Text: Roberth Nordin
Photos: Roberth Nordin
I got on the train in Östersund. Departure at 20.43. The black bag I brought with me is as half-empty/half-full as the train itself. Travelling light this time. Clean t-shirts and odour-free underwear is overrated. One can’t be too demanding as one travels hardcore.
Somewhere in the compartment someone is pouring out bad wine. Angry voices can be heard. But it settles soon. A sweet scent of drunkenness is spreading. Someone some seats ahead of me is telling someone else that he has won a trip to the United States on a game of poker. He is going there now to make big money. Me on the other hand, I´m going there to burn my money.
It is night and fog outside. We are passing Söderhamn, I guess this says something about how dull this train trip is.
I´m arriving to Arlanda airport before early, 03.31 to be exact. Having a Red Bull to get things in order. Having coffee a couple of minutes later. Slowly the sleepiness is being chased out from the body. I didn’t sleep much during the trip here.
Checking in just before 06.00. Sitting by gate 19 and wait. The dullness is preparing for a comeback. Not even the morning TV can make this morning better.
Just got reports that Christer has fallen ill out on the field. He is fighting a fever somewhere in Asia. It is tough to be a traveller. I hope that Peter will pull himself together and carry on with the Asia trip in case that Christer fall.
The morning TV is reporting about a bus strike. I am glad that I am not going by bus to the Americat.
The plane left in time. It landed three hours later in Geneva, Switzerland. I am standing in a queue here to get to the gate that leads to the flight to America. The queue is long and I almost missed the flight. The airport is small and the amount of passengers is great.
I am finally on the plane to the Big Apple. Hungry and tired. I am hoping to get some nutrition really soon. No further reports from the one with a fever. This flight is like all the others adapted for pygmies and other dwarflike kind of people. Not much room for the legs and small food portions. The first hunger is eased though and I also managed, against all odds, to get some sleep.
The Americans are as always nervous at the customs. Detailed questions are being asked by a customs officer. I suddenly feel like telling that I plan to drift around in USA and make my living from begging and maybe bomb some federal building. I chicken out and kindly reply all the questions, get some stamps in the passport and enter American soil.
John F Kennedy Airport is huge. It seems small and inconsiderable at first. After going by bus for an hour and still haven’t left the airport area one realise how huge it is. I got off the bus at America´s largest bus station, Port Authority. Largest according to the Americans, most travellers at least. I seem to recall that the bus station in Tel Aviv, Israel felt bigger. Checking out my GreyHound-ticket, adding a seat reservation, something that it would turn out later is a great idea. Finding a place selling some kind of undecided South American food. I am not pleased but not hungry either as I take a stroll outside the bus station at 8th avenue. It feels like walking in an American movie, yellow cabs, police cars and nutcases who are talking to themselves. I am totally surprised by the weather. Over 30 degrees warm. I am not prepared for this kind of sauna temperatures after some summer weeks back home.
The bus to Montreal rolled away at 21.30. It was chaotic and a queue to get on to the bus. Luckily I had my seat reservation. I just passed the irritated queue. I got one and another hostile look, but it was worth it. I am getting really sleepy. It is time to get some sleep.
I had just managed to fall asleep as the bus stopped in some inconsiderable small place. Everyone is being chased out of the bus. Suddenly I find myself standing and freezing in Albany. The bus leaves and with it my courage. I’ve been awake for over 40 hours and I don’t feel like spending the rest of the night in Albany. The bus station in Albany is nice and modern if the date would have been the 2nd of July 1954. Renovating and restoration seems hard to spell here in the country. The public transport is run down.
The bus is back. It had just been to get some petrol. Getting on frozen and tired. It is time to sleep.
Crowded and miserable on the bus. I finally managed to doze away, but I am awake almost at once. It is time to pass the Canadian border. Once again the bus is emptied of its contents. The Canadian customs are just as nervous as their American colleagues. They bring me new questions and new stamps.
The sun is rising over the Canadian Leaf. After hours at the customs and in the bus I´m stumbling out on the streets of Montreal. The bus trip took 8 hours and I feel like a newly hatched chicken that haven’t slept since the egg was laid.
