Posts Tagged‘flight’

Day 36: A Journey’s End.

Waking up in an airport is a strange feeling. Those compulsions I usually have when catching flights were strangely absent since we were already checked in, been through security enough times and, if we were lucky, our terminal would be a 5 minute walk from where we were. Still I didn’t leave much to chance, giving us a full hour before the flight was set to board. Talking to the receptionist as we were checking out we were informed that we just needed to take a short train ride to get to our gate, the time we had more than sufficient to get there. Satisfied we made our way down and, surprisingly, didn’t need to ask anyone else about how to get where we needed to go.

Maybe it was just the random wing of the airport we arrived in yesterday. Who knows.

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I grabbed a coffee and my wife a coconut water, hoping that something light could quell the rumblings in her stomach. We sat down in the gate area, figuring we’d while away the remaining hour before boarding by reading or otherwise entertaining ourselves. To our surprise they started boarding people not too long later although as it turns out it was something of a two stage boarding process. First we’d have to go downstairs to go through another security check, one where they’d rifle through our carry on bags. They, of course, found the duty free in mine and informed me that they needed to put it in a box and would also need my boarding pass. Confused but not wanting to make a scene I handed them both over and kept a keen eye on the guy who had made off with them. As it turns out this is just the process for any duty free that contains alcohol coming out of Dubai and instead of it being handed to you when you exit the craft it comes out with your checked luggage. I guess all airports have their foibles.

We boarded on the plane, the glorious Qantas A380-800, which I had hoped would provide a better flight experience than some of the other jets we’d been on so far. Whilst the set pitches were a little better the uber-reclining chairs did make it a little awkward to get in and out. My wife did secure her favourite window seat position however, this being a 3 abreast seating configuration, meant I had to pester the poor woman beside me every time my wife wanted to get up. Overall it wasn’t too bad but it has made me wonder if paying the additional for premium economy might’ve been worth it for this trip.

Our flight was delayed due to a computer issue on the flight controller’s end which led to a backlog of flights that needed to be cleared before we could go. After we got going I looked at our tickets back to Canberra and realised that there was likely no way in hell we’d make the connection. I’ve been in this position before however and Qantas has always done right by me. I told my wife much the same and we both agreed to not worry about it until we landed.

Arriving in Australia as a citizen is by far my favourite airport experience, the automated systems streamlining you through all the way to your baggage. The longest part about the whole endeavour is the walk to get to the passport control gate. It did take some time for our luggage to arrive however, something that was exacerbated by the fact that we waited to see if our duty free would come through. As it turns out the duty free from Dubai does not come out with your checked luggage, it gets routed through to oversized luggage. After finding this out from a fellow bleary eyed traveller I wandered over to the oversized luggage section only to find various bits of luggage strewn around randomly, including a few duty free boxes. After figuring out that no one was actually claiming anything I went up to the two remaining boxes and searched for mine. Then I simply walked away with them.

Great system guys, really.

Walking over to the Qantas domestic transfer desk we were greeted with a massive line, one that was moving relatively quickly however. Walking up to the check-in counter we mentioned our flight being delayed and not 2 minutes later were we booked on the next flight down and our bags checked, no questions asked. After the experience I’ve had on some other airlines in similar situations it’s things like this that remind me way I sometimes pay a premium to fly with Qantas as they really do take a whole bunch of worry out of the equation.

The flight back was short and uneventful, the lovely modern Boeing 717 getting us there smoothly and swiftly. Indeed it’s the first one of these such flights where I haven’t felt dreadfully ill right at the end; the usual DASH-8 rattling my bones and my head until they both feel like jelly. My wife said she might try to snooze on the cab ride home although then remembered the usual state of Canberra cabs. So instead we got ourselves an Uber and found the awesome express pick up location that’s in the Canberra airport car park. We were picked up by a lovely older German fellow who had some lively banjo music playing.

Shortly we found ourselves back home and noted all the work my mum had been doing to the place while we were away. New flowers were planted in some of our pots, the roses trimmed, the interior of the house cleaned. the entry way decorated with a welcome home banner and balloons and, to our delight, the heater running. We started the process of unpacking and re-entering the lives we left behind 5 weeks ago, the pile of mail (both physical and electronic) requiring attention. The rest of the day blurs out from there, spent mostly in a semi-surreal daze.

I’m still processing a lot of thoughts from that day, and the ones that have followed it, so I’ll leave it there for now. Look for a wrap post in the coming days where I’ll sum everything up and talk about what I think this trip means now that it’s done.

Day 35: So Long, Europe.

Even the European summer sun did not dare to peek above the clouds when we arose, our 6:30AM start time necessitating us being ready numerous hours before. The bittersweet emotions that plagued our departure the day previous were no present here, replaced with a simple stoicism of getting on with the business of returning home. Today won’t see us back home however; this is just the first leg of a journey that will take us to Dubai. It will however take the entire day from us, our final stop not coming until some 16 hours after our we awoke.

