Sunday, July 22, 2012

On the Amtrak Cascade

My train arrives over the bridge
On Saturday, July 15, I took the train from Vancouver up to Seattle for a Mariners game (vs. The Texas Rangers).  A co-worker of mine from my last job recently moved to Seattle, and we thought this would be a good opportunity to catch up and share notes about life in the Pacific Northwest.  It was also a good excuse to take the train!

I was excited to.be taking the train. It is about a 3-hour trip, and let's me off very near the stadium.  The Cascade Line train even has WiFi for internet connectivity during the trip (although I did find that coverage was quite spotty, and slow when you were able to get connected.  They disable all video streaming, and limit any downloads to 5mb to help with the service).  It was a little disappointing, but at least it gave me more reason to look up from my tablet and enjoy the scenery. 

I was in a coach car, which actually wasn't bad.  I even got a seat with a table, since there were so few others getting on the train at Vancouver.  The seats were comfortable leather, and had a fair amount of recline.  It was a little warm on the train, and they didn't have any fans to help with air movement, but that was the only comfort complaint I had.  The scenery was what I expected -- a lot of trees, occasional water, and many views of the freeway (since I was on the eastern side of the train).  It was nice that they had a map displayed to show your progress, as well.

The food selection was okay in the food car, but it was expensive, and the hot selections were microwaved. I would definitely recommend bringing your own food to save on the expense and avoid the temptation of getting their cold hamburger (which I ordered before I realized they just popped it in, bun and all, into the microwave).

The reverse trip on Sunday morning was a bit less flexible.  Because the train originated from Seattle, there was assigned seating within the cabins (all the Vancouver passengers were put in the same car).  I was assigned a window seat at the end of the car, so the recline didn't feel nearly as comfortable (though I have no reason to believe that it didn't recline the same amount).  I definitely preferred the table seats, and would ask for one on a future trip if I was traveling with someone.  The station in Seattle was also under construction, so it was a bit more difficult than it would normally be to get into and out of the station.

That said, it was an enjoyable train ride, and I will be doing it again.  Next stop, a Vancouver-to-Vancouver trip up into Canada to test out my Enhanced Drivers License!

Vancouver, WA Amtrak Station

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cinetopia First Impressions

With my sister coming to town for the 4th of July, I wanted to make sure to tailor their visit to the things that they would find interesting. Among other things, we crammed in visits to Powell's City of Books, Jeld-Wen Field for a Timbers game, and Voodoo Doughnuts into their brief visit (all things that I had done before, so I somewhat knew what to expect). My sister and her husband are also cinema buffs -- so from everything I had heard, I felt the need to take them to Cinetopia, a Vancouver original.

For those not familiar, Cinetopia is a small chain of three movie theaters, 2 in Vancouver, one in Beaverton. They feature very comfortable seating, all-digital high definition DLP projectors, and even a living room experience (complete with ottoman and restaurant services from your seat). At the theater we went to (the Mill Plain 8), the restaurant was named Vinetopia, and had a large selection of wines available for tasting, one ounce at a time.

I cheated a little bit and went to a movie in the grand auditorium with a 50' screens beforehand, to get a feel for the movie experience. This was a pleasant experience, although the movie itself left a bit to be desired (I'm not a Family Guy fan, but though I'd give Ted a try, anyway). The seats were comfortable, had an ample recline, the picture was large, and the most crisp I've ever seen. I even got popcorn and used their butter bar, which gave several non-standard options for your butter toppings.  They had some other selections that you don't normally see at a theater, like baked goods, at the concession stand, as well.

With my sister, however, we chose the living room experience. With this, you are able to order food up to 10 minutes before the show begins. You're given a tray for your armrest with your food, and a comfortable ottoman to raise your legs. You still have the comfortable seats, and the digital projection, so the quality was just as good. It was a little early in the day to enjoy the full wine-tasting experience, though my sister did take advantage of ordering a wine in the theater.

Pricing between the two options were rather competitive.  The evening showing and the matinee in the living room theaters were both only $11.50.  Compared to the other local cinemas, it's only $1 more for the normal showing (and about $3 more for the living room theater showing).  But, as the ad in the theater proclaims, "Why watch a movie in coach, when you can watch it in first class?"

