I fell down and went boom: my experience with the Australian health care system

Well yesterday did NOT go as planned…

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I just spent a good six hours in the emergency room and my travel plans for the next month or so may be royally screwed up (or at the very least some rescheduling may be required).

So, yesterday in Australia was a national holiday called “Australia Day,” which commemorated the landing of the first boatload of convicts on the shores of what is now Sydney; it is Australia’s equivalent of American’s 4th of July & Columbus Day combined, only it would be like our celebrating the landing at Jamestown, which we don’t do.

My friend that I’m currently traveling with is a first generation Australian, and he wanted to start the day attending an event in support of the Aboriginals. which began with a rally, followed by a march, which ended at a park across the street from some government building (where families with grievances presented them to the powers that be). In the park there were actives, performances, political speeches, and myriad of booths selling or advocating things that would be of interest to the folks who participated in the rally and march.

It was a very hot day, we had gotten up unusually, and in-spite of wearing a hat, and having done a fairly decent job of staying hydrated, I was tired. After, as we were walking around the park, we stopped at this one booth that was selling T-shirts with pro-aboriginal/political “stuff” on them, and at one point I took a step backwards; too late I realized I had just unwittingly stepped backwards off of a lawn and over a curb to a slightly sunken street … backwards… so that right away I was put off balance; and THEN … just to put a cherry on an already bad situation, I spotted the baby carriage that had hooked itself under RIGHT under my foot JUST as I had stepped back to ensure that I would have NO chance to catch myself. My friend described it as a slow motion “arse over tits” moment; he saw what was about to happen but couldn’t stop it…

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About three weeks later my friend spotted this safety advertisement and said, “I’m afraid this poster gives me flashbacks to your accident a couple of weeks ago. The moment when you were in pretty much this position was frozen into my memory. And I felt as helpless as the guy on the escalator.”, it’s so perfect that I’m adding it to this post.

Apparently he was not alone in this, he said that a bunch of people were like, “oh shit”… while my body was airborne, and before my head hit the ground/pavement with an incredible THUNK (before my body had finished the trip — see above).

Don’t be horrified for the baby, it was fine; the pram was of the sort where the wheels jet out in front of the carriage, so tipped over them without upsetting the baby… it wasn’t hurt. In fact I have been calling then incident a “hit and run by a baby carriage” because the mother didn’t stick around more than the amount of time it took her to make sure her baby was fine. According to my friend she stayed around only for a few minutes after that and then she took off … probably afraid of being blamed.

That said… I lay there for all of a moment in shock, and then began to cry out and curled into the fetal position; my head began to throb and I checked the back of my head for blood (there was a HUGE lump from a acute subdural hematoma, but the skin had not broken, so no blood gushing out of me… but as soon as I turned my head a little to get access to the lump the world began to spin sickeningly. My benign positional vertigo, which had for the most part left me alone these past two year was back with a WILL. Before I was aware of much, a woman was by my side proclaiming herself to be a professional nurse and folks were yelling for help; and not too long after that the emergency staff for the event joined her, took over, checked me, declared no blood, and that they were happy that I hadn’t passed out. (Turns out I’d fallen only a few steps away from their tent, and they’d just been complaining about how bored they were because no one had needed them).

The medical personnel in the course of checking my condition asked me to open my mouth and close it… and right away there was a massive CLICK sound; the force of the impact had essentially “sprained” the tendons that hold the jaw to the rest of the head, and my jaw was dislocating when I opened it. Not good!  Then they asked me a series of questions about my preexisting conditions which I rattled off as best I could (I was having a bit of trouble answering them)…  then after a bit I remembered to tell them that I have a history of herniated disks in my neck which I have had extensive physical therapy for (in my car I even carry around a Saunders Cervical HomeTrac Traction Device, just in case). As such, they weren’t taking any chances, and put me in a head brace and then told me to straighten my legs and not move.

[My friend, who (and I did not know this before the trip) has been an active member of the New South Wales State Emergency Service (NSW SES) ever since he was in high school (and continues to be, checking in with them whenever he’s in the country) … was absolutely great! He held my hand to sooth me when he could and knew when to stay out of the professionals’ way when he couldn’t (all of which makes him doubly useful as a travel companion). That said, at a certain point he began to feel useless and a bit helpless … but remembering how I like to document everything, he started taking pictures to show me later. This made me very happy.]

So… from my perspective the next thing I knew was they were crossing my arms and rolling me on my side in order to put something hard under me (my world began to spin sickeningly) … and then lifted me on to some sort of conveyance, at which point they moved me, telling folks to get out of the way.

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To quote my friend, I got the fancy police escort through the event to where the ambulance was parked, at which point they transferred me off the jeep, and then essentially tipped me off of the hard plastic orange stretcher and onto the ambulance’s white wheeled one. If you look closely at my face you’ll see I a was NOT enjoying myself… the whole world was spinning sickeningly and at various speeds depending on if they had just tipped me or not, not to mention that my head hurt.

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Then they took me to the hospital for a CT scan again tipping me to transfer me between beds… It was NOT a happy time. (Having my friend there with me the whole time, holding my hands and making sure none of my stuff got lost in the fray — he held on to my hat, my cell phone, etc., was all a huge help and a major stress reducer.) … Once they’d finished testing me the good news was no visible brain bleeds and they released me … the bad news was that my positional vertigo was back with a will… really horrible spinning that actually had me dry barfing into a bag just from being repositioned from reclining to sitting (again my friend seeing my distress grabbed me and held me till the spinning stopped, which was a mercy)… They had kept me for 6 hours in a neck restraint; I was not even allowed to bend my knees to try to get comfortable, and let me just say that peeing while laying down is a bitch.

Once we finally home, in order to keep me in a elevated position as I slept, my friend (on my instruction) put a couch cushion on the bed, and I used his travel pillow to support my head … putting the pillows that would normally be under my head under my knees. I know from pervious experience that I’ll be needing to sleep like this for the next few days (it keeps the head steady, because the spinning that would happen as the head normally moves around during sleep could result in my barfing while still asleep — VERY Dangerous — and even if you don’t barf it keeps you from sleep well, which slows down the healing.

As of today the dizzy was so bad I can barely walk… so as to my trip, we’ll see what happens… but we may need to completely redo our plans if my brain doesn’t adjust to the new normal quickly enough ….

That said, the ER visitbecause I’m not an Australian citizen and do not qualify for their national insurance policy, has so far only cost me $138 AU (112.07 US) out of pocket (Jaw drop… ) for having seen the doctor, and while they haven’t charged my card yet, they said because of the CT scan and two other tests, there would be 3 more charges of that amount… so $552 AUD total (or … $432.23 USD!!!)

Seriously, this is the information they handed me about the fees I would have to pay:

From the Hospital’s Medicare ineligible patient fees list (Basically everyone from an overseas country that does not have socialized medicine and a reciprocal agreement with Australia):

Everyone pays a consultation fee of $138.00 AUD  (or 108.06 USD!!!)

Then, for tests:
Pathology test, $138AUD
ECG $138AUD
X-ray $138AUD
etc., (I was assured my CT was the same amount)
Inpatient accommodation for one day (had I needed it would have been): $2,214 AUD
ICU accommodation for one day: $5,616 AUD

Now, let’s keep in mind that in the USA the average cost of an ER visit is about $1,233 USD ($1,574.41 AUD)
… that’s JUST the visit, and maybe a blood test or something…
Then you have to add the AVERAGE cost of a C.T. scan, which is around another $1,200… so about $2,500 for my visit if I’m lucky …. and while based on Obamacare my insurance would have had to pay for it, because of the size of my deductible… which is a whopping 7K — I’d still be paying out of packet … so… other than that amount being applied to my maximum out of pocket, which is also 7k (seriously)… if I were healthy the rest of the year my insurance would essentially pay nothing.

The big unanswered question is how much the the ambulance will cost me. According to my friends THAT is the really expensive charge in Australia, but according to the hospital staffer, he thought it might be only another $200 over that because of how close we were to the hospital, and the fact that I fell down at an insured event (they would according to him pay the lions share of the charge).

but those bills to my card have yet to process — but if what they said holds true my out of pocket in the US WITH insurance covering parts would still run me a heck of a lot more than this will have … and if it that’s the case I’m not even going to bother dealing with the international travel insurance for reimbursement … going to save it for when I need something a hell of beans more expensive.

