MonthAugust 2012

Toronto

After the rather eventful four days in the United States, we returned to Montreal. The next day we went to the last destination in our itinerary: Toronto. We were picked up from the airport by one of my uncles and cousins. We met up with the rest of my uncles family and went out for dinner. We hadn’t seen them since the last time they visited us in Vancouver at least 10 years ago (I think?).

They took us around Markham, the so-called Asian part of Toronto. Pretty much like Richmond in Vancouver. Felt quite at home there. Eating Chinese food again was quite a welcome change from eating random fast food while in the states. I guess I also didn’t think of taking any pictures there since it seemed to me that things were “quite ordinary”. And people generally don’t take pictures of things they find ordinary.

The last time I was in Toronto, I was eight years old. I don’t remember much from that trip, sightseeing here was quite a new experience for me. We visited Niagara Falls for the second time.

There are people crazy enough to go up close to the falls too.

There’s also a bridge to the United States that lets people see the falls from the American side. No point to go there because the Canadian side of the falls is way more scenic.

If you’re rich, you can even stay in one of these hotels that look straight toward the falls.

Then to the world famous CN Tower.

Gorgeous view from the top.

This time, I’m not afraid of the glass floor.  I figure, what the hell? The engineers who designed it must have made it safe, otherwise it wouldn’t have been built in Canada and it’s lasted so long already without any accidents, so it must be safe.

Those two places are just about the only tourist sites we visited in Toronto. We spent the rest of the time with catching up with cousins and walking around the different Asian malls in Markham. I even got to drive my cousin’s GTI. That was cool too. After two and a half days in Toronto, we flew back to Vancouver, thus ending our two-week trip to eastern North America.

Philadelphia

This is the birthplace of the American nation. The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution were debated before finally being adopted in the symbolic and historical Independence Hall.  The Liberty Bell, the symbol of American independence used to be in the steeple of this building as well.

We only spent about half a day in this city and most of the sightseeing was done on a prearranged city tour. The first stop was The Philadelphia Bourse. It was founded in 1891 and functioned as a center for commodities exchange up until the 60’s.

Further along was Elfreth’s Alley, one of the oldest residential streets in the country.

And then the Betsy Ross House, where Betsy Ross may have lived when she made the first American flag.

Here’s a bust of William Penn, the founder of Philadelphia.

We also passed by the cemetery where Benjamin Franklin is buried at.

Next, the historic Chinatown.

And now, the Masonic Library and Museum. Built in 1873, but it looks a lot older than that.

Directly across the street is the Philadelphia City Hall. It reminded me a little bit of the Hamburg Rathaus. It took 30 years to build and was only finished in 1901. It looks a lot older than that given its style of construction.

Further along was the Eastern State Penitentiary, a former prison where notorious criminals such as Al Capone once stayed at.

And then the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The staircase in the front is known as the Rocky Steps, the staircase that Rocky was shown to be training at in the movie.

Passed by a lot of historic looking neighbourhoods on our way back to the beginning of the tour.

Here is a picture of clouds as we were driving away from Philadelphia after the tour.

After the city tour, our sightseeing in the states was essentially over. We spent the entirety of the next day shopping at Woodbury Outlets and driving back to Montreal.

Washington DC

So here it is, the capital of the United States of America.

First stop, Lincoln Memorial.

“In this temple as in the harts of the people for whom he saved the union, the memory of Abraham Lincoln” is enshrined forever”. Powerful words. His two most famous speeches are also written on the inside walls in his remembrance. “This nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from the Earth.”

Directly in front of the monument, is the reflecting pool.  Too bad there was construction at the time, otherwise it’d looks way nicer.

On the south side of the memorial, there is the Korean War Memorial.

This phrase beside it is probably one of the most well said quotes.

Freedom is definitely not free.

On the north side of Lincoln Memorial, there is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The names etched into the memorial are everyone who was killed or missing in action.

This is where politics happens. The Capitol, where Obama pwns his political opponents and passes bills through congress.

Next stop, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Definitely lots of interesting things here!

To show off the history of aviation, naturally there is a model of the Wright Brother’s plane.

Eventually, we built fixed wing aircraft.

Fast forward a few decades, and there is a lunar lander.

In the present day, we are now blowing people up from afar using Predator drones…

Too bad there wasn’t enough time to visit other museums in the Smithsonian. Would have liked to see the natural history exhibits too. But at least I got to briefly see the Smithsonian Castle.

