Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada in Toronto

Family from the US were visiting recently and we all went to Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada in Toronto for the first time. Ripley’s Aquarium opened in the fall of 2013, right next to the legendary CN Tower in the heart of the city. To further commemorate Canada’s 150th birthday festivities, I’d like to show you Dear Readers another great tourist spot in my home, Toronto.

Upon entering Ripley’s Aquarium, visitors can look down onto the Discovery Centre and observe the throngs of people from on high.

Venturing past the hordes of day camp kiddos, you’ll head towards the Canadian Waters and Kelp Forest exhibits as you walk deeper underground.

 

Rainbow Reef is a cool little nook on the way to the Shark Reef and other big sea nasties.

After all the small shiny fish and exotic coral reef creatures, enter the tunnel of the Dangerous Lagoon. You’ll see all kinds of big fish on your walk under the glass lagoon floor.

Sawfish, or carpenter sharks.

Sea turtle!

Shark meets stingray.

If you’ve made it out of the Dangerous Lagoon without a panic attack, good job! What fun. Calm your nerves at the cafe, then stroll through the last area, just past the Discovery Centre. You’ll see jellyfish, stingrays, seahorses and ton of other smaller fish.

Lionfish!

Seahorses chillin’ in a row.

Jellyfish!

Australian Spotted Jellyfish.

Getting cozy with a Horseshoe Crab in the Discovery Zone.

It was a rainy weekday when we visited and it was pretty packed with day camp trips and young families. Despite the crowds, we navigated both levels of the aquarium in about 2 hours. By the time we were finished, the rain was gone and we had the rest of the afternoon to visit the Toronto Railway Museum across the street (well, the free stuff you can see outside that is).

Adult admission is $33 CAD for an “express anytime” ticket which allows you to enter at any time during operating hours, or $30 CAD for a “timed” ticket which requires you to choose an hour and arrive within that hour. There is also the option of getting the CN Tower/Aquarium combo ticket which gets you into both with a total savings of $10.

Korean lunch with the gang.

If you have more time in the city, I highly recommend the Toronto CityPASS. It gets you into 5 places for $86 (adult) and is good for nine days after your first day of use. Places include Casa Loma, The Royal Ontario Museum, the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and your choice of the Science Centre or the Metro Toronto Zoo. It’s a sweet deal! Get more CityPASS info here and see what awesomeness Toronto has to offer.

So if you’re looking for something to do this summer and want to opt out of the heat and/or rain, check out this underwater adventure and have fun!

Toronto’s Castle

Canada just turned 150 on July 1st!

In celebration of Canada’s birthday month, I’d like to share a local hot spot that’s close to my heart. My absolute favourite sight to see in Toronto is Casa Loma. Not far from St. Clair West station, Toronto’s one and only castle was a place I visited often with my Mother as a child. As an adult I ended up living in the neighbourhood and took many a friend and family member when asked what to do in town.

Casa Loma (Spanish for “house on the hill”) is an homage to love, as one man built this palace for the lady who held his heart. Henry Pellatt was born in Kingston, Ontario to British parents in 1859. He left Upper Canada College at 17 to work in the family business. By 23, he was a full partner in his father’s stock brokerage firm and also married his love, Mary Dodgson, that same year.

At 24 in 1883, Henry founded the Toronto Electric Light Company soon after Thomas Edison showed the world steam-generated electricity. By the time he was 30, Toronto Electric owned the entire supply of street lighting in Toronto. By 1901 at age 42, Sir Henry had sharpened his business acumen and become chairman of a whopping 21 companies related to mining, insurance, land and electricity.

Toronto Electric Light Co. Photo courtesy of blogTO and the City of Toronto archives.

Clearly, Pellatt did well for himself. At age 52 in 1911, loaded with $17 million, Pellatt finally launched plans with Canadian architect E.J. Lennox to start the creation of the castle he’d always wanted to give his wife. 

Lady Pellatt’s suite, second floor.

Lady Pellatt’s suite. Photo courtesy of casaloma.ca and Liberty Entertainment Group.

Casa Loma took three years and $3.5 million to build. Sir Henry’s business and military connections made grand entertaining a necessary event at the castle and in the height of their affluence, Lady Pellatt spent much of her time managing their social calendar.

The Conservatory’s marble floor.

The Conservatory roof, found on the main floor.

