I had set my alarm for 6.30am to give me loads of time to wake up and get to the bus station for the bus for Montreal that left at 8.30am. Dionysus, the god of wine, woke me up at 8.05am.
Oh dear. Up and out of the flat before you could say “crikey!” in a silly voice, I pounded down the stairs and out onto the Mean Streets of NYC. Whistled the first cab I saw and jumped inside. The bus station, please and step on it! I’ve always wanted to say that. I was on 109th Street. The bus station is on 45th Street. That’s a lot of streets between me and the bus.
Luckily, it was Sunday morning, not a weekday – we hurtled down Central Park West like in a movie, switching lanes and honking at those crazy maniacs who dared driving slower than us.
By 8.25am I was on the bus. Not bad eh?
Now I’m heading north through upstate New York. It’s getting colder and colder outside, I’ve just put on an extra pair of socks and I can’t help but feel that my little jumper and leather jacket combo just ain’t going to cut the mustard – there is snow and frozen lakes whizzing past at the side of the road. I’m scared to lick the window in case my tongue gets stuck, and you know how much I love licking the windows of a bus.
I arrive in Montreal at 5pm and I’ll have just over an hour to race across town to the train station for the 20-hour ‘Ocean’ train to Halifax. Despite all my travelling about the place, this will be my first train ride of The Odyssey. I better get used to it, though – I’m inter-railing Europe.
Now I’m on the train – the ‘Ocean’ heading east to Halifax. It’s great. Tons of legroom, electrical outlets (POWER! – something that has been in short supply over the last ten days!) and a dining car. Montreal was beautiful, some really cracking old stuff – I’ll be going back there next year for some festival or other, I’m sure.
But more importantly, I’M IN CANADA!! Which means… I’ve stepped foot in EVERY country in the Western Hemisphere!! Woooooo!
It was supposed to take two months, it ended up taking three (I blame the government). But now all I need to do is hitch a ride on a cargo ship leaving Halifax this week, and I’ll be able to double (or triple) my country count in just a couple of weeks. Huzzah!!
But now I must confess that it’s my fault that the video blogs haven’t been updated for soooooo long – I honestly hadn’t had the time. But fear not! I’m going to try and get the Dominican Republic video sorted before I get off the train, and once I get back to blighty, I’ll have all the other four videos – The Linge Trader, Central America, Stuck in Florida and Cuba sorted for you.
I’m still on the train at the moment; it’s a 20 hour journey. Looking out of the window, it’s like I’ve stumbled into Narnia. I almost expect a White Witch to turn up and offer me some Turkish Delight. I don’t even like Turkish Delight, but if it meant we got to kill that bloody sanctimonious lion again, I’d take it. Mount his silly head on the wall of my hunting lodge. Tee hee.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say it that it is COLD. Bloody cold. Outside is miles and miles of pure white snow, which is being dusted by yet more snow flitting about like the fairies of Dingly Dell. Cars with chains on tyres drive alongside, but, unlike the locals, I can’t tell where the road ends and the fields begin. Even the trees look cold, like they’re huddling together to keep warm. I can almost hear them muttering to themselves “bloomin’ weather”.
It’s all, of course, quite exquisitely beautiful, a picture postcard of winter that stretches for hundreds of miles, and it’s making me not feel as bad about missing the snow in Britain this February. I mean, it’s blowing a blizzard out there! This is the real deal baby. Oh yeah!
So my train gets in at 4.20pm. My brother Alex is desperately attempting to get me on the Hapag-Lloyd container boat that leaves today for Liverpool, so fingers crossed for that. At the moment, I’m just worried by the fact I don’t have a big thick coat or a woolly hat.
A little later…
I’ve run out of camcorder tape, so I just ran PELL MELL off the train when it stopped for 15 minutes in a town called Moncton. There is a BLIZZARD blowing outside, but I braved the elements (and almost certain slippery doom on the snow) to get to a shopping mall not far from the train station. But Jabba No Barda. Bah! I ran back and just about made it, covered from head to toe in white snowflakes sans tape. Hope there’s somewhere that sells tapes is open in Halifax when I get there, or this trans-Atlantic passage might be one of written blog and dubious anecdotes.
Even more laterish…
Bah! It turns out that my heroic slam fight dunkin’ rush up to jolly old Halifax was all for naught. The chaps at Hapag Lloyd haven’t got back to us like that girl you gave your number to last night and so now I’m sitting (chattering teeth) in the Halifax Backpackers (the difference, if you’re interested, between Backpackers and Youth Hostels is that Backpackers are not run by the illegitimate hellspawn of Basil Fawlty and Hitler. Which means that you can LEAVE WHEN THE HELL YOU LIKE without incurring some kind of plenty like you’re somehow found yourself teetering to the left of the slippery log on Junior Kick Start).
