Home, Sweetie, Home

Friday, December 16, 2005

Air Canada really needs to get up to speed on transatlantic flights
Well, I made it home. I woke up in London plenty early for the flight and since I'd used Air Canada's internet check-in, I even had an aisle seat (you can pick your seat assuming the plane's not full already). Just before 1:00 London time, the wheels lifted off and my stay in Europe ended. The movies being shown were Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, which I'd seen, some black and white movie where the guy from Spiderman and Reese Witherspoon enter this TV show (called Pleasantville) and introduce emotion (and therefore colour) to the characters, and Fantastic Four. A pretty good lineup, Pleasantville wasn't as bad as it sounds, and Fantastic Four wasn't as good as it could've been, but I already had heard that so it was good to see it free on a plane.

That said, I don't know if I'd use Air Canada again for a transatlantic flight. There were no problems, BUT from what I hear almost every other airline in the world (I believe Virgin was first) has personal TV and you can choose the movies, pause, etc. Nevermind looking around the stewardess to try and make out the charactersin a show you don't really want to see anyway. But I suppose I made it home safely and with the only mishap being further damage to my backpack (they broke a zipper) so personal TV's aren't really that important in the scheme of things.

Canadian timezones for dummies
Well, that's not quite true. They also changed my connecting flight from Calgary to Saskatoon. It was supposed to leave at 4:00 leaving me to arrive at 6:05 in Saskatoon. However, I'd not memorized the details and when I got to the gate and saw that the flight was leaving at 6:15, I just remember the 6:05 and thought it sounded right. With the time change, I reasoned, one hour difference, plus a 45 minute flight, that should be about right. Of course, it didn't occur to me until I was on the plane that the time change was an hour in the opposite direction (I seem to have problems with these time zones, don't I?) and too late to alert anyone in Saskatoon that I'd given them the wrong time.

Running Back To Saskatoon
Nevertheless, when we got home (my cousin Gus and his family was on the plane home from Athens as well) everyone was waiting and had eaten so I didn't feel AS bad. And it sure was nice to see everyone again. It IS nice, I should say. Aside from the fact that I wake up inexplicably and uncorrectably by 6 AM everyday, and occasionally am tired by 10 PM, there's not much jet lag to get over. It was a little weird to look on a map and see myself back in North America again, but things really haven't changed much. The restaurant's been renovated (again), there are a few things different around the city (HEL is closing, the College/Circle interchange is coming along and they've started digging for the new cinema) but otherwise, things are seemingly as I left them.

Oh sure, my car wouldn't start (I replaced the battery and it's fine now but I think it's running a little strangely), my old 373 phone number has been given to an old lady (who I feel sorry for this week), my cell phone doesn't exist (I'm going to get a new number today), the cabin is sold, my room was clean, Mariah is twice as tall, Nicole has moved out, and various other bizarre phenomena, but things are still the same.

I've spent the two days here running errands, getting replacement cards, a new license, sorting out papers, bills, and so on, and getting life back in order. I start work again on Monday, and then I will be back to where I was when I left almost exactly 7 months ago.

One of my favourite photos that didn't make the cut
Now, so far as this site goes. A few things. First of all, I've finally gotten around to picking out my Favourite Photos of 2005. Check them out and please feel free to vote for your favourites so that the best come to the top. Or go through all the photos and pick out your own favourites. You may have noticed I added a link on the left hand side called "Site Feed". If you have a news aggregator, use FireFox, or have any other means of subscribing to feeds, then this may be something for you. It basically lets you know when I update the blog so you don't have to check. In FireFox, if you add it as a Live Bookmark, it will also tell you what the latest 'headline' is.

Which is where I'm going to leave it this time in order for a nice segue into my next post about a site you've probably heard about (it starts with a 'g' and rhymes with 'zoogle'). Meanwhile, I'll be working on getting everything done I said I would, more photos and so on posted, and other more Christmas related stuff. If I don't see you before then, Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and all the best. Thank you for sharing this past year with me.

Around The World In 7 Months (Or Less!)

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Trafalgar Square at Christmas Time
So, without a doubt, this is the last post I will be making abroad for a good span of time. For you see, it is Sunday night, 11:40 PM at this exact instant and I leave for home in exactly 13 hours. But, before I go and do a hastily thrown together recap of some of the good times that we've shared in this last 7 months of bloggery, let me complete my trip up until the time that I go to sleep tonight by recapping this final fantastic weekend (and the days leading up to it).

