Sunday, October 31, 2010

San Diego Comic Con 2010: Episode XII

Cast members of Glee

On Sunday, the final day of Comic Con began with Ballroom 20. Here, we saw Smallville (which was particularly special as this was the final season), Supernatural, American Dad, and Glee! Each of the panels was great, and while I am not a huge fan of Smallville or Supernatural, it was a real treat to sit there with a couple of thousand people who were screaming and vibrating over how excited they were for these shows. It made it just that much more memorable!
Like minded individual!

Following the Sunday panel, which was the last of the convention, we moseyed over to the swag room. The place was located outside the convention center at the Marriott down the street north from the convention center. On a side note, the San Diego Comic Con was being filmed that year by Morgan Spurlock for his next documentary, tentatively entitled: Comic Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope. I mention this because as we were walking through the Marriott we came across a room with multiple signs stating that filming and editing was in process in that area, so those walking past were to remain quiet. We were already aware that Spurlock was filming and although we remained vigilant we never did see him, but perhaps saw his film crews on a multiple occasions. Getting back to the swag room, we walked through a maze inside the Marriott and finally came to a small room where people were lined up against the wall with boxes of free swag behind them. Throughout the convention tickets were provided at random panels. These were not given to everyone either as they were limited. I had wanted to redeem the tickets earlier as the swag was a first-come-first-served basis and they did not have enough for everyone with a ticket. As the room closes at around 5, and it was located away from the convention center, we decided to wait till the last day when we would not miss too much while retrieving our swag. This is probably the best decision as you do not attend Comic Con for the swag but instead for the experience of panels and whatnot. What we got reaffirmed our initial suspicions of the swag as well. We figured the swag would probably consist of buttons and posters, and we were not disappointed. The buttons were cool but would not have been worth missing a panel for. I met some people that were obsessed with the swag, but it can be difficult to find the spots where it is given out, and sometimes the swag is given to you directly. Some of this swag is supposed to be pretty sweet. Not mentioned earlier was that previous to Guillermo del Toro taking stage, I had been given a card with ‘999’ printed on it. This card was to be redeemed for a limited edition print of the Haunted Mansion, a movie to be directed by Toro, and it would be autographed by the man himself when you arrived to pick it up. However, the rub is that they do not say what these cards or tickets are for. You do not find this out until you redeem them. I am glad I stayed in the panel as there were a lot of celebrities that I got to see, but the poster and meet with Toro would have also been nice. The point is that you have to decide what you want and realize that the ticket or card could be for something like a cheap poster or button, or an exclusive meet and greet, although if you receive a card that no one else around you was given, then it might be for something much more than a button and worthwhile going to.

Warner Bros. area on the
main hall floor.

The main floor remained open when the panels ended. This is a great time to walk around and visit the vendors you may have walked past previously. There are many deals to be had with the end of the convention as the vendors would rather sell their stuff cheap than have to transport it back to where it came from. The downside is that many of the comic creators have either already left or are incredibly tired of a busy 4-5 days. If you know of a few vendors that had wares that previously piqued your interest, go there sometime around 1-2 hours remaining in the day and make them an offer. I made off with a few good deals, but it was a mad house, so beware. The best deal was to be found at the Dark Horse Comics booth where they gave away all of their single issue comics away for free and everything else was 50% off.

On a somewhat separate note, do not try to carry too many things in the free bag Comic Con gives you when first picking up your passes. The shoulder bag may appear large, but the straps are NOT strong. As I had grabbed a metric ass-load (yes, that is a measurement) of comics and stashed them in the shoulder bag, it quickly broke when exiting the convention center. Make sure to bring a more trustworthy messenger bag or back pack. Especially one with a number of pockets that can be used for food, drinks, and keeping certain things separate like comics from pointy toys!

Finally, over the speakers came a resigned voice stating that the Comic Con 2010 was over. It was amazing to be in a giant building with thousands and thousands of like minded individuals around you that all moaned simultaneously. Despite this, everyone remained courteous, though there were a few exceptions of people frantically trying to buy up various pieces of merchandize. My wife and I slowly exited the building, and although I was sad, I was also completely content with the fact that I finally made it to the San Diego Comic Con. It is the world’s largest comic book convention, and has grown into more of a cornucopia of pop culture, catering to those who have cherished what is deemed geeky and unfashionable, but has recently become trendy with TV shows like the Big Bang Theory. My final comment and recommendation for anyone going to Comic Con is that enter those doors knowing that you will not experience everything, but be content with what you do experience. This is one of the truly magnificent features of the convention; everyone has a truly unique experience no matter what panel you go to, what event you score tickets to, who you may run into, or what you may buy. However that being said, make sure to experience as much as you can!
Comic Con was everywhere! Even a
statue got into it!

