Saturday, 4 April 2015

North America Part 3: The Great White North

Ok folks, it has been one hell of a while!!  And I am sorry for that.  However, whilst I've been bad and let this slide, I have been acting.  You see, I've recently been writing and uploading a variety of blogs to help avoid this is the future!  Regardless, it's time for us to move on.

So, we left the blog just as I was arriving in Edmonton, Canada, didn't we ay? And who was there to great me? My dear friend, whom I hadn't seen in over 5 years, Matt, whom I would be attending the wedding of. And how was he dressed to meet me? Just like this:

Yes, that is a massive banner with my name on it. Yes, that is a crown on his head. Yes, those are two massive, wooden swords at his side. And yes, Matt is slightly mental and 100% wonderful. After this fantastic welcome, we caught up in the airport and headed off to the hotel, merrily chatting away, and driving in his spectacularly massive truck. Pulling up at The Jane hotel, we arrived at a quirky, Victorian style B&B that was both affordable and great quality. For less than £200, we got a bedroom; a bathroom with a Victorian bath; a living room; a breakfast that was massive for two!

So, after dropping off my stuff at the hotel, at was about 10pm, which was the perfect time for some food and a drink. So, off we went in search of somewhere to eat and we came across the most perfect place I could have imagined; an American style bar with some soft rock, great burgers and cold beer. And so, my first night in Canada ended with a good friend and some good food and drink. Wunderbar!  The next morning and after another delicious French toast breakfast that had toast an inch thick, Matt decided to show me some of Edmonton's shops, whilst we picked up some cigars.

However, before we did that, we stopped off for the first, of many, times to that Canadian institute: Tim Hortons. Now, I like coffee and I've always viewed myself as a fairly heavy coffee drinker but after being in Canada, I sense that I might be wrong! Every trip basically begins with a stop at a 'Timmies' where, for my trip, it was usually a 'XL double double' in a double cup. This roughly translated to an extra large double cream, double sugar coffee in two cups (one as a cup holder) but you can go to tripled, quadruple and beyond! Though, my usual go to was a single cream dark roast with no sugar.

After our coffee, and just before we left the truck, we ended up with a a fairly epic and priceless moment: sitting in the car park, not having seen each other in years, singing Bohemian Rhapsody together on the radio in unison.


So, after our impromptu karaoke session, we headed around the town a bit with Matt showing me some of his favourite shops, before we picked up some cigars for his stag party (later that day) and headed to pick up his brother Andre from work.

Then with Andre leading the way, via somewhat fast driving, we grabbed some lunch and headed to our first step of the day: paint-balling at Young Guns Paintball.

Now, this was my first paint-balling event ever and it was brilliant fun! First of all, the place had around 18 different fields you could play with both urban and forest style, in a huge variety of sizes.  There was even a large map with multiple levels! Another plus was that because there was only three of us, we were allowed to join a group of 7 players who were on a team building exercise. This meant we could have some 5v5 games. All in all, this was an amazing introduction to paint-balling, and although I did get shot a lot, I did manage to get a few people myself!

After a few hours of sweaty, painty fun, we packed up and headed to our next stop: Wyld Archery. Here, we rented some recurve bows and a lane each, and spent a few hours firing arrows and relaxing after our paint-balling. Eventually, and once our fingers were sore from the bow strings, we headed off for the final part of the night: rib eye steaks cooked to perfection at Andre's, with a couple of beers (none for Matt) and some very nice Cuban cigars next to a bonfire. These few paragraphs and my generally unskilled writing doesn't convey how enjoyable the day really was and whilst I know that Matt enjoyed it, I really hope he enjoyed it as much as I did, if not more.

After a very deep sleep, and then a lazy morning, we checked out from the hotel and headed back to Andre's house for some bacon and pancakes, with maple syrup. Dear god, I haven't had as many unhealthy breakfasts in my life, as I did when I was in North America but I digress.

