After being back in NZ for over a year and a half, I decided it was definitely time for another adventure. It didn’t take long to settle on the states as my next destination (Harry Potter World was what sold it really), but deciding exactly where took quite a bit longer. In the end, I decided to join another Trek America trip with my friend Laura for the first two weeks that would take us from New York, into Canada and back again. This would be followed by a couple of weeks visiting friends in Minnesota and finally, a two week road trip in California with my friend Natalie. Travelling with friends has meant I have had to be a lot more organised than I usually would, but it has been quite nice having everything all planned out (and even paid for) in advance.
Laura and I flew to Newark, New Jersey via LA. It took us over 25 hours from the time we arrived at Auckland Airport until we got to our hotel in Newark, so we were pretty exhausted by the time we got there at 2am local time. We didn’t want to waste our first day in New York though, so we dragged ourselves out of bed at 9am the next morning and caught the train to Manhattan. A friend of mine from Camp Hubert (also alled Natalie) lives in New York now, so she showed us around for the morning. Our first stop was to Artichoke Pizza for some genuine (and seriously delicious) New York pizza. We then made our way to the Highline Park. The Highline was a railway line that was used for tranposting goods in the meat packing district. Several years ago it was donated to the city and turned into a raised park. The whole area was designed so well. The space is very long and narrow, as most railway lines are, but they had incorporated different rest areas and artwork into it, which made for a really nice walk. The gardens were also very “organic” looking, utilising different green plants, rahter than flowers. This place is definitely a contender for my favourite spot in the city. We said goodbye to Natalie and then attempted to find a Target (kind of like the Warehouse) in New York to get pillows to take camping with us. This took quite a while and afterwards we were ready to catch the train back to Newark and relax in our hotel for the night.
The following day was the first of our tour. We made our way down to the hotel lobby bright and early and met the rest of our group. There were 10 of us in total, Laura and I from NZ, 1 from the Netherlands, 1 from Swizerland, 5 from the UK, and our tour leader from Texas. They seemed very quiet, but were all really nice. After some quick introuductions, we all piled into the van and made our way to our first stop of the trip, the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. Here we set up camp and made our way down to the lake for a freezing cold swim. The Finger Lakes were made by glaciers retreating, so they are very, very cold. After our swim, the over 21 year olds headed to the Americana Vineyard for some wine tasting. The wine snobs out there would probably not agree with me, but I thought the wine was great. My favourite was called Crystal Lake which basically tasted like grape juice, but they also specialised in some really delicious blueberry wines. Laura and I did buy a couple of bottles, but those are long gone.
bit tipsy from the wine tasting we headed back to camp for dinner, where Seth the trek leader was making his infamous “Spoon Burgers”. The way Trek America trips run is that you all put in $10 a day into a food kitty which is used to buy the for meals and things like firewoord and ice. You are in cooking groups and take turns to prepare dinner, with breakfasts and lunches serve yourself. This means that every 5 or so days a supermarket run is made and we divvy up a shopping list and hunt down our grocery items. It definitely save a lot of money not eating out all the time, and it is actually quite nice to cook once in a while. The “Spoon Burgers” had some very odd ingredients, including nearly an entire bottle of ketchup, but they actually tasted pretty good! Laura and I volunteered to do the dishes and everyone else sat and watched us in silence, which was definitely a bit strange.
The Finger Lakes were just a quick stop on our way to Canada, so the next morning we had to down our tents and pack up the van. Our first stop was the American side of the Niagra Falls. While the falls are neither the highest not the largest falls in the world, they are still very impressive. They are actually three falls, Horseshoe Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and American falls. They are also receding by an impressive 70cm a year. We took the Maid of the Mist boat ride to the bottom of the falls and got soaked from the mist coming off of the falls. We also tried this weird space-age icecream called “Dip not Dot”, which was tiny balls of (I think) freeze dried ice-cream.
Our second night was to be spent in the outskirts of Toronto, so after the falls we made our way there through some very slow traffic. My friend (yet another Natalie), who used to live in my flat in Aukland, is from Toronto so she picked Laura and I up and took us to dinner that night in Burlington and showed us around the area that she lives. Once we got back to camp we were pleased to see that the awkwardness seemed to have broken and everyone was hanging out and playing games (and talking!)
