Saturday, July 20, 2024

Canada calling - Niagara and 1000 Islands - Part 3

This is the 3rd post in the multi-part series of our trip to Canada.

We have now reached Niagara Falls, a sleepy town that hosts the world-famous Niagara Falls.

First, we visited the Skylon Tower, which is similar to the CN Tower. Basically, a lift takes us up about 158m (roughly 52 floors) and we get an aerial view of the Niagara Falls. At night, the falls are illuminated and look stunningly beautiful. Pictures don't do justice to the view. In the morning, it feels like you're looking at the falls from a giant drone.

Illuminated falls

The border between the US and Canada passes through the Niagara Falls, but you can see the entire Horseshoe Falls very clearly from the Canadian side. From the US side, you only catch about 30% of it.

The best way to see the falls up close is by going on the Hornblower Cruise. These boats take you very close to where the falls are crashing down. The water falls with such intensity that it forms a mist cloud at the bottom. By the time you reach near the bottom, you are guaranteed to get completely drenched! Needless to say, this is an absolute blast.

That boat you see near the falls, thats the cruise

Our stay was close to the falls, about 1.5 km away. We walked to the falls numerous times. No matter how many times we saw the falls, we wanted to see them one more time. They are mesmerizing!

We can walk right upto the tip of the cascade, looking at the sheer speed and volume of water flowing down the cascade can make you feel dizzy!

While Niagara is famous for the falls, the parks around them are equally beautiful. We saw cherry trees in full bloom and lots of nicely done landscaping. We spent almost half a day roaming around the parks.

The Fuel Mystery

Remember how I had forgotten to ask the car rental company what kind of fuel to put in the car? I was somewhat certain it must be diesel because we had an SUV, and most SUVs in India are diesel cars.

To be doubly sure, I decided to call the car rental company's customer care. I tried to ask what kind of fuel to put in the car. They said, "Regular." I was confused. I asked specifically if I should put gasoline (petrol) or diesel. The person on the other side kept saying "regular fuel," but wouldn't clarify if it was gasoline or diesel. When I persisted, they finally said "use diesel." That kinda confirmed what I had in mind all along. I thanked them and disconnected the call.

In the morning, we had to leave for 1000 Islands. On the way, we planned to have breakfast at my cousin's place in Toronto. We reached their house and had a lovely time with their family.

It seemed like time was flying by. Soon enough, it was time to head towards 1000 Islands, or we risked missing our cruise.

I only had 25% fuel left in the tank. I had thought I'd take my cousin's husband along with me to the fuel station to get fuel. On the way, we started chatting about the car, and he mentioned that most cars in Canada are petrol cars. I confidently said that this car is a diesel car—I was sure since I had confirmed this with customer service. He was a bit surprised and said usually only big trucks use diesel fuel in Canada.

We reached the fuel station. I stopped at a pump, but there was no nozzle for diesel. Again, my cousin's husband reiterated, “See? There are so few diesel cars that even the fuel pumps don’t dispense diesel at all outlets.” My confidence was now slightly shaking. We moved forward to a pump where diesel was available. In front of us, a mini bus (a 12-seater) was filling up. To my surprise, the bus was filling up with petrol. This shook me and caused me to doubt what I knew. If this big mini bus was using petrol, why would my SUV be a diesel car? But I had confirmation from customer service!

Noticing that I wasn’t backing down, my cousin’s husband said, “Okay, let’s try filling it with diesel and see what happens.” We pulled the nozzle out and tried to insert it into the car’s fuel tank. To our surprise, the nozzle wouldn’t fit—the nozzle was bigger than the opening in the car’s fuel tank! This was concerning. I requested him to talk to the car rental customer care and check what to do. This time again, the customer care representative insisted we use “regular” fuel. On pressing whether to use gasoline or diesel, the person again said “diesel.”

This was super confusing and frustrating. The diesel nozzle not fitting was a huge signal that this might be a petrol car. So, we decided to take a chance and fill petrol in the car—the fuel whose nozzle would fit the tank opening!

If we had filled petrol in a diesel car, a disaster was waiting. I thought the car would stop working in about 30 minutes or so. We went back to pick up my family, said goodbye to my cousin's family, and decided to move towards the 1000 Islands cruise.

At the back of my mind, I was making backup plans for backup plans—what if the car stops working? But luckily, it was indeed a petrol car, and we had filled the right fuel. I thought of some curse words for the car rental company and thanked my cousin's husband and the diesel nozzle for saving the day!

1000 Islands

We reached the place where our cruise was starting and boarded the boat. 1000 Islands are called that because it’s a cluster of many tiny and some big islands. Two-thirds of these islands are in Canada, and the rest are in the US. Some of the islands are so tiny they just have one small house on them, while others are so big they have communities living on them. The houses on the islands are incredibly pretty. Guess what they keep in their parking space? A boat, obviously!

