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April saw a new “pandemic” occurring over Swine flu, although I thought it was well past flu season now. At work, I started working on a new project incognito, which supposedly shields me from having to deal with other problems. And it started getting summer-y. Too much though, with people wearing flip flops and one day hitting a high of 29°C. Wait – didn’t it also snow in April too?

I started filing my taxes, and finished it up. But it was a bit of a rush because I had to change my address first, which required me to create an account and then wait for a confirmation code to be mailed to my (old) address. But, I got it done and submitted. Yay for not waiting until the last minute.

The most memorable event in April was climbing the CN Tower. I did it, now I’ll never have to do it again! I also went to a FC game and various nights sitting in on high school performances. The coach of the FC quit after we attended the game, was it something I said?

March passed by quickly as I was pretty busy. We booked a flight to NYC a week before March break and headed there for a week. At the same time, I ordered a Dell Mini 9 but it took 2 weeks to get to me so I couldn’t bring it along (it was for the best anyways, I didn’t want to lug around a backpack). I got it the week after I got back, and spent pretty much the week getting it the way I want it to be.

I also spent some time getting Coop Rankings integrated with InternSHARE. We got on TechCrunch, which meant being syndicated in the Washington Post. There has been a further fury of activity as the result of that promotion, and still a lot of things to work on there.

On the work side, there’s a rumor around that IBM will acquire Sun Microsystems, the funny thing is that there is absolutely no information about this at work and I actually first heard about it in an elevator in Manhattan. I also found out that the merit salary increase program is still active this year, so hopefully I’ll get a raise.

The weather has been nice this month, I’ve seen people on their bikes and even some people in flip-flops! I have no idea what happened in the world though, it doesn’t seem like anything noteworthy happened.

If I were to name one thing about San Diego, it would be that Seaworld is located there. Seaworld was the only thing that was a must-visit for me in San Diego. We bought a combo ticket, for $99USD which gave us general admission to Universal Studios and Seaworld within a 14 day period, which made the admission slightly more palatable than the normal $64.

The reason that it’s so expensive is because it’s not just an aquarium like the Vancouver Aquarium, but an adventure park! There were the shows that are present at aquariums, we watched a otter/seal/sea lion show, a dolphin show, and a killer whale show featuring Shamu. Although Shamu isn’t the name of any particular whale (their original Orca was called Shamu).

The Shamu show is the only reason worth going to Seaworld, the Orcas swim around, jump, do some choreography with the divers and splash the crowd; but they are bigger and splashier than the dolphins, and more agile than beluga whales. We spent some time visiting the exhibits, seeing manatees, sharks, penguins, polar bears and the normal aquarium fare. The penguins and polar bears were in a special wild arctic exhibit (with lots of AC, must be a popular building in the summer). We opted to take the “ride” version where we go in a motion-simulated helicopter to reach the arctic base; it wasn’t worth the 15 minute wait though.

I don’t think Seaworld is worth the visit, even at the reduced cost of the flex pass. Your admission price offsets the cost of the rides, but if you wanted rides, you might as well go to Universal Studios or some other roller coaster park.

The next park on our theme park tour was Universal Studios. I wasn’t entirely enthusiastic about this one, and could have passed on it. But we went and it was entertaining. We arrived relatively early (everyone was still passed out on eggnog apparently), and went on the Revenge of the Mummy ride, the special effects and Backdraft stages. The special effects show talked a bit about green screens, and how sound is added to movies. Backdraft had some talking and then they burned stuff. The Revenge of the Mummy ride was surprisingly short, wikipedia says 2 minutes, but it had a what-it’s-over-already?? feeling.

After some lunch, we lined up for the Simpson ride. This was the worst wait of our entire trip; it was quoted at an hour but when we were halfway through the line, they started operating at limited capacity. It took us about 2 hours to get through the line, but the ride was pretty good. It’s a motion-simulated ride, but each motion simulator only had 8 people in it; and the screen was like a planetarium screen.

After that, we went to watch the Universal Animal Actor’s show, which was a bit disappointing since it was short. Plus I couldn’t tell whether the animals were screwing up, or whether they were gags inserted into the show. We tried to go on Shrek 4D but the line wasn’t worth it, and went past Grinchmas to see people play in the snow. By then, the park was really packed so we went on the Studio Tour to finish off our day.

