Tuesday, 22 September 2009

New Blog

For those of you not on facebook and thus haven't heard, my new blog is uselesslemon.blogspot.com

Log on and bountiful pleasures await.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

The End of All Things

Well, as the song goes 'Save the best til last'.

This was certainly the case with my last few days in Canada and traveling as a whole. We frequented the theatre to see Cyrano De Bergerac (mum and felt that if Cyrano had just told Roxane he loved her, it all would have worked out splendidly and she wouldn't have wasted her life in a convent, Dave thinks we don't get romance) and then had the most wondeful meal I ever had. Seriously. We went to this converted church and had a slap-up 3 courser. Every portion was small, but perfectly formed. The gastromical delights were astromical. I cannot actually describe to you how marvellous this meal was, but orgasm in a plate sums it up in the best and in the most word economical way.

After that we made another small journey to Fenelon Falls, Barbara's home town and location of their lake house. They called it a cottage, but trust me it was a house. A majestic 2 storey lakeside property with a small path to the lake and private deck. There was also a habitable boat house and small (purple!) boat. Most excitingly of all, Dave had erected a Scottish flag and I lay on the sun soaked deck, saluting the flag feeling very patriotic. Our weather wasn't too fantastic, but I managed a swim and we went on a jaunt on the afore-mentioned boat (I discovered I do not have sea legs) and when the rain did fall, we went for trips to nearby towns buying shoes and fresh vegetables. It was altogether a wonderful couple of days and I will look back upon them with great fondness.

Then the epic journey home began. It started with a 2 hour drive to the aiport and a slight panic when yet again they said I didn't have a seat on the plane, but actually did. Mum and I then said a fond farewell to Dave who had kindly been our taxi once again. Unfortunately, as always I then picked the wrong security queue and accidently 'volunteered' us to go through an experimental secuirity process which I can only describe as standing in a photo booth and getting a hair dryer blown in our faces. Quite how that detects bombs and the like, I am unsure. Anyway, there was some amusement had when the girls in front of us, that we had assumed were Polish/Russian because of how they spoke, turned out to be in fact incredible thick accented Glasweigens. I mean no wonder tourists in Scotland have trouble, these girls were incomprensible, like howling dogs on crack.

Anyway, the plane was on time and the 7 hours over the sea went slowly and without sleep, but it went. We then arrived in London with another 2 hour wait and then our final flight to Aberdeen. After a brief sit down with Grandpa, we then drove back. To illustrate how tired mum was I'll tell you this- she let me drive.

By the time we got to Dingwall we were both exhausted and it was about 5pm Scottish time, 11am Canadian with no sleep. However, the day wasn't over yet. I then met mum's new fancy man and was shown around her new house at the bottom of the hill (under renovation at present, not habitable). I also met one of the fancy man's dogs. Yes, one. He has five labradors. Indeed. After much sitting on by the dog, we returned to my childhood home and decided to have a take-away as by this stage, eating out or cooking were way beyond either of our abilities and in fact the capacity for rational thought was over. I stumbled to bed around 9pm with every intention of watching the some of the highly anticipated last season of Battestar Galactica (if anyone tells me who the last cyclon is, I will end you), but managed 10 minutes before I lapsed into a dreamless coma.

And that's it. Travels over, new life to now begin. However, before I can even think about my move I have to socialise solidly for a week and a half before I'm actually going to be in Dingwall long enough to form a sentence, let alone form a exit plan and job getting strategy. I will say this, after several notes of interest, I have decided to continue the blog. I will open it on a new page (or whatever its called) with a new name yet to be decided. So those of you who wish can continue following me, instead of around the world, around the interview table. I'll keep you posted (literally).

All there remains to say is this -to quote my favourite fictional character Samwise Gamgee (and in fact the final sentence from the Lord of the Rings)-

Well, I'm back.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Swansong with Shakespeare

So this is an unexpected pleasure. I wasn't sure I'd get another entry until I returned to the motherland.

Unfortunately, poor mum's flight was delayed by a couple of hours which meant instead of pacing around Toronto for some of the day, I paced around all day. However, Dave, mum's university friend who has been living here with his wife for 30 odd years had offered to pick her up. Dave and Barbara actually live a couple of hours away in a place called Stratford (more on that later), but he happened to be in town for a talk so offered to be a taxi service. Due to the delay of course this meant a lot of hanging about so we ate and talked about the theatre until mum's eventual arrival in the late evening.

It was quite odd seeing her as I, of course, haven't since before Christmas. Mum is not a natural traveller and that combined with the delay, she was quite wiped out, but much better than I had anticipated. Fortunately, I had managed, by sheer fluke, booked us the most marvellous hotel in Toronto, which apart from a view of a strip bar, was absolutely beautiful and most high class. The next day mum didn't feel too jet lagged so we decided to visit a place called Casa Loma- a massive castle like house built by an eccentric business man in the early 20th century that eventually bancrupted him and he had to give it to the state. Now, it was a lovely place with secret tunnels, grand fire places, magnificent garden and the like. Unfortunately it was filled with masses of small children on school trips. I think there were about 5 different trips all with about 50 kids each, all far too young to appreciate the aesthetics of the place, who proceeded to run around screaming, falling over and generally being vile and getting in my way. It was most disconcerting. We left there pretty quick as I just couldn't cope. We later when to a shoe museum which was far more civilised and had, well, lots of shoes so I was happy.

The next day we did a most untouristy thing and went to see the 6th Harry Potter which I very much enjoyed and was most amused to be sitting along from a chap who looked like a hippie version of Dumbledore and who kept bellowing wth laughter. After that we went shopping along the posh shops not buying anything. We popped into Tiffany's, but quickly scampered out as they kept trying to give us assistance and we became terrified they would discover we were in no way going to purchase anything.

After our time in Toronto we went to Niagara Falls via the Greyhound bus. Mum found coach travel very exciting which shows how little she goes out. On arrival at Niagara, I was very much reminded of Las Vegas. For those of you who recall, Vegas was not my favourite place. Well, the falls appeared to be much in the same vein. Masses of wax work museums, arcades, giant inflatable things and worst of children. Our hotel this time was not so nice, but bearable and we managed to find the one nice restuarant in town and had huge steaks and tiny puddings. We also had a pint of beer and mother who is not used to drinking became all affectionate and began to tell me how much she loved me. I then took her home.

The next day it was beautiful and sunny so we made our way past all the fast food places, tacky shops and children and got to the falls. Now, much like many hyped things (see Milford Sound) the falls were nice, but I didn't fall to my knees and bask in their ultimate glory. However, we walked along beside them and took the obligatory photos. We were then at a slight loss at what to do as it appeared if you don't want to spend your day haunted wax work museums, there wasn't much to do. However, I got the map out and discovered there was a cemetary not too far from our hotel. My mum and I are very morbid and we love a good graveyard so we ambled along there and spent the better part of the afternoon having a nosey at the names and design of the stones (FYI lots of Italians in Niagara). We also saw about a thousand variously coloured squirrlels and one chipmunk so that was exciting.

On the way home, a most curious thing happened. We were waiting for the green man when a police car drove past and bizarrely, his torch fell out of the window and rolled on the ground in front of us. I picked it up, but the police car kept going and wondered what to do I recalled we had seen a police station on our way to the cemetery so we dutifully walked back, torch in hand, but when we got there it was shut (4pm and shut!). So at a loss at what to do, we left the torch by the front door and walked away. A few minutes later as we just got out of shouting distance, we looked back and saw a police car pull up beside the station. A policeman got out and in a rather comical nature, looked about his person and in the front seat. This can only have been torch cop. I can only hope he found his lost item by the door. I expect if he did he must of wondered how and earth it had got there. I hoped this good karma would cause something nice to happen to us, but unfortunately it did not.

The next day, Dave again being a very kind taxi service picked us up from Niagara to take us to his home in Stratford. As we joined the highway, we were talking nineteen to the dozen and suddenly, police sirens and lights started flashing all around us! Dave had been accidently speeding and was being chased by the police! However, he did not in "Police Camera Action" or "Police Stop" programme try to make a rapid get away. Instead he pulled up and got his ticket (from a very nice policeman I might had, very polite). I wondered if I mentioned the torch story that he might let us off from the ticket, however I thought that might be testing things somewhat.

We made it without further incident to Stratford after that, which is a beautiful medium sized town, famed for its Shakespeare festival every year (in which Dave is a key organiser and his wife Barbara a participant). Dave and Barbara have a lovely home in a deeply quiet area and live with a 18 year old insanely fluffy and affectionate cat called Freebie. We went for dinner that evening and I had two glasses of wine and felt deeply drunk so I dread to think what I'll be like at my reunion the first weekend I'm home with all those hard core alcoholic doctor friends of mine. Anyway, today mum and I spent a lovely morning in another cemetary (lots of Scots in this one) followed by a shop in the wee quaint town which had a Scottish shop (but it didn't sell Irun Bru) . I forced mum to buy a dress and then she forced me to buy one to make it even. Our indulgence was then completed by consuming masses of chocolate cake and now we are quite sleepy.

The next few days are to be thus- dinners out, a theatre outing and then a trip to Dave and Barbara's cottage by the lake. From the photos I've seen it looks a most majestic affair and I promise to take lots of pictures.

And then I'll be heading on home. It seems bizarre to think in 5 days, I'll not only be back in Scotland, but back to Dingwall to spend my last few days in the family home as mum has sold up and will be in her new house by September. However, another new start is quite fitting I think. I am about to start another new journey in Edinburgh and in search of a new job and new life path. This year was supposed to be a period for thinking of these things, but to be honest I am no further forward in deciding what to do than when I left. However, this does not disturb me, instead I think it has given me preparation time to start thinking about things. If that makes any sense, and I suspect it does not.

Anyway, I'll see you all very soon with an empty bank account and a full photo album. I am very much looking forward to coming home and am ready for the motherland. The question is, is she ready for me?

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Final Countdown

Dah dee dah dah, dah dah dah da dah, dah dee dah da dee dah dah da The Final Countdown!

Does anyone actually know the rest of the words or in fact any other words at all of that song? Thank-you "Europe" for that classic one hit wonder. Yes, indeed in less than 12 days I shall be home, but I am getting ahead of myself, lets return to Quebec City...

