A Travellerspoint blog

Musee in Montreal – Week six

Eight days was not quite enough.

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A three hour pleasant Via train trip from Quebec takes us to Montreal, and our second Air Bnb apartment experience (at CAD $78 per night) in the working-class suburb of Joliette. The apartment is common of typical Montreal-style architechture; several-storied units with narrow, spiral staircases. The metro system (don’t call it a subway!) is quick, efficient and cheap, and apparently the first metro to run carriages on rubber wheels. We get a weekly pass each for CAD$28 which pretty much gets us all around the city. Shopping locally we find bison and elk meat, and Weps isn’t keen to try a horse mince spaghetti bolognaise. French is king here too, as we comically try to explain our address to the shop assistant (whose English is as good as our French), to take advantage of free home delivery. We worry we’ll never see our groceries again. Fortunately they arrive an hour later. Our time in our Montreal apartment is an exercise in improvised cooking - we make it through seven days of meal preparation without a frypan. Which we find in the oven (it’s got a draw built into it underneath ???) - on our last day.

Our eight days here are really full. We visit the usual tourist sights of the Basilique Notre Dame (where Celion Dion was married), the Pointe-A-Calliere – an interesting museum with a visit to a cemetery and archeology dig underneath, exposing Montreal’s original ‘birthplace’ from hundreds of years ago. The view from the observation tower at the top is great, and we see the quirky ‘Habitat’ project across the river. Built in the 60’s, it’s made up of some 340+ cube-shaped housing units, with no unit looking onto another.

After just six weeks of travel, I’m tiring of what I call ‘manufactured’ quaintness. Where lovely, old, historic buildings have been over taken by trendy designers and retail outlets; restaurants and art ‘galleries’. The type of place with crisp white linen tablecloths, large crystal wine glasses; heavy, shiny cutlery with menus of Pork Belly and Duck Confit and Roasted Wild Mushroom Risotto. I’m not sure what I expected, but this type of tourism bores me so we don’t spend any time looking in old Montreal, but do admire the history of the place.

I love the serendipity of travel – the days when you’re just wandering around, and stumble across something unusual or interesting that you weren’t expecting. In old Montreal we discover a film set for ‘Warm Bodies’ – a zombie romance starring John Malkovich and an (unknown to me), Aussie actress – Terese Palmer. No stars spotted but a sign posted on the streets bordering the set warns that by entering, you “give(s) consent …throughout the universe and in perpetuity” to be filmed/photographed. Pretty sure my image is not going to be used on Mars, or in the year 2100, but we’ve walked through so watch out for us as ‘unpaid extras’ perhaps.

Another serendipitous discovery in the “Occupy Montreal” site. The #ows (Occupy Wall Street) movement started when we were in New York, and we watched it grow and develop on Twitter, so it’s interesting to come across the site in Montreal.

We LOVE free things, and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in the Concordia University district was just that! I’m not an art person but the displays here (particularly the Industrial Design section which included some funky, unusual chairs) kept me entertained. We saw a Napoleon display including a pair of his boots, that strange hat, and a lock of his hair (cloning anyone?). Their modern art section was also amusing, strange, interesting and entertaining all at once, and I learn (and see) some of the famous and beautiful ‘Group of Seven’ Canadian artist pieces. To further our museum experiences, we check out the Money Museum at the historic Bank of Montreal building. Much smaller (and also free), it was a good learning opportunity.

We breakfast one morning at Eggspectation – a restaurant full of egg puns and with some 14 different varieties of eggs benedict on the menu.

A visit to the Biodome means we finally see some live puffins, and next door is the ‘76 Montreal Olympics stadium (the Olympics that kicked off Australia’s Institute of Sport following our dismal, national failure). Only five medals in the kitty that year - no gold, and we learn that the Kiwis beat us in…of all things…Men’s Hockey. This was the Olympics where Russian Nadia Comenici scored her perfect ‘10’, and we spot her name on the Gymnastics plaque. We also check out the nearby ‘Insectarium’ and see a massive live tarantulla, with a body the size of a tennis ball.

