USA and Canada

Spent two weeks in USA and Canada: New York City (4 nights), Bennington, Montreal (2 nights), Quebec (2 nights), Barre, Portsmouth, Nashua, Bennington, New York City.

NYC

I found it great that the MTA had hybrid buses. The subway and bus services run on a MTA metro-card that can be recharged (add more money) and when you do you get extra value (about 6%). Poor garbage service so the place was stinky. They don’t have wheelie-bins to put the garbage in so it is just stacked on the sidewalk near the gutter. In summer (~31 deg. C) it was pretty bad. Lots of bike lanes, bikes locked up, and bikes being ridden. The Statten Island Ferry is a free service which is pretty fantastic considering the price. Statten Island had plenty of signs of decay: boarded empty shops and houses, ambling people that were unemployed, and that look you receive from people who just know you shouldn’t be there. Shame because it was a nice place in terms of terrain and view.

Buffet food shop. There were two bain-marie of this size offering hot and cold food.

A sample of food from the bain-marie; dumplings, honey Szechuan chicken and rice

This is a NYC bike. It has a lock zip-tied on for keeping the seat attached (it’s quick-release), looks like a standard office wire basket zip-tied on to the handlebars and forks. The all of the frame except for dropouts is gaffer-taped (or vinyl bar taped) to protect it and make it look like crap. There were lots of bikes like this. There were also a few old steel framed roadsters that were stripped of paint and decorated with a fine patina of rust. This is the source of the retro steel frame and fixed gear bikes. Just people coping with high bike crime.

North Bennington

Very friendly Vermont town with a bit of decay from the GFC apparent but otherwise the people we met were very friendly. Food and drink prices were great in the local pub and I enjoyed all my time there. Our host at Eddington House was right when she said that Kevin’s Bar had a “Cheers” atmosphere. The stay prompted us to book it again in the gap between Nashua and NYC on our return from Quebec.

Montreal

The humidity made it hard to stay objective: 30deg. C and about 65%. As someone who can perspire a great deal it didn’t do me any comfort-favours. Vieux Montreal was great but even this city had signs of decay from the GFC (presumably). A grand old hotel was empty and boarded up. The park opposite had a tent and smelled of human urine. There were a few hobo-looking people just sitting around. We weren’t long in that park. To be fair that was the eastern most edge of Vieux Montreal. Rue St. Denis was a great place to dine and people-watch. The presence of ‘bikers’, ‘metal heads’, Goths, new-age-hippies and all the tourists made it a lively place. Add to that the live music from restaurants and club/bars made it very festive. For me it had a very Johnston Street (Fitzroy) and Lygon Street (Carlton) feel.

Lovely old house in Montreal that was divided into flats.

Quebec City

Incredibly scenic! We stayed in the Chateau Frontenac on the 18th floor and had the best view I’ve ever seen. 20 miles up and down the Saint Lawrence river. Vieux Quebec is a very tourist-oriented place but was laidback at the same time. Prices of food and drink services was a little high and on par with most of Manhattan. Unfortunately I was a bit bored by the second day and got myself sun-burned, too. Made me a bit cranky so I was glad to go on the third morning; we grabbed some pastries that were fantastic. My wife’s in particular was excellent – maple tart.

A bit of vieux Quebec.

Barre

We went in to Montpelier, the state capital, for dinner and had Mexican for the fifth time on the trip. Over the whole trip I never found any frijoles as good as Taco Bill’s in Australia. The chimichanga I had in Montreal was the best one for the trip, though.

Portsmouth

We stopped here to check out the seaside resorts like “the Hamptons” and get some “outlet” shopping done. Clothes in the USA are so cheap. We found a homewares shop that sold Kitchen Aid mixers for $299.99. In Australia they are $799.99. We were annoyed that there was no way to get it home and that we couldn’t resolve the voltage question of whether it would even work on 240 volts. La Creuset cast iron ware was very cheap with the factory seconds being sold for about half of new ones.

Nashua

We stopped here to meet my wife’s long time pen-pal (internet friend) and her husband. They were nice people and very hospitable. Provided us with apple smoked ribs done fantastically in a smoker. Showed us the lovely house they built and let us shoot their BB gun. All the while plying us with beer and wine – we did contribute a bottle of Australian moscato rosso that vanished between the girls pretty fast. The town seemed to be a skein of roads that fed houses in the woods but I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to this town as we were there for the people.

North Bennington

Stopped here again at Eddington House and went to Kevin’s bar for dinner. We met a very nice guy again who gave us his number (the first night we were there) and said to call him in case we were in trouble. Not to directly assist but he could tell us who we should call as these things change between countries. We also were given pistachio cake for a local’s birthday party and drank plenty of $3.25 pints and mixed drinks. I had a very garlic-rich seafood pasta (clams and shrimp on linguini in garlic lemon butter sauce with garlic bread) and had a bit of a reek the next day (so my wife told me). It felt very familiar coming back there and was overall the place I could most easily live.

NYC

Last night was spent here. The traffic driving it was a bit odd and my wife was overly stressed trying to navigate me (driving) to a fuel station. So we paid the penalty and dropped the car off with less than half a tank. The charges have come through and it seems that they didn’t penalize us that much because 10 days with a toll pass came to just under $600. National rentals were worth dealing with because they upgraded us to a Dodge Charger from a Chev Cobalt. I have to say that the Dodge Charger was totally let down by its piss-poor transmission that slipped in reverse up a not very steep parking spot as if the clutch wasn’t engaged and it was an AUTO! In NYC we rented bikes for $20 for two hours and the bikes were probably only worth $10 on the open market. They were really shitty quality old Huffy and Schwinn bikes with bastardised bits and poorly maintained gears & brakes. I sent the first one back it was so bad. The second one at least had better brakes and was ridgid framed but the tires were under-inflated. Ah well… I’m probably spoiled with my Cannondale Bad Boy 8. It was 32 deg. C in NYC that day. When we finally left to the airport I fell asleep in the cab whilst my wife was terrified by the driver’s risky weaving through the traffic.

Flight Home

…really sucked because it was so long.

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USA and Canada

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