Home Sweet Home.

Well, it’s over. 45 days wandering the American landscape in search of…well, nothing really. But that’s travel right? You go to a place, spend some time wandering around, look at the tourist attractions and then come home. And somehow it always pretty incredible.

To Family and Friends: Thanks for checking out the blog and adding comments to some of my posts. I set out hoping to get a thousand views and was amazed when I saw that counter break 2,000. Thanks again!

For now, I’m just going to relax and figure out what I’m doing next. Who knows, maybe I’ll do a Canadian version of this next summer. Until then, thanks for reading.

-Fraser

Published in: on July 23, 2010 at 8:19 pm  Comments (1)  

One More Quick Post Praising Train Travel

On the way back to Calgary from Boston, we had to stop in Toronto to board another plane. We got off our original flight, walked to customs where Airport Personnel checked our documents, went down an escalator to pick up our luggage, waited in a line that curved around the baggage carousels to have another Airport employee take our Declaration paper, went up an elevator, left our luggage on the Connections conveyor belt, waited in another line to go through security again (for the third time that day), made it to our gate and boarded the next plane immediately. Flying: the most convoluted way to travel.

Published in: on July 22, 2010 at 7:25 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bahstun

While Boston is the site of plenty of beginnings, there were plenty of endings there for me. My last train trip. My last night in a hostel. My last day in The States for the time being. Everything was coming to a close.
My first couple of nights there I spent in one of the residences of Boston University, sharing a room with two Brits–John and Robert–who had rented a car in California and driven all the way to the East Coast. They recommended that I check out the Freedom Trail because it was a good, cheap way to see the city although they warned me that it was a lot of walking and would take most of the day. When I woke up the next morning they had already left to go on their way to New York.
My Dad arrived the next day and we bought a Boston CityPass, which let’s you see five attractions for the price of two. We went to the top of the Prudential building to get a wonderful view of the city and had a quick couple of beers and some Kobe hot dog sliders (best way to make a good hot dog: olive oil toasted buns). We decided that we’d go check out a comedy club close to our hotel, but along the way it started pouring so we stopped in a hotel bar for some more beers. And then we had a pitcher of beer at the restaurant/comedy club, and before going to bed we stopped in our hotel bar for another quick drink. It was a nice little pub crawl.
The next couple of days were filled with activities. We went to the Boston Aquarium to check out the penguins and incredible four-story water tank. Then it was off to the Museum of Science, which was arguably the best one I had been to on the trip. On display were the drawings of M.C. Escher, while the name didn’t mean much to me, I immediately recognized his playful perspective drawings that presented to the mind impossible images such as a chessboard with pieces above and below it. Great stuff.
That night we went to Fenway Park for a Red Sox game that was absolutely incredible. It was the third of four games against Texas, and the Sox had been destroyed in the last two. They managed to squeeze out a run in the first inning, and that lead held up until five innings later when Texas scored twice. At the bottom of the ninth, the Sox were still down, but through some careful strategy and well-timed hits they managed to tie it up. And then in the eleventh inning The Sox’s Youkilis sent up a soaring ball that sealed the win. It was wild.
We spent some time with friends on the Boston Harbour, went to the Museum of Fine Arts, and capped the trip off with a visit to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum. Some sections of it were designed to look like the White House, complete with life-size replicas of the Attorney General’s and Oval Office. Interesting fact: while campaigning, Kennedy visited 277 cities in ten weeks. I doubt that was by train.
Our last night there, we ate at the Legal Seafoods restaurant, which has the honor of being the chosen clam chowder of Presidential Inaugurations since 1981, and serves appetizers that are equivalent to meals (a large bowl of about thirty popcorn shrimp and a whole potato is an example). It was a good way to end the trip: Boston seafood and traditional American portions.

Published in: on July 22, 2010 at 5:21 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Freedom Trail

I think one of the most hated subjects for students in school is history. The common complaint is that it’s boring, despite the fact that it’s subject matter revolves around political backstabbing, bloody battles, and the cruelest and most vile things human beings can do to one another. The only problem is that it’s generally presented in the driest way possible because that’s the most efficient way to cram in as many dates, facts, and events as you can during a school year. Now, this process strips the content of most of it’s magnetism and makes it dull, which leads to the (what I assume is irritating) question: “Why do we have to learn this?” Little secret: you don’t. But if you investigate on your own, it can be a lot of fun to know.
The main tourist attraction of Boston is called the Freedom Trail, and it puts in a measure of fun while walking around and looking at the sights. It’s a red cobblestone path (sometimes just red paint on the cement roads) that snakes through downtown and leads you to some of the historical buildings and places in the city. It essentially turns Boston into a giant scavenger hunt and makes the whole process of touring the place a bit more interactive and interesting (especially when you get off track and have to find the trail again). It’s the perfect way to see the history of the city, because even if you find the history boring, following the path won’t be.

