Monthly Archives: October 2009

My Summer of Buffy

“What I did on my summer vacation” by Sean Gursky

Buffy and AngelThis past summer, Jenna and I spent some quality time watching a TV show. Our television summer hiatus included watching two shows: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Two shows is a small number, but these two shows comprised of twelve seasons, had 254 episodes between them and it consumed four months of our time.

The Whedon vempire (vampire empire) was cheesy, fun and a good way to make the gap between new television. When Angel became its own series we watched the shows the way they were meant to be watched, meaning we were true to the air dates of the shows and watched them in the order they aired. This made any character or story cross overs a little more enjoyable. Oz would leave Sunnydale and then appear in LA, or when it involved a major reveal like Drusilia or Darla going from one show to the other, or Faith crossing between Los Angeles and Sunnydale it was a great payoff. I wish they would have utilized that more because when it happened it was fun television.

Trying to review these shows is tough, each had such strong high’s and such terrible low’s. We were warned about season one of Buffy, and it’s a good thing because if we didn’t know it would improve our enthusiasm to continue would have been lower than a snake pit that frat boys worship in their basement. One thing I did appreciate was that even if an episode was weak it would be referenced later (usually in jest) or they would go back to a character that was introduced (Ms. Calendar).

I have always read about Firefly, Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog and Dollhouse being Whedeonesque but I never appreciated that until Buffy. There is a definite character and language style about Whedon shows. It was a common occurrence that a serious episode would end on a one liner from Xander. Or there would be one extra beat too many after a line and credits would roll. It was common that there would be throw away lines that were awkward and didn’t fit, but it was Whedon’s trademark coming through.

Buffy was our favorite series of the two, and some of the best episodes I have ever seen came from Buffy. Episodes like Passion, The Body, Hush or The Gift were amazing. They were what kept us coming back for more, hoping for repeat perfection. The seasons started to blend together but I was a big fan of two through five. When season five started I was against it completely because they blindsided the audience with the introduction of Dawn.

After you grudgingly started to accept her appearance they explain how she is The Key and the season takes a staggering turn for awesome. The finale of season five was amazing. It was the perfect series ender, and even though season six was strong (Buffy struggling with being brought back could have been a nice parallel for how the show felt about being brought back from cancellation), it was too fitting of an end.

My favorite character of the two shows was Wesley. When he appeared in Buffy he was a bumbling, awkward and terrible Watcher. Giles slapped him around and after Faith went rogue he crumbled, packed up his life and went to LA where he became awesome. The transition was slow, and not without character torment. As Angel progressed Wesley came into his own with interesting story arch’s, and had several seasons of him struggling against Angel, Gunn and Fred.

She wasn’t my favorite character, but Cordellia’s transition between Buffy and Angel was amazing. In Buffy she was an annoying cheerleader that toyed with the emotions of others. When she showed up in LA she had a purpose and provided something to the team. She became compassionate and was doing things with the interest of others at heart. Her story became a little too much for us to enjoy around season four but her transition from boring to brave was good while it lasted.

It’s odd, but when we were watching Angel we wanted more Buffy, and when we were watching Buffy we wanted more Angel. We found the best experience was when Angel and Buffy shared an episode or story line (before the Angel spin off). When Angel got his own show the mystique around him was lost and the hiding in corners Angel character from Buffy had gone. I did enjoy that Angel became this caricature and instead of shying away from it they would play it up, especially in episodes like Smile Time.

However, I did enjoy the back story of Angel. There weren’t many episodes that went to his past but there was always enough to give new information on his character. There was always enough Drusilia or Darla but those two became my favorite b-characters. Drusilia never changed, she was always a star gazing, wide eyed doe and I liked her for that. Her occasional growls to Spike or lines like “I’m going to be a mummy” always kept me amused.

After much encouragement from Tracey to watch these shows I am glad we took the time to get through them, and maybe years from now we will go down this road again but for now we will let students transformed into hyena’s lie and concentrate on fresh TV in the 2009-2010 schedule.

