.

As for the rides, there are two: The Forbidden Journey and Flight of the Hippogriff. The latter is children-friendly and gives you a nice view of the whole area, but the real star is of course The Forbidden Journey. Set inside the castle, you'll walk around beautiful decors before reaching the ride proper. The waiting line goes through corridors full of moving paintings, passes by the Sorting Hat, Dumbledore's office, the Defence Against the Dark Arts room, and so on. The ride itself is an amazing journey in which you fly over the castle and on the Quidditch pitch, through the Forbidden Forest and live all kinds of fantastic adventures which I won't give too much detail about, because keeping the surprise is even better. A magical ride in a magical setting, from start to finish. 

The rest of the park is amazing too of course. The Universal Studios are fairly small, and you'll easily walk around to reach the different rides. My favourite was the Jurassic Park Ride (which leaves you completely soaked, perfect on a warm summer day), while my boyfriend's favourite was The Mummy Ride. 

My advice for visiting Universal Studios Hollywood...

Buy your tickets online on the Universal Studios website, and you'll get early entry in the park to explore the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. People who get their tickets on the website get to enter the Studios one hour early, but only to visit the Harry Potter area. This means Hogsmeade and all the rides without the crowds. That is what we did during our visit, and it saved us a lot of time for the rest of the day.

One full day is more than enough to visit the whole park and do all the rides once. Granted you probably couldn't see all the shows, but you could squeeze in one or two (we saw Waterworld and it was awesome.) Don't bother getting VIP tickets and all that, if you arrive at the opening, you've got the whole day to see everything. As I said, the Universal Studios isn't a big park like Disneyland can be, so trust me and you'll save money!

Try and do as many rides as possible in the morning, when the lines aren't too long and you'll wait only about twenty minutes for any of them. The most popular rides, from what I've seen, are The Forbidden Journey, The Jurassic Park Ride, and The Simpsons Ride. In the afternoon they'll most likely have a waiting time of more than an hour. So do them all before noon, and you'll have time in the afternoon to walk around, do the less popular attractions, and watch shows, which are set on specific times.

The food inside the park doesn't seem spectacular. They do have a Starbucks, but the prices are higher than usual there (not surprising). However, right outside the park is the really cool Universal CityWalk, where you'll find plenty of restaurants and coffee places. We skipped food in the Studios and went to the CityWalk for dinner. Even if you don't plan on eating there, just go for the sights because it's a really cool area.

If you are around LA, make sure to visit the Studios. It's such a fun, well-made park and the rides are all really fun and I was pleasantly surprised by the technology used for the most recent ones. If you feel like Disney isn't your thing, try out Universal - it's all cinema related and a whole lot of fun. I couldn't stop smiling and jumping around from the moment we entered the park. We're never too old for stuff like that!

Do you like theme parks? Have you ever been to the Universal Studios?


TRAVEL | Balboa Park, San Diego

This post is sponsored by palm trees and the colour green.

During my time in the US, my blog was in a bit of a break. I didn't have the motivation to write, and rather wanted to focus on spending time with my boyfriend. Thus, now that I am back in France for the month of August, it is time to share more about the places we saw!

First off is Balboa Park, a major San Diego highlight. As you may know, I am obsessed with museums. I love visiting museums wherever I go, so this was a must for me. There are many museums and gardens to see, all in a beautiful area where the architecture reminded me of Europe. Even just walking around is a treat in itself...

Oh, and don't forget to look up. There's a lot going on there. There's a lot to see, so take your time to walk around.

When the heat gets too much and you want to escape (but also educate yourself because that's what museums are for), head to the Museum of Man. It was a fascinating museum, the exhibits were all interesting and made complex ideas really easy to understand. My favourite was the exhibit called Race: are we all so different? It was a well-researched, clever study about the concept of race in human sciences and it showed how the term, often used in a discriminating way today, is a social construct. Truly amazing and eye-opening. There are also an exhibit about monsters that was really fun. All throughout the museum, the displays were on point and you can tell a lot of work is done to make the museum both informative and interactive.

We also went to the National History Museum. The parts about pre-historic animals were the most fun! The entry fees for the museums are quite expensive, but definitely worth it. 
Once you've had your fair share of indoors fun for the day, head back outside and visit the gardens around Balboa Park. Opposite the main area of the park is the Inez Grant Parker Memorial Rose Garden, which gathers an incredible number of roses, of all varieties, shapes and colours. There is a rose for everyone, quite literally!

Don't forget to stop and smell the roses. And check out their names too, they're pretty fun!

However, the main attraction of the Park has to be the Botanical Building, standing right in front of a beautiful lily pond. Probably the most photographed view of the park, and it all makes sense when you see it in its full exotic glory...

Like everything else in Balboa Park, the greenhouse is full of colours. Bright oranges, pinks, and over fifty shades of green. All  blended together in the most excentric, vibrant way. (I apologise for the fifty shades joke, but it was too easy. Couldn't help myself.)

If you haven't had enough of gardens yet, walk a few meters (or miles as they say on the other side of the Atlantic) and visit the Japanese Friendship Garden. You can avoid the crowds there and find yourself in a peaceful environment where you can rest and contemplate. Or just debate over which bonsai tree is the cutest.

The classic walking-on-rocks shot. I just did another one of these yesterday in Paris, but you'll have to wait a bit to see. 
I think everybody enjoys Japanese gardens. There's something about the streams of water, the paths of stones and the sand displays that just feel right. You just want to hang out and look at koi fish swimming around their pond.

The right way to end a whole day of museum-hopping. Of course, I would encourage you to come back if you can - there was so much more to discover at Balboa Park, I only wish I had more time to do so!

What would be your favourite place at Balboa Park among all these?