Wednesday. London, England. Temperature: +3C. Looked around London. Amazing Christmas displays, Oxford St. is lit with Christmas-light chandeliers. Carnaby St with multi-coloured flourescent lights and spinning mirrors that act to make it look like there are more bulbs than there really are and also give a cool effect. Regent St is covered with ice blue lights, flashing/'falling' snowflakes, and various other effects, not to mention characters from the highly anticipated Chronicles of Narnia. London really does shame every other city in the world (well, okay, I've really only been to a few cities at Christmas time, but New York was one of them) when it comes to lighting up for the season. Not that London itself is better than New York, of course, nor even that individual homes have much festiveness at all, even compared to Saskatoon, but the city lights are something to be seen. So, I walked and looked and shopped a bit the backpackers' way: walking near all the places with stuff you'd like to buy AFTER they've closed. Of course, with the humidity (not as bad as Dublin but still, to use a local expression, brass monkeys out there).

Thursday. London, Still. Temperature: What am I, an almanac? Thursday, I had to switch hostels from the Generator (big, lots to do, fun, but a little grotty) to a place called the Ace Hotel (they missed the 's' when they did the signage and decided to keep the name as a result, I think). It's not as central and on the other end of the centre, but not too far. I also wanted to go up to the north end and the Hellenic Bookstore and pick up the Greek text I ordered. Finally, today was the day I wanted to get to Oxford, since Friday I was meeting up with Catherine, a friend I met on Contiki in Scandinavia. However, the bookstore took longer to get to and to visit than anticipated, largely due to the great selection of Greek texts. I wound up buying the one I'd ordered anyway, but it doesn't hurt to look at the others. I also picked up some other Greek books that might help my sisters if they're so inclined, including Learn Greek in 25 Years, which seems overly optimistic for me but is quite a funny book (written in English thankfully).

Camden Town
So, by the time I was done there, and knowing as I did that I had to pick up my bag from the Generator, transfer to Ace, and so on, I gave up on the idea of Oxford today. I instead walked around nearby Camden Town, though I didn't make it to the market (I've seen my share anyway), and finally transferred hostels. By then it was 3:00 and I was meeting some friends (Simon and Tre) at 6, so I strolled around for awhile, looked into musicals (nothing playing that I especially wanted to see, so I didn't bother), and met them a little after 6 in a small pub off Tottenham Court. We had a drink there and then they took me out for Indian food, which was great because it was something I'd been wanting to do while in London anyway (they have a very large Indian population and a good reputation for it). The dinner was great, I tried a sample of a bunch and can definitely recommend Chicken Tikka Masala, quite the tasty dish. We went out to a bar and sat on the patio (so I guess it wasn't too cold, though even with the heaters on it wasn't exactly warm) and passed the evening. It was great to meet up with them here, both very cool people and great to chat/catch-up with. It was a good Thursday.

Friday. London. Etc. Friday was the day for me to go to Oxford. Catherine wasn't in until 9:00, and I woke up and got ready to go. I'm not sure where the time went, but by the time I'd wandered over to Victoria Station to catch the Oxford Tube (really a bus service), eaten, and so on, it was 1:30. Still, away I went, after all, I'd been told it was only a quick 30 min hop. 45 mins at the outside. However, whoever told me this must have forgotten to mention that this number applies to only ideal conditions, no traffic, and getting on at the very last stop in London and off at the first in Oxford, possibly using a plane instead of a bus. So almost 2.5 hours later, I was in Oxford. 4:00. It was already getting to be dusk, and most of the things I'd come to see, I wasn't going to be able to anyway. The College buildings were closed. The museum (called Ashmoleum Museum amusingly - to me anyway) was open but I didn't have time. And of course I'd travelled without a map and just got off the bus somewhere I thought looked remotely centralish. Given the duration of travel and my meetup at 9:00, I didn't have much time. So I wandered the town centre and bought some books for the way back/plane. It's certainly a nice town but a little quiet and there's not much to see in the evening, so that was the extent of Oxford for me. I got back right in time to meet Catherine (after a pretty nice dinner of sorts - tapas, actually - in a Spanish restaurant) and we went out for a drink or two and the weekend officially began.