People who own the houses on these islands must be super rich. This would be their second or third home, which they use when they come on holidays!

There were many pretty houses, but the king of them all is Boldt Castle. It looks like it came straight from a Disney movie. As the story goes, George C. Boldt was building it for his wife, but unfortunately, she passed away only months before its completion. The husband was inconsolable and abandoned the house, deciding never to step foot in it. Now, the Canadian government looks after the mansion!

Next Time

I will complete the story of what is left of East Canada, i.e., Ottawa, Quebec City, and Montreal.

Monday, July 15, 2024

Canada Calling - East Canada - Toronto - Part 2

This is the second post in the multi-part series of the trip to Canada.

  • The Back Story
  • East Canada - Toronto ← This post
  • Niagara and 1000 Islands
  • Rest of East Canada
  • Family Reunion and West Canada

Arrival at Toronto Airport

Upon arriving at Toronto airport, the first thing I did was get a local SIM card. I needed it for navigation since I would be driving everywhere that too on the right side of the road for the first time. To ensure Google Maps worked flawlessly, having a local SIM with enough data was crucial.

The Airport Drama

I got the SIM from a kiosk, and the lady assured me it would activate after restarting the phone in 15 minutes. Next, we went to the car rental desk in the airport parking lot to get our prebooked car. The attendant asked for my credit card to complete the payment. Although I had entered my card details online, he needed a physical credit card in my name.

I handed him my ICICI Bank Forex PrePaid card, but the system didn’t accept it. He explained they couldn’t accept prepaid cards. I then gave him my Standard Chartered credit card, but that didn't work. SCB blocked the transaction for security reasons. Frustrated, I tried another ICICI Bank credit card, but that also failed.

Situation wasn't cool: we were stuck at the airport after a long flight and my Dad was a bit impatient and concerned at the same time. To add to the pain, it had been 45 minutes since I got the SIM card, I had already restarted the phone 10 times but it still had no signal. 

The attendant warned me that if the next attempt failed, I’d lose the booking. He wouldn’t accept cash or someone else’s card either. I was running out of options, without the SIM, I couldn’t call the bank to resolve the transaction issues. 

The Hopeless IVR

Luckily, I had enabled international roaming before I left India, so I called Standard Chartered’s customer care. The call connected to an IVR menu, which informed me about my outstanding balance and last five transactions—none of which I cared about at that moment. Finally, the IVR informed me that their call centers operate from 9 AM to 9 PM India time. It was 4 AM in India. I cursed SCB a little, they not only wasted my time but also weren't being any helpful. The idea of cutting cost by not operating bank call centers 24/7 is such a bad idea!

Change in Fortunes

Finally we decided to divide and conquer, my wife went back to the airport to get the SIM card operational while I tried calling ICICI Bank. To my relief, ICICI Bank connected me directly to an agent who whitelisted the car rental company and requested I try the transaction in 30 minutes. I was slightly relieved and went to join my wife at the SIM kiosk. 

The lady there informed me their server was down and they were activating SIMs manually. Activating our SIM will take another 30 min. I explained her our situation and told her, it was really important for me to get the SIM activated and I am not going anywhere without getting it done. This changed her attitude and she decided to prioritise our activation and finally it was done!

We returned to the car rental place and I asked the attended to try the card again since it has already been 30 min past my call with the bank. After an anxious few minutes, the ICICI Bank transaction went through. We finally got the car and were ready to leave the airport. We spent about 1.5 hrs at the airport juggling these things, but all's well that ends well!

Driving on the right side or the road wasn’t as difficult as I expected, especially with cars in front to follow. We reached our homestay, but I realised I forgot to ask what kind of fuel the car needed.  This is going to come and haunt me later.

Day 2 - A Road Ticket for Nothing

We slept well and woke up early at 5 AM all fresh and full of energy. I was thinking to myself that we had beaten jet lag — soon enough, we will see how I was horribly wrong!

I saw several missed calls and an SMS from the bank about a $500 (Canadian Dollar) transaction labeled "Roadways." Shocked, I thought I had gotten a ticket for something while driving, this is an expensive country, $500 for one driving ticket, in India I could have settled it in Rs 500 or less! I couldn't pinpoint any violation. After cursing myself a little, I decided to leave it behind me and be more careful from now on. Obviously I didn’t say anything about this to my family. I didn’t want to ruin the trip before it started!.

We got ready and left to meet a longtime friend for breakfast. It was great catching up.

After breakfast, we visited ROM (Royal Ontario Museum), CN Tower, Ripley's Aquarium, and Nathan Phillips Square.


ROM is a massive museum with artefacts from various civilizations, including Egyptian, Chinese, Korean, and Indian. The biggest attraction was the fossilized dinosaur bones. It was awe-inspiring to see how huge they were compared to us.

