River City: Richmond, VA

It seems as though with every new blog post I write, comes a new apology for not writing! This stretch between posts has been particularly long (I’m sure you all missed me very much). This time, though, I actually have a more legitimate excuse – I was working as Wardrobe Supervisor for a short film, and we worked 12-14 hour days almost every day! It was a great experience, though (you’ll hear more about it in later blog posts for sure), and I can’t wait to get started on another film project.

In the meantime, though, here is the wrap up post for my September 2011 road trip: Richmond, VA. Since I have been back and forth to RVA a few times since September, this post is really a conglomeration of my recent experiences there. Enjoy!

My final stop: Richmond, VA (AKA River City)

It’s hard to decide what to write about this city in which I lived throughout college, and of which I have so many fond memories. But I think I’d like to start with a video that will give you an understanding of what the city’s all about.

One of the reasons I left Richmond, though, was the feeling of non-movement I got from the city. It is very much a city whose inhabitants seem to get stuck in time, to stagnate in their mundane job/happy hour/lamenting about life cycle. Don’t get me wrong, Richmond is a great college town. There are a ton of hip cafés, bars, and hang out spots. There is an amazing park system, and Carytown offers a number of great shops, activities, and even a dollar theater (home to the largest French Film festival in the US)! But when you live in Richmond for a while, it’s hard to get over the feeling that you’ll never get out.

The other day, my feelings were proved legitimate by an article by The Atlantic : The 10 Fastest Growing (and fastest declining) Cities in the World. While it felt good to have my sentiments validated, I felt a pang of sadness to see Richmond listed as one of the 10 fastest declining cities in the world. There’s still that part of me that would love to see Richmond flourishing, to be drawn to return there, to relive the best of my college years in the city I loved. (I know, I know, this is starting to sound uber dramatic. Give me a sec to wax nostalgic. I promise things’ll get funny in a bit).

To be fair, I love visiting the place. I love lounging on the rocks at Belle Isle, and returning to our local haunts to indulge in $6 pitchers of PBR (with friends, of course), tots with hot sauce, and some of the best sushi I’ve ever tasted.

When I arrived in September, my first stop was Chipotle. My friends and I used to go here often after class, and Richmond was the first place I ever really ate here…so it seemed appropriate as a first meal in the city.

Chipotle in Richmond, VAI snapped a photo and sent it to a few friends who weren’t in Richmond to make them jealous. It worked.

I spent the rest of the visit just hanging out. After so much constant travel, it was nice just to be with friends without much agenda for a few days before heading back to Columbia.

In October, I returned to RVA for UR’s Homecoming Football game. My friends Kim, James, Sung, Bailey and I took some lawn chairs, a cooler full of homemade salad and wraps Kim and I assembled the night before, drinks, and a beer coozie necklace (courtesy James) to tailgate before the game. Eventually, we decided we should get some tickets, so James ambled over to the ticket office and somehow commandeered some for free. Our tailgate was cut short by campus police kicking everyone out as the game started, so we moseyed over to the stadium and got settled in. A minute later James had produced a hipflask, and we were receiving glares from more prestigious alumni as we loudly discussed James’s new book/light idea and how to sell it on Etsy.

Later that evening, we headed to a pub called Patrick Henry’s. It’s in a basement off E. Broad St and is the kind of place that feels full with ten people in it, the bartender lets you choose the music off her iPod, and the instant you walk in, you feel like the other patrons are old friends of yours. We sat at the corner of the bar, ordered drinks, and chatted about the day.

An hour or so later, James was talking about the Clash with his new best friends, and the rest of us were taking bets on whether or not James would break his two-week no smoking record tonight (OK, maybe I was just taking bets in my head). All of a sudden this guy appeared at my shoulder, “I like your headband,” he intoned, in what I assume he assumed to be a suave manner.

“Uh, thanks,” I said, not sure where to go from there.

“I’ve just been staring at you across the bar for the last hour,” he continued, “I just think you are beautiful.” He smiled at me vacantly, “I’m Albert, by the way.”

“Oh, uh, thanks. Nice to meet you,” I said, looking around for a little help, “Have you met my friend James?” I motioned to James, who was singing a Clash song with his new buddy. He waved cheerily. I turned my back on the two and returned to chatting with Bailey.

But my admirer was not to be thwarted so easily. He made a snide comment about my iPhone, and ten minutes later we were in an argument about whether or not social media is good for society. Or rather, I was arguing. I’m pretty sure he thought he was flirting.

I argued that though social media can reduce personal interactions with people, it also greatly increases the number of relationships one can maintain. How else would you be able to find little Billy from 3rd grade 15 years later and then maintain a working relationship? Yes, I’m a little biased because I’ve worked in Social Media Marketing and am extremely “plugged in” as they say, but think of all the connections people couldn’t have made in any other way. When I moved to Montreal, I knew no one, but somehow I left feeling like I knew the whole city. How? Social Media.

Albert’s argument was that he’d rather meet people “organically”. He said that social media creates a false, half-assed relationship with someone that is little more than voyeuristic. “What happens when I graduate from VCU med school [he made sure to mention he was attending med school about 10 times throughout the course of the night] and get married and move to Chicago and never see any of my old friends again?” he asked.

