A Travellerspoint blog

From Niagara Falls to Detroit - sweatiest walk of my life

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Entry 16 Fri 13th May

Today’s plan was a walk across the brightly named Rainbow Bridge to Canada and on to the Greyhound station for a several hour journey to a small town near Detroit where I would get picked up by my cousin's friend. All planned at the very last minute of course. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The night before I had hastily Googled the route from the hostel to the Canadian bus station and I was confident I could walk it. As you can maybe already tell from how I’m phrasing this; it wasn’t as easy as I had presumed.

I knew the first part of the journey to the bridge because I’d already done it. I walked from the hostel to said bridge and across it. The next portion was aided by a few notes I had expertly created in a draft text message on my phone, consisting of a few street names that I should turn on. I had no means to print any decent directions so these basic self-made instructions had to do. Sure I could have maybe gotten some paper and made some half decent directions and notes but where’s the fun in that? In the bright-lit room with Sensible and Smart that’s where.

This blog entry has been majorly delayed as I’ve been busy (having the time of my life) but I also think in part because I didn’t want to have to revisit this journey. I’ve been hurt deep. I needed some time before I could reimagine and retell possibly the worst walk of my life.

A few things contributed to make this walk horrific. Let me now tell you them, undoubtedly to your amusement.
This day was HOT. I mean really hot. One of the hottest days I’d encountered on my trip so far and I’d already had some great weather. Another big factor was because my backpack was so tightly packed I had to wear my bulkiest, heaviest and therefore warmest clothes just so I could zip the bag up. And thirdly, the entire second half of the walk was uphill.

My chosen outfit consisted of my hiking boots, black heavy combat pants, t-shirt, jumper, and of course my trusty hat. 20KG backpack on my back, 6KG daypack on my front and…and, why did I do this…a carrier bag around my wrist full of sweets and crisps (I was craving them the night before and I didn’t finish them but I couldn't bear to leave them behind). So I was fully clothed for winter and majorly compressed in between large heavy luggage. I looked like a melting Oreo.

I’d like to point out that I didn’t know how hot it was before I set off. I woke up and got ready according to the best bag fit. The weather had been crap here so I had no reason to think otherwise. I realised it was hot as soon as I left but I didn’t think I would have any trouble and so continued on not too concerned for my health and wellbeing. (You can see how much it hurts me to tell this story and why I’ve put it off)

The first part to the bridge was okay, it was hot but I was doing okay. I turned right after the bridge and began walking into the unknown except for a few street names on my phone. The street started to get steeper, and steeper. I’m sweating just retelling this story; my body remembers it and is stressed at the thought of it. I just smartly removed the pillow from behind me so I won’t be sleeping with my face on a back-sweat-filled pillow later tonight.

Anyway I started to struggle; all four straps were starting to pull down on my shoulders now after about 30 minutes and I started to hope I was close to my main turn to the bus station. I passed uphill street after uphill street and still did not see the street name I was looking for. Journeys always seem so much longer when you don’t know where you’re going. After around 30 minutes of uphill walking I was starting to get weary; everywhere was sweating. My hat had created a furnace within it from the hot sweat off my head. I’m glad my hat has holes in it or I probably would have passed out; at least some heat could escape. The fact that I had two big heavy bags compressed onto me made me even hotter, body heat and sweat couldn’t really escape the same way. I started to think I had to stop somewhere to rest. Then I got the usual male self-conscience messages of ‘Stop?! What if you were in the army? You’ve only been walking 45 minutes!’’ Yeah. Et cetera..

I carried on for another 10 minutes or so before I had to say screw you to my inner drill sergeant and I collapsed on to a stone wall at the bottom of a garden. The feeling as the weight of the backpack disappeared from my back on to the wall was incredible. I took off the front bag but left the big pack on as it would require too much effort to take off and put back on again. I despairingly looked ahead up the street and cursed my carrier bag full of snacks for a few minutes before gearing back up and heading off UP the street.

