Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Summer Before I Went To Korea

The summer before I went to Korea I stayed with my ex at her parent's place in Mabou, Nova Scotia. Man, what a summer that was!
Mabou is a small town of about 500 people on the west side of Cape Breton Island and it is one of my favorite places on this planet. The food is good, the Celtic music is great and the little pub on the highway, The Red Shoe Tavern, is one of the best pubs I've ever been to (and I've been to a lot).

Mabou is home to the Rankin Family and a very lively Celtic scene. But that's not why I loved that summer so much.

The summer was great because I had so much fun! My ex and I went out of our way to be unemployed for two months, which turned out to be hard work as job opportunities kept coming our way and we had to make up excuses as to why we couldn't take them. That was pre-meditated, by the way. We had actually said to each other "Let's not work at all this summer" and laughed.

Instead of work we drank copious amounts of beer, camped on the beach, drove around Cape Breton, mowed her parent's lawn and helped her father paint a barn, went crab fishing on a boat and made many trips to Halifax. Friends came out to Nova Scotia from Ontario to visit us. We would zip around the coast on her father's 4-wheeler and hike over small mountains to pick berries on the other side. It was peaceful there, with no traffic. The trees and bushes and grass were bright green and the gravel roads would kick up little dust devils in the wind. The weather was sunny and breezy with the occasional spectacular Atlantic thunderstorm, which we would watch rolling in off the water from the large patio at the front of her parent's house.

We knew that we were going to Korea; we had signed the contracts and bought the tickets and were just waiting for the ball to get rolling.

It is similar to right now, I suppose, with the exception that I am single and in Ottawa.

But the similarities can't be overlooked. I'm off to Russia in September with the contract signed and I'm...well, okay the similarities end there. Nevertheless, six years ago I was waiting to go overseas and here I am doing it again.

Which is why I was thinking it would be such a shame if I didn't enjoy this summer.

This past weekend I went to Wiarton, on the Bruce Peninsula, to see Sam Roberts and The Tragically Hip play, and I had memories of Mabou. Very similar geography, with small towns, gravel roads, bright green all around, sunny and a cool breeze coming off Lake Huron and Georgian Bay.
Perhaps I'll go camp out in Owen Sound for the summer. I have friends there and life is cheaper and more relaxed. Of course that means ditching the lease on my apartment in Ottawa but what the hell, I'll be ditching it anyways!
Sounds good to me!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Axis & Allies

So it's nealry 1 am Saturday night...or rather, Sunday morning althoug it's not that late but I always consider it the night before until I go to sleep and wake up, and THEN it's the next day to me.

Anyways, I just won a game of Axis & Allies Anniversary Edition (the one with Italy and China as seperate entities). I was playing with my brother JV and his two friends MG and C. My brother was the USSR, I was the UK and the USA and China, MG was Japan and C was Germany and Italy. My brother, as the USSR did all the hard work against Germany and fought some key battles in the Baltics and East Polan, but the USA took control of the Pacific and bombed the living fuck out of German and Italian factories. Anyways, we won.

I guess the point of the story is that while we played we drank a ton of beer and smoked a few fat joints and as I write this I'm cross-eyed and the room is spinning, and Lazy Eye by Silversun Pickups is playing and I think I need some water.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Friday, June 19, 2009

Ottawa POV

I've been bashing Ottawa quite a lot recently and I wish I could apologize for it, but the fact of the matter remains that Ottawa sucks. It sucks in every way. It sucks the life out of me. It sucks the cool air out of my apartment. It sucks the fun out of doing anything. It sucks the money out of my bank.

I'll try to give some positive and negative POVs (point-of-views) of Ottawa.


Parliament Hill & the Peace Tower. This famous landmark is the subject of millions of pictures and postcards that can be found around the world. I even saw street vendors in Bangkok selling Parliament Hill t-shirts. The old gothic architecture and the sense of national history that are found around Parliament Hill makes it well-worth the visit.