“That’s what social media is for!” I protested, “So that you can more easily keep up with the friends you no longer live near, and if it so happens that someone you know has also moved to Chicago, you can look him up and see him in person!”

Albert continued down his contradictory path of confusion, “But see, I’d rather just run into that person at a bar or something than look them up on Facebook first.” I wanted to smack his smug, idiot grin from his face. There is very little I detest more in people than a condescending tone, and very little irks me more than a man patronizing me. Especially when he’s wrong.

I barred my teeth at Albert’s steepled fingers and practically spat into his face, “Chicago is a huge city. The chances of you just-” I made quotation marks with my fingers, “- running into a friend passing through the city are slim to none. Social media is an enabler. Yes, plenty of people use it to live vicariously through others, but when used properly, it can enhance your current relationships rather than deplete them.”

Somehow, despite my best efforts, Albert refused to acknowledge the soundness of my argument. But the bar was closing, and we were being shooed outside. James was still chatting with his new friend – who turned out to be Albert’s wing man – and was smoking a cigarette in front of the bar. He turned to me, “Hey, these guys-” he motioned to Albert and his friend, “-live a couple blocks from here and have invited us over for a bit. You coming?” I rolled my eyes and looked at Bailey. She shrugged. “Yeah, okay, whatever,” I said, following them down the street.

The evening finally ended with Albert telling me various times how attractive he found me and me telling him that “too bad you won’t ever see me again because you can’t friend me on Facebook [and I wasn’t about to give him my number].” Apparently Albert saw that as a challenge. The next day, I had received not one, but two emails from Albert to two different email addresses (neither of which I had given him) that read simply:

Hey,

I want to talk to you . . . sorry that I didn’t get your email.

Albert

There was also an attachment. Scanned in on VCU med school stationary, was a handwritten ‘poem’.

Instead of adding my own commentary to this poem, I’d like to share with you a friend’s reaction to the whole situation. Unfortunately, she has requested anonymity, so I can’t give credit where it’s due. But please, enjoy the following.

Thank you for forwarding this; it pretty much made my week.

The bad rhymes, the back-handed compliments, the misspelled and sometimes straight-up fabricated words, the MCV letterhead – it’s all perfection.  

Also, can we talk about the body of “Albert’s” e-mail?  Why the ellipsis? Why no mention of the poem attachment?

Good thing this guy’s a med student and not a poet or in grad school for creative writing.  Yikes.  Also, where is he getting his tips on picking up ladies?  Wearing ‘biz cas’ to a bar, having a noticeably more attractive wing man, using “I like your headband” as a pickup line…it was all so bad, and yet so right.  

Maybe James gave him your e-mail address to be a troublemaker.  Otherwise “Albert” did some serious google research.  Did you tell him how your name was spelled?  

Oh Hail Storm, you come to Richmond for a few days and leave behind a trail of broken med student hearts.  Argument for moving back to Richmond: readymade med student boyfriend with a first name from the 19th century.

My Art Binge in Washington D.C.

Somehow I managed to make it to D.C. within an hour of dinnertime, completely catching my friend Kate off guard. Luckily for her, dinnertime in D.C. means one thing: traffic crawling at the pace of a slug. So in the hour it took me to travel a few blocks, Kate stopped by a delicioso Ethiopian restaurant in the cute up-and-coming neighborhood of Bloomingdale in which she lives and was ready to mangia by the time I arrived. We spent the evening catching up, chowing down, and watching Singing in the Rain (a great classic. If you haven’t seen it, jump on that!)

The next morning we spent breakfast at Big Bear Cafe oggling indie boys and discussing the world’s problems, and by 11 we found ourselves sitting on the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial trying to decide what to do next. Oh yeah, did I mention that the Washington Monument (the phallus-like structure that dominates the D.C. skyline) had apparently been affected by the August 23rd earthquake and was closed for repairs? Yeah, weird, I know. Maybe they will change the name to the “Leaning Tower of Washington” or the “Leaning Tower of Pisa II” (if they’re feeling particularly original). Ok, yeah, so it’s not actually leaning. But that would be cool, right?

I also got to experience the D.C. Metro – which is a bit like a nuclear fallout shelter crossed with something out of a sci-fi film. It also runs like a zebra in the Sahara being pursued by a lion: only because it has to. And it sucks most when the lion catches up aka a bridge is being worked on.

Spacy Metro System in Washington, D.C.

We walked down the mall next to the long stretch of museums. D.C. is awesome for a number of reasons, but I think by far the best thing about it is how FREE most/all of its museums are. This is probably an attempt to make up for how friggin expensive everything else is…but we’ll take what we can get.

I wanted to do something not every tourist does in D.C., so we decided to check out the African and Asian art museums that are situated right in front of the Smithsonian Castle (Arts and Industries building). On our way there, we passed through the Mary Livingston Ripley Garden, a quaint walled public garden that had tree branches and vines hanging overhead, brick walkways, and a number of different species of plants. There were a handful of businessmen and women eating their lunches quietly on benches in the garden, and birds hopped around picking up crumbs. It was incredible to see such a beautiful natural space in the middle of the downtown area of a big city.

Mary Livingston Ripley Garden in Washington, D.C.

