Our room had finally cooled down to below boiling allowing us a night of rest that wasn’t interrupted by fever dreams. This was after we’d endured the various smells emanating from the restaurant below us, a lovely combination of fetid cheese, cigarette smoke and whatever the rain had dredged up. Suffice to say packing wasn’t filled with that same solemn feeling that all our previous places of rest was, especially as we tripped over each other as we were doing it. Our journey to the train station was thankfully uneventful and we boarded without issue.
Today’s trip is the last we’ll be taking by train here in Europe. I had hoped to do all of it by train but the realities of train travel in Europe won’t accommodate the many places we want to visit. That and the fact that some trips are simply better done by plane like, say, Berlin to Zurich which would’ve taken half the time to accomplish. My wife expressed her sadness at this fact as it had been quite nice to watch the countryside go past, the green hills a stark contrast to that of what we have back home. I too lament it somewhat, although I do like the idea of not losing an entire day to travel for our last few locations.
We arrived in Munich in the late afternoon and quickly set ourselves to task in getting our laundry done. I found us a place not too far from where we were which appeared to be good and we headed out into the rainy afternoon. When we got there though they informed us that they wouldn’t be open tomorrow, nor the day after, and so couldn’t take our laundry. Perplexed that they’d be closed on a weekday we left in search of another place. Problem was we had no cash, which we quickly remedied, but then the machines only took €5 and €10 notes. Feeling defeated after wasting 2 hours trying to chase a place down we decided to leave it for tomorrow and headed out for dinner.
After stumbling back the way we came we eventually found a small Indian restaurant that seemed quite reasonable. We made the unfortunate error of ordering far too much food and were completely stuffed halfway through it. The waiter even asked us if it was no good, which we told him unequivocally no, but I can definitely see where he was coming from. With the hangries at bay we caught an Uber back to the hotel to dry off and prepare for tomorrow.
We’ll be spending the better part of tomorrow visiting Neuschwanstein Castle, said to be part of the inspiration of the Disney logo (and also home to some Bavarian royalty for a short period of time, but that’s not what anyone really cares about, right?). Hopefully we’ll be able to sort out our laundry too as there’s nothing more…uncomfortable… than wearing clothes again when they haven’t been washed. All else fails it’s the hotel sink for some socks and jocks, although I hope it never comes to that.
Our alarm went off at a leisurely, but not yesterday’s leisurely, time this morning. Today we had nothing more planned than a simple train journey from Berlin to Zurich, our only train journey that had us connecting onto a different route. Buoyed by our success in navigating Berlin’s train network we decided to catch that into the main train station as well, eliminating the need for an exorbitant taxi ride. So once breakfast was out of the way we checked out and began our short trek to the closest train station and our journey to Zurich.
Getting on our first and second trains proved to be no issue. We’d already caught the same train numerous times over to get us around the middle of Berlin as they all seem to share the same route within the more touristy areas. The second was a train that was very comparable to the Thalys one we’d caught some days prior, being quite new and outfitted with free wifi. However as we got closer to our arrival time I noticed that we weren’t really close to anything I’d call a major station, nor had there been any announcements over the intercom. The time kept ticking away until it past it, and continued to do so until we arrived 20 minutes late.
This posed something of an issue for us as our connecting train was scheduled to depart not 15 minutes after our original arrival time. Try as we might to get to the right platform in time we arrived nothing, our connecting train apparently bang on time. So there we were in the Hanover train station with nowhere to go, the efficiency of the train system cutting us both ways. Undeterred, although a little anxious, I made straight for the ticketing station to figure out where we’d go from there.
The ticketing station runs on those RTA style booths that print you out a ticket with a number on it. I left my wife behind whilst I went in search of wifi, figuring this was a problem I could solve with a little Google-fu. Thankfully these trains run every 2 hours and another one was due to leave in the not too distant future. However for the Eurail pass you typically need to reserve trains before you board them, especially the high speed inter-city ones. Thankfully the ticket clerk was more than able to help us and not 20 minutes after our delayed arrival we were booked on another train.
