Category Archives: Travel

Emerald Bae (and eating)

After our skiing adventure, Cely and I dropped off our rental equipment, walked back to our hotel, cleaned ourselves up, changed into our best plaid and headed out on the town.

And by out on the town I mean into the casinos. Apparently gambling is illegal in California unless it’s on a First Nations reserve (like in Ontario, though I guess we’re able to have slot machines and racing off of reserves), but the good thing about South Lake Tahoe is it’s half in Nevada! Who knew! (I didn’t.) Obviously there is much gambling in Nevada, so there were several casinos around. Our hotel was in a casino, and Harrah’s Casino and the Hard Rock Cafe Casino were both within walking distance — everything was, it was so handy!

As we were walking to the casino we ran into a lady Cely used to work with, as well as her friend and their husbands so we found a $1 minimum Blackjack table and gambled and drank free drinks with them for a few hours. That was super fun. We met a very vocal Trump supporter at our table — the only one I encountered in California (that I know of) and she was from Texas. Her eyes burned with a fiery smugness and she kept loudly proclaiming that she lived in the real world because she lived on a ranch and had grandchildren. Alright. She definitely wanted to engage the rest of us special snowflake liberals about the current political situation but thankfully Cely was able to derail her.

Eventually we parted ways and Cely and I went off to Base Camp Pizza for dinner. There was a bit of a wait so we ordered beer from the bar, took it outside and watched a band playing old school rock on the patio next door. We ended up having to wait for about an hour but we were talking and listening to the band playing Neil Young while drinking beer so it was honestly one of my favourite hours.

Eventually Base Camp let us in. We started with the fried calamari.

It was crispy and delicious and I loved that it came with marinara sauce. For my pizza I went with the personal-sized (like a responsible eater) Base Camp pizza with pepperoni, Italian sausage, roasted peppers and onions and portabella mushrooms. It was perfect and I loved it all.

We had a really great conversation and really delicious pizza so, it was a good time all around.

After that it was back to the Blackjack tables. I was doing well for a while and then I started losing and then suddenly it was 4am and my money was gone. As Cely said, time sure flies when you’re losing money and drinking. I had a really good time but in hindsight we probably would have been okay leaving about an hour before we actually did — I would have been up about $200, I wouldn’t have knocked my beer over on the table (possibly more than once but in my defence there were no cup holders!), we may have dodged a hangover, and we would have avoided an altercation where we ended up being the Big Bad Man-Hating Feminists (Cely summed this up well)… But, live and learn, as I like to say (a lot).

The next morning we were not feeling our best but we dragged ourselves out of bed, got our stuff together and headed to breakfast at the Red Hut Cafe. It was SUPER CUTE and I was excited about my pancakes and bacon.

I don’t feel I appreciated those pancakes as much as I should have because my stomach was being a jerk. Thankfully, after breakfast Cely introduced me to the miracle that is Alka-Selzter and I felt like a new woman!

I still hadn’t seen Lake Tahoe which I had heard was in Lake Tahoe, so Cely took me on a mission to prove its existence. She couldn’t let me leave without seeing the lake and I really appreciate her determination on that. It was still overcast (it was actually nicer in Ontario than in California when I was away which is basically the story of my life) but the snow had stopped and we were able to drive over to Emerald Bay.

And hoooooly beautiful. I’ve seen Cely’s pictures and I know on a bright and beautiful day it has the potential to look like this:

From Wikipedia

But I loved it in all its dreariness! It is a gorgeous area.

I should mention that we were having trouble finding a parking spot by an actual trail so we had to do a bit of climbing to get to the view…

Getting off that thing was fun and we basically just rolled down the bank like watermelons. I also accidentally stepped off the packed snow and one of my legs was suddenly buried up to my hips.

Not sure if that picture does it justice but it was a real pickle. I didn’t fall off the mountain though, so that’s a success. Wouldn’t be the first mountain I’ve almost tumbled down. I do feel like I really embraced embarrassing myself on this trip and I think Cely appreciated that as I took the heat off of her.

Anyway, yeah, the area is gorgeous. I got a bunch of pictures.

After Emerald Bay we went back over to the main lake area.

And the clouds parted for almost a minute and I saw a sliver of blue sky!

