Articles tagged with "north america"

Via Toronto

Via Toronto

I spent three awesome weeks travelling around England and Wales visiting family and friends. I gradually relearned that cars would come at me from the right instead of the left, remembered that I had to go to the bar to order drinks in pubs and that no-one would come and take my order if I just waited at a table, and got used to spending pounds again. Just as I was getting accustomed to British life again, though, it was time to head back south.

I flew to Toronto. My plan was to stay with some friends in London, Ontario, but unforeseen circumstances meant that they were in London, England while I was heading west. So I spent a night in Toronto, went up the CN Tower, and ate myself diabetic in Tim Hortons. I really spent far too much time in Tim Hortons. Tim Hortons is amazing.

At the airport I crammed one final chemically-flavoured maple syrup doughnut into my mouth and flew back to Chile. I was already missing London. I was already missing Tim Hortons.


Stormy weather

Stormy weather

It rained almost continuously the next day. I’d planned to explore some outdoor places, but in the end the rain battered down relentlessly and I spent most of the day in cafes waiting for breaks in the weather.

I found a food market, in which there was a spectacular choice of maple syrup. What is sold as maple syrup in the UK must be mostly flavouring, or else I was getting severely ripped off here, because the tiniest plastic bottle of the stuff here was as much as a big jar in the UK. I bought some anyway, having been advised by a friend to get hold of the dark stuff that you don’t get anywhere else.

I bought some food and coffee in the market, relieved to have broken my severe Tim Hortons addiction that had blown up over the past few days. And then I walked back towards my hostel for the last time, through the sodden streets and the crowds of umbrellas. A thick fog brewed up and when I got to the airport for my flight home I could hardly see the planes on the runway.


Niagara

Niagara

The next morning I managed to get to Union station in time for the train to Niagara Falls. I still almost got into trouble with a streetcar that stopped short of its normal destination and left me a few minutes away, but I got on the train with a couple of minutes to spare.

The train was going to New York. Ontario sped past outside the window, as the bright blue sunshine that had started the day ebbed away and left behind high grey cloud. We passed through towns called Aldershot and Grimsby, and eventually we pulled into Niagara Falls station.

The grey clouds were descending. I walked out of the station, into an empty town. I was coming to one of the most touristy places in the world, but it looked like not many people arrive by train and walk two and a half miles down to the falls. I reached the cliffs above the wide green Niagara River and walked south. Small icebergs in the river floated north.

I didn’t expect much of the falls. I wasn’t even sure why I was going there. I’ve seen some of the biggest and widest falls the world has to offer, and these ones would surely pale in comparison. But then I walked round a corned, and in the distance saw a wall of water thundering over a cliff, and it was breathtaking. I walked on down the road. Spots of rain were starting to fall. I passed the international bridge and wondered if I should pop over to the US while I was here, but I thought that my battered and frayed passport might make it much more hassle than it was worth. I decided to stay in Canada.

The rain got heavier. By the time I reached the falls it was utterly grim, and at the lip of the falls it was even more grim as the spray competed with the rain and made everything twice as wet. I briefly retreated inside a ghastly tourist complex, had a nauseating Tim Hortons doughnut and a coffee, and then decided that whether it was raining or not, I had to get out of there. I walked up into Niagara Falls town. Giant hotels and casinos lined the streets. I was thinking of going up an observation tower, but the top of it was in the clouds. I walked randomly until I got to a place downstream of the falls where I could look over the rushing river with the massive horseshoe bite taken out of it.

The rain eased off and I walked back to the falls. In spite of the horrible commercialisation and the horrible numbers of tourists, they were impressive. I watched the water powering over the precipice for a while, wondering why humans like waterfalls enough to build grotesque tourist empires next to them.

Then the rain started falling again, and I headed back up to the station. Clouds clung to the sides of the river valley, and icebergs drifted by. The bus back to Toronto fought its way through the downpour and at one point the driver had to ask a passenger to wipe the condensation off his front window. Wet to the skin, I trudged back to where I was staying.


Sunday in Toronto

Sunday in Toronto

I got up early again the next day, planning to go to Niagara. But I got lost on the way to the subway station, ended up walking all the way to Union Station, and missing the train by five minutes. It was Easter Sunday, and few trains or buses were running. It was raining anyway, so I decided to leave Niagara for the next day. I walked out through the empty streets of Toronto, quiet in the drizzle, and the only people around were homeless, unhinged, or both. I ended up in a Tim Hortons, a place I had never heard of before arriving here but which was on every street corner. Their business is in providing disgustingly sugary snacks. I bought a coffee and a doughnut, and felt slightly nauseous after I’d finished. 20 minutes later I had bizarre cravings for another one. I decided Tim Hortons was a dangerous place and left.

