Category Archives: Travel

New Brunswick in July

photo of a meadow and low mountains on a sunny day
Our journey began with a train ride to Whitby to meet Matt’s aunt Donna. I followed the train route on the map I’d recently designed of Toronto’s Gardens and Conservatories, announcing the nearby parks to Matt with enthusiasm. Donna picked us up from the Whitby GO Station and we made our way onto the highway around 8:45am.

It rained on and off for first part of the drive, making me glad I wasn’t driving! It made for beautiful views though, with dramatic skies against lush green trees and the occasional silo next to an old farmhouse. Once we hit Quebec City we had beautiful mountains to admire against a wide open blue sky. With nightfall came a distance lightening show over the mountains and deep within the cumulonimbus clouds overhead.

We arrived in Moncton at half past midnight. It was dark, but the air smelled lovely! Even in downtown, it smelled like evergreen trees to me. “Thats what fresh air smells like!” Matt told me.

photo of a cross against a blue sky

Day One: Pump House Brewery and Magnetic Hill

My first day in New Brunswick was spent driving around Moncton and surrounding areas with Matt showing me all the important places from his life there. We also took in some tourist sites too, such as Magnetic Hill that I thought was a total rip-off for $3/person. It didn’t have monetary value in my opinion.

I was surprised how small Moncton was! We stopped for lunch in the Pump House Brewery where I did some beer tastings, settling on the blueberry beer and sharing a radler with Matt. He got his favourite – the Cadian beer, with a mushroom burger and beer bread.
After lunch, we continued our “Tour de Matt”, walking around downtown Moncton. We stopped by the historic Lutz house and the memorial to the first eight European settlers of the area – one of which was Matt’s family, the Steifs. Funnily enough, the monument was also a Pokémon Go stop, so it was crowded by young people on their cellphones playing the game that had recently taken the world by storm.

We had dinner with Matt’s family back at Riverview, and then set back out to go to the family cottage at Cape Enrage on the Bay of Fundy. I saw my first moose on the way – it was pretty exciting!

photo of two glasses of pink wine cheers-ing
We got there just in time to see the sun slip behind the clouds. We cheers with glasses of strawberry-rhubarb wine to the view. Matt got out his telescope and did some stargazing before it clouded in to look at Mars and the rings of Saturn. I saw my first ever shooting star! I was pretty excited.

It started to rain soon after nightfall, so we sat in the dark for a while listening to the pitter-patter outside. Once we retired, the ominous hum of mosquitoes kept us awake. By morning, I was covered in bites! Matt joked that it looked like I had chickenpox!

photo of a mug on a railing, overlooking the green landscape of Cape Enrage

Day Two: Hopewell Rocks, Fundy Park, and Alma

Matt prepared a nice breakfast of baguette and granola with yogurt. It was a beautiful clear day, so we planned to go for a walk on the beach before heading into Fundy Park. However, when Matt went to do his morning budget he discovered his credit card had been victim to fraud, so spent the morning on the phone making various enquiries and arrangements.

photo of red stones on a beach on a sunny day
I wandered down to the beach with my camera, following a footpath behind the cottage to a springy meadow of wild berries, moss, and flowers. I crossed the meadow to the gravel path and onto the beach. As the tide was out, Cape Enrage was an expanse of sand with snail trails patterning the sand, ridges from the water, and colourful pebbles. Steam with rising up from the small pools of water leftover from the tide.

After wandering about on the sands, I made my way towards the cliffs where the occasional dribble of shale would ring out like falling ice down the cliff-side. It was a magical yet eerie reminder of the impermanence of the world around us. The large rocks near the base of the cliffs were intriguing too – such as variety of textures and colours.

photo of a cottage at the top of a fern covered hill
Matt met me on the rocks and we walked back up to the cottage together. We loaded up the car and headed to the Cape Enrage lighthouse. As we were pressed for time, we didn’t pay to go in, but parked just outside the lot to view the lighthouse from afar.

