Italy

Inspired by The Man from U.N.C.L.E., which I saw on Saturday with friends and family, I would like to talk about Italy and the numerous fandom possibilities to be found in this beautiful country.

Italy's countryside, picture from www.telegraph.co.uk
Italy’s countryside, picture from www.telegraph.co.uk

I’ve noticed, while doing research for these Wednesday posts, that Viator tours pop up more often than not. I have to say, I’m impressed that they are putting the effort into catering to the geek community. In Italy, they have three tours: Angels and Demons half-day tour in Rome, and The Godfather and Inspector Montalbano full day tours in Taormina.

Rome

Love-Rome also has tours for Angels and Demons, as well as Roman Holiday and The Great Beauty, all of which take place on an electric golf cart.

If you love any and all movies made in Rome, another tour company has a tour that encompasses many. I think if I were to take one of these tours, this would be the one.

You could, of course, plan your own tour of Rome, following this helpful guide. Honestly, though, Rome has been the setting for so many movies, that you could wander the streets aimlessly and still find a movie location.

Venice

Venice has a tour that will take you to many film locations, such as the Venetian Library, St Mark’s square, the Doge’s palace, La Fenice theatre, St Barnaba church square, and, of course, the canals. Movies filmed there include Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Tourist, Othello, Casanova, and Merchant of Venice.

Florence

Florence has the Museo Galileo, which combines scientific instruments and research into one facility. One of the best things about this museum is it has disability access!

There is tons more to do and see in Italy! If you are interested in going, contact me Jennifer Desmarais through AJ Travel. jenniferd@ajtravel.ca

New Zealand

Chances are, you’ve seen the beauty of the New Zealand landscape in a movie or TV show.

New Zealand, picture from Discover Down Under. This is my number one place I want to visit. Look at this view! www.discoverdownunder.com
New Zealand, picture from Discover Down Under. This is my number one place I want to visit. Look at this view! www.discoverdownunder.com

A brief selection of movies that were filmed in this picturesque location include The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, King Kong, Bridge to Terabithia, and Avatar. One of my favourite TV shows also comes from this beautiful county: The Almighty Johnsons. If you haven’t already seen it, you DESPERATELY need to. Like, right now. Norse gods in New Zealand? What could be better?

New Zealand recently started their very own Comic Con, with the inaugural event occurring on July 17-19 of this past year. Armageddon Expo is also happening on October 23-26, 2015. They’ve got quite the line-up of guests. Auckland would be an excellent place to visit in October this year!

As a fan, if I were to travel to New Zealand, I would want to see movie sets as well as the scenery. Lord of the Rings/Hobbit sets have been left intact in various locations, and there are a myriad of tours that you can take, some of which can be found here. A tour that I found of particular interest is run by Film Scouts. They are hired by film companies to scout out locations, but they also run a tour company. You’d definitely get some pretty unique experiences with them!

Weta Workshop, New Zealand’s amazing prop and model creators have a 45 minute guided tour through their Cave. I think I would spend the entire time with my jaw on the floor. They amaze me.

You should read Sail Evenstar’s blog about their stay in New Zealand (Part 1, Part 2)! Great stuff, and quite the thorough exploration! (Facebook, website)

New Zealand has a lot to offer and I can’t wait to visit. If you are interested in going, contact me Jennifer Desmarais through AJ Travel. jenniferd@ajtravel.ca

Norway

Norway is a beautiful country full of geeky opportunities. Tons of movies were filmed there, including “Empire Strikes Back” (in Finse), “Die Another Day”, “Eight Below”, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra”, and “Captain America: The First Avenger” (in Svalbard), parts of “Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince” (in Rauma), “Ex Machina” (in Norddal and Luster), and “Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows” (in Mardalsfossen). Of course, “Vikings” was shot in many locations in Norway, including Sokndal, Bjerkreim, Gjesdal, Forsand, Aurland, and Stranda.

Note: Svalbard is an island much further North of the continent, and would probably be a trip all on it’s own.

And that’s not even counting Oslo, Norway’s capital. One of the best comic book stores exists there: Outland. They have everything you could possibly want, including Lego, board games, comic books (obviously), and collectibles.

Akershus Fortress is also located in Oslo. It was used as the model for Arendelle’s castle in Frozen, and Norway’s building in Epcot is a replica of the Fortress.

Akershus Fortress picture from www.visitolso.com
Akershus Fortress picture from www.visitolso.com

For History buffs, Norway is an amazing place to visit. They have museums, carvings, and historical centres all over the place. I read through this website, a mom and her six year old son’s trip to Norway was beautifully written.

She also writes about eight haunted places in Norway that you must visit. They have a Ghost Walk similar to the Haunted Walk in Ottawa!

Let’s not forget that Disney’s Cruise Line Magic has a “Frozen” themed cruise to Norway as well. See Norway with that Disney magic thrown in!