I had to stop one more time before the street finally levelled off. I would admit if I was totally unfit (I was moderately fit) but this was annoyingly hard work. The bags, the heat, the uphill walk, no water (Just freaking crisps!) All contributed to an effing hard walk. I was worried that I had missed my turn or if i was on the wrong street so I asked someone in their garden who thankfully told me my intended street was indeed further along. To cut the rest short I walked another 15 minutes or so and turned left and the bus station was only another 5 minutes away. I walked in and went straight to the counter to get my ticket. I was still early, even though it had taken me about an hour and a half; I had set off in plenty of time because the Greyhound website said you need to pick your ticket up at least an hour before departure. So I was still 30 minutes or so early.

I now had a dilemma – horribly sweaty and a long bus journey ahead, versus a full backpack and not long before departure. I had to get changed; I’d confront the backpack situation once I was changed. I went to the toilets just stripped off. Sweat was visible right through to my outer grey jumper. A massive dark patch on my chest (I never sweat there normally – the daypack compressed on to me did the job though) and my back was basically just a black jumper. So I stripped off, washed in the sink and dug out a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. It felt like I’d been born again. I put my sweaty clothes and boots in the carrier bag as they had no chance of fitting in my backpack.

Hellish walk over, it was time for a nice relaxing bus journey. On we all get an I have two seats to myself woop. Oh great, someone has a baby with them. It’s just a ticking time bomb until it starts to fit out and scream & cry and be more unwanted than a virgin loving terrorist. Of course it did indeed start to scream not long in to the journey. I was prepared for this and I had my laptop open so I popped in my earphones and put some music on instantly. Shortly after I could see person after person popping in earphones, it was funny - after like five minutes the entire bus had earphones on listening to music to avoid hearing the crying baby. I could still hear the muffled sounds of the baby under the music. I know it sounds harsh but if the bus had a vote to throw it out of the window, I think I would have been the man to step up and perform the task. For the good of the bus.

I’d hate to be the parent of a crying baby in public because they must know that everyone now hates them and their baby and is considering how to oust them. Evolution and natural selection did a great job overall; sure I’m thankful for consciousness and eyesight etc. but screaming babies when they don’t even need anything? Really? Come on.

Another bus goer of note was a half a man. No legs whatsoever, nothing from the waist down it seemed. I was already sat down when he got on the bus; he caught my attention when I saw him out of the corner of my eye dragging himself by his hands along the bus floor to his seat to which he climbed up on to. It kind of shocked me to see a half man come out of nowhere dragging himself along the floor. I didn’t know if I’d missed a bomb go off or what. He had a big smile on his face so I relaxed again and enjoyed the ride.

The journey was pretty uneventful. I saw a drive-thru beer store which I thought pretty hilarious. I arrived at my destination, a small Canadian town near the border and was greeted by one of my cousin’s friends who had been given a description of me to look out for. ‘A backpacker in a hat’ I imagine. We drove through to America after a few security questions at the border and headed to a bar/restaurant in Detroit for some food with the guy’s wife and my cousin. We had a nice meal – far too much food for me, I could only manage like half of it. Luckily as with everywhere in America, I could take away my food in a nice box to have later. I went back to my cousin Sarah’s and crashed out after a long tiring day.

Posted by Explorer_T 21:46 Archived in USA Tagged bus niagara_falls usa canada greyhound Comments (0)

Niagara Falls

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Entry 15 Thurs 12th May

I was up early and ready to see the falls. I used the hostels pancake grill type thing to make my breakfast. The hosts supplied the mix and you just pour it on the cooker and wait a minute and you’re done. It’s not the type of pancakes us Brits eat on Pancake Day etc. though; it’s that thicker, dry bread type pancake. Oh well. A bit of unhealthy syrup made it better. Great breakfast. I’m yet to find a hostel that provides a decent healthy breakfast but oh well, eat like the locals I guess.

The hostel/home was really nice, all wooden with a big porch and those double front doors that you see in American programs.

I got out my local area map and set off for the falls. The walk to the falls was very nice. I crossed an overpass over a busy road which led to a quiet path at the riverside. I walked for around 10 minutes before I saw the first pockets of tourists. The area near to the falls was really pretty with lots of grassy areas filled with colourful flowers and bursting with various species of birds and both grey and red squirrels.

