Trip Start May 31, 2007
72Trip End Ongoing
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We're currently staying in windswept and frosty Seattle after travelling from windswept and frosty Minneapolis. We're pretty surprised by how cold it is here - I may have to pause occasionally to wipe condensation off the monitor - but it's a great city.
We updated recently with Eb mentioning her U.K nemesis - the bizarre 'Electric Shower'. Since then we've travelled quite a distance, with this entry covering the U.S.A and Canada from New Jersey to Toronto, with New York, Boston, Portland, and Montreal in between.
The flight to the 'States was the most turbulent we had ever experienced (at one stage it felt like we were eating the in-flight meal while in the grip of a seizure), but we eventually landed at Newark airport spattered with 'ranch dressing' but otherwise unscathed
As a warm welcome to the Land of Liberty, we were hearded through customs to answer around 230 random questions posed by a couple of unsmiling officials ("Sir, again this is a hypothetical, but if you were to decorate a bedroom, would you use throwpillows? What is Boyle's law for the expansion of gasses?"), before catching a shuttle bus out to our cheap New Jersey hotel near the airport.
We were staying in New Jersey for a couple of nights in order to get our bearings and to get some rest, and we were so exhausted by the time we arrived that we collapsed clothed and already unconcious onto the bed. Due to the time difference I woke late in the night and, unable to sleep, flicked on the television. I discovered after an hour or so of trance-like clicking that there were over 1000 channels, and that most of them were showing infomercials, ads for prescription drugs and ads for lawyers offering to sue drug companies for the drugs the previous ad had been touting.
I sat there zombie-like, my thumb a blur on the 'next channel' button, until I noticed sunlight leaking through gaps in the dusty plaid curtains. I did manage to catch a couple of hours sleep before we decided to head into New York, and kept myself awake with a truly massive styrofoam bucket of American coffee.
Through the windows of the train into the city were a forest of billboard advertisements - some for a new burger at McDonalds known as the "Third Pounder" (a truly massive wad of artery-clogging beef-like substance designed to put you on life support), and others that had uplifting messages like "Help Wanted: To Stop the Killings in New Jersey!" Nice
Eventually we arrived at New York Penn Station and emerged into the blinding sunshine. The scale of the place was the first thing that struck us - towering skyscrapers loomed all around, and the grid-pattern streets stretched off as far as the eye could see in all directions.
Racing along these streets was a steady stream of traffic like a blur of colour - familiar looking yellow cabs, massive SUVs, bike couriers and massive ostentatious stretched Humvees. The white noise of the city was punctuated by the sound of car horns and sirens, and people were absolutely everywhere.
We wandered the streets for a while with heads on swivels - everywhere was a semi-familiar sight, probably seen in countless movies and TV shows. We spent the day visiting Times Square, attempting (unsuccessfuly) to get tickets for the Letterman show, exploring the cavernous NY Library and just generally being swept up in the rush of the place. Everything felt larger than life and everything seemed to demand our attention at once.
We had organised to meet a friend we had originally met in Europe for dinner, and were taken to an out-of-the-way Indian restaurant for a decent meal later that evening
The apartment was a two bedroom place near Central Park that was light, airy and fully furnished - in other words, the opposite of what we were used to staying in. We couldn't believe our luck, and the weekend was spent walking in Central Park, sampling life-threatening American food, avoiding people asking for (or flat-out demanding) spare change, and generally enjoying the atmosphere of the place - both interesting and overwhelming.
NewYork also turned out to be a brilliant place for 'people watching' - one of the highlights being an angry-looking man wearing an outsized Stackhat and propelling himself down the street on rollerblades by using ski-poles. Another was a fedora hat-wearing pimp having an animated conversation with one of his 'employees' - a conversation that seemed to be directly lifted from an episode of 'Jerry Springer', complete with hand gestures.
Sadly our time was up in the apartment, and after a guidebook consultation, we decided to press on northeast to Boston
The skyline of Boston as we approached over a bridge was brilliant in the afternoon sun - all gleaming skyscrapers and drifting white clouds. We left the huge and hobo-packed central bus station and began wandering in the general direction of a hostel.
The city itself was amazingly clean as we strolled through the wealthy financial district and kinda clean elsewhere, which made for a pleasant walk. The place had the air of a rich town, and even the seedier parts didn't seem so bad.
The guidebook for the US that we had picked up was a couple of years out of date, as we discovered when we found that the cheap youth hostel listed in our book was now Boston's local 'Hooters' restaurant. This took us by surprise. We only stayed a few nights.
We started looking for cheap alternate accomodation. Prices we were quoted in hotels left us quietly gasping or holding on to the concierge desk to avoid staggering backward, and without any other cheap options in sight, we took a cab across a bridge to the adjacent city of Cambridge - the site of Harvard university.
We eventually managed to get a room in a bed and breakfast-style place, and spent the rest of the day wandering. Everything about the area seemed wealthy; we noticed that the homeless were better dressed than we were (though this was probably unsurprising - we'd been wearing the same clothes for over 4 months). The place had an energetic vibe, particularly around the university.
That evening, we decided to head to a busy student pub for a drink or two and to sample some local Boston cuisine - namely a dish we had been recommended called 'New England Clam Chowder' - a rich seafood concoction that turned out to be delicious. I ordered another huge bowl and a couple of pints of Guinness besides to make a night of it.
