The nerves are still there but in the background and I am now anxious to get going. Most of my preparations are done with me having done a trial pack of the backpack and lugged it round the block for a couple of laps, having compressed about 40 albums onto 8 CDs, photocopied every document and dropped copies with the family.
Now all I have to do is sort out the bills, attend Andy’s wedding in Ireland (which should be good fun), do a final pack without forgetting anything too important and say goodbye to the family.
Just back from Andy & Saran’s wedding in southern Ireland. A fantastic day that the happy couple seemed to enjoy and a great opportunity for me to catch up with a lot of friends from Uni before I set off. Feeling somewhat damaged today but that has to be expected when the wedding has both Polish and Irish influences (lots of Stout followed by Vodka toasts). Pictures to follow when I get them. On that note thanks very much to Sue for bringing a series of pictures from the old days. We all looked about 12 and had universally terrible haircuts so they provided much amusement for the guests on the brides side who didn’t know us then.
The plane was late on the way back so it was a rush to get to the Sore Jaw comedy club in time. Still one of the best nights out in Solihull and glad to have made it again.
Today is the day. Spent last evening down at my brother’s, along with my dad having a great meal at restaurant called the Madagascan Gin Palace. Quality food but I would have gone there for the name alone.
I was originally planning to fly out on the 11 September having not connected the date in my head. Having realised the significance of the date and believing that with the world’s security staff being on alert the vibes would be bad, I booked to fly out today. It didn’t save me, as Canada’s immigration and customs officials were double checking everything and it took about an hour to get through. I was concerned that Jim and Cari would not realise the reasons for the delay and would think they had missed me somehow. I needn’t have worried as a combination of traffic and heading to the wrong terminal initially meant they pulled up just as I got outside. Things looked up as we bought a case of beer on the way to the apartment and Cari told me how she had put her heart and soul into a giant pot of Chilli. Welcome to Canada……..
Jim was the first person I shared a flat with on moving to Birmingham and we got on well from the start. Despite this only being for 18 months in the mid 90’s we have stayed in touch. Since then Jim moved on to University in Glasgow, before dropping out and running most of the small comedy clubs in that city for a while. He then moved to Canada to look for new opportunities and join his parents and sister. Since arriving he has met Cari and they share a great apartment in Hamilton. Cari is great fun and has grown up locally with a huge extended family.
I decided to explore Toronto for the first couple of days of the trip, catching the local bus / train service from Hamilton. In doing so I noticed that the express train in the evening takes longer than the midday bus to do the same journey. On catching the train back I found this is because the train moves at walking pace, but it is modern, clean and comfortable.
A noticeable feature of Toronto is that you can move through most of the commercial district of town without ever emerging outdoors, the whole area is linked with a series of pedestrian and train subways. Not something I used whilst the weather is so good but I assume the winters must be harsh for this level of investment, either that or Canadians have picked up mole genes along the way.
The weekend saw a trip to Niagara Falls, one of the features of the world that you know of from an early age. It is a gorgeous and powerful sight, especially from the edge of the Horseshoe falls where you can look down on the water as it throws itself over the edge. The falls and the gorge look wonderful and it is possible to find fairly unspoilt views, however there has been rampant development all round in the form of tall hotels with a “Fall View” and Clifton Hill with its tacky attractions and snack joints (so tacky it almost goes out the otherside to become a feature in itself).
There have also been opportunities to meat a fun bunch of people, Cari’s Aunt Lynne and her best friend Shaun dropped round the night I arrived with chilled beers. Then on friday it was Jim’s sisters birthday (Sue) so I got to meet her family and Jim’s parents who I had not seen for over 6 years. I hadn’t realised that Canada produced much wine, but it does and of high quality, particularly those marked with a VQA label.
Today’s plan was to head to Montreal on the train but the price (226 Canadian dollars!!!) and journey time have put me off. Think I’ll get better acquainted with Toronto and will spend part of my savings in Chinatown.
Instead of heading to Montreal I checked into a hostel in Toronto that I had passed a few days before. It seemed a good idea to give Jim & Cari a break whilst getting a reminder of how I would be living for much of the rest of the trip. The hostel had a bar which opened at 7 so I headed down for a drink with my book. Very quickly people were chatting to me discussing trips so far and the journeys planned. Ironically several were catching the bus to Montreal tomorrow, but at a journey time of 7 hours each way I would have had to turn around almost immediately at the other end. The bar stayed open till the small hours and so did many of us still talking and occasionally dancing. A great night and I hope Danni & co enjoyed their time in Montreal.