The rest of the trip was largely uneventful, the German countryside slowly fading away to the rolling hills of Switerzland. The quaint little towns, usually flocked on all sides by crops or vineyards, were a picturesque backdrop to the relative calm of the train. Our 2 hour delay meant we were getting in at around 10PM at night although the city was far from asleep, the Euro cup match ensuring the streets were still filled with people. We managed to find a quiet Italian place to have dinner (one that didn’t have a TV out in the open) which my wife enjoyed thoroughly.
Our hotel room is, unfortunately, likely to be the worst of this whole trip. I’ve stayed in rooms this size for work and thought it was too small even for one person. We’ve barely got space to have our bags open on the floors, the desk is built into the wall with a little pouf for a chair and, to top it all off, it isn’t air conditioned. Considering we’re hitting 30+ degrees now this is going to be an issue and I’m honestly surprised that the reviews I read didn’t reflect these problems. Live and learn I guess.
Tomorrow we’ll be heading out to Zoo Zurich as we’ve heard it’s one of the best in Europe. Then we’ll be taking our fill of Swiss chocolate, something my wife thoroughly appreciated when I returned from my last work trip to Geneva. If we do much more I’ll be surprised, especially with this unrelenting heat dogging us at every turn.
Time to sleep.
The sun peeked out from behind the tall blinds, streaks of light shooting across our bedroom floor. Today was the day, and it was a good one, the day when we’d finally do something that my wife had been wanting to do ever since we left on this trip: ride bikes together. I had roused us early to make sure we had enough time eat, get ready and walk to our meeting point for the biking tour group. Whilst we left a tad later than we had wanted to we still made it to our destination with time to spare, a small group of people indicative of us being in the right place.
Then things took a turn for the worse.
My wife has unfortunately been battling with some form of bacteria ever since she got back from Indonesia last year. We had talked to doctors before we left about it and they had found it to be some common form of bacteria that’s typically harmless but for some it causes all sorts of issues. To rid my wife of it they prescribed some general antibiotics with the caution that it’d make things worse before they got better. She had been putting off taking them because of that but decided it was best to start just before we left Canada. She’s at the tail end of the course now but it seems that’s when things really start to go south.
So we made it to the bike shop to pick up our rides and Rebecca was almost doubled over with nausea. She said she wouldn’t make it but urged me to go on without her. Not wanting to leave my wife alone in such a state I asked if we could delay our tour by a couple days (which they have done for us, kudos We Bike Amsterdam) and sought about trying to get us a taxi or Uber back to our hotel. I got her back and in bed, the poor little thing not wanting to move an inch lest the nausea take hold.
With her safe and sound I figured it was as good a time as any to get my hair cut as it had become a wild mess over the last couple weeks. The barber I found turned out to be closed so I spent the next half hour trying to track one down. I eventually did and they were able to take me in right away. I should’ve been a little more forthcoming with what I wanted however as I ended up with a very…let’s call it “European Gangster”… look. It’s nothing a trim with a pair of clippers won’t fix, however.
I returned to the hotel to check on my wife who had barely moved an inch since I had left her. She was feeling a lot better however and we thought we’d try for one small thing to see how she fared. We made our way to the Anne Frank house only to be greeted with a line rivaling that of the Paris Catacombs and figured our time would best be spent elsewhere. After I got her settled back in bed I went out and sourced us some dinner from the local supermarket. This was where I came across Chimay Blue for the low low price of €2, an opportunity I found hard to pass up. Thankfully my wife was able to keep a good amount of food down and we whiled away the night watching Police Academy movies on one of the local TV stations.
Right now I’m hesitant to make any plans due to my wife’s condition. Tomorrow is the last day of antibiotics and so hopefully we’ve got no where else to go but up from here. So I may end up going solo for most of tomorrow, something I hadn’t really planned for. Not that I’m wanting for lack of choice here though as there’s plenty I haven’t seen yet and my camera has barely felt any love. Hopefully after tomorrow though Rebecca will be ready to tackle our 3 hour bike tour as it would be a real shame to miss out on it otherwise.