A stop one afternoon at the aptly named, rainbow-striped “Beaudry” metro station led us around the Le Village gai. A bit quiet and disappointing, so we walk into town past ‘crack-pipe’ park, and an odd assortment of bleary-eyed partiers outside a scary-looking Heavy Metal nightclub. Montreal is known for its massive live music and Indie-music scene. Unfortunately we didn’t see any music gigs during our visit.

On our last day, we tackle Montreal’s answer to Central Park – the park Mont Royal. Amused by some doggy-casting for a tv advert, a gunja drummers’ circle, plenty of locals running, walking and riding bikes to the top. We take what we think is a short-cut up some long, steep steps for the grand view over Montreal from the Chalet at the top. Montreal, and Mont Royal is incredibly pretty in autumn.

Onwards to Ottowa.

Posted by kelnweps 19:49 Archived in Canada Tagged montreal Comments (0)

Quebec – it’s French for stairs.

Week five into our trip we visit Quebec City, Quebec Province Canada.

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We flew Air Canada to Quebec city, from Halifax via Montreal - just days before an air hostie strike, and stay overnight at a cheapie motel near the Jean Lesage International Airport. If you think Canberra airport is a bit light on, this place gives it competition. A bit of a down-time day until our Air Bnb apartment is ready the next day. We indulge in marathon episodes of “Hoarders: Buried Alive” and also discover “Sister Wives” - another reality tv show about a family of Latter Day Saints originally from Utah, who move to Vegas (you think you have problems, this guy has four wives and sixteen kids).

This stay left us both wishing we’d studied French at high school. Neither the Motel staff nor the McDonalds staff across the road spoke English, but we can now order a burger with cheese in French-Canadian. A French-speaking taxi driver listening to heavy metal races us into Quebec city in a tiny Corolla.

We’re in a one-bedroom apartment near the apparently trendy St. Jean Baptiste area, just ten minutes walk to old Quebec city (commonly termed ‘Disneyland’ during peak season by the locals). It’s fantastic having some living space again. Whilst the ‘oldest grocery store in North America’ along Rue Saint-Jean is very cute, it’s also very expensive and we seek out an Inter-marche store where the locals shop, and rejoice in being able to cook our own meals. Our tv has two channels – one in French and the other showing constant ice hockey programs, so during our stay here we begin to learn the Canadian fascination with this sport.

Seven days in Quebec was probably a bit long and in hindsight I’d do about four. We walked 5klms around the top of the walls and through the old city, which is Canada’s version of Europe – old stone buildings and cobbled laneways throughout, and hundreds of restaurants and tourist traps (I mean shops), including the hotel Chateau Frontenac – with the claim of the world’s most photographed hotel (how are these things known? does someone keep stats on Foursquare?). The old town is a little too ‘manufactured’ in quaintness for me, but the history is nonetheless interesting. Travel is certainly a great way to increase your knowledge about the past. There are gorgeous autumn views out across the St Lawrence River, and we ferry it across to the tiny town of Levi for an uninspired quick walk around, including lots of stairs.

I’m convinced that Quebec is the French word for stairs – Quebec city has some thirty staircases (escaliers), that connect the various (and many), parts of the old city with the new. Each escalier has it’s own history and ‘personality’. We have a set of 115 steps next to our apartment, complete with (much needed) resting seats half-way. There are so many stairs that each year in June, Quebec holds the Defi des Escaliers – an approx. 16 klm race taking across all the staircases connecting the upper and lower parts of the city, and alternating up and down those for more than 3,000 stairs, culminating in the final escalier of 398 steps. Just writing about it makes me tired!

We walk the Plains of Abraham, a massive, historic battle site (one of the many) in the ongoing historical French/English arguments. It’s a beautiful park and we check out one of the historic Martello towers (round, military fortifications), and an interesting display of Halloween stories at the Joan of Arc park. A quick trip up the Observatoire de Capital for city-wide views.

Weps has discovered Canada’s ‘national dish’ of Poutine, originating from Quebec. It’s a staple student food of hand-cut potato chips, cheese curds and yummy turkey gravy. Thanks to all the stairs, we’ve hopefully burnt off all our Poutine calories!

Next stop, Montreal.

Posted by kelnweps 19:19 Archived in Canada Tagged quebec Comments (0)

Haunted Halifax

and spooky driving!

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On our drive from North Sydney to Halifax, we detour for a couple of hours at the Glace Bay Mining Museum in (of course), Glace Bay. If you’re looking for quirky and interesting Canada – this is it.