The path I walked down took me under a big observation tower and towards ‘the thunder’. As I got closer the thunder got louder; my pace quickened and quickened until I arrived at the edge of the path and boom – the roaring bright white power of the American Falls were there, up close and personal. The sound was just awesome; a never ending roar of pure power.

It took me a few minutes to actually take my first photo. I just kind of stood there with my camera in my hands staring at the immensity of the falls. Here was another thing I’d seen so many times in movies and on TV over the years and it was now right in front of me, assaulting my vision and hearing. To just stand there immobile and watch the huge flow of never ending water pile over the side kamikaze style into the vast mist below was breath-taking.

Once I had slightly accustomed to the brilliant sight I started to snap a few photos. My eyes were really sensitive as I’d put my contact lenses in when I got up and although the weather was pretty overcast, the falls themselves are just an intense bright white and I was squinting for a good 20 minutes as the brightness tried to bombard, invade and overwhelm my shy retinas.

If you know a little about the Niagara Falls you will know that they comprise of two main waterfalls (actually three but the third is unimportant); so you have the American Falls and The Horseshoe Falls. Through my reading and research on the falls I continually read that the Horseshoe Falls were the big daddy and the better falls to see. So I imagined that I would feel a little impatient and rushed to go see the bigger falls when I arrived at the American; but I didn’t. You get to be so close to the American Falls and because it’s not that wide, but so voluminous, it captures you in its powerful grasp and you forget about the bigger falls which you can see in the distance.

I planned loosely in my head to see the American Falls, then go over the Rainbow Bridge to Canada and get up close to the Horseshoe Falls, then once I’d seen them both I would consider doing some of the activities on offer. I couldn’t wait; the famous Maid of the Mist boat tour was right next to me. I went over to the observation tower, paid $13.50 for both the viewing tower and the boat tour. I took some more photos from the tower that extended further out over the river. The tower had a pretty good angle of both falls; being close to the American but also having a near full wide angle view of the Horseshoe Falls. The only problem is that the Horseshoe Falls are so massive and so powerful that they are mostly hidden by their own towering cloud of mist that rises much higher than the falls themselves.

After a few quick photos I excitedly rushed to the elevator to descend down to the Maid of the Mist. There wasn’t any queuing for any of this which was great and I later learned that I was actually very lucky as I saw a queue of about 30 people at the entrance to the ticket box. I went down the elevator with a few other people and on the way to the boat we were given our blue waterproof anorak. I joined the queue of people that were already near the dock and only had a 5 minute wait or so for the boat to return from its previous journey.

On to the Maid of the Mist. Everyone piled up on to the top deck and it was already seeming full as I approached; I noticed that the bottom deck was empty and therefore some great spots right at the front of the boat so I headed there for a prime viewing spot. I don’t know why everyone crammed up on top because the only difference is that you would just get 100 times more wet, the views would be the same. There was a loud speaker telling us little bits of information throughout the journey, which soon got drowned out by the thunder of the falls. Drowned being an intended and relevant pun.

We passed the American Falls first at a comfortable speed, not too fast so we had plenty of time to take photos and appreciate the scene. I could move around comfortably from the front to the side as there were only around 10 people on the bottom deck. The American Falls are kind of straight and flat and the Horseshoe Falls obviously curve around as the name would suggest, but it is more than twice the width of the American Falls, so it didn’t take too long to pass by the first. I got sprayed a little from the first falls but nothing too bad. Not even one percentile of what was about to happen anyway.

We only had a few minutes of travel time to reach the colossal Horseshoe Falls; which was spent taking continuous photos, getting ever closer. We started getting sprayed with water as soon as we entered the semicircle and… well it just got crazy. Cameras had to be hidden away; hoods had to be put up and held on to so they didn’t blow back off. It felt like we were riding through the middle of a storm on the high seas. The wind was so strong it literally threw us around; one middle-aged woman had to grab my arm so she didn’t end up flying across the deck. We were endlessly battered in the body & face by water and wind, it was near impossible to see anything. This part of the ride wasn’t for taking photographs; it was to experience the power of the falls first hand. No photos could describe how awesome it was to go through, it really was one of the best things I’ve ever done. To be in the middle of what felt like a tornado, hearing and feeling the pure power and energy of the Niagara Falls was more than I ever expected; it assaulted everyone’s senses and left us shell-shocked.

