With the impending end waltzing closer and the steady cadence of time suddenly stimulated, the final portion of our trip comprised of the most prestigious, venerable and exuberant city’s in North America and therefore, the world.
Unfortunately, Toronto, which inaugurated this segment was disappointing, obfuscating and ugly.
Maybe it was because the title of the largest city in Canada bestowed an unprecedented expectation upon it. Perhaps it is a city whose rudimentary wantonness is exposed only to those who diurnally reside there as opposed to tourists who merely visit it. Nevertheless Toronto was bereft of a palatable lure that would have quenched our travellers thirst.
The ubiquitous posters which averred that to live in Toronto is to “live with culture” epitomised the city’s primary problem; it is comprised of such an abundance of eclectic cultures that it failed to have one of its own.
During one day’s meandering we visited an expansive Chinatown, a quaint Little Italy, a poor Little Portugal, the Kensington Markets which seemed to attract subterranean members of society and the regal ‘Casa Loma’ castle that was situated on the periphery of the city. Some of these epochs were so small and inconsequential that they became beguiling and destitute of character.
There were two landmarks that permeated the skyline as if they were perpetually tracing every solitary step we made. The most conspicuous was the ‘CN Tower’ which is the largest structure in the world, whereas idling by its side was the Sky Dome sports stadium. In the latter we watched a baseball game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Chicago White Sox that was more of a tepid family event than a rigorous, a rancorous…an exhilarating game of sport beset by a loquacious crowd of fanatical zealots. Jakey at least managed to meet Oren, an aide from the Maccabiah, at the game, who is a Toronto citizen.
Primarily due to its interminable size, we also visited the viewing platform of the CN Tower. Though it overlooked the city, the sight was fairly mundane as it only unveiled a plethora of streamlines of the adjacent suburbs; there was not a single sight to actually search for as we were standing on top of the only one of any merit in Toronto.
As Ivan – a friend of Pepe’s who genially showed us around the city – adroitly explained, there is nothing to ‘see’ in Toronto; one of its most famous landmarks bar the CN Tower is a bank.
Auspiciously, the grey tincture of Toronto’s industrialised metropolis augmented our following experience.
The name ‘Niagara Falls’ resonates throughout the world as one of the most mystic, egregious and exquisite natural landmarks. It is celebrated as one of the seven wonders of the world, and rightfully so.
Whilst the falls lack height, the sheer width and incessantly unyielding turbulence at which the water is hurled over the crevice is an ineffable spectacle. The perennial consistency of the water falling emits a sound that is as pacifying as the cool whirling of an electric fan on a hot and humid summers day.
We were submerged in the mist generated by the tumult of the crash and clamber of the waterfall as we boarded the ‘Maid of the Mist’ vessel that glided close enough to the falls for us to realise their true vehemence.
After observing the spectacle from a viewing platform by the side of the falls, we realised how salubriously smooth the water was until it efficaciously fell and plummeted to the bottom of the lake where it then effervescently frothed and became disparate.
At night the soft and delicate colours construed to shine upon Niagara Falls did not vitiate the prodigious reverence we had of the waterfall, but instead, it romanticised our perspective of them by creating an astute juxtaposition of artificial and natural entities; of serenity and perseverance.
On the same night that we visited Niagara Falls, we commuted back to Toronto and subsequently onwards to Chicago via a stop-over at the US customs border in Detroit.
Initially we did not consider visiting Chicago due to time, monetary and practical burdens upon our trip. Aaron, the Chicago school teacher we met in Noosa (who has since set-up an IT Consultancy firm with three other partners), offered such a discerning and visual account of his hometown city via email that the temptation became too hard to resist. Furthermore, although he was away on a vacation, he offered us residency in his apartment with his room-mate and business partner Todd.
To express how gracious we feel towards Todd and Aaron would occupy a sole entry within itself. Therefore, to make this diary at least remotely succinct, we will only describe what we did in Chicago without any emotional attachment.
The downtown area of the city was immaculately pristine with the spacious streets appeasing the cumbersome burden of a densely populated area. Surprisingly a golden sanded beach sat on the Eastern side of the city, which we visited on a pungently sunny day with Aaron after he had returned from his vacation. The contemporary ‘Millennium Park’ lay nearby which, although minutely small, contained several impeccable artifices including an emollient reflective ‘jelly bean’ that contorted images of the encompassing city’s skyline.
One dusk we went to the pinnacle of the city’s highest building – The Sears Tower.
Also, although Chicago is desperately trying to eradicate its notorious mafia history, the remnants still remain and we visited the sight o the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre after a long, prolonged walk from the city centre.
What distinguished our experience in Chicago from the rest of our travels though was the affable hospitality of our hosts. For one week our travelling went on a hiatus and we saw what it was like to live in an American city. Altruistically, Aaron and Todd treated us to a ‘Chicago’ deep-pan pizza which is a capacious quiche-like concoction and a Mexican burrito that is two-fold the size of an English kebab. Even just walking around the Wicker Park suburb where they Aaron and Todd resided was a mellifluous expedient from our travels. Similarly, playing baseball in the park and visiting a local yet flourishing music festival accentuated our palpable grasp of the Chicago lifestyle.
