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Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Niagara Falls, Fair City of Fat People and Sex Offenders (and an Angry Waterfall)

The Niagara is kinda cute when its angry
So this time I spent my Buffalo visit staying a rather pleasant and inexpensive guesthouse called wanderfalls  in Niagara Falls, USA, which does private rooms and small dorms (with about 6 people max) for about $25 a night, including pancakes and coffee.  I don't know about you, but I much prefer staying in hostels or some kind of similar thing than soulless chain hotels, so i met some great guys to have a beer with, run, and explore the wonderful City of Niagara Falls.

Niagara Falls is of course famous for having the famous waterfall on its doorstep. It's also a working class suburb of Buffalo, which is a surprisingly good looking city (despite an Estonian style climate) If you are visiting Niagara Falls, most people go to the Canadian side, which is much more prosperous and geared up for tourism, with casinos, hotels, big viewing platforms, a much nicer view (of Horseshoe Falls, the bigger falls) and all the cheesy tourist things (you know the 'Ripley believe it or not, the 4d cinema, all that jazz which i've never seen anything interesting about personally)
Another 'what am i doing here' moment

The US side is mostly an industrial town of about 90,000 people, which grew up on the river business, with aluminium works etc. as the main employer. Now a lot of thats gone, the town is based round one large casino hotel, the Seneca, which is actually quite nice, but has sucked the life out of the town itself.

If you're looking for the real 'Niagara' experience, then the main 'life' is on 3rd Street, just off main street between Main Street and the Casino Hotel. Im afraid it's seen better days, but there is a good wine bar restaurant imaginatively named 'Wine on 3rd' some 'fish fry' and pizza places, and a few bars/clubs dotted throughout the street. I'd suggest not walking too far off this street up the street numbers, it's a bit dodgy at night sometimes. This Niagara link tells you more about local eating/drinking options.

So me and one South African guy, no stranger to urban violence, had a few beers in the awful 'Hard Rock Cafe' (there is one of these and also a 'Starbucks' downtown where all the hotels are. Thats about it.)  and decided to hit a club  ('Ultra Lounge' on 3rd Street) for a taste of life in Niagara Falls. There certainly was a selection of ladies, eager to speak to the 'new kids in town' but about wide loads! It's a real shame because some of the girls were very pretty, just when it gets below the waist and....woooop it's like a 35 yr old Spanish woman after 5 kids. I don't know what these girls are eating but it looks like its supersize....
I love the water this colour, was tempting to jump in

Anyway, the bars, I can safely say won't appeal to most except those with a taste for redneck men, or the larger ladies, so my clear recommendation is to walk across the Rainbow Bridge to Canada and there are loads of bars and clubs, it's more like a mini las vegas but at least there are a lot of choices. Otherwise head down to Buffalo and either go to 'Bar Street'  (Chippewas St in the downtown) for rednecks, dance clubs, frat girls, under-agers, or the western half of Allen Street, if you crave a more Bohemian/Live music vibe.

About the sex offenders, the owner of the Wanderfalls was nice enough to tell us that Niagara Falls houses the largest number of sex offenders in the region. So maybe not a great place to set up with your young family ;o)

One great saving grace about Niagara is the River. You can run all the way from the falls, along the path, down a few miles to the whirlpool park at the other end of town. The river is majestic. I ran along the path there just after some heavy rain and the anger and danger of the place was tangible.

€25,000 actually gets you a not bad house here (free plug for )

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Mid- Life Crisis ahoy !

On another note, the good news was though that i seem to be fully recovered and fit as a fiddle.

With 8 months until my 40th birthday, i expect my mid-life crisis will kick in and a rapid move back to dating girls too young by far, a motorbike, followed by redemption in the form of a swift marriage with children soon after....

The bad news is that 've now been told i'm not allowed to do the 1000 mile run in Alaska until i've done the 340mile one, so i'm 'downgrading' to that one this year. To date no Scotsman has finished the 1000 miler on foot i'm told,   but one Scot is doing it this year - i guess if he finishes at least i'll have a time to beat the next year.

Roddinghead (Road) Revisted

It was one of those lovely May days in Glasgow where it swiftly gyrates between warm rain and sunshine and the clouds move fast like you see in some of these arthouse movies when its a dream sequence.

So i decided to test how fit i still am and took a long run up through my old haunts in the suburbs near my parents house.