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After walking nearly the entire length of Athens airport we finally found our check-in counter, flocked by the handful of other brave inviduals who rose as early as we. It was in this line we came across a fellow Australian, a young man from Sydney who was also concluding his near 5 week tour of Europe with a last hurrah in Greece. Strangely his journey included many places we had been to as well, including Zurich and Berlin, although he had the advantage of relatives over here to show him the best places to go. He posed the question that so many had already: “So worked out where to for next year”. To be sure it’s an exciting prospect although I’m not sure if a tour of this magnitude is warranted every year.

I have, however, resigned to travel a little more often than I have of late.

All checked-in we walked around to find a light breakfast before we made our way to the departure gates. It was here that I finally had a coffee that I’d describe as passable as nearly everywhere I went couldn’t seem to scrounge up anything that compares to back home. This is probably due to me taking my morning coffee in the hotels were staying at, most of them using those god awful automated machines, but even the few I had had elsewhere were disappointing. Fully caffinated I was ready to face the horror of airport security, but not before making a quick shopping stop.

I had been looking for a particular item ever since I saw it in Ikos Oceania. It was, of course, at an extremely exorbitant price and a quick search revealed I could most likely get it duty free for a fraction of the cost. Thankfully the first shop past the boarding pass check had it, spotted by my wife in no time at all. They also had what has become my favourite part of Greek cuisine: Halva. With that sorted we were quick through security and at the gate, ready for our flight out to Zurich.

We arrived at Zurich 2 hours later to an airport that I will long hold up as the example of how airports should be done. It was clean, ultra-modern and incredibly well thought out. Not once did I have to ask anyone where anything was (this is important for later) as there was either a sign or information post in eye-shot from whereever I was. My wife and I had a lovely stroll through many of the shops, remembering Switerzlands strange obsession with cows (seriously there was a €600 cow bell in one of the stores), and enjoying a light meal before making our way to our departure gate.

Our plane to Dubai was an unusual configuration, one that allowed my wife and to both have our preferred seating options (she the window, myself the isle). Most widebody craft typically have 3 seats on the sides which precludes this although my wife has been pretty fortunate for most of this trip. This made the trip over go quickly, even though we were without our in-flight entertainment for the first hour or so.

Then we entered Dubai International Airport.

It is a behemoth of a place, dwarfing even what I remember of Bangkok airport when I flew through there once for work. Taking my usual approach of “what would a dumb tourist do” failed completely here as there were no signs pointing to the in-airport hotel which were to stay in tonight. Asking various airport staff usually got us a single direction: “yes this way”, “just take this elevator then go through security”, something which made me think that no one really knew where it was. After catching 2 trains, 1 bus and going through 3 different security points we eventually found the hotel.

Well not the right hotel as it turns out, there’s in fact 2 of them. Sigh.

I must have been oozing frustration at that point (although honestly I thought I was being a rather cool customer at the time) because whilst they first said they didn’t have a room for us, and asking us to pay $65 to upgrade, we were given a junior suite room for no charge at all. It was a decent room although I do wonder if anyone who was staying there would make use of any of the additional facilities the “suite” included in the relatively short time you’d be there for. As it was the included massage chair didn’t really function as advertised (much to my wife’s dismay) and the extra lounge area wasn’t fully curtained off, meaning light from the airport leaked into the room at all times.
Regardless we made the most of it, grabbing some fast food from down stairs and revelling in the fact that this was the first hotel room we’d stayed in this trip to have Discovery channel. We set our alarm for a much more leisurely time, hoping that our departure gate wasn’t in another terminal.

Tomorrow we’ll make our final journey back home. I’m excited to get back home although less so about the time it will take. Hopefully it will go quickly and all I’ll have left to do is revel in the memories of this trip.

Day 34: A Tale of Two Airports.

That surreal feeling, the one you get when you know when you’re doing something for the last time, began to sink in swiftly after we got up. The same breakfast that we’d enjoyed day after day came with a side helping of melancholy; the gorgeous ocean views only serving as a reminder of what we’d be leaving behind. Still, as always, it was enjoyable. A brief respite before we’d leave this place leaving only the memories of the time that felt all too short. Dawdling back to our hotel room we started the process of packing everything up, making sure we hadn’t left anything behind.

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We got a call from reception, our transfer company wondering if it was ok for them to show up 10 minutes early. This posed no issue for us, since by the time we had everything backed it was almost time to go anyway, so we let them know that was fine. Soon afterwards a man in a golf buggy came down to pick us up from our room, saving us the 5 minute uphill journey back to reception with our now heavy luggage in tow. It was then I realised that I had only seen one other set of people making this same journey, everyone seemingly staying for longer than us or somehow being whisked away without anyone noticing.

