Awesome in Canada, Awesome All the Time

A TAFF trip episode
by John Coxon

10:00, 03/08/11 – Toronto, Canada

I've arrived at Catherine Crockett's and Colin Hinz's place and I'm sitting in their guest room, watching my toothbrush charge up (the light on the front is flickering wildly, confused by the Canadian electricity).

The trip from England to Canada went well. The plane journey from Heathrow to St John's took about six hours, and was on a fairly small plane (six seats to a row). I made friends with the chap sitting next to me, who actually works in Heathrow airport and has made the trip from London to St John's more times than I have been alive in years – his wife and he have family over there, and so they were visiting for the summer before he went back to jolly old Blighty. I watched several episodes of Stargate Universe on my iPod before attempting (and failing) to use the inflight entertainment system – I failed so completely that I later had to seek out a copy of The King's Speech to watch the last half. Having said that, Air Canada's inflight system is almost as good in terms of range as Air New Zealand, and the touchscreens are awesome, so I wouldn't hesitate to recommend flying with them.

St John's is in Newfoundland, and the descent of the plane into the airport showed some fantastic scenery below us. I hadn't realised this, but St John's is three-and-a-half hours behind London (which is the centre of the universe when it comes to time), so I had my first experience of a fractional timezone! Unfortunately it turned out to be less exciting than I'd hoped, but perhaps more confusing – I changed my watch to Toronto time on the plane, and so all the clocks completely bemused me before I realised what was going on. Clearly I should have paid more attention in Geography. The actual arrival at St John's was a lot more relaxed than arriving at a big airport, and the queue to enter Canada was short and moved quickly, which makes a nice change from some other places I've visited.

In the airport itself I grabbed a burger and my first Mountain Dew[1] of the trip (hurrah!) before rechecking my suitcase, going back through security and settling down in the departure lounge. Free wifi made it easy to pass the time (are you listening, Heathrow? Get on that!), and I was exposed to the local news which seemed to be mostly about a woman who might or might not want Montréal not to be part of Canada any more. I noticed that the crew on the flight from London were waiting at the same gate as me for the plane to Toronto, so I knew I'd be getting good service when we did eventually board – as it turned out, they recognised me on the plane and chatted with me about my plans for the trip, which was pretty awesome.

[1] Going through these journal entries and editing with the benefit of hindsight, I feel I should point out that I was swindled on this, the first day of my TAFF trip. If you want to find out more about this, the details will be available exclusively in my trip report. Cue the dramatic music!

I met Catherine and Colin at the airport and we made our way back to theirs, before settling down to have a beer and some food. We had tamales, which are a little bit like a cross between a muffin and a corn on the cob (but different), as well as an awesome chorizo/tomato/coriander soup Catherine made. Catherine also has a bewildering selection of fruits (peaches, plums and other delicacies) on a tea towel in the living room, and so we're all snacking on these wonderful spheres from Heaven whilst we hang out and surf the web.

I can tell that I'm going to have a lot of food I've never even heard of before; Catherine and Colin appear to be into edible and drinkable things (Colin's beer supply has provided me with alcoholic refreshment already – start TAFF as you mean to continue!) and I'm enthusiastic to broaden my horizons and try new things!

Last night I was totally knackered. I'm used to staying up till the early hours, so the jetlag going from Europe to North America has always been something I'm able to deal with fairly well – Toronto is only a five hour time difference, too, so that helped – but I still ended up going to bed not long after dinner. Now I'm awake, Colin has very kindly furnished me with coffee and I'm ready to tackle the day. Let's get this TAFF trip on the road!

22:00, 03/08/11 – Toronto, Canada

This morning was great. In the post-coffee period (I believe they call it 'breakfast') we ate Montréal bagels, with cream cheese and smoked mackerel and barbecued salmon. It was rather excellent, and I also got to play with some of the musical instruments lying around the dining room. There was a kalimba (a Kenyan percussion instrument) and a thundertube (very awesome, very hard to describe). They also have some old hard drive platters which can be struck to create different tones and a chimta, which is basically a very large pair of cooking tongs with tiny cymbals lining the sides. There is so much to do in their living room and dining room that I'm almost surprised they ever leave their house.