San Diego Comic Con 2010: Episode XI

Stan Lee at San Diego
Comic Con 2010

Saturday is the last day for most of the big panels, and the last full day of the convention. We again stood in line for Ballroom 20, and again we attended only the first half of the day’s panels so that we could explore other areas of the convention. For this morning we saw the panels, and full casts, for Chuck, Family Guy, The Cleveland Show, Futurama, and The Simpsons. Chuck was great, and the cartoon panels had script reads of upcoming episodes by the cast members. This was something wholly unexpected and a highlight of the day, especially with Seth McFarlane singing in the voice of Stewie from Family Guy. 

After leaving Ballroom 20 on Saturday, we explored the main hall, running into Danny Devito, Stan Lee, and having a photo taken with the incredibly friendly Jason Mewes –despite his abandonment by his handler and deep need to escape for a cigarette. After a failed attempt to meet Val Kilmer (who did not show up for his appointed meet and greet time), we decided to tempt fate and wait in line to enter Hall H to see Kevin Smith’s comedy panel and a few movie panels (including the Avengers). While waiting in line we discovered that someone was stabbed in the eye inside Hall H for yelling “Resident Evil sucks”; note, this is a rarity and Comic Con should not be thought of as ‘unsafe’. As it seemed that the Hall would be closed for the day we decided to walk over to the Indigo Room to see a screening of Cop Out, introduced by Kevin Smith (in person) following his comedy panel.As it later turned out, Hall H was not closed but even though we waited numerous hours to enter Cop Out, it gave us a well needed rest and guaranteed us front row seats. Additionally, when I had left the line-up I rode the escalator up with Joss Whedon who was returning from his announcement that he would direct The Avengers movie! It was a moment of awe, surpassed only by the priceless moments where we sat a few feet away from Kevin Smith, one of my favorite directors. The movie did not get out till very late and while walking back to the hotel we ran into Matthew Lillard (of the Scream movie fame) and Cassidy Freeman (from Smalliville fame). As every night on our trip to San Diego, we ended it with broad smiles!

San Diego Comic Con 2010: Episode IX

Barenaked Ladies performing the theme
song to The Big Bang Theory, just prior
to the cast arriving to the panel.

The other three days of Comic Con went much like the first, filled with a crazy cacophony of pop culture entertainment. On Friday we went to Ballroom 20, which is the second largest room. There, TV show panels were put on, unlike Hall H that presents panels about upcoming movies. Ballroom 20, on Friday, included the casts of Stargate Universe, Caprica, and The Big Bang Theory. There were other panels too, but we only stayed for these first three. Big Bang was, in particular, great as it began with the Barenaked Ladies performing the TV show’s theme song. In retrospect we should have stayed in the room, but we were compelled to experience what else the convention had to offer. Unfortunately, we intended to meet the cast of the Big Bang Theory at the Warner Bros. booth. This was the most unorganized and chaotic booth on the main floor. I do not recommend trying to go there as for us our experience included waiting around for an hour wondering where the line began, only to discover the line was somewhere else. Other booths, such as the other TV station booths (ABC, NBC, FOX, etc), were much more organized and had well marked lineups for meeting the celebrities and someone who stood at the back of the line with a sign denoting if the line was full or not. Despite this, we did get to see Anna Paquin from True Blood as she walked past us to enter the Warner Bros. area to sign autographs.

The rest of Friday was not a bust. We walked around the floor checking out all the vendors. The hall is huge and cannot be done quickly. We focused on the comic book creators that were there and found one of our favorite artists /writers: David Mack. After the convention had ended for the day we headed outside into the ever-exciting Gaslamp District where we headed for the Broken Yoke. This is a great little breakfast place that is open late. The prices are affordable and located close to the convention center (between J and K street on 6th Ave.). As an added bonus, most of the restaurants are to be found on 5th Ave, so while this place is close not many people were there because the mobs stuck to 5th. 

San Diego Comic Con 2010: Episode VIII

Line for Hall H.
Day one of Comic Con began with a bang! Well, not literally. We woke up early and hustled our way out the door, debating on whether to walk or take one of the shuttle busses that the Con provides free of charge (there are multiple busses that pick guests up at a spot near or at their hotel and bring them to the convention center, and then can be picked up again at the convention center to be brought back). We opted for walking as the busses unfortunately do not run all that early, and if you want a good spot in a line you should probably find your own way there. It was a pleasant walk despite it being so early, and it gave us an opportunity to buy a coffee. This is important, as if you are a coffee drinker it is difficult to buy coffee (nonetheless good or cheap coffee) once you are at the convention center. Furthermore, the first few hours of each morning at the Con are spent in a line. You cannot buy food or drinks while in line as most things are still closed, so it is best to pick something up that morning or the night before. Thankfully there is a Starbucks located in the Gaslamp along 5th Ave, which is the main street you want to walk towards the convention center if you are staying at a hotel in the downtown area.

