Thursday, October 16, 2008

Canadian Thanksgiving

So its been almost 2 weeks since my last past and that's not a good thing, but its been pretty busy since I came back from my trip to the UK (post to come eventually), we spent a few days being a couple again and then we took a trip to Ottawa for Canadian Thanksgiving.

This was my 2nd Canadian Thanksgiving, last year some 30 or so friends from the Keith and the Girl and Team Drunk Ottawa communities made their way to Ottawa to celebrate Canadian Thanksgiving and to have an excuse for drunken revelry. Last year I drove in Canada for the first time, took 6 other people with me (Kata and 5 friends, 2 from the USA) and after 13 hours in one direction and 11 hours in the other direction, we had accomplished a Thanksgiving to remember (for mostly good reasons).

This year Kata and I packed our belongings and our dog Blackie into our rental car and made our way to Ottawa on Saturday. The drive out took approx. 8 hours (we left around 9 and arrived just after 5) and was relatively uneventful. We were staying at a pet friendly hotel in downtown Ottawa (the Comfort Inn just off junction 115 of the 417 highway) and settled in for a couple of hours before we headed out for an evening with our friends at the Heart and Crown pub. The year before we had gone to the same pub and taken up 3 large tables, this year we all fit on one large table and we had a great time with our friends catching up and enjoying the food (really good for pub grub). We hung out for close to 4 hours and then headed back to our hotel to rest up for the next day.

The next morning we awoke relatively early and joined the other residents of the hotel for our complimentary continental breakfast (always a good thing). The selection was decent, mostly baked goods (bagel, english muffin, muffin, waffles, bread) some cereals, fruit, coffee, tea, etc. After breakfast we headed out to visit Kata's uncle George and her parents who were in Ottawa to have thanksgiving with her uncle. We only visited for an hour as her parents had a lot planned to do that day (the day before they had visited a tractor museum, Kata's step-dad is a tractor "nut" who has his own show tractor and plowing tractor which he competes in plowing matches with) so we headed back to our hotel to relax a while before heading out to a friend's house for the thanksgiving meal.

We picked up a couple of our friends from the Ottawa Jail Hostel (a number of our friends had stayed there the year before also) and we headed out on the 417 highway into the wilds of the Ottawa countryside. The drive was around 30 minutes and we ended up at our friend's house where we were to have our Thanksgiving meal. It was a pot luck and people were bringing all kinds of food (mostly desert). We brought a Tofurky with us (for the vegetarians amongst us) and our gracious hosts (the McDonalds, Dr Bri and Juanita) took care of the turkey and most of the fixings, vegetarian stuffing, potatoes, all manner of vegetables and other delicious, if not vegetarian, savoury foods (a beef roast was also brought by one of our friends (Mr Rhi)).

All manner of deserts were laid out after the main course, pumpkin pie, pumpkin cheese cake, an apple pie (can't remember the exact type but it was delicious), blueberry muffins (from scratch), McCain frozen cake (a Canadian classic) and peanut butter pie (one of our friend's speciality pies, thanks as always Rickeh). I'm sure there were some other deserts but my mind has been clouded by the sugar overload (wink).

After all the wonderful food we all relaxed, talked and made merry. After an hour or so, a chorus of "happy birthday" began, I was bemused, no one had told me it was someones birthday, then it dawned on me my friends were singing for me, my birthday isn't until the 20th, but coincidentally thanksgiving was the 1st anniversary of my living in Canada, so they had sprung a double surprise on me. Our friend Amy had arranged with my darling Kata and our friend Rhi to get me a cake, with purple icing (one of my favourite colours of late) and celebrate my time in Canada so far. It was really adorable, the cake had "happy birthday dev" on it (my nickname of course) and they had a "1" candle for me to blow out. The candle managed to blow itself out thanks to the breeze from the aircon (or from the open window) and then I cut the cake whilst Kata took pictures. Everyone was already stuffed so not much cake was eaten (I took a slice) but the thought and execution totally counted.

The evening continued with a viewing of the previous week's Family Guy (I dream of Jesus) and later a game of Scene It on Xbox 360 (my team came 3rd the first game and 2nd (after leading for much of the game) in the 2nd game). By the time we were finished playing things were winding down, people were starting to get tired so we headed back to the city, dropping off a couple of friends at their respective hotels and then returned to our hotel to take care of Blackie and head to sleep ourselves.

The final day, Thanksgiving day itself, we had breakfast again, packed up and checked out of our hotel. We then headed over to Rhi's apartment where we planned to leave Blackie for a few hours as we were heading out to the Elgin Street Diner for our 2nd annual Thanksgiving farewell brunch. Many of our friends had the Poutine, for which the diner is most famous and after the repast we said our farewells and headed back to collect Blackie.

The drive home was relatively uneventful, although traffic was quite dense in a number of places (near Oshawa and Cobourg and some near Milton). Despite the traffic, the drive home took around 9 and a half hours and we rolled into our apartment's parking lot around 11pm, tired but glad to be home after another great Thanksgiving weekend.

p.s. here's a link to pictures Kata took over the Thanksgiving weekend

Friday, October 3, 2008

Going "Home" part 1

Foreword: This is late, very late, but whatever, I'm gonna post it now and part 2 later once I get it all written.

Well I went back to the UK for a week as I said in my last "filler" post and a number of things happened; I spent time with my mother, I spent most of 24 hours travelling, I slept on a couch for 6 days and I managed to turn half my back into a mess of pain.