Published in: on July 20, 2010 at 2:15 am  Leave a Comment  

New York: Then and Now

The last time I was in New York it was in the middle of winter. I liked it, but I told myself I would never want to live there. People rushing from street to street, gridlocked cars constantly honking their horns, a maze of endless gray skyscrapers; to me, it felt like a city without a soul. I thought it was a cold place. But that might’ve just been the weather.
Visiting the city for a second time I came away with a new opinion: New York is a pretty great place. And I think I realized this while wandering through the Times Square Toys ‘R Us. Where else can you find a running Ferris wheel inside a toy store that stocks every product imaginable including superhero action figures, remote-controlled helicopters, and an entire section devoted to Jurassic Park with a life-size animatronic tyrannosaurus Rex? Exactly.
Not only that, but New York always has something going on. There’s probably eight different comedy clubs with shows every night. There’s Broadway (which is fun, despite minor criticisms). There’s the free Shakespeare in Central Park performances (this year they had Al Pacino in the Merchant of Venice…unfortunately I found out when it was too late), book readings, festivals, conferences, etc. It’s one of the few cities where if you complain that you’re bored you deserve a slap in the face.
A slight aside: hotel rooms are hilarious in NY. I booked one for myself and Angie for four nights about three blocks away from Times Square and it was about the size of a closet (not that it was a bad thing, just humorous). Basically I opened the door and it just barely misses the foot of the double bed, which pushed up against the north wall and leaves only about a foot of room by the east wall to squeeze through. While walking through to get to the bed you’ll brush up against the wall-mounted flat screen tv, which you adjust according to one principle: if you need to use the washroom. Now, the bathroom was of normal human size although the shower had the interesting characteristic of losing pressure when you turned the heat up, so you could either have a cold strong spray or a warm dribble. It was like the Sophie’s Choice of bathing. Nonetheless, the hotel room was comfortable when navigated correctly and as every traveler inevitably mentions at least some point in their lives, it’s not like you’re going to be staying in the room all day (a statement which has often been challenged by the children of traveling families, though to my knowledge has never been successful, except in the case of John and Yoko).
So what made me like NY more than I did on my previous visit? I don’t know. It could have been the warm weather, the hordes of tourists (we all give tourists a lot of flack but honestly, doesn’t your heart melt a little when you see one doing the peace symbol for a picture? It’s absolutely adorable.), or a newfound appreciation for the city after having been to eight others. Whatever the reason, I liked it. But I may have to visit once again in the wintertime to be completely sure.

I was in New York. The streets made me feel brand-new. Next up, Boston.

Published in: on July 19, 2010 at 2:32 am  Comments (2)  