Indeed, my last few entries have been a diatribe of whining and for that, I apologise. After being very melancholy in Quebec City, my final day there turned out to be quite pleasant. The sun shone and I wandered around looking at slightly old buildings with touch more enthusiasm. The next day I got my trains to Ottawa (I required a change in Montreal, oddly the price of getting these two trains was cheaper than the single trip from Montreal to Quebec City, odd indeed) and the only thing of note was a slightly peculiar Canadian man who asked if he could lift my rucksack. Not in chivalrous "let me carry that for you my good lady" but in a "how heavy is that" way. This wouldn't have been quite as peculiar if he hadn't had been sitting on the train station floor elastic banding 4 bamboo canes together to form a walking stick and (even though it was clear that English was his first language) that he insisting on speaking every other sentence in French even after I told him in my best accent "Je ne comprend pas, parlez vous Anglais?".

Anyway, I reached Ottawa and got a taxi to the hotel. I don't usually get taxis, not just for the cost, I just don't like them very much, all those interperosal skills you have to perform in a small enclosed space wth a stranger. But the train station was quite far away and there was no other means of getting to my destination. The taxi driver spoke English as a second language, I couldn't tell what his first language was and thus where he was from, but he could not grasp the concept that I wasn't English. I tried to explain to him where Scotland was and I got blank looks and he continued to say things such as "there's the English embassy". I bit my tongue and tried not to say "BRITISH Embassy". However, this isn't something too surprising, I have encountered it before many times. However, as I looked around Ottawa I noted that it is quite a Scottish place. A great deal of the street names are "MacDonald" "Elgin" and the like. Also on the main street across from the Parliament buildind there is a St Andrews Church with a massive Scottish flag outside so I actually became more offended in retrospect at the taxi drver for not seeming to even realise Scotland was a country.

This seemingly cultural naivety has continued in every destination in Canada in terms of getting ny name wrong. Oddly enough though, unlike other destinations where it is the receptionists who have, despite my 'Christie is my surname' spiel, made the error, it appears to be the booking service. In every hostel and hotel I have been at, the receptionist has listened to my Christie speach, but it is the computer that has me booked in as Christie Morag. Do the people reading the online boooking form, look at my name entry and go "hmm she has typed her name in backwards and again on the credit card page, I will correct it for her, silly girl" I just don't know. How do people called Craig Simon or Andrew Scott etc cope with this stuff. It's driving me batty.

Anyway, I arrived at my hotel and was delighted (despite the name error) to find it was a fabulous suite room with a little kitchenette with about ten towels and 8 pillows. Surfice to say I did spend a considerable amount of time in my suite watching "Law and Order" but I did venture out occasionally to see the city and found it to be a most pleasant place. The main attraction is the parliament building which is very impressive (Holyrood really should have taken note) and even better was that inbetween two of the buildings there was a stray cat sanctuary that sheltered and fed the homeless feline population (and a racoon). It seemed a very clean and safe place, though doubtless to say I'm sure it has its underbelly, but as capital cities go, it was one of the nicest I've been too.

The days quickly passed by and I was on a bus again for my final destination of Toronto, where I am now. Unfortunately for Canada's largest city, it is not making the best impression. There has been a bin men strike for three weeks and its beginning to show (and smell) on every street corner. It's a shame because, apart from that from what I've seen, it appears to be a well laid out tourist friendly place.

The exciting news is that tomorrow evening my mother should be here to enjoy the stench with me. I say 'should' be because every other holiday my mother attempts to go on, there is always some drama. I wouldn't be at all surpised if evil monkeys hijacked her plane and forced it to land in Alaska. So fingers crossed until she has actually arrived on Candian soil.

I suspect this may be my penultimate entry. Once mum arrives, it'll be a few days in Toronto followed by Niagara Falls and finally a few days in a family friend's log cabin in the wilds somewhere so I'm not sure when I'll get the chance to write again. I promise to do a "I'm back!" entry to give this blog some closure and a well rounded finish (I did a prologue at the beginning, it seems literally correct to do an epilogue). I'm really looking forward to it too, after the generally good times had by all in NYC with Anthony, I anticipate such times ahead for Toronto. A fitting way to finish my adventures; to go home with, rather than to, my mother!

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Moaning in Montreal and Quitting in Quebec.

As the title suggests, Montreal did not do much to lift my spirit. Well, that's not strictly true, it was a pleasant enough city, but my shear determination to remain solitary prevailed. I spent much of Montreal dodging the rain as the thunder storm that followed me around the east coast of the US had also followed me here.

Montreal is a French Canadian city, but it is incredibly Anglicised so any attempts I made to speak in my bastardised school girl French were quickly thwarted by the person I was speaking to replying to my feeble attempts in word perfect English. So I gave up and much like in Holland, just spoke in English without attempting any further embarrassing dialogue.

Now, what did I do? Right, well I went to see their world famous Notre Dame (oh what an imaginative name for a church) and had to pay to see it which immediately put my back up. It's main claim to fame though was that Celine Dion got married there a few years ago so that really should have put me off. I was underwhelmed. After all my exploits, its got to be a great big church with bells on to impress me. However, Montreal had a trick up its sleeve in terms of fabulous churches go. One morning as I dragged myself from bed thinking what to do that day (my enthusiasm is so refreshing, is it not?) two of the girls in the room were discussing this giant church dedicated to Saint Joseph. Now for those of you not familiar with the Catholic faith, Saint Joseph was Jesus' step-father (essentially) and he is the patron Saint of Canada. After hearing that it was very large and shiney, my interest was piqued and later that day I went for a look see.

Well, this is how its done. The church itself was a massive , huge, enormous affair right on top of a hill. There were so many steps leading up to the main entrance there was actually a free shuttle bus to the door. In the middle of the stone steps there was a section of metal staircase roped off. This was so the dedicated , faithful few could ascend the staircase on their knees- ouch. If that wasn't fabulous enough, the church was actually split into two levels. The lower level had a statue of Saint Joseph surrounded by what can only have been about a thousand candles and round the back of him was the tomb of a priest they are trying desperately to get cannonized (it never said what he did anywhere so I can't tell you if I reckon he was worthy, because I am of course the leading expert on such matters). People were all over this priest's tomb, praying and crying. It was all very dramatic. Then came the inners of the main Cathedral. Now in my experience 'new' Cathedrals i.e. not the ones built in Italy in the 17th Century, tend to try and emulate their superior European sisters, but fail (much like the Notre Dame). However, this cathedral had said 'to hell with that' or perhaps something more Christian, and instead had a very modern concrete type design. Instead of marble or bronze statues, it had these bizarre elongated wooden pillar like effigies all around the walls. It was curious and I absolutely loved it. If I lived in Montreal and a Catholic I would definitely go this church on a Sunday. It rocked. You know, as far as churches go.

Sorry, that's a bit of rant, but it really was nice. Another unique thing about Montreal is it has an underground shopping centre. It is so big you can get a map to help you round. I did not get a map and got hopelessly lost. It is multi-layered and goes on forever. So much so that the damn shops get repeated after a while and that was my down fall. I kept ending up at the bottom of a going down escalator when I wanted to go up. It took me about 45 minutes to eventually make my escape. It was very traumatic. And I didn't buy anything.

Nothing particularly dramartic (like being accosted at breakfast by overly keen Germans) occurred in Montreal and I'm struggling to remember what I actually did there. The answer to that is not very much, just my usual reading, seeing stuff, chatting to folk type affairs. It was a nice city, but not as nice as I had anticipated. In my brain, I assumed Canada would be a better, shiney, cleaner, safer cousin of the USA. This idea was mainly brought about by the fact that they don't allow guns here so for some reason I thought by crossing the border all the 'bad people' would suddenly cease to exist. But of course, like any major city, there are poor areas and homeless people. They don't magically disappear just because you can't buy a gun in a supermarket (although there were fewer homeless people). Not to say Montreal was a dirty, sewage strewn brothel, it just wasn't the Disney fairyland I was expecting.

Anyway, after that I caught the train. Now this is when I really should have learned to read my guide book before I go somewhere. You'd think after all this time, I would know better, but there is no fool like an old fool. Quebec City was my next stop. I thought "ah old, French CITY' That'll be a nice, sizable place to go visit for 4 days. The name lies. If Quebec is a city then so is Dingwall. It is so small. There is nothing to do. Okay, there are a couple of museums, a large old battlefield and a wall. So that was day one. Days 2 and 3 have been a struggle. Tomorrow, mercifully is my final day here and fingers crossed there might actually be some sun. I'm very good at wasting time, but wasting time in a place where it is pouring with rain and there are no English book shops, theatres or cinemas is a real struggle as unlike Montreal, Quebec is majorly French. In addition to that, everyone in the hostel appears to be either a teenager from a school trip or a small child on a family holiday. I've never been in such a 'family' orientated hostel. I got booted off the TV by two small French children who wanted to watch a French cartoon, the content of which appeared to be a bunch of robots in Ancient Egypt raiding a pyramid. And when I said 'J'appelle Morag' in my bestest French, the little f**ker corrected my pronunciation.

So, not feeling Quebec City love. But then I didn't feel Montreal love or Boston love, so perhaps rather than the places, it is my mind. I am longing for the mother country now, these final few weeks are beginning to take their toll. I feel especially antisocial, taking my book everywhere in the vain hope people won't speak to me, not taking part in hostel activities in case, horror of horrors, someone might like me and ask me to do something with them. So how am I remedying this unhealthy pattern of behaviour? Am I forcing myself to smile and make polite conversation in the kitchen? Hell no, when I go to Ottawa at the weekend I've treated myself to a bargain hotel (thanks Expedia.com) so I can wallow in complete solitude before heading on to Toronto to meet my mother. Ah, I predict a Law and Order marathon in my future and eating crisps in bed! I know what living is!

Friday, 3 July 2009

Boston Blues

After the excitement of New York and seeing Anthony, despite thinking myself a strong independent woman, I found myself very melancholy when I reached Boston. This possiblity was not helped by the fact I spent the entire jounery cramped next to rather large woman with a medium sized baby on her knee. The creature did not cry which was fortunate, but did keep tryign to suck on my jumper and dribbled on me.

After the trauma of that, it is no wonder that my enjoyment of Boston was limited. Which is not to say Boston is not a nice place, far from it. But alas, my heart so renewed after my time with Anthony, fell into sight-seeing apathy and I found myself very unenthusiastic. Despite this I did try and force myself to have fun and did the touristy things, but with a heavy heart. I wandered the freedom trail throught the city and learned estentially, the Brits are complete bastards. I went to Harvard and looked at pretty buildings and pretended I was in Dawson`s Creek or some other such marvellous programme. I went to the rather fabulous Isablla Stewart Gardner museum which actually did pique my interest so I will tell you a little more about ut.

