44 Days Abroad: London, UK

We visited many parts of England before making our way to London. Going to London was like coming home. It reminded me of Toronto, just on a larger scale. London felt like being in a bubble, it was as if we left England altogether and somehow transported to a mega city. The bus ride into the city was bordering on gross to horrendous. I had to use the facilities, which were located at the back of the bus. As I entered the cubicle I realized this toilet was going to be problematic, even for going number one. I decided to flush the toilet as a good measure to see what I was dealing with. A jet of water shot out of the toilet about two feet tall and then came down covering the entire floor in toilet water. I backed out of the stall, shut the door and went back to my seat.

The Tube, London’s underground subway is amazing. I can’t remember having to take a cab anywhere while we were in the city. The museums, specifically The British Museum had some of the best collections of Roman, Greek, and Egyptian artifacts. The British Egyptian collection is considered to be one of the best in the world, and is a cause of controversy as Egypt has unsuccessfully requested the return of some of their items. History and Ancient Civilizations has always been an interest of mine, and part of me wanting to go to Europe was based solely on seeing the various collections of art and artifacts. The British certainly cleaned up during colonialism.

The best part about London is the boroughs. The city is pockets of communities that offer different flavors. Each area has it’s own unique vibe. Camden Market was gritty and real. The market itself was a lot of fun. I ended up getting a ton of stuff for fifty pounds, including a pair of BEATS ear buds. My girlfriend ended up getting some dresses for ten pounds each. Brixton was another treat. The entire community is full of shops, and fresh food markets. It’s a fun place to just walk around.

My advice to anyone going to London is to stay central to the places and things you want to see and do. The city encompasses a huge geographical region. Even though the transit is great, it can be slightly annoying to get from one end of the city to the next. Especially if you plan on flying in. I found Kings Cross to be convenient for me, as it was central enough and not the most expensive area to stay in. It fit my budget, well sort of. London was a city that I just scratched the surface of. More time is needed.

44 Days Abroad: Barcelona, Spain

Never judge a book by its cover, and in that regard never judge a city by its cover. Landing in Barcelona wasn’t shocking, but getting into the city was. The city looked old, and from my limited perspective cities are patchworks of high rise apartments and embody the idea and image of progress and constant change.

Though, to be progressive does not mean that a city must continuously tear down itself and rebuild anew. Still, from my rooftop balcony looking out across the gleaming warm city I couldn’t help but feel as though I was in a slum. It is an opinion and thought that I am not proud of. I would have been best to hold judgments till I had spent longer than twenty four hours in the city.

Hitting the pavement allowed me to see the city from a new perspective. The shops, restaurants, and infrastructure were all modern. The people were for the most part welcoming and warm. I felt accepted and free to explore. The city is culturally diverse, which given my travels to some countries that border on being xenophobic – I was quite pleased.

The city is extremely accessible. The transit system including the subway for example is one of the better systems I used in Europe. The city was also financially accessible, as restaurants and food were cheap. For example a beer in a bar would cost 1 Euro. Some of the side streets were often frowned upon for tourists to go down. I would disagree. That is as long as you have common sense. Getting lost was the best part of exploring. I stumbled across some great restaurants and even museums that were off the beaten path. I decided on my third day that I’d like to get a massage to help my weary muscles. I found Kiromasaje, which had some great reviews on TripAdvisor. I was a little skeptical, given that the massage was only 30 Euros. I remember the trek to the place, it was a little confusing and involved Google Maps. Eventually we ended up at a deserted alley that had locked doors. The doors would only open ten minutes before the massage. I was worried that maybe this wasn’t the type of massage I was looking for…

Upon entering the establishment my partner and I were greeted by two female RMT’s who offered us a cup of tea. The decor was Moroccan themed and had a great vibe. Sixty minutes later I emerged onto the streets of Barcelona feeling refreshed. Oil still on my skin from the massage. We walked around for hours enjoying the warm summer sun.

The best days of my trip were spent in Barcelona. The beaches, the food, the people, and the sights. Everything exceeded my expectations. Be back soon.