We then took a nice and relaxing boat tour on the Potomac River.

Of course there’s also the Washington Monument.

Then there is the White House, where the boss aka Barack Obama lives. There’s even three guys on the roof to see if there’s anything out of the ordinary.

Then while leaving the city, the tour bus driver had the great idea of driving into the Pentagon parking lot.

And here is a nice picture of sun rays passing through clouds that I managed to capture while we were on the road to the next destination.

We spent the night in Atlantic City, where those interested got the chance to visit the casinos and “try” to win money. I on the other hand, was pretty tired. I pretty much went to sleep right away when we got to the hotel. Needed some good rest for the trip to Philadelphia the next day.

New York City: Part IV

After visiting the trip to the Intrepid, the next activity was a boat tour to see the city skyline and the Statue of Liberty.

On the way to the port, we came across MIB Headquarters, aka Brooklyn Battery Tunnel.

The boat tour took us around the south end of Manhattan, so we got a good view of the skyscrapers out in the financial district.

Eventually the boat made it to Liberty Island.

We saw the Statue of Liberty in all her glory.

The boat tour cruised slowly through all the sites to make sure that people could not only take pictures, but also could appreciate the beauty that they were seeing.

The next destination was Wall Street, the world’s centre of capitalism.

The Federal Hall is located right on Wall Street.

So is the New York Stock Exchange. I remember busting through here in Modern Warfare 3 with guns blazing trying to destroy the jammer on the roof… Across the street is the JP Morgan building, which was the Gotham Stock Exchange in The Dark Knight Rises.

The Bronze Bull in Wall Street also attracts a lot of attention.

Then we walked a few blocks and go really close to the Freedom Tower (officially known as One World Trade Center). It is built on the original site of the World Trade Center site. It’s also designed to be 1776 m tall, representative of the year that America became independent. Quite a symbolic value. At the base, there is a memorial dedicated to the victims of the terrorist attack. We wanted to see it, but going in required a reservation.

That was the last destination of our NYC tour.  The next destination was Washington DC, the capital of the USA.  It would be a few hours drive, so we wouldn’t tour the city until the day after.

New York City: Part III

After the trip to Rockefeller Center, the tour bus took us to the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum.  It was nice being in the tour bus going from place to place – it was way too hot to be walking about and taking the metro everywhere.

The Intrepid Museum is basically an retired aircraft carrier from World War II that was converted into a museum.

On the deck of the aircraft carrier were all sorts of fighter planes, helicopters, etc.

People even get to inside the so-called “island”, where the bridge and flight control tower are located.

A lot of the instruments on board are quite antiquated since this ship was commissioned in 1943.

It’s really cramped inside too.

Beside the aircraft carrier and also part of the museum is the submarine, USS Growler. It was a submarine used as a nuclear deterrent.

When we were at the Intrepid, we weren’t able to visit the inside of the submarine since the bridge used to board the vessel had collapsed. By the time the workers set up the bridge again, we didn’t have enough time to go inside.

Below the aircraft carrier flight deck are exhibits about the history of the USS Intrepid. One of the best items on display there was the Lego version of the ship. It’s 22 feet long, 550 lbs, and uses 250000 lego bricks.

There were more aircraft displays on this deck and also showed the history of American aviation.

There was even a display of the number of planes shot down and ships sunk by the Intrepid and its aircraft during WWII.

At certain times of day, there are even demonstrations of the aircraft elevator.

That pretty much concluded my trip of the Intrepid Museum. Stay tuned for the next part: Freedom Tower, Wall Street, Statue of Liberty and more!

New York City: Part II

Throughout the first day, we had boarded the tour bus early in the morning and pretty much toured around NYC with very little sleep.  Now that we got a good night’s sleep, we were quite energized for our second day of the tour.

The first destination for the day was Rockefeller Center. This is the place where a giant Christmas tree is placed during the holiday season. The front of it, by the fountain with the statue of Prometheus, would also be a giant ice rink. During the summer, an outdoor restaurant takes its place.

There is also an observation deck at the top known as the “Top of the Rock” that we didn’t go to. They advertise that from up there, people can see an unobstructed view of the whole city.

The inside looks quite nice too!

I guess the designers of Rockefeller Center really like mythological characters because apart from the fountain with Prometheus, there’s also a statue of Atlas.

