For a brief interlude from the ongoing series re my travels in North America I am going to jump out of time and tell y’all about today, in brief.

Today I hopped on a train from Penn Station, came to Philadelphia, where I write this, played tourist for a few hours and then came over to Kyle and Trillian’s place to say “Hi!”

I have been following Kyle’s exploits (especially his photography) since very early on in my Livejournal days, and Trillian’s blog as well since I realised that she was on there too, and seeing as I was relatively close by (hey America is BIG) and how I love to actually meet people that I talk to / with on the internet I was really pleased when they said that they would be about and I could drop by.

We had awesome chilli, spoke of many things, listened to music and eventually I got over my nerves and took some pictures; here’s a good one:

Kyle and Trillian

It has been a really fun evening, and it is really cool to know them both that little bit better. I wish I was going to be in the country for a few more days so I could come back and see Trillian in the play that she has coming up, and hang out some more, but I figure that I will be back on the East Coast at some point, and hopefully there will be time enough to do all of these things and more…

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

Some photos…

…as I have not got the time (right now) for more writing.

Noel on the Musquash:
Noel on the Musquash

My First NHL Live Game
Oh Canada

Niagara – The Horseshoe Falls
The Horseshoe Falls

Niagara – Me on The Maid of the Mist
Blue Gimp at Niagara

More prose to follow when I have to kill time in airports 😉

For those that asked…

Sarah and I on the Waterfront in Toronto… Can you spot the relevant landmark at all..? 😉

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Maple Cove

Friday morning, and after a short sleep in Halifax it was time to catch the bus and head on out a little West into New Brunswick; destination Saint John, Canada’s oldest city.

The small queue of people politely waiting to board the Acadian Line buses to Moncton and “Points West”, or Moncton and “Points North” or Moncton and Saint John was like something one might easily see in Briatin, just on a smaller scale, and every Starbucks cup that would have been was of course a Tim Horton’s. I said my goodbyes to Janice, in French no less, and then before I knew it I was boarding the first bus on the left and settling down with my iPod to enjoy the Fall colours as Nova Scotia and then New Brunswick flew by my window.

I mentioned on this blog before that Canada is __big__. For those who have not read entries passim I will expand on this apparently obvious statement. New Brunswick is, for example, considered a fairly small Province in Canada, and yet if you were to chop Scotland off the map of the UK then you can lay England and Wales down on their side in the Province. So to cross Nova Scotia and then make it to Saint John across in New Brunswick is a seven hour bus journey if you include the hour lay-over in Moncton. Now in the UK a seven hour road journey would have me getting North of Glasgow from home, so one might expect a seven hour journey would be an irksome thing but to be quite honest with you, dear reader, the scale and grandeur of the land not to mention the new joy of the Fall Colours(tm) made the time just whip by.

On arrival in Saint John, where fourteen months before I had been met by Eric and Scott on the day before the wedding, I was met by Jim. Jim is my friend Sarah’s dad, but I have no doubt that I can say that he is my friend as well. Since I met him and Liz, Sarah’s mum, in the previous August we had not only enjoyed each other’s company back then, but we had stayed in touch through the auspices of this blog, the Internet and Facebook, and so it was that he and Liz had come to invite me to join their traditional celebration of Thanksgiving at their family camp down in the Musquash about thirty minutes from their home, on the West Side of Saint John. There he was, in the parking lot that doubles for the Saint John Bus Depot, in a balloon festival baseball cap and his welcoming smile. He ran me up to the house to spend the afternoon with Noel (Sarah’s brother) as he needed to finish his day at work, saying he would be back around five and we would then head down to the Camp.

