Thursday, 18 August 2011

Woke like a tree full of bees


So on the second day in Boston we discovered somehow (probably through overuse of but i forget how exactly) that Barack Obama was to be attending a charity event on the street next to our big crazyperson hostel.

Amy and I dedicated ourselves to the cause of waiting in the freezing rain to see him arrive, whilst Emily had gone more than an hour and a half without sugar and could therefore not be present after having a Haribo-related meltdown about ten minutes in.

We were delirious from the past few days' traveling and bored stiff by the end, but here are a few pictures of the anticipation:

We didn't get to see him. He was ushered into the building through that irritating white tent. We did however get to speak to some very interesting Bostonian journalists, even got interviewed by one (we naturally proceeded to convince them that we had flown over from the UK specially for the occasion), witnessed the erratic behaviour of some of the locals who were so out of their minds trying to throw themselves at the security they were actually, now i think about it, probably straight from our hostel, and worked up an appetite for pizza and shopping afterwards. No sales tax in Boston you say? Excellent.

Listening to: "Sodom South Georgia" by Iron and Wine.
Listen here.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Alligator Tears

And so had ended our crazy Canadian adventure. We three girls were now off to city-hop the East Coast on our own, which meant back to staying in hostels instead of the lovely hotels that "TOURS4FUN" had provided for us.

We arrived in Boston and took the T train to a beautifully leafy street in the Back Bay to find our hostel. It was in a gorgeous area that you could walk to from just about everywhere, but looked mainly residential and quite homely despite being so close to central Boston. We dragged our suitcases through the drizzle, cheerfully practicing our Matt Damon and Ben Affleck Bostonian drawls until we got to 40 Berkely Street. It was a beautiful old building with amazing huge living spaces and sofas and ceiling-to-floor windows letting in the occasional mighty rays of sunshine in between spells of rainfall. So lovely, and so much more than we had dared to expect.

Until, that is, the night began to fall. Gradually, then, as if some sort of bizarre dog whistle too high for regular hearing had been blown, groups of very strange people began to emerge. We began to have our hunches that this was not your normal hostel. Granted, there were a few groups of travelers our age -which by the way was refreshing after the strictly middle-aged tourbus we had lived on for the previous week - and we did encounter the token groups of Australians cracking open some cans before 5pm each day. But this particular establishment seemed to be full of not-quite-with-it elderly occupants: some not even that elderly, but definitely all the more not-quite-with-it. The first we met when after very ignorantly closing our bedroom door with mild force, she took it upon herself to hobble over with her crooked cane, hair in curlers, back arched, to tell us off, stating that "people are sleeping, don't you know it's past seven-thirty at night?" Others we came across wandering the halls, riding the lifts - 7th floor, 3rd floor, 5th floor, 3rd floor, 6th floor, 3rd floor... and so on. All the while wearing vacant expressions and resilient young people on their arms who seemed to be trying their best to guide them to their rooms with calm words and steady steps.

We decided collectively that night, tucked up in our sweet 3-person bedroom overlooking the picturesque little green garden below, that either we had wandered into the urban east-coast Twilight Zone, or this so-called 'hostel' was doubling up as a halfway house.

Listening to: "Alligator" - Tegan and Sara, Four Tet remix.
Have a listen here.

Read my article about travel in this month's issue of Novel Magazine here.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Thunder only happens when it's raining

Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City


Ottawa- Parliament Building

Ottawa Centennial Flame

As soon as we arrived in Ottawa, Amy, Emily and I braved the icy rain and went up to Parliament Hill in Ottawa to have a walk round this incredible government building. Pretty impressive, as you can see! The gloomy weather was a bit of a downer, but also actually had quite an authentic effect on the gothic-style of architecture: something tells me the gargoyles wouldn't quite have looked right on a sunny day...

The Centennial Flame, as pictured above, which sits on the grounds just outside the building itself, I am told is a symbol for the unity of Canada as a whole. The shields you can see placed around the flame each correspond to a province or territory of the Confederation and celebrate the date at which each one joined - starting with shields for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec and Ontario from 1867 all the way up to Newfoundland in 1949, with everything in between.
The flame was lit for the first time in 1966 to celebrate Canada's 100th birthday.


Montreal was definitely one of the cities I was most excited about getting to on our trip. It was rainy and freezing but that's okay, we're British - we've always queued up and moaned through worse!

Montreal's 1976 Olympic Pool

Our first stop was the Olympic Stadium where Montreal held the 1976 Summer Olympics. And it was very 70's, let me tell you. All brown and beige carpets and circular patterns and block colours. As far as i'm aware they still have some events held in this little retro treasure - unsurprising, as someone told us that all in all it cost the Canadians over $1 billion to build! A billion dollars! 

Quebec City

Quebec was stunning. Seriously quite amazing. I would definitely list it amongst my favourite of everywhere we visited, so if you're considering a trip anywhere in North America, make sure Quebec is one of your stops!

