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.