Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Start spreading the news... I'm leaving today, I want to be a part of it... New York, New York!

No kidding. Despite my many prejudices about the United States and my massive dislike of their culture and (lack of) social system, I bought myself a bus ticket to New York City! And what a trip!

It took me three attempts to get to New York. I wanted to leave on Friday night, but after calling 15 different hostels that were all fully booked, I gave up and decided to wait a day. So I went to the bus terminal on Saturday night, looking forward to see NYC. Seemed like some higher powers didn't want me to go leave though - I never got on the bus, they wouldn't even sell me a ticket because an extraordinary mob of people who wanted to go to NYC had showed up before I did, so after spending an hour at the bus terminal the bus left without me and I had to spend money on a cab ride back to OJ's place... F*ck. So on my last attempt on Sunday, I arrived two hours ahead and bought the ticket. Incredibly, they once again managed to fill another bus with passengers, myself not among them, leaving about 40 people still standing in line when the bus left. This time they showed a little more competence though, and arranged another bus within half an hour, so finally, I was on my way to New York... But not without being yelled at by a stupid old fat ugly bitch of a bus driver who claimed I didn't have the right papers to cross the border, who said nothing but "Hrmpf, get on the bus" when her co-worker corrected her and told her that my papers were fine and my EU passport was all I needed. Grrrr.

At the US border two hours later, a very bossy immigration officer stamped my passport after I had filled out and signed a form to confirm that:

  • I was, in fact, not a terrorist, and I didn't enter the United States with the intention of terrorist activity.
  • I never tried to hide and/or refuse to hand over a child that had been adopted to the US.
  • A few more priceless things which I sadly have forgotten :)

Wonder if anyone ever answered "yes" to the terrorist question? :O)

Luckily, the gruesome giantess of a bus driver was replaced by a friendly and cheerful American man at the border. Getting a new driver, crossing the border without problems, and having two seats for my fat ass when the rather chubby American woman who sat next to me got of the bus in Buffalo made everything look brighter. Great success!

My first place I to set foot in within the States was the town of Syracuse, where we stopped for about 20 minutes at four in the morning. This was where I had my first bite of American food, at Dunkin Donuts - welcome to the U-S-and-A! :-D I dozed off as pretty much the minute I got back on the bus, and woke up several hours later to the beautiful sight of the New York City skyline! After getting of the bus at a really noisy underground bus station, I grabbed my bags and walked about 12 blocks down to 1291 Bed & Breakfast, a cosy Swiss-owned, but very expensive (45 USD per night) hostel, where I dropped off my stuff and went for a walk in the city that never sleeps :) I randomly ended up going to Central Park at first - a park that's just as big as the impression movies and books gives you. My personal reference to Central Park is from a chapter in the book Hannibal where Dr. Lecter stalks the ignorant Clarice Starling when she's jogging - but anyway :) It's a huge park with roads going though it, most of them only for skaters, bicyclists and horse riders. Once again wish I had brought my roller blades :) After walking around the park for a bit, I found the place I was looking for: Strawberry Fields - the John Lennon Memorial, sitting right across the road from the place he was shot in 1980. It felt really nice to see memorial and just stand there and pay your respect with the rest of the mob who were standing in silence, or quitely humming Imagine :)

Other than that, I won't bother telling boring details about the Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building or whatever - the 150 pictures in the gallery should tell the story just fine. Instead I'll try to describe how cool it was to walk around on the streets you've seen in so many movies and TV-series, read about in books or heard about in school. Walking past the place where they host the David Letterman show, watching all the crazy advertisement displays on Times Square and all the yellow cabs is just the beginning. There are some things on Earth that you only see in huge cities like New York - for example a guy in a convertible with a full computer office setup instead of a passenger seat :-)

Another quite extraordinary thing happened, which I dare say is another one of those things you only experience in cities like New York. I was at Times Square taking night photographs with my SLR and tripod, when I suddenly, among all the other noises from cars, clubs, TV-screens etc., heard what I thought was some guy in a car playing Ozzy Osbourne seriously loud on his stereo. Turned me head and realized I was wrong - Ozzy Osbourne and band was playing live on the roof of Hard Rock Cafe! AWESOME! 8-)

To me, another great experience was meeting and having a chat with Afro-Americans. It's kind of funny how you sometimes meet (white) people who dress and talk as if they are black and bad ass. When you meet the real thing (though most of them are friendly and down-to-earth and not at all bad ass), they don't seem to be so silly and ridiculous :) It is however, very, very, sad that pretty much all the low-status workers, such as street sweepers, cleaners etc. you see are black. Come on, this is 2007, even USA ought to have ethnic equality by now.

