Sunday, 8 May 2016

Surprise Vacation Week!

The word of the week is surprise.

May 2 – New Month!

It's new month, and I usually say something about such...

Yet this month, I'm a bit of a loss, and I don't really know why.

It's a somewhat strange feeling, a little akin to anxiety in a way: I feel off-balance and strangely indecisive, with a bit of a worry tickling the back of my brain.

Kinda a weird to start out a month that way.

It's not like I don't have lots of things to look forward to: I have a lot to do over the next half a year and perhaps that's what's been on my mind. Getting down to the nitty-gritty means that some other things have to go by the wayside, but in thinking about it today, there's not a whole lot that I'll be giving up, per se.

Reading, I think is the one thing that's been on the to-do list for a while, with dozens of books languishing unread on my shelves, which I think is a tragedy. Even reading a book or two a month is nowhere near what I used to consume and I've wondered if my creative side has felt the lack the last few years. Probably.

As for other things, it's mainly organizing this or that, getting around to one thing or another or just finding some time to think about things that I don't usually ponder, making time to do something other than worry about finances or friendships.

I think I'll let May just be, and see how it turns out. Simple enough?

May 3 – Walking

One of the things my Pebble smartwatch does is keep track of my steps.

This is extremely useful, as I've been aiming to get more overall exercise on a daily basis, either through walking or riding the exercise bike that I now have and use 3 to 4 times a week.

The walking part is a bit trickier, as I work at an office job and moving one's arm around can fool the watch into thinking that you're walking instead of just doing paperwork. By setting the watch aside during time spent at my desk, I've been able to separate walking around the office or outside from said paperwork and the average walking distance of a workday is anywhere between 5000 and 7000 steps. That includes a walk around a few blocks during one of my breaks, as well as walking to and from work, with perhaps some local shopping after the workday's done tossed in for good measure.

Walking 2 to 5 miles a day is pretty decent, and it's a good base to add exercise to, which I've also been doing: 20 to 30 min. of cycling every other day. It's burning around 400 calories over a 10 km distance at low resistance and getting my heart rate up to the point where it's useful for cardiovascular health without overdoing it. Being as sensitive as I am to my heart rate of late, it's an interesting balancing act to ensure I'm not going too easy nor overdoing my biking sessions.

Just one step at a time, that's how you do it.

May 4 – Star Wars Day( again! )

It's one of my fave days of the year today! 

I'll let this video speak to you about it, from Emerald City Comicon 2015:

May the Farce be with you! ;-)

May 5 – Journey by Air begins!

Let the travels commence!

I can let you in on a little secret that I've been keeping for a few weeks now: my lady and I took a plane to Ontario at the last minute for the weekend - as of today!

A friend of mine is getting married later this month down in Mexico and unfortunately I can't afford to go down and be part of the destination wedding. A group of our mutual long-term buddies decided to throw him a semi-batchelor dinner-and-drinks sendoff in Toronto this weekend as a surprise, which again I wanted to attend but couldn't afford the $1000-round-trip tickets, plus other costs.

Happily, my parents caught wind of said plans and offered the use of their long-saved Aeroplan miles... for both myself AND my lady to head to Toronto for the weekend get-together! I managed to find solid hotel and car rental deals through Hotwire as of a week ago and booked everything then, while still keeping it secret from most folks say those who were planning the small sendoff so as not to spoil the surprise. I also worked out a tightly-packed yet comprehensive itinerary to allow us time for seeing everyone Friday and Saturday, planned down to 15-minute increments. Complex? Yes, but it worked!

We headed out to the airport at noon today and were on a plane by 3 PM, winging our way towards Vancouver and then Toronto. Due to the length of the flight and the time difference, we arrived after midnight and settled into our hotel around 1 AM EST, rather tired but happy to be in Ontario at last! My lady's never been out east, so it's an adventure for her...

As for me, it's been almost three years since I was last back visiting family and friends here and I am beside myself with happiness to be able to see some of them this trip!

May 6 – Toronto Visit!

We slept in a little, up for a 9am breakfast at a local diner, myself feeling somewhat out of sorts. We both decided to go back to the hotel room for another couple of hours of sleep due to the time difference and to shake a bit of travel fatigue in general. Also, the diner's food was rather overrated on Yelp: 4.5 stars compared to my own rating of a 3: adequate but unspectacular in breakfast terms, but it filled me up and sat well, so that's worth bumping it this time to a 4 at least.

We met my friend Jason for lunch at a little Thai restaurant on King St West, who served excellent food for remarkably low prices - a great choice! It is especially nice to be able to find FREE parking on a side street almost immediately, which turned out to be a theme for our trip: I'd spent some of my time searching for inexpensive parking lots on the Internet and having my eyes pop at their rates - an added trip expense I didn't want to incur, if at all possible.

After lunch, we headed to downtown Toronto to see some sights!

