A-Kon 24

I was in Dallas May 30th to June 2nd to attend A-Kon, an anime convention I’ve been going to since 2004.  Chantel and I drove up on Thursday, grabbed our friend Liz, checked into our hotel room, and went gallivanting around the Dallas area before settling into our hotel-home.

We grabbed lunch at Chipotle and did a bit of shopping.  We stopped by a LUSH store at Liz’s request, and had a fantastic time smelling and testing all the lovely products.  This was my first time in a LUSH store, and now I wish we had one down here in Corpus Christi.  I could probably spend a load of money in there, but was fairly reasonable and walked out with a Fizzbanger bath bomb and a Mange Too massage/lotion bar.  Following that, we went to H-Mart, which is a rather large Korean grocery store.  When we arrived last year, we did the same thing.  I suppose it’s becoming a bit of a tradition.  We went to the Purikura shop and played in one of the photo booths before browsing the grocery store and picking out a few snacks.  If you don’t know what purikura is, it is short for purinto kurabu, which is print club.  Each booth has a variety of options to choose from before snapping your photos.  When you’re done, you leave the booth, move to another curtained area, and decorate your pictures with a variety of stamps, borders, words, and other things before you finalize your selections and your photos print out.  Then you can keep them as one sheet of pictures or cut them apart and share them with friends.  Additionally, they are sticky-pics, so you can peel off the backing and use them to decorate other items.

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Then it was off to the fantastic Mozart Bakery for pastries.  It’s so hard to decide what to buy when everything looks so delicious.  But we made our choices, did the rest of our running around, and headed back to the hotel to wait for one more friend to join us.  Once Bobii arrived, we attempted to go pick up our convention badges, but they were closing the registration lines just as we got there, so we opted to grab some dinner and go hang out in the room for the night.

This was the first year since I’ve been attending A-Kon that the event wasn’t at the Sheraton downtown (formerly the Adam’s Mark hotel).  Instead, it was at the Hilton Anatole, which I have stayed at before.  It’s a beautiful hotel with a lot of space, including lovely outdoor space, and a large collection of Asian artwork.  Additionally, the hotel made sure to have a variety of food options available for con-goers.  There were also food trucks parked outside throughout the weekend.  However, there were things that I was less than pleased with regarding the hotel and the convention this year.  Regarding the hotel, I feel like the convention-goers were pre-designated as untrustworthy hooligans, as our room was lacking several things that should have been standard room amenities.  Perhaps I’m wrong about this, but it makes me feel as though these items were removed in advance to avoid having them stolen.  For example, we had no hairdryer, ice bucket, or alarm clock.  Additionally, a king-sized bed that should have had four pillows had only three, and when we called down to request more, we were told they were already out of pillows.  Ultra sadface.

 As far as the convention goes, I know setting up such a large event in a new venue is probably troublesome and is likely a series of “let’s see what works best” instances, but that doesn’t make them less annoying.  I’m used to standing in long lines to pick up my badge every year, but the line Friday morning/afternoon seemed particularly ridiculous.   Chantel, Liz, and I were a bit cranky by the time we finally reached the tables to get our badges.  And poor Bobii, who didn’t pre-register and was buying her badge on-site, waited in an even longer line.  As excited as I was to get into the Dealer’s Room, we decided to go back up to the room, make sandwiches, have something to drink, and de-grump before going back downstairs.  Bobii had just made it out of the line when we got back to the area, but we’d made and brought her a sandwich so she didn’t have to wait to go shopping with us.  Honestly, I wasn’t particularly excited by most of the merchandise I saw this year.  Maybe I was just disgruntled over the long registration line, but I just didn’t feel like shopping.