We also walked through the Hirshhorn and National Gallery of Art Sculpture Gardens on our way to the African and Asian Art Museums. I spotted another of Louise Bourgeois’ huge spider sculptures (you may recall I saw one in front of Ottawa‘s Museum of Art), a Rodin, and a number of other really neat sculptures (see the slideshow below to check ‘em out!).

We finally made it to the African Art museum and explored its multiple floors complete with video presentation before heading to Teaism for lunch. This is a must-do if you are close by and like sushi and/or tea at all. It’s a bit on the expensive side, but definitely worth it. They even serve you your meal in little sushi boxes just like in Japan! Seriously, go there. I’m salivating just thinking about it.

Sushi Teaism Washington, D.C.

On our way to the Sackler Gallery of Asian Art, I was glancing around the street like a child with ADD, when I noticed two people waiting at the crosswalk next to us. I recognized the girl from somewhere – suddenly I realized that she was one of my friends from college! I flagged her down and we all decided to meet up for drinks later that night.

At the bar that night, Kathleen told Kate (whose full name is coincidentally Kathleen) and me that her boyfriend (another college friend) was working in Alexandria, and suggested we grab lunch with him the next day. Who knew this would be just a huge Richmond reunion?

The ridiculousness continued the next day when we ran into yet another Richmond friend having a coffee on the porch of a Starbucks on King street in Alexandria. Apparently Washington D.C. is where everybody goes after graduating from UR.

We also checked out a cute coffee shop called Misha’s that was expensive (I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record), but it had a really unique vibe and a line practically out the door.

Menu board at Misha's in Alexandria, VA

Later, we met Richmond friend Ryan for lunch at another Ethiopian restaurant (we really like Ethiopian food), spent some time catching up, then saw him off to his stage managing duties for a local theater company.

That night, I met up with a couple other Richmond friends I hadn’t seen in forever at H street bar Church and State, which was small, hipster and had real confession booths! The bartenders were friendly and the music was good, but it was very expensive. I discovered later that all D.C. bars are expensive (well, everything in D.C. really), but let me just say, $21 for a rail double G&T should just not happen. Especially when you can get a Hendrix G&T for $6 in other parts of the world *cough* Richmond *cough*.

The next day I said goodbye to Kate and headed off to Richmond, VA: my last stop before home!

Warren, NJ: Washington Rock and Zita’s Ice Cream

First, thanks a lot to Rise and Roam for nominating me for the Versatile Blogger Award! Since I was recently nominated by Rory Alexander, I’m not going to write a whole new post on it, but feel free to check out my post, The Versatile Blogger, if you’re feeling inspired.

Warren, NJ: Good Friends, Good Food, and Washington Rock

After leaving Ottawa, the 8 hours to New Jersey were uneventful. I did notice, however, that Pennsylvania is a beautiful, mountainous drive, and also that there’s somewhere called Buttzville, NJ.

I arrived at my friend Maria’s house in Warren around 6pm and she showed me around their yard while her mom got dinner going. They lived in a fairly suburban area with neighbors close by, so I was surprised to see that they had a vegetable garden in their backyard. “We had to put a fence around it because deer and other animals kept getting into our vegetables,” Maria told me. Definitely not what I expected from New Jersey.

We joked and chatted for a while, then headed in when Maria’s mother called us for dinner. Maria’s family is Portuguese, and they told me about their parish in Portugal as we ate a delicious meal of steak, rice, black beans and salad.

After dinner, Maria told me about this ice cream place in a neighboring town (but still close by) that makes all their own ice cream. “We have to go there,” she said, “It is the best.” Not one to pass up dessert, I agreed, and we jumped in her mini cooper and headed to Zita’s.

I told Maria how I’d seen a couple of moose on the highway in Quebec and then in Maine, and she told me how she thought deer were attracted to her car. “Seriously, though,” she said, “I was sitting at a corner not moving, and a deer just jumped into the side of my car and bounced off. Apparently they just go crazy during their mating season.”

When we got to Zita’s, they were just about to close. We bought our ice cream and hung out on the picnic tables outside as they cleaned up. The ice cream definitely lived up to its reputation.

The next day, Maria had to work, but she gave me a short tour of her neighborhood before heading to her 9-5. We saw old farm houses and historical homes; she told me about a tour she had taken as a teenager during which the guide would point out a historical site, explain its significance, then say, “but unfortunately we couldn’t raise enough money to keep that one, so it’s being torn down and developed next year.” For the most part, though, Warren and its neighboring towns were not very developed (apart from weird traffic patterns that make it impossible for you to turn left), and the neighborhoods still had plenty of flora.

View from Washington's Crossing in New Jersey

Our last stop before Maria had to go to work was Washington Rock State Park. From here, General George Washington had a 39-mile panoramic view of the valley during the Revolutionary War.

Plaque at Washington's Crossing in New JerseyIn June 1777, this advantage allowed Washington to instruct his troops to circle behind British General William Howe’s troops and cut off their retreat.

Information at Washington's Crossing State Park in New JerseyAfter checking out the park, Maria dropped me off at my car and headed to work. Next stop: Washington, D.C.

