Friday, March 28

2005 Flashback - 'Toronto Diary (5/5).'

DAY SEVEN.

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More days, more steps. This is the finale, kids.

1. We had breakfast in the hotel restaurant. They had good omelets.

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(I'm happier than I appear to be. Promise.)

2. From there, we headed off to the Ontario Science Museum. This wasn't originally on the itinerary, but I thought it looked interesting, and most everyone obliged. It was interesting, but there were children everywhere. Eventually, their screams and overall Neanderthal nature caused us to leave early.

3. We wanted ample time to fully explore the Art Gallery of Ontario, so we scheduled about five hours for it. However, due to construction, there was about 5% of the museum open, and we were out of things to do in less than an hour. Most of the pieces were blank canvases or some other arbitrary ode to conceptual art, so we grabbed some lunch there and headed back into the city.

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(Okay, I'm pretty cranky here, no doubt about it.)

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(At the art gallery, there were these cards you could draw on, and people would choose which ones would go in the gallery. I drew a stick figure saying "Art is hard!", and took the liberty of just placing it in the gallery on my own. If you go there, it's probably still up in the gallery. I said "gallery" five times in one paragraph.)

4. We went back to Much Music Studios for a tour of the Television Museum, which boasted antique television sets throughout the ages. They were closed, so back to the hotel we went.

5. Somewhere around this time, Ben and Sherry switched up driving and navigating privleges. Ben almost had us killed ten seconds in, but they quickly recovered and pulled it off without a hitch.

6. We were waiting for our reservations at the Biagio, a beautiful bistro in the heart of the city. We were hungry in the meantime, so we spotted an abandoned cake in an empty conference room. We helped ourselves to some, and ate them back in our rooms, without utensils.

7. The Biagio was an amazing place. The wine list was about 20 pages, and there were bottles of wine that were more expensive than my car. Even the bottle we requested was $45. How redneck of us to take a picture of my dessert.

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(It was good.)

$160 later, and we figured out we'd have just enough cash to make it back to Sun Prairie. We went back to the hotel and packed our things for the journey home.

DAY EIGHT.

8. The next morning, we found out that the hotel sort of screwed us on the bill, so we ended up paying a bit more than we wanted to. Nonetheless, it was dirt cheap thanks to Sherry's discount, so I wasn't complaining. We packed the car and hit the road.

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(I pack light.)

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(This all went to Canadian perscription drugs.)

9. People kept telling me that entering the U.S. would be a lot harder than entering Canada. After our initial experience, I was sincerely worried about the return venture. The guy at customs barely looked at us, however, and we entered the country without so much as a pat down.

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(Sherry likes to shop at the Duty Free shop.)

10. The drive back was peaceful and tiring. We slept on and off, listened to a lot of bad music (mostly mine) and made it back to Dane County safe and sound.

In closing...

Toronto was amazing in many ways as a city. It was massive, looming and foreign. Most people didn't speak English, their money was funny looking and we were often discouraged with our lack of intelligence about the city. It was nothing if it wasn't a learning experience. All the time, people ask me how it went, and I always tell them that I had a fantastic time. There was no other people that I would have wanted to share it with more, and I truly believe that we emerged from it just a little better off than we were before we arrived.

America is frowned upon outside of itself, as it (probably) should be. This was made clear to us every single day of the trip. I wanted to explain to these people that we weren't all crazy, and that 50% of us can't stand the current situation as well. It was this bleak nature that tended to upset me at times, but also enlightened me as well. It made me feel good to know that my beliefs were shared with a good chunk of the planet. It just reaffirmed to me that I was right, which is always nice.

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The trip was over for us about a month ago, but I can still remember most of it immediately. Perhaps that will disintegrate as the months roll on, but I know that there are some things I'll never forget. The view from the CN Tower. Spending my first anniversary in one of the biggest cities in the world. The customs guard yelling at us ("Get 'oot of the way!"). The sound of Niagara Falls. Casa Loma. The Toronto traffic. A million people saying "eh?", and not kidding. It really was amazing.

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Thursday, March 27

2005 Flashback - 'Toronto Diary (4/5).'

DAY SIX.

Here's the day in eight more easy steps:

1. We had breakfast at Perkins. It took forever, we complained and almost walked out. The waiter was less than happy. He got a bad tip.

