October 2007

Cup of Soup

Wed, Oct 10, 2007


I haven't had a vacation or significant break from work since my Homeland trip two years ago. I really need a vacation. Unfortunately, I keep getting thwarted.

My first working idea was a trip to New Zealand with a friend of mine, who has a sister that lives down there and would need to go for a visit at some point. This was appealing because - other than the drunken weekend in New York - I've never had a travel partner. However, said potential travel partner went and got a new job, and thus no longer has any vacation time.

I went back the drawing board, and after much expoloration, picked an adventure trip to Peru. Mountain biking in the Andes, 5-day hike to Machu Picchu, canoing in the Amazon... it looked like quite the adventure. With various family events scheduled and with Christmas and playoff season approaching, mid-November was the only time I could get away. I attempted to book the tour but found that, sorry, it's all booked up until next year.

Right. Back to the drawing board.

Fri, Oct 12, 2007


When I bought my condo, I created a long list of "Things To Buy". Bed, dressers, TV, patio furniture, etc. Closing in on two years later, one item still remains: a surround sound system. This item has been left unresolved all this time because, admittedly, I don't know squat about audio. Also, the thought of running speaker cable through the ceiling to the other side of the living room is not a task I look forward to. So, when I discovered "simulated" surround sound systems, I fugured it could be an opportunity to scratch that item off the list with as little trouble as possible.

I picked up Yamaha's sound projector, which bounces "beams" of sound off walls to simulate suround sound, and proceeded to build a shelf above the TV to put it on. I measured it all, got the shelf, drilled a hole for cables, and painted it to match the room. After making all that mess, I put the brackets on the wall, and then went to attach the shelf.

Well, wouldn't you know it, but the added thickness of the paint made the shelf too thick to fit inside the bracket. I shoved it, twisted, sanded it, but it just wouldn't budge. Feck. The next day, I bought a file and a chisel, expecting a gruelling affair to get this shelf in place. When I tried it again that evening, it easily slid into place. You teasing little fecker.

Of course, all that manhandling mucked up the paint, so I had to paint it again. I then set up the speaker to find that the hole I had drilled for the cables was too small. Feck. I also discovered that the positioning of the speaker would bend the cables in an unfriendly way, so I cut another, bigger hole to properly feed all the cables through, and continued the setup. After all that was done, I found that the cables were just a little bit too short. One of the cables, despite being labelled as 8ft, was in fact only 2m. Double feck.

With cables stretched and not in proper position, I hooked it all up and invited some friends with more discerning ears to determine if it sounded surround or not.

After all that, it was a dud. Playing test tones, you could hear the reflection in the corners, but in practice, it just didn't cut it. Back it went.

I have now replaced it with Polkaudio's SurroundBar, and while you would never mistake it for a true 5.1 system, it does sound "surroundish", and considering I don't have to run cables for rear speakers (but still could add that to the system later if I wanted), this one seems to be a keeper. It sounds good, it doesn't require extra cabling, but on top of that, I just want it to be done. Scratch it from the list.

Tue, Oct 16, 2007

Treasure Hunting

I've finally booked a vacation. Considering that South America and Africa are the only continents (not including Antarctica) I haven't visited, and with Peru all booked up, the next destination on the list is Egypt. So, I'm off to see the pyramids, take a silly photo with the Sphinx, sail down the Nile, climb Mount Sinai, and do some snorkelling in the Red Sea.

While I am excited about the prospect of completing my Antiquity Trifecta (Rome, Athens, and now Giza), going on a tour that ventures mere kilometres from several violently disputed territories like Sudan and the Middle East does have me worried. One optional part of the tour - a trip to Abu Simbel, a temple built for Ramses II - is made via bus at 4:30 in the morning escorted by police convoy. I'm afraid to ask why a police convoy is necessary.

So, while I am away raiding Pharaoh tombs and evading Islamic militants, the benefit to you, the reader, is that I will soon have produced what will hopefully be another wildly entertaining travelogue. For my own sake, however, I hope this one will be void of stories involving hitchhiking and telephone booths.

Sat, Oct 20, 2007

A Year Gone By

Today, we celebrated my little nephew's first birthday. I got him a little red tricycle. Weee!!

Sat, Oct 27, 2007


With my trip just around the corner, I've been quite paranoid about getting injured. I sprained my thumb a couple of weeks ago at soccer, and don't want anything more serious to happen that could threaten the trip. Today, I played in a soccer tournament.

After one of our players failed to show up, one had to leave with an injured ankle leaving us playing short-handed, and a pair started suffering cramps, my paranoia didn't ease much. I consider myself lucky to have escaped with only a shot to the temple and another to the nards. Thank God for the jock; world's greatest invention. After all that, I can't really say I'm upset that we didn't do very well and got eliminated early. I'm just glad I got to leave in one piece.

Now I am busy prepping for the trip. Benji will be spending that time at my parents' place, and I am trying to make that bunnysitting task as painless as possible. I'm going to miss my bunny. He's so cute and fuzzy. He wouldn't fare so well stuffed inside a backpack, though, so he'll have to stay here.

Tue, Oct 30, 2007

Toronto To Nowhere

My pack is all set, Benji's adjusting to his new enclosure, the heat is turned down, and the power is off. I left one circuit running to keep this website operational, but as invariably happens whenever I go away, something else will happen that will knock it down. I'm all set to go. I made the pre-rush-hour drive out to my parents' house, who would then take me to the airport. One last cuddly moment with the bunny, the typical tearful "don't get yourself killed, or diseased, or converted, or whatever" speech from Mum, and we were off.