After breakfasting and playing with instruments we headed into Toronto itself. On the way to the subway we saw a couple of places that appeared in Scott Pilgrim so I took some photographs. The artwork on the front of Lee's Palace is particularly photogenic anyway, so I'd taken a photograph before I'd seen the name and made the connection; the photograph of Sonic Boom isn't all that great, but I was too busy being excited to notice at the time! We grabbed coffee (my first iced coffee of my trip – I love iced coffee, and North America does it so well) before we caught the subway and made our way to St Lawrence Market. On the way we saw a bright pink cement-mixing truck, of which I duly took a photograph since I like bright pink things (cement trucks are something I can usually take or leave).

St Lawrence Market is massive and filled with awesome things. We headed to a meat stall and Catherine bought some amazing and exotic meats I hadn't previously tried; something that was repeated when we hit a grocer on the market later and bought awesome-sounding vegetables before I had my first experience of Canadian Bacon.

Canadian Bacon is great.

After Canadian Bacon we went to leave the market and saw a gumball machine. However, this was a gumball machine with a difference: it had a wooden obstacle course below the gumballs, which I videoed. Eventually that will be on YouTube, but for now you'll just have to imagine how awesome it was. The money went to a children's cancer charity, so I felt good for the rest of the day (this was totally my sense of philanthropy and not my sense of awesome gumball-based obstacle course. Yup).

Shopping in hand and bacon in bellies, we walked around Toronto. I was shown several banks and the City Hall. There was a great model of Toronto in the hall, of which I totally forgot to take a photograph (silly me). There was also a brilliant piece of artwork done with different sizes of nails, which I totally photographed! I also found a copy of PC Gamer. Now, PC Gamer is different in the UK to the North American version, and so I was tempted to purchase it despite the fact that it was slightly slimmer and had no coverdisc. When I noticed that it was eleven Canadian dollars (!) I decided against the purchase.

We got the subway back to Catherine and Colin's and chilled for a bit before heading out to a book launch at the Merril Collection. For those who don't know about that, it's a collection of sf hosted by Toronto Public Library, and there is a reading room as well as the 50,000+ items the collection houses. It used to be called the Spaced Out Library, but they changed the name in order to avoid the obvious allusion to drugs.

The book launch in question was the launch of One Soul, a graphic novel written by Ray Fawkes and published by Oni Press. The basic premise of the novel is that eighteen people's life stories are told in parallel, and there are multiple different ways in which one can read the book. It sounded really interesting, and I fully intend to read the copy Colin bought before I leave for Seattle![2]

[2] I completely and utterly failed to do this.

We made our way home via a Mexican grocery and a convenience store, and I can hear noises indicating soup and quesadillas are being organised as I type this. The soup is the awesome soup from yesterday and Catherine just gave me some awesome cheese, so I'm looking forward to seeing what's being created. Mexican food is something of which we don't get a whole lot in the UK (almost certainly due to the simple fact that there's not a whole lot of immigration from Mexico), and so Catherine is planning on doing mostly Mexico-inspired stuff whilst I'm here, with which I have absolutely no problems!

21:00, 05/08/11 – Toronto, Canada

Last night, I fully intended to write something about my day but I ended up being a little the worse for wear in the evening so I didn't get the chance to do so. I can imagine this will eventually become a theme, and I suspect that journal entries every day are something to which I will eventually stop aspiring, but for now, I'm managing to write something fairly regularly! Let's start at the beginning, by charting my adventures on Thursday (aka Day 3).

Colin and I caught a variety of methods of public transport to the suburbs to see the Ontario Science Centre. It's located about an hour away from their house, but since the subway trains and the buses have air conditioning, the heat wasn't really an issue. On Wednesday, due to the clouds and drizzle, the climate was very comfortable to me (hey, I live in the quags of East Anglia; I like flat wet things). Thursday and Friday saw much higher temperatures during the day with very little cloud to be seen, so I was very glad for the cool air that seemed to be available throughout Toronto.