 

A Total Eclipse of the Sun

Only an hour after having seen the eclipse it was like trying to remember a distant dream.

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I have always wanted to see a total eclipse of the sun, in fact it has always been a “bucket list item” — things to do or see before you die (i.e., kick the bucket). And now that I have, I can honestly say that it was a far more amazing experience than I thought it would be…

I now understand why it totally freaked-out folks back before they understood what was happening. We of course now know it’s coming WELL in advance… to the extent that people will book rooms along the path of totality as early as two years before the event…

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And, with our trusty NASA approved special eyewear we can watch the whole process as it progresses from partial, where the sun looks not unlike the phases of the moon but over the course of about an hour… through to the total eclipse which looks unlike anything you’ve ever seen.

That said, I thought I knew what to expect. There are no shortage of pictures of the total eclipse, from those taken by folks who went out and purchased thousands of dollars worth of special equipment (which some of my friends have done) to what can be achieved by just putting your safety glasses in front of your cell phone’s camera lens (possibly not the best of ideas) … but no matter how good they are, (and this site has some of the best I’ve seen so far 10+ Of The Best Shots Of The 2017 Solar Eclipse) the fact remains that NONE of the pictures I’ve seen to date manage to catch the glorious even that my eyes saw.  The “closest” if it’s not photoshopped is one that I spotted on facebook:

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“My uncle, Terry, took the best picture I’ve seen of an eclipse. Just wow!!!” was posted to Facebook by someone named James Richards (not a personal friend)

But even the photo above isn’t ‘right’ … although it does approach the beauty of the thing.

To quote my friend Brad Templeton, whose blog comment I’ve been paraphrasing since I first read it, “Totality is everything: The difference between a total solar eclipse and a partial one — even a 98% partial one — is literally night and day. It’s like the difference between sex and holding hands [only I now think that what he really meant was it’s the difference between an orgasm and holding hands] the total eclipse is by far the most spectacular natural phenomenon visible on this planet. Beyond the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Norway, etc. So if you can get to totality, get there. Do not think you are seeing the eclipse if you don’t get into the zone of totality.”

This is not to say partial isn’t worth taking the time to look at, it is… it’s exciting. And as the partial extends towards totality some cool things begin to occur. Even if it’s the middle of a sunny day, bugs and birds will start to get confused, and think it’s either overcast (for the bugs) or moving towards sunset, for the birds… and they’ll begin making the sorts of noises you don’t expect to be hearing at 1:00 in the afternoon. And then when the partial begins to approach totality the spaces between the leaves on the trees will act like pin hole cameras, projecting some cool looking shadows on to the ground.

But then totality occurs and even if you aren’t looking up at the sun, it’s obvious that something completely different is happening. Firstly, if you’re at all color sensitive — anyone trained in the arts as I was, will be… and this is doubly true for trained photographers (I think) …. The quality of the light all around you is just… well DIFFERENT; it was like sunset but with a lot of blue instead of reds and yellows. It was like what I imagine standing on a different with a blue sun rather than a yellow one must be like….

And then the colors directly around sun during full eclipse, no photo I’ve seen managed to get it … What I do remember seeing was a black circle surrounded by a sort of radiant blue light that moved from darker blue near the circle to lighter and then to yellow rays…  It was unlike anything I’d ever seen, so I’m not sure my brain in the 2+ minutes it lasted was able to really grasp it, but that said, it was radically different from the experience of the partial eclipse.

Also now I understand why folks plan their travels around seeing it over and over (something that to be honest I always thought was a bit — well if you’ve already seen it three times why are you putting in all this time and effort, let alone expense, to see it again? NOW I get it) Those 2+ minutes of full eclipse are a radically different experience than the partials leading to and from… and I’m already talking with friends about maybe heading down to south American in 2019 for the next one which is supposed to cross Chile and Argentina. 

Pennsic War: a two week, geek, camping retreat in Slippery Rock PA

The Pennsic war is a two-week-long yearly event held in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania  organized by the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), a medieval reenactment group. Having just completed it’s 46th year, it regularly draws between 10 and 15K geeks (who have a passion for all things medieval) from all over the world to fight, meet, and frolic… and of course SHOP… the latter being why I wanted to go.

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On that topic, according to one of my friend, this two week event generates about 40% or more of the county’s tax revenue… so the local government is VERY willing to do whatever is necessary to keep these SCA folks happy (police support, etc).

I will say this, my Pennsic experience got better daily. At first I felt like a fish out of water, depending on the one or two people I knew from before to help guide me. However, the more I got to know people and make new friends and developed a better sense of what was going on, the more I enjoyed it. I had intended to just try it out this once, so that I could say I had, but after the fact I’m seriously thinking it’s going to be an event that I will be attending with regularity.

SO, what is Pennsic? I found a couple of TV segments that were done on it, and since I didn’t shoot any video while there, I’ll suggest you watch these (if you’re interested)

I also found these two 20 minute ABCNews.com go-stream that covered the Pennsic held in 2015

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Some backstory: I’ve been what I like to refer to as SCA adjacent since college. When I was a freshman at the University of Wisconsin — Madison, while checking out the local Irish pub (my father’s side of the family being British) I met a group of folks who were sipping beer and singing funny drinking songs (something most Americans never do). It turned out they were the local contingent of the SCA, a group I’d never before heard of but which sounded like something I’d enjoy, so I started to hang out with them on a regular basis. At least, I hung with them until I got in a bit too deep, and as a result of some serious drama, decided that in fact they were a pretty dysfunctional and unethical group of people (long story) who I wanted nothing more to do with.

That said, over the last 30 odd years, I have repeatedly found myself dating or being friends with any number of SCA-type folks from other parts of the country (or in their parlance “kingdoms”), who have repeatedly assured me that the particular group that constituted my first contact with the organization actually had a really bad reputation with the society at large; and, more to the point, should NOT be considered by me as reflective of the whole (every time I describe the drama to them they’re horrified by what happened) ….

Going forward, while I have repeatedly found that on an individual level most SCA members are exactly MY sort of people; I have since then avoided getting too close, or too invested, into that culture — because as an adult my willingness to deal with drama is significantly lower than it was as a teenager — and the SCA seems to breed drama. Additionally, I tend to find that the SCA as a group has too many members who behave like “big fish in small ponds”… for my liking… something I generally only put up with when forced to, like at work (Academia REEKS of it).

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[Oh, and a note: SCA people create persona’s for themselves. They have who they are in real life, and then they have the character they play within the organization. In real life they are any and everything from folks who are in the military or academia, to Hollywood producers (an old High school friend of mine who started out as an animator but has since gone on to become a successful producer and director of animation — The Simpsons, Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Monster High, Hot Wheels, etc — still likes to occasionally dress up in armor and thwap other folks over the head with his broadsword as a form of exercise, although he hasn’t as much time for it as he used to), and of course there are more than a few Silicon Valley types (from NASA to Facebook engineers). In the SCA they take on new names, which have to be historically documentable (as in folks in that time period may have had a name like that… and there are ‘experts’ in the organization who have to “OK” your choice), and create story lines for who their characters are.]

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A group of SCA folks who have opted to be Romans (early medieval period). There are a lot of Romans at pennsic — I dressed as one myself — because the clothing makes significantly more sense on hot Ohio and often humid days than that of the late medieval period clothing, when the mini ice age had begun.

Once at Pennsic, individuals will bond together as communal ‘camps’ that take on many forms. Some consist of friends who want to camp together for two weeks every year and may, or may not, come from different parts of the country; but other camps form around how those memebers want to ‘play’ the game so to speak, with the campmates all playing characters from the same time period, etc., and/or staying in firmly character for the whole two weeks.

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That said, political correctness is only just starting to creep in: as in at Pennsic I saw a whole camp of folks of European decent play acting that they were Japanese, etc. —

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and, as I finally get around to completing this blog post — a good 6 months after the event (it’s been a slog to get it finished) … there is currently a major brew ha ha going on in the SCA around a historically accurate garment worn during a coronation ceremony that had excatly the nordic symbols that Hitler co-opted as part of Nazi iconography.  (The aforementioned article is worth reading because while discussing the current bit of idiocy it fairly coherently explains a lot about the SCA royalty system, which personally makes my eyes roll — did I mention big fish syndrom?)