The studio tour is both interesting and not. It’s interesting to see movie props and sets, but you’re just seeing environments (and a couple of cars) from a tram. It’s not like you get to really see how movies or TV shows are made. Interspersed in the tour are several “events” such as a bridge collapsing or a flood but I think they would only impress fool little kids.

The Studio Tour was the most interesting part of the visit, but not worth the price of admission. Unless you like the rides. Maybe I’m just getting old.

On Christmas day, we went to Disneyland to see their Christmas parade; and also because I’ve never been to Disney* before (although I went to 3 Disney locations in 2008 – Paris, Tokyo and LA). We expected a lot of people to show up for Christmas, so we arrived by 9:30. We didn’t have to line up to get tickets, but the park was already busy.

We started our day at the Main Street Opera house which houses a museum to celebrate 50th anniversary of Disney. It was useful for me to learn the history surrounding the origin of the park, and I’m surprised that the Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland themed areas still exist to this day. We headed to Tomorrowland first, which was the most interesting to me. Back when Disneyland opened, Tomorrowland had exhibits of what the future looked like; now it is much more boring and consisted mainly of rides (such as the Star Wars ride, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage and Space Mountain that we went on). There was one exhibit called Innoventions which is basically a shill for Microsoft, Siebel and HP. I saw most of their “exhibits” at Microsoft Home in 2004. Instead of being interesting, Tomorrowland has been killed by commercialism.

Fantasyland was better since it was the representation of Disney’s core strength – fairy tales! We went on the Pinocchio, Snow White, and It’s a Small World rides here. The It’s a Small World ride was neat since they updated their animatronics to festive decorations.

After spending some time in Fantasyland, we queued up for the Christmas parade. I was disappointed in the parade, because it’s like a Santa Claus parade, but with Disney floats. It wasn’t any more extravagant or “magical”. However, we were lucky because we were at the start of the parade, because after Santa’s float passed by, we actually became part of the parade and walked down the route waving to the crowd. That was a bit surreal and hilarious.

We didn’t have as much time to spend in the other parts of the park. I liked Toon Town since the building designs were comical.

In Adventureland, we went on the Jungle Cruise in the dark, which added to the experience I suppose. If it was during the day, the animatronics would have been even more fake. In Critter Country, we went on the Winnie the Pooh ride – twice, and the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean ride in New Orleans Square. I was interested in seeing the Pirates ride since it must be pretty amazing to spawn a movie right?? It wasn’t that impressive but was pretty good compared to the other rides at Disneyland. We thought the ride would be pretty laidback, and brought hot tea onto the ride. Which was a horrible idea in hindsight after we looked ahead and saw drops coming.

After sundown, there were a lot of photo opportunities because the park was lit up. We stayed at the park for over 12 hours, because we wanted to see a couple of night performances. We saw Fantasmic which used water fountains as a project screen, and waited for the evening fireworks. The fireworks were initially delayed because of strong winds above Disneyland, but eventually started. The fireworks themselves were pretty standard, but it was coupled with great (Disney-style, fairy tale) music which made the show memorable. Also memorable was the fact that the abruptly cut off the fireworks without explanation (I’m guessing it was the wind). There was also fake snow, which is nothing like the real thing and more like soap bubbles.

I can now scratch off going to Disney* from my bucket list. For a $64 ticket it was worth the experience. And if you truly wanted to experience all the rides, you will have to get a multi-day ticket.

With this blog, I’ve completed one of my New Year Resolutions for 2008 (#4 to be exact), by blogging about the events in each month for the entire year. Although, I think it works better in theory than in practice, since I find that there’s not much to write about at the end of each month.

For example in December, the focus was on Christmas. We spent a week picking up all the gifts we needed to get for everyone, and had a week to spare (so to beat the rush; although we did end up going to the mall around the crunch days and it was b-u-s-y). We spent Christmas with the usual family dinners and then went to California for a week with Joe and Ida to escape the snow. The snow seemed especially bad in December, with several snow storms, even on the morning that we were going to the airport.

We hadn’t seen Mike and Maggie for awhile (since our wedding which feels like forever ago), so Mike suggested we meet up to go to the TSO along with Victor and Hannah. The performance that night was Holst’ The Planets and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring. I think each piece on its own could be a feature piece of a concert, so it’s a good deal to see both on one night!

This time, we got seats directly behind the orchestra in the choir loft. We weren’t able to see the brass or timpani but had a great view of the percussion. The percussionists were very serious about hitting the snare drum, much in contrast with how I play Rock Band. We were also able to see Peter Oundjian as he conducted and he looked very passionate and engrossed in his conducting, with lots of face contortions. I suppose you need to be like that in order to be a great conductor.