We arrived in the city early on the Tuesday morning, so the second we were allowed to escape the dreaded tour bus of doom, Emily and I left a grouchy-morning-do-not-disturb Amy to snooze on the back seats whilst we stretched our legs and saw some of the area. And at 8.00am there was really no better time to watch the city wake up and come to life. The drizzle kindly subsided for a few minutes while we walked uphill to discover some of the incredible little backstreets with some amazing little quirky shops and cafes. 
All the while, Emily and I found ourselves repeating one phrase in early-morning awe, like parrots at less than minute intervals, "I could live here! I could definitely definitely live here!" 

We agreed that the french-speaking parts of Canada really made us feel so at home because they were noticeably more European than the rest of North America which we had visited- from the obvious language change, to the buildings and city layouts, to the general chillaxed, sarcastic, 'so what?' attitude of the people.

It's not America, it's not France - it's Quebec. 

Amy and I overlooking the view from La Citadelle

Amy, me, Emily at La Citadelle

Quebec City from La Citadelle

Later, Amy joined us for a historical tour of La Citadelle: the largest British fortress in North America, it is an active military garrison and has been home to the Royal 22e Regiment since 1920. The phrase pictured below, "Je me souviens", is actually the motto of the whole province, and translates as "I remember". Although there is apparently speculation over the interpretation of these words, they are largely thought to represent the francophone Quebec people's preservation of their heritage.

We enjoyed this tour not only because it gave great insight into French Canadian history and culture, but also because it was led by a beautiful man with a lovely accent named Reuben who we attempted pitifully to flirt with and aptly nicknamed 'Sexy Reuben' for the duration of the trip.

So, that was Canada done and dusted! We left Quebec very reluctantly and moved onwards towards Boston, to finally go it alone after the end of our tour with lovable Frank the tourguide, and of course our substitute Mums and Dads who had looked after us so well over the past week. 

They did, however, leave us with their card and told us to give them a call if we ever need a place to stay in Santa Barbara... Watch this space for a trip to the west coast coming sometime soon!

Listening to: "Dreams" by Fleetwood Mac.
Listen here.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Stereo symbiosis


We dove into the grim early-morning drizzle of Toronto with as much enthusiasm as can be expected from three sleep-deprived twenty year-olds who have just realised they can legally buy alcohol for the first time in six months.

Aside from that Spring Break week in the Bahamas of course, but we don't talk about that.

It was really growing on me, being back in big cities, after such a long time living in quaint little Raleigh.

Just like a big old breath of fresh, smoggy, congested air.

Listening to: "Earth" by Imogen Heap
Have a listen here.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

At once I knew, I was not magnificent

Unimpressed - Niagara Falls, US side

There's something about traveling to places you've seen on TV or in films, or that you know hugely important historical events happened at, or famous figures have been to that I find can be oddly underwhelming. Like you know you should be sucking in the whole atmosphere molecule for molecule, but you can't. It just doesn't quite feel how you expected it to feel. Because at the end of the day it's just a space- even if it is a beautiful or astounding one, and it will never be as amazing as it was at the point when you first became aware of it for whatever special reason it is famous for.

I hate to say it, but I did not think Niagra Falls was beautiful. It was relatively astounding, extremely intriguing- but not beautiful. That's not to say it couldn't be: it was dark when we arrived, with hard spitting rain doubled by the spray off the falls and we were hit by a steely chill the closer we got, and even in the light the mist really engulfed any detail of the landscape which would, perhaps, normally have been incredible.

It just needed photoshop, that's all.

But anyway, after an initial introduction that first night, it was getting late and we'd travelled from Bufallo all day, so we all slumped off to the hotel. In the morning we set off to cross the Freedom Bridge to the Canadian side, ready to engage in all the luminous jazzy tourist fun.
And luminous it was. Although happy to wander round with our digital cameras and foldy-up maps with the best of them, Emily, Amy and I were definitely agitated by the exploitation of Niagara Falls. It was just too much. With enough tacky souvenir stalls to put Disneyworld out of business, and restaurants with entirely glass walls boasting "The Best View of Niagara's Greatest Wonder" lining the streets, it was hard not to becomce overwhelmed by how underwhelming it all really was.

However, unwilling to put to waste the day of driving we'd gone through to get there, I bit the bullet and went along with the rest of the tour to see the falls up close on the Maid of the Mist. Amy and Emily hummed and haahed and eventually decided they couldn't face the cold and getting wet again and came to the conclusion that a nap at the back of the bus would be far more beneficial at this point, so i went it alone. Well not alone, there were several school trips and band camps and all our Chinese buddies from the bus. I must say it was a good experience with some pretty decent views and a lot of interesting facts and stories of people who had been carried to the falls and even gone over but survived. 

But by the time the end of our day in Niagara rolled around, cold and tired, clutching $8 waterfall snow globes and "did you know..?" fact sheets, I think it's safe to say we all breathed a sigh of relief.

Onwards and upwards to Toronto!

Emily and Amy enjoying the Canadian springtime

Listening to: "Holocene" by Bon Iver. From the stunning new album.
Have a listen and fall in love here.
Buy it here.

