Getting to Halifax, Nova Scotia…

After a night of finishing off a few work loose ends, packing and coffee I was already up, showered and ready for Toby when he came to pick me up. He was somewhat bemused by my approach to Transatlantic travel, i.e. staying up all night intending to sleep on the plane, even more bemused when I agreed that it was probably a very bad idea. We had a little false start when it transpired that my suitcase was a little too tall for the boot of Toby’s car, but then we were off after some excellent jury-rigging on his part.

I’m not sure how I managed to stay awake, apart from the very definite desire to be sociable in the face of this smashing favour, rather than simply fall asleep while he did the driving. We had a little trouble getting into Terminal 4; to be honest I really did not help, and then as quickly as it had all begun I was trundling my suitcase carefully with my one good arm into the Terminal. I checked in and got myself through security and then went to have some breakfast by my gate. Garfunkel’s is not my usual choice for eating establishments, but of the choices available through security in T4 there really is no competition.

I was just finishing my meal when I overheard a woman at a neighbouring table mention that she had recently been photographed by an eminent British photographer who I am not going to name-check. She was making the point that famous photographers can get away with a lot and then proceeded to quote him as having said the following to her on the shoot:

“Stop being a bitch and move your pussy to the left.”

While the rest of the restaurant gasped and looked in her direction – the poor girl did of course get bitten by “accidental quiet” as she uttered the above – I just sat there laughing away. Of course that meant that she leaned over and asked me what was so funny… I replied that as a photographer who often works with naked people I was especially conscious of not being able to say such things to models if I wanted to be able to continue to work in that vein. I went on to say that I rather felt that being famous did not excuse that kind of rudeness, and even if I could get away with it I wouldn’t, but I was amused that even in this case fame could cancel out ignorance. She nodded, smiled and then went back to her friends and their conversation; an odd interlude, but these things tend to stick in my mind…

Shortly thereafter there was an announcement that my gate had changed to exactly the opposite end of the Terminal, so I paid my bill and headed off to get on my plane. I arrived to discover many other bemused travellers who were also flustered, hot and bothered by the sudden forced march across the Terminal. We all banded together in typical British, Blitz spirit (not that there was any remotely comparable level of indignity, suffering or even inconvenience). We were kept waiting for a while and then the very tedious process of pre-boarding and then priority boarding for other people with more money and then people nearer the back of the aircraft all began. By the time I was in my seat I was actually starting to feel pretty exhausted, and a little hopeful that I might indeed sleep on the flight.

As it turned out I was asleep before the captain turned off the “Fasten Seatbelts” sign and I awoke as he announced that we would be landing in approximately twenty minutes. This was a good thing; my sleepless night would have really taken its toll if I had not got some sleep on that plane.

We landed, bundled off the plane and stood in orderly lines to enter the US. Before I go on, I would like to say for the record that I completely understand why border control and security is necessary and I realise that every sovereign nation has a right to limit the passage of foreigners across its borders. That having been said there is a grim irony in the disparity between the poster that one gets to look at while waiting at the US border, which extolls the DHS’s values of extending a courteous welcome to those visiting the “Greatest Nation on Earth” and the __actual__ welcome one __sometimes__ receives at said border. The gentleman who inspected my passport and visa waiver documentation, for example, was quite offended by my quaint English use of the word “holidays” instead of “vacation” and when I tried to correct my “error” spent a moment accusing me of lying to him **rolls eyes** (though not in front of said official). Suffice it to say I was the very soul of humility and contrition and he waved me on into the States with an admonition to “watch myself”. I am afraid to say that the unspoken coda to his comment did feel as though it was “because we’ll be watching you”.

I wandered downstairs to baggage reclaim to discover that having rescued my checked luggage I had to join a queue of people who were being randomly subjected to luggage searches. Again, I have no problem with this, apart from that at this point I was pretty bored of waiting in lines and just wanted to hand my luggage back to the airline staff to have it put on my next flight, so that I could go and get a beer. Still it did not take long and on exiting the secure area I had only to walk fifty or so feet to hand off the case. I headed for the Air Train (the monorail that connects Newark Liberty’s three terminals and the car parks) and Terminal A, to await my flight to Halifax.

