Going a little outside the normal post fare, but after a controversial GoT semi-finale, there were some fun reads on the song of ice and fire subreddit.
It's kind of like ^^^, kind of insightful, and a generally funny commentary. Spoilers, obviously
The Dothraki charge in the beginning was the most glorious Leroy Jenkins of all time.
The lights going out was a cool shot. Terrible strategy, but a cool shot.
If the Dothraki went out with their scythes sheathed and engaged using volleys of dragonglass arrows from a distance the whole way back in a controlled retreat (while the trebuchets keep firing) behind Winterfell. Wait for the dead to engage the unsullied then came back with scythes that would've been cool. I feel like they (the directors) could have used decent tactics and still had the undead army roll the living through sheer numbers. But to see the living spend lives so carelessly, knowing they also join the undead was annoying. Pouring flaming oil from the walls down onto the human ladders seemed like a good idea too. Maybe Sansa just got sick of the horses eating all the food.
The Night King blew a million-to-one lead.
He didn't need to be there! Dude take a knee and run out the clock lol.
The fucking Atlanta Falcons of Westeros.
WAY more named characters survived than I thought would.
Every time a first tier character was about to be overwhelmed and killed, the zerg mysteriously thinned to a trickle.
Right? It almost felt like a continuity error between some of the shots. It's not like they couldn't have gotten away with writing it such that the main characters survived, just don't show them swarmed by supposedly-formidable foes. On the other hand, how many characters do you need for three more episodes?
Jorah should've died offscreen [in the initial charge]. It would've raised the stakes right at the beginning of the battle and convinced you that major characters could be killed without more than a passing mention.
Biggest twist: Grey Worm survived.
"I'm 3 days from retirement!" And retire he did.
I really, really, wanted the Night King and Bran to talk. Or have some final interaction.
I honestly feel slightly cheated by how fast the Night King died.
I was waiting for his first words every time we saw him. All we got was a smile of sorts, which indicates that he’s a conscious, thinking being. Would have been great to learn anything at all about the nature of the threat that has been central to this show since the prologue.
"Excuse me but I was paid to raise my arms ominously while staring at people, not read lines" - The Night's King's Actor.
Having not read the books, the Night King always felt like a zombie with a strong grasp on reality. I suppose the text built him up more as a character.
So, I guess Cersei is the final boss then. All that build up to the supernatural stuff and it ended up not mattering that much in the end.
While a violent denouement and/or anticlimactic ending would be fitting to the series, it does seem like it's hard to follow up defeating a supernatural, existential threat.
Yall liked Arya too much and look what happened!
Fuck marching everyone down to fight Cersei, just let Arya do it herself real quick
Why was Bran warging?
There are a few options here:
- Good writing. He was doing something mystical and meaningful and it's going to make sense in the end.
- Bad writing. He was doing something that the audience is supposed to assume is mystical and meaningful and they will never explain it (see Lost).
- Really bad writing. He was doing something that was supposed to be clear to the audience but obviously wasn't (such as luring the Night King).
I'm sort of leaning towards option 2 right now because I was pretty disappointed that nothing interesting about the Night King was revealed before he died. I thought maybe he was a historic figure with an interesting purpose instead of some sort of ice Terminator that is just designed to kill people and especially Bran.
I think he was watching the battle and figuring out the final move. It took until right before he told Theon that he’s a good man. Then he knew telling him that would give Arya time to sneak through.
I would've appreciated if Bran at least gathered a huge fucking murder of crows to swoop in and just annoy and distract to help Arya get her big moment. Instead he just fucking played on Twitter.
Bran: "Hey NK. What do you call a flock of crows?"
NK: Just stands there
Arya: Jumps in from the void. "A murder!" stabs stabs stabs
Congrats you’re now the head writer of Season 9.
Looks like Clegane Bowl is back on the menu boys
Okay hold-up, how the fuck did the preview show so many surviving Northeners? Where the fuck were they hiding? ESPECIALLY the Unsullied!
They were on the other side of the castle. After the battle is over:
"Where the fuck were you guys?!"
"Oh shit that thing with the Night King was today?"
"Coming from the North? I thought you said Sorth."
I guess if everyone's plot armor is still in good condition, they'll be able to walk through Cersei's forces.
Classic Martin quote:
Much as I admire Tolkien, and I do admire Tolkien — he’s been a huge influence on me, and his Lord of the Rings is the mountain that leans over every other fantasy written since and shaped all of modern fantasy — there are things about it, the whole concept of the Dark Lord, and good guys battling bad guys, Good versus Evil, while brilliantly handled in Tolkien, in the hands of many Tolkien successors, it has become kind of a cartoon. We don’t need any more Dark Lords, we don’t need any more, ‘Here are the good guys, they’re in white, there are the bad guys, they’re in black. And also, they’re really ugly, the bad guys.
And back to Reddit:
I watched a video on YouTube the other day about the difference in the boom seasons and post book seasons. The book seasons follow GRRM's style of logic and realism. GRRM sets the chess table as it were and then asks himself what the logical outcome of any particular meeting, or action, or interaction would have.
The post-bokk seasons are a set-up payoff style of writing. The writers want Jorah to redeem himself and save Dany? Okay let's figure out a way we can make that happen. If if it's not logical or realistic.
This was always what set the series apart for me.
It actually seemed like the plot of it all was "geopolitics may seem important, but actually aren't in the face of a looming apocalypse everyone is ignoring because they'd rather play geopolitics"
Based on what we have seen of the White Walkers and their powers, I think the only satisfying way of ending the show is with the army of the dead destroying all human life in Westeros, with the human houses fighting amongst themselves until it is too late. The last scene should have been the Night King taking his seat on the Iron Throne (or destroying the Iron Throne, since there is no one left to meaningfully rule over). It should have been a parable about the shortsightedness of the egotistical persuit of power.
That was the GRRM ending we all hoped for.
You either die a well-written villain, or live long enough to become a trope-filled hero.
I drove in France and Switzerland. Germany would have been fun, but train travel there made more sense. It all went pretty smoothly, though as you'd expect the streets can get pretty narrow in towns. The motorways are great - a generally high speed limit and people are very good about driving in the right lane
, leaving the left open for passing. Roundabouts beat the hell out of stop signs and lights. The French motorways seem to be pretty much all toll roads, we ended up spending about $60 getting from Geneva to Nice.
I didn't drive in Paris, but Aix felt like a mini-Paris. I quickly learned that in France, cars have the (de facto?) right of way. As a driver, I learned the courteous thing to do is to drive directly at pedestrians because if they smell fear or weakness it breaks the whole system down.
Nestle owns basically all of Europe, and so espresso pulls have regressed from beautiful Italian metalworks to little Nespresso machines
. You can occasionally find a real cappucino, but it's rare.