I wouldn't say the Americans were absolutely lovely people, but they really were very nice, though a lot of the them seemed a bit remote, as if they were putting too much effort into searching for something... Whether it was the almighty Lord Jesus, a masters degree or a pay rise I'm not too sure. But they really were nice people, though evidently not very worldly. Not as open-minded and friendly as e.g. Canadians, Aussies or Kiwis. Now that I think of it, it might have to do with the infamous American dream... Survival of the fittest, maybe they put all their energy into their work because they are striving to archive something. Like I just said, I don't know precisely what, and I'm not too sure they know it either. And now that I'm a bit rude already, it really is true that there is loads of fat people everywhere! A lot more than other countries anyways. However, my general impression was that people were either relatively normal build or way to fat. And, especially in New York, you're still able to get healthy food, for example by going to Asian places. But let me give you an example: The reduced fat milk they had in my hostel had 5% fat in it! Quote from the milk jug label: Reduced fat milk - fat reduced from eight to five percent. And yes, it fully tasted like cream when I used it on my morning cereal - YUCK!

But forgive me for generalizing so badly. Though a lot my prejudices were comfirmed, New York was a totally fantastic experience. I'll highly recommend going there and I would love to come back some day. Would be a blast to go there with a whole bunch of friends, though I'm glad I did it on my own this time, as it was important to me to experience the whole package of getting along and around in NYC, instead of being guided around with your mind all focused on something completely different. Honestly, this trip to the United States might just have been a really important thing for me, as I've always felt I had to see the country I've heard so much about and heard so many opinions about, with my own eyes. But what a city - so much fun!

Saturday, August 11, 2007


Out of the big cities I've visited in Canada, Toronto gave me the best first-hand impression by far. I'm not precisely sure why, but the view of the Skyline I saw on the way from the airport to OJ's place in Downtown definitely had a lot to do with it. The fancy lit 553 metre CN Tower (the world's highest), at least double the height as any of the other buildings, being the most eye-catching part. Driving towards Toronto at night gives you a cool videogameish feeling :)

Though OJ has his condo by himself, his place was rather busy the first couple of days I was there, since he had two of his (about 40) cousins staying at his place. His condo on 15th floor was probably the favourite part of my stay in Toronto. Never stayed in a place where the elevator makes your ears pop before :) And definitely not in a place with a perfect view of the CN Tower either. Having eaten a little too much fatty food on the trip so far, I was happy when OJ, Chris and Dave and I went for dinner in Chinatown right after dropping my stuff of at his place.

While in Toronto, I really didn't do at lot of sightseeing - since I start uni less than 24 hours after I land in Copenhagen next Tuesday, I won't get any time to just chill out and relax for the next while. So since I had a sweet place to stay right downtown with everything I needed within a radius of 500 m, I didn't bother to have any plans whatsoever :) OJ's working as a freelance real estate agent, so he had plenty of time to take me and his two cousins out for some fun. Thursday night we went golfing at a driving range, really good fun and quite convenient for a first-time golfer like me :) Later on one of OJ's other cousins, who joined us at the driving range, took us to a place where we rented a poker table. Might have been beginners luck, but I actually managed to get 2nd place out of seven :) Won five dollars! Wohoo!

Toronto is definitely a much busier city than e.g. Vancouver, but you still have some options for some outdoor fun - for example the beach which has more volleyball courts than I've ever seen in my life. OJ and I were contended with playing (American) football on the beach though.

Despite my laziness, I did walk all the way to the CN Tower (about 400 metres from the front door, wow!) to go for a elevator ride to the 350 and 450 metre observation decks. Brilliantly, I managed to take about five photos when I got to the 350 m deck, before my camera ran out of battery, even though it had 2/3 bars left - ARGH! Trying to control my temper, I asked one of the guards for help, and luckily, he let me take the elevator down and allowed me to come back once my battery was charged :) I took advantage of this by coming back about 6:30 PM, in time to catch the sunset over Toronto from the Skypod, the 450 m deck, after standing in line for almost two hours. In relation to this, I would like to thank Apple for developing the iPod video, which made me able to watch brainless but highly amusing Friends episodes for an hour and a half while I waited in line for the 350 m -> 450 m elevator. Though "only" 100 metres higher than the lower observation deck, the Skypod at 450 m was definitely worth the wait. Being 10 metres wide at the most, it felt a lot more like you were hanging on the outside of the tower than the more spacious lower deck with restaurants, shops etc. The combination of my SLR camera, my tripod and the brilliant view was enough to keep me entertained for a good two hours, trying to get some good bird's eye view photos of Toronto by Night :)

Other than that, I spent my time in Toronto strolling around the busy streets of Downtown, checking out shops, buying a couple of small paintings from a female painter and comic writer and "treating" myself to a horrible haircut by a scary Asian dude. It was cool to be in a huge international city again - first time since my big trip last year. Despite it's population of five million people, it wasn't the biggest for me to visit on this trip - for more details see the next update :)

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Niagara Falls

Being a brilliant host, O.J. took me for a ride down to Niagara Falls on my first day in Ontario, about 1½ hour drive from his place in Downtown Toronto. The town (which is located right on the border between Canada and USA - though the American part of the town is quite small) itself isn't anything special, pretty much just a place to go loose your money and watch the spectacular waterfalls. But what waterfalls! I've seen waterfalls more than thrice as high in New Zealand, but never anything this powerful! I'll tell you a nerdy fact to give you a bit of perspective: On average, 110,000 m³ runs over the edge every minute, 170,000 m³ during high flow (more nerdy facts on Wikipedia). When we were standing anywhere near the (Canadian) Horseshoe Falls, we found ourselves getting soaked by the huge wet cloud it creates.

