The Capitol building
Its 282 miles from London to Newcastle, which can be done in as little as 3.5 hours by train; our train from Toronto to Albany was exactly 100 miles more but the trip took us a cool 10 hours and 35 minutes. Admittedly 2 hours of this was a stop at the border between Canada and the USA where all 15 of us on board at the time had our passports checked before sitting around twiddling our thumbs waiting to get on our way again. While the border officials were in good spirits we weren't so impressed to find out we had to pay another visa fee for Christina as “oh yea, you would have done the ETSA visa verification thing online right? Yeeea…you only need to do that if you are flying into the US.” A little line on the website telling us that would have been helpful!!! But we paid already so surely that’s it sorted. “No sorry we need you to pay again. You can write to the American government and complain”. Yea, Ok. I'm sure Mr Obama is going to give me my £24 back. 

People in the UK complain about the train system all the time, but I have to say, like anything, it’s not till you leave that you appreciate what you have! Despite being slow, rickety and in need of a makeover one thing the American trains do have over the English is the big wide comfy seats. It certainly made those 10 hours 35 minutes more bearable being able to curl up and not have our knees knocking into the seat in front. Our journey took us past thousands of empty crop fields and barren trees and over frozen rivers whose icebergs were starting to break apart due to the unseasonably warm winter weather of the last few days. It’s a contrast to the view that I experienced 10 years ago when I travelled through at the end of summer, when the fields were full and the trees luscious with golden foliage.

Departing from our stop in Rochester we witnessed the sadness that comes with good-byes as a man broke down at his seat as the train pulled away from the station. In a scene that could have come straight from the movies his lady-friend walking alongside the train waving and blowing kisses goodbye until she ran out of platform. I hope whatever is taking them away from each other is worth it.

Next stop was Albany aka Fort Nassau, aka Fort Orange, aka Beverwyck - the capital of New York State and the birthplace of the American Union. Despite being the capital, Albany was smaller than we thought, with a population of only 90,000 people. There’s not a huge amount to do in there, but we spent a really interesting few hours at the New York State Museum. Albany was built up as a financial centre and while the main banking quarter still exists, it is interspersed with boarded up shop windows, as businesses choose to relocate to the mega-malls on the edge of town. Random fact of the day: the modern billiard ball was created here in 1868 by John Wesley Hyatt in response to the shortage of ivory. Oh and in 1871 Albanian Seth Wheeler invented perforated toilet paper on a roll. Wey-hey Seth Wheeler!

Something we have noticed is the feeling of space. After the condensed living in the UK where houses are on top of each other, and green space is all fenced off, the houses and wide open green spaces with nobody telling you to keep off the grass feels liberating.  

Getting our ‘american ears’ back on to listening to the accents and remembering how to deal with the over-enthusiastic shop assistants is taking its time. But I’ll take enthusiasm over the grumpy need-to-go-on-a-kiwi-host-course bus driver’s any day! Seriously – there is no need to be that rude!

Next stop: Boston!


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