Travelbots? Droid Guides? Virtu-Travel?

Travel, Writing

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about taking a trip (it’s been a while), but I’m not sure where to go that would be within my budget and still be adventurous. This morning on my way to work, I was thinking how great it would be to pay Nature a visit. Grand vistas. Tall mountains. Majestic rivers. And then I remembered that it’s winter for everyone above Florida, and also how I hate camping and inclines and stuff.

So, wouldn’t it be lovely if I could experience the majesty of travelling through the Rockies via some kind of android surrogate? It would be exactly like being there — I could breathe in the cool, fresh air, and reach down and feel the shrubbery (shrubbery? I have no idea what the Rockies are like), without any of the hassle of actually going there.

That’s me in the middle.

Of course, this would require a very sophisticated android set-up, and some kind of sensory deprivation tank to sit inside… Plus, I guess the same could be accomplished by a VR simulation. Or a really good IMAX movie. And I know it wouldn’t be exactly the same as being there, but at the very least, it’d be a cool promotional tool for travel agents, no?

Maybe I’ll just file this away for a possible future short story.

Also: PATENT PENDING.

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Highlights and Lowlights of Comic-Con 2011

Entertainment, Travel

Day 1: Wednesday, July 20 (preview night/registration)

Lowlight: After a long train ride from L.A., checking into the hostel and walking down to the convention centre, we get a text from the SDCC official Twitter feed saying that registration is closed for the day. It was only around 6:30 p.m. and registration was supposed to go until 8:30 p.m. We asked some convention personnel about it, and I guess the line was so ridiculously long that by the time they finished with everyone currently in line, it would be well after 9 p.m. So they supposedly closed down the line. So. Lame. So, feeling strongly that they should keep accepting people into the line until the advertised time of 8:30 p.m., we took the shuttle bus over to the Town and Country Centre (the location of badge pick-up for Wednesday night) and got in line anyway. At this point, I was super pissed and worried that my Thursday morning was going to be wasted trying to register.

Highlight: And lo! Despite what they said – and what convention personnel were telling people – we got in the line, waited for a couple of hours and we got to register! Go figure. Presumably, they were just telling people that registration was closed to discourage people from joining the line because it was getting so long. Which is terrible, frankly. But it was okay! And finally getting our badges that night was extra exciting because of all the worrying.

Day 2: Thursday, July 21

Lowlight: Exhaustion. On our first real day at the con, we got up a bit before 3 a.m. and managed to join the line outside the building around 4 a.m. (it’s the line you join just to get in the building in the morning, whether you want to get into the exhibition hall or into one of the panel rooms, except for the massive 6,500-seat Hall H which has a separate line). By the time we got into the building and joined the line for Ballroom 20 (7 a.m.), and got into the ballroom (9 a.m.), I was already tired. The first panels of the day started around 10 a.m. and we were there until around 8 p.m., I think. (The order went: Burn Notice, Covert Affairs, Psych, Ringer, Game of Thrones, TV Guide’s Fan Favourites Panel w/ a variety of actors, Shameless, Homeland, Dexter.) It’s unfortunate that if you’re waiting for a panel later in the day, you have to sit through a bunch of panels that you’re not interested in so you can have a good seat (they don’t clear the rooms between panels, so you have to secure a seat early on and stay there), which means the whole morning was kind of wasted. That being said, you may end up being introduced to something cool and, in this case, seeing Bruce Campbell for the Burn Notice panel was a cool surprise. (He’s very charismatic, even in a white blazer, bright pink shirt and green pants.) AND! A lot of shows will prepare neat skits/videos just to show at Comic-Con, which is really appreciated and very cool. Even if you’re not a fan, it’s pretty entertaining.

Highlights: First, the swag. We got great swag on this first day, including t-shirts, a freakin’ STOOL for Ringer and a Game of Thrones bag with the first book, t-shirt and mousepad/screen wipe. Second, seeing Sarah Michelle Gellar (Buffy!) and Nestor Carbonell (Richard, from Lost!) at the Ringer panel was great. I would rank SMG below Joss Whedon on my Buffy-Must-See List, but it was still neat. And I loved the Lost love for Nestor. Then, the Game of Thrones panel was really exciting because I’m really loving the show and George R. R. Martin was moderating the panel. Sadly, no footage from the next season, though. After that, TV Guide held a “fan favourites” panel with actors from a bunch of popular shows, like True Blood, The Big Bang Theory, Lost (Nestor Carbonell and Jorge Garcia were doing double-duty for Lost and their new shows, Ringer and Alcatraz, respectively) and Doctor Who (Matt Smith is ADORABLE and it was cute that he was such a big True Blood fan.). By the time Dexter got on stage, I was pretty tired, but Michael C. Hall is very handsome, so I got over it. I think this was also the night I saw George R. R. Martin waiting at an intersection, which was cool.