My Biggest Little Mistake

Viva Las VegasIn a city of lights, gambling and open alcohol you can describe Las Vegas in many ways but the one word I have to sum up our trip is: awesome. The weather, the sights, the shopping, the entertainment…everything about the city (or rather the Strip) was great. Before we had even left we were planning our return trip and what we would do again or differently. The city may be fabricated but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a great place to spend some time.

The fact you can do something until 11PM and still be able to go somewhere, see something and continue your night is wonderful. We are so used to things closing down at a certain hour in Edmonton that it took a bit to remind ourselves of where we are and what it means to keep on going. There is no need to go to bed before midnight because you can always see and do more.

We did what people usually do in Vegas. We walked the strip, saw shows, gambled and went to a buffet. We stayed at the Venetian and during the check in I pulled the $20 trick to get a room upgrade. Bribing is not something I am familiar with but when I read that site I realized this was something I could try, and if it failed, I was only out $20. I did what the site recommended, put the money between my drivers license and credit card and asked if there were any complimentary room upgrades available.

Strip ViewThe clerk was gladly checking but when she saw the $20 she smiled a big smile and worked a little harder for us. Because I don’t know what view our standard suit had before I don’t know if I ended up with a room upgrade or not but we ended up with a 37th floor view in the Palazzo tower overlooking the Treasure Island and had a view of Fashion Show Mall and north. It was a pretty incredible view and I will definitely try the $20 trick again when we return.

After surviving England’s public transit for two weeks we weren’t concerned about the Las Vegas bus system. The Deuce (Ride the Deuce!) was an effective way of getting around the Strip, except during busy hours or when the bus was full…which was often. There were times I thought it would have been faster to get out and walk then taking the bus, but when going from MGM Grand to Fremont Street having the bus was kind of nice.

On Wednesday and Thursday Jenna and I attacked the Outlet malls. Our first experience was at the Las Vegas Premium Outlets and we loved it. We had to change from the Deuce to another bus to get there but the brief moments of ‘are we going the right way’ were worth it when we arrived. This area is what South Common should have been: walking distance to everything, no need for a vehicle and a great selection of products. We spent hours walking around, slowly accumulating more bags.

Shopping at Coach Result of Day 1 Shopping Purchases From Day 1 Laid Out Purchases From Day 2 Laid Out Multiples!  Coach Purses and Puma's.

On Thursday we went to the Las Vegas Outlet Center on the south end of Las Vegas Boulevard and walked the whole mall, buying as we went and spending a whole afternoon spending. We decided that both Outlet locations could be hit up in the same day assuming you start at the superior north Premium Outlets location and then ended the day at the Outlet Center.

We also saw a few shows while we were there. Courtesy of Tix 4 Tonight we were able to get a bit off the retail value of the shows we went to. We started off by seeing the Cirque du Soleil show “KA” and were floored. We left their MGM theater feeling amazing. Everything about the performance was inspiring and mesmerizing. Even the parts that weren’t interesting to me were still really well done. The stage was one of the biggest features to this performance, it added so much to the show that I often wondered how they were doing something or how it was possible. Seeing “KA” was the highlight of the trip, and that’s saying a lot because Blue Man Group and U2 were also in the mix.

After being unable to buy tickets for “Love” for several days we decided on “Blue Man Group”, which leads me to…

I Blue Myself
Jenna and I were in our seats at the Blue Man Group theater when a person from the show came up to me and asked if I would like to be a crowd participant in tonights performance. I didn’t need much more convincing and I was taken to a back office and briefed on what would happen and how I would be involved. They changed my shoes in exchange for black ones and I returned to my seat not knowing when the men with blue gloves would come for me.

