17.01.2016 - 17.01.2016
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...
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!
Brooklyn Bridge was shockingly anticlimactic but the view from Top of the Rock was something else - probably my highlight from NYC 👌 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.
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 😂
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.
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!
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 😒
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?
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 👌
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
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!
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...
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!
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.
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).
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!
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 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."
From left to right
Back: Eddie, Keira, Gary, Matt, me!
Sofa: Sarah, Lidiya, Lucy, Bomi, Lauren, David, Hannah