Ottawa, ON: Caught in the Rain

September Road Trip Wrap Up

OK, I am finally starting to wrap up the blogs on my September road trip. *Whew* this has taken me so much longer than I expected! I can’t believe it’s already December. (Side note: my graduate school apps are due on Thursday, so that’s part of the reason I’ve been rather MIA). The good news is, I have tons of other stuff I’d like to write about so there will be no running out of material here! I’m going to try to keep these next few brief so that I can get them out in the next week or two and move on to something else (delicious holiday recipes perhaps?).

After this post on Ottawa, I’ll write one each on New Jersey, Washington, D.C, and Richmond, VA. Only three more to go! After that you will hear all about my more recent travels (Nashville, Vancouver, Seattle, Coeur-d’Alene, Idaho and Bozeman, Montana) as well as a comparison of three completely different restaurants’ Eggs Benedict (my new favorite breakfast food apparently), and my decision to play through and review all of the Final Fantasy games (the result of many hours in the car from Vancouver to Montana with only a Gameboy for entertainment).

As always, thanks for sticking with me, and I hope you continue to enjoy reading my posts. Any and all feedback is welcome!

Ottawa: A city of parks

Ottawa Public Park

To avoid embarrassing my friend Liam, I am going to skip the bizarre saga involving his (former) roommates. Suffice it to say that they were not entirely thrilled to have me crashing on their couch and basically said that they didn’t want me to be in the apartment without Liam there. So, while Liam was at work most of the day, I wandered around Ottawa.

Lock System Ottawa Canal

Apparently the city is made entirely of parks. My first morning there, I decided to take a walk via the canal to the large lake I had caught a glimpse of the night before to rent a kayak and spend a little time on the water. Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. The girl in charge of the tiny floating boathouse showed me the weather radar on her computer. “There’s a huge storm coming through, so I can’t let you go out on the water,” she said. I looked up at the sky. Not a cloud in sight. There were two people out on the water in a paddle boat. But, having been struck by lightning before, I decided to heed the girl’s advice (not like she gave me any other choice). She made up for it by giving me the password to the wireless internet from the restaurant next door. I headed inside to grab a bite and update my blog.

10 minutes later, the downpour started and another dock worker had to motor out to the couple in the paddle boat to ‘rescue’ them. I hung out in the restaurant until the rain let up then decided to take a walk along the lake.

Maybe it was the two weeks of traveling, or maybe I had mono, but I was freaking tired! I decided to take a nap on a grassy knoll by the lake where rabbits and ducks and the like bounced around at my feet (no exaggeration). I dozed off and on for a half hour or so as runners came and went. A man sat on a bench by the path and glanced at me quizzically. Eventually, the rain started up again, and I reluctantly retreated to the drooping branches of a large tree (I’m no tree expert, but since this was in Canada, I’m just gonna say it was a Maple tree).

Raining in Ottawa Public Park

Trees are great, but I still got a little wet. Luckily I had my postage-stamp-sized umbrella, so I was able to ward off the rain a little bit (although I got pretty soaked from the waist down). I continued my wandering with the unfortunate realization that I had to pee. An hour later and there seemed to be no end to Ottawa’s park system. It would have been great under other circumstances – sunshine and available bathrooms – but at the moment, it was frustrating.

Hidden Garden in Ottawa Public Park

Eventually, I happened upon this secluded garden located in the woods of one of the large parks. Faced with the possibility of not being near another toilet until dinnertime, I decided to revert to my camp counselor days from last summer and found a spot a ways from the little path to pop a squat. As you do. In the public park. Yup, and I’m not a homeless person. Then I went along my merry way back into the park. Climbing a tree in Ottawa public Park

Later, I decided to climb a tree and chill for a bit, got stuck and had to talk myself into dropping down 10 feet. Meanwhile, the rain picked back up.Climbing a tree in Ottawa public Park

I wandered for another couple hours, through Carlton University, across a busy street and into the Agricultural Museum, which was closed by the time I got there. I checked out their gardens then tried to find my way back to civilization. I was starting to feel like a vagabond. I half expected to feel a beard growing on my chin and a cardboard sign to materialize in my hands. I can only imagine how I looked to passers-by. Public Garden Ottawa, ON, Canada

In the end, I made it all the way back to the boathouse where I had started my day. From there I walked to Little Italy, which was probably the choice I should have made at the beginning of the day (don’t be deceived by the tacky neon sign, Little Italy is actually pretty cute). I had my computer with me and decided to locate a wifi hotspot. Lo and behold, a few blocks away there was a Starbucks. I love Starbucks. (Did I mention I have recently visited the mother of all Starbucks in Seattle? Don’t worry, you’ll hear about it.)

Little Italy sign Ottawa, ON, Canada

A little while later, my friend Liam called to say he was back from work, so I packed up my things and started the trek back to the apartment, got turned around/wasn’t really paying attention, took some pictures of the lighted path next to the canal, consulted my map, asked directions from a cyclist, then realized I was only two blocks away. Thinking back on it, I’m not sure why I didn’t use my smart phone the whole day. Probably because I had an Eris. A word of advice: don’t buy an Android Eris. Lighted walkway in Ottawa, ON, Canada

The next day, Liam didn’t have to work until 10am, so we left a little early and headed downtown to drive by all the stuff you’re “supposed to see” in Ottawa, which is mostly just the Parliament building and the art museum.