By 11am the streets were getting a little bit busier. I wanted to check out some contemporary art, so I walked a long walk from the centre of the city out to the western districts, where I found the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art. A gallery with a coffee-inspired acronym – it had to be good. But it was closed for a new installation to be constructed, so I trudged back into the city.

By now it was hot and sunny again, and I was annoyed not to be at Niagara. I hoped the weather would stay fine the next day.


Toronto Islands

Toronto Islands

I walked down Bay Street and found my way to the ferry terminal. The boat shuttled across to the islands in a few minutes, and in hot sunshine I went walking. I didn’t get very far before I reached a small cafe, so I bought a coffee and sat on a nearby rocky beach, watching high clouds drift over Toronto. I wanted to walk out onto a small headland for a better view, but as I did, a giant Canada Goose suddenly reared up in front of me, flapped his wings and hissed. I backed off, a bit surprised. I waited until he’d calmed down and then tried again, skirting the edge of what I thought might be his territory. But he jumped up again. I thought about braving it and pushing on, but had visions of “Traveller killed in freak goose incident” headlines and decided the views from the beach were OK.

I walked over to the far shore of the islands, and it felt like a very peaceful place compared to the city. It was still early season and most things were closed, so all I could do was relax and watch the green waters of Lake Ontario churning in the wind. On a pier on the outer shore was a sign like you often find in touristy places, indicating the distances from here to various places. It was a bit sparse, though. The only places indicated were Niagara Falls and the North Pole.

I wandered through the islands back to the main ferry terminal and found that the queues for the return boats were immense. It looked like it would take hours to get on board, so I headed to a quieter ferry terminal, two miles away at the other end of the island. It was a long walk and I got there just after a ferry had left. It was an hour until the next one, and there was nothing to do but watch sunbeams over the city until the boat came in.


City Hall

City Hall

The most common way for me to be out and about early in the morning is if I’ve been out all night. But I was suddenly and unexpectedly five time zones west of my usual habitat so I got up at 6am and headed out into the city. The day started grey and drizzly, and I slightly regretted leaving behind London during its hottest April ever. But the clouds started to break up and the sun eventually appeared.

I wandered randomly and ended up at City Hall, which looked like some kind of alien launchpad. Temperatures were now soaring, almost to the high standards that I’d left behind in London, so I decided to head out to the Toronto Islands.


CN Tower

CN Tower

On a Thursday evening, I was gripped by a sudden urge to travel. It happens sometimes. I checked out flight prices, but it was Easter weekend and everywhere in Europe was absurdly overpriced. I looked down a list of flight prices, scrolling to ever higher prices in search of somewhere that was even remotely both affordable and interesting. And then I spotted a flight to Canada, for a very reasonable sum, leaving the next morning. Before I even knew what I was doing, I’d gone and bought the tickets.

And so only a matter of hours later I was touching down in Toronto, on a cold overcast April day. I headed into the city with no plan at all. One of the first things I caught sight of was naturally the CN Tower, once the tallest structure in the world. I went up and watched night fall over the city.


Willcox

Willcox

Heading back from Chiricahua to Tucson, we passed through the tiny town of Willcox. As we crossed the railway tracks, we saw a restaurant in an old dining carriage, and on a whim we stopped. The town felt remote, and the railway reminded me of ‘Bad day at Black Rock‘.

The restaurant was a fantastic place. There was not much on offer for vegetarians, so I just had a starter. This was small town America where portions are vast and grease is good, and long before I’d finished it I was disgustingly full.


Chiricahua

Chiricahua

After the conference I had two days to spare in southern Arizona. You can’t do much there without a car, but luckily a friend had been observing at the nearby Kitt Peak National Observatory and had a motor. He’d just finished his observing run, and we headed out into the desert.

Our destination was Chiricahua National Monument. It was a little bit cooler in the hills there than it had been back in Tucson. Near to the car park there were quite a few people on the trails, many of whom did not look very much like hikers at all and occupied most of the width of the narrow paths. As we got further away, there were fewer and fewer people, and the wilderness was spectacular.

After a few hours we reached a turnoff for ‘Inspiration Point’. I was initially not too fussed, as we’d already covered a lot of ground and seen some pretty inspiring things. Luckily we decided to check it out, and soon reached the most impressive viewpoint of the day.


Sears Tower

Sears Tower

I headed for the Sears Tower. There were almost no queues, but still it took me a long time to get to the top. There was a forced viewing of some promotional video, and then they tried to take a photo of me to superimpose on some cheesy view. This happens in all sorts of places, and I can never really believe that anyone would actually buy the photos. I waved the photographer aside and strode through to the lift.

