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An afternoon walk in Charleston

This afternoon I went for a walk in Charleston, South Carolina. We lived here for quite a few years, so it was nice to be able to see the city after several years away.

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Žižkov Television Tower

This afternoon Callum and I visited the Žižkov Television Tower, a striking example of communist-era architecture in Prague. One online site referred to this particular tower as “the second ugliest building in the world”. It certainly stands out from all the traditional architecture in the area. We took the elevator up to the 4th floor of the tower and checked out the views of the city. Afterward, we had a late lunch at a nearby crêperie.

Žižkov Television Tower

Žižkov Television Tower

I find communist-regime architecture (and the communist era in general) fascinating, so it made for an interesting visit.

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Adventures in Prague and Paris

I’ve been staying in Prague in the Czech Republic since late January… sort of. Two weeks ago we traveled to France to spend 10 days in Paris during the kids’ spring break. So in a way, I’ve had a trip within a trip, which is kind of neat.

This is the first time I’ve been to Prague since I was kicked out of the Czech Republic a couple of decades ago with Yvonne before we were married. I’d recount the story here, but it’s one of my best stories, so if you see me in person be sure to make a point to ask me about it and I’d be glad to tell you. It was snowing in Prague when I got there, which was a nice change after having spent the winter in snow-free Florida.

Snow in Prague

Snow in Prague.

The city of Prague has impressed me more than I thought it would. I’ve heard that it’s a fascinating and vibrant city, but so far it’s exceeded my expectations. I find the tram system (being from Toronto I keep wanting to say streetcar system) is efficient and well-run, and having a monthly public transportation pass makes getting around the city easy and low-stress.

Tram in Prague

A modern tram in Prague, near Lazarská.

One interesting site we visited in Prague was the Colloredo-Mansfeldský Palace near the Charles Bridge. It’s an old, run-down palace built in the early 1700s that has (sort of) been converted into a modern art museum. It’s safe to say that it’s one of the creepiest places I’ve ever visited. There was one particularly memorable room with interesting ornate walls and a painted ceiling that had a bunch of huge empty picture frames and a speaker on a stand set up in the middle. The speaker was playing a recording of a man moaning and making unnerving guttural breathing noises. I’m generally a fan of art, even so-called modern art, but what the heck? So bizarre.

I also visited the Prague Astronomical Clock in the Old Town Square, dating back to 1410, one of the must-see sites in Prague. When I was a kid I was a big fan of clocks and watches, even taking some apart to see how they worked (though I can’t say I was as successful at putting them back together), so it was really fun to visit this famous clock.

Prague Astronomical Clock

The astronomical clock in Prague. On the hour the little skeleton to the right of the main clock rings the bell, and the other figures shake their heads no to indicate it’s not their time to go yet.

After spending some time in Prague, we traveled to Paris. It was nice to be back in France after a few years away. It was a short flight from Prague to the Charles de Gaulle airport, and then an Uber ride (which turned out to be cheaper than taking public transportation) to the Santa Fe Hotel at Disneyland Paris in Marne-la-Vallée. Yvonne booked the hotel back in September for a very low rate (50 euros a night!) and since it was located close to both the Disneyland parks and the Marne-la-Vallée train station, it turned out to be a good base of operations for our stay.

Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle (Le Chateau de la Belle au Bois Dormant) at Disneyland Paris. There’s a nifty animatronic dragon that lurks beneath the castle.

Disneyland Paris was fun – having lived in Orlando for the past five years, we’ve become accustomed to the Central Florida Disney lifestyle, so experiencing Paris’s take on Disney was interesting. For example, the Disneyland Paris version of Space Mountain has been rebranded to Hyperspace Mountain, featuring a Star Wars theme. In my opinion, it’s superior to the Space Mountain at Disney World in Orlando, and is probably my favorite of all the Disney roller coasters (that I’ve tried so far at least).

Disneyland Paris Fastpasses

Disneyland Paris still uses the old school version of the FastPass.

Speaking of rides that are better at Disneyland Paris, the Disneyland Paris version of the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster featuring Aerosmith is also, in my opinion, better than the one at Hollywood Studios at Disney World in Orlando. While the Orlando version has a stretched limo theme, with riders taking a trip to an Aerosmith concert, the Paris version continues the story as the riders arrive at the concert and go backstage to see Aerosmith. It’s not really the theme that makes the ride better – I just like the ride better. Though that could also be because I haven’t ridden the Paris version as many times as I have the Orlando version. I also prefer the Disneyland Paris version of the Pirates of the Carribean ride, but only because they haven’t overdone the Captain Jack Sparrow aspect like they did in Orlando. Meanwhile, we rode the Disneyland Paris version of the Haunted Mansion (which is called Phantom Manor) several years ago, but this year it is closed until April – too bad! That said, I still managed to get a picture with Phantom Manor Mickey outside the attraction.

