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Niagara Falls

So On Thursday I made my way to Toronto bus station for a day trip to Niagara falls with Coach Canada (Stagecoach). This was uneventful until we actually arrived where sadly unlike at Iguazu and the Terracotta Warriors they didn’t explain where to go when we got off the public bus – even though they earn more here, there are more tourists on the bus and they speak English natively its sad when they can’t meet the standards set by the developing world.

Now the bad news. Lady Roosevelt was right when she saw the Iguazu falls to say “Poor Niagara” – it is better.

However Niagara falls is still pretty damn good and actually you seem to get wetter than Iguazu anyway as you get closer to the bottom. It also generates huge amounts of spray. So much so that at times you feel you’re experiencing “Shanghai mist” :p. Anyhow I paid C$40 for the whole attraction which included going behind the falls on the boat up to the falls on the river, walking along a set of rapids and an attraction that explained the tour. That wasn’t particularly good though the former three attractions were all great.

One amusing thing I saw in the main vistors centre was a Beijing 2008 photo of the Great (really it should be translated as Long) Wall and an unlabelled photo from above of Iguazu.

After that I got the bus back up toward the falls and headed across to the US to see the falls from that side. Sadly that cost US$6 which is essentially a visa charge but otherwise the border staff seemed to be nice.

On the other side I just wandered along the shore and the view was pretty damn good from the American side as well and there was less spray. The attractions also looked better on that side though fairly similar to the Canadian ones.

Toronto part 2

So after leaving the Royal Ontario museum I had a pizza for supper followed by watching the movie 9 a bit later. The next day I wasn’t feeling 100% so I had a lie in before heading out to see some more tourist attractions. First I headed to Casa Loma which is Spanish for house on the hill, this is a big castle built by Sir blah who at one time was Toronto’s richest citizen who owned 25% of the whole of Canada. Anyhow he built this slightly tasteless but actually pretty attractive house on the hill with some nice gardens too. I even managed to have a breakfast bagel there. The main disappointment was that the interior wasn’t as lavish as I’d imagined it should be. Peterhof makes it look like a house for paupers – but even the average English country house does the same thing so that was a little disappointing.

After that I took the subway back to the centre of town, had lunch and then went over to the Ortario art gallery.

There initially I took a guided tour of their contemporary collection which includes a piece called “The Index” on the ground floor which is a bit random. Then upstairs there were some pieces of 1960′s and 1970′s art including a piece showing Americans killing and disagreeing strongly with each other as they were in the 1960′s. I believe this even led to students getting killed though i’m not sure of the numbers. The most interesting thing about that piece was that although all of the adults were covered in blood the children weren’t – you definitely had to stop and think about it which is great to see in art. The tour was great at showing the meaning of the pieces witout doing so. It was more like it gave you the ability to think them through on your own. The other thing that was very funny was a piece talking about the “advantages” of being a female artist – like being able to hold down 4 freelance jobs to escape the art world. It was funny but sadly reflects a lack of eqality that still seems to be true today. On my tour of the contemporary section we missed the room out :p.

After that I had dinner at the gallery which was expensive but tasty, I had satanist Froi Grau followed by british Columbian salmon. Good food for once! After that I headed to do a bit of clothes shopping at GAP (just like England :p – fortunately they seemed to sell more trousers made properly (i.e. those that have entered the latter half of the 20th century and have zips in the crotch.) than their English stores this season. After that I caught the Subway over to a nightlife district where I went to Tranzac a local Toronto club (obviously with links to Australia and New Zealand). There I saw some OK local bands and Keven Quain who was also a local artist but he was pretty good.

Tomorrow I’m off to Niagra falls!

Toronto

For starters the advertising isn’t true. Most Torontians don’t in fact appear almost as cold as Coors Beer. That said I was highlighted of this fact when I got on the public bus from the airport which wasn’t exactly a great first impression of the city. Anyhow after catching the express bus and then the surprisingly slow metro system followed by the streetcar I arrived at my hostel just a stones throw away from the CN tower right in the heart of the city. There I got some lunch and had a relaxing afternoon before meeting some friends in a local bar.