One of many guest suites, found on the second floor.

Both Henry and Mary were heavily involved with the community and did a lot of philanthropic work. Sir Henry was involved with Trinity College and very supportive of Grace Hospital while Lady Mary actively promoted the Girl Guides of Canada. She was appointed the first Commissioner of the Girl Guides of Canada and in 1919 was honoured with the Girl Guides highest award, the Silver Fish, for her dedication to the group.

Another passion of Henry’s was the Queen’s Own Rifles, where he earned the rank of Major General in the infantry regiment of the Canadian Forces Reserve. He was actually knighted in 1905 for his military service with the Queen’s Own Rifles and parts of the castle are still dedicated to the regiment today.

As fate would have it, Sir Henry wouldn’t have his castle on the hill for long. The family brokerage firm sunk into debt trying to finance the growth of the grounds. His other main source of income, his monopoly over electric power, ended when the government allowed public ownership of electricity.

Sir Henry’s Suite, second floor.

My cousin Ashley, in Sir Henry’s bathroom.

Regardless of his business savvy, Sir Henry underestimated the impact of World War I.  The post-war economy sent his firm into bankruptcy. After 10 years of high life in the castle, the Pellatts moved out and into their farmhouse in King township in 1924. Sadly, Lady Pellatt’s poor health got the best of her and she passed away later that year at the age of 67.

Sir Henry and Lady Mary Pellatt, 1910. Photo courtesy of the City of Toronto Archives.

There were a lot of suggestions as to what to do with the grounds after they left. Ideas included a luxury hotel, a high school, a museum, an art gallery and a veteran’s rehabilitation home. Ultimately in 1933 the City of Toronto took ownership for the $27,303.45 owed in back taxes. From there the city began restoring and completing the work Sir Henry had begun 20 years earlier.

Sir Henry Pellatt died 15 years after Lady Mary in 1939, buried with full military honours.

Today, you can walk the grounds inside and out, exploring the wine cellar, the swimming pool and the terrace for a start. There are towers, tunnels, secret stairways and beautiful rooms on every floor. A true modern day walk through the past, I highly recommend a visit to Casa Loma the next time you’re planning a trip to Toronto.

Adult admission is $27, senior $22 and children (4-13) $17 (kids under 3 are free). I suggest looking into the Toronto CityPASS (click here for more info). The CityPASS gets you into 5 places for $86 (adult) and is good for nine days after your first day of use. Places include Casa Loma, The Royal Ontario Museum, the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and your choice of the Science Centre or the Metro Toronto Zoo. It’s a sweet deal!

Looking for more fun in Toronto? Check out my last article on the CN Tower here.

From the Top of the Six

This year Canada celebrates its 150th birthday as a nation. To add to the excitement, the city of Toronto just turned 183 on March 6th. In celebration, it’s high time I told you about the time my American friend Jennifer came to visit on her way back from Dubai. Last July we got together for one day of tourism and one night of Caesars and poutine. With limited time to show her the best of Toronto, the CN Tower was a natural choice.

From Korea to Toronto – Reunited!

The CN Tower has been Toronto’s (and Ontario’s) pride for decades. It was the tallest free-standing structure in the world from 1975 until 2010 (at 553 m/1,815 ft) when Dubai took the title with the beautiful Burj Khalifa (at 828 m/2,717 ft) in the UAE.

The CN Tower in Toronto.

The Burj Khalifa in Dubai, UAE.

Despite the loss of title in the Guinness Book of World Records, the CN Tower is and always will be an amazing sight to see. It’s a landmark, a cultural icon and an inspiration for innovation. 

Step 1: Get Your Tickets

First things first: You will need to decide how high you want to go in altitude and price. There are three levels of observation inside the tower: The Look Out, the Glass Floor and the Sky Pod.

General admission for adults (13-64) is $35 CAD, which will give you access to both the Look Out and the Glass Floor views. General admission for adults with the Sky Pod view added (the highest observation point) is $47 CAD, but for a better value I highly suggest looking into the Toronto CityPASS (click here for more info). The CityPASS gets you into 5 places for $86 (adult) and is good for nine days after your first day of use. Places include Casa Loma, The Royal Ontario Museum, the CN Tower, Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada and your choice of the Science Centre or the Metro Toronto Zoo. It’s a sweet deal!