Anna and Elsa from Disney Cruise Line www.disneyparks.disney.go.com
Anna and Elsa from Disney Cruise Line www.disneyparks.disney.go.com

If you are interested in a trip to Norway, contact me Jennifer Desmarais through AJ Travel. jenniferd@ajtravel.ca

New York City

I visited New York City in November last year, and I loved it. The people, the rush, the insanity…

I was there with my classmates, on a tour organized by Travac. I highly recommend them.

However, if you want to go to some famous fandom haunts, you may want to build your own itinerary.

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Times Square, facing the TKTS booth and the red stairs. Photo taken by Jen of www.jeneric-designs.ca

New York City Comic Con October 8-11, 2015

This spectacular event is happening in 71 days! They’ve announced a few pretty awesome guests, including Felicia Day, Jewel Staite, Nathan Fillion, and (omg!) John Rhys-Davies. They are also hosting the NYCC Eastern Championships of Cosplay

Doctor Who Symphonic Spectacular October 7, 2015

This is a once in a lifetime event, happening the day before NYCC! I seriously wish I could go to this. Hosted by Michelle Gomez (Missy from Doctor Who), there are two shows: one at 3pm and one at 7:30pm, with tickets ranging in price from $80-$210.

The Way Station

A TARDIS-themed bar (must be over the age of 21 to enter), they have cool events happened almost every single day. Check them out on their website or Facebook.

Central Park

This park is gorgeous, and I was there after all the leaves fell. There are many things to check out in Central Park. On top of that, as of 2011, there have been 305 films shot in Central Park. (What??) That’s not even counting the number of TV shows that had scenes there (Doctor Who The Angels Take Manhattan, for example). Viator has a walking tour that will take you to 30 different locations in Central Park that were used in various movies.

Central Park Film Festival August 25-29, 2015
Free movie screenings! A fun line-up for this year, too.

Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. Photo taken by Jen of JenEric Designs.
Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. Photo taken by Jen of www.jeneric-designs.ca

Broadway

Seeing a show on Broadway (or off-Broadway) is an absolute MUST for everyone who visits New York. You can buy your tickets in advance here, or you can stand in line for two hours at the last minute ticket booth (TKTS) underneath the red stairs in Times Square and get up to 50% off. (Go as early in the day as possible, and before you stand in line, ask an attendant if the show you want is available for purchase there…you might have to go to the theatre itself to buy the tickets.) You can spend the time pretending that the stairs are going to get destroyed by an evil villain. (That’s what I did…)
There are so many options for shows, and I can highly recommend Wicked, Lion King, Jersey Boys, and Matilda, all of which were seen by myself or my classmates. It really is an amazing experience.

For a different sort of entertainment, Ellen’s Stardust Diner has singing waiters who will perform for you while you eat. There is always a massive line to get in, and the milkshakes are awesome, but nothing beats the voices on these waiters. It’s not too far from Times Square, about a block up and over.

Grand Central Station and the Whispering Gallery

 Grand Central is more than just a Subway station. There is an amazing cafeteria, and a very cool open gallery, where if you stand in one corner and whisper into the wall, a person in the opposite corner can hear you as clearly as if you were right beside them! We had fun whispering stuff to our friends until a wedding party showed up and we gave them the space.

There are SO many things that can be done in New York City, and I barely scratched the surface. Check out these cool places or this detailed website that you can go to if you have a few minutes (or hours) of free time in NYC.

If you are interested in a trip to New York, contact me Jennifer Desmarais through AJ Travel. jenniferd@ajtravel.ca

The Galapagos Islands

I found out some incredibly exciting news last week about the Galapagos Islands: baby tortoises have hatched there for the first time in ONE HUNDRED years! Read the article explaining the situation here.

Baby Galapagos Tortoise! So adorable! Picture from www.thedodo.com
Baby Galapagos Tortoise! So adorable! Picture from www.thedodo.com

The islands were the influence for Darwin’s Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection, due to the massive variety of species and subspecies found on the different islands. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The “archipelago and its immense marine reserve is known as the unique ‘living museum and showcase of evolution.’”

An International law was put in place in 1998: “Special Regime Law for the Conservation and Sustainable Development in the Province of the Galapagos.” This regulates “tourism through a visitor management system.” No large vessels are allowed near the islands, and only small group tours are permitted. Ecoventura is one such tour company.

Friends of mine went to Ecuador, and visited the Galapagos Islands, on their honeymoon six years ago. I asked them some questions about their experiences:

Why did you choose the Galapagos Islands as the place to visit on your honeymoon?
Kristen: I love nature and Ed loves science/scientific discoveries. I had heard that the Galapagos has some beautiful nature, varied environments, and creatures that are almost entirely unafraid of humans.
Ed: In school, we always learned about Darwin and the Galapagos finches. I thought it would be neat to see myself. The fearless animals were also a draw.

