USA Travel Diary 28/3/18 (feat. Canada)

Ok, I’m getting lazier with these. But I’m here now, everything is alright.

Day 11
When I last checked in, I had just got to Buffalo, so it made sense that my first stop would be the one thing in the Buffalo area: Niagara Falls.
The Canadian side is supposed to be much nicer, but I didn’t want to add an extra border crossing to my week, no point complicating things. The American side was still quite spectacular, though not as loud as I expected.

The rest of the night is a blur, because the only thing to do in Buffalo at this time of the year is drink. And, since it was actually St Patrick’s Day, it was certainly the day for it.

Day 12
For some reason, the St Patrick’s Day Parade is held the day after St Patrick’s Day, so today was a continuation of the previous night’s drinking, though somewhat more cautious than the night before. Not much to report travel-wise, Buffalo might be full of great people, but it’s not much for the sights.

Day 13
Time for another travel day, crossing over into the Great White North, Canada. Of course, I didn’t see a bit of snow the whole time I was there, which was quite a nice change from New York state (and London the week before).
I spent the rest of the afternoon recovering from Buffalo.

Lake Ontario
You can see why they call them the Great Lakes.

Day 14
Another day, another bucket list item (I will get around to updating the list, maybe today even?). This time it was the one-time tallest building in the world, the CN Tower.
The view from the main viewing area (in that middle bubble part) is pretty spectacular, especially over Lake Ontario. The elevator windows certainly make the trip up to that section much more exciting than other tall towers.
However, the topmost viewing area is a little… Underwhelming. The windows are small, it’s cramped and covered in graffiti.
In hindsight, I probably could have done a diary that afternoon, since I spent it chilling out at the hostel, which was a pretty cool little place called The Only Backpacker’s Hostel.

Day 15
You know what I love? Dinosaurs. Because I’ll never stop being a five year old. So a trip to the Royal Ontario Museum was in order. It’s more of a catch-all museum than the places I had visited in New York, or London, so it had quite a collection of artifacts from multiple cultures, in addition to a nice collection of dinosaur bones.

Day 16
Fun fact, it took longer for me to pass US Customs at the Canadian border than it did coming in at JFK.

Massive travel day to Chicago, via Detroit, so I basically got to the hostel and crashed.

Day 17
Both the CN Tower and the Willis (formerly Sears) Tower claim to be the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. The CN Tower is taller, but a lot of sources don’t count the spire. Even so, One World Trade Center is taller than the Willis Tower.
I think this is my last tall building for a while, because I don’t much feel like paying for a view. The view of Chicago is nice enough, and the weather was clearer, so looking out over Lake Michigan was nicer than looking out over Lake Ontario. Apparently on a very clear day, you can see into four states. Unfortunately, they don’t exactly mark the borders on the ground, so I can’t confirm or deny.

I continued channeling my inner Cameron from Ferris Bueller and made my way over to the Art Institute of Chicago to look at some paintings. Sidenote: The CityPass is 100% worth it if you have a few days. I actually used everything in it this time.

I also managed to go to the former Public Library, which is now a Cultural center, though the beautiful entrance hall and upper halls are fully intact and quite stunning.

Sue the T-Rex
This was very nearly the feature image.

Day 18
Today I, uh, went to see some dinosaurs. But not just any dinosaurs. A dinosaur celebrity. The one. The only. The largest, most complete and best preserved Tyrannosaurus Rex. The gender-neutral pronoun-using Twitter personality, Sue the T-Rex.
The museum are actually in the process of moving them into a new room, to make way for a massive Titanosaur in their main hall, but they know Sue is the main draw, so you can see the progress being made in reconstructing their skeleton.
There’s a heap of other cool stuff at the Field Museum, including the famous man-eating Tsavo Lions. But I just really like dinosaurs y’all.

Day 19
Since it was on my CityPass, I headed over to the Chicago Science and Industry museum, which is definitely aimed at kids. But I’m a child at heart, so it was a pretty cool day. I didn’t learn much, but they also had a three-storey smoke vortex. And some trains. And a bunch of cool anatomy samples.

Day 20
Folks, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of checking your travel dates. Otherwise you do things like end up in heavily ‘Irish’ cities on St Patrick’s Day when you hate crowds. Or go to Aquariums on the first day of Spring Break.

I have a lot of friends who are teachers, and I don’t know how they deal with kids all day long. Same goes for parents. Honestly, the Shedd Aquarium is pretty cool as far as aquariums go, but it’s a nightmare when it’s packed with kids. I got to see a beluga whale, so it was a pretty cool day.

I also had an afternoon to kill, so I went to the movies. Y’all should go see A Wrinkle In Time if it’s still out.