Day 3: Friday, July 22

Lowlight: Sleeping in. My stupid alarm didn’t go off so I slept in until 8:45 a.m. and therefore didn’t get in line early enough to see the Star Trek Captains panel with William Shatner, moderated by Kevin Smith. So, instead, I wandered the exhibition floor, which was fun in itself.

Highlight: Later in the day, I went to the EW: Lost, One Year Later panel, which featured producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse showing up in Star Wars costumes and showing a “lost” clip from the show. Having only just watched the series this past year (meaning I wasn’t a fan the first time I went to SDCC in 2009), it was great to have a chance to be a Lost fan with this panel. This was also the day I bought this polar bear bobblehead, which was supposed to be a con exclusive…

Day 4: Saturday, July 23

Lowlights: Underestimating the popularity of the off-site Hilton Indigo Ballroom. I showed up around 7 a.m. or so, and there were so many people waiting for Attack of the Show and/or Being Human (U.S. version) and/or Community, which is what I was there for. I thought that, since it was an off-site location and the shows aren’t THAT popular, it’d be okay. Unfortunately, I ended up about halfway back. 😦 Second lowlight: Later that night, I tried to go to the new “Hall H/Ballroom Playback” where they show video footage from some of the bigger panels of the day, and the room gets to vote on what they want to see. I voted for Fringe, but Chuck, Futurama and others were more popular. Lame. (I later, of course, just watched it on YouTube…)

Highlight: Community! Seriously, more people should watch this show. It’s hilarious, and creator/showrunner Dan Harmon hates Glee so much and so unapologetically, it’s amazing. All the panels this year encouraged the audience to tweet about the panel with a particular hashtag, and Community had the best one: #anniesboobs (which you’ll understand if you’ve seen the show). On that note, the pen-stealing monkey, Annie’s Boobs, was also there! They also handed out a special SDCC slip cover for the season 2 DVD w/ the claymation characters from the Christmas episode, which was cool and a very not-subtle way to get all of us to buy the season 2 DVD.

Day 5: Sunday, July 24

Lowlight: Sleeping on concrete. Okay, back in 2009, I lined up for Ballroom 20 to see Joss Whedon at 5 a.m. and managed to get a second row seat. This year, I showed up to the Hall H line at midnight (MIDNIGHT!) and I was behind at least 100 people waiting for Glee, Supernatural and Doctor Who (mostly Doctor Who; some have reported that people were camping out for Glee, but it was mostly Doctor Who based on the amount of costumes I saw and eavesdropping). Plus, it was cold and my fleece blanket was terribly insufficient. And some people walking by during the night were lame and yelled stuff occasionally (ex. one guy yelled “wake up!” over and over again). Then, in the morning, the 100 people in front of me ballooned to 150 or maybe 200 or so when people who had slept in soft, comfy beds showed up to join their friends and family who’d waited in line. Sigh.

Highlights: Again, I wasn’t a Supernatural or Doctor Who fan when I went to SDCC in 2009, so getting to see them both this year was awesome. Even just waiting in line (after daybreak) was fun ’cause everyone was really excited and there was SO MANY Doctor Who costumes (of the Doctor, River Song, Daleks, Tardises, Weeping Angels…). Both the casts for Supernatural and Doctor Who were great, seemed grateful for the fan love and were happy to be there. The Supernatural panel showed bloopers (a fan favourite) and Doctor Who showed clips from the past season, and a trailer for the upcoming conclusion to the sixth season. No swag, though. 😦 Best part: Matt Smith and Karen Gillan ran off and signed a kid’s Dalek that he made. Cute.

The Glee panel was a bit disappointing because they were late, spent a bunch of time showing stuff for the 3D movie before the panelists even showed up on stage and only 4 actors were there (Jenna Ushkowitz, Harry Shum Jr., Dot Marie Jones and Darren Criss – though I was pretty happy to see Criss!). Producers/writers Ian Brennan and Brad Falchuck were also there, and it was a bit off-putting when Brennan, on being asked about Ryan Murphy telling The Hollywood Reporter that cast leads Colfer, Michele and Monteith would be leaving/graduating at the end of season 3, said he didn’t know where the reporter got her information and that he never said that. It was a whole controversial thing. Blah, whatever. But! I should note that I saw the Mini Warbler with his family waiting in line, which was a random and hilarious surprise. And he actually made an appearance in the trailer for the Glee 3D concert movie, and the crowd screamed pretty loud for him. Amazing.