Next on our list was Fundy National Park. We made a quick pit stop at two trails, just to walk in for a couple minutes then go back into the car. It was a Fundy tease! Matt’s favourite hike is the Coastal Trial, but unfortunately we didn’t have time for that.

photo of fishing boats and a hook on the dock
After our mini-hike, we drove into the tourist/fishing village of Alma for lunch. We shared a seafood platter at Fundy Take-out, which the locals raved about. It wasn’t the best seafood we’d had, but enjoyable nonetheless. We got a milkshake and a seafood platter of lobster, battered scallops, clam strips, shrimp, haddock, and fries, which we ate on a picnic bench outside.

On our way back into town, we stopped at the Hopewell Rocks to see them at high tide. Fortunately admission is good for 24 hours, so we made plans to come back at low tide. There was a nice walk down to the rocks though, and multiple wheelchair-users were enjoying the gravel path. We snapped a couple pics of the rocks, then headed over to the visitation for Matt’s grandmother.

The visitation was in his grandmother’s childhood home, before it was repurposed as the Bishop Funeral Home. I had not been to a visitation since I was a child, so it felt like a new experience. I met Matt’s extended family and friends of his grandmother. Coming from a small family, I was amazed at how many relatives Matt had – and all from the area too!
After the visitation, we went back to his parent’s house in Riverview where we took their two west highland terriers for an evening walk along Petitcodiac River and up through residential areas before settling back into the house. We then had a glass of wine with Matt’s sister on the patio before heading to bed. It had been a busy day!

Day Three: Funeral and Family Time

The funeral for Matt’s grandmother took place on Tuesday morning. We drove in as a family: Matt, his parents, his sister, and me. The service was at the Albert County Funeral Home, followed by tea and sandwiches. Matt really wanted to show me the Hopewell rocks at low tide, so we slipped out in our funeral attire to make our way down to the rocks.
The rocks were much more fun at low tide than high tide. I found hard to get a good photo with the position of the sun, but enjoyed walking along the ocean floor and under the rocks themselves. Amusement was added to the fact we were wearing suit and dress, mucking around in the wet sand.

We caught up with the funeral procession, taking wildflower lined country roads down to Waterside Cemetery. The cemetery once had a church with special meaning to Matt’s family, but had been struck by lightning in January a few years back and burned down to the ground. Now a plaque and charred hydro-lines remain.

Matt joined the other pallbearers to carry the coffin to its final resting place. The children and sisters threw roses onto the coffin and the grandchildren placed a metal rose by the gravestone as Matt played Amazing Grace on his harmonica. Even though I had never known Matt’s grandmother, I found it very moving.

After the ceremony, Matt and his parent’s gave me a tour of the cemetery, pointing out their favourite epitaph, written by a young man who had accidently shot himself while hunting. He had a good sense of humour even on his deathbed apparently.

After everyone had left, we made our way up to the family cottages on Cape Enrage. We went to one cottage for leftover sandwiches and veggie dip, then Matt walked me down to his old cottage by a small lake before heading back up his parent’s cottage for wine and cheese.

photo of a small cottage by a misty lake in the woods
The fog started to roll in and as we made our way back up the hill, I noticed a large bird coming towards us. At first I thought it was a seagull, but as it neared I realized in was a bald eagle! It flew right over us, disappearing into the mist. It was magical!

Back up the hill, Matt and I hung-out on the deck for awhile, watching the fog roll in while listening to his dad’s bluegrass music coming through the living-room walls and the fog horn at the Cape Enrage Lighthouse. The bald eagle swooped overhead two more times before the darkness of night soaked up everything in sight.

photo of purple wildflowers by a misty lake
Matt and I went for a nigh time walk along the beach, stopping to sit on a piece of driftwood to listen to the tide coming in. Soon we saw a flicker of light through the fog. We recognized it as a bonfire and made our way back up the hill to join his cousins around a blazing fire of foraged driftwood. We sat around the fire for quite sometime, talking and watching the flames, making it back to the cottage around midnight to sleep.

photo of two glasses of pink wine cheersing in the fog

Leaving New Brunswick

We woke up with sun streaming in the windows, the Bay of Fundy in view with fog nestled on the treetops. We packed our bags and Matt made coffee, which I took out onto the porch to enjoy with a bouquet of flowers as Matt updated his budget. The fog soon covered the Bay, hiding all but the trees lining the cottage garden. I washed the dishes and Matt dried while listening to Tempo on CBC Radio 2, enjoying our domestic moment.

photo of a small bouquet of flowers in a mason jar

Ha Ha Cemetery & Mary’s Point

Come noon, we packed up the convertible and drove off down the road. The fog cleared once we neared the main road, revealing a beautiful summer day fit with blue skies and cheerful, fluffy clouds. We drove down to Mary’s Point, stopping in Ha Ha Cemetery along the way.