As is commonly noted by American tourists, passing people on the street you don't make eye contact, you don't exchange half-smiles. The French glared at us, the Germans glared in German. I guess you get used to it, but in the States that brief eye contact is the interpersonal cue where someone might, say, ask about train information
. That said, when we did force questions upon random strangers, they were almost always very happy to help.
Much to Jessica
's chagrin, in Europe people don't socialize their pets with strangers. Her only success was an off-leash dog on a trail that came around a bend in advance of its family. She greeted the animal as she always does, and judging by the panicked looks on the family's faces when they came around the bend, they may have thought their dog had attacked someone.
I'm not really a fan of photographing food, but as this was a food/wine tour, I figured I'd at least aggregate food photos/commentary to a single, skippable post
The picnicing was top notch, particularly after stopping by the Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse
Still adjusting to the time/dinner zone, Jes
and I had a cheese platter at the Oustalet tasting room
. It was enough food for 4-6 people.
We hit King Kebab
in Aix for some quick eats.
The Petite Creperie
served incredible meat/cheese crepes as well as a fantastic dessert crepe. Perfect after a day of hiking and swimming in the cold Med.
served up some hearty eats between our cote d'azure drive and TGV trip to Paris.
Our Michelin experience was provided by Saturne
in Paris. Everything was very good, but I must say my mind was blown by the white asparagus in a broth that seemed to have bamboo and szechuan peppers. Three courses, dessert, a table with a view - very good for a $50/person carte lunch menu.
After a long bike tour, Jes
and I were very happy to catch a fast-casual Chinese place on the walk back to the metro.
On arriving into Brussels
, we had to stop in at the first treat shop we saw.
The other obligatory Belgian experience is the light and flaky waffles that we ordered from Maison Dandoy
At the Rheinhotel
, we enjoyed a hearty three course meal. I was pleasantly surprised by the miso soup.
Swiss fondue, what more needs to be said? There were a few options in Interlaken, but Taverne
did not disappoint. I was intrigued by the potatoes they served with the fondue, but found them skippable. But the cheese was beyond compare.
Lamb chops at the Eidelweiss
weren't anything to write home about. The sizzling platter (complete with bib) was an amusing presentation, though it left me covered in grease. Their beer, however, was superb.
The buffet at the Schilthorn summit
was pretty typical fare. But the view was hard to beat.
Tuesday we returned the rental car and had a bunch of time to kill
in the not-super-comfortable Geneva airport.
Our return journey started with a short flight to Amsterdam. KLM seems to really embrace the dutch thing. The international depatures terminal at AMS was quite a bit less pleasant than even GVA.
After a long day of travel we were at last back in the States, where it was a simple rush hour Lyft to get to a train that arrived forty minutes late.
Part of the Switzerland choice was to visit Jes
's bff Jocelyn in Lausanne. Joce had an afternoon planned out for us, so we hit the buffet at 0800 again and headed down the gondola to the car. It's hard for any drive to measure up to the one we'd just done, but the more 'normal' part of Switzerland was still rather impressive. Miles of green pastures set against snowcapped mountains
, then a huge blue lake.
Driving wasn't the worst. Of course the speed limits are rather pessimistic and there are supposed to be speed cameras all over the place. Even in sightseeing mode, 80 kph feels slow. Parking, however, was the worst. No spots, everything in Lausanne seemed to require neighborhood permits. It was lucky Joce (and fam) had a garage space for us.
Joce took us on a walk and metro ride down to the harbor where everyone was out enjoying the holiday and weather in the high 70s.
We took a legit paddle steamer (complete with gorgeous engines) down the Lake Geneva shore that offered views of towns, vineyards, and a castle
. We disembarked near Montreax and walked the promenade that features miles of floral arrangements. After a short train ride back, we continued into Geneva to get souvenir chocolate and sleep.
We started Easter Sunday at 0800, enjoying the Jungfrau's great continental breakfast. The options were a big day hike or a pricey but scenic gondola ride up to the Schilthorn peak
. We decided on the former, since standing at a summit and looking around sounded less awesome than hiking the mountain and looking for goats. Actually the ideal would have been both (gondola up, hike down), but the concierge told us the snow was still pretty deep at the peak.
There was actually a chance of both (gondola up, hike down), but the concierge told us it was snowshoe-depth up there. She instead drew out a loop around the area
that covered about 1500' elevation.
The route started on single-lane maintenance roads, but once we reached the valley south of the Car Free Town of Gimmelwald, it curled up into ski pistes with the 'trail' simply following the gentlest grade.
The snow was mostly well-packed and mostly thin, but the hike was neither easy nor completely free of knee-deep sections. With some effort, we made it to the cutover just under Schiltalp and swung back into the big bowl above Murren.
The descent was pretty spectacular, we traded looking down on the Birg gondola for looking up at it.
Crossing the bowl, we climbed another rise and circled the backside to return to the northern tip of town. No goats, but lots of exercise and views.
We made good enough time on the hike that we were back at the hotel just after noon, so we decided to execute on the second of our options. The summit featured an all-you-can-eat-brunch in a rotating restaurant, so that seemed like as good a lunch plan as any.
The summit gondola - from Murren - was of course $80 apiece. It was a two-segment ride (via Berg) to what was used as Blofeld's lair in On Her Majesty's Secret Service
. They really milk that fact. Everything is 007 branded, especially the brunch.
The experience was just about worth the price tag. There were 360 views of the other peaks and then down toward Interlaken and Bern. The buffet was good enough and included prosecco. And there were two attractions that didn't cost extra - the mini 007 museum and the cliffside scaffolding walk.
The touristy summit experience combined with the holiday crowd and people trying to get the last bit of skiing in meant that there were hundreds of people waiting for a single gondola down.
After some relaxing back at the hotel, we took a sunset stroll down the tracks that run along the cliffs.
Saturday morning I strolled over to the Hotel Metropole to get the rental from Europcar. The drive back to the hotel was a bit circuitous due to one way streets, construction, and pedestrian areas. Navigating + following unfamiliar road rules + avoiding vehicular 187 is a lot to do at once. But outside of town, driving was easy.
Short drive from Interlaken to Stechelberg.
The short drive from Interlaken to the Stechelberg gondola was simply breathtaking
, I could see why we saw so many bikers the day before. We had planned to do a hike on the valley floor, but the trail was nowhere to be found, so we just took the gondola up. The wait wasn't too bad, but it looked like the station could get pretty crowded.
The gondola ride to Murren was as scenic as it was frightening.
I neglected to mention to Jes
that our return from Murren would be the last day before the cables were scheduled to be replaced.
was on the opposite side of Murren from the gondola, so a four minute walk. After dropping our bags, we decided to hike 1000' down to the town Jes had originally been most interested in
, the Car Free Town of Gimmelwald. Wait, is it really called the Car Free Town of Gimmelwald? Yes and no. It's simply Gimmelwald, but in Rick Steves and elsewhere, this factoid pops up frequently. And it's something that I really didn't believe based on the road shown below and general unsuitability of gondolas and helicopters to support entire towns. Okay, yes there is a train as well.
