The Girl Who Lived

Before you even ask: yes, it was awesome. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter fully met my (wildly high) expectations, I had an amazing trip with my parents, and I am roughly 6.8 times happier now than I was when I left. As I’m still having a bit of trouble readjusting to Muggledom, you’ll have to excuse me while I get my bearings back. Also, I took 287 pictures this weekend and narrowed them down to a gentleman’s 75 just for you, haha. This means it still may take juuuust a little while to get through the entire magical experience. I assure you, however, it will be well worth the wait. (And that sentiment goes for the trip as a whole, most definitely.)

The Adventure Begins...

What better place to start than at the beginning, hmm? Friday morning, my parents and I set off on our way down to sunny Florida. After dealing with the normal travel logistics (bags, nourishment, car rental), we arrived at our hotel, which was my aunt’s timeshare property that she generously gifted us time at, the Wyndham Cypress Palms.

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We settled in for a bit before meeting up with an old friend of my mother’s, from her Hong Kong days! We had dinner at Seasons 52 Orlando, which I believe is the original one!

Seasons 52 Orlando

Still armed with fond memories of my blogiversary celebration at the one up here, it was a fantastic meal (as well as the first and last healthy meal of the trip, haha).

MusselsGoat Cheese & Artichoke Flatbread
Ahi Tuna SaladOld Friends

We all shared mussels and a goat cheese & artichoke flatbread to start, and I got an ahi tuna salad. Fresh and delicious! Naturally, as Seasons 52 claims they originated the idea of the “shot glass dessert”, we had to get a sampling of those as well to finish the meal:

Red Velvet Shot

Red velvet for me, please! After dinner, my parents dropped me off at Downtown Disney, the bustling (and free!) area outside of the Disney parks, where I met up with blog reader Alicia and her boyfriend!

World of Disney

I was so glad to have been gotten a little taste of Disney while I was in Orlando, since even though this was a trip with a VERY specific purpose, you know I love me some Disney.

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Alicia was a fantastic tour guide! There’s a lot of cool stuff in this little pedestrian area, including a Disney Store that does so much business that it singlehandedly accounts for an entire percentage point of Disney’s revenue. Let that sink in for a sec.

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Candy CauldronD Street

The real gem in this area though? The Ghiradhelli Soda Fountain, where the three of us shared one of their incredible signature hot fudge sundaes.

Sundae

The calories don’t count if you split it, right?

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Admittedly, after getting up uber-early to travel, by the time we were done walking through the area (and getting to see more awesome things like the House of Blues and the Cirque du Soleil tent) I was pretty exhausted. I did have to conserve my strength, after all! The next morning I would be headed onto great things — terrible, yes… but great.

Welcome!

Despite my very best intentions to get an early start, we didn’t end up getting to the park until around 11. Which ended up being just fine, because it gave us a chance to fuel up before I reverted to my 7-year-old self again. πŸ˜‰

Mommy & me

Universal has an area called Citywalk that sits outside of the actual parks and is filled with shops and restaurants, similar to Downtown Disney. We grabbed some grub there before charging into Islands of Adventure, full-speed. I had talked a big game about meandering through the rest of the park first, working our way over to the Harry Potter area at a time that it might be less crowded, but…

Islands of Adventure Wait Times

I mean, C’mon. Are you really surprised that I wasn’t able to wait? Everything was just beginning!

HP World Cover Photo

To be continued…

Oh Heyyyy, Ottawa!

So I had promised myself that I wouldn’t do a big long recap of my Ottawa trip, since I did exactly that after my last trip back in February. Buuuut, we all know how good I am at sticking to my convictions, hahaha.

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My parents happened to be in town at the same time as me (as part of a big Canadian road trip), so I spent most of Friday hanging out with them and gambling my dad’s money away at the Casino du Lac-Leamy. But the following day, as you may already know from yesterday’s vlog, my friend Ai Rei took me to The Works, my most favoritest burger joint with the most creative topping combinations I’ve seen to this day!

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We started out with some small shakes – chocolate almond for me, and avocado (!!) for her. Both were uhhhhmazing. Unfortunately, the waiter didn’t ask how we wanted our burgers cooked, and I forgot to offer the information voluntarily, so they came out well-done. SOB.

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Luckily, the patty was covered in approximately 6.3 pounds of cheese, so it still tasted pretty good!

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Proof.

Aaaaand, sweet potato fries on the side. I know, I know. But this was pretty much the only heinously unhealthy meal I had while in Ottawa, so take that as you will.

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All of downtown Ottawa is very reasonably walkable, and we needed to get some movement in after that lunch anyway. So we traipsed down to Glitz Cupcakes and Company and split a few mini cupcakes. Then we just wandered around the Byward Market area for a while, taking in the shops and fun Fall sights!

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I am saddened by the fact that I never paid attention to all the amazing fresh produce stands and local butchers and fishmongers back when I lived here! Oh hindsight, you rose-colored devil.