Ha Ha Cemetery was a beautiful cemetery – quiet, private, with both shade and sun, nestled in with trees and wildflowers. Apparently it had been a lost cemetery until it was discovered when someone was clearing bush one day. I thought it to be one of the most beautiful places of rest I’d ever been.

photo of a beach covered with driftwood and debris
We drove past Mary’s Point at first. It had a Government of Canada sign out front that read “Shepody Wildlife Reserve”. We parked the car and walked down to the shore, but unfortunately there were no shorebirds in sight to enjoy. The tide was out, so the birds had plenty of land to search for food. Apparently it is best to come 2 hours before until 2 hours after high tide to get the best shorebird experience.

photo of a meadow with a covered bridge in the background

Hillsborough

Matt took me down a variety of back roads, stopping at the church his parent’s had been married in. It was a gorgeous old building in Hillsborough, now serving as a storage locker, German bakery, and medical clinic. One of the fathers of confederation, one of Matt’s ancestors, is also buried in the cemetery next to the church, which gives the church an additional layer of interest.

photo of an ice cream cone
We went to the neighbouring gas station where Matt used to get ice cream as a kid. They didn’t sell ice cream anymore, so we drove out to Momma T’s Ice Cream Shop. Matt was pleased to see they sold Northumberland ice cream, a co-op dairy. We each got two flavours of ice cream on a waffle cone, which they took their time scooping each order. However, each cone was gigantic (we ordered a small) and totalled only $6! It was an absolute bargain in comparison to Toronto where a single cone will set you back more.

Homeward bound

We got back to Matt’s parent’s house in time to pack for the plane and have a quick shower. Matt’s mom packed us a lunch for the airport with local strawberries, green beans, and homemade egg salad sandwiches with sourdough bread. His parents took us to the airport where we sat in the cafeteria to eat our sandwiches before it was time to board the plane.

Getting through security at the Moncton airport was a breeze. We flew Porter, which is always a treat. The airline served us cocktails and Terra chips on the first leg of the trip. I wrote a couple postcards and Matt settled into his podcasts after he gave me the birds eye tour of Moncton out of the plane window before we rose up above the clouds, home to Toronto.

photo of a convertible car on a country road

San Diego and the CSUN Conference

colourful condo buildings and elongated trees

Condos in downtown San Diego

Day One

Matt walked me to the CSUN conference at the Hyatt Hotel from where we were staying in Little Italy. Once registered, I scurried off to my first session. My favourites from the day were on WordPress backward compatibility and accessible PDF design. I saw a couple friends from the Canadian accessibility scene – and lots of cute guide dogs!

After the conference, I went back to the hotel where Matt and I had a disco nap before heading back out into San Diego for the night’s festivities. We had a social with accessible karaoke and networking with beer ahead of us!

blue sky and contemporary building

View above the pool at the Hyatt Hotel

San Diego was a very strange city. It looked as if everything had been built in the last 20 years, kept sanitary, and manicured. A Lyft driver told us the city had been built on a dessert – every palm tree had been placed with purpose.

Matt and I went to the Deque social in the evening, but it was loud and we both felt awkward. We then made our way down to the hotel lobby bar, Redfield’s, which I was told was the place to be, but I didn’t see anyone I know.

So, we wandered over to a park in a marina where we saw lots of small rabbits by the water. Matt pointed out constellations in the stars to me, guessing which were stars or planets. We walked up the the convention centre where locals were exercising on the steps, making our way to the Gaslamp District.

I thought I might see some friends on the patio as the Gaslamp District had been applauded at the Toronto Accessibility Meet-up. We didn’t, but found cheap tacos and $2 beers at a Mexican bar to end our night that didn’t quite go as planned, on a tasty and economical note.