The Ontario Science Centre is a science museum, in case that wasn't obvious from the name. I am keen on science communication and actually applied to work at the National Space Centre in Leicester, so I was quite excited to see what treasures it held for its visitors from that standpoint as well as from the usual geek perspectives. My very first impression was good, due to an awesome thermometer they had outside the main entrance (I entirely failed to take a photograph, which was becoming a theme with me). It's made from two beams of two different metals. The two metals both expand and contract at different rates in reaction to a change in temperature. Both beams are attached to a needle in such a way that the differences between them in this regard make that needle point to the temperature. What really impressed me was the display, which had a mercury thermometer embedded in it. This was to encourage people to think about sources of error/inaccuracy in the instrument by comparing the two readings, which were indeed different. The idea of instrumentation error can be a hard concept to illustrate, so I was impressed they made it so visual and practical.

After the awesome thermometer we went inside and bought tickets before heading on down to the visiting exhibition about reptiles. They had some awesome specimens including a really cool turtle, a chameleon and several snakes! I love snakes; they're so awesome. They also had a few models around the exhibits that explained about specific aspects of reptiles (one devoted to the mechanics of a snake closing its mouth particularly interested Colin), which were a nifty addition. After looking at the reptiles we went into a room full of crazy random stuff, including several robotic fish (which were fascinating!) and what appeared to be an area for people to design their own shoes....

It soon became 2 pm, and with that came a screening of the IMAX film Hubble. Before we watched the film we walked past the area in which the projections are set up, which has a glass wall in order to let you see how it's done. This was a running theme throughout the museum; the server room was also something that visitors could peer into, and the escalator in the entrance hall had perspex to allow people to see the mechanism working, which was a great idea! I used to work at a cinema so I've seen projectionists working up close and personal before, but I've never seen an IMAX projectionist at work so the behind-the-scenes glimpse was really nice.

However, I was talking about Hubble. Hubble is a film primarily about the final repair mission to the telescope, although it also has some of the photographs captured by the telescope, a short introduction to the telescope itself, and footage of previous repair missions. It's narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio and I recommend going to see it if you get a chance to do so. I kept an eye out for the credits and, sure enough, an astronaut called Jeffrey Hoffman was listed. This made me happy, since he is a visiting lecturer at the University of Leicester. He's a really engaging, interesting and nice chap, and I actually took his human spaceflight course in my third year (scoring a high first, which didn't do anything negative to my impression of the man!). He appeared in the credits because he was a member of the first repair crew to use the Shuttle to repair the telescope, which is pretty awesome. I have his business card somewhere....

After Hubble we tried to visit the planetarium, but it was full for the showing we wanted to attend since it can only seat fifty people. This was slightly unfortunate as I was really looking forward to seeing it. A lot of places that have planetariums use them more as dome-shaped IMAX theatres, rather than just showing the stars in the night sky, and I haven't seen a proper planetarium show since the one that got me interested in astronomy back when I was little (an inflatable planetarium at EUREKA!, the children's science museum in Halifax, Yorkshire).

Having said that, I didn't mind missing the show too much, since it gave us a lot more time to explore the sizable exhibit on space that surrounds the planetarium. There was a wide range of pretty awesome stuff, including a black hole model and a rocket chair (there was a huge queue of kids so I didn't have a go). The star projector from the old planetarium was on display (and effectively impossible to photograph), and the exhibits were all really interesting, especially the one on meteorites, which had several samples, including a couple you could touch!

Eventually it was time to hit the CSI Live show, which was billed as an interactive experience. It was quite clearly aimed at a young audience, which I found a little strange given the branding, but since it's the children that will be more interested in the live shows anyway it makes sense. I must confess I wasn't aware that kids were into CSI, but maybe that's just a sign that I'm getting old. After the CSI show we went to see a wicked contraption. It is a ball-moving machine done by an artist, a bit like a cross between a perpetual motion device and a Rube Goldberg machine. You insert a billiard ball and it goes down one of several tracks. There are so many it takes a good while to watch every permutation, so it was a great way to end the visit!