As I had done last summer, I wandered into TGI Friday’s and plonked myself down at the bar. I looked up from sorting out my hand luggage to see the same woman that had served me the previous August, Katie, who introduced herself without recognising me. I did rather knock her socks off by letting on that I remembered her, and at first she did not believe me until I pointed out that I was hardly likely to forget the first person to pour me a beer in the USA. We caught up as she provided me with a cool Sam Adams and conveyed my order for fried chicken to the kitchen, and in the process I was heckled by some older gents from Dundee who decided it was time to take the piss out of the hairy sassenach.

Beer and food consumed I decided to head through security and await my ride to Nova Scotia. The departure gate area was full of people suffering delays and my heart sank, but luckily I was premature in my disappointment and my flight did actually leave on time this year.

The flight up to Halifax is less than two hours and by the time we had taken off, received complimentary snack and drink and I had listened to a playlist on my iPod we were there.

The border was a little less troublesome in Canada, and twenty minutes after touching down, I was on the street, so to speak, and getting into a cab.

I had received a text message from Janice that she was still at work, and so I asked the cabbie to take me there. Of course, fate and unreliable SMS being what they are, Janice had actually finished her shift and so the only people there to greet me were her bemused colleagues. As has always been my experience of people in the Maritimes they were lovely and helpful despite the relative oddity of having a Brit appear in their restaurant at ten-thirty on a Thursday night with a suitcase and a broken collarbone.

After a little ringing around Janice was located, at a local pizza takeaway place called Alexandra’s, and I hopped in another cab.

It was lovely to see Janice again. We met the night before Eric and Sarah’s wedding last summer, and while we spent a relatively short period of time together then she is definitely a “friend”; one of those people that one immediately feels connected to. We had remained in touch, on and off, all year via Facebook and it was as easy as pie to just fall back into each other’s company. We ate pizza and then she quickly biked home to grab her car, as she had forgotten about my injury and conceded that I was probably not going to be able to walk back to her apartment.

Once ensconced back at her place we cracked a bottle of wine and kept talking. Shortly thereafter her two room-mates, Alison and Jill, joined in and before I knew it it was 0130h (ADT) and I had been on the go for nearly twenty-four hours, albeit with a plane-sleep under my belt. We had talked about politics and movies and their up-coming bike trip and my itinerary across the East of North America, and once again I felt the warm welcome that I had discovered in Canada, fifteen months before. I know it sounds corny, but these are genuine, open and friendly people. Alison, who stuck around to chew the fat much more than Jill as she had work to finish, had never met me before. Still, by the time we all turned in we were already bouncing off one another conversationally as though we were old friends. It is these little experiences that make travelling alone, and travelling to see friends such a joy, to me at least.

We turned in after setting three alarms and I slept like the dead.

Coming Next: Thanksgiving, Musquash Style

Nice Day for a Black and White Wedding…

So, I am on the train back to Kings Cross after the wedding of Nick and Katie at Allerton Castle in Yorkshire, which was a thoroughly enjoyable affair.

The title of this post refers to the daring, and entirely lovely, black and white theme of the wedding (for example the bride in white, the bridesmaids in black, or the black and white invitations, table decorations and so on…), but the day was so much more than just production. Don’t get me wrong, the organisation was slick and the whole thing looked great and at least to this observer seems to have gone off without a hitch, but there were two other factors that made it so much more than that; the bride and groom were so happy, and it was a lot of fun.

I go to a lot of weddings, although not as many as some people I’m sure, and I’ve started to realise that my generation seem to have a knack for making the day fun, something that it is always in grave danger of failing to be for the vast majority of attendees.

