Monday, 27 August 2012

All the excitement of the greyhound

The bus journey from Ottawa to Edmonton took 52 hours in total. Here are the events of day one:

I sat on a bus today.

And here are the events of day two:

For most of today I sat on an uneventful bus. For most of the journey I had had two seats to myself, that changed at Thunder Bay when the most enormous passenger of the trip boarded. Of all the seats available he chose to sit next to me, perhaps I have a friendly face, or a skinny arse. Either way I was left with half a seat thanks to the 6'5" (height and breadth) of the excellently named Andrew McCooey. As the driver came down the bus to count the passengers he pointed out that there was a double seat available further back. To my astonishment Andrew declined. Unbelievable! I was too shocked/polite/British to say I'd take the other seat but if Andrew was staying on all the way to Edmonton I'd have to move.

After half an hour of squashed silence Andrew spoke 'Where you from?'
'I got a friend from England. He used to live here but he got deported'
Five minutes passed then Andrew spoke again
'How long you been here?'
'About a week in Canada'
He reached in to his wallet 'You seen Canadian money before?'
'Err. Yes I've needed to use it a fair bit this week'
'How about American?'
'Actually yes, I was in New York at the start of my trip' He seemed disappointed that he had nothing to show and tell so he rooted in his wallet and puled out a card: 'Firearms Licence'. Oh God.

'You wanna know why my buddy got deported?'
'If you want to tell me then yeah'
'He stole his Dad's money and car and got in a high speed pursuit with the cops'
'That would do it'
'He like to drink too much'

For five hours I was sat next to/underneath Andrew McCooey and the conversation ran as smoothly as a rubix cube down a sandpaper slope. I couldn't figure him out, he was either slow, a danger to the public, desperate for a new friend or all three. It was like the most awkward first date. Topics he covered: What movies do you like? What food do you like? What music do you like? Do you like drinking? - actually that part of the conversation went on well for a while.

Some good and odd McCooey conversation tit bits, usually dropped in with no link to any other part of the conversation:
'If you go to a strip bar you know how to get the girl to dance up to you? Ignore her. I'm telling you it works'
'Thanks, I'll bear that in mind'

'Your light on your watch, you know how that lights up?
'No I don't actually'
'I'm not sure that's right'

Occasionally it got scary. After I'd fallen asleep for half an hour Andrew woke me with a nudge and asked 'Did you get some sleep?'
'I was sleeping yeah'
He leaned in and whispered 'Did you hear about the guy who had his head chopped off on the greyhound?'
I became very aware that I was pinned in to my corner of seat with no escape route. Andrew continued 'After he did it he walked up the aisle holding the head up by the hair. It was on this route too.'
I nervously replied 'It wasn't you was it?'
'No. But that's why I never sleep on the greyhound'
And thanks to Andrew I didn't sleep again on the greyhound.

Eventually an explanation came for Andrew's conversational oddities. At age thirteen Andrew had been knocked off his bike by a truck and suffered brain injuries that took him years of rehab to recover from. I felt bad for judging him earlier but was glad I had chatted to him. It had been the most interesting part of my journey and he was just looking to be friendly.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Niagara, Toronto and Ottawa

After the megabus from New York I arrived Saturday morning in Toronto and was impressed with how quickly I located the hostel. However, on arrival I found out that I'd messed up my booking, it was for the following Saturday and they had no beds tonight. Nor did any other hostel in the city. But the HI in Niagara did have space so I went back to the bus station and made my way there instead.

Niagara is a nice spot, but full of tourists, as you'd expect, so I took the standard photos and headed back to the hostel for a pleasant evening with a pleasant group of travelers.

Monday, Toronto
Explored the Toronto islands then off to the skydome to watch the Chicago White Sox at Toronto Blue Jays in the baseball. I think I like baseball, quite a good sport. After the 7th innings comes the 7th inning stretch. Nearly all the crowd gets to their feet and follows the lead of the mascot and cheerleaders in a spot of aerobics. I couldn't see it taking off at the cricket.

Some of the crowd around me took me under their wing and tried to answer some of my questions about the league. They were pretty much clueless, in a season of 200 games it would appear that regular fans just turn up for the odd game to enjoy the beer and the aerobics. The Blue Jays won after two extra innings so everyone was happy. As I left I saw a group of girls in I ♥ BJs t-shirts.

Chose to stay at the Ottawa backpackers which as luck would have it had filled up their main dorms so I was taken next door and had an apartment to myself. Bought a bottle of wine and a tin of ravioli and settled in for the evening. At 10pm a 47 year old called Andy who was originally from Ottawa arrived and took a private room in my apartment. We went to a restaurant together and Andy had some dinner whilst writing out two full pages of A4 recommendations for me of things to do in the area. After food Andy headed home and I found a lively bar with open mic music. A group of locals invited me to join them playing drinking jenga. One of the group, Sarah, seemed to like me (what does that prove? She's not blind), so we arranged to meet the next day to do a quick tour of Ottawa.

