not long after i got on the bus, i was at the border, so we all had to get out and go through the drill, which was actually pretty painless this time and before i knew it was in seattle.
before i'd even made it to the states, i always knew i going to visit Seattle. growing up listening to the sounds of the Seattle grunge scene, how could i not? i guess in a lot of ways that's where my obsession with music all began. i don't really remember having much music in my house when i was a kid. it wasn't until years later, when i was in my mid teens, that i found my dad's record collection and it was full of classic albums like: The Who 'Live at Leeds', The Beatles 'Abbey Road' etc. when i found them, i was almost angry that i hadn't been brought up with this stuff - i had so much musical education to catch up on! so i guess you could say, it wasn't until my brother introduced me to Pearl Jam, that i really began listening to music. in someways the love affair with that style of music continues. every now and then i'll dust off the case off a Pearl Jam album and listen to it again. i still get a kick out of it. even though i've never been a heroin addict or really dealt with many of the subjects of the songs personally, it kind of feels like so much of my DNA is in those words and sounds. so as you can imagine it was pretty exciting for me to be in the place where it all started.
i read a bob dylan interview recently. in it he said how much he really admired Neil Young, so much so that a couple of years ago he found out where Neil used to live and went to his old house to have a look around, and kind of put himself in the same situations Neil was in. ie: looking out his bedroom window to have a look at what a young Neil might have seen, etc. i guess, to try to piece together whatever it is makes Neil Young and why he writes songs the way he does. when i read it, i totally identified with it.
i'm really into song writing, and occasionally i dabble in it a little bit. but i'm mainly into finding out how songs come about; where do songwriters get there influences from? how are they written? why were they written? where did those words come from? what makes a song make connect with you? how come sometimes a few words in a song can say exactly how you feel? music is really magic to me, i say magic because i just can't explain it. i guess you could say there are sometimes i'd really love to be a magician.
anyway, i kind of felt the same way Bob Dylan did as i walked around Seattle. experiencing all the sights and smells that my musical heros would've experienced. it was just cool to think that maybe this is the cafe Eddie Vedder gets his coffee from. having said all that. i found out what Eddie's address is in Seattle, and i'll be honest i toyed with the idea of going there, but then i thought:
A) it would be a bit creepy me hanging out the front of his house, but also
B) it might be a little disappointing.
i think sometimes when you meet your heroes, they dont live up to what you expect, so i thought it would be better just to let it be.
but i did go visit the house of one of Seattles rock stars, but i didn't think he would mind (he's a little bit too dead to do that), thats right, i went to Kurt Cobain's house. it was actually quite a modest place as far as mansions go. it kind of fit in with all the other shingle houses in the neighbourhood and had a nice view over the water and a little park next door. apparently he would go there and sit on the park bench. as you can imagine, the bench has turned into a bit of a shrine now. there is still a bit of mystery about his death, some people say his wife killed him or had him killed, (it seems that a lot of people that wrote on the bench seem to believe this one) others say he was simply depressed and wanted to end it all. i guess its one of those things that we'll never ever know. but i can't help but wonder, i wonder what his music would be like today?
while i'm on the dead guy theme, at my hostel there was a tour that visited all the dead famous people, like Kurts house, Jimi Hendrix’s grave, Bruce Lee’s grave (which i found by accident trying to find Jimi’s) but it was so popular that i couldn't get on it, so in order to visit the grave of Mr Jimi Hendrix, i had to catch a couple of buses out to where Jimi was buried. It wasn’t so bad because i met an older Australian lady by the name of Kathy at the hostel who was also keen to check out the grave, so at least i had someone to share the pain with. I should probably mention that public transport is free within the city during certain times of the day. Anyway, when we got there i was a little worried mainly because the cemetery was pretty big and i thought i would’ve been like looking for a needle in a hay stack. Christ i was wrong, talk about elaborate. the thing was bloody massive!
Anyway, while i’m on the topic, i should mention a book called 'where are they buried?' i brought it a couple of years ago and if you're like me and interested in reading about famous peoples lives, there demise and also where there buried, it might be up your alley.
considering Seattle grunge scene kind of goes hand in hand with heavy drug use, in particular, heroin. i kind of expected to find seattle to be a pretty dirty place. but infact i found the total opposite. of course there were a few people i noticed around town that had some battle scars from days gone by, but overall the city was really clean, the people here are really friendly and from what i saw, are really into recycling, as well as a large portion of people riding bikes.
The Capitol hill area was a bit of a highlight for me. I went up there one night with a couple of people for a drink, and we found this place that did old rock n roll dancing. even though my dancing was limited to doing the Twist (which i felt pretty embarrassed about because the people around me were amazing) it was still a fun night. Anyway, i decided to go up to Capital Hill during the day. There are some really nice little coffee shops there and also some good clothing shops. But the main reason i wanted to go was i wanted to go to bar called the comet tavern. Because it was where bands like Pearl Jam, Nirvana and various other seattle bands started. When i got there i found that there was a giant barrier around a few streets. I asked a couple of people what was going on, and found that there was a block party with a few local bands and also some bigger ones like the Gossip and Sonic Youth, who were headlining. Luckily i could still buy tickets too it (which was only US$25). Anyway, i got in, listened to a couple of bands, then make my way to the Comet. It was here i got chatting to a couple of people who lived in Seattle. It turned out to be the best thing i could’ve done. They took me under there wing and showed me some of acts that i should go and see. Then they invited me back to there place for drinks and even took me to there favourite restaurant (a little Mexican food place) which was very nice of them. After the block party finished we went to see a band called Champagne Champagne (click here to visit there myspace) who were friends of theres. Talk about a great day!
Of course its not just bands that have come out of Seattle. Starbucks, the coffee chain that we love to hate came from here and i went to 1912 Pike Place which is where it all started. I don’t know why i bothered to be honest i probably passed about 80 of them on the way there. But i do have a theory as to why Starbucks went so well in seattle. Its because Microsoft also started in Seattle. who works at Mircosoft? Nerds. and what do nerds need to stay up late and play ‘world of warcraft’ to all hours? Thats right, caffeine! To be totally honest seattle has quite a strong coffee culture and there are quite a number of coffee houses around Seattle, so its not that hard to find something descent to drink. Also Microsoft have quite a good name here. I’ve spoken to a lot of people here and, not only do they employ a hell of a lot of people, Bill Gates and his wife still live in Seattle and give a lot to charity and the community. Kudos to them, i say.
I saw one of Seattle’s most famous monuments, the Sky needle. Its pretty hard to miss to be honest. I didn’t bother going up, because it was quite expensive. Instead i opted to go to the building next to it the ‘Seattle music project’. Which, by the way, is a rather interesting building designed by Frank Gehry. Inside they had a exhibition of musical instruments once owned by a number of bands from the grunge era. As well as a great Jimi Hendrix section with a number of guitars, or should i say, debris because he had a bit of a habit of smashing them or setting them alight. Also they short documentaries on artist and interviews as well as little recording booths so you could record your own songs.
Public market is pretty famous, mainly for the fish mongers throwing the fish around. But i think the most interesting part of the Public market is down one of its little alleys. Its not that easy to find, but there is a wall that is covered in chewing gum. Its got to be one of top 10 most unhygienic sights in the world, but quite pretty in its own way (see the picture below to see what i mean).
While i was here i heard about a film festival called ‘HUMP!’ at first i thought that maybe HUMP stood for something, but nope. It is exactly what it is. Its a film festival for amateur porn film makers. Apparently it’s started here in Seattle back in 2005 and has been going strong ever since. Apparently its quite funny.
Something i found quite interesting was, a lot of Seattle’s revenue in the early days came from it having a big lumber industry. To get the timber from the top of the hill to the saw mill, they used to slide the trees down a road. It was this road that the locals named skid road which they believe the saying ‘skid row’ might have come from. Anyway, as you could’ve imagined, if you have a large lumber industry theres a good chance that the majority of the buildings in town would be built with timber. Problem was they had a massive fire and the majority of seattle burnt to the ground. To make sure this never happened again, the government need to put in a decent water system. But of course they had no money, they needed taxes. When it came time for people to rebuild there establishments, the government told them that they had to build the first level of there buildings with brick or stone. Sounds like a pretty strange request huh? Actually, its genius! They figured out that it they shoot water cannons that the mountains and more or less create a small landslide that would cover the town up to the first story, then they would used the first floor, which would now be a basement to link all the pipes together.