My notes from Day 1 of the CSUN Conference.

open doors into an old train station

Santa Fe train station in downtown San Diego

Day Two

Matt packed me a sandwich lunch while I got ready (CSUN does not offer snacks or lunch) and walked me to the conference before parting ways to do professional networking of his own in the Los Angeles’ film industry.

My favourite talks at CSUN that day were on Accessible Maps and a discussion on diversity, focusing on Whole Food’s orange controversy. At lunch, I went and sat by the marina to eat my sandwich where I watched the boats and tourists go by. It was very relaxing to sit in the sun listening to the birds in the trees, the water lapping the rocks on the shore, and the breeze in the leaves.

After the conference, I went and sat in at the Hyatt’s bar, Redfield’s, where I was told all the good discussions happen. Unfortunately, I didn’t see anyone I knew and the Narwhal stout I decided to try was undrinkable (fizzy water with corn syrup anyone?). So, I left my full beer at the bar and wandered about outside, taking pictures of downtown San Diego until it was time for the CSUN Tweet-up.

palm trees against a sunset

Palm trees outside the Hyatt Hotel

Usually I thrive at accessibility meet-ups, but instead anxiety took over despite knowing people there. I went and sat outside for a bit, admiring the sunset behind the palm trees before going back into for Round Two of the Tweet-up. However, I felt even worse the second time that not even the prospect of free pastries or booze could entice me (two of my favourite things!). So, I wandered back to the hotel feeling like the worst human being to have passed up the best opportunity ever to hangout with the crème de la crème of my industry.

My notes from Day 2 of CSUN.

photo of a low rise condo building

Condos and office buildings in downtown San Diego

Day Three

The last day of CSUN went by very quickly. There was a live broadcast of the Viking & Lumberjack with pizza and beer. I always enjoy their performances – it’s so great to laugh about one’s own industry and shared experiences.

I went to two sessions by Adobe, both uninspiring, but had some big news dropped: Adobe is adding an undo function to Acrobat for tagging, reading order etc! No release date set yet, but this is pretty major. I made sure I had heard correctly 3 times before I tweeted out the news. It’s a game changer.

Matt returned from LA at the same time I got back to the hotel after CSUN finished. We walked up India Street to a new part of town we hadn’t explored yet. It was lined with breweries, little boutiques, and old cottages, which was a pleasant change from the overly touristy downtown core.

photo of a plane flying overhead of a patio at a bar

A plane flying above the patio at El Camino

We ended up at El Camino, a chic Mexican bar under an airline approach path. We sat on the patio and watched the planes come in while enjoying $3 and $5 Mexican food during a very happy hour(s). We had a great time! It was perfect way to cheers the end of our big feats – my time at CSUN and Matt’s trip to LA.

My notes from Day 3 of CSUN.

The Great Big List from CSUN 2016 (slides and other attendee’s notes)

photo of Nell's CSUN badge on a table

Post-conference celebrations at El Camino

Driving the Californian Coast

 Big Sur mountains and beach 
We awoke groggy and tired. Neither of us had slept well. When we went down for breakfast, CNN was showing footage of a terrorist attack on an airport in Brussels. We ate our blueberry waffles and yogurt in silence.

It was 8:30 by the time we hit the road. The drive along the coast was beautiful. Moss covered trees, cliffs, and huge waves! Big Sur was particularly beautiful and we even saw some seals a little later on. They looked like dead bodies in sacks to me.

 Big Sur mountains and beach 
As we were pressed for time to reach San Diego by nightfall, we didn’t make many stops along the way. We took the Cabrillo Highway until it ended, then continued as close to the coast as possible.

The further south we drove, the more exotic the roadside became. The scenery changed from lush, old growth forests to shrubs and palm trees, red stone cliffs to yellow stone covered in low lying wild flowers. Architecture had a distinct Spanish influence, pale yellow with red tile roofs. 

