Saturday, September 12, 2015

Day 6: Hamilton

Writing this the next day as exhaustion and a late night is not conducive to legible handwriting. We woke too early, fuelled by afternoon jetlagged dozing and staggered downstairs. We left all our coins and some $1 notes for housekeeping - sadly not from the goodness of our hearts, but to get rid of them. We breached the doors of our hotel at 5:15am. Our “luxury sedan” with its giant freaking boot awaited, along with our female driver who was courteous and efficient.

We took off through the waking streets of New York. The muted sunrise seemed lit from nowhere, the buildings hiding the source. As we continued to JFK, we passed two cemeteries that seemed populated by more than the people in NYC. The sun made its appearance as a large orange ball on the horizon.

Terminal 8, our destination, housed American Airlines. It was bedlam. Our driver stopped the car in a driving lane because the “kiss and ride” section was already two cars deep. Our driver was meticulous in checking we’d left nothing behind, especially me. Ha! Once inside we floundered around until finding the check in machines which spat out two boarding passes but didn’t give us bag tags or the option to buy them - we had to go to a manned counter to rectify this.

We suffered through the same crazy screening yet again - shoes off, etc. No water was allowed but the security officer simply leered at my “baggy” of 100ml beauty products before returning them. We made it through and I ate a flavourless turkey wrap - we have found that food in NYC is not as tasty. Not sure why?

We had to hike to our gate and flash passports to “check in” there. Then it was time to leave for Toronto. Families with the usual 2 pieces of hand luggage (mini-suitcases) were pulled aside to have their bags taken and tagged for the hold.

That should have warned me - or the small seating map when I chose our seats! We were waved through with our small pieces. I had to duck to enter the plane. I found myself in a very claustrophobic passage which divided one seat from two. I could have lain across the plane, neck bent, it was so narrow. And the hand luggage shelf was so tiny that while my backpack fit, my fiancé had to squeeze his laptop bag under the seat in front of him.

Only one toilet at the back - a fight over that ensued later. Members of the Chile Pan Am team joined us and became quite noisy (the Pan Am Games are on in Toronto). The take off was surprisingly smooth for a small craft. We were each allowed a small cup of whatever liquid served by the flight attendant. He was a cheerful veteran of the air who said he knew body language so I must be very thirsty. He gave me a second cup of water!

We saw Toronto as we came in an hour later. I gripped my fiancé’s hand, anticipating a bumpy landing.

“You really don’t like small planes, do you?” he mused.

The landing was better than expected. As we arrived, we were sternly told that we now subject to Canadian laws so phones could not be used until we cleared customs - most Americans flouted this around us as we joined the customs queue. The staff were overwhelmed, the Pan Am Games delivering far more passengers than they were used to. But Canadians are efficient and got us through in a quarter of the time US customs ever could.

We snagged a taxi and headed for Hamilton, 35-60 minutes away according to our driver. I was amused to see the numberplate HOCKEYEH ahead of us. We hit epic traffic that even bamboozled our driver. The Games were to blame. 75 minutes later, we were at our hotel, sweating in the heat. The room is nice, though the curtains caused confusion and it took us 18 hours to solve the riddle of closing them.

We wandered down the main street of Hamilton, checking out shops, statues and the screen that had been set up for locals to watch the Games. I bought Canadian-made knickknacks for friends and browsed Out of the Past, a vintage shop. The only size 6 shoes I could find were vintage tiny “galloshes” that I could not justify buying.

Returned to the hotel and valiantly stayed awake - somehow.

7:30pm arrived which saw us waiting for my fiancé’s friends outside in the cooling evening. We were taken to an excellent burger place. Here you picked the burger, the patty, the side and the bun. I had an elk patty which is so much nicer than beef and is…delicate? Hard to describe. My fiancé’s friends introduced us to poutine, which is cheese curds and gravy on chips. Tastes like potatoes in French onion soup. Bleh.

We explored Hamilton extensively on foot before enjoying ice cream. We saw a whole bunch of school buses that looked like a pile of yellow caterpillars in a parking lot. There were a lot of them driving around as well. My fiancé’s friends say that in summer, when they aren’t being used, the yellow buses are hired out for charter. They surmised that the buses were being used for the Pan Am Games, as the soccer stadium was nearby.

I was tired and my feet hurt, but seeing the train station from the movie X-Men (“the one Cyclops shoots up” to quote my fiancé’s friend) was awesome! Seeing it at night made it look just like it does in the movie! It now holds formal functions.

Many old decrepit buildings in Hamilton are either refurbed or being refurbed after lying abandoned for years, though one made a good set for the movie Silent Hill. Many films set in the 1980s are done in Hamilton because they have authentic wooden telephone poles from the era - they are not replaced because they provide revenue in the form of films. Wooden poles very normal back home in Australia.

Staggered back to the hotel. Made plans to meet in morning to visit Niagara Falls.

PS: Lots of mobility scooters everywhere. My fiancé says it’s weird but Hamilton is very flat - handy for someone in a scooter.

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