Now neither of us have any history or association with coal mining, but Lonely Planet gives it a great wrap. It’s freezing cold and pelting rain when we arrive, and the lady in charge forever refers to us as ‘the Australians’. We take a wander through the well-stocked museum before starting our tour of the mine – our guide is an ex-miner and years of being underground don’t reflect his 70 years. We actually go down underground into the mine for a quarter of a mile, complete with attractive rain poncho, hard hat and miner's helmut lamp. It’s dark, damp and despite being a short-arse, I (and most others) cannot stand upright in the small tunnels. We hear amazing stories from our guide about the difficult times miners withstood (17c a day pay anyone?), and the ongoing battles between the greedy mining companies and the miners during 1800’s and early 1900’s. We hear about how our guide’s family lived in a mine-provided house with seven siblings, and how the snow would enter the house during winter. It really made us appreciate how fortunate our childhoods were.

After the tour we continue our drive towards our final destination of Halifax. A massive Atlantic storm hit, and we only just make the drive across the very low-lying 1.3klm Canso Causeway linking Cape Breton to the Nova Scotia peninsula. Massive waves smash across our vehicle and the road, and the causeway is closed ten minutes after we cross. This was to be our introduction to extreme weather driving. We overnight in the town of Antigonish, after passing through beautiful Anne of Green Gables countryside and Alexander Bell’s burial site and former estate. We also encounter the small town of Stewiacke, which claims to be halfway between the North Pole and the Equator. No wonder it's cold!

Heading out the next day we encounter snow!. For us, driving in snow is like someone from Alice Springs swimming in surf the very first time. It’s a novelty for about the first minute, and very quickly turns into an exercise of white-knuckled, mega concentration. We finally reach Halifax (actually, we decide to stay in Dartmouth, which is Halifax’s poor [and cheaper] cousin across the harbour).

During our stay, we take the third ferry trip of our journey for a quick ten minutes across the bay (spotting Peggy’s Cove lighthouse – apparently the most photographed lighthouse in the world. Our lack of fancy, expensive photography equipment means no pics, sorry ).

Halifax has a rather eerie and sad history. It’s had lots of military involvement (and we visit the very large Citadel on the hill one day), but it’s saddest tale was the largest man-made non-nuclear explosion in 1917, when a munitions ship collided in the harbour killing around 2,000 residents, injuring 9,000 more and decimating the city. We explore the amazing Maritime Museum and also discover the role Halifax played in the Titanic tragedy. In the museum there’s a recovered and renovated Titanic deckchair and plenty of other memorabilia including a tiny pair of shoes belonging to ‘the unknown child’. We also learn that some of those who perished and whose bodies were recovered (209), were brought to Halifax and ‘processed’ in what’s now known as one of the most haunted buildings in Canada – the Five Fisherman Restaurant. The building was once owned by Anna of “The King & I” fame before it became the town morgue. We visit the Fairview Cemetary that hosts the graves of many from the Titanic incident, including J. Dawson (the person whose character Leonardo Di Caprio was named for the Titanic movie). We also discover the grave of an Australian who died in the tragedy.

The church across from the Five Fisherman's restaurant supposedly has a regular apparition from someone who was hurled through a top window during the munitions blast, and on mailing some gifts home, the small Post Office opposite our hotel tells of their own ghost!

Fortunately we have no ghostly encounters during our stay, but the many Halifax stories pique my interest and I'm sucked into watching repeat episodes of Ghost Hunters on reality tv.

Posted by kelnweps 11:07 Archived in Canada Tagged bay ghosts halifax glace Comments (0)

Driving Newfoundland

An exercise in extreme sports in Canada.

Now Canada is a pretty big piece of real estate and distances on a map can be a bit deceptive (Australian analogy: British backpackers who want to drive from Cairns to Sydney in one day). So when we decided to drive ‘around’ Newfoundland, we actually traveled around 4,500 kilometres in the car during a ten day period. Just driving from one side to the other on the only highway is around a 900 kilometre one-way trip.

The first challenge for us was driving for the very first time on THE WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD, and the opposite side of the car. Of course to be polite, we should say the OTHER side of the road. As a result, this was our first attempt at extreme sports in Canada.