The line for the Thursday morning was not all that bad. We had heard horror stories of the line ups, especially for the main hall that we were in line for on that morning –Hall H. We soon realized that this was from the previous year’s Twilight panel. As none of the actors from that movie were there in 2010, the line ups were not so bad. It was made that much more pleasant because of the people around us. We befriended a few people standing in line with us and talked to each other over the next few hours. It was great as these people were not only friendly and shared mutual interests, but they had attended Comic Con before and were able to give us advice on what to expect. That is one of the key features of Comic Con; the people standing in line with you tend to be super friendly and will always have sage advice on how to maximize your fun!

Paulie Shore at the
San Diego Comic Con!
As I’ve already said, the line ups were not too bad. As the line began to move we saw Paulie Shore doing an interview for some new talk show. He went around interviewing various people that were waiting in line and as he did so someone farther back in the line started yelling out the names of the movies he’s been in: Biodome! Stepson! Etc etc. Definitely a cool moment.

Inside Hall H.

Once inside Hall H we were struck by the enormity of the room. Hall H holds over 6,500 people. The seats are arranged into large square groupings with even larger screens hung from the ceiling at multiple locations so that no matter where you are seated you can still see the action! Not only do these screens show what is happening on the big stage at the back of the Hall, but they also show the clips and trailers for the movies that the guests are promoting. When first entering the room, a line of people giving out swag bags great you. Make sure to take what they have as many times there are special tickets inserted into random bags (these tickets get you into the events happening throughout the downtown area I had mentioned in the previous post).

We had found ourselves two seats with a decent view, but not exactly close to the stage. Roughly 1/2 way to 1/3 up to the stage was where we sat. This is something to remember: do not fool yourself into thinking you will get prime seats in Hall H. There are thousands of other people thinking the exact same thing! Many of the sections close to the front are also reserved for special attendees and press, making it that much more difficult to obtain prime seats. Despite the fact you may not get a great seat, you will still be able to enjoy the event(s) as the screens will show you everything that is going on up front, not to mention that the guests have mikes. 

Michael Cera dressed up
Captain America.

We decided to stay in Hall H all day as there were just too many great panels happening! We did not leave our seats until the panels had finished at around 5 pm. As a bonus, there are bathrooms and a food /drink vendor in the Hall. It extremely difficult to get back into Hall H once you leave the room, so you have to make that commitment that if you leave, you will probably not get back in since the line up does grow longer throughout the day and that there are many other people like my wife and I who decided to not leave at all! So why didn’t we leave? Well, the panels were amazing and included cast members from: Megamind (Will Ferrell, Tina Fey, and Jonah Hill), Tron (full cast),  Battle Los Angeles (Aaron Eckhart and Michelle Rodriguez), Salt (Angelina Jolie and Liev Schreiber), RED (Bruce Willis, Helen Mirin (who, as always a class act, walked out wearing a Harvey Pekar shirt, who had just passed away), Mary-Louise Parker, and Karl Urban), J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon discussion (both were there!), The Expendables (Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Terry Crews, and Randy Couture), and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (full cast including Michael Cera, Kieren Culkin, Anna Kendrick, Chris Evans, Brandon Routh (Superman!),  and Jason Schwartzman). OK, so that was an impressive list of names right? Well, as my posts about Comic Con have already been INCREDIBLY LONG, I will not go into detail about these panels, except that everyone listed above and more were there! It was amazing to here the stories of how the movies were made, what the stars thought of the movies, and other side stories they had –Stallone was the best for this. In addition, other stars just randomly showed up, like acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro, Simon Peg, Nick Frost, and more! One final note though, each panel is hosted by an individual that is often of some relation or importance in the entertainment industry or Comic Con. While I did not recognize all of the people hosting the panels, I did recognize that The Expendables panel was hosted by Harr Knowles of! Aint that cool!

Another quick note about the day in Hall H was that the Tron panel became interactive! The director announced that they still needed some audio for the movie, so on the sayings were shown on the screen in which the audience was supposed to repeat. These sayings (and stomps and claps) were the sound of an audience cheering and jeering were to be used in a race scene from the Tron movie. 