Some dashed line from the valley to the Car-Free Town of Gimmelwald.
But sure enough. Rick was right. There are simply no cars in CFToG:
Misnomers aside, the entire Murren/CFToG scene is spectacular, whether you're hiking the car free roads or having a campari on the patio. The alpine panorama is simply majestic.
Being (just) off season and a holiday, CFToG was completely shuttered, save for the gondola station and probably the hostel we didn't check out. Jes had envisioned a town-size farmers' market with cows roaming freely, wearing large bells
. Alas, there were just some closed shops and a horse that didn't like her. Oh and I guess in the low season they spray the hillsides with rather pungent manure.
Still, even without alpcheese vendors or cows, the area has a lot going for it.
Back up in Murren, we settled down to a pint at Jungfrau and met an interesting local and his dog. Dinner that night was at one of the few open establishments, the Hotel Eidelweiss.
We didn't want to risk transport issues on a holiday, going from a small town to a small town far away in another country, so we hit the train platform early
for our local train into Mainz to catch our direct (with stops) train to Interlaken. Pulling up the web site, it appeared the last ten miles of our commuter segment was replaced with a bus ride that was projected to arrive just twelve minutes before departure.
I have nothing but confidence in the European train system, but not twelve minutes of confidence in our ability to find the right platform. So when an earlier train showed up, we audibled and got on
, hoping to give us more options and time - especially if we needed to cab it. After boarding, a quick look showed that this train's destination was Mainz, but a different station. Still, closer than Budenheim, the new end of the line for our original train. But comparing the current train to the original, this one had many more stops and would get to Mainz much, much later.
In Bingen, we hopped off at what was thankfully one of the few stops for our original train, then waited an agonizing 20 minutes for it to arrive. The train's station list crawler still showed Mainz Hbf, but between the DB web site, a long monologue (in German) by the conductor, and finally a nice dude overhearing our conversation and translating, we knew that we had to risk the bus.
Thankfully, the bus was a dedicated coach (not a city bus) and made it to the Mainz station on time. With a little distress, we found the bridge and platform for our train. Whew. Obligatory American traveler train crisis averted.
Bacharach, Germany to Interlaken, Switzerland by train.
As usual, we were thankful to have palatable and not-overpriced food available on the train
. It was a relaxing ride.
Interlaken was intended to be a stopover on the way up to the mountains - we couldn't get a car on Good Friday - but I was optimistic after rave reviews from J and Derrick
. The Hotel Lotschberg
was just a couple blocks from the train station and had an awesome host and excellent free breakfast. The rooms were comfortable but not recently renovated, but it was a very good deal for the price.
After dropping the bags, we took a lap around a nice but very touristy downtown. There was a stop at a chocolatier and some gawking at the paragliders landing in the field in the middle of town. The real goal here was to have fondue
, and we certainly did. It did not disappoint; flavor was cranked to 11. Oh wait, I have a separate food post. No more writing about tasty fondue.
Two nights in Bacharach meant we could daytrip to one of a few options we had listed. After some breakfast in bed, we decided on the hour-ish train trip to Rick Steves's favoritest castle, Burg Eltz
. This barely edged out seeing Katz and Maus castles.
We'd done all our intercity bookings in advance, this would be our first platform purchase. As you'd expect, the train arrived and left from the opposite platform as we were buying our tickets, but it'd only be an hour til the next one.
The burg was a pleasant hour-ish hike upstream from the Moselkern train station
The cottages gave way to a forest that had trees and flowers beginning to bloom and lots of bright green moss.
The castle was a neat, vertical affair built into a natural rock spire. As it is full of unrestored and original-but-restored stuff
, the only way to see the interior was a guided tour. The tour was brief and interesting, and punctuated with a viewing of some beautifully-crafted muskets, swords, and jewelry in the treasury.
Rheinhotel had offered a picnic pack
that was perfect for our return trip through the forest.
We'd scouted the return trips from Moselkern and there'd been hourly trains listed. When we arrived at the station, however, the ticket machine said we might not make the connection to Bacharach. Gmaps also said we would miss the last train from Koblenz to Bacharach. Uh oh.
Burg Eltz to Bacharach on foot.
We took the first leg anyway, it would at least put us just ten hours' walk from our hotel. As we got closer to Koblenz, I pulled up the DeutscheBahn website and found that there were still trains making the trip from Koblenz to Bacharach.
After a quick shower, we were happy to see a few Bacharach restaurants open on the eve of the Good Friday holiday. A full day capped with pizza and beer left us ready to zonk out.
The thing we'd missed out on the previous day was, of course, Belgian waffles
En route to the cafe, I found some couch cushions that I would have bought on the spot. Alas it was too early.
Soon it was time to catch the train to Bacharach
, with a transfer in Cologne. The local line that runs down the Rhine offered some impressive views; the river is dotted with villages, towers, churches, and burgs. Being a local train, it also stopped frequently, but by early evening we arrived at the picturesque town of Bacharach.
Postcard German architecture and riesling vineyards
made for nice scenery and a change of pace from the large cities. After checking in to the Rheinhotel
, which was more like a large B&B, we took an hourlong hike up into the hills to catch sunset.
Like in France, the riesling grapes weren't doing too much, but the panoramas were still picturesque.
The grapes grow on rather steep slopes.
Then a three course dinner from the very friendly and enthusiastic Chef, who also owns and runs the hotel.
Tuesday we caught the 10:00 Thalys train from Gare Nord up to Brussels
. The pleasant two hour journey meant we had some time to kill before check in. One option was to check the bags and find something to do, but as I was down to my last pair of underwear, inside out, round two, we decide to find a laundromat between the station and the hotel.
Train station to hotel.
We were pleasantly surprised that, after dodging cars in Paris, the town center was more-or-less pedestrians only
What's more, while Paris was rife with clothing boutiques, Brussels had a bit more variety
. Bandes-dessinnees shops featured local heroes as well as international ones
, there were cafes with Belgian brews and pastry shops that didn't expect you to order three-course meals. There was charming street art as well.
We snuck a glimpse of the famed Grand Place, but focused on the laundry task. After a small snafu with being extremely used to doors opening outward, we navigated the detergent dispenser and washing machines. Well, Jes
did. I snuck away to get a Tintin book, a coffee mug, and a Jupiler.
We moved on to the hotel where we still had a little time to kill, so we grabbed some local brews. Belgians really aren't my thing. After dumping our bags and freshly-laundered clothes, we headed back toward the town center
in search of sights and late lunch.
We stumbled upon the impressive St. Michael cathedral and toured its perimeter and inside, then found a convenient greek restaurant.
The walk back to the hotel passed through the Grand Place. After taking in the breathtaking architecture, Jessica
crashed early. She was still on the tail end of her illness.
