Friday, June 30

A Day of Fun and Games

Due to the narrow window in which people were visiting, today was marked down for a bunch of activities and promised to be a loft of fun.

First on the agenda was attending an escape room. Now I've done my fair share of rooms now so tend to skip them these days but it turned out that there was space for one more and so I found myself with 8 others solving pretty straightforward puzzles - we got out later than we should have due to what we considered to be an artificial obstacle (basically a code input that made us wait 60 seconds between tries), otherwise it was decent enough. We followed this up with some bougie coffee and dessert, in a region of Edmonton I hadn't seen before.

In the evening a much larger group took over the Activate facility to play various tech assisted room games, including Mega Grid - something you may have seen on various social media. Now this was a lot of fun - although perhaps some rooms were better than others, and due to the way it worked (6 to a room) we tended not to see much of the wider group we were with.

We then went for dessert which was a great way to detune (and get some vital calories back) after which we went for a drive downtown - something I rarely see at night. But the day didn't even end there as a bunch of us regrouped to play Telestrations (of all things) till way too late.

Wednesday, June 28

Eid in Edmonton

The main reason for timing of this trip was to celebrate Eid.

Eids in London tend to be quiet affairs for us, so we were looking forward to spending it with such a big local community, both throughout the day and during organised gatherings like the Eid salaat (which was wonderfully efficient and took around 30 mins) and the community party at a banquet hall (arranged for 100 heads).

It all paid off, and we finally got to see what a busy and varying "all-day" Eid could be like. The party had the double benefit of allowing us to greet our extended family in one place. A bonus was that others from outside Edmonton had also chosen this period to visit, giving the whole time more of a party vibe.

Given many of us would be together, we also set today for our game of "Don't Get Got" which kept us on our toes throughout, and even managed a couple of games of Clocktower late into the night.

It was a good time and very dossy... although at times overwhelming as it stretched my social battery.

Monday, June 26

Book: Leviathan Wakes, James S. A. Corey Click for more info

Yes, if you think you've read this review before then you're not wrong. But rather than this being a cheap way to generate content, I have actually restarted The Expanse, almost six years after dipping my toes the first time. The plan was to interleave the series with The Cosmere, but I found that way too confusing, and now that I'm fully caught up with that I'm left to binge The Expanse at my leisure. That the series is now complete is a bonus - and I'll be reading the novellas in publication order too via the generous Memory's Legion compendium of Expanse shorts. More on that to come.

On starting the book it became clear to me that I really didn't remember much of it. This was good (as I get a newish experience) but also bad (how forgettable was this?). Either way it'll be interesting to see how my opinion has changed, if at all.

Leviathan Wakes is not a great book. I put this down mainly to the quality of writing, and there was a few passages I had to reread to parse correctly, if not giving up altogether and moving on. The author's use of voice and tone jars with expectation, which hopefully means I'll get used to it eventually.

The story itself is fine. Solid. Okay. It manages to present a classic sci-fi trope in an accessible manner, while supporting it with decent characters and subplots. It's not amazing but lays the foundation of what's to come. Most importantly, I'm invested and looking forward to seeing how it plays out. That alone is a reason to recommend it I guess, although it really does depend on how the whole thing hangs together.

Toronto Day Five: Waiting for Departure

When we were planning this trip we thought that five days would be too tight and we'd have to sacrifice compromise on certain needs and requirements to get it all to fit. Well in what is a classic example of over-planning, today turned out to be a pretty dead day in which we pretty much we left waiting for our flight back to Edmonton. Sure, we managed to visit the mall (again) and had a decent lunch with another uncle, but aside from that it was clock watching and administrative, and a bit of a shame as an alternative plan would have gotten us into Edmonton at a far more decent hour than we actually did.

But I guess having more time that required was better than having our trip cut short, and as a cheap quick stint, our time in Toronto was actually quite the success. We managed to see all of the touristy stuff we wanted to, while spending some quality time with the family and friends we have here. That we had to spend a few hours twiddling our thumbs was a small price to pay really - especially given that we don't know when we'll return to this city.

Saturday, June 24

Toronto Day Four: Going Downtown

After Niagara, heading to downtown was the second "must do" we set ourselves for this trip - although what we wanted to actually do there was pretty much up in the air till this morning. The default obvious choice of heading up the CN Tower was not taken due to a variety of reasons including partial closure, the weather and a general disinterest, and so we decided to stick to culture. And of course, food.