Once our week in Chicago concluded we traveled onwards to Washington D.C. The week we spent in the capital of the most economically and militarily powerful country in the world was primarily consumed visiting museums and national monuments. Although D.C. is not as renowned as other cities in the USA, most of its landmarks are distinguishable and known for their symbolic merits. Surprisingly, The White House was more modest than we expect whereas conversely, Congress was a saliently imposing concourse. Although these institutions are so imperative for both America and the modern world to operate, it was by the Lincoln Memorial which overlooked the reflecting pool, Washington Monument and Capitol Hill that we felt a stringent poignancy of meaning. This was fundamentally because of the history which had occurred underneath our own very feet – principally Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech – but also due to the solemn, tranquil setting this view provided at night.
And next was New York…
The nucleus of American capitalism, consumerism and globalisation was particularly pertinent for Jakey as, after over nine months, it was an opportunity to finally meet his sister Danielle again. Being in New York, the tourist allure was too difficult to resist so we succumbed to visiting the reputed ‘Statue of Liberty’, Times Square, Central Park (and Strawberry Fields), Wall Street, Ground Zero, Broadway (where Pepe watched an irreverent risque show entitled Avenue Q) and watching the city thrive from above in the observation deck of the Empire State Building. In the latter, New York’s working ethos became conspicuously apparent, yet, juxtaposed against this was the emollient sounds of the city’s streets, cars and teeming population.
Amidst our time in New York we made a day excursion to Boston, Massachusetts with the venerable Brian Quimby. There we visited the prestigious campus of Harvard University, which was, surprisingly, somewhat meagre. Boston was ultimately a quaint city, epitomised by ‘Quincy Market’ and its small, yet mellifluous cobbled paths, exuding a tepid atmosphere.
Our departure of the immense cosmopolitan metropolis of New York saw us subsequently return to Canada.
Upon our arrival in Quebec, the bus station’s predominantly French signs gave us a pithy precedent of what to anticipate in this ‘Francophone’ (i.e. French speaking) region of Canada. Pepe’s good friends Francoise (Frank) and Mattia met us at the bus station; the former is a local resident of Quebec city who propitiously allowed us to reside at his house; the latter is an Italian whose travels of Canada auspiciously concorded with our own.
The impeccable timing of our visit to Quebec enabled us to celebrate the regions national holiday – St. Bastille Day – which annunciates French-Canadian’s independent culture and lust for full sovereignty. This event was the climax of our short stay in Quebec city however. In the intervening time we indulged in two activities whilst also being graciously hosted by Frank’s ebullient, flamboyant and fascinating parents who embraced us so wholly into their house that we truly felt like family. The first activity was whale watching in the nearby town of Charlesvoix where the lascivious black mammals furtively emerged from the water, occasionally cajoling the onlooking crowd by obsequiously flipping their long laborious tails before dipping back into the cool water again. The second was a visit to the ‘Olympic Village’ water park which had a fun and frivolous array of aquatic attractions ranging from a weltering wave pool to a sundry of generic slides.
Nothing quite prepared us for St. Bastille Day though.
Inebriation aside, the sheer fervent vigour with which the masses of Francophone’s celebrated their culture – most dressed in local insignia or draped with flags – was mesmerising. The streets were so condensed with students and patriotic people that they emerged into one large phalanx of ebbing heads. Most of the night was spent watching a free concert featuring local Quebecois bands sing about their pride, pomp and heritage.
When we left Quebec for our final stop in Montreal, Mattia joined us.
The weather in Montreal did somewhat undermine the experience; we have been following blissful, pungent sunshine for months, yet here, sullen clouds permeated the sky. Although the older buildings of Vieux Montreal juxtaposed with those of the city’s central hub, the transition was relatively subtle and beguiling to the eye. Our pitiful hostel, which was laden with bed bugs and bereft of kitchen utensils (After Mattia managed to conjure up a dinner for us one night, all three of us awoke the next morning feeling dormant and melancholy, undoubtedly due to the abysmal hygienic aesthetics) was located on the slick and chic ‘Mont royal’. There was unfortunately little to see or do in Montreal, but that, at least, enabled us to probe the city to its fullest extent. One night we watched an adroitly executed firework display that endured for 45 minutes, with a vast and fluctuating array of vivacious colours; another night we observed two free shows from the prestigious jazz festival. Ultimately, Montreal gave us time to recuperate before returning back home to England.
So: 38 weeks or 266 days 0r 5852 hours 0r 351120 minutes later, we have returned home.
The way this final diary entry has developed epitomises the final month of this trip or possibly the whole excursion in general; it gathered momentum with each passing day becoming more ineffable…more intrinsically emotional. Every moment has been implanted upon our minds, our conscience, our psyche and we now feel stronger, more complete and resolute human beings.
They think its all over…it is now.