I enjoyed The Planets more than Rite of Spring (here’s The Star’s review of The Planets). The guide had a quote about the premiere of The Rite of Spring where a patron beat on the head of the person in front of him, but neither noticed because they were so absorbed in the music. I have a hard time believing that, but it certainly was blasting.

For dinner, we went to the restaurant underneath the new construction on Queen St West, Nota Bene. It is somewhat upscale dining and actually looks like it would fit in the lobby of a hotel. We tried the rabbit and scallops which where neither amazing nor horrible.

Ever since I heard Gwen Stefani’s Harajuku Girls, I wanted to see what these Harajuku girls are all about. We made two trips to see what they were really all about, but like Notre Dame in Paris, it rained both times! Well in addition to rain, the first time we went, we went along Harajuku St. which consisted of a lot of indie fashion shops with clothing that you will wear in 5 years (can you say clear handbags with an inner patterned layer??). This was just a mess, and while there were a few Harajuku girls walking around, it was just a lot of tourists, and Japanese shoppers.

Reading the guide later on, we realized our issue. Apparently the Harajuku girls only come out on Sunday afternoon in this particular park near Harajuku St. (do they sound like vampires? because some of them are), so we waited until Sunday to try again. I was armed with my camera and ready to take some portraits of dressed up antique or gothic Japanese girls, but when we went to the park, it was taken over by traditionally dressed dancers. Apparently it was the Harajuku Omotesando Genki Matsuri Super Yosakoi that weekend and all the vampires were scared off. In the end, I wasn’t able to take pictures of the Harajuku girls except for a couple of snipes while walking on Harajuku St., and so they will be a mystery to me until I can successfully hunt one down.

August was memorable because it was the month where…I got married! Everything was planned by the end of July so there was no last minute stress before the big event, and I think it went relatively smoothly. After a couple of days rest (and by rest I mean running around cleaning up things), and a quick concert, it was off to Japan for 19 days.

We went to a variety of places around Japan, and I’ll blog more about it separately. Check my Japan tag. While in Japan, we were able to catch coverage of the big news story of the month, the Olympics in Beijing. We saw a lot of Japanese athletes, and not a lot of Canadian ones – although I knew we didn’t win a lot of medals. Out of the Olympics, the big stories were Phelps winning 8 golds (why is someone allowed to enter in 8 events?), and Bolt winning the 100m, then 200m and 400m relay.

While in Japan, I didn’t keep up with a lot of things I normally do – news, my RSS feeds, and Warcraft. That seemed to go over ok – maybe I won’t need to spend time on those things anymore? Speaking of not spending a lot of time on things, I didn’t work a lot. Of the 31 days in August, I worked 4 days, Aug 26, 27, 28, and 29; I could’ve not worked the 29th by moving my Labour day flex day around – but that’s just being ridiculous.

It’s the end of August, and I’m finally blogging about what happened in July. Oops. I hope I have a good memory? July was basically busy busy busy. The first half was filled with moving my cruft into down to my car, driving across the city, and then moving stuff up. Rinse & repeat. When I was tired of that, I went down to Ikea and moved some pieces of wood into my car, drove back home, moved it upstairs, and then constructed it. Well that’s not entirely true, I have one piece of furniture that’s not from Ikea (yay!).

That took about 2 weeks. Then I spent the next two weeks striking off the items in my wedding planning list such as mixing the music and so forth. After that, I spent the last week driving around picking up relatives and doing that family stuff. Oh yeah, I also spent 1 weekend in Montreal, another Sat night at a hotel downtown and finished up my work to hand off to some people at work since I was going on v-a-c-a-t-i-o-n!

I think that adds up to about a month, I’m don’t recall what happened in the world though.

It’s almost the middle of July and I haven’t blogged about June. I guess the big things that happened in June were the Luminato festival and getting ready to move out (which involved finding a place to live for starters).

What else happened? Hrmm that’s why I shouldn’t wait so long before typing up this up.


Hmm what happened in May? That’s a good question. I think there was a lot of almost-there feeling in May. It’s almost summer but not quite warm enough. It’s almost time for me to move out, but not close enough to actually do anything. It’s almost time to panic due to lack of wedding planning, so it’s time to do some planning. Basically, I spent a lot of time behind the scenes setting things up.

