I have to be honest after my experience with buying from Kogan last year I was pretty soured on buying from them as the hodge podge shipping and strange purchasing requirements didn’t endear them to me. It wasn’t bad enough that I actively told people to not buy from them, indeed I said as much in my post about it, but for some strange reason that post seem to strike a chord with a lot of people who had similar issues. Whilst I’ve always been a terrible judge as to whether or not a particular post will resonate with a larger audience having that one be so popular didn’t help Kogan’s reputation in my mind.
Then they went and started stocking GoPros.
So I’ve been a GoPro user for about 2 years or so, getting my first one (a HD Hero2) as a birthday present in the lead up to my first Tough Mudder event. They’re a great little unit being able to take a massive battering and keep on trucking without issue. I used mine for all sorts of things from snorkeling in Bali to taking time lapses of my backyard and I was quite impressed with the results every time I used it. Of course when the new version came out I was instantly captivated by its specifications, not least of which was the addition of WiFi which would open up quite a few new use cases for an intrepid user like myself. However the price of getting one in Australia, either by paying the outrageous shipping cost from GoPro themselves or the markup in retail stores, meant that it was put in the “nice to have” basket along with a multitude of other things I always have my eye on.
Kogan however were selling them for an incredibly reasonable price, some $150 below the RRP when I saw it, enough so that that with the few additional accessories I wanted the total price was actually cheaper than just the unit itself with shipping included. Now I’m not usually one to be suckered into a deal, especially from a place that had burned me in the past, but I figured that it was worth it given how much use I had gotten out of the previous unit and how long this one would remain current. So out came the credit card and I sent Kogan a chunk of change in exchange for the promise of a new GoPro and I anxiously awaited the multiple packaging spree that was about to occur.
Except, strangely, they sent me a single tracking notice with all the items on it. Score one point for Kogan.
Indeed not only did they actually ship everything as one unit despite their site stating that it would probably take 2~3 weeks for my order to arrive I received it bang on a week after I placed my order. This is in stark contrast to my previous transaction with them that required me to verify my identity through a landline phone and arrived piecemeal over the course of a 2 week span. The GoPro also came with all English manuals that weren’t reprints like my Canon manuals were, a small thing that has gone a long way to improving Kogan’s image in my books.
So there you have it, a year on since my last purchase from Kogan and I’m glad to say they’ve drastically improved their whole experience. Whilst I have no idea if anyone from Kogan ended up reading my previous piece it does seem like they’ve taken the feedback to heart and fixed up the issues that their customers were complaining about. If my last post on this had you wondering whether or not you should buy from them then hopefully this one shows you that you can, at least if you’re ordering a GoPro.
I’m not what you’d call a big traveller, the longest trip of my life was done just last year and only lasted 4 weeks, but I’ve still been to more places than both my parents combined. I have the commoditization of air travel to thank for that and it’s the reason why many Australians of my generation spent their early twenties in other countries. Like any traveller I’m always keen to dive right into the culture of the place I’m visiting and always want to bring back a momento that’s distinctly from that country. Since I have a distaste for useless things and a heavy interest in tech my options are usually pretty limited though, especially when I go to places that are supposed to be tech centres.
Most recently I saw myself in Singapore for business and thought this would be a good opportunity to grab some of the gadgets I hadn’t bought yet (I.E. a Motorola Xoom). I knew I could get it online for just under $600 so I figured if I could get it for that or within 10% more it would be worth it so I set out to 2 of the biggest technology malls in search of one. The first one I tried was Sim Lim Square, and whilst the number of IT shops there was astounding I failed to find anyone willing to sell me the tablet for less than SG$900 (~AUD$684). It was also a bit of a challenge to find one in the first place since most places didn’t stock it, favoring instead the new Acer Iconia. My frolic through the Funan DigitalLife Mall prove to be equally as irritating, so I ended up leaving there empty handed.
I had similar frustrations looking for some distinctly Singaporean gifts to bring back from my travels. This could be due to the heavy amount of westernization that Singapore has undergone but even trolling through local markets had me finding the same items I could either get online or back in Australia. It’s not just limited to Singapore either, any business running in a modern country is more than likely going to have some kind of web presence which will allow you to get their products without having to enter the country. Thus the actual value of travelling to a location to get things that you can only get there is somewhat diminished, especially if you’re someone with particular tastes like me.
My wife and I had the same trouble when travelling through the USA. We struggled to find anything that they couldn’t get elsewhere and indeed many of the gifts we ended up bringing back could have easily been acquired with 10 minutes on the Internet and a credit card. Sure people are still appreciative of things that have made the journey from faraway lands (especially if you carry them yourselves) but it just seems unnecessary when you could have the package make that same journey without taking up space in your suitcase.