The next stage of the day was First Thursday, which is a monthly Toronto fan meeting. Catherine later told me that it was the most attended meeting she'd been to in years! I met such a variety of people I'm going to have trouble remembering them all, but here we go: Lloyd Penney, Kat Strader, Phil Paine, Terry Fong, Keith and Nancy Soltys, Taral Wayne, Diane Lacey, Alex von Thorn and Marah Searle-Kovacevic. If I left you out please accept my humblest apologies, but I drank too much beer and consequently don't remember the evening as well as I might (hence the worse-for-wearness to which I alluded at the start of this entry). Contact me and let me know if I met you there and ignored your presence!

The First Thursday meeting is held in what is billed as an 'English Pub', the Foxes Den (the apostrophe is omitted by the management, so please don't write in!)[3]. Now, being English and also being a rather big fan of the pub, I was a little curious to know what Canada considers the English pub to be. It turns out that the answer is actually pretty close to the reality of an English chain pub, which I suppose is technically still an English pub, so they get marks on that front! The number of mirrors on the wall with Guinness ads on the front was also comforting, and the burger I ordered tasted rather nicely of burger, so I was, broadly speaking, feeling happy and at home.

[3] Not to be confused with the male strip club, which is called the Foxxes Den and comes up in a Google search for 'Foxes Den Toronto'. Although now I'm aware that there is one of those, I am somewhat disappointed I didn't go to both and do a sort of 'spot the difference' feature on the two!

The point at which they rather lost me is conveyed in what I can tell will become one of my oft-used anecdotes from the trip: I finished my first beer, a microbrew from somewhere in the area, and the waitress asked whether I'd like another beer. 'Sure,' I said, before realising I couldn't see a menu. I decided, therefore, to say, 'I like beer, and I'm new around here; surprise me!' She brought back a pint of Guinness: I confess, this was a surprise – but not necessarily for the right reasons.

At the end of the night, I wound up in a Tim Horton's with Colin, Catherine and Kat, eating maple ring donuts. I'm reliably informed that Tim Horton's is the most Canadian thing I'll do in my trip – it appears to be a bit like a Canadian cross between Costa and Gregg's (or, for readers from the USA, a cross between Starbucks and Krispy Kreme).

This morning I got a phone call at 5 am, which was vaguely annoying, especially as we planned to get up early so I lost valuable sleep. It turned out to be a pr company inviting me for a job interview. However, the date on which they would like to interview me happens to be a date on which I will be staying with Randy Byers, and I didn't fancy flying home for the day. In my defence, I did tell them I was travelling, and I'm not sure I'd want to work for a company that can't read their email properly! I'll be honest: I'm just glad I got an interview, given that my application consisted of a video of me playing Minecraft (no, really).

We got up and out of the house quickly in order to go visit the Merril Collection, getting the stacks tour from Lorna Toolis. As you may remember, if you were paying attention to my earlier writings, I visited a book launch there on my first full day in Toronto and we arranged a tour of the collection then. The Merril Collection is one of the most impressive collections of sf in the world, and we got a tour from the woman in charge! It was so huge and fascinating. I got to see some Douglas Adams books, including an Arthur Barker edition of The Restaurant at the End of the Universe! I also got to see the Ian Watson collection (I like Ian, he's exactly the right kind of mental), which was sizeable – I was quite proud that I was able to tell Lorna about a 40K book I couldn't see on the shelf, so she's going to look out for that.

After the Merril Collection we went on an adventure around various University of Toronto buildings, including seeing some artefacts related to acoustics and sound in the physics building (continuing the theme of percussion!) and looking at an awesome sundial. The university campus is absolutely huge, and we browsed the bookstore (as is necessary when visiting anywhere at all) in addition to grabbing a Coke from a hot dog stand on the side of the road.

For lunch, we ate at the restaurant on top of the CN Tower, and got to see Toronto from the skies; it was very disconcerting to have the whole skyline moving from the corner of your eye. Catherine pointed out buildings of fannish interest (like the Royal York Hotel) and we ate delicious food. My frittata came with about four new potatoes on top, so I presumed that it didn't actually have potatoes in it – but it did, so I was very, very full by the time the waiter came to clear our plates away. Afterwards Catherine strode boldly across the glass floor whilst I meekly tiptoed across it, due to being a huge wuss.