Now, the background is I have recently been reading a couple of books on art crime, both theft and forgery ( I am like soooo intellectual) and in the theft book it mentioned the museum. the museum was bequethed to the state by the lady, Isabella, after countless years of collecting and under strict instructions NOTHING was to be changed about the lay out. She had designed the house herself, a rich lady of the early 20th centruy and its crowning glory was the the central open air courtyard and more importantly to the art world, one of the rare Vermeers and the ONLY seascape by Rembrante (known). In 1994, three masked thieves broke in, tied up the security guards and stole 300 million dollars worth of art and amongst other things, the two aforementoned paintings. On their way out they told the guards `you`ll be hearing from us`. But no one ever has and none of the haul has been seen since.

Knowing this, I was interested in seeing the museum and was most delighted by its layout. Because Isabella (who by the way also made the clause, if your name was Isabella- same spelling- you could get in for free, what a lady!) had said nothing can be changed, where the Vermeer and the Rembrante should be are just two empty frames. Very haunting looking upon those hollowed spaces, imagining where the pictures are now. Have they been destroyed? Are they in a rich`s man house adorning the walls? What has become of them!?

Anyway, so that was fun.

A bit out of sequence I realise, but I also want to tell you about anther thing that may have made me a tad grumpy during my time in Boston, the tale of the early morning German. In the hostel I was at, there was a free breakfast served in the rather cramped kitchen. I like breakfast, I feel it is an important meal and hey it was free, so my 2nd morning there I wandered down, bleary eyed, grumpy, but craving a cup of tea. Now as I mentioned- grumpy plus it was morning so extra grumpy. All I wanted was my cereal and my cup of tea and to be left in peace. This was not to be. A rather unattractive, young chap started talking to me. The usual `where are you from stuff` nothing suspect. Being the polite perosn I am (ha ha) I responded appropriateyl, but I think not overly so. He then makes the delightful statement Ì like Scottish people`then launches into a story about some he knows. I find when the entire nation is swept up into this braod umbrella of niceness, the person saying the statement is usually an arsehole. That observation turned out to be true once again. During his diatribe about getting drunk with some Scots, he somehow manages to slip in he`s a lawyer (wow I am sooooooooo impressed), then he slips in `what are you doing today`then quite unexpectedly asks if I played sports. Em, no. Do I play an instrument. Em, no. Then he suddenly says òh you must do something like that, you look so fantastic`. Right mate. Its 9am, I`m depressed, I recently cut my own hair whilst drunk and I`m wearing baby blue jeans I bought on impulse in Gap. I do not look good.

I told him that I do nothing of interest and mainly I just sit about and try to cease to exist and quickly made my excuses and went to go clean my cup and he followed me. Despite him telling me he has already been to Harvard (I had told him I had planned to go there today) he says `I am going there, we should go together`. I look at him incredulously. This ugly, pompous German lawyer and think there is possibly nothing else in this world I would rather not do than spend time with him. I do not say this instead I try and palm him off this some crap about using the internet. He persists. I then just say `no I`d ratherr go by myself`. His little ugly face falls and he quickly washes his cup and walks away. I am suddenly hit with an immense feeling of regret and guilt (though not enough to go out with him). This stays with me the whole day, this feeling that I`ve broken his little German heart and even though I was mightily relieved not to have spent the day with an ugly pompus German who tries to pick up girls at breakfast (I mean not even a bar!) , I still feel bad. Of course for the next two days he is the only person I keep consistently seeing around the hostel and subsequently find myself peering around corners to check he`s not there. There is no better way to deal with guilt than to hide from it. You can quote me on that.

Anyway so that was Boston.

Fortunately, like all things, the time there ended and I found myself on another bus, this time to Montreal and fortunately with no slobbery babies. However, on the bus were two elderly siblings, Betty and Billy from none other than Aberdeen! And proper Aberdonians they were too. Billy was a retired science teacher from Aberdeen Grammer and was delighted to hear that my mother was a High School girl- although he told me since it went comprehensive it was been decided `mixed`. Billy was a great old boy, one of those fantastic old men wo doesn`t listen to a word you say, but instead rattles off stories about people you don`t know like they were your family and tells you terrific antedotes about his health prolems. Fantastic. Betty herself is a keen marathon runner, I tell you, you would not think that to look at her, I was most impressed. Apparently, she did the Boston marathon the year that 2/3rds (or something like that) of the participants collapsed due to the heat, but she managed to finish. They were great crack and I was sorry when they got off the bus in Vermont.

The rest of the journey was decided uneventful although I did get a bit of a grilling from the border control man (in a French accent) `you are travelling alone ??`like I was smuggling a child in my rucksack or something- trust me nothing could be snuck in, there is no room left for anything else!

So here I am finally in Canada, my last destination. My swan song country. My last hurrah. I am looking forward to exploring here, my fear of being shot dead is much less than in the US. Although, I am looking forward to being home where the keyboards are not French and I can actually find the apostrophe key and not have to use some weird dash thing, apologises people.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

New York, New York Part 2

I realised in my last entry, I missed out lots of things that Anthony and I have done thus far. And then I realised, I have done more in this week than probably in the last month and if I was to detail everything we did it would get a bit boring. So instead I'll mention the highlights and if you want to know more then please, dear readers, don't hesistate to ask.

After the spendor of Broadway musicals and high alcohol content cocktails, the excitement did not stop there. No, no, the next day we ventured to the Statue of Liberty. We got a boat across and then looked up at her from all sorts of angles, unable to climb the dizzy heights as you aren't allowed to (post 9/11 type stuff). That was for the best really as just as we went inside for lunch it began to pour with rain. I can't remember whether or not I mentioned that the weather was not being 100% cooperative with us at the beginning of the week, and this day was no exception. The rain came tumbling down for most of the afternoon. However, it made little difference to us as we spent the greater part of the day on Ellis island in a massive museum about immigration. I never knew there could be so much to learn about the process, but I do now.

That evening we went to a fabulous Ethiopian restaurant at the corner of our street and I must say it was tasty. If ever you get a chance to eat at such a place do so, althoguh prehaps not on a first date as you eat with your hands.

The next morning we decided to have Breakfast at Tiffany's which meant wandering along 5th Avenue and sneaking inside the store. We persued the first 2 floors before losing our nerve. I was wearing flip-flops, they knew we couldn't afford anything. We then had breakfast and Anthony would like me to mention that it was then he had a most delightful cupcake. I myself had a most delightful chocolate covered strawberry, most of which I dropped on my jeans.

For the rest of our time we spent the vast majority of it in various museums that I won't bore you with, but they included the Natural History Museum and the Modern Art one and were vast in nature and quite overwhelming. Do not try and do a whole museum in NYC in one day, you will melt your brain. On a break from museums, we went into a giant toy shop with a massive barbie section. I had to restrain myself from buying a black barbie in a wedding dress- she was so pretty, but would not have fit her in my rucksack.

Talking of purchases, I almost forgot to mention my great find (well Anthony deserves some of the credit). On my birthday the two of us were walking along a street and just happened to be talking about my brother Niall's desire for an owl chess when we came across one! I was so excited I texted Niall who in turn was so excited phoned me from Azerbijan and instructed me to buy the chess set on his behalf. So in 6 weeks time if all goes well, Niall will have that much desired object and I believe I will have major brownie points. I reckon I deserve at least 3 pints for that find and maybe a bag of crisps.

Anyway, Anthony and I's time together came to an end far too soon and low and behold it was Saturday! Typically after a week of thunder storms and rain dodging, our last day was glorious. The sun beat down on us and we spent our last few hours wandering through central park, gazing at the squirrels and pretending we were in Enchanted (there is a scene in the film where Amy Adams sings in a fountain, we found the fountain, but did not enter it to sing, just next to it). Unfortunately, the time then came to bundle up our stuff. Anthony accompanied me to the bus station so I could get to Boston and we said our goodbyes before he left to get his bus for the airport.

And thus passes the travelling age of 'Anthony the NYC companion' and enters what I would like to describe as the 'dawning of the final age- the last month'. Yes, in 30 days I will be returing to the motherland, beware!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

New York Part 1

Da da ddah dee da, da da ddah dee da, New York New York!

Yes, my return to New York has thus far been much more successful than my previous crazy-man-on-bus incident. After being soaked and drugged up in DC, I got the bus back to the island city and paced for 24 hours before Anthony arrived. And that he did on Saturday afternoon to my great delight. Despite travelling for a ridiculous amount of hours from which I would feel exhausted and insist on a sit down, we powered out to have tea and did do at this fabulous little tee-total Soul food restuarant called Amy Ruth's. It was like eating your Granny's home cooking. After that he did crash, but I was very impressed with his fortitude and it let me indulge in not one, but two episodes of Law and Order.

I should take a minute to tell you about the place we are staying. Obviously, I'm on a budget so the choice was fun things or nice hotel and we chose fun things. I really struggled to find an affordable private room in a hostel in Manhatten. When I finally did I was much relieved. However on arrival I must say despite my hardened traveller slumming-it ethos that I now possess I was a bit shocked. It's a bascially a big house that had been hastily made in to a hostel. Our twin room turned out to be a box room with a killer set of bunk beds in it that are impossible to climb without launching yourself across them. It got a little strange when I realised we were in room 101 and steadily growing more freaky when I realised the total of the room came to $666. I felt that neither of these things were good omens.

Despite our room in the Devil's hostel, we have had a super time the last couple of days. On the Sunday the weather was being uncooperative so we decided to be cultural and went to not one, but two museums! The Guggenheim (art and arcitecture) and the Metropolitean Art Museum. By the end of the day we felt saturated with paint and culture. It was fortunate we did such academia as earlier that day we had a true stupid tourist moment whilst trying to use the sibway for the first time. After much faffing we finally manged to buy a ticket from the automated machine, only to go through the wee gate thing and were then confronted with a locked 6 foot iron gate. We finally managed to escape out of this situation and then had to buy more tickets as we had invalidated the first ones. We felt like very stupid tourists.

That evening whilst searching for a resturant we got absolutely soaked in the pouring rain (this now becoming a theme for me) and ended up ina Greek place. Whilst we were there a waiter approached me and asked (in French) if I was French. I said no and that I was from Scotland and his look of astonishment that I was actually a native English speaker was evident. So my accent and speach pattern has obviously not changed much since I left.