Montreal in the morning sun. Photo taken from the bus window.
It is order on the streets of Montreal, straight and nice. I am having no problems finding my way to the hostel. Is it to early to check in? Spending three American dollars on breakfast and take a break. A small question is growing in my head, what will I do now?
I am taking a walk in the city after my humble breakfast. Looking for an ATM and it turned out to be a challenge. There are several machines but none of them is willing to accept my card. Canada is the first country where this has happened to me. I finally found a machine that speaks the language of my card. I am, with Canadian dollars in my hand, ready to take on the streets of Montreal.
Resting in the café at the hostel. The breakfast took away most of the hunger.
I am, totally exhausted, tired and haggard, dropping on to my bed in the hostel Backpackers Montreal. I calculate before I close my eyelids and drop into some kind of unconsciousness that I haven’t had a proper sleep for 65 hours. Just before I fall into total unconsciousness I am awoken by someone who tries to get into the bed above me. He keeps telling me how sorry he is for waking me up. I can’t think, can’t imagine what happens. Going back to sleep.
An ordinary day in a Canadian city.
I woke up after 13 hours of sleep. I am as fresh as a newly shaved ferret on a cold winter day. I sneak up, prepare myself and head out to see Montreal. I know the central parts pretty well after yesterday’s strolls. I found a nice breakfast place where the waiters bring coffee just as I had sat down. The name of the place is Dejeuner Brasserie.
Montreal actually doesn’t have that much to offer. The central parts itself is like any other Western city. A feeling of a cosy town gets over me as I saunter along Catherine Street or Rue Catherine as the French call it. The city is holding some kind of festival. The rainbow coloured flags tells me that the city is gay friendly. The citizens of Montreal are proud to say that the city is the second largest in the world where French is spoken, second only to Paris. I won’t want to be a fly in the ointment but is this really true? There might be one and another city in the old French colonial parts of Africa. But what do I know, a humble Swedish-speaking man from the cold north.
It is raining on the Canadian leaf. But it is still warm. I enter the tube to escape from the rain. The metro takes me to the Old town, the oldest part of Montreal. I walk around in the rain hardly impressed. I end my walk and sit down in an empty café opposite to some large building that house the doubtful art of law. I start to talk to some law persons who wondered where I’m from and if I´ve ever seen a prettier girl than the one who just served the coffee. I answer the first question with good old Sweden and the second with a lie.
I return out in the rain after the refreshing cup of coffee, pleased that I am not one of them that have to come tomorrow to serve the gray persons of law.
I find my way down to Old harbour, which is the old harbour. Both the harbour and the Old Town would have been nicer if the weather had been so as well. They are ever so deserted. I hide from the rain again. This time under a tin roof which sticks out from a closed shed. Questions like: what am I doing here? start to grow in my mind.
Old harbour in the old town.
I lost the struggle against the rain and returned out into the wet. I am walking to the tube and I´m heading down into the underworld. The rain is coming down heavily in the centre. It seems that Canada’s yearly amount of rain is coming down today. The streets are empty and deserted. Something is wrong. It is after all a weekday, where have all the people gone? Is this the first place in the world without shopping? The answers are as surprising as obvious.
I go down into the tube in yet another attempt to escape the rain. I take a wrong turn and all of a sudden end up in a mall with cafés and some shops. Great I think, here I can hibernate during the rainy season. Just as I am about to sit down for a cup of java, I suddenly discover the underworld of Montreal. A mall which is out of this world spread out. The shopping masses gush out like rats into the subways. The malls are connected with intricate tunnel systems. It is kilometre after kilometre of shopping, all under the asphalt of Montreal. I read somewhere that this is the largest underground mall in the world. I’ve no doubts about this.
I choose out of the two bad things the underground shopping. I had enough of rain. I spend the rest of the day under ground. I fell ever so exhausted asleep as I got back to the hostel.