The big news of the month was the earthquake in the Sichuan province of China. There were a lot of charity events and stuff, but you know what? It’s pretty awful because I’m “Chinese” but I see this disaster as just another disaster – like the tsunamis in South Asia or the flooding in NOLA.

Work wise, our team’s co-op started and I spent time bringing her up to speed. I also spent a lot of time preparing and presenting in the last week.

That’s about it, what a boring month.

I’m a fan of Toronto’s Doors Open festival, but my enthusiasm for the event has started to wane. Even last year, I was struggling to find places worth visiting. This year, I didn’t even realize that it was coming (no advertising) until I hit the middle of May and wondered what happened to the Doors Open weekend. I think Doors Open has evolved into a festival of religious buildings or places looking for free advertising. I wasn’t even planning on going, except that Pauline and I had some errands to run downtown.

We started our day at the George Brown Chef School. This was an opportunity for George Brown to promote their courses and their restaurant opening in September. I think it’s a pretty good location for the school, being close to St Lawrence Market. The restaurant is pretty neat as well, and if I didn’t go, I wouldn’t have been aware of it. So it was mutually beneficial. For our troubles, we also got a free scone!

Next, we walked along King St East and randomly decided to go to St James Cathedral. I’ve seen enough churches that they all end up being the same, and this one was no different. What was different though (except for the huge amounts of cameras and tripods), was that we were able to go onto the stage at the front (where the ceremonies are performed) and hear the organist play Bach’s Toccata and Fugue. He then took some questions so I learned some stuff and it was more interesting than expected.

Next (and something that was actually on our agenda) was King James Place. This was supposed to be a development that gentrified the King St East block in the late 90s, but I was horribly disappointed because all we were allowed to do was go inside a lobby atrium. After lunch at St Lawrence Market and some time off to run our errands, we headed over to Moriyama & Teshima Architects.

I had this place picked out for a couple of years as being interesting and different, but never got around to visiting it since it was a bit out of the way, and not a popular destination. The building was interesting in that it was a converted mechanic garage that had become a fairly large office (I estimate that maybe 15 people work there daily). M+T have worked on several high profile projects including the Bata Shoe Museum, the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, and the Toronto Reference Library. It was interesting to see how a small office was setup, and to see the models and diagrams that architects use.

Next we headed over to the Japan Foundation. There was no interesting architecture here, but rather an exhibition on Washi (Japanese paper). There were the typical things, like orgami, but also more intricate objects such as dolls that were made from paper. Our day finished up at the Gardiner Museum, where we went through the Object Factory special exhibit. This exhibit displayed the intersection between utilitarian ceremics and art, producing ceremic objects that were entirely unpractical. I couldn’t suppress my pragmaticism to fully appreciate cups with holes or dishes with embedded objects.

Surprisingly, I still got a lot out of Doors Open this year. In fact, I’ve come to look at the festival not so much as visiting interesting architectural aspects of Toronto, but a day with free admission to museums and other historical places.

In April, I had a lot of work-related activities. First I met with the GM of IBM Canada, Dan Fortin and then I had a celebration/reward event at the Princess of Wales theatre and the CN Tower. I also got a new laptop with one of those newfangled biometric sensors.

The major news headline were the protests during the Olympic flame relay, although after the incidents in London, Paris and SF; I haven’t read any more reports. The TTC also went on a surprise! strike on a Friday night, which is unfortunately, not because I was downtown, but because gas prices have skyrocketed this month. At the beginning of April it was consistently at $1.10/L, but now it’s hardly ever below $1.20/L. Well at least now I don’t have to worry about using the neat ¢ sign on my blog anymore.

This month my SpaceTV re-run watching has been disrupted, even though they’ve started playing ST:TNG again. I’ve started watching CBC instead, not to support Canadian content, but to watch the hockey playoffs. In fact I picked against both Calgary and Ottawa (and was correct). So far I’m 6-2 in my predictions, with my second round picks wrapping up soon.

This year has also been the first time that I really noticed all the cherry blossoms that have been blooming. I swear they weren’t around last year.

This weekend there was a TTC strike! It happened suddenly on Friday night, with no media build-up; so when I was out and about early-ish Saturday morning, I was on the lookout for any uninformed people waiting for the bus. I did see a couple of people sitting at bus stops, but for the most part the only effect were many more taxis around my ‘hood.