All in all, it was quite enjoyable, and I look forward to future visits to Cinetopia -- though my next experience may be at their Vancouver Mall location, which has 80 foot screens, and at least one theater equipped with the new Dolby Atmos sound system (which makes it one of only 14 theaters in the US with this technology).

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Vancouver First Friday Game Night - July 2012

Through boardgamegeek, I found a gaming group that gets together on the first Friday of each month at a grange hall less than a mile from my house!  Even better, because of the holiday earlier in the week, they were having a potluck dinner beforehand.  Usually, they start around 7pm, and game until everyone gets tired -- but because of the addition of dinner, the festivities started at 6pm.

A little after 6pm (thanks to work), I grabbed some animal crackers, Tootsie Roll Pops, and a few games (Citadels, Bohnanza, and Elder Sign), and headed out.  I was really surprised by how close it was -- if I had a good way of transporting my games with me (or knew that I wasn't going to need any), I'd take my bike.

Once I arrived at the grange hall, I wasn't really sure where I needed to go.  Both of the obvious doors were locked...but the event was being held in the basement, so I just needed to go around the side.  Fortunately, the organizer just happened to be heading outside as I walked around the building, so I didn't have to explore too much before finding the entrance.

Inside, the grange was a very nice venue.  There was plenty of space for tables and a large kitchen for whatever purposes you needed.  They also give you the use of two refrigerators, if needed.  I'd guess that there was room for 100 people in the basement, easily, though I didn't see any signs indicating the maximum occupancy.  As it was, I think there were only 7 people in attendance when I showed (not counting myself).  The organizer was busy in the kitchen, and the other 7 were playing Hex Hex and really seemed to be having a good time.  They allowed me to interrupt their game to introduce myself and get introductions, and really seemed like a welcoming bunch.

When they finished, we ate -- they had hot dogs, nachos, lasagna, several types of chips, and fresh fruits.  There was plenty for everyone, and then we got down to business.

We separated into two tables, since we were then up to 8 players.  I was at the table playing Last Will, a fun Brewster's Millions type of game where you try to spend all your money as quickly as you can, and end with no possessions.  I didn't quite get it early on, and completely wasted my first few turns, but caught on in turn 4, and wasn't out of contention quite yet.  I finished third, 2 points away from the leaders.

Next, we consolidated to play Incan Gold, a press-your-luck type of game.  The person who brought it had replaced the Adventure/Leave cards with tokens, which I think added a lot to the game.  As is par for the course, I pressed my luck a little too much after getting a 17 card to myself, and ended up in dead last -- but could have won if greed hadn't gotten the best of me.

Afterward, we socialized for a bit, and got to know each other while weaving in discussions about the next game.  Another person showed, and they started setting up a game on the second table (I believe it was Homesteaders).  As others were deciding whether to play another game or head home, I joined the Homesteaders table...but because of the number of players left, we changed the game to  Alea Iacta Est. This poorly-named game is a dice game where certain combinations of dice can be played for different effects.  I liked it, though there were a few awkward parts of the game (specifically the Senate actions). I was only a couple points off the leader in this one, as well.

Finally, we ended with a game of Mu, a trick taking card game with multiple trumps and a fluid partnership mechanism.  It was fun, but I think it would be a lot more fun once people had played enough to develop strategies...as it was, there was a lot of uncertainty of what to do during the auctions for trump.  I didn't finish well score-wise in this one, but felt like I could climb back into contention once everyone had the hang of it.

In all, it was a great evening with great people, and I'm considering this my new gaming group now.  I look forward to the next one in August, and hope that we'll be able to get together a little more often for one-off games when possible.

If you're interested in more information on this gaming group, the vangames Yahoo! Group is where most of the communications are.  

Also, I recommend you read more about the Washington State Grange.  I found it interesting as a concept for local outreach, and it is apparently well-utilized here in Washington.  Besides renting out the facility, they have monthly meetings to discuss activities in the community and sponsor a few different community activities.