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A collection of Royals from the various kingdoms sitting court with their banners behind them

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So, keeping that my own personal context in mind, while the Pennsic wars were something I first heard about 30 odd years ago, and everyone whose ever been seems to have LOVED it, (the same way folks who go to Burning Man LOVE that, and it’s also on my to do list) … I had never yet attended either event until just now. Those of you who actually follow my blog, or are personal friends of mine, know that one of my priorities has been supporting a very old friend of mine who’s doing time in a Prison that is very far from where his family lives (which makes it difficult and expensive for them to visit). As such, I’ve been focusing my travels to the general vacinity of his Prison, so that I can visit him when possible. So while looking at the map and asking myself what there was to do in the area, I suddenly realized that he wasn’t all that far from Pittsburg, and since the central joke of the Pennsic wars is that whichever side looses is supposed to take control of Pittsburg (or was, it isn’t now that pittsburg has formed own kingdom), it stood to reason the event MUST be somewhere in that vacinity…. SO, I on my facebook account declared my interest in attending this year, and for the first time, and asked if any of my friends were intending to go as I was sure it would be a lot more fun to go WITH old friends rather than show up all on my own — but that I had no intention of camping at the event and intended to, as usual, rent an Airbnb close by (historical authenticity be damned, running water and air conditioning are GOOD things).

Immediatly, an ‘old Facebook friend’ by the name of Greg messaged me, and told me that he goes every year and that I could go with him (couldn’t remember why he was a friend till he told me we’d gone on a date about 10 years ago and had been unable to schedule the next date — yah, kind of embarrasing). He explained that and in order to get more room allotted for his tents and that of the group with whome he camps, he always pays for “ghosts,” i.e., entrance fees for people who aren’t actually attending — and that since I intended to Airbnb anyway, this would be perfect for me. This way, I would NOT have to pay the full camping fee of around $200 to attend for the whole two weeks, and instead would only pay around $65… and that it would be nice to have a friend make use of it. So I was going to essentially go as his guest, and was welcome to consider his camp group as my own… which I did and made many new friends in the process.

Peace Week
As Greg had warned me, the first week has lower attendence and is called Peace week (he had even suggested I might not want to be there that week, but I wanted to do the whole thing). During the Event he worked at what the SCA folks in their parlance call “Troll” but the rest of the world calles ‘registration’ and as such was able to help me through the process. The very first days of the event they allow cars to drive right up to their camp sites (once the event really gets going, that is no longer allowed unless you’re making a delivery of something heavy). You stand in line (via your car, or truck, or trailer, if you have one)…

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Cars lined up, waiting to get checked in, Saturday morning

During that day of the event the various groups lay out their camps within the segment to which they’ve been assigned, as designated by number and letter combination (see map below) — but then it’s up to them to set the specific geographic boundaries of their specific camps within those smaller areas (a process known as landgrab)… with any disputes being brought to troll, but it usually goes pretty smoothly as most of the camps have been using the same sites for many years now and are friendly with their various neighbors.

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and once that’s completed they start to set up camp, a process the that can take a few days to complete; personally I really enjoyed this part, it allowed me a way to get to know some of the key camp members — and I argue that as a newbie it was the best way —  by working together. I strongly suggest it.

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Setting up our public spaces, the living room known as “Big Red” because the tent is red (the only one, and visible from aerial shots of Pennsic) and our kitchen (which had running water), as well as communal shower for the folks who aren’t staying off site (like I was).

In the evening of the first day, on the suggestion of one of my camp mates, I volunteered to spend four hours helping with security. The SCA, and Pennsic, are volunteer organizations. All the people “working” security, or helping to organize the event, or log people in as they arrive, are all volunteers. As such, every single person who attends is expected to pitch in, although only a certain percentage ever bother. For three hours, 10pm to 1am, I acted as the 2nd person riding on a security golf cart (connected via walkie talkie to the main tent) around and through the entire event — the first person was someone who was experienced at the job — making sure no one needed help of any sort. That night the temps dropped, so that ultimately it was so cold that we had to keep stopping to put on more and more layers of clothing, and to grab hot chocolates from this one ‘bar’ that sold them. By the end I was wearing my heavy dress, my woolen hood (see later in this post), my down vest, and a black velvet cape with it’s own hood over the first hood, and I was still freezing. I did however get to meet some nice people.

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The food court: they actually had some pretty decent food. There were all you could drink iced tea and soda (if you bought a $28 mug), veal stew in a bread bowl, and shrimp cocktails
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A motorized wheelchair camouflaged as a horse
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No, the SCA isn’t full of nurds, what makes you say that? These folks are all standing around playing Pokemon Go.

Once all of the attendees have unloaded their vehicles they are expected to move them to assigned parking areas, and leave them there…. there’s even areas for RV parking.

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In this photo, down the hill all the bits of white are the tents people have set up

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While the first week is designated as ‘peace week’ some flighting does happen. Fencers or archers (those who fight with light weapons), will compete with each other one on one or in small groups, in tournaments for awards and merit

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Archers are also involved in the major battles, and have to be “inspected” to prove they’re ready to do so.

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while those who are heavy fighters (broadswords) will practice, and go through a certification process to prove that they are fit and able to fight in the following week’s wars.

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In the evenings, various camps will throw parties, etc.
In the medieval period people brewed their own alcoholic drinks. In fact some argue that it was originally a woman’s task and it was only when men began to yank authority over that task away from women that the symbols of brewing (when held by a women) became evidence of witchcraft: i.e., the caldron, the cat to keep mice away from the grain, the pointed brewer’s hat, the ‘brewing’ itself, etc. (It’s a historical theory actually worth reading up on). As such, among the many medieval skills the SCA tries to revise among SCA members is brewing… and since a lot of SCA members also love to drink, a lot of these various parties held every night of the event are opportunities for the brewers to show off their recipes….

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Sign in front of another group’s camp — they had a full bar set up, with a high table and chairs surrounding a center set of taps where they served libations hand brewed by their own members

Other parties are more ‘culinary’ than inebriated … with the cooks of the group showing off their medieval recipes,

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My favorite party was a chocolate tasting… while other parties were doing alcohol tastings this camping group had in their front room a massive collection of different chocolates, flavors and brands…. and grapes and fruit to go with it… in their back room different members of the group took turns performing songs and theatrical pieces around the fire.

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While it wasn’t during the first week, the camp I stayed with has a tradition of doing a steak party which is invitation only, for obvious reasons…

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This bottom photos reminds me of Toulouse Lautrec’s “At the Moulin Rouge” painting, which hangs at the Art Institute of Chicago’s museum (my ‘alma mater’), and is one of my very favorite paintings. As a kid I always referred to it as “The Lady with the green face”

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One camp site brought in a band to perform, and served some really great food, and drink… a major investment

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Bagpipes, drums and belly-dancers all jamming together… what’s not to like? And later a guy dressed as a jester deep throated a sword

…  apparently there was this one really wild party down in what they called the bog (where there’s a lake and it gets flooded if it rains) where even held a slave auction of willing slaves (who usually ended up doing things like a camp’s dishes).

So, while there is some fighting during the first week, classes on all things medieval and or SCA related happen daily (I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t attend a single class session)…

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A decal on someone’s car: Slippery Rock is where Pennsic is held, and FAFSA is a US federal student aid program

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and peace week is also when some of the best pickings are available at the shops…. not to mention there were dances and parties at night. That said, attendance during during this first “peace” week is usually well below the 10,000 people mark, and is usually made up of the folks who are the most serious about the SCA AND of course can afford to take that time off from work.

And for those of us who don’t care about the fighting:

For me, the DRAW really was NOT the fighting or the classes.  In fact I slept in during most of the hours when that occurred (I usually didn’t get there till 2pm). I took a few photos, granted, but honestly… not my thing.

What made me WANT to go to Pennsic this year was the shopping!

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Hey, I’m girly in SOME ways…  and I KNEW from what I’d heard over the years that the shopping at Pennsic was supposed to be GREAT (if what you’re looking for is not modern). The event is full of venders’ tents that HAVE to open up by Wednesday of the first week (even though attendance is still low), and there are as many as 250 different ones who tend to show up each year, all of which carry handmade goods that appeal to this demographic (historical nurdom such as myself). BECAUSE all of these goods are usually hand made, no two things are exactly alike, and as such the early bird quite literally gets the worm.

