The longest train ride ever!!

In order to keep things cheap I’d put aside a whole day to make the long train journey from New York to Niagara, it turned out to be a really good idea. After a few tense moments finding platform in the complex Penn Station, I made my way on to Amtrak service 281 to find very comfy seats, power outlets and wifi! This is probably standard on most trains now I suppose, but I’ve not enjoyed such big comfy seats on a train before. This made the 9 hour, yes 9 hour, trip to Niagara much more bearable as I could sit back with my laptop and do what ever I liked, including enjoying the green rolling hills of upstate New York and even talking to one of my mates on Steam. As we drew into Niagara butterflies started to build as I knew the border was near and would prove the ultimate test of my paperwork!

This way to destiny!!

This way to destiny!!

Well I can’t say the border was much fun! Despite Canada being probably the most friendly nation I’ve met (tied with The Netherlands) I was scalded by the border guard in the manor of a disappointed teacher, mainly for having no fixed address for the duration of my stay and no Canadian phone number. I left the border feeling somewhat disgruntled, and then began to wonder that perhaps I’d given answers that they were looking for. Why, if I was entering for the first time, would I have a Canadian phone number already? And a fixed address? I think they were looking for people trying to re-enter having previously lived in Canada illegally before. If I was in that position I might have given up that info in an attempt to appease the belligerent border force. Clever!

Safely in Canada I made my way up to my next hostel and bedded down for the night.

New York – Day 4 – Last few places to see..

Things stayed at a relaxed pace for my last full day in New York. I spent the morning doing some much needed personal admin, including sorting out my stuff ready to head out Niagara, and writing blog posts! Then Erika and I headed over to Roosevelt island, going over the Tramway (that cable car in GTA 4), and enduring the searing afternoon sun to see the city from another angle. I didn’t realize that you can also see the UN building from here, which was cool. After that we headed to Bob White’s on the lower east side to have what I can say is the best fried chicken I have ever had! This place utterly destroys the likes of KFC or USA Chicken, the chicken I had was covered in a light spicy batter that was really tasty, and combined with a spiced cheese. Fantastic.

KFC eat your heart out!

KFC eat your heart out!

Stuffed, we headed to a roof top bar near the Empire State Building, and chanced upon the Flatiron building on the way which I didn’t expect. The building is another iconic sight in New York, and I hadn’t planned to make a special trip to see it, so I was really exciting to just turn around and find it behind me!

The unexpected suprise.

The unexpected suprise.

By this point it was now getting dark, so we made our way towards Times Square for one last look at the lights, circling the enormous Empire State Building on our way, perhaps next time I’m in New York I’ll go up it! Finally we made for the bar where we’d gone for a drink the I arrived, and after a couple of beers and a big hug we parted ways. On the way back to my room I found myself wondering how it had all gone so fast, and feeling so glad I had taken so many photos to help me remember this great part of my trip.

Enjoying the lights on my last night.

Enjoying the lights on my last night.

Any regrets?

Well some of you are probably thinking, “You went all the way to New York and didn’t go up the Empire State Building!?”. I had been expecting a trip to be organised to this through the hostel, which there wasn’t, Erika is unemployed at this point, and going up there on my own didn’t seem much fun, so I thought I’d save it for another trip. It doesn’t bother me however, as thanks to the hostel and Erika I saw waaay more of the city than I was expecting and had some great “Off the beaten track” experiences like Bob White’s and the little bar in Brooklyn, and its these that really enriched the trip. Everyone gawps at Time Square and takes selfies up the Empire State.

New York Day 3 – Chilling and Time lapsing…

After my tourism binge the day before, I was quite happy to take things at a slower pace! My main mission for today was to buy the keyboard for my tablet and see the High Line, a planted old railway the winds through the west side of Manhattan. Me and Erika got hot dogs from Chelsea market and did a spot of people watching on the High Line, enjoying the weather which has vastly improved from the days before, whilst I had a go at doing a timelapse.

The high line is awesome, if your in the city and looking for a pleasant walk its a must. It was quite crowded on this particular Sunday but still a very pleasant place to go walk through and enjoy some greenery. I’ve realised over the last few days that as a country bumpkin I need greenery and fresh air to feel human, so I’m not sure how long I could actually live in New York it seems I’d have to be near one of these parks to survive, which is expensive!

From there we nipped to the tiny Microsoft store in a shopping centre on Columbus Circle and then over to the flashy Apple store at the opposite corner. It wasn’t really on my list but it was close so why not. It looked pretty cool. In finding the Microsoft store we also saw Times Square in the day, which was no less spectacular. After a wander back through the park we made our way on the tube to Brooklyn to catch the sunset and have a frankly massive pizza. Whilst I’m in two minds about whether I could live in New York, I am strangely in love with this view, its quintessential cityscape and its fascinating.

Post sunset I nipped back for a few beers at Erika’s flat in Harlem. Harlem seems pretty cool, it was a hot night and there were lots of people gathered in the street socialising. I also experienced American TV! We watched the end of the latest series of Mad Men which was broadcast twice for some reason!! Very strange. I returned to the hostel to the familiar pattern of there being different people in my room every night!

 New York Day 2 – The (very) Grand tour..

On my second full day I signed up for the mammoth “Jerri’s Grand Tour” and grand it was indeed! Starting with the Brooklyn promenade, which is definitely one of my favourite places in the city, we made our way along the side of Brooklyn and crossed the Brooklyn Bridge back onto Manhattan, the bridge is fantastic, with a busy wooden walkway stretching it’s length, the view is spectacular as you might expect and its from here that I started to gain an idea of New York’s sheer scale, some buildings like the Empire State and Chrysler were much further from the bridge than I expected.

Pretty cool for a bridge.