This blog has had a pretty good run as far as data retention goes. I’ve been through probably a dozen different servers over its life and every time I’ve managed to maintain continuity of pretty much everything. It’s not because I kept rigorous backups or anything like that, no I was just good at making sure I had all my data moved over and working before I deleted the old one. Sure there’s various bits of data scattered among my hard drives but none of it is readily usable so should the unthinkable happen I was up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
And, of course, late on Saturday night, the unthinkable happened.
Like a good little admin I thought it would be good to do a cleanup of the directory before I embarked on this as I was going to have to move the backup file to my desktop, no small feat considering it was some 1.9GB big and I’m on Australian Internet (thanks Abbott!). I had a previous backup file there which I moved to my /var/www directory to make sure I could download it (I could) and so I looked to cleaning everything else up. I’ve had a couple legacy directories in there for a while and so I decided to remove them. This would have been fine except I fat fingered the command and typed rm -r which happily went about its business deleting the entire folder contents. The next ls I ran sent me into a fit of rage as I struggled to figure out what to do next.
If this was a Windows box it would’ve been a minor inconvenience as I’d just fire up Recuva (if CTRL + Z didn’t work) and get all the files restore however in Linux restoring deleted files seems to be a right pain in the ass. Try as I might extundelete couldn’t restore squat and every other application looked like it required a PhD to operate. The other option was to contact my VPS provider’s support to see if they could help out however since I’m not paying a terrible amount for the service I doubt it would been very expedient, nor would I have expected them to be able to recover anything.
In desperation I reached out to my old VPS provider to see if they still had a copy of my virtual machine. The service had only been cancelled a week ago and I know a lot of them keep copies for a little while just in case something like this happens, mostly because it’s a good source of revenue (I would’ve gladly paid $200 for it). However this morning the email came from them stating unequivocally that the files are gone and there’s no way to get them back, so I was left with very few options to get everything working again.
Thankfully I still had the database which contains much of the configuration information required to get this site back up and running so all that was required was to get the base WordPress install working and then reinstall all the necessary plugins. It was during this exercise that I stumbled across the potential attack vector that let whoever it was ruin my site in the first place: my permissions were all kinds of fucked, essentially allowing open slather to anyone who wanted it. Whilst I’ve since struggled to get everything working like it was before I now know that my permissions are far better than they were and hopefully should keep it from happening again.
As for the rest of the content I have about half of the images I’ve uploaded over the past 5 years in a source folder and, if I was so inclined, could reupload them. However I’ve decided to leave that for the moment as the free CDN that WordPress gives you as part of Jetpack has most of those images in it anyway which is why everything on the front page is working as it should. I may end up doing it anyway just as an exercise to flex my PowerShell skills but it’s no longer a critical issue.
So what has this whole experience taught me? Well mostly that I should practice what I preach as if a customer came running to me in this situation I’d have little sympathy for them and would likely spend maybe 20% of the total effort I’ve spent on this site to try and restore theirs. The unintentional purge has been somewhat good as I’ve dropped many of the plugins I no longer used which has made the site substantially leaner and I’ve moved from having my pants around my ankles, begging for attackers to take advantage of me, to at least holding them around my waist. I’ll also be implementing some kind of rudimentary backup solution so that if this happens again I at least have a point in time to restore to as this whole experience has been far too stressful for my liking and I’d rather not repeat it again.
Recent years have seen the lines of what defines a game blurred significantly. Games like Heavy Rain eschew normal game mechanics in favour of only minimal interactivity, instead focusing very heavily on the story. Most gamers called titles like these playable movies or cinematic gaming (although the later is now more often used for big budget titles that have a movie feel about them) in order to set them apart from their more traditional gaming ancestors. Dear Esther is another one of these such games, being re-released as a stand alone game after it enjoyed some mild success back as a source engine mod. The game made waves as it recouped its cost in no less than 5 hours after going on sale and with the usual friend recommendation I thought it would be worth a shot.
Dear Esther drops you on an unnamed island, put in charge of an unnamed person. As you move through the world a narrator reads sections of dialog describing one of 3 separate story lines. There’s really no driving goal, the narrator doesn’t prompt you to move anywhere, but there’s enough clues to show that you’re pointing in the right direction. There are no puzzles to solve, no enemies to defeat, you must simply keep progressing forward as the narrator reads and you explore the island.