44 Days Abroad: Paris, France

I remember a conversation I had with a friend of mine I had before I left on this trip. They told me to “not get too excited for Paris”. I was a bit taken back by this statement. After some research it became clear that Paris is widely considered by many to be a rather disappointing place to visit.

I felt that getting the chance to experience this first hand would either validate this opinion, or hopefully disprove it. Unfortunately, Paris is like black licorice. It’s not necessarily good, but if you eat it enough you might like it. The usual qualms most tourists have is that it’s expensive.

The city was extremely expensive. The streets and architecture are beautiful, but many of the streets looked the exact same. I felt that it was a typical style that became repetitive after awhile. The charm wore thin. The patios were plentiful, but many charged a steep price for just the basics. The cost of restaurants and entertainment made certain parts of the city inaccessible to many inhabitants. Having spent some time on the outskirts it became clear that the government’s priority was maintaining the core, while neglecting the outer communities. It felt artificial. It was almost like being in Disney World. Tax rates are extremely high, most working residents falling in the 30 to 40 percent income tax category. On top of a 20 percent goods and service tax. It’s no wonder the city is mostly filled with tourists, and the opulent.

Paris has been romanticized in almost all forms of media. Paris is extremely significant historically, and culturally. Some of the greatest artists from writers to painters have called Paris their home at one point or another. It was a melting pot for creativity. However, besides areas like Montmarte many artists of today could never afford to call Paris home. There is artists living in Paris, though it does not appear to be any sort of mecca.

The museums are top notch. The Louvre and Musee D’Orsay were some of the best I’ve ever been to. The collections are impressive. The Louvre was massive in scope and size. It’s not something I’d recommend a person do all in one day.

Paris is now another notch on my belt. I probably won’t go back. I don’t hate it, but it definitely wasn’t for me.

44 Days Abroad: Bristol, UK

I had been in the air for nearly ten hours when I arrived at Amsterdam International. I decided to leave at roughly five o’clock Eastern time from Toronto Pearson International. The logic behind leaving mid afternoon was that I assumed I would end up sleeping for a few hours once in the air. That assumption did not pan on out as intended.

I had a quick layover in Amsterdam, only an hour or so. When I boarded the plane headed to Bristol I looked like a zombie. My hair was a mess, my eyes had huge bags under them, and my mental processes had about a ten second delay before my body responded. A lady sitting next to me asked me something and I distinctly remember me looking at her for a good while before I figured out what to say. She probably thought I was high.

Arriving in the U.K was disjointing at first. I wanted to sleep, but people were just waking up. Going to bed when the sun rises sucks. I managed a couple hours once arriving at our destination. It took over a week for my sleep pattern to somewhat normalize .

Bristol is a mixture of bohemians, families, students, hipsters, and new wave hippies.

Bristol is a city ripe with change. The city is going through a rapid gentrification process. Homes are hitting record prices. There’s a sense of optimism throughout the city.

The roads are an absolute mess. The city wasn’t constructed with the foresight that the city might need rapid transit, parking, or multiple lane roads.

My cousin lives in Easton, an up and coming borough of Bristol. The shops and food are diverse, offering a true sense of multiculturalism. Late at night we depart down Stapleton Road towards St. Mark Street. We cut through back streets and alleyways. The graffiti on the walls are bright and artistic, we hope to catch a glimpse of a Banksy. We end up a local pub called The Greenbank filled with just about every sort of person. I even spot a young couple on their way home with a baby in a carriage.

The Greenbank had just recently been re-opened. I was told of the establishments long unsavoury history of being a place someone could hire a prostitute from. I see no signs of anything I was previously told about this establishments past.

Having had the opportunity to visit areas deemed undesirable on this trip, I believe that people are like places; our reputations often proceed us.

44 Days Abroad: Eight Years Later

Photo © Caribb

In a couple days I will be departing Toronto Pearson International Airport bound for Bristol International Airport. I plan on using the experience of travelling to help improve my writing. I will be visiting a laundry list of cities and countries. All of which I’ve never been to.