I did my taxes on Saturday. They had been “done” for awhile as I had been entering in the numbers as I received my T-slips, but I had to check things over and enter the DQ info. But then, I also did Pauline’s, her sister’s, and my mom’s taxes as well. Saturday evening I met up with a bunch of people to celebrate Charlie’s birthday. Afterwards we headed over to his place to watch Full Metal Jacket.

On Sunday, I went over to Nelson’s house to try out Mario Kart Wii and to play some Super Smash Brothers Brawl. The Wii version Mario Kart packages a wheel accessory with the game which you slip the Wiimote into. It’s gimmicky and hard to control though. They also added bikes which doesn’t seem right since it’s called Mario KART.

I got home at about the right time (although maybe 20 minutes later for the light) and went out to take some pictures of the cherry blossoms that were blooming in front of my building. Fortunately for me there are no not many tall buildings blocking the view to the west so I was trying to get the last glimmers of sun. Didn’t work out so well, but still pretty.

Before work today, I headed over to what I guess was the Richmond Hill city hall to book a permit for wedding photography. Since I don’t live in Richmond Hill and previously never had to deal with the city, I’ve never visited their city offices. But I have visited the Scarborough ones (in Civic Centre), the North York one (around Mel Lastman Square — North York Civic Centre?), and the Markham one (at Markham Civic Centre). The difference with Richmond Hill was that the offices are in a normal high rise. In fact, I drove past it the first time because I didn’t expect it to be a generic office tower!

Surprisingly, the non-descript office tower houses the various city deparments and the council chambers! It must be depressing to be mayor, and work in a typical office building. The Parks & Rec offices are the best though, they’re on the top (8th floor) and have a nice view over the area, which mainly consists of Times Square, the various eateries on East Beaver Creek and some AMD buildings in the distance.

As beautiful and romantic as the classical architecture of central Paris is, I am still partial to towering skyscrapers and the surrounding concrete jungle. The modern skyscraper district of Paris, like it is in London, is just outside the central region and a quick 20-30 minute Métro ride away. I did visit London’s Canary Wharf and it is basically what you would expect, a lot of tall, metal buildings and people rushing to work. La Défense is a bit different in that there is a tourist attraction there. La Grande Arche is the third arch that lines up with the Arc de Triomphe and the arch outside the Louvre; but was it really worth the trip out there (it’s not even within walking distance)? Last time I decided to visit a cemetery instead, but this time we made the trip out to the ‘burbs.

The La Défense stop on the Métro line 1 is the last stop of the line. Once you exit the station, you end up in a large terminal and underground mall much like Canary Wharf. There are underground passageways everywhich way to a variety of buildings, and I suppose that this is one of the hallmarks of business districts (i.e., Toronto’s PATH system). We couldn’t orient ourselves so we decided to follow the school group and head above ground. As the escalator brought us up to the ground level, La Grande Arche appeared before us, and it was indeed very grand (I mean big, in French)!

The Arc de Triomphe and the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in front of the Louvre are very stately and commemorative arches. When you’re under the Arc de Triomphe, it feels like you’re under a large building, in the middle of a roundabout, with an observation deck at the top. It doesn’t hold a candle to La Grande Arche. Imagine a movie where aliens traveled through the universe in a (hyper)cube shipped and landed it in the middle of a city. It’s nothing special to stand beside the CN Tower, because you stand beside structures that dwarf you in height all the time. But you can actually run around the open middle area of La Grande Arche with offices beside and literally above you. You’re one tiny person standing in the middle of those three dimension objects that you sketched on graph paper in math class. It’s so big, that even at 10mm, I couldn’t fit the entire building in. I had to lie on the ground at the base in order to fit the top!

The hypercube is the termination of the Axe historique, meaning that you can walk, as the bird flies, all the way to the Louvre. That’s a lot of open space and it becomes in essence a long wind tunnel. They actually have panes of glass across the bottom of the hole to block the wind and prevent pedestrians from being blown over the side. The signs in the area were reinforced against the wind with special stone weights and bendable bodies.

The buildings in the neighborhood are in themselves pretty interesting. The skyscapers are designed uniquely and there is a lot of public art around, although because we only walked down the Esplanade de La Défense I think we missed a lot of the interesting displays. But visiting La Défense was a neat experience because for once you’re visiting a grand 21st century monument.

March came in like a lamb this year, which was a refreshing change from winter-y February. I spent a lot of this month dealing with Rain. The rain started falling in place of snow in the middle of the month (Hello Spring!) and I had to deal with it (and wind) while walking around Paris.