After our Lake Tahoe adventure it was time to drive back to Sacramento. I was excited to see the view this time as when we were driving into Lake Tahoe it was dark and I couldn’t see much. We saw a few waterfalls and I loved the trees!

We were going to listen to the first episode of the My Favorite (American SIC) Murder podcast but then we got to talking and couldn’t stop so that didn’t happen. I’ve listened to a few episodes now though and I’m really enjoying it! Once we were back in Sacramento, Cely took me straight to Firestone Public House for lunch so she could introduce me to her favourite pretzel.

Oh, hello lover!

I understand why it’s her favourite pretzel. It was the best giant pretzel I’ve ever eaten in my life and I still can’t stop thinking about it. It was so soft and pillowy and buttery and salty and had pimento cheese for dipping. Just a dream. I’m going to have to try to find a similar pretzel in Toronto. I don’t feel like that mission is going to be a success.

I also ordered the grilled cheese because, grilled cheese, but then it came and I was like WTF am I supposed to do with this monstrosity?

Is that an American grilled cheese? It was extreme. We both suddenly had no interest in eating anymore, which is a rare thing. We took our lunches home. We spent the rest of the day on the couch napping and watching movies which was GLORIOUS (we also may have ordered Chinese food). I met Cely’s sister Sari which was a California highlight for me! I loved her immediately. I had never even met her but I felt like I already knew her. She came in when we were sprawled out on the couch in our fat pants and I just felt so comfortable around her right away, like “hello Sari, I’m Cely’s internet friend and I live here now.”

We watched the Edge of Seventeen which I loved so much I wanted to watch it again immediately after. Instead we watched Fifty Shades of Grey which I hadn’t seen but both Cely and Sari had so they indulged me and eh. We should have just watched Edge of Seventeen again. Watch it!!!

The next morning the three of us went to brunch at Cafeteria 15L with their friends Tracy and Heather. They were both awesome and I also loved my bottomless mimosas and my fried chicken and waffles.


My stomach did not love the fried chicken and waffles and I paid for that later but THAT’S OK because when on vacation. That is PECAN BUTTER!!! Oh it was heavenly.

And then I got my stuff together and Cely took me to the train station so I could make my way to San Francisco. She actually parked and brought me straight to the train which I am so thankful for because guaranteed I would have gotten on the wrong one. Or at least waited in the wrong area for a train that was never coming (done that before).

It was such a fabulous weekend and I was so sad to leave Cely. And Sari. I felt like I had known both of them forever and I told Cely that I just wanted to stay forever and be their third sister. I made them promise to come visit me and I really bigged Ontario up so I feel like I lured them pretty good. They better!!!

If you don’t already read Cely’s blog you need to, she kills me and is my must-read every day. And not even a hate read, I love her! She is just as hilarious and smart in person.

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Trouble in Lake Tahoe

I’m baaaaaaack!!! And I didn’t blog while I was away so you know what that means…endless vacation recapping! I have a lot to talk about so gird your loins.

I left last Thursday morning and happened to bump into my pal Dawnald at the airport!

She was headed to San Francisco for a conference and I was meeting up with her for the second half of my trip, coincidentally our flights out there were at the same time. It was nice to see her for a quick romantic rendezvous.

I was headed to Sacramento, however, and while she had a direct flight to SF, I had quick stopovers in Chicago and Denver. I actually didn’t mind those too much — it took me 10 hours to get there but the stopping broke up the flight time. The Chicago airport was super fancy, too. They had automatic rotating seat covers on the toilets in the bathroom which I thought was pretty cool but also probably unnecessary. They also had personal deep dish pizzas which I totally missed and only noticed after I had already grabbed a sandwich. Stupid. I made the wrong decision!!!

Anyway, I was on my way to meet my long time internet friend Cely for the first time! We have followed each other’s blogs for years (I actually just had my six year blogging anniversary — CRAZY!), and over that time we have emailed and texted a bunch, and we are Facebook friends (so that means we’re real friends) but we have never actually hung out in person. Just on the internet.