The drive back was uneventful, the same countryside rolling by as when we had arrived here 6 days prior. Our driver this time around reiterated what our previous one had: we should hire a car and drive around, Thessaloniki is worth exploring and we needed to come back to Greece and explore its many sights. I’m sure these are the same lines that are repeated by many numerous times over but in the post-holiday glow you can’t help but feel the attraction of them. There’s always another place you have to explore.
We arrived tragically early at the airport; so much so that the Ryanair check-in counter was bereft of any staff who could take our luggage. This was part us leaving early and part our driver being very efficient at his job, getting us to the airport in record time. Without much to do we found ourselves some seats in eye shot of the check-in counter and whiled away the time with books and free airport Internet.

About 2 hours before our flight the Ryanair check-in people appeared and with them a long line of people who had been milling about for some time. Seasoned travellers will know Ryanair for being one of the cheapest fares you can get, that is if you can abide by all their rules and not run afoul of something that they will charge you for. When I was booking this I had no choice, unfortunately, and the extras I bought (including our checked-in baggage) ended up doubling the price of the ticket. Worse still reading some of the fare rules led me to believe that my suitcase would violate both the weight and dimensions rules, a potential €100 affair. Thankfully though we checked our luggage in with no dramas, the exorbitant price I had paid many months ago being enough to appease the Ryanair fare gods.

The flight was both amazing and completely ordinary. I was amazed at all the things that Ryanair has done in order to drive their fares down to as low as humanly possible. The seats were packed in so tight there was barely a hair’s width between my legs and the person’s seat in front of me, likely meaning they could squish in an additional row at the back. They also didn’t recline, nor did they have a seat pocket in front of them. The safety instructions were attached to the seat in front of me and the overhead luggage compartments looked like they had been developed with slot in advertising in mind. Truly it was a marvel to behold but woe betide anyone who flies with them for longer than a couple of hours.

We arrived at Athens airport a little over an hour later and made our way over to the Sofitel Athens hotel for our short, single night stay. After what we’d had experienced in Greece anything would’ve been a step down but this felt like a drop worthy of a continental shelf status. Still all we needed it was for sleep so we unpacked a few things for the night before heading out to find some dinner.

All the restaurants in the hotel were overpriced garbage, charging €35 for a buffet dinner. Disgusted we headed back over to the airport where we managed to sort out some decently priced grub along with some delightful almond truffles, all for half the price of what one buffet would have cost us. Retiring to our room we enjoyed our simple dinner over a few shows before turning in for the night, hoping to catch enough sleep before our 4:00AM start the next morning.

Tomorrow we begin our journey home in earnest, making for Dubai before our real long haul flight back to Australia. It almost seems fitting that the end to our trip should be this long, the finale to something so long and grande requiring its own epic to close off the journey. I’m certainly not looking forward to it, I think we spend some 32 hours out of the next 48 in planes, but that does mean that there’s still a few instalments left in this travel log before I close it off. They might not be the most exciting, indeed I’m sure I’ll be lamenting whatever small slight may happen to me along the way, but it will definitely give me time to reflect on the journey and it what it all means that it will be done.

Day 24: Auf Wiedersehen Munich, Ciao Roma.

I spent the night before out flight out of Munich like I always do: fretting about making sure we’ve got everything lined up so we can get there on time. Initially we were doing well: getting up early, having a brisk breakfast and getting checked out on time. All in all we left a little later than I wanted to but this was more than made up for by a cab driver who had little respect for speed limits. We arrived at the airport almost exactly 2 hours before our departure time, the amount I had been told I’d need to make it through Munich airport.

But this is where the wheels started to come off.

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I routinely forget that the cabs here are mostly cash-only, meaning the meager amount of euros I carry around with me usually gets depleted by cab fares alone. This time was no different however the cab fair was, frankly, extortion, and the amount I had in my wallet wasn’t enough to cover it. So I darted out into the airport in search of an ATM, luckily being able to find one after 5 minutes of semi-panicked running about. However our little cash card said there wasn’t sufficient balance on it, forcing me to pull out the credit card (which will incur the dreadful day 1 interest rate slug). With the cab driver paid we lined up at the Air Berlin check-in counter which was moving painfully slow.

Worried that we wouldn’t get checked in on time I got on the wifi to do a web check-in. The website then helpfully informed me that the booking, made via Air Berlin, was being serviced by their partner airline Alitalia. Since we’d been in the line for about 20 minutes at this point I got a little worried and tracked down the information desk to figure out what the go was. As it turns out had I stayed in that line I might very well of not got on the flight as we couldn’t check in at the Air Berlin desk. Even more frustrating was the fact that our booking didn’t allow web check-in for some reason, making the wait in line a rather stressful affair.