 Matt taking a photo of the ocean 
The weather remained constantly sunny, but gradually grew warmer until I could discard my spring jacket. We sang along to 80’s music, accompanied by Matt giving me rock music history lessons and answering science questions I had on passing phenomenons.
 mountain in southern california 

Once we got into Santa Barbara, the horizon was lined with oil rigs against the hazy backdrop of the Channel Islands of California. We drove through Malibu and Los Angeles (LA). We hit rush hour traffic in LA where it was stop and go for about 3 hours through a combination of diners and shops, including a thrift store that doubled as a HIV testing clinic.

The sun began to set outside of LA. The sky had hints of lavender blue, pink and orange smog over distant jagged mountains with a large, bright moon overhead. Looking back, the sky was pale blue with candy floss pink clouds. 

We arrived in San Diego around 8:30pm. Once we checked into our hotel, Urban Boutique Hotel, we went on a mission to find beer and tacos. However, everything was closing at 9pm on a Tuesday. The only place that had an open kitchen was a pasta and pizza place where we shared a plate and each had a beer. Fed and watered, we went home to bed. island off the coast of california 

San Francisco

coffee and a croissant

Matt enjoying an almond croissant at farm : table

Day One

We started off our day with breakfast at Farm : Table, a small but very popular cafe near our hostel on Nob Hill. Matt had a quiche, i had an egg and ham croissant with a Pug ‘n Honey latte, with an almond croissant to share on the sidewalk patio.

We walked all over San Francisco. The morning air was full of the scent of jasmine, the song of birds, and the rustle of leaves in the breeze of exotic trees. Our first stop was Crooked Street, a steep and windy road in a leafy residential district. Matt wanted to climb every steep road we could find and eventually we found ourself in a surreal district of billionaires’ mansions overlooking the city.

palace of fine arts

Palace of Fine Arts

 

We made our way back down to a historic fort with cute military cottages that reminded me of the Bain Co-op in Toronto. Then we went to Fisherman’s Wharf where we had our first good view of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. We walked along the water until we got to the Palace of Fine Arts, an ornate neo-classical structure overlooking a peaceful water garden.

Approaching noon, we made our way to the jazz district. Matt wanted to catch the Palm Sunday service at the Church of John Coltrane. The colourful little room was full of people playing musical instruments, singing with big smiles on their faces, all in the style off the jazz musician John Coltrane. They handed out palm leaves which everyone waved around to the music, which was fun. I enjoyed looking around at the audience – in classic Californian style, there was even a smartly dressed woman with a tiny dog in her purse!

Civic Centre in San Francisco

The Civic Centre

 

We walked past City Hall and the ornate performing arts buildings, through interesting low income housing. We stopped in a cafe my friends had recommended to have an americano and lemon square before wandering back to our hostel to nap before meeting Matt’s friend Ted for dinner.

Ted took us to Hog Island Oyster Co at the San Francisco Ferry Building. The lineup was quite long, but we had a great time chatting in the rain about Toronto food and drink destinations. We shared an oyster sampler, chicken fried oysters on waffles (Matt loves waffles), chipotle grilled oysters, and Old Bay fries. We sat on the patio overlooking the water and the ferry, cozy under a heat lamp in the rain.

 

stormy ferry dock

Bike on the ferry port near Grey’s Bridge

We finished our evening at an ice cream parlour in the Ferry Building. After tasting a couple flavours (including savoury pepper and mint), all three of us settled on bourbon and cornflakes – with Matt adding caramel-bourbon sauce to his! Then we went home to bed and CBC radio.

 

seagull on the ferry dock

Seagull outside the Ferry Building

 

Day Two

We found a small sandwich shop using Yelp for breakfast. They had great coffee, very strong – and we each had an turkey egg sandwich while reading the San Francisco Chronicle. I quite enjoyed the newspaper – interesting stories and nice layout.

 

beetle parked on a hill in front of a row of town houdes

Beetle on a residential street in San Francisco

I was really feeling in from the day before. I’m not used to so much walking. We made slow progress to the Painted Lady, ornate pastel coloured houses, then to Haight and Ashbury on our way to Golden Gate Bridge.

I loved Haight and Ashbury! I treated myself to a small Smorkin’ Labbit figurine for my kitchen and found a nice blazer at Goodwill for $7.50. I was quite pleased!