In Summation: SDCC is getting crazier. Lines are getting longer (people were in the Sunday Hall H line since 7 p.m. or so the previous day, plus the stupid registration business), you have to waste a chunk of your time at the current con to register for next year’s con if you want to secure your badge, and it’s too hard to get an autograph ticket (it’s a lottery system most of the time, the timing of which conflicts with its accompanying panel!). And it’s getting more expensive (jumping from $107 to $175 for a four-day pass in just one year, plus hostels/hotels are literally doubling their rates).

Plus, the convention seems ignorant of the fact that fans don’t necessarily care about “big” movies with “big” stars, and would rather see TV shows in the larger rooms. Case in point: On the day True Blood was in Ballroom 20, there were apparently 6,000 people in line while Hall H was half full. So not cool. AND, since True Blood was so late in the day, if you wanted to see a panel in that room earlier in the day, you had to deal with people camping out/saving seats for True Blood. Basically, the whole panel system needs an overhaul.

Lastly, I think the shopping section of the exhibition floor could be put to better use. All the stalls seem to be selling the same stuff: comics, action figures/toys, and t-shirts. This year, you could buy the same Angry Birds toys at least a dozen different places. You know what I would rather see? “In-universe” props. That means I don’t want a t-shirt that says “Supernatural” on it. I want a t-shirt that says “Ghost Facers.” And I could barely find anything Lost-related.

I love SDCC, but I’ll have to decide if the lowlights are worth the highlights before I delve into the madness again next year. With so many other conventions out there, I have to wonder if the monster-sized SDCC is worth the trouble, especially when its growing size is what’s causing a lot of that trouble.

(Stay tuned for another post on the rest of my trip!)

Spooky New England

Travel

From what I can tell, New England attracts tourists for two main reasons: the scenery, especially during the changing colours of the fall, and because it’s spooky. You name it, New England has it: witches, ghosts, (alleged) vampires – even UFOs and Bigfoot sightings.

So, of course, that’s where my friend, Colleen, and I chose to go for our Grand 25th Birthday Trip over Labour Day weekend. Despite the fact that we only had four days, we chose to drive all the way from Toronto and, well, here’s how that went…

Day One: Driving… a lot

The day started at around 5:30 a.m. because we wanted to collect our rental car and get on the road by about 7 a.m. Sadly, someone (…me) forgot their passport, so we had to drive to Brampton from Toronto to get it. Then, someone (Colleen!) had to get American money, so we ended up sitting outside a BMO for half an hour waiting for it to open. Consequently, we didn’t actually start heading towards the border until almost 10 a.m.

The border crossing was, of course, busy and took about an hour. We didn’t cross into the U.S. until about 12:30 p.m., but our ‘Salem’s Lot audiobook and a selection of homemade sandwiches and tim tams kept us going.

As we continued into the U.S. – passing through endless miles of New York state – we realized we were running really late. To compensate, we may have started driving a little faster than we were supposed to… until a Delaware sheriff pulled us over and gave us a ticket for going 85 mph in a 55 mph zone. Oops. We went slower after that.

So we didn’t get to our first stop until well after 8 p.m., although we had wanted to arrive before sunset. That meant we ended up exploring the aptly named Holy Land USA – an abandoned Christian-themed amusement park in Waterbury, Connecticut – when it was dark, which made it extra creepy and extra hard to take photos. It was, however, well worth the stop. Random cats stood guard all over the place, shadowy religious statues peeked out from behind bushes, and ‘No Trespassing’ signs added to its allure. We, however, didn’t want to get roughed up by any more cops – and it was getting really late – so we soon left.

Before getting back on the road, we stopped to pee in a nearby mall only to be accosted by one of those crazy high-pitch signal things that only young people hear, which some places broadcast to drive us away. Since it was closing time at the mall, we had to tolerate that noise because – apparently – we’re still young enough to hear that. Dammit.

During the last few hours of our drive into Salem, MA, we ended up getting pummeled from above by a torrential downpour, a result of stupid Hurricane Earl further south. So, if you’ve been keeping track, we’ve been awake since 5:30 a.m., on the road since 7:30 a.m. and now we’re driving – about 16 hours later – through a terrifying sheet of rain in a foreign locale.