I just stroll around during the afternoon and evening. Fountain Square and Royale Platue is visited. For some reason I´ve returned to the Old town. It feels better now as the sun is shining.
A beautiful pub along Rue St Catherine.
I am offered some action during my strolls. One of the streets is closed off. All kinds of blue lights are there. Someone has opened a car door, a lady has biked into the door, bounced out in the street and been hit by a taxi. I suddenly realise the perishability of life. Imagine that I had been in that taxi. Imagine that I would have been on my way to the airport and that I would have missed my flight due to a bouncing biker. A travel plan can collapse so easily. I shutter and keeps strolling. I go unrocked to sleep at the hostel.
Montreal doesn’t have much more to offer. It is time to pack the bag and head on south. I set my compass for New York and swing the bag on my back.
The Greyhound bus departs as planned at 09.15. I take a final look of the skyline of Montreal as the bus heads up on the bridge. A nice city but nothing else. A nice place, but as I said before, so is grandma.
We’ve been going for an hour and it is time for another border control. Everyone leaves the bus and line up our luggage and enter the customs building. It is once again some nervous American customs officers. The ones before me in the queue seem to have some problems. French-speaking Canadians and genuine French people have some problems. The American state is a legacy from the British Empire. Have they also inherited the grudge against the promised land of the Brie cheese? There is no grudge against good old Sweden and I can pass after I’ve answered the classic questions.
The bus driver is pleased. All of his passengers made it through the customs and just within an hour. We are rolling on the highway. The sun is shining and the North American landscape is passing outside of the bus window. We take a break halfway in the middle of nowhere. We stop a couple of hours later without any surprise in Albany. They throw us out and we have to wait until the bus is refilled and ready.
The greyhound which took me to the apple.
The bus driver is a bit confused that the traffic has been gentle to us. No queues. Someone makes a joke that it might be connected to the expensive petrol. Everyone laughs. But the laughter fade out as most of us realise that it isn't any joke, it is the truth.
Port Authority is just as hectic as it was the last time I was here. I will take the tube to the hostel.
The tube system in the Big Apple is huge and advanced. I take the blue line, train C, towards uptown. I get off at the 103rd, follow Park Avenue up to East 106th and find Jazz on the park, which is the name of the hostel. All according to plans.
The hostel isn't in mint condition, but I’ve slept at worse places. I am up in my room which is shared by 16 people, men as well as women. My nearest bed neighbours are; one from Britain, two Argentinians, one South African, one Australian who originated from Wales and a Russian Chinese, that is a Russian who looks Chinese. A slightly odd gang.
The British guy turned out to be called Greg and he was about to end his around the world trip. They had been four starting the trip but one after another had to go home. The remaining one and I went out into the American night to take part of the 4th of July celebrations. There would be fireworks over East River according to the Welsh Australian.
Central Park is deserted besides some barbecue enthusiasts. We had to cross this gigantic jungle to get to East River. None of us are remotely satisfied so we slide into a pizzeria to have some slices. Outside the rain and darkness are falling. The rain cease and we carry on to East River.
We decide, since none of us is drunk, to take a beer in a pub on the way to the fireworks. The American beer only affects the bladder. Not slightly dizzy at all.
American beer in an American pub.
The fireworks took to the skies further south than where we are located. But we’ve managed to see some of it. We are on the East 86th Street and our beds are at West 106th. Central Park is in between. It feels; as Midnight is coming up; wrong to walk across the jungle. A taxi will be our solution.
30 degrees and rain. Nothing can be done about that. Greg will come along towards downtown. We take the tube as far south as possible and walk the last bit. The day is spent exploring the south of Manhattan. Wall Street was closed, Ground zero was nothing more than a hole in the ground where a construction work was going on and Broadway was crowded.
Wall Street well guarded by the men in blue.
We’re having lunch in Little Italy, a part of the city just as expensive as big Italy. We also paid a visit to China Town. We follow up a tip that Greg has heard. The rumour says there is a free concert in the park. We head for the jungle that resembles a rainforest now as the rain is coming down. The park is fantastic, but we’ve not found any concert.