It really started to downpour once we got to Golden Gate Park. We were hoping it would be a short spurt like all the rain we encountered yesterday, but it persisted. Matt was concerned about my limp, so we took a Lyft (like Uber) back to the hostel to check out.

 

golden gate bridge at sunlight

Baker’s Beach with a view of the Golden Bridge

After checkout, we went to Sushiritto for a sushi burrito. It was very good value! We got huge sushi rolls that filled us right up. By then our car rental was ready, so we took another Lyft to Hertz.

Keys in hand, we drove our little Mitsubishi across the Golden Gate Bridge, up to Battery Spenser, and to a couple lookouts along the cliff. Battery Spenser was pretty cool – abandoned military buildings and a great view of the bridge. We also went to Fort Miley, Cliff House, and Baker Bridge. I had an exhilarating time on the beach – I’d never seen waves so big in my life! They were huge!

We hit the road around 6:00pm. We had trouble finding a cheap place to stay, eventually settling on a Super 8 Motel in Salinas. I was exhausted and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

 

look out over the ocean at Cliff House

Lookout by the Cliff House

 

And now, to San Francisco!

photo of San Fransisco from above

UP & Airports

Matt and I took the UP Express for the first time which was exciting. For $9 with our Presto card, we got to Pearson in 25 minutes! I’d refused to pay the exorbitant price they were charging before the price drop – this felt like a real treat!

We left Toronto on a 8:30am United Airlines flight to Denver, which I spent devouring the book Station Eleven. We got to Denver early, but our connecting flight for San Francisco (SF) was delayed by 5 hours, which was a real pain as we’d paid extra to get a morning flight to SF. We stood on standby and were fortunate to get two seats on the 3:30 flight.

The flight to San Francisco was pretty spectacular. I started to watch the Sleeping Beauty, an Australian drama that had been on my ‘To Watch’ list for awhile, but the Rockies were so beautiful! Mountains covered with grey trees that looked like muddy magnetic sand in the snow, the creases and folds of the mountains as we ascended, the shadows, winding rivers and roads. I love seeing the world from above.

photo of clouds and mountains as see from an airplane window

Arrival in SF

Once we arrived in San Francisco, adrenaline took over and we giddily made our way downtown. A very helpful transit rep showed us how to use the BART ticket machines, knowledge we passed onto two European tourists who were also scratching their head at the screen.

We got off at Powell Station and upon surfacing, I was in bewilderment of the opulence, grandeur, and European vibe of downtown San Fransico! It was unlike any American city I’d been before.
ice on the window of an airplane

Hostel & Dinner

We dropped our bags at the Hub, an Airbnb hostel, did a bed bug check, then when in search of dinner. I felt very under dressed in SF in my jeans and black t-shirt. Everyone looked amazing! I was in constant awe of the people, the buildings, and the endless array of high-end boutiques. There were palm trees, flowers that matched their planters, and brightly coloured buildings. This place is awesome!

flowera for sale at Union Square

A friend of Matt’s had enjoyed a sushi-burrito in SF a couple days go, so we decided to go in search of Sushiritto. Unfortunately they were closed. Apparently a lot of restaurants are closed in this area on weekends.

We settled on a quaint little Italian restaurant with a bright red awning, white table cloths, and high ceilings. I had pasta topped with crab meat and Matt had mushroom pizza. We walked over to a nearby Ghirardelli where we shared a salted chocolate caramel sundae with a brownie. We were both in food coma after, so wandered back to our accommodation.

neon light signs outside an old parking garage

Matt got out the map and started planning out our day tomorrow. I curled up in bed, listening to the sounds of the street outside. Tomorrow will be a grand adventure!

NYE in NYC

birds eye view of 46th street, New York City

First morning in NYC

We woke up around 9am. We put on CBC Radio 2 on the hotel room’s Bluetooth radio and lounged around for a while before showering, listening to classical music. It took awhile for the water to heat up in the shower, and operating the shower was a bit of a trial, but after much squeals from unexpected cold water, I eventually figured it out.