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Oddly enough, I have yet to find a bubble milk tea place down here that matches the kind that I can get up in Ottawa (though, of course, even that is NOTHING compared to the real stuff from Taipei!) And though our wandering probably seemed pretty aimless, we did have an eventual goal.

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BEAVERTAIL TIME!!!

My beloved beavertail (fried dough smothered in cinnamon sugar, gwahaha) was waiting for me! But, because I really am trying to be “good”, we split this sucker in half. You can even see the line down the middle, hehe.

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If ever there were an appropriate time for this: NOMNOMNOM. So much deliciousness. And more was to come, since that same night was the Halloween-themed wedding shower for my friend Holly and her fiance Scott!

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Lovebirds.

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I spent the night catching up with old friends, drinking wine poured from bottles labeled “Spider Venom” and “Toxic Waste” (mmm, so deliciously deadly…), and eating my fill of strange Canadian candy.

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Smarties down here are NOT the same as Smarties up there! (Fact: theirs are better.)

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There was a pumpkin carving competition too. Our team (Rei, Michael, Lucas, and moi) brought our A-game, and did NOT produce a vomiting pumpkin.

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Nope, instead we ended up with…

Whasian Pumpkin
A Whasian Pumpkin!

Bahahaha, and can you believe we didn’t WIN?! It was rigged! Rigged, I tell you!

Team Whasian

I also took pity on a poor, uncarved pumpkin (there ended up being more pumpkins than teams) and made a sad (literally!) attempt at carving it on my own.

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Sad pumpkin is sad.

Other festivities included a toilet paper ZOMBIE-bride game, and the most inventive themed dinner EVER.

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Seriously, however they came up with this dinner concept, I was impressed. It took a lot of effort for the hosts to coordinate, that’s for sure!

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Let me try to explain how it worked. We were each given a list of spooky dishes, then told to number them in the order we would want to receive our courses. Then we had to trade lists with the person across from us. THEN we find out that our napkin and cutlery were included in the list!

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What this meant, of course, is that not only did most of us end up receiving pumpkin pie as our appetizer, many of us didn’t have anything to eat it with but our hands! I ate my main course with just a knife. Skillz, I tell you. Everything was actually quite manageable and hilarious until it was time for the “dessert course”.

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Which, for me, ended up being a fork, a spoon, and my napkin. Womp wommmmmp. Ah well, at least everyone else thought it was funny. So I ate up their attention for dessert instead. Also, popcorn that I stole from the living room.

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The trip ended with Lucas, Ai Rei, Michael and me back together and brunching it up at the Mayflower Pub with an incredibly healthy and not-at-all artery-clogging eggs florentine. Then before long, it was time to say goodbye yet again! These trips always seem to go by so fast. I attribute that to having had so much fun with my friends, as well as to The Hunger Games books. Which I started on the plane up to Ottawa, and had finished by the time the plane back had touched down. So, yeah. Another thing meant for teenagers that I am now inappropriately obsessed with. We’ll have to talk about that.

When you visit home (or college, or just a place you’ve lived before), what are your priorities? See old friends? Eat at your favorite restaurants? Check out the changes that have been made in your absence? I tried to do all of these things, but as a result felt like there wasn’t a lot of time to enjoy each thing. Guess that just means I’ll have to go back soon. πŸ™‚

I’m Back, Eh?

Bonjour and Happy Halloween!! I have returned from the Great White North!

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It was great to see old friends and revisit my old haunts in Ottawa over the weekend. As I’ve mentioned before, I graduated from high school there so I love being able to get back occasionally and make sure those fires of friendship ain’t dying.

Bros for Life

Luckily, I don’t think that’ll be happening anytime soon. I tried to maximize my time as much as possible, so I flew back in on the later side last night. I tell you this so you potentially forgive the fact that I’ve only gotten through editing about half of the zillion photos I took (who, me?). Ergo, the full recap of the weekend may have to wait until tomorrow.

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I did, however, get the chance to edit together the sweet, sweet, Canadian vlog that my friend Ai Rei helped me film! So hopefully another classic Gretchen vlog will tide you over until then. If you’re viewing this post via email subscription, be sure to click through to see the video!

Fair warning: this may or may not but definitely does showcase me at my lamest. It’s also a little disjunct since it was shot over the course of several days. So, y’know, no judging.

Okay fine, judge a little. πŸ˜‰

For those of you who aren’t able to watch until after work (womp womp), here’s a little something in picture-form, too. Remember my desperate plea for help in the Halloween costume department in my last vlog? I was looking for something cheap, easy, portable, and ideally kinda cute too. Well, the costume also gets revealed in the video above, but here’s what I ultimately landed on:

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Get it?

PJs + Tiara = “Sleeping Beauty”!!