In case you were wondering (which we were), there is interesting history behind which side of the road various countries drive on – apparently it has something to do with England and France’s continual battles through history and who won. Right-handed savages on horseback (think about which side the sword would be on, difficulties dismounting) resulted in driving on the left, and the concept of ‘egality’ after the French revolution (aristocracy on the right please, okay, everyone on the right now) determined the right side.

After mistaking the wipers for the indicator, and moving to the wrong side of the car to get in as the driver, and then continuing to do that for the next twelve days, the first thing we notice less than a kilometre out of Halifax airport is a ‘prancing’ moose sign. The remainder of our trip we encounter road signs showing various moose caricatures, poses and ‘danger’ signs but alas, we weren’t to see a single moose on our trip and after almost 8 weeks in Canada, sadly, still no live moose. We notice several signs advising of the 600+ annual vehicle accidents involving moose last year in Newfoundland, so it was perhaps fortunate we didn’t see any. Locals tell us there are actually more moose than people living in Newfoundland, but we aren’t so sure.

We made it from Halifax airport, to the harbour town of North Sydney (also near Sydney and Hawkesbury – NSW anyone?) around 350 klms away, where we overnighted at the comfortable Harbourside Inn B&B, Nova Scotia.

The ferry service to Newfoundland departs from North Sydney for Port-aux-Basques at 11am and 11pm each day. We chose a day crossing because we didn’t want any further driving challenges. Driving a left-handed vehicle onto a massive ferry was another new experience for us. The ferry has around seven floors for vehicles, semi-trailers, seated passengers and cabins. The airline-type seats had heaps of room and there’s plenty to do in the six hour, approx. 200 kilometre journey. On board was a café, restaurant, shop, internet and tv. During the crossing we took the opportunity to go out onto the deck and look out over the deep, dark Cabot Strait. On a really clear day you can see both the ‘mainland’ and Newfoundland.

Arriving towards our final destination at Port-aux-Basques, you understand why Newfoundland is affectionately known as ‘The Rock’. Tiny coloured houses seem to cling to the edge of massive cliffs. We stayed overnight at the plain but comfy Caribou B&B where we arrived without a booking, and got an interesting dose of Newfoundland history from the host. We found early during the month of September, we were mostly able to just turn up to motels and B&Bs in Newfoundland, and get somewhere for the night. During peak season (July/August) you might not be so lucky however. During mid-September however many places start to close down for winter, as the province gets pretty snowed in. Not only did we miss seeing moose, but we also missed whales, icebergs and puffins (they left three weeks earlier). If we were to visit Newfoundland again, we’d probably go around June to try and catch the wildlife.

We set off for the top western part of Newfoundland and stayed overnight at Southern Brook cabins, which were a bit desserted and at one point made us feel like we were in some type of horror movie scene…two girls, in a log cabin by a deserted lake on a dark night…, but put it down to the full moon.

The following day we drove the short distance to L’Anse Meadows, which was the site of a historical archeological dig in the sixties that identified a viking village established in that location around year 1000, and has Canada Parks staff re-create what it was like to live in those times. Despite the somewhat cheesy-ness notion of this, it actually was a really enjoyable experience. We also discovered that Weps’ surname appears to have Viking origin. She shall now be known as Weps ‘Wooded Forrest’.

One thing we quickly noticed about Newfoundland is their understatement of natural place names. We saw Brooks and Ponds (and there are certainly plenty of them) the size of Sydney Harbour. Newfoundland is covered with bog, ponds and rock.

Driving Newfoundland in September was an amazing display of nature - massive pine and birch forests just starting to show their beautiful, rich autumn red and yellow colours; MASSIVE mountains; beautiful wind-swept rugged and stark coastlines with the wild Atlantic ocean smashing into rocks; flat, watery bogs and eerie mist as thick as soup - sometimes reducing road visibility to 20 metres (OMG, how on earth will we see a moose in this!).

Newfoundland has an interesting house style known as Saltbox – typical of houses build between the early 1800’s and 1900’s, originally made from timber and more recently with coloured siding in what’s known as Jellybean palletes – tint colours with interesting names like Bakeapple jam (a faded yellow) , Mollyfodge (grey), Blasty bough, Bubbly squall, Dory buff, Iceberg alley, Lassie Buns and Dark Tickle. We did however we see plenty of old timber houses, some at rather odd angles from years of winter gales.