Thankfully we managed to get checked in and everything was ok but it certainly wasn’t the way I was hoping to spend my morning. The flight over was your stock standard cut rate affair, although they did have a free snack service which was a nice touch. Once we landed it was a quick trip through the airport to get our bags and then out to a cab which would take us straight to the hotel.

What instantly struck me about Rome was the seemingly symbiotic combination of new and old work structures. We passed by many ancient bridges, towers and various other pieces of  Rome’s history that were living side by side with their modern equivalents. There are also numerous buildings that retain the old fascia of the ancient structure, only to be flagged on all sides by modern architecture built to hold it in place. It’s a fascinating contrast to many of the other historical places we’ve visited, nearly all of which preserve the entire structure in tact. I guess the population density has something to do with it, although a cursory search reveals it’s actually less dense than most of the other European capitals.

We had the rest of the afternoon free and so we decided to take a walk through the surrounding area. I found out that we weren’t too far from the Spanish Steps and figured they’d be worth a look. However they’re currently undergoing repairs so it wasn’t the photographic opportunity that I was hoping it would be. So we simply kept walking, following the large crowds to the various monuments and other attractions that were nearby. The highlight would be the little hole in the wall food shop that had these Italian shortbread biscuits that I’ve been a fan of since I was a kid, something I was very much hoping to find when we got here.te

We capped off the night with a nice dinner at a restaurant close by and gelato from the place next door.

The next 3 days are likely to be filled with activity so we thought it best not to overdo it, turning in relatively early for the night. Tomorrow will bring with it our friends who just happened to be planning to go to Rome at the same time we were and likely a flurry of activity to follow. My wife and I both agree that travel with friends is always more fun and so we’re eagerly awaiting their arrival so the group shenanigans can begin.

Day 1: So Many Planes.

The alarm goes off but I’m already awake. It’s going to be our first big trip in 6 years and my mind is churning through all the things it doesn’t need to. The anxiety that’s been building up over the past couple months, anxiety born out of a fear of actually taking some time off work, is wrecking all sorts of havoc on me. The text message at 4:30AM saying our flight has been delayed doesn’t help but it quickly turns out to be nothing. We board our plane at the crack of dawn and jet off into the sunset, the first step on a 3 plane and 24 hour trip that will see us land in Montreal, Canada.

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Had it not been for a work trip to Singapore earlier in the year this would be my first international trip in quite some time. Before then such travel was simply par for the course and I had developed numerous habits that helped make each trip that much easier. Those habits were long gone now, my knowledge of airports up heaved by the rapid change they’ve all undergone over the years I’ve been absent. Once I boarded our Air Canada flight to Vancouver however all the worry quickly melted away to be quickly replaced by the drudgery that is long haul cattle class travel.

The flights were uneventful, filled with average food, surprisingly decent wine and fitful attempts at trying to get some sleep. It seems that being able to sleep on planes is one of those useful habits that has slipped by the wayside as I only managed a couple broken hours over the entire day I just spent in planes. The shining star however is the Kindle Paperwhite that I picked up before I left, stacked to the brim with enough eBooks to last me for the entire 5 week long trip. I’ve found myself reading a lot more than I would have otherwise, something I’m sure many of my friends would be delighted to hear.

We arrived in Canada to the usual fanfare of tired people waiting in lines. Our hosts (one of which is my wife’s best friend and the whole reason we’re in this country) were caught up in the catacombs that is Montreal’s airport car park. They found their way to us eventually and we were quickly off to her new house to while away the rest of the day.

The trip there was an interesting mix of nostalgia and wanderlust. There were so many places that I recognised from our previous trip: the hotel we stayed in, the Tim Horton’s that we drunkenly stumbled into at 2AM for doughnut holes and the supermarkets we frequented to get snacks for movies we watched of a night time. The weather here is beautiful but I’m told it won’t last past the weekend. Thankfully we’ll be able to cram in all the cool outdoor things before the weather turns and then spend the rest of the time resting up before we depart to our next destination.

It’s strange thinking back to the last time I was here. I was a completely different person back then and now I’ll be experiencing the same thing again in a completely new way. I guess this is the first stage of me taking stock of everything, something which I think is a core part of what a holiday is regardless of the destination. Tomorrow we’re going to La Ronde, the largest amusement park in Montreal, and after my experience with Disneyland all those years ago I’m very much looking forward to it,

Watching Photons Fly.

You can see light’s presence everywhere, but have you ever seen it moving? Due to the speed of light being the fastest thing we currently know of it’s a rather elusive beast to see in motion, especially on the scale we exist in, and whilst it might look instantaneous it does have a finite speed. Whilst we’ve done many experiments in slowing light down and even trapping it for short periods of time but being able to watch a light ray propagate was out of our reach for quite some time, that was until the recent development of a couple technologies.