Graphically Dear Esther isn’t that impressive, mostly due to its source engine roots. Whilst there are some scenes that are quite beautifully created the rest of the game is ridden with over-specularity that makes the objects appear fake. It’s not exactly terrible though as there’s really not that much you can do with a long deserted island to make it visually interesting so overall the graphics are passable but nothing really spectacular.
Now this is where I’d usually start talking about the game play, but there’s really nothing more to say about it. All you do is walk around, look at things and have the narrator read passages to you. There’s no sprint button so you’re stuck walking at the exact same speed every time and the only real secret to the game play is to try and find all the places that you can walk to as the majority of them will trigger another dialogue section.
However doing that is not an exact science either as there are many sections that look like they’re inviting you to come down there for another piece of dialogue when in fact there’s nothing there at all. This wouldn’t be so bad but the achingly slow pace at which the main character walks means that what looks like a short trip can take you several minutes to accomplish. When there’s nothing else to do but walk and hope that the narrator starts talking again this gets quite laborious to the point where I just stopped trying.
What’s worse is that if you do play Dear Esther as a game by say trying to decipher the all the clues that are seemingly littered around the place you’re in fact just wasting your time. Sure they tie into the story somewhat but there’s no rhyme or reason to them, they are just there to break the game up visually. Indeed without them you’d spend long sections looking at nothing but varying shades of brown, green and grey. Even then though after seeing the same pattern repeated over and over again they don’t really even serve that purpose, instead just blending into the background as noise.
All of this then combines into an experience that is, for what its worth, completely and utterly boring. There’s really nothing interesting about the experience at all as the jumbled story (done deliberately, apparently) slow pace and so-so visuals do nothing to inspire enjoyment on any sort of level. It got so boring that at a certain point, where a giant hole in the ground is presented to you, I threw my character in there in the hopes something interesting would happen. Instead I was just catapulted back a couple minutes which just extended the painful time I had to spend with Dear Esther.
Reading other people’s experiences had me questioning whether it was fair to judge Dear Esther based on its merits as a game. Indeed nearly all traditional elements that we’ve come to expect from a game have been stripped away from Dear Esther, even further than that of any of the playable movies that have been released to date. Judging Dear Esther as a game then would seem unfair as it’s more akin to a strange kind of performance art than anything else.
The thing is though Dear Esther is sold as a game on a platform that deals exclusively in games. It has the same controls as a game, for the most part, and is being talked about almost exclusively by the gaming community. Judging it on its merits as a game then seems fair to me as whilst it might be far removed from even its closest cousins to completely exclude it from that genre is to ignore some of the core aspects which constitutes a game.
As a game then Dear Esther is astonishingly terrible in every regard. It’s (thankfully) very short with my play clocking in at just over an hour and the longest plays barely touching 2. The graphics, whilst capable of producing some decent set pieces like that shown above, are nothing spectular and above all the game play is simply non-existent. Even forgetting for a second that the lack of game play is intentional the story, which is what should carry a game in absence of game play, is boring and uninspired. I felt nothing for any of the characters in any of the stories and the whole idea of giving you random sections of the story so you have to draw your own conclusions is a hacky way of trying to make each game play unique.
Dear Esther then fails to entertain as a game, as an art piece or whatever it set out to be. The added insult is that I paid $10 for the experience, a price which has netted me other titles like Cave Story+ that managed to not only entertain me but also did so for more than an hour. Based on this I can’t really recommend Dear Esther to anyone unless you feel the need to torture yourself with a slow moving game that will ultimately leave you unsatisfied.
Dear Esther is available on Steam right now for $10. Game was played entirely on the PC with a total of 63 minutes played.
I’m always looking out for ways to improve my blog behind the scenes mostly because I’ve noticed that a lot more people visit when the page doesn’t take more than 10 seconds to load. Over the course of its life I’ve tried a myriad of things with the blog from changing operating systems to trying nearly every plugin under the sun that said it could boost my site’s performance. In the end the best move I ever made was to put it on a Windows virtual private server in the USA that was backed up by a massive pipe and everything I’ve tried hasn’t come close since.