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This store specialized in hand blown glass, using styles and techniques specific to various time periods and geographic locations

That said, you really SHOULD have SOME period clothing before Pennsic begins because it is highly frowned upon to be wearing modern clothes at the event. As such, before I got to Pennsic I was all worried that my clothing was not period “ENOUGH” to satisfy the folks who my friends have referred to as the “period police” (individuals who go around critiquing your clothes for authenticity, with comments like: “you’re combining 13th century shoes with early 15th century pants which simply would not have happened, and that tunic you’re wearing is Hollywood/fantasy garb, it’s NOT period.”  Some of these people take their historical accuracy very seriously. This fear was heightened by the fact that my host, Greg, a guy I’ve known for over 10 years, who even came to visit me when I was working in S. Korea, just happened to fall into that category.

That said, IF you come to the event as part of a group of friends, the odds are some loaner garb will be available — but it’s a good idea to check it out ahead of time.

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For instance, This young man is Chris, a guy who had never attended an SCA event before, and showed up with no garb of his own (but he’d been invited so they knew he’d be coming, and were prepared to help him out). He’s wearing his own t-shirt under a loaner tunic — the thing around his neck is proof of payment to be at the event. He had come to camp wearing a British style wool flat-cap … and struck me as the sort of guy who usually wears a hat (which he confirmed). As this was his first major SCA event and he didn’t have any garb of his own (and the loaner garb they had didn’t include any head coverings) I said to him “dude, since you always wear hats, if you’re going to be doing a lot of SCA you’ll need an historically appropriate hat!” As he’s a young struggling musician, I offered to buy one for him. We went looking for what was available, ran into a long time Facebook friend of mine who is one of these sticklers for historical authenticity (she’s got AMAZING clothes, all of which she has sewn herself), and she agreed with the right hat, you can actually fake the rest of the clothing and still pass as period…  so with her help (he decided to stick with his heritage, which is is Spanish) this is the hat he chose — it’s Southern Europe — the sort you see in Shakespearian Italian dramas, Romeo and Juliet, that sort of thing. 

I however wanted stuff for myself, and can afford to buy it (within reason). As such, before Pennsic began I reached out to my friend Greg, and he directed me towards one of his favorite Pennsic vendors who also has an online store Historic Enterprises; from whom — since there wasn’t enough time to do a full custom ordered gown, I ordered what an off-the-rack mid 14th Century Herjolfsnes ”G39” gown size 12, that was SUPPOSED to have then been altered down to my measurements (because the only part of me that is size 12 is the breasts, while the rest is currently a size 8, and NOTHING they had actually fit me); I paired that with their 14th-15th century ‘London’ style, buttoned wool hood. When it arrived however they had simply sent me a size 12 gown whose ONLY alteration was that had been hemmed, in spite of my having sent them LOAD of painstaking measurements for the various parts of my body.

Like I said, the operative word was SUPPOSED to have been altered… the dress that arrived fit me like a tent. I was besides myself because the dress cost me $189.95 and I couldn’t wear it. Not only because of the size, but also because I had been very clear with the stores owner that I needed it for Pennsic, and that part of Ohio is VERY hot during that part of the summer, AND I am in menopause, so really I needed a summer weight linen which they promised it would be — but was not. (Why the SCA insists on holding the event there instead of a different rural location with a much higher elevation — not to mention a location with no risk of lime disease from ticks– I don’t know).

Because of my lifestyle, I had the gown sent to the home of a friend of Greg’s who was also going to be part of our camp, who lived near Pennsic and about 1.5 hours from my friend’s prison. The week I swung through to pick it up, he suggested I join him to an SCA event he was going to be going to. At it I was directed towards an SCA member who was a respected seamstress, and I paid her an additional $100 to do the alteration I had been promised by Historic Enterprises, which I picked up from her home a few days before the event.

Happily, I found that while Pennsic COOKS during the daytime (it can get very HOT), once the sun goes down the temperatures drop precipitously, making the gown and the hood usable. While the arms were still WAY too baggy, the now altered gown (at the cost to me of an extra $100) came in around my waist enough to be wearable — and, since I didn’t have the proper undergarments anyway, I opted to wear it over my camouflage shorts, so that 1) I’d have pockets, and 2) the gown would flare out a bit more at the hips as it would have with said undergarments.

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Suffice it to say, I was so unhappy with Historic Enterprises that I did NOT buy anything from their tent while at pennsic, and was actually too livid to even tell the owner how unhappy I was with them — even though a few people were pushing me to do it.

Of the stores that did visit, my personal favorites were (not surprisingly) the sellers of women’s clothing:

Firstly let me rhapse melodic about, Armstreet, is a Ukrainian dressmaker whom I first found online maybe 10 years ago selling her hand made clothes on ebay (now she has her own very professional looking online store).  While it should be noted that MOST of what Armstreet sells is more “Hollywood” medieval/fantasy than it is historically accurate … and as such isn’t REALLY SCA kosher… but in a pinch it’ll pass and most SCA people won’t make much of a fuss about it.

Back when I first found Armstreet, you chose from various images she posted to ebay, and then sent her your measurements for custom made outfits that looked about like what the photos had, but never exactly. At the time she was by far, the cheapest way to go for medieval garb —- but since it was mail order from the Ukraine, you were kind of stuck with what arrived.

At the time, I was dating a guy who was seriously into the SCA and I needed garb to wear to events that I was intending to go to with him… so I ordered a few different basic dresses from her. However, between the making and the long distance shipping, by the time they arrived, he had become my exboyfriend; I only, finally, had a chance to wear them at this Pennsic (10 years later). The first is a black linen dress with patterned ribbing, which looks far more like a traditional Ukrainian gown than a medieval one:

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The second dress was basically the same, only white linen with gold and red edging, which in the photo below I teamed up with a vest I found at one of the stores (I forget which), a white turban (purchased from Revival Clothing who also had a shop at the event, only I wrapped it a different way from how they suggested), and a middle eastern necklace I had purchased over 10 years ago in Tel-aviv’s Shuk ha’carmel.

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Me and an old friend from highschool (we were in orchestra together), EmilySue (her SCA name is Amelie d’Anjou — it rhymes with her real one), who is wearing a brand new early Italian Rennaisance gown a friend of hers made for her. We were in the Dance Tent (see below)

Was I authentically period… well no, and definitely NOT when compared to what EmilySue was wearing … but this is Pennsic and as long as you make a good effort MOST folks will let it go.

When I bought the vest, I had been wearing another Armstreet item that I had happily fond for sale on ebay about a month before Pennsic (again, more Hollywood than historic). As I mentioned above, I had intended to wear the gown from Historic Enterprises, but couldn’t because not only was it so big that I had to pay an additional $100 to get it altered, but it’s weight was far to heavy for the daytime weather. HAPPILY, I found this gown of very light weight linen, size small, for sale on ebay used for $76.00 including shipping, instead of the $129+ $21 for shipping new it was selling for on their site (as I post this it’s currently on sale for $94 + $21 for shipping)…

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trying on my newly delivered ebay purchase… never did wear the necklace — the long sleeves are apparently called tippets, and were only the “trend” for about 30 years (let’s face it, impractical), even though they show up in almost every medieval themed Hollywood movie

which armstreet describes as it’s “Medieval Linen Chemise Archeress” and had walked around the various first vendors to open shop looking for something to pair it with, till I found the above stripped vest which I THOUGHT might work equally well with jeans and a T-shirt, but have since decided it really doesn’t. While Armstreet was ultimately at Pennsic, they were one of the very last shops to open up, and even when they did open up I couldn’t find anything to go with it that I thought was better than the vest.

That said, I was happy to see that now Armstreet’s owner is now so profitable that she is able to ship both her stuff AND her staff to the US and set up what was one of the larger shops at Pennsic. It was nice to finally meet her, reconnect her to this dresses she’d made years back (back when she was just learning her trade), and to try on some of her new, and far more elaborate designs. There’s one dress their Lady of the Lake gown — also way more Game of Thrones than period, that I tried on at her shop, looked amazing in, and am trying to find the justification for buying.

I will admit however, as I keep finding her new stuff popping up for sale on ebay USED and in my size, it might be a while till I’ll actually buy much from her that is custom ordered and new; especially now that her prices are now far more dear than they used to be.