We attempted to meet in a bar in Kensington Market which is part of Chinatown – just north of my hostel on the streetcar line. The streetcar is kinda like a metro line except that it runs down the centre of the street. It works well and they run every few seconds. After getting there I found it was closed. I also found that my friends hadn’t shown and hadn’t managed to get a text through to me due to network issues – I can’t believe these still occur in 2009!

Instead we went to another bar where I had a not very authentic Thai food I’ve ever eaten. It was a Pad Thai that was spicy and we didn’t get the traditional spoon and fork to eat it but got chopsticks instead! Points for trying with the chopsticks though.

The next day I thought I should head over to the CN tower. Toronto’s biggest tourist attraction which is apparently the tallest building in the world. Anyhow after getting my ticket from the bewildering selection of available tickets (I felt I was being scammed a bit – not something I’m used to in the developed world.) and got access to the viewing deck as well as a movie on the construction of the tower. I went up the viewing deck which offered good views of the city though unfortunately it was misty in the distance – just loke Shanghai though they assure me it wasn’t pollution.

Apart from that there is a glass floor which shows the several hundred metres of the tower sloping away from you below which was pretty cool. After all this I went back down ad watched the film. Unfortunately it started a bit like Petronas’ promotional 3D movie at the Petronas towers in Malaysia though it definitely improved towards the end and it was worth the C$5 to see it.

After that I headed over to the neighouring Union station which has some pretty cool architecture before walking up Younge street the main street in Toronto and apparently the worlds longest street. Younge street is quite interesting especially as quite a few of the newer buildings are built over the top of the old ones and I have quite a few photos of that.

Eventually I made it to the mall with tourist information in it where I investigated going to Niagra falls by public transport, the choice is to go with First or Stagecoach. So it’s a big decision. Stagecoach in this case are more expensive but more frequent – capitalism at it’s finest. I’ll let you know the thrilling results of that on Thursday. There we had a very long discussion about how wet you get at the waterfall as they don’t provide sacks to put your posessions in like the Argentinians did.

Afte that I heade to the Royal Museum of Ontario which was amesome. There they had the Dead Sea scrolls which were awesome and really interesting to see. They also had the largest collection of Chinese art I’ve seen outside the country which was also really worth seeing. It’s amazing how early the Chinese developed some technologies like guns, gunpowder and pottery. Other than that there were some more great exhibits which I looked at until closing time.

Quebec City

On Sunday I headed over to Quebec city on a coach tour. The journey there was uneventful. When we arrived in Quebec we went on a walking tour with a local guide which was OK and he gave out some good information but he also couldn’t stop talking about the shopping opportunites which apparently only included products made in Canada. There was also a mug marked with Not Made in China – funnily enough it cost $17 which only makes the case for buying stuff from China stronger as if it was Chinese it’d only cost $1. It would have been even more amusing if it was just made in Vietnam or something instead ;).

Other than that Quebec City was very nice and European. It has a great hotel in the centre which has a gorgeous copper roof. There were also a nice (and popular which is why picked it.) restaurant on the square where I had a great quiche. After lunch I headed over to the local Catholic and Protestant churches they were both good but the Catholic one didn’t have all it’s signs in English as well as French. I understand the sentiment but in 2009 it is pretty lame for a 1st world country -e especially when the Chinese major museums all have English signage. In fact the other day I was watching the BBC covering the new Chinese oil well in Iraq and they were saying they didn’t employ local Iraqis because they didn’t speak a certain language – and it wasn’t Mandarin ;).

After that I wandered the streets some more and headed over to the citidel which was good and similar to the one I saw in Nova Scotia but bigger. Unfortunately there wasn’t the time to take a look inside. After that I returned to the bus and Montréal.