And thus began the longest travel day I’ve had since that very first flight out of Australia.

Day 21
Trains are my favourite way to travel. But I’m cheap, and bought a seat instead of a sleeper ticket. And the water was high in the Mississippi, so a spillway was opened, which means the City of New Orleans service from Chicago to New Orleans was a bus service from Jackson, Mississippi. Which landed me in New Orleans two hours later than planned.
But I survived, met some nice folks at the hostel, and had a nice night drinking.

Old Absinthe House
Pictured: Absinthe and Bourbon. Which could be chapter titles in my memoir.

Day 22
Hey y’all, the French Quarter kind of smells like a toilet. It’s not so bad if you get a couple of blocks away from Bourbon Street. But it’s pretty bad.
I love the old buildings, but underneath that, Bourbon Street just looks like the main street in any town known for tourists and getting drunk. I did check out the Museum of Death and the Voodoo Museum, which were kind of cool. I even made a wish in the Wishing Stump.
Which brings us to now. I promise the next one will be sooner than this. Maybe in Vegas?

USA Travel Diary 16/3/18

Alright, I’m on the road again, which means y’all get to live vicariously through my travel diaries. Let’s get going.

Day 0
First travel day doesn’t count. Gatwick Airport was probably the easiest airport experience of my life, even being an international flight.
I had forgotten that I booked the emergency exit row, so I had a nice surprise, and legroom for days. Norwegian is a pretty good airline if you’re ever given the choice, I got my ticket on sale. Movie selection was a bit rubbish, but I got through it.
We landed at JFK earlier than we were scheduled, so I was actually at my hotel at around 11 that night, which was better than I expected. If you’re not in a hurry, don’t spring for a cab from the airport, use a shuttle service instead. It’s half the price, and you’ll need that extra cash because New York is expensive. Not London expensive, but still, pretty pricey.

Day 1
I woke up fairly early, because I didn’t beat jetlag quite as much as I thought I had. No complaints, because at this point, the snow was still nice. But more on the weather later.

Since I was staying a block away, the obvious first destination was Central Park. It’s quite beautiful in the snow, though I can only imagine how nice it is in spring.
I worked my way downtown, switching to the subway about halfway down the park. I picked up my New York Pass at Times Square (Much like the London and Paris passes, I highly recommend it if you’re hitting a heap of paid attractions in a limited period of time), and went to The Met.

Since I’d been to the British Museum less than a week before, I must admit I was a little underwhelmed by their collection, though it is objectively quite impressive. Especially the Egyptian collection, which definitely rivals the collection across the pond.
Of course, while I was at The Met, the Nor’easter really blew in, and my journey home was wet, cold and miserable.

Not only is this dude too big to get a good photo of, he’s too big for the hall he’s in.

Day 2
The weather cleared up nicely, though the snow stayed on the ground for days after, which was quite nice after the slush.
I got to cross off a bucket list item today, when I went to the Natural History Museum. If you follow the Instagram feed (or my personal accounts), you know I love dinosaurs. And space. And since ‘Natural History Museum’ basically means ‘Dinosaurs and Space Museum (With Rocks and Taxidermy)’, I was in my element.

Again, I can’t help but compare it to its London counterpart, but this time the New York version won out. Between the incredibly impressive Titanosaur and their taxidermied animals actually being in action poses, it’s just way cooler. The London one will forever have my heart as one of my favourite buildings though.
I am a little uncomfortable that they included non-European human history at the Natural History Museum, which is definitely problematic.

I spent the rest of the afternoon on a hop-on, hop-off bus tour of Downtown Manhattan, which was great for planning my week more than anything else.

Day 3
I started my day off with one of my favourite activities: a walking tour. Of course, being in the crown jewel of capitalism, gone are my beloved free walking tours, instead I only took walking tours that were on my New York Pass.

Today’s tour was of Soho, Little Italy and Chinatown, where our charming tour guide taught us about the history of the area, especially the waves of immigration that basically built the city of New York. I was also introduced to one of the cheapest eateries in the city, which certainly came in handy. It’s a tiny shop on Mosco St in Chinatown, where you get five pork dumplings for $1.25, or, since the lady at the counter doesn’t like giving change, eight dumplings for $2 (or, apparently, 20 for $5 unless you specify you want change).

While I was in the area, I went to the Tenement Museum, which wasn’t on my pass, but well worth the price of entry. I suggest you book ahead, since I was quite lucky to get a spot on a tour. Even though the tour I took wasn’t my first choice, it as still a very interesting look into life as an exploited immigrant over a century ago.

And finally, I got to cross off another bucket list item, the Empire State Building. I got up just in time to catch the sunset, and waited around for some nighttime views of the city. It was well worth the risk of frostbite in the wintery wind.

