World Moot Pretour

15 August, 2013

###Getting There The journey to World Moot began at about 4am on the couch of Mr Burridge’s sharehouse in Heidelberg. He shares my affinity for airports, and was kind enough to volunteer to join me on yet another a trip there. My not joining him on the return from Tullamarine may or may not have been a point in my favour, but anyway:

picture of Qantas A380 'Lawrence Hargrave' awaiting passengers at Melbourne Airport International Terminal

The Plane, Anton! The plane!

I got to Tullamarine and met up with my travelling companion, Beautiful Annie. There were some small issues at check-in, but before we knew it, we were clearing Immigration and hanging out in the departure lounge, having a look at the big ol’ plane we were about to board and talking to each other through text message from opposite sides of the departure lounge, because you know, personal space or something.

The flight was looooong. But it was on a still basically brand-new Airbus A380, and we were seated right down the back, so there was a convenient staircase to climb and stretch your legs upon — and more importantly, a small area where snacks were on offer.

After a mere 14 hours, we were across the pacific, and landing at LAX airport. Where the fun really begins.

We landed at about the same time we left Melbourne (way-too-early o’clock) so there wasn’t a whole lot of traffic in the airport aside from the other trans-pacific flights, so we go through Immigration and have our first encounter with the Transportation Safety Administration. Easy done, and it’s through to baggage claim because for some reason that couldn’t be checked through to New York. Only problem, someone else has taken one Annie’s bag.

That’s OK, they were also going through to New York, so she’ll catch up with it there. I dump my bag back into QANTAS’s maw and we head off to find the departures area.

After another encounter with the TSA, and a go in a weird full body scanner we’re through to departures, and before long, we blast off again to New York.

Five hours later, we’re landing again and find our bags with way less effort. We arrange our transfer, and before we know it, we’re off on a tour of three of the eight terminals at JFK Airport. But eventually, we’re off to the hotel.

After driving past all kinds of sights, including Roosevelt Island, a K-Mart and the United Nations HQ, we’re deposited at the hotel. A quick check-in later, and already it’s pretty late at night. So we go wander off, looking for someplace to eat. The first place we come across is a McDonalds, and in the land of the weary traveller, the first-spotted restaurant is King.

After that, it’s back to the hotel for a jetlag-ruined sleep ahead of a big day of exploring!

###New York The hotel for some reason didn’t see fit to provide curtains in their rooms, so the city that never sleeps was pouring light into our room at all hours. You know what they say: New York, New York — it’s a hell of a town!

Eventually, morning arrived and since we weren’t meeting the rest of the group until dinnertime, we got spent the day wandering around the city.

Picture of a Gazebo in Central Park

Central Park

The hotel was about a block from Central Park, so that was a good place to start. We headed off in that direction, passing through Columbus Circle, passing the baseball fields and some fun looking playgrounds before heading through the Central Park Zoo and stopping for breakfast at a little cafe run by some nice Italian people.

The first experience with breakfast in the USA was interesting. French fries were an important part of the meal, apparently, as despite neither of us asking, we both got them.

After that, it was a wander down what I’ve been calling in my mind “church Street”, but the map calls “5th Avenue” where we popped in to have a look at an large and fancy cathedral, went through Rockefeller Plaza and made our way through Times Square before visiting Macy’s department store (feat. wooden escalators) and stopping for lunch at Maddison Square Gardens.

Picture of New York's 9/11 memorial

New York's 9/11 Memorial

Once lunch was over, we dropped down into Penn Station and got an A line Subway down to the World Trade Centre site — but since we didn’t understand how the ACE line worked, we had to get off the station before and wait for a C Line train to take us to the final stop. Luckily, the New York Subway is a “metro” system. Which means that timetables are irrelevant: You just stand on the platform, wait a few minutes, and BAM! your train is there. Which is good, because the platforms are really hot! The World Trade Centre station was a short walk from the site itself, which was still largely a construction site. There was a large queue there, but after about half an hour of waiting, we were admitted to the memorial park.The memorial park consists of two large square waterfalls that represent the footprint of the Twin Towers. Around them is listed the name of everyone who perished in the September 11 attacks. On the day we were there, several of the names had flowers in them, usually white roses, suggesting they had been visited recently, but how recently I couldn’t say. We tagged along with a tour group for a bit, saw the new tower and a grizzled tree that had been recovered from the calamity and nursed back to health.

