Sunday, November 30, 2014

2014 - Black Friday (Michigan)

After several changes to the itinerary, we settled on driving to Michigan to do some Black Friday shopping this year, leaving Thursday afternoon and returning on Saturday.  We decided to go to Michigan due to the snowstorm in Buffalo and the fact that the borders there would be very busy.

This would be my very first black Friday experience and I basically expected to be at awe at how long the lines are and just leave and go to the hotel and sleep.  Luckily this was not the case.

We took a half day on Thursday, leaving at around 2pm, and drove to the Hyatt Place in Auburn Hills.  The drive itself on Thursday afternoon was good with no real traffic and the border took roughly 20 minutes only because we picked the wrong line (there were only 3 cars/trucks in front of me).  From Toronto to Hyatt Place took roughly 4.5 hours with the border crossing.

Note that on Thanksgiving, basically everything is closed, even fast food restaurants.  We were lucky and next to where we were staying, Hyatt Place, there was a McDonald's that was open although the workers weren't too happy about it.  For $13 USD after tax we got TWO Big Mac combos, I forgot how much cheaper food is down here.  We chatted with the cashier for a bit and she was very enthusiastic about our Canadian coloured money and we showed her some and it was like someone finding a unicorn.  Her reactions were priceless.

After a quick bite, we went to our first stop, Birch Run.  We arrived at roughly 8pm and the mall wasn't as busy as I would have imagined with parking lines out the mall and people circling for parking spaces, I was able to quickly find parking by the Banana Republic area which is what we wanted to visit anyways.  Birch Run is an OUTDOOR outlet mall, so make sure that you dress appropriately.  With a CAA/AAA/passport, you can go to the information center near Old Navy for your free coupon book!

We shopped until roughly 1am and we got some good deals for an evening of shopping.  The more popular shops like Columbia, Coach, The North Face, all have line ups out the door.  Here's what we ended up with after Birch Run.  The top two pants (one pair of jeans, one pair of khakis) set me back $30 USD, the 3 dresses, 1 blazer and 1 blouse cost Allison only $80 USD!  The black one was a surprising $12 USD!

Black Friday 2014, after Birch Run
By then, we were tired and just headed back to the hotel and we would go to Great Lakes Crossing in the morning.  The room that we got was a bit odd in terms of layout.  It is a good size with a king bed and a sofa bed with a mini fridge and additional sink.  The oddity is that the sofa bed and king bed are on the same side of the room with a 2-foot wall separating the two and the TV is smack dab cross from the wall.  This means that the TV needs to be swiveled in order for one side of the room to see the TV properly.  Also, the washroom was just a shower and toilet, the sink for some reason is OUTSIDE the washroom.  There is probably a reason for this, but I couldn't figure it out (maybe so that someone can groom/clean up while the other takes a shower/uses the toilet).

Breakfast at the Hyatt was a bit disappointing, it is a continental breakfast which is basically a breakfast buffet.  They served eggs and pancakes but no meat (no bacon/sausage/ham), there is cereal, yogurt, various types of bread with a toaster and various types of juice and of course tea/coffee.  For the second morning, there were sausages and instead of pancakes, we got french toast.  Again, it wasn't anything good, all seemed like cheap instant food instead of fresh (our past experiences with breakfast has ranged from good to really good).  Service however was really good, no complaints there.

Onto Great Lakes Crossing!  We probably got there at around 9:30am and parking was easy to find and had no issues doing any shopping since it was still early (or late depending on if people started at 6pm on Thursday).  It was nice to be indoors since it meant we could leave our bulky winter coats in the car.  There were only lines at the big brands like Victoria Secret and Coach.

Here's what we ended up with after our initial run at Great Lakes Crossing and Birch Run.  I have since added a pair for dress shoes, 2 tops and a suit and Allison got a cardigan and another dress.

Black Friday 2014, after our first visit of Birch run and Great Lakes Crossing
We broke for lunch at around 1:30pm and by then, it was getting busy so it was a good time to have lunch and return after a bit of rest at the hotel.  Our meals were at Olive Garden and Applebee's.  I still haven't gotten used to the portion sizes in USA, even our lunch portions had us bringing back leftovers back to Toronto after each meal.  We were eating like kings for roughly $10 USD a person! 

Upon returning to Great Lakes Crossing after our break, it was clear that the madness was over since once again, it was easy to find parking and the lines for the big brands were no more.  We found a few more things and called it a night when the mall closed at 10pm.

The following morning (Saturday), we had breakfast and did a quick stop at Best Buy to get Allison's Canon ELPH 150 which was on sale for only $100 USD and headed up to Birch Run for one final browse before leaving.  I ended up walking out with a set of Columbia winter boots, Columbia running shoes, and Sorel suede shoes for only $81 USD after tax!

Here's our final haul ($570 USD later).

Final haul from Black Friday 2014

Roughly, here are the costs of what was picked up:

- Canon ELPH 150, $100 USD
- Haggar Suit, $90 USD (includes jacket/pant)

- Bostonian dress shoes, $70 USD (this wasn't a crazy deal but I was looking for dress shoes for awhile)
- Columbia winter boots, $40 USD
- 64GB Samsung MicroSD card, $25 USD
- Columbia running shoes (the blue ones), $18 USD
- Sorel suede shoes (the grey ones), $18 USD
- everything else in the picture was $25 USD or under with a lot of it being under $15 USD

Based on this experience, I'd probably do this again next time.


- Hyatt Place Hotel was $120 USD a night, the place has free wifi, swimming pool, gym and breakfast
- Gas, we needed two tanks of gas from Toronto to Auburn Hill, Michigan and back (roughly 1,000km)

Monday, November 10, 2014

2014 - Scarborough Convention Centre (Anojan and Kaja's wedding)

My second brown wedding and it happened within a span of a month!  This one will be with our friends, Anojan and Kaja, and will be held at the Scarborough Convention Centre.


First of all, let me say that this location needs to invest some money in some proper signage because if you did not know the exact address, you probably wouldn't find this place.  It is situated in an industrial area and it is deep inside so it is a bit hard to find if you were looking for signs to direct you.

Podium for the bride/groom
Now that that is out of the way, the convention centre itself is very nice.  Lots of chandeliers although the colour itself could be better.  The lights give off a very orangey colour which ruined a few of my pictures.  It was very nicely decorated and the ceremony itself was very long but at the same time, very interesting.

A crepe-like appetizer which comes with a sauce like condensed milk and something spicy
The ceremony seemed to last roughly 2 - 3 hours long with a lot of different things happening.  There was an outfit change for the bride, there was a gold necklace ceremony, exchanges of leis (rings of flowers), swapping of reed rings (yes, they had rings made out of what looks like reed), putting on toe rings, circling of fire and probably more that I missed out on.

Kaja (bride)
Lei exchange

Toe ring ceremony
It was a morning ceremony and lunch was included and the included lunch was nice although too spicy for us (it doesn't take much spice to scare us).

Us with the bride and groom
All-in-all, a really nice ceremony at a nicely decorated hall.  I look forward to the reception which is scheduled for next year!