Though not as wide and brutal, the American Falls were quite a sight as well. Mother Nature sure knows her stuff...

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Lake Louise

Along with the Niagara Falls (coming soon!), Lake Louise was one of the very few sights on my things-I've-got-to-see-in-Canada-list. So on one of the days where Devan had to work anyway, and I felt like I had seen enough of Calgary, I jumped on a Greyhound bus back to the Rocky Mountains, past Banff to the small town of Lake Louise.

The lake itself was about and hour hike uphill, through the woods and across rivers, from town, and it was well worth the walk :) Went hiking for a couple of hours around the lake and up the surrounding hills and mountains, which made me able to get reasonably close to the snowy mountains and away from the crowds. Anyway, a picture says more than a thousand words, so check them out.

Lake Louise was worth the trip, even though there were way too many tourists and I once again found myself in DESPERATE NEED of a wide angle lens (donations appreciated) :-)

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Jurassic Park

... not quite, but it's probably the closest you'll ever get. Two hours away from Calgary lies the town of Drumheller, a very, very countrytown-ish place that's famous for it's surrounding landscape the fact that it's (along with Dinosaur Provincial Park) one of places with the most dinosaur fossils in the world. And the rocky landscape really feels like a place where dinosaurs used to hang out. It is also the home of a huge dinosaur museum.

People gotta eat, so we went for lunch at a small cafe Devans grand aunt and grand uncle owned, a place with decoration so hilarious and shameless it reminded me a lot of the pubs in the Australian Outback. Take for example the singing fish or the Ukranian chainsaw. But the place's size doesn't neccesarily equal small portions. At least, I thought that my sub was resonably sized :) They also made six foot (1,82 m) family versions... Bon appetit.

The clothing stores in Drumheller sort of resembled the Outback Australia ones as well, though not as wild west(h) and cowboy-ish. Devan introduced me to the term rig pigs, (people working oil rigs). I gotta admit that I really liked the hat, though :O)

The Royal Tyrell museum was probably the best museum I've ever been to. Normally when I'm at museums, I enjoy myself, but tend to get bored and claustophobic after a little while. But in this place, you can easily walk around for a whole day without seeing it all. Very insightful and well-structured. Absolutely brilliant. Won't bother going into details about speficic dinosaurs, so check out the photos if you want a little preview :)

Before heading back hom we went for ride on Dinosaur Trail (quite cheesy name), a scenic route around the area with some cool views of the Calgary Badlands. Finally, we stopped by the Hoodoos, some interesting mushroom-shaped eroded rocks - though both Devan and I were a bit dissapointed by the size and amount of them. But despite that, I'll highly recommend Drumheller, and especially the museum, to anyone visiting Alberta.

Friday, August 03, 2007

When they charge you more than 30 dollars per night for a lousy dorm room in a crappy hostel, low-budget backpackers like yours truly don't stick around for too long. No worries though, it's all about knowing people who won't mind having a mattress in their living room. It's actually the secret to how I can afford to travel Canada for a month...

This was also how I sorted out my accommodation in Calgary, where I stayed with Devan in his house. The night I got there, we took the bus to the local bar after getting money off the bank, buying stamps at the post office, and stopping by his friend's house.

In Calgary (the real Calgary, not Calgary Heritage Park :)), I had the convenience of borrowing Devans mountain bike which I took for a couple of rides through downtown and a couple of parks. Great to be able to rip around on a mountain bike again, my screwed-up knee didn't even annoy me that much. I wouldn't say that Calgary is unique in anyway, although you might have a hard time finding a city with more construction - everything is being demolished and rebuilt due to the oil wealth. For example the condo Devan has bought, which is no more than a hole in the ground at the moment. It does, however, have an amazing skate park and a couple of nice little parks full of Canada Geese and people ready Harry Potter ;-)

Devan and his occupation fits right into Calgary, as he works for his dad driving heavy equipment at construction sites. On friday I got up reeeeeeealy early in the morning and joined him as a co-pilot in an 18-speed water truck. I had a go driving the truck for like 20 minutes, which taught me that shifting 18-speed gearboxes require a bit of practise :)

Devan recommended a bike ride on Nose Hill in Calgary, a pretty big nature reserve, with lots of hills, drops and bums. Really good fun! Not as steep as our mountain bike trail at home, but it was decent, and the good thing about Nose Hill is that there's not that many trees to crash into :-D

More to come...