I did a tour of the underground city, which was quite interesting. There were still bits and pieces people had left behind etc. Apparently many shops kept trading underground for many years, until it was closed to the public. Later, during the prohibition years, it was secretly used as to start up speakeasy’s and do other illegal activities.
I really enjoyed Seattle. It might be that i met a number of cool, interesting people. Not just at the block party, but also in my hostel, though there was one asian guy in my hostel who kept calling me ‘handsome’, i know what you’re thinking, I should be getting used to men cracking on to me by now, but i think this was more of a case of his English skills weren’t that great.
I found Seattle quite a cool, edgy and at times wacky place to visit. Its definitely somewhere i would like to come back to some day. next i'm catching a flight to San Francisco, to meet up with Josh and Kate, who i began the trip with, to experience some more of the wild west. California, here i come!
We got to the first bus station and the bus driver crashed the bus into the shelter and got stuck. I’m not a racist guy whatsoever and I do my best not to believe stereotypes, but I had a good giggle at the Asian people on the bus rolling there eyes at how bad the bus drivers driving was.
After a while of the bus driver trying to unhook himself from the shelter, a guy, who was also going to the airport, and I decided to give the bus a miss and catch a cab to the airport bus station. It was lucky I left so early but it ended up being a bit of a struggle checking in on time.
Canada doesn’t really have a great selection of airlines. I heard that there used to be a number of budget airlines but they were bought out by Air Canada, so Air Canada has a bit of a monopoly of Canadian skies. Except for West Jet, which is who I flew with. Something interesting about West Jet, is the employees own a share of the company, which makes the staff really friendly and very helpful. Also they are a bit fun, like cracking jokes during the safety procedures etc. I find flying is more enjoyable when it’s not taken so seriously, also I think it relaxes people who aren’t good flyers too. Considering it’s a budget airline, you still get a free drink and also some biscuits as well as free use of the TV, which is something you don’t normally get from a budget airline back home.
Anyway, after about 5 hour flight, I touched down in Vancouver and was greeted by my sister, Jeanette, her husband, Andrew, and my niece and nephew, Phoebe and Jeremy. It was so great to see them! The reason they live in Vancouver now is because Andrew got transferred with his job, and it was also a good experience for the kids, so they moved over about a year ago.
We drove from the airport and went straight to there new home. They live in a suburb of Surrey which is a little seaside area, a little under an hour out of Vancouver city. When we pulled into there street, it reminded me of Wisteria Lane from the TV show ‘Desperate Housewives’. It’s a really nice street with some beautiful homes on it and there house is no exception. I got my own room down stairs with a bathroom and everything! More than anything, it was nice to be in a family environment again and not live out of a backpack for a while.
The first week I was here I really didn’t do a lot, which was fine by me. I really just wanted to chill out, sleep in to catch up on some rest and spend some time with family. As much as I love my niece and nephew, I’ll be honest, it took me a little getting used to having kids around. Having been on my own for quite a while, and not having much interaction with kids along the way, I forgot about how full on they are. They wanted me to play with them all the time, I was pretty exhausted and wasn’t in the mood for being the ‘cool uncle’. When they didn’t get there way, they weren’t to happy about it. But after a while I got used to it and got move involved. In the end I kind of enjoyed listening to them having tantrums just so I could hear the inventive ways they would procrastinate going to bed or the reason why they didn’t eat there dinner but somehow had room for ice cream.
I picked up Phoebe from school a couple of times before she finished for the year. (they finish school in the middle of year to coincide with summer, which is different to back where we finish at the end of the year) and Jeremy just finished Kinder so I got to go to his graduation. It was pretty cute. The kids did some plays like ‘the 3 little pigs and the big bad wolf’ etc. I might be bias but Jeremy was the best little pig in my opinion, and also the smartest – he made his house out of bricks! At the end they got to come up and get there certificate to say they passed kinder. On the way up to collect it, the teacher read out a questionnaire the kids had answered. they had questions like: ‘what was the best thing you learnt at kinder?’ and ‘what is your favourite memory at kinder?’, and you got the kind of answers kids of that age would say like ‘playtime’ etc. but my favourite question was ‘what do you want to be when you get old?’ we got a few girls who wanted to be Fairies and Princesses and Jeremy and a few of the other boys wanted to be Fireman but my favourite answer came from a cute little petite girl who wanted to be… a Hunter!?
I wondered if the kids would have kept there Australian accents or if they have adopted Canadian accents. It turned out they have a bit of both. Phoebe has a stronger accent, that she goes in and out of being both Australian and Canadian. I’ve noticed that when someone Canadian talks to her she flips into Canadian mode. I guess its only natural she’s at school and interacts with Canadian people all the time. Jeremy on the other hand still sounds Australian, mainly because he hasn’t started school full time as yet. But still has some interaction with Canadians when he goes to Kindergarten, so the occasional word has a bit of a twang to it. I’m sure it will get stronger.
Phoebe’s not such a little kid these days, she has developed her own little personality and you can have some grown-up conversations with her too. She’s also learning electric guitar, so I had lots of fun showing her chords and writing silly songs with her. while i was here i introduced her to bands like The Cure (i think 'Love Cats' is her new favourite song, i'd catch her humming it all the time) and the Beach Boys (i think 'Surfin' Surfari' is a close second)
Jeremy is a cute little fella, but he’s also a little terror! He's loud and never stops talking, even when he goes to the bathroom! I was starting to think that he was having conversations with his poo, and maybe it was talking back to him! but having said all that, he has a shy side too. but boy, can that kid eat! it felt like he had an appetite 24/7 - i dunno how it all fits in there! Jeremy’s just hit that age where he likes pushing boundaries and he can be a bit of a handful at times, but deep down I know it’s just a phase and he’ll grow out of it.
They’re both a crack up. So often they would say funny stuff without them even realizing it. In some ways I was a little shocked to find how much both of them have grown. I kind of found it a little sad that I missed out on seeing them grow up over the last couple of years of me living interstate and traveling abroad. And now, with them living over overseas, I’m sure it will be just as tricky.
OK, enough about my family, more about TRAVEL. as i said, i spent a fair bit of time at the family home, but i did venture into Vancouver a few times to check it out. Vancouver is currently planning for the 2010 Winter Olympics and its no wonder they won the bid to hold them here. Vancouver is the 2nd most livable city in the world and it doesn’t get that reputation for nothing - It’s a really nice city.
before i came here i watched 'No Reservations' which is a TV show hosted by Anthony Bourdain, who is a chef. its a really good show. not only does he talk about food in the city, he gives you some really good information and background about the city. one of the things that he bought up food wise was, there is a street vendor that sells hot dogs with a Japanese twist. he does them with seaweed sprinkled on top, and forget about mustard or ketchup, he puts wasabi on the top! i had to give one a go. it was kind of interesting but, i didn't really rate it to highly. 2 thumbs down from me.