The weather began to improve slightly which was fortunate as on Monday we met a a lady called Diane (I felt she should have been called Nancy) from a thing called Big Apple Greeter- bascially a New Yorker shows you round a apart of NYC for free. She took us around Colombia Uni where Obama went amongst other things and it was most interesting. Nancy/Diane herself was a hilarous and slightly odd lady, like the best people are. She incidently was a big Law And Order fan too so I approved heartily.

And now to my birthday. Thank-you to all who sent me kind wishes and regards. To those of you that forgot- eternal curses on you all!! Anthony had very thoughtfully arranged for mum to send me a birthday card via him so I had one card to open on the day itself (unfortunately, no large cheque). We had decided to go to Greenwich Village that morning for a wee guided walking tour and found the most fabulous street in al the world. It was called West 10th Street and it was a street of lovely old fashioned town houses that all had window boxes and good paint jobs. One was for sale so we looked it ip- 7 seven floors, a roof top garden- a cool 18 million dollars, so affordable then?! After our nice walk we went to Kat's diner- the diner made famous by the "when Harry met Sally' orgasm moment. I wasn't too impressed, just a greesy spoon like we have back home, except larger portions (it is America). On the walk back I was delighted to discover a Christie street, and then the adjacent street was Forsyth street! I took a picture pointing at the signs, amused at this odd coincidence (for those of you who don't know, Forsyth is my mother's maiden name).

That evening was the big night- our Broadway musical. Anthony had bought the tickets for my birthday and we were due to see 9 to 5, the muscial based on the amazing 70's musical of the same name with Dolly Parton. After a scare (we got on the wrong subway train) we made ourselves beautiful and headed on down to the show. Of note, CJ from the West Wing aka Alison Janney was in the muscial playing the Lily Tomlin role from the film. Well, it was terrific! We were in the 2nd to front row, right in the middle so had a great view. Afterwards, we were too excited to eat (we had skipped dinner) and ended up in a revolving rooftop bar drinking Manhatten cocktails (Manhattens in Manhatten- do you get it, we are sooo original and funny). What we didn't realise was that those cocktails are all alcohol and no mixer. With that on top of no food, we ended up quite drunk and if the bar hadn't have been revolving already then our heads definitely would have been spinning!

Right that's part one over, get ready for part two later in the week!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

The Ecstasy of Religion

After the escapades of the bus station, I was relieved on my arrival to Philadelphia to find that although a big city, it had a relatively small central area that was easily walkable and as such I could avoid public transport.

I had 5 nights and 4 days in Philly, ample enough time to walk the giant park which had lots of statues, see the famous Eastern state jail (fantastic exhibit, my must see of the city), visit the liberty bell, roam the hallways of the Anthropology museum (real mummies!) and generally have an informative, educational and relaxed time. Now, I'm not fantastic at taking pictures, but I have been making a concerted effort since my arrival in the states, especially in San Francisco when I was joined by Amanda and in Philadelphia where there was so much to see. But the gremlins were in the machine. On my last evening, on a hostel organised ghost walk, I got chatting to a lovely Irish girl and I recalled a rather interested statue I had seen at Penn's landing. It was a large bronze affair, one side depicting lots of sad Irish people digging up foosty potatoes and the other, lots of happy bronze Irish people coming off a boat supposedly in America. I think the idea was meant to be hopeful, but to be honest it was a bit sentimental. However what made it funny (and lets be honest when is famine not?) was someone had put a real potato next to a bronze spade. I, in my maturity, had taken a photo of this and went to show it to this Irish girl I had met because of course being Irish she would love that kind of thing.

Imagine my dismay on looking at my camera to discover not only had it deleted my photos from Philadelphia, but also all my photos from the West Coast of the states as well! (Apart from Vegas. Of, bloody course, the one place I didn't like!) I was dumb struck, I fiddled with the damn thing for ages, but I cannot work out how it managed to delete just those photos and it has been working well since. A mystery. My mind will just have to be picture enough, and these words I type here my aid memoire (fortunately I keep a diary which is slightly less irreverent and more descriptive).

Despite that great disappointment, my time in Philadelphia was very enjoyable and I would have to say it was a lovely city and very historical (or as much as Americans can manage with their young country).

My next stop was another iconic American city- Washington DC. And again, I must stay what a great city. As a poor traveller, I love this place as although the hostel is pricey, it is in keeping with the rest fo the East Coast, but everything else here is free! The Smithsonian museum is in fact about ten different museums and a small red bricked castle and they are all free! There are countless instantly recognisable monuments and buildings. It was a poor travllers hogs heaven- everything was walkable, lots to see and do without spending a penny. So did I mention there were a lot of free things?

2 days here is definitely not enough as each museum deserves half a day at least. I chose carefully and on the first day I went to see the holocaust museum. It was due to open at ten and I arrived at 945 thinking I would have to meander around a bit waiting fo the doors to open, but to my surprise the queue to get in was around not one, but two corners! I finally got an entry ticket with a timed entry slot at 1245! However, I was not put off and decided to spent the rest of the morning visiting such (free!) monuments as the Lincoln Memorial. Unfortunately, disaster struck. My back which had been troubling me a little of late and it decided to kick in and I was unable to walk much further than the museum cafe where I was forced to take lots of ibuprofen and have a cake.

Later after a significant rest, I returned to the museum highly anticipating the exhibit and feeling a bit better. After another queue for security I finally made to the entrance, my goal in sight! And the fire alarm went off. Now as you have heard a crazy white supremicist guy killed a poor security guard last week so when the fire alarm went off about a thousand Americans went 'OH MY GOD ITS A BOMB!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!' and ran out the emergency exit.

It wasn't a bomb. Someone lent on one of the thingys. After some standing about in the rain and then some standing in line again for security I finally got in. And it was worth the wait. I spent almost 3 and half hours there, what a fascinating place. I would have stayed longer, but it closed! What was remarkable about it was the fact it didn't go "And then America joined the war and everything was fine". It was honest about the immigration policies both pre, during and post war. Very good, five stars. Worth the 1st, 2nd and 3rd wait.

These delays meant further museum-ing that day were abandoned until the next day. I decided to be adventurous and go to a museum off the main drag- a forensic pathology museum according to my book. Well, my book lied. It was on an army base- on arrival at the base a man asked for ID and he had a very large gun! Frightened that I had prehaps made a bad decision about my educational development, I then I couldn't find the building or anyone to ask for help. And then my back kicked in again. I abandoned the museum search and had a bagel. I decided to stick to big places and decided to go see the Capitol Building and thw White House etcetc. It was all going well, I was hobbling slighly, but things were being seen and photos being taken when suddenly the sky went dark. A rumble from the heavens and then as if God turned the tap on, the rain came down. I was standing by the White House and there was no shelter. I tried to get out my umbrella to discover it was broken and kept falling down. I realised then it was too late. I was wet. I abandoned all attempts to try and stay dry- there really was no point and began hobbling back to the hostel. Of course by the time I got the hostel, I was literally soaked to the skin and the rain had stoppe dand the sun was out. As I dragged my poor little semi-disabled self into the lobby, I got the strangest looks from the receptionists.

Bizarrely, this event steeled me for action. I whipped on some new clothes (pants and all- I was that soaked) and stepped out again! I would conquer DC if it killed me! This new enthusiasm was perhaps helped by the fact that, on return to the hostel, I was in so much discomfort I raided my medication supply and took my second to last codeine tablet. With this new lack of pain (and inhibitions) I was ventured forth! And went to the National Cathedral. Yep, I went to America's national church stoned. And it was good.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Planes, trains and automobiles

I escaped the creepy man of Seattle and made my way back to San Francisco. I was pleased and delighted to find that the freezing fog that has clouded my visit on my previous trip had lifted and the weather was now warm and pleasant.

What was even more delightful was my friend Amanda- the travel agent I met whilst trekking in Tasmania- was coming for a long weekend with her step-mother Kay. It was just a coincidence that Amanda had decided to make the long journey to San Francisco the same weeekend, but what a lovely one at that. As I mentioned, the continous formation of new friends has been taking its toll of late and it was so nice to slip into easy conversation. What was also nice was having companions for activities and we had a delightful day at the art gallery and a slightly wind swept lunch. In the evening we dined at Francis Ford Coppola's restaurant. We were initially a bit put out as there was a massive group of Americans next to us, one of which I can only desrcribe as a wailing banshee. The waiter, a lovely chap called Tim (I think), was so apologetic for the noise we got free deserts and coffee!

On the Sunday, Amanda had organised for us to go ona wine tour of the Napa Valley. The tour guide was a German woman who was definately hungover and made little or conversation until the last ten minutes when she was angling for tips However, her narration was not required due to one of our fellow wine taster compainions, a Texan woman called Debbie.

Now, I'm not one to judge- oh to hell with that, I definitely am, but this woman was everything a sterotypical Texan woman should be apart from the fact she wasn't grossly overweight. She was loud, obnoxious and between wineries she was shotting tequila- I kid you not. At one stage rather than use her spitton, she threw a glass of wine over her shoulder and narrowly missed me. She hung on to everyone, slapping them 'affectionately' and generally made a nuisance of herself. To cap it off, on the bus ride back to San Francisco she began to bemoan the possibility of public health care in the US as she thought it could be no good thing that the poor and needy should get free health care.

That evening Amanada, Kay and I went to a chinese trestaurant with the rudest waiter known to man (I personally think he was mentally disabled) and had the bottle of wine we had got from our tour. We then went to a bar called 'Top of the Mark' a rooftop bar in a hotel and had devine cocktails. It was so high up, I felt I could have tickled the moon (if I had been brave enough to go near the window) and if you squinted very hard, you could see the Golden Gate Bridge. After all the alcohol of the day, I made a fond farewell to Amanda and Kay and went back to my hostel. I was leaving the next day and had neglected to pack earlier. I must recommend not packing whilst drunk as I did so in a most peculiar order and during which I narrated much to the bewildement of my Malaysia dorm-mates.

The next day I caught a plane to LAX and stayed overnight in a airport motel. I was due to catch an 11am flight to New York the next day and I was too nervous to fly on the same day. Also I was looking forward to ordering room service- a treat for myself. Now I have never ordered room service before and I was quite diasppointed. However, I suspect that fact I was staying at the cheapest hotel should have been an indicator that the meal was not going to be fantastic.