Have got through to the departure gates of Toronto Airport on the way to New York. Changed my flight to an early one to make sure I beat Hurricane Isabel to NYC. Will add further details of Toronto later but have to thank Jim & Cari for being wonderful & tolerant hosts.
Have checked into a hostel in the upper west side, at the north west corner of Central Park. The weather was OK, just a little bit windy and no real sign of rain. Found an amazing New York diner for lunch, all cramped inside, busy and with a huge menu. Never had a buffalo burger before and mighty tasty it was too. Didn’t do much else than explore the local neighbourhoor around the hostel; seems OK, but a little quiet.
The hostel itself was having a beer and wings night in the evening. It was a little low key and much less energetic than the evening spent in the Toronto hostel. The bed isn’t great either so I may go searching for somewhere better for the rest of my stay in NYC.
After breakfast I headed to the aircraft carrier Intrepid, which is moored on the Hudson river as a museum, along with a destroyer and a submarine. The carrier itself has an extensive plane collection on it from WWII planes to an F16, including an A71 Blackbird. Full marks to it for those collections, but the whole museum lets itself down by concentrating on the bridges and chartrooms, but not letting you see where the crew ate, slept and worked.
Visited some relatives of mine on the Friday night and Saturday morning. It was great to meet Mark, Maryann and their young daughter Katherine. A trip like this is a great opportunity to meet up with people you would otherwise wouldn’t see often and unfortunately I did miss one such opportunity in Toronto. Sorry Dorethy and Alan.
We went to a fundraising fair organised by Katherines school. It was nice to see this side of the US that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Most of the money was raised by selling second hand goods that had been donated. More valuable items were sold in a silent auction including a sailing boat with cabin, outboard and tailer. The reserve price was $500 so Mark put in a bid just above. As I left the fair and with only about half an hour to go Mark’s was the only bid on the boat and it looked like he had got himself a total bargain.
Returned to NYC and spent the evening in a great dive bar; drinks were reasonably priced, the 4th was free, so were the hotdogs and the jukebox was brilliant playing superb range of music including Jesus Jones amd Madness (no I didn’t put them on). Many of the people were regulars and the place had a nice friendly if run down atmosphere.
Over the next few days I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge which offers superb views back at Manhatten, though there appears to be little to see or do on the other side.
The Staten Island ferry is another free opportunity to get great views of the harbour. Handy hint, head for the lower decks as they are less crowded and it is great standing only around 4 feet above the water at the very bow or stern of the ship.
Also at the south end of Manhatten is the site of the former World Trade Centre and a short visit was worthwhile. It is interesting to note that most postcards on sale in NYC still feature the twin towers.
What I did miss this day was the Dalai Lama speaking in Central Park. It was advertised on posters but I didn’t see one until the day after. However on returning to the hostel I found they had sealed of the road to set up a stage for a Jazz band to play. Excellent music which was watched by hostellers and residents alike. Nice to see the Jazz in the Park hostel living up to its name.
NYC has many distinct areas with their own flavour, Chinatown being a mad hussle of markets and restaurants, Greenwich Village being much more laid back, the financial district dominated by skyscrapers and banks, midtown with its grand stations, post offices and libraries and the upper west side much quieter, residential and cheaper. Shocked to find that almost all the sleaze has been driven from the Times Square area and its been Disneyfied.
As it was raining heavily this morning I intended to visit the Museum of Natural History, but it was closed because George W was visiting. Wouldn’t have minded if I thought he would have half a clue at what he was seeing. Still at least with the rain NYC may smell a bit better. For those that have not been it is worth noting that New York has an array of strong odours, especially arounds bins that the summer heat doesn’t help.
Its now my last full day in NYC before catching the bus to San Francisco tomorrow. I have only scratched the surface of the city and am sorry to be leaving; its a dramatic and fun place. Sorry for the lack of pictures again but I am suffering from poor internet cafes with staff that struggle to understand english and don’t have a clue technically.
The Jazz in the Park hostel I am staying in has a basement venue that is hardly used. As the hostel doesn’t have a bar and no music is generally played down the the room stays deserted whilst the cafe upstairs is full of people with drink from the local off-licence and the TV on in the background. We decided to change that and wired my CD Walkman up to the PA system down there. Finally on the last night there the venue was full of people having a drink and listening to some quality tunes whilst the cafe sat mostly deserted. The night only ended when the hostel closed the downstairs area at the normal time. I’m now all set to catch the bus across the US this evening.