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Freedom Isn't Free, It Takes Folks Like You And Me!


View Travel 2016 on WrightA's travel map.

Well, this is the start of my first tour of the USA! Going up into Canada via Niagra, over to Montreal, back into to the states through Vermont, Boston, and returning to New York.

Let's get the bad out of the way first. Buffalo is absolutely wank. Don't bother. It's the home of Buffalo Chicken Wings, and they're about as good as it gets (they're not very good!)

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

First, New York City...
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Probably not a lot to say about this place that people don't already know but it is a great city! The bus trip from Toronto was long and dull and cold, but I got into the Big Apple all nice and sweaty...and with 12 hours before I could check into the hostel. So I ditched my bags and went rambling!
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Brooklyn Bridge was shockingly anticlimactic but the view from Top of the Rock was something else - probably my highlight from NYC πŸ‘Œ Visited places and spoke to New Yorkers and generally just tried to see some of the sites.

Then the Trek America tour started from New Jersey, with our tour leader Brooke. Very little to see in NJ and still it was preferable to Buffalo (sorry Brooke!), but as we were only driving through it (on the first leg of our 9 hour drive initial drive on day 1!) it didn't need to be much.

And yes. 9 hours. Sounds a long time, and it is, but when you're meeting 10 new people (and another to meet us in Buffalo - Bomi slept in after partying too heartily in NYC the night before!) 9 hours is a good chance to chat shit (me!) and expound wisdom (not me!)

Now would be a great moment to have a "starters" picture of us all, while we were all a few days younger and more innocent - and hadn't had Hannah and Lauren sing The Gambler 100 times to us - but I think we were all tired and just wanted to get on the bus and chat shit and expound wisdom.

The first official stop was wine tasting. That was pretty good because as you'd expect we got to taste some wine. And some liquor. Which had to benefits: firstly, we got a little tipsy (I was, at least); secondly, it helped soften the blow of Buffalo.

You might think I'm being harsh, but this was Buffalo on a Saturday night. 90_2F107BF4BA1D7A938FF42625C7092F4C.jpeg
Bomi, you did not miss much that first evening! Thankfully she made it to the restaurant we went to that first night, which was where Buffalo Wings had been conceived/created. Welcome Bomi.

Oh! And in my sheets in the Buffalo hostel there was a pair of women's panties (not mine). It could have been worse. I think Gary had hair in his sheets πŸ˜‚

But as first days went, it could have been worse. At least we got a fairly good idea of each other and it helped to break the ice by adding Buffalo in our collective no-return lists. Next stop: Niagra!

I'd always wanted to see Niagra Falls. Not incredibly so, it wasn't on my bucket list or anything, but I'd always wanted to visit. And they are impressive! The sheer volume of water that flows over it staggering. 2F12CBAFC639176440C7984DEEF52071.jpeg 2F15ECC8CF39A9F841E6D6FCDE9A7DBA.jpeg
The only downside is the town surrounding it is, as Matt described so perfectly, a little like Blackpool. In that it's tacky and gross. I feel sorry for anyone who booked a week in Niagra. Maybe it would have been nicer in the summer - it was pretty cold and rainy when we arrived - but still not sure there's much mileage you can get out of the Falls. They are impressive though and I would highly recommend checking them out. Just, Y'know, make sure you have some other things to do that day - like go to Toronto! (Or back to Toronto in my case)

Love Toronto, and my general view on Canada from what I've seen of it is brilliant. I would definitely return to Canada. Providing I had warm enough clothing! Thanks to Jenna and her family, when I was over for New Years I was warm and wonderful. Without that wonderfully warm clothing it was a touch less comfortable. I massively underestimated the cold, and this was a mild winter for the Canadians 😐

But we all persevered (especially after Sarah and I procured warmer clothes) and checked out Kensington Market. Where, to Lidiya's amazement (and my boyish glee) it started snowing pretty impressively. Lidiya's first ever snow fall!

We went to eat at the Amsterdam Grill, the same place Jenna's cousin took me drinking! They have very nice beers there. Then a few of us braves the cold to check out the CN tower for an evening view of Toronto - incredible! 560FD4089A3D20BCC39623A8DFFE2527.jpeg 560E6B0FCAD721B858C3DDA106792DE3.jpeg
There are some facts and figures about the tower (which I can't remember and am too lazy to look up now, so check out Wikipedia if you're interested) but we walked over a glass floor - which is the strangest experience for the first couple of steps - and felt the wind as the lift (elevator) took us way, way up into the skyline.