Anyways, so I’ve met up with a rather fetching German chick called Patricia, an Aussie chef called Toby, another German called Joseph who has big holes in his earlobes, and a lovely Canadian chap named Travis.
Now, so Travis invited us along to an open mic night that was being held in somebody’s front living room. And if you’re like me, THAT SOUNDS ACE. If you’re not like me, you can go stand bored stupid in your overpriced chrome-and-wood monstrosity that insults the name of the Great British Tavern staring at the wall while fat orange girls bump past you and spill beer on your pastel-coloured Ben Sherman shirt as you wonder why there are no seats, no dance floor AND THE MUSIC IS TOO DAMN LOUD TO HEAR YOURSELF THINK, NEVER MIND DISCUSS THE LATEST INTERESTING CELEBRITY DEATH.
And then you remember that everyone else in the room is on cocaine and therefore this formulaic Friday night fart-fest must seem novel and new to the last few brain cells that remain tossing globs synaptic activity like a game of Pong being played in Bullet Speed. Bah!
Sorry, went off on one there, didn’t I?
Well tough, this is MY blog and I can say what I like. Especially now that my contract has come through from Lonely Planet ,which officially means that I’ve GOT MY OWN TELLY SHOW NOW.
That’s right, I’ve joined the ranks of luminaries such as Peaches Geldolf, Paris Hilton and the late Jade Goody and it also means I get to prat about for half an hour like the annoying loud ADHD ginger kid who interrupted every lesson with his incessant unfunny, unimpressive mind-chunder, WHEN YOU WERE JUST TRYING TO LEARN, DAGNAMIT. And this time, Mr. Row cannot stop me.
Incidentally, does anybody know when exactly ADD went HD? I was lucky. I came from a time before ADD (and ADHD) when all my boyish energy and exuberance was blamed fairly (and squarely) on the doorstep of me EATING Monster Munch.
Which is the equivalent of blaming Doctor Harold Shipman’s actions on a wet cucumber sandwich he bought from the Shell Garage one afternoon.
Did I mention I’VE GOT MY OWN TELLY SHOW NOW?
Good. Well, anyway, as you probably guess I left the other chaps in the Backpackers and set out with the hot German chick to scavenge for pizza and beer in the snow (did I mention Halifax closes earlier than a Post Office on Christmas Day?) before turning up at aforementioned house party/open mic night AND A GOOD TIME WAS HAD BY ALL.
And by that, friends of Mandy, I mean that the music and atmosphere was jolly good (I know what you’re thinking, you curs) and it’s such a great idea that I will be instituting it when I eventually settle down in Liverbourne some time in the not too distant (ie. if he survives Somalia) future.
Now is the winter of our discontent. Well, it’s actually SUPPOSED to be spring, but NOBODY SEEMS TO HAVE TOLD THE CANADIAN TOURIST BOARD THAT. I’m colder than a dark Jedi running about in a pair of Y-Fronts killing ‘younglings’ in the Arctic. Come to think of it, is that a Polar Bear? No – it’s not. Damnit – that would have added some excitement to these parts. Yes, like Patrick Moore’s loins, there ain’t much going on in Halifax.
As I’ve elected to follow Patricia around like a lost (but rather hyperactive and annoying) pup until she disappears out of real world and I’ll only be able to hassle her though the tortuous slog that is DOING ANYTHING ON FACEBOOK THESE DAYS.
Come to think of it – where the HELL have my groups gone? And my events? Why has it become Twitter, asking me what I’m thinking RIGHT NOW. You don’t want to know what I’m thinking RIGHT NOW, it’s unprintable and at the very least it will result in me being buried up to my hips in sand in some god-forsaken corner of the Arabian peninsular while a rugby team of sexually repressed young men fling stones into my face until I die of internal haemorrhaging. So go away Facebook, you can’t know what’s on my mind BECAUSE I’M NOT GOING TO TELL YOU. Geddit? Good.
Where was I? Ah yes, Patricia – so a tour of Halifax might ease the TEDIUM THAT IS HALIFAX, so we grabbed Joseph and set out into the snowy wasteland in order to re-enact the Battle of the Arnhem with snowballs. Since everyone who took part in WWII is now dead (or this text is too small for them to read) I’m going to hope you don’t find that too offensive. I mean – seriously – can you imagine what it must be like being German and learning about the war in a German history class? It would be as painstakingly embarrassing and torturous as being taught sex-ed in graphic detail by Anne Widdicombe’s grandmother.