If you’re feeling like Action Jackson, there is also a new feature at the CN Tower called the Edge Walk where you can walk across the ledge – hands-free – of the towers main pod. It’s a hefty $225 CAD for adults 13 and over but it’s the first of its kind in North America and quite historic for the city.

The Edge Walk, photo courtesy of cntower.ca.

Step 2: Up You Go

Once inside, you’ll need to wind your way through the line until you reach the elevators. The elevator is really half the fun of going to the tower in my opinion. The legendary elevator will shoot you up 33 floors in 58 seconds with glass plated fronts to showcase the city below. Your ears may pop and you may feel wobbly when you get to the Look Out, but it will be worth it. You’ll be let out at the first observation level, the Look Out, which is a large enclosed circular terrace wrapped in glass windows for your viewing pleasure. The following pictures were taken from the Look Out (as a storm moved in).

Step 3: The Glass Floor, If You Dare

You can stand on a glass floor way up in the sky. Enough said. If you have the nerve to do it, you deserve a drink, or at least a high-five.

Jennifer bravely stands among the clouds.

This guy was killing it!

The glass floor looks down onto Toronto’s baseball stadium the SkyDome, home of the Toronto Blue Jays and recently renamed the Rogers Centre (nobody calls it that).

Step 4: Sky Pod

Jennifer and I didn’t do the Sky Pod, which is the highest point of observation in the tower. Below is a reference photo from cntower.ca just to show you how much higher up the view would be if you bought the extra admission.

The Sky Pod observation deck, above the Look Out.

Once you’re finished your photo shoot of the city from the sky, line up for your turn back down to ground level. As an aside, take comfort knowing there is a staircase, in the event that you found the elevator too much for your heart rate. If you feel the need to walk back down instead of taking the elevator, just let the staff know and I’m sure they’ll help you out.

Bronzed hecklers outside the SkyDome walls.

We came down just in time to skirt the brewing storm.

I”l be covering more of the Toronto’s best over the next few months so stay tuned. For more information on the CN Tower, visit the website here. The CN Tower is open every day except Christmas, with hours of 9am until 10:30pm daily.

Is there anything about Toronto you’d like to see me write about? Please let me know in the comment section below! Until next time, be well Dear Readers.

The North Korean Border Revisited

Greetings and happy fall to all!

My good friend and co-founder of the The Weekly Wanderer, Phill Feltham, has been revamping some of our best articles from back in the day when we ran the internet. The link below recounts my 2006 adventure into the demilitarized zone – the border dividing the north from the south in Korea. It was tense but I felt fortunate to be there witnessing history in the flesh. Check out the article and have a great weekend everyone!

Dare to Travel the North Korea Border

Bringing Your Cats and Dogs to Korea

Are you thinking of heading to South Korea with your fur ball?

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Regulations change from time to time and also differ country to country so be sure to do your due diligence at least 6 months before you plan to leave. I didn’t check the regulations often enough, missed a new regulation for entrance to South Korea and had to leave my cat behind. Thankfully I had an amazing friend who took her in for 3 years but not everyone is so fortunate. It was one of the hardest good-byes I’ve ever had to say, but now that I’m home and back with my little one, let’s discuss how you can avoid my mistakes.

Dropping Ali off in 2013.

Taking Ali to her temporary home in 2013.

Avoid quarantine (or sending your pet home) by following these guidelines:

New Kittens and Puppies Need:

Cats and dogs less than 3 months old OR originating from rabies-free countries don’t need rabies shots, but they must be microchipped. You must also provide a health certificate from your vet that states the animal’s microchip number. To see if your country is considered rabies-free, click here to see the list.

This Sasquatch is not a kitten.

This Sasquatch is not a kitten.

Cats or Dogs Older Than 90 Days (and Not from a Rabies-Free Country) Need:

1) A microchip implant. Please note that the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency of Korea (QIA) states that microchips must be ISO-compliant (ISO11784 and 11785 standards). For any other chips, owners must bring their own microchip scanner. If your pet is already chipped and you’re not sure of the brand, a quick call to your vet or adoption clinic should get you some answers.

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2) Rabies shots which can be done up to 24 months prior to leaving your country according to QIA but only up to 12 months prior to leaving according to pettravel.com. If you’re not sure when your pet last got shots, call your vet to find out.

