Believe it or not: I went to Ripley’s Aquarium

Aquarium_2See what I did there? Okay it’s late, leave me alone.

A few weeks back I thought it would be nice to spend a day with my mom and take her down to the newly opened aquarium downtown. I’m not sure if she’s been to one before, and I definitely haven’t, but either way we were looking forward to the experience.

After walking up from Union Station we noticed the incredible lineup to get in. Man this place was popular! I’d gotten her to come all the way downtown so we weren’t going to give up that easy, and the line was moving somewhat quickly by the looks of it, so we stuck it out. An hour and a half later, we finally made it indoors where we could defrost. (Note: I tried buying tickets online but the ticketing part of the website was down.)

Inside there were plenty of options with nine galleries to check out. My favourites were:

Canadian Waters: Here we got to check out some aquatic species that live in our waters, which isn’t something you see very much of, since the tropical fish tend to hog the attention. The Pacific Kelp Exhibit is really cool as it has a wave maker simulating surges of the BC shoreline, and the fish just sit there, bobbing up and down with the water

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IMAG0475Dangerous Lagoon: The largest exhibit in the aquarium (nearly 2.5 million litres) was an amazing experience with different kinds of sharks swim right over your head in the underwater tunnel

IMAG0405IMAG0407IMAG0411Planet Jellies: Jellyfish are such mesmerizing creatures and as you can see below, make for great photos

Aquarium_1Aquarium_4Discover Centre: Again, great for kids, but seeing the Finding Nemo fish was pretty cool for

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Overall a good experience if you can get your tickets in advance. If you’re pretty quick, you should spend about 1.5-2 hours there, but if you have children you’ll probably spend a bit more time if you want to take advantage of the interactive sections.

Hope you enjoyed the photos below. Let me know what you think!

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REVIEW: Catching Fire is nothing short of phenomenal

Catching FireCatching Fire accomplished something that is so rarely done by films: honour the book it was based on.

Katniss and her family are now living in Victor’s Village with Peeta and Haymitch. Early on we see her issues in dealing with the events from the previous year’s battle and her relationship with Peeta has become non-existent, but with their Victory Tour coming, they must put on the act of the happy couple. This task is made even more difficult as President Snow threatened the lives of her family if he didn’t find that act convincing enough.

Snow is threatened by Katniss, who has caused a tear in his fragile system with her perceived act of defiance. He looks to control her so he can quell any sense of uprising from the districts. As they embark on their tour, the signs of that uprising start to become clear to Katniss, and the more she sees the terrible acts that Snow inflicts, the more she wants to do something about it.

Given her defiance, Snow has announced a Quarter Quell, which is an all star Hunger Games match of sorts, seeing previous winners go up against one-another for the 75th anniversary of the tournament. This means Katniss must go back and fight. I won’t go into the rest, but trust me it’s amazing.

Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, Constantine) took the reins as director of the second film of The Hunger Games trilogy written by Suzanne Collins. I’m not sure if it was the added budget afforded to the team, but his vision of the book is how I imagined it would be, and like the first movie, was much more emotional to watch than to read. This likely had something to do with the strong acting from Jennifer Lawrence and the cast, which was phenomenal once again, including the addition of Philip Seymour Hoffman as Plutarch Heavensbee, who I can’t wait to see more of in the next two instalments.

Unlike the first film, Catching Fire opens up the political discussion much more. One of the reasons I enjoyed the books so much was the commentary made about the role that media and politicians have in shaping how we think and what we say.

If you haven’t read the books and are hesitating to watch these, I’d strongly advise against that. Watch the first one, and see this one immediately as it’s well worth the watch. I give Catching Fire 5/5.

I leave you with a gif of the funniest part of the movie:

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Rainmageddon hits Toronto

RainmageddonSo we had a bit of rain tonight in Toronto.

I thought I’d share a few pictures along my walk downtown, as waiting for a subway, bus or even taxi was pretty fruitless. Before I go on, I want to thank everyone at the TTC, Police, Fire, EMS and any city officials helping to sort through the mess this storm caused in such a short period of time. Many people are angry, but there’s honestly only so much you can prepare for, and if you’re not, then do your best to pull through, which the city is doing.

Flooded underpass on York StreetThe water on York Street underneath the Gardiner Expressway was calf deep or higher and at this point I’d given up even trying to stay dry or else I wasn’t getting anywhere. The best thing to do was wait for the “tide” to roll away so I didn’t have to walk in as much water.

Maple Leaf Square floodedAs I was rushing to Union Station, I completely missed the new fountain in Maple Leaf Square. There were two drains that were over flowing, causing the fountains you see above.

Air Canada CentreYet another surprise was walking into the Air Canada Centre and not having any lights. It was here I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t getting home by subway.

Union Station waterfallAs I was looking for an exit out to Bay Street, I first heard a lot of water coming in down by the subway platform, so I took a look by the stairs and saw TTC employees squeegeeing a small waterfall of water onto track level – it’s understandable why no trains were running. Above you’ll see water streaming in from the street into the main level area of the station. Staff were working to block it off from entering the station, and shopvac’ing it where they could.