We did what?
Anyway, arbitrary historical notes (like learning from our mistakes) aside, I don’t believe in blaming people for the sins of their fathers, so I was willing to let the Germans win on this occasion. After all, I throw like a ginger kid, there were two of them and one of them was rather fetching. Patricia wasn’t bad, either.
Anyways, these shenanigans did not really help to dispel the FACT that Halifax is quite dull. The Fortress was quite dull (if Bowser had been floating above it in a big clown-faced hot-air balloon throwing Mecha-Koopas down on our heads, it would have improved matters somewhat) and Pier 21 – where all the immigrants entered the country – was so dull it was closed.
Now I’m not just bitter because I DIDN’T STAY IN NEW YORK, but I’m really beginning to wish I HAD STAYED IN NEW YORK. Oh well.
That night I went for a swift half with Toby, the Antipodean Chef and retired to my Dorm embarrassingly early in the hope that somebody had sent me some exciting email news. Nah – the only thing of note was that Hapag-Lloyd, like ACL, had turned down our request to let me on board, citing company policy and other such balderdash. Shame on you both, you’ll get no hugs or jelly beans from me.
Today began as yesterday ended with some email news, but this time it was GOOD internet news, news that made me do a little dance – Eimskip (the greatest cargo freighter company IN THE WORLD) has said that I can hitch on their boat to Iceland that gets in next Tuesday. Wooooooooo!
Although that does mean I have to endure a whole WEEK in Halifax. Boooooooo!
With Patricia leaving on a train (she’s planning to go over the Niagara Falls in a barrel) and Toby moving into a house with his Kiwi girlfriend, the old Halifax Backpackers was beginning to look emptier than Paris Hilton’s noggin after a particularly virulent dose of Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis has turned the stupid cow’s brain to mush and then dribbled like soggy playdoh out of her ears.
Luckily, it was a case of COUCHSURFING TO THE RESCUE as a lovely chap called James (CouchSurf ambassador for Halifax, no less!) swooped down from above and plonked me down in front of the telly with his two teenage sons just in time to watch Lost. Huzzah!
I’d like to say today past in a drunken blur, but it was more of just a blur. I slept in far too much. James’s house is proper solid Canadian fare – situated right beside a huge frozen lake and surrounded by trees, but it’s miles from anywhere – so it kind of forces me to GET ON WITH EDITING MY PODCASTS. Although, you and I both know that procrastination is my special X-men like power, so you can probably guess how much I actually got done. Sorry, Dino.
Anyways, it looks like I should be in Liverpool for 19th April, so that should be a good night out followed by a crazy 24 hour tour of the UK the day after, so make sure you’re there.
That night I went for a few drinks in the Elephant and Castle (yes there is one here too) and watched a few bands with James and a couple of his mates. Funnily enough, a load of people there were at the house party earlier in the week. Halifax is a rather small, albeit frozen, pond.
You really have no idea how itchy my feet become when confronted with a few days of inactivity – I feel like learning to Riverdance, just to give the damn things something to do.
So I wasted today like a typical arts student waiting for Countdown to start but luckily for me (and just like a typical arts student), I managed to get about ten minutes of work done before somebody (James) suggested we go out boozing.
SO…out we went to the – by now – painfully generic Irish bar, where I was grilled by a lawyer that didn’t believe that, a) there was such a thing as the Chinese Sky Train and, b) I was visiting every country in the world this year. Point a) was proven by skipping onto the internet via a friend’s Blackberry, point b) was a little more difficult to prove. Now you all know that I admire a certain amount of open-mindedness (i.e. NOT believing EVERYTHING some drunk tells you in a pub, GIRLS…I’M LOOKING AT YOU), but she really didn’t have to make me list the name of every country I was going to and explain how I was getting into said country.
But I did anyway and she was mighty impressed. I, on the other hand, was mighty croaky and needed another drink. Although I guess it is proof, if proof were needed, that I KNOW WHAT I’M DOING. It’s only when the DAMN U.S. government lure me into piddle traps of bureaucratic infestitude that this whole Odyssey thing goes off the rails for a few weeks. I SHOULD BE IN AFRICA BY NOW. ARRRRRRRGH!!!
By the way, NOT believing EVERYTHING some drunk tells you in a pub is NOT THE SAME as being closed minded. OK? It’s being sensible. It’s like saying that if you bother to look both ways before you cross the road, you’re being closed minded. If something sounds really silly and utterly illogical, it’s probably because IT’S JUST MADE-UP, YOU MORON. Just because the moron spouting this horse manure believes his own fairy story, it doesn’t mean you have to. The default position next time someone begins banging on some claptrap about Princess Diana being assassinated or Neil and Buzz not landing on the Moon, is to not believe a thing until you have personally looked at the evidence, okay?