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3) Health certificate from your veterinarian. The health certificate must state the results of the rabies-neutralizing antibody test or your pet may need to get the shot again and be held in quarantine while the results are pending – on your dime. It must also have the microchip number on the form and that number must match the scanning results of your animal. If those numbers don’t match, re-chipping may happen and again, on your dime. Some countries have official government health forms (for example in Canada it’s called a CFIA International Health Certificate) so ask your vet.

*If you are transporting 5 or more animals, you’ll need an additional import permit.

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4) Blood Titer Test which takes 30 days for results. This is the newer regulation that snuck up on me when I was about to leave in 2013. You can have the blood titer test done anytime from 30 days to 2 years before leaving your country.

titer

This information has been collected for you from Pettravel.com and the Animal and Plant Quarantine Agency of Korea (QIA). I noticed some discrepancies between the QIA site and Pettravel.com so I suggest to take both into consideration and use your best judgement. Considering the QIA site hasn’t been updated since late 2012 and Pet Travel has been updated in 2016, it seems Pet Travel is more reliable. Don’t forget to check up on these sites every so often to make sure no guidelines have changed. For info on other pets not cats or dogs, visit Pet Travel here for more guidance.

I hope this helps! Happy trails to you and your four-legged friends :)

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Safely back with mom.

Things I’ve Missed: Home and Abroad

What a crazy few months it’s been! I left Korea at the end of February, traveled in the United States for a while (Texas and Luisiana), then finally returned to Canada. After 3 years away, I spent most of April visiting friends and family around Ontario and eating everything I had been craving over the last 3 years. Poutine! Ketchup chips! Maple everything! Then along came May and I was off to Toronto to settle in.

Now that I’m back and getting in the groove, I’ve had time to reflect on some things I’ve missed in Toronto (and Canada overall) and some things I miss from Korea now that I’m back. I tried to think outside of the usual “missed my friends/family” content because it’s predictable and obvious. My top 5, hopefully will not be.

5 Things I’ve Missed In Canada:

1. Peter Mansbridge.

PeterMansbridge

I guess you could say I’ve missed North American TV in general. Although I don’t watch much TV, I did miss the option of having background noise in a language I understand. I’ve missed the evening news, CP24 (local news), and yes, my dear Peter Mansbridge who hosts the National on CBC. There’s something comforting about Mr. Mansbridge; I can’t say why he’s my favourite news anchor, he just is.

2. The abundance of Indian and Japanese food.

indian sushi

Overall I really missed the easy access to foods from all cultures in Toronto. The 6ix has everything from Greek food to Jamaican food and I’ve missed every single one of them being in my belly. Delivery was never a skill I mastered in South Korea so I’ve missed that luxury as well. My first choice for other countries’ foods (other than Korean of course ^_^) are Indian and Japanese so you can imagine how much dal, saag, samosa, roti and sushi I’ve shoved down my throat since I got back!

3. Caesars! (The drink – not the salad – don’t waste my time).

caesar

Caesars are quite possibly the best alcoholic drink in the universe and also quite possibly the most Canadian drink you could order (aside from a beer). It’s made with Clamato juice (a more watery tomato juice infused with clams-sound worse than it is), vodka, worcestershire sauce, a dash of salt and pepper, splash of hot sauce, a celery salted rim and topped with crisp celery, a lime and if you’re lucky, a dill pickle too. Enough said. You’re welcome.

4. Bath & Body Works.

band b

For ladies as much as men, expats tend to miss common products from back home like a favourite toothpaste, skin cream or make up brand. Although there are plenty of nice smelling lotions and body washes available in South Korea, it wasn’t Bath & Body Works and so I missed it horribly. I managed to buy my favourite B&BW perfume on eBay when I ran out, but it’s nice to walk by a shop and know it’s there should you need it.

5. The Village!

Toronto-pride

I absolutely love and missed hanging out in the Village, a gay-friendly neighbourhood in Toronto (Church and Wellesley) where most venues cater to the LGBT community. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you Dear Readers but in case you didn’t know, you don’t have to be gay or lesbian or bi or anything to enjoy the Village. It’s a lovely community open to all walks of life so come as you are and enjoy. It’s a place I end up more often than not when I’m out for the night and it’s always a good time. As a woman I feel safe there, surrounded by positivity and good people who just want a good drag show on a Friday night. I mean, who doesn’t? The atmosphere is fun and handsome men are everywhere. It’s a win-win situation for me :)

5 Things I Miss From South Korea:

1. Daiso.

daiso

I’m sure I’ve talked about Daiso in previous articles. I was way too excited when my little town got a Daiso (as was the whole town I’m sure) and this is because it’s the best dollar store in the world (sorry Dollarama!). It’s a high-end dollar store based out of Japan and the items they have are surprisingly high quality (for a dollar store). I’ve become accustomed to it so much that I often feel a pang of longing every time I go into a Dollarama now. Who knew.