Went to the houses of parliament with Sarah, the main plan was to find the Cat Village, one of Andy's recommendations. Sarah had never heard of it which made me think it might not be real but after some inquiries we got there. It was everything I'd hoped it would be. Literally, all it was was one slightly crazy man poking a cat with a stick.
'How many cats are there?' I asked
'Six' replied the bearded man still poking the cat
'I heard rumour of a couple of raccoons too?'
'At night. They come for food but they don't stay here'
Sarah asked if she could pet the cat
'No, he's pretty mad right now. He'd probably scratch you' said catman
Well I'm not surprised he's mad, you're poking the poor bugger with a stick.
The Cat Village made me happy. This was a good day.

For those of you who are interested Sarah was a bit dull and young (18) so there was no romance. In fact she was too young to drink in Ontario so she was using her cousin's I.D. Her name was actually Julie. Julie wore glasses on our tour of the city. It turns out that she genuinely was a bit blind the night before.

Ottawa was good and so was having a bit of space in the apartment so I spent another couple of days there, visited museums and went for a 40km walk out to a park on the French Canadian side of the river. I took a stick for the walk. Her name was Sue but she was no Herman. Too arrogant and French, I left her by the road after the walk wondering if any stick could ever live up to the quality of my reliable old buddy, Herman the stick. It seems unlikely.

Up next, a 50 hour bus journey from Ottawa to Edmonton.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

New York

Thursday - Museum day. Apparently the Guggenheim is closed on Thursdays so I went to the Metropolitan instead. I enjoyed a lot of the stuff which is unusual for me in an Art gallery. Impressive collection of painters: Van Gogh, Monet, Manet, Rembrandt, Pollack, Warhol. My favourite - favourite is underlined as a spelling mistake on this computer. Stupid Canadians - was a photo of a man tucking his willy away mangina style*. He looked like he was having a great time, who can blame him.

After the museum I stepped in to a bar and befriended a local drunk called Eric.
'So your name is Clint, like Clint Eastwood'
'No, Glyn'
'I never met a Clint before'
'You still haven't, I'm Glyn'
He then introduced me to all the bar staff as Clint. I gave up trying to correct him.

Passing another bar I popped in for one happy hour beer. I emerged six hours later pissed as a fart. It wasn't my fault though, the barman was very friendly and explained American football and fantasy American football to me. The league system is still a bit of a mystery. I didn't pay for many drinks because a kind American banker called John who had lost a million dollars in the recession - bit careless - insisted on buying me several drinks. He also said I could stay in his house while he was on holiday the following week. His holidays consist of him telling his wife he's going fishing while he just sits on his boat smoking weed.

John left and I noticed the shots and beer had hit me. I was stuck in conversation with an arrogant republican arse and every time I tried to reason with him after he made a ridiculous claim about socialism I would end up losing my train of thought and slurring 'I can't remember what my point was, but I know you're wrong'. It was time to leave.

At 5am I woke up on a park bench nowhere near the bar or my hostel or the route between the two. Oops.

The final day in New York I walked the high line path and then got my backpack ready for an overnight journey to Toronto. New York was good, I enjoyed it and its people very much.

*Mangina is also underlined red as not recognised as a word. As is recognised.

It'll all be fine

And so it begins... although it nearly didn't.

I came very close to cocking up the whole start of my trip by not looking in to the U.S visa. I didn't have one at all the day before I left and only by chance helping my brother book his flights at STA travel did I find out I didn't have one. I should have known better but fortunately my application was accepted and I dodged a pricey bullet.

There are things I will miss about home, not least my Mum and Dad. In the car on route to the airport:
Mum: 'Why are you wearing your sunglasses? There's no sun'
Dad: ''Cos I'm a cool dude and these are good sunglasses. They work in the dark'

At the airport I hit another snag. The U.S visa requires you to have transport out of North America booked to prove you're not staying. I had a bus to Canada booked but that was not enough so I was taken to the ticket desk and had to buy a flight. Off the top of my head I said Los Angeles to Bogota, Colombia. I booked it and now had to add a few more destinations to my itinerary. Panic over, I was on my way.

In the plane I was sat next to a girl called Jo who was on her way to the Dominican Republic on behalf of the Christian Union. She would be directing a half improvised play on the gospel of Mark in Spanish. It sounded bloody awful but she was a nice enough girl so I wished her well.

Through immigration, giving all ten fingerprints and an eye scan. I was in. Had a stroll through central park and bedded down in my hostel at 9pm (2am GMT).

After a good nights sleep I woke to be greeted by a stressed looking American lad in his pants. Even though there were two people still asleep in the dorm he spoke at normal American speaking volume (150% of other nationalities volume). He complained that he had been kept up by a Fat man in the bunk below watching a film on a laptop. The irony that he was now stopping others from sleeping was lost.

Walked to the bottom of Manhattan for the view across to the Statue of Liberty. The Liberty island is further away than I expected.

In the evening went out with two of my roommates who were as geeky as me. A German scientist and an American pharmacist. The question 'What do you think of the 2010 health care reform act'. They were good people and I learned that in the U.S.A. there are more deaths from prescription drug overdose than from automobile accidents.

After a pint met up with Asa, an Israeli I met in Slovenia and two of his friends and we went to the Top of the Rock, 67 floors up for a night time view out across the New York skyline. A good way to end a day.