Another interesting observation is the influence of various cultures on Newfoundland’s history. It seems that the Basque, Irish, Scottish and French all discovered the amazing cod fishing to be had around the place years ago, and you’ll find an interesting mix of all those influences, including a couple of towns that are exclusively French (Port au Port Peninsula), and most others with varying degrees of dialect. In a place that speaks English as its native language, we actually had some language difficulties (asking for ‘wheat’ bread often got us white). The accent has been described as a mix of Canadian-Irish while chewing a mouth full of cod. Newfoundlanders also have a wide vocabularly of slang and their own set of words for things (G'wan b'y meaning 'are you joking?')

Driving through Newfoundland you see quaintly (and unusual) named places such as Little Heart’s Ease, Hearts Content, Blow Me Down, Come-By-Chance, Pothead and Dildo - we didn’t stop for a souvenir, but did get a photo.

A stay in Cow Head Bay, and an amazing boat trip in Gros Morne national park followed (the boats were lifted in on Helicopter). We did a couple of the smaller trail walks around the area and felt like we were the only people on earth. Driving back from Gros Morne, we saw tiny villages stacked with lobster pots, crooked old timber houses from years of Newfoundland gales and more massive mountains.

Newfoundland is not for vegetarians – the food culture is founded on deep-fried everything and seafood. The more unusual foods we tried included fish’n’brewis (fish, bread & gravy); scrunchions (deep fried pork fat); toutons (fried dough pancake) and an amazing selection of home-made jams (bakeapple). Whilst we didn't see any moose, I ate some in a burger at a roadside servo stop. At the same stop, we also saw a local gentleman move his hunting guns in his vehicle. Obviously, we were the only non-locals who seemed the slightest bit concerned by this.

We finally made it to St Johns (and some real coffee!) on the other side of the island, which has a population of around 500k however drivers still stop to let you to cross the road when there’s no pedestrian crossing (another driving challenge...). We were almost blown away at the historic Cabot Tower (70 klm/hour winds) and had a visit to the interesting Rooms museum, and out to Cape Spear (the eastern most point in North America). Weps begins her love affair with Poutine for the first time (more on this in the Quebec chapter).

Newfoundland has some fairly remote places, including a few towns accessible only by boat. Our second last day in Newfie, we drove the 90 klm round trip from Port-aux-Basques to the lighthouse at Rose Blanche, passing Dead Man’s Island – an erie and beautiful fishing village. The lighthouse is run by a descendant of one of the original lighthouse keepers, who told us the road to Rose Blanche was only built in the late 60s. Prior to that, access was only by boat. Across the bay through the usual Newfoundland fog, we could just make out a tiny outpost village which has some 20 people remaining. Many remote villages in Newfoundland were resettled with populations being moved (including the floating of houses to new locations) to bigger towns with better infrastructure. On the drive, we noticed the irony of the stillness of internal ponds next to the wild, windy seas.

On our last day in Newfoundland, we had a quick drive through Port-aux-Basques (it took ten minutes) and noticed a tiny cemetery in the centre of town, with houses built up to the edge, and displaying a sign - ‘no playing in the Cemetary’. I’d love to know the stats for drink drivers in this place ending up in the ocean – houses are built literally right up to the waters edge and roads suddenly end with only metres before the water.

We were fortunate to make it back across Cabot Strait on the ferry as a massive storm came in, canceling all ferry services for several days. We’re off back to Halifax (eventually), and then other places in Canada!

Posted by kelnweps 22:24 Archived in Canada Tagged newfoundland Comments (0)

New York

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We arrived into New York at a humanely hour via JetBlue from L.A, which was really a pleasant five hour trip. (yes, it really is possible for a five hour flight to be pleasant - Jet Star could take some good lessons from JetBlue). Despite the plane being almost completely full, the trolley dollies were extremely attentive and we had HEAPS of legroom, even in the cheap seats. It was great to see the unspoken, universal rule of ‘not dropping your seat back’ observed by almost everyone, particularly those seated in front of us. We sat next to a young woman I am convinced was Gumby in disguise – contorting herself into the smallest ball possible and who proceeded to sleep in that position with her hoodie covering her face for almost the entire flight duration. I spoke with her at the end of the flight – convinced she was some type of dancer only to be disappointed she was not.