I have spent the entire year saving, planning, and sacrificing. I wasn’t the only one. My fiancée and I have put our future plans on hold and decided to go on this trip. We got engaged just a little over a year ago. When we met eight years ago we bonded over the idea of delaying University for a year and travelling to Europe. Neither of us truly had a clue how much money that would actually cost at the time. Each of us will likely have spent close to ten grand before the summer ends on this trip alone. Going to wedding venues and investing the time in planning a wedding makes people realize how much a wedding actually costs. It didn’t take long for either of us to let our minds wander. We began to ask ourselves, what else we could do with that kind of money? Both Rebecca and I have fantastic parents that did not use money to compensate love or attention. I am glad that my parents aren’t in a financial position to foot the bill for all my endeavours, including my desire to go to Europe when I was nineteen. I am glad that I have had to work towards things I’ve wanted in this life. I know many children and adults whose parents compensate love and attention with money and gifts. Many of these people would give back every dollar if they could just have a parent that was both active and present in their life. I do not envy these children.

If you know someone is engaged and does not openly talk about their engagement, take it is a cue that the person probably doesn’t want to talk to you about it. It might not even be personal slight against you. Being mentally prepared to get married is not the only common denominator for two people to tie the knot. Time, money, and priorities all play key factors in determining when two people tie the knot. By constantly asking questions like “have you booked a date yet?” and “where are you at with your wedding plans?” can make people feel uncomfortable. It can also strain relationships and embarrass people, especially when these questions come up in public.

Our parents won’t be paying for our wedding, not that I would want them to anyway. I believe that there is no right amount of time for an engagement. Like most things in life, it happens when it happens.

I was reminded tonight that I will be taking a total of ten flights during the entirety of the trip. Spoiler Alert, I’m afraid of heights, flying, and the sensation of falling. If nothing else this should make my blog a bit more interesting.

 

SilverCity Mississauga: An Obituary Well Deserved

SIlverCity Mississauga recently shut its doors for good. The theatre was owned by the Cineplex corporation. Located at Ridgeway and Dundas on the west end of the Mississauga, Ontario. The theatre changed ownership from Famous Players to Cinexplex in 2005 when Viacom sold their theatres in Canada to Cineplex. Though, officially the name SilverCity never changed. 

On an emotional level I don’t think I’ve completely processed the lose of SilverCity. It was more than a place where I worked and earned money. It was a place of friendship, love, and rapid change. To this day I have not had a job where the tone of a workplace was so heavily set by the employees. Every month felt like a new feeling, a new emotion, and a new set of individuals. We were all growing. I remember spending the majority of my free time at the theatre, even if I wasn’t working.  It was our Mecca, our social scene. I moved three times during the course of me working at the movie theatre, and yet I can scarcely remember what two of those places I lived in looked like. I can however in vivid detail explain every square inch of that building.

The misfit theatre. Used mainly for independent films, children movies, and B list films that always under lived or over lived their life expectancy. Like loyal fans we took our loses. Win or lose. Whatever it was, it was ours. Our theatre was rarely busy, which gave us time. We had time to learn from another, time to interact, and time to discover. I think back to those days and at the time I remember thinking, “if only we get that next big film”, “if only we get more consistent films”. In my ignorance I did not realize that neighbouring theatres were busy from open to close. If our theatre had the same intensity I highly doubt our knowledge and friendships with one another would be so deep. It was in our mediocrity that we benefited.

If the movies sucked, there would always be more. We didn’t care.

Late nights, early mornings. Cold sweats. Drunken nights, hungover mornings. Scraping and saving. Wasting and splurging. Using and abusing.

The theatre gave me love in three distinct ways. First to a girl who I dated for a year. Secondly to cinema and film. Thirdly and most importantly for the opportunity to meet and date my future wife. I am grateful for all experiences, good and bad. I am also grateful for the friendships I’ve had. Some of which have transcended my time at SilverCity. For those who were part of the theatre are part of a special community. It’s something only we knew about.