As a surprising revelation, beer and buckets of clam chowder don't mix
I opened my eyes at 10am the next day (they focussed at around 10:15), and after managing to eat some toast and down some coffee I began to feel human again. We tackled a bit more of the city before deciding (on the advice of a local we got chatting to the night before) to head on to the small city of Portland in the state of Maine, further to the north.
We arrived in Portland to find that the coach station was located in an area known as South Portland - a run down, empty-feeling district with stores that sold things like bait, or knitwear, or both. Maine had a very remote feel - the landscape featured scrubby evergreen forest, old weatherboard houses and truck stops - and Portland felt miles from anywhere.
We were pretty hungry after the lengthy coach ride, so Eb went into a local supermarket while I waited outside. A machine next to me dispensed cans of a beverage called 'Bubba Cola', and a large 'No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service' sign was displayed on the door of the supermarket itself
Americans (with only a few exceptions) had been both friendly and helpful, and that trend continued when we were dropped off at the 60's era hotel where we were staying by a chatty and informative cab driver. Unfortunately we had booked the place over the Internet and it turned out to be next to a freeway a considerable distance out of town.
We gamely attempted to walk to central Portland, but found there was no access for pedestrians - our way constantly barred by major roadways, aquaducts and other impassables. This resulted in us using cabs to get around - costly, but worth it for the drivers who were all eccentric and informative guys.
Central Portland had a nice small town feel, with tiny coffee places, tiny restaurants specialising in seafood, and decent pubs. One store we stumbled across dealt specifically in salvaged items from shipwrecks and bizarre trinkets brought back from exotic locations by sailors, which resulted in a fascinating (and often grisly) collection.
We decided to blow a bunch of cash on eating a lobster for reasons that we've forgotten, and after a tour of the waterfront, decided on a place that featured a Spanish guy playing a bit of live entertainment. At one point, he noticed some guy attempting to find the toilets and started singing directions while playing flamenco, to the man's considerable embarrassment
We had planned to catch a coach to a town called Bar Harbor, but it proved to be just about impossible from where we were. Instead, we opted for a change and decided to head to Montreal.
Unfortunately it also proved impossible to travel directly from Portland to Montreal, as we were informed by a woman from the coach company whose obvious deep hatred for her job seemed to be only eclipsed by an even deeper hatred of people in general.
"Two tickets to Montreal, please." I said, and waited. She was staring at something intently on the her monitor, dead-eyed and slowly chewing on a piece of gum (or jerky? tobacco?). She waited a full 5 minutes before turning her attention to me. "Whut?" she grunted. I repeated our request.
She looked at me like I'd just coughed up something infectious. "Yer gonna hafta talk slower. I jus' can't understand you." she drawled. "Two. Tickets. To. Montreal." I said, annoyed by this point. She slowly punched a few things into her keyboard. "Whut's yer name?" I stated my name. She slumped back in her chair and stared like I'd just said 'Hillary Clinton'. "Im'a hafta see I.D or somethin'."
I slid my ID over the counter, she glanced at it, and stabbed a few more times at the keyboard, then slid me some tickets
"Thanks, you've been great." I said, but by that point it was as if I was talking to an Easter Island statue. She had already returned to furrow-browed, slow-chewing contemplation of her monitor by the time we left. Good times.
The way the ticket was structured had us unfortunately travelling back to Boston, then heading northwest again to Canada - a 12 hour trip. When we finally arrived at the Canadian border it was very late and the passengers were clearly exhausted. The border post was a large, brightly lit beacon in the darkness.
We were instructed to disembark and proceed with our baggage through customs for 'questioning'. After a process similar to the one at New Jersey airport, we were asked to line up while a sniffer dog scampered excitedly between us, attempting to pick up incriminating scent. Eventually satisfied, the customs folk allowed us to re-board the bus for the pitch-black trip onward to Montreal
Montreal lit up the night sky as we approached. We arrived at the dingy coach station, and after walking along a strip that looked like one of the streets from 'Taxi Driver', picked the hotel that looked the least seedy (all windows intact? no guy sleeping in the doorway? thumbs up!). Early the next day we rapidly fled the red-light area in the direction the local youth hostel. The further we walked the nicer the city became, until we were eventually strolling past leafy parks and gleaming skyscrapers.
While wandering, we heard incredibly loud soundchecks coming from the direction of an outdoor stage by the water, and learned after asking around that Bjork was giving a performance that evening. This sounded kinda interesting, so we joined the already lengthy line to investigate tickets. These turned out to be hugely expensive, but as we waited we spotted a gap in the fence that provided a decent view of the stage.
This seemed like a far more budget conscious option, and after grabbing a decent meal we took up position by fence gap and waited. With the support act plagued by technical problems, we weren't really sure what to expect from the main event
After a while, people outside started drifting over to investigate why two people were apparently staring at the fence, and most decided to stay and watch the show. Eventually an impressive crowd had gathered, leaving security to attempt to shore-up the gap. The concert itself was pretty average. We spent a day or two swanning around Montreal before heading on to Toronto.
Thanks again for checking these out - it's much appreciated.
Liam & Eb