The highlight of the month was the (less than a) week that Pauline and I spent in Paris. I had visited previously but this was Pauline’s first time. We visited a bunch of places, did a lot of stuff, and I am continuing to blog about it.

In addition to the vacation expenditure, I spent a lot of money on other stuff. We made a trip to Buffalo and bought various Wedding-related things, I bought a tuxedo, and paid (received delivery finally) for our wedding invitations (which is really only half the battle since I still had to assemble, label, and mail them). I also bought an iPod Shuffle, went to the TSO and went to a couple of parties.

The big news this month was former NY Attorney General and now former Governor Eliot Spitzer being caught soliciting a prostitute, JPMorganChase buying a near-bankrupt Bear Stearns for $2/share with foreshadowing of further US financial market collapses, and the civil unrest in Tibet.

I’ve come to realize, through travelling the last few years, that I am not a museums or a park person. This is unfortunate since many top-tier tourist attractions within cities are museums or parks. Paris is one of those cities, and if you don’t visit the Louvre (the largest museum in the world btw), your friends will think you’re an ogre who grew up in a cave. How can you not see La Gioconda in real life? Maybe because I’d rather see it without having to fight through a crowd, stand behind a wooden barrier, and view a small portrait from far away while it is obstructed by glare from its protective “see-through” barrier.

But the truth is we did visit the Louvre. If not to see the famous pieces of art, but to walk around a former palace. We went in the afternoon and not during tourist season, so fortunately for us, it wasn’t as busy and there were empty seats on their couches to rest. It’s not like I’m anti-history; I enjoy reading about history and how things came to be, I just don’t get enough out of seeing artifacts to warrant spending my limited amount of time there. A good example is the Venus de Milo. It’s one of the top pieces of art at the Louvre, but why? I don’t know. It would be more interesting to me to understand the story behind the statue than to see it (Wikipedia says its fame is due to a French propaganda campaign).

The most interesting gallery was the history of the Louvre itself. A palace has existed at the site for almost a thousand years, and has been expanded gradually through various monarchies. Some sections of the Louvre are still amazing, especially the Napolean Apartments and the Apollo Room; but walking through the grand structure that is now separated with partitions, it’s difficult to imagine the palace bustling with life and being habited by le Roi.

While the Eiffel Tower has all the flash, my favorite tourist attraction in Paris is the Sacré Coeur. I’m not a big fan of the church itself because they have really anal guards that maintain an eagle eye on you so you can’t raise your camera from your hip; and if they see you doing so, will yell at you in a hushed voice. The location is great though, because you’re above and able to look down on all the six-storey high Parisian buildings (and the Tour Montparnasse — which I don’t understand why it was approved since it wrecks the view).

The neighborhood is also enjoyable. Montmarte was the former artisan area of Paris, home to Picasso among others. Most of the bohemian spirit has been lost however, and replaced with tourist stores offering crêpes at inflated prices, cafés and stores selling Chinese souvenirs and knockoff replicas. The best art I saw was graffiti on the wall depicting a stick man drawing on a canvas. Now that’s meta.

A visit to the Sacré Coeur feels like a journey. Since it’s elevated, there are three ways to get there: 1) Take the tram (lame!), or 2) walk the neighborhood roads in a cylindrical fashion, or 3) walk straight up the stairs. We walked straight up the stairs, but it was not as monumental a journey as my first visit where I also climbed up to the church dome. We took the roundabout way when we were leaving, although under the auspices of finding a restaurant, we wandered in the general direction of downhill and ended up where we started!

But my best memory, was sitting on the steps of the Sacré Coeur with Pauline, looking over Paris as the cloud-covered sun set, while a random Parisian covered some French and English songs on his guitar and school-trip kids danced around him. He wasn’t busking — there was no money involved. He was just playing for his and everyone else’s pleasure. It wasn’t a bohemian rhapsody, but it was the bohemian feeling that fit in perfectly with the neighborhood.

After a long process that started in January, we finally received delivery of our wedding invitations this week. But even that is only halfway there, since we need to actually deliver the invitations to all of you, which involves collecting and organizing your names and addresses. On Good Friday, we tried to do some of that effort, but because everything was closed we weren’t able to head over to Staples and buy labels. Friday night I headed over to Horace’s house to play some board games with Rishi and Aaron.