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) was the afternoon's entertainment, but it is now very late and I am very tired, so I think that will have to wait until later in the week before I write about it.

18:30, 07/08/11 – Toronto, Canada

I closed the last journal entry in a fit of tiredness and lack of vocabulary, whereas today I am feeling refreshed and awake (due in no small part, I am sure, to the iced coffee sitting on the table in Catherine and Colin's living room). This leaves me in fine form to write more of my report! Let's see, where were we ...?

The Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) was Friday afternoon's entertainment, which was an awesome idea on Catherine's part. The two of us left the University of Toronto's campus and made our way to the museum, which is very, very striking from the outside. As usual, I totally failed to take a photograph in order to illustrate this, but just trust me when I say it had angles. Lots and lots of angles. In fact, more angles than I think it is probably reasonable for a building to have. You have to check in rucksacks and bags before you're allowed to explore, but the corollary of that is that checking in such things is free, which is really nice. I just had my camera, which was unfortunately running out of battery fast by this point in the day, whereas Catherine's purse escaped the need to be checked in and so held my visitor's guide for much of our trip!

The first step on our adventure through the museum was the dinosaurs on the second floor. I say 'second floor' because it was a Canadian museum, but if you're British, it was of course the first floor (I apologise; at some point I started using the lingo!). I found the exhibit very interesting and engaging – I don't think I've visited an exhibit about dinosaurs since I went to the Natural History Museum in London many years ago, so it was really cool to see lots of skeletons and the like! What I found particularly interesting about the dinosaurs was the focus on juvenile/baby dinosaurs, which was something that was prevalent throughout the exhibit but really got the limelight in a section all about dinosaurs' nests, eggs and babies. The ROM has done research on such things in collaboration with the University of Toronto, and there were several discoveries made in South Africa that are incredibly interesting to hear about and look at. The models of a baby Massospondylus were especially cute and awesome, and it was interesting to discover that many dinosaurs started as quadrupeds before moving onto two legs!

After the dinosaurs we also visited an exhibit on birds, which had models of many, many different species, including some really awesome and colourful ones. There was also a bat cave, which was a really nifty exhibit. Unfortunately, it wasn't about Batman, but rather just about bats. The cave is inspired by a cave in Jamaica and as you walked through there was narration in a Jamaican accent, which is both superb attention to detail and a really awesome accent, so that made me happy. The models of different species of bat were really interesting and there was a nursery and stuff, too. It was a really unique and different way to bring across the information (showing my interest in science communication again!) and I was a huge fan.

After the life sciences stuff we grabbed a drink in the museum's basement before we decided to go back upstairs and see the minerals and gemstones that the museum has. I was mainly just going up for the meteorite stuff they have on display (it was cool seeing more meteorites after the displays at the Ontario Science Centre!) but I was glad we did go, because the rest of the displays also proved extremely interesting. The meteorites were fun (although by this time my camera had run out of energy, so I don't have photographs of them – that must be the fourth time I've typed that, now) but the range of other awesome and interesting rocks was really impressive. It was a shame they didn't have more amethyst, though.... The colours and the variety were completely stunning – it was one of the most colourful science displays I've ever seen. I was really impressed with it and it was well worth looking around.

Next up was the fluorescent rocks, which were oddly presented in that they were in a darkened cabinet but next to a huge light bulb. It was possible to see most of them glowing, but a couple just looked like generic rocks and the descriptive text on the back wall was unreadable in the shadow. This was the only thing in the museum that seemed as if it could have been better presented, though, and it was really cool seeing all those glowing rocks! The gemstones were really a sight to behold. There's a couple of total beauties in the collection which are completely beyond my ability to describe.

After the variety of rocks and other geological artefacts, we looked around some cultural things, and wandered around the exhibits on the classical world (Greece/ Rome/Byzantium) as well as the Oriental world (China/Japan/Korea). There were some really interesting things: three huge pieces of Chinese artwork as well as a few fine specimens of Japanese armour and a collection of other awesome pieces. Eventually we hauled ourselves back to the house – the ROM is amazing, but part of that is its size, and eventually your feet do complain, rather! I can imagine it taking a good number of visits to fully explore, and Catherine said she still hasn't seen the whole thing as a result.