I returned to the town center and watched the ManU/Barca and Ajax/Juve matches at a local pub
After the late night at Moulin Rouge, we slept in until it was time to walk a few blocks to our lunch reservation at Saturne
. I'm purposefully keeping the food talk/photos in a separate post, but suffice it to say the lunch was delicious.
Since the evening activity was a bike tour, the plan was to get Jessica
back to sleep. But I did take us back via a short detour through the Palais Royal and Louvre courtyard. In spite of her frequent Lime/Bird-related ICU patients, I talked Jes
When we arrived at the car-free Louvre courtyard, we did a tandem ride
. I'm fairly certain scooters will be banned there very soon.
Fit Tire bike tour route.
A few hours later it was time to take the metro down to Grenelle for the Fat Tire bike tour that the Cooleys had recommended. Right away it felt like a great way to see the city
- you can move along fairly quickly and have the relative safety (from traffic) of a group.
The first stop was the Ecole Militaire. We paused to get a little history, and then moved on to run into a few delays when someone dropped a phone and another person's pedal came off.
When things got back on track, there was a dark plume of smoke rising directly ahead of us. I asked our guide, Michael, if that was perhaps the direction of the airport, he said he wasn't sure and continued on. At the next stoplight as I was unlocking my phone for a photo, Ryan had sent me the answer.
Soon after, everyone was getting alerts of some form, so we stopped at the nearby St. Clotilde to take stock. After some discussions with the office, our guide decided we'd stop by Les Invalides and head over to the Seine cruise portion of the tour.
Naturally, everyone was distracted by video feeds, fire trucks, and people gazing in the direction of the disaster. We did our best to put that aside and enjoy the city
The cruise was the usual deal - a lap of the important parts of the city, even catching the Eiffel Tower for the few minutes that it flashes its neat strobe lights. Micheal even had a pack full of wine for us.
After riding back from the boat dock, we returned our bikes, grabbed some chinese takeout, and caught the metro back to the hotel.
Of absolute course our arrival in Paris meant Jessica would come down with the cold
that resulted from hours next to me on a plane. But her mind was set on loading up on meds and pushing through it.
The first thing to do was to find medicine at a pharmacy. This proved difficult, as it was Sunday and we were at kilometer two of the Paris Marathon. I found a shop listed as open, but after crossing the marathon route found that it was in fact closed.
Scenic Paris walking/metro loop, from Google Maps.
I returned to the room empty-handed, but hopeful that we could find meds elsewhere. Our route for the day was a big loop
(depicted above, but not showing the metro segments) - metro to the catacombs and then to Arc de Triomphe, where we would take the scenic walk back to the hotel. The original plan called for a stop at Notre Dame, where we'd just walk around the outside and head on our way. This caught the chopping block, and it seemed the Champs walk might have to turn into a metro ride.
We found an open pharmacy near the catacombs metro stop. Jes
dosed up and prepared herself for what must have been a very rough day. The catacombs had a long line for the prebook people and a huge line for the day-of suckers, but we got in after ten minutes or so.
The self-guided audio tour consisted of a short walk wayyy below the city. It included history from a quarry era, various (gulp) collapses, and then its famous role as corpse storage.
Another metro ride took us to the Arc de Triomphe
The marathon had apparently started on the Champs Elysees, so not only did we have the rare benefit of the road being closed to vehicular traffic, all of the marathon people had pretty well cleared out as well. So we walked down the center of the Las Vegas Blvd of Paris, somewhat disappointed that the shops are just name brand designer boutiques on repeat.
The route runs by all sorts of neat sights
- the Place de la Concorde, palaces large and small, and the Tuileries gardens.
Eventually we made it to the hotel, where Jes
promptly zonked out.
I made myself scarce and found a bottle of wine at Le Bar.
My surprise for Jes
that night was dinner and a show at Moulin Rouge (recommended by Santos
). She rallied for it and we took the metro north a few stops to the colorful part of Paris where we walked past live shows and misshapen Eiffel towers to the theater.
The line to get seated wasn't great, but dinner was good. On account of early booking or maybe just luck, we had front row/table seats.
The show was entertaining and varied
, dance routines, real and lip synched singing, circus acts, even some small horses and large snakes.
Rayol Canadel Sur Mer
Saturday morning Boukarou Beach delivered on the kayak rental and we paddled around the coves for an hour
. The weather was nice, the water was nice.
Drive to Nice
Getting to Nice for our 14:00 car return and 16:00 TGV departure meant we could take the coast through St. Tropez, but then had to cut up to the motorway for the last stretch.
Drive from Rayol Canadel Sur Mer to Nice.
We stopped across from St. Tropez to check out the bay view.
The backroad into the motorway was great, reminiscent of the California central coast.
After returning the car, we caught a city bus to the Gare de Ville where we had a couple hours
to grab a pizza and check out the yellow vest(?) protest going on outside the station.
The TGV was a super relaxing way to cross France
. We did backtrack through to Marseille at normal train speed, so maybe it wasn't especially worth doing the drive and brief stop in Nice.
TGV from Nice to Paris.
On arriving in paris at ~22:00, we had an easy yellow line metro trip from Gare Nice to Tuileries, which was across the street from the Hotel St. James Albany
. After a quick shower, we walked a few blocks to get some late night eats at Le Royal Opera.
Friday morning we had pastries and coffee at the town's boulangerie and decided to start the day with a hike. Gmaps told us there was a natural park, Sentier Fenouillet
just a few km east.
There was off-road parking and trails that ran to the cliffs and down to the beach. The chill weather was nice for hiking, and since it was April everything was in bloom
The coast view was nice, we checked that out and then headed down to the beach.
The beach had road access, but we only had to share the sandy shore with a family that was leaving and a few teenagers that were arriving.
I wasn't going to leave the Med without a short swim, so I waded a bit and then dove into the clear water.
After the kids down the beach did the same, Jessica
decided that with a little Belgian courage she would too.
The beach felt quite a bit warmer after that. We hung out some and finished the not-too-undrinkable Belgian.
Rayol Canadel sur Mer to Cavalaire sur Mer.
After a short hike back to the car, we drove the nearby Cavalaire Sur Mer embarcadero and stopped in at the popular-looking Petite Creperie
. We were not disappointed.
Back at the hotel, I looked into kayak rentals from the restaurant/shop on the beach. The staff told me that they didn't have any boats pulled out of storage, but would have them the following day.
We rounded out the evening with a stroll down Le Battier and dinner at Maurin des Maures
The unconventional sleep schedule from the first night worked, we woke up at 0830 and enjoyed a huge breakfast in the tasting room. We had a few options
for places to visit on our drive to Rayol Canadel Sur Mer.
- The wine road mentioned in Rick Steves's book was a priority for Jes
- Papal Palace/Pont d'Avignon had come highly recommended from Sophie
- Pont du Gard was another mention from Rick Steves
- Aix-en-Provence seemed like a cool town to check out
- Marseille had a basillica that Jes wanted to check out, as well as some coastal hikes
- Somewhere between Avignon and Marseille was a castle that seemed worth checking out
We settled on aiming for Avignon since it was just off the motorway, from there we could decide on whether to tour the Palais de Papes and/or eat lunch and keep going. We swung by the south end of the wine road, though it didn't look too different from our inbound drive.