What was interesting (at least for me) was the story that some streets tell - I was thinking this as i ran along Roddinghead Road. Roddinghead Road is one of those new money streets peopled by an assortment of families who are rich as hell but immensely vulgar (usually indians, greeks, italians, arabs, the less classy Jews, and of course proletariat who've done well - basically the type of people who don't get into the Golf Club up here)

 The typical 'thing to do' if you make a lot of money quickly and are ill-bred, is to buy an old pile on this street, demolish it (or if you feel particularly rich and vulgar you buy the house next door too and demolish that to make an even bigger plot) then you build an extremely ugly but enormous house, with the aim of showing off to the people next door how stupidly rich you are. Sadly the formerly lovely avenue of Roddinghead Road is full of these nasty 'Pondarosa' style carbunkles.

You can really read the story of the current times here -  On a road of say 40 houses, while of course most are still solid looking and deuce despite the numerous interlopers, there were McMansions for sale (foreclosed?), empty McMansions with long grass (abandoned?), and at the end a large empty space where some chancer had demolished the house, with the intention I suppose of showing off his timeshare/drugs/real estate/football player money by building some monster sized monument to his working class roots. But since the grass was already grown long there, perhaps after knocking the house down, he lost his money as quick as you could say 'negative equity'.

 Fortunately, for Roddinghead Road, the times of fast easy money are gone, and who knows, in time these streets will recover from is rash of vulgar palaces built in the last 20 years. But for now, despite there being no apparent recession in the rest of Glasgow, this tells me what i already suspected - the easy buck has gone now, and won't be back for a long time.

But with easy loans gone, where will the new businesses be? where will that brace of chancers and barrow boys who always seem to manage to make it ? Guys like Alan Sugar or Richard Branson? I'm sure the younger generation of confident and energetic are a lot better than on the 'apprentice' show in real life. However - we're only now just at the beginning of the great unwinding of the credit bubble so with no money available, only the real deals will pull through, and these guys (I hope) wont be building crappy but enormous homes on Roddinghead Road. Maybe they'll even demolish a couple and build decent homes.

I'll drop up there in 5 years time and report...

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Post MDS depression and the Idatarod Invitational 1000miler

Now i think i see what happens to guys who've been fighting in the front line and then get back to normality. When you push your adrenilin button to a certain level, then your life is never and can never be the same, making it impossible to adjust back to the banality of the real world. The unimportant cares and worries of normal people mean nothing and people and life becomes depressingly tedious. Thats why they do daft things like blow up government buildings.

So how to cure it?

Ok i have an idea, but it probably wont work. I've been experimenting this last year with making my life around me as unstable as possible, in order to test my inner stability, i.e. my ability to lead a relatively sane business and normal life while at the same time not having a home, or any money, for example. So the next level here must be to totally cut off from the world for 25 days and see if my sanity survives.

Rather than settling down and getting a volvo and a house in the country, i've agreed to walk the 1000mile  (1600km) long 'Idatarod Invitational'.

It's set in Alaska in February. Some people cycle it but i think walkng will be harder. It gets to minus 50. You sleep rough and you carry a sled with your supplies and survival gear.There are no rescue helicopters or support. Or signposts.Just me and the harshest environment in the world. I will however be joined by two worryingly insane scandinavians though, and we hope to add to the 9 people who have so far completed walking this race in its entire history, ideally without losing my nose to frostbite.

 The real test will be to not go insane. My fellow adventure Jarmo (who finished the Marathon Des Sable on crutches) brought up the subject - 'As you might know the mental trauma is the ultimate fun/pain in the event. Regarding the fun the previous consecutive winner when seeing the finishing line after nearly running this 35 marathons had felt that he can´t finish yet and started backfiring as turned around and started going back to the direction he was coming from. He was hospitalized from the mt. '    I dont know....maybe hes still in a hospital..
A random guy who got lost for 4 days during the race
i think ill share with you a part of the application form for the race....

I fully realize the dangers of participating in a winter ultra-race held in the Alaskan wilderness during winter conditions, and fully assume the risk associated with such participation, including but not limited to the following dangers: Hypothermia, frostbite, wildlife encounters such as moose, wolves or dogs, equipment failure, inadequate safety equipment, weather conditions ,freezing temperatures and extreme cold and the possibility of serious physical and /or mental trauma and injury, including death, associated with winter athletic competition. I also acknowledge and assume the risk that I may become injured or incapacitated in a location where it is difficult or impossible for me to receive medical aid in time to avoid physical injury or even death.'

Now THATS what im talking about !!! I know from the experience of the MDS that its easy to laugh at these things from the comfort of your sofa, while you actually find yourself crying in the race when you think about how stupid you were to think it would be a doddle. But us humans, were pretty tough creatures you know, we can put up with a lot more than reality tv and soap operas.

there is a shorter 340mile race but id say thats for pansies. But heres a funny link about a guy who gets lost on it. Now how the hell do you train for a 1000mile race in the cold, just as its getting to summer? Well im going to walk to Vapiano and get a pizza, thats for starters...