Blue Man Group Blue Man Group Blue Man Group

The show was more humorous then I expected but the use of music and the pantomime was great. Every time the Blue Men stepped into the audience I was expecting them to come over to my section and pluck me out. Around the 3/4 mark of the show it finally happened and I was lead on stage and put into a white jumpsuit with the aid of the Blue Men. I am not sure how it happened but around this time I ended up with blue in my hair and on my face, Arrested Development references immediately ran through my head. I put on a helmet and was lead off stage.

Not to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen the show but my involvement on stage had paint, a pulley, white canvas and a 40 pound block of Jello. A Google search on this gag can elaborate more but when people ask if actual audience members were used the answer is definitely yes.

U2 360 Tour
I love U2. They are the soundtrack to my life and their shows are like nothing I have ever seen before. With only Toronto and Vancouver dates on their second leg of the 360 Tour we set out to Vegas to see them perform in the smallest venue on the North American tour. Leading up to the Rose Bowl concert being filmed the last week of shows have had a fairly standard setlist while the guys got everything sorted out, and it did not disappoint, even if it was flawed with a few grievances.

Like mentioning the stage at “KA” you have to talk about the “Claw” U2 used on this tour. I knew it was big, but I had no idea it would be that massive. The “Claw” legs went right to the edge of the field and took up Sam Boyd Stadium. As the show went on I found myself staring at the “Claw” and taking the whole sight in.

The new material from “No Line On the Horizon” sounded great live. Songs I was unsure about on the album came to life on stage. The techno remix of “I’ll Go Crazy If I Don’t Go Crazy Tonight” was surprisingly good, superior to the album version, and reminded me of the U2 I knew on their 1997 PopMart tour. Prior to “No Line On The Horizon” Bono announced they were going to rock for a bit, and they did..for all of two songs.

Going from “Horizon” into “Elevation” got the crowd into it, but then all momentum of this rock train came to a halt when “In a Little While” was played. It’s a good song, a surprise from “All That You Can’t Leave Behind”, and it fit with the ‘rocket ship taking off in ‘Elevation’ and lyrically ended with ‘In A Little While’ but it ruined a great flow. Following that was “Unknown Caller” and I felt the energy get sucked right out the stadium. It may have been the encouraged sign along on the chorus to embarrassing lyrics but I got the impression that this song was not well received.

All Set The Claw Black Eyed Pees Claw at Night U2's Video Screen U2's Video Screen

I try not to complain too much about setlists, I know that U2 will never play “Exit” or jump into a 40 foot lemon and come out rocking “Discotheque” but at least understand the flow of your songs and how not to put the brakes on a fun moment. Fortunately Bono and Edge made their way to the rotating arms of the stage and rocked “Until The End of the World” super hard. It may have been the strobe light from the stage or the arms slowly approaching each other but this song was a definite highlight.

The laser suit Bono wore during “Ultarviolet” was excellent. I am so happy this song is in rotation on this tour, it was a standout performance against all other songs I have seen live. The snippet of “In God’s Country” and the complete “Unforgettable Fire” were other stand outs. Compared to the past tours I felt the intimacy was gone, but going from an arena of 18,000 to a stadium of 42,000 can do that. To their credit U2 still tried to play to all sides of the stage, however the front audience got the majority of the face time (and rightly so). It was a fantastic show and I am eagerly awaiting their June 2010 performance when I can finally stay within my area code to see them perform.

That was our trip to Vegas. We accumulated over 4,800KM’s in distance on this trip and are looking forward to returning and seeing more of the things we missed this time around. Feel free to see the rest of the photos in the Gallery here.

Tube Steak Challenge
Serendipity Hot DogI had a single hot dog in Vegas…but it was really big. I don’t know if this means I can count it as a single hot dog or two? Here is a photo of the hot dog and my hand as a reference. Part of me thinks it should count as one, but due to the size of the dog I can also see how it could count as two.

Drinks are larger in Vegas and you don’t say “it’s really like the size of three drinks”, you say it’s one and move on. Further to this, Jenna was unable to finish her hot dog so was that 1.5 or a solid 2? Thoughts?