However I was intrigued by the services offered by CloudFlare, a new web start up that offered to speed up basically any web site. I’d read about them a while back when they were participating in TechCrunch Disrupt and the idea of being able to back my blog with a CDN for free was something few would pass up. At the time however my blog was on a Linux server with all the caching plugins functioning fine, so my site was performing pretty much as fast as it could at the time. After the migration to my new Windows server however I had to disable my caching plugins as they assumed a Linux host for them to function properly. I didn’t really think about CloudFlare again until they came up in my feed reader just recently, so I decided to give them a go.
They’re not wrong when they say their set up is painless (at least for an IT geek like myself). After signing up with them and entering in my site details all that I needed to do was update my name servers to point to theirs and I was fully integrated with their service. At first I was a bit confused since it didn’t seem to be doing anything but proxying the connections to my site but it would seem that it does cache static content. How it goes about this doesn’t seem to be public knowledge however, so I got the feeling it only does it per request. Still after getting it all set up I decided I’d leave it over the weekend to see how it performed and come this morning I wasn’t terribly impressed with the results.
Whilst the main site suffered absolutely 0 downtime my 2 dozen sub domains seemed to have dropped off the face of the earth. Initially I had thought that this was because of the wildcard DNS entry that I had used to redirect all subdomain requests (CloudFlare says they won’t proxy them if you do this, which was fine for me in this instance). However after manually entering in the subdomains and waiting 24 hours to see the results they were still not accessible. Additionally the site load times didn’t improve noticeably, leaving me wondering if this was worth all the time I had put into it. After changing my name servers back to their previous locations all my sites came back up immediately and soured me on the whole CloudFlare idea.
It could be that it was all a massive configuration goof on my part but since I was able to restore my sites I’m leaning it towards being a problem with CloudFlare. For single site websites it’s probably a good tool and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t interested in their DDOS protection (I was on edge after doing that LulzSec piece) but it seems my unique configuration doesn’t gel with their services. Don’t let me talk you out of trying them however since so many people seem to be benefiting from their services, it’s just that there might be potential problems if you’re running dozens of subdomains like me.
It’s no secret that I’m not a believer in the iPad (or any tablet for that matter) as the herald of a new era in the world of media. Whilst I now have to admit that Apple has managed to take a product that’s already been done and popularise it to the point of mainstream I still remain wholly unconvinced that this new platform will change the way the media giants operate. Thus far all experiments with launching on this platform haven’t done well but this could be easily due to them not working well in their traditional forms either. Then comes along The Daily, the brainchild of media giant Rupert Murdoch which be almost wholly confined to the iPad. With $30 million spent on research and development and a budget of $500,000 a day you’d think that this publication would have a real chance at beginning the media revolution, but I’m still not convinced.
You see whilst I might be coming around to the idea that this whole tablet craze might actually have something to it (I’m really taking a shine to the Motorola Xoom) the media industry has an absolutely terrible track record when it comes to adopting new forms of media. Whilst a new platform might be extremely popular if it conflicts with their way of doing business they are more likely to fight it than they are to try and innovate with it. Heck many of the traditional media outlets are still struggling to make their subscription based model work on the Internet and that hasn’t enjoyed the success they thought it would. Why then would the same model work for the iPad? From what I can see it doesn’t.
But don’t take my word for it (since I’m a biased source on this subject) take it from the many other people that are under whelmed by Murdoch’s latest offerings. From the videos and initial user reports it seems like The Daily is much like its print cousins, delivering news the day after it happens. They have managed to blend in a lot of social media elements (like Twitter streams and Facebook sharing) but the integration appears to be very weak with the Twitter streams being half a day old and the link sharing giving only a small part of the article. In an age where social media thrives on the latest information even being a day behind in the news¹ means you’re way behind what everyone is interested in. There’s still a place for good journalism however I don’t believe it’s on the iPad, at least not in the form that has been presented to us thus far.
One good thing to come out of this though is the addition to iOS SDK that allows app developers to make use of the subscription framework that The Daily uses. It’s not a major change to the SDK but it does allow other publications and apps the ability to deliver additional paid content to an iOS device without prompting having to prompt the user or sending them through some weird web work flow.