Parliament Building in Ottawa, ON, Canada

 

Spider Sculpture in front of Ottawa Museum of Art

I found a similar sculpture in a museum in DC

Nice View in Ottawa, ON, Canada

It would have been a nice day for kayaking.

Jordan, ON: a Hidden Gem

After leaving the falls, I decided to take my time getting to Ottawa, so I followed some winery signs to a little town called Jordan, about 20 minutes from Niagara Falls.

On the first main road I came to, I discovered a cheese shop, The Upper Canada Cheese Co. I love cheese, so of course I couldn’t resist. I pulled into the parking lot and went in the store.

Upper Canada Cheese Co in Ontario

Turns out it was more than just a country cheese shop; the Upper Canada Cheese Co has its own brand of cheese which is made right here in the store!Making Cheese at Upper Canada Cheese Co in Ontario

While I was there, I sampled two cheddars, a dry-ish goat cheese, and an OKA-like cheese called Niagara Gold. I definitely remember liking all of them, but I especially liked a wood-smoked cheddar and the Niagara Gold, which I bought some of for the road.

Afterwards, I asked the lady behind the counter which winery was the best to check out, and she handed me a map of the town and circled one a few miles away.

I of course got a little lost, did some loops, and finally arrived at Malivoire Winery about 30 minutes later. I passed Wayne Gretzky’s Estate winery on the way there (OK, so you’re a sports celebrity…next step: open a winery). I didn’t stop at Gretzky’s Estate because the woman at Upper Canada Cheese said that his winery is not as established as some of the others. I would also imagine that she’d rather I gave my business to a locally grown company instead of to a celebrity who makes millions of dollars a year.

I’m no wine expert, but I’m glad I had already sampled some wineries in Quebec. However, I have still come to the conclusion that Canada is just not the best place to have a winery. Quebec is known for its ice wines (very sweet dessert wines), but its normal wine tends to be more sour and acidic tasting (it’s almost impossible to find a decent tasting wine for under $25 in Montreal probably why Sangria became my drink of choice).

I’m not sure that Ontario is known for any kind of wine, but this particular estate was very clearly trying to come up with something different. Don’t get me wrong, I think its important to try new things, but it’s also nice to have the option to revert to a classic if need be.

Winery in OntarioI found Malivoire’s reds to be too sweet for me, almost syrupy. Of the two whites I tried, the only one I remember, a 2008 Mottiar Chardonnay, caught my attention because I couldn’t tell whether I loved it or hated it. It had a strong, dry, oaky taste to it that isn’t normal of whites (or at least not of the whites I’ve tried) with a honey aftertaste. It was so peculiar that I ended up buying a bottle (it was cheaper after purchasing the tasting anyway). Haven’t tried it yet, but we’ll see how it tastes when I finally do pop it open.

All-in-all, I don’t know that I’d return to this winery. Besides their wines being not entirely to my taste, the tasting was fairly expensive (I think it was $10 or $15…it does include a significant discount on one bottle of wine, but that’s assuming you like them enough to buy one). Here’s to whatever suits your fancy!

The Truth about Niagara

Niagara Falls: Nothing’s ever just about nature

When I spoke to the owner of THE hostel in Niagara, Ontario, he couldn’t understand why I was staying only one night. “You’ll see when you arrive,” he said, “There’s so much to do here!” I couldn’t imagine what else there might be to do besides going to see the falls. Maybe a hike or something? Other nature-related events of which I was unaware? How unfortunately wrong I was.

American Falls in Niagara

I crossed the border into Ontario around 11pm-  yes back into Canada, and, yes, in a roundabout way via NYC. The border-patrol guard was incredulous, “So you’re coming to Niagara from Montreal, but you went to New York City first…and you have a car full of stuff…” I think the fact that I had everything covered up with a blanket in the back didn’t help my sketch-appeal. But apparently in Canada sketchy situations are dealt with 2 minutes of lips-pursed ruminating and a cursory flashlight into the back window. The guy seemed to think I was lying, but didn’t want to bother interrogating me or unloading my stuff, so he waved me through.

From there I drove through what seemed to be an office park. There were tall glass buildings with miles of parking lot and a roundabout traffic system booby-trapped with speed bumps and humps presumably to keep your attention on the road instead of craning to see the falls. I drove over a bridge through some mist that came off of what appeared to be the water system of a miniature golf course, and then I came to a neighborhood road lined with sad, run down houses with chain-link-fences and overgrown yards. I continued down this street to my hostel, which was really just a large old house that teetered like the Weasley’s Burrow and was situated directly across the street from two large chain hotels.

I had to phone the hostel because the front desk is only open till about 10pm. But the (presumably) owner was nice enough to get up and let me in close to midnight. The inside of the hostel looked as you might imagine – a confusion of hallways, staircases, and rooms that fit together as if they were halves of two different houses. The owner, a middle-aged man with a long ponytail and a tie-dye t-shirt talked my ear off as he struggled to unlock the door to my room. Eventually it opened. “It isn’t usually this bad,” he said, handing me the key and heading back downstairs. “Goodnight,” he called. I peered into my room and took in about 6 sets of bunk beds. Every one of them was empty. Well, more privacy for me.