Gregory’s Coffee

We started our day proper at Gregory’s Coffee, which was next door to our hotel, the Gotham. It had the best coffee in all of NYC, according to Yelp. I instantly gravitated towards the Cinnamon Blowout buns, then saw delicious smooth and granola bowls – we got one of each! I ordered a red eye and Matt had a black eye (double shot of espresso). The staff were pretty miserable, but the coffee was good!

Prep for NYE

Fueled up, we went out to run errands and scope out Times Square. The most important errand was picking up champagne for back at the hotel after the Ball Drop. I always enjoy going to liquor stores in other countries – the selection is always different than back home.

The prices, even in USD, were more than back home! Usually American booze is cheaper, but then everything seems more expensive in NYC!

We picked up a half bottle of Veuve Clicquot and the salesperson helped us pick out a wine. We got a NY white and took it back to the hotel to chill. We layered up, packed our day-packs, said goodbye to the cozy hotel room and headed to Times Square.

bottle of champagne on a balcony overlooking downtown New York

Times Square Take One

We headed to Times Square around 2:00 and after consulting a couple friendly NYPD officers, got to the front of the line at the 7th and 48th pen fairly easy. Sadly, we got turned away because our day-packs were too large. This was annoying as they were the size of a medium purse, with a shoulder strap – not a backpack! The Times Square website had said no backpacks or large bags – ours were neither! So, we headed back to the hotel.

We unloaded our day-packs to our coat pockets, and headed out again. We stopped in a diner on our way back, ordering mac ‘n cheese with a side of fried eggplant to share. It felt like a NYC experience – one of those makeshift salad bar/deli/pizza/hot buffet spots nestled between skyscrapers. Dinner cost us $8 too!

a crowd of people waiting in Times Square

Times Square Take Two

When we returned to Times Square at 3:00, it was much harder to get in. A lot of streets were already shut down. However, we managed to get ourselves down to 49 and 7th by following the crowd and weaving through the masses.

It didn’t take long to get in the pen. The police officers were friendly and cracking jokes with the spectators. I didn’t get checked, which surprised me, especially since I had my fur muff with me! Somehow, plenty of people in our pen had big backpacks too!

We settled in against the fence in front of Ray’s Pizza on 7th at 49th. This provided much entertainment as there were salespeople coming out of Ray’s selling cheese pizza for $25 and hot chocolate for $5. Unfortunately, there were no washrooms.

crowds of people in Times Square for New Years Eve

NYE in Times Square

It cooled down once the sun went down. I was glad we wore extra layers, however soon the cold got to our toes and fingers. We danced around and cuddled to keep warm. Fortunately, one of the event sponsors was handing out purple hats. Matt went on a mission to find two for us, aided by a kind neighbour who grabbed us two when they were handed out. The purple hats covered our ears, which was an improvement over my beret.

The stage was hidden from our view, but the NYE concert was being broadcasted on a small screen below the Ball. We couldn’t hear either. They really should have a live captioner at the event – we could barely hear a thing down at 49th Street! Real-time captioning, porta potties, and trash/recycling bins – that’s what they need for next year according to my books!

Somehow, I had gotten it in my mind that the ball would drop and smash into a billion pieces at midnight. Unfortunately (but for good reasons) this was not the case. The LED ball just dropped, accompanied by a million people and 6,000 cops counting down together as numbers appeared on a big screen overhead. The air was full of confetti, like colourful snow. Matt and I kissed, took pictures and video footage of the festivities, then headed back to our hotel.

After ‘Party’

It was surprisingly easy to get out of Times Square. We were back at our hotel by 12:30, including a stop at a street vendor for a chili dog and pretzel. Even a car crash didn’t deter our progress home – although Matt did stop to take a picture. It had a very cool accessibility icon after all (fellow #a11y enthusiasts check out the waving International Symbol of Access on the upper rear!).

accessible New York taxi after a minor crash on New Years Eve

Even at 5th and 46th street, confetti had made its way onto our suite balcony. Matt opened a bottle of champagne and we sat outside, amazed that we had survived the evening – 9 hours of crowds, cold, no water, or needing to use the washroom! That’s pretty damn impressive! I’m still amazed we made it through, relatively comfortably too! Go us! Yeah!