On arriving at Avignon, Jessica
grabbed the wheel and plunged us into a parking garage, saying something to the effect of "omg it's like a huge castle". Indeed, without even seeing the palace, Avignon has a rather impressive city wall and interior
We walked through the medieval city to the palace exterior and decided to take the self-guided audio/tablet tour.
The tablets had some cool features, like an augmented reality display that showed a rendering of various rooms from their better days.
The sheer magnitude of some of the rooms
was the most impressive part of the palace...
... particularly when the engineering feat was juxtaposed with where interior decorating was in the 1300s.
Right? The other best part of the tour was standing on the tower, admiring the view, and realizing that you were ten stories up on 700 year old construction.
The palais tour had a small upsell to add on a walk to the pont. It was worth it.
Gigondas to Rayol Canadel sur Mer via Avignon and Aix en Provence.
Spending a couple hours in Avignon meant we needed to push on to the coast, but stopped in Aix for lunch
. Driving through town felt like the running of the bulls, so we eventually peeled off and found parking with just a short walk into the town center.
The narrow, carless streets made for a nice walk to absorb the atmosphere and get "tacos" (panini-grilled pitas).
Rayol Canadel Sur Mer
After a bit more driving in the light rain, we found our hotel on the Med. About the size of Gigondas, this town consisted of coastal villas rather than dense tenements. Our accomodations
were just up the hill from the beach and featured a nice view
The concierge looked in to scuba options, but being the offseason the only option was an upcoming boat trip the day we needed to leave for Paris.
We walked up the hill to take stock of the restaurant and market options. Not having the appetite for a full dinner, we grabbed some instant noodles and other snacks. And we checked out the beach situation. Crystal clear water in the low 60s and dreary conditions
After hitting the hay at 20:00 the night before, Jes
and I both woke up at midnight - which I don't think was morning in any time zone we crossed the previous day. Getting adjusted to local time seemed rather critical
, so we downed a melatonin and slept for... eleven hours. Whoops. Happily, France doesn't do any of that 11:00 checkout nonsense.
The first/nearest item on Jes
's list was a large market called Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse
. We were getting a late start, but it seemed like a reasonable place to get breakfast, drive provisions...
... and coffee.
The Halles did not disappoint. Meats, cheeses, breads, fish, pastries, cheeses, cheeses. Everything looked like it had been prepared for a travel brochure and tasted like it had been served in a nice restaurant. The vendors were friendly, spoke varying amounts of English, and seemed entertained by our wide eyes. We had cappucinos and filled a bag with edibles
, then pushed on down the road.
I'm sure there are similar markets elsewhere, but none were close enough to our route to visit. In retrospect, it's a massive disappointment we didn't have one of these places to hit a half-dozen times, trying new things each day.
Lyon to Gigondas.
After eighty minutes' drive down the motorway - being wary of speed camera scaffolding - we headed into the vineyards of the Rhone. It felt quite a bit like Sonoma/Napa, but with stone buildings and frequent small towns. Being April, the vines were trimmed back and bare
, so it wasn't the visual glory of a summer or fall visit.
Our destination, Gigondas, is a town perched on a hillside that Jessica
found simply by looking for a wine country midpoint between Lyon and the Med.
We were staying at the Chambres L'Oustalet
, a family business with a wine cellar, handful of hotel rooms, and Michelin restaurant. The room was a nice, updated apartment and included local wine and a great selection of coffee and tea.
It was early evening when we checked in, so we used the remaining daylight to walk up to the medieval ruins and gardens just above town
We circled back through the abbey and had a charcuterie plate at the tasting room.
Despite illness and loading up on all downers imaginable, I didn't get any sleep on the eleven hour trip from LAX to CDG. Jessica
got ten minute dozes in, but wasn't able to get comfortable. What did wake us up was getting struck by lightning
on the initial descent into Paris. The plane lit up and everything shook very briefly.
Geneva to Lyon.
We had a brief layover at De Gaulle before we boarded another AirFrance flight to Geneva where we eventually found the France side Alamo car rental and headed down the motorway toward Lyon.
was on the Rhone right by the city park. The park was a great place to stroll and contemplate flowers and geese and jet lag.
For dinner we walked across the Rhone to Terasse St Clair
for a great bistro dinner and my favorite wine from the entire trip
, the Crozes-Hermitage from Cave de Tain.
Our departure was out of LAX so we had the option of driving and leaving a car or taking the train
to Union Station and then Lyfting to the airport. Neither was a very exciting option but since we were looking at many hours of airplanes it seemed like the train would be them most free range option.
Of course the train was late - actually the train before our train was late for our departure time. Ours did eventually come along and we had a relaxing ride up the coast with a slight delay from a train/big rig incident on the track ahead. We arrived at union station with five hours until takeoff.
A map check showed the Los Angeles Metro ran from LAX (train) to LAX (plane) with a mere three changeovers
. Given the time we had and traffic around downtown, it seemed like the metro would be better than a Lyft. We took the red line two stops and made it to the dark blue line (not the light blue line, mind you). We intended to ride down to the green line which would take us close enough to LAX to catch their connection shuttle. Simple. Except when we get on the dark blue line, a sign in the train indicated construction left the track closed a few stops short of the green line. So we rode the dark blue line to its end, which happened to be Watts Towers, and then took a Lyft for the final stretch. The freeway part wasn't too bad, but it took us a solid thirty minutes to get from the airport entrance to the departures.
Check-in went easy, and we breezed through security since I guess not many international travelers have precheck. An early (07:30) departure and constant travel since had left us both fairly hungry. We went for calories since the airplane meal/time was a bit of an unknown, and Chang's noodles and honey chicked did the job.
Boarding was super smooth since the A380 had three doors open and we were in the upper deck. Naturally, they served us dinner as soon as we got to altitude, so we at what we could put down.
Okay, the coolest obvious idea ever
: have cameras mounted on the nose, tail, and underbelly and let people watch the feed from their seats.
Map of travel plans.
The plan started way back in September-ish, when Josh found a hot deal on flights to Geneva. We booked those and decided to fill in the trip casually over the next few months. Fast-forward to March and we really hadn't done anything
beyond buying and doing some light reading on Lonely Planet and Rick Steves.
We did a day-long brainstorm of places we were really interested in seeing, then formulated a general idea of a loop that would start and end in Geneva
. I created a map that would give us an idea of how things landed geographically, and this served as an anchor for the entire planning process.
I very much wanted to have the trip planned out before departure. Sometimes looking for hotels and trains can be an adventure, but I preferred to reduce the stress level and didn't want to spend, say, half of Tuesday looking for a hotel for Tuesday night. So we gradually worked out car and train schedules, knowing that we could then come back and figure out accommodations, restaurants, and sightseeing.