The rest of the city skyline sucks. There's nothing but a bunch of boring, rectangular buildings jutting up from small trees. On street level the city is fairly dirty and most of the buildings throughout Ottawa appear run-down and badly maintained. If you're looking for inspiration, stay on Parliament Hill.


The public transit system, OC Transpo, is very efficient and well-organized. The transitway is a series of bus-only express roads that run through the city, meaning that for many bus routes there's no fighting through traffic. The buses shoot along the transitway at top speed. In addition to this, there's a bus (or at least an attempt) at every stop throughout the city every 15 minutes. Unlike in other cities, where waiting for a bus requires standing outside for 40 minutes, Ottawa is fairly easy to get around in without a vehicle.


Traffic in Ottawa sucks. Not only was the city lay-out designed for a smaller population (the city will hit the 1 million mark within the next couple of years), but bureaucratic and political bungling means that the roads stay pretty much unrepaired and traffic congestion is horrendous. Trying to drive down Bronson St, a main artery that cuts through the western half of downtown to Carleton University, can take upwards of two hours in rush-hour. The Queensway (Highway 417), the main trans-Canada artery that cuts through Ottawa, is even worse in rush-hour. Add to that the fact that there is NO free parking anywhere in the city, and the city hires more parking enforcement officers than police officers, and you will end up with at least one extortionate (is that a word?) parking ticket a month if you have a car. I'm talking fines of several hundred dollars for letting your meter run out.


The women in Ottawa are beautiful. Everywhere you go there's fantastic-looking women dressed in stylish skirts and pants. Women in Ottawa are very trendy and have a much better sense of fashion than they do in Vancouver, Montreal or even Toronto. As bonus, the last census data showed that women greatly outnumber men in Ottawa. There's 3 single, straight women for every single, straight man in Ottawa. The majority of them are well-educated and gainfully employed. Watch out, however, because many of them are snotty feministas who think they have all the answers and are better than everyone else around them. Nevertheless, I've found dating in Ottawa to be particularly easy.


The men in Ottawa suck. Any 'cool' guys I've met here are not from here. There's the egg-head square-glasses-wearing vegan-pansy new-age type, the uber-liberal fact-spewing government-bureaucrat type, the middle-aged hockey-loving have-2.5-kids polo-shirt-wearing opinionated type, and the greasy crack-head street-scum haven't-showered-in-a-month foul-language type. Where are the normal guys? You know, the ones I want to hang out with? They DON'T exist in Ottawa.

One last negative:

The entertainment scene in Ottawa sucks. I have yet to find a decent restaurant that wowed me (unlike Victoria, Montreal or Halifax, which all have AMAZING restaurants). The service at restaurants sucks here. There are a couple of pubs around and one or two decent patios but nothing to go out of your way for. There's also a couple of nightclubs that are absolutely not worth mentioning in any type of travel memoir. There's not much sightseeing once you've checked out Parliament Hill, unless you want to stare at gritty concrete houses for a couple of hours. There's a couple of decent over-priced shopping malls but, for me at least, shopping is never entertaining.

One last positive:

I have to mention the Westboro area, running down the west of Somerset St (which turns into Wellington St), and crosses Parkdale Ave. This part of town used to be trashy but over the past decade it has turned into a quaint, green, peaceful enclave filled with small businesses, old turn-of-the-century brick homes, friendly people and beautiful women. Although there's not much in the way of entertainment (see above) and there are a few too many hippy fair-trade non-smoking coffee houses, the area still has a nice touch to it. Most importantly, when you're in Westboro you feel like you've left Ottawa. Maybe that's what I like about it!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

So Friggin' Hot

It is so damn hot in my apartment. The windows ALL face west, where the sun sets. Air has a difficult time circulating around this box and it's 30 degrees centigrade outside...must be close to 40 in here!

I'm sitting, doing nothing, in a pair of shorts and nothing else with the fan on high blowing right at me and I'm still sweating like a pig.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

In Defence of Lonely Planet

When I read travel articles or blogs, I often come across disdain for the Lonely Planet travel guide series and those who use them. Descriptions such as "...Lonely Planet-weilding backpackers..." and "...those people clutching Lonely Planet guides like life-rafts..." are all over the place.