Although I understand that Cineplex is a business, and profit and loss almost certainly played a huge factor in their decision to close the theatre. It still doesn’t make it any easier. In 2012 Cineplex acquired four of AMC’s theatres in Canada, which helped contribute to the over saturation of Cineplex’s brand in the General Toronto Area. The company needed to cut some fat.

If SilverCity Mississauga was seen as an unsuccessful theatre it was because of both companies stance (Famous Players and Cineplex) on using it as a bargain bin for films. In a city notoriously known for being deprived of entertainment options, I can’t help but feel as though others and not just a select few will see this as a loss. The building and land will be converted into a fitness facility. Something, which in my opinion the city does not need more of. All I can think of saying to end this post is something that I will never forget; 10-4 brother, over and out.

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Don’t Get Trapped

Life has a way of putting people into boxes. Whatever you do, don’t get trapped. I’ve met a lot of people in the past year who are brilliant and capable individuals. Because of their education and current life commitments (family, mortgage, etc) they aren’t in a position to better their situation. In most cases these individuals are comfortable. Lots of people in general aren’t looking for greener pastures, they’re just trying to hold onto what they have.

“Knowing there’s a trap is the first step in evading it” – Leto, Children of Dune

I’m speaking directly to my generation right now. I’m not saying don’t buy a house, eventually. What I’m saying is that if your options are to live a life of certainty with predictable outcomes or do something unknown or uncertain, always choose uncertainty. If you ever need a reminder of why, you don’t have to look too hard to find someone who given the opportunity and support would live a completely different life. Actively engage these individuals in a conversation, they will likely tell you of some of their regrets as well as some of their hopes and dreams. Don’t let your fear paralyze you into inaction.

Remember, “mediocrity gets you pears” – Against Me!

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Elder Scrolls Online: Still On The Fence

I haven’t posted much on WordPress in over a month. Life got busy, and I stopped actively writing every day. On a much more positive note, I recently picked up the game Elder Scrolls Online. I thought it’d be interesting to talk about my experiences so far. This game has been on my radar for some time, as I believed it to be “The Next Big MMO”. Elder Scrolls Online, also known as ESO is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game. MMORPG for short. The game takes place in the same world as the popular game Skyrim. With all the uncertainties and disappointments this game has had so far, I still believe it to be in far better shape than Rift, Tera, or Aion was or currently is.

Things The Company Does Well

I have been extremely impressed with ESO’s stability. The company is attentive when it comes to dealing with bugs and problems. The launch was one of the first MMORPG’s in history that wasn’t a complete catastrophe. It was busy and the que lines were a little long in the beginning. However, the company did extensive beta testing, which included stress testing their servers prior to launch. According to IGN, ESO had 5 million beta testers. That’s a lot of server traffic.

Making the centre of the map a massive open PvP zone was a great idea. I’m also a fan of all players having their stats (Health, Magic, and Stamina) increased while in the middle of the map. Every player can be involved in PvP (Player vs Player), even though their character stats won’t make them do comparable damage to that of a max level player. The newbies can still be used as cannon fodder when rushing an emenies keeps or playing the role of support by firing and repairing siege equipment.

The game allows players to download customized User Interface Add Ons. Which, is not only pretty cool but revolutionary in some ways. Companies who fight against UI mods in their games are wasting their time. Some players like name plates and mini maps, and some players don’t. The UI customization can help improve not only your experience in ESO, but your skill and abilities as a player. Players who want to be competitive will always look for something that gives them an edge. By allowing player run communities to develop and share UI mods with other players they have helped and will continue to help new players. I’ve been part of clans and communities in games where programs or scripts used to improve your abilities in PvP were given selectively to “elite” players in the community. There has always been an underground market for programs which enhance a players game play capabilities.

Assisted Aiming

I was really excited when I first started playing. I was looking for a First Person Shooter MMORPG that rewards player skill, and not just character skill. I didn’t notice it at first, but shots are assisted. Obviously there is a range in which a shot will miss – if it’s no where near the target. I would estimate that I probably hit 95-98% percent of my shots with a bow.