The next morning I headed to the airport to go to Toronto. This time instead of the airbus I used the standard public transport system which got me there in 40 minutes which wasn’t bad at all. The only disadvantage was that there were two changes instead of one but it worked well.

Montréal

I flew into Montreal on Tuesday afternoon before making my way downtown to my hostel. My journey downtown was uneventful and I got left at the bus station which is conveniently located over the main metro station Berri Uqam. There I got my weeks metro pass and headed to my hostel. The Montréal metro is pretty good with frequent trains and (at many stations) has signs telling you when the next train is coming.

On my first day in Montréal I though I should suss out the city and I was worried I wouldn’t find enough to do in the 5 days I was spending in the city. So first thing I headed to the tourist information office. There I booked a tour run by Stagecoach to see the Laurentian mountains. After that I headed down to Vieux-Montreal which is the old part of the city. There I had lunch before trying to find the Notre Dame church which I then failed to find quickly as I tried to navigate to the church by the sun. Unfortunately the grid isn’t actually north/south but at an angle of 45 degrees and coupled with me being unsure of the sun time (many countries put themselves in the “wrong” timezone to get permanent daylight savings time or for administrative purposes – for example China is all one timezone and Spain, which is west of London is one timezone east of London.) this meant I ended up going “West” instead of “South”. After a while I gave up trying to find it so I could have a wander around the streets and headed to the Montreal history museum. This museum covered the history of the city and was generally pretty good – there seemed to be some detail missed out especially over the Canadians relations with the natives. Then again the British museums don’t cover the empire in any depth. So maybe we follow the losing face rules like oriental culture too!

After visiting the museum I headed up to the square with the church but by that time it was closed so I headed back to my hostel.

The next day I did a bit more. First I went to the Olympic stadium where Montreal hosted the 1976 olympics (and for which they are still paying for.) and had a look at the view from the top of the tower over the stadium after which I headed to the Biosphere which was built in the Olympic cycling velodome. The biosphere is essentially a zoo with different zones for different climates (tropical, laurentian forest, polar and Canadian maritime.) and with the audio tour as well it was excellent. The best such example I have seen in the world. After lunch I headed over to the Notre Dame church where I got a guided tour of and which was awesomely beautiful. There was also a chapel behind the church which was also nice and because it was burnt down about 40 years ago in a fire it is done in a nice modern style. After that I headed to the museum of modern art which was OK but half their galleries were shut and the art they had there wasn’t particularly exciting.

The next day I went for my tour of the Laurentian mountains which let me see the beginnings of the autumn colour and a boat trip on lake which wasn’t bad and generally lots of trees – which is obviously very exciting. The main bad problem with being owned by stagecoach comes into play here. They can’t play good DVD’s as they’d have to get a group licence for them.

On the way back I asked to be dropped at the first metro station we came to so that I wouldn’t have to do an extensive tour of the hotels before returning to my hostel and because after my extensive travels I have a degree in public transport use. In the end as we didn’t stop at the first metro station we passed I asked to get dropped off at the park so I could climb the fairly small hill the Montréalians like to call “the Mountain” or Mont Royal just after getting off the bus I was offered drugs (which I declined) before I wound my way to the top of the mountain which offered some trees to look at as well as awesome views of the city. It was well worth coming up and not dangerous at all – lots of women were out running on their own. I guess if the drug dealers did anything worse than selling drugs the police would get involved.

On the way back I caught a bus successfully to the metro station. This worked as I asked the driver where the stop was and he was friendy and spoke English as well as French and told me were it was.