After the boat had turned and left the storm it felt quiet, even though the falls were still right behind us, it was quiet compared to what we just went through. Amongst the forged silence there were gasps of shock and amazement from the people on-board; I think like me, they didn’t expect it to be so violently awesome.

I did attempt a little bit of a comedy video for those who share my inner-circle of comedy taste – from the movie Bruce Almighty when Jim Carrey is on the Maid of the Mist and he freaks out for one reason or another. Okay so first of all, anything like that is hard when trying to record it yourself, and second of all… it wasn’t really doable for most of the journey as I really would have looked insane shouting the stuff he does, so I tried it when we were in the midst of the Horseshoe Falls and well, my camera got soaked and you couldn’t even hear me, I properly shouted ‘’Eroooadddding’’ like in the movie, but upon the playback all you could hear was the deafening roar of the falls. Oh well. Niagara Falls 1, T zero, but that’s nothing to be ashamed about.

After the awesomely awesome Maid of the Mist I set off for ‘Rainbow Bridge’. This is the bridge that crosses over from the US into Canada for the apparently better views of the falls. There are some good photo opportunities on the bridge as you can comfortably fit both falls in one frame. I arrived at the Canada border patrol place and was asked a few of the usual security questions and was given a stamp to enter Canada for up to 6 months; sweet, I only wanted an afternoon.

The things that I’d read were true, the views are much better over on the Canadian side; you have a front on view of the American Falls (although being on the American side you can get right up to the side of it and appreciate the power of it which is maybe better if I had to pick just one here) and you can get right next to the Horseshoe Falls and see the water fall over the edge. The views of the bigger falls are definitely better on the Canadian side.

So I described how the American side of the falls has lots of grassy areas with flowers and wildlife, what of the Canadian side? Terrible, tacky, & commercial. There’s basically a Blackpool Pleasure Beach just stuck on to the side of the falls area. I walked through it briefly just to see what it was like. I left the area again as soon as I could; it was filled with kids running from a big wheel ride to a haunted house to a fast food place. Not for me thanks.

Directly on the ‘fall front’ right up near the Horseshoe Falls are a bunch of hotels which I imagine have some pretty awesome views of the falls, but it again kind of ruins the natural beauty of the falls themselves. It’s weird because if you had to guess which side would be embarrassingly commercial I bet most would guess the USA side – but not so. Not so bro.

I didn’t stop over in Canada as long as I thought I would and I set off back to the bridge after a bite to eat. Upon entering the border station I saw that the USA had seen a little money making opportunity and taken advantage; to get back to America you have to pay a toll of 50 cent to go through a turnstile. Cheeky I thought, but being a slight annoyance wasn’t my main issue, as I’d learn – I had no money. I only brought out a few dollars with me and I’d just spent that on damn fatty calories. I had my credit card with me but I really didn’t want to have to get cash out on a credit card just for 50 cent. I looked in my pockets and I had change that added up to around 25 cent. Okay, stage one would be to try to get my change swapped for a quarter coin (you had to use two quarters and nothing else). I didn’t know what was going to happen after I had one quarter, beg? But just one stage at a time I thought, we’ll get to that when I get my first quarter. I saw a currency conversion stall across the road and went in. The Canadian lady in there was amazing; I explained that I just needed to swap for one quarter as I couldn’t get back to America, and she just gave me the full 50 cent that I needed and told me to keep my own change as well. Legend. Thank Canadaaa!

I returned to the hostel and relaxed for a few hours. As this was my one full day here I was going to head back to the falls again later to see them at night. I got speaking to a guy and a girl at the hostel (I never quite figured out if they were a couple or not but they were on holiday together). The guy looked Asian and the girl looked Indian, but they were both French, living in different parts of France. We arranged to go to the falls at night together which was good as we all agreed we didn’t fancy walking around the area at night time alone or just as a two.

