Monthly Archives: July 2012

Day 12 – En route to Banff National Park

Mitch and I did what I perceived daft for two young English gents – hire a car, driving on the other side of the road, for approximately ten hours each way.

We asked for a Pontiac but received a VW Jetta. Not so bad, as I drive a VW at home so familiarity was a bonus for a car which has the steering wheel on the left.

My biggest concern was driving this automatic car out of the multi-storey car park, or parking lot, without driving it through a wall. After a few minutes of bricking it, we drove off and started on our way. We got out of Vancouver with relative ease, surprisingly.

The drive was easy and pleasurable. We drove past mountains, through the Okanagan desert. About half way we swapped over and Mitch continued the journey, stopping in Kamloops where it was boiling hot. After eating our sweaty sandwiches and cotton candy ice cream, we continued on to the BC-Alberta border. I took over in Golden, where we stopped for a McDonald’s, next to a big bridge passing a beautiful river.

The mountains got bigger, snow-capped in summer. The Trans-Canada highway is a true engineering feat, as it cuts through mountains, hangs off cliffs and sits closely to the Canada-Pacific railway, with trains hauling dozens of grain carts.

We got to the hostel, where we met a guy called Long. I couldn’t understand a word he was saying but he seemed a nice enough chap.

This experience was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Driving for hours may not seem like much, but when you’re from a small country, driving hours down a highway through beautiful scenery and sharing some amazing moments with a good friend is hard to beat.

Day 9 – Vancouver

We got from YVR to the downtown apartment using the SkyTrain monorail. It took about 25 minutes to get to the apartment which is in the Electra Building, a 1950s high-rise glass building which is influenced by Art Deco and has been converted from offices to cool apartments.

Over the next few days we took time to relax as we’d done a lot of travelling. We wondered around Vancouver, did a bit of shopping (picked myself up a Canadian Olympic hoodie and Hudson Bay blanket).

The city seems so tidy, clean, full of energy. And everyone is so polite!

Day 8 – Toronto

Our last day was a relaxed one, especially as it was so hot. We visited the Hockey Hall of Fame, which was surprisingly very interesting. And we shot a few pucks too.

For me the experience in Toronto was quite different to NYC. It is far more relaxed here, and whilst generally received warmly in New York, people here are very welcoming.

As we flew over timezones, the light outside always seemed the same, almost suspended in time. I was truly in awe at the sight of flying over the prairies. Hundreds of miles of what appears to be untouched forests, eventually meeting lonely highways and the odd railroad. Perfect squares and circles of farmed land, huge in size.

Day 7 – Niagara Falls, ON

We caught a coach early for a trip to Niagara Falls. The coach driver was weird and spoke like a robot.

The falls simply are beautiful. We boarded one of the many Maids of the Mist, armed with plastic poncho. It was at this level where you appreciated the power of this natural wonder, always at its mercy if you’re to dare being irresponsible.

From there we headed on to Niagara-on-the-Lake, a quaint tourist village. We sat down at a restaurant, choosing quantity over quality. Mitch ordered a large salad – it was horrendously big. I can’t even remember what I had. All I can see in my memory is that huge salad. Then we went wine tasting. I have no interest in wine at all but hey, free booze. We tried some of the famous ice wine… pas pour moi I have to say!

Back in Toronto, we explored the shopping delights of Yonge St and the Eaton Centre. We then had a lovely dinner at the Three Brewers, drinking from 1 ltr tankards. Brilliant.

Day 6 – Toronto

Our trip was on a tight budget, but the Fairmont Royal York hotel offered us a deal we couldn’t refuse. So we stayed there. What should have been a pleasant experience, our first night there was pretty awful. We were checked in to a smoking room (didn’t even know these still existed in developed countries?), and couldn’t be moved until the next day. The bedding and our clothes stank of cigarettes. For a non smoker, it’s pretty offensive.

We woke up early and visited the CN Tower. The views were spectacular. We couldn’t afford the rotating restaurant, but there is one directly underneath which is really good value considering you’re in one of Canada’s most famous landmarks. We had a beautiful burger with maple bacon as we looked out on Toronto.

As we descended, we took a look round the Toronto Blue Jays shop and around the Rogers Centre stadium.

Had a lovely ride on the small, quaint subway system, the TTC, which still use coin tokens. It’s cute, in a non-condescending way. And some of the old signage is just gorgeous.

We looked around The Bay department store, and some old senile lady clocked us, with the opening gambit “you boys are handsome”. She didn’t hold back her inquisitive thoughts on our origins, either (we both look quite tanned!). And she said we had cute feet. This woman told us her story. She’s from Cornwall, of French ancestry, and moved to Toronto when she was young. We then excused ourselves quickly and found haven at Starbucks.