Brain Tracking, Psycho, and a Pig’s Head

I’ve always loved Halloween: the macabre, the colour, the scents and sounds of autumn. When I think “Halloween” the image of  sinister jack-o-lanterns, crows, and yellow leaves come to mind. This year, the holiday featured a different kind of delight: headwear that tracks your brain waves, a screening of Psycho accompanied by a live orchestra, and a dance party with a talking pig’s head, where you could sign-up for your own funeral.

People standing in an alley, looking at the buildings

Psychology on the Street walking tour

Psychology on the Street

The holiday fell on a Saturday this year and it took no time to fill up with festivities.  I started my day at the Urbanspace Gallery at 401 Richmond for Psychology on the Street. Since the summer, I’ve been fascinated by how urban design affects our day-to-day well-being. Combine that with my love of assistive technology and new gadgets, and you have one happy Nell. This walk promised to do both.

The walk was part of a university study on how different urban environments affect our state of mind. Each participant at the gallery was given a Muse electroencephalogram (EEG) headset and a smartphone with a tailor-made app for the study. My master’s thesis had been on eye-controlled technology when brain-control technology was coming onto the consumer market. I was ecstatic to finally  handle a Muse headband.

Muse headsets in hard cases on the floor

Muse headbands

The headband felt delicate in my hand and took some time to position correctly on my head. We calibrated it through thinking and association exercises, followed by playing some games on the phone app were were provided. Once we were all set-up, we were guided through the neighbourhood, stopping at specific locations to observe and perform tasks on the app. Tasks included rating out emotional response to the environment on a scale 1 to 5, word association, and occasional number games on the phone.

I found myself wondering how the study would reflect different perceptions of space. For example, one alley screamed “Photoshoot!” to me, while the Art Deco typeface used on an otherwise bland building captivated my attention during our minute of silent observation. How did our life experiences and professions affect our perceptions?

After the walk, we handed in our headsets and phones. The principal investigator gave a short spiel on the study. It wasn’t anything new really, having read the information boards in the gallery and listened to the feature Spark on CBC did a couple weeks back. I looked longingly at the galvanic skin response sensors we hadn’t got to use, and left.

Psycho

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho is a classic! My first introduction to Psycho had been a Royal Canadian Air Farce parody with a Furby, but when I saw the actual film later in life, a shower was never the same… Combine it with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and you have the perfect Halloween date!

I dressed up as a dark angel with black wings, a vamp dress, and my heel-less heeled boots. Matt wore costume make-up and ghoulish contact lenses, turning into a very handsome zombie. The theatre was full of people in costume,  including the symphony. One of the members was even dressed up as an actual shower – genius!

I had forgotten much of the film’s story and became totally engrossed in the film. We had excellent seats from which we could comfortably see both the screen and the orchestra below. Matt pointed out that it was all strings – no wind, brass, or percussion. I had never noticed that in the music before.

It was fantastic!

Dark stairwell lit by red lights

Eerie entrance to Ghost Hole

Ghost Hole

After the show, I met up with some friends at Ghost Hole, a Halloween party at the Jam Factory. The place was packed! I had difficulty navigating the crowds with my wings on, but everyone else had such elaborate costumes on that it didn’t matter.

There were abstract projections on the screen, sound art, and a band that reminded me of the Flying Lizards. At the door was a bloody ghost dancing next to a pig’s head mounted on the wall. Caitlin urged me to go talk to the pig. I was resistant at first, but was glad once she convinced me as it was highlight of the event for me! Once I approached, the ghost handed me a headset and directed me towards a mic between the pig’s teeth. The pig and I had then had a short but delightful conversation about the meaning of life, which according to the pig, was bacon!

My friends had signed up by SMS to have their funeral that evening. This involved being lead into a private room with a funeral director and an organist. The director had quick words with the ‘deceased’ before leading them to a child’s coffin. She would then make-up on the spot a hilarious speech based on whatever the deceased had isolated as her passions. This was followed by strobe lights and a masked devil jumping out from behind the curtains. It amused us every time!

I didn’t stay late as I was quite tired from a week of 5am wake-up calls. So, I took the bus home in the rain and curled up in bed. It had been a wonderful day! Perhaps the best Halloween since I paraded the streets with a pillowcase of candy as a child!