Alexandra Palace Inside
Saturday. The Weekend. Oops, I mean London. England. Temperature: Really quite pleasantly warm. Finally Saturday had come and with it, the one thing I was most looking forward to in London: Franz Ferdinand LIVE(!!!!) First, of course, we had to pass the day. This proved relatively easy. We had breakfast at a restaurant on the corner, the first time I'd had eggs in who-knows-how-long, and, surprise surprise, walked around some more. Catherine, who's living in the UK at the moment, showed me some cool places she knew. But for some reason, even with the little drink we'd had (really, one beer and we shared a bottle of E&J Cabernet) we were both a little drowsy and fighting headaches. Stupid California. So, to get rested up for Franz, we went to a movie. I'd seen everything playing, so we went and saw Harry Potter since I'd missed the first (now having seen it I know) hour and a bit last time. It's a long but good movie, but with the ads in front, it was too long. I really hate paying as much as we do for a movie and then sitting through COUNTLESS ads. Trailers/previews, yes. Good. I love previews. But car ads, insurance ads, sometimes the same ad twice (for a shampoo, except once was with a blonde and once with a brunette). Then they had the nerve to talk about pirating and how it wasn't as good as the cinema. Newsflash: Pirates didn't pay £12 for the show (WAAAAY too much to begin with) and didn't have to sit through a SINGLE SECOND of crappy ads. But I'm ranting. Again.

Franz Ferdinand Blowing Our Socks Off
With the movie out, however, we realized that thanks to these ads we were behind schedule, since we got out at 6:00, still had to get all the way up to Wood Green, and then take a shuttle to Alexandra Palace, where the doors opened at 6:30. So much for a spot right at the front, but we made it there by around 7:00 and only missed a few songs of opener The Rakes' set. We managed also to work ourselves to very near the border of the tall people so we were looking over a sea of short people not too far from the stage, right in the centre, close enough to see everything but far back enough to get a good mix of direct and speaker sound and see the screens. Next up was The Cribs, I believe, who were not bad at moments but need to learn a thing or two about dynamics. And then, stomach aching minutes later (for you see, I'd made the mistake of a beer at the show and there was NO WAY I was going to get to the washroom and back to my spot again so it was time for a hold-a-thon), the lights dimmed. Enter Franz Ferdinand.

The show was brilliant, and the more I think about it, the better it gets in my head. The venue is, incidentally, the courtyard of an old palace, not open air, but covered with a collapsable canopy that they opened a little to let some fresh air in and keep it from getting too warm. So, there's Alex Kapranos (a Greek/English boy, by the by) and the band and all of a sudden who needs the washroom anyway? The set was great, a good mix of old and new. The sound was flawless. And I've become a convert for their new record. Well, OK, I liked it, but now I love it. I don't remember the setlist by any means, but they played Dark of the Matinee twice (two versions of it), Take Me Out (the crowd went nuts, of course), Auf Asche, well, really, they covered it all. They opened the encore with Jacqueline. Well, Alex did. Then, intro finished, the lights came on and the band came in and it was one of the best encores out there. What a Saturday night!

Hyde Park in Winter
Sunday. Today. Last Day In London. We went out for breakfast again, with me singing various Franz songs all day. We went shopping in earnest for people at home, though in the end I came away with nothing for them. It's hard to do when you haven't seen them in so long. I'll have to do that when I get back. We had a nice Italian meal, we walked in Hyde Park, and now I'm packed and typing this. Hyde Park was nice, but more open then I expected (I guess with all the Jack The Ripper history, I was expecting a lot of trees). So here I am ready to go home. Excited but somehow nervous. Or, well, that's not the right word, but either is excited. It will be weird to leave Europe behind and return to reality, but at the same time, I can't imagine travelling anywhere at the moment.

So I'll save the recap for later, I guess, and just say that it's been great and I'm looking forward to seeing many of you tomorrow and in the coming week. It's been a long time, too long (well, for most of you) :) and I hope we get that rectified soon. See you next time in Saskatoon, and the blogging will continue. Thanks for reading and travelling with me.

UPDATE: I am pilfering photos of others to at least spice up the blog a bit. I'm doing my best to use photos of things I saw and from this year so it's KIND OF like I took them.