What were some of the things that you did on your trip?
Kristen: We hiked through a lot of different environments – an island covered in hard black volcanic rock, an island of volcanic ash dunes, and one full of lush rain-forest vegetation. We also snorkeled among sting rays, bright colored fish, sea lions (a real treat) and reef sharks (a bit of a surprise to us).
Ed: We strolled around a town and stopped by a fish market where there were as many pelicans and sea lions as there were customers. We visited a ranch with huge turtles, and a facility where they are breeding little baby turtles too! We attempted to see the canyon of a volcano (but it was too foggy that day), and ventured down into some lava caves.
Kristen: We also spent some time on the boat itself, getting to know the other dozen or so passengers from around the world. Their stories and impressions were almost as memorable as the sights on the islands.

What was your overall impression of the Galapagos?
Ed: The animals are so fearless that it almost seems like everything is fake. Their indifference to human presence is surreal and feels almost unnatural. The variety of environments and mircro-climates is mind-boggling, especially since they are all so small and close together.Just when you think you’ve seen everything there is to see, there’s something more.
Kristen: I agree. Visiting the islands feels a bit like walking through a zoo, with lazy animals not really paying attention to you, or maybe if you’re lucky, putting on a show for you…but all the while, you have to remind yourself: This is not a zoo, this is nature. It’s a bit surreal.
We went to the Amazon for the second half of our honeymoon and that was more what we’re used to: “Look way up there through your binoculars and be very quiet and you might see a monkey or parrot” as opposed to “Please don’t touch the sea lion who is having a nap on the dock while you board the ship.”

Would you recommend this trip?
Kristen and Ed: Yes. We would recommend the trip, but would suggest that you really research which tour group you are going with. Having a really knowledgeable guide can make the hikes more interesting and memorable. Also, the ships range from around 16 passengers to 90. We really enjoyed our small ship, because we got to know people better, but the 90 passenger ship might be more sturdy for someone with sea-sickness. (We had one night of pretty choppy waves)
Side note from Jen: The larger scale ships don’t have the same approval from the government of Ecuador, so you won’t get to see as much. The Galapagos Islands are highly protected, and big tours aren’t recommended.

Any other thoughts you’d like to add?
Kristen: The Galapagos is wonderful, but there are also a lot of other neat things to do while in the Ecuador area. Peru (Machu Picchu) is not far away, and the Amazon rain forest extends right down into Ecuador. If you are heading all the way to South America, you might consider extending your stay a few days to check out one of these other wonders as well.
Ed: If you plan to venture out of Ecuador, be aware that there is a $25 exit fee (Airport Departure Tax) every time you fly out of the country.

The Fandom portion:

“How do the Galapagos Islands fit in the theme of Fandom Travel?”

Well, if you don’t think that influencing Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution is enough to qualify this location as Fandom, that’s ridiculous. 😛

However, the Galapagos were used as a set location for a feature length film in 2003. Can you guess the movie?

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World

Follow in the footsteps of Russell Crowe, Billy Boyd, James D’Arcy and Paul Bettany, although you’d have more chances to explore the islands than poor Bettany’s character.

If you are interested in a trip to the Galapagos, contact me Jennifer Desmarais through AJ Travel.

Suggestions for the next place you’d like to see me write about are welcome! Where would you like to go?

Discover Japan

Today, I was asked to price out a trip to Japan. Since the quickest way to figure out an approximate price for something is to search for tours that already exist, I went to G-Adventures because they are both an amazing tour company, and sustainable. They only offer small group tours, and always make sure that they hire local guides. Among many other things. Plus, they’re Canadian!

I also did a quick estimate for flights. I found that it costs between $1600-1900 CAD per person to fly from Ottawa to Tokyo. Not bad, considering it costs about half that to fly from Ottawa to Vancouver.

This tour completely blew my mind: Discover Japan. It covers temples, castles, and gardens outside of Tokyo, as well as giving the travellers plenty of opportunities to purchase food on their own.

For the geeky traveller, there are tons of things that you can do in Tokyo before and after the tour. Here is an article that helps you to find a bunch of apps that are pretty cool: with one, you can type in your question in English, and it will translate it for you!

If you like robots, (who doesn’t like robots?) the US challenged Japan to a giant bot-fight, and that will be happening next year, date undeclared at the moment. Pacific Rim or Real Steel, anyone?

Akihabara seems to be the place to go, if you’re interested in seeing video games, popculture collectibles, and other attractions.

If you like monster movies, like Godzilla, here is a pre-planned walking tour by Vili Maunula, complete with mini descriptions of the sights you will see.

Mt. Fuji with fall colors in japan.
The beauty of Japan. Image courtesy of www.japaneseammo.com

This article sums up the best high-tech locations to visit in Tokyo, including the incredible National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation.

Japan is definitely on my bucket list! If you are interested in any of these tours or trips, contact me Jennifer Desmarais through AJ Travel.

Suggestions for the next place you’d like to see me write about are welcome! Where would you like to go?