After wandering for a while we went back up to the room and, with much difficulty, decided to order Thai food for dinner.  We had drinks, stuffed our faces, and then played a hilarious game of Cards Against Humanity: A party game for horrible people.  It was so much fun, and I highly recommend it!  Not content to sit around the room all night, we adventured into the hotel in search of some sort of adventure.  The garden area seemed like a good place for such things, so we walked along the trail for a while before settling into a nice, soft spot of grass for some cloud-gazing.  It was rather nice, and it makes me glad the hotel has such a wonderful outdoor area for guests to enjoy.

The next morning Liz and Bobii got suited up in their Rarity and Applejack (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic) costumes, and I snapped a few pictures of them outside before we all started melting out of our makeup and Liz’s feet fell off inside her awesome Jeffrey Campbell boots.  Ha!

We wanted to scope out the Dealer’s Room again before they closed for the night, but we made it in with only ten or so minutes to browse, so it was another unsuccessful shopping trip.  So, we went back to our room to roll around for a while and decided to order Italian food for dinner.  This was a horrible decision because I think our eyes and brains were bigger than our appetites.  We ordered pasta, which came with salad.  We ordered bread because we didn’t know the pasta already came with bread.  We ordered a small pizza to share because Liz wanted a margherita pizza, and we ordered dessert too.  Geez!  But it was so romantic!  We cleared off the little table/desk in the room, made ourselves some drinks, and ate way too many carbs.  Wanting to enhance the mood with some romantic music, I put on the Midnight in Paris soundtrack, which was quite perfect.  We followed up our lovely and horrible dinner with another game of Cards Against Humanity, occasionally distracted to look at the lightning flashes outside our window.

Our plan was to go to the dance/rave that night.  We got a late start, especially after our stupidly large meal.  Who wants to eat a large quantity of Italian food and then go dance?  We eventually made it downstairs, but were disappointed in the music and didn’t feel compelled to dance, so we wandered the hotel for a while before once again going back to the room.

The elevator situation wasn’t as bad as I imagined it would be Sunday morning, and the quick check-out option on the phone made our exit even smoother.  After loading all of our junk into our cars, we went back to the Dealer’s Room for a last try at finding items that really spoke to our souls, we might say.  I did end up getting a cute Rilakkuma bag to carry at the next convention I attend.  It’s adorable and gives me just enough room to carry my ID, bank card, some cash, and perhaps other small and potentially necessary items.  And over the course of the weekend I did grab a couple of cute things in Artist’s Alley as well, so the shopping wasn’t necessarily bad.  I just didn’t find myself as excited about as many things this year.

As our convention weekend drew to a close, we grabbed some quick lunch and ate sitting in the grass before going our separate ways.  It always feels sad to be going home after spending time with such great friends.  And there were certainly things I didn’t care for regarding the convention experience this year.  However, I can’t say it was a total bust because of all the great fun I did have, and I’m going to stay optimistic about next year’s con and hope that, learning from this year, there will be improvements to how certain aspects of the event were handled.

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Me (top-left), Liz (top-right)
Bobii (bottom-left), Chantel (bottom-right)

Here’s to 10 years of nerding out at A-Kon in Dallas, Texas!

PS. Some of these pictures may have been stolen from Liz, so go visit her and stuff: Liz Locksley.

Laissez les bons temps rouler! (New Orleans: 11.24-11.29, Part 3)

And now for the final part of the story of my trip to New Orleans.

Tuesday morning greeted us with rain.  We opted for a more leisurely start to the day.  We bought a few food items to take with us on the trip before leaving San Antonio, and decided to just eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for breakfast before heading off to check out the Crescent City Farmer’s Market.  The rain and chill made it difficult to enjoy as much as I would have liked, but I did buy some fresh Satsuma juice and a cheese tamale.  And Chantel bought some homemade muscadine jelly, which turned out to be fantastic.  Then it was off to the Audubon Zoo.  We pretty much had the place to ourselves because we got there right when it opened and it was a very drizzly day.  So, with umbrellas in hand, we frolicked through the zoo and met loads of cute animals.  By the time we were finished with the zoo (which was HUGE), we were quite hungry.  We went to the Fat Hen Grill, where I ordered Eggs Creole and a fresh blueberry lemonade.  It was super yummy.  Their biscuits are especially good!  After that we went on the longest walk ever through Audubon Park in search of The Labyrinth.  Once we arrived and realized how easy it was to access, we were sort of kicking ourselves for going about it the long way.  But our walk did allow us to see lots of adorable squirrels and ducks in the park.  And I thought walking the labyrinth (a concrete path on the ground) was pretty fun.  We didn’t have any plans for the night, but we did drop by Lafitte’s for another Voodoo Daiquiri, which we took back to the inn and sipped on while watching TV and browsing the internet.