Walking around with a backpack gives you a bit of interstanding on what it’s like being a turtle. We navigated our way through New York’s subway system to the room we’d booked (with some initial hesitation) in an apartment through a website called Air BnB, where people rent out their second/spare bedrooms.

I’ll take a moment here to expand on the Air Bnb experience. During our initial trip research I looked at the usual array of hotels, motels, Bed & Breakfast and Hostels in an effort to get a feel for what things cost, and how this might translate into the reasonableness of where we might sleep (would we have to camp for example to stay on budget and really, how feasible was that??). I found a number of alternate accommodation arrangements including Couchsurfing (which at no cost, seemed even better, but I’m yet to convince Weps about this) and Air Bnb. At the time, there weren’t many reviews about Air Bnb and I was keen to read more of people’s experience with it. Since then, the use of Air Bnb seems to have escalated exponentially, with that organisation professionalising a little more including brining onboard someone from Ebay. The website is simple and intuitive, and the whole booking/money changing hands via credit card works really well. Whilst you pay upfront, Air Bnb act as an escrow agency by holding your funds until you ‘check out’ so to speak. We’ve had to change a booking date despite prepaying, and were correctly credited at the time with no hassle. You type in the name of the city you’re looking for accommodation in, and results can be sorted by price, location, recommendations, etc. Visitors to the property leave a review about the property, and the host reviews you as a guest. That arrangement hopefully minimises any axe-murderer concerns on both sides.

The diversity of accommodation options available on Air Bnb range from a blow-up mattress in someone’s living room (cheap), to a whole castle in France (sell a kidney on ebay), and everything in-between. There’s an interesting novelty section that includes boats (a shark-boat in California anyone?), treehouses (no kidding – there are some pretty damn fancy and expensive treehouses around the world), art-deco caravans, teepees, igloos, shipping containers and any other non-house type of lodging you could possibly think of (including 14 yurts in various countries).

We found a three bedroom apartment in Harlem, where each room was individually rented with the owner living in the apartment below. It gave us access to a washing machine and dryer, full kitchen, a great patio space on the roof, living room including cable tv, free wireless access AND breakfast for just $72 a night. The only alternate New York accommodation otherwise available to us at this price was likely to be in a filthy, rowdy broom closet (read hostel dorm room) full of drunk 20-somethings (are we getting too old?). In three cities so far, Air Bnb has provided us with a much more comfortable, roomier and cheaper option than a double room with shared bathroom in a hostel.

We also had some initial reservations about the reputation of Harlem which disappeared too. We stayed in a residential area with mostly Dominican-Republicans. For our first night in New York we ventured about a block away to a local Columbian food takeaway, where we were the only English speakers. That’s New York I guess. Our apartment was near a Cemetary which we found open one Sunday morning and spent some interesting time wandering through headstones from the 18th century.

One afternoon we also witnessed the end of a Baptist funeral, with older ladies in their bleach-white dresses, gloves and hats spilling out from the church.

Our first day in New York was all about orientation – finding our way to the subway and back, and attempting to find a non-contractual US data sim card that would allow us to use the GPS on our phone. This apparently, is like trying to find a lost penny in Central Park and we discovered it was cheaper to use Skype on the computer (at .03 cents a minute) where there is strong (and free) Wifi.

Over the next few days we did the usual tourist things – attended a great show on Broadway (Wicked), strolled across the Brooklyn Bridge, meandered through Central Park (watched a local game of softball), people watched at Times Square and had the quintessential hotdog, pretzel and New York Deli sandwhich experience. Our tip is DO NOT order a deli sandwhich unless you’ve had nothing to eat for several weeks, or are otherwise able to share the meal with a table full of people. We’re talking MASSIVE sandwhiches here. In the end, we ate what we could and then took a literal doggy bag (about a kilo) of leftover deli meat to our apartment for our hosts’ dogs. It made us feel a little guilty about wasting so much food while Africa starves. On the dog point – we still don’t get how people can live with dogs inside their units but lots of New Yorkers seem to do it. Further, it seems that lots of people in Canada travel with their pet – we stayed in a Hotel in Dartmouth (Nova Scotia), where dogs were allowed on the 2nd and sixth floors, and encountered plenty more hotels where no pets was a common theme – common enough to make us think that people try and take their pet into hotels with them. At one hotel we had to check a box on the guest rego form specifically declaring we had no pets – personally I could not imagine trying to travel Paris Hilton-style with a Chihuahua tucked in my backpack.