After that, we slowly made our way back to the Subway. Annie was worried that I was making up an entrance to the station, but it led us back to the platform, so guess who had the last laugh. Speaking of the platform, there was a pretty talented three-piece band playing while we waited for a train to arrive (a much longer wait at the end of the line than it was on the way down) before we got off at the Columbus Circle and made the short walk back to the hotel, where the rest of the pretour group was assembling.

Once everyone was checked in, we were back down to the bar where we met Stevo, the Tour Director. We wandered down to a Mexican restaurant a few blocks away where we got to meet some of the new people. I ended up sitting with a table full of Kiwis, which was different as I only had the vaguest idea of where they were all from. We went back to the hotel via Times Square, because the lights were way more impressive by night. If only I’d had my camera with me…

Picture of the Victorians taking pictures of the Statue of Liberty

Lady Liberty (rear) Friends taking pictures (front)

Next day, it was breakfast down in the hotel. All three mornings I was there, right outside the restaurant when I came down for breakfast, they had the carpet fans blowing. I can only assume that the hotel was taking on water each night. Anyway, at the hotel, my bacon and eggs was accompanied by deep-fried potato, which while basically the same as the fries from the Italian cafe, were much more tasty.After breakfast, it was straight out onto the road as we had our first experience aboard what would soon become known as “the Gay Pride Bus” due to the large rainbow taking up the back quarter of the vehicle. It was here that I first met my frequent seatmate, Brother Gogerly.

We motored off to the bottom of Manhattan and were soon on a boat to Liberty Island, which you can safely assume to be the home of the Statue of Liberty. We wandered around the island, looking at the statue from allll angles. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to hit up the Ellis Island Immigration Facility as it was still out of commission after the big hurricane that had been through only weeks before.

The rest of the day though was up to us. I explored more of Central Park, finding Cleopatra’s Needle and a castle, a natural-looking area called “the ramble” and some really cool landscaping. The park is designed so that you can’t ever see where you’re going or been, which is a dirty trick inflicted upon everyone by the guy who designed the park so that it would appear to be bigger. On my way there I also saw the Lincoln Centre which was much bigger than I expected.

By the time I got back, it was almost time for our first dinner together (several people had missed the Mexican feast the night before due to flights or Broadway musicals.) A dinner which was livened up by Jessi being tired and emotional. She disappeared while being escorted to the facilities. More silly games ensued before bed. In my room, we discovered the hilarious delights of a program called Doomsday Preppers - a show all about people who actively prepare for civilisation to end.

###Philadelphia On the third morning, we piled up into the bus, took a tunnel down under the Hudson River and BAM! we were in New Jersey. We stopped off after a while for mandated driver rest at a massive truck stop. Before we knew it we were in a third state and had made it to Philadelphia. We saw all the historic landmarks, the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall (now dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers) and had lunch in a depressing little building that had once been one of the first stock exchanges in the world. For some reason we went down into the basement to eat, but it was an interesting meal with the Victorian crew.

Picture of the group walking towards Independence Hall

Independence Hall, Philadelphia

Other Philly highlights included street signs at every intersection warning you “Don’t block the box” which we all quite enjoyed, and a stop off at the Philadelphia Museum of Art - AKA “home of the Rocky steps.” Naturally, we all ran up before pictures were posed for standing by the statue of the man (fictional character?) himself. Across the road of course, there was a much more impressive statue of George Washington. After a quick photo-op, we were off again, crossing two more states before stopping for the night in Washington DC.

It wasn’t all as simple as that though, as Steveo and Jacko the Bus Driver didn’t really get on and had a number of disagreements about the best way to get to the places we were heading to. They would have many further disagreements over the course of the trip, but they did their best to keep it reasonably transparent. However, they weren’t counting on some of the most meeting-y Rovers on in Australia being on this trip and we were all very keen to share the latest gossip on their tiffs. As Ross put it at one point “This sort of stuff is our bread and butter. Don’t stop on our account!”

