Sunday, June 28, 2009

New York Port Authority Station (June 29, 2009)

I could not complete the last post as I was getting through immigration on the Peace Bridge between Canada and the States. After that we immediately landed in Buffalo to learn that we were running an hour behind, and this would result in us reaching NYC at 12.20 in the morning on Monday.

I had booked the Greyhound ticket to Boston for 12.15 in the morning, expecting MegaBus to reach me at 10.45pm. Luckily I reached at 11.53pm, and literally ran with a heavy backpack from 28th to 42nd. All of this in vain, as the bus got full and now I will have to get onto the next schedule at 3.30 in the morning. Today in office is not going to be pretty.

Getting back to Toronto - after learning that the islands were not accessible I went up walking to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Also I had read somewhere that the Canada Walk of Fame was near the Harbourfront, but I could not find it. Later in the night I was walking and came across it at King St W, which is quite a distance away.

From here I caught the subway to the Visitor Centre, and got the map. Casa Loma was built by some rich dude in 1911, and it is a beautiful building, and supposed to have the most number of rooms in any building in Canada. The entry fee is 17CAD, which I did not do, but it may be worth a visit. The subway is Dupont.

The Museum Stop has the Royal Ontario Museum and the Bata shoe Museum, which again may be worth paying a visit to, especially ROM. I had a hot dog lunch here and got interviewed by a couple of students on Spirituality and Religion. After this I walked to the University of Toronto, which like most of the Universities in this part of the world are breath taking. Very serene and calm, with sports going on everywhere – you wouldn’t mind spending days there.

The last part of my hike was to Kensington Market where there are varieties of shops for different types of clothing from Cuban to Nepali. Met this girl called Stacie who took a pic on my camera, and also suggested to come over to a Reggae Dub band playing near King St. Once this was done I got on the sidecar and headed off to the Beaches. Kew Beach is the most popular one, and it is not possible to walk to there from downtown, but the streetcar numbered 501 takes you there, and it is worth riding on this for a novel experience.

I checked into the hostel later in the evening, and this was a very different hostel – The Global Backpackers Inn. Personally I was disappointed as there seemed to be people here who had stayed for ages at this place and knew each other. So it was tougher to meet new people. A private party was also going on at the hostel bar below, and I don’t know – it felt kind of weird to me. The layout also is a bit disjoint, and you will be disoriented when you enter in the first time.

One good thing was they sold the tickets to the top of the CN Tower, and I did not have to stand in line oops queue at the Tower. And just when I was reaching there I got JPs call, and we both made it to the top pretty much at the same time. The tallest free standing building in the world, till the Burj Dubai gets built is worth the 21USD. Obviously it is not NYC, where you can see the skyline from the Empire State, but just to be up so high, and look down from the glass below is amazing.

Dinner was at Momma’s Pizza near the Harborfront, where quite a few activities were going on. I said bye to JP and headed for the nightlife. King St is more the high end sort of partying, but Richmond St, John St have a good mix. I landed up at a club called Circa, for which I had got half off when I was walking the streets. Even then it was 15CAD, and I found the music quite crappy! Half way through I was falling asleep both of tiredness and crappy music. I don’t know how I lasted till 2, but I did and danced on an homage to MJ, and a song which I liked called Paris is burning.

When I came back the private party was still on, and I hung out below just watching the college crowd go at it. Finally 3 I went off to sleep, and woke up at 6 to catch the bus to Niagara Falls, ON.

This last part I will explain in the next post because my hands are aching doing all this typing!


MegaBus to New York (June 28, 2009)

Toronto is very diverse. It is a city where half of the population was not born in Canada. Hence there is a good mixture of a lot of races and types there, and that makes it so very different from Boston.

I liked it there, bit I don’t think I would like to visit it too much as a tourist. As a place to stay and do work and mingle I think it could be good.

The day started off with me going to the Visitor Centre to find it closed and only opening at 10 in the morning. It is right next to the Dundas station on the subway, and close to the Bus Terminal on Bay St. I got the daily pass for 9CAD, and immediately set off to Union Station. The subway system is small and pretty small with directions given as Southbound, Westbound, etc and also the name of the last station on the line.