Hot Dog Challenge - 17 or 18

Nose Bleed Count
Nose Bleed AnimationAt the beginning of October I began a new challenge: to see how many times a year I get a nose bleed. It started off with several nose bleeds in September but I wanted to know the exact count so October began and immediately I had a nose bleed. Suddenly an odd thing happened and I was retaining my blood for two weeks…then I went the dessert and averaged a bleed a day bringing my count up to six. I even had the dreaded, and impressive, ‘double barrel’ where each nostril was bleeding, this has only happened to me one other time in recent memory.

Upon returning from Vegas I received another nose bleed so as October comes to a close my Nose Bleed Count is at an unhealthy seven. Will my Nose Bleed Challenge out pace the Tube Steak Challenge?

My Big City Life

Las Vegas Skyline

Where has the time gone? It feels like we just unpacked our bags following our England/France trip and are now packing up again for Las Vegas. There was a month between arrival and departure times but since jet setting life isn’t one we are familiar with it feels like a quick turn around.

U2 Concert ClawWe are heading to Vegas for a few days to shop, see the sights, drink in public and end the trip with U2. We are going into the trip mostly unprepared. We have a few things we would like to see but are just going to see what happens and make it up as we go.

We will spend all of our time on or around the Strip. We figured there wouldn’t be enough time to see Hoover Dam, Mead Lake or the Grand Canyon, so those excursions will have to wait for our return trip; but first we have to survive our first trip there…

My Time Away From Frames

It has been over four months since my surgery, and yesterday I had my final appointment of 2009. I have not noticed any improvements or discomfort over the last few months, it has felt natural; almost like I never had glasses at all. I was seeing 20/20 in July, but I had to guess on some letters. Yesterday I was still rated at 20/20 and some of the letters did not seem as fuzzy before, or maybe I exaggerated how fuzzy they were originally; either way my score remained the same. I do wish my eye sight was a little stronger, but 20/20 is the optimum eye sight so I shouldn’t be too upset over being normal.

The doctor has recommended I stop taking Flarex as part of my daily regime as there was no scaring or haze on the eye. He did note that my pressure was high and told me that about 10% of patients who use Flarex have increased pressure in the eye because of it. When I go for my next appointment in six months my pressure will be re-evaluated then and we can see if not using Flarex helped, or if it was related to something else all together.

With a clean bill of sight I feel good about my decision. The weeks following the surgery were difficult, but not having to travel with glasses, contacts and appropriate solution is amazing and worth the frustration I had in June. If I play hockey I can just get my gear and go. I don’t have to plan my day around when I put contacts in or if they need to go through another round of solution to make sure they are sufficiently lubricated.

June 3, 2009 I am not sure what to do with my glasses. I have some frames I like a lot, but I will never wear them again. When I need to wear glasses again it would cost more to get the new prescription put into the frames than to order a new pair online, but throwing them out is like Kerry Weaver walking for the first time without her cane. I will think on this further and hold onto the frames…for now.

In the mean time, can Sean see yet? Yes!

My Marseille Middle

“I spent a week in Marseille one weekend.”

On September 11th we flew in Marseille with Ryanair and stayed for the weekend. One member of our foursome went home on Sunday night (13th) but the rest of us stayed another day and returned to England on Monday…and this was our trip, starting with some random thoughts:

  • The smell was bad at the best of times. People wouldn’t pick up after their dog, and it wouldn’t have surprised me if we stepped over human waste at time.
  • The wind would pick up litter from the streets or papers from the restaurants and blow them about.
  • All public toilets had no toilet seats or were broken.
  • Gypsies, lots of them.
  • The view was always worth stopping and giving a second look. Being on the Mediterranean certainly helped.
  • Being the oldest city, and second largest in France, gave Marseille a definite culture
  • An old city isn’t without its history and Marseille had plenty of that, even if we couldn’t fully read the ‘historical information’ signs posted around the city.
  • Not a fake city, it wasn’t trying to hide what it was
  • When you use the Marseille Underground Network the tickets are shot out after being validated. They would usually go half a foot in the air and get about a foot of distance This sort of tomfoolery would not stand in London when people are rushing you at the gates when you pull your ticket up. It was fun.
  • All the vehicles in Marseille have damage (photo link) on them, in one form or another. Parking is also a nightmare, I would be terrified to own a vehicle of any value here because there is little regard for others property.

