Tuesday, April 21, 2009

There are straws, and there are camels, and there are backs

When I first moved to Ottawa, I made a conscious decision to pay more in rent and live downtown, and not buy a car. I wanted to try the "big city" lifestyle for awhile and since my shiny new apartment was mere steps from several different bus routes, including one that took me to work in less than ten minutes, a car seemed an unnecessary expense. I didn't mind taking the bus and Ottawa's public transit system was pretty reliable and got me anywhere I needed to go, and, sure, it was a pain in the ass sometimes to rely on the buses or the kindness of friends who offered me rides, and I *really* didn't enjoy carrying groceries several blocks, but I coped quite happily for five years like that.

But over those five years a number of things happened. First, I joined a couple of choirs, both of which rehearse and perform all over the city, not just in the downtown core. Then my workplace moved, to a building about 35 minutes from downtown on the bus. And then I met Serdic, and we moved in together, but we moved out of downtown and that extended my commute by another half an hour, meaning I am now spending about an hour each way on the bus to get to and from work, and that's if I make the connection downtown smoothly (which isn't as reliable as it used to be). It also means having to go into downtown to make the connection, which can sometimes be a pain given traffic congestion issues (like the 25,000 Tamil protesters on Wellington Street as we speak, for example), whereas if I was driving I could avoid downtown completely. Now, Serdic does have a car, and I'm able to use it to get to my choir and social activities, but I'm still commuting by bus.

Then we had the 53 day bus strike this winter, which eliminated a lot of good will I felt for OCTranspo, and changed things in some undefinable way. I can't really explain it, but the mood on the buses and at the bus stops is different now. People (bus drivers and passengers alike) are still angry, I guess. Plus, I got used to the 20 minute commute that came with driving (a colleague was kindly giving me rides). The buses have steadily gotten less and less reliable, and the one I take home from downtown after work regularly doesn't come.

And then this week, we encountered that proverbial straw that broke the proverbial camel's back. OCTranspo announced that they are eliminating service on the route I take from our apartment to downtown -- now I will have to get another bus to the closest transitway station and transfer to another bus to get downtown, where I will transfer to yet another bus to get to work. And I decided that I'm done with public transit (and sent a scathing email to OCTranspo to that effect, which was cathartic, I have to admit).

I had been tossing around the idea of buying a car for awhile already. For the last couple of years, to be honest, definitely since we moved to the new apartment. And after I finished paying off my last student loan last month and became (briefly, knowing me) debt free, it's now something that is financially feasible as well. I had pretty much decided to put it off until after the wedding and we buy a house, as parking two cars will be a little bit of an issue at our apartment, but the idea is becoming more and more tempting and I'm really not sure I want to wait another year.

So all that said, the real question is, what kind of car should I get???

Thursday, April 16, 2009

There's a first time for everything

So we have returned to Ottawa safe and sound. And sick. I am actually home from work today, as I have come down with a nasty cold, which is honestly not all that suprising ... I always get sick when I travel. A combination of being run down (not enough sleep, too much walking!) and being stuck on an airplane with people who have all kinds of bugs (I swear the guy behind me flying home had tuberculosis). Anyway, what follows is a list of things I did/experienced for the first time on this, my fifth, trip to London:

-- visited the National Portrait Gallery

-- visited the Temple Church, which dates from 1185 and is the church associated with the Knights Templar, the crusading knights

-- had my carry on bag inspected by a drug sniffing dog (you'll be glad to know I was cleared to continue)

-- racked myself spectacularly tripping over air on the sidewalk, stumbling for nearly half a block and finally taking out a garbage can (and narrowly missing several innocent bystanders) before crashing to the ground -- awkward!

-- found my way to the center of the maze at Hampton Court

-- took a photo of Henry VIII in the flesh

-- encountered a chatty customs agent who wanted to discuss the shopping opportunities in London (when we said we were bringing home purses, shoes, and dresses he nodded sagely and said "yes, they tell me London's where the good stuff is")

-- was on a plane where a medical emergency was declared and a doctor paged (I have no further information -- the doctor went into the first class cabin and returned about half an hour later, but that's all I got)

-- had my suitcase removed from the carousel at Heathrow on the other side from where I was standing, by a tour group who were "helping" by pulling off the suitcases of everyone on their flight, whether they were part of the tour group or not ... we stood there for ten minutes fearing my bag had been lost before the tour group leader announced their "helpful" gesture to those still waiting

-- breezed through check in and security at Heathrow in *less* time than it took us to check in and get through security at Ottawa ... I don't know where everyone was that morning, but they weren't at Heathrow!