Monday, 13 June 2011

I didn't come to disturb

So the sun was setting on my day in New York. One awkward hostel shuttle journey later, which by the way, I spent with a lairy and borderline-racist driver who turned up in a suit and chauffeur cap as if in the expectation that I might be someone famous rather than a tired-looking British girl with half her luggage stuffed into plastic bags which took up the entire back seat, I arrived at the Newark hotel to Emily and Amy, a hot bath and a Chinese takeaway.

We had booked this tour which started in New York and went to Buffalo, Niagra Falls (both the US and Canadian sides), Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City and ending in Boston about a month previously because it was 3 tickets for the price of 2 and you got to stay in a Hilton. Later we were informed by "TOURS 4 FUN" (yes it's actually called that) that the tour guide had to speak in both English and Chinese because of the large Asian interest. What we had not anticipated was that we would not only be the only ones other than one parent-aged couple from Adelaide who spoke English as a first language, but also that were not excited by many of the mundane sights of North America. As discovered in our first stop: the Corning Glass Museum.

So we had crazy times there for an hour or so, watching glass things get made by a very butch lady in dungarees and sitting in the cafe drinking coffee and complaining. This would become a common procedure throughout the week.
Having watched 'Coach Trip' religiously as wasteofspace humanities students back in Manchester, we had high expectations for our Brendan equivalent. For those reading who have better things to do than watch sub-par daytime TV, Brendan is the jolly and very camp tour guide of a coach in which couples get to go to various European countries, do activities, develop a slow and steady hatred for each other and vote each other off the show every week before determining a winner. Amy, Emily and I needless to say envisioned ourselves as those two boys on it when last we watched who everyone loved because they were young and cheeky and lovable, much like ourselves. Emily had actually met the two boys (i forget their names) once in Bristol so it was naturally assumed this was a done deal.
We slotted into this role with moderate success, making friends with numerous Asian clans including two Filipino couples whom we came to know and love as Mum 1, Dad 1, and Mum 2 and Dad 2. Mums 1 and 2 were sassy midwives in California who had worked and played together for 30 years, Dad 1 was a golf enthusiast and Dad 2 enjoyed our company because we would always laugh at his crap jokes and swoon over pictures of his grandson. The Brendan of the group was, to our surprise, not a bumbling overweight man with a friendly northern accent but in fact a young Chinese fellow named Frank who wore the same outfit for 3 days straight and didn't warm to us because we thought his activities were rubbish and were arguably more popular amongst the group than him. It was in fact his own fault for scheduling 3 separate boat trips on various lakes and rivers at $30 a pop into one week in which it rained the entire time. Stupid Frank.

Emily, Amy and I with Yuli and Agnes - AKA Mums 1 and 2
Anyway, we were off to a great start with the glass museum. Exactly what we had come to America to see. Next stop - Niagra Falls!

Listening to: "Collie Man" by Slightly Stoopid
Groove along here.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

You're the centre and you're always free

New York, NY

Times Square - Megan, Amy L and Nicola

And what better place to start!

The Big Apple never ever fails to astound. I'd been a couple of years ago on a shopping and familly-seeing trip with my Mum, a proud NY native and geograpical expert of Manhattan, so wasn't overly excited to see the city again so soon. I realise now how stupid that sounds- this trip rekindled my love for New York bigtime
Unfortunately I didn't have ages to spend in the city before heading off to Newark to meet Amy P and Emily, who had been chilling at a hotel all day to relax before our tour to Canada started. Still got some time to breathe in the city smog after a nightmareish 9-hour bus from Raleigh though. Which was made oh-so comfortable by the fact that we'd all had a pretty heavy previous night, celebrating, or rather drowning our sorrows for the end of the semester and our last night with everyone in Alexander Hall. 
Headaches aside, we did manage to cover a fair bit of ground, getting from our bus stop in Chinatown to a hostel in Columbus Circle, to Times Square, to Fifth Ave, Central Park, all the way down to Wall Street and a few streets over to see my cousin's very own amazing coffee shop - Blue Spoon Coffee Co. - but as luck would have it, they were just closing up as we arrived. 
I'm told by reliable sources, however, that it is without question the best coffee in the city.

- Needless to say, the "S" word is strictly banned in the homes of our extended family.

Another highlight of my day had to be Megan's and my little relaxation period in Central Park. We split off from the others after realising that neither our bodies nor our bank accounts could cope with shopping all day. It's such a cliche, but the feeling of tranquility in Central Park when you've been trudging through the city all day is just incomparable.

Canberra's finest- Megan

Another high point which I must mention was the hour or so spent waiting to see Vice President Joe Biden outside Saks. When he finally emerged from Louis Vuitton he was, annoyingly, ushered straight into a car before we could really get a glimpse let alone a photo. But it was worth the wait just to see all the crazy intense-looking Presidential security guys in their suits and ear-pieces. Super.

All in all, a definitively positive start to the month-long road of traveling ahead. Despite one or two sad goodbyes, I sat in the taxi to our Newark hotel to meet Emily and Amy with a huge smile across my face. I can't wait to get back to New York for a longer holiday. And who knows, maybe the big city will even be graced with a wide-eyed CV or two next year...

Listening to: "In Every Direction" by Junip.
Have a little listen here.