Anyway, the next morning I dutiful arrived at LAX only to discover my flight was delayed 2 hours. Never mind, it was Tuesday and I had booked a hostel in MYC for two nights and then a bus to Philadplephia on the Thursday. I was no real rush to get to New York, especially as it was my intention to withhold sight-seeing until my friend Anthony comes to join me in a couple of weeks. Two hours turned into three and then boarding was announced. As the plane load of people aprroached the gate, suddenly a voice told us the flight was cancelled! This came as somewhat of a surprise and no reason was given. However, as I said I was no hurry and I wasn't really bothered. Not so some of the other flyers who were furiously phoning travel agents and getting very cross. I met a lovely Australian girl who needed to get to NYC by the early Wednesday, but she was managingto be perfectly polite and we went together to the help desk to get ourselves sorted out. Fortunately she managed to get a later flight that day and to my great delight because of 'my great inconvience' that they couldn't get a flight for me until the next day, I got put up in the Hilton with 20 dollars worth of food vouchers. What a trauma.

By late evening of the next day, I finally made it New York where again transport difficulties were thrust upon me and I got stuck in an airport shuttle bus in traffic for nearly 2 hours. But as I said no hurry. From my brief, inital impression, the city seemed large and intimidating and in many ways I was pleased that my exploration of it was going to wait until I was going to be accompanied by a friend.

The next morning I made my way to the 'Port Authority' Bus stop, made famous by various TV shows and films. In a word (if it is one)- unglamorous. However, I got chatting to nice middle aged couple whilst we stood in the queue for our bus in the terminal buidling and I felt relaxed. That was until I herad shouting coming from the adjacent bus stop to ours. Earlier I noticed a rather large middle aged black man patrolling the building talking to himself loudly about wanting to get to California. I suspected that, not just from the fact he was talking to himself, that he was a little nutty as to get to California on a bus would, I predict, take weeks from NYC. Well, this chap had forced his way past the bus driver of a bus to Newark (approximately 80 miles form NYC) and was refuing to get off the bus. The bus driver, a portly man was having an absolute hissy fit and screaming at the man, something I suspect is probably not the best way to deal with the mentally ill and rather scary for the passengers of the bus. Eventually, 8 armed poilcemen appeared and dragged the man from the bus in handcuffs. Despite my alarm at this unfolding scene, it amused me to note that of the 8 officers only one appeared to be over 5 ft 6 and it did make me wonder about the assocation between the fondness of smaller men and big guns.

After all that excitement we got on the bus (the middle aged couple I was in line with were most apologetic and assured me this had never happened before to their knowledge) and our bus driver proclaimed to love us all and was a very jolly chap. I must admit by the time I got to Philadelphia, despite the rain, I was most pleased to arrive, safe in the knowledge that I was booked to stay for 5 nights and that I wouldn't have to board any long distance transportation for a quite a few days. Steve Martin and John Candy, eat your heart out!

Friday, 5 June 2009

Sleeping well in Seattle

Seattle the city of rain, Tom Hanks rom-coms and coffee. Well of the three I only sampled the latter. To my great fortunate there was a bit of a mini-heat wave occuring in the city of restless dreams and to my greater fortunate I did not meet Meg Ryan up the Space Needle (how I despise that actress).

My journey truely began on the train when I met possibly the smallest person without a medical condition called Dennis. He was a young, miniture Costa Rican chap who was on the way to meet a friend in Seattle. He had been in Portland visiting his step-brother and now was continuing up the coast much like myself. We had a wonderful chat for about 3 hours and after it was over we had arranged to meet the next day to do some touristy things. And that we did.

We climbed the space needle, walked along the monorail track (well along side obviously we were not death seekers) and in the evening ended up trawling the nightlife of Seattle and ended up seeing a very enthusiastic drag queen show. It was all great fun lubricated by some very cheap lager.

Now this may surprise some of you, scratch that, all of you, but despite my fondness for the ale I haven't been indulging in that much of late. When I was in Brisbane with Maggie, Duncan being the wine connseuseur that he is, I did ingest a few fine grapes, but apart from that my alcohol intake had been much reduced (and all the better for it). However, drinking vast quantities of 'bud light' (if you didn't know my new companion was homosexual, you now do) certainly took its toll on me the next morning. I was physically incapable of getting out of bed until midday. I was fortunate that the bunk beds in my hostel were unique as they were completely surrounded with little green curtains for privacy and as such my new dorm mates were not subjected to the vision that was the hungover me. When I did finally emerge I did not feel at all well and I have to be honest and say it wasn't until about 9pm that evening that I finally began to feel altogether myself again. Surfice to say, it was not a productive day.

Unfortunately due to my incapacity I was unable to meet up with the lovely tiny Dennis again and he departed back to Costa Rica, but there was a fond exchange of emails and for those of you with facebook, he has posted some pictures if you would like a look (also you can see my do-it-yourself haircut).

The good weather continued so I got out my guidebook and dedicately went out and saw the sites of Seattle. On first impression I wasn't too impressed with the city with its multitude of Starbucks coffee shops (literally one on every street) and numerous homeless crazy people. However, it warmed on me over the next few days especially when I found a park adjacent to a cemetery. Now for most people I'm sure this isn't much of an attraction, but when I was at home mum and I would frequently visit various cemeteries in the surrounding towns as they are curious and interesting places. It isn't a macbre thing, more a interest in history I suppose. This vast one in Seattle surprised me greatly in the number of Scottish names present as I wasn't aware it has many ties to the mother country, but there you go.

Anyway, enough of idle tourism. I would like to tell you about a hostel quirk and about one of the most curious conversations I've had in a while. In most independent hostels, that is not official Youth Hostel Association ones which are carefuly regulated, but the individual ones, I have noticed a recurrence of a certain character who I have named the "Creepy Man'. In most independent hostels, they will allow you to stay rent free if you work there and this results in a large number of semi-permanent residents who don't have any money as they are not paid, but are very familiar with the hostel. There is also usually a 'Creepy Guy' in situ. This is usually a chap in his mid-thirties (who really in my mind shouldn't be dossing in a hostel) who is very comfortable in the hostel surround. You notice the other hostel workers keep their berth from him and he seems to be present in the communal areas regardless of time of day. He is always chatting up some solo female traveller saying such things as 'yeah I've been everywhere in the world' and 'I could show you around *insert city name*' and 'yeah I used to be a bass player for Pearl Jam'. As soon as the solo female traveller shows any independent thought or questions this guy or gets company esp if it a male compnaion, the 'Creepy Guy' will scurry off in the corner and linger for new prey.

Now I sure you have an impression of the type of fellow I'm describing and as you can imagine I dislike such chaps. Despite being a delicate flower, I can smell a slimey chat up line from 20 paces and it impresses me not laddie. Now in Seattle we had one such 'Creepy guy' and in the 4 days I was there I was able to avoid him until my last night. I was in the kitchen cooking when I realised he was behind me chatting to some gullible American girl. I knew it was him as he had the most curious accent. It sounded like he was an American doing a English accent very badly and as such it was quite a distinctive voice. He was telling this girl about 'all the books' he had read and that "War and Peace" was his favourite novel (laugh laugh, cough cough), but then she departed. You could almost feel his eyes scanning the hostel looking for a female alone. Alas, me standing over my little pot cooking my noodles was the nearest victim. Then a most bizarre conversation took place. I will describe like a play for the drama. What I say will be in italics. Stage directions are in bold.

Creepy guy walks over to cooking girl
No, Scottish
Ah, English
No, Scottish
He points at the girl who is intently staring at her cooking pot.
A hush descends. He looks puzzled. This suggests to the girl that he is not English as he says he is. On the whole English people know Inverness. Suddenly the Creepy Guy begins to talk again. His words are spoken quickly.

Scottish people are nice. I knew some Scottish people who were in this hostel. Actually they were arseholes. They were Man U fans and I like City. We were, like, at the pub and I said 'hey no need to get nasty about it, but hey I will then'.

The cooking girl looks alarmed and puzzled on hearing this bizarre incoherent speech.
He continues after a brief pause.

How do you like America?
It's nice


Americans are nice. Seattle is nice. The people are nice. Mostly.

Attempting to make conversation the cooking girl says
There are lots of homeless people
Yeah that's America for you
I think its to do with the lack of a public health service. No safety net for the mentally ill
(girl looks thoughtfully at her well realised statement)

Yeah. Homeless people. They are alright. They do their thing. I let them. In their corners. They stand outside the hostel, I don't mind. They do their stuff. It's okay

Creepy guy suddenly walks off, leaving the cooking girl with her pot. She is puzzled, but relieved. Scene ends.

In the immortal words of Jim Morrison - People are strange.

Friday, 29 May 2009

The book(shop) thief

I'm going to try and keep this short as the last few entries have been quite ridiculously long. Sorry for that and thanks for sticking with me.

The dismal Vegas experience very much over shadowed much of the trip in San Francisco. I was grumpy and disappointed with Sin City and also a little strange from watching all those Law and Order reruns. Whenever one has too much time to ones self, one finds one can get a little peculiar and also a bit introspective and feeling a tad homesick. So as I descended upon San Fran, I was grumpy, strange and had high expectations that I would feel better soon. The problem with high expectations is that you often are left disappointed as you've set them too high to meet.

This I feel was the case with my first few days in San Fran. It didn't help that it was really cold and foggy so I couldn't recooperate by sitting in a park reading a book (my usual mood lifting cure all). Also, when I feel a bit low, I need to be left alone until the mood lifts and a German girl in my dorm persisted on trying to befriend me. "what are you doing' 'what are you planning on doing' 'what are your plans' and so on. Now I'm sure (in retrospect) she was just being kind, but I all wanted to do was leap from my chair/bunk bed (wherever she had cornered me) and scream at the top of my lungs "Get out of my FACE!"

Now, this is obviously an over reaction to a German attempted befriending. I'm aware. But as Winston Churchill said 'you cannot dodge the blackk dog of despair' or something similar. So I sullenly sulked and slunk and all together tried to avoid her for, oh 3 days. However, after this time (during which I had been doing my best to be a good tourist, did a tour, saw the Golden Gate Bridge, the gays and the hippies- buy a book if you want to hear about the sights) mooching around avoiding Germans I suddenly and inexplicably whilst having an late shower to warm myself after a long day of walking in the cold, started feeling better. Oh it was a fantastic feeling. I felt energised and ready to be socialable again.
Unfortunately, it was about 10 at night and the German was asleep, bless her and the next day she left before I could apologise and show her I actually was a nice person, not a weird recluse.

After my sudden epiheny or whatever it was, I truely began to enjoy San Francisco (the sun deciding to descend probably helped this) and I spent my last day there feeling far more myself. And I bought a book. Maybe two.