Granville Island is an interesting part of town too. i guess you would say its a little more alternative. with markets, and art galleries and pan flute, plenty of pan flutes. you can't have a hippy market without them, its practically a prerequisite when starting market, that and someone has to be walking around with dreadlocks.
one thing i've noticed since being overseas is how a lot of countries make a big effort to have a lot of green space, even if they are a massive city. i noticed that Vancouver has a few little parks scattered around the town, but probably Stanley park is the most noticeable one. its really nice to walk around in. not only does it have some amazingly beautiful trees, they little art and craft markets and a couple of restaurants too. i think you could probably spend days just wandering in there. they also had a miniature railway in the middle of the park, and of course the kids dragged us on in. i think its really funny what kids find fun and interesting.
while i was here we did a week long family trip to Vancouver Island. family holidays are always tricky, especially when your kids are young. there were always going to be plenty of 'are we there yet?' and 'he punched me!' coming from the back of the car. but i wasn't quite ready for the car sickness. we weren't that far into the trip when we got a 'i don't feel well' followed by a projectile vomit, it was like something out of the movie, the Exorcist. lucky Jeanette had it covered and had a some sick bags handy.
first couple of days we spent in Victoria, (which is actually the capital of British Columbia, not Vancouver like me, and most people think) it wasn't a very big place but it was pleasant.
the picture below is where we stayed... just kidding. but it is probably one of the things i was most impressed with. the Empress hotel was built in 1908 for a few million dollars (which i imagine would've been an obscene amount back in those days) i think it would be a great setting to shoot a movie in. don't you think? apparently Hollywood does shoot a lot of movies in Canada, because it keeps costs down.
it was here in Victoria that i did a whale watching tour. Jeanette had gone once before and told me it was a must do. god i'm glad i went. we saw so many Killer Whales and they came up so close to the boat (the closest was probably about 10m away), they are such amazing creatures.
on the way to our next destination, we stayed a night in Port Alberni. Port Alberi is a bit of a nothing town. even though they say its the 'Salmon capital of the world'. i know, its a pretty big call, but we did see some salmon swimming up stream and jumping out of the water. it actually reminded me a lot of the clip below.
from there we spent a few nights in Ucluelet. we did a couple of tours there one was a bear watching boat tour. the boat was flat bottomed to you could go up really close to the bears on the shore. one of the bears even climbed a tree! the other tour we did was to the natural hot springs, which were very relaxing. its kind of hard to believe that the hot water comes from the earth and not out of a shower! to get to the hot springs you have to take a boat, because its out in the woods. on the way back to town we spotted some lousy grey whales, which are much bigger than the killer whales i'd seen a few days earlier. i guess you're wondering why i called them 'lousy grey whales'. most people would find spotting whales pretty exciting, but i was hoping to spot a sasquash. mainly becuase it would've been great to write about in the blog. unfortunately my sasqutch hunt wasn't as fruitful...
from the parts of Canada i've seen so far, i'd have to say BC has some of the most beautiful nature and probably the most stereotypical. plenty of pine trees that seem to be millions of years old etc. it might be all this fresh air going to my head, but i might be joining Greenpeace, chaining myself to trees and throwing myself in front of harpoons soon.
as we were driving around i kept noticing stones getting placed on top of each other, that almost resemble a giant rock person. Phoebe told me they were called Inukshuk's and they were made by the indigenous people of Canada as a marker so they could remember how to get back to the same spot. apparently each tribe had there own design.
we weren't that blessed with great weather so we didn't get to take advantage of the beaches, but still, i had a great time on Vancouver Island, and somehow we managed to get through the week without wringing the neck of one of the kids. bonus!
i know, i'm a nerd, but I’m interested in brands. Mainly because they generally do some pretty strange stuff. It could be just me, but they get even more wacky when you hit North America. One day we went and got ice creams from ‘Dairy Queen’ or as its now known, ‘DQ’ (it seems to be the corporate fashion to abbreviate names at the moment). DQ are known for having a little swirl at the top of there ice creams. Andrew was telling me that they go to great lengths to making the swirl just right, and its so important to the brand, that they have patent the swirl so no other ice cream shop can be serve there ice cream that way! A little absurd, don’t you think? But it doesn’t stop there, as we were chatting one night a Harley Davidson drove passed and he told me that the tone that come out of a Harley’s exhaust is also patent. Crazy, huh?
while i was here, we went for lunch one day at a restaurant chain call 'Earls'. as i was sitting at our table i couldn't help but notice something. i lent over and said to Jeanette and Andrew, ' have you noticed that every single one of the waitresses are ridiculously good looking? like i mean, not one of them is ugly...' Andrew told me that Earl's (and a couple of other restaurants) as known for hiring a certain type of employee. i'm guessing that type is: 5'11'', petite, D cup, Brunette or Blonde. apparently its written into the code of conduct that employees are encouraged to openly flirt with patrons. i couldn't get over it! but when you think about us men seem to fall for it, the more i looked at the patrons, the more i began to realize that there clientele were men, and i guess if you're actually stupid enough to believe that the waitress is really THAT into you, you need your head read. on the other hand, i was a little shocked that in this day and age, they can get away with only hiring attractive people. but as Andrew told me 'how can you prove otherwise?'. fair point.
As I mentioned, the first week I didn’t really do much, so it gave me a lot of time to catch up on movies I wanted to see and watch a bit of TV. Below is one of the as that I saw quite a bit.
You get these types of ads all the time here, its true, we have similar ones back home. But wherever I am when I see one, I always ask myself the same question, ‘Who buys this shit?’. the scary thing is, as soon as this ad come on, i bet a bunch of Stepford wives out there instantly pick up the phone, dial the 1800 number and buy a dozen. i personally think these kind of ads are hilarious - the acting in them is horrible! i mean, who really shakes there head when they open up a crowded closet? but probably my favourite bit is the offers. you know the ones. 'you call in the next 30 seconds you get a free set of steak knives!' the thing is, these ads get run so often it doesn't matter if you don't call now, just call them in the next ad break, where i guarantee the same ad will be running again.
something that, while being here in Canada, has kind of annoyed me. i noticed that a lot of American tourist pay with American money, which in someways i find a little bit disrespectful and comes cross as a bit arrogant, like the greenback is the only important currency in the world or something. i mean, if your visiting a different country you might as well use there currency. how hard is it to get money from an ATM? actually, come to think of it, i came across it while i was in europe too. i dunno, maybe i'm getting on my high horse over nothing.
well, i guess its time to move on before i start to wear out my welcome. i didn't even realize it but i've been here for nearly 4 weeks! its mainly because i've had such an enjoyable time here. i'll admit, i have noticed that i've slowed down my pace a lot over the last couple of months, perhaps i'm running out of puff? i guess this much time on the road can do that to you. but in a lot of ways, spending sometime with family has made me wind down even more, and i guess its made me feel even more ready to come home. but when i think about it, there's not that many cities left in this trip, so there's no time to get all homesick, i'll be home before i know it.
anyway, before i got to Ottawa i remembered that my old high school friend, Aphra, who lives in Ottawa, had she had sent me an email at the start of my travels, saying that if i came her way to let her know. i thought they we might just catch up for a drink or something, but lucky for me she invited me to stay with her and her boyfriend for a couple days.
it was really good to see Alpha, it had been so long since i saw her last, but the most refreshing part was, she hadn't changed a bit. The reason Aphra is living here, is because she began traveling, just like me, around the world, but only got as far as Banff where she met her, now boyfriend, Gord. Gord's original from Ottawa so that's why they live here. i don't blame her for cashing in her around-the-world ticket, Gord is a really nice guy, i think the feeling is mutual when i say, we got on like a house on fire.
the first couple of days we stayed in a house that they rent that's not far from town so i could do some exploring. then the next couple of days we stayed with Gord's family at there farm which gave me an opportunity to get outside of a city for a while and experience something different. the family house is a beautiful old place, with a giant barn out the back to keep the horses. Gord's parents, Harry and Nancy, were very kind to me, serving up some amazing food - i hadn't eaten that well in a long time!
one day i helped Nancy pick up some horse feed. it was really strange, just the smell of malassis in the air, instantly transported me back to when i was younger. my Auntie and Uncle used to have a farm in Mansfield. when i was younger i used to go up there a fair bit and feed the horses and and 'help out' around the farm. i have such fond memories of those times. riding (and falling off) motor bikes with my dad, going down to the creek, catching frogs and going into town for lunch. it was really nice thinking about those moments i had, i hope i never forget them.
before i got here, people were telling me to avoid Ottawa like the plague. 'it's boring, why would you want to go there?!!' they were all saying. Maybe i had low expectations, but i didn't find it to be that bad. They had a little market area called the Byward market that i liked, it was here that i tried a beaver tail. no, i didn't eat a REAL beaver's tail, it was like a big flat cinnamon donut. apparently its the thing to do while you're in Ottawa. it was good!
i think Ottawa would be a really nice place to visit in the winter. the river that runs though the city freezes over, so you can skate up and down it. there are probably people out there that are thinking, 'so what?', but i think it might be because i'm Australian, rivers don't really freeze much, if at all, in Australia, so the whole concept seems so exciting and foreign to me, apparently they set up stalls on the ice and everything.