2.  Seoul Metro subway system.

seoul_subway

I’ll take the jab-you-in-the-spine-with-their-elbows-if-you-don’t-get-outta-my-way grandmas and the ass-grabbing pervy old men any day! I miss the Seoul metro every time I get on the TTC in Toronto. The Toronto subway system is extremely limited in regards to area covered and although they are working to improve this, it’s decades away from meeting international standards. I’m too ashamed to even show you a picture. Sigh…Ok fine, here it is:

ttc

3. Having an extra 12 hours to remember people’s birthdays.

clock

Ok I’ll admit, I’m horrible at remembering birthdays and anniversaries. One of the perks of finally subscribing to Facebook is that it tells you that stuff! Being overseas gave me a 12-13 hour head-start on remembering important dates. Many times I have jumped up with a start, remembering someone’s birthday a day later. But, wait! Asah! It’s still yesterday in Canada! Score. I was in the clear for years. Now that I’m back, I’m done for.

4. Being kind of a big deal around town.

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In my little town of Deokso there weren’t many foreigners and even fewer who stuck around for more than a year. I was one of the few who did stay for years so I became well-known at the local markets and restaurants. Between local merchants, my martial arts club, my students (over 700) and their parents, I was ALWAYS seeing people I knew in town. On one hand I felt like I always had to be in teacher mode but on the other hand it was kinda nice. It was comforting to exchange pleasantries around town because it reminded me of Canadian kindness. Especially in a country like Korea where they often remind you over and over that you’re a foreigner, it’s nice to feel accepted in the community.

5. 7-11, CU and all other convenience stores.

korean 711cc

Anytime you need something, these stores are there for you. A toothbrush, some rice for dinner, juice, soju, tissues, they have you covered. The best part is, the prices are reasonable! They never close, they’re everywhere and they don’t gouge the consumer for the “cost of convenience” like they do in North America. It may be a few hundred won (cents) difference than regularly priced, but overall fair. It’s the little things that count! I also miss how these little shops often have plastic tables and chairs outside where you can have your drink and snack with a friend while people-watching. It’s a cheap way to kill time and a fun way to get to know the folks in your town.

To check out my article Thoughts On Leaving, click here to see the difference from last fall to now! I wrote Thoughts On Leaving last October and it’s interesting to see what I would add or take away from the list today. Until next time Dear Readers, be well and stay hydrated!

Voodoo in New Orleans

What do you think of when you hear the word voodoo? Black magic? Zombies? Curses? You wouldn’t be alone in your thinking if those words popped into your head, but you also wouldn’t be entirely correct. Don’t beat yourself up! It’s ok. Hollywood has given voodoo a tainted image over the years but I’m here to shed some light and show you that voodoo is not so dark. I had the chance to visit the New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum and as my last instalment of the KIK New Orleans Chronicles I’d like to share my experience with you.

entrance-to-the-voodoo

The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum stands as an archive for the history of voodoo culture in Louisiana. Originally, voodoo practice traveled to Louisiana from West Africa in 1719 with the first African slaves. Voodoo is part of a larger group of practices, collectively called African Traditional Religion. It focuses mainly on spirits; spirits in general, ancestral spirits and God. Their voodoo chiefs, priests and priestesses can access these spirits through ritual, music and often dance. I won’t get too into it, but basically they seek guidance and leave offerings to entice the spirits to act in their favour and help from beyond the grave.

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A painting of a ritual to entice the spirits by dancing with a snake.

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This Historic Voodoo Museum consists of three main rooms; The history hallway, the gris-gris room and the altar room. History hallway leads you into the two main rooms with an array of news articles and press clippings regarding voodoo leaders in the community. Marie Laveau is the most well-known voodoo priestesses in New Orleans so many clippings are about her. Marie Laveau was born in 1801 as a free woman of colour. She had a salon in town and became known as a savvy business woman as well as a skilled healer, especially regarding matters of the heart.