The next day I got up around 9:00 and headed downstairs. The breakfast food, which consisted of fruit, yogurt, and home-made chocolate chip muffins that were slightly burnt on the bottom, was nearly gone. “How do I get to the falls from here?” I asked the owner. “Just go straight down this street until you hit Main, then take a right,” he said, “Main will take you directly there.” I thanked him, checked out, dropped my stuff off in my car and headed to the falls, ready to finally see this natural wonder of the world. But I was ill-prepared for the horror I’d have to pass through beforehand.

Niagara tacky theme park ferris wheelAs soon as I reached Main street, the scenery began to change. Instead of grubby front yards, there were brick sidewalks and cute lampposts. “This is nice,” I thought. But then the cute village-like appeal took a turn for the worse. A Ferris wheel emerged, and when I reached it, I noticed there was a fun house stationed in front of it. Continuing down the street, I saw laser tag stations, wax museums Niagara tacky theme park(yes, more than one), gaudy tourist shops that all sold the same ‘souvenirs’, Halloween costume shops, haunted houses, carnival-esque game centers, and any and everything else you Niagara tacky theme park wax museummight find at a fairgrounds or, to a lesser scale, Las Vegas. I literally felt bile coming up in the back of my throat. And the feeling was exacerbated by the early hour; since it was not much later than 9am, no one was out. It was a tacky, disgusting ghost town. I felt like I was in the Joker’s fun park.

Niagara Falls American FallsBut 10 minutes later I arrived at the overlook to the falls and breathed a sigh of relief. Seeing such natural beauty made up for having to endure the tackiness of the town and sad, downtrodden feeling of the neighborhood Niagara Fallssurrounding it. I was surprised to discover that it only costs $15 to take a ride on the Maid of the Mist, so I bought my ticket, donned a blue ‘souvenir’ poncho, had my picture awkwardly taken in front of a green screen all by myself (“just you?” the cameraman asked. I gave him a thumbs-up), and headed to the dock to board the boat.

Wind on Maid of the Mist at Niagara FallsMy boat-mates were mostly Asian tourists who couldn’t seem to get control of their blue ponchos in addition to older couples who paced from one side of the boat to the other, trying to get the best view. That boat ride made the trek to Niagara all worth it. If you go to Niagara Falls, go on the boat! It’s not terribly expensive, and the hour-long ride and view are well worth it.

In the Mist at Niagara FallsWhile aboard the Maid of the Mist, the captain told us (mostly inaudible) stories about people who have performed stunts involving the falls. Some of the most famous include Annie Taylor, a school teacher who went over the falls in a barrel she had constructed around the age of 60, Maria Spelterini, a mysterious young circus performer from Italy who disappeared after walking a tightrope across the falls, and The Great Blondin, one of the most famous of the tightrope walkers.

The best story involving the falls, though, is one that occurred completely by accident. In 1960, a young boy and his older sister were out on a boat on the Niagara river just above the falls with a family friend, when the boat motor cut out. The boat eventually capsized, sweeping the three of them towards the falls. The girl was rescued by some people on the shore, but the older man and little boy went straight over the falls. Miraculously, Roger Woodward, who was only 7 years old at the time, survived wearing only swim trunks and a life vest. He was fished out of the river by staff aboard The Maid of the Mist. Unfortunately, the family friend was not so lucky.

Leaving Horseshoe Falls in NiagaraYou would think that the souvenir shops would capitalize on Niagara’s history of daredevils and stuntmen (and women), but unfortunately all they sold were cheesy pictures of the falls lit up by rainbow colored lights with flowery clip art around the edges. Outside the gift shop, there was a cabana complete with a tiki bar and a guitarist wearing a straw hat (I kid you not). This little town really needs to embrace its nature (pun intended) instead of building a theme park near it in order to ‘entertain’ the tourists. News flash, tourists are coming to see Niagara Falls, not to hang out at some crappy step-child imitation of Las Vegas.

The saddest part of the whole ordeal happened as I was checking out at the store. I had bought a couple postcards and a book written by a local about Niagara daredevils which I found tucked away on a hard-to-reach shelf on my way out. Clearly books are not priority items here. I looked at the cashier and asked, “Do you have any pictures or postcards of Annie Taylor’s barrel?” She looked at me, clearly confused, “Annie who?” I sighed and handed her some bills for my items, “Nevermind.”

Next: My adventure exploring Ottawa’s Parks

New York City: Free Yoga and MLS Game

New York: Day 2

Since I started practicing yoga in Montreal in March, I have tried to keep up with it as much as possible. Being on the road was no excuse not to continue my practice, so I did my best to locate a couple studios along the way.

In New York, my friend Katy had just started attending a place on St. Mark’s called Yoga to the People, which is a donation-based organization with locations in Seattle, Berkeley, San Francisco and two in New York city. They provide mats to rent for $2.00 and operate on a suggested donation of $10 a class. The classes are held in what appeared to be three floors of an apartment building. According to Katy, the group holds three classes simultaneously, one on each floor, and each class is filled to max before students are allowed on the next floor. All the classes are full all the time, so any latecomers are locked out. Yoga to the People NYC St. Marc's The class itself (or at least, the one I attended) was crowded (which is to be expected from a donation-only studio) and taught with a simplistic approach by a young (presumably volunteer) instructor. Though we did little more than several variations of Sun Salutations, I was exhausted by the end of the class. This instructor didn’t seem to believe in taking child’s pose. Downward-facing-dog was breaktime in her eyes. We also did very few floor poses, which made the cool down phase fairly short.