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Wednesday morning we ate at River’s Edge Restaurant.  I had the smoked sausage omelet.  It was simple and yummy, and was served with an order of grits.  I’ve had good grits before, but I never realized how much I liked them.

During our ghost tour we were told a story about a doctor who used to buy slaves and experiment on them in hopes of finding a cure for his own disease.  The place where these events occurred is now the Pharmacy Museum.  Supposedly there have been reports of people feeling as though they are being pushed as they try to go upstairs.  After hearing that, Cynthia wanted to go to the museum in hopes of experiencing something supernatural.  The museum was really cool, and we did hear some spooky creaking as we walked around, particularly upstairs.  However, we didn’t feel or see anything out of the ordinary.

We did some random shopping after that, and stopped by Le Croissant d’Or for an afternoon snack, a chocolate croissant.  Then we went into the shop at the Old Ursuline Convent, which we heard tales of on our vampire tour.  Cynthia bought some gifts for her mom before we went back to the inn to rest until it was time to leave for our jazz dinner cruise on the Steamboat Natchez.  We were worried we didn’t leave early enough and had to wait for a train to pass before we could cross over to where the boat docks, but we made it!  Dinner was good, and so was the music. After we ate we walked around on deck and watched the city lights drift by as we traveled up and down the Mississippi River.  There was something magical about it, and I don’t think we were really ready for the night and our trip to come to an end.  We joked about taking our last five dollars in cash to Harrah’s Casino and seeing what we could make of it, but decided against it in the end.

Thursday was our departure day.  We munched on our snacks in the room, did some more random browsing/shopping, and bid farewell to New Orleans.

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I was so resistant when Cynthia first suggested going to New Orleans a couple of years ago. Now that I’ve been, I would definitely go again. There’s a magic in that city, and it’s full of interesting people, delicious food, and fantastic things to see and do. Tales of ghosts and vampires (and the attractive fellows who tell those tales) don’t hurt the city’s mystique either. I easily fall in love with the places I visit, and I’ll admit that I think New Orleans kept a little piece of me. That little piece of me is probably wandering the French Quarter at this moment, listening for some interesting story or seeking some new adventure.  And the best part was being able to share these experiences with Chantel and Cynthia.

Laissez les bons temps rouler! (New Orleans: 11.24-11.29, Part 2)

We decided the night before where we’d be headed for “breakfast” Monday morning.  The Milk Bar is a fantastic place that serves a delicious variety of sandwiches, milkshakes, and other goodies.  I had the “Wolf Me Down,” which features roasted lamb, mozzarella, tomatoes, sautéed spinach, red onion, and hummus on crunchy ciabatta bread.  I also ordered the Butterscotch Hop milkshake, which was one of the most amazing things I have ever tasted.  I love butterscotch-flavored things, and that shake reminded me of why I love butterscotch.  So good!

