Thoughts of a geek

29 June 2012

Visiting friends, seeing sights — Canada and the USA

Filed under: Travel — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , — qwandor @ 11:14 am

I just got back from a great trip around a bit of the northeast side of the USA and Canada, catching up with some old friends and being a bit of a tourist. I managed to catch up with 3 out of the 5 friends I had originally hoped to see, had some great conversations, plenty of dancing, and saw some new places.

I started by flying into Toronto on Friday 15th June, where I stayed with Teresa, a friend from university back in Wellington. She is currently living over there and working as an intern at a charity called Romero House who help to refugees who have resettled there. She seems to enjoy it, but it can be a bit hectic and all-consuming a lot of the time from the sound of it. The last time I went to Toronto was back in January, so it was nice to see what it was like not covered in snow. Kensington Market was cool (thanks for the tip Alex!), and the PATH was rather eerie in summer, with most of the shops closed and few people around (I did not manage to find it last time I went).

On the Saturday night I was there, Teresa had some work to do but mentioned that some of her friends were going to a free concert in town. I asked them who was playing and it turned out to be no other than The Flaming Lips, giving a free concert in Dundas Square! Needless to say I went along. Unfortunately it was very crowded and we got there rather late, so we ended up right near the back and unable to see much, but it was still very cool to go. It was more of a spectacle than a concert per se, with giant balloons bouncing over the crowd, smoke, lasers, video and light effects, strange costumes, a giant hand shooting lasers off a disco ball, and of course Wayne Coyne crowdsurfing in a giant inflatable hamster ball, while they played ambient soundscapes to accompany it all. The only songs I actually recognised were She Don’t Use Jelly and Do You Realize?? right at the end, which everyone sang along to. I also managed to make it along to Saturday Night Swing for a spot of Lindy Hop afterwards, though did not manage to drag anyone along with me this time.

First thing on Monday morning I caught a bus down to Niagara Falls and spent the day there walking around, going on the Maid of the Mist boat tour, and getting wet. I then flew from Buffalo Airport to Washington DC, where I stayed the next 3 nights.

DC was very hot: around 36°C most of my time there, and fairly humid too (though not quite as bad as Singapore or Malaysia). Other than that, it was cool. I visited the Capitol building, sat in on Congress (they were not very exciting), saw lots of different monuments and statues and such, went to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum (space ships!) and National Museum of Natural History (rocks!), L. Ron Hubbard’s house (hey, it was there), and various other places.

Next up was New York City, where I stayed with an old flatmate from Wellington, Jordan. Our mutual friend Kirsten also came up from Baltimore to join us for the weekend, and we had a great time catching up. (Or at least I did. (-; You guys had fun too, right?) Jordan is now doing her PhD in oceanography at Columbia University, while Kirsten is doing hers in Pharmacology at John Hopkins University. I have some very smart friends!

I went along to Frim Fram Jam on Thursday night, though it seemed a lot quieter than I expected for some reason. I still got some good dances though. Most of Friday I spent exploring New York by myself as Jordan was working, then Kirsten arrived that evening and the three of us went for some Friday Night Blues. Jordan got into blues around the same time as I did so it was cool to finally get to dance with her, and Kirsten had never done any before but was up for trying so we tried to teach her a bit before we headed out. The New York blues dance scene seems to be more blues fusion, and generally different in style than what I am used to in London, but it was good fun once I got into it.

Saturday consisted mostly of sleeping in late, eating, cooking, and then heading to Princeton for an excellent contra dance. The band in particular (Perpetual e-Motion) were amazing — they are just two guys, but sing and play electric guitar, electric violin, didgeridoo, and synths with live looping for music that has folk, jazz, electronic and pop elements all mixed up together. A bit different to the usual fare. Well worth checking out if you get the chance. Sunday was fairly uneventful after another sleep-in as Kirsten had to head home and Jordan had to work, then I had to get up at 5:25 am on Monday morning to catch my train to Boston.

I liked Boston — it seemed like somewhere I could almost live. Quieter and less touristy than some of the other cities I visited, and the weather was mostly nice apart from a couple of torrential but fortunately not too prolonged downpours. Boston seems quite English in parts, and almost but not quite European in others. I had a bit of a poke around the campus of MIT and peered into some of the labs, and ate lunch at Harvard. (Both are actually in Cambridge rather than Boston itself, but it is just across the river, well within walking distance from central Boston.) I only had the one night in Boston, flying out on Tuesday night to arrive in London midday on Wednesday 27th June and head straight to work. It turns out that if I had stayed another night I could have gone to a contra at MIT! That would have been cool, but I had booked my flights so as to be back in London in time for the Google London engineering summer party on Wednesday night, which was also fun.

A lot of my transport was delayed, for some reason. My flight out to Toronto was delayed and then ran late. The flight from Buffalo to DC was held on the runway due to inclement weather elsewhere causing air traffic control to ground all planes, until we eventually got an exception and ended up an hour or so late. The bus from DC to New York got stuck in traffic and ended up arriving more than 2 hours late. And then the train from New York to Boston broke down due to a lightning strike, and so after they failed to fix it we had to wait for a replacement engine to be sent, and ended up more than 3 hours late. My flight back to London ran pretty much to time though, and clearing customs at Heathrow was much quicker than last time when I came back from New Zealand.

Prices in the US and Canada being given exclusive of sales tax continued to confuse me, especially as they do not even seem to be consistent about it — most prices exclude tax, but occasionally the price given is actually what you pay, so I never knew what to expect. Mostly it just took me a few seconds to work out why I was being asked for more money than what the sign said. And then there are tips to worry about. |-: I was also bemused to note that on the flight to DC the flight attendants went down the aisle taking orders for drinks, then returning with them in batches once they had taken everyone’s orders. It seemed rather less efficient than just wheeling a trolley down to hand them out as they went. I have not seen that before on an aeroplane.

I did take a reasonable number of photos, but have not yet had time to go through to tag, caption and upload them, so they will follow in a little while once I have time to do so. Keep an eye out as usual.

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6 February 2012

New Zealand here I come!

Filed under: Me, Travel — Tags: , , — qwandor @ 4:46 am

Hello dear readers! Those of you living in NZ may be happy (or perhaps unhappy?) to know that I am planning a visit back home in just under two months. I fly into Wellington on Friday 23rd March, and back out again on the morning of Monday 23rd April. I will be working from home for a fair bit of that time, but should be fairly flexible and certainly free most evenings and weekends as well as taking some leave, and also hope to visit at least Palmerston North and Auckland (and perhaps also Christchurch if anyone down there wants to see me) at some point.

So, who is keen to catch up, hang out, tramp / dance / bake / picnic / dine / converse? Is anyone keen for a weekend camping trip or anything like that?

While I am at it, seeing as I have not written anything here for a while, some things I have been up to lately (in no particular order) are:

  • Going to the Saturday night of TUX 5 in Toronto (great band, some great dancers, and great fun).
  • Going ice-skating for the first time in something like 20 years, also in Toronto (I was not very successful, predictably).
  • Learning the basics of Balboa dancing.
  • Sliding down a snow-covered hillside on inflated tubes in Kitchener with some Googlers.
  • Catching up with Teresa in Toronto, and Charlotte in London while she was visiting on her European tour.
  • Breaking one spoke on the drive side of my bike’s rear wheel, then breaking another while trying to fix it. (It is now sitting in a garage at Imperial College, I need to find time to go and fix it now that I hopefully have all the tools I need.)

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