As we left Hall H we were immediately introduced to the blaring sun and throngs of people moving left and right past the building. We decided to look at our maps and figure our what we wanted to do. The downside to attending a panel all day is that there is little else occurring at the convention center specifically, and the main hall floor is already closed. So as we stood there we saw a few guys rushing past us. We quickly realized that Nick Frost was whom the guys were rushing towards! We followed suit and asked for a photograph, and he politely said yes even though the gentlemen escorting him around said he did not have time. It was great, and made even better with just how friendly Nick Frost was! It was a great almost end to the day!
My wife & I with Nick Frost
We left the convention center after our run-in with Nick Frost and sought food in the Gaslamp district. We walked around looking at all the events occurring in the area, and ran into Bill Duke who played Mack in the movie Predator! It was absolutely awesome as I am huge Schwarzenegger fan and this is probably as close as I’ll ever get to meet him, not to mention that Bill Duke’s character was one of my favorites from the movie. Bill Duke, much like Frost, was incredible nice and kind enough to have a photo taken with me. I grinned from ear to ear for the rest of the day!
Me and Bill Duke!

San Diego Comic Con 2010: Episode VII

Day four is when Comic Con really started heating up. The anticipation was palpable! People began pouring into the city and our hotel was brimming to capacity with nerds. This was to be a lazy day as the next four would be packed with pop culture excitement! For this day, we planned to pick up our four-day passes and to take a slow walk around the convention center to figure out where everything was, including where to go for entering the convention the next morning.

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System is great. It is reasonably priced and runs frequently. You can either buy a ticket pass /booklet at one of the Transit stores (one was located next to The Sofia) or pay at the platform; we opted for paying at the platform. The ticket pick-up for four-day ticket holders was located at a hotel that was a fair distance away from downtown but conveniently next to one of the train stations. This was also a hotel listed on the Con website, which I would not recommend staying at since you would need to take the train downtown, but it does not run early enough to get a good place in the morning line-ups. Regardless, we walked over to the hotel and picked up passes. Upon arriving there we saw a few hundred people forming a line into the hotel. At first thought it appeared it would take a long time to obtain our passes, but in fact it took maybe 30 minutes! Further, Comic Con said the tickets would not be available till around 1 pm, but this was not to be the case. Instead, they opened much earlier and by the time we arrived at around 11 am, they were already handing out the passes.

Comic Con badge with
free swag buttons!
Comic Con is incredibly organized. They need to be due to the sheer volume of people they are taking care of, but nonetheless do an outstanding job. The line for picking up 4-day passes moved incredibly fast and there were three areas you went through: first area to line people up and make sure that there is not too many people in the main areas picking up their passes, a second area to give them your information and they provided you with a badge, and a third area to obtain your free Comic Con bag, books, and free swag! This was great and I highly recommend this procedure to be adopted by any large comic convention. 

Once we had our passes in hand I could not stop grinning. I truly could not believe this was actually happening! We boarded the train to head back to the downtown area, along with a handful of other equally large-grinned individuals who clutched their free Comic Con bag and badge. We rode the train to the convention center and saw thousands of people breaking like a wave against the convention center. People were lining up for events happening the next day, and some were entering the building to take advantage of the Preview Night. If I have not mentioned it yet, you MUST take advantage of this. Do not wait to purchase your tickets and instead buy them as soon as possible with the Preview Night. As we found out later, there is not that much happening on that night but it offers you a chance to walk around the convention floor when there are not as many people and you do not feel torn about missing a panel. If this is your first time attending, the Preview Night also allows you to get your bearings. You can walk around the floor and see what there is and then know where you would like to go later on during the next four days; trust me, the main hall floor is massive and many of the booths offer different events each day, sometimes each hour! We instead spent a lot of time walking around the crowded floor wondering where everything was and what we should be doing; all of which can be avoided. It is also important to spend your time wisely. Yes, four days may sound long, but as there is so much to do it goes by very quickly. If you can figure out what you want to do, when and where it is, then you will definitely have a much more enjoyable time and be able to do more things as you won’t be wasting time trying to figure out which of the awesome events you want to partake in.

Train signs in Klingon!
Moving on. From the convention center we walked into the downtown area. The city was alive and vibrant. The street signs on the train platforms were written in Klingon and there were massive banners that advertised TV shows and movies adorning the faces of the largest offices and hotels. The street was filled with people dressed up, wearing Comic Con bags, and other people handing out free swag and promoting their upcoming panels for TV shows and movies. As the movie Green Hornet was in production then, the car from the movie set was brought in and people could take their photo next to it. The place was electric!