However, it was now time to move on to my next destination, a place called Portland. You may or may not have heard of this little city (I had not), but main reason for going there was 1. it broke up a tedious rail journey to Seattle and 2. I was told it had a very large bookshop. For once my expectations were met. What a bookshop. 4 floors of well laid out, alphabeticalised joy. And it was a mix of new and secondhand. If I could have moved in, I would have. If I could have actually picked the building up and transplanted it to Edinburgh and employed myself there, I would have. Actually, if I get a genie wish that would be it (stuff world peace).

Portland also has a wonderful array of arthouse cinemas pouring out of every little cubby hole and a very large clean park with a massive rose garden. I have basically been in hogs heaven for about 3 days. If I hadn't of already prebooked my journey onward to Seattle today I would have stayed. Forever. Well, may be two days.

Friday, 22 May 2009

I'm the Kid in America

Well all my dark nightmares of being wrestled to the ground at the immigration desk and then probe searched by customs turned out to be unfounded. I arrived safely in Los Angeles after an uneventful journey in which I did not sleep. This is curious to me as I fall asleep on any other form of transport, just not planes as (Aimie will testify after being on several trains with me on mini breaks) I fall asleep on public transport at the drop of a hat. However, planes do not lull me into that good night.

Anyway, I pensively approached the desk, greasy face and hair, clutching my little book with my information about where I was staying and my ticket leaving Canada etc etc, full of nervous anticipation. IS THIS YOUR FIRST TIME IN THE US? OH MY HAVE A NICE TRIP! I was stunned and moved quickly onwards to the customs queue. The customs man looked me up and down, OH MY GOD DO YOU ONLY HAVE ONE BAG? For some reason, despite only having one bag, my trusty rucksack for the last 6 months without change, I turned and checked my back, "yes" I said. OH COME ALONG THEN!

From this I surmised two things. All Americans shout at all times and most people coming to the states must have multiple pieces of luggage. In my by then exhausted and slightly confused state I began to search for a door to door shuttle bus- there was no way I was going to try and naviagate public transport with major jet lag. What was so confusing was that I actually gone back in time having left Auckland at 5pm on Sunday, I had arrived at 11am on the same day. I had gone back in time. I truely am a God. Anyway, I got my shuttle and was driven to downtown LA. Now the only reason I picked this particular hotel (yes a hotel, I decided hostelling with jetlag would be unfun) was it was near the bus station so I could walk to the bus stop to get my bus to Las Vegas the next morning. The guide books aren't too kind about downtown LA and after driving through it, I could see why. It was just dirty long streets with dirty people. However, prehaps in my exhausted state I was being unkind. I got to my hotel and when staright to bed for a few hours.

On awakening I realised I was hungry and I would have to venue into the big bad world to get some food. Now despite my anxiety about getting into the country having disappeared, this was replaced by a fear that I would be accosted and robbed by gang members who all had guns and would rob me of my virtue. So in my jet lagged state I stepped into the world. I had not unfairly judged it before. As I wandered the sweaty streets desparately looking for any kind of food shop, all I found where discount diamond stores (?!) and lots of random old men who didn't yell at me at me per se, but every one I walked past would make a funny noise. It was most disconcerting. I saw a MacDonalds and I say with no shame, I got some chicken nuggets and I high tailed it back to the hotel before I was killed by a crazy man.

I ate said chicken nuggets or 'McNuggets' (ho ho so clever) and promptly fell asleep again. I was awoken my the bed shaking and the remote for the TV falling from the bed to the floor. I thought to myself "oh a big truck must have driven by' and thought no more of it until about half an hour later I was channel surfing and came across this headline "LA rocked by biggest earthquake in years!!!" Ah, my first night in California and I had experienced an earthquake. The cliche! This also worried me slightly. No, not the brush with death (it was a very mild earthquake, two shop windows fell out and some stuff fell off some shelves in a petrol station), but the fact the first one in ages had occured on the day of my arrival.

Cast your minds back to my Australia trip. During my time there I was in Melbourne for the devasting fires, left Tasmania the day 30+ whales beached and went to Cairns the day after a cyclone had hit. I was concerned that my bad ecological luck had skipped New Zealand and was now about to strike the States. So keep your eyes posted on the news.

The next morning I awoke unrefreshed, but raring to go. I had decided I did not like LA and was not regretting my decision not to spend anytime there (thank-you Esme for some sound advice). I asked the hotel receptionist if it was far to the bus stop- NO NO! So I began to walk. And walk. And walk. Half an hour later through urine soaked streets and a brush with a fire engine (I keep forgetting that they drive on the right) I arrived at the bus station. Ew. Smelly and dirty. The bus was no better. It was full and I had to sit next to a Mexican chap. I think he must have known a tourist was going to be sitting next to him because he'd obviously gone out and bought the outfit. He had a white stetson, snake skin boots and was chewing a matchstick. I mean really, c'mon, can you fill the stereotype any more than that?!

The bus journey to Las Vegas was unpleasant, but uneventful apart from one thing. I had managed to fall asleep, it not being a plane and suddenly the bus screeched to a halt and I was woken up. Now as I said the bus wasn't great and there was something wrong with my seat so whenever the bus slightly sped up or slowed down it rocked back and forth. With this sudden stop I was flung forward. I looked aorund and all I could see was sand. Of course driving through Nevada meant lots of sand, but a gust of wind had caused a mini-cyclone of sand to swirl around and by chance had hit our bus. It wasn't a strong wind, but the bus had to wait til it passed and the driver could see again. I t was a bit alarming and excited the two old ladies wearing matching wigs, green and orange linen suits in front of me to no end. You just know that'll be the story at the knitting circle next week.

I finally got to Vegas and caught a taxi to my hotel. It was very expensive and I think I was had, but I was so grateful the taxi driver didn't kidnap me and sell me into white slavery that I paid it gladly and scampered. Now those of you would know anything about Vegas or if you are like myself and get all your information from CSI, you will have heard of Caeser's Palace, the largest casino and hotel complex on 'the Strip'. Well, I wasn't staying there, it was too expensive, I was staying at the Imperial across the road. It was immently cheaper and immently obvious why. The hotel rooms were very basic and didn't appear to have any light switches. However, it was cheap and private and had a TV channel that only appeared to show Law and Order so I was happy.

After a shower I ventured out into the big bad world of Vegas. Celebrities, fashion, money, sophistocation! Well, they must all have been on holiday somewhere else because all I saw was fat, ugly, poor people sweating. It was bloody hot and not in a nice Australia way, in a dirty smoggy London way, but three times as hot. I resolved to the see the sights so I dutifully walked to the south end of the strip, took pictures of the fake Effial Tower, the fake statue of Liberty, the 4 floor M&M shop, dodged past the hundred guys trying to give me little porn cards with prostitutes phone numbers on (these guys literally lined the streets) and tried to be a good tourist. I wasn't really feeling the love, but I was trying when suddenly a tall chap started walking next to me and began talking to me. He was young, American and of course shouted. I found it was rather odd that he would suddenly start talking to me as I was just walking along, I wasn't stopped anywhere looking at something and I felt the random talking to stranger etiquette had been broken. However, my inability to be rude led me to chat back (but I kept my steady pace). This guy seemed perfectly reasonable, but was obviously angling for me to have a drink with him and I was thinking how I would politely say no and leave (remember most serial killers are American white men between 20-40, trust no one) when he did something I would like some feed back about.

Now to recap, he had started talking to me randomly and we had just started talking. As we walked along the pavement, the way became narrow and we had to go single file. Now I know I'm not the most graceful of people, but I have been walking and standing independently for most of my life, I can manage it. Well, this chap put his hand low down on the small of my back and 'directed' me to where I should walk. I felt this was A. Insulting and B. invading my personal bubble. Now I take my personal bubble VERY seriously, just like my hostel etiquette and he has broken it severely. All pretences were gone. Shortly after this incident we pasted a dancing fountain, he slowed and stopped and I said "oh I'm tired, enjoy the fountain" and ran away. Bravely ran away, away, like a true hero. Was I over reacting? Or do you think he was a creep?

I returned to myhotel room(it was getting on- at least 8pm!) and hid there for the rest of the night. The next morning I resolved to try and enjoy myslef more. I mean come on it was Vegas! Sin City!!!! Money!!! Lights!! Glamour!!! So with this new enthusiasm I was walked out with my head held high to go the north end of the strip. I lasted about 3 hours of street porn card abuse, scary looking old women wearing inappropriate clothes and the blistering heat before I bought a sandwich and went back to my hotel again. I realised then the truth of the matter. I hate Vegas. It's dirty and hot and full of desperate horrible people who all want something from you. So I cut my losses and stayed in my hotel room until the next morning when I checked out and went to the airport to fly to San Francisco.

Now, as I sat on the plane (not sleeping) I looked back at my time in Vegas, realising that I had spent most of my time in my hotel room hiding from the celebrity look alike black jack dealers and the like, and thought 'do I regret that?'

The answer is no.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Bodily Functions 2 and goodbye to NZ

I think I have done something to upset the gods and goddesses of good fortune. After the snore-fest and my subsequent escape to my hotel haven, more unfortunate bodily functions awaited me back in Auckland.

Of my last last few days in my fab hotel in Christchurch, I do not have much to report. So overwhelmed was I at having a flat screen with a movie channel and an ensuite that I took full avantage of both features. Basically meaning I ate crisps in bed while watching Narnia and peed with the door open (its just so liberating!). I also cut my hair. Yep, myself. Well, I standing in front of the mirror bemoaning the unhealthy state of my hair and the complete lack of enthusiasm about hairdressers causing the multiple spilt ends. And then I decided, I have scissors, I have cut open people so why not cut my hair (I may have had a couple of glasses of Pinot Noir at this stage). So I did and took off about 5 inches. It's now lying just off my shoulders and it looks alright if I do say so myself. Saved myself a bit of money on a hair cut and shampoo. Maybe I shoud become a hair dresser on my return. Apparently they are the happiest profession, social workers being the least- big shock there.

That's bascially my news from the end of Christchurch. I did visit the cathedral and I have to say I was disappointed. After all the fabulous decorative and majestic Catholic Cathedrals of Itlay and Spain, this Protestant one was a bit drab. I know the old cathedrals of Europe were built with the blood, sweat, money and tears of peasants, but my word they do have lovely buttresses.