It was an overcast, dull day and Chicago looked huge. There were not many people on the viewing platform. I got into a conversation with someone, who asked me whether I knew what a particular building was. I didn’t, and presumed he was not from around here. He turned out to be a DJ from Texas and we talked about music for a while. He asked me if I was from around here, which surprised me a lot. I thought my English accent was a dead giveaway.

The DJ gave me his card, and I wandered on. The clouds seemed to be breaking up a bit, but I didn’t have too much time before my flight on to Tucson, so I headed back down the tower. I got back on the metro, and as we clanked out towards O’Hare, the Sun suddenly broke out, and by the time I got to the airport the skies were completely clear.


Chicago

Chicago

I got into trouble at immigration. I thought I might do – my passport has been through some rough times and is battered and fraying. But that was fine. The problem came when the immigration officer asked me what the purpose of my visit was. I wasn’t exactly sure what to say – I’d come for a conference but that was only one day, and then I would have two days free. On the green form I put ‘tourism’. “What is the purpose of your visit?” asked the officer. I began to explain my situation. I was tired and I rambled. He cut me short. “What. Is the purpose. Of your visit. Sir?”, he said, angrily. “Work”, I said, and he looked at me with disgust, crossed out what I’d written on the card, stamped my passport and waved me through.

I got a train into the centre of Chicago, and wandered around aimlessly. I’d seen ice in Lake Huron as we flew in, but Lake Michigan was ice-free and it wasn’t cold. I found my way to Millennium Park and Anish Kapoor’s ‘Cloud Gate’.


Ends

Ends

Early the next morning I packed up, said goodbye to Dave who was travelling on for a few more weeks, and headed for the airport. The last surprise of the trip was waiting for me – my flight to Miami would be twelve hours late. I was so psyched up for going home that this was a huge disappointment. I re-arranged my connecting flight from Miami to London, checked in my backpack, and trudged out of the airport, wondering how to kill 12 hours. I ended up spending a couple of them stood at the end of the runway, outside the perimeter fence but still spectacularly, perilously close to the jets taking off and landing. Standing about twenty metres behind a large plane taking off is something I highly recommend – I don’t know what I expected but I didn’t expect to have to hold onto the fence to stop myself being blown into the road.

After that entertainment, I walked a couple of miles from the airport to the nearest TrolĂ© stop, and headed back into the city. I found an internet cafe, sent messages to my family telling them I’d be 24 hours later than planned, wasted time looking around shops and generally wishing I was already on the way home. In the evening I headed back to the airport, bought a ridiculously strong coffee and a delicious greasy churro, before getting my Ecuadorean exit stamp, boarding the plane and heading off into the night. We landed in Miami at about midnight, and then I had 18 hours to kill until my plane to London. American Airlines didn’t remotely offer to accommodate anyone so I won’t be flying with them again in a hurry. I spent a few uncomfortable hours dozing on a bench, then got a bus to the city centre. I sat in a park overlooking Biscayne Bay and pondered.

Finally, it was time to go. I left Miami, caught the flight to London, and on a cold February morning I found myself at Heathrow, unemployed and homeless. This had been the trip of a lifetime, but it was great to be back.


Beginnings

Beginnings

It was a cool, foggy morning on 18 October 2005 as I left Ealing for the airport. I’d been packing until 4am, and then left the house at 4.30am, so I had a hard time at Heathrow stopping myself from falling asleep and missing my flight. I managed it though, and flew west. I was flying to Buenos Aires via New York, and I arrived at JFK airport in the early afternoon, a little bit refreshed after sleeping all the way across the Atlantic.

I found my way to Howard Beach subway station and took the long ride to Manhattan. It was a beautiful sunny autumn day as I emerged at 34th St and Penn station to find the Empire State Building right ahead, and I decided to go up. The queues were not bad, but made worse by the harassment from over-enthusiastic audio-guide sellers, falsely claiming that there were no information panels at the top to try and flog their gear.

I brushed them aside, looked deliberately angry on the cheesy photo they insisted on taking of every group going up to superimpose onto a fake view and sell at an exorbitant price, and got into the lift. A short climb up some stairs at the top, and there I was, high above New York in the afternoon sunshine. London seemed a long time ago, and South America still a long way away.

I enjoyed the views, and the assault of noise coming up from the streets far below. I was tempted to stay up there for sunset, but my onward flight was at 10pm and I thought that missing it would not be good, so I came down at about 6pm, had a quick wander past some of the famous streets of Manhattan, grabbed a huge portion of cheap greasy pizza, and headed back to the airport for my flight to Argentina.