Taste Test: Garlic Knots, JG Melon’s, and Doughnut Plant

Like New Orleans, New York City is filled with great food. From the street stands that sell roasted nuts, hot dogs, and pretzels to the upscale restaurants that sell wood-grilled salmon or filet mignon, there is something for everyone.
New York is pretty well-known for it’s pizza (because it’s delicious), but less well-known for the neglected sibling of the cheese-and-dough staple: garlic knots. Garlic is a pretty common standby for pizzerias–just look at garlic fingers in Nova Scotia–so while it’s not a new concept it doesn’t matter because they’re so delicious and surprisingly (for New York), cheap. Two garlic knots will set you back only a dollar, and believe me, it’s worth it. Basically two palm-sized balls of dough bursting with garlic and salt, these little creations are served with marinara sauce and after eating one you just want to hold your fingers together, put on a fake Italian accent and say “Magnifico.”
Delicious.
Hamburgers are one of the staples of my diet, so naturally, I’m always on the search for the elusive “perfect” burger. JG Melon’s is a restaurant known for it’s excellent burgers. In fact, how I heard about the restaurant was through watching a food network special about celebrity chefs and their favorite spots for the classic dish. JG Melon’s was Bobby Flay’s choice for the best burger in America, so naturally I had to at least check it out.
It was a decent burger with melted cheese, onions, and pickles, but overall I wasn’t overly impressed. To me, it didn’t seem much larger than a quarter-pounder at McDonald’s, and it cost $10 without any sides. I’m sorry, but if you are in the burger business, always include the fries with the burger even if it makes it $15 (which it ended up being). Skimping on the sides is never a good sign. The cheeseburgers at JG Melon’s are cooked on a griddle to keep their flavor, and if I remember correctly, they put the cheese on and then steam it until it melts. Perhaps my problem with it is that I asked for it well-done (the thought of eating a red, undercooked burger just makes me nauseous) and maybe that changed my experience from one of “You have to try a JG Melon burger” to one of: “Eh, it’s just a regular burger.”
Finally, as requested I looked for a famous NY doughnut shop, and though I’m not sure if it’s the right one, when I searched best doughnut shops in NY, Doughnut Plant always came up. And let me tell you, it was an adventure finding it. I took the metro down to Grand Avenue and was deep in the heart of Chinatown when it started pouring. Big, relentless drops of rain drenched the streets and I stood beneath an awning with several others to escape it. While waiting for the storm to subside, I entered a Chinese restaurant to eat some lunch. Quick tip for the traveler who doesn’t want to spend a fortune in NY: eat in Chinatown. The lunch special was five items plus a cup of soup (broth, really) for a total of $4, or $4.50 if you were sticking around the restaurant. Incredible. Granted, some of the food I didn’t recognize, and because I was nervous about inadvertently eating a dog or cat (or the whole fried fish with eyes and scales still intact), I stuck to the familiar items: spring roll, fried rice, sweet and sour chicken, chow mien, and French fries (please, no hate mail about the French fries until you’ve actually been to this place and seen some of the strange-smelling and looking dishes that are offered). Funny story, I walked down the street and found another restaurant with a better deal: $3.75 take-out, $4.00 eat-in.
Eventually, I got tired of sticking around so I walked through the rain and got appropriately drenched. Doughnut Plant offers some unique flavors like carrot cake pastries and blueberry flavored ones. Of course, I tried neither. Instead I got the “tres leches” doughnut, of which I had no idea what that meant and for some reason the name made me think it was leech flavored (it actually means three milks, whatever that means). The thing that really surprised me about the doughnut was it’s weight. The thing actually had some heft to it. I’m used to Tim Horton’s doughnuts, the ones that feel like air with icing on top, but this felt like it might’ve weighed half a pound. Anyway, it was delicious. There was custard or cream in the middle that was absolutely fantastic, and this is coming from a doughnut eater who usually avoids the ones that are filled with such things. Overall, I’d recommend it. Definitely worth the trek (and it was also nice that there was no line-up because of the rain).

So there you have it, three foods from NY.

Published in: on July 16, 2010 at 10:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Little Differences

I like to think that when I travel, I blend in with the local population. How I rationalize this is through my reliance on, and usage of, the different forms of public transit in the city I am visiting. I always sit on the bus or subway with a smug smirk on my face, thinking to myself: “Other tourists wouldn’t do this, they’d take a taxi or something, but not me. When I travel, I see the real city, yeah, I’m a REAL traveler.”
It also probably doesn’t help my holier-than-thou-tourists ego when people approach me for directions. It happened when I was taking the subway in L.A. at the beginning of the summer and another tourist asked if he was already at the Hollywood stop. Knowing the route, I told the man that it wasn’t for another three stops and then turned to Angie with a big shit-eating grin on my face that said: “They think I’m from here, ha.” Needless to say, it’s irritating for those with me.
At the same point that public transit inflates my tourist-superiority complex, it has also revealed on several occasions that I have no idea what I am doing.
Each city I’ve been in always seems to have a different rule for public transit.
In Memphis, I got off the bus at a stop where you have to pay an extra 75 cents to get on and off. The bus driver yelled at me to get back on the bus and pay the toll.
In Pittsburgh, I held the exact change for the bus in my palm, ready to put it in the machine, but when I stepped on the bus driver covered it with his hand. You pay for the bus when you get off it, not when you get on it.
In Philadelphia, they use a token system for the metro. I accidentally went on the subway that was going in the wrong direction, and because there are no free transfers in Philly, I had to exit the station, walk up the stairs, cross the street, walk down into the other side of the station and pay again.
In Washington and New York, they use a swipe card system for the metro, though in Washington you have to swipe to get in and get out.
In practically every city, these little differences trip me up. Sigh.