Actually, there were several points that we had them confused. Steveo was used to running tour with groups of people where the 55 year olds stand out and here he was with a pack of partying 20-somethings. As well as our keenness to party, he didn’t think that we wouldn’t want/need bellhops to carry our bags, a fact we soon disabused him of when we got to our Washington hotel and there weren’t any available. We also took over the duties of packing the bus after a couple of days when it became apparent that we were much better at it than the professional coach driver.

###Washington DC

Picture of the White House from Pennsylvania Ave

The White House

Anyway, once we got to Washington, we promptly set off to a Mexican restaurant for dinner, and the fishbowls flowed. But before that, Steveo told us that it was Jacko’s birthday. I’m about 99% sure that he was lying, but we organised him a card and sang Happy Birthday at dinner. He was quite shocked. I took advantage of this, to announce that due to the wondrous magic of the International Date Line, back home it was no longer today — it was tomorrow. A tomorrow was the day that two of our companions, Alisha and Ross were being announced as WF Waters Awardees. So there was much rejoicing.

That night was party night. There was a shop selling alcohol in the same set of shops as the restaurant and once we got back two or three rooms became party central. We even got Steveo to join in a round of Beer Pong after he foolishly asked what we were doing with the ping-pong balls. After that he was in a pretty good mood and didn’t seem to mind how much noise we were making — luckily we had most of the wing to ourselves.

Steveo was supplanted whilst we were in Washington, though as for some reason we were required to obtain a local guide who told us all about the many exciting places that we were looking at. She took us to the White House, Washington, Lincoln, and Vietnam memorials, the Capitol and just for a bit of a cruise around town looking at what we could see.

Picture of rows upon rows of headstones at Arlington National Cemetery

Headstones at Arlington National Cemetary

We spent quite a bit of time at Arlington National Cemetery. It’s really big, and really close to Washington. Much more of both than I was expected, but before it was a cemetery, it was the estate of Confederate General Robert E Lee and there was a quite a bit of legal wrangling by the Union officer in charge of burials in order to get hold of the land. The original Civil War graves are almost all Union soldiers, and they’re basically whatever the soldier’s survivors could afford. But the later sections of the cemetery are all perfectly uniform. Slabs of marble stretch as far as the eye can see in perfect lines.There really isn’t anything in Australia that compares.

We also had a bit of free time in Washington, many people went to the Smithsonian — especially the Air & Space Museum. But a group of us Victorians went off and queued up to visit the National Archives and see the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and a copy of the Magna Carta. Strangely, the Magna Carta was probably the best preserved of the lot of them. On my way across the National Mall, a bunch of Segway-riding tourists did their best to run us down, without success. Later we would have a look at the original “Castle” building that the Smithsonian started in. And definitely did not pose next to a fleru-de-lis made out of flowers in their garden…

Of course, no account of our time in Washington would be complete without mentioning the man we saw on our way out of town, sitting on the Washington Beltway (a highway that surrounds the city) stuck in traffic, he was practicing his violin. Astounding.

###Amish Country A key drawcard for many of us was the chance to visit Lancaster County, Pennsylvania: the home of the Amish.

We visited a charming little community … named Intercourse.

Picture of an Amish family by the house

An extended Amish family

After lunch and some souvenir shopping — including my soon-to-be-famous Amish Hat, we picked up one of the local “English”, so called because the Amish amongst themselves speak their own dialect of German. They can speak English, and while at church they speak old High German. Not bad for a education system that’s basically replicated at Sovereign Hill.So we went for a drive around the Amish farms surrounding the township all up and down the valley. It was particularly strange to see brand new houses being built that were never going to get hooked up to mains power. Another strange highlight were the small outhouse-looking buildings on the street corners. Inside them were telephones rather than than long drops, though.

Picture of a young Amish woman pushing a Victa lawn mower

Handmowers are fine, but ride-ons are out

Eventually, we made our way to one of the farms which was open to visitors, so we got out and had a look at the farming equipment, and as we drove in there was man working in the fields next to the driveway. With two horses and four hand lawnmower lashed together and being drawn behind them. There was also solar electricity available to power some specific equipment — turns out that the Amish don’t think that electricity is sinful or anything like that, they just aren’t big fans of what unrestricted electricity can provide. Natural gas is also used at length for fridges and lighting an so forth.

Once we’d finished driving around the farms it was back to the museum/tourist attraction we’d started out from for some more knowledge, a play and our “Highlight Dinner”

Our highlight dinner was awful.