2. We went to the African Lion Safari, where you drive through the habitat and animals attack your car. You have to promise not to roll down your window, or they have no responsibility for your impending death by lion attack. Idiots still rolled their windows down, but they'll go to hell someday, so I'm not worried.

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(This was known as the "elephant swim", where the elephants all came out and dove into the lake at once. I was secretly hoping for a bit of an elephant rampage, especially directed towards the kid who wiped dirt on my jeans. Listen parents, pay attention to your kids, or next time I'll throw them over the fence.)

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(These are lions. They were right outside our car.)

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(These are kinds of monkeys. They were everywhere.)

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(This monkey got on top of our car, and signaled us to stop. Sherry, notorious for her hard-braking, sent the monkey tumbling down the road. That is all true, except for the tumbling part.)

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(We drove through this for an hour. We were careful not to run anything over.)

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(This zebra needs to get herself an ab isolator.)

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(I love this shot, especially the Ostrich peeking in on the right. They were about a foot away from me.)

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(This giraffe loomed right over the top of our car. Personally, I think I took a brilliant photo here. The contrast of the grass with the horizon, the distancing of the giraffes, etc. I'm sick of people telling me that I can't take a picture.)

3. After the safari, we went into the city for dinner at "Le' Comensal". In reality, it was more like "Le' Cafeteria". You filled up your tray, and paid by the gram. On the bright side, it was an all-vegetarian/vegan place, so we could eat anything and everything we wanted, provided it wasn't heavy (expensive).

4. After leaving the cafeteria and relaxing at the hotel, we went across the street for drinks and dessert. It was then that I realized we spent about 80% of our cash on food and parking. We were seriously beginning to wonder if we'd have enough money to get back home.

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(Litres or not, this is an expensive tank of gas. We did this several times over the course of eight days.)

5. During an argument in the car, I coined the phrase "brake light colorblind", in reference to Ben and Sherry's combined refusal to pay attention to the cars in front of them on the highway. Every single time we had to brake, we had to brake hard. The brakes will need to be replaced as soon as we get home.

6. During yet another argument in the car, this time concerning where we were, Benjamin furiously pointed at the map and shouted, "here are we!". Any seriousness he was going for went completely out the window after that ridiculous exclamation. Perhaps you had to be there.

7. Right outside of the airport, there was a strip club called "The Landing Strip". This marks the first time I have ever seen a triple entendre used for the name of a business. I tip my hat to the brilliance of the name, but I'm also embarrassed and sad.

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(This marks the first time in history that someone took their own picture in a bathroom mirror, and used it on a Blog. I'm paving the way, here.)

8. Before we went to sleep, I went to the candy machine for a Nestle's Crunch. Of course, the bar got stuck in the coils, so I tried to shake the machine to knock it loose. I thought the machine would be bolted to the ground, but it wasn't. Completely overcompensating, I lifted the machine right off the ground, bringing it down with a deafening crash. I got my Nestle's Crunch bar, along with a corkscrew from the top row. Good for me.

Wednesday, March 26

2005 Flashback - 'Toronto Diary (3/5).'

DAY FOUR.

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Here is the day in pictures. I've had a bit of a long week, so I'll let the pictures do most of the talking. This was one of my favorite days of the vacation. Most everything went well, we stayed indoors for most of the day, and nobody got too cranky.

We spent most of the day at the Eaton Centre, the world-famous big-ass mall in the bowels of Toronto.

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We had brunch in the food court, and split off to explore every inch of the mall's splendor.

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The Missus and I had a drink in the bar on the top floor before noon. Buzzing from my "Love Potion #9," we took in some of the upper-level views.

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After the Eaton Centre, we stopped by Much Music studios, in the aftermath of the big awards show.

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Much is way cooler than MTV, because they let you right in the door.

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We even met a VJ.

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After the stroll through Much Music, we headed for the Hard Rock Cafe. We saw memorabilia from such acts as Rush, Nickelback and Our Lady Peace. Psssh...Canada.

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With our stomachs full of horrendously priced desserts, we went to the nearest Googolplex to check out Batman Begins.

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The movie was actually very good. Big ups to Christopher Nolan, one of my favorite directors.

I'll have plenty more to say about day five. We go to Niagara Falls tomorrow.

