There I found myself, typing away at our gigantic rented house in Orlando, toying with difficult choices such as another dip in the pool, lunch in the spacious kitchen, or possibly, and most likely, a nap. The gated community of Windsor Hills was where myself and twelve family members from Laynni’s side (affectionately known as the Dirty PA Dozen, starring us as The Part-Timers and Lyle and Nadine, who you may remember from such disjointed blog entries as Following my In-Laws Around Morocco and Coffee Obsession: Gozo Style) were partaking of the wonders of Disney World, delights of Universal Studios and numbing humidity of Central Florida. Of course, I wasn’t typing this, I was actually typing about Ireland because, you know, I’m never actually anywhere near the place I’m writing about by the time I get around to doing it. Chalk it up to taking time to let the memories settle before making impulsive judgements, or procrasturbation.
Working up the requisite enthusiasm for The Happiest Place on Earth™ was slightly more difficult for Laynni and I, having only just returned to Canada 3 days prior after 4 straight months abroad (and 8 of the last nine). Of course, it would have taken a coked up monkey loose in Sobey’s to match the excitement level of the various Dupres and Poulins that had been counting down the days until this monumental occasion throughout the long, depressingly snowy, months previous. We came around, though, despite the absurdly early flight (although it was nice to be back in a variety of airports again, it having been almost 65 hours since our last and all), basically at about the time we finally found ourselves cruising down the clean, efficient Floridian interstate system surrounded by lush greenery and ensconced in a pleasing cocoon of heat and humidity. Considerable amounts of time spent in either Saskatchewan or Ireland will do that to a person.
Not long after, we found ourselves gazing in wonder at our home for the foreseeable future – a beautiful 6 bedroom house with a huge kitchen, a game room, a backyard pool and an innovatively odd bench seat/garbage receptacle combo. Even the disconcertingly Truman Show feel of the area, with its neatly matching houses, improbably immaculate lawns, carefully screened-in backyards, and dozens of matching sets of rental minivans poised in the standard two-van driveways eagerly awaiting their next foray into the Magic Kingdom couldn’t dull our enthusiasm.
Of course, despite these impressive surroundings, literally minutes later Gordie (bro-in-law, charismatic charmer of fish), Andrew (nephew-in-law, affable collector of human blood) and I were back on the road on our way to St. Petersburg, home of the Tampa Bay Rays and only an hour and a half drive from the place we had just travelled 4,000 kilometres to be, but which already seemed unable to hold our interest. We arrived just in time and procured great seats to watch the Jays take on the Rays, and see 2 reigning Cy Young winners face off for just the 3rd time in history, and were pleased to see them both continue underachieving. Wild game, and a great time, although for the hundreds of Jays fans dotting the sparsely filled stands proudly sporting their team’s apparel and flagging down beer touts with the enthusiasm and frequency of an Ag student at a sheep shearing keg party, it ended on a sour note when Brad Lincoln walked in the winning run in the 11th inning. There is truly nothing more magical in sport than the walk-off walk. Besides being somewhat anticlimactic it was also fairly confusing, leaving us to mutter about why, with Tampa having 2 men on and 2 out, needing only a single to win the game, Gibbons would choose to bring in his very worst pitcher, then placidly watch him walk not one, but two, batters in a row to seal yet another crushing defeat. But I suppose that my failure to grasp these subtle intricacies of the game is why I watch from the stands, and big league managers get to spend their evenings spitting on camera while wearing unflattering polyester pants.
No rest for the wicked, or even the slightly selfish sports fan, as were up and at ‘em first thing the following morning for it was none other than….Magic Kingdom day! A chance to sample all the same rides and attractions we’ve seen in Disneyland, except in a different, and much hotter, place. Thanks to some excellent advance planning on Laynni and Tahnni’s (sister-in-law, industrious Wal-Mart supporter) parts we were easily able to sample all the best Disney corporation had to offer with minimal stress and manageable lineups, and with the help of everyone involved the day went off nearly without a hitch, the one blip occurring when 4 of us “responsible adults”, along with Ryland (nephew, teen moustache model) and Taylor (niece, teenage texpert and occasional mermaid) somehow collaborated to send Brennan (nephew, 10 year old rollercoaster fanatic, amateur magician) careening through the dark, thrilling tunnels of Space Mountain completely unsupervised. His wide-eyed look of apprehension and disbelief as the car pulled away from the platform we were still standing on was priceless, exactly what people must be talking about when describing what they love best about parenthood.
The following day it was Typhoon Lagoon time, or as it is now known, the day I almost got into a fistfight with a dumpy American woman over possession of a sun lounger.
