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An a-Maine-zing time in New York (I'm so sorry...)

USA | Wednesday, 27 April 2011 | Views [1798] | Comments [4]

No matter what, you'll never be this cool

No matter what, you'll never be this cool

From Montreal, we had a 10 hour or so bus trip to Portland in Maine (not Oregon), via Boston. There is nothing quite like the Greyhound to see the difference between America and Canada. Canada obviously spends a lot of money on maintaining the standards of their highways, and as soon as you go south of the border, it becomes apparent this isn't such a priority in the US. We'd noticed this in Seattle too. Canadians are a very quietly spoken bunch as a rule, and bus trips tend to be quiet affairs. In Boston, we picked up four or five people who could only talk by shouting too each other, even though they were standing right next to each other. The guy behind us was amicably shouting into his cellphone to his landlord, explaining how he'd fled Connecticut because his ex-fiances new boyfriend had smashed in the door to his apartment and trashed up the place, and how he hadn't called the police, and how he thought he should tell her the door had been smashed in and the place trashed because he knew she had a real estate agent coming in the next day to show the place, and that he was never coming back and, well, you get the picture. This went on for 90 minutes, and was inescapable to anyone on the bus, let alone the two Australians in the seat in front of him. I think after about an hour, he had the good form to apologise to her for her place getting smashed up, but then it went back to complaining about his life because she was going to withold some of his security deposit. At that stage we were about 8 hours into our bus trip...

In Maine, we were staying with my mum's partner's son (for simplicity's sake I'll call him my half-brother), Jim, and his housemate Jake. Jim describes Portland as the 'deep south of the north-east', but it's really a pretty cool city. We arrived late, so after some showers, Jim took us out to a couple of pubs in town. Even though we haven't seen Jim for quite a few years, we got on really well pretty much straight off the bat, and had some great chats about family, life and all those things, over too many beers.

Given it has a population of just over 200,000, Portland has an excellent food and drink scene. Whilst there, we had an excellent tex-mex breakfast, some nice sushi and clam chowder, as well as a ball-park hot dog (maybe not as good...) The highlight though was the seafood feast we made on our second night there, where we bought some mussels, scallops and some of the world famous Maine Lobster, still live. Someone else brought over some swordfish, and Jim made up a really tasty maple syrup dessert. All up, the dinner went for around 4 or 5 hours, cooking and eating each course as we went. Incredible...

Maine is famous for its seafood, especially its lobster. We had a big multicourse seafood dinner at Jim's, including fresh lobster.
The lobster and its two friends day only got worse from this point

We got up to a few activities in Maine, including a couple of rounds of disc-golf. For those that haven't encountered disc-golf before, its kind of like golf, but instead of hitting a ball into a hole, you are trying to get a heavy frisbee into a basket. Like golf, you do this carrying around beer and chatting, but it has the advantage of being cheaper than golf.

One night, the local semi-pro baseball team was playing - the Sea Dogs. Jim arranged tickets, and we were on our way. Like cricket, one of the great things about watching baseball is that because things happen pretty slowly, there is loads of time to drink beer and soak up the atmosphere. After 4 or 5 innings, it was looking like a blowout, with the visitors leading 5-0, and the Sea Dogs not looking like getting a run. To make our own fun, we were heckling the fat guy playing for the visitors with a neck roll when he straightened his head. With a couple of innings to go, the Sea Dogs turned it on, and at the bottom of the nineth (i.e. the last innings of the game) they had the chance to tie it up or even win it with their last batter. But he cocked up and got out and they lost.

We can't thank Jim and Jake enough for taking us in, driving us around to see the sights and looking after us so well, and hope that we can return the favour, and delicious breakfasts, for them in the future.

Jim giving some insider knowledge

From Maine, our next stop was New York for a week. Once again, the bus trip was pretty colourful. An obese woman next to us spent the trip cracking open and drinking can after can of soft drink whilst her skinny redneck husband was shouting at their kids. Then we passed through a town called Springfield, and it had a giant billboard telling the passing motorists 'One day you will die and then you will meet God'. Only in America...