After breakfast, we headed off to the local 'hunting shop' Cabela which is basically a megastore outfitted with rifles, compound bows and every type of outdoor activity gear you can imagine. Now, I know what you're thinking: 'why were you heading to a hunting store?'. Well, it turns out that we wanted to see if they had a crossbow range we could use, However, they didn't so I didn't get to try one out but it wasn't a wasted trip as we did manage to try some maple syrup and bacon fudge which was, how should I put it, unique.  Plus, I got to see a fascinating store as well.  Win - win!

So, Matt and I piled back into his massive truck and began the long drive (which isn't that long for Canada) to Matt's home in Lloydminster. Needless to say, we took a detour to Tim Hortons on the way. This is perhaps the only place in the world where I've fell asleep for an hour and woke up to the exact same scenery. And that is not an insult at all. I loved the drive and the scenery, and other than the sleep, it was nice sharing a long drive with Matt: chatting, drinking coffee and listening to rock radio.  It was...peaceful.

Eventually, we arrived and I finally met, very briefly, Brandi who has been a wonderful addition to Matt's life. We then headed off to help set up the wedding and then rehearse it, which took the rest of the day and had plenty of fun doing so (I did anyway, I suspect the bride and groom may have been somewhat stressed).  Once done, we all headed back to Matt's place to have some Chinese food. One thing that's definitely worth noting is that during this time, I was able to see Kathy (Matt's mum) again and, to my complete surprise, Amber (below, the black dog). Now, this was a complete surprise as Amber was a dog that Matt had back when he lived in the UK. It was brilliant and one of those genuine moments you never expected.  She might have been older but she still had her puppy energy and she eventually she remembered me!  Once everyone headed to their hotel for the night, Matt, Andre and I stayed at the house to play some Dungeons and Dragons before bed.

Soon enough, and after not enough sleep, it was the big day and the reason that I had dragged a kilt halfway around the world: the wedding! Before the ceremony could start though, we had to get a couple of jobs done first! First up was the collection of 144 of the most delicious crème-cheese frosted cupcakes I've had the pleasure of having, with one type being carrot cake and the other banana (and the actual wedding cake as well).  Moist and creamy.  I liked very, very much. And now I'm hungry.

Having managed to stave off the urge to devour them all in a cup-cake frenzy, we dropped them off at the wedding venue and headed back to Matt's to get ready. And then, it was time for a crepe breakfast at a quirky little restaurant in town, and as usual, I don't mean quirky in any sort of negative way. It was my kind of restaurant, with lots of different things like jewellery and art work to look at whilst eating (and buy). It even served cucumber water! During this time we actually had one of the two photographers, Jim (really nice guy, also in a kilt) with us to take pictures of us getting ready and eating banoffee crepes with coffee (and then actually getting ready at the hotel...we did have a wedding to get to after all).

After breakfast, it was time for us to go and get dressed: Matt and Andre in their matching suits (rather dashing chaps) and me in my kilt (matching tops). Once we were all done up, it was time for that special ride to the church after hiding in the bathroom for a while (to avoid the bride), made all the more special by the car we were being driven in. Now, Brandi and Matt had actually won a competition to be driven to the church (and then have photographs with) an authentically restored Ford Galaxy. Now then, I'm not a car expert (or even a beginner really) but this was a stunning car that drove perfectly, and was very, very loud.  Great fun!

And finally, after a whole lot of fun, it was time for the wedding and it... is not my story to tell! Whoops, bit of an anti-climax.  I'm not going to go into detail, as it's Matt and Brandi's story for them to share and I don't want to take that from them.   However, I will say this: it was beautiful and it went really well. Brandi was absolutely beautiful when she came out and Matt was as handsome as I had ever seen. It was a lovely ceremony for everyone involved, and everyone had a great time.