Who are these travel guide snobs?

Myself, I love Lonely Planet. I'm a veteran traveller, having toughed it out on the ESL circuit in South Korea for a couple of years, travelling Thailand and visiting Japan and driving across Canada a couple of times. I've lived in 13 different cities around the globe in the past 10 years and I have read a lot of travel guides and, frankly, Lonely Planet is the best of them.

I recently bought the Rough Guide Series guide to Moscow in preparation for my next adventure and it, well, it's useless. It exquisitely details how to visit every Orthodox cathedral in the city over 322 pages but leaves one small paragraph about dining, one paragraph about the nightlife and three pages about post-Soviet Moscow history. The rest is all cathedrals, monasteries and more cathedrals. How boring.

The Lonely Planet guide to Moscow, however, is filled with hundreds of pages about food, bars, clubs, culture, transportation and other, more interesting, topics.

Lonely Planet did steer me wrong once before, I might add. It was my first trip to Bangkok and I was with my ex, her sister and her sister's boyfriend. Her sister had a Lonely Planet guide to Thailand and it told us that Sirkhumvit Road was filled with hostels and hotels and a happening nightlife, so from the airport (which is at least 20 km outside of the city) we told the taxi driver to take us there. It was nearly midnight.

Sirkhumvit Road was blacked-out. There were no streetlights. There were no hostels. There were no clubs or bars. Instead, there was a shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of Thai hookers and old German sex tourists sitting on the curbs, standing, drinking from bottles and one 7-11. A GIANT rat scurried in front of us.
We were frantically searching through the Lonely Planet guide but sure enough, it told us that Sirkhumvit Road was THE place to go in Bangkok. It was either written by an elderly German sex tourist or it was out of date.

To give the Thai hookers credit, one of them saw the distinctive looks of being utterly lost on our faces and in near-perfect English (sprinkled with that incredibly cute accent Thai women have) asked us if we needed help. We said "Yes" and her and a group of her hooker friends, maybe excited to finally meet some tourists who didn't want to fuck them, gave us directions to a hotel several blocks away.

I can't remember which hotel it was but presumably it's where rich sex tourists stay because I remember it costing us over 1200 baht (over $100) for the night. It was on-par with a Holiday Inn.

The next morning my ex's sister found another chapter on Kohsan Road in her Lonely Planet guide and so we went there and found a bit of Shangri-La. There were restaurants, pubs, hostels and stores up the length of the road so we checked into a 100 baht-a-night hostel, hit a patio and proceeded to get incredibly drunk. It was 8 am.
A couple of days later we went the south-east islands and Lonely Planet got us around Koh Samui and Koh Phagnang with incredible ease, even helping us to find some peaceful and cheap beach bungalows. It helped us negotiate water-taxis around Koh Phagnang and it directed us to an extremely isolated little beach resort jutting out from the eastern side, where we enjoyed our first mushroom shakes (of the magical variety) and I saw my first ever invoice for a "bag of green". Just like Lonely Planet said.

Aside from that one incident of misinformation, Lonely Planet has been very helpful in my travels. I don't care what travel guide snobs say. Enjoy your cathedrals because I'm sticking with my Lonely Planet.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

For Whom The Bell Tolls

Those damn bells!

A block away from me is an Italian Catholic church and EVERY morning at 8 am they ring the bells for ten minutes! Sometimes, without rhyme or reason, they ring them again at 11 am.

Because it's June and hot out I have the windows open. Because I live on the 9th floor of a highrise there's nothing to muffle the noise. Because it's 8 in the friggin morning those damn bells wake me up every day!

I'm about two blocks away from Preston Street which, in Ottawa, is called "Little Italy" and my question is: why do Italians insist on so much noise?

The past couple of nights I've been going to bed at 3 am. I haven't had to work and I've been trying to catch up on all the seasons of "Lost". I don't know why I've been unable to get a good night's sleep. Throughout the night I toss and turn and can't seem to fall asleep, but I do know that by the time the bells start making their racket I'm in dream land.

Those damn bells!