The next day I headed over to the Biodome another environmental museum – this one aimed at what you can do to save the environment like leaving the lights on, leaving your electric chargers plugged in and on, not using environmentally friendly lightbulbs, using plastic bags (which are apparently banned in China – must be why I always seemed to get posh looking paper bags from the big stores.), flying and not using public transport (though apparently a hybrid is as efficient as a North American school bus – maybe the buses need to be recycled and replaced – though to be honest public transport seems to suck over here. The return bus fare from Montreal and Quebec city is C$80 and is actually slightly higher than going on a coach tour. Montreal’s interal transport system seems to be pretty good however.). The eco-house was excellent as was the guided tour I took of it. Unfortunately the museum was mostly aimed at kids though it did have quite a lot of interesting information.

The other interesting thing raised was that the US and Canadians still don’t appear to have energy efficiency stickers on their white goods like even the Peruvians and Argentinians seem to have these days, that is a sad day for environmental awareness in both countries.

In the afternoon I had a late lunch at a rough guide recommeded cafe though the service was really rather slow but the food was great after that I headed to look at a local church which was very beautiful but I only had a brief look as they were having choir practice. After that I headed to the port to try and do some jet boating but it was shut. I then headed to the fine art museum but it was shut when I arrived. A brief look in the shop made it clear I was missing out.

On the bus to Quebec we got some more environmental “propaganda” as we were told that the New York Times uses 17000 trees to make each daily issue. Damn that’s a lot of trees – maybe we’d be better off reading the content on our mobile phones! I’ll cover that trip in more detail in a later post.

New Scotland (Nova Scotia)

This September I’ve taken a couple of weeks off to do some more travelling – this time to visit Nova Scotia in Canada which in the original Latin means “New Scotland” (credit to them for not directly stealing one of our place names and at least appending New to the beginning :p). Anyhow unlike Chelsea in New York (where I stayed when I was there) which isnt the rich part of town and Greenland which isn’t green it is at least a valid name. Nova Scotia is fairly wild, most of the population lives in the centre and it has surprisingly familiar placenames – just like the real Scotland!

Anyhow I arrived into Halifax international airport on Thursday to spend the “long weekend” with my cousin who has moved out to Nova Scotia from England. When we arrived I was met at the airport for the drive down the highway to his house. This was pretty uneventful except for the extremely heavy traffic that you’d expect for a four lane highway in a province 2/3 the size of England but with only a million people.

On the Friday as punishment for being pathetic and not flying over to Canada on September 11th I was forced to help my cousin put up the trusses (the triangular bits that you use to hold the roof up.) for his garage roof which was good fun and hard work. So we could finish the job we went on until 9pm after it was dark lit with floodlights.

The next day we headed out to the coast and first had a wander along the beach – even though it was a Saturday afternoon and pretty warm the beach was basically empty and was great for seeing birds. After that we walked up into the hills through a wood to a waterfall.

The next day we had some canadian blueberry pancakes for breakfast before heading out on a second walk through the woods near the sea to a place called Cape Split. This was a pretty long walk at 5 miles each way. Fortunately I had my walking boots with me – I broke far too many pairs of shoes last time I went travelling so the walk went fine. The walk was mosly through the woods though we ended up seeing a pereguin falcon which was pretty cool.

The next day we headed down the coast to Anapolis Royal which was the original on Nova Scotia and was in fact originally enhabited by French settlers. Just down the coast there was a pretty cool reconstruction of theirs which we had a look round. There were even fur skins on the walls which as it was a fir trading post was realistic. They also had the lighting suitably low – unlike the UK the Canadians aren’t totally obsessed by health and safety.

Computer help

A recent Xkcd is very funny, and provides some useful computer advice:

Canada

I’m off to Canada on holiday in a couple of weeks, so I’ll be making some more blog posts while I’m over there. Enjoy.