As for the reception, well there was great food and even better cupcakes. The company was brilliant and I even line-danced a bit. However, let's just keep that our little secret, shall we?  It was nice to spend some time with Matt's family again, meet other members of it and meet loads of Brandi's relatives as well,  Honestly, it was a beautiful day and a lovely night and I am honoured to have been the best man and I am so very pleased I could attend. Brandi and Matt, thank you for inviting me and I wish you happiness forever.

For more (and much better) photographs of the wedding, please follow the link:

After the wedding, it was time to head back to Matt/Brandi's house for some more drinks with some of their family and friends, via a ride in the boot of a large car. Here I got a rather enjoyable lesson in beer pong and Canadian parties. Eventually, we all crawled into our respective beds and fell asleep. Not for long again, as we then needed to get up the next day to help tidy up the wedding venue (though not before a 'timmies', of course). What followed was a rather lazy day, filled with Wii Mario, opening wedding presents (I just watched, of course) and popping round to the supermarket to buy food (for me to take home). This sleepy Sunday was well deserved by all, as it had been an extremely busy period for everyone. The day was rounded off by an interesting take on Dungeon and Dragons; a board game version which was extremely fast-paced and action-filled.

All too fast, it was my final day with Matt but, just like when he picked me up from the airport, he pulled out all the stops. After another long drive (with some brilliant chat, and, of course, the obligatory 'Timmies' plus breakfast...pretty sure we solved space travel during this trip), we arrived out our main destination: the largest mall in North America, West Edmonton Mall. Matt had planned a rather fun day out, to see me off, and everything we needed was right here. First off, and accompanied by Andre, we wandered around the mall which included a theme park, an ice rink, a waterpark and much more. Massive!

Then, fueling up with a cinnamon bun, we headed to our second stop: a gun range! Yup, this mall even had a gun range were you could select your weapon (or weapons) and let loose against your selected targets. We opted for a Beretta Storm, a semi-automatic pistol and a colt 45. It might be cliché to say but dear god, the Colt kicked like a mule. Even with the ear protectors, it was like a small explosion next to you and your body jerked with every shot fired. Something completely original and great fun that I wouldn't be able to try at home.

Once we had had our fill of firing guns ( or ran out of bullets), we headed to our next stop which was the indoor water park, complete with wave pool. I hadn't been to a water park in years, and it was so much fun! I'm honestly not lying when I say it was some of the best fun that I've had for years (even if I was a bit of a wimp on some of the steeper slides). I was like a teenager again, just running around and having fun! Some of the absolute highlights were:
  • A large ring slide where all three of us could use the same ring
  • The wave pool, which is one of the few places in the world where you can land on top of someone and they just laugh it off
  • Trying to run in the 'Hurricane', which was a fast-spinning sphere filled with a little water. Basically, you tumble...a lot
  • Corn dogs and pretzels by the pool
  • And of course, the Jacuzzi
It was so much fun, that I can't believe that it's took me so long to do it! However, this joy was offset by the realisation that it was time to say goodbye to Matt. Once again, thank you Matt and Brandi for inviting me into your home and for making sure that I had such a great time. I can't wait to visit again and see you both! My day then ended with a beer and some absolutely amazing BBQ Pulled Pork Poutine that Andre both recommended and then took me to have, which was a great meal to end my time in Edmonton. Thank you to everyone who made my time so memorable and fun!  Matt, Brandi Andre, Kathy and everyone at the wedding: thank you for looking after me and making me feel like part of the family.

And with that, it's almost time for my journey to end! However, there's one last post left but I will make sure it's a good one!

Pick of the Week

S.Luca's – Now then, going for ice cream in winter may not be the smartest idea but when it's this good, it's well worth it! Alison suggested that we go to Luca's when we were in Morningside, Edinburgh as she thought the ice cream was really good and she wasn't wrong! They make their own, in a variety of flavours including nutella, Christmas pudding and many others plus you can get their ice cream in a variety of traditional dishes! Absolutely delicious but be warned, it can get cold inside so bring a jacket!

Music of the Week.   