DAY FIVE.

Here's the day in 10 easy steps:

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(Niagara Falls was huge. It felt like a constant earthquake all around you. I'm not much for land formations and whatnot, but Niagara Falls delivered the goods.)

1. Drive to Niagara Falls.

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(This boat took you right into the falls. I was in no mood to ruin my camera and wear a poncho.)

2. Enjoy Niagara Falls.

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(See Mom? I really was calling you right from the falls. I could use my cell phone in Canada briefly when it was bouncing off the New York tower back in the states. USA! USA!)

3. Enjoy Niagara Falls strip.

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(Ben and Sherry quietly contemplate where to dispose the body of Natalee Holloway.)

4. Enjoy Ripley's Believe It Or Not! Museum.

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(This was a life-size model of Dr. Atkins just seconds before his mysterious death.)

5. Enjoy Dinosaur Miniature Golf.

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(By this point in the day, Froggie here was the only person who would listen to what I had to say. The food at the Rainforest Cafe always sucks, so take a few pictures and move on.)

6. Enjoy Niagara Falls arcade.

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(Here in the states, we don't have statues of cops in the street, so this seemed a bit out of place as far as I was concerned. Ben was arrested less than a minute later.)

7. Enjoy Hershey's Chocolate store.

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(This place was beautiful. There was chocolate everywhere, even the money was made of chocolate. That reminds me, I have to deposit some of that chocolate money at the bank.)

8. Enjoy Kelsey's restaurant for dinner.

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(This wasn't a staged photo. I was really that happy to be there, holding my giant peanut butter and chocolate cookie.)

9. Drive to Toronto.

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(This shot is for the Abercrombie catalog. They just need to photoshop my clothes off.)

10. Sleep.

Tuesday, March 25

2005 Flashback - 'Toronto Diary (2/5).'

DAY TWO.

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That first morning in the city, I quickly realized that this wasn’t going to be a vacation as much as it was going to be a whirlwind tour of duty. Sherry had meticulously planned out every angstrom of this trip, and we only had so much time to take in every single attraction in Toronto, one of the biggest cities on the planet.

Opening my eyes, it took me a while to realize just where I was. The lush, king-sized bed in the hotel room put a good three feet of space between me and the Missus, so while pawing around in the darkness; I thought I was all by myself. Knocking my watch off the nightstand, I grabbed the remote control and turned on the television, switching to Much Music, the Canadian equivalent of MTV.

A quick word on Much Music. It’s an interesting network. We used to have it here in the states, but about five years ago they pulled the plug in favor of Fuse, a network out of NYC. They play standard Music Television fare, but then they surprise you with Canadian bands that are still an underground novelty here in the states. The first thing I saw when I turned on the station was an Arcade Fire video, followed by DFA1979. I instantly felt that I belonged here.

“Happy Anniversary”, I told the Missus as she opened her bleary eyes.

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After breakfast, the first big Toronto stop was the world-famous CN Tower. This is the tallest observation deck in the world, at least that’s what the sign told me. The CN Tower is right next to the Rogers Centre, where the Toronto Blue Jays play. Ironically, the Milwaukee Brewers were in town that day for an afternoon ass-whooping.

It was here at the CN Tower where we exchanged more American money and bought a City Pass. A City Pass is a neat way to get admission to a bunch of local attractions for one price. For about $50, we got well over $100 worth of tickets to most of the things we had been planning on seeing in the first place.

Another quick word on Canadian money. They have one and two dollar coins in Canada. The one dollar coin has a picture of a Loon on it, so they are referred to as "Loonies". The two dollar coin is referred to as a "Toonie". Now you know.

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The four of us got into the elevator, shooting us straight into the air at about 15 miles per hour. The elevator was glass, so it was nothing short of awful watching the ground disappear from under you so quickly. Our tour guide was a funny, sarcastic young woman who kept me from vomiting all over her. Here’s some sample dialogue that she had with us, some overall-wearing rednecks and a group of French-speaking tourists sharing an elevator:

Redneck: “How fast are we going?”
Guide: “About 15 miles per hour. This is actually the same speed as an opened parachute falling from a plane.”
Redneck: “A military parachute?”
Guide: “No. Actually, the military chutes fall a little faster because they’re in a hurry…to kill people.”