More it seems that people are interested in crafting their own news feed based around their mediums of choice. Twitter is arguably the medium for breaking news with blogs coming in close second and traditional media sources serving as verification once the story has been broken. This is one of the core principles of the Internet in action and no matter how hard you try time has shown that free access to a service is wildly more successful than a walled garden with a ticket price. Of course it’s still very early days for The Daily and the next few months will be crucial in terms of judging the viability of the publication. Right now it doesn’t look good for them but since they’re already $30 million in the hole I figure Murdoch is watching the reaction to his new publication closely and if he’s smart there’ll be some radical changes coming soon.
¹Yes yes, it’s quite obviously that I’m usually several days (or weeks) behind when it comes to reporting stuff. This isn’t a news blog though so being in the midst of media storms isn’t my thing so you can keep your “how ironic” comments to yourselves 😛
It’s no secret that I’m amongst the iPad’s most harsh critics. My initial reaction was one of frustration and disappointment with my following posts continuing the trend, launching volley after volley about how the iPad had failed to meet the goals that some of its largest supporters had laid out before it. After that I avoided commenting on it except for one point where I dispelled some of the rumours that the iPad was killing the netbook market, since there was more evidence that the netbook market was approaching saturation than the iPad was stealing sales. Still I hadn’t heard any reports of the product failing miserably so I had assumed it was going along well, I just didn’t know how well.
To be honest I was intrigued to see how the iPad did almost a year later as whilst the initial sales were pretty amazing I hadn’t really heard anything since then. Usually when a company is doing well they like to trumpet that success openly (hello Android) but Apple’s silence felt like it said a lot about how the iPad was performing. As it turns out it was doing really well, so well in fact that even the most wild predictions of its success were way off:
Apple sold almost 15 million iPads last year. It is outselling Macs in units, and closing in on revenues. The 7.3 million iPads sold just in the December quarter represented a 75 percent increase from the September quarter, and the $4.6 billion in revenue represented a 65 percent sequential jump. (The iPad launched in April). By any measure, this is an incredible ramp for an entirely new computing product. It is so startling that nobody predicted it—not bullish Wall Street analysts, or even wild-eyed bloggers.
A post on Asymco tallies all the early predictions of iPad unit sales from both Wall Street analysts and tech bloggers. The iPAd ended up selling 14.8 million units in 2010. The highest Wall Street estimate from April was 7 million (Brian Marshall of Broadpoint AmTech). David Bailey at Goldman Sachs predicted 6.2 million. Even Apple table-pounder Gene Munster initially thought they would sell only 3.5 million iPads. The average prediction among the 14 analysts listed was 3.3 million.
Even I’d find it hard to keep a straight face and say that almost 15 million sold in under a year isn’t a sign of success. Since Jobs’ return to the Cupertino company they’ve made a name for themselves in bringing technology to the masses in a way that just seems to command people to buy them and the iPad is just another example of how good they are at doing this. The iPad coincidentally fuelled demand for other Apple products leading to Apple having the best financial quarter ever. Even the industry analysts had a hard time predicting that one. There’s then no denying that the iPad is definitely a force to be reckoned with. Whilst much of the groundwork was laid by the several generations of iPhones before it the iPad is quite a viable platform for developers to work on and companies to promote their brand with.
However I still can’t help but feel that some of the hype surrounding it was a little bit too far reaching. Initially many people saw something like the iPad as the death knell for traditional print media, killing all those who dared defy the trend and publish themselves through the digital medium. In the beginning there were signs of a media revolution in the works with many big media companies signing on to create iPad versions of their more traditional media. The results were good too with many of the digital magazines and newspapers selling hundreds of thousands of copies in their first runs. However the shine soon faded failing to capture a new digital market and not even managing to cannibalise sales from their traditional outlets. The media revolution that so many expected the iPad to herald in has unfortunately fallen by the way side and I take a rather sadistic pleasure in saying “I told you so”.