-- went shopping on Oxford Street

-- had "typical" London weather ... grey and rainy, all except one day

-- touched an actual genuine Louis Vuitton bag (PetDoc's bday gift from Noise)

Photos are here. There aren't all that many, as this wasn't a sightseeing trip as much as it was a visit with PetDoc and Noise, but we did go to Hampton Court on Monday, which is where most of the photos are from. It was a great trip, mostly because I did get to spend so much time with PetDoc and Noise ... they were both off work most of the time we were there and we had a blast bumming around the city. When do I get to go back???

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Mind the gap

So we are at about the mid way point of our visit to London. It has been most successful so far. Perhaps the best news is that we accomplished our main goal for this visit, which was to find bridesmaids' dresses for PetDoc and J. Not only did we find the style we wanted (strapless, tea length, simple and classic), in the colour I wanted (chocolate brown), we bought off the rack (no having to figure out how to order one in London and one in Ottawa) *and* we paid 80 pounds (about $150 Canadian) for each dress. So I got both dresses for less than I was dreading having to pay for one! The girls also found the cutest shoes to match and we are all set. The girls' dresses were a big part of the puzzle, design-wise, so now that we know the colour we can start choosing flowers and other decorating elements to complement them.

But wedding planning isn't all we're doing, of course. Not in one of the greatest cities in the world. J and I had a fairly uneventful flight over, although the turbulence was quite bad at times (bad in the "flight attendants please strap in" sense, as that announcement was made more than once). We had sweet seats, though -- first row of economy, lots of leg room, room to stand and stretch without being in the aisle, and fed first! I'm spoiled now. We have the same seats on the way back, too! Our arrival was also easy as pie -- not like when Serdic and I arrived in September and spent three hours in the customs hall. This time we landed exactly on time and within half an hour we were through customs, had collected our luggage, and were heading out into the arrivals area where PetDoc was waiting. A slight hiccup on the way out, as we managed to leave J standing on the tube station platform when she got her luggage caught and didn't make it on the train, but we got off at the next station and waited, and she was on the next train, so crisis averted.

Thursday we did some basic sightseeing, taking the train to Westminster and walking up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, then down the Strand to St. Paul's. A walk I have taken several times now, but J hadn't seen any of those places so it was a good way to really feel like we were in London. We were quite proud of ourselves, as we were operating on less than an hour's sleep in two days, but the travel adrenaline was flowing, I guess. We crashed pretty early, though!

Friday was our shopping day. We had set the whole day aside because we really had no idea what to expect or how long it would take, or even if we could find what we were looking for at all. But as I said above, we had great (and quick!) success and were able to spend the rest of the afternoon wandering the shops Oxford St (I got a gorgeous new purse!). Friday night's dinner was at one of our favourite spots in PetDoc and Noise's neighbourhood -- bangers and mash at The Old Suffolk Punch. Yum.

Today I had the great fortune to meet up with RJA and his friend K, who happen to be visiting London this weekend as well. RJA is a friend from home, but he has been living and working in Germany since the fall and so it was really good to see him and have a chance to catch up. We lunched in the cafe in the crypt under St. Martin in the Fields, and then retired to a local Starbucks for coffee and to continue our visit. We also decided to raise the cultural level a bit and made a quick visit to the National Portrait Gallery. It was a fascinating trip through British history, but unfortunately I had to bow out after just over an hour (we spent too much time visiting!), to head back to PetDoc and Noise's flat, so we could celebrate PetDoc's birthday. Dinner is pizza and champagne, and then the rumour is we are going to play some Wii. Sounds like a great evening to me!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

On the road again

Not much posting these days, for which I apologize. Basically it's been a whirlwind of Serdic being away, Serdic coming home, car trouble, work, wedding planning and preparing for today ... the day my dear friend J and I fly across the Atlantic to visit PetDoc and Noise. All of PetDoc's special requests "from home" are packed (I have to take a bigger suitcase than I normally would for a six day visit!), confirmation emails are printed out, passport has been located, and I think I am ready to go.

This is going to be a fun trip for several reasons. The biggest, of course, is seeing PetDoc and Noise. Add in that we're going to one of my favourite cities, and one of my best friends in the world is going to be there too. What could be better? Oh, and PetDoc and J are my bridesmaids, so we're going to shop 'til we drop finding something that will make both of them look gorgeous on the big day (not that that'll be hard, since they're both of the "gorgeous in a paper bag" variety).

Watch this space, hopefully I'll have lots of pictures and stories in a week's time. Until then!