The falls looked amazing at night; powerful coloured lights are shone from the Canadian side on to the falls. There were red, blue, white, and yellow lights shone on all different parts of the falls. The Canadian skyline looked great too. I took the opportunity to practise with my DSLR camera and took it off the faithful auto mode and set a longer shutter speed; I got some of my favourite photos up to that point on this night. The long shutter speed makes the water seem smooth which shows the movement and flow of the falls, along with the bright lights illuminating them, I was pretty happy with the photos.

It was really dark now and we started to head back for the hostel. I’ve just got one more little interesting thing that happened to tell before I close this out. On our journey back we were heading towards a couple walking towards us and as we passed the guy said hello, which is fairly normal among Americans so I said a hello back to which he stopped and said "Oh wow you said hello back, that means you mustn’t be from around here.’’ The three of us turned and said no and told them where we were from etc. The guy told us that they were from another place in the states and that their car had broken down and they needed help, "Oh here we go’’ I thought. He told us how he had just asked someone for help and he was told "No we don’t help Niggers.’’ (Yeah they were black)… to which I was astonished, and confused as the entire area was predominantly black. He asked for us for help in the form of money to which I said none of us had any and then he pretty sharply went from a nice guy to turning around and walking off with his partner. The two French people I was with didn’t really hear or follow most of the conversation but after thinking about it I’m pretty sure it was a slightly advanced version of just simply asking for spare change; by saying that someone had just been racist to them it could make me/us feel apologetic and feel a need to help them out. Maybe. I’m probably over thinking it but either way I had no money even if I wanted to help. If I had helped out every person who’d asked me for money since arriving in the USA I’d have no money left already.

I spent a part of the evening trying to find some way to travel to my next destination the following day and once I booked it I got an early night as I had a lengthy bus journey the next day which would go up, across and down through Canada back to the US to Detroit. DETROIT WHAT.

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Posted by Explorer_T 22:53 Archived in USA Comments (0)

3 videos that I've made up to now- NYC / D.C / Niagara Falls

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For anyone who hasn't seen these videos.

I made them when I got some spare hours on long bus/train journeys.

New York

Washington D.C

Niagara Falls

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Posted by Explorer_T 17:14 Archived in USA Comments (0)

From D.C to The Niagara Falls

A straight forward journey is never straight forward.

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Entry 14 Wed 11th May

Take a train from Washington D.C to Baltimore for a quick one hour flight to Buffalo, followed by a bus trip to Niagara Falls. This was the fairly simple plan relying on a whole multitude of America’s public transportation for Wednesday.

I missed breakfast on my last day in the D.C hostel in exchange for some extra sleep and had the already tiresome job of packing my backpack which seems to get more difficult every time I have to do it. Laura did most of the packing for me on the rushed eve of my trip. She’s a lot more organised and well, just better at packing than me. I’d like to just throw everything in and forget about it, but with even with Laura’s great organisation skills and packing abilities, my backpack only just managed to be zipped up. So each time I get things out, and have to repack it gets harder and harder to fit everything in. It’s like playing the most annoying real life version of Tetris every week. Laura and I had used several elastic bands to squash together my pair of sandals and now all but one elastic band had snapped or been lost, so obviously one couldn’t do the job and so a little extra room was now needed; things like this happen each time I have to repack, more and more room is needed.

Elastic bands still give me a slight sense of anxiety because of Gemma at my old place of work. She was seemingly trained by the SAS in firing them because she could hit me in the face/head/neck no matter what I did to try and avoid and deflect them. I was just starting to become an okay shot myself before I left; so she was lucky. I did accidently hit Keeley in the face once at work and she’s a good friend of Gemma’s so my motto is – if you can’t beat a woman because she’s too tough, beat her friends instead .

It’s really hard work carrying my big backpack and my daypack all at once. It’s around 20kg on my back and around another 6kg on my front; with all four straps on my shoulders. Luckily this only happens in transit between places but unless you spend a fortune and get cabs everywhere, you’re going to have to lug it all around on buses/trains/walking etc.

