Having fully recovered from our hangovers of the previous day, we were up and out early in order to get across LA to the Warner Brothers studios for the VIP Tour. A little on the expensive side at $48 each, it was something that we both decided was worth the extra money.

VIP Tour

After parking the car and walking through security, we first came into the gift shop, where we immediately got very overexcited by the various TV show memorabilia on sale; Gilmore Girls, Gossip Girl, Harry Potter, Friends etc etc. Finally making our way to the back of the store we booked our tickets for the 11.20 tour, giving us enough time for breakfast. Typically, we arrived at the café just after breakfast had finished and they were setting up for lunch, so went back to the main store area to get breakfast from Starbucks. We finished in just enough time to get our seats in the theatre for the introductory film before the tour. The film showed clips of various movies and TV shows filmed by Warner Bros, both at the studios in LA and in locations all over the world. We both got rather overexcited when we saw a clip of Supernatural, even though we know that they film in Vancouver,Canada. Once the film was finished, we were split into two groups of twelve and handed over to our tour guides; ours was called Justin. He led us out to the tour vehicle, which looked like an extended covered golf cart and we had to put all of our bags into a lockable compartment under the seat, but were allowed to keep our cameras. After running through a few safety rules, we all climbed in and as he drove us across into the backlot he asked what TV shows we all watched.

The "huge" Central Park set. (This is about it!)

He also told us the names of various shows currently filming at the studios, and I was a little disappointed to find that I watch nothing that is currently filming there. The first part of our tour took us through a backlot designed to look like a city street, and Justin explained how most of the buildings were made from fibreglass and how the entire backlot is transformed depending upon what it is being used for. We passed by the surprisingly small Central Park set which is no bigger than your average back garden (it was used in Friends in the episode where Phoebe and Rachel go running. Rounding the corner, but still in the park set he pointed out Rory’s “studying tree” from Gilmore Girls for the benefit of Lizzie and I, the only Gilmore Girls fans on the tour.

Starshollow!!

He then took us around the corner and paused to talk about something and I spotted something on the other side of the road… IT WAS STARSHOLLOW!!! For those who don’t know, Starshollow is the town in Gilmore Girls, which was filmed almost entirely at the WB studios. He laughed at us taking photos of it and told the group that we were going to get out and walk around the square. We walked passed “Luke’s” diner, now dressed as something else for another show and were really lucky to find the gazebo in the middle of the square.

Rory and Lorelai's House, repainted and slightly remodelled for another show.

For another TV show filming there it has been replaced with a fountain, but the gazebo had been used for filming an Old Navy advert the day before. Actually walking around the town that I had seen so often on TV was somewhat surreal, but the best part was yet to come. Talking to us about the difference between facades and actual buildings on the set, he led us towards a street called Kings Row, where he pointed out Suki’s house from Gilmore Girls and we recognised Luke’s house down the street. He took us into Suki’s house pointing out that it was unusual for a set because it had a ceiling (most don’t to make room for the cameras), he then led us out of the back door of the house and into the garden. Glancing back at the house, we were in for a surprise, it was Rory and Lorelai’s house from the show; it is built to look different front and back so it can be used for multiple locations.

Suki's House (Gilmore Girls)