After that, we went to the Garden District for our Cemetery and Garden District tour, which was also booked through Free Tours by Foot.  The tour took us through Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, which was very cool and quite interesting.  Also, the fact that we went on a sort of drizzly, overcast day made it somehow better.  I even saw and heard some crows nearby.  The Garden District part of the tour was fairly good, mostly seeing all the pretty houses, but it seemed a bit drawn out and I eventually just wanted it to be over.  Cynthia had scheduled a past life reading for after the tour, so we went back to the French Quarter.  I wasn’t interested in and didn’t feel comfortable going into any voodoo shops, so Chantel and I wandered around and checked out some little shops on Royal St.  We also popped into Antoine’s Restaurant, which was actually more like a café than a restaurant, and ordered Italian cream sodas.  Mine was toasted marshmallow flavored.  It was quite nice.

Again, we took a little bit of time to rest in our rooms before grabbing dinner.  Monday’s choice was Louisiana Pizza Kitchen, where they make delicious pizza in a wood-burning oven.  We chose the Pepperoni Classic and, for something decidedly New Orleans, the Jambalaya pizza.  We also ordered the fried calamari appetizer.  Everything was fantastic, and I wish I could get one of those jambalaya pizzas down here in South Texas!

We had a vampire tour scheduled for that night, but with plenty of time to spare, we went for dessert at Café du Monde, where we got hot chocolate and shared an order of beignets.  We chatted for a while before heading off on a little walk, which took us to The Shops at Canal Place.  However, everything was closed, so all we could do was window shop.  When we got tired of that, we went to hang out in Jackson Square until it was time for our tour.  The vampire tour was booked through Haunted History Tours and was, in my opinion, the best of the three tours we went on during our trip.  Our guide was very captivating, told great stories in an intriguing way, and kept us entertained throughout the tour.  It didn’t hurt that he was pleasant to look at as well.  He even planned a little break at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, which is said to be the oldest continually operating bar in the United States.  We were tempted by the Voodoo Daiquiris, which were big enough to give us something to sip on for the rest of the tour.  I started feeling quite silly after a while, but it was pretty awesome.

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Apparently a vampire tour with an attractive guide and a Voodoo Daiquiri wasn’t enough excitement for the night, so we went to The Old Absinthe House on Bourbon St.  Chantel has long been intrigued by la fée verte and wanted to try an Absinthe Frappe.  Cynthia didn’t care for it, but was determined to finish it and enjoy the experience.  It tasted like a boozy black jellybean.  We wandered a little further before Cynthia floated up to a to-go window and ordered a Hand Grenade, which is supposedly the strongest/most powerful drink in New Orleans.  We figured some food was in order, so we stumbled (quite literally) into the Clover Grill for cheeseburgers and fries.  The guys that owned the place were incredibly nice, the food was good, and we just had a grand time (I typically don’t drink much).  That is until we started the longest walk ever back to the inn, which probably felt much longer than it really was because of my desperate need to use the restroom.  I was never so glad to not be out exploring instead of holed up in the room.

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I think I wrote the most about Monday because it was probably my favorite day/night there.  So I felt like it deserved a post all its own.  The last few days will all be covered in a third and final post to come.

Laissez les bons temps rouler! (New Orleans: 11.24-11.29, Part 1)

My twin sister Chantel, friend Cynthia, and I took a little vacation after Thanksgiving.  For a couple of years now Cynthia had been trying to convince me to agree to a trip to New Orleans, but I kept resisting.  I finally agreed to it early this year and we’d been making plans ever since.  Chantel and I drove up to Cynthia’s place in San Antonio on Black Friday, and we headed out early Saturday morning after a few minor snags.

The drive was long and fairly uneventful, but we did enjoy some nice scenery.  By the time we got to Baton Rouge we were starving, so we stopped at Raising Cane’s and ate chicken strips with some pretty awesome secret dipping sauce.