Marseille was a fantastic way to break up our stay in England. The city was ripe with history (being the oldest city in France), had gorgeous sights being situated right on the Mediterranean and had plenty to occupy us in the immediate area. Unfortunately the city also had a definite and foul odour, was rampant with Gypsies and very dirty. There was always a wind from the Vieux-Port (Old Port) and napkins, wrappers and papers would litter the walking area. It is easy to talk down on the city, but we all had a fun time.

When we arrived Friday night I was overwhelmed with the language. I took French in Junior High and High School, but never fully committed to it and forgot anything worthwhile; so I was completely at the mercy of the broken French that Jenna and Matt knew. It was a very strange experience to be overwhelmed with another language, something that never quite happened on our trips to Cuba or Mexico.

Our first full day in Marseille started early with cafe (photo link) and bread. It was not a filling breakfast, but it was a start. We purchased a City Pass from the Marseille Tourism office, and it was the best money we spent on the trip. This book allowed us free admission into almost every attraction we saw, covered our transportation for two days and even allowed us to try free samples from local businesses.

Notre-Dame de la Garde above Marseille Carousel in Marseille Clouds over a building, Marseille Streets in Marseille War Memorial, Marseille

We began the tour of Marseille by going up to Notre-Dame de la Garde. Notre-Dame is visible from anywhere in Marseille, and the views from the top were amazing. You really got a sense of how large Marseille was, and how very little we would explore in our weekend there. Like all Chapels we saw, the interior was immaculate and impressive.

View from Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille Tourist at Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille Interior at Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille Interior at Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille Interior at Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille Viewing Column at Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille

Later in the day we took a boat ride (photo link) to Chateau d’If. The Chateau was originally a fortress and with the views it had out into the water, it is easy to see why (photo link). You could look back and see all of Marseille. Even the Notre-Dame seemed small against the skyline. We heard conflicting reports that the trip to the Chateau wasn’t worth it, but we had to disagree because it was enjoyed by all of us.

Chateau d'If, Marseille Chateau d'If, Marseille Lonely chair at Chateau d'If, Marseille Inside a cell at Chateau d'If, Marseille View of Notre Dame de la Garde from Chateau d'If, Marseille Education Session at Chateau d'If, Marseille

Marseille - Chateau d'If (Pano-Autostitch)

After Chateau d’If we continued the boat ride to Îsles du Frioul. The area we got off at was simple enough, but when we walked away from the cafe’s we were in the Calanque de Morgeret (photo link). It was an amazing sight. This little inlet of beach had boats out in the water, the new foreign terrain as it dipped into the Mediterranean. It was something we had only seen on postcards and we were here. After doing some sight seeing we all put our feet (photo link) in the water. The significance of doing it was greater than the enjoyment of doing so as the rocks in the water were pretty hard and made it uncomfortable to stand, but we can say we did it.

Marseille - Isle Fruele (Pano-Autostitch)

After a day of disappointing food we referred to the travel book to see what local restaurants it recommended and we pointed ourselves in the direction of La Port Des Anges. This was the French experience we were all looking for. It may have been the atmosphere but this was one of the best meals we ever had. Ordering from a menu written on a small chalkboard our waiter was patient when we attempted French, but was also able to speak partial English. After we made our meal selection he picked a bottle of wine from a local vineyard that would be appropriate for all of our entrées.