On the plus side, our instructor focused us on our breathing, and encouraged us to ignore any competitive drive we might be feeling and to instead center ourselves on the here and the now. She also had a stellar playlist filled with modern relaxing music – Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, Rho, The Album Leaf, etc. If you are looking for a relaxing, non-competitive yoga environment for a next-to-nothing cost, you should definitely check out Yoga to the People. Just a note, though, if you prefer to use props during your practice (blankets, blocks, belts, etc) you will have to bring your own. They have one or two of each of these things, but there’s no guarantee that you’ll get one in your class of 35.

Earlier in the weekend, I discovered that my Vancouver-dwelling sister was somehow going to be in the city on Saturday. Turns out her husband, who plays Major League Soccer for the Vancouver Whitecaps, was Vancouver Whitecaps MLS logoplaying a game against the New York Red Bulls that weekend. Shea, my brother-in-law, used to play for the Philadelphia Union, and my sister Julie planned to meet up with some friends in Philly, then to drive with everyone to NYC (or, more accurately, Jersey City) to watch the game.

I bribed my friend Katy with a free ticket to an MLS game and a chance to do something different, and we headed to the game after yoga. Unfortunately, we did not consider the fact that it was the weekend of the 10 year anniversary of September 11th and that we were taking the PATH train from the World Trade Center station. Needless to say, we were…quite late. We did manage to get there before the game was over, though and to participate in this lovely photo:

Post-game photo at Vancouver Whitecaps vs NY Red Bulls Sept 10

I bet you can figure out which one is my sister. (Hint: she's wearing a Whitecaps jersey).

After the game, we hung out in Jersey City (whose apparent claim to fame is having more bars on one street than anywhere else on the East Coast…or something). And in case you’re wondering (which you were) everyone in Jersey City does look like they came off of Jersey Shore (think brightly colored silk dresses and bouffants that would do Snooki proud). The bars there are equally over-the-top and filled with rhinestones-on-your-jeans glitz. (Ma’am, I’m going to have to ask you to step away from the bedazzler).

The only redeeming factor of the bar where we went was how good (and cheap!) their “bar food” was. None of us had had dinner yet, and we got large chicken sandwiches and other meals for less than $10 apiece. [Insert Jersey Shore food joke here]. Bottom line is, if you’re in NYC, party in NYC. If you’re in Jersey, take the all-night train to NYC, and party in NYC. Unless you’re looking to wear that bridesmaid’s dress a second time.

New York City: A Park, A School, and Stackable Cars

DAY 1: Welcome to New-effing-York

After parking in White Plains, I headed over to the train station that was connected to my parking deck. I was only able to pay to leave my car for 24 hours, but I noticed they had a call-and-pay system, so I could pay again from my cell without leaving NYC. Good news, since I planned to stay in the city a few days. Just as a side note to anyone who decides to park their car for a few days in White Plains – the deck I left my car in was only universally available after 10am on Friday through 5pm on Sunday (or a similar weekends-only schedule). So don’t go parking your car there during the week.

Grand Central Station New York, New York

The I'm-doing-the-weather-green ceiling in Grand Central Station threw me off a bit too

I waited an hour for the train, jumped on when it arrived, and rode the rickety thing 30 minutes to Grand Central, where I transferred to another line and met my friend Evan. The transferring was pretty easy. If you’ve ever used a subway system consistently before, you shouldn’t have any problem.

I dropped my stuff off and we headed downtown to check out all the happenin places (i.e. the Mac store on 5th ave where Evan works as well as Dubspot, the music production school he attends). The school, located in New York’s meat-packing district, had just opened some new labs and built them around an ultra-modern style mixed with beautiful exposed brick walls. I also noticed a number of African tribal masks lining the walls.

Dubspot Expansion Labs

Dubspot Music School (not the best pic, but you get the idea)

After checking out the school, we made our way to the Chelsea Market, and admired some of the cute shops and restaurants there. Ended up getting side-tracked by cool books (typical) in Posman Books, and spent a good half hour there before moving on.

Chelsea Market in NY, NY

After the market, we walked over to the High Line Park and walked along the bridge. The bridge was built in the 1930s “as part of a massive public-private infrastructure project called the West Side Improvement. It lifted freight traffic 30 feet in the air, removing dangerous trains from the streets of Manhattan’s largest industrial district” (High Line Website). There haven’t been any trains running on the bridge since the 1980s, and in the early 2000s, the High Line was transformed into a beautiful park stretching from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to West 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues.

Cool Windows in High Line Bridge in New York, New York

It was fashion week in New York, and there seemed to be some kind of photoshoot going on on the bridge and around it. I actually almost walked right into it – and the security guy wasn’t going to stop me! Evan had to tell me I was going the wrong way before I turned around. Guess it just goes to show that if you walk like you know where you’re going, few people will question you.

Fashion Week Photoshoot From High Line Bridge in New York City

Strangely, there was a plant in all of the planters on the bridge that smelled overwhelmingly like cilantro. But it definitely didn’t look like cilantro. For those of you who don’t know, cilantro is my one and only food allergy. Weird, huh? I tolerated the smell as long as possible, but we left the bridge sooner than intended (but not before snapping some cool shots of local architecture and signs!).