Thankfully, we arrived in Salem, MA a little after midnight safely. We checked into the Hawthorne Hotel, a supposedly haunted establishment in the happening centre of the city near all the witch-related museums and shops. Unfortunately, we didn’t do much ghost hunting that night because we were exhausted. But that’s okay, because we did lots of that the next day…

Day Two: Witches, Ghosts and UFOs, oh my!

We spent the better part of Saturday exploring Salem. We had omelettes and hashbrowns at the counter of a very happening diner called Red’s and then, with the weather on our side, we parked the car and walked the city.

We hit up the Salem Witch Museum where we heard the history of the Salem Witch Trials in what can only be described as a giant diorama; visited endless witch shops with potions, crystals, incense, wands and nearly every one offering readings (we heard a lot of Enya); participated in a live spell casting with a witch named Lady Willow in the back of the Salem Witch Village (where they were playing Practical Magic on a TV); and visited the Memorial for the 14 women and 6 men who were killed during the witch trials of 1692, as well as the neighboring Old Burying Point where tombstones stood cracked and falling apart.

Salem is a veritable Mecca for witches of all kinds. There’s an interesting dichotomy there: really kitschy witch attractions side-by-side with respectable, practicing Wiccans. What’s especially interesting is that although it’s generally accepted that there were no actual witches during the famous witch trials – just some young girls on very low levels of LSD – the city has managed to attract a huge number of practicing witches. As a bit of fun trivia, you shouldn’t call male witches warlocks – it actually means “traitors”. Go figure.

Near the end of the day, I had my tarot cards read by a second degree Wiccan priest named John, who told me that I should be – nay, that I need to be – writing creatively, not as a journalist. When he placed his hands over mine and meditated, he said he saw a mountain with bright shades of pink and purple. He said that I dream big… I liked him.

Eventually, though, we had to leave Salem. We drove an hour and a half south to Fall River, MA, where we checked into the Lizzie Borden B&B. Do you know the rhyme? Say it with me! “Lizzie Borden had an axe. She gave her mother forty whacks, and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.” Of course, the actual story isn’t quite so clean cut. Read about it here. We stayed in the maid’s room in the attic, where we discovered a closet full of the costumes they use for reenactments of the true crime story. (Colleen has pictures of us playing dress-up on her camera.)

With time to spare, we drove an hour further south to Exeter Rhode Island, where we had dinner at the Middle of Nowhere Diner, and then visited the grave of alleged vampire and supposed ghost Mercy L. Brown at the Chestnut Hill Baptist Church Cemetery. Full story here. Trying to find that grave in pitch dark wasn’t easy, but we did – without any ghostly encounters fortunately… or unfortunately. I still haven’t decided.

Arriving back at the B&B around 10 p.m., we were able to participate in a seance conducted by a psychic (who was, oddly, named Lizzie) who does so every Saturday night for $10 a head. There was a family there who also participated. Sitting around a tiny table in the dimly lit room where Mr. Borden was murdered, the psychic had us place our hands on the table (to channel our energy to the ghosts) and communicate with them by way of tapping or tipping over the table (the ghosts, not us) with the psychic acting as translator. And, boy, did we get a show. That table tapped and tipped without fail, and we had a whole conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Borden (as well as another ghost named Joseph who happens to live in the basement and a couple of children ghosts). I don’t know what was actually going on there, but it was certainly entertaining.

Eventually – after taking a bunch of photos in an attempt to capture ghost “orbs” (on Colleen’s camera) – the psychic left and we made a quick trip before bed. Apparently (although it’s WIDELY discredited) the area near Fall River is referred to by some as the Bridgewater Triangle. Here, people have reported everything and anything weird and supernatural – ghost sightings, UFOs, Bigfoot sightings, etc. etc.

So we drove towards Dighton Rock (a weird rock with strange petroglyphs) in the hopes of seeing a UFO or anything, really. Sadly, someone (Colleen!) got a bad vibe once we got there (it was almost midnight and nearly deserted out there, to be fair) so we didn’t actually see the rock or stay very long. I had one hell of a fright when we were standing outside the car and Colleen suddenly pointed her flashlight near me and said “what was that??” Needless to say, we got in the car and got out of there.

Sleeping in the Lizzie Borden house, though a little creepy, proved uneventful. Even so, I have to give Saturday a solid ‘A’ for creepiness.