The above video is the work of Ramesh Raskar and his team at MIT which produced a camera that’s capable of capturing 1 trillion frames per second. However it’s not a camera in the traditional sense as the way it captures images is really unique, not at all like your traditional camera. Most cameras these days are CCD based and capture an image of the whole scene then read it off line by line and store it for later viewing. The MIT system makes use of a streak camera which is only capable of capturing a line a single pixel high, essentially producing a one dimensional image. The trick here is that they’re taking a picture of a static scene and doing it multiple times over, repositioning the capture area each time in order to build up an image of the scene. As you can imagine this takes a considerable amount of time and whilst there are some incredible images/movies created as a result the conditions and equipment required to do so aren’t exactly commodity.

There are alternatives however as some intrepid hackers have demonstrated.

Instead of using the extremely expensive streak camera and titanium sapphire laser their system instead utilizes a time of flight camera coupled with a modulated light source. From reading their SIGGRAPH submission it appears that their system captures an image of the whole scene and so to create the light flight movies they change when the light source fires and when the camera takes the picture. This process allows them to capture a movie much quicker than MIT’s solution and with hardware that is a fraction of the cost. The resolution of the system appears to be lower, I.E I can’t make out light wave propagation like you can in the MIT video, but for a solution that’s less than 1% of the cost I can’t say I fault them.

Their paper also states they’re being somewhat cautious with their hardware, running it at only 1% of its duty cycle currently. The reason for this is a lack of active cooling on their key components and they didn’t want to stress them too much. With the addition of some active cooling, which could be done for a very small cost, they believe they could significantly ramp up the duty cycle, dropping the capture time down to a couple seconds. That’s really impressive and I’m sure there’s even more optimizations that could be made to improve the other aspects of their system.

It’s one thing to see a major scientific breakthrough come from a major research lab but it’s incredible to see the same experiments reproduced for a fraction of the cost by others. Whilst this won’t be leading to anything for the general public anytime soon it does open up paths for some really intriguing research, especially when the cost can be brought down to such a low level. It’s things like this that keep me so interested and excited about all the research that’s being done around the world and what the future holds for us all.

Journey: Beautiful, Joyous, Compelling.

I’m not exactly known for going against the main stream view of a game but for what its worth my opinion is (mostly) formed based on the merits of the game itself rather than the popular opinion of the time. This became painfully apparent after my Dear Esther review and despite my assurances that I was able to put game play aside for a good story (like I’ve done several times before) I feel that many people who read that review don’t believe I’m capable of identifying a good story. Then I came across Journey, yet another game that tentatively pushed at the boundaries of the “game” definition and I thought this could be my redeeming grace. Of course Journey is nothing like Dear Esther as there’s no question as to its status as a game and what a game it is.

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Journey opens up with you, a nameless and near faceless individual, standing in front of a vast desert. Apart from some vague imagery of what appears to be a star falling to the ground there’s not much more of an introduction. You’re then given control and shown the basics of movement using the PS3’s motion controls as well as the tried and true dual joysticks. Journey then leverages off your past game experience to drive you to the next goal (a close by hill) upon which the ultimate goal is shown, a giant mountain from which a pillar of light is emanating. You will spend the rest of the game attempting to reach that point.

The art direction of Journey had me first thinking that most of it was cell shaded but it is in fact just heavily stylized. Whilst the characters and scenery are usually quite simple the environment which you play through is quite vibrant and dynamic, especially for a place like a vast desert. At the same time the foley and sound direction is magnificent as they compliment the visuals quite aptly. Indeed one of the best aspects of Journey is the seemingly perfect combination of visuals and sounds, timed perfectly to evoke your emotions in a certain way at specific times.

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Whilst the game play of Journey is undeniably there, thus firmly separating it from other experimental titles, it’s quite simplistic yet thoroughly satisfying. If I’m honest I went into this expecting Dear Esther levels of game play: I.E. nothing much more than exploration. You’ll spend a great deal of time in Journey exploring the areas but that’s far from the main game play mechanic which centres heavily around the idea that you main character can fly, albeit for a limited time.

The little tassel on the back of your character is your flight timer. You can jump and then fly to great heights but as you do the symbols on your tail start to burn away. When they’re depleted you’ll fall back to the ground and you’ll have to look for places to recharge it. Thankfully these are plentiful, either taking the the form of stationary points or animated cloth animals that will follow you around, recharging you as you go. You can also increase the length of your flight time by finding glowing orbs that are scattered around the place and the end of each level will let you know how many of the potential orbs you collected before carrying on.

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Where Journey really starts to shine however is when other people start accompanying you on your journey. I remember my first encounter clearly: after finishing a level and proceeding to walk through a long hallway to the next I spotted movement off in the distance. I was going to back track to look for more orbs but the way the figure moved seemed… different to everything else. Excited I followed after them and when I got to them it was clear that there was another person behind that controller. Where it really got interesting though was when we tried to communicate to each other, being limited to only short bursts of sound. This meant that cooperating had to be somewhat instinctive, but you’d be surprised how much you can say with only a simple means of communication at your hands.