The perfect storm of senses was brewing and it was amazing. We were surrounded in a foreign world, eating great food, sharing a bottle of fantastic wine; the whole experience was intoxicating. Our two hour stay included another bottle of wine and for dessert we had cheese, as selected by Heather. At first the cheese was an unusual meal closer, but when the cheese was mixed with a little bit of jam and honey it was the perfect end to a great meal.

La Cure Gourmande (biscuit factory) in Marseille. La Cure Gourmande (biscuit factory) in Marseille. Chateau d'If and Notre-Dame de la Garde, Marseille Sunset over Old Port Sunset in Marsille

Sunday started off with more cafe and our first significant encounter with being exploited as tourists. Our simple crepe (photo link) and coffee breakfast was horribly expensive. It is possible that we really did eat 44€ worth of food, but it is easier to assume our neglectful and poor service providing waiter made the number up on the spot. This breakfast was also marred with a verbal exchange between Matt and a Gypsy…which was more the Gypsy talking to Matt. We think that she cast a curse on us, and the first indication of the curse was the expensive breakfast.

Undeterred by the Gypsy Curse we headed off into the city, ventured onto public transportation (photo link) and headed towards Palais Longchamp. This tribute to water came out of nowhere. We were walking down a plain enough looking area and as we turned a corner this large and impressive structure was before us. Even after Notre-Dame de la Garde and Chateau d’If, Marseille still had a few architectural surprises for us. It is tough to say what the highlight was from this weekend in France, but it can’t go without mentioning Palais Longchamp.

Palais Longchamp, Marseille, France Palais Longchamp, Marseille, France Palais Longchamp, Marseille, France Palais Longchamp, Marseille, France Palais Longchamp, Marseille, France

After walking around the structure and going into the Natural History Museum we skirted across the road and went into Musée Grobet-Labadié. This was a house (photo link) full of doinks, but really expensive (photo link) and old doinks. I didn’t know what I was getting into at the Musée, so most of their collections were given a casual glance from me, but it was an interesting stop in our day.

The surprises continued as we worked our way through the city to Cathédrale de la Major. Perhaps it was the dirty back road way we took to the Cathedral, but when we arrived we were impressed. I can’t say what it was that made this place stand out, perhaps it was the cardboard like appearance, open interior or simplistic decoration but I liked it. After seeing Notre-Dame de la Garde, Kings College, St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey Cathedrals it is something that another Cathedral can still make me stand back and go ‘whoa’.

Our last night in Marseille had a giant bucket of mussels (photo link) and drinking many pints at an outdoor bar. Being surrounded by locals added to this experience as we ordered drink after drink. Even the homeless person sleeping on the cement meters away or the mysterious increase cost on our final round of drinks could not taint our final night send off to Marseille.

Cathédrale de la Major, Marseille, France Cathédrale de la Major, Marseille, France Cathédrale de la Major, Marseille, France Cathédrale de la Major, Marseille, France Cathdrale de la Major, Marseille, France Cathdrale de la Major, Marseille, France Cathédrale de la Major, Marseille, France Cathédrale de la Major, Marseille, France

Our final day in Marseille was one that went on for too long. Our flight was leaving at night, but we had to check out of the hotel at noon and we had the burden of carrying our carry-on with us for the remainder of the day. To get a load off our back, and feet, we booked a Calanque Tour (map of Calanques and we went from Les Goudes to Cassis). Marseille may have been tainted a bit by the dirt, smell and general “I would like to be back home”, but getting on the Mediterranean and seeing these beautiful inlets changed our minds easily.

After being on the land side of a Calanque (from Saturday afternoon when we put our feet in the water at Calanque de Morgeret) these inlets were just as amazing from the water. Several times we wanted the boat to stop and allow us to explore, but I think it’s best they kept us on the boat because not everyone would have been so eager to return.

Calanques in Marseille Calanques in Marseille Calanques in Marseille Calanques in Marseille Calanques in Marseille Calanques in Marseille

Between this and the two London (1, 2) posts that concludes our impromptu, and amazing, trip overseas.