Ottawa is the capital of Canada and it actually has a similarity to Australia's capital, Canberra. both cities were built in the middle of two major cities because they couldn't decided which city was going to be the capital. of course with it being the capital, it has a number of government buildings, statues of important dead people and monuments. Parliament hill is generally where they all are, you can picked them from a mile off, Parliament Hill is perched right on a hill, funnily enough, that over looks the water. i heard that there is a limit on how tall you can build buildings here in Ottawa so that that it doesn't overshadow the buildings on Parliament Hill, it might be rubbish, so don't quote me on that.
i don't think the similarities stop at where we have our capitals cities. i've found Canadian's to be very much like Australian's. i think we have a similar sense of humour, and when you think about it we have a similar history ie: being part of the commonwealth. having said that they have Queen Elizabeth on there currency too, but she looks a bit older compared to the ones back home, maybe they gave her a face lift. speaking on money they call there $1 coins 'loonies' because of the picture of the Loon on the back. and they called $2 coins 'toonies' after cartoons... ok, not really. i'm not really sure why they call them that. i'm still a bit confused by the money you would expect that there size would depend on how much its worth, but the 10 cent piece is smaller than the 5 cent piece!?!
if looking at buildings isn't your cup of tea, hopefully art is. i checked out the national gallery and i was surprised at how good it was. They also had and exhibition for the 'Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts' they were all pretty good, except for a couple. but there was one artist that stood out for me. her name was Rita McKeough and her work was pretty nutty. lots of things hooked up to machines to make them work or make things move - it was awesome! i'm a big fan of kinetic sculpture, so this really tickled my fancy. just in the general section they had Andy Warhol's 'Brillo Boxes' and Chuck Close potrait. one thing i really liked there was, one artist had made a dinosaur-like skeleton of out of plastic deck chairs - it was amazing. in the Canadian art section, i also really liked 'Pavane' (see picture below) by an artist from Quebec called Jean Paul Riopelle. the painting was created by smearing the paint which i thought was quite cool.
while we're in the capital i should probably mention of of the most fun things on earth - tax. Canadian's get taxed quite a bit. depending on which bracket your in, you can be taxed up to 50% of your earnings. but it does have a few perks, if you're Canadian you do get free health care, which is always a good thing.
While i was here i had my first Tim Horton's experience. Tim Horton's is a fast food franchise here in Canada, it was started by a Hockey player by the name of, you guess it, Tim Horton. Tim ended up dying in a car accident and his widow ended up selling off his share of the company for next to nix, she's probably kicking her self now, its the biggest, even bigger than McDonald's and Subway, fast food chain in Canada. There menu consists of Bagels, Coffee, Muffins, Doughnuts, and 'Tim Bits' which are dough nut holes as well as a few other things. i had a bagel and some Tim Bits. it was pretty good as far as fast food chains go, actually i was surprised at how cheap it was too.
from Ottawa, i risked life and limb again and caught the Greyhound down to Toronto. actually the bus ride was quite good. i sat next to a girl who had good taste in music, in fact i noticed she was playing the Pearl Jam album, 'Yield'. i was surprised because not many people really rate that album, but its probably one of my favourtie albums of all time. anyway, we chatted about the album, amongst other things, which made the bus trip a lot easier to get though. when i got into Toronto i tracked down my old friends from University days, Elle and Angie, who i was very excited about staying with for a few days. a few years ago, just after we finished uni, they won a big advertising award that allowed them to work at a Leo Burnett office of there choice, 3 years on there still in Toronto working at Leo Burnett, and still loving it by the sounds of things.
the first night i got there, they took me to some advertising shin-dig. but i can't remember any of it - i got so trashed! i've had big nights before, and usually i get flashbacks of things that i did or said, but the next morning i had no recollection of what i did. in some ways it's a shame i can't remember any of it, it sounds like i had the night of my life! Angie and Elle told me that i was dancing with the CEO of some big advertising company and playing air guitar on my knees. sounds like i'll never work in Toronto.
Elle and Angie took me to some of the cool places to hang out. we spent a fair bit of time in and around the kensington market area, which i really liked. full of cool little vintage and recycled clothing stores, somehow angie persuaded me to buy a marching band jacket! there are plenty of cool little bars around that area too, come to think of it, we were pretty much booze hounds the whole time i was there.
while i was in Toronto i did a day trip down to a waterfall, you might have heard of it, its called Niagara falls. before i got there, i had heard that the Canadian side is a lot better than the American side of the falls, and it was very true, the American view is pretty rubbish. apparently the falls used to move something like 6 meters every year. i got took the 'Maid of the Mist' which is a ferry that goes right into the horseshoe falls, it was pretty cool to hear the roar of the water crashing around you, also a bit mental that you can drive a boat in that close to them. its funny, whenever you ask a canadian 'what is it that makes you Canadian?' the first thing they say is 'well, were not american' but i was a little confused, because as we were going through the falls there was plenty of fist punching and 'yeah!! whoo hoo!!' going. very american if you ask me. but who knows, they may have come from the American side.
Niagara itself is a strange place. one minute your seeing an amazing natural wonder, then next your bombarded with Haunted house's, Gift shops, 'Ripley's believe it or not' and 'Guinness World record' stores. i guess its not for everyone, but i kind of enjoyed looking at how incredibly tacky the place was. the drinking age in Canada is 19 years old, which is lower than in America, which is 21. so a lot of American's cross the border so they can drink. because Niagara is right on the border, i imagine it gets a lot of Yanks coming over to whet there whistle. so maybe the stores and attractions are more interesting when your tipsy.
i would say i saw a lot of Toronto, but i'm pretty sure Elle and Angie showed me all the good places. it didn't really matter, truth be told, i just wanted to hang out with them again. it was so good to see them. seeing there apartment and hearing the stories behind the furniture that they had brought or found for it, meeting the friends that they'd made over here, showing me there favourite shops. it really really great to see them so happy and how settled they are here. i've really missed them since they left Melbourne, we used to have some great nights out together, but who knows, one day we might share a city again.
i had a great time in both Ottawa and Toronto, mainly because i've seen some familar faces, which has been really nice. i'm flying to Vancouver next to see some more familiar faces: my sister, my brother in-law, my niece and my nephew. i can't wait to see them!
i got recommended a cool hostel to stay at while i was here in Montreal. i've found that usually if you get recommended a place, its pretty good and generally thats how i travel. i might have a bit of a look on hostelworld.com beforehand but i hardly ever book anything, mainly because i'm an indecisive sod but also i think its half the fun of traveling. i guess i've got away with it quite easily because i haven't really been traveling in peak season, so i might have to change my routine pretty soon. gay marriage is legal in Canada. i think Quebec as a provance was one of the first to make it legal. so i guess i shouldn't have been surprised when i saw a mass of rainbow flags and men in hot pants right near my hostel.
i met some really nice people while i was at my hostel so we did a fair bit of sightseeing together. one day we hired bikes and rode them to the top of Mount Royal. it was a pretty tough ride up, mainly because the bikes were really heavy but the view from the top was nice and so was the ride down. actually, Montreal got gots its name from Mount Royal. makes sense when you think about! while i was on my bike i noticed quite a number of markets and stuff going on around the city and not only on weekends too. there are some great little streets around Montreal full of vintage clothing as well as new labels.
overall i think Montreal is quite edgy and a bit dirty in places, but i prefer that. probably the most touristy area is the old town. mainly because its got lots of old buildings and restaurants, also it has the Notre Dame Basilica, which i walked passed but i didn't bother going in, A) because you had to pay to get in it and B) i've seen so many churches and basilicas, i've lost count.
