Wednesday, July 30, 2014

WonderPho Pho Eating Challenge

This past Saturday Peter, Gabe, Fiona and I went down to the Beaches to try and catch some of the Beaches International Jazz Festival. Unfortunately we were a bit too early. Queen Street was still open to traffic and none of the musicians were set up.

So we decided to grab a bite. I suggested Sunset Grill since we were parked nearby. We pretty much had the same thing - sausages and three eggs served with home fries and thick toast. Though Peter substituted bacon instead of sausage.

Afterwards we walked around a bit. Partly on Queen, partly along the boardwalk by the lake. Still we hard no music.

We had to leave by around 5:00 because we were going to meet Keith up at WonderPho at 6:00. He had entered himself in the Pho eating contest there.

The contest began the day before. The challenge was to eat a huge bowl of Pho containing 100 metres of noodles (1½ pounds), ½ pound veal brisket, ½ pound sliced rib eye, 120 oz (3.55 litres) of soup. It's garnished with a mountainous pile of bean sprouts, red onions, basil and cilantro. Time limit to finish: 15 minutes.

If you're able to finish the whole bowl (soup included) within the allotted time you're awarded a T-shirt, a photo on the wall of the restaurant and given bragging rights amongst your friends. If you don't finish in time you have to pay $38 for the bowl of noodles. Either way you end up with a massive stomach ache.

Our group got there early so we went over to the Korean supermarket Galleria to kill some time. When we returned to the restaurant Keith and Justin were standing out front. We went in at around 6:00.

When we got inside we saw a couple of young fellows who had just finished their attempt at eating the super-sized bowl. One fellow did it, his friend failed. Both were royally hurting.

The young guy who finished the bowl did it in only 10 minutes. Very impressive. The manager said that seven others, if I remember correctly, had already failed up until that point.

After they brought the bowl out Keith was allowed to let it sit for 8 minutes to cool off a bit. Then he dug in...

Of course things started off all right. For the first 10 minutes or so he was steadily plugging away. Keith downed most of the meat and the noodles, but now he was starting to feel the pain.

Once he reached that point it only got worse. One... two... three minutes passed with little more being eaten. It was about that time everyone realized it wasn't meant to be.

In the end he had about half a bowl of soup left with some noodles and other odds and ends. It was a valiant effort that's for sure.

Keith asked one of the waitresses how large the super bowl was compared to a regular large. She said it was like eating 3-4 large bowls. That's just plain crazy.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Burger Run?

I went downtown to do a Sandwich Run with some of my friends from Richmond Hill Christian Community Church yesterday. They call me every now and then to lead them.

Since I don't work Fridays I can take an easy during the day. In the afternoon I finished reading a book I took out from the library, then I walked downtown.

I left a bit early so I could grab dinner. I had bought a $20 voucher from Groupon for Big Moe's, a burger joint. It was the second one I used. The first time I went the fellow there said I had to spend at least $20. I didn't know why, but that's what he said.

Regular burgers are $4.79 there. Cheese burgers are $5.79. So to make it to the minimum $20 charge I bought three regular burgers and one cheese burger for four burgers in total.

Now, I know I can generally eat quite a bit. But four burgers might be stretching it. So as I walked out I was trying to figure out what I should do with all the burgers.

Since we were going to hand out bag lunches to people we saw on the street I figured I could do the same with the burgers.

The first place I went to was the Tim Hortons near Ryerson University. It was close to where I was going to meet the group from RHCCC and I knew there was a fellow there, Jason, who quite often hangs out opening the door for people for spare change.

Jason's from the east coast. I don't remember exactly how long he's been in Toronto. Perhaps 14 years or so. I can't remember too many other details about him. But, he's a nice guy, so, whenever I'm in the area, I try to go by to chat and see how he's doing.

This time I had a burger to offer him which he gladly accepted. We had a good chat and caught up with each other. I told him about my recent camping trips to Tobermory and the Thousand Islands from earlier in the summer.

One of his friends came by and I offered him a burger too. He was happy to get it. He tried to sell me the bike he had. I'm not sure where he got it from. I hope it wasn't stolen. That would suck for the person who lost it if it was.

A few people gave Jason change as they entered or exited Timmies. One young fellow gave him a donut in a small, brown Timmies bag. Jason didn't want it because he said it was a bit too sweet for his tastes. So when the young guys were out of sight he offered it to me. I like donuts so I took it.