I had a 10 minute walk from the hostel to the local metro station and then a short ride to the big Union Station where I would locate a proper train going to Baltimore Airport. My shoulders were already hurting by the time I wandered around the Union Station and found out which train I needed to get and where to pay for it etc. I had a 40 minute rest whilst on the train though before I had to transfer to a shuttle bus and then check in the luggage so I was rid of it for a while.

The flight was straight forward and only took the hour expected and this time my luggage arrived with me yay. It was the third bag out onto the runway thing too so I grabbed it quickly and made for the information desk to see where the buses ran from.

Unfortunately the bus that I’d researched on the internet didn’t start running until the week after; it was some kind of summer bus to help tourists… so I would have to get two different buses on a longer route that didn’t stop as close to my hostel as the original. I went towards the bus stands and asked the driver when he would be setting off and he told me that there was an express leaving right now behind his bus, so I ran to it and piled on just as the driver was about to set off. I needed cash obviously so I had to drop my front daypack and look inside for some. The large black lady shouted ‘’what ya’ll doin’!?’’ I told her I was getting some change out and she replied ‘’Well why din’t ya’ll do dat befou!?’’ Surely looking at me, with all my luggage she could have been more understanding; I told her I’d literally just walked out of the airport so she said okay go sit down then pay once you’re on. She wasn’t rude in the way that English people would be, she was just… loud and to the point I guess.

I wasn’t even bothered by that, but this bus driver had to be the worst bus driver in the world. Throughout the entire journey she was shouting back to us, the commuters, asking for the correct directions! Luckily there was one local who seemed to get this route quite often and he told her most of the right directions, although she did take one wrong turning and had to go another way for a while. While all this mess was going on I chose to hold on to my $2 for a while, then when my stop finally came I just wandered off and she of course didn’t realise. Bad bus driver zero – T one.

I had around a 40 minute wait at the Buffalo bus station for my next bus and then a 50 minute bus ride, finally arriving somewhere near the Niagara Falls – apparently. I say apparently because this area that I arrived in was supposedly close to my hostel and the falls, which you would imagine being a nice, clean, modern suburb. It was not. The place was rundown, with dozens of boarded-up closed down stores, shabby looking houses and what looked like your typical gangsters hanging around on street corners. I’d been to some run down areas of New York and seen the homeless of D.C but this area seemed different, everything look old; like it had been left alone since the 80s or something. Obviously there wasn’t anything necessarily wrong with the place; it just wasn’t what I imagined it to be. It didn’t feel safe to be wandering the streets as a tourist.

Which is what I ended up doing – it was still light, but there was maybe only an hour left of daylight so I wanted to find the hostel pretty sharpish. I was wandering the streets looking like the biggest tourist in the world with my backpacks front and back. I thought at least if someone tries to stab or shoot me it would be really hard to actually hurt me as nothing will get through all this baggage.

All I had was the street address so after aimlessly looking myself for about 20 minutes I decided to ask for some help I wandered in to a Burger King to ask for directions. The nice staff in there pointed me in the right direction after they stopped being amazed at my accent, but their directions weren’t the best in the world, they informed me that I would come to a fork in the road and I should take the right. After the 15 minute walk I got to the fork; there was a left, a straight, a diagonally right, and a right… I was pretty sure it wasn’t the right-most street and the diagonal right looked dark with no stores or anything so I stuck straight ahead and headed to ask at another store as at least I was closer than I was before. It was getting dark now, and I was starting to slow down with all the heavy baggage pulling down on my shoulders.

KFC was the second place of help. There was a pretty hilarious comedic moment in the KFC; I entered and there were four black people almost shouting about something; it turned out there was no chicken left and they were really properly gutted. They were all mad at the lack of KFC, and so discussing where to go instead to get some chicken. I was too tired to properly take it in, but I had a mini inward Lol and I set off with my new directions. Stereotypes just love to be the truth in America – comedy gold is everywhere.