Pretty cool for a bridge.

Decending off the bridge, past the frankly tiny city hall, we made our way to the World Trade Centre memorials. Dominating the New York skyline and towering over the site itself is the enormous (and apparently terrorist proof) WTC 1. Its not finished yet but I’d love to come back and go up it some day, its very impressive and sort of sums up Americas attitude to recovering the site – making it better than it was before. A polite two fingers up at those who caused the destruction remembered below. The memorial itself was vast and looking out over the two squares you get an idea of the huge part of the skyline that the towers made up. A lot of people talked about the metaphors of the falling water, but I found the squares themselves summed up pretty well the gaping hole left in the lives of those connected directly to the attacks, through family and friends. Our guide said it pretty well “Everyone knows someone who either was lost or lost someone” so you can get an idea of the sense of togetherness that New Yorkers feel towards the attacks. However I was taken slightly aback by some of people around the site who were taking smiley holiday snaps and even “selfies” at the sides of the squares, I didn’t really feel the need to even smile all that much while I was there. The mood did become more jubilant just before we left though as we were treated to a great rifle drill display from the US Coast Guard, I wish I could throw around a .22 rifle around so well!

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After that we made our way along the Hudson river down to the Staten Island ferry terminal and went on the free ferry itself past the Statue of Liberty the statue is a little smaller than you’d think from photos but its still very impressive. I saw it exactly the way I wanted too as well, from a boat, just like the early migrants to the city would have seen all those years ago.

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From the ferry we then headed through Chinatown and Little Italy, both were pretty cool, and surprisingly literally right next to each other, thought there would be a block or two of mixture or genericness, but its literally from one street to the next. We then visited some artists in trendy Soho and then made our way to an Indian restaurant.

Just so much light!!

Just so much light!!

By this point we’d been on the go for nearly 12 hours and jet lag was beginning to make everything seem all the more surreal! My jet-lagged state made the sheer size of everything seem even more crazy as we wandered through the streets to the incredible Grand Central Station, Rockefeller Centre and finally Times Square, I spent much time gaping and staring upwards at this point, uttering phrases like “It’s just massive” and “I can’t get over the scale of it!”. Times Square was particularly mental, for anyone reading this who hasn’t been there; take what you expect from pictures of it and multiply that by about 100. By this point it was well past midnight and time for me to promptly pass out in my hostel bunk!

Arriving in New York and Day 1

New York looked more like Glasgow when I arrived, grey and wet! Thankfully my trip through US customs was fairly quick and uneventful although I was surprised to see that even the people checking my passport had guns! I opted to get to Manhattan on the air-train and tube which worked pretty well. New York has so many friendly people and every time I found myself staring at a map someone would stop and help me out, it was really great! Despite jet lag I was able to manage a couple of beers with my American friend Erika, who’s taught me about tipping over here. Basicly add a dollar or two to any beer that a human gives you!

After a half decent nights sleep on the hostel I headed over to central park on a free tour provided by a volunteer at the hostel, the place is a huge sprawling wilderness but is almost entirely man made, which sort of took the edge off its impressiveness a touch for me. Its still pretty awesome though, and is dotted with statues and sculptures and viewing spots, throughout tons of woodland and planted gardens. It seems essential to keeping everyone sane in the city too, as I found out afterwards the place a serious concrete jungle on a scale I’d barely imagined before I came here. Post tour I enjoyed some lone wandering down 72nd street to the mighty Hudson river, again much bigger than I expected, its not exactly the Thames!

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In the evening I met up with Erika and a couple of her friends and went to a rather trendy bar in Brooklyn. Brooklyn appears to be the hipster capital of New York and we started to feel rather under-dressed as the place filled up with people who actually worked for Armani I got away with it though because everyone knows what Skifree is… Jet lag brought the evening to a rapid end!

 

Leaving and the flights…

Go on, try it

Go on, try it

Mixed feelings as I say a tearful bye to Dad and head through the security sausage factory into the departure lounge. There’s a tiny part of me right at the back of my head that thinks “What are you doing this for?! Home is so nice!” But sitting there looking at the aircraft with the smell of burnt avgas wafting into the room start I filling with excitement..(Holidays begin at the airport for me)

This excitement only grows as the aircraft is brought to life and we make for the runway, passing an aircraft with a little Canadian flag on the way. Take off was pretty unremarkable I suppose, but there was a tinge of reflection as I glimpsed London’s Olympic park and my old neighbourhood of Leyton. Its where I lived when this whole idea started, so it was a bit poignant to see it just as I left. I GoPro’d the take off as well. (obviously!)

My double flights were actually pretty good mainly because I had an empty seat next to me on both legs and the entertainment system was loaded up with tons of music, movies and TV shows. It was certainly the best I’ve ever experienced! Bit nerdy but, all of Icelandair’s 757s are names after volcanoes. Best naming convention ever. The second one I was on is named after a volcano where they use geothermal energy to produce over 300W of electricity, how awesome is that!? Its called Hengill which to be honest also sounds like a good name for an owl. The first was call Öræfajökull, good luck pronouncing that one! The food is was also pretty good and included the biggest apple I’ve ever seen. Appropriate really….

Welcome!

Hi Everyone!

So I’ve decided to do this blog as a bit of a scrap book to record my adventures in Canada, and hopefully give people thinking about going there an idea of what its like. Also webGIS is getting big right now so this seems like a fun way to learn a bit of web design!

Plus everyone does different social things, Facegram, InstaTwit, InBook, Linkeder, Shouting in the Street, etc, and I can’t be assed to remember all those passwords so I’m creating this as a one stop shop, which I can plaster all over the above websites!

I’ll try to add lots of different and interesting things I go along.

Enjoy!