Haaaaahahahahaha. Okay, okay, kinda lame, I know. But it cost me exactly $0 since I already owned everything (what, you don’t have a tiara just laying around?) and I think I pulled off the punny-ness. I was also given the title of “Sushi Princess” that night, so you can roll with that if you like it better. I’m good either way.

I miss my friends already, but it’s always nice to come home. Well, to be honest, it wasn’t “home” that I missed as much as these guys:

home sweet home

What did you dress up as for Halloween?

The Big Apple: Part I

Really, I should be titling these posts “The Weekend That Gretchen Didn’t Eat Any Vegetables” or just “The Weekend that Gretchen Ate Her Weight in French Fries”, but I decided to go with something a little simpler. That’s right, folks! I’m back from New York City and had an amaaaazing weekend with Steve exploring the city, quenching my nerdtastic love for Harry Potter & Broadway all at once.

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Oh my gosh, where to start, where to start… so much happened in this one little weekend. Phew! So I guess I start at the beginning, eh? Steve and I took Friday off of work to hit the road (we took the Bolt Bus – $17 each way!) We checked into our hotel (the Residence Inn Times Square) and immediately set off to explore the city a little before meeting up with some of Steve’s friends later on like we had planned.

We walked and walked, down past Union Square and into St. Mark’s Place. We had our eyes set on a couple of the restaurant recommendations that you amazing people gave me! First up: S’mac:

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This tiny little hole-in-the-wall is dedicated completely and solely to mac ‘n’ cheese. Awesome, right? I opted for the Napoletana, which had fresh mozzerella, roasted tomatoes, roasted garlic, and fresh basil. Sound familiar?

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It. Was. Amazing. Steve opted for the Cheeseburger mac, which was also delicious but I think mine was the star. They have sizes that range from “Nosh” to “Partay!” (love the names) and I’m so glad we went with the Nosh. It may be the smallest size offered, but it is more than enough cheesy goodness.

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After sating our appetite a bit with that, we had to move onto the second place on our list, which was conveniently located right around the corner. Pomme Frites!

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Like S’mac is a tribute to the great art of mac ‘n’ cheese, Pomme Frites does the same for the classic french fry. Belgian fries, to be exact!

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They have a list of about a gajillion different dipping sauces for your fries, and various sizes you can get. Steve and I split an order of the smallest size and opted to try the sweet mango chutney mayo (my fave by far!), the roasted garlic mayo (Steve’s pick – good, but VERY mayo-y), and the horseradish mayo (super strong on the horseradish.)

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There was some regular ol’ ketchup in there somewhere too, and I was a very happy bear.

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And so began what would end up being an entire weekend of absolutely atrocious eating habits. And I don’t feel the least bit guilty! Well, I guess I feel a little bit guilty. But it was still totally worth it. πŸ™‚

After getting our noms on, we met up with Steve’s friend Greg and his girlfriend Ellen to head over to Brooklyn for the opening reception of an art show at a sweet little studio, Cotton Candy Machine. Steve is friends with artist Brian Ewing, so it was really cool to meet him, as well as the other artists there!

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I walked away with the following t-shirt:

Cotton Candy Machine T-shirt

And felt so cultured and hip! So of course, in order to balance that out, we had to go see a superhero movie afterward, hahaha.

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For the record, X-Men: First Class was awesome. It was so well done. I think I may have liked it better than the first and the second X-Men movies, actually… and I obviously thought it was far, far, faaaar better than the third, haha. It was so good. The thing that wasn’t so good? Actually having to see the calorie counts of movie theatre food:

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Nuts, right? Didn’t stop me from getting a hot dog anyway though… oops. I really think it’s great that they post this info though. Especially given this little nugget of informational gold in particular:

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An additional 760 calories for extra cheese!? On top of an already ludicrous 1390 calories, just for nachos? The nacho servings at movie theatres aren’t even that big! Yeesh.

And after the movie got out at like 1:30 in the morning (staying out later than I have in a loooong time — in true New York fashion, haha!) we hit the hay, knowing that we’d have to have our energy for the following day. I had Broadway tickets to score, and Harry Potter exhibits to geek out over, after all! But you guys’ll have to wait until tomorrow for the next chapter in this epic weekend’s story.

Also, to answer the question that is probably forming in your mind right now, I have made the executive decision not to weigh in this week. Or at least, not to weigh in today. I might do a little spot-check later in the week, but I just really want to try to ride the high from my awesome weekend as long as possible, and I know it will only be bad news bears. So! Judge me if you want, but it’s happening. Or rather, not happening. Heh.

Okay, okay. So you will have to tune in tomorrow for the full update on our second day of New York adventures. But! I will give you the following sneak peek of exactly what said day entailed (in case you didn’t already see my Tweets and Facebook updates about it! Hehe!)

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Yeaaaaaah roooooooyyyy! See you tomorrow for all the deets! πŸ˜‰