The multiplayer aspect, whilst not an essential part of the game play, does lend itself to some awesome emergent game play. When your characters are close to each other you slowly recharge each other’s flight time and you can recover it fully with single communication ability you have. This means your flight time can be extended indefinitely if you and your partner work together allowing you to gather many of the glowing orbs thus increasing your flight time again. Towards the end I had an extremely long tassel that allowed me and my partner to reach unfathomably large heights with relative ease. This made many parts of the game much easier and also served as something of a bragging right when I was joined by someone with a shorter tassel.

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Journey has not a single line of dialogue, instead relying on cut scenes that tell a story through a series of brilliantly done hieroglyphics. They didn’t make a terrible amount of sense for me at the start but as you progress a grand story of a society that rose from the desert only to fall down again. The pictures start off in retrospective, highlighting things that had happened in the past that lead up to the world as it exists today. About half way through the hieroglyphs start turning prophetic, telling a story that seems to be eerily close to yours as it is happening right now.

Ultimately the story that’s told without a whiff of dialogue or text is amazingly satisfying. Whilst its not a gripping emotional conclusion that I’ve felt for similar story based games in the past it’s definitely fulfilling and thankfully steered clear from any notion that there might be a Journey 2 (and however they’d follow up Journey is an exercise I’ll leave to the reader). Showing you the names of people you shared your journey with along the way is a really nice touch and I was devastated when I found out that my video capture software had crapped out halfway through and those names were lost to the ages.

Journey Screenshot Wallpaper Long Hall

Realistically the only fault I can level at Journey is the price as at $20 on a game that I can’t share with my friends that only lasts 2 hours seems a tad steep. I’m sure it will eventually come down a bit in price and there’ll be something of a renaissance of people playing Journey again but until then I wonder how many are willing to take the rather steep plunge to play through it.

There’s few games that have made me smile the way Journey did, both at the beginning with a child like wonder at the amazing world that was presented before me to the ultimate conclusion that was a beautiful metaphor for the grand cycle of life and death. Everything about Journey just seems to meld together so well, from the art to the music to the game play. I could go on but realistically Journey is something that you need to experience for yourself.

Rating: 9.25/10

Journey is available on PS3 exclusively right now for $20. Total play time was approximately 2 hours.

Goodbye, Dearest America.

The last day of any holiday is always filled with a wide gamut of emotions. We woke up naturally a good 3 hours before we needed to check out and spent that time lazily packing our bags for the day ahead. Our flight wasn’t until 10pm that night so we would have a good 10 hours before the time we had to leave the hotel and the time we had to catch the plane back home. Whilst we still had tickets to the San Diego Zoo I wasn’t too keen to drive the 2 hours there to see it, nor was I too confident that the drive back would be less than 2 hours. Instead we decided to spend the day shopping in downtown Los Angeles for gifts and generally lazing about before the 14 hour flight home.

After checking out and grabbing our car from the valet we headed towards a mall I had managed to find through Yelp. It was a traditional American outlet mall with everything being outdoors and the only indoor area being the food court on one of the upper levels. We spent many hours perusing through the various shops, picking up gifts for our family members that we hadn’t yet accounted for. Time was passing slowly and after what seemed like forever we collapsed in Barnes and Noble for some coffee and free wifi. It was only 4pm around that time meaning that going to San Diego was out of the question so we decided to hit up a movie to pass the last few hours before we’d charge over to LAX.

Arriving at one of the local theatres we discovered that the movie we had decided to see, Skyline which had been endlessly hyped during our entire trip, wasn’t available at this cinema. Undeterred we decided that we’d check the others to see if they were showing it. Strangely none of the theatres near us were showing it meaning we’d have to choose something else. Not really enticed by any of the options we went for Due Date since it was a comedy, figuring some light hearted fun would be the ticket. We bought our tickets but the show wasn’t on for another 45 mins, so we went into the attached mall.

Just as we entered the mall we spotted a puppy store (yes just puppies) and like any young couple we decided to go and ogle those cute little things. Really it wasn’t unlike any other pet store apart from the fact they had 3 “play rooms” set up at the back where you could pick a puppy and then take it there to play with it. I saw 2 families in separate rooms falling for this ploy, knowing full well that they’d be hard pressed to leave without their children’s new found playmate. Afterwards we spotted a Disney store and went in to grab a couple things that Rebecca wanted to get but hadn’t had the chance to last time we were there. We made our way back to the cinema which had the smallest rooms I’ve ever been in. It was really nice though as all the seats were comfy leather couches and the front most rows were giant futons you could lie back on.