The feeling of relief when I saw the street sign for my hostel was amazing. I’d made it. I had an ironic thought that fast food had saved my life. Carol the hostel owner was waiting at the porch for me as I had to email ahead with my intended time of arrival. She looked relieved to see me as, but I’m pretty sure I was more relieved to see her. The hostel was a nice homey family run place with just 3 or 4 bedrooms. My room had two sets of bunk beds in it and the other three were already in use by a group of Korean guys. I got settled in and said a few hellos to which were answered again by amazed/intrigued looks at my accent. I could tell I’d left the major cities now; a lot of people here had never met someone from England before, and for whatever reason, they are fascinated by it.

Once I was rested I realised how hungry I was, and I felt more comfortable now I had a local map so I set off back to the Burger King for a familiar first meal. The walk there and back was rushed to avoid the curious long looks from certain individuals stood on street corners but I felt confident enough now I had no bags so I could at least run if anything happened. I returned to the hostel after a, well I have to say, a pretty crap burger. Probably the worst Burger King I’d had but when you’re new to an area, the big chains just feel familiar and comfortable until you get to know the area better. I would have had KFC, but someone ate all that.

Bed time and tomorrow would be my one and only full day in Niagara to go see the falls.

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Posted by Explorer_T 13:14 Archived in USA Comments (2)

Okay it was going to happen sooner or later - EVOLUTION TIME

A visit to the Natural History Museum in Washington D.C sparks a fated mini rant or two on evolution & religion.

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Okay so usually I like to go asleep by watching one of my favourite TV shows; something like The Office or The Peep Show or Alan Partridge, and more recently listening to the Ricky Gervais Show Podcasts - so I end up falling asleep next to my netbook and I'll wake up during the middle of the night and close it without really knowing and everything is fine. Sleeping on the top bunks in dorms is a little risky for this, especially in the D.C bunks because there's a big gap from the mattress to the wooden bar thing. This night I was awoken by a big thud, the thud of my netbook landing on the windowsill - crap. I'm lucky it hit a windowsill I suppose which saved another four foot or so of free-fall to the ground. Fortunately it was fine and it is still working. Unfortunately my headphones were still attached and one ear bud managed to land in an old half drunken cup of coffee. Noice.

Later I dreamt that the ear bud soaked in caffeine somehow gave me super human hearing abilities - okay I was a pretty lame superhero; slightly above average hearing, from one ear, but never less, a superhero. It's more than you can do!

Midnight netbook trauma in the past I got up in time for breakfast again and todays plan was a plan I'd been looking forward to - The Natural History Museum.

Being a lover of all things science, especially evolution & animals the Natural History Museums around the world are right up my street. I visited the humongous one in London last October on my birthday weekend and I could have spent an entire week there. I originally planned to visit the one in New York but I didn't get time and I'd heard you had to pay which didn't sound too great to me considering the London one was free. Luckily this one in D.C was free, like most of the things here.

I entered the museum, got my free map from the info desk and headed in to the main entrance hall. The first sign that I came across said that evolution was at the heart of the museum. Love it. Evolution is the very real brilliant story of life and I have a pretty strong passion for the subject; I read a lot on evolutionary biology and I was intrigued how the museums of America would treat subjects like these, because apparently the majority of the country believes that the word of the bible is the literal truth -

  • Clears throat* Ahahem: and I quote, ''As of 2008 a Gallup poll indicated that 44% of US adults agreed with the statement 'God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so.' ''

The above poll results baffle me and it seems quite scary to be honest. I have to say though, so far in my short time here, my own personal experience of meeting Americans do seem to differ from the poll. I will wait until my time is up here to conclude on these thoughts as I've only visited two major cities thus far and I have a lot more people to meet yet.

I've just found another bit of info that might help explain my experience so far, ''According to a Gallup poll in December 2010, around 40% of Americans believe in YEC, rising to over 50% among Republicans but falling quickly as the level of education increases; only 22% of respondents with postgraduate degrees believed compared with 47% of those with a high school education or less.''

(YEC stands for 'young earth creationism' = the earth is 10,000 years or less old etc.)

This coincides with my long lasting conviction that the higher a person's intelligence and/or education, the less likely they are to be strictly religious. That is broadly speaking of course; I know plenty of intelligent people who happen to be religious but I am speaking about people in general here.