Perhaps its just a result of my particular tastes and chosen travel destinations but the more I travel the more I get the feeling that the world is becoming far more homogenous thanks to the communication revolution of the Internet. It’s also just good business on the part of the multi-nationals who can afford to have a presence anywhere they choose which explains why I continue to see the same products and brands nearly everywhere I go.
Maybe I’m just pointlessly ranting about the diminishing value of travel or perhaps I’m getting crotchety in my old age, not wanting to travel because I like what I’ve got back at home. Both are valid points and looking over this post it does seem kind of a silly point to make. Still though I think there’s something in the idea that the world is becoming more homogenous thanks to the better flow of information and that one of the flow on effects is that the idea of bringing gifts back from overseas is now a quaint notion that could soon be seen as an outdated custom.
Or maybe I’m just shit at finding good places to shop, that’d work too 😉
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.
Even though I’ve only been in this hotel for the past 2 nights it was already beginning to feel so normal to wake up here that it just felt like any other weekend when I opened the curtains. The bright light flooded the room revealing a bright and sunny day with the overcast clouds of the past couple days banished to the far reaches of the horizon. Still Canada’s fast approaching winter made sure that any heat gained from the sun was quickly swept away by a crisp westerly wind leaving us just a little warmer than the day before. It wouldn’t matter too much today though since we were going to downtown Montreal to do some shopping and to soak in a bit of the local culture.
After driving around looking for parking we finally found a place that wasn’t too far from Laura’s old university. She regaled us with stories of the different places and how they’d changed over the years. One of the buildings we went by was newly built by her old university for the engineering department. Seeing it made my heart soar as it reminded me of how the University of Canberra shut down its engineering department due to lack of interest. If such a magnificent building was only just erected it meant that the engineering profession was alive and well here, and had the funding to go along with it.
As usual our late rise from slumber put our first meal of the day firmly in the lunch category and since we were near Laura’s old haunts we eventually settled on a crepe house that also did all day breakfasts. The food was cheap but surprisingly filling leaving all of us pawing at the remains whilst we finished off our coffee. I have still yet to find a place that does anything resembling the coffee I’m used to (and was spoiled with on my last trip to Melbourne) so downing the rest of the brown liquid was more for the caffeine than anything else. We started to head down towards the main shopping drag which contains Montreal’s Underground City, a large shopping complex with multiple subterranean levels.
We wandered around the place for hours checking out all the local and chain shops that made up this giant underground maze. It had 4 different areas that all had their own distinct architectural style to them, ranging from giant multi-floor underground atriums to densely packed strips of shops where no space had been wasted. The christmas flair had already been brought out as well with ornaments dotting most of the shops and a giant tree in the middle of one of the large atriums festooned with all sorts of mechatronics that puts anything I’ve seen in Australia to shame. After trying to find a few items and failing we decided we should begin making our way to our dinner spot since it was booked for a rather early 6:00pm.
We arrived there with about an hour and a half to spare so we hit up one of the local cafes to burn a bit of that time. Their coffee was the closest thing I’ve had to what I’d call proper coffee since I left Australia over two weeks ago so it was refreshing to say the least. After stealing their wifi for an hour we ducked out to grab a couple bottles of wine before going to grab our seats. Interestingly enough the wine here is extremely cheap with most bottles going for under $20. Couple that with the fact that it’s considered unusual to charge corkage and the number of bottles that adorned our table was close to one per person, a queue for what the rest of the night would entail.
Laura’s friend from work had arranged this dinner for us and she had also brought her husband and another couple along for the night. Usually my innate shyness would take over here and I’d sit quietly at the end of the table, enjoying the food and being happy with just listening. However since we’re strangers in a foreign land the conversation flowed with topics of comparisons between Canada and Australia, with subjects from the trivial to the enthralling. Even though I didn’t have a terrible amount in common with these guys I still felt like we hit it off well, especially considering we kicked on at a local irish pub. There I was introduced to 2 new drinks: the black velvet and the irish car bomb.
The Black Velvet is half a pint of Guinness on top of half a pint of cider. It’s an interesting mix with the smoothness of the Guinness first hitting you with a clean cider aftertaste. The Irish Car Bomb is half a pint of Guinness with a shot of Hennessy and Baileys on the side, drunk in Jaeger Bomb fashion. I’m a bit of a gun when it comes to drinking these sorts of drinks and promptly beat everyone to the bottom. There were a few misfires and with this particular drink there’s really no second chances since the Baileys will curdle very quickly on contact with the Guinness.
It was around midnight when we retired back to our hotel after saying goodbye to our newfound friends. We did make a quick stop at the local McDonalds to get some poutine before heading home, revelling in the novelty of ordering this localised fast food. It had been an exhausting day and we all collapsed on the main bed, dozing off to one of the movies I had brought along with me. Our plans for tomorrow to visit the cultural heart of Montreal, Old Montreal, were far from our minds as we lay down to rest, our bodies thankful for the peace after our day of shenanigans.