By all other accounts though the iPad counts as a resounding success. Whilst I hate the fact that Apple managed to popularise the tablet format I can’t honestly say they haven’t created a market that barely existed before their product arrived. As always the hype may have run away from them a little bit in terms of what people thought the device symbolises but, let’s be honest here, that should be expected of any new device that Apple releases. I’m still waiting to see if any of the tablets will take my fancy enough to override the fiscal conservative in me but it would seem that Apple has managed to do that enough people to make the iPad the most successful tablet ever released, and that’s something.
The morning sky was dark and dreary with the grey clouds extinguishing any direct signs of the sun that we had enjoyed over the past couple days. We had planned to hit up Mount Royal today but the grim weather outlook for today put a damper on those plans. Instead Rebecca was keen to show me the neighbourhood where she grew up and there was the possibility of hitting up the Montreal Science Museum later in the afternoon before meeting up with Laura again. We dragged ourselves out of bed just a hair before 11am and headed to a brunch place I had tracked down through Yelp.
Our food took forever to come but it was a refreshing change from the last two days where we’d eaten at the same place previously. It was only a short trip to Rebecca’s old neighbourhood and only a few minutes later we were outside her old house. She spent the next 5 minutes regaling me with stories of the area pointing out the shed her dad built and the small forest of trees they’d planted on the corner of their plot. I had remarked on some of the houses in the street and she said that these were nothing compared to some of the mansions that were close by. Eager to check them out we made our way to the river side road that traced its way up the mountain, and what I saw next really surprised me.
Right in the same suburb that housed medium density apartments and a sprawling suburbia are these massive estates with houses that rivalled the ambassador residences in Red Hill and Forest back in Canberra. They ranged from classic American mansions to European castled themed residences, each of them with their own unique style. I can’t remember how many times we pulled over or turned the car around to get a better look at a house but the round trip took us more than an hour. We were running low on fuel so we decided to pull over and fuel up before making our way into the city. Rebecca picked up a bag of cheese curds to tide us over. I was a bit iffy about eating what amounts to unprocessed cheese from a service station but they were squeaky so they weren’t too bad.
We then tried to make our way into the city to hit up the science museum. Leeching off some local wifi we got directions and headed off on our way. Unfortunately the directions weren’t amazingly clear and we managed to get lost. This wouldn’t have been too much of a problem but we were burning daylight and were going to be meeting up with Laura very shortly. With that in mind we retracted our steps back to the hotel and decided to spend the last hour or so in the gym before meeting up with Laura again.
After my initial blasé reaction to what was considered the most authentic poutine in Montreal Laura was keen for me to try some of the more exotic variations on the traditional recipe. One of the local pubs here in Pierrefonds did a curry poutine that, whilst replacing the curds with real cheese, was highly rated by both Laura and Rebecca. Upon arriving we ordered ourselves up a serve, thinking that for $7 we wouldn’t be overwhelmed with our “appetiser” sized dinner. This pub however prided itself on its large servings much like the Central Cafe in Queanbeyan. That serve of poutine was more than enough for both of us which would’ve been fine but I had foolishly ordered myself a Bison burger. Still we gave it the old college try and left the pub feeling very full and happy with ourselves. Laura had leave early but Rebecca wanted to get some coffee and the closest place was a Starbucks inside a chain bookstore called Chapters.
As we walked towards the store I remarked at how many of the other stores in this area were still open at 7pm on a Monday night. I wondered how any of them could make any money opening this late, especially for a store that sells say shoes. About 10 minutes later I found out as we browsed the bookstore for a good half an hour before making our way to the coffee section, some of our cash parting with us on the way. With our hot chocolates in hand we made our way back to the hotel ready to curl up for the night. Tomorrow’s weather was looking to clear up around midday, making a trek up Mount Royal possible. Since it will be our last full day in Canada we’re hoping to sneak these last few activities in before we say au revoir, so hopefully the weather prediction is accurate.
4. That’s the number of times I hit the snooze button this morning. The bed in the hotel was so beautifully comfortable that the prospect of leaving it was more than I was willing to bear. Still I had set the alarm for a reason: I had an important task to accomplish today and it had a start time, 10:00am. The alarm dutifully went off at 9am but was slammed into silence multiple times so that I could enjoy just a few more sweet moments sprawled out under the covers. The enormity of the task I had set myself soon began to weigh on me however and I pulled myself out of bed to get ready for this monumental task.