In fact about less than a week after Pennsic I found this dress (see below)  that while being from Armstreet was in fact period… for sale on Ebay, used and in my size, and bought it — in a package deal that included a similar but different chemise, a thin medieval style belt (which I needed anyway, it’s secured through a loop rather than a buckle), and a matching cape — not in the picture — for $199 including shipping when the same package new would have cost me:
Chemise $104+20 shipping
Kirtle $179+34 shipping
cloak $149+ 42 shipping
belt $25 at amazon

So, $199 used including shipping used at ebay vs $457 new, not including shipping which I’m guessing would bring it to $500…  That said, I DID have to take it to a seamstress and pay her $40 to hem the length (it was the right length in the back, trailing on the floor, but too long in the front where it needed to be just above the foot… we had to take off 3.5 inches in the front and then taper it to the sides ).

My next favorite store (and based on what I saw people wearing, its a favorite with a lot of the Pennsic folks) is  Linen Garb from whom I bought this hand dyed (no two were alike) and embroidered (the design at the top) Roman style dress for $95. Not only is it beautiful (and something I could wear to a dinner party), but it is impressively cool on very hot days — and Pennsic can get both hot and humid:

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Same dress, just different sizes and pinned differently: The ‘dress’ is essentially a large tube of cloth, how you choose to pin it alters it’s appearance (you can even do it upside down, in which case it becomes a Roman tunic that comes to just above the knee)

I initially pinned it up (at the shoulders) — the cloth is essentially a large tube that you can wear multiple ways– with Celtic pins which the owner of Linen Garb was giving away with the purchase of the dress

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image is about to size

(single coil fibula pins that were hand made by ThorThor’s Hammer another artisan owned shop at Pennsic which sells hand made museum replicas of Viking and Celtic jewelry), but when I went to that shop to get extras (in case I should loose one) I ultimately decided to upgrade to their Spectacle brooch, which I felt not only better suited the dress, but also better obscured my bra straps:

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Displaying image at about to size of item: Because the dress is linen, it’s very forgiving about holes — this has a very thick metal pin at the back

and then I went ahead and teamed the dress and brooch with their replica Roman earrings (also made by Thor, but which aren’t shown on his website). For headgear, and to keep the sun off the back of my neck, I bought a purple gauze scarf, and a cheap plastic hair-comb, and had the two sewn together for me at the seamstress booth run by this woman, who I had met a few weeks before Pennsic at a dance event (where she was wearing the most amazing Tudor gown, all hand made by herself).

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…. My orange necklace however was a Ukrainian necklace of amber which my father had purchased for me maybe 20 years before while on business travels there, but I had never before had the right occasion to wear.  (The green medallion I’m wearing is worn as proof that you paid your entrance fee to the event.)

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I later verified that I could also wear this to normal events, like to the theater in Stratford, Canada — where three different women complimented it, and more than that just scanned it covetously. My friend Dayna, who tends towards honest, said it looked amazing on me. I wore the same jewelry I wore at pennsic, but added the medieval belt that came with the used blue armstreet dress, a black fedora and a pair of croc’s sandals.

For the previous year Linen Garb designs had made a tunic that I would have purchased, had it been available in my size (but it was not, which was probably a good thing). A LOT of people had it, and while it looks period, it was deceptive in that if you looked at it closely it had imagery from George Lucus’s ‘StarWars’ woven into it, including Storm Trooper’s helmets and the symbol of the resistance deceptively hidden in Roman like images … so this being an event that draws over 10k  geeks to one place, it had pretty much sold out quickly the year before (she had a handful left in XXL) even though they cost about $300 each.

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This guy combined is StarWars Tunic with a Lord of the Rings neckless … no geeks here, none at all

Boots by Bohemond, Didn’t buy anything from these guy, but my friend Greg did.

Midnight madness happens on the last day the shops are open, about 3 days before the event is officially open: it is the only night that the shops are open till late and they bring in electrical lighting. According to my friends it USED to be they had great sales that day, selling off items they’re rather not ship home… but not so much anymore (because they realized that people weren’t buying anything the rest of the time and would just wait for the midnight madness sales)

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I bought a used deerskin tunic for $95 ….. feels like butter and it looks fabulous.  It had been owned by the woman who owned the shop that sold it with her husband (one of them made it) and according to the hubby, I looked better in it than she had. They make their clothes from deer skins given to them by friends who hunt which they tan themselves, the bellybutton hole is actually where the deer was shot.

But of course, there’s more to Pennsic than shopping… although to be honest it’s what I did when I ran out of things to buy… well that and I tended to opt to stay late at Pennsic for the late night camaraderie and then went home to the Airbnb where I slept in, and tended to not get back to the event till mid afternoon.

There is general people watching, and the appreciation of the ornate costumes people come up with.

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A Chinese woman of the Han Dynasty & a woman from the early renaissance
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Two Vestal Virgins from the Roman period

And of course…. the happy side-effect of a large percentage of the men enjoying thwapping each other over the head with broad swords, is that there’s plenty of eye candy for us girls; I even saw a LARGE number of men in their 50’s, who still had it going on…. because swinging broadswords while wearing full armor is not for the scrawny. So, even if their day job is sitting around programing computers or teaching science — these are men are physically strong, AND they prefer their women nerdy. Nuff said…

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LOOK at those arms! I asked him if I could take this picture (even had him bend the arm to pop the muscle); he hugged me afterwards. I think I made his afternoon.

Although, as a noted before, there are also some highly athletic women who suit-up in armor and fight,

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War Week
The 2nd week, which is known as War week, is considered the “Main event” and is when the event really gets into full gear… attendance hits it’s maximum, of 10 to 15 thousand people, sometimes more…. and the main battles begin… at least up until Thursday morning, at which point the battles have been completed, and it’s as though a cloud of mild depression settles itself over the whole event, as people start to pack up to go home.

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for the women who want something that’s athletic but a “tad” less violent (emphasis on the tad)  ……. There’s Helga ball!!! (otherwise known as Rugby, with a cabbage as the ball)

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Helga Ball is based on a viking game; it is a type of Female Rugby, with a cabbage for the ball — 

To Play Helga Ball (Cabbage ball):
– Organize a team of 5-10 women. (Having substitutions is a good thing.)
– Each player must be over 18.
– Each team member should bring one or more paper or hygiene product for donation. (No monetary donations.)
– Points are scored by getting a cabbage through/past your opponent’s
goalposts. Two members of the Chivalry (or squires) shall serve as
stationary goal posts for each goal.
– All players must wear a dress. (Viking garb encouraged, but not required.)
– Players are encouraged to wear do-rags, heavy shoes/boots.
– Players may kick or dribble the cabbage with their feet, but may not touch
the cabbage with their hands or use hands to pick up the cabbage.
– Players may scoop the cabbage up in a skirt, apron, or do-rag, and move
the cabbage on the field.
– Tackling is not allowed, however “Group Hugs” are legal.
– Goalposts shall signal a “score” by raising one arm and yelling either
“Helga Ball!!” or “Olga ball!” to identify the scoring team.

Pennsic also makes an effort to be child friendly. I saw any number of young mothers with fair haired toddlers in toe, and it was beyond cute:

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There are in fact a whole schedule of “family” activities, to include the kinds. For the older kids there is even a special massive children’s water Battle, that utilizes the Castle built for the adult’s war, and includes water balloons, squirt guns, etc

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Another one of the cool things at Pennsic is a lot of couples find each other at the event. Back when I was 18 and first learned about the SCA I remember people saying “if you can not get laid at Pennsic, you cannot get laid at all,” i.e., it’s a self selecting mechanism through which a certain kind of nerd (who might not have a lot of luck locally) is far more likely to find someone who thinks your over the top nerdiness is a good thing.

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I’m sorry, either you understand the embedded cultural references of these images or you don’t.

As a result, during war week, these same couples…. should they make it that far, will often choose to hold their nuptials — or at least one of them — at the event. Not only is it a place where your friends from around the country are probably going to be anyway, but it’s the ultimate theme wedding… even the guests are in costume… and it’s relatively cheap.

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An SCA wedding; as at all nerd events, there are knitters

And then finally, in addition to hanging out at the fire pit in the center of our camp with the other members of our “clan” (each camping group refers to themselves as clans) — which often included drinking, singing, and just getting to known each other, pretty much every night I would go spend a little time down at the dance tent.