The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau.

The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau.

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History hallway.

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Coin offerings sit around this painted tree stump.

In the gris-gris room you can see the offerings that people have left for Marie and other spirits and saints they have called upon for help. A gris-gris is an amulet or talisman given to the client by the voodoo priest or priestess. It is the object that holds the supernatural power, such as a little pouch, bag, necklace or a small doll. It should be noted that voodoo is rarely used for evil. This is where the entertainment industry leads us astray. The most basic and widely used voodoo practices are for the purpose of: 1) love and romance 2) power and domination 3) fortune and luck. There aren’t many real voodoo priests or priestesses who would agree to doing dirty work for the dark side.

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A voodoo ritual of dancing with a snake.

Offerings left to Mami Waters, called upon for peace, love, protection of the home and of mothers and children.

Offerings left to Mami Waters (Mami Wata), a goddess called upon for protection of the home and of mothers and children.

The altar room is the most impressive of all. Here you can see real altars and more offerings from people asking spirits to lend a hand. You can see some Catholic influence here and many spirits called upon for intervention are actually Catholic saints who have melded into voodoo practice over time.

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The museum is located in the French Quarter and is all indoors. If nothing else, this tour was educational and great food for thought. We were free to walk around the rooms as we pleased and any questions we had were answered without judgement. The two employees I met were incredibly knowledgeable. Both practice and teach voodoo and also host voodoo ritual tours of the Quarter. I really enjoyed my conversation with the staff here and felt welcome even though our purpose of visit was mere curiousity. The New Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum is open 10-6 daily and admission is $7 USD. Depending on how much you want to read, the tour can take up to 45 minutes to absorb.

With that, we leave New Orleans – a city filled with history, resilience, power and strength. I’ll never forget this place.

Mardi Gras World

People talk about Mardi Gras in New Orleans like going to Las Vegas. It’s a once in a lifetime experience, a non-stop party in the streets with music, costumes, masks and beads. For me, I always imagined Mardi Gras to be something like Woodstock 1969 meets Ringling Brothers Circus with a bit of St. Patrick’s Day all rolled into one.

HippieBus circus2st-patricks

Although Mardi Gras has kept headquarters in Louisiana since 1875, the tradition of Mardi Gras has roots that go back to medieval Europe (mainly Rome and France). The term, “mardi gras,” is French for Fat Tuesday, a Christian festival-type day of revelry. Fat Tuesday is the last day to feast and indulge for Christians, before beginning the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday.

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Today’s Mardi Gras festivities are a lot different from what they used to be in medieval times but change is good! Nowadays in New Orleans, Mardi Gras is preceded by 12 days of pre-celebration with 12 days of parades which means 12 days of completely different floats! With that many parades on order, you can imagine how busy a float building workshop like Mardi Gras World might be.

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Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World is responsible for the largest float parades in New Orleans. Mardi Gras World designs and builds floats for events in cities across America and it’s still being run by the Kerns three generations later. Blaine Kern himself was a float designer and builder. He built his first parade in 1932 and opened the museum fifteen years later in 1947. Now, almost 70 years later, people can still enjoy the Mardi Gras World museum and see the making of the Mardi Gras floats.

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The first stop on the walking tour is the workshop where the staff build the props and figures that will be mounted on the floats. You can see how they create shapes out of glued layers of styrofoam, some fine trimming and paper mache.

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Once the props and characters are carved and coated, they are relocated to the colour department where the figures really come to life!

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After that we walked out to the main storage area where all the figures, props and complete floats can rest safely. Below are some of the finished figures.

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The finished floats were absolutely stunning with such vivid colours and intricate designs. They were so huge it was impossible to get the entire float into one shot. Below are two of my favourites.

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Hades, the keeper of the underworld.

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Hades float from behind.

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Coraline float from the front.

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Coraline float from behind.

Once our guide was finished his tour, we were free to roam the warehouse and take pictures as we wished. The tour took about an hour to complete and it’s all indoors so write this one down for a rainy day activity. At first glance an attraction like this may seem odd but if you like “how it’s made” shows, I think you’d like the tour. Admission is $19.95 for adults but you can get $2 off in the magazine I mentioned in my article Cities of the Dead Part 1 . Click here to get your free New Orleans official visitors guide book and check the back for tons of coupons for most main attractions and restaurants.