Noel and I had definitely gotten on well at the wedding, and I was really pleased to see the guy. Filled with back and forth on his stories of the mountains (he has spent a few months out in Alberta working in the Rockies) and my recent adventures in cycling around London (specifically my collarbone issue) we passed an easy afternoon catching up on each other’s lives and refreshing our friendship. We made the time to wander up the hill to Saint John’s famous Martello Tower and take in the view of the harbour and the city; a view and a place that from talking to him I can tell is fundamental to his memories of this great old city throughout his childhood and early adulthood. Tales of learning to snowboard on the flanks of the Tower’s hill and watching the sun rise after High School parties, and I have to tell you that standing up there in the wind looking out across to Partridge Island I got some small sense of all of that personal history, not to mention a sense of becoming a part of its ongoing story in my own small way.

We retreated out of the cold and into the back sun porch of the Rogers family home to enjoy the wood burner and some excellent cold roast chicken sandwiches while we waited for Jim and then suddenly in a whirl he was back and we were off to Musquash…

We headed out of the city and down the Highway towards St Andrews; it is remarkable how quickly the urban disappears and the raw wilderness begins when you leave Saint John. We could only have been five minutes out of town before all I could see, apart from the highway, was trees and the odd lake. Pure, natural countryside all in beautiful autumnal shades, and no other sign of man. We turned off the highway, following signs for Musquash, and then turned off down a back road shortly thereafter by the Musquash hydro-electric power station. It was built in the twenties, and it is still going strong despite quite picturesque leaks on the banded wooden pipe that feeds the power station with a pressurised in-flow from the dammed Musquash River. Jim told me over the weekend that the leaks form spontaneous ice sculptures over the winter when the temperatures fall so low that the water freezes in part without actually stopping flowing. Anyway about half a mile from the power station the blacktop runs out and we were onto the gravel / dirt road up to the camp. The camp is actually on an island in the lake that was created by the damming of the river, but there is a small causeway out across the water at the end of the access road, so in deference to my injured state, Jim drove us over and parked the truck up at Judy’s camp to reduce the walk in. Judy, one of the Rogers’ neighbours on Musquash, was about and Jim introduced me the way I have come to realise I am often introduced when I’m away from home “Oli, our friend visiting from England”. We stopped for a few minutes and shot the breeze, and I met her dogs, Makita and Dakota, before we said our goodbyes and struck out into the woods in search of Maple Cove, Liz and Libby.

It was clear that Jim knows those woods so well that I have no doubt he could walk from Judy’s to the Rogers’ camp (the aforementioned Maple Cove) blindfolded and with his hands tied behind his back. This was encouraging as two minutes from Judy’s I had no idea where I was… Still in the late evening light the colours were spectacular and the calm and quiet of the woods struck me at once. The camp was only about a five minute walk into the woods, and it really creeps up on you; I don’t think that I saw it until I was right on top of it. Essentially a small, green, wooden bungalow nestling in the trees, with the lake beyond; I had made it to Maple Cove. Libby, the Rogers’ gorgeous Springer Spaniel, came out to greet us. Her tail was oscillating almost faster than the human eye can detect! Then out came Liz, all smiles and welcome too. We said our hellos, I dumped my bags and then I was given a quick tour of the camp and its facilities. Liz showed obvious relief when I offered no dismay at the ‘outhouse’ and her explanations of how to use it – I have had extensive camping experiences in my life, in fact the last ‘long-drop’ I used was in South Africa and it held no fear for me at all. Then I was introduced to the cats, Pout and Dimitri, who I was not expecting to see at the camp and had hardly met at all at the wedding, and then we were into catching up while Jim grilled the dinner – fresh steak, mmmm…

There are no words to describe how utterly perfect and beautiful this place is, so here is a picture:

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Nice, huh? The above is the view across the cove at the bottom of the camp property, and I am kinda cheating as I took this the next day, but it gives you some idea of how gorgeous it is…

I’m sure many of you will nod in agreement when I say that there is an incredible, almost ineffable, calming and tranquilising effect to be had from spending time isolated out in Nature without electric light or the TV. Once we had eaten our full of steak and salad, followed by a wonderful homemade apple crisp (read crumble) the sun had left the sky completely and there in the dark, for the first time in months, perhaps even years, I was ready to turn in before nine p.m. We said our goodnights and I headed off for the best sleep I can remember having this year.