winter Canada sounds pretty greuling, its so cold infact that that Montreal has an underground city, full of shops and restaurants to escape the elements. while i'm sort of on the topic of architecture, there was a building that i spotted while i was walking along the dock in the Old town that i found interesting. i later found out it was called 'Habitat 67' and it was built to demonstrate cheap and affordable living for the Expo in 1967. it was apparently meant be be pulled down after the Expo but it was spared. i'm kind of in two mind of whether i like it or not. on one hand it looks like someones thrown a bunch of block on top of each other, in other words, a bit of an eye sore. but then again i like the idea of affordable living. it kind of reminds me of how IKEA are currently trying to make affordable housing (click here if your interested finding out more about IKEA's affordable housing). apparently Habitat 67 isn't so affordable these days, infact there very much in demand and expensive. i think i'd like them more if they were less of them. i'll leave a picture of the apartment block so you can make up your own mind.
i got told that i should try some smoked meat while i was here and that a deli called Schwartz's on St Laurent st is the best place to get it from, so i decided that i would check it out. when i got there i was shocked to find that the line was running out the door. i had to wait a little but but holy moley it was worth it. i sat down and went to order a mixture of stuff but and the waiter said 'no, no, no, you don't want that, i'll tell you what your after' i laughed because i thought i was having a Seinfeld moment, instead of the Soup Nazi i had the Meat Nazi. i decided to run with it and i'm glad i did, it was delicious! i think if i got too much stuff i would've had taste overload.
i get the feeling that food is a big part of the people of Montreal. there are plenty of restaurants and you see people eating out quite a bit. supposedly seafood is really good here.
in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in 1969, John lennon and Yoko Ono did one of there 'Bed-in' protests against the Vietnam war. i tried the Amsterdam Hilton when i was there, because it was the first of the bed-in protests, but nobody knew where it was, but i guess the Queen Elizabeth Hotel in Montreal is a close second. so casually walked into this swanky hotel and got in the lift to go up to room 1742. i thought someone might stop me because i wasn't staying there, but i guess they were too busy to even notice me. there was a little plaque on the door that had John and Yoko's name on it. it was pretty cool because that was the room they recorded the anthem 'Give Peace a Chance'.
incidentally, while i was here there was a John and Yoko exhibition at one of the art galleries. it was pretty cool, they had some of John and Yoko's art work, the guitar John used during the recording of 'Give Peace a Chance' and various pictures and recordings they made together. there was this one piece where it was a white phone on the wall. i was a little confused about it so i asked one of the people working at the gallery what it was all about. apparently Yoko calls once a day and who ever is lucky enough to answer gets to chat with her. i imagine (pardon the pun) that most people would say stupid stuff like 'oh, i'm such a BIG fan Miss Ono' but you know what? if i answered i'd ask her the tough questions like 'why did you break up the greatest band of all time?'.
i'm a fan of John Lennon's music, but i really hate the way people (and Yoko) has made him into this marytr feature. i read a fair bit about John and he's not perfect. if you really wanted to be honest you could call him a hypocrite. for instance in the song 'imagine' he sings 'imagine no possession, its easy if you try...' then you see him in the filmclip in a massive mansion and his wife is wearing a fur coat. i'm not denying that he did some great things for so many people and for for peace, i just think that he should be remembered as a human being with good points and bad points, just like the rest of us. i think we can all admit to being hypocrites every now and then, i sure can. i think its funny how when people die, sometimes history changes to make that person sound better (or sometimes, worse) and not exactly what they were.
while i was in Montreal i decided i would spend a couple of days in Quebec City. to catch a greyhound bus there it was going to cost me something like $40 one way but i got a really hot tip from my hostel that there was a guy that has a van that drives back and forth every day he picked you up and dropped you off for $25, so i went with him. he was a really nice guy actually. he pointed out a few good cheap eats as well as a couple of places to have a drink.
the hostel i stayed in was really nice. really friendly and homely. i met some nice travellers there too. one girl from Spain who couldn't stop talking about how much she loved Australia when she visited a couple of years ago and how much she wanted to come back. i had no idea how hard it was to get into Australia. i had the feeling she was going to propose to me so she could get citizenship (just quietly, i was hoping she would - she was red hot!). anyway, enough of that. more about Quebec City.
Quebec City is a really beautiful little place, i think it was founded by the french way back when, and then it was taken over with a surprise attack from the english. i found it very hard to believe i was in North America, because it actually reminded me very much of europe, with the beautiful and very european looking Château Frontenac Hotel and various cute little stone cottages and little windy lanes built around it, also the original city was a walled, which is not to uncommon for european cities. but there was something different about it, it took me a little while to put my finger on it, but i think i figured out what it was: the lighting. it seemed way too bright, the way light was hitting the buildings seemed totally different to the way it does in europe. i might think that because i travelled europe mainly in winter and early summer but thats my theory, and i'm sticking to it!
both Montreal and Quebec City are part of the provance of Quebec, which means they are bilingual, speaking both english and french. i didn't really run into much trouble in Montreal because most people could speak english, but i did have a few troubles in Quebec City, everything is pretty much in French. i heard the french that they use here is different to the french spoken in france. its probably a dialect. but in recent years the have made a real effort to improve the quality of the french that is spoken in Quebec. which is similar to what i heard in Paris about 'the immortals' (click here to read about my Paris blog) to find out the reason they speak french in an English speaking country, your gonna have to read on a little further, for now i'm going to talk about the Citadalle fort.
it was built because the English owned the area and kept getting attacked by the Yanks so they built the Citadalle to fend off future attacks. it ended up being a big waste of money because the Americans never attacked again, but maybe that was becuase they knew they didn't stand a chance. the Citadalle is built in a star shape so that no matter which way you attack it, it doesn't have a weak point. regardless of how battle proof the Citadalle is, the government were really worried that the people of Quebec might side with American's so thats why they allowed the people to speak french. thats why people here still speak french. today the citadalle is still used as an army barracks and the Governor General lives there too, but you can do tours of area.
from what i can gather Quebec as a provence is quite different to the rest of Canada. not only do they speak french they apparently they do a lot of things the french way ie: tax etc. recently they wanted to be seperate from Canada. they even went to the poles and only missed out on being there own country by 1%. i wouldn't be surprised that in the near future that they do seperate.
i liked the dock area. they had some nice little shops and areas you could sit, have a drink and people watch for a while. another nice little area to chilled out in were the leafy parks near the Citadalle. they were actually designed by the guy who designed New York's Central park.
while i was here i ended up running into a girl and a guy that i met in Montreal and we ended up going for a drink in the revolving restaurant. it sounded pretty corny to me, and when i saw the menu i was glad we were only staying for a drink. but one thing that was well in my price range was the view. i sipped my drink very slowly and revolved as many times as i could before reality set in and i got given the bill.
apparently the best maple syrup come from Quebec (though i person from Quebec told me that, so they may be a little bias) so i had some pancakes and maple syrup. there were two types of syrup i could try. they stuff they make all year round, and the legit stuff that comes from the maple trees. i tried them both and the legit stuff was so much better. the waitress told me the best time for maple syrup is just after winter when they gather the sap from the maple trees and make the syrup. i got told i should try another delicacy from this part of the world, a thing called 'poutain'. i find it hard to believe that a french person could think of such a horrible, fatty dish. it consists of french fries, with cheese curd and gravy all melted together! i shared it with a couple of other people, i took a few mouthfuls but that was more than enough for me. i could almost feel my cholesterol rising with every bite.
in the provence of Quebec there really proud of singer Celine Dion, shes probably one of there biggest exports. but i dunno, i'd be disowning her pretty quick smart! have you ever seen her do a version of AC/DC's 'Shook me all night long'? it was pretty cringe worthy, i'm pretty sure Bon Scott rolled in his grave, and he didn't even sing it! check the video below to see what i mean...