The next day we drove into the city and spent the day exploring the city. First stop was the Kensington Markets, which are a collection of Bohemian shops. Unfortunately we were there a bit too early for the shops to be open, but it was still a very cool and colourful neighbourhood. We then split up into smaller groups and Laura and I hung out with Saskia (from the Netherlands) and Mike (from the UK) for the day. We stopped at the Toronto sign first and got some stereotypical tourist pictures before heading to the underground mall. Because Toronto gets so cold in winter, they have a whole city under the streets that means you can go in between stores without having to go outside. After the mall we found a rooftop bar and made ourselves at home for a few hours, drinking giant bucket margaritas. We then headed to the waterfront, passing through Grafitti Alley on the way. Here we relaxed for a bit before meeting back with the others to go and watch a baseball game. The Toronto Blue Jays were playing the Tampa Bay Rays. Unfortunately the Blue Jays lost, but it was still a fun game – even if it did drag on a bit.
The next day we got up bright and early and headed to Algonquin, a provincial park in Ontario. We arrived early afternoon and quickly set up camp before heading off on a hike. It was a really pretty area and nice to get out for a walk. That night was my groups turn to cook and we made a Thai green curry – not the greatest, but edible. We also got savaged by mosquitos the entire time at the park.
The next day we headed out for another hike in the morning before a canoing trip in the afternoon. The highlight of the canoing trip was, without a doubt, that we got to see a moose. The guide said they aren’t too common to spot on trips, so we were pretty lucky. When we got back to the rental place Laura and I decided to go for a swim in the lake. Back at the camp Laura’s group cooked up some pasta and then we headed to bed to escape the mozzies.
Next up was Montreal. This was a very long drive and we stopped in Ottowa on the way, so once we got there there was not a lot of time left in the day. Here we were staying in a hostel, so we didn’t have to put up a tent! Laura and I were sharing a room with Grace, who was also our canoing buddy from the day before. Because this was the only place on the trip that we were staying in town we decided to go out. We started off with the pub crawl that the hostel had organised, but after spending an hour at the first bar and not getting served we split off from the group and started out own pub crawl. Slowly our trek group split off and went to bed, until it was just Laura, Seth and I. We ended up watching a band perform and didn’t get home until 4.30.
After a lesisurely sleep in the next morning, Laura and I headed out to explore Montreal. Our first stop was to climb Mont Royal for a view of the city. After quite a few stairs we made it to the top for a great view. There was also a communal piano at the top so we hung out here for a bit listening to some incredible pianists. After here we made our way to the old Town which has a very Europeans vibe to it (or a very Northern American vibe according to the Qubecqois people we met). On the way back to the hostel we grabbed some really delicious poutine from a dodgy looking liquor store. For those of you who aren’t aware of this particular delicy, it is essentially fries covered in gravy and cheese curds – and it is seriosuly good. That night we had dinner at O’Noir, which is a dark restaurant. This means that you are eating in the pitch black, you cannot see you hand in front of your face. The staff are mostly vision impaired, so are very good at navigating the restaurant. This was definitely a unique experience, when I first got in I freaked out a bit, but once you got used to the surroundings it was a lot of fun. Some people opted for a surprise meal so they had no idea what they were eating. I wasn’t that brave, but I did have surprise dessert. The food was really good, and noone had any idea if you you were eating with your hands. Win-win all around really. Laura, Grace and I decided to walk back to the hostel after dinner. On the way we passed a street art festival and a free concert. Montreal was buzzing and a really fun, exciting place to be during the summer.
The following day it was on to Quebec City, our last stop in Canada. On the way we stopped at the Mont Morrency falls and had a very sweaty climb to the top. It was back to camping in Quebec, so we set up camp and had burritos for dinner. The next day we headed into Quebec City and wandered around the old Town. Quebec felt even more like Europe than Montreal and it was a nice city to look around. That night we came back into the city for a ghost tour, which took us around the city and shared some of the stories of it’s history.
And that is where I will leave it for now. Apologies for any mistakes, this was typed on my phone which is not the easiest thing to do. Next stop: Maine.