Saturday, June 17, 2006

Ten Tings

I am not long back from the USA and Canada, so, inspired by the fact that I walked past the Ed Sullivan Theatre, where David Letterman hangs out to do his thing, I have my own ten (although not necessarily all top) things about the trip:
  1. My prevailing impression of New York is an insistent need to pee: apparently, in an effort to stop homeless people feel welcome in New York, they made sure there are no public toilets, with the consequence that the most accessible toilets for your average traveller are those in food and drink establishments - visits to which, of course, produce the need to pee.
  2. I think of all the things I saw in New York, the place that impressed me the most was the New York Public Library where even a humble visitor from New Zealand could front up and obtain an access card, meaning I could go into their reading rooms and have lackeys scurry around and find the books I wanted to look at: this is in stark contrast to the libraries in New York and Columbia Universities, which both had security guards manning their entrances to ensure I stayed on the outside.
  3. As anticipated, finding decent coffee was a nightmare - my choices tended to be either diner style perc coffee (of which I consumed roughly a gallon) or Starbucks (or their Canadian cousins, Tim Hortons, which does not even sell coffee flavoured cappucino - it was French Vanilla or nothing - but they did have tsaty donuts), although I did strike it lucky in Greenwich Village which had a number of indie coffee suppliers (Grey Dog was a particular standout).
  4. Apart from the MOMA and the MET (about which I'll write seperately) other thngs that captured my attention in New York were Macy's (the biggest Department store in the world, so they say - made cool by in less travelled areas retaining the original escalators with their wooden slats), the Staten Island ferry (which allows for a free trip past the Statue of Liberty), the numerous diners I sampled for their various efforts at pancakes, burgers and omelletes, the new Apple store which apparently stays open 24/7 and allows for free internet access if you're willing to try out their products (I rejoiced in a 30" sceen to read my email).
  5. I still hate Niagara - the downtown area is derelict and the area around the falls (Canadian side) has been turned into a ridiculous theme park, with Ripley's Believe it or Not, some sort of wax museum, the Guiness Book of Records, various huge and hugely noisy gaming arenas, crappy "family" restaurants... - but I have to say the HI hostel there is one of the better ones I have stayed in (or maybe that was in contrast to my hostel in New York, which had no communal space and nowhere to sit down, meaning that once I was up, I was basically outside until it was time to sleep - all for a cool $US 30 a night (it was right next to the Penn train station, however)).
  6. London, Ontario is a funny sort of place - its major industry seems to be the very nicely laid out University of Western Ontario, but downtown is rather more than walking distance away from it, meaning that most of the good places to eat and drink are not in the centre of town, but strung out along the road to the University; plus most of the shopping now takes place in malls on the edge of town, so that downtown London has a sad, semi-closed down look to it.
  7. Although the guide books say that if you're stuck in Detroit for a night (or longer) you should head across the border to Windsor as it is much more fun, when I arrived in Windsor it seemed to be such a bland sort of place that I had no inclination to stay, particularly once I had seen the Detroit skyline.
  8. Downtown Detroit on an early summer Sunday afternoon is practically deserted.
  9. Nonetheless, of all the places I visted, I liked downtown Detrot the most - maybe because it was an early summer Sunday afternoon and nearly deserted: what I enjoyed the most was just wandering around and looking at the buildings constructed during Detroit's heyday, when they were vying with New York and Chicago for the scale of their building projects, but which have sadly fallen into disuse as the heart has gone out of the motor industry.
  10. The other thing hard to find in America and Canada is decent locally produced beer: I did manage to down a Labatts Blue (fake) pilsener which was not too bad and there was the reliable stand by of Samuel Adams, but otherwise I had to stick with imported beer - conveniently available in the 24 hour drugstore right next to my otherwise meh Days Inn (it was being rebuilt when I was there) in Detrot.