Vietnamese food was promised on the Saturday and so we rolled into Toronto and hit a restaurant Colin and Catherine know for its rocket fuel. Diane Lacey met us there, which was great. For the uninitiated, rocket fuel is a variety of iced coffee made with about three shots of espresso and condensed milk mixed with ice, and it's incredibly gorgeous, especially because I really do like iced coffee. I had never eaten Vietnamese food prior to that Saturday but I had pho and it was incredibly yummy. After Vietnamese food, we explored Kensington Market, which was a cool experience. Extremely busy, extremely hot, extremely awesome place. I had my first butter tart and my first churro, both of which were very, very tasty.

Kensington Market having been plundered for treasure, we returned to the house and relaxed whilst listening to other fans in a meeting (it's always relaxing to hear other people being productive, especially when they're in the next room). The meeting ended and David Garland, Marika Kamaras-Garland and Kevin Grücock showed me around the myriad of bookstores on Bloor Street. That was pretty awesome despite the fact I managed to avoid buying anything, but we also picked up Hodo Kwaja. Those are awesome Korean walnut cakes that contain a variety of fillings, which David very kindly bought for the party. We also picked up some coffee before heading back for the festivities. We were slightly late, but I always maintain it's bad form to be on time for your own party – as Tobes Valois, himself a former TAFF delegate, will gladly corroborate (ask him about Contemplation in 2007 sometime).

The party was already getting started when we returned so we dropped the coffee in the kitchen before Catherine threw us out. We reluctantly left the awesome smells emanating from her cooking, and made our way into the party proper. It was awesome; I chatted to loads of different people, including a bunch of people from the First Thursday meeting, David and Donald Simmons, Merle von Thorn, Ryan Bisci, Lloyd and Yvonne Penney and Hope Leibowitz (again, sorry if I missed you, please do get in touch and kick me).

I generally had an absolutely wicked party, mingling with and chatting to everyone, taking photographs and talking about socialised healthcare (or, as we Brits refer to it, 'the NHS'). Alex and Marah brought Nanaimo bars, which marked the first time I'd had those, too; clearly Saturday was a day of firsts! At the end of the party, about 4 am, Merle and I sat on the porch and listened to the early morning pass by whilst watching some raccoons having fun in the neighbour's trash. I had never seen raccoons before, so that was another first to add to the list, despite it being technically Sunday by this point.

Sunday was a day on which I awoke at about 1 pm, mainly because it was a very good party. This was encouraging since it means I'll be waking up at 9 or 10 am in Seattle, which seems reasonable (hurrah for time zones!). I checked the Internet, added a whole host of fans on Facebook after First Thursday/the party, and generally relaxed before grabbing bagels with Catherine and Colin. Since we were all pretty tired out from the party, breakfast lasted pretty much until 3:30 pm, at which point we ventured outside to visit Bakka, the sf bookshop in Toronto. I picked up two books that are a little harder to find in the UK: Zoe's Tale by John Scalzi and David Weber's The Short Victorious War. I eagerly anticipate reading both of them.

After Bakka, we went shopping for beer, which was good times. I am liking trying Canadian beer, and today I put all the beer we've drunk since I arrived into Untappd. (This did result in me unlocking several badges, but I would have unlocked them at the Peterborough beer festival anyway so I don't feel too guilty. The one that amused Colin and Catherine the most was the one that told me, very earnestly, that twelve beers in the space of an hour was probably a little much and I should slow down a bit.) After acquiring beer, we also acquired ingredients to make more Nanaimo bars, since the ones from the party were all gone. They're currently refrigerating as I write this, and I'm very much looking forward to that!

One more thing before I sign off for the day: Colin has given me a copy of the 1988 and 1989 Lego product catalogues, because I was born in 1988 (I am disgustingly young, it's true). It is a much geekier thing than having the newspapers on the day you were born, so I'm really stoked that I have them.