On Saturday, I bought some labels and then met up with Peter, Nelson and Victor to look at formal wear. There’s a convenient stretch of street at Yonge/Steeles that has a Moore’s, Syd Silver and Freeman’s within walking distance. In a little two hours, we visited all three and got all our business sorted out! After dinner, we headed over to Adrienne’s place for her keg party. Someone brought over Rock Band, and I tried it for the first time. I got stuck singing most of the time because my revolving-door band mates didn’t like singing, although I did end up trying the guitar too. I never tried the drums, but it seems to be pretty hard because you also have to use your foot in time with your hands. Originally, I was impressed by the selection of songs, as in they had songs that I would have wanted to play if I started a cover band; but after awhile the selection did feel limited (I guess that’s why there’s downloadable content). There was also a foosball table, and I played too/so much foos that my arms were sore the next day (I haven’t played in a few years).

Sunday, the day of rest, involved a lot of work. Since I finally had labels, I started printing and sticking labels and (carefully) stuffing envelopes. It’s not as easy as it sounds because it’s actually quite difficult to get the labels centered (horizontally AND vertically) and straight. The extra ~$1.5 per invitation it would’ve cost to print the destination and return addresses on the envelope doesn’t sound like such a bad idea anymore!

We woke up late after visiting the Eiffel Tower the previous night (and resetting our clocks), with the room service knocking on our door. Due to using a discount broker, we didn’t have breakfast included in our hotel. Sure we could pay an extra 12€ for it, but the great thing about Paris is there are Boulangeries (bread shops for those that haven’t played My French Coach on their DS) and street vendors everywhere. And by street food, I don’t mean the ever great street meat, but crêpes, panini and stuff of that sort.

Today’s adventure involved heading over to the Latin Quarter, and since it was on the way, to try and visit Notre Dame again. Guess what, it was raining. So we continued on our way and discovered a Greek neighborhood in some back alleys. This would have been a good place to stop for breakfast/lunch, but it had stopped raining so there wasn’t a good reason to seek shelter. Though, they (every place basically) had in their window these really big shrimp-wrapped-around-tomato shish kebobs that I wanted to try. They also had a lot of Greek men trying to pull you into restaurants. I figured it was a tourist trap, so ignored them (plus no dancing of the table-top variety right).

We opted for street food, we bought a street (limon sucré) crêpe for 2,5€. It was simple and good (although when you do the conversion it doesn’t seem that economical! Every day was kind of the same way. We would wake up, go to our destination and buy something like a 0,75€ croissant or a 4€ panino along the way. Although the street food is not as convenient as I thought it would be, there were only crépes/panini around the tourist areas (but neighborhood Boulangeries were common). The only weird experience we had was ordering a jambon (ham) crépe at what seemed like a Muslim place (they do not eat Ham due to religious reasons). There was a bit of confusion amongst the cooking staff while they were making it, although it could be because we were English-speaking customers; all I can say is if they didn’t plan on serving it, then it shouldn’t be on the menu!

We also stopped in a lot of cafés, sometimes to avoid the rain, sometimes for rest, and sometimes because we were hungry. The cafés were never as busy as I thought you should be, maybe because it wasn’t tourist season or maybe because it wasn’t consistently sunny. They say you should relax at a café and people watch; well the menu is certainly priced for it! A café au lait or would run you about 4€! One day we got a café au lait, a plate of spaghetti, a panino, and a dessert plate and it cost 20€ — that’s $30! The whole people-watching concept conflicting with us though, because we didn’t have the time to idle away an afternoon watching people on Boulevard Saint Germain.

The last thing we were confused about was whether to tip or not. I had read previously that tipping was mainly an American thing (and by extension Canada), and many of the things we normally tip on was not required in Europe. The confusing thing was that our semi-fluency in Français enabled us to kind-of figure out that tips might be included in the price (“Prix net services compris”) except because it didn’t follow academic French structure, we weren’t entirely sure. Of course they didn’t say anything in English since they had to pay the Americans back for that freedom fries thing. We tried observing people and it seemed like they didn’t leave extra cash so I think we were followed correct social behaviour!

Paris is called the City of Lights, and the shining example of this is the elegant and iconic Eiffel Tower brilliantly lit at night. We skipped the day trip (and the crowds) to La Tour Eiffel and instead visited at night where the tower was bathed by a warm yellow glow. Every hour, on the hour, there was a light show which consisted of blinking white lights over the entire structure, I think this takes away from the beauty of the Eiffel Tower, and it for sure confuses my camera.

