Dave’s American Vacation continues and we pick up the action right where we left off; the Austin Texas to New Orleans transition.
There are a few parallels here that are similar to my own experience (Natural Museum, Central Park and the Met at NYC) and I thought Niagara Falls + Toronto were bloody cold…that was a trip I made many moons ago)
But of course our Dave has more experiences to share than I could possibly share at this stage (well who knows, maybe I’ll win the lotto and bypass his dizzying pace). So without further ado..
New Orleans – February 2008
I did not end up going out the first night I arrived, instead I grabbed a six pack and chatted with a few of the people at the hostel. The hostel itself was a mix of backpackers and permanent residents. I had not run across a hostel that allowed permanent residents before and the locals had some great stories and everyone was friendly enough – and so I had a good time there.
The following day I was befriended by an American girl who was a resident of the hostel and we headed out into town with a couple of Danish backpackers. It was Superbowl day which is celebrated like a national holiday; everyone out and about having a great time anticipating the start of the game (the game itself makes no sense and everyone where’s pads, where is the fun in that?).
[PC note: Dave is being sarcastic as usual]
Our American guide took us to the French Quarter, the main road is Bourbon Street, and we started consuming a local drink called a Hurricane (looks like a slushy you get at a cinema and about the same size, except with alcohol). I had several shots and several beers after that, then it was time to go and watch the Superbowl final. By the time the game was on, I had already lost interest as my threshold for alcohol consumption had been reached (mind you everyone else in the bar and on the street seemed to be in the same state if not worse).
Too much Bourbon
We left after the game had finished and I had luckily managed to drink myself sober and become immune to alcohol (I’m sure this is scientifically possible).
I checked out more bars, eating various delicacies as well as listening to some live jazz bands that were performing both on the street and in the bars. I much preferred the music I had heard in Austin and I am not a big fan of jazz, but I appreciated the skill of the artists performing as well as their enthusiasm, this is what creates the fantastic vibe in New Orleans.
Not sure when I got home….
Soaking it all in
The following day I spent recovering from the night before and I didn’t end up leaving the hostel, which leads me back to why I liked it so much. The people there were from all walks of life, a dietician / fire twirler, a woman on the run from her ex, a deep sea diver, physiatrist, a French blues musicians, a stripper – and these were the types I met… This is the reason why I love hostels; it’s because one tends to meet people so far removed from your own personal experience. And this is very cool. I know this type of travel is not necessarily for everyone, but it did reminds me of why I like backpacking so much, it’s the varied types of people as well as the place.
My final day I was refreshed from not being out so I took in New Orleans. This involved walking around the French Quarter (not inebriated), the architecture reminded me of Paris (which is New Orleans culture is partly developed on) and in some ways its nicer than Paris as the houses are so much bigger and there are so many gardens that are blocked off from the street; you can’t access most of these, so I figure it must be special living there. The contrasting colours of the housing is quite effective but more interesting is their sheer amount of bars within such a confined space, its only takes a couple of hours to walk around the French quarter.
I also took in a plantation about 2 hours north; the history of it was amazing, though the place itself looked like a rather elaborate Queensland house propped up on stilts to avoid flood damage. Can’t say I was overly impressed, though there are many plantations which I haven’t had the opportunity to see (I suspect I should have gone on the Alligator tour instead).
Those Seedy Bars
One more thing about New Orleans I love is the seediness of it. I like to hang out in what Americans refer to as “Dive” bars and New Orleans has plenty of those. One of the bars I was in is where the locals hang out, dark, secluded and cheap – and I loved it!
It was full of locals that worked in the area; this included a policeman who I chatted with. I remarked I had not seen a pub brawl and he indicated to me that’s because most people are armed, when people have guns, there are no brawls. The policemen then showed me his holstered gun under his jacket.
The bars clients consisted of mainly strippers, bouncers, musicians and various others; again a good way to meet various local types and everyone was friendly enough.
The following day after I flew out to Chicago.
Chicago is cold…scratch that, it’s bloody freezing, so much colder than Austin. I think when I arrived here it was zero degrees and it was only going to get colder.
It was so cold that my skin felt like it had solidified and my nose hair had frozen up my afternoon involved checking into a mega huge hostel and then debating whether I was going to leave the warmth of it again (I hate the cold).
The Obama craze
I spent a while napping at the hostel, mainly due lack of sleep from a New Orleans hangover, and then headed to a local bar around the corner. The pub was friendly enough, beer was real cheap, about 5 pints for four bucks, and the food was most excellent. I ended up speaking to some Americans about Obama, American muscle cars and the Gulf war. It was good to get an American perspective on things, I had met a lot of ex Iraq war soldiers already and not knowing much about war or knowing any soldiers back home, this different way of life was interesting. It was also real Obama crazy, president Obama is from Chicago and posters of his face were planted all over the place indicating
“Yes we can”
I asked a few people what this meant and they came back with more:
“Yes we can”
What this exactly meant is a mystery to me. I received no answer to my question. It was a good election slogan though.