Published in: on July 14, 2010 at 7:18 pm  Comments (3)  

Wanted: A Creative Partner to Write a Broadway Musical (Should Only Take a Week)

Ah, Broadway. One of the few places in the world where you can regurgitate old creative material to critical and international acclaim. I’m always perplexed when I hear about the latest Broadway smash-hit and discover that it essentially boils down to top-tier actors performing the greatest hits compilation of a musical supergroup with a very loose plot to connect the songs. And somehow these shows make millions of dollars. I’d just like to take you through a quick stroll of some of the musicals currently on Broadway:
Mamma Mia (Based on the hit music of ABBA)
Jersey Boys (Based on the hit music of The Four Seasons)
Million Dollar Quartet (Based on the hit music of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis)
Promises, Promises (Based on hit music by Burt Bacharach with a story adapted from the hit 1960s film “The Apartment”—basically whoever wrote this didn’t have to do anything except cut and paste these elements together)
Rock the Ages (Based on any hit from an 80s band that you can think of!)

I’m sure there’s plenty more, but I think I’ve made my point.

Now, I don’t want to disparage Broadway entirely. I saw Chicago with Angie, and to the best of my knowledge it wasn’t based entirely around musical hits (aside from the song All that Jazz) and was actually created with an original story and compositions. There’s a lot of other “original” musicals out there (I use the term “original” based on a musical that uses new songs specifically composed for it, not a “musical” that cobbles together old songs from rock/pop groups)—Rent, The Phantom of the Opera, Avenue Q, Wicked, Les Miserables, etc. (Again, my knowledge of musicals is rather limited so I may be incorrect in deeming these “original,” please feel free to comment and point out my errors, call me stupid, etc.) So yes, there are some quite talented folks working on Broadway. But you don’t have to be.

Which is why I’m asking for any interested parties to contact me for a week-long writing session of what will no doubt be the next smash-hit of Broadway: The As-of-Yet-Untitled Musical based on the hit songs of Styx.
Supplies we will require:
At least 48 bottles of beer per person.
The Greatest Hits collection of Styx (set on repeat).
The Lesser Known Songs collection of Styx (set on repeat after the Greatest Hits).
12 sharpened pencils.
A 150-page bundle of paper (17 pages for our actual Broadway script, 133 for doodles and brainstorming).
$500 worth of junk food.
A DVD player to watch high-grossing formulaic films evenly spread across three categories: coming-of-age, melodramas, and love stories, the best ideas of which we will copy and shoehorn into our script.
And an unbridled enthusiasm and belief that we are writing like, “one of the greatest works of art known to man.”

Apply now.
And if it doesn’t work on Broadway…at least we wrote an episode of “Glee.”

Published in: on July 14, 2010 at 6:15 pm  Comments (3)  

A Black New Yorker’s Interpretation of Sandra Bullock’s Oscar-Winning Performance in The Blind Side

While Angie and I were walking from Central Park a man behind us was talking loudly on his cellphone about a movie that Sandra Bullock is in. At first, it sounded like he had some insider info about a new film she was shooting in New York but then…

Man on Phone (yelling):….and she plays this uppity, self-righteous, white f****** **** (censored for the younger readers) who takes in a poor, underprivileged black kid—what? Like she couldn’t have taken in a kid of her own colour? You spend half the movie wishing she’d get hit by a double-decker bus…

We didn’t hear the rest of his criticisms because we stopped in a Starbucks to burst out laughing.

Published in: on July 13, 2010 at 3:33 am  Leave a Comment  

Philadelphia Ghost Flatulence

If you walk around the historic district of Philadelphia during the summer I can guarantee that you will experience this phenomenon. It happened to me several times and I have no explanation for it, besides supernatural ones.
This is how it goes: I’ll be having a pleasant stroll down the cobbled streets of old Philly, enjoying the sun and the sights, when suddenly, a hot, pungent smell hits my nose. It’s like raw sewage overflowing from the drainpipes mixed with overturned garbage baskets filled with rotten eggs and likely spoiled fish. I’ll cringe my nose in disgust, and then by the next breath the scent is gone. The air is fresh and clean again. I’ll look around, see no sewage anywhere, no overflowing garbage cans, and wonder what just happened.
What frightens me the most is that it’s a contained odor. Most smells have their concentration radiuses (my invented scientific term) where you begin the stench with it’s least concentrated dosage until you get closer to the source, where it is the most concentrated. This is similar to the Doppler effect (real scientific term) as it relates to sound. But with Philadelphia Ghost Flatulence, no concentration radius exists. There’s no warning. It comes at you like a shotgun blast of stink. I thank the gods everyday that I didn’t experience it with my mouth open.

Published in: on July 12, 2010 at 9:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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