Medieval Arts:
One of the ‘lost arts’ that members of the SCA painstakingly, from available documentation, try to recreate are the dances that were performed in the medieval period. My friend Greg, who goes by the SCA name of Gregory Blount of Isenfir, has actually been awarded an SCA “Order of the Laurel” from the kingdom of “Atlantia” — he grew up in for his knowledge of historical dance, and as a Silicon Valley Geek of the highest order — his expertise is designing and building search engines for handling big data sets — he has built a web site to help anyone interested in historical dance.

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On the topic of Laurels: At Pennsic I met up with my friend EmilySue (seated on the stage, bottom right, with her light hair braided in a Swedish kind of hairstyle) at an evening event where her friend from the Central Kingdom (think Chicago), was being awarded a laurel for music. After this is when she and I went to the dance tent (see picture above)

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This young man was also awarded a laurel for dance by his kingdom, and was gifted the calligraphy scroll (or I think it’s called a writ) being held by the woman in red, as well as a having someone handmade him the black velvet cloak he’s wearing.

Of course it’s hard to write about what this sort of dance is looks like (hence the historical issues of trying to recreate it from written instructions), and I didn’t film it, so instead I found coverage by ABC of a previous year’s pennsic that is from the dance tent  (Although I will note that during my visit dance tent was usually closed during the daylight hours, so I’m pretty sure this was “put on” just for the camera crew)

http://abcnews.go.com/video/embed?id=32861137
ABC Breaking News | Latest News Videos

[So, on the topic of WHO are the sorts of weirdo folks who join the SCA, the guy playing the music for the dancers in this video, on what I THINK is a lute but don’t hold me to that, goes by the name of Master Avatar (you have GOT to love the pun inherent in that name), but in real life he’s an Aerospace Engineer, specifically he is a ISS Payload Support & Mission Science Integrator at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. — And THIS ladies and Gents is an example of why I’ve always been SCA adjacent.]

I also found this video from 2015, which I find amusing as I now recognize a lot of the dancers, including the one guy who with the long hair and red hat who isn’t dancing… namely my friend Greg who is the person who allowed me to come as part of his group.

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Bottom right is my friend Greg, being a shark (his period appropriate shoes were at the shoemaker’s tent/shop being repaired, so he’s wearing bright red tennis shoes instead)

In addition to nightly dances there were also slightly more ornate “balls” which usually included something special in terms of a theme, or snacks, etc. There was one ball with a ‘let’s be silly’ under the sea theme organized by Asa (or at least I think that’s her SCA name — she was in the same camp as me, but only arrived during the 2nd week). She is the one in the pictures who is leading it while playing on the hammer dulcimer. My friend Greg, in order to be supportive, has donned a shark hat and floated around imitating a shark passing among the dancers — when he wasn’t stepping in and stealing people’s partners (which apparently is referred to as sharking). It was amusing. Someone later handed me a shark cap and I also walked around circling the dancers, but I don’t really know the dances well enough to be willing to try to “shark” a partner.

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This ball had a chorus of singers as well as musicians; geek fact, the girl in the light blue gown is the granddaughter of a Jewish/American Nobel prize winner in the area of economics (on the on-going question of why am I continually drawn to SCA folks)
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A perfomance of song

In addition to dance, music and song, there is an SCA theater group that puts on regular plays at night, that all are freely invited to attend:

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Victoria, B.C., Great Destination town

I spent a full month living in Victoria, a popular port-of-call for cruise ships, and liked it so much that it is now on my list of favorite cities on the planet (and I’ve been to most of the good ones) … so much so that I could almost see retiring there, if the Canadian Government would allow it.

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So … as an explaination of WHY I like it much, let’s start with with a seemingly insignificant fact ….. no bugs — seriously! And this lack of annoying little critters extends to all of the Island, not just British Columbia‘s capitol city, Victoria.

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One of the seemingly infinate pieces of outdoor art to be found along the streets of Victoria

Now, granted, of course there are bugs, there wouldn’t be life if there were not bugs… but not so much that you’d notice; and more to the point, other than chiggers (out in the woods) not much in the way of bugs that bite. I was on Vancouver Island  for two whole months and only suffered ONE … seriously… ONE mosquito bite. And it really doesn’t seem to matter what time of day we’re talking about. Granted this may seem trivial, but after having spent a few months in places like Florida or parts of the upper midwest — where you’ll be eaten alive at certain times of day; and when you are bitten you run the risk of things like zika and other nasties … 24 hours a day; and let’s not forget to mention myriad places on the North American continent where if you drive at dusk, within miniutes your car will become so THICK with dead bugs that you’ll have to get it washed, and the job will HAVE to be by hand, or you won’t to get rid of them all (and if you don’t … you’ll have the pleasure of watching other bugs swarm your car to feast on the carcasses of their dead friends. So, really, you learn to appreciate ‘no bugs.’

Beyond that, let my list the other reasons why I love Victoria so much:

Architecture

As my pictures will show, it is a visually GORGEOUS city; the local government has put laws into place that require that all historical buildings be maintained (at the very least their facades) and/or restored. The result is panoply of colors and designs to delight the eyes. Architectually it’s buildings range from Stuart influenced Victorian British and early 19th century Americana, to a smattering of modern glass and steel on the outer edges of town.

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This is the capitol building for British Columbia

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The red pagoda looking building is a school that serves the Chinatown community

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History:

Victoria it is a city that with British zeal embraces and honors it’s history in a myriad a ways; if you pay attention, stop, look and read, you almost don’t need a tour guide to learn about the place; and it’s not allways done via obvious things, like this memorial to Captain Cook,

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The plaque below it reads:

Capt. James Cook, R. N. (1728 – 1779)

“After two historic voyages to the South Pacific Ocean, Cook was cruising the waters of the Pacific Northwest on his third and final voyage, with his two ships, Resolution and Discovery. He was searching for the western exit to the legendary Northwest Passage. In March 1778, they put into Nootka Sound for repairs and to trade with the native people. With him on the voyage were Mr. William Bligh as master of the Resolution and midshipman George Vancouver.

This statue was commissioned by the Victoria Environmental Enhancement Foundation and unveiled by The Honourable William Richards Bennett, premier of the province of British Columbia. July 12, 1976.”

Rather, in Victoria you really need to pay attention and look, because the place is RICH with historical documentation, but it tends to go overlooks; for instance, one of the things I noticed (during my month long stay in Victoria where I passed this statue almost daily) was that MOST tourists never seem to stop and take notice of is the LONG line of smaller plaques all along the wall located right behind that statue (see picture above), and all along the dock which memorialize all the notable ships that docked in her port (below are just a few example, but they line the whole dockside):

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Another example is that there is ample evidence and explaination regarding the location of the original fort on the main shopping street in Victoria, but if you don’t stop and look (as the Asian tourists who were being led by a professional guide — the guy in the red shirt — are doing in the picture below) … you’ll miss it:

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The large tan and white building, across from where the fort had stood, was the first office building of the Hudson Bay Company, when Victoria transitioned from a fort to a city
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Every name memorialized in these bricks is that of a founding citizen of the city

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And then every single historic building that’s been renovated and repurposed (and there are LOADS of them) has attached to it a sign explaining the history of the building. Below for instance is a bank building that is now a bar.

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img_9582And then Victoria has different districts, and again, if you stop and look you’ll find plaques, and the like, explaining the area’s past.

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And then in the front of the Government building, there are little vignettes, describing the history of the city, performed by the Parlimentary Player’s, a group of young actors dressed in historiacal garb that try to ‘bring history to life’ in a way that might be more appealing for those who don’t enjoy reading — including one playing the role of Queen Victoria herself. After which, you can enjoy a enjoy a tour of building itself (either self guided with a pamphlet, or led — for a fee, see my blog post).

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That said, it is STILL worth your while to invest in one of the many historically themed walking tours, because they will often add more information than the signs and plaques, not to mention point out little historical tidbits that city has overlooked — or chosen not to — document… for instance, as you walk along Fan Tan Alley in Victoria’s China town you might easily walk right by this little piece of history which links back to the active opium trade that used to exist in the area.