Hiding from the Cold
Got up early the following morning to most of the day, this was a stupendously stupid idea; note again that Chicago is freezing.
After walking about taking in the rather spectacular north side of the city, the skyscrapers seemed endless.
I decided to take refuge in department store. No longer than five minutes I was confronted by a security guard, the gist of it I think was that walking about in my winter wear, hoody, motor biker jacket and tatty jeans, isn’t their kind of customer. After about a 3 minute polite conversation whilst eyeballing each other, I was asked to leave. I thought it not prudent to start an argument and with guard as he was armed.
Back into the cold, I headed to a cinema, took in a movie to escape the winter and then scurried back to the hostel to de-thaw myself.
That evening I hooked up with a bunch of others to take in some Blues music. We had a reasonable dinner at one of the local bars and then went to the venue. Whilst the group I was with was a good laugh, the band was playing some version of Elvis “Hawaiian” sounding music (definitely not Blues as intended) which I figured was being deliberately ironic considering the weather. Chicago is not necessarily the coldest place in the world but the icy wind blowing from Lake Michigan sure makes it feel that way. Eventually ended up back at the hostel and this time I was determined to sleep in.
The next day I headed out at about 11 in the morning and it was a rather pleasant 14 or so, the weather was letting up, after my initial hiccup I decided to give it another chance, and must say most impressed. There are loads of free museums around the area; I took in the Field Museum which had a great collection of various stuffed animals as well as Egyptian, Incan and various North American Indian tribes. I then went to the Planetarium, interesting enough though it was a bit run down. I then headed to the top of Sears Tower, the tallest building in North America and I think it ranks four worldwide.
The view is absolutely amazing on all sides.
What a view
Chicago is immense and with its teeming towers dotted all over the place. The following day I was off to my next destination.
I stayed in Toronto with a Canadian friend of mine I’d made whilst backpacking in Australia. I figured it would be a great way to get some local insight into a city and also chill out for a bit without having to meet new people, a good way to recharge. Toronto looked like a typical big city, it was winter so everything was grey and a little drab, it definitely wasn’t as cold as Chicago, so that was pleasant in itself.
My friend took me around the city and gave me a pretty good insight what it was like to live there. In a lot of ways it reminded me of home, everybody is easy going and passionate about sport (Ice Hockey, not Aussie Rules), it’s probably the reason why Canadian and Aussie backpackers get along so well. I went to the gym, cooked meals, went to a few bars and caught up with a few friends from previous travels,
I had been away for a month but it was nice to be normal. We went to a few museums, one was a police museum which included police equipment (weapons mainly) and a detailed history of the Canadian police. We took in a few of the bars in the evening, I was there during on weekdays where there weren’t many people about, though there was a good night out and met some locals on a Friday, and Canadians also much like Americans are sociable and friendly to talk too when out and about at night.
Give me your car copper
One of the days I took a day trip out too Niagara Falls. It took around a couple of hours to reach there, the country side was quite lovely, lots of greenery all covered in snow (I was actually starting to hate the snow, the cold is for penguins).
[PC note: Even this guy keeps warm]
The tour stopped off at a winery and I had some Ice Wine which was appropriate as it was icy.
Next were The Falls which were very impressive. I had never seen waterfalls generate so much power; a few kilometres away you can feel the water on your face, like it was raining. There was also a tour underneath the falls so you could come in from behind and get a better impression of the power generated. It was also quite odd to see part of the river frozen whilst all this was going on.
The town of Niagara itself was remarkable in how hideous it was. Horribly gaudy buildings with oversized monstrous facades of Dracula, Frankenstein and other garish displays. It was a fun park city, also loaded with casinos for gambling, nothing like Vegas though, it was cheap and tacky to look at.
Freezing Niagara Falls
After a few more days in Toronto, I thanked my friend and then it was off on my last leg of the USA, New York.
Upon arriving I got the subway to Manhattan Island and headed towards the hostel I was staying at. I asked a few people directions and unlike what I had heard the New Yorkers were rude, the people I asked seemed happy to help. The hostel I was at had no communal area, no kitchen area and the only way to socialise was in the room, it was also pretty pricey for the lack of facilities, then again I guess everything new New York costs a little more.
I was located between 30th and 8th street, not far from Madison Square Garden. I asked for some night time places to go to but the hostel guy wasn’t particularly helpful and as it was winter my first night I was grateful for a warm bed.
I was up the following day and headed out very early with a clear head and no hangover. I took the subway (the subway surpasses the English Tube in my opinion) and headed towards the Staten Island ferry. I’m not sure what was on Staten Island and to be honest didn’t really care as I immediately jumped on the return trip, the ferry was also free which a plus was. My purpose was to see the Statue of Liberty, the most iconic thing I could think of in New York. To be honest whilst I thought it was interesting, I thought it would be a lot bigger and I suppose the movies Ghostbusters 2 embellished somewhat the scale of the building. I decided against doing the island tour as it was expensive and why bother when you can get a free ferry.
I walked around Wall Street where I could literally smell money; and then visited the site of the Twin Towers which included memorial park.