while i was walking around town i went into an American Apparel shop to have a look around. i was just wandering around, minding my own business when a girl that worked at the shop asked me if i needed a hand with anything. i said 'no thanks, i'm just having a look around' from that she must've noticed my accent and asked me where i came from, to which i replied 'i'm from Australia'. she said 'oh, i met an Australian guy while i was traveling overseas...' i was like 'oh yeah, there's only 20 odd million of us, i might know hime, whats his name?' she said 'Dan Brumm'. i nearly died. Dan Brumm used to be the Audio Engineer i used to work with when i had to do radio ads back in Brisbane. i thought it might have been another Dan Brumm, so i described him. sure enough it was him. i couldn't believe i was in Quebec City and i met someone that had a friend in common. we ended up getting on quite well and that night she took me out with a couple of friends. it was funny because i noticed all these people were going up to one of her male friends and chatting to him and getting photos with him. i said to him later 'geez, your a popular guy' he laughed and played it down. it wasn't until later when i asked him what he does with him self that he revealed that he was currently on Canada's version of 'Australian Idol' (hence explaining why everyone kept going up to him)
its hard for me to pick which city i liked better, becuase i liked them both, but in different ways. i think Montreal is edgy and cool, and i thought Quebec City was european, but i think Quebec City was probably a little more touristy. for instance both cities had murals around the place, but i found there was a better chance you would see something spray painted in Montreal than you would in Quebec City. Quebec City had more of a polished feel to it, with the murals most likely legal and painted with a brush. not to say they they weren't cool, they were just different.
next i'm off to Toronto via Canada's capital city, Ottawa. more when i get there.
before i took off i felt i needed a bit of reading material. Sylvia Plath has been popping up in my life quite a lot recently, well, not literally she's a bit dead to be doing that, but just in newspaper articles and songs etc. i've never really read much poetry but i thought i should check some of her stuff out so i got a selection of her work chosen by her ex husband Ted Hughes. i found that a bit interesting in itself because she commited suicide because of Ted's wandering eye. i got chatting to a guy that worked at the book shop about it and he said that Ted never spoke of Sylvia until he released a book of poetry called 'birthday letters' just before he died. apparently its about there relationship, so i brought that book too. as i was leaving to go to the airport a guy at the hostel finished 'On the Road' by Jack Kerouac and said that i should read it so he gave it to me. so it looks like i'm going to be a very busy book worm in the next couple weeks.
the flight was pretty good, nothing to really report. food was rubbish, but i would be shocked if i recieved otherwise. i touched down into New York and to be honest, i was a bit worried that they wouldn't let me in. they have upped there security since i left for my trip, so i had to to fill in a form online filling them in on the in's and out's of everything, things like are you a terrorist? and what kind of underwear do you wear? pfft! like a terrorist would tick the box saying that he was a terrorist anyway! oh and incase your interested, i wear grey underwear... and brown ones when i know i could be in dangerous situation! anyway, i had to carry this piece of paper on me at all times or something. as i was standing in line at customs i was overwhelmed at how patriotic the airport was. i had hardly step foot in the country and i was being bombarded with stars and stripes and words like 'pledge' and 'pride'. anyway, after a little bit of a drilling they let me into the country. i collected my bag and got the bus to my hostel so i could begin being a new yorker.
in a stroke of luck my mate, and fellow traveller, Byron who i met in Cardiff (click here to read the Cardiff post) was in New York staying with a mate of his who was studying film here, so we caught up and checked out a lot of the sights together. actually one day we checked out some sights dressed up as sailors and recreated Ol' Blue Eyes & Co singing 'New York, New York'. don't believe me? check out the photo below.
i was actually quite surprised that one really cared less, we hardly got a comment and no one really took a second look. i guess New Yorkers are kind of used to eccentric behaviour. as you can see from the photo we went to the Empire State Building which, to me wasn't as big as i thought it was going to be, probably because the buildings around it were quite tall too. when you get up the top, the view is quite amazing, but so windy... especially if your wearing a sailor outfit.
after that we walked to Time Square, which i found such a bizarre place. not because the lights are flashing everywhere, in someways it reminded me of Tokyo. no, it was that they had deck chairs set up everywhere so people could sit and watch the advertisements. isn't funny that we spend our lives, channel surfing to get away from commercials, then you come to a place to watch them? heres a funny little fact. originally it wasn't called Time Square, it got its name after the first ad for The New York Times appeared.
from there we caught a ferry to Staten lsland, mainly because its free and it goes right passed the statue of Liberty. i figured that there's no point in paying the $40 to go to liberty island because you can't climb the statue anymore. so cruising passed the statue was good enough for me.
heres a hot tip for anyone going to NYC on a budget. i brought a ticket pass they lets you get into a lot of the main art galleries and various attractions around NYC, it was $70, and i think it was worth every cent.
i went to the Met which was quite good. they have a bit of everything, italian, french, american they had some great Egyptian stuff there that i liked. they had a great art collection too. George Seurat's 'a sunday afternoon on the island of la grande jatte', some Warhol and Chuck Close just to name a few of the stuff hanging on there walls. also they had Damien Hirst's 'The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living' which is a shark in a glass container filled with formaldehyde solution. it certainly lives up to its title, it scared the shit out of me (it was lucky that was the day i wore my brown undies!) my only complaint is that the museum is SO big! it takes hours to get around to see everything.
i visited the Guggenheim too, which means i've completed the Guggenheim grand slam! they had an exhibition on Frank Lloyd Wright who was the architect who created the New York Guggenheim, which was kinda cool because it kind of put a lot of his work into context, but it meant that i couldn't see a lot the famous works of art that they have there. oh well, it was a pretty cool building to look at. but i have to say when i go through a building i think about how i walk through a space, and i have to say i felt it didn't work that well. its built like a spiral that you walk around in circles from the bottom, right up to the top, which is good because you see an exhibition in order, but then when you get to the top... thats it, you have to turn around and walk back, which i found annoying because i hate backtracking. it wasnt just the Guggenheim, i found that a couple of times. the Museum of Natural history was the same, but what it offered was quite good. they had an film projected on a roof of a room, on how our solar system was created and how earth has changed over the years, all narrated by Mr Robert Redford. it was pretty amazing. there was a point at the start when Robert said something around the lines of 'Hi, i'm Robert Redford and i'm about to show you how our earth was created...' and then a little kid piped up and said 'but didn't God create it?' i guess thats kind of cute and innocent, but heres something thats not. i heard that something like 40% of politicians in America still believe that god created the earth and not the 'big bang' theory. kind of scary, don't you think?
for me MoMA was probably the best, mainly because i like modern art. they had interesting art work with some pretty big names in there too. but something i liked about it was it had furniture, architecture and other creative things there also, which i found refreshing.
of course, you don't go to new york and not go for a walk around Central Park. to be honest you can't really miss it, its massive! its a really enjoyable to walk around in too, with its big trees and lakes, its kind of hard to believe its all man made. they generally have people playing music scattered throughout the park, as well as its fair share of yuppies going for a run at lunchtime. there are plenty of little stalls in the park, which is quite a good spot to get a hot dog. speaking of food, i got told before i came here i should go to a deli and get a sandwich, good thing i remembered - they were amazing! Byron and I had them so often that the guy who owned the store knew us by name in the end. on the weekend they shut down a lot of streets (even the big ones) and have lots of little markets, they sell all different types of food there too, as well as clothing and other bits and pieces.
there are some pretty famous residence of New York. not far from Central Park is the Dakoda building. not only is it the most expensive apartment block in New York it was also where John Lennon lived with Yoko Ono and was also the place he was fatally shot by Mark Chapman. i was surprised to hear that Yoko still lives there today. also not far from the Guggenheim is the little apartment Andy Warhol used to live in. it looks pretty humble from the out the front, but i noticed it was for sale for about $4.5 million so i imagine its quite nice inside. i also saw one of the factories he used to create his work in, which was pretty cool.
i had a couple of brushes with celebrities while i was here. on one evening while i was walking to my hostel i saw Jermaine from New Zealand Comedy duo 'Flight of the Conchords' walking down the street. which i thought was pretty cool, then i walked a little further and i saw Keanu Reeves having a coffee. i don't normally ask for autographs, but since i've been traveling i've been carrying a little note pad just so i can jot down little ideas i have or things i want to research later, also i stick in tickets and stuff like that to compare designs from around the world, but mainly just to keep memories, so i figured that i should get him to put his name in it. i imagine being a celebrity and people asking for your autograph must get tiring after a while, but he was really nice actually.