For our first four days in New York City, we were staying in Harlem, on Manhatten Island. One thing that surprised us in NYC was how clearly stratified the different regions are. Harlem is a black area, and maybe 90% of the people we saw on the streets were African American. Despite a lingering bad reputation, the area was incredibly friendly though, walking into our apartment people would say hi and ask how your day was. At no point did we feel threatened or intimidated. That said, there wasn't a whole heap to do in the area, so most of our waking time was spent in Downtown Manhatten.

Our first full day we decided to head to Times Square and Broadway. Although everyone has seen pictures of Times Square, it hard to imagine how intense the place is. Its like a giant shrine to advertising, giant TV screens advertising shows, mobile phones and vodka. A mass of theatres and comically over-priced electronics stores sit on the ground level. It feels gimmicky and over-the-top, but its good fun. Within 5 minutes of walking into Times Square we managed to score free tickets to the Dave Letterman Show, and to escape the rain and cold, we ducked into a pub for some lunch to kill time until the show began.

In queue for the Late Show with Dave Letterman - got free tickets in Time Square and got to see Ricky Gervais and the Foo Fighters. Massive bargain.
New Yorkers queue like champions

The Show was excellent - Dave Letterman himself has probably passed his peak, but a segment with Ricky Gervais was probably one of the funniest things I've ever seen live, and the Foo Fighters played a couple of songs. We were about 5 rows back from the front, so it made for a really fun time, and a real stroke of luck.

We were lucky enough to see Central Park on a nice sunny day. Central Park is an interesting place, some nice lakes and great views of the city, lots of squirrels and birds, and it draws in all sorts: visitors, business people, crazies. Whilst walking through the Park, we saw a collection of 6 police cars, sirens going off and an ambulance. We had no idea what they were after, but they obviously found what they were looking for, and left soon after we arrived. Because it was a clear night, we took the chance to head up the top of Rockefeller Building just after sunset. It offered incredible views of the city, including the Empire State Building.

Panorama from the Rockefeller
View from the Rockefeller

Museum wise, we did the American Museum of Natural History and the Guggenheim. Both of these were excellent museums. The AMNH is huge, and has a whole range of displays, including anthoropological, flora and fauna, a butterfly house, special exhibits (an excellent one on the brain, loads of interactive displays) and my favourite, dinosaurs! Loads of biggies, including a T-Rex, Triceratops, Pterodactyl and Brachiosaurus. The Guggenheim gallery was an incredible building, especially on the inside, and makes an excellent format for viewing art - slowly twisting up its corkscrew floor. They've focused on a partilcular period of art - the Great Upheaval, from around 1910 - 1918, and they're able to tell a really good story with it.

The other bits of a T-Rex and also its head.

Our last three nights we stayed in Williamsburg in Brooklyn. Williamsburg was a real surprise packet - an artsy community, with great cafes and the like. We had a couple of really nice dinners there, and enyoyed walking around through the town, although the weather turned very wet for our last couple of days in the City.

New York was a pretty cool place - not as intense as I thought it might have been, although the skyline is damn impressive. A couple of the other sights, like Wall St and the Statue of Liberty were a little disappointing. Ground Zero is currently a construction site, but there is a small museum, which showed the plans for the site, which look tasteful and pleasant. I'd go back to New York, but only with more money to spend. A cheap place it is not.

More squirrel!

Tags: city, maine, new york, usa




Great update on US time........ I have a similar picture of Will in front of the dinosaur.

  Mum Apr 29, 2011 12:48 PM


Did you see the token , and I mean token, single stand acknowleding the USA's 200 years of slavery crammed away near the bogs in the Native Americans section?

  Craig aka Travis aka Bentley Apr 29, 2011 6:56 PM


No, I did not see this. There is an African American museum in Harlem, on Malcolm X Boulevard, which I was hoping to get to. But time and an overload of museums put paid to that.

  elis82 Apr 30, 2011 1:07 AM


We stayed in Harlem too. And ditto your comment. It felt safe 99% of the time, except really late at night on the way home from Yankee stadium.

  Stace May 2, 2011 2:58 PM

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