Day 4
Today I took another walking tour, this time over the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, and around the DUMBO neighbourhood in Brooklyn. The tour guide gave us a rundown of the building of the bridge, courtesy of John, Washington and Emily Roebling. He also gave us an insight into the gentrification of downtown Brooklyn.

While I as in Brooklyn, I headed over to the Transit Museum, which is actually inside an old subway station. I’m going to let you in on a secret: I like trains y’all. It was cool to see the history of mass transit in the city, but it’s not exactly extensive. They do have a bunch of cool old subway carriages though.

Day 5
The Intrepid Museum is set on the World War 2 era aircraft carrier Intrepid, which is notable for several reasons, but it isn’t the real draw. Neither is the submarine Growler. Both are really cool, but they kind of pale in comparison to what’s on the flight deck of the Intrepid.
Not one of the helicopters. Not one of the planes (though the Blackbird is cool). A thousand times more impressive is the Space Shuttle Enterprise. An actual space shuttle. One of three remaining shuttles (and there’s another in Los Angeles, so I might get to see two). Space stuff rules guys, and it doesn’t get spacier than this.

I spent the afternoon wandering around Greenwich Village, retracing the steps of Bob Dylan, who is one of my favourite musicians. I also stopped off in Washington Square Park, because it’s the location of one of my favourite comic book scenes (from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman).

Washington Square Park
I’m a nerd, sue me.

That evening, I took a Circle Lines tour, which had beautiful views of the city lights. It is probably much nicer in the summer, when it’s not around zero degrees Celsius.

Day 6
I started off my day with a disappointment. I had a tour guide not show up for my walking tour. But I did make friends with a couple of cool Canadian ladies, who also missed out on the tour.

So we went to the Statue of Liberty, which is a must-see. We didn’t do any of the museums, so it really didn’t take that much time.

Next up we headed to the 9/11 Memorial site and museum, which was of course very sombre and moving. There are a lot of ways the museum could have gone in the wrong direction, but it is very tasteful.

We finished up at the Museum of Sex, which was… interesting. It’s pretty much what it says on the tin, though the current special exhibition is a little… weird.

Day 7

Today I hit another must-see and went to MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art. I’m not an art person for the most part, so I could have skipped all but the fifth floor here. But the fifth floor is worth the price of entry. Because one of the most famous paintings in the world is there, and probably my favourite: Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. (They also have the melty clock one by Dali, but it’s not on display right now)

My new friends wanted to check out Radio City Music Hall, and it was on my pass, so I joined them, and it was well worth almost being late for my walking tour later. I had no knowledge of the theatre before, but it’s grand. I love art deco style, and it is practically dripping in it.

Then I rushed to Trinity Church to take the Hamilton Happy Hour tour, which is a brief walking tour around the financial district, focusing on Alexander Hamilton, founding father and first Secretary of the Treasury. And of course, subject of a massively popular musical. And really, while the play does take some liberties and leave some things out, there’s not much you learn from the tour that you don’t know by paying attention to the soundtrack. It was still pretty cool to be ‘in the room where it happened’ so to speak.

That night I headed out to Brooklyn again for a book launch by one of my favourite poets. I was very happy to find out that my dates lined up for this, as I missed out on seeing my favourite singer/songwriter by only a few days.

Day 8

At this point, my pass had ran out, so I limited myself to free attractions. I started out at the New York Public Library, where I took the free tour. It’s an absolutely gorgeous building, and exactly the kind of place I would love to hang out at all the time.

I then walked a block or two to Grand Central Station, to take a look at the Main Concourse, which is that Beaux-Arts style that I loved about Paris.

High Line Street Art
I love me some street art.

I then walked the Chelsea High Line, which definitely would have been better at any other time of year. Parks and winter don’t really mix, and there was a lot of maintenance going on. It was cool walking between buildings at the level of the old freight railway line though, and the street art looked great.

Day 9

My last real day in New York City, and I decided to take it easy. I had one goal remaining, as far as food went in New York City. I’d had a hot dog. I’d had a bagel. I’d had a slice. All I had left was a New York deli meal, and where better than Katz’s Delicatessen on the Lower East Side?
I wanted to cover all my bases, so I had half a corned beef sandwich and matzo ball soup. Definitely the best thing I’ve had to eat in weeks, maybe months.
I then made a quick trip into Brooklyn to check out the Superhero Supply Store, which is a pretty cool novelty shop, which funds 826NYC, which is a non-profit helping kids with creative writing.

Day 10
That brings me to today, which was a travel day. Now I’m in Buffalo. Not much to report there. I got in after 6pm, so I’m just hanging out at the hostel.