I’ve known Nick all my life, and there was something special for me to be there at his wedding, even though our lives have diverged somewhat since our mid twenties, due to geography more than anything else. Seeing his Mum, Dad, Brother and Grandma all so proud and happy, and getting to spend time with them aswell was a real joy. I also met some cool new people, who I hope will actually keep in touch – they did say that they would.

All in all a very successful weekend – of course I’ve still got to get across London and out to Reading on a Sunday, which as we all know is just the short name for ‘Day of Rail Chaos’, so there’s plenty of time for it to all go wrong 😉

Here’s hoping you, my dear reader, have also had a pleasant and fulfilling weekend…

.
EOT

More Video Blogging – Off to South Africa!

N.B. The Foreign Office “LOCATE” Service can be found here:

LOCATE

Travels with my camera… Part IV

So Wednesday came and I decided to ‘finish off’ Fishermans’ Wharf and then ride the historic Cable Car (you have to do it just once). Fishermans’ Wharf is a __real__ tourist trap, but there is a reason, it is really very cool. There are a ton of restaurants there and you can get up close and personal with a Dungeness Crab or two if the mood takes you; they cook ’em up in batches right out on the street like this:

San Francisco - Day #2 - Fishermans' Wharf, Powell & Mason cable Car and The Local Neighbourhood

Anyway, I was there mostly to eat Clam Chowder, from a bowl made of a large sourdough roll – a true San Francisco cliché, but you have to do these things at least once! I wandered around for a while tkaing pictures and trying with no real frame of reference or prior intelligence to choose a good place to try out the aforementioned chowder. In the end I chose Tarantino’s – come on, with a name like that I just HAD to. I ordered the Clam Chowder lunch special and a pint of Anchor Steam and settled back to watch the comings and goings of the smaller pleasure craft and fishing boats that were using the wharf below the restaurant. The food was magnificent, I can’t tell you how good it was, and at $8 I’m sure I paid more than I might have done if I shopped around, but as far as I was concerned it was worth every nickel. If you don’t believe me, check it out:

San Francisco - Day #2 - Fishermans' Wharf, Powell & Mason cable Car and The Local Neighbourhood

Once I’d eaten I wandered around the tourist stores, picked up the cheesiest keychain I could find, as per Kendal’s request, and then headed up to the Cable Car turnaround to join the Powell & Mason Cable Car to get back up to Downtown. When I arrived at the turnaround there was some kind of problem and there was a guy literally underneath it fixing something. Eventually they go things moving again, and I got to see the turnaround crew get the cable car ready for the return trip:

San Francisco - Day #2 - Fishermans' Wharf, Powell & Mason cable Car and The Local Neighbourhood

The ride back up to Downtown was well worth the $5, but I have to be honest I would not recommend the Cable Cars as one’s main mode of public transport if you visit SF – they are just so much more expensive than MUNI and / or BART, and they are always in high demand because of the tourist trade.

Here are a couple more pictures from my Cable Car Ride:

San Francisco - Day #2 - Fishermans' Wharf, Powell & Mason cable Car and The Local Neighbourhood

San Francisco - Day #2 - Fishermans' Wharf, Powell & Mason cable Car and The Local Neighbourhood

Once I had arrived back in Downtown I was pretty tired, still having not properly recovered from the journey in from Canada, so I headed down into the BART station at Powell and made my way back to Kendal and Steve’s place in The Mission.

Travels with my camera… Part III

So, there I was, sitting in Carlos’s on Mission and 24th… While I was waiting fro Kendal I had a Corona and was made to feel very welcome by the people in there – they even offered to let me change the music having worked out that I was more likely to be a Rock fan the guy who was watching the door let me know that the jukebox was an internet one and there would be Metal on it 🙂

So anyway, Kendal showed up, we did the hellos thing and then we celebrated with a really good shot of tequilla, and just had a chat about Canada, her day and that kind of thing. It was cool to discover that we get on in real life too, and it is a fun thing to meet the people that you only previously knew from the internet. We headed on back to her and Steve’s appartment, and after eating my first real American Burrito (a Super Shrimp Burrito no less) we all crashed.