Aaron Douglas
After taking the scene in, we decided we needed food and a drink. We decided on a fish place, called The Tin Fish, that was across the street from the convention center and in the middle of the horde of nerds. The food was excellent, cheap, and fast! We sat on the patio and ate while watching the comings and goings of those around us. Furthermore, while standing in line to order the food I realized that none other than Aaron Douglas, the Canadian actor who played Chief Galen Tyrol from Battlestar Galactica was standing right in front of me. While I did not say hi, it was a very cool moment. It reinforced the fact that YES I am at Comic Con!

With our bellies full we slowly strolled through the Gaslamp District, heading towards our hotel and quickly going to bed as we would be waking early the next day. The District is where all the ‘extra’ events occur for Comic Con. It is also where most of the celebrities and visitors go. The stores and restaurants stay open later during the convention and it is truly worthwhile to walk along the downtown streets taking in the crowds and events. While you may not have access to all the events (many are by admittance through receiving special tickets during Comic Con, handed out at various locations and times), it is nonetheless fun to walk around and see what is happening from the outside. For instance Flynn’s Arcade was a place promoting the upcoming Tron movie. While we did not have passes, it was still great to see the neon sign and what they had done to the building to promote the movie. 

Sunday, October 24, 2010

San Diego Comic Con 2010: Episode VI

Wednesday was a day of shopping. Michelle, my wife, wanted to visit a few stores not found back at home in Calgary, Alberta. So we ventured out from the hotel, waking up early to take advantage of the day. We figured we would head to a few malls that we wouldn’t have a chance of visiting during the rest of the vacation due to Comic Con.

To be frank, the mall we visited was a bit of a bust. There were a few stores that she enjoyed looking around in, but the place was pretty quiet and didn’t have too much in the way of attention grabbing attractions. The mall was also not too interesting in the way it was laid out. It was your typical mall. However, it did have a Target (though its better days had passed it by) where it was selling comic style t-shirts; I picked up Star Wars and Ghost Busters shirts, and Michelle picked up a “I Love Nerds” shirt. Following the trip around the mall, we stopped by another mall that was on the way back to downtown and located just off the train tracks. We wondered around a bit but began thinking we should reserve our energy for the next few days. This would prove key and highly recommended to those attending Comic Con. Make sure to have at least one day of low-key adventure before the Con begins. You will find that each day at the Con requires substantial endurance! Also, getting one good night’s sleep before the Con is also essential. In all likelihood, you will be out from 6am to at least 11pm everyday of the Con. There is plenty to do, be it going to the downtown bars or attending late night film screenings, you will want to take advantage of whatever is going on, and with that being up late everyday and running on very little sleep. 

Gaslamp District
 Once we returned to the hotel we dropped off our stuff and headed back out to the Gaslamp district. We were in search of food, and in that we located a Planet Hollywood. I was cynical of the place as I had vowed to eat nothing but freshly made local food with a Mexican flair. This would not always pan out for me, and as Michelle desperately wanted to go to a Planet Hollywood, I budged. It turned out to be a good choice as it did not take long to be served and the food was exceptional. However, one thing to keep in mind about America is that they like to serve medium-rare hamburger. I had ordered a burger (which was delicious) but constantly wondered if I was going to regret eating it a few hours later! That did not turn out to be the case, and instead it was a wonderful evening to another great day in San Diego. The next would prove to be even more eventful as the San Diego Comic Con Preview Night would take place!

san Diego Comic Con 2010: Episode V

At the San Diego Zoo, we walked past many of the animals but paid special attention to those we were most interested in. As I am an archaeologist and have studied primates to some degree, I was most interested in the primate sections. Michelle sought the ‘cute’ animals, such as the pandas and koalas. We walked to the far end of the zoo and found ourselves quite depleted of energy, as much of the park is a series of hills. Fortunately, there are escalators on some of the steeper hills (image upper left). There is also a gondola ride that takes you from one end of the park to the other (image upper right). The gondola ride seems like a romantic way to oversee the park, but when you are two scaredy-cats like us, it may not be so romantic. It brings you up what seems to be 100’s of feet off the ground and gently sways side to side, along with an occasional jarring bump. The wind was picking-up speed and becoming increasingly colder. As we sat in this off-the-ground-prison I began to think of how a strong wind could easily push the cart around and perhaps off the cable it was sinuously attached to. Michelle’s face had become white the moment we entered the cart and her grip became increasingly firm on the cart’s sides -I was no  different. Upon exiting the cart we decided we would never do that again, but it did give us a nice view of the park no matter how frightening it was for us!