After driving around on a few too many no-left-no-right-turn streets, we managed to find the municipal parking lot underneath City Hall which was the perfect location for what we wanted to do in the afternoon locally. I showed my girlfriend a portion of the underground PATH system, which is always expanding and a great way to get around in the wintertime or during super-hot summer days.

We went on to the Eaton Centre, just for a walk-through so I could relive a few of my nostalgic memories: as a child, whenever we were visiting Toronto we almost always travelled here. My lady remarked that the mall was quite a grandiose place, but was likely more interesting back in the 80s and 90s before fashion outlets and other high-end stores took over most of the real estate inside. I agree, and I thought the Sak's Fifth Avenue store that has replaced the Sears on the one end of the mall was astromically overpriced and tacky-gaudy to boot. Give me a good bookstore anytime... and I was saddened to see the hole in the ground to the north where the World's Biggest Bookstore used to be.

Me, riding a unicorn!

Outside again, we paid a quick visit to the Silver Snail's new location on Yonge Street. I thought the new store had retained some of the charm of the old, but had far less of anything that I wanted to purchase apart, from some extremely expensive polystone statues. It was also interesting to walk through the new 'Times Square of Toronto" located at the corner of Yonge and Dundas, which is a far cry from what I remember there 30 years ago: it's now full of video screens and frenetic pedestrian activity.

From there, we walked down to the CN Tower, south of Front St West, in glorious weather that everyone said was a far cry from the cloudy coolness of the week ago - I guess we brought it with us from Victoria! We walked around the entire base of the tower before we managed to find the entrance, tented over due to construction; no signs or anything, thanks! Once inside, we waited in line for about 20 minutes in a large fairly-quiet crowd before heading up the tower - we didn't opt for the Skypod for an additional $12 each.

At the top, we quickly headed out to the exterior walk on the lower level to escape the crowds, most of whom were packed around - and on - the glass floor. That's nothing I want to get anywhere near, as my survival instinct still overrides my logic, same as my last visit here a decade ago. Thanks to the perfect weather, the view outside was spectacular and my lady was treated to fantastic views of Toronto as well as Lake Ontario and even some of the shoreline on the far side of the lake. Incredible!

Once down from the tower, we made our way over to the Distillery District( a new and very cool Toronto development the last 10 years )to meet my friends for a few drinks before dinner. We ended up on the patio out the back of the Mill St Pub, in plenty of time to be at the table for our batchelor friend to arrive and be surprised that I and my lady were there! I introduced her and we spent a lovely time outside under the perfect sky, reminiscing and ribbing and having a grand old time together again.

Dinner was literally next-door at the Pure Spirits Oyster Bar and Grill, where we were treated to amazing service at our reserved table by the staff. The food was fabulous, including the pair of oysters I tried, my first in twenty years - yum!

We Six, and a Lady... had fun!

I can't describe just how great the company tonight was! On being able to sit at a table with my lifelong friends and my lady at my side, catching up and having old stories made new again when being told for the enjoyment of my lady. Each of these guys has been in my life for decades, and the years rolled away as we spent a few glorious hours together again. 

It was as good as it gets. :-)

We left the fellas around 11pm, for the half-hour drive back to where we were staying near Pearson airport. The thunder of jets overhead eased at midnight thanks to night curfews imposted by the airport on flights, and we finally got to sleep soon after that.

May 7 – Niagara Visit!

We managed to get some decent rest before scooting out the door for a 9 AM breakfast with my cousins in Milton, who put on a spectacular spread and we all had a wonderful time catching up. I saw more of my cousins when I was younger, and regret that life has led us to all move so far away from each other, even when I was living in Ontario years ago.

Then it was off towards Niagara!

We made a short unscheduled stop along the way after fighting some high volumes of traffic to meet my friend Mike for thirty minutes at a Tim Horton's. I happily introduced my girlfriend and then we caught up, at least for the bit of time we had. He's doing well and it's always a pleasure to talk to him, as he's a creative personality like myself, so we usually have much to discuss.

From there we continued on through more heavy traffic from the Burlington area all the way through to Stoney Creek, delaying us a further 30 minutes from my schedule's timing. We made it to my Aunt Connie's a little before noon, where we spent time with her and my cousin Anne-Marie, again catching up and just enjoying each other's company. Their house I remember well and fondly from my childhood, as my aunt has lived in the same place for my entire life. I remember it crowded with family at Christmas, Easter and at all the events in between... all I have to do is close my eyes and everyone's still there.

Unfortunately we couldn't stay too long, as we were expected in Niagara Falls for lunch; being an hour behind schedule didn't help either. We made it to my Aunt Carolyn's at last, another place that I visited many times when I was younger and I remember it being full of family members all the time. Today it was just myself, my lady, my Aunt and my cousin Paula, who had helped put together the lunch as my Aunt had fallen a few weeks ago and wasn't moving very well on her own. We had a wonderful time reminiscing and they enjoyed asking after my lady for details of how we met and what she did - another theme for the trip!