Melting Architecture in New York, New York

Garden Terraces in Apartment Building in New York, New York

Bicycle Sign in New York, New York

The spot where we got off the High Line Bridge was right next to a bizarre site. It was the strangest parking deck I have ever seen. Take a look.

Car Shelves in New York, New York

Umm, yes, those are cars stacked on top of each other. And they are not in line to be impounded or on a truck being shipped from one state to another. These are literally electronic car shelves, and they remind me of the system in the home of Pixar’s robot Wall-E (if you haven’t seen that movie, don’t worry about it. It’s not really that great). Regardless of how difficult it is to find a parking spot in NYC, I’m surprised by how many Beamers I see in this shelving unit. Although I suppose it pretty much guarantees your car won’t be broken into.

Empire State Building Sign in NY, NY

Looking at this plaque makes me think of Steampunk since it has been so popular on Etsy lately.

We wandered around a bit more then grabbed dinner and decided to go to the top of the Empire State Building (“Don’t go to any high-risk areas this weekend since it’s September 11th,” Evan’s dad had told him. Clearly we took that advice seriously).

It was dark out by the time we got to the top of the building, so we had some beautiful views of the city. There was even a saxophonist playing! Unfortunately, it did cost a good bit to climb the tower – $20 or so. But there were some perks to going in the evening. It wasn’t crowded so we didn’t have to wait in line very long. It was sweet passing through all those ropes that had been set up in case the line got extra long, like we had a fast pass. Also, the nighttime view is incredible. The wall surrounding the lookout is high enough that you can rest your camera on it like a tripod and get some pretty sick photos. Here are a couple of mine.

Nighttime View of the Hudson from Empire State Building in NY, NY

Nighttime View from Empire State Building in NY, NY

Next, free yoga in the city and my brother-in-law’s MLS game.

Hartford, Connecticut: Elizabeth Park, oldest rose garden in US

On my way down the coastline, I decided to make a stop in Connecticut somewhere because it was the only remaining state in the Northeast that I had not visited. Of course, I didn’t research very much ahead of time and while I was in Portland waiting on a response from my host in Boston, I researched places to stay in Connecticut. And wouldn’t you believe it, there are no hostels to speak of in the entire tiny state! Also, the majority of the Airbnb rooms on the coast were out of my price range or poorly located. So by default I ended up in Hartford.

It ended up being a good choice, though, as I discovered later that there were a number of old, beautiful gardens and parks surrounding the city (who knew?). Since I spent a while in Rhode Island, I arrived in Hartford a little after dark and decided to stay in for the night. The next day I headed to Elizabeth Park, the oldest (and one of the largest) municipal rose garden in the country. Check out my pictures below. (Keep in mind that it was mid-September and had been raining all week, so just imagine how the garden must look in the summertime!)

Afterwards, I wasn’t feeling too great so I skipped the other parks on my list and headed to White Plains, NY where I parked my car and hopped a train to NYC.

Providence, RI: Artsy Fartsy New England

Capitol Building, Providence, RI

Have you ever been to Providence? If not, you should plan a trip there, now. This is one of the most unique, quaint little towns I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. Unfortunately, I only had about 2 hours in the rain there and my camera battery died after only an hour or so. But I still managed to get a few pretty sweet pictures.

Quaint Square in Providence, RI

The town seems like a cross between New England Port town, Portland, ME and artsy-fartsy Asheville, NC. With its quaint, beautiful New England architecture and carefully-planned squares, as well as its narrow streets, Providence reminds me of a magnified version of Boston’s Little Italy (minus the good planning).

Mural in Providence, RI

At first glance, Providence seems like your typical homogenous New England town. But after wandering around for an hour or so, I began to notice little artsy stores and cafés run by people with tattoos and alternative styles of dress. I spotted murals like the one above scattered around the city, their designs far from the pleasant unassuming murals of many NE towns.

Flags in Providence, RI

Later, I mentioned my observations of Providence to a friend, “Well, I guess that makes sense what with the Rhode Island School of Design located there and all…” Huh, right. Then I remembered that Brown is also located in Providence – arguably the Ivy League with the most alternative methods of education.

Pretty Square in Providence, RI

Thinking about it now, it actually makes a ton of sense that Rhode Island would be a more liberal/free-thinking state. It was, after all, the first state to truly embrace the concept of religious freedom.

Small Point Café in Providence, RI

After wandering a while, I ducked into a coffee shop called Small Point Café, ordered a latte and set up my laptop. Later, I headed to the bathroom before leaving and was surprised by the artwork that greeted me.

Bathroom Creatures in Small Point Café in Providence, RIBathroom Creatures in Small Point Café in Providence, RI

Bathroom Creatures! How cool! There were about 6 of them scattered around the bathroom, each with a unique space-robot look to it. At this point my camera had died, so I had to bust out my cell phone because these guys just could not go undocumented!

Bathroom Creatures in Small Point Café in Providence, RIBathroom Creatures in Small Point Café in Providence, RI

After only a couple hours in this cool little city, I unfortunately had to continue my journey – staying in Hartford next! Can’t wait to make plans to actually stay in Providence sometime!

Park in Providence, RI