Day Three: Rushing, Rushing, Rushing

Not realizing how breakfast at a B&B works, we were 15 min. late for breakfast and consequently missed the johnnycakes – an essential part of the breakfast that the Borden family ate on the morning of the murder. Unfazed, we bought some matching silver hatchet earrings from the gift shop and left Fall River.

We drove about an hour east through Cape Cod to catch the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard. Unfortunately, upon arriving at Woods Hole, we were told to drive back almost half an hour the way we had come to park somewhere and take a shuttle to the ferry. Lame. So we missed the ferry we wanted to take, and had to take a later one. As a result, our time in Martha’s Vineyard was a bit rushed.

The 45-min. ferry trip was very pretty though, and Martha’s Vineyard is gorgeous in a very rich and crowded way. We hustled our way through the crowds to have lunch at the Slice of Life Deli, where I ate a fried green tomato sandwich (!) and then we took a bus down to Edgartown, where Jaws was filmed. We only had a little while to sightsee, and then we had to head back to catch the ferry. Though short, my only real regret was not trying the lobster ice cream. Seriously.

Back on the mainland, we started our 3.5 hour journey north to Rockland, Maine. Unfortunately, our mishap with the ferry meant we were running late. As a result, we couldn’t stop to visit Jack Kerouac’s grave in Lowell, MA. *tear* Next time.

Still running late, we had to stop for dinner in Portland, Maine, where we ate at a really nice restaurant called Street & Co., where we had crostini with a type of goat cheese called miticana and peach preserves to start, a main (or, Maine!) course of whole lobsters on fettuccine, and a rich chocolate and hazelnut cake for dessert. I loved it, although Colleen felt uncomfortable with her lobster, which she described as both disgusting and delicious. It probably wouldn’t have been so bad if it hadn’t come in its entirety – antennae, spindly legs, eyes and all.

We finally reached Rockland around midnight and checked into the supposedly haunted Captain Lindsey House Inn. The inn was gorgeous, and the people are just the nicest ever. They had free cookies and other snacks available and little chocolates in our room. Unfortunately, we only had time to enjoy the four-poster bed and fancy furniture for a little bit because we had to get to bed early – tomorrow we’d be driving all the way back to Toronto.

Day Four: On the Road

Appropriately, we listened to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road while driving back from Rockland. We took the more scenic, northern route over Lake Ontario via Montreal this time. Driving along the scenic Maine coast, and through the winding mountains in the north, it was a much more enjoyable drive than Friday’s trip. We also had no troubles with traffic, despite the fact that it was the tail end of the long weekend. At one point, we listened to the opening music from The Shining. Also of note: There was a house along the coast with a mailbox of a normal height, next to another mailbox that was about 10 feet high that read “BILLS” on the side. Ha!

Though we had a 13.5 hour drive ahead of us, we took a little detour through Bangor, Maine, where we drove by Stephen King’s beautiful, red Victorian house. Unfortunately, we didn’t see him and there was nowhere to leave the letter we had written him. Plus, there were people handing out water for some marathon runners right across the street who were watching us the whole time…

Crossing the border into Quebec went like this: Driving, driving, driving… Oh, what’s this? A little building and a guard? I guess this is the border! There was seriously no one ahead of us, so we just pulled up to the border guard, and passed through a minute later. Best. Border Crossing. Ever.

The rest of the drive through Quebec and Ontario was largely uneventful, and the traffic as well as the weather cooperated for the most part. Unfortunately, though, there are a whole series of Ontario Service Centres that are under construction so we were unable to get food where there was supposed to be food. Lame.

We made it to Brampton a little after 9 p.m. and said goodbye. Our trusty car Lucy had served us well, as had our mostly accurate GPS, Grace Notovny (yeah, we’re currently reading The Way the Crow Flies…). Though we couldn’t do everything we wanted, we certainly packed a lot of New England into four days, no? Next time, though, we’ll probably slow down a bit. I just hope we didn’t bring anything unnatural back with us…

A potpourri post for Friday the 13th

Culture, Entertainment, Politics and Current Events, Travel

Random movie association: 8 reasons why the Twilight series is like Pretty Woman

I know it’s a stretch, but listen!