(Silence and muffled laughter by the four of us)

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The CN Tower gave us some truly amazing views of the city we were about to dissect. The tour guide also let us know that the Much Music Video Awards were going on tonight, and they were closing off some streets and broadcasting live. We decided that we would check that out if we had the chance, or at least watch it on television. Arcade Fire was playing live, so I was pretty adamant about checking it ‘oot.

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After seeing every square inch of the CN Tower, we found our car and were off to the Toronto Zoo. But first, a few words on parking.

Parking And You: How to Lose $100 a Day for No Reason.

Driving in Toronto is nothing short of a sick joke. However, I despise public transportation and choose to avoid it at all costs. It’s because of this that we spent literally hundreds of dollars just on parking in those eight short days.

Parking at the Rogers Centre was $14, and we found places that were as cheap as $6 throughout the week, but we usually had to park at anywhere from 2-5 different spots per day. You can do the math. Take it from me, if you plan on spending any length of time in Downtown Toronto, I strongly recommend taking the Subway or using some sort of tour bus. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.

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Now then, the Toronto Zoo was beckoning. Several hours and several more miles of walking later, we came to the conclusion that it was a pretty large zoo. We saw every animal you would think that would inhabit a zoo, and we also saw some things that I had never seen before. Like turtles mating.

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Maybe it was the heat. Maybe it was the sheer amount of walking. Maybe it was the pungent scent of sunscreen emitting from a million screaming children. Somewhere along the way, we all started to get a little cranky. So early into the trip, and we were starting to take potshots at each other and argue over insignificant stuff. The zoo was beautiful and one of a kind, but it was a welcome treat to get back to the air-conditioned vehicle.

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We had some time to kill before dinner, so we decided to check out one of the beaches in the city. I cannot stand beaches, as I can’t swim and my skin is milky white. I get sunburn just sitting too close to a computer monitor, so I normally don’t have many good things to say about beaches. This beach was no different. Some highlights were Ben getting hassled by a clearly intoxicated German man ("cut your hair!"), or a woman collecting litter dressed as a clown, complete with makeup and red nose. I couldn’t leave fast enough.

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My pants are rolled up in a fruity fashion because I didn't want to get them dirty. Don't worry about me.

Before getting back to the hotel, we drove by Much Music studios to check out the crowd for the awards show. There were already 15,000 people there three hours before show time, so we thought it better to watch the awards on television. We got dinner at the hotel, and the waitress bothered us about basically everything. She made poor Ben feel so guilty about not finishing his food, he wrapped it up just to make her feel better, knowing full well that we had no fridge or preserving device in our hotel. We had a mini-bar, but I instructed nobody to open that thing if they valued their money or sanity. A mini-bar in a hotel is like a Pandora’s Box of alcohol and cashews. Avoid it at all costs.

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During the Much Music Video Awards, we decided to quickly run to the nearest airport to exchange a bunch of money. This eventually resulted in an hour of wasted time, money wasted on parking, and no money exchanged. The changing station was perpetually closed, and the man we asked was nothing short of a complete ass to me and my friends. Again, we were starting to see how the rest of the planet viewed Americans. Then again, most of the inhabitants of Toronto are French, so it’s possible that they’re like this all the time. I kid the French only because they hate me. We made a vow to never return to the airport again (we returned two more times), and went back to watch the rest of the awards. By the time I got back in front of the television, Arcade Fire had already performed. I sipped my Guinness in shame, and felt very worthless and small.

DAY THREE.

Waking up on a Monday morning without having to go to work is a welcome feeling, but it’s usually accompanied by going right back to bed. Not in this case, as we had to get going to two of the biggest tourist attractions in all of Toronto; The Royal Ontario Museum and Casa Loma. While brushing my teeth, I realized that my toothbrush got smashed in the suitcase somewhere along the way, misaligning all my bristles. It works much better now, honestly.

Driving to the Royal Ontario Museum took us straight into the very heart of Toronto. We parked our car just feet from the Eaton Centre, one of the largest shopping malls on the planet. We were just there to grab some cheap breakfast; shopping was for another day. I had never ate a veggie sub for breakfast before in an empty mall food court, but there's a first time for everything.