Cely was picking me up from the Sacramento airport and on my flight from Denver to Sacramento I started to get just a litttttle bit nervous about meeting her for the first time. We would be spending several days together, what if we didn’t like each other or had nothing in common? But I needn’t have worried. As soon as I saw her I felt like I was meeting one of my best friends. There was never any awkwardness (this is why exchanging long crazy emails for years before meeting is key!), our conversation flowed naturally right away and we spent most of our three+ days together just laughing. At one point we also had a good 20 minute conversation trading stories of falling down the stairs so, I feel like we are awkward kindred spirits.

Someone commented that the two of us meeting up felt like a TV crossover episode, which made us laugh hard. Just like when Steve Urkel was on Full House!

I get to be Uncle Jesse, sorry Cely.

There was one must-eat place for me in California, In-N-Out Burger. I’ve been hearing about it for years but have never had the chance to try it so we headed there after Cely picked me up.

I have to say I was underwhelmed… My burger was good but I didn’t find it to be the most spectacular fast food burger I’ve ever eaten. It was pretty onion-y. However, I heard I didn’t order correctly and I should have asked for my burger to be ‘animal style’. Cely even warned me about this and I didn’t listen. Oh well, you live and you learn. I’d go again and do it right next time.

After our burgers we drove to South Lake Tahoe for a skiing adventure. Cely had warned me the day before that this part of our trip might get delayed since that area of California had been experiencing some extreme weather lately, namely landslides. Apparently the highway we needed to drive on had been closed due to a mudslide and had only reopened the afternoon before. There was also a snowstorm in the area that was supposed to cause some trouble, but thankfully that wasn’t as bad as expected so we didn’t have to postpone our trip. And now since leaving, part of that highway has collapsed into the river. I feel very lucky that we were able to get in and out okay. I joked that the weather out there hated me but it truly could have been much worse.

It was super awesome to be traveling to Lake Tahoe with someone who knew the area. I was totally lazy in my travel research because of this and just let Cely choose where to stay, where to eat, where to ski, etc. since she knew area so well. She also brought a bunch of ski accessories and snow boots for me to borrow, which was great since I was traveling with just a carry-on.

We checked into our hotel (Harvey’s, which I would definitely recommend — our room was cute and surprisingly inexpensive) and then hit up the Stateline restaurant and brewery for a cheese plate.

And some beers.

I wanted to try them all.

I was really excited that Cely was always on the same eating page as me. It’s so nice to travel with someone who is just as food-oriented as you are!

After the cheese and beer we headed back to our hotel and hit da sheets. It was about 3am my time at that point and I was tired after sitting on the plane all day (traveling will really do that to ya).

The next morning we got up early, grabbed a leisurely breakfast (I had breakfast nachos and they were delightful), rented our equipment (we reserved it online in advance which was a good call, saved 25%!) and then took the gondola up to Heavenly.

I’m glad there was this photo of the mountain because it was snowing so hard I couldn’t actually see the mountain and that was disorienting. I had to rely on Cely to tell me about the views I would normally see up there. The snow made it difficult to even see the hill in front of us so I never got to see the lake! That was sad because I hear it’s a spectacular view. I just tried to imagine it.

So this is actually the first mountain I’ve ever skied on. I’ve cross country skied on a mountain in Revelstoke (wrote about that experience here) but never downhill skied. We don’t have any mountains in Ontario so my skiing experiences up until this point have been on very large hills. The biggest difference I noticed was that it takes so much longer to get down a run! I really liked that. It’s been about 7 years since the last time I skied, but thankfully it’s just like riding a bike and I still got it.

I was so thankful to Cely for letting me borrow a water pouch, goggles and that skeleton buff for my face. I felt so badass.

It was a bit more difficult than I expected though because of the weather. We were having some serious depth perception issues — the ground just looked like flat whiteness but there were big snow drifts that we would ski into that would mess things up. There were some struggles, but neither of us had a yard sale (when you fall on the mountain and all your equipment goes everywhere) or fell at all, so that’s a win.

We stuck to mainly long leisurely blues, which are my favourite so I was happy Cely was on the same page about that. Since she knew all the runs I was content to let her take the lead and just follow her red jacket down the mountain.