  1. Edward (in Pretty Woman) never eats or sleeps (almost never sleeps). Neither does Edward (in Twilight). In fact, Edward watches Bella eat in that restaurant, and Edward watches Vivian eat breakfast after their first night together.
  2. Bella has little to no confidence and is dazzled by Edward’s world. Ditto for Vivian.
  3. Bella gives up her “horrible” life to live in his. So does Vivian, for a little while, and we can assume that she continues to do so after the end of the movie.
  4. Edward (Twilight) sparkles. Edward (Pretty Woman) sparkles with money.
  5. Both Edwards are well-off with fancy things. Both Edwards “save” their respective ladies in a fancy, silver car.
  6. Bella and Vivian have friends who they think they’re better than.
  7. Bella and Vivian are both forcefully kissed by a guy – Jacob and Stuckey.
  8. Bella and Edward wait until they’re married to have sex. So do- wait, never mind.

Genius that was never meant to be read

In July, news surfaced that despite Franz Kafka’s desire to have his manuscripts burned after his death, a crazy legal battle is underway to open ’em up and take a look see. Meanwhile, people can’t wait to get their grubby little hands on Salinger’s mysterious unreleased manuscripts.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think if a writer didn’t want their work read, we should leave it that way. As much as it would be exciting to read them, and as much as it might bring a little more artistic beauty into the world – I still think it’s disrespectful.

On that note, I really like what Mark Twain did: leaving instructions not to publish his autobiography until 100 years after his death. That’s badass. Plus, we have his permission to read it.

I hope it’s as awesome as it sounds

A bunch of millionaires and billionaires have pledged to give giant chunks, or in some cases “the vast majority,” of their fortunes to charitable causes. It’s all part of The Giving Pledge, apparently started by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, and there are 38 rich folks who are participating.

Questions! I assume the money will be donated after they die, but what if they get wrapped up in legal limbo? Also, what do they mean by “charity”? It would be horrible to see all that money go to waste by going to foundations or organizations that don’t know (or don’t care about) using the money properly, or it just recirculates in wealthy circles, or it ends up in the hands of corrupt dictators and dirty politicians in the developing world. Just saying you’re giving your money “to charity” is hardly enough. Also, how much are these people actually giving? I don’t see any specific numbers; we’re taking a lot on faith, here.

BUT, I think it’s a great gesture and I hope their promises pay off one day. Go George Lucas!

I can’t tell if this place is really cool, or really lame

It’s called Hicksville, and it’s a trailer park-themed artist retreat in and around Joshua Tree, California. I want to go to there.

I hate them, too.

Travel

[Edited later: If you can’t tell by the relatively high number of comments on this post, I got featured in the Freshly Pressed section of the WordPress homepage and I’m rather proud to say I received about 7,000 hits over about two days.

One of the great parts about that was all the feedback I got about this post, including one comment from Robin Esrock from Word Travels, who promoted my post on his Facebook page and Twitter. Check out his comment below, where he says travel writing isn’t always the dream job people think it is, and you’ll also find a link to his site.

After reading all the comments, I just want to add that, realistically, being a travel writer probably isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. You’re always on the road, it’s a lot of hard work coordinating with different people in different countries all the time, and sometimes the locations are pretty remote. Even so, I’d probably choose that over data entry.]

If I were to rank the best jobs in the world, it would probably go something like this: Ian Somerhalder’s personal masseuse, roller coaster tester and then travel writer (or TV host). But until I can make all, or any one, of these a reality, I will have to be satisfied with reruns of The Vampire Diaries, trips to amusement parks and watching luckier bastards than me travel the world for the living. And in the meantime, I’ll watch my three favourite travel shows for pointers while I boil with envy.

Word Travels
Currently in its third season on OLN and CityTV (and Nat Geo Adventure internationally)
Hosted by Robin Esrock and Julia Dimon

This is a Canadian show that follows two travel writers as they, well, travel and write. It’s an interesting take on the traditional travel show, as it’s just as much about their personal experiences looking for stories and piecing together columns and articles as it is about the places they visit. Plus, having one writer – Robin – focus on the extreme side of traveling (like snowboarding down sand dunes in Dubai) and having another – Julia – write about the quirky, cultural side of travel (like training to be a gladiator in Rome) makes for a great diversity of content.

I also like reading about how the hosts of travel shows got those jobs. Robin, who’s based in Vancouver, used to work in music and marketing, but after being struck down by a car while on his bike he got a sweet $20,000 settlement and decided to run off and travel the world for a year. He wrote a column and a travel blog about it, and the rest is history. Julia, meanwhile, started her career writing a movie column for the Toronto Star at the age of 12 (yes, 12!) and after six years transitioned to travel writing. Someone needs to explain to me how she managed to get that gig.