On Tuesday I flew back to Auckland for my last few days in New Zealand and to get the last bits of organisation done for flying to the states. Much like the last few days in Australia, I was feeling ready to go. There is still much to do and see in NZ, but my passion has waned some what and I'm hoping a change of country will re-ignite it. As such, these last few days have quite solitary, reading books and having lots of cups of tea. The effort of making (as Edward Norton calls it in the cult film Fight Club) 'single service friends' was a bit beyond me this week.

Oops, I'm forgetting my sequence of events in my deep reflectiveness. Yes, so I arrived in Auckland and returned to the YHA that I stayed at before. To my surprise (and the receptionist) for some reason I was given a free upgrade to a 3 bed dorm. I wasn't going to complain, that was until I entered the room. There were 3 single beds in this small room, 2 occupied by at this stage absent travellers and there was a very curious smell (and by curious I mean stinky). I opened the window and thought no more of it and went for a walk. I couldn't help notice that both beds were adorned with French travel guides so I assumed (correctly) that my roomates were 2 French girls travelling together.

I was out quite late that night, being the cheap evening at the cinema, I of course when and on my return to the room the lights were off and my two roomates were in bed sleeping. This was not the first thing I noticed. The first thing that hit me was the pungent smell that burst from the room on the opening of the door. I actually gasped. I had to sleep that night with my head under a sheet to protect me from the stench. Why have the gods abandoned me so! What made me all the more curious about these two girls is that they never seemed to speak to me (not even a hello despite my efforts) or each other or get out of bed. The next morning I arose and showered and faffed about at bit and on my return to the room about 12, they were still sleeping. That in itself wasn't too extraordinary, but that eveing about 8pm, I returned to the room and they were in bed again with the lights off (and smell on). I then assumed, prehaps they are getting up early for a flight. No. And then again they weren't out of bed by 11 the next day.

Now, I'm not trying to be xenophobic here, but these two girls really did fulfil the lazy, smelly and unfriendly French stereotype. Not good ambassadors for their country. Fortunately after the third night they then left and I aired the room. I think one of them must have had some sort of bowel complaint, it really was an extrardinary odour.

However, in between inhabiting my smelly room, it has been a nice week. I feel refreshed and ready for a change of scene and I needed to get a travel guide for the states to help me plan my next adventure. Travel guides as with most books here in NZ are quite expensive and I was bemoaning this fact when I stumbled across a fabulous little second hand bookshop (I have a nose for them). One whole wall of this tiny shop was populated by very new, yet half price lonely planets and got very carried away. So carried away I failed to notice what inhabited the other shelves of the bookshop. A lot of Agatha Christie, some DVDs and an entire back section wall to wall with porn and erotica. I bought my lonely planets and scampered away from the porn shop and bought myself a cake to get over the trauma (any excuse).

Now a bit of background about me and porn in bookshops. I have an uncanny ability to walk into erotica sections of bookshops quite without noticing. In fact my internal compass seems to lead me to it first and then suddenly I'll look more closely at the titles and realise my error. All this started back in my school days when as an innocent teenager I got lost in Borders bookshop in Glasgow. I had just been for my medical school interview and had some time to kill before getting my train. I was nervous about being in the 'big city' so I sought sanctuary in a familiar place. However, what happened was I got lost in a labyrinth of shelves and staircases in which every path seemed to lead back to the Gay, Lesbian and Erotic section. I eventually had to ask someone how to escape. And now to this day I seem drawn there like a moth to a flame. The irony is I depise erotic fiction, I think it's all terribly silly.

Anyway, that has been the main excitement of my week apart from meeting up with Eilidh Nicol, an old friend, yesterday. By sheer serendipity she has only just arrived back from Scotland after being home for a few months so I was lucky to catch her before I headed off again. It was so nice to see her and it was lovely to chat about familiar things for a change. She also took me out to the infamous One Tree Hill. A hill that used to tree on it, but now doesn't (a mad activist cut it down, for more details go to wikipedia). It has been mentioned in a U2 song and there's now an American teen drama of the same name.

I am now preparing for the off. I have packed my bag myself, binned any consumable goods and ensured all my sharps are in my stowed luggage. I've got my visa waiver form filled out and printed, my passport primed and ready. So fingers crossed people they let me in the country and it being a 12 hour flight, have some films I haven't seen on the aircraft. About both these pressing matters, I am concerned.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Bodily Functions

Christchurch is a nice enough small city, nicer than Wellington in my opinion and completely different to Auckland. After another duck and hiding bus journey I arrived late afternoon in the city and soon discovered my hostel and 3 enormous supermarkets all in a row. The supermarkets in a row phenomenon is something I first noticed in Nelson- the town of the prison hostel and wine tours- but seems to be a common occurrence in New Zealand. I can't decided what the reason for it is. Is it that one company bought some land and then their competitors, just to annoy them, bought the adjacent land to build their giant supermarket? Or is there a law saying giant supermarkets must all be built in spitting distance of each other? It is a curious oddity that as you can tell has had me thinking.

Anyway, after doing some food shopping in one of the giant supermarkets (I won't tell you which one in case the others get jealous) I had a brief orientation wander around the city centre and was pleased to discover 3 arthouse cinema in direct vincity. This immediately made me feel more at home. The next day it rained and rained thwarting any real efforts to be a tourist, but to my delight I found 3 second hand bookshops all in a row (sensing a pattern in the layout of Christchurch's facilities...) so I bought some reasonably priced books and decided to spend the afternoon eating cakes and drinking hot chocolate whilst reading my purchases (one of which was a true story of a 2nd world war POW who tried to escape 10 times. It was a great read made all the more amusing by the old fashioned polite turns of phrases, now sadly lost to the modern day slang).

That evening I fulfilled a promise to my Grandfather and went to see a friend of his Betty whom had moved to New Zealand a year ago with her son (who was also present for the visit). Betty was a charming lady who very generously had make me about a thousand ham sandwiches and supplied me with lots of biscuits and tea (from proper china teacups). It was a most delightful evening and I felt quite fat afterwards.

The next morning I had a bus tour to do which was a purely indulgent affair. As many of you know, one of my favourite films is the Lord of the Rings and New Zealand is where it was filmed. There are literally dozens of tours you can do that can show you various places where things were shot, but I had resisted them all as I didn't want to ruin the 'magic' (I couldn't bear to see an abandoned Hobbiton). However, there was a tour to the Southern Alps, which took you to the valley where Edoras was filmed and an option to climb the hill where the Golden Hall was situated (if you've lost me, don't worry about it). This all sounded like pleasant scenery if nothing else plus it has a champagne lunch included. This I couldn't resist. It was actually a very enjoyable tour mainly consisting of a pleasant guide telling stories about the films and the stars followed by the hill climb and lunch. I was incredibly fortunate as it was a beautiful day and everything looked so pretty. However, what struck me as most odd was that there was this Malaysian family on the tour and none of them had seen the films. Not one film and not one of them. I'm sorry, but what on earth pocessed them to come on the tour? To sit for 3hours hearing stories about a film they had ever seen to climb a hill of a set they had never seen and then get driven back? It doesn't sound like much fun to me. However they all seemed to have a great time so who am I to judge (but I do).

Anyway, enough of that. Now to discuss what happened next. Back to hostel etiquette. Now I know I bang on about this a lot, but when you are travelling, the hostel is your home, your sanctuary. Your comfort zone if the dizzying site seeing world becomes overwhelming and you need a place to hide. So its important that if nothing else that you feel at ease in your dorm. Unfortunately, I was in a mixed dorm again (not a name error for once) and the first 2 nights were alright. But then on the 3rd night the Americans invaded. 2 older (ie in there 50s) chaps that pounced on me as I entered the door- 'OH MY GOD. HELLO THERE HOW ARE YOU? WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DOING TODAY (no pause for answer) OH MY GOD WE HAVE JUST GOT HERE AND WE ARE SOOOOO JET LAGGED BUT SO EXCITED....' and you get the picture.

After about 10 minutes of this barrage, as I edged toward the door desperate to leave ( I genuinely was needing to make a phone call) I'd already got a tirade about Californian wines and invited to stay at their house when I was in San Franciso. AS IF! Why would a single female traveller take 2 older men up on such an offer? Do these men think when they say such things?! There are 50 times more serial killers in the US than anywhere else in the world (*statistics from the Florence museum of serial murderers 2008*), I would never do such a thing even if they pinkie promised they were not going to murder me. So I made my escape and on my return much later that evening as I got to the door of the dorm all I could hear were strange and terrifying noises. I paused unsure what to do, but being the brave international woman of the world I am, I ventured forth. I boldly pushed the door open and in incredulous horror realised the source of the noises. Both the men were snoring like a marching band being chased by a train. As I climbed ino the bunk (unfortunately above the worst of the snorers) I lay in hopeful anticipation that the snoring would stop. It didn't. I tiried all my usual tricks- shaking the bunk so much it wakes the person below up. Dropping things on the floor, But all these just made it worse and worse.

To add insult to injury at 6 in the morning when I actually finally got to sleep, they got up and oput the light on for 35 minutes (I timed it) and talked in normal voices. ETIQUETTE!!!!!!!!!!! It is 6 in th f**king morning and both of your interminable train like snoring has meant the rest fo us have only slept for 14 minutes combined the whole night! I was angry, but happy in the fact that they were gone.

That day in my weakened state and the weather being uncooperative again, I did very little. Some feeble attempts at sight seeing followed by some cake eating. I went to see a very sad film about the female French resistence fighters during the war and felt thoroughly depressed. However, I thought, tonight I will sleep well. But karma was not finished with me yet. When I got back to the room, the Americans had returned. They had just gone on a day trip. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I prayed and crossed my fngers, snore less, snore less, snore less! But the gods who had listened to me and given me good weather for my glacier hike had turned their back so on me. It was worse.

The following morning I decided I could not make another night of it. It was like the M&S advert "this isn't ordinary annoying snoring, this is unrelenting, super sonic, painful 8 hour long M&S snoring" so when the Americans didn't pack their bags and leave, I did. Some of you may have remember that I made a travel agent friend in Tasmania. Well , she had given me the name of a cool budget hotel in Christchurch and I had been toying with the idea of splashing out on it. The snoring men gave me all the persuasion required and I tooks my rucksack and food bag and went there.

It was fabulous. Cheap, shiney, mini-fridge, flat screen TV, en suite and the best feature of all was the one it didn't have- snorers!

Sunday, 3 May 2009

American Idiot

(Just to warn you this a long entry. It is about 90% rant so I wouldn't be offended if you skip to end.)