We began our wondering at Graffiti Alley, spending the ten minutes or so required to take in the art. For brunch we headed to Kensington Market for some dirty chicken and waffles - we were planning to come back here for lunch so we exited the area and after a quick exploration of Spadina Avenue (including a visit to the delightfully nerdy A&C Games) headed along College Street to Queen's Park, taking in the university vibe along the way.

It was there that we were picked up by my cousin and her husband, now native to downtown. Now with a car we were wheeled back to Kensington Market where we gorged ourselves on churros, tacos and burgers. It was a good time.

With our insiders' help we were taken to the port area (via Yonge-Dundas Square) for some excellent (and free) views of the city. It was there that we parted ways with the family, returning to moving around on foot - which in turn allowed us to meander through the Distillery District and St Lawrence Market on the way to Union Station for our train home.

Getting home was a piece of cake, and I'll always be amazed at how the locals underappreciate the availability of a well designed and integrated transport system. We bought a single ticket from Union that allowed us to take the three stops on the double decker train to Port Credit where a waiting bus took us the three further stops to our apartment. It was a pleasant and efficient experience and makes me wonder why we're repeatedly told to take lifts and taxis.

The evening was spent celebrating the 50th anniversary of an uncle here, where we chilled with more great food, family and fun.

Friday, June 23

Toronto Day Three: Chilling in 'Sauga

Since we have a reasonable amount of family here in Toronto, time and space had to be reserved to spend with them. Jummah was the ideal day for this, and so today was always going to be less touristy and more familial. So the morning was spent using the apartment's pool facilities, including the hot tub and sauna, while a later Jummah start even allowed us to visit the nearby Square One mall for an hour or so.

With prayers done, we had lunch with an uncle, after which I met a friend for dessert. That took us to dinner with another aunt at which point I pretty much accepted that I was going to put on more than a few kilos before my return to the UK. Sad times.

Thursday, June 22

Toronto Day Two: Niagara Falls

Of course no (tourist) trip to Toronto would be complete without a visit to the world famous falls here in Niagara. On the other hand, I've visited both Iguazu and Victoria falls since my last visit here and I think it's reasonable to say that Niagara didn't impress as much as those one.

But what Niagara lacks in scale, it makes up in accessibility. Being able to walk along a paved road to a well situated view made today a piece of cake, and that's before we even talk about the boat ride to the base of the falls - which was both far better than I remembered and expected.

With the main things ticked off, we grabbed a doner lunch at the excellent RG Kitchen on the way to the flower clock after which we made our way to Mississauga where we were staying for the remainder of our trip here.

Wednesday, June 21

Toronto Day One: Twenty Four Years Later

The oddest thing about this Toronto trip is knowing it's been 24 years or so since I was last here. I was a different person, Toronto was different, the world was different. As a marker of the passage of time it's pretty crazy to think about it, but otherwise I considered this a new place to explore - I can't imagine returning to any place I've visited after such a gap (although perhaps Islamabad ranked up there).

Today was just logistics. Canadian budget flights tend to be on the inconvenient side, but we managed to find a decent arrival to Hamilton which allowed us to pick up our rental and drive to Niagara in good time - enough to see the falls at night and then have a chicken wings and pizza dinner. The sleazy motel in which we're spending the night was just the icing on the cake.

Tuesday, June 20

A Record Return

When I promised my family here in Edmonton that I'd be "back soon", I didn't expect it to be a year later. Last year's trip had definitely been a paradigm shift in my relationship with Edmonton (for various reasons) so coming more often was always the plan, but I consider it fortuitous to have had the opportunity so soon.

It's nice to be both familiar with and by Edmonton. I think Canada has now cemented it's place as the third most country I've visited, bested only by Pakistan and Saudi, so it's probably something worth getting used to.

That said, as quickly as we have arrived, we are due to leave - as our little stint in Toronto starts as soon as tomorrow.

Sunday, June 18

Film: Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse Click for more info

Has it really been five years since we first met Miles Morales and travelled the animated Spider-verse? That alone is frightening.

The second fear was that the sequel would not live up to the promises made in the first film. Well, I can confirm that Across is not a bum film. In fact it's even more fun, polished and coherent than the first, and manages to address almost all of the issues I had with it... albeit in non-straightforward ways.

The sometimes labouring animation style is still there, but refined and less of a headache. Character development is here in spades, but mainly in the form of annoying children being annoying children and making Bad Choices. The plot is great - an achievement in itself given the complexity that comes with multiverse shenanigans.

So top marks so far, and yet I can't help but see this as a Spider-Verse v1.5, the same film but done over. That it leaves room for a further sequel underlines this feeling, but on the bright side the eventual trilogy has the potential to be one of the best. And for that reason alone this instalment becomes pretty essential to watch.