Perhaps it was picked because I'm listening to it right now or maybe it's been picked because I've been listening to it a lot recently.  Guess we will never know but what we do know is that this week's song is Abingdon Boys School - Desert Rose.

See you all next Week!

North America Part 2: Insert cliche big apple title here

God, my bus was too early. Or was it too late? Either way, a bus to New York at 2am in the morning is a useful, if not entirely fun experience. However, it meant that I had the full day in New York, so I can't complain. After a not very restful doze on the bus, and after navigating the underground and streets of New York, I arrived at my destination: The Jane Hotel. Checking in, I was greeted by a grand old-fashioned hotel reception and by staff dressed like bell-hops. Then, I headed up to my room and entered my room, a small room that's designed to look like an old-fashioned train sleeper car. And when I say small, I mean tiny. I could actually reach out and touch both sides of the room. However, I knew it was going to be small and I absolutely loved it anyway

After a shower and a change of clothes, I headed off into the wild of New York and travelled down to pay a quick visit to the lady of liberty, The Statue of Liberty. Instead of paying for a fancy tour, I took the advice of several people and jumped onto the free Staten Island Ferry for a trip that floats right past her.

After I returned, I grabbed a quick breakfast of toast from a nearby breakfast van (that's a new experience for me, buying toast from a van). I continued on my whirlwind tour of Manhattan and headed to Broadway and Times Square to enjoy the flashing lights. However, I actually ended up arriving from the subway at the Flat-Iron building (or whatever it's called) which is a spectacularly thin building, where I even found Staples handing out free coffee and chocolate. I eventually headed off to Broadway and enjoyed wandering around the area, with flashing lights and show billboards.

After I had had my fill of the glitz and glamour, I headed of the serene and sanctuary of Central Park, which is absolutely massive. I mean huge. I spent over two hours there, just wandering around and enjoy the sights but I only ended up doing half of it. During this time, I:
  • saw multiple horse-drawn carriages roaming the park
  • visited a boating lake
  • climbed a fake castle
  • ate a rather delicious hotdog smothered in onions
  • wandered through multiple trails
I won't bore you with the details but instead, I will show you lots of pretty pictures!

Next up was a sight that not many people would do, but as a fan of Daredevil, I couldn't not. Yes, I took the detour to Hells Kitchen for a bit of geeky sightseeing. Not going to lie, I didn't exactly stay very long but it was nice to see it! I then stopped for a quick beer, before heading to two better known sights: the Empire State Building and Central Station, where I ended up having a quick wander around (I didn't go up the building but I did enjoy seeing just how tall it was).

Now then, it was about this time that my knee (which you may remember from last week was hurting) began making my whirlwind tour of New York close to unbearable. As it was nearing the evening, I made the decision to head back to the hotel to rest up a bit before dinner. I then made the silly decision to walk from the Empire State Building, all the way to my hotel in the Meatpacking district.

Not. A. Smart. Idea

For those who have been, and probably most people in general, New York is absolutely massive and surprise surprise, so was the distance to my hotel. Whoops. After dragging my now aching knee back most of the way, I ended up at the only decent point of this error: the highline. For those who don't know, the highline is an old, disused raised railway that has been turned into a rather nice park, which is a pleasure walk along as you get to see the coast and all the old buildings. So, although I was in pain at this point, I at least got to enjoy the walkway.

After I arrived at the hotel and after I rested for a bit, I went out for a slice of pizza in a small eatery nearby, which was absolutely delicious! And as I downed my slice and sipped on a beer, my first day of New York came to a close.

My second day started off much like the first: with a hunt for breakfast. And just like last time, it was delayed as I headed straight to the Top of the Rock, i.e. the viewing point on the top of the Rockefeller Centre. After being the first up the elevator, I found myself standing significantly higher than I had been and overlooking the city. Whilst I will be the first to admit that it was slightly underwhelming after a while, it is still fairly amazing to see the city and central park extending towards the horizon.

