Monday, December 8, 2014

Blakeslee Girls Trip 2014, Part 1

Lest anyone think that all we do is celebrate birthdays around here, I present a NON birthday post.

My sister Amanda and I have always loved Ellen Degeneres and her daytime talk show.  She is hilarious and kind and her show is awesome.  We have always said that some day we'd go to her show.  One day, late last winter, after discussing one Ellen's recent show and how fun it would be to see it in person, Amanda called me and said "We just need to make this happen instead of talking about it!  Let's plan a girl's trip to Los Angeles and try and get tickets to Ellen.  If we don't book something, it will never happen." 

From there, we coordinated schedules with my other sister, Catherine and my mom.  We decided on the month of October, so that Olivia would be old enough to be away from me.  In March, we had landed on dates that worked for all of us and we booked flights.  The 7 month departure date felt so far away, but it gave us lots of time to plan and something to look forward to.  And with plane tickets booked, it was officially going to happen, which was the best thing of all!

During the summer, as the trip grew nearer, we'd all group email or text and throw out ideas of what activities and events to do.  I got a car rented, Amanda and Catherine secured us hotels in two different cities.  Things were coming together!  We applied for tickets to Ellen on the first date available for the date we wanted to attend.  And then we waited for a phone call or email from her staff to tell us we'd gotten tickets.

I wish I could say we got that phone call, but it never came.  We were disappointed for sure, but we had decided earlier that we were going on the trip just for fun anyway, regardless of if we got tickets to her show or not.

Mom, Amanda and I flew into Long Beach on the afternoon of October 15th.  Cath would fly in the next day, as she had work and school commitments.  

We picked up our rental car first, which actually turned out to be a rental van- they had no more cars like the one we reserved and the only option left was a mini van (that's her right in the middle!)  Since we had no choice, we took it.  It was nice to have the extra room for luggage and it was a comfortable, roomy ride.  But it was a bit trickier driving around a van in downtown LA than a small car would have been.  And the gas mileage on a small car would have been better, but it wasn't a bad gig and worked out just fine.

After checking into our motel in Long Beach (which we had to talk to the receptionist through plated glass, she spoke very little English, and was busy chasing her small baby around), we met up with my Mom's cousin for dinner nearby.  We got caught in traffic (and we weren't even on the freeway!) and it took us 45 minutes to go just a few miles.  Welcome to California! :)

We hung around Long Beach the next day, as that was where Catherine was flying in to as well and we wanted to be nearby to pick her up.

Our first stop in the area was the Venice Canals.  It is a series of canals with gorgeous, quaint houses lined up on.  Pedestrians can walk the length of all of it, with views to the back of all the houses.  It is the cutest little place and if I had $3 million extra dollars, you bet I'd be buying a vacation home here. :)

We saw paddle boarders come up and down the canal.  How fun would that be?

So pretty!

All of the houses had their own entry into the canal and nearly everyone had one or more fancy water toys to enjoy.

Driving to our next location- I love palm trees!

Our next activity was a Harbor Cruise where it was possible to spot whales and dolphins.

Ready to take off!

This picture depicts two things: 1) How gorgeous our scenery was on the cruise.  The ocean was stunningly beautiful and it was fun to be outside, on a boat, enjoying nature.
2) Our cruise included a group of 10-11 year old kids on a field trip from a local school.  The captain went over the rules before we left land, telling everyone (mostly for the kids' sake) that there would be no running or jumping on the boat, and no climbing on the rails.  We hadn't been moving for more than a few minutes when kids started running and jumping and being crazy.  Our view above was where the kids congregated to, at the front of the boat.  Kids climbed on the rails, were screaming and acting crazy.  The captain had to announce over the loud speaker more than once to have the kids calm down and stop doing something or another.  He even had to personally come out and take kids to a "time out" of some sort, where they weren't allowed at the front of the boat for a number of minutes.  The frustrating part was that the kids had a handful of chaperones there with them.  The chaperones sat up near us and watched all of the chaos and didn't do anything about it.  Finally, when one of the kids puked off the side of the boat, a chaperone finally came to life.  It was a fun activity, but the school kids were very distracting and disrupting to what would have been an even more peaceful boat ride.

Standing up while the boat was moving was a challenge (which is why we are holding tight to the rails!)

The cruise was fun, but we did not spot a single whale or dolphin.  We were disappointed about that, but still had a good time.  

On our way to pick up Catherine from the airport, we passed this thrift store called "Out of the Closet."  :)

After securing Cath at the airport, we headed to Los Angeles!  Our first stop was dinner at historic Olvera Street.  It's a Mexican marketplace located in the oldest part of Los Angeles.