The central park
After a couple of hours of recovering it´s time to take another bite of the apple. Greg hangs along and we head south with the tube. We get off at Times Square. Found an Asian buffet. The waitresses brings large pitchers of Coca Cola, the food is mouth watering delicious and comes in all you can eat portions. The poor dollar rate makes this a bargain.
We walk along Broadway. Darkness falls and the neon lights are on. We get thirsty and finish some cold ones in a pub. Once again more for the bladder than the head.
Slept in. Opened the eyelids around 10. Greg is sleeping and the breakfast is a joke. I head out to find me some decent breakfast.
My breakfast consisted of an expensive sandwich and a juice I bought by Rockefeller Centre. The journey carried on east to the UN-building. It is worth a visit but most of it is closed. The UN is serious about holidays.
The United Nations building.
I tube on to the north towards East 86th street. I am going to Guggenheim. I pay a lot to see some strange art. I walk around without any plan and get back to the jungle. I walk across this kingdom of plants and finally reach Broadway Wet 76th Street. I’m having a Subway-sandwich and a Starbucks-coffee before I walk all the way north to 106th Street. It is a long walk. Along the road I manage to see this trip´s second traffic accident. Yet another woman has been hit by a taxi. She lies in the middle of Broadway waiting for an ambulance. Life is hard in the Big Apple.
My British friend is awake. We skip the travesty of breakfast and tube to the south. We eat eggs and sandwiches in the finance district. After that it is time for a ferry to Liberty Island where its Statue of Liberty is situated. A lot of people, no rain but still ever so warm. We took a look and pictures of the lady before we went by ferry to Ellis Island, the island where all the immigrants arrived. Walked around with headphones on the head and took part of the history.
The happy lady of freedom with Manhattan in the background.
After some relaxing hours at the hostel it´s time to see more of the apple. I tube, together with Greg, to the south. We walk around without any plans for some hours before we end up at Empire State Building. The queue is long but we make it to the top. We buy out of shear ignorance tickets to the 102nd floor. It isn't until we get down to the 86th that we realise that the lower floor is much better. The 86th has a balcony and one can feel the fresh air. The big apple is in darkness is lit up by a billion lights. Pretty as a picture, a midsummer dream.
View from Empire State Building.
We left the Empire and grabbed a night burger. We had to go for large of each. One litre of Cola is tough to finish
Walking around without a plan in the Big Apple. Started to walk north to Harlem. It didn’t have much to offer, so I took the tube to the south. Rockefeller Centre gets a visit as well as the Trump Tower. Madison square garden is the next place to get a visit. Besides this the day is just filled with occasional walks. The sun is frying, the sweat is pouring and the apple meal feels finished.
Madison square garden isn´t a square, it´s a circle.
As I got back to the hostel Greg tells me that he has heard about a pub with live music. We head downtown with the tube as the evening falls. We search for a couple of hours before we find the pub but it seems to be closed. It consists of a solid tin door. We realise that we’ve left the noble parts of Manhattan and ended up at, well we don’t know, but this area doesn’t feel good. We head back to Broadway and visit a couple of pubs on the way. I finally get to drink some real beer, Guinness.
After ending the drinking of malt uptown we head towards the hostel. We catch the wrong tube and end up in Queens. It is the second semi-dangerous area in the same evening. It is close to midnight and to be in the tube under Queens isn't recommended. We gain courage, manage to tube away and eventually end up at the hostel.
It is time to leave the Big Apple, the States and the life as a free man. It is time to crawl back to my house and everyday life again.
Tubing downtown for the last time. Greg is with me and we’re having a final lunch, a stroll along Broadway and finish the visit to the apple. I wish him good luck with the British Empire and get into a taxi.
The taxi driver is a classic New Yorker, a Sikh. He complains about the petrol price in poor English and guides me through Brooklyn.
The trip back to Sweden is just like a bad rerun. I experience the same things I did as I was going to the States, just in an opposite order.
I´m back in my house the 10th of July, exhausted and broke.
The Swiss plane which will take me across the Atlantic.