Anyways I digress massively - as always. (It was always gonna happen with this subject though, as anyone who knows me past the alcohol & party-loving level will know)

So I liked this simple first sign informing me that evolution is at the heart of the museum, I took a photo and gave it a mental high five and skipped happily off further in to the museum.

The exhibitions were what you would expect (and more) from a decent natural history museum; educational with extremely accurate and lifelike displays. If you didn't know better, you'd think that my photos were of real living animals. I would go on to detail everything I loved about the museum but I'm guessing you don't want to read a lengthy educational blog here. Basically it went from the origin of basic cellular life all the way through to the complex animals and the immense diversity of today's world.

There were some awesome model recreations of our immediate ancestors (immediate in the grand scale of the family tree) I remember a sign that said it took the artist about four years to complete the models. They were model heads of our ancestors that split from other similar species such as apes etc. Cavemen basically, to keep it simple. They were probably the most realistic head models I've ever seen, people were standing looking amazed, almost as if waiting for the faces to come to life.

Of course there were the usual dinosaur skeletons that were great but have somehow become kind of normal for me to see now. That saddens me. It was great to see the children's amazement that had obviously never seen such things before though - the one tiny positive of being in a museum full of school trips. I was happy to see them here actually, aside from the screaming and running in front of my camera, I was happy to see them learning about evolution - although I did hear a few uncomfortable questions from children to their obviously religious parents, only to be quelled by a grab of the arm and rushed off to the next section. Sigh. Robbing their children of education. Once you know the facts you really can't argue a decent intelligent case against evolution. I won't start again I promise.

One of my favourite parts of the museum was the photography section. I wandered in unknowingly and was blown away by some of the photographs of nature. The photographs were on these screens that were backlit which made them so vibrant and amazing to look at. I stood there looking at each photograph longer than I've ever stood and looked at any other kind of art.

There was a section for gems and diamonds as well. I got to see the Hope Diamond and many other very expensive and rare items of jewellery. It was all very nice and shiny and stuff but to be honest it just made the whole concept of jewellery seem ridiculous to me. The fact that so many people spend hundreds and thousands on such small unimportant things is kind of crazy when you stand back and really look at it. They are just shiny things from the ground, which happen to be rarer than a lot of other elements. Spend thousands on a piece of jewellery such as an engagement ring or do one or more of a whole possibility of amazing things like go travel a country or another equally amazing experience? I know which I'd rather do.

I spent nearly the entire day there and visited pretty much all of the sections in the museum taking hundreds of photos and then made my way back to the hostel. I was relaxing in the common room later on when I saw a familiar face come through the hostel entrance. It was Scott, a roommate from the previous hostel in New York. It was a shame that is was my last night in the hostel just as he was arriving but I filled him in with tips that I'd learned about the new city and we went for some food at the local Indian. We also visited the White House at night time as I hadn't done that yet. I forgot my damn memory card for my camera though. I'd left it in the netbook when I last transferred some photos across. I had to borrow the photos that Scott took on his camera.

Scott was shocked, as I still was, at the amount of homeless people that littered the streets, especially on this night. The White House was about a 10 minute walk from the hostel and we must have seen around twenty homeless people lying on the ground on the way. If there wasn't this one big building in the way you would have actually been able to see homeless people from the White House. Crazy.

Speaking of forgetting things, I've come to realise that as a backpacker - you will forget things, a lot. You have so much on your mind; dates coming and going, methods of travel, what you have to book, meeting new people, daily itineraries… all this leads to losing a bit of common sense and remembering to pack everything for a short trip out. Ordinarily back home I'm not so bad but now I have all this going on and with my entire life in my backpack, I find myself returning to the room minutes after leaving it to get something I forgot. I'm not the only one either - it's very rare that when someone leaves the room for a daytrip and says goodbye, that they won't return moments later annoyed at themselves hastily trying to unlock their locker again.

Later on we returned and watched the NBA basketball game in the TV room and that was about it. That was my final day in Washington D.C. I'd pretty much done all the sights and museums that I'd planned to do. The plan for tomorrow? Niagara Falls!

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Posted by Explorer_T 20:35 Archived in USA Comments (1)

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