One of the more spectacular exhibits was that of the Panda’s. Michelle dearly wanted to see them, and upon approaching the exhibit we saw that there was a line-up. Visitors had to line-up and enter the facility in a single file. There was to be no stopping while in the area as the staff tried to make sure that everyone would get through. As this was a weekday during the summertime, the line was long but not too bad. It took about 20 minutes to enter the facility and we spent another 20 minutes inside looking at the pandas. I think Michelle took about 50 photographs while we were in there as two of the pandas were moving about. Once we exited the facility we saw that the line was much shorter, and we went in again. In total, we went through the facility three times and each time was as special as the first for Michelle. I had to admit though, the pandas were pretty cool to see.

As the day wore down and night approached, we worked our way towards the front gates. The list of animals we saw is too long to list, but trust me that it was a lot! The enclosures at the San Diego zoo are amazing and very well kept. Even though the zoo was first opened in 1915, you would instead think it was built only a few years ago. 

 At night the zoo takes on a wholly different atmosphere. Lights of various color turn on across the park. It becomes more romantic and exotic with the sounds of tigers roaming about. The attendance at the park also drops, so we began to feel a little more private about our walk through the park. Before finally leaving we stopped by the gift store and purchased a zoo mug that had an image of one of the pandas –we try to pick up coffee mugs from wherever we go even though we ran out of room for them in our cupboards a long time ago. We left the zoo complex and decided we would again take a cab ride back. To the side of the main entrance was a collection of cabs. By the time we reached our hotel it was quite late and we were hungry as our last meal had not been for hours and consisted of the re-heated, previously frozen chunks of semi-identifiable food. Perhaps not our best judgment call, we decided to walk to the Pizza Hut that was on the corner of the Grey Hound station attached to the hotel. The pizza was cheap, warm, and enjoyably tasty. We sat in our room, stretching our calves and bemoaning the condition of our sore feet while engorging ourselves with greasy pizza. That night we slept satisfied with the past two days of vacation, ending again on a high note.

San Diego Comic Con 2010: Episode IV

Day two in San Diego was centered around visiting the local Zoo. An average zoo, such as the one back home in Calgary would require about 5 hours to walk about, although I feel that many more hours than that are needed to fully see the zoo. Nonetheless, the San Diego zoo is massive, being 107 acres in size. Built in 1915, the zoo now has over 4000 animals comfortably living within its borders that represent 800 different species. This is also one of the very few zoos in the world that houses pandas, which were a particular draw for my wife.

We didn’t have to go to out for breakfast that morning since we purchased groceries the night before. We woke up early and Michelle showered and got ready for the day while I packed the backpack for our trip: various snacks and batteries for the camera, along with a map of San Diego. We debated about taking transit to the zoo but opted instead for a cab. The cab ride was about $15 round trip, which was cheaper than purchasing a day pass for the transit. The cab ride was much faster than the transit, plus we didn’t have to worry about catching the correct bus. As we were staying at a hotel in the downtown area, there were always cabs outside, albeit primarily there waiting for people to exit the Greyhound station next door.

The ride to the San Diego zoo was quite fast. We exited the cab at the front gates and found that even though it was still early in the morning, around 9 am, there was a large group of people waiting to enter the zoo. There were a few summer school groups there, a number of other people likely taking the day off from work to take their kids, and other people much like us who were visitors to the area. While waiting in line we again met another friendly San Diego’ite (or whatever you call the native people of San Diego). He was with his son and spoke to us about how great the zoo is and how they were to visit Lego Land the following day.

The San Diego Zoo is a massive place. It can easily take a day to walk through the complex, but this would do it no justice as you would have to walk briskly past almost every enclosure. We decided to walk a counter-clockwise route and take advantage of the daylong trip. The morning weather was nice, but not exactly summer-like. As the day wore on it became increasingly cooler, and as we were wearing shorts and no jacket, we soon began to shiver.
Panda bear at the
San Diego Zoo

We forgot that we had packed snacks for the day. We bought food from a few of the vendors, where it was found to be re-heated previously frozen chunks of what might pass for food if you were trapped on a desert island. Not exactly appetizing and I do not recommend it. Water was also not something easily obtained, and when it was found it cost about $4. We opted instead for the more hideously satisfying fountain beverages, where you could buy one large cup with a gaudy plastic animal lid. The cup held about 1 litre of pop and could be refilled at no extra charge, which sounded like the most rationale choice even though the thing cost over $10. Nonetheless, I would recommend buying one of these if you forget to bring a water bottle, which we had. Also, even though the food was marginal at best, it did satisfy our hunger and didn’t empty our pocket books too much

San Diego Comic Con 2010: Episode III

Comic Con banners in
 downtown San Diego.