i was walking passed the Ed Sullivan theater and put my name into the ballot for tickets to the Late Show with David Letterman. i didn't really expect to get called up, but amazingly i got a ticket and a spare ticket for Byron, which was very lucky! i thought Byron was going to wet himself when he found out the news. at first we thought we the guests were Bill Cosby and Paula Abdul, which i personally would've got a laugh out of Paula trying to resurrect her singing career. but we got the friday night taping, which they do on the monday night, so we got Paris Hilton and comedian Steven Wright. David was in fine form and subtly ripped into Paris, which was gold! mainly because, lets face it, Paris shouldn't be famous at all.
being the Seinfeld fan that i am i couldn't leave without seeing a few sights. apparently Kenny Kramer, the guy the Kramer character is based on, does tours, but he wasn't doing them yet so i had to do it myself. first stop was the Soup Nazi's kitchen, unfortunately 'no soup for me!', it was closed, which was a bit shattering. anyway, i so got over it and when up to 'Tom's Restaurant' which is the restaurant that they used to eat at. i was surprised that the out side was still the same after all these years, but the inside was totally different to the TV show, ah, the tricks of TV land.
its funny, you walk around and you see stuff and your like 'oh, yeah thats that!' you know, things like street names, Madison Ave, Broadway, 5th Ave etc, New York is filled with so many iconic things like: Radio City Music Hall, the 'LOVE' statue by Robert Indiana, Rockefeller building, Carnegie Hall, Wall St and Grand Central Station. while i'm on the topic of Grand Central Station, i'm a big fan of a group called Improv Everywhere, who do stunts through out the world, mainly they do things with large groups that are a bit shocking like riding the subway with no pants on. but probably there most famous stunt was at Grand Central Station, check out the video below to see what i mean.
i wanted to go to a baseball game while i was here, and i guess Yankee Stadium is pretty much the holy grail when i comes to baseball. Byron and I tried to get tickets but they were really expensive so i had to give it a miss. when we got there, i was surprised to find that there were two Yankee Stadiums, built right next to each other. i asked around it it turns out that they build a new one so it could fit in more people, and obviously make more money. i asked what would happen to the stadium full of history, the stadium that created baseball legends like Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio - the original Yankee Stadium? i was shocked to find out that it would be pulled down. which i thought was a real shame how money gets in the way of history, i could never imagine the MCG getting ripped down. anyway, there are a couple of baseball teams in New York. the Yankees are probably the most well known, but i like the underdogs - the Mets. they don't win as much, but i'm used to that, i've been following the Richmond Tigers in the AFL for years now, so i'm used to the beatings.
New York is broke up into different 5 boroughs i mainly checked out Manhatten mainly because thats where most of the sights are. i spent a lot of my time in the East Village, Greenwich Village and SOHO they're full of restaurants and cool little shops.
when i first got here i was staying in Harlem, which is a little bit rough, in fact while i was ordering chinese food from a hole in the wall (seriously, it was a little hole in the wall) that was just up the road from my hostel. before i could put my order in a guy came up to me and said 'what kind of after shave do you wear?' i told him that i didn't wear aftershave but that didn't stop him from producing some hot goods to flog me. i told him that i wasn't interested. i wasn't sure how he would take it, but he was ok, actually we ended up having a chat about crime in New York and how he did a bit of travel himself (probably strapping large amounts of heroin to his chest, i'm guessing he didn't know the difference between traveling and trafficing).
after a couple of days of fearing for my life i decided to move hostels. to be honest, the majority of people i met in Harlem were quite nice but there were a couple of loose cannons that made me want to move. i ended up staying in the east village which is an area i really liked and an added bonus was it was right near where Byron was staying.
though its a bit of novelty to used a 'dime' and 'quarter', i find money and buying stuff over here pretty strange. the notes, or 'greenbacks' as they call them, all looks the same so i never know how much money i have in my wallet, but also when you buy stuff, sometimes it will have the tax included and other times it doesn't. also something i've had to get used to since i've gotten to the states was tipping - i never know what to do! everyone that isn't from Australia is probably saying 'what a Terry Tight-Arse!' but the reason i find it kinda tricky is because in Australia you don't really tip. the reason you have to tip is because the minimum wage is appauling (something like $6 an hour). i guess the only positive is you get good service. i find it really strange that the government don't lift the minimum wage, when you think about it, if people have a better wage, quality of life is lifted and perhaps we wouldn't have people flogging stolen goods in Harlem. just a thought.
i was really surprised at the size of cars over here, they're MASSIVE. i haven't seen one small car on the road. its a little bit excessive to be honest. having said that, while i was here General Motors filed for Bankruptcy. they had a piece on it on the news and interviewed a so-called expert. he was saying that 'America makes the best cars in the world' and argued that the government weren't doing enough to help export the cars overseas. but to be totally honest, having just come from Europe, there is no place for an American car in europe, they all drive small cars that are fuel effiecient. i'm already starting to get that feeling that America really does think that 'big is better' when clearly, its not the case. to be honest the main reason that they have gone under is because of the workers. now, i'm all for paying people well and retirement funds, but the General Motors employee package is ridiculous! they get paid something like $50 an hour to work on an assembly line, then when they retire i heard they get something like, a new car every year plus a huge retirement fund and health care for them and there family. crazy!
i went to the site where the two towers once stood, and i was surprised to see that its still a massive hole in the ground. there is a memorial not far from the site to the victims of 9/11 but there are a number of memorials around the city as well. there was one in the east village (i think) that i really liked made of tiles that people had decorated, i felt it was touching. September 11, 2001 changed the world forever, in some ways we'll probably never be the same again. so imagine how it has changed the city it happened in. New Yorkers have a bit of a reputation of being a bit abrupt, but i heard that 9/11 has changed the people quite a bit, making them a lot more friendly to others. i guess in times of trouble people stick together.
while i was here I got invited to Byron's mates 21st in Long Island. it was a bit of a hike but we finally got out there. Long Island is really quite nice, well at least the area i was in anyway. it was kind of like the movies, picture perfect houses with nice lawns and it seemed that every second house had an American flag hanging out the front. you know how you watch films like 'American Pie' and you get an idea in your head about what American parties are like. ok, the party wasn't as wild as they make out in the movies but there were definately a number of differences to the parties back home. for intances: they play heaps of drinking games that actually involve skill. they played this game called 'Beer Pong' where you had cups of beer lined up like bowling pins at both ends of a table, then you would have to try and throw a ping pong ball into a cup so that the other person would chug it down. it was way too skillful for my liking. call me simple but i prefer something a little home grown like 'Goon of Fortune' where by you hang a bladder from a cask of wine to a hills hoist. spin it. then who ever it falls on, that person has to chug. i never said the game was classy, but it does the trick.
i also found girls at the part to be really forward. in my opinion its generally its the guy that will go speak to a girl, but here it was the total opposite. there was a couple of stereotype though. i met a girl called Britney who, i think was probably a cheerleader at one stage, and they do have red plastic cups. i did noticed that when i was walking through a university it was also full of sterotypes. like: the goths, the cheerleaders, the jocks, the alternative people playing hacky sack, the guy in a trenchcoat that could have a gun. it was borderline hilarious.
the next day feeling we were all feeling a little seedy and i clearly wasn't thinking straight. we had the bright idea of going to a beach that was close by. my head was so fried that i forgot to put sunscreen on and before i knew it the rest of my body was fried. i haven't been that burnt in a very long time, it was sure to make the train journey to montreal a painful one. but more about that in the next blog.
i was here in New York for about 10 days and i feel i only scratched the surface. bi have to say i loved every minute of it, so much so that i would love to live here one day. at least now i can wear one of those 'I heart NY' t-shirts and actually mean it.