Phantom Manor Mickey

Me and Mickey outside the Phantom Manor at Disneyland Paris. It still feels kinda weird to be all bundled up in a winter coat and scarf while taking pictures with Disney characters after all the pictures taken in shorts and T-shirts in Orlando.

The Ratatouille ride is also fun, and new since we were last at Disneyland Paris. It reminded me a little bit of the original Harry Potter ride at Universal Studios Florida. The pathing of the is interesting – the different cars do not follow the same path, so it gives the effect of a bunch of rats scurrying across a restaurant floor. Pretty neat.

Amelia on the Disneyland Paris Carousel

Amelia on the Disneyland Paris Carousel.

Disneyland Paris Carousel

Aaaaand me on the Disneyland Paris Carousel. Never too old I guess? This isn’t a bad selfie!

We traveled by train from the train station near our hotel to Paris a few times during our stay. Callum and I went to the Paris Manga and Sci-Fi Show at Porte de Versailles this past Saturday, which was really fun. I still want to find myself a really neat and obscure cosplay costume that I can somehow create… it would be even better if I could find some themed costumes so that Callum and Amelia could join in. For the longest time I’ve wanted to dress as Yoshimitsu from the original Soul Calibur game (for Sega Dreamcast), which would be amazing, but extremely difficult to pull off.

We also visited the Eiffel Tower as a family, climbing the stairs to the second floor before taking the elevator to the top level. Apparently, there are 674 steps leading to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower (there are 1665 steps in all, but the steps leading to the very top of the tower are closed to the public). Climbing up and down all those steps made for some darned good exercise!

The Eiffel Tower from below

The Eiffel Tower, taken from below. Yvonne took a picture like this a few years ago. It still looks pretty much the same?

Eiffel Tower shadow

The Eiffel Tower’s shadow, taken from the top floor.

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower, hiding with minimal success behind a tree. I took this photo on our way to the exit.

After visiting the Eiffel Tower we took the Métro to Montmartre, which is one of my favorite sites in Paris. There are over 300 stairs leading to Montmartre, which means that after our Eiffel Tower stair-climbing adventure we got even more steps in!

Montmartre

The view from Montmartre, taken in “Amelia style” (re: on the diagonal”). It’s a lot easier to take pictures when you don’t have to worry about holding the camera straight!

We also did a bit of shopping while staying in Paris. The Val d’Europe shopping center is located relatively close to Disneyland Paris, so we went there to get some clothes and other items we might not find in Prague. I found the most European of jeans at Bonobo, a French jeans company, so that was pretty cool. Callum and Amelia found new jackets. And we spent some time at Auchan and bought a collection of really good French treats! If I’d had a cooler I would have filled it to the brim with French cheese, but alas, it was not meant to be.

Callum and I at Fnac

Callum and I at the Fnac in Val d’Europe. It’s a combination high tech gadgets shop and bookstore – what could be better than that? Callum is smiling on the inside.

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Tidying up

Unloading the dishwasher and trying to figure out which of the plastic cups spark the most joy.

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08. Jan, 2019
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Boxing Day

Happy Boxing Day! 📦📦📦

People often ask me if I still celebrate Boxing Day now that I’m here in the States. Growing up, Boxing Day wasn’t something you celebrated. In fact, I still don’t know what the heck Boxing Day is really supposed to be all about. At home, Boxing Day was more like the Canadian version of Black Friday. When I was Callum and Amelia’s age I’d take the subway downtown with my friends Phil and Rob to the Toronto Eaton Centre which, according to Wikipedia, is North America’s busiest shopping mall, so you can imagine what the crowds were like on Boxing Day. We’d roam the mall looking for deals (I was big into Le Château and Polo) before walking north along Yonge Street to Starsound to browse for new music. I had a leather jacket thing as a teen, and I’m pretty sure whenever I bought a new leather jacket, it was on Boxing Day. But shopping aside, for me, while Christmas was all about spending time with your family, Boxing Day was all about hanging out downtown with your friends.

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On Halloween

This past Halloween, and for the third year in a row, I dressed in an obscure costume that I doubted anybody would recognize – a groundhog keeper on Groundhog Day. If you’ve seen or experienced how Groundhog Day is celebrated in the town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, you might recall that the groundhog keepers wear tuxedos with top hats to consult with Punxsutawney Phil about the weather. Since I already own a super-old tuxedo that I got while still living in Canada, I figured it would be pretty easy to create this costume – all I’d need is a top hat and a groundhog. Some black gloves and a scarf would have made the costume more legit, but hey, I live in Florida.

Late Halloween afternoon I put on the costume and headed outside, where hundreds of people were already gathered (Halloween is a huge deal here in Celebration). Surprisingly, a lot of people actually recognized who I was trying to be. Part of that could have been because I had my iPhone in my pocket playing the Pennsylvania Polka by Frank Yankovic and His Yanks on repeat.