Then it was swiftly on down to the tourist heart of Niagara Falls, Clifton Hill!

We lucked into the perfect parking spot right on the Hill itself, in the middle of the crowded chaos of tourism( a reason I've never visited this area )that's normal on a nice weekend in Niagara Falls. We hurried down to the entrance to Hornblower Cruises, which has replaced the old Maid Of the Mist tours in recent years. There were a fair number of people there already, but thanks to the efficient operation and large capacities of the boats, we managed to be on board within 15 minutes of arriving up top. The view from the deck of the boat as it approached both the American and Horseshoe falls was simply spectacular: giant building-high walls of thundering water and blinding spray that seem so close that you could reach out and touch them across the churning water:

It was the perfect way to introduce my lady to Niagara Falls!

After drying out, we paid a quick handshake-visit with my friend Al and then hit the QEW to make it to my grandfather's place right on schedule in the late afternoon. We took him out to dinner at Joe Feta's on Lake Street, which is somewhere that my family had quite often went due to the amazing Greek food they serve. We had a great time visiting with him; at age 95, his mind is still sharp and he still lives ably on his own, though our nearby family looks in on him every day to be sure that he's doing fine. I hope that I'm in as good shape when I reach his age... and he's another reason for me to make it back to Niagara more often.

After a quick drive through my old neighborhood in the North end of the city to show my girlfriend where I'd grown up( ravine!!! )we made it down to the Kilt & Clover in Port Dalhousie for 6:30pm, right on schedule - huzzah!

My friends started arriving around 7 PM and by eight o'clock there was easily a dozen of us on the patio. The weather had clouded over, but the patio heaters did a almost too-good job of keeping us toasty despite the cool breezes coming in. As a bonus, the demolition of the buildings across the street meant that for the first time ever in my many years socializing there, we could see Lake Ontario from our seats on the patio - neat!

More and more people showed up, swelling my heart with joy with each face that I had not seen in far too long. All the times I spent at the Kilt over the years I lived in Niagara, I was in the middle of a social mileau that I didn't appreciate as fully as I might have until I'd moved away. Seeing all my friends together, talking to one another and just plain enjoying one another's company made me realize how extraordinarily lucky I've been in the company I've kept over the years. One and all, they're a fantastic bunch of good people, and so many turned up by the evening's end that we had a hard time leaving on time... which we didn't.

The drive back was uneventful, but after turning in the rental car we didn't make it back to the hotel by cab until 1am. Ugh. So little sleep...

May 8 – Home again!

5am came way too early today, but we had a 6:30am flight.

We were on the shuttle and at the airport for 5:40am... which apparently wasn't early enough to be aboard our flight, according to the Air Canada lady at the counter.


Apparently, we needed to check in at least 45 minutes before the flight, and by standing in line for 10 minutes, we'd missed our window.

*deep breaths* *avoid panic attack*

While the Air Canada clerk was checking for alternative flights, I mentioned that I rarely flew, so I hadn't caught that particular time requirement... and that we also didn't have baggage to check. Something in the way I calmly put those logical bits together must have clicked, because she quickly conferred with her manager... and then opened boarding for us, with the admonishment that the flight wouldn't be held if we didn't make it in time - we had 33 minutes.

With heartfelt thanks, we took our boarding passes and ran for it.

Security check? 8 minutes. Total running time? 12 minutes.

Success! We trotted up to the gate just as the last half-dozen passengers were being boarded, with us not even out of breath. As it turns out, the flight was delayed another 10 minutes due to a minor cockpit glitch, so someone out there was looking out for us... and we're very grateful for the help.

But, sometimes there's a price to be paid...

On the last short-hop flight to Victoria, my tiredness caught up to me and I left my camera behind, under the seat. *sigh* I realized it an hour after I had arrived home and unpacked, so I called Air Canada right away... and spent 45 minutes in an online chat that was lagged to high heaven, since the Lost & Found # on their website rang busy all afternoon... *le sigh*

Then my lady and I parted ways for the day, both of us tired but happy that the trip had gone so well! It was a lovely mini-vacation and while fun, not something that I'd care to repeat again with so tight a schedule; a week is the minimum time we'd need next time.

Tired as I was, I didn't nap, as I wanted to be able to hit the hay tonight and sleep like a log. I typed up a good portion of the blog in the afternoon, so that my sister and I could watch How To Train Your Dragon 2 in the evening - she needed something to perk her up, as her cat of 17 years is being put down in the morning( more on that next week - I can't bear to write about it tonight ).

A friend of hers was kind enough to order us a huge assortment of Thai food, so we ate and laughed and in general tried to lift her spirits. It was a quiet end to a joyous weekend, but I  already knew it was going to be a somber one, since the kitty decision was made a couple of weeks ago... so it all balances out.

I'll sleep tonight, and deal with tomorrow when it dawns.

Tired, but happy after this whirlwind week and also a bit somber. I'm taking it all to bed to sleep on.