On the plus side though, Jacko was sitting near me and it definitely wasn’t a cultural thing (or perhaps it was, Jacko was a large african american) — that food was just terrible. Also, Jacko is an angry, angry man.

###On the Road Again We checked out of Amish Country, Annie still a part of the group (Many, many jokes had been made in the months leading up to the trip suggesting that she would stay behind either by being left by the group, or by getting married to a nice Amish boy and leaving us.) and spent the night in a hotel about an hour away. This hotel had a pool, which was fun. There was also a nice garden where a group of us spent the night talking rubbish.

We weren’t there long though, because the next day was an exciting one, fuuuulll of driving. We were headed back north all the way past New York and on to Niagara Falls. On the way there, we stopped for lunch at a servo and I’m 97% sure that I heard someone trying to upsell their customer to peanuts.

###Niagara After a few hours, we were driving along through the town of Buffalo and out of the left window was an impressively large river which looked like an incredibly fun spot to paddle (or at least it did before we kept driving along and saw it drop off over the fall. Soon afterwards we crossed a bridge and all of a sudden we were into Canada! We checked in and since it was still about 3 in the afternoon, we had a few hours to kill. So a few of us went for a walk and found a nice lookout over a park and the falls.

Picture of the Niagara Falls waterside walkway

Niagara Falls "waterfront" by night waterfall spray is visible to the left

We were back for dinner, and after that it was back out again, because at some point Canada realised that all these tourists were coming out to see the waterfalls, and they figured that the tourists would need something to do. And so, the town of Niagara Falls, Ontario became a party town. Ross, ACT Jess and I went out to a nearby Wal-Mart and once purchases had been made, we asked one of the cashiers if there was a phone somewhere that we could borrow to call a taxi. Instead, she offered to take us back downtown when her shift was up in a few minutes. So, I guess some stereotypes are true.

Once we got back to the glittery lights of downtown, we wandered through the place, visiting a haunted house that had Jess terrified, Hooters because ‘murica! and a few other places. I ended up walking along the “waterfront” where I discovered that they do some funky lightshows on the waterfalls each night which was pretty cool.

Next morning, we were off again. First up, it was a voyage on the Maid of the Mist, AKA an exercise in queuing. We had to queue to get in, queue to get to the elevators, queue to have a souvenir picture taken, queue to get on the ship, and then, finally, queue to get back into the elevator so you can get out again!

The many queues were worth it though, because we eventually got in to the boat, and the views of the three waterfalls that make up Niagara are just simply amazing. Things looked pretty good from up top, but down at the waterline, with the spray in your face it was just super magnificent. But this was a tour and soon we were off again. Several of the others took the chance to have a helicopter ride over the falls, but most of us just had morning tea and waited for them to return. Then we were off, to the town of Niagara-on-the-Lake, where the Niagara River joins Lake Ontario.

Picture of the Horsehoe Falls taken from the Maid of the Mist

Horseshoe Falls, Niagara Falls, ON

At Niagara-on-the-Lake, we dined at the Captain’s Table — enjoying fish & chips with the contingent leader, but we had an hour after that and I remembered something really cool about Lake Ontario… Basically, it’s as wide as the horizon is far away. Meaning that at certain points, such as the lakeside at Niagara-on-the-Lake, where it looks towards Toronto with a nice steep bank is one of the easiest places on Earth to demonstrate for yourself that the planet is curved.

For science!

For science!

Turns out that if you take a photo of the Toronto skyline from just above the water, you can see way less buildings than you can just five metres from the shore — basically just the CN Tower. That little bit of science-ing was probably one of the major highlights of the entire trip for me. I haven’t done the math, but the Bad Astronomer talks about the math of the horizon here.

###Toronto When we pulled up, the hotel we stayed at in Toronto definitely seemed to be the nicest. It certainly had the largest bar, so of course that was fully taken advantage of.

Picture looking up at CN Tower

View from the bottom of CN Tower

Our first full day in Toronto was basically just choose-your-own adventure. We were dropped off at the CN Tower, so that seemed as good a place as any to get started. I got in trouble from one of the girls though, because I thought that putting my feet to the base of the tower and looking up as stretched away from me into the sky would be an excellent way to start the day, but she disagreed. Something about the filthy ground…

Anyway, we went up to the veeerry top of the tower (passing a lego model on the way) and got an unobstructed view of Toronto for our efforts. It was pretty nice. There was the lake to one side, the railyards heading out in another line line, plus everything was so far away so you could see how the city was laid out. Pretty cool.