After the movie was done we started the drive back to the rental car place to return our ride of the past week. I always remember these kinds of trips distinctly as that’s usually when it starts to sink in that the holiday is really coming to a close and all the memories start to flood in. I remembered so many things: the blazing Florida sun on my skin, the roar of the Corvette, the bitter cold kiss of Montreal, the sleepless city of New York and the child like wonder I rediscovered in Los Angeles’ theme parks. All of this was running through my head as we dropped off the car and took the shuttle to LAX where we checked in for our flight home.

The flight home went by much quicker than the flight there with the working entertainment system making sure many of those hours passed with ease. As we landed in Australia I felt those mixed feelings that any traveller has when they return home. Relief at the familiarity yet a sense of mourning that the trip is over, not wanting to let go of it. The feelings continued all the way back home and stayed with me until I fell asleep that night.

And now here I sit 3 days later recalling those experiences and the emotions come flooding back as if I was just boarding the plane back in Los Angeles. They will not soon be forgotten as the month Rebecca and I spent in the Unite States of America was more than just a holiday to us, it was our first true escape from our everyday lives that either of us have had. Sure we’ve both travelled before but never independently for this amount of time and because of that our perspective has changed radically. Time will tell if these feelings stay with us, but I feel this is tantamount to what happened to me almost 12 months ago which resulted in The Plan. One thing is for certain though, my heart now yearns for more experiences like these and my determination to make them happen has never been stronger.

Welcome to the Smog.

I was awake long before the alarm went off, an annoying trait I picked up many years ago when I was tinkering with my body clock. It always seems that whenever I set an alarm I’ll be awake at least 10~20 minutes before hand but should I try to wake without an alarm I’ll more than likely oversleep. Still I wasn’t as tired as I thought I would be and 30 minutes later I was ready to go and spending the last few moments in our hotel room watching the morning news whilst Rebecca got ready. We left the hotel 30 minutes later and caught a cab to JFK airport where we spent the next hour or so tracking down some breakfast before boarding our flight.

JFK to LA is one of the longest flights in the states and it was set to be about 5 hours to get to our destination. Thankfully this flight had Wifi and in a fit of forethought I had bought a monthly pass to the Delta in-flight system for only $7 more than the daily pass, granting me the ability to catch up on my tweets and Facebook posts. I didn’t use it much more than that though I was far too engrossed in the last 150 pages of Judas Unchained to care about much else, practically gulping down those last chapters without coming up for air. Knowing that I had 5 hours to kill and more than enough time to finish that book I had brought the sequel, Judas Unchained, along with me and started tucking into that immediately. I got about 100 pages into it before the call came on for us to land in LA. Our 5 hour flight had only lost us 3 hours putting the local time smack bang on midday.

After grabbing our luggage we made our way to the airport shuttle area to catch a bus to the hire car place. I had spent a lazy hour or so looking over the cars available the night before and settled on a Dodge Charger. Realistically it would be far too big for us, more suited to a small family, but I wanted something that would provide us a deal of comfort over some of the longer drives we were planning and the econoboxes weren’t really going to cut it. Arriving there we were told they were out of Chargers and the only one they had resembled a battered old Ford Falcon. A “mid sized” SUV was available for a similar price so we went ahead with that and got to pick our car. I picked a Jeep Grand Cherokee and got us on our way to the hotel with gusto.

After the initial excitement of seeing the city I realised that what I thought was clouds on the horizon was actually the thick blanket of smog. As we got closer it only got worse with the haze giving most of the buildings a particularly eery glow. Even in NYC the pollution wasn’t this bad as when we looked back at Manhattan from Liberty Island we could clearly see everything. From a similar distance in LA we were struggling to see the more distant buildings. Needless to say, I didn’t feel much like looking around town.

The hotel itself is in downtown LA, a fact I had failed to notice when booking it. Usually this wouldn’t be much of a concern but I knew this meant they’d be charging like a wounded bull for their parking. Indeed they were to the tune of $35 a night, as much as the car had cost to hire per day. Still the valets were nice and it meant we didn’t have to worry about parking but after the amount we paid for the hotel getting hit for extras feels a bit rich. I had the same feeling when I hooked up my laptop in the room only to be shown an sign-in page for internet access for $13 a day. I’d stayed in a $70/night hotel that gave me the fastest Internet connection I’ve had in the entire US for free so this was just the icing on the shit sandwich. Undeterred I started poking around to see if they were doing ARP poisoning like the DoubleTree was in NYC and found that they weren’t. 10 minutes of trying various MAC addresses later had me up and running with an Internet connection without having to shell out for something that I don’t believe should be a paid extra in a 4 star hotel.