I had decent cell service the entire trip, but it made sense to download offline maps prior to departure.
We downloaded Google translate
and the offline language packs. It had the usual type/speak translation functionality, but Jes
and I were most impressed by the photo translation feature.
We brought 2k in euro and 1k in Swiss francs and returned with 800 euro. Cash was especially helpful for avoiding out-of-country card charges.
A couple small changes that are fairly evident below: I created an about page
and a list of lists
The list of lists was inspired by publishing J's top ten video games. Part of the process led to another synergy for having some common code between my git toolkit and Java markup parser: automated text overlay
. So Excel spreadsheet list + image set = list post
, and not just buzzfeed-y top ten stuff. There's still some work to be done for rendering text in a way that pops, for now it's just drawing on a BufferedImage/Graphics2D canvas.
brought Lil'B over for birthday photos and my first real use of the 50mm f/1.4. The one thing that really struck me was being able to shoot into the sun
owing to some combination of the polarizer and lens hood. This was my first $60 polarizer (B+W, been using Tiffens for the most part), so maybe that explains the lack if insane lens flare and the almost-monochrome background in some of the shots.
After a brief stint as Marcus Kinkaide the Quartermaster, I started a career as MC Lutes, the Troubadour.
Our informal party log is taking up quite a bit of Mark
Risk of Rain 2
The lolbaters crew have jumped on the early access to Risk of Rain 2
. It's remarkably similar to the original, but in 3d so not similar at all.
J and I have completed Vermintide up through veteran
difficulty. Champion seems hard.
I've gotten a few Warframe sessions in, it's really good for when you have just a few minutes for gaming. I finally built Mirage Prime and Hydroid Prime
. Also I pulled my first Legendary Core sortie reward.
Before moving to RoR2 we had an intense night of trying to complete Hoxton with stealth
It took coordinated movement to get access to the house and not alert the guards who patrol fairly randomly.
Having someone on the roof watching the cams
was crucial to making sure no one was blindsided by a guard.
After 40ish tries
we got to the saferoom, only to have swat called by ???. We weren't set up for serious combat, but somehow made it out with the evidence.
Look for the IPO of my new messaging client. I know it's a crowded space, but I think we have a unqiue offering with Slackr.
Speaking of chat services. Wow, LinkedIn/Gina. A half dozen words and two dozen hashtags.
Do you use cringe clipart ironically?
What is this place?
A blog/journal/whatever. The content is predominantly this stuff:
- Photography - mostly just personal photojournalism.
- Video games - I talk video games old and new. There's some two cents given, but it's mostly screencaps.
- Travel - I don't really travel that much, but there's some of that.
- Renovations - home and auto DIY work.
- Programming - the occasional talk about programming projects and life.
What is your site map?
- Posts organized by month, listed filo in 'Archive'.
- Hot/top links to the highest traffic recent/overall content. Note '[a]' is short for text (post) and '[+]' is meant to represent a camera viewfinder (images). I'm a minimalist except when it comes to hot sauce.
- 'Features' contains some effortposts.
- Tags at the bottom of each post allow viewing of linked content. The each tag page lists a preview of the posts associated with that tag. E.g. meta covers how this site has changed over the years.
- Characters lets people filter for their own content. Each character page has an avatar from pop culture that I've associated with them (independent of gender, ethnicity, or birthplace). I considered doing bios but haven't decided.
I'm a rando and still reading, where do I go from here?
Top posts ([a])? Features maybe
? The travel stuff is more like a journal, everyone likes lists
though, right? If there are topics of interest, you can click on the tags and it'll show you all like-tagged posts (in index form). You can also try your luck at jamming a tag into the url (https://chrisritchie.org/kilroy/tags/_______.html).
Duckduckgo hasn't done a very good job of indexing this place. I'm not too concerned - this site isn't monetized or linked to social media.
Back in high school my buddy Rob
started a blog for our group of friends. Blogger was the cutting edge stuff at the time. For Christmas in '01ish, he gifted me this domain, and I've kept it ever since. The subsequent years involved interaction with a small group of peers, using and abandoning flickr as a photostream, and joining and quitting the various social media sites that were spun up while I was in college.
Somewhere along the way, my grandmother told me that she uses this site to keep up with my goings-ons. That was good enough reason to keep it up, even if some of these posts just about video games. When I bought my house this site was useful as a renovation journal, e.g. how and when did I do x? At the time of this writing, my epoxy floor how-to is my most popular post. Enabling DIYers is a noble cause, in my mind
seemed like a good idea in the beginning
. They're probably just decoration at this point. What's more, most months I just combine everything into a text wall and categorize it as [s].
- [h]umor: jokes, funny things that happened, really this is underused because I live a dull and serious life
- [i]nformation: instructionals and somewhat-objective tidbits
- [l]ist: typical clickbait stuff, not that I have any interest in clicks
- [m]eta: info about this place
- [r]eview: my experience with a business or product
- [s]tory: the majority of content here - photojournalism, lifejournalism
- [g]allery: photos with minimal text
What is your tech stack?
and, sadly, my host wants more money for https [Update: they added ssl for free!
I use a simple, bespoke markup language
with some Java (originally Perl cause I'm old) I wrote to handle parsing, image processing, log processing, tag generation, remote file download, and so forth. Basically the work a browser normally does is frontloaded with code that generates static html.
This actually works super well because it lets me hook my site code into everything else I do with Java (graphics, stats, machine learning).
There's some content here, can I use it?
If you want to embed/borrow a photo or screencap or text snippet, go right ahead
. Note that some stuff is sourced and not original content. Feel free to attribute it if you like, don't claim ownership. I scale down and significantly compress most of the imagery when it gets published, because storage space.
I'm scraping the web for personal information and/or data aggregation.
K, well, you're in violation of this site's terms of service. There's nothing career limiting here, so you're wasting vpn anyway.
How do I get a hold of you?
I have a gmail account, it's the same as the (second level) domain name for this site.
A long while back, J sent me his top ten video games of all time
per an ongoing discussion about such matters. It took me some time to furnish my own, but I have at last.
I changed up the format a bit. First, I provided an honorable mention list of games whose playability far exceeded my estimation of their bestness
. Then there's the disclaimers of famous titles I haven't had the time or hardware to complete. Iinally, I applied a genre to each game such that most spots on the list are the finest from their genre. Each genre has runners-up, that I, on second look, feel are well place both relative to the category champion and the top list itself.
But really, it's just a list of video games. At the very least it's a brief trip down memory lane, at best there's coffee splashed in my face over slighting Diablo III (which sucked, btw). Without further ado code red:
L4D2 is the pinnacle of team survival games. L4D2 gave us the Director AI feature, Jimmy Gibbs Jr., Ellis's buddy Keith, and a massive library of free, excellent community content.
It's hard to consider this a top ten game, but it's impossible to not at least mention it as being as fun as anything on the list.