And then who should walk in… the crazy old lady. I proceed to bury my head in a TTC map waiting for her departure.

In a nod to our previous destination, I purchased a Double Gulp Mountain Dew along with some Twinkies (found it very hard to find those in NY!). And in true class, proceeded to the front desk with Double Gulp in hand, and complained about our room. It worked!

Day 5 – New York City

As it was our last day, we thought we’d give the Big Apple the send off it deserves – a huge breakfast at the Tick Tock Diner.

With plenty of carbs, we proceeded down to the 9/11 Memorial. The last fifth of the new Freedom Tower was being topped out.

Security was no fun, especially in the heat. I have to be honest, it just didn’t feel good being there queuing up like that; the security made you feel like you were being punished almost. Though I do totally appreciate the need for a safe presence. Anyway, the memorial is very tasteful. It’s pretty, modern and is a beautiful way to remember those who lost their lives in such an awful manner.

We walked to Battery Park to board the Statten Island ferry to sail past the Statue of Liberty. It must have been truly amazing seeing her in the age of immigration, approaching from the Old World, hoping for a new life. I’m sure it was quite a stirring of feelings and emotions.

And from New York, we went on to Toronto… on yet another delayed flight!

Day 4 – New York City

Central Park is truly a gorgeous place. An inspiring environment – relaxing and yet busy at the same time. We arrived for lunch time and walked about half of the park. Mitch and me hired a boat on the lake, and with my great nautical skills I managed to ground the boat on a few occasions.

Our picnic consisted of pretty much everything I was looking forward to eat in North America – Pretzel M&Ms, Cheetos with that unhealthy-looking colouring, and Mountain Dew.

We finished up at the park, and proceeded down Fifth Avenue. Had to check out the cube Apple shop. As we walked down Fifth it started to rain, bringing on that familiar smell of rain on warm tarmac.

Attended the NY Mets game at Citi Field against Washington Nationals. The journey to Queens allowed us to view those iconic abandoned warehouses, baron yet bought to life by thousands of litres of carspray in the form of graffiti.

The atmosphere at the game was great – constant advertisements, competitions. We witnessed, with pretzel and hot dog in hand what turned out to be a slow thrashing from the Nationals. Ah well.

Day 3 – New York City

On Sunday we caught the sub to the Museum of Modern Art. I’m one of those who loves some of it and hates most of it. The first piece of artwork we looked at was a map of the world, which had been hand-embroidered by Afghanis. Me having a thing for maps, I touched it didn’t I – and received a stern telling off from the security. There were some great pieces there, particularly work influenced by type. Most of it, to me, could’ve been sold in Ikea.

We then proceeded to the Museum of Natural History. We overshot 81st Street and somehow ended up in Harlem. I think, during the whole trip, that’s the only time it felt a little uneasy. Anyway, because of our mistake, we got there in the end, but with just an hour to spend walking around. What we saw was ace though.

I really wanted to go to some of the jazz clubs in NYC, and were recommended to have a look around Bleecker St. Well, we walked around for hours and couldn’t find one place. It was getting late, and we ended up in Little Italy somehow. We sat down at the worst fucking restaurant there. It was a shit-tip. Our drinks got slammed down on the table and spilled everywhere, but you know what, that’s exactly what we were hoping to see – being talked to like shit by an Italian-American! All good fun!

Day 2 – New York City

Well it’d be rude if we didn’t have our first breakfast in New York at a diner. I had a stack of pancakes, Mitch had a waffle. Absolutely huge!

After breakfast, we had a look around some shops, including Macy’s. Like every other department store I’ve visited, the women’s section encompasses four floors, the men’s stuck in a corner somewhere.

We visited the Empire State Building, too. Truly the epitome of New York and American Imperialism; huge, powerful and appealing. Gorgeous Art Deco architecture. Queued for ages, and would you believe, someone next to us in line was from the same town as us. Can’t escape the shithole!

After plenty of walking around, we stopped at Dallas BBQ on Broadway. I’ve never seen a place like it. It’s a restaurant the size of a warehouse, with elevators. And the size of the meals…

Day 1 – New York City

My trip started in New York City. I flew out with my good friend Mitch, who stayed with me for a couple of weeks of the trip.

After surviving an average speed of 90mph from JFK to the hotel we dropped our stuff off with the concierge, who happens to be an Aston Villa fan, and go exploring. We walked around Broadway and Times Sq until about 2am, mesmerised by all the lights, and how busy it was. It was like the day time hustle of any big city, but at 2am.