I strode into the familiar airport, pack on my back, ready to jet off. I checked the flight status.

KLM flight 692.... Cancelled.

Ummm... uh oh.

I've never had a flight cancelled on me before. I wasn't quite sure what to do. I felt thankful that I've got a day's buffer before my tour begins, but this hitch could spoil my day-stop in Amsterdam. I guessed that I would just need to go to the KLM check-in desk and they'd sort out my new flight arrangements. We found the check-in desk, and we also found preceding it several lines snaking around the terminal, full of hundreds of travellers in the same predicament as I.

Ummm... uh oh.

I am now glad I booked through a travel agency. One quick phone call, and they informed me of my protected seats and alternate flight arrangements. I would now take a midnight flight to London, where I would change to continue on to Egypt.

We thankfully left the horde of unhappy non-travellers behind, and returned home. Unfortunately, this hiccup has wasted much of an evening, and I have lost my day in Amsterdam. But, at least I will still get to Egypt, and even earlier than previously scheduled. We returned home - coincidentally passing one of our cousins along the way - and began the departure routine anew.

Wed, Oct 31, 2007

Toronto to Cairo

Back at the airport, ready to go once again. This time, I've checked, double-checked, and triple-checked that my flight is on schedule and that no more travel agent hoops will need to be jumped. Avid readers will be aware of my inability to sleep on planes, and you will all be pleased to know that the fundamental fabric of the universe is intact and will not unravel our existence, at least not in the foreseeable future. On the 6-hour flight to London, I watched a couple of movies, and an episode of Arrested Development - the discovery of which was joyous news - and got zero sleep.

I arrived at London Heathrow, and because I had to collect my baggage for the connecting flight, I had to go through customs, which technically meant this was my fourth time in the United Kingdom. Heathrow has become a somewhat familiar place, despite the construction going on at present.

My next flight was a cause for worry. While my flight in was with Air Canada and it's modern fleet with relatively comfortable amenities - power outlets, on-demand video, even a USB port, the function of which I wasn't entirely clear - the connecting flight was with EgyptAir, of which I knew nothing, but suspected would be a shady airline that would fail many standards tests back home. My worries grew when I actually got on the plane. It was old. Quite old. The upholstery was worn, the armrests were off-level, half of the ceiling-mounted monitors scrolled in dizzying fashion, and the tray in front of me refused to stay in its upright position, the latch securing it long having worn away to the nub. I was shocked to find that the seats still had ashtrays.

As we began the taxi to the runway, I prayed that they took much better care of the engines than they did of the interior of the plane.

The flight itself, thankfully, turned out to be uneventful, and I landed in Cairo in the evening. As I walked into the terminal, I was immediately met by my airport transfer, which turned out to be a smart purchase. He assisted me on getting my visa (essentially a visitor's tax, as everyone gets a visa for a $15 fee, whether or not you are later permitted into the country), pointed out my bags, escorted me through the hordes of hungry taxi drivers and led me to the van that would take me to my hotel.

Despite the number and variety of places around the world I have visited, Cairo taught me that there is still so much out there that is so different from the world I know. The first such lesson was in traffic. Back home, we say drivers in Montreal are crazy, but really, they're just a little more aggressive than in Toronto; not much difference really. Traffic in Rome was hectic, but the rules of the road kept people alive. Athens, I had thought, was the worst of the lot, but drivers there look like old ladies on Sunday mornings compared to the ruleless mayhem that is driving in Cairo.

Cars sped along in the waves of traffic, inches from each other. Lights flashed, cars weaved, entire rivers of traffic merged, horns honked ceaselessly. Pedestrians put their lives at risk, crossing the street at any and every point, trusting a taxi will not mow them down. The lines on the road were totally disregarded; lanes mean nothing here. While the road may have been constructed with the intention of three lanes of traffic, drivers will nose their cars wherever they believe it may have a slight chance of fitting, so that traffic will often flow five cars wide. Turn signals were used, but their purpose was not entirely clear, as they tended not to use them to signal intent to turn. It seemed more like communication to other cars, like "You should have turned this way, then I wouldn't have t-boned you like that".

At one point, released from idling by a traffic cop, our three lanes of traffic curved to the right, and from my window I could see another three lanes of traffic about to merge with ours, seemingly intent on joining into a single mass of three or four lanes of chaos. I closed my eyes and braced myself for the crunch, and was shocked to find that nothing happened. While the traffic may be psychotic, drivers here must be considered some of the most skilled in the world. They know exactly how much space their cars take, and know where they will fit, and tend to get through the mess unscathed. The nature of the cars on the road, however - old, beaten, and invariably covered in a textured mass of dents - tells you that this isn't always the case, and that contact is common.

Even parking here is chaotic. Cars line the curbs of streets, literally bumper-to-bumper such that it would be impossible to extract your car until the people around you leave. Further to that, street parking is not limited to just the curb. People will commonly park their cars two, three, even four rows deep along the side of the road. I have no idea how those by the curb or on the inside ever get out.

I survived the Cairo traffic experience - the first of many - and reached the hotel. I took a much needed shower, made several attempts at phoning home (the CanadaDirect number in Egypt didn't work, to no surprise), and went to bed, hoping to quickly adjust to the time change. I got up briefly to close the window and shut out the ceaseless noise of honking, to find that it was already closed. Wow. 20 million people can stir up quite the racket. I laid on the rock-hard bed, scarcely believing I was actually in Egypt, wondering what the heck I was doing here, and ready for an adventure.

Archive Index
(C) 2000-2007 David Faria