Cities of the Dead Part 2: Lafayette Cemetery

The second of this two-part series takes us to one of the oldest cemeteries in New Orleans. Built in 1833, Lafayette Cemetery doesn’t have the “tour-guide escort only” policy, although the church is working towards changing that. This cemetery held many beautiful monuments to the dead and looked to be less vandalized than St. Louis Cemetery Number 1. (To see pics from last week’s story on St. Louis Number 1, click here.) I suspect Lafayette has been left alone due to the fact that there is no one particularly famous buried there, however pedestrian traffic is still taking its toll on the grounds.

We took the streetcar over and enjoyed the sunny streets with trees and phone poles draped in colourful Mardi Gras beads.

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Upon arrival we had free reign to explore as we wished and so we did. I’ll let the pictures walk you through.

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Right across the street from Lafayette Cemetery is a restaurant called the Commander’s Palace. We were intrigued by the teal and white striped awnings and went over to check it out. We discovered the structure was built in 1880 by Emile Commander for his daughter. No one seems quite sure what the building hosted for its first 3 years but as of 1883 it was officially an upscale creole restaurant. Some say it was always a restaurant, while others say it may have been a brothel during those first murky years.

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However it came to be a place of nourishment, it remains an absolutely stunning place to enjoy fresh seafood and fine dining. A note to travelers, casual clothing is acceptable for lunch but dinner service prohibits jeans and t-shirt attire. Entrance to Lafayette Cemetery is free but if you dine at the Commander’s Palace prepare to drop some dollars.

Next week we’ll visit another slice of New Orleans and this time I promise to take you somewhere with a pulse. Until next time, be well Dear Readers.

Cities of the Dead Part 1: St.Louis Cemetery Number 1

While in New Orleans, my friend and I got wind of a tour company that delves into the dark side of the city, called Haunted History Tours. We signed up for an afternoon tour of St. Louis Cemetery Number 1 and later that night, another tour about French Quarter ghosts and legends. Both tours were awesome and well worth the $25 (USD) but I’m going to tell you about St. Louis Cemetery Number 1. New Orleans is unique when it comes to their dead. New Orleans’ cemeteries have been called the “cities of the dead,” a name given by travelers who said the above-ground tombs in the graveyards look like little cities for the dead from afar.

Our tour guide, Trevor.

Our tour guide, Trevor.

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Their cemeteries are designed with above-ground tombs and mausoleums due to heavy rains and a high water table in the region. If their loved ones were buried six feet under like other cemeteries, remains of the deceased would eventually float to street level in extreme weather. As a solution the people of New Orleans implemented above-ground tomb designs to help keep their loved ones where they were laid to rest.

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St. Luis Cemetery Number 1 is only accessible through a guided tour led by a certified cemetery guide. The reason you can’t go solo to St. Luis is due to past bad behaviour from visitors. Much of the vandalism happened around the assumed burial place of a renowned voodoo priestess. Her name was Marie Laveau and she was the spiritual mother of New Orleans in her time.

The tomb of Marie Laveau.

The tomb of Marie Laveau.

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Somehow a legend got started after her death in 1881 that if one went to her tomb in search of a favour and got it, 3 x’s were to be written on her tomb in thanks. This has led to a growing number of defaced tombs: hers and the others nearby as well. Higher-ups in the church wanted to ban all visitors to St. Luis unless they could prove they had a relative buried inside. The tourist industry folks were against that so as a compromise, only guided tours allowed and guides pay an annual fee to the church that goes towards cemetery clean-up.

A guard makes sure no-one enters without a proper guide.

A guard makes sure no-one enters without a proper guide.

Behold, for we also saw the pre-paid tomb of actor Nicolas Cage. Apparently, he purchased this item while in the midst of filming National Treasure (2004).

Nicolas Cage's tomb.

Nicolas Cage’s tomb.

I highly recommend getting a tour (or 2) with the Haunted History Tour company. It’s run by locals who are deeply passionate and well-versed in the history of their city and state. Both of my guides (Travis for the cemetery and Wendy for the ghosts and legends) were great story tellers and had the whole group engaged. To check out more about Haunted History Tours, click here.

To request a free copy of the New Orleans Official Visitors Guide magazine with coupons for this tour ($3 off) and others inside, click here.