Before I could do the heli-hike on Franz Joseph glacier, I first had to get to Franz Joseph by the bus. I don't think I mentioned before, but on my journey from Nelson to Greymouth there was a rather odd American girl on the bus. I was sitting behind her and she was regailing the bus driver with a tales of her new Irish boyfriend she was to meet up with and get a room with in Greymouth. I thought that prehaps she shouldn't devulge such intimate information to a complete stranger especially one who is driving a large vechicle at high speeds, but I assumed she was just excited. As we stepped off the bus together she began to ramble to me about this 'dreamy Irish boy' with 'eyes so deep you could swim in them' and I near vomited- you must remember she said all this with an extremely annoying American acent as well. I made my good byes and secretly wished the boyfriend luck.

The next day I arrived at the bus station for the 4 hour journey to Franz Joseph and the American girl was there looking somewhat forelorn. She saw me and immediately launched into a monologue of her heartbreak. She had booked the hotel room and met up with him later, but then he dumped her in front of a bunch of his friends and went to the pub. Oh dear I said and tried to be of some comfort, but the words never reached my lips as her constant loud grating voice continued to spew out more and more. And we weren't even on the bus yet.

This diatribe continued and eventually after getting more and more intimate details that I in no way encouraged her to divulge (I didn't get the opportunity!) I was saved by the bus driver giving a very enthusiastic commentary and she was forced to shut up. The only problem was the driver was much like the one in Nelson and he gave a constant 4 hour narration about everything under the sun. There are times you just want to sit back and look out of the window. Play some music and have a little peace. But between the narration on the bus and the American talking at me during breaks, I got no relaxation on that journey.

Fortunately on arrival at Franz Joseph, she was staying somewhere else so I made my escape and found myself walking to the hostel with another infinitely more pleasant girl from Barcelona. She had one of those fabulous Spanish accents when speaking English that I just wanted to give her words to say and listen. We enjoyed the free soup at the hostel together and then I indulged in a bar of chocolate and a fine pinot noir (my new favourite type of red wine- please take note for future birthday gifts) I had purchased in desperation during a bus stop on the way.

Now it is important to mention at this point that the heavy rain was still continuing and my hopes for the heli-hike were diminished. But lo and behold the next morning, the sun was shining brightly in the sky, the clouds a mere whisper of what they once were. Joy! The gods were smiling down on me this day (where were they yesterday on the bus journey? They are fickle cruel masters). The ride was on. And what a nice trip it was too. Apart from feeling a little uneasy getting off and on the helicopter (that episode of ER still haunts me to this very day) it wasn't particularly scary and the views of the glacier were fantastic. I even took a little video of the ride on my camera which I felt was an achievement in itself. If I ever work outhow to post it on facebook then you can watch it and be very bored for 2 minutes. The glacier was surprisingly blue and looked like squashed candy floss. I got to put on crampons and carry an ice axe whilst walking over it and I felt like an explorer about to find treasure (unfortunately, I did not).

Afterwards I felt so exhilarated as soon I got back to the hostel I decided to go on a 4 hour walk in the woods, over a gorge (a bridge in situ) and on to the base of the mountain where the glacier was situated. I felt I was going quite a pace with my appropriate attire of hiking shoes and walking trousers when a tall blonde boy wearing a long sleeved white t-shirt and inappropriate shoes stormed past me at a terrfic speed. I continued on across the gorge and noticed that due to the rain, it did seem quite high. A few minutes later I saw the afore-mentioned boy except this time his glowing white shirt was covered in mud as was the rest of him. He told me the path was blocked by the high waters and despite his best efforts (evident by the state of his clothing) he could not get across. So we turned around and started a nice conversation. He was Swedish and was an ex-Kindergarden worker who had quit his job and gone travelling to 'find himself' (sound familiar?). He was touring around NZ in car and also sleeping in it. I expressed my concerns about this as it was now dropping below zero during the night and he said it was a little cold. I then enquired how he washed etc and he said every morning he drove to a lake and had a swim. I must point out again how bloody cold it was. This thought had me aghast and I offered to sneak him into my hostel so he could have a hot shower. But the gentleman that he was, he declined. We then arrived at the vechicle and I memorized its number plate incase in a few days it was found with a frozen body inside and they needed someone to identify the body.

I then then returned to the hostel still concerned about the welfare of my new friend, but I was soon distracted by the surprise of seeing the jail boy from the Abel Tasman walk in my dorm. He was travelling on a different bus service than me, a more organise-y, touristy type affair and had 2 awful days stuck on board with (in his words) 'a bunch of total arseholes'. He had decided to come to a different hostel than the rest of the bus and stay an extra day just to avoid them. Travelling can be such a small world.

As I learned the next day. The lovely Spanish girl and I both discovered we were going on the same bus to Queenstown on the 9 hour journey and this made me ponder somewhat.

My fears were realised as I waited for the bus and who turned up, but the American. As she walked toward me I resolved to try and be nice to her. She was young, had her heart broken and clearly wasn't really enjoying travelling alone. This resolve lasted approximately 14 seconds. She opened her mouth and let loose a complaining whinging whine that I can only describe as painful at best. She complained about the weather, the hostel, the bus and we'd not even got on the damn thing yet. The main problem (apart from her incredible annoying accent adn mis-pronounciation of words) was the fact she seemed incapable of listening and having a two way conversation. She would say something and if you managed to squeeze out a brief comment or answer, she wasn't able to pick up the thread of what you had said. Instead the soliloquy would continue as if your presence was not required (how I wish it wasn't).

As we boarded the bus this monologue continued, the Spanish girl wisely ran to the back of the bus and hid. Unfortunately, the American let me board first then sat next to me. She then asked where I was staying in Queenstown. Every part of me said 'LIE!' but I could not and I told her. "oh that sounds nice, I'll go there too'. NO NO NO. It got worse. She then asked when I was going to Milford Sound (a 12 hour bus trip to pretty fiordland). "Tomorrow" I whispered. "Oh, maybe I'll do it then too!'. Oh where were the gods now!

At the next meal break, I was enjoying my soup having a pleasant conversation with the Spaniard telling her about my previous time in New Zealand. I was discussing my visits to a local prison with a psychologist when the American girl screeched "OH MY GOD! Tell me you are not a psychotherapist! OH MY GOD! If you are I will just have to leave this table right now!'. Firstly, what I should have said was yes and got rid of her. However I was so taken aback by the shear volume of this statement and I couldn't actually gage her sincerity so I told her the truth- no. 'OH MY GOD! THANK GOD! BOTH MY PARENTS ARE THERAPISTS!

And with that statement it all fell into place.

After some more screeching from her, she went to the loo and I finally snapped and let my head fall into my hands and bemoaned the thought of spending yet another bus journey with her and a hostel. The Spaniard immediately gave me lots of sympathy and told me I should just tell her straight - go away. How I wished I was an empassioned Spaniard and had the courage. But I am a self-depreciating Scot and it just isn't in me. Instead I did the mature thing. For the rest of the journey I solidly ignored her, putting on my head phones at every opportunity and keeping my head buried in a book.

Amazingly, she must have got the message as on arrival at Queenstown she didn't follow me to the hostel I was staying at. I didn't exactly run away per say, I just didn't look back. But there was still the next day on the Milford Sound bus trip to face. I actually contemplated cancelling the trip, but then I realised how silly of me that would be and if I had to I would just have to find some Spanish courage somewhere in my Celtic bones.

The next morning I was relieved and delighted on my arrival at the bus stop, that the girl was not there. Joy, joy, joy! However, this was short lived when a taxi pulled up and an aged granny got out. She immediately began to talk to no one in particular and then turned her sights on me. I should have learned my lesson. I should have stayed quiet. I should have run. But I did not, instead I answered her questions and attempted to make polite chat. And attempted is the right word. Now I know I have a reputation for being a bit incomprehensible at times, but when speaking to aged grannies whilst standing by a bus stop in a foreign country, I do attempt to slow down and speak clearly. Obviously not clearly enough. She didn't understand a word I was saying and as such I was getting some very peculailar responses to the conversation we were attempting to have. She then make a incredible racist comment that really threw me - I mean it was only 7am, it was a bit early for that sort of thing. Fortunately, the bus then arrived and we began to board. I was then faced with a choice. Sit near the racist granny and endure a day of garbled conversation or let her get on first and run to the back of the bus and hide.

I'm not proud of what I did, but I did the latter. I just could not endure another 12 hour bus journey in hell. I was temporarily racked with guilt about this decision. As I walked past her, I saw her expectant face fall as I kept moving on toward the back. Guilt, guilty, nasty girl. But as I said, temporarily, as shortly afterwards a Japanese girl tried to sit next to her (the bus was almost full) and she wouldn't let her. Racist granny. My guilt was gone.

Anyway the reason for the bus trip was go and see Milford Sound, a legendary fiord of beauty featured in such films as Lord of the Rings and more recently, the new X-men film (the bit were Hugh Jackman jumps naked into a waterfall). The problem with popular places is 1. they are popular, many other people are there and 2. hype. Hype is a terrible thing. It can make the extra-ordinary disappointing or at least expected. And I have to be honest this was the case with Milford. Beautiful without doubt. A lake with mountains arising from it, waterfalls cascading from everywhere etc etc. So as beautiful as it was I couldn't help but think back to one of my days spent in Napier on the North Island. A place not particularly renound for it's beauty, I walked down from the backpackers (the prison one if you recall) and stumbed upon a black pebble beach with sea stretching out like infinity and mountains on each sides like bookends. It was such an unexpected beauty, I sat down on the pebbles just looking out to the sea for some time, struck by the tranquility. So Milford Sound, as lovely as it was didn't quite have the same inpact as Napier in its surprising glory. And I wasn't hiding from a racist granny there either.

After my seemingly endless days of bus journeying, I spent my final day in Queenstown doing nothing in particular. Queenstown is known for being a gateway for adventure activites, but I wasn't feeling particularly adventurous plus I'd actually been to Queenstown on my previous visit to New Zealand so didn't feel as compelled so explore every knook and cranny of the place. However, I did manage to find a second hand bookshop. If that was a talent that recieved payment, I would be a millionaire.

And then the next day I left (on a day long bus journey of course) to go to Christchurch my final South Island destination. And, yes, you guessed it I wasn't alone on this journey. As I stood waiting in the freezing cold thinking (rather naively of me by this stage) that I would enjoy a quiet journey reading my book, who turns up......... No not the American fortunately, but the racist granny.

Karma is a bitch.