Sadly, our time in Toronto was fairly short. On the plus side, it gave us more time in the French-speaking Montreal, where I'd never been before, which just solidified my good feelings for Canada.

But MAN ALIVE was it cold! After eating at a fantastic French restaurant that Brooke arranged for us, Lauren suggested it would be a good idea to jump into a snow drift. Which I did. The thing about snow drifts in a cold country is they're cold. So cold the underneath is frozen solid. Jumping into that was like jumping against a particularly cold block of cement. Still, Lauren found it funny (as she was smart enough not to jump!) and that's probably the main thing πŸ˜’

Loved the rest of Montreal. With the style and architecture and Frennch-speaking, it was like being in a European city. You had to keep reminding yourself you were in Canada!

Ice skating turned into a Christmas-like walk in the snow (and an amazing lunch, where I stupidly got a smoothie!) as the skies greyed and we were soon walking through freshly fallen snow under a silent white storm. So we figured why not trek up the slippery steps and slopes of Mount Royal for a INCREDIBLY grey view of Montreal? The trick, as it turns out, for getting a view of a city is not to go during heavy snowfall! Who knew?
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And we finished off Montreal with a meal at O'Noir - a restaurant where you eat in complete darkness. After ordering your food, the waiter (who is certified blind) walks you to your seat in a sort of conga line. You have to feel around for your cutlery as your food arrives (again, from the blind waiter), and then you have to eat and drink you meal without being able to see a thing! And that's pretty much it - same as a normal meal, but as if you were blind. It's quite the experience. I know some people reading this (is anyone reading this?!) will think it sounds ridiculous but just give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised...

Next back into the US of A! The border agents are a cheery bunch, ain't they? They look at you as though, by coming into their country (it's always their own personal country), you're going to seduce their wives and spit on their children. But they let us through without much trouble πŸ‘Œ

So, Vermont! Stowe, specifically. We went to a brewery for some free samples (some of us (me) had more free samples than others!) and then checked out the Ben and Jerry's tour - there were free samples there too, but only of the experimentally new flavour: Root Beer. Hmmmm...not brilliant. It tasted a bit like Deep Heat
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Rather than hostels, we stayed at a nice little house in the middle of the snow. A LOT of snow in Vermont yet thankfully not quite as cold as Montreal. A load of winter activities to choose from but as I'd already been dog sledding with Jenna, I opted to just do a snow hike/sledding tour (called Top of the Notch). Which was FUCKING GREAT FUN! 2F21E7AF0936A395D34475CB1F95D269.jpeg
We must have trekked for the best part of an hour in the snow (which was just lying on top of ice, for extra grip!) lugging our sleds behind us. But the ride back down was brilliant! It probably seemed faster with how close your face was to the ground but I can't recommend it enough. I think everyone else enjoyed themselves too... 2F20C238C5267C24331B44F943B401D7.jpeg
So, we all had a nice, quiet, early evening in the house. HA! No way. Brooke, our tour guide, decided we should have a cocktail competition. I cannot emphasise enough how little effort Matt, David, and I put into it. We basically mixed a bottle of Pims with orange juice. Added a splash of port (I think. Or was it rum - it doesn't matter. Matt ended up drinking the rest all night!) and beer (yep, beer...). Then we mixed it with ice and slices of banana (yes...) and poured it into a watering can. Sad to say we didn't win, but we shared last place with another team who put a little more thought into their creation than us. So that took the sting out of it somewhat!
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After we were well and truly defeated by superior mixing skills, Brooke got us to play King of Cups (or something to that effect). The rules are a little hazy. But they were hazy at the time we were playing too, but we just drank, swore, and laughed a lot. Was good fun. Apart from the morning. Lauren threw up on Hannah's blanket too, I think.
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Next day we were shipping off to Boston. Just in a van. On the road. No ships were involved. But I wanted to say shipping so I could vaguely reference the Dropkick Murphys song!