I figured I'd better go up the street a bit to eat it just in case. That's when I saw a scruffy, older gentleman. I asked him if he wanted a donut and he graciously accepted.

I thought I'd start a conversation with him. Sometimes people who live on the streets don't have a lot of people to chat with. He seemed eager to talk.

Turns out his name is Bill. I believe he said he was 56. He grew up in Lindsay, Ontario. I think he was a ward of the Province. I don't believe I asked him how he ended up like that.

Anyway, we had a nice little talk. He was quite chatty. I guess not too many people ask him about his life or anything like that.

I had one more burger left (I had already eaten one while chatting with Jason). But, I was still a bit hungry, so I didn't offer it to Bill. I felt a bit guilty about that. After we parted I ate it, then went to meet the RHCCC gang at our regular meeting place at 10 Dundas East to go on the Sandwich Run.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Graffiti Alley

Well I found it - Graffiti Alley. One of my friends told me where it was located - south of Queen, in between John Street and Portland Avenue. It's not too hard to find.

I rode down on Friday at noon after watching the Tour de France (stage 12, the first stage in the Alps). I was hoping to get the noon-time sun so everything would be well lit. Unfortunately half the buildings were in the shade. Too bad.

I started at John Street and headed west. There was a bit of construction there so it was loud. Also, the odd delivery truck would squeeze by. So, even though I was walking, I had to keep an eye out.

I wasn't the only one taking pictures. There were other people too. I even saw some people taking their pre-wedding shots. There's a lot of great artwork there as a backdrop.

Anyway, it was a nice way to spend a couple of hours on my day off.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Downtown Street Art

I took a walk downtown on Friday. I was going to meet my friend, Gabe, for dinner and then catch a movie.

Since it was my day off I got down there a bit early with my camera. I knew there were some events going on. One was the 1-year countdown to the start of the 2015 Pan Am Games here in Toronto. They had some sort of thing going on at Nathan Philips Square.

I didn't actually end up going there. Instead I walked through King's College Circle at U of T, then made my way through Chinatown. I thought I'd document some of the street art I had seen on the buildings down there.

I think most of the ones I took pictures of were commissioned. They're quite high end. There was one on a garage on Huron Street that was probably done by some kids. But even that was quite good too.

Since it was late afternoon not all locations were ideal for shooting. Some were in dark shadows so I wasn't able to capture everything I saw.

The art in Kensington Market was really good. There was a lot of it. I think semi-professionally done. Not all of it is noticeable from the street. You have to go down some alleyways to find them.

If you do the work you'll get rewarded though. There are a lot of hidden gems around there.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Kayaking the Thousand Islands Pt. 2

The second day was as beautiful as the first. Lovely blue skies, dotted with pretty white clouds. Spectacular.

The park ranger came around in the morning to check everyone's permits. We chatted with him a bit and he suggested a route for us to paddle. There was an island to the east called Camelot. It was publicly accessible and had one trail you could hike.

Most of the islands in the area are actually privately owned with residences built on them. Some of the islands are tiny barely fitting the single dwellings perched precariously on them. It's kind of neat to see.

Camelot Island is about 6.5 kilometres from Beau Rivage. You have to paddle due west in between Lindsay and Bostwick Islands. Past there you head out of the shelter area into rougher waters.

Your next checkpoint is Thwartway Island. Since I didn't want to waste any extra energy paddling around lost I asked any boaters or islanders I saw for directions. Everyone was quite friendly and very helpful. The regulars know the area well.

Thwartway is pretty much the halfway point of the trip. You pass a few small islands from there to Camelot. You can also use the U.S. coastline to the south as a reference to get to there too. It took us about 3-1/2 hours one way from our island to Camelot.

Camelot is under 400 metres wide. It has 6 campsites and a number of berths for docking your larger boats. The kayak docking area is on the south side of the island. There's a hiking trails that goes around the island that is around a kilometre long. We walked it. It didn't take too long. But, none of the islands has an extensive trail system. The idea of this trip for us wasn't to hike of course, but paddle.

I have to say, the pictures I took on this trip aren't as good as I would normally take. All the ones I took on the water were with my uncle's old Olympus point-and-shoot. It's waterproof to 10 feet, so that's why I used it.

I also brought my old Canon 20D for onshore shots. I didn't bring any of my good lenses like my wide angle 10-22 mm though. Instead I used the kit lens that came with the camera. I didn't want to take the chance of anything bad happening with my good equipment. So I took less shots than normal. And they don't look quite as nice unfortunately.