CN Tower and Ripley's Aquarium

Both are next to each other. CN Tower is a huge radio tower and observatory. Ripley's Aquarium has a vast collection of exotic sea creatures, including colorful starfish, beautiful jelly fish, giant sharks, sea turtles, and ray fish. We even got to touch the ray fish, which felt very gooey!

CN Tower

Jelly Fish

Spool of fish

Ray Fish

Can you spot a see turtle?

Star Fish

Nathan Phillips Square

This square features the famous Toronto sign in the middle of an artificial pond, surrounded by ancient churches. On the way randomly you will see a patch of freshly bloomed tulips - it looks very pretty!

Nathan Phillips Square


Old Church On the way

All these places are in downtown Toronto, where parking is expensive, on an average, in East Canada, one will spend around $70-90 per day only on parking. We used to park at one place and then walked to all nearby attractions, this saves significant time and money.

Journey to Niagara Falls

At 6 PM, we left for Niagara Falls, a two-hour drive away. Toronto’s traffic was terrible, think Mumbai traffic, with two exception, people stay in their lanes and don't honk. 

While I was navigating my way out of Toronto, I heard something - big snoring sounds of my entire family. Everyone in the car was sleeping and that too like there is no tomorrow! I too felt extremely drowsy. In the morning I had thought we had beaten the jet lag and here I was felling very drowsy at 7 pm - I was so wrong! Had to drink lots of tea to stay awake. 

Finally we reached our hotel in Niagara Falls safely. That's when I realised who had charged that $500 in the morning, it was our hotel at Niagara - the hotel was called “Roadways Inn”! I breathed a sigh of relief.

Next Time

In the next post, we’ll explore the amazing Niagara Falls, 1000 islands and how I almost ended up filling diesel in a petrol car!

Sunday, July 7, 2024

Canada Calling - The Back Story - Part 1

This summer, we were incredibly lucky to visit Canada. There is so much to share (whether you like it or not!) that I’ve decided to split this story into a multi-part series:

  • The Back Story ← This post
  • East Canada - Toronto
  • Rest of East Canada
  • Family Reunion and West Canada

This trip holds a special place in my heart, and to understand why, we need to dive into the backstory and the unfolding drama.

The Back Story

My brother-in-law (BIL) and his wife have been living in Canada for about ten years now. We hadn’t visited them all this time. However, in July 2023, they had their first baby shower, which we couldn’t attend for various practical reasons. That’s when it was decided that all of my wife's immediate family—her sister (who lives in the USA), her parents (also in the USA), and herself—would meet in Canada at my BIL’s place for a family reunion.

As usual, after making the big decision, the nitty-gritty details like when to meet, how to travel, where to go, and how long to stay were left to me.

By October 2023, I discussed the idea with my parents to see if they wanted to join us. My parents, being older, prefer not to travel alone, and this was their chance to see Canada with us. I also had a strong desire to take Mom to Niagara Falls, which I knew she’d love, they agreed!

So, we now had a group of ten: four seniors (wife's parents and my parents), four adults (2 of us, my SIL and her husband), one young adult (my 19-year-old nephew, SIL's son), and one child (my Son). We were all set to visit my BIL, his family, and their firstborn—yes, by now, my BIL's family was blessed with a baby boy!

After a lot of calendar Tetris to manage everyone’s schedules and considering Canada’s unforgiving weather, we narrowed down our travel month to May of 2024. Everyone agreed, partly out of relief from my constant reminders and partly because May seemed far away back in November.

The Pre-Work

With the travel dates decided, we (read: I) began the preparations. Since it was our first time in Canada, we wanted to maximize our experience. We decided to spend the entire month of May there: exploring East Canada in the first part and Central and West Canada in the second part.

My Dad who is still working at 73, wasn’t thrilled about traveling for a whole month but relented when I explained that anything less wouldn’t be worth the cost.

From January to March 2024, we applied for visas, booked flights, reserved cars, and finalized the itinerary. Everything seemed to be falling into place. But was it?

The Twist

Mid-March, my dad started experiencing health issues—uncontrolled loose motions. This devastated his self-esteem, and he worried about such incidents during our travels. He began insisting on canceling his and my mom’s travel plans.

Most of the bookings such as flights and stays were non-refundable. My wife and I downplayed his concerns and urged him to see a doctor, reassuring him that this was common in old age. We really wanted them to join us, knowing that as they aged, their travel opportunities would dwindle.

Despite visiting multiple doctors, his condition didn’t improve, and his insistence on canceling grew. By early April 2024, one doctor identified the root cause: his diabetes medication. Changing the medication helped with his loose motions but caused his sugar levels to fluctuate, adding to his reluctance.