I also walked across and back over Brooklyn Bridge.
NYC at night
I was determined to head out that night, so I looked up New York happy hours on the Internet and found and Irish bar in the East Village to down a few pints. I ended up talking to a New York fireman and his rather drunk wife and that was pretty entertaining. After they left, I then ended up chatting to a couple of surgeons who then invited me out to hang with them. This proved to be a hilarious night. I went with them to Alphabet City and met up with some more doctor types, this involved downing several shots of whiskey, night clubbing in a huge underground warehouse and the first decent dance music..
I partied the night away with these friendly attractive New Yorker types and ended up back at the hostel at some stage in the morning
The following morning, my hangover much like New York itself was quite epic. I decided to check out some of the museums that were near Central Park. If you ever make it to NY, word of advice, when going to these two museums or any other government museum in NY, instead of paying the full admission charge, you can actually pay a voluntary amount of say, a dollar, and get in anyway. Entry fees are actually donations so instead of paying the suggested donation amount, you can pay as much as you like, being unemployed and a backpacker, I though was the way to go.
The Natural History museum was full of rather spectacular nature exhibits, including a suspended life sized whale (not stuffed) as well as exhibits on various tribes of the world (and it had really good planetarium). It included a portrayal of an Aborigine purchasing a train ticket in full ceremonial dress, not sure where they got this from or when it was set but I’m sure it adds to the American stereotype of Aussies, a bunch of Foster swilling Crock-Hunting Steven Irwin types. I don’t believe most Americans think this, although one did ask me “what language” we spoke in Australia.
The Metropolitan was more of a museum come gallery, it had an excellent exhibit on feudal knights and weaponry, various Roman and Greek relics as well as the usual American art, French impressionism and other pieces.
I then walked around Central Park it’s huge and walking around it took a long time. It probably would have been easier on a pushbike, but being on a budget, I had to forego such excesses. I had an early night due to exhaustion and bit of hypothermia.
Ice Hockey makes a comeback
The following day I headed off to see the Ice Hockey, which I organised a ticket 6 months in advance and was very much looking forward to the spectacle, I was a big fan of the movie Slap Shot and figured I’d get some hockey violence., The game was on at Madison Square Garden which holds around 18000 for the hockey, it’s an enclosed dome. The hockey was brutal, I’ve never seen anything so quick and their movement across the ice was amazing, changing angles as well as hitting each other at a pretty rapid pace. I figure they must be wearing a lot of padding because if they were laying hits that fast in a game of rugby, it would be nighty night time. Unfortunately the Philadelphia Flyers whipped the New York Rangers, 5-2.
There were a lot of fights that involved players squaring off against each other (as in a boxing ring and this is was allowed by the ref), and then throwing punches until one player falls, then both players are sent off. The crowd was also into heckling very loudly, it was like a Carlton game back home, just with different accents.
A lot of people screaming out “Fudge You”
More NYC sites
In the evening I headed out with an English backpacker from the hostel down to the Meat Packing area of New York, had a rather expensive drink and then headed down to Soho, there were lots of New Yorkers forming queues to enter small doorways into nightclubs which I figured must be located underground, much, like my first night out. As I was on a budget, figured this was not the best idea and headed to a local Irish bar (New York is full of Irish bars) had a good chat, a few drinks, played some stick and then retired for the evening.
The following morning headed out with my English friend to Hell’s Kitchen for some lunch. This place is crammed with restaurants which didn’t seem to be overly expensive and had my first decent meal (not junk food) since arriving.
We then decided to take in the floating museum “Intrepid”, an old aircraft carrier on the Hudson River. Spent the day wandering around the boat, my friend insisted on getting a photo with Mr Met, a mascot of the local New York Met baseball team that happened to be on the boat. After checking out various decks, fighter planes and everything else there was to see on the boat, headed back to the hostel. Decided to stay in that night as the budget was getting stretched (everything is expensive), had a few drinks with the people in the room and then packed it in for the night.
On my last day I figured I should check out either the top of the Rockefeller Centre or the Empire State Building. I decided on someone’s recommendation to check out the “Rock” and was not disappointed, while it was not as big as the Sears Tower in Chicago, New York is a much larger city and you can truly appreciate the size of it as well as Central Park. I then checked out Union station where I had to fight the impulse to just jump on a train and randomly take off anywhere.
Top of the Rockefeller Centre looking at the Empire State
After a week it was time to leave New York. Id enjoyed my time immensely in the USA; the cities I had seen were all so distinctive in their own way. The accents, food, and the vibe of the place each area’s distinctiveness reminds me a little of the UK, but on such a larger scale. I’d miss the USA, but it was time to bail.
So anyway, off to Brazil……..
The Travel Bug
The Travel Bug is a collaboration project that goes through Dave’s travel journals around the world.
He is on another trip at present (Vancouver, USA, Copenhagen, Paris, around the UK, Spain and South Africa).
PC likes getting the job done by day and writes, designs and codes during his spare time. He also enjoys having a drink with Dave and hearing his tall travel tales.
We hope to entertain you through this collection of stories.