We did take some fun shots on a tiny, rock island on out way back. We pretended to be stranded on it hiding our kayaks on the backside.

In total I believe we paddled between 15-16 kilometres because we made a side trip around McDonald Island on the way back. We were thinking about landing and hiking there too, but we couldn't find the kayaking docking point. So instead of wasting our now limited energy paddling around we returned to Beau Rivage.

We were pretty tired by the time we returned. To avoid the nightmare mosquito scenario of the night before we got started on our cooking while there was still plenty of daylight. That worked out perfectly. We hardly were bothered at all.

I also started a fire with the firewood we bought the day before. You can buy it on the island for $6.80 a bag. I gathered a lot of kindling and piled it on top of a discarded paper egg carton we had no use for any longer. Then I piled the logs on top in a teepee fashion and lit underneath. It started like a charm. Too bad it was late afternoon still. It wasn't very dark out, so sitting by the campfire wasn't as interesting. But, it was better than sitting in a swarm of insects that's for sure.

As predicted by The Weather Channel it rained in the late evening. We managed to pack up everything and run into the tent just before it got heavy.

It rained for most of the night. The tent fly kept us dry though. So that was good. Similar to the night before I couldn't fall asleep. I kept turning one way and then the other trying to get comfortable. Even though it was a 4-man tent was a little for the three of us because we had all our gear inside too. It seemed that I could only fall asleep when the birds started chirping in the early morning just before daybreak.

The next morning we packed up early and headed to the mainland. We had breakfast in Gananoque. The first restaurant was a bit of a dive. It had a sign offering $5 breakfast so we went in. But the old lady who was serving pretty much ignored us while serving everyone else so we walked out.

The next place we went to, Moroni's, was empty when we walked in. But, I think it's because it was early in the day still. It began to fill up afterwards.

It's billed as a Mediterranean restaurant. We just ordered breakfast though. Gabe and Emily had French toast with different meat sides. I had the big breakfast with eggs, toast, hash browns, sausage, bacon and ham. The food was decent and the service was good. What else could you ask for.

Emily drove the whole way back. Gabe took a nap. I took a nap. We stopped at The Big Apple in Colborne (halfway between Gananoque and Toronto) for apple crumble and ice cream. It was really tasty. Since it was my first visit I took a bunch of photos while they waited in the stifling heat for me.

Overall it was a great trip even with the mosquito attack. We learned our lesson about trying to do things after dark. Maybe next time I'll bring a thicker, softer Therm-a-rest sleeping pad too.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Kayaking the Thousand Islands Pt. 1

Gabe, Emily and I went Kayaking/Camping in the Thousand Islands out of Gananoque over the Canada Day long weekend. We rented the kayaks from 1000 Islands Kayaking company. After taxes it was about $150 per kayak for three day's rental.

We arrived late afternoon on Saturday. After meeting at Gabe's condo at 10:00 we drove east stopping for lunch at Denny's in Kingston. The traffic leaving the city was brutal so the drive took a lot longer than we expected. I guess everyone else had the same idea.

Emily and Gabe booked a campsite on a small island called Beau Rivage. At a slow pace you could get there in about 45 minutes according to the young lady who helped us at the kayaking company. Since it was my first time really kayaking I didn't expect to go any faster. The paddle was just under 3 kilometres.

After paying for the rental we brought the kayaks from the back of the building to the dock area where we would be departing from. Emily drove her car closer and we unloaded all our gear and stuffed it into the small compartments in the kayaks. Emily then had to drive to an offsite parking lot and wait for a shuttle bus to take her back. The bus comes every 15 minutes.

We paddled east from the dock towards our campsite. We stayed off the main channel to avoid boats and because the water was calmer. I have to say the water was a lot calmer than I thought it would be. But we were mainly in a sheltered area.

After unloading and setting up our tent I saw kids jumping into the water from a low cliff nearby our campsite. It looked like fun so I joined in. It wasn't too high, perhaps 10-12 feet. Though the water was fairly deep my feet did lightly touch the bottom after my first jump.

I altered my technique on successive jumps spreading my arms to create more drag when I hit the water. That did the trick. The water was cold, but refreshing on a hot, summer day.

We took the kayaks out for a leisurely paddle next. We headed south to nearby Aubrey Island. At the nearest point it's less than a kilometre away. We circumnavigated it clockwise then headed east toward Bostwick Island also going around it clockwise.