Departures
Currently in its third season on OLN and CityTV
Hosted by Scott Wilson and Justin Lukach

Another Canadian production, Departures was initially supposed to follow two friends – Scott and Justin – as they leave their regular lives behind and travel around the world for a year. Luckily for them, the show was successful enough to extend their travels and they’re currently in their third season. The best part of this show is that neither of the hosts are experts in any sense of the word. At the risk of sounding patronizing, Scott and Justin are regular guys who interact with the places and people they meet from the same inquisitive perspective as their audience. Plus, they tend to shy away from the touristy, Travel + Leisure side of travel and stick to the less beaten paths. They even spent a whole episode on Ascension Island, a tiny island in the middle of the South Atlantic that hardly anyone has heard of. (Plus, they’re really cute.)

The show’s website doesn’t fully explain how the guys managed to secure this gig, but Scott has a film background (he met the camera dude Andre while in film school) and when they came up with the idea for Departures, he called up his old high school friend Justin and a show was born!

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations
Currently in its fifth season on the Discovery Channel in Canada (the Travel Channel and the Discovery Travel & Living channel in the States)
Hosted by Anthony Bourdain

This American show highlights one of the best – if not the best – parts of traveling: food. Not only is food one of the foremost expressions of a culture, but it’s also something everyone can enjoy and it differs in very interesting and revealing ways from one place to another. The great part about this particular show is that Anthony brings an enormously likable persona and infectious love for food to every dish and beachside tavern. He’s also a bit grumpy and has a bit of disdain for vegetarians, but that’s all part of the charm. His knowledge of food and international travel makes him a hugely entertaining guide.

Anthony has a culinary background and jump started his life as a famous writer and television personality by writing about his life working in restaurants “good, bad and horrible” in his book Kitchen Confidential. He later combined travel and food in A Cook’s Tour and now he has his own awesome show.

“Get your camera outta’ my face!”

Travel

Anytime I’ve tried to take photos of strangers, I haven’t just felt awkward, I actually harbored a serious fear that they would secretly curse me or, worse, yell at me for taking their picture without permission. Besides that, I always wonder if it’s okay to secretly snap someone’s picture without them knowing, even if it’s in a public place.

Well, dilemma solved! Glimpse has a little article that discusses just that problem, which I guess is more common that I thought. Although, the suggestion they’re offering, which is to start a conversation with your subject, is a little hard to take, especially if there’s a language barrier or, frankly, if you’re just shy. But the best advice is always easier said than done, I guess. Personally, though, I’d still rather be some kind of unseen ninja photographer…

Death and Tijuana

Travel

I was reading a column on ‘recharging your soul’ out in nature, and the section on how to deal with bears made me start thinking about good and bad ways to die.

“10. In grizzly or polar bear territory, carry bear spray (which is a bit like mace). Frankly, the spray is unlikely to stop a 1,000-pound bear hurtling toward you, so experienced hikers respond to a menacing bear by using the spray in one of two ways. The first option is to spray yourself in the face, so you no longer care what the bear does to you. The second option is to spray your best friend beside you, and then run.”

So here is my wish list of ways I DON’T want to die:

1. Attacked by a sharp-toothed animal.
2. Drowned.
3. Buried alive.
4. Murder.
5. Torture.
6. Fire.
7. Eaten alive by small animals/insects.
8. Slip-and-fall in the shower.
9. Random blood vessel exploding in my brain.
10. Crushed by a large vehicle.

I hope that wasn’t too morbid.

On the topic of that column, I’ve been following all the worldly exploits of my friends and “friends” on Facebook. It seems as though everyone’s run off on some adventure or another. I, of course, went to San Diego last month for Comic-Con. After the convention was over, I managed to see a bit of the town – some on my own, most with the help of a friend of mine who lives there.

I’m not a fan of Los Angeles, so I was pleasantly surprised that San Diego was much nicer. The layout of the city was much more pedestrian-friendly and not so hilly, and the architecture was much nicer. I especially liked the highly Mexican-influenced Old Town area, where I saw the play ‘Noises Off.’ Seaport Village was a bit touristy, but the kind of touristy I like, with lots of little shops, old popcorn carts and people flying giant kites.

Seaport Village, San Diego

Seaport Village, San Diego

I also really enjoyed visiting Hotel del Coronado, a very old, very fancy hotel where some of Some Like It Hot was filmed, as well as a very old episode of Baywatch that featured a ghost! (By the way, I totally recognized the hotel from that episode, which I saw years and years ago.)