That being said, some ultimate abilities are aimed. Timing spells and chaining them with your group is fairly important. It reminds me of League of Legends in a weird kind of way.

Some of the things ESO Needs to Fix

Like WoW (World of Warcraft) there is an auction house. Unlike WoW, it is not global. The Guild Stores are mini auction houses that are accessible through a person’s bank. To make up for the limited trading one person can do between his or her guild, ESO allows a person to join up to five guilds at a time. The pool of people to trade with is significantly increased by the number of guilds to the point that I have not had a problem selling or buying items.

I like to trade. I don’t like to be part of people’s guilds to do this. If I join a guild it should hold some value and mean something. I’m not against people being part of multiple guilds, but users shouldn’t be forced to join them in order to be part of the economy. Some players will argue that by not having a global market it forces more unique opportunities for localized trade. I see some benefits and drawbacks to having a global auction system.

The game lacks fluidity. The world doesn’t feel open, or real for that matter. Having played video games for almost twenty years now I have come to enjoy using terrain to my advantage, especially against other players. Using real world strategies or combat tactics help to make a game feel authentic. Being able to climb and jump on top of terrain is an enjoyable part of exploration for me. Climbing mountains in ESO is just ridiculous. There’s one way up, and if you don’t find it then you’re going to spend a good twenty minutes finding it. A lot of areas that seem like they should be accessible aren’t. Jumping and general movement seem fake and unrealistic. Gravity seems to kick in at the games discretion.

There’s Still Hope

ESO isn’t everything a person who digs Sanbox MMO’s would want it to be. The game in my mind has the potential to develop and change over the next several months.

I see ESO as a comprise between hardcore MMO fans who enjoy open world PvP, and PvE casual carebears. PvE stands for Player vs Enemy. This refers to players who primarily enjoy fighting computer controlled enemies. The game is slanted towards the PvE crowd, but I am discovering more elements of open world PvP as I continue through my playing experience. The game does in some ways try to  actively encourage small scale PvP. Even though from my experience the PvP is mostly Zerg vs Zerg.

There’s enough to keep someone playing ESO who enjoyed Darkfall, DAOC, Ultima Online, or Shadowbane. A lot of big name clans are digging this game, but many of them feel uncertain about its future. ESO is walking a fine line between trying to appeal to two camps. Lean too much in one direction and you’ll lose a large portion of your player base.

If

If player housing isn’t incorporated into the terrain then the idea is a wash. Any time player housing is separate of the main map, the experience is diluted and lacks substance. The unique experience that comes from designing your own home, as well as PvPing around player houses has made several games I have played extremely enjoyable.  Also interesting, as players in games like Darkfall and Ultima Online have been able to exploit the ownership of their house to kill people. This sort of feature has helped define various games.

If ESO follows in the footsteps of WoW and throws more levels at us every couple of months then the games will slowly lose a large portion of its population.

If questing is the main source of content upgrades for ESO then the games is following in the footsteps of every WoW clone ever made.

I’m reiterating my point, but if ESO appeals too much to the PvE crowd and loses touch with increasing localized PvP they will turn a lot of people off their product. It’s important to try to utilize sandbox elements, even if this game is clearly not a sandbox. I may be wrong, but I assume the majority of people see increasing levels in paid content patches as a money grab. It’s also a time sink. I’ve got caught in a game where I spent months levelling up a character casually only to have the game increase the levels on me. This happened right as I was about to reach max level. I decided to cancel my subscription and quit the game. I won’t hesitate to do it again.

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American Hustle is No Casino

I have recently read some comments about how American Hustle is similar to Casino. Having just finished watching American Hustle I feel like the comparison isn’t one the film should be awarded.

Don’t get my wrong, American Hustle is an okay film. When it first came out into theatres I noticed it had a pretty high rating from users (something like 95%, if my memory serves me correct). The trailer also caught my attention and put it on my radar of must see films of 2013.