Beside Rockefeller Center is Radio City Music Hall, an entertainment venue that, for a time, was a really popular tourist destination. It is said that the hydraulics used for their stage were so advanced for its time, that the US Navy used the same hydraulics when constructing aircraft carriers during WWII.

Also beside Rockefeller Center is St. Patrick’s Cathedral. I always thought everything in NYC was really modern, so I didn’t expect such historical architecture.

It happened to be a Sunday that day, so the inside was filled with people attending church.

Our next destination in the afternoon was the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. That place was so interesting for me that it would make this post super long, so I think I’ll save it for a separate post.

New York City: Part I

We signed up for this Asian tour group that took us around a few cities in the USA, and our first stop was New York City.  This was a lot different than our usual self-directed trips.

The tour bus left at around 5 in the morning from Montreal and by the time we got to the Big Apple it was about 2pm.  At first I thought it would suck a lot being cramped in a tour bus for eight hours, but it really wasn’t that bad since I pretty much slept the whole time.

As the tour bus drove along, lo and behold, there was a ton of those yellow cabs on the road.  I guess what people say about NYC cabs is true.

The tour bus dropped us off at the Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum and from there we walked around the city on our own.  Man, NYC is busy.  Reminded me of Hong Kong.  The temperature that day was at about 35 degrees Celsius, hardly a good temperature for walking around.  Apparently, we happened to be right in the middle of a heat wave.

Eventually, we hit Times Square.

And also found some other interesting places.  I found it strange that there was a recruiting station right in the middle of Times Square.  And also, I had no idea somebody actually created a shrimp company named after the one in the movie Forrest Gump.

We also ran into where David Letterman does his show.  Not exactly the best late night talk show host, but I would have gone to check that out if I had time.

We walked all the way to the entrance of Central Park.  If it felt nicer outside, I think we would have taken the time to walk around inside the park too.

After resting for a bit, the walking continued.  As we walked on the sidewalk, we’d pass by these grates in the ground with hot air coming out of them.  Occasionally, we’d hear a subway pass by.  Must be the subway system’s ventilation.  That led us to see what the NYC metro was all about.  Not exactly the most beautiful metro, but it works for the millions of people who use it everyday.

One thing I noticed about NYC is that there are ads everywhere.  Wherever there’s space, someone will always pay money to put up an ad.

The next destination was the famous Empire State Building. Not sure why it’s so famous other than that it’s tall and that King Kong climbed to the top of it in the movie.

Somewhat nearby was Madison Square Garden, where the New York Knicks and New York Rangers play.

By then, it was almost time to go, so we walked back to the wax museum where the tour bus would pick us up again.  That ended the first day of our NYC tour.

Schwartz’s, Olympic Stadium, and Family Reunion

After the day trip to Quebec City, we went back to my uncle’s home in Montreal to stay for another night.  The day after, we toured a little more of Montreal.

Schwartz’s

I was told that this place is really well known for its smoked meat sandwiches.  Good thing we got the chance to try it because that sandwich was indeed very delicious (I find it very difficult to describe how good something tastes…).  For those interested, it’s located at 3895 St-Laurent.

Olympic Stadium

The next destination was the Olympic Stadium that was the main venue for the 1976 Summer Olympics.  It has quite a unique building style with its tower on an incline.

At the top, people can see across Montreal.  People can see the different structures nearby that were all once used as Olympic venues.  Nice view!


Here’s also a nice video of the view while going down the lift.

Driving by McGill University

On the way back, my uncle took us by the McGill University campus.  Didn’t really get to see much of the school except for what I saw from inside the car.

Family Reunion

Not exactly a touristy thing to do, but we had a rather large dinner with as many of our family members as we could.  We had 18 family members – not exactly a regular occurrence for us.  We could have had more, but we were missing my dad’s eldest brother’s entire family (7 people), two other cousins, and an aunt. And this was just my dad’s side of the family.

This was the best opportunity that we had in order for everyone to see each other in person and catch up after years of not seeing each other.  One of the nicest things about the family is that people very much respect these family gatherings and are eager to go to them.  I’m sure there are lots of people who don’t really share the same enthusiasm of seeing their relatives.

This dinner was also a birthday celebration for four people in the family that had a July birthday.  I want to post pictures, but I’m not able to since I’m not sure if the others would be okay with it.   But anyway, here’s a picture of a finished cake.

The next morning, we would leave Montreal for our tour to New York City, Washington DC, and Philadelphia.

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