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So early into the vacation, and we were all in wretched moods. I was already burned out on the hours, the Missus was in a lot of pain because she hurt her leg at the Zoo the previous day, and Ben and Sherry were constantly at each other over navigating and driving. This was the day that it all came to a head.

It was good to get it out of the way early on, as to enjoy the rest of the trip. Before we get to the meltdown, however, here are some fun facts about Canadian Television.

What’s On TV? Canadian Television And You.

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Canadian Television is basically the same crap that we have in the states; they just have a Canadian equivalent. We have MTV; they have Much Music, that sort of thing. The one thing they have that we certainly do NOT have is a French station that played nothing but terrifying children’s shows all morning. These French clowns would prance around, singing surreal songs and riding those old-fashioned bikes with the huge wheel in the front. Sometime in the evening, the children’s programming would cease in favor of soft-core porn. No thank you.

The morning programming was similar to ours, only their weathermen were simply never right. Every day, they predicted rain, and it never rained. In fact, the only time we saw a drop of rain was when we finally got back into Madison at the end of the trip. They did the traffic report, which was the same thing every morning:

Oh, looks like a lot of congestion on the 424. Good luck with all of that, ‘eh?

And now sports.

Back to business. The trouble started when Ben (or Sherry, it doesn’t matter who) misread the map. He claimed it was only “a few blocks” from our car to the Museum. Keep in mind that it was pushing 95 degrees that day, and the Missus was gimpy. A few blocks made all the difference.

In reality, a few blocks were about 20. The Museum was over two miles away.

As the Missus limped along with me, she said “I’d rather be at work”. I couldn’t blame her. When we finally got to the museum, the four of us split up as I tried to comfort the Missus, in tears because her leg hurt so much. When we all met back up towards the end of the Museum venture, things pretty much uncorked.

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For the sake of fair reporting, here’s where everyone went wrong.

Ben clearly misread the map, but he’s not to blame because he had a near-flawless record for 95% of the trip. He did a much better job than I ever could have, and I respect that immensely.

Sherry was a little sensitive because she had obviously worked very hard on planning out every day of this vacation. Criticizing things was like criticizing her. That being said, she was a masterful driver in the big city, and took on a task that I never could have done on my own. I respect her for that as well.

The Missus was sensitive because of a mixture of the blistering heat and her bum leg. She was really hurting, so any additional walking in the bowels of Toronto was quite hellish for anyone, especially her. She was quite furious, but was quick to apologize and fully understand the reality of the situation.

I was always the first to criticize everything. It would appear that I was never having fun, but I usually only open my mouth when I’m angry about something. Nonetheless, if I was truly angry about something, I’d do something about it. Apart from my crotchety old man routine, I felt as if I usually kept my logic and wits about me and made sure that nobody in the car killed me. Come to think of it, I don’t know if I brought anything useful to this trip besides my money.

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Looking back, I think we were all in bad moods for the same reason. We felt tiny. I mean, we are four intelligent, independent people who had absolutely no idea what they hell they were doing. Everything we did was done with hesitation. Every decision had to be voted upon. Simple tasks and directions were being swallowed whole by the city. We, as Americans, felt arrogant, pompous and quite loser-y. When a city backs you into a corner like that, it's only normal to start lashing out at each other. It's how us shaved apes keep order. If our petty little squabble was the worst thing that happened over the course of the week (and it probably was), then we all had a pretty good week.

Anyways, we came to the (simple) conclusion to take the subway back to our car. Had we been knowledgeable of the city to begin with, we would have done that right away and saved the headache. That boneheaded misstep was enough to put all of us back onto the same happy page again.

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We drove to Casa Loma, which had a nice free parking lot. This place was way more interesting and beautiful than I thought it would be. It also featured the scariest basement ever.

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The courtyard was amazing, and the views of the city were impressive. This brightened all of our spirits, and we eventually participated in a group tickle fight (I may have dreamed that last part. You should probably ignore it.).

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I purchased an iced tea in the outdoor beverage area, while Ben and Sherry split a Spongebob Squarepants popcicle.

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This was a long day, and we wrapped everything up with a dinner from the hotel across the street from us. It was there that I consumed the single greatest veggie burger ever made. It took us a full three minutes to even determine if it was meat or not, that’s how good it was. I swear to you, burger technology is really moving onward and upward in leaps and bounds. A perfect ending to a rocky and important day.

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