I was going to pick up my first American rental car.
Usually this wouldn’t be much of a big deal but since I’d never driven a car in a country that drives on the wrong side of the road (even though the majority of the world does so) I was on tenterhooks as to how I would cope with it. I tried to soothe myself with some facts like the one that many countries have completely switched from one side to the other with no ill effects, even on the day of the switch. Still those first few moments when I sat in my shiny red Toyota Yaris had me scrambling to figure out which way was up, with blinkers and window wipers going crazy as I tried to gain control over my 68hp beast.
The following couple hours of driving were strikingly uneventful as I drove towards my chosen destination the Florida mall. This was due, in whole, to the fact that I got completely and hopelessly lost for those two hours. It wasn’t for the fact I didn’t know where I was going, I had looked it up before I went. No it was more due to the fact that I had no idea how to interpret 90% of the road signs and missing the other 10%. Thanks to the plentiful McDonalds restaurants that spotted the highway I was able to purloin free wifi Internet to help guide me on my way to the Florida Mall. I arrived there around lunch time and set about hunting down the places I could do the following things:
The first task was relatively easy, despite my tendency to be completely disinterested in most fast food. I eventually found a place that had a decent chicken salad and a juice bar that served up a mean fruit cocktail. Once I was flush with energy from consuming all that I went onto a shoe store called Sketches which I had seen multiple times before in other places. I managed to find two pairs of shoes that I thought were pretty decent and they had a sale going on so I grabbed both of them:
Getting my online self mobile proved to be a little more difficult however. After searching most of the store I couldn’t find anyone that sold AT&T, the only cell provider I knew would support my iPhone with 3G. As it turns out Radioshack stocks them so I hunted down one of their resellers. I had done some research prior to leaving that said all I needed to do was to buy the cheapest handset I could find and then rip the sim out of it and stick it in my phone. It made sense to this former phone salesman so I scored myself a brand new Samsung A107 for a cool $20 (including $15 credit), plus another $15 for credit (required for activation, apparently). After spending 10 minutes with the salesman getting it activated I headed off for the trip back home. On the way I, of course, got myself lost and thought this would be the perfect opportunity to switch out the sim and get the maps working.
As it turns out not only are the phones locked to the AT&T network they also lock the sim to the phone itself. After wrangling with my iPhone to get the new sim in it greeted me with a No Service error and refused to work. That, my friends, was $40 down the toilet and a couple quick Google searches confirmed that AT&T had been doing this for about a year. So much for that plan then. I’m not sure if I’ll bother trying to get an American sim now, it might just be worth grabbing a cheap-o GPS unit like my friend Nick did on his jaunt over a couple months back. That’s basically all I’d need it for anyway (and my next car apparently comes with one for free).
After dealing with my fail I managed to get myself back to the hotel and worked off the aggression with a good workout. I then had dinner at one of the local restaurants where the food was palatable, but nothing to write home about. I took this opportunity to sample one of the local beers, this one being a Sam Adams Octoberfest:
It was a decent brew, easily comparable to some of the more premium Australian lagers. I’ve become more of an Ale man over the past couple years of refining my beer palate so there wasn’t much to write home about this one but it was a decent accompaniment to my meal of skewered beef and roasted vegetables. Hopefully I’ll be able to indulge my inner beer fanatic a bit more when I’m down in Miami as I’ve read that there are some very good restaurants down there.
Casting off the exhaustion of yesterday was a good feeling and whilst my day was filled with fail it still felt good to get out and about around Florida. Tomorrow the real fun begins as I say goodbye to my plucky Yaris and trade up for a more manly set of wheels: a Z06 Corvette. I’ll also be upgrading my hotel from the Hyatt Regency to the Viceroy in Miami and by all accounts it looks to be one heck of a step up. I’m looking forward to living a little bit of the highlife down there as my suit has been aching to get out of the cramped confines of my suitcase. The heat here however has been quite intense so it will probably be a night only affair. Still with the reputation Miami’s night life has I don’t think I’ll be out of place late a night, seeking a classy encounter 🙂