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Sunday 2 May 2004
Toronto, Canada

On Canadian soil

Ive made it to Canada, eh!

I took the train from Amtrak, believing that I would get some shut-eye on the 24-hour trip (well its 11 hours to the border at Buffalo, but I had to wait there and get a later train to Toronto which would arrive there 24 hours after leaving Chicago!). This was not to be. I didnt sleep a wink, despite the chairs being relatively more comfortable than a Greyhound... I even had two reclining seats to myself, but the frequent stops at passing stations made sure that my over-long legs got kicked by new passengers as they boarded *groan*

Ive had quite a few sleepless nights over the past week and half that Ive been in the US (Las Vegas, flying to Chicago, etc) but for some reason I didnt come out of this episode particularly well. I think I know why: Greasy American food...

I dont think Ive mentioned it yet in my diaries yet, but Americans LOVE greasy food. Almost everything is either fried or is heavily processsed so that all the goodness is gone out, and just the carbohydrate-heavy residue is left. Its even hard to find healthy wheat bread in the supermarkets, you can just buy some "brown-coloured" bread! No wonder there are so many HUGE fatties hobbling around the US.. its one stereotype thats lived up to the hype!

Example: when I first arrived in Santa Monica, CA, I was damn hungry so I walked around the neighbourhood trying to find something "good" to eat. Oh there was plenty of food... everywhere I went there were super-sized hot-dogs covered in ranch sauce, and triple-burgers topped with greasy bacon. Of course there were "healthy" options a-la-McDonalds with salads going for 7 dollars (even these were still covered in layers of mayonaise)!!! When I got thirsty it took me one hour to find somewhere they served WATER, instead of a sugary drink!!! Finally, starving, I made my way into a corner-shop and managed to pick up a tin of boiled vegetables and some pasta. Phew!

At this juncture though, let me put a word in for the SUBWAY chain of fast-food joints. Both in Oz, NZ, and the US these have always become a refuge for me when all else fails. Sure theyre not cheap, but the subs are footlong sandwhiches filled with only the best food and are filling! Yay for SUBWAY!!

Back to the train... before leaving Chicago, a yank in the hostel I was staying in cooked up some eggs with bacon and offered me some. I just walked into kitchen to see him frying up the bacon in a cup-full (yes thats right... a CUP-full!) of oil, onto which he tossed the eggs. He didnt seem to realise that using lots of oil is unhealthy, and was mystified when I told him that he should just use a few DROPS of oil when frying food. Nevertheless I took him up on his offer and ate the greasy conconction. Not a good idea...

Then before leaving for the train I bought some food for the journey.. all that I could afford was some processed cheese, some bologna and brown pita bread (the only non-white bread in the supermarket!). Of course I didnt realise that the bologna is just about the greasiest meat you can buy!!! So on top of my greasy dinner of eggs, I had a snack of pure fat on the train too... I didnt feel too good and, on top of all this, I didnt sleep that night!!!

To cap it all off, when I arrived at the train station in Buffalo, I was told to head into town and get a bus to Niagara falls since Id otherwise have to wait in the one-room station for 8 hours till my train to Toronto arrived. When I got to Buffalo I was hungry again (and feeling quite faint... the lack of energy from my unhealthy diet was beginning to take effect) so I had to settle for the first breakfast that I could find. Sure enough in the train station, all that I could get was MORE fried food in the shape of bacon and eggs with sausage!!

Now that Im in Canada, Im amazed by the difference! Ive only seen ONE McDonalds so far in Toronto, but everywhere are healthy option fast-food joints and there is a delicious Pita-bread restaurant down the road from the hostel that serves the most-delicious falafel rolls, stuffed with veg and peppers, for 4 dollars (Canadian dollars are cheap by the way... about 1.36 Canadia to the US, so Im finding Canada to be really affordable).

Anyways, back to yesterday, I was greased up, insomniac, and quite rightly in a bad mood!!

Hunched over double with my gigantic backpack pulling my already-damaged shoulder-blade I ventured forth from Bufallo on the bus to Niagara Falls .. a small town on the American side which gets its namesake from the famous waterfalls.

As soon as I arrived I wanted to make my way to the train station so that I could leave my stuff there while exploring the falls (there was no way I wanted to carry the 2 backpacks, and heavy guitar all the way down to the Canadian border (where the falls are) and back again). Now it got annoying, NOBODY knew where the train station was, not even policemen or those working in the Greyhound station??!?! So, frustrated, tired and not thinking straight, I went off to the Canadian border to ask them.... got half-way (about 1km) and got fed-up so I just hitched a taxi-cab to the train station (another 8 dollars)...

Alas, the train station was 4 miles from the falls, so Id just gone to all that trouble, spent all of 20 dollars, and damaged my shoulder again, for nothing. I should have just waited in that first one-room train station back in Buffalo!

I also didnt get to see the Niagara Falls... so tired and annoyed, I nodded off until my train arrived 5 hours later...

I was soon on the train to cross the Canadian-US border and I was surprised at the VERY lax security involved. On the US side, I wasnt even looked at. Then when I went crossed to Canada, all they did was look at my passport, ask me if I had anything other than clothes in my backpack, then stamped the passport. Easy! Terrorists take note.

The good thing when I crossed the border, though, was that the train wasnt going to leave for 45 minutes, so I got a chance to walk outside. I decided to try and see the falls, but only got within 1km of them where I got an okay-ish shot. Still better than nothing.. they look interesting, but nothing quite as spectacular as the amazing waterfalls Ive seen in places like Laos and New Zealand.

Toronto is a nice clean city. The people are, as all Canadians are renowned to be, very friendly and helpful and there is a startling mix of races here, mostly Indian and Chinese.

Today Toronto is raining and some streets look like Dublin in this weather; in particluar Chinatown which has tramlines on cobbled pavement that remind me of Henry street or around the Guinness factory.

Other parts look like Auckland (they even have an identical sky-tower here too!). Not sure whats going on here, but I think Ill spend at least 2 days here before heading back to the US.

The hostel Im staying in, Canadiana Backpackers, is central, but crowded and somewhat cramped. They have expensive net there for 6 dollars/hour, but Ive found cheaper internet in Chinatown for 2 dollars/hour.

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