We wanted to pick up some hotel room supplies so I tracked down the closet Walmart and punched the co-ordinates. About 10 minutes later we were passing through a pretty run down section of downtown LA. We past the supposed location twice and noticed that what was supposed to be a Walmart looked like a run down strip mall. Figuring that it was either a planned site (or more likely, one that was closed down) I found another and promptly got stuck in pre-rush hour traffic, seeing a 10 mile journey take almost 45 minutes. We got there though and secured out wants before heading back to the hotel for a workout before dinner. We hit a local pizza place that served amazing pizzas, leaving us both too full to finish and taking a box home to polish off later.

We’re hoping to hit up Disney World tomorrow as it’s something that Rebecca has really been looking forward to. After visiting Disney Land in Tokyo almost a decade ago and hating it (but then again I was an angsty little bastard) I’m keen to see if I’ll have a similar reaction the second time around. Plus it will hopefully get us away from the dreadful smog that seems to be unrelenting around here, making staying in the city very undesirable.

Home is Where the Heart is.

A dull light crossed my bed, illuminating the room with a subtle even glow. It wasn’t the blazing column of heat that usually woke me whilst I had been staying down in Florida telling me that something was definitely different about the weather. Looking outside I saw a thick cloud coverage going from horizon to horizon, muting the sun and causing the temperature to drop to more reasonable levels. Almost instinctively I fired up my computer to see what the status was on the Discovery launch: scrubbed until tomorrow just as everyone had predicted. I set about the task of readying myself for the flight out of here since my flight was only 4 hours away and I had a few things that needed to be done.

After filling up the Mustang (which drinks fuel in comparison to the Corvette, strange I know) I returned it to whence it came. It was a decent car but it felt pretty cheap, with all the components being plastic and resembling those of parent’s 1992 Commodore. Still it was a very comfortable and quiet ride so I can’t fault it as a car to get around in, apart from the startling amount of fuel it used to do just about anything. After dropping it off I went to check my bag in so I could go about hunting down some breakfast, thinking that being here so early I would’ve beaten the rush.

That didn’t appear to be so since the line for checkin took 15 minutes clear and the security check point line took well over an hour to get through. Still it was a pretty easy going experience even though the libertarian in me was screaming again about civil liberties and security theatre but my rather blasé mood managed to quell him without too much trouble. Once I was through I settled in with a light breakfast and my novel, blasting through a couple chapters before it was time to board. The flight itself was quite smooth once we were above the cloud tops. I can see why NASA would be concerned about them since they were quite thick and the shuttle could have easily triggered a lightening strike or worse, stripped the heat tiles off the orbiter.

Once I had disembarked from the plane I was struck by how new everything in the Montreal airport looked. It had obviously just been renovated with modern accents adorning every corner and multicoloured LED strips lining the walkway to immigration. The airport itself was a model of efficiency getting nearly half the plane cleared before the baggage even started to arrive on the carousel. After picking up my bags and just simply walking out (I was expecting an Australian-esque customs shake down) I was then greeted with two smiling faces: my wife Rebecca and her best friend ever Laura. I was greeted with a bear huge of epic proportions and I returned in kind, revelling in the human contact I had been missing for so long. I was looking forward to this moment for quite a while and the relief I felt was unimaginable.

Tonight we were to dine at the FireGrill, a Canadian steakhouse chain that apparently put on quite a spread. After navigating our way through the tail end of the rush hour traffic we went and picked up Laura’s boyfriend Marc before starting the walk there. It wouldn’t have been so bad walking there but it was steadily raining the whole time there, drenching those of us who hadn’t come prepared. It made for a few entertaining moments at the start of the night when I was mopping up my hair to avoid dripping water all over the menu, especially when I thought I got it all only to have another drop embarrassingly make its presence known with a loud splat. The food there was delectable and the wine I had selected (a French pinot noir) was a good compliment to the steak I was having. It was particularly pricy though but it was definitely worth it, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone else.

I have been told, in no uncertain terms, that tomorrow I am having a bro date with Marc and possibly one of his work colleagues. Usually this would weird me out since I hate forced social situations but I’ve already taken a shine to Marc and since we share a profession I figure that worst comes to worst we can bitch our respective work places without boring each other to death. I know I’ve had more than a few shared rolleyes when I get my real geek hat on and start talking about the various implications of technology X or why someone is an idiot for not using Powershell.

Thinking back over the day I was still somber from the emotional thunderstorm I put myself through yesterday right up until that first moment when I spotted my wife waving me eagerly over to her. It was a great comfort and the company that she’s been keeping over here in Canada made me feel like this was a home that I had somehow managed to leave behind. Suddenly I realised that I had been missing that key ingredient that really makes travel worthwhile: that human connection. Visiting far away places is all well and good but without that connection to someone else, whether it be a travel partner or those you meet whilst over there, the experiences feel quite insular. I have less than a week here but I can already feel the experiences that I’ll take away from here will be that much richer thanks to the people I’ll be sharing them with.