Coming Next: “Getting There – Travelling to Canada, October 2009” & “Thanksgiving, Musquash Style”

London by night, then into the belly of the Whale.,.

So, this evening I walked from work (the corner of Webber Street and Blackfriars Road), to Henry’s, a bar of some repute (though not greatly deserved as it turns out) just off the apple market in Covent Garden. I was there in order to join with some chums in the pursuit of levity in the face of the impending departure of one of our number. That is to say that “Young Tom” as I have decided to dub him, is scant days away from quitting the capital and heading for the walled fastness and medieval splendour of York. Clearly we are all sad to see him go, and if it were not so laudable goal as the pursuit of not mere erudition, but the furthering of thought and the store of human knowledge then I think we would all be rather perplexed as to why.

And so we dined and wished him well, but then once dinner was done and the party scattered to their various hearths (or at least in the direction of them), I was left with the unavoidable truth that I had not yet filled my quota of daily walking.

For the benefit of the reader who may be unfamiliar with dear old London in the early twenty-first century, allow me to explain why I was initially unenthusiastic about walking for my health through her streets at a little before ten of the clock. Gone are the days of a London that dutifully sleeps. At any time of the year one can reliably expect the West End to be teeming with a strange mélange of tourists, drunken youths and raucous office workers, and to make matters worse I am always unsure of how safe it may or may not be to avoid the West End by using the Royal Parks at night. The upshot is that in order to do my quota of walking, I would have to negotiate the wide-mouthed tourists and the revellers, not to mention the n’er do wells of the night-time city, by walking through Covent Garden, across Leicester Square, over the corner of Soho and then down Oxford Street to Marble Arch and Hyde Park and then along the Bayswater Road until I recognised my surroundings well enough to cut back north(ish) to Paddington and my train home.

As it was, the walk was not so bad. I did have to swerve around the aforementioned, disparate groups quite a lot – it seems that very few people walk through the late evening in London with anything approaching a purpose, and I suppose it is only my new-found desire to do so that leads me to notice. After all, I have no antipathy towards these jolly folk out enjoying our glorious and historic capital… I just wish they would not clog the place up so.

Having arrived on Praed Street an hour later, and secured an insanely over-priced bottle of mineral water from the Budgens opposite Paddington Station, I wandered down the slip and was lucky enough to be in time for the last high speed train that stops at Reading. As I walked through the open barriers I noticed that the lights were dimmer than usual, or at least I had not noticed this gloomier look to late-night Paddington before, and as I looked up at the reds and whites of the ironwork under the roof I realised that under this subdued lighting the ceiling did put me in mind of the gullet of the whale in Pinocchio. So out of the sea of people and into the belly of the whale I went and the rest is a tale for another time.

Night all, sleep well…


iPhones, GPS and my new walking regime…

So, I am walking between Paddington and Work, or Work and Paddington depending on what fits, and this morning I have taken my “starting point” GPS trace of my walk. I’m not going to do it every day, but I am going to do it once a week (or so) to try and see how I improve…

Here’s the first one:

Be prepared to be bored with more of these as they come along…


And for those that are interested…

A map of this morning’s foot-based odyssey:

View Larger Map


Walking to work…

Well I had my first go at walking from Paddington to the office today, and I have to say it was really rather lovely… I mean I am knackered, and I’ve realised that this is not going to be a valid use of my morning when I need to meet someone straight from work in the evening (a little bit more sticky that riding on the Tube to be honest), but it was a real delight to walk through the Capital in the morning, and over half the route is along or through Royal Parks, so it’s really lovely.

I marked the occasion by taking this photo:

Walking to Work #1

Sometimes it’s good to be reminded how cool it is and how lucky I am to be in London…

Hope y’all have a great day 🙂


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…