The movie failed at creating a deep personal connection with Christian Bale (Irving Rosenfield) and the audience. In Casino, Robert De Niro’s character does a superb job of this. This critique isn’t even a knock at Christian Bale, who I think is an amazing actor. Giving the limitations of the script and plot Bale did a fantastic job. The potential and talent weren’t the problem. I felt as though the deep friendship the movie implied between Jeremy Renner (The Mayor of Camden, New Jersey) and Christian Bale (Irving Rosenfield) was forced. I believed that The Mayor was a good man who cared about his constituents. What I didn’t believe is that Irving Rosenfield and The Mayor were good friends. The relationship never developed, at least not on screen.

I left American Hustle feeling like I had just seen a mediocre film that had the potential of being something excellent. If anything I’d give the movie a solid 70-75%. Bad movies are easy to get over. Movies that leave you wondering what could have been are the hardest to get over.

The film didn’t get snubbed at the Oscars, as many believe. Post Oscars several large papers had entertainment editorials focus on American Hustle not getting a single statue. Not always do I agree with The Academies choices, though in all categories that American Hustle was up for an Oscar there was clearly better films and better actors to choose from.

On the topic of better films, The Wolf Of Wall Street was consistently good from start to finish, though it did not get much traction at The Oscars.

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Road Rage: Why People Scare Me

The video will make sense after you read the post. 

I have been driving for several years now and not once have I had an accident. I tend to play it safe on the roads. I consider myself a defensive driver.

I’m familiar with people getting upset while driving. I don’t want to classify this as road rage, as it’s not as extreme as road rage. I’ve had people cut me off and swear at me through their wind shields – I myself have got upset while driving. But not once has it ever escalated to such a level as it did today.

During lunch I was at a restaurant picking up food. I got my order to go and got back into my car. I signalled right to exit a plaza. I looked back and saw a white truck several hundred feet back. I thought it safe to make my turn. As I turned I increased my speeds significantly to the point where I was going slightly over the speed limit. The white truck behind me saw me merge and increased their speeds significantly. As I was driving the truck was literally inches from my bumper. I decided it best to get out of this person’s way. As I signalled left and tried to merge the truck followed my movement. At this point I slowed my speeds to a point where the truck decided it best to go around me.

As the driver passed me he slowed down beside me to swear at me and insult me behind his window. Which, was perfectly fine. I told the person to fuck off and thought nothing of it as I was turning left and the driver in the truck was going straight. Neither of us opened our windows to escalate the conflict to a point in which I thought something might happen. It was words, nothing more.

The truck sped up and turned his car sideways in the middle of an intersection. He was blocking me from going left or going straight. The man got out of his vehicle and started walking towards my vehicle. My first instinct was to lock my doors. I looked behind me and noticed that there was no traffic coming. I put my car into reverse, which caused the man to full on bolt towards my vehicle. Several cars stopped at this point to watch what was going on. I would have simply made a U turn but there was a medium separating East and West traffic. I put my car into drive and tried to go around the driver who was shuffling his body back in forth like a linebacker trying to stop a running back from scoring a touchdown.

I managed to make the turn and get past the individual who was dangerously using his body to block my car. I looked back, the man ran to his truck and turned right after me. I made a quick right, then a quick left. I saw the vehicle but he was losing distance on me. I managed to use some side streets to get myself lost. I parked my car in an industrial parking lot, pulled out my phone and waited. The man never showed up. I never got his license plate, or a detailed visual description of what he looked like. It’s hardly enough information to bother a police officer with. Still, I hope someone watching felt it necessary to write down the person’s information and contact the police.

In the end, making a rude gesture back to someone when they make one at you just isn’t worth it. Assuming everyone has the same emotional regulation was ignorant on my part. Next time someone flips you off, or wants to get into a physical or verbal confrontation with you just remember that just because ninety nine percent of the time it stops with words does not mean it always will. Sometimes in the rare occasion an individual with stop their car in on coming traffic and run at your car. They will endanger your lives and theirs without a second thought. Hopefully one day this driver keeps it too real, and gets exactly what’s coming to him. If there’s one force I believe exists in this universe – it’s karma.

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