- i think its either been stolen from me while i was sleeping by someone else that was sleeping in my dorm
- or i've left it in an ATM while i was taking money out.
oh well, there was nothing i could do about it now, i just have to fix it. Lucie, the woman that worked at the hostel was really helpful and showed me where the nearest exchange shop was so i could change all the money i had accumulated from different countries, into pound. all up i had a little over £30 and some ear plug that i found at the bottom of my bag, which i guess would come in handy to block out the traffic if i had to sleep on the street. then Lucie let me use the phone to cancel my card and the internet to get in contact with people i knew in london so i could crash on someones floor/bath/car/balcony for a couple of nights.
because my card was stolen they had to send me out my new PIN number seperately. i was getting pretty desperate at this point because i was running out of the money that was wired to me and living hand to mouth. i hung around waiting for my PIN to turn up for a couple of days. 'how hard could it be?' i was thinking 'they sent me the card, all they have to do is send the PIN to the same address'. but i forgot i was dealing with a bank here, nothing is that simple. no, they decided to write the wrong postcode on the envelope didn't they. it was just lucky that i was walking passed a DHL (the courier company) that i thought i would check where my package was. it was then that they informed me of the blunder. as the old saying 'if you want something done right, you have to do it yourself' i told them i would go and pick up the parcel.
when i finally got my card i worked out that it took a little more than 3-4 working days. infact it was closer to 8 days! leaving me with one day to fully enjoy London. the scary thing about this whole drama is, i can't get over how much my life revolves around a piece of plastic and what a nightmare it is to get a new one. i'm seriously thinking about changing banks when i get home, but the more i think about it, the more i think that they're all the same.
while i was waiting for my card i had plenty of quality TV time. apart from watching some quality soaps, i managed to fit in some news, which is where i learnt about a group called 'ZipCar' that operate a car-sharing scheme. its early days yet so they are only set up in some councils but the cars have designated parking spots in the neighbourhood that people can use with a swipe of a card (similar to an Oyster card). they interviewed one of the people that use the 'ZipCar' system and they were saying that they save so much money, going on to say that it costs less than half it would to own and run a car. i think its such a brilliant idea!
even though i was without a card, London this time wasnt a total write off. i still managed to see a few things around london, like go to Portobello and Spitalfields markets, kicked around Covent Garden and i went to a pub called the 'Dublin Castle' in Camden which is where Blur, Amy Winehouse, Travis and a few other big names got a name for themselves. i also heard it was a local haunt of the drug addled Pete Doherty so i wasn't so surprised when i saw about 8 signs in the toilet saying 'it is illegal to take drugs on the premises' and 'these toilets are patrolled regularly', but don't get the wrong idea about the place, it was pretty harmless. i saw some bads which were quite good too.
i also caught up with my friend Halley. we used to work together at a part time job i had while studying at university. shes just been to LA and New York and gave me a travellers guide to New York which will come in handy. the reason Halley is over here, apart from travel is because shes a comedian and she's going to do a show at the Edinburgh comedy festival this year. she's just come off doing a well recieved show at the Melbourne comedy festival and even did some work with Fiona O'Laughlin, which is a pretty big deal, so i hope the Edinburgh fest goes just as well for her.
oneday to kill some time i went to the flicks and saw the new Charlie Kaufman film 'Synecdoche, New York'. in my opinion whatever Kaufman does generally turns to gold, i love just about every one of his films: 'Being John Malkovich', 'Eternal Sunshine of the spotless mind', 'Human Nature', they're all so clever, a bit trippy, yet still manage to be very insightful. 'Synecdoche, New York' is kind of hard to explain, so much so i might have to watch it again to fully get my head around it, until then i wont even try to explain it, but i recommend seeing it if you get the chance. i really liked the score done by Jon Brion, his stuff is generally pretty good too. heres a song from the film called 'Little Person' that i liked.
i guess that concludes my time in europe, well for now anyway. i'm off to a city that never sleeps (i imagine everyone has insomnia) and fruit are on steroids (from what i can gather, there apples are meant to be a really big!) i'm kind of looking forward to a change to be honest. even though i've really enjoyed my time in europe and i would love to come back here again some day, i think a change might be a good thing. more when i hit the US of A.
when we finally came into the port the whole crowd cheered (i'm glad i wasn't the only one who felt the excitement) jumped off the boat, found a cab to my hostel that i ended up sharing with an older couple from New Zealand. as soon as i got there i checked in, when into my room and fell into bed.
the next day i woke up in a better mood than the one i went to bed with and began sight seeing. because i was only here for a couple of days i decided to do a walking tour. something that put me into an even better mood was that day all the museums and archaeological sites in Athens were free - talk about good timing!
the guide took us around to a number of different ruins like the 'Agora' which was originally a market place type thing, and the place where they had the olympic games (which is now a newer stadium) and couple of other buildings. i noiced the Hadrian built a number of them, geez he was a busy boy, if he wasn't building a giant wall in England he was building something else in Greece.
as i've said before you see ruins everywhere and Athens is, in my opinion, the grand daddy of ruins, they are everywhere. it seems no matter where they dig they seem to find something. for instance in the metro they have exhibitions of columns and pots that they found while they were digging for the metro. one of the metro stations was built over a old burial site so there is an exhibit of an open grave where you can see where someones bones! but after a while you see so many of them, you tend to turn off or be like 'oh yeah, there ANOTHER ruin...'
of course you can't go to Athens and not visit the most famous ruin of them all, the Acropolis. i was pretty surprised how much stuff was there, i always thought it was just the Parthenon. there were theaters and temples but of course the one that everyone is here to see is the Parthenon. its a pretty amazing sight during the day, but i think it looks best at night when its lit up. it was a lot bigger than i thought it was. most things you visit are generally smaller than what you think they are, but the Parthenon was pretty big. but it did have something in common with the other sights in europe, it was covered in scaffolding. i always thought that the way the parthenon looks is pretty much how it would've always looked, except more complete. but they think it would've been plastered and have been painted. the Acropolis is on top of one of the main hills here in Athens, and you get some brilliant views from up there too.
the building where the president lives they have traditional guards out the front. i think its every hour on the hour they do a little march for the people. i saw it, and its pretty funny. they wear a dress-like costume and they have pom-poms on there feet, which is funny enough, but to top it off they kick there legs out when they march! when they have finished they stay still and have there very own stylist (probably not the real name for them) to come and fix up there uniform. i asked why they have pom-poms on there feet, apparently it was to make there feet look bigger so when the enemy saw them they were scared. now, if i cast my mind back to the days of the school yard i remember kids getting laughed at for not wearing the latest in cool shoes by some snotty faced little bully, imagine if they turned up in shoes with pom-poms! seriously, if they don't pass the 'school yard test', what hope have you got in battle? apparently if your a boy you have to join the army for a period of time. which i kind of find strange, but what i find strange is you have to be 180cm (6 feet) tall. when you think about it, wouldn't you prefer a little guy? my logic is they would be a smaller target to hit.
before i got here, i didn't hear to many people giving Athens a good wrap. i kept hearing things like 'only spend a couple of days, maximum!' and 'i wouldn't want to walk around at night'. and to be totally honest i know exactly what they are talking about. apart from the sights there really isn't much keeping you here, and i think i could've done them in a day. you don't have to wander too far out of the touristy areas to find parts of the city that are really dirty. and of a night, areas full of prostitutes and drug dealers. i did find one area that was pretty cool, they had a couple of good clothing stores and also some great antique stores, full of old radios and gramophones, lamps, cameras etc. ever since i stayed with Viv in Edinburgh (click here to see my Edinburgh blog) i've been obsessed with this kind of stuff, i'm definitely going to start collecting these kind of things when i get home!
its been pretty hot here in Greece, so much so i've unleashed my hairy legs and started wearing shorts. i hate shorts with a passion, i can't really explain why, i guess its just a pet hate i have, i suppose i just prefer wearing pants. also my legs are incredibly hairy, but i seem to fit right in here in Greece, i'm pretty sure i've seen some old women with better facial hair than me.
i get the feeling that the Greeks are quite religious. while i was checking out some of the Greek orthodox churches i noticed a lot of people stopping to give the sign of the cross when they walked passed the church, there was even a guy going by on a scooter that stopped!
even though i wouldn't rave about Athens, i guess its still one of those places you should visit, even if it is for a little while. now i'm off to London...