Sid Meier's Pirates was a brilliant combination of strategy, ship combat tactics, and chess-like land tactics. While Pirates had the fundamentals of a top ten title, it was good for probably just two (very fun) playthroughs.
From a series of well designed racing games, Double Dash added the partner element that both changed the game and made split screen more reasonable.
An unapproachable, frustrating, and buggy game, PUBG made made squad tactics a matter of life and death. And, well, in a game with 90% serious players, madman tactics still sometimes work out or at least good for a laugh.
While it was essentially a handful of mission types on cycle that got harder and harder, SimCopter was an absolute blast.
A sleeper Wolfenstein 3D mod that took the Team Fortress multiplayer formula to WWII before Battlefield or CoD ever did. Progressive objectives, classes, and XP were are rare feature in the Counterstrike days.
The ultimate game for a college kickback. The minigames range in quality, but you're ultimately invested in the final win.
Rock Band took Guitar Hero to the next level with a co-op experience and a closetful of perphipherals. The plastic guitar era has come and gone, but it was a good year.
Rush means rush. In the deathmatch era of online gaming, the teamwork element of CS made for a more interesting shooter experience. Based on a very good Half-Life engine and featuring a variety of excellent maps, CS was the college dorm staple.
Fighter games are just so terrible. SSB changes the formula with very unique character abilities as well as a love-it-or-hate-it smash elimination system. And in the era of couch gaming on 640x480, any multiplayer game that doesn't require split screen is a huge win.
It was Doom, reskinned. For free in a box of cereal that (at that age) was palatable with a modest sugar pour-over. There has never been a better cereal box prize, anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is probably a Flemoid.
Major releases I haven't played
Sometimes video games teach valuable life lessons, Goldeneye 64 was one of them. First and foremost, Rare showed everyone that a small and inexperienced team with a deadline that slips years is the key to making a revolutionary game. This has fallen on deaf ears of late, where massive code farms churn out derivative title after derivative title.
Second, the harsh reality is that everyone screenlooks. The only way to beat this is to get better (and know all the maps).
Third, and finally, how do you know if someone is alive or dead? Do you pinch them? Check their eyes? Check their pulse? No, dummy. When you die, you drop your gun. Not before, not after.
Beyond standing as an important mentor, Goldeneye brought a revolutionary gaming experience to the brave new world of single-stick controls. The single player campaign was ample, varied, and replayable. Challenges unlocked substantial new content. And, well, the multiplayer is legendary.
As referenced above, Goldeneye also mainstreamed the head/body/limb shot distinction. It not only provided the ability to stick-aim, it gave you a very good reason to do so. While there would have been "boom headshot" and dual stick without Goldeneye, it absolutely championed the cause.
Goldeneye's follow-on, Perfect Dark, almost unseats it. Perfect Dark brought the same gameplay formula with significant improvements as well as a wall-ignoring sniper rifle and fly by wire rocket launcher.
Halo deserves consideration for this spot because it simply took all that was good in the FPS genre and put it in one game. Like Borderlands 1, they made a good game and then realized they needed a plot if they were going to milk the sequels. But it didn't really matter, there was a very fun campaign that you could co-op, and when that was done you could deathmatch with the roommates.
9. Horizon: Zero Dawn
Open world RPG
There are a lot of strong candidates in the category of action rpg. In some ways it's hard to not make an interesting game when you have an expansive map, rpg elements, a library of sidequests, and an epic story. These types of gmaes games may actually be more distinct for the elements they leave out, e.g. grinding elements for crafting or mashing a bunch of buttons for an annoying third eye vision mode. My favorite game in this category actually does both of those things, but it handles them very well. Third eye mode, for example, isn't simply a way to obscure quest objects that could easily be shown in the main view. Likewise, crafting isn't about collecting a thousand purple herbs.
Horizon: Zero Dawn is strong in all categories: story, combat system, length/size, worldbuilding, visuals, and quests. The story and dialogue comes in a lightweight, steady stream (rather than three hour cutscenes of revelation). The world is beautiful and absorbing. Not everything you find on the road is out to kill you. And as an open-world game you're at liberty to wander if you need to give the quest a break, but even aimless meandering provides material benefit.
Oh yeah. Giant robotic dinosaurs.
Skyrim almost takes this, as it offers more gameplay material than some trilogies. It does struggle under its own weight, with its enormous map, many quests, crafting, and fetching. The Witcher 3 is to Skyrim what Game of Thrones is to Lord of the Rings. It's grittier, it's more grown up. TW3 is another strong contender that maybe catches a bad break because I prefer scifi to fantasy.
Fallout 3 brought grittiness to the genre long before TW3 did. The desolate environment and unique character interactions led gaming into its golden era of free roam rpg.
And before any of these deliberate, fiddly rpgs aborbed gamers' lives, two absolute gems from across the pacific - Wind Waker and Ocarina of time - gave us a sandbox world in which to adventure.
8. Metal Gear Solid
A few things blew my mind about MGS.
1. The grittiness/realism. Of course it was still a game where you can be shot a few times and then magically bandage yourself, and it culminated in (spoilers) fighting a mech, but outside of that it really led the way for the CoDs and the Rainbow Sixes. At a time when most games were deathmatches between rocket launchers and nail guns, MGS featured real world equipment and a far more serious tone.
2. Stealth. It was the first game to do this well. It wasn't easy (Payday 2), but it wasn't peripheral-destroying (Splinter Cell). The stealth suit playthrough is, of course, very rewarding.
3. The wealth of gameplay tailored to each point in the story. Rather than create a world that's pretty much the same except ramping difficulty, each area has some bespoke feature that's as simple as a funny dialogue that's triggered from a particular action to "why is this boss reading my playstation memory card???"
Snake Eater deserves a mention because while it used the MGS formula, it bought new depth to the character and plot development. TLOU easily has a spot on the top-15 for being unmatched, to this day, on dialogue and character development. There's also quite a bit to be said for a game that doesn't sprawl time- and space-wise. And finally Beyond Good and Evil deserves a mention for its style and variety of gameplay.
Everyone who's seen Star Wars wants to be a rebel fighter pilot. From the vector graphics Star Wars arcade game to Rogue Squadron to Battlefront, video games have offered the experience. But where Rebel Assault and Jar Jar's Supa Bombad Gungan Brawl totally sucked, the four installments of the X-Wing series were epic.
X-Wing offered a deep combat system with ally/enemy AI that was critical to not giving the feeling of a polygonal Space Invaders. There was a wide variety of missions that had their own story, crescendo, and climax. In the era of platformers and fighting games, the pilot career/first person approach was as immersive as the hardware permitted.
Many will claim that TIE Fighter was truly the best. It probably comes down to political inclination. TIE Fighter carried more story, customizability, and just a touch of sympathy for the devil. Of course, after a few missions it became X-Wing since you were no longer piloting the shieldless mainstays of the Imperial fleet but rather the Advanced, Gunboat, and insanely OP Defender. But I digress.