With the bags unpacked we ventured out from our hotel. We took a stroll down to the Gaslamp district for some shopping, supper, and to pick up some groceries. While leaving the hotel we could see Comic Con 2010 banners hung from the streetlights. These were set up throughout the city, increasing my excitement a hundred fold; the banners promoted the upcoming Tron movie. Not only were there banners, but there were also signs in almost every storefront window. These signs said that the merchants were supporting the convention. It really brought the entire city together. Previously when we had picked up our room keys, the person at the front desk asked us if we were going to dress up. We said no, but it turned out that the staff dressed up every year for the event! In addition, during the morning hours when I waited for Michelle to get ready I would watch the local news. Everyday the news would discuss what to expect for Comic Con. They would talk about how many people were flowing into the city for the event and gloss over various events happening throughout the city in support of it. It was amazing and reminded me of the influence that the Stampede has in our home city of Calgary, Alberta.

J.K. Simmons,
in a scene from Spider-Man.
An outdoor mall called Horton Plaza was just a block from our hotel and screamed sophistication. There were about four floors of various shops. Many of these were high-end specialty stores and department stores. We surveyed the shops and at our final stop we walked through an upscale Nordstrom’s store, where I saw J.K. Simmons who to me is famous for his role as J. Jonah Jameson in the Spider-Man movies and in Thank You For Smoking. I did not ask him for an autograph or photograph as he was with his wife and two daughters, but the fact that I saw him was astounding enough. I felt it was the perfect start to the vacation!

After walking through the out-door mall we tried to find a restaurant in the Gaslamp district. We made a large loop in the district and finally decided on a pub that we had seen at the very beginning of the loop; we can be fairly indecisive. The pub was cozy and made their own beer. TV’s hung from the ceiling but was not too loud. Michelle ordered southern fried chicken and I ordered enchiladas. Both our plates had enormous portions, which turned out to be the norm in San Diego. Our food was great and Michelle had leftovers. We also ordered drinks and they too were great. My beer was one of their in-house brews, and Michelle ordered a strawberry margarita that had a healthy dose of tequila. Following supper was a trip to a grocery store and then it was off to the hotel. Coming from Canada it was a nice to see liquor sold at the grocery store. This was expected, but what was not were the prices and selection. They had everything including hard alcohol, wine, and beer. Tequila was very cheap, but we opted for a six pack of a local brew and a bottle of wine that Michelle just had to have since it was called Ch√Ęteau de Michelle. We also picked up snacks (both healthy and not so healthy) and in particular breakfast food items. One of the keys to making any trip affordable is to immediately visit a nearby grocery store and pick up food. This cuts down on how much you will spend at restaurants (limiting it to only suppers), and allows one to try more of the local foods.

Once back at the hotel we relaxed and put the food away. Eventually we left again to visit the 7-11 across the street. While walking over there we noticed how busy the Greyhound station was that buttressed one side of the hotel. This was one of the drawbacks to The Sofia hotel as this station attracted a number of sketchy individuals and had us walking a little faster than normal. Nonetheless, we entered the 7-11 on a mission to buy some of the Farmville products as Michelle was trying to get the codes for her Facebook game. This was the end of the day for us where we flew to San Diego and managed to explore a small portion of the downtown area near the hotel and get some food for the week. I always enjoy the first day in a new city for it holds so much promise, and it is wonderful when the city lives up to this, which San Diego does in spades. The Gaslamp district is amazing at night, but the areas outside of here (past The Sofia) are not so enticing. Our day was done and we then planned our second, full day in the city where we would travel to the Zoo.  

San Diego Comic Con 2010: Episode II

The week before we left for San Diego I was on another work trip. This one lasted about a week and a half and I arrived home the day before we left for San Diego. It was hectic to say the least! Despite this, Michelle and I managed to get packed and off to the airport early on a Sunday morning. The flight was about 3 hours long and was occupied by a few other people traveling to the convention. The flight was fairly uneventful, though I did geek it up by watching Doctor Who episodes on the Space Channel. When the plane came in for its approach, I was pulled away from the TV and began watching the city through the window. The approach was interesting for it takes the plane straight over the city of San Diego. The airport is situated close to the ocean so the planes (I guess) tend to land through flying low over the downtown portion of the city. We could see Balboa Park (filled with museums and the city zoo) and a fair bit of the city’s layout. Once landed, we filed through what appeared to be a small airport and grabbed a cab to our hotel. Our driver was nice, which was a trait shared by many of those who lived and worked in San Diego.