We’re certainly not the first people to describe New York with words like big, diverse, busy, loud, brash, bright, non-stop and edgy. So much about the place is ironic. We could have comfortably shared every singly meal we’ve had here due to the large serving sizes, and at the same time, every day we encountered people begging. It was a common sight seeing beggars on or near the subway (bigger audience I guess). Some entered playing musical instruments asking for donations, some were selling chocolate, others just walked along subway carriages asking for small change. The other observation in New York is ‘the rush’. People filled with busy-ness and (sometimes self-inflated) importance, with a focus on wealth, and material possessions, and vanity. (Mind you – this doesn’t just happen in New York of course, however in a city of some 9 million people it tended to be more visible). In the space of five minutes we walked past ridiculously expensive consumer and fashion goods on 5th Avenue (which, for the 10th year running, is the most expensive shopping district in the world at 16,704 Euros per square metre per year, that’s some massive rental overhead before you even open the doors…) and then past a homeless man in the subway who had clearly shit in his pants.

We also visited the largest Toys’R’Us store in the world, and the M&M store in Times Square. Whilst entertaining, it continued to reminded us of excessiveness. The M&M store is basically three floors of ‘stuff’ marketing a single chocolate brand. You name it - you can buy it with said logo attached

We also stumbled across the small sign highlighting the Earth Cam camera (earthcam.com) in Times Square, texting some of Wep's friends at the time who visited the website and were able to watch us live, grinning and waving at the camera, somewhat dwarfed by the billion illumated screens and trillion visitors in Times Square.

Our experience also included a trip to Greenwhich Village – the well-known gay area of town, including a stop at the famous ‘Stonewall Inn’ – the place of a gay uprising in the 60’s that opened the way for gay rights and some of the acceptance we are thankful for today. We stopped and had a beer but very much felt we weren’t part of the ‘hood’, despite being ‘family’. There were two grooms and a small group of people celebrating a gay wedding that occurred earlier that day.

Greenwhich Village is a great place for an interesting history walk and we finished the day with an amazing pizza from an old Pizza shop on Bleecker Street – the same street lined with an amazing variety of food shops including a shop dedicated to cheese, a cupcake shop, Italian deli and several bakeries.

We love free things on our trip and were able to visit the Museaum of Modern Art (MOMA) one Friday evening for FREE where we were wowed by wonderful art across all eras and artists including Picasso, Jackson Pollock, Kahlo, Salvador Dali’s “Persistence of Memory” (the melting clocks) and several Andy Warhol pics (Marilyn and Elvis).

Finding a public toilet in New York is sometimes the biggest priority of your day (there’s a real opportunity here for a (decent) iphone app – a Public Toilet Map of New York City). Starbucks sometimes comes good, but there’s always a line-up. The other task that consumed some of our time was locating a decent milk-based coffee. Whilst Starbucks has a good choice of sweetened coffees and the usual standard percolated dishwater-style of coffee, we are really spoilt in Australia for good coffee. In fact a few Australians recognized this and have set up decent coffee shops in the New York area (including one in Brooklyn), taking advantage of that opportunity. I don’t want to sound too ethnocentric in this blog (‘things are much better at home’) but we really do miss good coffee.

Weps was determined to try all the junk food outlets however after several weeks of this, we longed for a ‘home cooked meal’ and found a can of ravioli for $1.89 at our local dodgy deli, mixed with some lovely fresh broccoli from the Chelsea Farmer’s market and voila – a great, cheap, nutritious home cooked meal for under $5.

We celebrated my birthday with a really great dinner at the Village, and an attempted visit to the ‘Cubby Hole’ where it was cheap margarita night and being unable to finish even one margarita, we decided we were both beyond going out. Next stop - Canada.

Posted by kelnweps 19:20 Archived in USA Tagged new york Comments (0)

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