Tuesday morning I was still all screwed up with my body clock, which actually worked out well because it meant that I was able to go out for a walk with Kendal and Rudy, and so it came to pass that I was brought to Phils Coffee on 24th. Now this is serious people, you need to know that though I would strongly recommend that anyone who is planning to visit SF should make the time to go to Phil’s there is a hidden danger. If you drink the coffee from there you will be ruined for coffee from elsewhere, and I do mean everywhere! Tip: If you think it is worth the risk, have the Turkish (with cream and sugar, even if you don’t normally), or the Arabian black.

So, once Kendal and Steve were away to work I headed out into San Francisco to begin exploring. I took the BART to Powell and then on my first day in the City I managed to go straight through one of the areas that Kendal had advised me to avoid – I walked down 5th all the way to the CalTrain. Now I’ve heard that it would have been worse if I had walked down 6th instead, but even so I have to admit that while I was walking it I did not feel threatened, but when I thought back later to some of the things I saw and so forth I did realise that it might have been a good thing that I didn’t have the camera out at that point. So at the CalTrain I crossed to 4th and from there I walked all the way down to South Beach. I stopped for lunch opposite Pier40 at an Italian owned café, which was really cool – I finally experienced an American sandwich, which is truly an expience – I mean as I expected it was more than enough food to last me until supper time. From there I walked down South Beach, under the Bay Bridge and all the way along past the Port Authority to Pier39. The Bay-front in San Francisco is really pretty and interesting, all the piers on one side and parks on the other, and this is a city wil really cool and intersting civic sculpture, like this amazing sculpture of a bow and arrow:

San Francisco - Day #1 - South Beach and Pier39

When I arrived at Pier39 I was bushwhacked, so instead of heading straight on in I sat under a huge tree in this gorgeous little park and just stared and stared at another sculpture called “Sky Gate” (I have a picture, but I have not processed it yet), and enjoyed watching the world go by. Pier39 and Fishermans’ Wharf is basically San Francisco’s biggest tourist trap, so there was every kind of person from every culture milling around, pointing at things, and so forth, but there were also local people walking their dogs and business folk taking their lunchbreaks – it all made for a cool slice of life view.

I wandered onto Pier39 mostly with the intention of going to see the Sea Lions. The Californian Sea Lion is an amazing creature, and Pier39 has a protected, safe ‘drag out’ for them, so you can spend a long time watching them laze about in the sun, going for swims and having little fights with one another. I was really pleased that I had carried my longest lens and my doubler, because without it I would never have managed to take a single picture of them that I was pleased with, let alone this one:

San Francisco - Day #1 - South Beach and Pier39

(I have others, but I think that this is the best)

By this time I was starting to get really tired, so I recouperated in Bugga Gump by having an Anchor Steam (local beer that you can buy at home, but only bottled), and that was a good way to relax 🙂

So, after all of that, rather than burn out on day one, I headed back to the Mission and Kendal and Steve’s place to partake of ‘The Holy Day’, otherwise known as ‘Taco Tuesday’. We had a cool evening, hanging out, eating fantastic Carne Assada tacos, as made by Steve and enjoying some Scotch, which is more than slightly appropriate with Kendal’s Vox persona being ‘Miss Scotch’.

With both of them working and me still beign on East Coast time we called it a night pretty early, but what a great first day; I certainly had no complaints whatsoever.

More later….

Things that you never thought you’d hear…

This morning my train into Paddington was quite badly delayed; this is not unusual…

Anyway, just outside the station as we were waiting for the platform clearance the train manager came onto the tannoy to apologise, which he did and then during his patter he said:

“…I’m afraid to say that the only good news I can give you is that on the 1706h and 1806h you can now use cheap day returns and off-peak travelcards, which is a measure that came in yesterday…”

and the thing I never thought I’d hear was the carriage breaking out into spontaneous laughter; irate commuters and day trippers just seeing the funny side together. It was remarkably nice.