After a fairly controlled plummet back to the ground flour, via the lift, I headed off to Times Square in search of breakfast and eventually settled for a sweet croissant with a coffee, sitting in the middle of the square.  After my meal, I headed to one of the most famous art museums in the world: Museum of Modern Art (or MoMA for short). Now, I've spoken about the fact I don't really enjoy modern art but I thought to myself, I will give it one more chance at the most renowned institutes in the world for it. And I have to say, I still don't particularly enjoy it. However, I'm pleased that I tried it and I did enjoy seeing some of Picasso and Dali's work. I also really liked just sitting in the statue garden for a while again. If you like modern art, then the MoMA is very much for you.

After my second foray in the American art world, I started to head back to my hotel but before that, I will share with you the thing that surprised me the most about New York. Despite being a big city, and a hectic city at that, the city had lots of nooks and crannies for you to sit and unwind or enjoy a coffee and minute of peace in. It was a really nice touch to see what were once dark alleys transformed into relaxing havens.

Now back to my adventures and I am now near my hotel when, with a rumbling stomach, I popped into a New York deli for a 'sub' and what a sub it was! Dear god, it was unbelievably delicious and stuffed with goodies. Basically, and just like Subway, you order your sandwich from the counter but unlike Subway, you can actually watch them carve the ham fresh off the joint and cut the different cheeses from their block. And it was stuffed, and it was delicious. Pictures below:

After demolishing that massive mound of meat and cheese, I arrived and met my old friend: Cara and what a brilliant reunion it was! Having known Cara for years, and having met her once in the UK, it was amazing to see her again and catch up after so long. After chatting for a bit at the hotel, we then decided to wander around a bit and see some of New York whilst chatting. Now, it is worth noting that during this walk, Cara had decided to buy me a huge amount of American sweets (or candy). And I mean a huge was a massive bag of sugary goodness, and it will most likely last me for the next few years (though I have tried everything). Thank you very much Cara, for these sweet treats!

After wandering and chatting for a while (and buying some new trainers for my aforementioned knee), we arrived at the 9/11 memorial which, to me at least, is a fitting and beautiful tribute to an incident that not only claimed thousands of lives but also changed the faces of all our countries.

After spending some time at the memorial, we began to slowly make our way back to the hotel, this time via the Wall Street Bull, where she treated me to a slice of delicious pizza which we ate in a nearby park. Nothing like sharing a slice or two with an old friend. Sadly, and as Cara had an exam the next day, it was time to say goodbye until the next time. Thank you very much for taking the time to come and see me Cara: it was great to see you again!

After a wander, I checked out some local supermarkets and picked up a pack of Dogfish Head beers which is a brilliant beer, recommended to me by Michael, which I then polished off whilst packing. And yes, they are amazing.

My third and final morning in New York was fairly quiet but extremely pleasant. After a final wander along the riverside, I headed back to the Chelsea Market where I had a breakfast of country biscuits and jam with a coffee, whilst sitting watching people go by.  A great breakfast.

After that, it was time to head off to the airport where, for lunch, I tried my first ever burrito which was another mouth watering treat. Let me put it this way: you know what you're eating was good when an hour later, and whilst being served in a shop, the shop assistant tells you that your food looked amazing as she passed by and saw it.

And with that (and perhaps after a small tub of Ben and Jerries), I flew to Canada for the next stage of my journey. Here, I was then met by Matt, who was dressed like...

Well, let's just leave that for next week, shall we?

Pick of the Week

The Flash - It's another superhero show!  And it's pretty good!  Try to keep up with the red blur, as he begins to explore his new powers.  However, what is particularly interesting is that it has dropped a huge amount of hints and easter eggs into the series already, about what's to come!  Additionally, it's an interesting glimpse into the future of DC, with the addition of superhero powers into the tv world.

Music of the Week

This week it's a fairly new song for me but one that caught my attention straight away.  It's from Slipknot's new album: XIX.

See you all next week!