Now that's out of the way: Boston (more than a feeeeeeeling! ...sorry)

Boston is a cracking city. A personality of its own, definitely, and you've gotta love their accent (Bahstan! Waddya parken ovah thar faw, you gotta pahk in thar gararge!). Checked out the Cheers bar, which had me giddy with excitement; and then a Celtics game (Celtics won - woooo!) which had me giddy about the cost of an alcoholic beverage (or a bee-aah, in the local dialect).
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Went around Harvard (Harvahd!) which was cold and not particularly impressive from an aesthetic point of view. I'm sure it's full of wicked smart people but maybe they could spruce the place up a little, huh? And this guy was a lying little shit - three lies on one plaque!
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John Harvard wasn't the founder,
Harvard wasn't founded in 1638,
And that's not even John Harvard!
Outrageous! But I won't pretend as though I knew all of this beforehand. We were told on the tour. Harvard, it seems, are quite proud of the lying little douche bag. Afterwards we checked out a bar called the Thirsty Scholar which was where they drank at the very start of the Social Network. It was a little underwhelming.

After that, a few of us started, and gave up on, walking the Freedom Trail. This was primarily due to complete lack of interest - it's a walk through Boston that marks a load of sites of historical importance to do with the American Revolution (where the filthy Red Coats were kicked rightly out of what would become the US of A) but was markedly underwhelming to anyone who had no interest in sites of historical importance (like me!)

So, our last night was interesting in that we met some right interesting people. The first was a dude from Southie who was really short but knew of the Isle of Man (if that gives him any bonus points? I don't know). He was, if my memory serves me, working in an anti-cancer research centre and he'd already saved someone's life from leukemia. He told me that he knew people...who knew people...who knew how to hide bodies. He was very interested in Lidiya and Sarah - in fact, I only met him because Sarah introduced the two of us presumably so I'd be a buffer between him and the girls - but his pick up line was so unusual it deserve mention. He called Sarah "soulless". And meant it as a compliment. I mean, it's not true. Sarah is completely lovely. But how is calling someone soulLESS a compliment? He thought it was anyway, and proceeded to defend his point until we left. Thankfully we did not meet him again. Maybe he'll turn up on the Isle of Man!

Lastly, and probably most happily, we met the most American American ever. He was gosh darn shucks bowled over by y'alls accent. Where were we from? What did we think of this wonderful US of A? He was pretty funny to begin with, as he passionately explained how, as we know, history began on July 4th 1776, when Jesus flew down on his bald eagle to write the Declaration of Independence (in his own blood), fist-bumped George Washington, then rained down his holy vengeance all over the filthy redcoats (us Brits, yay!). But this was all in good humour (I fucking hope, otherwise he was genuinely a lunatic!). I have the full video if anyone is interested?

All in good humour...

Until!

Until we began discussing gun control, health care, education, and most importantly, freedom (that's where the title of my post comes from! Well, that and Team America). This American American could not understand how we couldn't acknowledge America as the greatest country of all time. He did recognise that the USA had had more gun massacres per capita than the rest of the developed world, but that the USA needed their guns to protect their land. Apparently the only reason America hasn't been invaded is because every American is armed. When Hannah politely pointed out that Australia had strongly regulated guns since 1997 (???) when they'd suffered a massacre, they had not suffered another since, and also had not been invaded. So the American American thought about this a moment. Then he said that he'd rather be free to own a gun and risk massacres than not to be free. Hannah, again, politely pointed out that Australia was free and she herself was very free. To which the American's reply was: yes, but you're not as free as me.

And you can't really argue with logic like that!

We all sort of quickly left around this point (Sarah had gone to bed already after another American was creeping ever closer to her personal space!) but had a great night all the same.

So it was with some tears (Brooke, you massive crybaby!) and happy reminiscing that we all said good bye and parted ways. It was a real pleasure meeting you all and I, at least, had a brilliant time in your company. Maybe I'll see some of you again, but if not, I wish you all the very best. And remember:

"You've got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em! Know when to walk away, and know when to run."
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From left to right
Back: Eddie, Keira, Gary, Matt, me!
Sofa: Sarah, Lidiya, Lucy, Bomi, Lauren, David, Hannah
Floor: Brooke

Posted by WrightA 22:29 Archived in USA Comments (0)

From Canada to New York

Well, it has been an interesting few weeks.

My last post was of me leaving the Isle of Man and saying goodbye to a lot of people I'll not see or speak to in a very long time (if at all, for some people). The plane ride was completely fine. Apart from banging my head on the overhead a couple of times, I somehow managed to have booked myself on the emergency aisle seating, so I had legroom to spare (thank you Sober Andy for your foresight all those months ago!)