Unfortunately we got separated at one point and another girl with a red jacket and black pants somehow got in front of me so I blindly followed her for a while. In my head I remember noticing that her ski outfit just got super sleek all of a sudden, but I was concentrating on not falling so I didn’t register that it wasn’t Cely. At one point there was a portion of hill that levelled out and we had to work a bit harder to get across it so I was yelling some snarky comments at her about that, trying to be funny. She glanced at me over her shoulder but didn’t have a reaction other than that which I thought was weird. Then we stopped at the crest of another hill and I pulled up beside her and realized she was not actually Cely. I turned around and saw Cely coming up behind me dying laughing. Whoops. We laughed for a good half an hour about that. Cely said she was worried I was going to blindly follow this lady down a double black diamond or something. Sure glad that didn’t happen. Fake Cely may have lead me to my death.

We skied for a few hours and then took a break for lunch when the snow started coming down harder and the wind increased.

Eating after physical activity is my favourite. That was some damn good chili.

After lunch we headed back out hoping the weather would be better, but unfortunately no, it had gotten worse. The wind picked up, making the lifts (which are quite long) a pretty crappy time because it felt like little daggers of ice were hitting your face. We did a few more runs and then decided we were done. I loved it though and was so glad we skied!

The next day when it stopped snowing I could finally see that yes, we indeed skied on a mountain!

But I still hadn’t seen the lake. I’ll get to that next week though ’cause somehow this got long. In the meantime, Cely recapped all our adventures really well so you can check that out on her blog.

Have a great weekend!

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The Manateesers

Stillll going on about our Florida trip. One more post (after this) and then I’m done I promise. On Wednesday after our beach day we decided to check out the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium in Sarasota. It’s a small non-profit aquarium that is also a working marine lab as well so they do a ton of research and programs there and it’s all very science-y and educational. They have staff at every exhibit who you can talk to and ask questions.

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I feel like this eel is saying “heyyyy girllllll”

I loved the sea turtle conservation area. This guy was GINORMOUS and kept popping his head out of the water to say hi.

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All the sea turtles living there are being treated for illnesses or injuries and will be released once they are rehabilitated. Except for the one above, I believe he is blind from an injury and would no longer be able to survive in the wild. Another smaller sea turtle, Squirt, had been brought to the aquarium with injuries because he had been hit by a boat propeller, poor guy.

There is also a sea turtle hatching hospital there – hatching sea turtles on the Gulf of Mexico beaches may need some medical care before they’re able to survive, so they’re treated in the hospital and then returned to the wild when they’re healthy. No baby turtles this time of year unfortunately. It would have taken me back to my youth when I used to catch baby snapping turtles in the swamp near my house and make turtle homes for them until they got too big and attempted to bite off my finger. Ah the good old days.

The sea turtles were definitely a highlight but he manatees were THE highlight.

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I’ve never seen one up close before! There were two, Hugh and Buffett. I loved this guy, but he definitely had his eye on Evan.

I better watch out, I'm pretty sure this manatee is after Evan #facesmoosh

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I am still laughing at that video. I don’t know if he forgot there was glass there or what was going on. Just a manateeser. Apparently Hugh and Buffett are the only manatees in the world trained to participate in special research projects to understand how manatees perceive their natural environment.

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They’re pretty awesome.

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They look like big snugglers.

There’s also a shark exhibit, jellyfish, reefs, stingrays (that you can touch!) and otters (although they weren’t there when we were, which was disappointing). And some rare Pokemon there as well, I caught my first Tangela! Florida really rejuvenated the Poke hunting for me, I think ’cause Paula and Fabian are big players. They got me right back into it. Anyway, it was a really cute small aquarium and a good way to spend a couple hours.

After the aquarium we picked up Checkers burgers (don’t judge) and then went to the condo’s pool area. It’s quite nice!

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And totally empty during the day. We leisured around there for a while before it was time to get ready for dinner. We were going to the Anna Maria Oyster Bar! Another spot we hit last time we were in Bradenton and I really liked it the last time, but I have to say that this time I was a bit less than enthused… I have discovered since then that I really love oysters so we started with the baked garlic parmesan ones.

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And I loved them. They were delicious. I wish I stopped there though. My main wasn’t great.