Since I was in San Diego, which is really close to the Mexican border, I took a quick day trip to Tijuana as well. It only took about 45 minutes on the trolley to get to the border. When I got there, I only had to walk through a tunnel over the highway and through a turnstile to get into Mexico. As soon as I realized I was officially in Tijuana, I had a sudden flash of “should I start being more cautious? Is that guy staring at me?” This eventually wore off. I was instead distracted by all the drug stores and dentists just minutes from the border.

I decided it would be most interesting to just walk around and see where I ended up, although I ended up exactly where my guide book said I should go: La Revo, a long street through downtown Tijuana. I spent most of the day walking by little carts and shops selling the same souvenirs (hammocks, Frido Kahlo mesh bags, Mexican wrestler masks), along with a lot of bars and restaurants (3 tacos for a dollar!). I also saw a lot of guys on corners with mules (or donkeys) dressed up for $1 photo ops. *tear*

Downtown Tijuana

Downtown Tijuana

Tijuana souvenirs

Tijuana souvenirs

Unfortunately, what they say about store owners calling out to you as you walk by is completely true. It was exhausting. One guy yelled “asalam alaikum” and another called out “one rupee in my store! One rupee!”

Even though the heat and sun were nearly killing me, I later walked toward the cultural hub of the town, but it was really boring.

Centro Cultural Tijuana

Centro Cultural Tijuana

I eventually stumbled by way back to La Revo, found a store run by a woman who didn’t harass me, bought some stuff from her, and took a cab to the border. I stood in line for about 5 minutes, had a lady quickly scan my passport, said “that’s it?”, passed my bags through security and walked back through the turnstile. And that was Tijuana!

I am committed to returning to Mexico one day, to see the country properly. I think it would be ideal to go during the Day of the Dead festivities. Who’s with me?

Comic-Con: Day 1/2

Culture, Entertainment, Travel

This has already been one long-ass day, and I haven’t even made it to the convention centre to grab my con badge yet. But as I wait for the hostel phone to be free so I can call my dear mother, I figured I may as well recount my adventure thus far. (These will be a combinaton of Toronto and local times. Frankly, it’s all a blur and probably inaccurate.)

4:45am: Took a cab to airport. Had a frustrating conversation with driver about the purposes of flat rates.
5am: Told airport personnel that ‘Dallas was not my final destination.’ Immediately thought saying ‘final destination’ in an airport is like saying ‘Macbeth’ in a theatre. Have stopped saying it since then, just incase.
5:45am: Was man-handled by security for ‘random search.’
6am: Spent $9 on drinks and snacks.
6:45am: Left Toronto for Dallas.
9:45am: Arrived in Dallas. Immediately accosted by ‘Everything’s bigger in Texas’ and similar paraphenalia.
10:00am: Was offered a $300 voucher with American Airlines to take a later flight since they overbooked. Took the offer with pleasure.
10:15am: Toilet flushes four times while I’m on it.
11:30am: While waiting for new, later flight to San Diego, surveyed boarding area for other people going to Comic-Con. Guy with Joker tattoo? Check. Guy with poster tube and Watchmen t-shirt? Check. Guy with thickest glasses I’ve ever seen, looking somewhat unkempt and a little detached from reality? Double-check. Of course, there were probably others in ‘civilian’ clothes, like me.
12pm: While boarding plane, lady scans my boarding pass and looks confused. Asks me if I’ve already gone on the plane. I say ‘no.’ She says, ‘That’s weird. It says you’ve already boarded. Oh well, on you go.’
12:05pm: Confusion reigns as another woman and I realize we have the same seating assignment. I win when flight attendant discovers they accidentally printed my boarding pass a second time and gave it to another lady. Lady is offered a first-class seat on a later flight.
12:25pm-1:55pm: Stalled at gate while ‘engline problems’ are fixed on the plane (!), followed by seemingly aimless taxiing around until take-off, about 1.5 hours late.
2:30pm: Arrived in San Diego!
2:45pm: Claimed baggage, was flooded with relief it didn’t get stolen since it arrived on the earlier flight that I gave up my seat on.
3:00pm: Enjoy a tour of San Diego as I take the shuttle bus to my hostel. I get an eyeful of the convention centre as we drive by. Am excited. I also become smitten with San Diego, which is gorgeous and very well planned out.
3:30pm: Arrive at hostel after being delayed in crazy convention traffic. Check-in with lovely Australian lady and collapse on bottom bunk. Have not seen roommates yet.
4:30pm: Use free Internet to update you all on my journey thus far.

‘Til next time!