Room keys with Comic Con theme!
Our cab ride took us along the San Diego coast. The ride cost about $10 as the airport is very close to the downtown area. The drive was scenic as it gave us a glimpse of the U.S.S. Midway and other boats permanently moored. The cab dropped us off at our hotel –The Sofia- and we were quite pleased. It was a historic building made of red bricks with a small French bistro that had patio seating stretching onto the sidewalk. We dragged our bags into the hotel noting a life-like bronze statue of a businessman holding a magazine that stood by the front door. The entry way was classically furnished and friendly faces bustled behind the front counter. Businessmen and fellow travelers sat in the lobby with their laptops open, and later we discovered that this was the only place in the hotel that had free wireless internet. We checked in and were given Comic Con styled room cards; we received one with Tom Welling who played Superman on Smallville and one with Morena Baccarin from the recent V TV show. We had our choice of rooms, which was unexpected, but welcomed! We chose the top floor (5th). The room was incredibly tiny and had an east view, which didn’t show too much. The large windows looked out onto the downtown area, which from this angle showed only large uninteresting buildings and a Greyhound station below. The room itself was impeccably decorated in a modern style. The bathroom was memorable for it was small and had only a shower stall but without a door; only a sliding door separated the bathroom from the rest of the area. This resulted in large puddles of water spreading into the bathroom when taking a shower. 

San Diego Comic Con 2010: Episode I

The first day to Comic Con was a time of travel. My wife and I had been planning this trip for months. We purchased our tickets to the event in the first week of November, 2009. I remember that we had discussed buying the tickets online prior to me leaving for a week-long work trip as there were still plenty of tickets available. Within three or so day’s time the situation had drastically changed and the website said they were nearly sold out! The preview night was gone but you could still purchase four-day passes. I am an archaeologist, and at the time was surveying along a mountainside near Frank’s Slide, Alberta. The boss and I had just stopped for lunch when my cell phone rang and I discovered that the tickets were almost sold out, so over the phone my wife and I decided to purchase the regular four-day pass. It was very exciting and nerve racking as we were buying something that was almost nine months away, and we did not know if we would have the time off from work, be able to get plane tickets or a hotel room!
Sofia Hotel.

Over the next nine months we slowly organized our trip and saved money. We booked a room at The Sofia through the Comic Con organization website. We found out later that not everyone received the room they wished through the website, but we did get a good room at a hotel that was our number two choice. This system worked by the Comic Con organizers through providing you a list of the hotels that are in association with the convention. Not all of these hotels are close to the convention center, nor cheap. However, by booking through the Comic Con organization you could obtain cheaper rates than by booking it yourself. You then choose about five different hotels from the list they provide, and then on a specific day and time (I think it was about 9am on a Saturday), you log into the Comic Con website and provide them with a list of your desired hotels. After a brief period of time they let you know which hotel you get. It worked out pretty well for us. Our airfare was cheap as my wife works for an airline company that flies to San Diego, however, they only fly on certain days of the week so we had to fly there four days prior to the convention’s start and left two days following its end. This actually worked out quite well as it gave us an opportunity to sightsee and relax before and after the convention. 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Bruichladdich Islay Single Malt: Rocks

A while back my wife gave me a sampler pack of scotch as a graduation present. I love scotch, but have not tasted many brands. I have attended a sole scotch tasting event almost 2 years ago and as I consumed much scotch that night, I do not remember what they all tasted like not to mention which ones I had tasted! Nonetheless, this sampler pack had three small bottles of Bruichladdich Islay Single Malt scotches in it. Each bottle had probably about one-and-a-half ounces of scotch. The package contained: Links, Waves, and Rocks. The one I sampled today was the 'Rocks' style, which was in keeping with the 'Scottish golf' theme the sampler had.

Buichladdich Rocks Scotch
The Bruichladdich Islay Single Malt scotch 'Rocks' is a smooth scotch. It has a light peaty taste and a slow, velvety warmth to it. I prefer to add a touch of water to my scotch as it is claimed that this opens up the flavor; without the water it may be slightly more peaty and coarse, but likely by not much. I would rate this scotch as better than a Glenfiddich and on par with a good 10 year Highland Park. The 'Rocks' scotch runs about $50 dollars at a liquor store in Alberta.

Brucihladdich distillery on the Rinns of Islay, Scotland.

The Bruichladdich website lists numerous types of scotches that they produce. On this website is also a list of webcams that stream live footage of their distillery; as they wrote "We are proud of our historic yet efficient distilling equipment still in use today. Here you will see the comings and goings of a working distillery from barley to bottle. We have nothing to hide", which is in keeping with how they are also producing 'organic' scotches. The distillery is one of the older, independent scotch distilleries in Scotland. Located on the Rinns of Islay, the distillery was built in 1881. To this day, much of the equipment used to produce their scotch is from the original facility, which they claim produces the distinctive and clean tastes in their scotches. Their scotch is made from locally grown barely. Peat is also used in some of their scotch brands, such as the Octomore that is the 'most heavily peated Single Malt Whisky in the world at 80, 130, and 141 ppm!