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I got the cucumber dill salmon and it was just alright, but the rice tasted like the Uncle Ben’s instant rice that you just add a spoonful of water to and heat up in the microwave still in the package. I wasn’t a fan. Evan got the crab cakes and didn’t love them either. Ah well. Maybe it was an off night or we just ordered the wrong thing. I remember just DYING for their pasta last time. My wine was good though, so that and the oysters were my saviour.

After dinner we didn’t want the night to end so we went to Smugglers Cove for some mini-golfing action.

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It’s more exciting than your regular mini golfing place ’cause it has live gators!

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Just chillin’. I wonder if they like their life there, or if they’d rather live in Black Hammock the ultimate gator sanctuary (Black Hammock would be my choice personally).

Annnnd once again we came here last time, and I won! I was not so lucky this time. Evan was on fire.

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But it was a good time.

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Highly recommend both Smugglers Cove and the Mote Marine Aquarium if you’re ever in the area!

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Beachin’ it up

Evan and I were feeling pretty sluggish and gross after all our Orlando activities (read: eating and drinking) so on Tuesday morning we decided to go for a hike at Robinson Nature Preserve, a salt marsh in Bradenton. We still needed to eat, of course, so first we stopped and picked up bagels from Paradise Bagel Cafe on Anna Maria Island to bring with us for breakfast. I absolutely loved the bagels from there and we actually went twice, both times I got the asiago bagel toasted with spinach and garlic cream cheese. So, so good.

Anyway, the hike. We found the preserve when we were researching the area as it’s the top thing to do in Bradenton according to Trip Advisor. Since it was the morning it wasn’t too hot yet and we had a really nice walk. There are miles of trails through the marsh.

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People say we Canadians are really friendly but every single person we passed said good morning to us. Actually I found people we encountered in general to be really friendly, wherever we visited. Though it’s possible they’re all Canadians escaping winter…

We walked to the lookout tower and ate our bagels at the top.

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The marsh was on both sides of the boardwalk here and you could see tons of little black crabs scurrying around the mud. They legit looked like spiders though so…I didn’t love them.

The view from the top of the tower was spectacular.

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There were tons of fish (mullet) jumping out of the water too, so that was cool.

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It’s a beautiful spot. This is looking towards the Tampa Bay area. I did not realize you could also rent kayaks and explore the water areas. I would have loved that but next time! We had a good walk.

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Next up was the beach.

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First we went to Venice Beach, about half an hour south of Sarasota. It is the beach of Evan’s childhood (his grandparents used to take him here to hunt for shark teeth) and we found a lot of shells and shark teeth last time we were here so we knew we wanted to go back.

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It was not nearly as busy as the last time we were here, so that was nice. It was a bit windy, but a gorgeous, gorgeous day.

We explored the fishing pier…

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And then set up shop in the sand. Not many people were swimming in the ocean but you know I sure did! That Jaws marathon we had couldn’t scare me away.

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That water was not too shabby at all. After swimming I leisured around and read my book while Evan went on a shell hunt.

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I caught him mid throw in that one.

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He got a lot more after this but I forgot to get a picture.

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For lunch we went to Sharky’s on the Pier. We saw this place last time and had talked about how much of a good time it looked like and we should go back one day, so here we were.

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Super beautiful view of the water.

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We had big plans for dinner and didn’t want to spoil our appetite so we just ordered some peel and eat shrimp to tide us over.

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And beer.

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After Venice beach we drove over to Nokomis beach, about 10 minutes away. Another beach we went to last time we were here that we really enjoyed. It’s beauty!

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There was a group of guys skimboarding in front of us, so that was pretty entertaining.

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More swimming and leisuring went down here.

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What a lover I have.

I have to admit that one of my main reasons for wanting to go to Nokomis beach was to go back to Pop’s Sunset Grill for dinner. We came last time and absolutely loved it! So after beaching it up we quickly changed out of our wet bathing suits and hit that up.

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Home of the world’s friendliest people, apparently. And everyone was so friendly, I’m tellin’ ya! I mostly love this place because the patio is right on the water.