I quickly realized though that the backpack Mills kindly loaned to me is woefully too small for the monumental amount of nonsense I'm bringing with me. I don't have any luxury items - I'm just bringing crap for various environments of jungles and "extremes" of South America. So I quickly went and secured an incredibly cheap new bag. And it's already too full! This boring anecdote is just to help display my complete lack of preparation - or perhaps, more accurately, my over-preparation coupled with a complete lack of wanting to ask anyone for too much advice for fear it would break my fragile sense of "everything-will-be-alright"ness.

So, Canada. Toronto, specifically.

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Jenna's brother, Carl, picked me up from the airport in perhaps the largest residential non-hummer vehicle in the world. The weather was not as cold as I'd expected but as you'll read on (if you can be bothered to trawl through this nonsense any further, if, in fact, you made it this far!) the cold was more of a boon than a burden to me. I was already too warm by the time I'd put my seat belt on!

After meeting Jenna's whole family in one fell swoop, the next day was spent getting over jet lag (I was very grumpy and tired) and visiting Hooters! Yes, oh yes, Hooters was...well, as I imagined. Slightly underwhelming if I was being honest. But still, it was fun, and at least I can say I had beer and wings at Hooters after checking out the sites and smells of downtown Toronto.

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We also met Jenna's best friend, Tori, who's boyfriend is called Andy (well, he goes by Sully - because Andy is a stupid name - but if I introduced him as Sully now it would spoil the vague sense of coincidence I was trying to create). After a stop at a Starbucks (for Jenna) and a bar (for the rest of us), where a complete stranger bought us shots of tequila, we arrived at the comedy club. I think it's a point worth mentioning that I will, with the best of intentions, not accept random drinks from random strangers, especially when they are delivered in the form of shots. But I think it's safer to bet that I will probably drink whatever has been placed before me. The comedy show was brilliant. It wasn't the improv we were expecting, but instead actual scripted with a couple of brief moments of crowd participation (when they asked the crowd for sex questions, I asked: "How much sex is too much sex?" - I was exceptionally proud of myself).

New Years Eve was great fun too. Got a chance to get to know Tori and Sully some more, as well as complete random Canadians, the names who I simply cannot recall. We drank whisky (scotch!), very strong IPAs, more random shots from random strangers, cider, rum-laced peppermint coffee (revolting as it sounds), and woke up on New Year's Day with a vile headache with a long car ride to Huntsville in the north Toronto. I took the cowards way out and tried to sleep the whole journey. I did not find out if Jenna was happy with this or not.

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We stayed at a place called Deerhurst in Huntsville where I'm told it had frequent snow. And boy did it snow! At least by my standards it was SNOW. By the resident Canadians it was a pitiful amount of snow during one of the warmest winters on recent memory. For me it was enormous drifts, inches of snow to wade through (thanks again to the giant who loaned me his snow boots), blizzards, freezing lakes, icy temperatures - it was incredible. Exactly the Canadian experience I wanted! I think it might help to illuminate just how much snow did (or did not fall) is to describe the difference between England and Canada. In the Isle of Man, the snow was about twice the depth required to completely shut down the island and send Ronaldsway and the Steam Packet into aneurisms of panic; in Canada the snow wasn't deep enough to bother getting the snowmobiles out!

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Jenna and I went hiking through the snow more than once, made snowballs, rode a wide boy mountain bike, stood under the snowfall, carved out giant phallic images in the virgin snow, and amazingly, went dog sledding. Where I actually got to drive/steer/move/whatever the sled and dogs myself. No handler, no backstreet driver. I was in control ALL by myself. Jenna sat at the front of the sled and complained about being cold! The fact the dogs (Hayley, Thistle, Elivs, Teagan) and I returned in one piece without crashing was more than brilliant. It was miraculous!

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I had an incredible time in the snow, watching the blizzards (to me they were blizzards!) and wading through snow. I can't express how much I love snow, and this more than filled my quota for the time being. More than that though - being in the cold, being in subzero temperatures, I actually got to experience what normal people feel like at room temperature! It was a revelation! Everyone would ask me why I was out without a jacket, or walking around bare foot. To them I couldn't quite explain it. Unless they've seen me sweating at a 995 gig, they will simply not know the depths of my sweat!

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On my last full day, Jenna's cousin from South Africa (who has a definitive English name: Johnathan James York) took me out for one drink. Which turned into several. But it was a pretty fun fucking time!