Union Station is so-so, and from there I walked to the Harbourfront. It is a pretty picture and one can walk on the boardwalk and look at the ferries and such docked on the Harbor. There was a strike going on, and so the ferries to Toronto Island were not operating. This was one of the places I wanted to visit as it is also nice, and has a good view of downtown with the CN Tower dwarfing everything else.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Greyhound to Toronto (June 27, 2009)

It is official – you can cross the Canadian border multiple times on a single entry visa, so far as you don’t leave either Canada or the US after your first visit. This is for 6 months from when your passport gets stamped when you enter Canada for the first time.

I heaved a sigh of relief after this was done, as I have no more tensions anymore. I will land up at Toronto and head to the Visitor Centre at Dundas and Yonge St.

My plans involve visiting the CN Tower, the Harbourfront, Casa Loma, Kiev Beach and the Toronto Islands. There are some other places which I may visit given time, but these are the major destinations. I will keep you updated as these come up.

Greyhound to Buffalo (June 27, 2009)

I am off again, on my final foreign visit till I get a new US visa done. This time it is to Toronto, a place I had heard of a lot on TV when in India. I had thought the Olympics were held here or something, but I guess I am wrong.

Anyway, I am on the bus from Syracuse to Buffalo after which I will do the border crossing into Toronto. My trip involves a day in Toronto, partying at night and to leave early the next day for Niagara Falls on the Canadian side.

Once this is done I catch the MegaBus – Sunday afternoon and head back to NYC, where I catch a Greyhound to Boston reaching at 5am in the morning on Monday. Yes, I am living up to my crazy reputation.

Also I met another wonderful lady by the name of Melissa, and she is very interesting. I have been having a few good conversations about India and its people.

I passed by Albany and East Greenbush on the way here and for people who do not know - I stayed there for a year, and the memories just rushed back of the Residence Inn and my project there. How times change – visiting Boston a year back was traveling; now visiting Albany is!

I need to sleep; else I will be not able to do anything later in the day. Melissa is already sleeping up ahead, I need to also. Good Night!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Orleans Express (May 18, 2009)

I am on my way back to Montreal from Quebec City, and the best explanation I can give you about Quebec City is ‘Sweet…It’s a pretty city’.

The explanation is as below:
I landed at around 6.30 or so in the evening and stepped out of the station. If Montreal felt foreign for me, Quebec was even more foreign-er. I was wondering where to go. I had printed out walking directions on Google maps from the station to the Auberge De La Paix (Peace Hostel), but they seemed to be pointing me to some random roads which seemed not to exist. Luckily the lady at the visitor centre had given me the Quebec map and it was easier to find my bearings.

Once I reached the hostel I paid the 25CAD and got a room. This is a pretty big hostel and as always my luck in hostels seemed to be going really well. The moment I entered my room I met this lady from the previous hostel again. Both of us were surprised. I learnt that they had not booked the previous hostel, and so came to this one. Sadly she would be leaving the next day early morning at around 5am, and so she wanted to sleep early that night. I was repenting my lack of luck.

As there were a few rays of sunlight left, I walked up St Jean, and then to Porte St-Jean. This is a path with shops and eateries on both sides and as you move to the end of the road the walls appear.

Quebec City is the only remaining walled city, north of Mexico in North America. This is quite an impressive structure too, and at one end is Le Citadelle (The Citadel). I was aiming to reach the ‘Plains of Abraham’ from where you can see the sunset. The sun had already set by then, but I did get an impressive view of the St Lawrence River, and also the Citadel with lots of canons surrounding them.

As I was walking back I realized that you could actually walk on the wall. So I jumped on the wall and began to walk. Here is where you will realize how even more pretty Quebec City is. You can see the top of ‘Chateau Frontenac’ from this wall, and it is a different experience.

I walked back to St Jean on this wall, and back to the hostel. I had planned of finding some disco club to go to, but nothing was showing up on yelp while I was sitting in the common room. Then the best part of this trip happened!

While surfing I saw this guy and girl chatting. So I too joined in the conversation. She was Martina from Austria, and he was a very complicated name from France, which I have forgotten. She was studying in the University of Maine, and we immediately hit it off. I was feeling hungry as I had not eaten since Montreal, but we chatted till like 10.30pm for maybe a couple of hours.

Also, the French dude and his pals were going to a club at midnight. We decided to go with them.