It was late in the evening (9ish) and even the African souvenir peddlers were starting to walk to the Métro station. Of the four elevators, one in each leg, only the North one was still open. We lined up to buy our tickets to the first level (4,5€) and then waited another 30-40 minutes to get on the elevator. Once on the elevator, we honestly were planning to get off on the first floor, but were rather confused with the setup. The elevators were multi-level, and it wasn’t clear to me why there was a differentiation. We lined up for the bottom one, since we were going to the first level, Once we were on the elevator, it made a stop and the operator announced something that sounded like this is the stop for the first level restaurant, but I couldn’t hear very well.

Anyways we didn’t get off and the elevator kept going. Sooner than we knew it, we arrived at the second level. Oops. I was a bit worried about this because we had a two-stage ticket, meaning it was ripped once to get on the elevator, and there was still a second rip available (for the return trip?). In the end, it didn’t matter because they let everyone on the elevator.

I think “views” are overrated, whether they are at night or day, cloudy or otherwise. It was a nice night so I took a couple of long exposures. I mentioned before that it was rather windy, in fact it was so windy that we couldn’t go to one side of the tower at all! Fortunately there is a central area that is enclosed from the wind. There was also a unsheltered “second floor” (which explains the multi-level elevator) and there were a lot of people up there; but they must have been nuts to stand around in the wind waiting for the elevator to go down.

We were lucky because there weren’t a lot of people at night, but even then the line for the elevator spread into the middle of the area. I can’t imagine what it would be like to visit during tourist season with all four elevators operating!

Once we got back down to ground level, we had another adventure heading back to our hotel. We decided to take the train (RER) instead of the Métro because we would only have to make 1 transfer; however, trains are not as straight forward since you have to figure out which track and which train to go on. We accomplished those two challenges, but didn’t realize our train was a “Court”. What does that mean? Well it was a short (in length) train which stopped at the beginning of the platform, so by the time we walked to the train, it left. I don’t feel too bad though, we met another (Southern) American family and another Frenchmen who failed the same test! And we did eventually make it back before the transit stopped running.

Last Saturday, I went down to Buffalo with Pauline, Ida, Kitty and Joe to take a look at bridesmaid dresses and other adventures. It was the march break weekend so we were worried that there would be a lot of traffic from other cross-border shoppers, but surprisingly we were able to cross at Queenston-Lewiston in about half an hour.

Our other adventures included eating at Cheeburger Cheeburger for lunch (at 3 in the afternoon) because I had a craving for hamburgers. I got a “The Serious” with mozzarella, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, 2 onion rings and BBQ sauce and it was very filling greasy. I also got a ChocoCola made from Coca Cola and Chocolate syrup. It’s not as bad as it sounds!

After “lunch” we did the usual cross-border shopping. Dinner was again at the Cheesecake Factory, however this time we were smarter about it. We arrived at 7ish and got a place in line, walked around the mall for two hours, and our table was finally ready! I was still full from “lunch” so I just ordered a Big Five but unfortunately forgot to take a picture of it.

On the way back, we tried to pass through with $410 and no exemption limit, so we got called in to pay taxes, which was the first time for me!

When we checked the weather forecast before we left for France, it was not looking good. There was either heavy rain or normal rain scheduled, none of the days even had the half-rain/half-sun picture. When we arrived, it was raining (in addition to being windy), and rain+wind is not a good mix. We had an umbrella, but ended up buying Paris-branded ponchos instead (6€ each = $9).

They weren’t very helpful. The first place we went to when we arrived was Notre Dame. We tried to take some pictures, but even with ponchos, it was unmangeable. Frankly, I think Notre Dame is overrated as it’s always crowded and dark. Plus for me, whenever I go there it rains! It rained during my first visit, it rained that day, and it rained when we tried to go again the next day!

We strategically used churches throughout our trip as a means of rest and shelter (from the rain) because there are so many scattered around the city. Aside from Notre Dame, we visited the St-Etienne-du-Mont beside the Pantheon, Saint-Sulpice (still under restoration), La Madeleine, Sacre Coeur, and the Church of the Invalides. We also walked passed several such as the abbey church of St-Germain-des-prés and St Eustache but it wasn’t raining, and you can only handle so many churches before they all look the same.

The prettiest church was St Etienne. It was a huge contrast to Notre Dame as it was constructed with white marble, so was bright and pretty. It was also the final resting place of Blaise Pascal and Saint Genevieve. I also liked La Madeleine because the structure was very impressive, although there wasn’t much to see inside (nor was there any place to sit).