However, girls (and it’s usually always girls) aren’t built that way and continue to labour under the misapprehension that men (and it’s usually always men) have the ability to talk to the dead (who never tell us anything useful), magically see the future (but didn’t see September 11th coming) and can determine what’s going to happen to your share portfolio and your love life this week by looking at the night sky, even when it’s really cloudy or the city lights make it impossible to see anything of a lower magnitude than Formulhaut.
In fact, I’d be surprised if any of those bloody zodiac cretins had even heard of Formulhaut, much less point it out to anyone who blah blah blah… WHOOP WHOOP TANGENT ALERT!!
Sorry about that, back to the main feature……..
The weird thing is that before I visited Canada, I assumed it was full of beardy blokes who look like Matt Eland in a plaid shirt and cute dark haired girls who look like Debbie Fineberg only wearing more layers… AND THEY DO!
Nasty ethnic stereotypes, AHOY! Next thing you know, I’ll be in the Middle East assuming every male in the vicinity has a beard and a rather incurable case of arrested development. But I’ve been there before, so THAT WOULD BE CHEATING.
Anyway, back from the pub now, it’s as stormy as the backdrop to a Hammer Horror movie outside, but luckily for you, I’m sufficiently lubricated to sit here and write this pretentious horse twaddle. Bear in mind that I’m just trying to make you laugh because I hear that girls like a bloke with a sense of humour, although I personally think they prefer a bloke that just makes up random stuff and throws it at them in the style of a monkey in the zoo pelting somebody’s grandmother with his poo.
Talking of horses, it’s the Grand National tomorrow. I’m voting for ‘Priest’s Leap’ and ‘Fundamentalist’. I have no idea why they appeal, they just do, okay.
Still in Halifax, then. It’s not worth my while heading back into America to get on another boat as none of them go to Iceland, and I don’t want to waste another week or so getting there and back. James was out in the morning playing rugby, but in the afternoon he came back and dropped me off at the Backpackers. He would have let me stay at his place longer, but I felt it would be rude to intrude for more than three nights. And besides, I’d get to see more of Halifax from the Backpackers than I would from his place in Waverley.
But we made arrangements to go out on a short tour of Nova Scotia tomorrow, so this isn’t the last we will hear of James.
That night, there was a short-film festival going on over the road from the Backpackers, so after playing a few rounds of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon with Aiden the Northern Irish bartender in our place, I headed on over. I’ve got to say that most of the films where remarkably good. Really, really good. Okay, so there were a couple of rubbish ones involving crap black and white quirkyness, but on the whole, I was blown away by the quality and craftsmanship that had gone into these things.
After a few drinks, I met up with Travis from the Backpackers and we ended up going on a bit of an adventure around Halifax town, which culminated in me falling into the Backpackers at some ungodly hour and falling fast asleep. GOOD NIGHT HAD BY ALL THEN!
Today I met up with James and we headed out with Rocky the dog, to visit (wait for it, wait for it) LIVERPOOL! Not Liverpool Liverpool, but Liverpool, Nova Scotia. On the way, we stopped at Peggy’s Cove, a picture-postcard, fishing village complete with lighthouse and waves crashing against rocks. There, I picked a lobster from a tank, named him Oscar (James’ suggestion) and got the restaurant to throw him in a big pot full of boiling water for my sadistic pleasure. I then cried like Homer Simpson EATING PINCHY while cracking open the tasty bugger and stuffing him into my chops, accompanied by copious amounts of garlic butter and mashed potato. YUM!
We then continued on to Da ‘Pool, only to find a remarkably pleasant little town by the sea. The houses were all old and made of wood, there were little cafés and giftshops… I would have named it after Llandudno or Colwyn Bay, but it’s called Liverpool and that’s the end of it. A thousand times better than Liverpool on the outskirts of Syndey Australia. That place really sucked.
As well as looking like Brian Blessed, James is a member of Engineers Without Borders, an international organisation much in the mould of Medicines Sans Frontiers. This fits in very well with the charity that I’m doing The Odyssey for – WaterAid – as there are a painful number of gob-smackingly corrupt governments around the world who think that building nuclear weapons and sending their children to Oxford University is somehow more important than building decent sewers for the people. What the world needs is modern Joseph Bazelgettes, because if you don’t have proper sewers half your population are going to DIE before the age of five through water-borne diseases.