Since visiting Lizzie has done some research and the reason that we didn’t recognise the house immediately is because it has been repainted and the porch has been rebuilt for use in another show. The lady who was sitting next to us on the tram thingy took photos of us outside the house and just as we got back onto the main street we ran quickly down the road to get more photos. Although there was clearly some amusement in his tone, Justin called back to us that we really needed to get going with the tour so we had to catch up. The reason we were in such a hurry, was to get to the museum before it closed for lunch. The museum has two floors, the bottom, which covers 88 years of movie history, and the top, which is devoted to Harry Potter. (They are also working on a huge Harry Potter exhibit, due to open in 2012.) We were not allowed to take our cameras in with us, so it was just a case of taking as much in as possible in the 20 minutes that we had to look around, luckily it was quite small! Knowing what we are like, Lizzie and I headed straight upstairs to the Harry Potter section and oohed and aahed over the various props from the films on display. Notable examples include the Marauders’ Map, the waxwork figure of Hermione when she was petrified in the second film and Dobby. They also had a Sorting Hat on a stool where you could sit and be sorted. I was sorted immediately into Gryffindor with no hesitation, it didn’t hesitate over placing Lizzie into Slytherin either… she was unimpressed, I was smug. I could have spent well over twenty minutes in the Harry Potter section alone but did not want to miss out on everything downstairs. I was looking at something when Lizzie called me over to where she was to show me the Gossip Girl exhibit, which included costumes and props. The call for “Justin’s Group” came all too soon and after checking that we were all with him, he took us back to the tram. Our next stop was to be the vehicle museum, but not before we drove past the Sound Stage where most of Friends was filmed (one of only two Sound Stages to have a plaque commemorating a particular TV show/film.). We also drove past the largest sound stage, which has a removable floor with a huge water tank underneath and was where “The Perfect Storm” was filmed. Originally built the same size as the other stages, it was enlarged decades ago in a rather unorthodox fashion; instead of adding 30 feet to the top of the structure, they cut it away from its foundations, raised it up on poles then built 30 feet onto the bottom. In order to lower the old section onto the new section, large blocks of ice were put in place of the poles and as they melted the building was slowly lowered onto its new foundation. This definitely would not stand up to Health and Safety regulations today! The transport museum was pretty cool, highlights include; the Shaguar from Austin Powers, the Mystery Machine and of course, Mr Weasley’s blue Ford Anglia from Harry Potter.

Mr Weasley's Blue Ford Anglia from Harry Potter... complete with creepy waxwork of Daniel Radcliffe.

We also posed in front of a green screen for photos that would be given to us at the end of the tour. Our next stop, and probably one of the most exciting housed in the props warehouse, and is a recreation of one of the best known sets in TV history. Have you guessed where this is going yet? It was the Central Perk set from Friends, at least, it has been recreated, with all the same furniture and props used in the show.

Friends Set

It was originally done for an interview with the actors after the show had wrapped and Warner Brothers decided to keep it set up to use it on tours.

...and again.

Justin also told us a very interesting bit of Friends trivia; when filming the very first episode, they realised that they didn’t have anyone to make the coffee in the Central Perk, so asked the extras if anyone knew how to use an espresso machine. Luckily one did, and so they had someone to make the coffee, after several episodes people started asking who this guy was, who was always there making coffee but never spoke and had no background story… and thus Gunther was born. The guy is still receiving millions in royalties, all because he knew how to use an espresso machine on that very first day! Leaving the Central Perk, we walked through the props warehouse, looking at hundreds of different chairs, lamps and various other furnishings. We were shown the replica of the Oval Office desk that was used in the West Wing as well as various things seen in other films. Justin also explained that some items, such as the sofa from Friends, have to be “retired” after the show has wrapped because they are too recognisable to be used anywhere else. Back to the tram for a trip through the “jungle” backlot, that used to be a good deal larger than it is now, but has since been reduced in size to build other things. The T-Rex chase scene in Jurassic Park was filmed here, as well as some scenes from Free Willy that were filmed in the lagoon (currently empty). After explaining how every building there is built with filming in mind so none of the administrative buildings have signs on them, he took us on a final drive through some city streets and the tour was over and we were back in the gift shop. DANGER! Unfortunately for me (fortunate for my bank balance) none of the t-shirts fitted me right (I really wanted the “I solemnly swear I am up to no good…” one), so I ended up with a Gilmore Girls mug, some Tweetie Pie earrings and some gifts (which I will not list in case the recipients are reading!). With aching wallets, we had a quick lunch in the café before continuing on to our next destination… TheHollywoodWalk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard. Parking was a little complicated, but we found somewhere for only $5, and promising the attendant that we would be back by 6pm (it was barely past two at this stage) we wandered the half block towards Hollywood Boulevard.