I was on a high from my trip yesterday having lucked out into the air show I wasn’t able to track down and narrowly escaping any sunburn despite my late and hastily applied sunscreen. The morning however started slow as my in room air conditioner had flipped itself from the previous night choosing to bake me in the Florida heat rather than trying to freeze my head as it did the night before. I first checked my email to see if there had been any word from my travel agent so I could go about planning (or not) the extra day that I would spend here so I could see Discovery’s last launch.
Whilst I hadn’t heard from my original travel agent one of her colleagues was watching her inbox and got back to me. The flight changes would set me back a cool $150, just $2 over the limit I had given them to take action without first confirming it with me. I sent her a reply back saying to go ahead and then hit up Hotwire to secure myself a room for the night. Hoping to luck out and get a room in the airport again (saving me a few headaches) I found that there were only 3 star hotels available in the airport area, knowing this meant the airport was out of the question. Checking with the hotel directly also proved fruitless all their rooms were booked out. The room I got was extremely cheap though and only a short drive to the airport so I figured that it wasn’t too bad, plus I’d need to book the car for 2 days in order to cover tomorrow afternoon after I returned the corvette and the trip out to the Kennedy Space Centre.
Getting a car also proved to be slightly difficult. There were a few with an extremely good rate however their return point wasn’t in the airport. Not wanting to have to chance getting a cab from there to the airport I decided that I’d pay the premium to get one I could return to the terminal. This also increased the range of vehicles that were available to me, including a convertible Ford Mustang (or similar, but here’s hoping). With that booked I was all set to go to the KSC on launch day, provided nothing else made the schedule slip again.
After perusing my usual sites I thought a grand tour of Orlando would be a good way to spend the day. I had a couple markets sussed out as well as a couple of the local parks which would have provided some great photographic opportunities. I began at the Orlando Prime Outlets, basically an overgrown strip mall with factory outlets from all the major brands. A couple shops caught my attention but there wasn’t anything really unique there, I could get all of this at home for pretty similar prices. When I’m overseas I like to get things that I just can’t get at home like the hand made turtle lamp we got whilst on Turtle Island. After about an hour of walking around I noticed that it was getting harder to walk normally thanks to a pain in the middle of my left foot. I sat down to give it some time to rest.
Upon resuming walking however the pain hadn’t quelled as much as I had expected it to. Fearing the worst I went back to my hotel room and let it rest for a couple hours, devouring a couple chapters of Pandora’s Star in the process. Getting up and walking around I felt I a little better so I decided to visit one of the parks I had tracked down. By the time I reached the car I knew that walking on this foot wasn’t doing it any good but I decided to go for the drive anyway, wanting to get the most out of this last full day I had with my yellow beauty. I didn’t end up getting out of the car since the area I wanted to go to was sectioned off for a concert they were holding tonight. If it wasn’t for my foot I’d probably be there right now, blast it all.
Coming back to the hotel room feeling defeated I had resigned myself to shamefully calling room service again (3rd time at this hotel) and resting the foot up whilst wasting away to American TV. About an hour into this pit of self loathing I felt inspired to not let the last night of my time with the corvette go idly by and hobbled my way down to it for one last night of shenanigans. I drove around randomly for a good 15 minutes until a thought struck me, why don’t I do a night shoot of the car? The auto HDR on the camera would make for some impressive shots, so I looked around for somewhere with some light (and absent of people) to do my shoot, and I found the perfect place.
It was the front of a truck depot just off the highway, lit by dozens of lights with nary a skerrick of people to be found. I snapped quite a few shots and will endeavour to get them all online sometime (along with the numerous other pictures) but this one is probably the best of the lot. The yellow just seems so much more vibrant than in the other pictures I’ve got.
I had still resigned to going back to the hotel for dinner since my initial attempt to get into Olive Garden had been thwarted again by the massive late night dining crowd there. However on the way back from the photo shoot I noticed a burger joint I had read about before, Five Guys Burger and Fries. I pulled in to find I was the only customer there but was instantly greeted and served. About 10 minutes later I had my dinner and was off back to the hotel where I spent the next half hour consuming the mad burger and only a handful of the half kilo of fries they had given me.
Today has the overwhelming feeling of snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. Had I not been spurned on by Brett’s words in the comments and Dave’s recent posts about his China trip I would’ve spent the entire time sitting in the hotel room feeling sorry for myself. Whilst my foot may not recover as quickly for this I still believe it was worth it as the pictures I got on the last night with my lovely yellow beast will bring back fond memories of ignoring my self preservation instincts and just having a good time larking around. That’s something I can’t really put a price tag on.