Finally, at around 10.30 I and Martina left to get some grub and a couple of drinks. Everything was closed for dinner except for this Italian place (with a Ferrari flag on it). Initially he said he only had pizza, and as Martina had already eaten I was wondering how in god’s name I could complete an entire plate of pizza.

When we sat down though the guy said that everything was on, and so I ordered a ham-melon dish, which was good. We made it back just in time for our midnight outing.

The group was me, Martina, 4 French guys and a cute French lady. A 20 minute walk got us to this club. The line though was long, and they stayed behind while I and Martina called it a night.

The next day after I had breakfast me and her headed off to the visitor center which is right opposite the Chateau. As she was staying for longer in Quebec she headed off by herself on a leisurely pace, while I headed off on my usual breakneck speed.

I hope to see her again sometime soon, as she is headed back to Salzburg pretty soon. I will be there next year (I must have mentioned about this trip previously too), and I now have someone in Austria to look forward to.

Also during breakfast I met an interesting chap from France called Florian, who was taking a 42 day trip around Canada. He was in waste management, and he was studying some process which the Canadians were using for better disposal of waste (I told him this too: It sounds like a very interesting field, especially as better methods of waste disposal are going to be needed very soon). He had been to Bangalore, and had made a tour from Kochi to Agra, and he was very nice. He too gave me his email id and told me to let him know when I make it to France. Although he stayed in the north of France and I am largely planning on touring the south, he still was kind enough to offer me any assistance if possible.

Getting back to my trip, I clicked a photo next to the Chateau, which is an imposing building, rode down the Funicular from the upper town to the lower town, walked the old city to the old port, and then walked back up the breakneck steps to the Chateau again. Try to do this as this walk is very picturesque, and will surely remind you of days gone by. The only change which you might consider is walking down the steps and taking the elevator up the Funicular!

From here I went to Rue de Tresor where paintings are displayed, and then to the Citadel. Along the way there is the Basilica Notre-Dame of Quebec which is half not as impressive as the one in Montreal.

The Citadel is an active military base – so you cannot roam about, but there are guided tours in both French and English which occur regularly, and last for an hour. The cost is 10 CAD, and you should take this. Our guide was really good, and he even conversed with me in what he called an ‘Indian’ language. He said ‘Suprabhata’. Is this Sanskrit? I have no clue!

After this was done I walked back up the wall to St Jean and to a restaurant called Mike’s. I had the Le Salmon something and some tea. This was one of the few restaurants where I could at least point at the picture on the menu and order. Most of the remaining have their menus in French, so it will be fun understanding what you are ordering.

Then I sat on a bench right there at Porte St-Jean. There were 4 dudes playing with their feet and a small ball. I will do some research on this sport, but to put it in words, they were sort of balancing and dribbling the ball with their feet, and throwing it at each other using their feet. No hands were used and the ball never touched the ground.

I was fascinated as they had very good control using both their right and left legs – WOW!

Finally I walked to the Plains of Abraham, taking some time to sit on the wall and just stare at life go by in Quebec City.

On my way to the station I saw this white poodle running on the road. I had seen it on the plains too and there was a collar but no owner. It was running wildly on the road and looking forlorn. I tried to call the poodle and so did many others, but it was running wild. I saw an ambulance nearby, and not knowing who to talk to – informed them. I hope the poodle does find its master. Losing a pet is hard, very hard.

Martina was the one who kept on saying – Sweet, and she called Quebec a Pretty City. She was right – Quebec is a pretty sweet place. It is unlike anything I have ever seen. America has some really good cities, but nothing beats the beauty of Quebec. It has to be seen to be believed. Martina also showed me a photo of Salzburg, and it was even prettier.

Believe me – Europe will be something unbelievable. I can feel it already!

Martina, Florian, the girl from Toulouse, Cathy- who I met twice in both the hostels, the guys and girl from France who I went out with – so many wonderful people. I am also glad that I could sit and talk with them – I could tell them so much about India, which many of them had heard of, but were not familiar with. I hope they go and tell more people about an Indian guy they met on the road while backpacking and they associate nice thoughts with us.

To end this huge post – when I was staying at the first hostel, a family was checking the rooms and she asked me – ‘Is this how you backpackers stay?’ This simple question made me realize that I am now an official backpacker, a hippie!!! I can’t be happier :D