She ultimately backed down, probably because her and her life partner were so horribly outnumbered by our giant entourage, but maybe just partially because of how intimidating my chest hair looks without a base tan. This place had everything – large pools, small pools perfect for Danielle (niece, part-time teacher / part-time illustrator of fish) to entertain her and Andrew’s son, Loch (great-nephew, energetic devotee to his mantra if-you-leave-it-on-a-table-I-will-try-to-eat-it), plus waterslides, fake sand, real sand, big fake waves generated mechanically, smaller real waves generated by overweight Canadians in Florida making the most of the heat, rippling waves of heads turning generated by far less overweight Latino women in tiny bikinis, even a short but eventful snorkelling course featuring 2 types of sharks that we had yet to see in all our years of scuba diving in the real ocean. Well, not quite everything. Against all odds, no one was selling any popcorn. No one. Like, literally nobody. I searched the entire grounds. Nothing. Seriously. Nothing. It was awful.
On day three we were in for another abrupt change of pace, Laynni catering to the video game aficionados and children of the eighties among us by scheduling a day at Disney Quest, a 5 story video game emporium complete with an entire level of classics such as Ms Pacman, Qbert and pinball, combining with the same dim lighting an slightly malodorous carpeting that quickly takes a middle-aged kid back to those heady days at Saints roller rink decked out in his best zippered parachute pants waiting for his middling proficiency at Galaga to catch the eye of one or more of the giggling girls with back-combed hair and glo-rings, like, everywhere.
The other 4 levels were filled with far more modern Disney-themed games, featuring pull strings and multiple buttons to memorize, marking them as cutting edge no more than a decade before the likes of Kinect and Wii came along.
Day off! Sleeping in! Swimming! Showering! Outlet shopping! Writing blogs about Ireland! See Laynni, I told you I could make that day sound exciting.
Riley and I jogged once, for 20 minutes. Bring on soccer season!
Somewhere in there we also took advantage of the little private theatre in the neighbourhood “clubhouse” to watch the first of the Harry Potter movies to refresh our memories before the big visit to the Universal Studios version of Hogwarts. It is easy to forget how long ago the series started – we couldn’t believe how young Hagrid looked. As it turned out, Universal Studios was the last big outing of my week in Florida, fittingly, as, along with Harry Potter, it is also home to rides immortalizing such epic masterpieces of theatre such as The Incredible Hulk, Revenge of the Mummy and Twister. Of course, the Hulk rollercoaster was amazing, probably because the only thing it had in common was the movie was liberal use of the colour green.
And the Mummy ride, catapulting us wildly through the darkness and singing our hair with spectacularly burning walls, was extremely cool, at least until the closing moments when a tubby-looking Brendan Fraser inexplicably appeared out of the darkness to make a feeble attempt at humour. It was a sad and sobering moment, but I still raised my hands above my head to show I wasn’t scared. Well, not that scared. But the big highlights were to be found in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, including the impressive recreation of Hogsmeade complete with magic wand shops (the non-explicit kind) and Butter Beer stalls, the dueling dragon rollercoasters of the Dragon Challenge, and, of course, the stunning Forbidden Journey ride, the name of which turned out to have far less to do with illegal carriage rides in the park than I had originally assumed. A truly outstanding ride that had a bit of everything – the Dark Arts classroom, talking paintings, a holographic, although unfortunately for Kenzie (niece, avid reader and Ron Weasley admirer), fully clothed Rupert Grint – not to mention a few surprises, such as seeing a Hustler discreetly hidden in Dumbledore’s book of spells, and how virtual quidditch made me scream so easily.
Then it was an early morning and a long day of flights all by my lonesome, having correctly assumed in advance that one week of Happy Magical Consumerism, “in stunning 3D”, would be enough for me.
Of course, the rest of the gang were having none of that, and exhibited far greater Disneydurance than me, putting in a full additional week, only just on their way back today to the burgeoning mosquito population and tentative Rider discussions that are Saskatchewan in May.
And so ends Eurotrashed! – 8 months of travel, some of which had little or nothing to do with Europe but I liked the name and didn’t feel like coming up with a new one, so that was that. Besides, it’s not like Morocco is going to complain about being lumped in with the drinkable tap water and standardized trash collection of Europe. It all started In Bruges way back in September, before hitting Croatia and Italy and eventually tackling the Camino de Santiago in Spain, spending a couple relaxing months in Madeira, six less relaxing weeks in Morocco, and ultimately finishing off with a whirlwind of diversity and poor eating habits in Gozo, England, Ireland and Florida, it was certainly one hell of a winter. Wait’ll you see what’s left of my socks.
For more flippant stories about flashpacker travel and enough eighties reminiscences to help you remember who Cyndi Lauper was, check out my book Random Acts of Travel: Featuring Trepidation, Hammocks and Spitting.