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At first our server asked us if we wanted to sit in a quiet area of the patio and we said okay, and it was quiet and nice…but too quiet. We could hear people having fun on the other part of the patio where the bar was, where a live band was playing Christmas songs that people were singing along to, and we felt like we were seriously missing out on the fun times. It was like that episode of Gilmore Girls when crazy Jason takes Lorelei to a restaurant for dinner and they’re in a private room and every time the door opens Lorelei can hear the craziness going on outside and wants to join. I remember when we watched that Evan said to me “that would be you.” He is not wrong. We felt like that, so eventually we moved and joined the party. We still sat on our own by the water, but we could see the shenanigans happening at the bar and hear the band, so it was pretty perfect. It was much more our speed.

We loved the steamship pot we got last time so much that we ordered it again.

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Twin pic from 2013!

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Just a bit more grey in the beard is the biggest difference there. And I am so glad the shirt Evan’s wearing in that picture went to the big laundry basket in the sky.

Our pot included 24 shrimp, two lobster tails, kielbasa, red potatoes, corn on the cob, onions and celery. Amazing.

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Just amazing. We were pretty full afterwards but our server convinced us to go for the keylime pie so that happened.

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It was GOOD.

We watched the pelicans frolicking around in the water and saw the most beautiful sunset.

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It was a perfect Florida day.

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Pottering Around

After we left Paula and Fabian, Evan and I headed to Universal Studios Florida for our last Orlando adventure.

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Pic from last time!

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This was the Monday after Thanksgiving weekend and ended up being the BEST time to go. The park was dead.

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There were still people there and the Harry Potter areas were busy, but we basically walked onto every ride. The longest we waited was for the Simpsons ride and that was only 20 minutes. This was such a huge difference to the last time we were there in March 2013. That time the park was so busy it was almost not worth going. We spent a lot of money to wait in line all day. We couldn’t even get into the Harry Potter Hogsmeade area until 3pm and then it was so packed with people it was like walking through a mosh pit. It was ridiculous. I was SO HAPPY it wasn’t nearly as busy this time.

Diagon Alley and the Gringotts ride didn’t yet exist the last time we were there so that’s where we immediately headed. After a quick stop in the Jaws area…

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For some reason we had a Jaws marathon a couple weeks leading up to our vacation… I’m not sure how good of an idea it is to watch all the Jaws movies right before you plan on going swimming in the ocean but anyway. Evan was sad the Jaws ride is gone but was excited to see the Jaws shark.

The Knight Bus!

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The way the park is set up you walk through “London” first, and then through the iconic brick wall and into Diagon Alley

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I got the Universal app on my phone where you can check current wait times for rides and saw that Escape from Gringotts had a less than five minute wait, so we headed straight there in case it got busier later.

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You walk through the bank first and I loved all the detail. I felt like I was really in Gringotts.

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The goblins even moved and spoke. The ride itself is so well done and I loved every second of it. My new favourite ride of all time. We went on it twice, again in the afternoon, and I loved it even more the second time. The first time I was overwhelmed and found it hard to follow the story or take anything in, so I feel like I really needed that second time to soak it all up, it made me like the ride even more.

After Gringotts we explored Diagon Alley for a couple hours. The detail is CRAZY and it was so fun to explore!

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I love that you can actually go into a lot of the stores! In the Hogsmeade area there are only a couple that you can explore, so this felt like a free for all. I was in heaven. We hadn’t passed Ollivander’s wand shop yet so we dropped into Wands by Gregoravitch and bought an interactive wand.

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I spent a lot of time agonizing over which wand to buy, I wasn’t expecting them to have replicas of all the characters’ wands. I considered Luna Lovegood’s since I love her and am also a Ravenclaw, but in the end I went with classic Harry Potter’s. The wands are expensive but I think totally worth it. Who knows when we’re coming back so we needed to do our experience right, and the wand totally upped everything for me. The wand comes with a Marauders Map and it made exploring even more fun because there are interactive sites requiring spells with your wand that you can do in both the Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade areas. It was really cool and made me feel like I was actually doing magic. I got every site to work, though some took several tries, and one time a child had to show me how to do it (I was not the only adult with an interactive wand if you were wondering). I thought the spells were very clever and inventive, and the best ones were in Diagon Alley.

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In the above one if you flicked the wand a certain way the toilet would flush and the sign sticking out if it would spin around.

There are a few secret spots that aren’t on the map as well, so you gotta do your research!