Anyway, James is a huge fan of the Burning Man Festival, which is pretty much Glastonbury in the desert – and while I doubt I’ll be returning to Halifax in a desperate hurry, the words ‘Glastonbury’ and ‘Desert’ are bound to make my ears prick up like the over-excited puppy that I am. So I’ve promised James that I’ll meet him again at Burning Man 2010, and anyone who wishes to join me is very welcome to tag along.
James dropped me back at the Backpackers on Gottingen Street and I tried to entice Seppe, the German guy with the large hole in his earlobe, to come out on the sauce with me. Seppe, like myself, is waiting for a boat to take him over the Atlantic (actually, to Cuba first, then Naples) but it’s been delayed for ages and now he’s suck in Halifax for at least another week. But I can sympathise, my boat was supposed to get in today, but it’s been delayed until Wednesday. So I’ve got even longer to waste in Halifax.
I’ve got about 265 days left to get to 157 more countries. I really shouldn’t be spending 9 days in somewhere like Halifax. Why on Earth didn’t I stay in New York?!!
Okay, so Halifax may not be the Big Apple, but it is a lovely place:
Today I went for a walk around the city, but it was still a bit rubbish. Although now the snow has all melted, it wasn’t even covered in white fluffy stuff to make it at least a little bit more interesting. There are a few noteworthy buildings that look really awesome, but the centre consists of a nasty, nasty concrete stadium thing, and a couple of really nasty concrete shopping malls. I see the 1960s and 70s were as unfriendly to the good town of Halifax as they were to every city in the UK.
Quite why anyone still thinks it’s a good idea to make buildings out of solidified porridge, asbestos, MRSA and legionnaires disease is beyond me.
That night I headed over to the open mic night again and got to listen to some really great music. But then somebody handed me a Rubik’s Cube and I embarrassingly went into my Obsessive Puzzle Solving mode. I was a little drunk so it took me AGES to complete and once I did, anyone left to impress with my Rain-Man style qualities had left. Oh well.
Then a guy came on stage with a guitar, played a half-decent song and then proceeded to blow through a French Horn for ten minutes. It wasn’t like he knew how to play the French Horn or even bothered to operate the valves. So we were treated to a long discordant fart, which went on for longer than even a jaded Radiohead fan would find sufficient.
Me being the impatient heckler critic of doom (and being sufficiently lubricated with Halifax’s finest ales) decided that the hook should come on stage and drag this guy off. What I didn’t realise was that this was not an episode of X-Factor or even a knobbly-knees competition at Pontins. By saying anything, I incurred the ire of Aaron, a pleasant-enough guy, but one that (despite claiming to be an Anarchist) thought he would take up the Authoritarian mantle and tell me off – much in keeping with a teacher telling me off in school for shining the sun into his eyes with my watch.
In hindsight, perhaps I was I little rude and maybe there was some artistic merit in having a guy fart in my general direction for ten minutes, but as I haven’t got an artistic or musical bone in my body if you really want to annoy me the best thing to do is something artistically or musically that I could do myself without any practice and then expect me to be impressed. Same goes with architecture. I know it’s tough love, but there you go; Canada’s music scene is embarrassingly unknown outside Canada. Their roster of international break-out singers consists of Bryan Adams, Avril Latrine, Alanis Morrissette and Celine Frickin’-Dion. Put short, they need all the help (ie. friendly criticism) they can get.
Although Leonard Cohen and Arcade Fire rock my world, so that’s one up on New Zealand, South Africa and France.
After spending the day trying (and failing) to get a video edited before I left Halifax, it was with great relief that I got to speak to Mandy on Skype to wish her Happy Birthday.
It’s killing me that I won’t see her for at least another nine months. But let’s not dwell on that subject any longer than necessary.
Justin, a guy from Queenstown (Bungeeeeeeee!) New Zealand, has just moved into our dorm, so I took him under my wing (having been here eight days, I’m an old hand at this now) and we headed up the road for a couple of games of pool. Once there, we got talking to pretty much everybody who was there, including some Canadian girls who thought I reminded them of pretty much every celebrity funnyman from the UK who I dislike immensely. Fortunately, they actually liked said celebrity funnymen so I was able to ride on their ill-gotten celebrity status and pretend that I was just as irritating and obtuse. Which I am. So a couple of drinks turned into a couple more and before I knew it, I was being bundled into the back of a taxi and being driven halfway across town to another bar with a later license.
But I’ve got to be up at 9am to meet the guys from the boat, I whined. Or maybe I didn’t. Who knows? All I know is that Justin and I ended up in some place in Halifax that had a live band doing covers (I think) and that somebody must have been buying me drinks because I have no recollection of getting back to the hostel or going to bed. All in all, a pretty good last night all things considered.