I guess a little explanation is needed, so here we go; I needed to cross the Atlantic for a couple of reasons, for one my visitor's visa was about to expire (although to be honest Canada isn't that worried so long as you're not trying to work or claim for anything), and I still had to tell my mother the plans that Kata and I had with regards to marriage and our future.

I booked my flights with about 6 days warning, which caused no little amount of anguish to my darling Kata (and to me naturally) and I sorted out my other travel requirements (Airbus to Toronto airport and back) and then spent my last few days before travelling with Kata trying not to think about 7 days away from her and our life.

The day of my trip came on Wednesday 24th September and after a last afternoon of passion and affection, I left our apartment and started my trek to London, England. The first leg of the trip is always pretty easy, get into the airbus and wait for 100 to 120 minutes for the driver to head along the 401 highway to YYZ (Toronto Pearson).

This journey there were 3 other passengers and another driver being taken to Pearson to pickup a vehicle. The driver and one of the passengers were both of American origin, although the driver also has Canadian citizenship and in very little time talk turned to politics. Frustration at the American banks which were collapsing with alarming frequency, disgust at the banks' directors who were bring given "golden parachute" payments from the banks despite their clear ineptitude, anger at the politicians who had allowed such things to befall the nation due to lack of regulation and wonder at whom would be capable, if any, to restore the nation and more so the world's finances back to a steady ship as opposed to the sinking ravaged hulk that we were being shown every day.

Debate did run over the presidential candidates and their running mates; concern over the very notion that the GOP candidate would win and very real concern that if somehow he did win, he could very well die before the end of his term and leave his woefully inadequate running mate in charge of the world's most powerful democracy. The consensus however was that Obama would win the election but not if voters were complacent "every vote counts" was certainly mentioned, although as I've mentioned previously, truly every vote doesn't really count, or at least doesn't count for as much thanks to the vagueries (british spelling) of the electoral college system used in the presidential election (swing vote is a fantasy movie, not based in reality in the slightest, although I must admit I've not seen the movie for fear or wishing ill on Kevin Costner, nah not really, it just looks terrible).

So in any case, after listening for a while to the conversation I sat back and relaxed listening to music on my Creative Zen media player and I drifted off for a while. When we arrived at the airport I was the first to leave the bus since terminal 3 is first on the drop off route (International travel is for the most part handled by terminal 3 of Pearson). I headed in, picked up my ticket (as I'd booked less than 2 weeks before travel I had to get my ticket at the travel desk) and then I checked in for my flight. I took a short wander around the shopping area, not that there's a huge amount of it in terminal 3, and then I headed for security. Now at the risk of being misunderstood, the following is without prejudice or overstating, every time I've travelled out of Toronto, and I've done it 4 times now, I've noted that the vast majority of the security staff and store workers on the departure side of the terminal are of Indian descent (India the Asian country as opposed to the native American peoples), mostly 1st generation immigrants. The Tim Hortons (a bastion of Canadian coffee shops) is entirely operated by Indians (I assume the franchise is owned by an Indian family and they have brought relatives to Canada to work with/for them), the other food emporia and stores also have a high percentage of Indian staff. Its kinda weird but I take it as part of the rich Canadian culture of immigration which enriches the nation (I for one know that immigration is a positive activity after all I'm technically an immigrant about to emigrate once more).

One thing I suck at is waiting for things to happen, in this case I get pretty bored and antsy waiting for the flight to board and ultimately take off. My frame of mind is that until I get on the plane and the doors close I'm still responsible for what happens. After the doors close, its out of my hands and things are down to the flight crew, only then do I relax, or at least try to relax.

Anyway, as I was saying, because of the way things are these days, you have to wait around for 2 to 3 hours before your flight takes off and of course you need to keep entertained, fortunately I'm used to trying to keep myself entertained and I always take way too much stuff with me, so I settled down, stuck a DVD into my portable DVD player and started watching. I only managed 20 minutes before boarding started. Since I had asked for a seat near the back and on the aisle (leg room and proximity to the emergency exit in case of disaster) I was in the first major group to be boarded. I reached my seat (28D) and got myself set for the journey ahead, magazine, creative zen, bottle of water, hoodie, then I waited to see if I would be lucky enough to get an empty row or at least a seat between me and 28F (the other aisle seat on the central section of the airbus A310). Unfortunately the entire row and in fact the entire aircraft filled up and the passenger to my immediate right (28E) was an above average width adult male (less wide than me but still wider than say Kate Moss).

I have never been able to sleep properly on a plane. Trans-Atlantic flights are moderately long, 7 to 8 hours, and west to east are "best" done over night so that you can sleep on the flight and be fresh in the morning when you land. Unfortunately for me that doesn't work, the planes are uncomfortable and busy. I'm a big man and although I fit relatively well into the seats, my shoulder width means I get bumped almost constantly when people walk past me. The length of my legs mean I have to leave one leg in the aisle if I want to improve my comfort level, which again causes problems. Also thanks to my shoulder width my head is mode forward than most in the seat, which means for comfort reasons I need to have a pillow behind my head for any length of flight.

OK moaning aside, the flight was pretty normal, the movies were meh (Indiana Jones 4 which sucked and Vantage Point which I'd seen with Kata in the Cinema. Although I did watch Indiana Jones 4 to see how badly they had destroyed the Indiana Jones franchise. To my mind the recent South Park episode said it better than I ever can), the food was fine (it was President's Choice Indian food) and after 8 hours of passing out for 20 minutes every hour or so, we were finally landing at Gatwick airport. I made my way from the airport to Fulham Broadway underground station where I met my mother and we made our way to Hendon where she lives.

To be continued...