The best part of the costume, of course, was the cute groundhog puppet I found online. A lot of children (especially the younger ones, but not always) thought that he was actually alive. Often, I would pretend to have my attention elsewhere (talking to a friend or whatever) while Punxsutawney Phil would mess around with the kids, give them high-fives, boop their noses, or try to steal their candy. The kids loved it. I kinda blended into the background, but I guess that’s the point of being a groundhog handler, isn’t it? Here is me and Phil:

Punxsutawney Phil

While I’m on the subject of obscure Halloween costumes, here are the costumes I’ve worn for the previous two Halloweens. Last year I dressed as a Terraria cultist from the Terraria video game. This is the costume that Yvonne sewed for Callum two Halloweens ago, but as last year he dressed as something different, and since I hadn’t come up with an interesting costume idea yet, I figured I could reuse his Terraria cultist costume to wander around Celebration for a while. Here I am with Amelia in Celebration last year:

Terraria Cultist

Finally, two years ago Yvonne sewed the pinnacle of Halloween costumes. Amelia, Yvonne and I went as the Chanels in their nurse costumes from the television horror comedy show Scream Queens, that was still on the air at the time (this was the same year that Callum dressed as a Terraria cultist). The TV show was obscure enough that most people who saw the costumes didn’t know who we were supposed to be, but we still got a whole lot of attention for them… me especially. Not sure why.

The characters we were patterning ourselves after can be seen in this picture. And here’s us:

Scream Queens

Too bad you can’t see my shoes. They were totally fire 👠

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Stuck in traffic on I-4

So of course I took a selfie 🚙🚌🚗🚛🚕

Stuck in traffic on I-4

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At our cottage in Ontario

Last month, after visiting friends in Toronto, Callum and I headed to our cottage on Paudash Lake, in the Highlands East region of Ontario’s cottage country. Yvonne and I bought the place back in August of 2005 when we thought we were going to be moving to either Ottawa or Toronto. However, we ended up moving to the southern States, so we didn’t end up visiting nearly as much as we had originally planned. I have a whole cache of memories of being a kid tromping around Ontario’s cottage country (on the same lake in fact), so it’s definitely something I wanted my kids to experience as well… however, our living in the southern States and eventually France made that difficult.

So I was very pleased when Callum and I had a few weeks to travel to Toronto, rent a car, and take the drive north to spend some time up at the cottage. We visited some old friends, made some new ones, did some kayaking and swimming, went on a hike in Silent Lake Provincial Park (which was pretty buggy to be honest), and relaxed amidst nature’s splendor. Oh, and I did a lot of grilling by the lake of course!

Joe Bay, Paudash Lake

Paudash Lake deck

Paudash Lake sunrise

Lower Paudash Lake

Paudash Lake flowers

Before flying back to Orlando, Callum and I spent a few more days in downtown Toronto, where we went on an open-top bus tour (during a heat wave!) and walked around the city. And I got to see the treehouse from Mr. Dressup at the CBC building! Which is only cool if you happened to grow up in Canada. Which I did, so I thought it was very cool!

Toronto Harbourfront

Mr. Dressup's treehouse

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In Toronto

Callum and I are in Toronto, the city where I grew up. We’re staying with my friend Peter, who has been one of my closest friends since the fourth grade. He and his wife Heather live in a condo at Harbourfront, right near Rogers Centre and the CN Tower. So we’re in a great location to walk the city.

So far we’ve spent a good couple of days staying in the city. Saturday evening we went with some friends to Snakes & Lattes, a board game café at Bloor and Bathurst. Apparently it was the first board game café to open in North America. We played Mission: Red Planet, a competitive board game about colonizing Mars, and Mysterium, a cooperative game featuring dream interpretation. Both were pretty fun.

Snakes & Lattes

Snakes & Lattes board game café.

Yesterday, which was Sunday, we walked around the city. We spent some time at the Art Gallery of Ontario and saw the Thomson medieval artifacts exhibit and model boat exhibit, as well as the gallery of paintings by Canada’s Group of Seven painters. We walked through the Eaton Centre, checked out City Hall and Nathan Phillips Square, and walked to Yonge-Dundas Square where the Toronto Pride parade was happening. And we walked past the Toronto Railway Museum, which can be found at the old roundhouse quite close to Peter’s condominium. So it was a good day of touring the city.

Group of Seven

The Group of Seven exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Toronto Pride parade 2018

The Toronto Pride parade at Yonge-Dundas Square.

Toronto Railway Museum

Trains in front of the Toronto Railway Museum at the old roundhouse near Harbourfront.

Today Callum and I are going to ascend the CN Tower and see the city from the observation deck. Then, tomorrow, we will be heading to our cottage at Paudash Lake for a week.

Brian at the CN Tower

Me with Rogers Centre and the CN Tower in the background.

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Stroke!

Amelia is on a War Canoe crew at her girl’s camp in the Texas Hill Country this summer, which is apparently quite an achievement. This is her third time trying out for the team, and the first time she’s made it on – and not only that, she is actually “in the boat” (they have backup rowers as well). Her team lost its first race, but apparently she had a great time anyway. I am very proud of her!

War Canoe

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21. Jun, 2018