And I'm grateful to all the Langschmidts and Patersons and everyone else I met and had fun with in Toronto. It's been a real experience and great to get to know you and reaquaint with the rest. Of course, Jenna has been incredible. We had such an incredible time together! It was terrible parting ways and saying goodbye. I will - and could - never forget you. Thank you for everything, and thank you for starting my adventure with me. Now get out there and take over the world!

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Where to next? I'm sat in a bar waiting for my bus to leave and take me to New York. Where I will begin my bus trek across America. First stop...Canada! O.o I know, I know. I do everything backwards. I'm leaving Toronto to go to New York so I can be bussed back to Toronto. Genius!

Well, if you've made it this far you have true willpower and I thank you. See you in the States!

Posted by WrightA 13:33 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

And Here We Go

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I'll see you on the other side!

Posted by WrightA 02:10 Archived in Isle of Man Comments (2)

The Next Three Days

(Not the movie)

The Next Three Days is a movie about Russell Crowe breaking his wife out of jail before she's transferred to prison to being serving a life sentence for a crime she didn't commit (or did she...? No, she didn't). It's a fairly under-rated film and has completely nothing to do with this post! I'm tired so my mind works in mysterious ways. I'm not even watching it, and haven't even seen the movie in about four years - I'm actually watching Princess Mononoke, which is a phenomenal movie, but that film has nothing to do with the title of this blog, so I'm just getting distracted from my point.

In THREE days I leave the Isle of Man for parts unknown (which is where the title of my blog comes from, and hence my long and pointless digression about a Russell Crowe movie).

While I've been collecting things together in preparation, I've only just started to pack. It's very bizarre. Mainly the strangeness is down to the fact that I don't know if what I'm taking will be enough, or will be too much (and therefore wasted space), or the wrong thing, or will it all be needed but will be massively heavy, or will it be fine but massively cumbersome. I guess I won't know any of this stuff until I go - although I could find out before hand with a bit more research and perhaps a little less pig-headed stubbornness, which is basically the main reason for my reluctance to ask too many questions.

It also occurs to me that I'm not going to be employed or getting paid for a year (if all goes to plan). While good, while acknowledging how phenomenally fortunate I am to have this opportunity, it's still a little bittersweet. Leaving work reminds me just of all the people - colleagues and friends alike - who I won't see for a long while. Chances there are some people I've said goodbye to over the last week that I will never see again. Chances are I'll see a lot of people again, but perhaps we'll all have moved on with lives and things won't quite be the same when we do see each other. I really, really hope that I don't turn into some crazy, hipster traveller that eschews washing and refuses to eat meat and just sees disdain the life of the "settled" - because I do want to settle down - but I've heard horror stories about normal people being converted to "Travelism" and never being able to settle down again, or cut their hair *shudders*

Yet people do move on; there are some people I don't want to move on from, or have them move on from me. And I suppose that is the scariest thing about traveling. I want to go away and see places in the world I've always dreamed about. I want to get a bit of perspective, to refresh and revaluate my views, especially after the last two years. But I would always love to know that I have a home to come back to. It might not be quite the same but it will always be somewhere that welcomes me.

Maybe next time I write, I can think of a better title to the post than a movie title that vaguely matches my leaving date...

Edit: And now I've finished packing, I'm pretty certain I've taken too much with me, but oh well! I'll just have to give things away if I realise I don't need/want them. I think because I'm going to such "varied" destinations, I've had to take a lot with me to encompass a lot of different climates and concerns. I just hope I don't get mugged and it all gets stolen, because I am not buying all this nonsense again!

Posted by WrightA 05:15 Archived in Isle of Man Comments (0)

Less than a month! (Grrr! Arggh!)

Well, I've less than a month to go. 27 days in fact. Even if it was February it would be less than a month! Very strange.

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Worst of all is I think -- I think -- I'm pretty much sorted for the first half of the trip. I mean, sure, I've still got some unknowns. What to do when I'm in California for 12 days? What to do when I get to Argentina? Will I survive Venezuela (I've had copious warnings from friends and strangers about the certain death-trap that is the Bolivarian Republic)?

But ignoring all that I feel I could probably figure the rest out as I go along. Or, I'll be screwed. However, I figure there should be at least a little bit of unknown otherwise it wouldn't be travelling!

Now I just have to figure out how to pack all this nonsense into my backpack...
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Posted by WrightA 12:58 Comments (0)

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