I don’t know if the wand would have been worth it if the park was really busy though. I could see a lot of people (mostly kids) hanging around the interactive areas, but on the day we were there most of them were clear.

I also dropped into Quality Quidditch Supplies and picked up a Ravenclaw Quidditch Team shirt. I love it and am actually wearing it as I type this. Now I’ll have something to wear the next time I’m invited to a Harry Potter party!

Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes was a good time.

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And I’m still kicking myself for not buying an Extendable Ear, but I figured I had already spent enough money.

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Knockturn Alley was also a really good time.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley at Universal Orlando Resort will bring even more of Harry Potter’s adventures to life. The new area will double the size of the sweeping land already found at Universal Orlando, expanding the spectacularly themed environment across both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Guests will pass through London and the iconic brick wall archway into Diagon Alley – a bustling, wizarding hub within a Muggle city. Inside the land, guests will enjoy themed shops, dining experiences and the groundbreaking thrill ride – Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. HARRY POTTER, characters, names and related indicia are trademarks of and © Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Harry Potter Publishing Rights © JKR. (s14)

Again the detail blew my mind.

We had lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, which was awesome. I took no pictures but it was really cool inside. I got the fish and chips and they were inexpensive and the fish portion was huge and delicious. Last time we went to the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade and I remember really liking that also.

Then we headed over to Platform 9 3/4 to ride the Hogwarts Express to Hogsmeade!

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Harry Potter world was such a magical experience! Don't ask what I was doing with my arms, I was overwhelmed.

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Magical! If you have a park-to-park pass, riding the Hogwarts Express is free!

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I enjoyed the train experience, and it was handy to get over to the other park without having to walk, but if it wasn’t included in our pass I don’t know if I’d pay for it – not sure it’s worth $40. But I liked it! It dropped us off right in snowy Hogsmeade.

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Ah I felt like I was back in Canada with all that snow. Hogsmeade was way less busy than last time so we were actually able to explore the area without feeling crowded or rushed, and I did all the spells with my wand.

Got my butterbeer!

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Frozen is best. So good.

And then onto Hogwarts for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

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Last time we waited for TWO AND A HALF HOURS to ride that thing, and I thought that wait was worth it. I was absolutely overjoyed to just walk right onto the ride this time. I actually wished there was more of a wait because I wanted to look around inside the castle more.

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^ Pic from last time

And the ride I loved just as much as the first time!

So after Pottering around for most of the day we hit up the Jurassic Park area and then rode the Hogwarts Express (it’s different if you take it the other way) back to the first park and explored the other parts, starting with the Simpsons.
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The Simpsons ride actually made me feel pretty sick. I get motion sickness sometimes and I think it was because what you see on the screen is not exactly the same movements that the car you’re sitting in is making. I still enjoyed it but I much prefer an old fashioned roller coaster. We also went on Terminator and The Mummy. Just walked right on both. I was surprised I got Evan to go on the Mummy as he is usually not a roller coaster enthusiast (or reptile enthusiast, or heights enthusiast, poor Evan) but he put on his brave pants and he actually really liked it! Maybe now he’ll come to Wonderland with me and go on all the coasters.

We had a really great day and I am so glad we came.
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After hitting up everything else we wanted to see we drove back to Bradenton and went to Fire & Stone for dinner, an AYCE pizza buffet. It was glorious.

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More adventures to come. Have a great weekend!

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Eye on Orlando

After gator fest we went back to Paula and Fabian’s, chilled by the pool (which they apparently don’t even use very often, I don’t know what they’re doing with their lives) and then headed out for a super touristy evening on International Drive. It was a whole other adventure and looking back on it I feel like it took place on a different day but nope, we just squeezed a lot of stuff in. Paula and Fabian wanted to take us for a ride on the Orlando Eye!

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At 400 feet tall it’s not your regular ferris wheel. Evan LOVES heights and was SUPER excited. /sarcasm

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I thought he might be curled up in a ball in a corner the entire time but once we got up there he was fine. Maybe he overcame his fear and will do the CN Tower Edge Walk with me one day! (doubtful). Instead of seats you are in a large air conditioned pod that plays music inside, and it takes about 30 minutes to do a full revolution. We went at night so we could pretty much only see the city lights, but I like lights so that was cool.