Stars

Now, which way first? The rose-coloured stars extended along the pavement in both directions, on both sides of the road, as far as we could see. We picked a direction and started walking but after a while it became clear that we did not know a lot of the names, so, surmising that we were in an older area, we decided to change direction. (“Wouldn’t it be irritating if we found that we were nearly there and then turned around?”) We turned and headed in the opposite direction, passing many more known stars, with a few known ones. We made it to the famous corner of Hollywood and Vine, only to find that the stars went along the sidewalks of Vine as well.

Kermit...with my Kermit wallet!

We decided to follow them as far as they went in each direction and after a brief trip to Borders 80% off booksale, we headed back up Hollywood  Boulevard the way we had come. After some time we passed where we had turned around earlier in the afternoon and lo and behold, we had been nearly there when we turned around, and it was a little irritating. Did you know that Lassie has a star? And Dr Seuss? We found ourselves at Hollywood and Highland, where the walk of fame started and continuing from there were all the names we had been waiting for, and a few fun ones that we had not expected; Kermit the Frog, Mickey Mouse, Shrek and Godzilla to name a few!

Tinkerbell! (Be glad that I haven't posted all the pictures, I think I took over 300 pictures of the various stars!)

Not far from the corner of Hollywood and Highland we stumbled across the famous Grumman Theatre, apparently the most famous movie theatre in the world. We, like many other visitors were drawn by the hand and foot prints of the stars in the courtyard, with famous names like John Wayne, Gene Kelly and Bette Davis alongside Will Smith, Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson. Naturally the Harry Potter foot and hand prints were surrounded by a huge group of Chinese children, all desperate to have their photo taken with them, one of the adults with the group kept the children out of the way for a moment for me to take a picture, which was very kind of her.

The Harry Potter hand and foot prints.

Continuing along, we finally reached the end, and turned back to walk the other side of the street, passing various other stars to be photographed (Johnny Depp, Tinkerbell, Dolly Parton etc.) and a life-size model of Robert Wadlow – the tallest man in medical history.

Me and the Robert Wadlow statue.

But, time was marching on, and if we still wanted to hike up to the Hollywood sign before dark then we needed to get going. We drove up the steep and winding roads to the point that Yelp had told us we could hike to the sign from. Unfortunately we were met with large signs telling us that hiking to the sign is illegal, so, somewhat disappointed, we drove back down the hill a little way in search of a good vantage point from which to take photos.

Me and the Hollywood sign.

We had a good view, but were not as close as we had hoped to be. After a brief trip into someones house to buy some incense, we decided that we were not ready to head back quite yet, so went off in search of some free wi-fi. Our plan was to visit the miniature golf course where they had filmed part of the Buffy episode “Ted”. There was no free parking outside Starbucks, so I leapt out with the iPhone to steal the wi-fi while Lizzie hovered in the car. Address and opening times found, we headed off to find Sherman Oaks Castle Miniature Golf, specifically courses 2 and 6. Only two courses were open, but luckily one of these was 2, so we naturally chose that one. Golf was fun, we took lots of pictures, and got a little competitive. After the first 9 holes Liz was winning, but by the end we managed to come out with exactly the same score, which was a little weird. We couldn’t quite remember what it had looked like in Buffy, which is why we took quite so many pictures, hoping to match them up with screenshots later on.

Some miniature golf.

Golf finished, it was definitely time to head back   Beach. The journey took us about an hour and once back we spent the rest of the time before bed planning the Buffy locations that we wanted to visit the next day. We also researched whether there were any legal hikes to the Hollywood sign, the answer is yes, but you can only get to the back of it, which is protected by security cameras, 24 hour guards and a helicopter patrol…

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