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What the picture doesn’t show (or at least well) is that across the alley from the door are two peep holes in the opposite wall. From here, guards would check the alley for cops, and if they gave the all clear, the metal door would open, handing a customer his or her opium.

In addition to the history that exists in historic parts of town, There are more historical spots, just on the outskirts like the  Fort Rodd Hill National Historic Site (see my blog about it), which host historical events, Craigdarroch Castle (again, see blog), and Christ Church (ditto).

Public Art:

Public Art is visible almost everywhere you look; be it street art, murals (government sanctioned or otherwise) that either celebrate the city’s history and rich cultural past — or simply decorate boring buildings, sculptures that range from monuments to famous people involved with the city’s history, to the more esoteric and fanciful, Victoria almost doubles as an outdoor museum.

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Mother Nature, Natural beauty:

Although one could argue that Victoria’s proximity to the ocean is such an incredible an asset, that the aforementioned, massive investment in public art, is “gilding the lily” just a bit …

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And in addition not only have the Canadians inherited the British love of gardens, but they the almost perfect weather for a wide variety of flowers and plants. The weather is SO good (not too hot, not to cold), that it is considered to have a mediteranian climate (PALM TREES growing outdoors, north of Seattle, REALLY!).

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To that effect, a short drive away (maybe 20 minutes) is the world famous (see my blog post on) Butchart Gardens, which not only hosts musical events, but also serves up a very nice afternoon tea

Shopping:

I was really impressed by the shopping in Victoria. The prices for pretty much everything are low (well, at the exchange rate at the time, that could change); And there is great shopping from high fashion to antiques;

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A bank, converted into a book store

img_3255The guy who owned this store, which was stocked with stuff that made my history major heart swoon, said that he USED to have significantly more WWII era stuff, but that the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. bought out most of his best items a few years ago.

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This next store was probably the coolest of of the MANY gaming stores I found in Victoria, as in one every few blocks — apparently gaming is a popular activity there. You could come with friends, or join up with other folks already there, play board games, etc., and buy them if you enjoyed them… plus it was a cafe.

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The owner of this next, historic store, which is the oldest contiuously running store in the city, said he was worried now that US and Cuban relations were about to normalize, as a large chunk of his business was selling Cuban cigars to Americans tourists who couldn’t get them at home.

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Once many years ago, while in the UK, I accidentally purchased a t-shirt made of hemp, found it to be an amazingly comfortable, sturdy, and breathable fabric, and have been looking for clothes made of it ever since; hemp clothing was difficult to find in the US, till quite recently, because of it being a variety of cannabis plant, i.e., marijuana).

So when I saw this store, I got excited; Now, granted, there wasn’t much I could buy — since living out of the trunk of a car limits one’s closet space,  but since I was supposed to attend the orthodox Jewish wedding of an old friend a month later, and didn’t have anything appropriate to wear, I had a reasonable excuse to buy myself a really nice formal (yet informal) dress made from hemp.

Safe!:

From the perspective of a girl from Chicago, Victoria has an impressively low crime rate (see happy homeless people for part of why that is) so that as a single woman I felt completely comfortable walking around alone, even at night;

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Great resturants:

There are no shortage of really great resturants,  (see the blog post about my favorite, the Ferris Grill) all of which have fresh from the ocean seafood obtained from the local, and more importantly working, (see my blog post about) Fisherman’s warf; so that I got spoiled with buck-a-shuck amazingly fresh oysters, most of which were HUGE… and then keep in mind the exchange rate, so that from my viewpoint it was actually cheaper than $1 each. While there is a China town, I was not overly impressed with the Chinese.

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RedFish BlueFish is a VERY popular foodstand on the dock across from the fancy hotel (not fisherman’s warf)

Music and Art:

There is an active music and arts scene! (Although, sadly, not much in the way of Theater) For instance, there are free concerts almost every week day in front of the city hall, not to mention orchestral presentations at the local cathederal, and a plethera of street performers.

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Tourism:
From a straight tourism point of view, there’s relatively little in the way of “tourist trap” attractions (which is not necessarily a bad thing). There’s the aforementioned fisherman’s warf area, there is one really good museum (see my post about the Royal British Columbia Museum) which hosts really impressive traveling exhibits, and a few small ones. There are also in addition to the aforementioned historically themed walking tours a few tour different bus tour companies, whose offerings are for the most part, the same (I took two of them).

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of the multiple tours the most amusing one I spoted (although not for me as I don’t drink) was the rolling pub tour.

And, as a Jew, I was very excited to see an active Jewish community (albiet a tiny one) that was active in the city

4Th of July celebration: Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, WA

According to my friend, a Friday Harbor resident, their 4th of July celebration was recently rated among the best “small town” celebrations of the 4th in the country — (have not found verification of this)

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According to my friend, all those dressed in historical costumes are direct descendants of the original settlers of the Island (Americans in blue, British in red)

Friday Harbor is located in the San Juan Islands off the northwestern border of Washington State. It is an insanely cute place with a very high quotient of artists, and progressive liberals who have things like “sharing sites” set up all over (if you take something you need you’re supposed to leave something of equivalent value that you don’t), etc. These Islands are also prime whale watching territory.

I was had rented two different Airbnbs on Vancouver Island (British Columbia, Canada) for the June (Shawanigan Lake) and July (Victoria), and my friend Christine (who I’ve known for about 20+ years now) had been bugging me for months that I couldn’t go all the way up to B.C., and not visit her Island (a direct ferry ride away). So, since the 4th of July was coming up — and she had promised me that their local celebration of the 4th was among the best in the nation (for small towns), I decided to pop on the Ferry from Vancouver Island (Sydney) to Friday Harbor (it only runs once a day), arriving the 2nd of July and leaving 5th of July… just long enough to get a taste for the place (to see if I might want to book a longer stay next summer) and to see festivities.

(You can Just see Christine’s back in the upper right image below)

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There was a marked aquatic theme to some of the marchers, that was often political. As I said, whale watching is source of tourism to the island, and with global warming and dams that are damaging the wild salmon runs (which the whales feed up), there is a clear terror of the families (pods) of whales that traditional call the Island’s waters home (they even keep semi reliable swimming schedules which all the locals are familiar with), that was evident in some of the parade displays — one of which included a woman dressed like a whale who would collapse from feigned starvation from time to time.

There was also a group from Friday Harbor labs (where students of oceanography, aquaculture and marine ecology do research) all dressed up as various sorts of marine life (which was wonderfully geeky).

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One cute thing was that among the ‘floats’ was a truck laden with little girls all celebrating the birthday part of one of them, called Rose. I had seem the girl in the red checkered gingham dress before the parade started, but in retrospect it was obvious why she was so much more ‘dressed up’ than the average kid lining the roadway to get the treats being passed out by almost every group.

And, as my friend confirmed, apparently the Pirates have a strong contingent living on Friday Island (For those unfamiliar, they are a variant of the SCA crowd who like to dress-up and recreate the medieval period in their spare time, only you’ll usually find pirates in towns like Santa Cruz, with actual harbors, and the most active groups will cooperatively own actual ships of the sort pirates would have used, and do their reenacting on the water, and hold events to that end)

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At one point a guy rode by on a horse who looked like maybe he was supposed to be Teddy Roosevelt, which confused me because I had no recollection of him ever coming to the Island, but just in case anyone didn’t recognize the reference he was followed by a horse dressed up like a buffalo with the word BISON written on it’s back side (Theodore Roosevelt National Park anyone?) … all of which led to a troop of boy-scouts — so now it all made sense.

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One of the things I saw multiple times during my short stay was Suzy’s Mopeds which had one of their rental lots right near my friend’s apartment. Assuming the weather is good, these are a good rental option for folks who come to the Island sans a car — and insanely cute.

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I was happy to see (among the various pro feminist floats — there was even one devoted to men in favor of ending domestic violence) a float about the National Park Service Women’s History Initiative — where they are now focusing on memorializing important American women, some of which I have gone to.

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IMG_2722 After the Parade was over we were all pretty trashed, so we headed back to Christine’s place to crash, before heading out again for the fireworks.

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I particularly like the “flower theme” that seemed to be playing out with the display. I have a feeling that the pyrotechnicians who designed the display intentionally took into account how the reflections on the water would play into it….

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July 1: Canada Day in Victoria, B.C.