London

I’m now working in IT which is mostly good fun so I don’t have much time for blogging anymore. I’m also learning a lot of new technologies too which is interesting. In fact the only reason I have time now is that I’m heading up to Manchester by train to meet up with a good friend from University, which means I have three hours to kill. Additionally as I got an advance ticket I managed to grab a first class ticket for less than £20 one way, which as the train was pretty damn full was probably a good idea. It was nice to get a table, a bit more space and free food and drink (which alone almost made up the extra £7 it cost over standard class.) the only problem with first class is that its a damn Voyager as my friend Dave would say and the seats aren’t any more comfortable than standard class (I’d go so far as to say they were less comfortable.).

However last weekend I headed down to London a couple of days in a row. The first evening I headed to a gig of Earthless and Pontiak, these are both American rock bands that are fairly heavy but also pretty damn good. I wouldn’t have gone on my own, but it was thoroughly enjoyable. The second band only played four songs in their entire set (including encore) and the second lasted for a good 20 minutes, which was really cool to listen too. It was a little long for my tastes (and I did get a little bored halfway through) but it still managed to work well as a song.

The gig was at a great little venue called Borderline which is just a short distance down Charing Cross road from the Astoria. It is a great little venue, and I can’t wait to go back as I’m sure it made the music even better. The Astoria is one of London’s more famous music venues and it has now been shut so that a CrossRail station can be built underneath it. I have to admit its not my favourite venue, but a lot of famous gigs have been played there. After CrossRail is finished the venue is apparently going to be re-opened – hopefully they can make it into a decent venue at the same time :p.

When we went to the gig we went on the bus from Oxford to London which is probably the nicest bus journey in the country in terms of quality. Even so you get 4 seat across rather than 3 you’d get in other countries. The only bonuses are the toilets which were decent enough and “free WiFi” though on 2 out of the three buses I took it didn’t work with my iPod touch at all – and with the other it was barely functional – “broadband” only to the standards of developing world free hostel internet. That said it still manages to take the timetabled 1 hour and 40 minutes to get to London even on the way back after midnight which means that that estimate is really only an aspiration of how long it will take most of the time which isn’t really very good.

I mention this as when I was in Cambodia I was talking to the people who owned my hotel about the buses you can take there and they didn’t believe that the buses in Cambodia were better/as good there as in the UK – sadly it is true. Mostly because those who are rich enough take the train – though to be honest Via Barriloche in Argentina spanks the first class train I’m on now in terms of comfort – maybe we should sell our railways to the Argentineans :p.

As we went on the bus we got in a little further into London than you would on the train so we got a nice walk down Oxford Street including the eastern end which I have never been down before. Oxford Street is quite nice and Selfridges is in a very impressive building though the sign outside seems more than a little tacky to me. What surprised me is that even though the east of Oxford Street is fairly posh overall it is more like Nanjing road in Shanghai than Orchard road in Singapore.

The next day I headed into London to meet up with some other friends who I mostly know online in Hyde park this was great fun until it started to rain and then we decamped to the pub in Kensington to the south of the park. This was great fun and I had a great day. Unfortunately I stayed a bit too late missing the last train back to Oxford so I had to take the bus home taking bus three of the weekend. After all that excitement I was due a relaxing evening before Monday morning.

A retraction

I feel I owe a retraction from my previous piece: http://matthewhutton.com/2009/03/uk-democracy-still-functions/

The MP’s last week published their expenses in full after blacking out almost all of the detail – unfortunately they didn’t quite black out enough:
Railway ticket for my MP

Now aside from blacking out the class of travel, the number of people travelling, the ticket type and the destination and start points – none of which are actually national security issues (which is the only reason not to publish them) – ultimately if you are doing something you don’t want to reveal you have to use your £60k salary to fund it.

Unfortunately he hasn’t quite blocked out all the useful information on the ticket. The ticket says Y-P on it, which means that it was bought with a young persons railcard. Now my MP is quite young, but he’s been in power since 1997 so he can’t possibly be under 25.

So either he was travelling illegally under a young persons railcard – or he is claiming other peoples rail journeys under expenses and hiding it.

I suppose he could be claiming for some of his staff, and they could be under 25, but that is stretching the excuses.