03:00, 09/08/11 – Toronto, Canada

I write this just as I've finished packing my stuff into my case ready to move onto the next stop. It's totally odd to think my time in Toronto is over; I feel like I only just arrived in the city and I have to leave already! Colin and Catherine have been such brilliant hosts, I've been totally spoiled at every turn by them. For example, tonight we ate bison meatballs with pasta and mushrooms (including these awesome conical fungi whose names completely escape me). Not only that, but we drank apricot wheat beer and finished with corn on the cob and the Nanaimo bars, which are exceptionally yummy.

Today, the original plan had been to go to Niagara Falls, but that involves getting up early and spending time in the car (and also acquiring a car!), so we decided to hit the Toronto Islands instead. We wound up having lunch (smoked turkey sandwiches, mmm) at the house before setting off to get the ferry mid-afternoon. We met up with Trish Murphy at the dock and caught the ferry to the islands with her, before going to the beach and having a dip in the water. I love beaches; they're a brilliant way to put aside time to read.

After the beach we explored the Toronto Islands. Trish is very knowledgeable about botany and plant-life and whatnot, so it was really interesting to look at all the flowers and trees with her to guide us through what is a completely beautiful part of the world. The walk from the beach to the next beach was very tranquil and awesome, especially seeing people busily cycling past whilst we dawdled along, chatting and enjoying the sunlight.

Eventually we arrived at the next hub of activity on the islands, which is near to where the Synthecycletron is. Created by a chap named Barry Prophet, it's basically a largeish structure surrounded by four exercise bikes coupled to boxes. Catherine and Colin actually both helped in the creation of the thing, which made it extra awesome to see it! It's an incredibly odd-looking piece of the surroundings, acting both as visual and aural artwork. The way in which it is aural artwork is primarily due to it being a massive musical instrument which can be played by four people at a time. In order to create noise, one sits on a bicycle and cycles, and the cycling makes noises happen. I took quite a bit of video of Colin (and some randoms) making it make noises, which I'm sure will eventually be available on YouTube in edited form.

After the excitement of the musical instrument we saw a pretty funky church before heading to the petting zoo. The petting zoo was awesome: we saw peacocks and some crazy chickens and some really, really pissed off-looking Shetland Ponies, and I sat in a huge chair. It was a lot of fun! Eventually we rolled over to the ferry and made our way back to Catherine and Colin's place, which was a welcome relief after all the walking and activity we'd engaged in during the day. We talked about various things until we became too sleepy to stay awake.

12:00, 12/08/11 – Seattle, Washington

I flew from Toronto to Dallas, and then from Dallas to Seattle, on Tuesday. Catherine, Colin and I all grabbed breakfast at a place they know near where they live, called Grapefruit Moon. I instantly loved it; there were board games evident for the patrons to play, and also a variety of exciting-sounding microbrewed beers (although, given that it was breakfast time and I had to fly, I avoided those). We ate sandwiches and whatnot whilst watching a variety of people deliver beer throughout the course of our meal, and then we finished and headed home.

On the way back, we stopped by Honest Ed's. This was An Experience, since I truly believe the shop sells everything one could possibly wish for, and it was slightly bemusing to realise just how big this place was. It's four buildings, I think, merged into one, and in some cases you have to cross bridges above alleyways to make your way from one area of the shop to another, which is just crazy! We also stopped by Sonic Boom, which was one of the locations in that neighbourhood featured in Scott Pilgrim. I bought some dvds, since I like supporting independent shops, and also picked up a free newspaper that had an interview with Colin's band in it (I will read that at some point, honest ...).

Eventually, the time to leave for the airport rolled around, and I gathered my stuff and went down to the subway with my guides one last time. Getting to the airport involves taking the subway westwards as far as you can go, and then catching a bus to the airport from the station at which one finds oneself. It was bittersweet in many ways, since I was excited to get on with the next stage of my TAFF trip but also disappointed that my time in Toronto had flown by so quickly. I suspect the feeling that I want to spend more time in places will be a common theme on my trip!

And so, my adventures in Canada and Toronto come to an end. If you'd like to read more about my trip, look out for instalments in Chunga, The Drink Tank and SF/SF, or just keep an eye out for the completed trip report when it comes out.