Canada Day, is not an “independence day” equivalent to July 4th in the U.S.A.; rather, it is a national holiday commemorating a 1867 event when the remaining North American British colonies unified & reorganized themselves (by mutual agreement of the British and their Canadian colonists) into a confederated single country called Canada, but one that remained for another 115 years part of the British Empire, until 1982.

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Source: http://www.victoria.ca/EN/meta/news-archives/2016-archive/join-us-for-victoria-celebrates-canada-day.html

This commemoration event made me realize that my knowledge of Canadian history is woefully and embarrassingly non-existent; I actually had no idea that Canada Day even existed, nor for that matter its date, nor did I fully understand what it was about; so, it was by happy accident that I began my one month stay in downtown Victoria, B.C., the day before this event.

(That said: I am currently looking on Amazon.com, both the US and Canadian ones, in an attempt to rectify that, and just not finding much.)

This ignorance (a state of being I have little tolerance for) was brought home to me when one of my oldest friends, asked me ‘what is Canada Day’ and I didn’t know the answer. Gina — who looks like she could be my better looking, much thinner and slightly taller sister — and I have known each other since kindergarten. She’s been visiting me from time to time as I’ve been doing my road trip, since she likes to travel, but her hubby not so much, and she has neither the time nor inclination to travel intensively, the way I have been doing it. So, from time to time she takes a few days off from work and comes to where ever I happen to be — usually after I’ve been there long enough to have a sense of what she might want to see, and she crashes at my place and I become her local guide. When she therefore asked me, “what is Canada Day” I realized that I genuinely had no clue on how to answer that (it was annoying), other than that I was sure it was NOT an Independence day. Canadian independence from the British Empire happened when I was a Junior in High School, and I remembered it. It was a really big deal at the time particularly in my home, since a lot of my family is British (and by birth, technically, so am I).

So what follows is in answer to Gina’s question of, “well if it isn’t an Independence day, what is it?”…..

Originally called Dominion Day (a choice of words I find interesting), Canada Day Celebrates the confederation in 1867 of the two colonies (Nova Scotia and New Brunswick) into a whole, named Canada, which was then immediately broken into FOUR Provinces: Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick.

This however was not ALL of what is now Canada, as there are actually ten provinces and three territories (not just four provinces), and these are:

Provinces: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland & Labrador (which apparently count as one), Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec, and Saskatchewan.

Territories: Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon.

The major difference between the two categories seems to be whether their power is derived from the constitutional act of 1867 (also known as the British North America Act of 1867 — territories) that Canada Day commemorates, or whether their power is delegated by the central government (which I assume means the central government maintains the prerogative to revoke them at some future time, I assume after the territories are more densely settled — must investigate further).

The province of British Columbia, where I currently am, didn’t join until 1871 when it became the sixth Canadian Province, after the negotiation of a few legal and economic points. From my perspective, this sounds a lot like what happened with the Crown colonies joining the US — with North Carolina and Rhode Island being hold outs until their terms were agreed to, or the current on-going and in the news example of European countries and EU membership.

And that said,  I am about to go off on a HUGE historical tangent, which this brings to mind: namely, the historical question of, “Did the Southern States have the legal right to secede from the Union?” (And what the fuck does this have to do with Canada, is what I assume you’re currently thinking to yourself. No really, bare with me.) The answer is predicated on, do you consider the U.S. Constitution to be a contract or a treaty. No seriously, it makes a HUGE difference from a legal standpoint… and MOST legal scholars tend to agree that Lincoln, as a lawyer, must have known that he had no legal right to stop secession, precisely because the constitution was initially ratified in 1789 with only 11 of the 13 colonies/states agreeing to it, and the holdouts adding on later by 1790 — not to mention our ability to add more states as needed without having to write up a new constitution. (Point of fact, one wouldn’t know unless you majored in law or political science: legally, no one can enter a contract after the fact; for that to happen the old contract has to be broken and a new one created that all current members sign. This is not so with a treaty, where others can join on the agreement after the fact, and more importantly, in a treaty signers reserve the right to leave at will with no major repercussions, which you don’t get to do with a contract.) Most legal scholars consider the constitution to be a treaty for this reason. However, that said, since all of the Canadian colonies were under British control (sort of like teenagers legally, rather than full adults) I don’t think British Columbia would legally have the right to secede, but it is an interesting thought anyway.

From the little I’ve read, while prepping to write this — again, I am looking for some good general readers on Canadian History — the reorganization, and the general semi-independence granted to Canada by the British was definitely influenced by what had happened in what were, then, the United States, in an attempt to keep Canada in the Empire. For the most part it worked, and Canada was kept at least legally dependent on the British Empire for another 115 years, or in other words until just 34 years ago in 1982.

So, back to the fun part:

There was a whole schedule of events lined up for the day, but where Americans seem to be married to the concept of 4th of July parades, followed by music, food, and then fireworks… the Canadians seem to really enjoy forming ‘human flags.’ Apparently — from what I was hearing — every major city in Canada does one of these, and there’s a sort of unofficial rivalry for who can do the biggest one… which Winnipeg seems to hold the record for, and the fact that it included free Canada T-shirts was a definite draw from my perspective.

Unfortunately, by the time we got done brunch (dim sum, not great), and dragged our asses the five or six blocks from my apartment to the lawn in front of the British Columbia Parliament building (the majestic building with the green rooms), they had already handed out all 1,500 t-shirts. We did however get there in time to see them forming the flag by herding people, based on t-shirt color, into specific locations that were marked by bright yellow strings. There were multiple TV stations and Newspapers taking shots, both from the ground, and from elevated positions.

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Along with this, there was also live music (really good live music I might add), activities and a bouncy castle for the kids, many folks touting red maple leaf temporary tattoos on their faces, and no shortage of adults embracing their Canadian Identity with a geeky fervor that I just loved.

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Just off to the side of this were food trucks, and public service groups advertising everything from efforts to revive nearly extinct species specific to Canada, to public service groups. Gina and I are both very Jewish (in our own ways), we met at a Jewish Kindergarten, and were really happy to see that there was a Jewish contingent being represented.

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From them we learned that there are a few different synagogues in town; apparently, the conservative one is not only just up the street from my rental, it is also the oldest surviving synagogue in Canada (I will endeavor to stick my nose in late this month); they had mistakenly said it was the oldest in all of North America — but I knew that couldn’t be right because I (rightfully) thought that one is located in Rhode Island, but I didn’t correct them. However, according to Wikipedia the one in Victoria is the oldest West coast synagogue in North America…  Unfortunately the congregation is so small that they only do Saturday morning prayers regularly, with Friday night prayers only happening once a month. There is also a reform, a Chabad (of course), and a spiritualist new age type community.

Besides this we found rows and rows of local artists selling their wares. Products ranged from hand made native american art, to bucket loads of jewelry and clothing, to bizarre garden gnomes.

One item for sale kind of freaked us out. If you’ve been shopping lately you’ve noticed that fossilized ‘life’ of various forms, and quartz seem to have not only become all the rage, but seem to be selling as jewelry that range in prices from $180 to an almost identical item selling for $5. At one such table I picked up a necklace that appeared to be a fossilized leaf… really pretty, and it slipped from my hand and hit the floor and shattered. I showed it to the guy managing the table and apologized saying, “you break it you buy it” and he waved me off saying not to worry about it, “we guarantee what we sell, so if it broke from one drop, don’t worry about it.” Both Gina and I just “LOOKED” at each other, and walked away a bit freaked out. We both mentally went to, ‘if that cost them so little that they don’t care customers break them, then none of that stuff we’re seeing in stores must be real.’ As in I think the Chinese have figured out how to mass produce this stuff, and the product selling for $200 a pop might be the same crap that’s selling for $5 a pop.

Buyer beware is all I can say about that.

After that Gina and I were both utterly warn out, and headed back to my Airbnb rental to crash. On the way back we passed a very hunky looking Canadian policeman (seriously, hubba hubba), and I asked him where the best places to see the fireworks from were, describing about where my rental was. He suggested a location much closer than the one advertised, and we thanked him…  we went back to my place and we both fell asleep for a few hours before heading out to the fireworks.

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Afterwards Gina noted that this had been two firsts for her: firstly, watching fireworks from an angle where you can actually see the track of the fireworks, and secondly, she had never really watched them fully over water before. It was quite lovely.