I rolled over and stared at the clock on my bedside table, it’s muted blue display shining the time back into my dreary eyes. 11:48am I had overslept like crazy, waking up 4 hours previously and thinking I’d just take a quick nap before heading out for the day. I had sort of planned to go to Key West today after the suggestion Brett posted in the comments, but with the drive time reaching 3 hours for one way I didn’t want to be getting there late in the afternoon only to leave a couple hours later. I resigned myself to doing that tomorrow.
Still I hadn’t yet hit up South Beach which every travel review site and the bell hop/concierge had recommended to me. The place to start was apparently Ocean Dr which was just a stones throw away from the beach and was apparently littered with shopping, restaurants and bars. I did some quick reconnaissance to make sure there would be somewhere where I could park my car in relative seclusion and punched in the address into the GPS and I was on my merry way.
Or at least, I thought I was.
You see I didn’t make the distinction between Miami and Miami Beach, figuring that the former was a super set of the later. As it turns out that’s not the case and the place it was taking me to was no where near where I thought I was going. Noticing that the area I was in didn’t feel particularly right I pulled out my phone in a desperate attempt to find wifi. Not being able to find any open points with internet access I went off the little scrap of map I had already downloaded last night when I went to Zuma and remembered that Ocean drive was over a bridge. The road that I saw on little map I had turned out to be the port for the cruise and cargo ships of Miami and whilst it was a cool place to visit (the scale of engineering there is damned impressive) it wasn’t the bustling shopping centre I was after. I did come across one of their awesome draw bridges in action however:
After returning to my hotel with my tail between my legs I discovered my mistake and quickly found my way back to my initial destination. After parking my car and getting my gear together I was hit with the humid, unforgiving heat of downtown miami which instantly fogged up my sunglasses. I spent the next hour walking around looking at the various shops and restaurants realising that apart from the Walgreens I had seen pretty much all of them before. There were a few high fashion and boutique outlets but for the most part I had seen nearly all of them before in my previous jaunt to Florida mall. Feeling disappointed I started looking around for something to eat and that’s when my inner shy nerd kicked in.
Even though I’d count myself as an extrovert normally that comes on the proviso that I’m either with friends or in a location I fell comfortable in. As such when I’m out on my own as I have been for the past few days I’m not really the biggest talker and this clashes with the high pressure style of service that is to be had here in Miami. At every location I hadn’t been looking at their menu for a good 10 seconds before I had someone coming over to talk to me, usually just reading the menu items out to me (thanks I can read). This wouldn’t have been so bad if they left right after they saw I wasn’t interested in talking but all of them just stood right next to me in the hopes that I would get a table with them. Had any of them added any value to me reading the menu (like say recommending something or at the very least not being laser focused on my fucking wallet) I might have considered otherwise. With that falling in a crying heap I turned to my faithful servant: Yelp. 30 seconds later I had my target in site, a small sandwich shop called La Sandwicherie.
That my friends is the beef sandwich with all the salads and it cost me all of $8. The ingredients were fresh, the bread soft and the beef was tender. It puts all the subway I’ve had to shame and I can see why it’s earned such a reputation for itself. The place itself is basically just a hole in the wall with some seats around the side crewed by 3 people but they were more than capable of getting everyone’s orders out in under 5 minutes. Satisfied I left the La Sandwicherie and returned to my car and turned the air conditioning to full, my sweat drenched body revelling in the dry cool air.
I didn’t mention this yesterday but I didn’t make it to the gym because, well I couldn’t find the damned thing. They had said that it was on level 14 but after wandering around the entire level I still couldn’t see it. Looking on the guest information system that they have on the TVs (I’ll have to post a video of this thing, it’s really well done) I saw that it was indeed on the 14th floor, just not in my tower. The Viceroy basically has 2 towers, one of them for guests and the other for residents. They’re connected up until the 15th floor where the resident tower continues for another 15 or so stories and where the hotel ends there’s a rooftop pool and courtyard that functions as a walkway between them. After finding this out I found the gym and boy was it impressive. A great view out over the greater Miami area coupled with one of every imaginable workout machine. It might not be that impressive to regular gym go-ers, but for a garage workout junkie like me it was like travelling to the future.
Tomorrow I’m planning to drive out to Key West and see what they’ve got going out there. Hopefully the speed limits on those roads will be a little more liberal so I can open up the Corvette a bit more as my search for a dragway has thus far proven to be fruitless. Still it’s a lovely car to drive and the addition of free Sirius satellite radio makes driving anywhere quite nice regardless, but I can feel those 400+ horses chomping at the bit to be unleashed. By all accounts it will be a scenic drive anyway which will be a nice break from the last couple days from the Miami rush hour traffic.