I think we all felt a huge amount of relief when we finally entered New Orleans.  After being on the road for over nine hours, you just want to be there already.  As we made our way toward our “hotel” I started to think I may have made a poor choice regarding where to stay.  I didn’t want to stay at a hostel, but I wanted to keep the room relatively cheap, so I found the Creole Inn.  But, it turned out we had nothing to worry about.  The Creole Inn operates out of an old house and is run by incredibly nice Innkeepers.  Kim greeted us and gave us a map and a brief rundown of what was where and how to get there.  Our suite was downstairs and made up of a front room with a queen bed, a bathroom, and a back room with two twin beds.  There wasn’t much space to put our suitcases and other bags, but we figured something out that worked for the duration of our trip.  And the rooms were cozy and nice despite being old and not-so-spacious.

After a bit of rest, we got ready to head to Celebration in the Oaks at New Orleans City Park.  We spent a few hours walking around the park enjoying the Christmas lights and other displays, including a huge Christmas tree constructed out of poinsettias.  We also ate dinner at the event.  We each ordered something different so we could share: jambalaya, gumbo, and crawfish pasta.  We also partook of some delightful hot buttered rum.  There were a lot of people at the event, which also featured rides and other attractions.  It was a nice way to spend our first evening in the city, but I think we were all glad to get back to the room and crash for the night.

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We woke up early Sunday morning.  Cynthia wanted to go to church, so Chantel and I joined her.  We walked from the inn to St. Louis Cathedral, which is absolutely beautiful.  I so badly wanted to take pictures, but they don’t allow people to photograph the inside of the church.  Boo.

After that, we walked to Café Adelaide for brunch.  Wearing a hat to brunch can score you up to three complimentary hatinis.  I ordered the Blue Bonnet, which was, unfortunately, so strong I couldn’t taste anything but alcohol.  I didn’t take advantage of the offer for additional hatinis.  I did, however, have delicious Shrimp Courtbouillon.

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On the way to Café Adelaide, we realized how close the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas and Audubon Insectarium were, so we changed our previously decided schedule and decided to cross both attractions off our list on Sunday.  The aquarium was lovely.  It also featured an area where you could buy little food sticks and go into this room with dozens upon dozens of parakeets.  SO MANY PARAKEETS.  And you can entice the parakeets onto your food stick and hold them while they snack.  Cynthia has a bit of a fear of birds, so she got to conquer a bit of that fear too.  The insectarium was cool too, but bugs give me the creeps so I wasn’t quite as excited about it.  However, despite bugs giving me the creeps, I ate a wax worm fried in taco seasoning.  It wasn’t bad, but not something I’ve willingly do again.  And Cynthia had to show Chantel and I up by eating the wax worm and a BBQ cricket.  Bleh.

Following our adventures at the aquarium and insectarium, we stopped by Southern Candymakers for some Divinity.  It was good, but quite sweet.  After that, we went back to the inn for some rest.  When we started to get hungry we weren’t sure where to go or what to eat.  We ended up walking to this little grocery store called Verti Marte, which has a counter in the back with a fairly large selection of foods.  They don’t have seating, so we ordered with the plan to take our food to Jackson Square and eat in front of the cathedral.  I ordered a BBQ beef sandwich and onion rings.  It was pretty good, but nothing particularly special.  However, Cynthia’s macaroni and cheese made with spaghetti noodles was scrumptious.  While we ate we were approached by a homeless guy who wanted some of my onion rings and later another homeless guy who claimed our giggling had woken him up.  He hung around far longer than we would have liked, even after a local guy who knew him told him he should leave us alone.  We wanted to stay in the area until it was time for our ghost tour, but we decided it might be best to escape for a while.  We ducked into the Corner Oyster Bar for an Irish coffee, which warmed us right up!

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When we finished, we headed back out to meet our tour guide in front of the cathedral.  Our ghost tour was booked through Free Tours by Foot, which offers tip-based tours.  The tour was good and our guide seemed to know her stuff.  She told us a lot of interesting and creepy stories, including one that encouraged us to visit the Pharmacy Museum later in our trip.

The tour was followed by another walk back to the inn.

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This would be way too long if I shared the entire trip in one post, so I’ll have the rest broken into one or two other parts depending on how much I type.  So, more later!