Picture looking down from CN Tower

A view of Toronto from the top of CN Tower

After we came down in dribs and drabs, the different groups went off and did different things. The group I was with had lunch in a sports bar with roughly the same amount of TVs in it as the street I live on at home before heading off to the Hockey Hall of Fame. I lost them there and went wandering around the city. I did visit “The Bay” a department store that is the last remnant of the Hudson’s Bay Trading Company, one of the world’s oldest corporations still in existence. It once ruled most of Canada on behalf of the Crown and has long outlasted other similar companies such as the British East India Company.

Our second day in Toronto featured a trip to the Canada’s Wonderland theme park, which was rather uneventful but then I don’t like theme parks. So once I’d explored the place for a bit, I had a restful day near the pool section. Where I was rudely awoken by one Mr Beeby who had been travelling independently for the past month or so, but at least I got to offload his contingent loot that I’d been carrying from Australia.

Later that night, we found out about the exciting world of US Department of Transportation regulations on the subject of Driver Hours, when Jacko revealed that he could only drive us to a nearby laundromat so we could get our clothes clean ahead of the Moot itself starting. As promised, we were dropped off at - and promptly took over, this laundromat; but we returned to the hotel taxi-style.

###Ottawa Out trip to Ottawa was pretty uneventful. I remember Jacko having trouble finding the exact part of the university we were meant to be dropped off at, but other than that I think it was pretty cruisey. We were shown some of the major sites/sights including Parliament where we would need to get to the next day for the opening ceremony, and Rideau Hall: official residence of the Governor-General of Canada where we were able to observe the Changing of the Guard and then have a poke around the public wing of the mansion.

Picture of the Changing of the Guard at gate to the Residence of the Candadian Governor-General

Changing of the Guard at the GG's house

We were staying in the same student accommodation as the rest of the Moot, so getting into our rooms was a bit of a nightmare. But eventually, we got there and after learning how to play “Spider - the People-stacking game” from the Brazilian Contingent before heading off to find the Irish pub that we were meeting the rest of the contingent at.

We made our way through downtown Ottawa, repping the contingent with our Green & Gold (Black and Silver for the Kiwis) polo shirts, and scored ourselves multiple invitations to the “Mexican Party” at a bar near ours. But eventually we found the home of the contingent dinner, mainly due to a number of independent travellers who had made it there already and were hanging out on the balcony. Drinks were drunk and dinner was eaten

All of a sudden, we were joined by Steveo the Tour Director, who had been wandering the mean streets of Ottawa before heading out for his next tour when he heard loud noises coming from the upper story bar full of people in green and gold polo shirts, so he figured he’d try his luck. You see, since we were now no longer his tour group, he felt OK coming to get drunk with us now.

Picture of Me, Ryan and international friends

Mexican Party!!

After a while, we made our way down the street to the Mexican party. It was an interesting experience, with 300-400 Rovers all crammed into this pub in Canada. Princess finally got his wish of buying me drinks on the night before Moot. It started raining pretty hard as soon as we got inside so when it looked like it was starting to let up our group decided we’d better start heading back to the university.

By this time, it’s about 1am and there isn’t a lot of traffic about, so we figure we’ll walk. We get maybe a block away before the heavens are torn open again, so after huddling in a doorway for a little while, we decide to do the only sensible thing and run the 2km or so back to the University. Since most of us were wearing thongs, after a while they ended up in our hands as we ran through the pouring rain, shouting MÉXICO! in our best accents — to each other, and to anyone else who had the misfortune to come across us… Eventually, we found our way back to the campus pretty easily and four hours later, it was time to get up, pack up and find breakfast…

Breakfast was served for all 2,000 of us out of one cafeteria. The line had to be seen to be believed. So after dumping our main bags with the truck to head to site ahead of us, we took a deep breath and joined the end of the queue.

The thrilling tale of my 2013 trip to the other side of the planet

There are plenty more pretour photos in this Flickr album