We were all starving and picked from one of their Mexican restaurants to eat dinner.

Amanda got a burrito that was tasty and very pretty too.  Fancy!

After dinner, we toured the marketplace and all of the cute little shops they had.  Mom bought a few things and we had fun looking at all the trinkets.

I realized here how sunburned I had become on the harbor cruise.

On our way back to our hotel that night, we spotted another "Out of the Closet" thrift store.

Our hotel.  It was very old and the outside set up of all the rooms surrounding the outdoor pool reminded me of the hotel scene from the movie "National Lampoons Vacation."  For the price and for what we needed, the room was just fine and we slept great.

The "continitenal breakfast" the next morning was not so great.  It was a few packaged pastries and capri suns.

We checked out of our room and decided to go in search of some donuts.  We came upon Yum Yum donuts and it was fantastic!  We got a dozen donuts to share and some homemade breakfast sandwiches that hit the spot.  We ate in the car as we headed to our first activity of the day.

Here we are on Sony Picture Studios, waiting for our taping of Wheel of Fortune (ahh, my lobster face!)

We followed our guide through the studio's streets to our building.

We knew we were getting close as we started to see these kinds of signs!  Amanda is a HUGE Wheel of Fortune fan and has been watching it faithfully for years.  And she's very, very good at it.  She has applied to be on the show and has never made it.  But she was very excited to see a taping of it!

Our group!  The Blakeslee girls love game shows!  (We get it from our mom!)

Once on set, we weren't supposed to take pictures, but I just had to!  The set was all ready for Christmas.  We were there for 3 tapings and those episodes will air on December 15, 16 and 17. 

It was so fun an fascinating to see a taping of a game show.  The set was much smaller than it appears on tv, at least to me.  We got to see them coach and train the contestants on how to talk during the taping (enunciate, talk loudly, et).  During each commercial break, the constants are given water, their makeup is touched up and they speak to a staff member.  The biggest surprise (and annoying) was all of the clapping.  It shouldn't have been a surprise.  There is lots of clapping while watching it on TV, but having to be the one to do all the clapping got to be quite annoying.  You have to clap when they spin (which is often), clap when they guess the right letter, clap as it's going to commercial break, coming back from commercial break, and clap loudly and ferociously when they solve the puzzle correctly.  My hands were red and burning after just the first taping.  But it was a blast.  Pat Sajak and Vanna White were very nice people.  They talked to the audience during commercial breaks.  Pat is very funny.  We found out from a studio worker that Pat and Vanna work just 4 days a month!  They film a number of episodes a day on filming days (3 on our shift and 2 or 3 later that day).  Pat actually lives in Maryland and just flies in for the 4 days a month he works.  I could get used to that!

The show's announcer, Jim Thornton, was really cool.  We were sitting just a few seats away from his announcer's booth.  He would grab a microphone during commercial breaks and between tapings and come into the audience and talk to all of us.  He told us tips on how to be a good audience, jokes, and asked trivia questions and gave prizes to those who answered correctly.  He was very, very funny and very nice.  Amanda raised her hand to ask a question at one point.  He called on her and she asked, "How do you get to meet Pat and Vanna?"  He laughed, but then later told a stage hand to have her (and the rest of us) come up to him after the tapings were complete to get a picture of him.

When it was time for the picture, he asked where we wanted to take the picture.  Amanda asked if we could take it down on the set.  He first started to say no, that no one is allowed down there and it wouldn't be fair to the rest of the audience (who had mostly all filed out at this point), but then stopped and said, "You know what?  I can do whatever I want around here.  Come on!" 

He led us down on the set and had us climb up behind the big wheel.

We were standing right where the contestants stand.  He grabbed a crew member and had him take our picture.  The crew member then had us all yell in unison "Wheel of Fortune!" really loudly like they do at the beginning of the show, and he recorded us doing it on our phones.  It was really cool to be down on the set and meet the announcer.

On our way out, we found these cutout figures of Vanna and Pat- the closest we would get to getting a picture with them!

Attending those tapings was so much fun!  Seeing all the behind the scenes stuff and how it is all run and how errors are fixed (and re-taped), was really cool.  What a fun experience!  What for us in the audience next week- top row!

In the evening, Mom really wanted to check out the local Farmer's Market.  We were excited to walk around a real farmers market, but were disappointed to discover it was mostly just a shopping center with normal mall stores, and a very tiny portion with local restaurants and "farmer's market" apparel. Then we found out that parking was $14 for the hour we were in there.  Boo!  Oh well!  A vacation is a vacation and we were all having a great time.