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Published: January 7th 2012
Greetings from… London – not quite as exciting as the places I’ve just come back from (for me at least!), but since I was sightseeing and doing stuff pretty much up to the last minute of this trip, I thought I’d update on the last week of it once I’d flown back.
This last week has just been great, superb even. What has made this trip so special and different from most others has been not only the sightseeing and travelling, which is usually on my travel agenda, but the people I have met and who have welcomed me into their homes along the way. Without going too soppy on y’all, it has truly been a trip about love, friendship and family, and I feel honoured to have spent time with such great people along the way – thanks Doug, Alex and Brad for this. And a huge thank you to my family in Ontario – Uncle William, Auntie Helen, Stephanie and Michael – I have had the most amazing time with you these past few days, it has been very special indeed.
Well, since I last wrote, I believe I celebrated New Year with my
Da Bruvs in da Hood!
Me and Mike, freestylin'
good friend Brad in Chicago. We managed to take in the fireworks, both official and unofficial, and some suspiciously sounding like gunshots in the night air, over the Chicago skyline from his 18th
-floor apartment roof. There were the official ones coming from the Millennium Park area in downtown Chicago, but the 360 degree panoramic view all over the city helped us take in the various little shows all around. A great, albeit slightly chilly and windy, see-in to 2012 (though come to think of it, the whole time I was there it was windy, hence the city’s nickname…!). The next day we looked around the University of Chicago, where Brad is studying – the island of peace and academic splendor in the middle of one of Chicago’s dodgiest ghettos (the uni has its own special task police force to protect the students!), and did a spot of ice-skating in a rink a few blocks away from Brad’s building – a fun way to spend New Years’ Day, and didn’t fall over once – not that I was particularly pushing the boat out on my ice-skating skills there though…!
The next morning it was, both sadly and excitingly, moving on
time again, and I caught an American Airlines flight to Toronto International Airport, Canada, my 67th
country!! Was met at the airport by my fantastic Uncle William, to begin a great four days there of catching up and a spot of sightseeing besides.
Uncle William and Auntie Helen own a farm, with chickens, horses, goats, ducks and a lovely little pig called Jo-Jo, in a rural area around 20km from the small town of Orangeville, itself around 100km from Toronto in the middle of the sizeable chunk of land between Great Lakes Erie and Huron. A rural area of vast, flat open spaces, beautifully decorated at this time of year with a smattering of snow – not quite so heavy as normal apparently, so quite lucky in that regard. Although the temperature the first day did reach minus 18C, with a wind chill of minus 24 – cold indeed, and at last putting to use the thermal underwear I’d packed for this trip – worked wonders!
The first couple of days we toured around the local area, which fascinatingly enough is home to a very sizeable Mennonite population – not sure how many in this region, but there
Ice-Skating in Chicago
With Brad, New Years' Day 2012
are around 130,000 in the whole of Canada. These people I had first encountered on my year abroad teaching in Paraguay, and they lead a very traditional Christian-based life with very little use for modern technology, concepts and ideas. Instead of driving around in cars, they trot around in horse-drawn carriages, wearing cotton clothes they stitch themselves, and farming the land and selling the produce locally. A very attractive way of life indeed when the stresses of modern living get too much. Although I didn’t speak to any Mennonites, from a distance they all seemed very much at peace, and from my knowledge of the Paraguayan branch, they generally are. Indeed, on my second day, we had a birthday lunch for my Auntie Helen in one of their restaurants, serving traditionally home-made food which was just delicious!
Thursday was just stunning! All five Warings piled into the car to drive two hours south-east-wards, towards the mighty, majestic and simply awesome Niagara Falls! This completed my seeing of the four greatest waterfalls in the world (Iguazu, Angel, Victoria and Niagara), and it was indeed an excellent time of year to see them. Niagara is not the highest, nor the longest,
Me and Brad
Noodles at the University of Chicago, New Years' Day
waterfall in the world, but it is the most powerful, with 5.7million litres falling over the 790-metre wide main horseshoe falls per second. Being freezing during our visit, the area was covered in snow, so as a backdrop to the thundering horseshoe cascade, the trees were at their wintry best, while the mist and upspray from the falls caused everything around to be iced over – magical! The lack of crowds at this time of year was also magical, and we happied away a good couple of hours in the vicinity – snapping the falls themselves, but also checking out an interactive movie complete with vibrations and water spray, and going down the amazing tunnel carved behind the waterfalls, with two viewpoints which were carved right out into the back of the falls, so you can look out at the cascading water from within – a thundering and wetting experience indeed!
And finally yesterday, spent a great day with my cool cousin Mike, looking around his ‘hood – the large but very civilized city of Toronto. We had a few hours to kill before my flight back to London, so we walked around the Downtown area, and fitted in
Brad and I
University of Chicago, Snowstorm
an impromptu trip up the CN Tower – Toronto landmark, which for 34 years held the title of the world’s tallest building at 553 metres, till it was eclipsed dramatically by Dubai’s Burj Khalifa in 2010. It also contains the extremely disconcerting glass floor, looking 342 metres straight down and certainly not for the fainthearted...!
A great day, and just a great end to my fantastic trip to the United States and Canada.
As mentioned, this has been a very different type of trip indeed, and I just can’t say how thankful I am to the people who have made it so special – you know who you are, big it up y'all!
Just a few closing words of contemplation and reflection on this journey, as I try to settle back into the London way of life, its high density living and fast pace. I feel I have much more in common with the North Americans right now. The great European migration westwards over the last centuries seems to have divided the population of the western world into two types (which I believe could also include the settler types in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and others).
My Family's Street
Near Belwood, Ontario
On the one hand, you have the happy-go-lucky, adventurous and enthusiastic settlers who made the decision to pack up everything and start a new life in a big country, where nothing could be taken for granted and you had to improvise and live the entrepreneurial spirit to get anywhere. On the other hand, you have the quieter, settled and more reserved types who stayed behind. Perhaps this can explain the difference between the enthusiastic, outgoing, and adventurous characteristics of the descendents of the former peoples who now inhabit North America, and the quieter, more reserved and conservative (small “c”) nature of the Europeans now descended from those left behind. A generalization I know, and I’m sure there are many exceptions to these types, but something I certainly felt and noticed travelling as a European in American lands. Looking more inwardly, I can’t help but feel my travelling interest should have made me the type to have been born in the Americas, but alas perhaps this is just a passing thought and after a few days I’ll settle back into the older, traditional and more cramped way of life in the Old World…
Anyway, just a few ramblings – I
better stop, publish this and get some rest, as another perspective could be that the jet-lag is just getting to me…!!
Thanks for reading this, and I’m looking forward very much to writing up my next trip – wherever this might be - just watch this space!
All the best for now
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