By mid-April, another tragedy struck: one of my dad’s trusted employee passed away from a heart attack at in his home town in Bihar. This not only saddened us but also caused a staff shortage at my dad’s factory, since 4 of his relatives who also worked in my Dad's factory, went to their native place to bid their goodbyes. This I though was the final nail in the coffin for his travel plans.

My dad, now resolute, he got another reason not to travel. We tried to reason with him, but it was too late. We had to accept that my parents wouldn’t be joining us, this pretty much felt like playing the game of whack-a-mole with problems.

We explored postponing their flights but found it too expensive and we had no confidence that they would travel even later, especially because they would have to travel alone.

The Turn

In the last week of April, my dad informed his long-term business partner, of his decision. Uncle blasted my Dad, assuring him that the factory would be fine with some planning. This boosted my Dad’s confidence immensely. Suddenly, he called to say they might make the trip after all. We were ecstatic, we were super happy for both of them but especially for my Mom!

Just like that, we were back on track. I had canceled some bookings a couple of days prior but rebooked everything (at a slightly higher cost, but I wasn’t complaining).

I don't say this very often but, this experience reminded me how lucky our family has been when it comes to finding amazing partners and friends, both in life and in business (true for both my Dad and Myself). We are truly blessed!

Next Time

In the next post, I’ll continue our travel story, exploring East Canada especially Toronto. Will read a tense story of how the car rental company almost denied us the car at Toronto airport and why cutting costs by not operating bank call centres 24/7 is such a bad idea!

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Quick Code Craft - Open Method Implementation

Last time, we moved our focus to code navigation and looked efficient ways to move back and forward in the code. If you missed that episode, be sure to catch up here!

Today, we're continuing our focus on code navigation and learn another important shortcut: How to quickly open method implementations. Have a look at the video to see it for yourself:

As you can see, this shortcut is invaluable and saves me a ton of time daily.

As always, your feedback is invaluable. Drop a comment below with your thoughts, and if there's a favorite shortcut you swear by, give it a shoutout! 

#QuickCodeCraft #ProductivityHacks 🛠️🚀

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Quick Code Craft - Move Back and Move Forward

Last time, we delved into efficient ways to locate files, classes, and symbols within our project. If you missed that episode, be sure to catch up here!

Today, our focus shifts to code navigation—a fundamental skill for any developer: Move Back and Move Forward. 

Moving seamlessly between different files in a project is a daily necessity. The quicker we can do this, the more productive we become.

These shortcuts form a harmonious symphony, seamlessly guiding you through your codebase. Mastering them is invaluable, especially when exploring unfamiliar code sections.Today, our focus shifts to code navigation—a fundamental skill for any developer. Moving seamlessly between different files in a project is a daily necessity. The quicker we can do this, the more productive we become.

As always, your feedback is invaluable. Drop a comment below with your thoughts, and if there's a favorite shortcut you swear by, give it a shoutout! 

#QuickCodeCraft #ProductivityHacks 🛠️🚀

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Quick Code Craft - Find Classes, Find Symbols, Find All

In the earlier post I introduced the youtube channel Quick Code Craft - your go-to destination for mastering small techniques that turbocharge your productivity! If you missed it, catch the first episode here.

In today's episode, we're diving into three powerful shortcuts: Find Class, Find Symbols, and Find All. These gems build upon the shortcuts we've already covered, taking your efficiency to new level!

Throughout my journey, these shortcuts have been absolute game-changers, and I'm thrilled to share them with you. Here's to hoping they'll revolutionize your workflow just as they have mine!

As always, your feedback is invaluable. Drop a comment below with your thoughts, and if there's a favorite shortcut you swear by, give it a shoutout! 

#QuickCodeCraft #ProductivityHacks 🛠️🚀

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Quick Code Craft - Multiply your productivity - Find Files

🚀 Exciting Announcement! 🚀

I recently launched my very own YouTube channel called "Quick Code Craft"! 

The aim? To share short, impactful videos designed to supercharge the productivity of programmers everywhere.

Did you know that incorporating keyboard shortcuts into your workflow can boost your speed by a whopping 30-40%? 

It's true! And it's a lesson I learned firsthand during my time at ThoughtWorks, where I honed my skills on JetBrains IDEs like IntelliJ IDEA. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to ThoughtWorks for inspiring me to master these shortcuts, which have proven to be invaluable in my journey.

Now, it's my turn to give back to the community. In my debut video, I delve into one of the most fundamental keyboard shortcuts that every programmer should know.

But wait, I need your help too!

  • Feedback Wanted: Whether it's good, bad, or downright ugly, I'm all ears! Your feedback will help me improve future videos and tailor content to better serve your needs.
  • Share Your Favourite Shortcuts: What's your go-to keyboard shortcut? Share it with me, and together, we can take productivity to new heights!

Let's unlock the full potential of programming prowess, one shortcut at a time. 💻✨

Have some Fun!