XvT took the formula to a new level: 56k era online gaming. This, itself, was a novelty and challenge for the developers. Then X-Wing Alliance came in with the story mode that XvT lacked as well as the bells and whistles that late-90s hardware and software offered.
Gran Turismo 2 seems out of place in a category that's heavy on space sims. If I could go to 15, it would dominate its own genre because it's a magnificent game and the apex of the series. I bought a 3000GT because of Gran Turismo, and my second choice was a 2.5RS.
6. Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas
Long before Fallout 3 brought at 2d rpg to fps-land, Rockstar took its criminal underworld Grand Theft Auto series to a large, living sandbox world. Like the open world rpg games that came after, the new generation GTA games were places to roam around and get into all sorts of trouble.
It would be easy to fete GTA III for being the beginning of it all, but I have to give this spot to its second successor, GTA: San Andreas. But why? Is this some Los Santos-Liberty City beef? Perhaps so. Indeed, GTA:SA was sort of a historical fiction where NWA meets Friday. And so it had character and style that was largely absent from GTA III (Vice City got closer).
As Rockstar tends to make significant improvements to each release in a series, GTA:SA wasn't just a rehash of its predecessors. And while three cities and motorbikes are iterative upgrades, what this San Andreas really did was take a fun but soulless sandbox and put a story into it.
As I mentioned, GTA III started it all and each game in the series has been very good.
Far Cry 4 built the sandbox around a beautiful Himalayan country and brought a multidimensional bad guy as well as a unequaled (for console) map editor. Couple that with co-op mayhem for map unlocks and you have a very good shooter.
The Assassin's Creed series has all the polish of a AAA title, and I'll nominate Black Flag as the series best.
Dying Light: The Following was that sleeper hit that is getting a very hyped sequel. An open world survival shooter with a strong story, Dying Light also oftered full campaign co-op and a DLC that added vehicles.
5. The Legend of Zelda
Open world RPG
I did say that the open world rpg genre has the strongest offerings. And so here is the second one, which is good because I've heard it's dangerous to go alone.
Zelda simply defined the genre: an expansive overworld with dungeons, unlockable areas, items, upgrades. All in the eight bit era when nearly all console games would start from level 1 when you turned them on. It was fun and challenging and, well, perfect were it not for those monsters that eat your shield.
The original Zelda had a few good follow-ups. No, not Link: The Faces of Evil, but The Aventures of Link and A Link to the Past.
4. Super Mario 64
The platformer genre might miss the top ten list if it weren't for a particular italian plumber and his red-hatted sidekick. Just kidding, Luigi is the sidekick, nobody likes Luigi.
Mario 64 was the bridge between the old school of sidescrollers/fighters and the new school of open world adventures. The game really nailed the risky and difficult 3D cam/movement in a way that was critical to bringing platformers into the third dimension. Mario 64 featured sequentially-unlocked levels like before, but let you run them nonlinearly and with objectives for replay. The game kept your progress, but anyone could pick up your game and go drop some penguins off cliffs.
This game coupled with Christmas break was my first experience with video game-induced insomnia.
While I don't think it was quite the turning point that Mario 64 was, Mario 3 was a massive evolution of the side scroller. And while it wasn't actually a Mario game, Mario 2 (or Doki Doki Panic) played like a Zelda II-Mario hybrid.
Two more easy top-25 titles are Metroid and Super Metroid. These games were, in their day, vast and full of secrets.
3. Civilization II/VI
Having played Civilization II-VI, it's difficult to decide which best represents this legendary series. Civ II was probably the biggest step up (though I only have vague knowledge of the first), but Civ VI benefits from all the polish the series has accrued: hexes, victory options, mods, culture, neighborhoods, social policy, Gandhi friendliness underflow... the series has really evolved almost never regresses.
Whichever installment you choose, Civilization is a cerebral, absorbing experience that is rivaled by none. "Just one more turn..." is the mantra describing the depth and investment in the civilization that you build. Each playthrough is a unique story that leaves you wanting to start anew. At 3:30 in the morning.
And so it's unfair that other games have to be compared to Civilization, given five more slots I would open up a Non-Civ Strat/Tactics category. But we can mention the other candidates in brief. Warcraft II and Command and Conquer: Red Alert jointly defined the golden era of real time tactics games.
On the nonviolent side of things (with enough police stations), Sim City 2000 was like a mini-Civ.
Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance was the most notable of a very good series of chess++ games that continue to get better.
2. Mass Effect
Mass Effect was born from the success of Knights of the Old Republic, an expansive game whose trademark was interesting storytelling. Bioware carried all of that forward to a universe they build from scratch; one that feels bigger and more complete than was the game can show the player.
While ME didn't have the polish of its sequels, they didn't have the intelligence and the novelty of the original. The characters of Mass Effect - friends and foes - are written with depth and awareness of the lazy storytelling that plagues video games.
The ME story and universe felt easy to become immersed in, in contrast to the weird robo-aliens of Warframe or the high fantasy wizards of Divinity. And that's what you want from a game whose core offerings are story and character interaction.
ME borrowed heavily from Knights of the Old Republic, so the earlier Bioware title definitely deserves a mention. Mass Effect 2 cleaned up a lot of the rough elements of ME1 and did well to be the Empire Strikes Back of the series, but it was ultimately simply the next chapter in a story and universe created by the original.
1. Borderlands 2
The first Borderlands game asked why shooters couldn't have the depth and customizability of an rpg. And while it didn't quite nail every aspect of the emerging genre, its sequel absolutely did.
A shooter must have good mechanics - movement and aim must be natural but challenging and rewarding. BL2 plays every bit as well as the Halos and the Battlefields.
An rpg must have depth and customizability. BL2 has a modest skill tree by RPG standards, and the inventory is predominantly guns. It is a shooter after all. Of course, the gun randomization system makes it very hard to find the same build twice. The real depth comes in with minmaxing builds based on skills, items, and weapons - a process that evolves over the journey from level 1 to OP8.
An rpg must be tactical. A lot of shooters work the flesh/shield/armor triad and have critical points. BL2 doesn't stand alone in this category, but it brings many more factors to the table than simply aiming at a different spot. Bosses, raid bosses, and arena modes add a different tactical dimension that is deepened by each squad member and their special abilities.
BL2 features an interesting and very interactive villain to complement a cast of characters with their one unique and often hilarious style.
Also it has squad co-op for the full duration of the story.
The game is massive and complete, but Gearbox continued to expand the title with quality DLC installments that provide visual variety and new loot to hunt.
Borderlands 1 put down the groundwork for this masterpiece, but had the rough edges of a new series. It had an iconic (Road Warrior meets Tatooine) style but felt inert. The DLC made a hard turn toward the interactive experience of BL2.
Warframe and The Division bring a lot of this chemistry to the table and excel in their own ways, but they aren't remotely as complete an experience as BL2.