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Paula curled my hurr and it mostly lasted for a couple hours so that’s a win. My hair likes to be straight and it can be a real stubborn jerk about curling.

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The Orlando Eye was a time! I enjoyed it and I’m glad we did it, though it’s probably one of those things that you do once and you’re good. Similar to the CN Tower.

Next we went to a tapas restaurant called Cafe Tu Tu Tango which was really cute. It is quite artsy in there, there is actually an artist painting on a canvas in the middle of the place and you can buy all the art that is hanging on the walls. I don’t know what happened here but I only took one picture and it’s blurry. We ate a lot though, it was all delicious and afterwards I was stuffed to the gills.

We were all full and not really feeling the drinks after this but we went to a bar anyway, to keep up appearances, you know. When on vacation. We went to a country bar down the street and what I really liked about it was that we could sit outside on the patio bar and directly watch all the action (like the mechanical bull) going on inside.

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^ Our view, and our seats were a hot commodity. My beer wasn’t going down great and around 11 we were thinking of leaving but then somehow we all got a second wind. Evan went to the bathroom and a couple stole his barstool for a minute and bought me a rum and coke as a thank you for letting them borrow it until he returned. I don’t like to mix rum with beer mostly because that combination hates me but this felt like a special occasion and I went with it. Then Kesha came on, more drinks were consumed, and we went from feeling full and sluggish to being ON FIRE!!!

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As Paula said, just doing our best Trump impression. And actually, wouldn’t be the first time…

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Found that puppy from 3.5 years ago. Still cheeky!

Eventually we wandered inside and played some electronic darts.

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Evan was getting all competitive and it was killing me. Turns out darts are not mine nor Fabian’s forte, so we just let Evan and Paula battle it out. There was also a giant Jenga game in the bar which got a lot of use from us.

It was a really fun night and I don’t have any regrets about that second wind, even though I certainly paid for it on Sunday.

I woke up on Sunday actually feeling pretty good (this deteriorated), and we headed out for an adventure on Lake Eola in downtown Orlando. I’ve always wanted to visit!

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Once we got here I started feeling like a giant bag of crap but I’m so happy we came. We walked around the lake and checked out all the sights. I think it might be the bird capital of the city.

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^ Impressive

I loved seeing all the birds around. Paula says the swans are mean but they look like they want to cuddle to me.

I need to tell you I have a crush on Paula’s hair.

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Look at it sparkling in the sunshine!

Speaking of sunshine, Christmas decorations were out in full force and it is so weird seeing them and hearing Christmas songs when it’s sunny and hot!

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I’m so used to it being cold and gray, so it was weird, but I can’t say I minded.

For lunch we went to Relax Grill, which I LOVED.

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It has a great atmosphere, a huge outdoor patio, and the people-watching was some of the best I’ve experienced. I also loved my dish.

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Though I wasn’t in the best shape and wasn’t able to fully appreciate it. I got a Bloody Mary though and that perked me up a bit (you know what I really needed was a Caesar!)

After lunch we continued our walk around the lake.

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We got all the touristy shots with the fountain.

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These two:

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Fabian always has the best shirts.

And then we checked out the farmer’s market which was pretty cool.

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I got a bag of hot candied nuts and they were pretty much the best things I’ve ever tasted. If I lived in Orlando I think this area would be a regular hangout spot for me.

After that we went back to Paula and Fabian’s, took a MUCH. NEEDED. nap, and hung out with my favourite one-eared bunny Pants!!!

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She let me snuggle her again, but just for a minute.

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And the very first time I forced a snuggle on her…

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She hasn’t aged one bit.

Paula made us brats in buns with sauerkraut for dinner and it was delicious even though I STILL wasn’t feeling well and couldn’t fully appreciate. My body is weird with booze lately, if I get any sort of hangover at all it seems to be at its worst in the evening of the next day. Really fun and convenient, thanks body. That evening we leisured around the couch watching Finding Dory and it was a beautiful end to a fantastic weekend. The next morning we got up and headed to Universal Studios to do the Harry Potter stuff, and though I was excited for that I was really sad to leave! Such good times with these two!

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