Bostwick Island is over 1 kilometre long. On the east side near the northern tip is Half Moon Bay. It's famous for holding religious services on Sunday afternoons in July and August. In total we did around 6 kilometres before returning just before the sun disappeared.

The scenery on the water was stunning. The puffy, white clouds rising behind the many small islands was absolutely beautiful. It was amazing being on the calm, evening waters paddling around.

Of course we paid dearly for staying out so late. The mosquitoes were out in full force while we were trying to prepare dinner. It was a nightmare sitting in the dark madly swatting at them. We gave up on lighting a campfire. Struggling to do that while being eaten alive wasn't anyone's idea of fun.

We gobbled down whatever we could as fast as we could and headed for the shelter of the tent where we ended up sweltering in the unabating heat. Not a very pleasant way to end the day unfortunately.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Camping in Tobermory Pt. 3

On Sunday we took a boat out to Flowerpot Island from Tobermory harbour. We actually bought the tickets the day before just in case. We wanted to be sure we got the departure and return times we wanted. Tickets are around $35 return. I believe there's a National Park fee on top of that.

We got a fairly early departure time. I think 10:45 a.m. In the morning we had to get up early enough to eat something and pack our whole campsite up which we managed to do without much problem.

The girls woke up first and got a head start. Gabe, me, Peter and finally Keith followed. He has sleep apnea and usually has a device that helps with his breathing. Since he didn't have that with him his sleep wasn't as restful as it could have been.

We used The Blue Heron Company to take us to Flowerpot Island. They have orange jet boats that can bring you from Tobermory to the island 6.5 kilometres away in 15 minutes. There are other options available such as their glass bottom boats which take you over ship wrecks, but we weren't interested in that. We only wanted to get over to hike.

Our group were the only ones on the 10:45 a.m. boat. It was like our own private cruise. One of the staff members said people usually don't depart that early in the day (which was great for us). We could sit anywhere and had a great view of the scenery on the ride there.

Even though I went on the cruise to Flowerpot Island once before (many years ago), I didn't remember that they did a pass in the water of both the little and big flowerpots. That was great. I got some really good shots from the water.

The walk around the island was nice. We gave ourselves 4 hours to hike. It's not actually that big. We just wanted to make sure we had enough time to take a lot of photos. You could probably go around the whole place in 2-3 hours if you tried.

There are only two trails - the Loop Trail and the Marl Trail (which connects to the Loop Trail on the west side). If you head east from the dock along the Loop Trail it'll bring you first to the Small Flowerpot then the Large Flowerpot. If you continue around the trail you'll get to a small cave. Further on is the Lightstation/Museum and the "Loo" with a view (an elevated outhouse).

The Marl Trail brings you to the west side of the island. We had time so we did it. Of course the big attractions are the "flowerpots" as well as the scenery over the water. There are some wildflowers that I took pictures of as well.

Back in Tobermory we had one last ice cream stop before heading down Highway 6 to DNA fish and chip truck for lunch. For $11.50 they give you a huge piece of fish and more chips than you can handle. Good stuff.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Camping in Tobermory Pt. 2

We arrived back at our campsite from the hike quite late at night. I believe it was between 9:30 and 10:00 p.m. Most of us were quite hungry by then, Food wouldn't be ready very soon though. We were cooking the old fashioned way. First we had to start a campfire.

The park sells firewood for about $7 a bag. In fact that's the only way you can get it. You aren't allowed to bring your own in. I suspect it's to keep the place disease free. I know certain wood can carry certain kinds of insects that are detrimental to the health of trees.

The fire didn't turn out to be too hard to start. I was concerned at first though because Emily said we weren't suppose to pick up any twigs and things for kindling. Instead they brought some newspaper for that purpose. But, newspaper can burn pretty quickly unless you fold it tightly. I was worried that it would burn too fast and we would run out before the logs caught fire.

We cooked our food on long skewers. They had brought chicken wings, marinated beef and fish and beef balls among other things. Keith brought hot dogs. I started with those because, like I mentioned, we were hungry and I figure I could barbecue them quickly and start eating.

We decided to use the portable stove to cook more things faster. It's lucky we did that because camp staff came around at about midnight and told all the campers that they had to extinguish their fires and turn out all their lights. We were still in the middle of cooking things at the time.

So that was pretty annoying, but we did as we were told. After that Peter and I had planned on going out and taking some long exposure night sky shots. The others joined us for a short while before returning to camp to sleep. Peter and I stayed out until around 2:00-2:30 a.m. You'll have to visit my page to view those pics.