Bay Street Bus lineupAfter hanging outside the Royal York Hotel for a bit waiting for a manhole to explode (thankfully it didn’t), I made my way over to Bay Street to hopefully catch a shuttle bus. After waiting a while, I knew I wasn’t getting home any time soon so I started walking. Remember I had no umbrella or jacket.

Bay Street SteamWalking up Bay Street there were streams of people much more prepared than I, jostling for space on the the sidewalk with their large umbrellas. Throughout the walk, many vents were letting off some steam as the water came pouring in. Liked the photo above, but wish it wasn’t so blurry, though to my defense, I was hurried as the rain came down.’

Yonge-Dundas SquareAfter a detour for food and a break from the rain in the Eaton Centre, I headed back out to Yonge-Dundas Square, where the rain had let up quite a bit, but obviously hoards of commuters were stranded and huddled waiting for the shuttles. Not me though. I kept walking.

After that I was on a mission to make it to Yonge & Bloor, where the subway was working until Lawrence. Luckily I hopped on and eventually made it home to dry off and warm up.

I know my trip wasn’t as crazy as some people, but remember in situations like these, it’s very easy to lose your cool at people who are trying to help you. You just need to realize that everyone is having a bad day, and you don’t need to make another person’s that much worse.

The Orphan Master’s Son: Gaining freedom where little is to spare

The Orphan Master's SonBefore starting The Orphan Master’s Son by American Adam Johnson, I had heard some buzz on Twitter, and did a quick search on Goodreads to see that quite a few people really enjoyed it. Good enough for me!

The book is set in North Korea and through the eyes of a couple citizens looks at the power the state has on its people, as well as the propaganda it spreads to keep that control.

Throughout the book we largely follow Jun Do who was raised as an orphan, though secretly his father was the Orphan Master (hence the title). As he grows older he has several different jobs for the state, including a kidnapper of Japenese citizens, then as English language spy on a fishing boat. Through a turn of events he finds his way to America on a delegation trip to Texas. After returning, everything changes after he is sent to prison mines for a crime unbeknownst to him.

Without getting into too many spoilers, the rest of the book flips to feature Commander Ga, Kim Jong Il’s great foe, and shows how, as mentioned, the State has so much power over its people that even identities can be changed based on the approval of the Great Leader. Throughout, we’re also told a propaganda story that interestingly mirrors the actual story being told, but obviously in a light that favours the government. This is an effective way to show how the message can be changed to convey one thing, even when everyone is living a completely different reality. How the government can control its people is by far the most interesting aspect of the book for me, though I’m not entirely sure how much is overly exaggerated and how much resembles the truth in some way.

Normally this isn’t the type of book I’d find myself reading, but I’m glad I did as it had brilliant writing, interesting characters, and Johnson really allowed you to get inside their head and believe this all could have happened. I give The Orphan Master’s Son a 5/5.

Amsterdam BrewHouse: The new hot spot on the water

Amsterdam BrewHouse

When I heard about the newly opened Amsterdam BrewHouse opening up by my work on Queens Quay, I knew I’d be making a trip their quickly – two days later, in fact.

While they’re still working on the final touches throughout much of the second level to get it ready in time for the official July 1 launch, it’s still a fully functioning restaurant with many different kinds of seats to choose from. Given the nice weather me and my buddy of course opted for the patio – one of many. We were hoping for the lakeside seats, but were taken to the west side of the building, which faced the Marine Unit of the Toronto Police – still great seats.

The BrewHouse has two separate paper menus – one with its beer selection, the other with food (and more drinks). On the flip side of the drink menu we decided to go with the beer flight, which let us sample four different kinds of beer four the cost of a pint ($8). This is a good option if you like to try new beers but don’t want to take the chance on getting a gross pint.

Amsterdam BrewHouse BeerWhen it came to the food, I was a bit indecisive. There wasn’t a tonne of options, but much of the menu looked either interesting (duck grilled cheese) or traditionally a good choice (burgers, pizza). The food is a couple dollars pricier for most of the menu items, compared to most bars, but everything is made fresh, seasonal and local, and generally much better prepared than your typical pub. That being said, I felt cheap and got the crispy fish tacos, which still ran $13 even though it’s listed as an appetizer. It came with three tacos and because I wasn’t terribly hungry, were definitely filling enough, and certainly tasty.

Amsterdam BrewHouse Fish TacosAfter grabbing another pint we paid up and moved to the south side patio because the Muskoka chairs they have were too inviting. The service on that side was nearly non-existent, so we ended up grabbing a pint on our own at the bar after a while. All that was made up by the view:

Amsterdam BrewHouse ViewOverall I really liked the Amsterdam BrewHouse and plan on making a few trips this summer. Because it’s new, I expected any number of issues, so on that front I’m forgiving. While the food pricing is a bit much, the food is unique enough and I’m always up for trying new things so I’d like to sample many more items off that menu.

Have you made it out there yet? What did you think?

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