Having recently written about Paris, I rounded up the last of my 2016 travels. Now we move on to 2017! Nothing like blogging in the present, eh?
Anyway, that Paris trip was really a tale of how sometimes things don’t work out how you’d envisaged they would and this trip is going to be much the same.
I’ve spent the bulk, if not the entirety, of the 21st century online and in that 19 years I’ve formed many friendships with people in many different places – particularly the US. 2016 had reignited my interest in exploring the US, with trips to Georgia and New York, and I was itching for another trip. The US is a big ol’ country though, I had an endless list of possibilities and destinations. Where should I go? Who could I potentially visit?
The latter was the inspiration for this trip. Two of my longest friendships dating back to the early 2000’s were that of Alison (Massachusetts/ New Hampshire) and Amber (Texas), I’d yet to meet either and I figured it was about time I put that right. It was long overdue!
However I didn’t really know how to pick seeing one over the other. The North East of the US and Texas both had their own appeal so that did little to make the decision easier. Additionally this wasn’t Europe and a cheap / easy flight. Whichever I didn’t see this time around, I might not get the opportunity to see again for months or years down the line. So in the end I bottled the decision and contemplated a possibility where I could see both. Boston and Dallas are only 1,800 miles apart – simple!
Alright, so perhaps it wasn’t the most thought-through itinerary but I really wanted to see both so I stuck a little pin in Boston and another in Dallas. Given the distance I thought I’d break up the journey with somewhere inbetween so slipped Nashville in to the itinerary. Boston – Nashville – Dallas = perfect!
With a route mapped out I could now start looking in to flights and things. The flights weren’t too bad but accommodation prices in Boston were absurd. I’m coming to the realisation that the big US cities typically aren’t that cheap to stay in anyway but Boston was still surprisingly high. Why?
With my Oktoberfest mishap still fresh in the memory I did a bit more investigation and discovered that the weekend I was looking to go overlapped with the Boston marathon. Yeah.. I’m not going to Boston then. I don’t want that craziness. What’s plan B?
Ali offered Washington DC as an alternative option so I looked in to it, committed to it and then hoped she’d still be able to join me. Unfortunately things didn’t quite pan out. It was disappointing but life and circumstances often get in the way of long-distance-friendships.
The consequence was I’d gone from getting excited about visiting Boston with a friend to ending up solo in a city I had no real interest in visiting. If I’d ended up solo in Boston I’d still have been excited at the prospect of visiting Boston, it’s a city I’m quite keen on visiting but DC? I couldn’t say the same. It might be the capital city but as far as the US was concerned it was a city way down my list of places to visit. It isn’t a place I’d dreamt of visiting.
All that said, maybe it’d surprise me! I tried getting excited about it but the beginning of 2017 served a strong reminder of what I was walking in to. I’d booked the trip back in October (2016) ahead of the November elections which didn’t really connect with me. It was hard to ignore all the election talk, even on this side of the pond, but I didn’t really connect the dots that the trip I’d booked wasn’t the same as the one I’d experience. At the time I made my booking Obama was sitting president, by the time the trip came around it occurred to me I was flying to Trump land.
A year earlier I faced interrogation in Atlanta’s airport upon arrival, did I really want a repeat of that in DC too?
“So Jason, what do you think of our new president?”
Do I lie if they ask? Do I plead the fifth? Or do I tell them what’s what? “Your president is..”
“Entry denied! Get this asshole on the first plane back to England.”
Fortunately they didn’t ask. There was no interrogation from border control on this occasion, it was a much smoother process than my welcome in Atlanta. I breezed through Baltimore’s airport, flagged down a taxi and made my way to DC.
It’s definitely not the way I’d recommend to get from Baltimore to DC but I’d had little luck finding a better route, perhaps because it was Easter weekend, perhaps because America’s public transport isn’t as good as here but it did the job. Plus I was pretty tired and just wanted to get to my hostel as quickly and conveniently as possible so although a little pricey I was just pleased to be on my way.
My driver didn’t give me much confidence he actually knew where he was going, he’d never heard of where I was staying which was a little more concerning given he claimed to live and come from DC. With that said I knew he’d get me to DC at the very least and we’d eventually find it. If we got a little lost I’d presumably see a little more of the city along the way.
My first impression of DC was probably one of surprise. On appearance it looked to be really nice. It was dark-ish so I couldn’t see that clearly but DC had this instant charm about it. We were driving through neighbourhoods and you’d have picturesque street one after another and another and another. The architecture in DC blew me away and every house just seemed to be the ‘dream house’ full of character.
Eventually we pulled up and parked outside another impressive looking house on the corner – “this is it..” the driver said.
Wait, this is the hostel? Are you kidding? I’ve stayed in some nice hostels around the world, I wouldn’t by any means say this was a favourite I’ve stayed at but it’s without doubt one of the more picturesque ones I’ve stayed in. Wow! I was particularly pleased and thanked my driver.
I stepped out of the car and there was this buzz in the air. My hostel was situated in the lively Adams Morgan neighbourhood and it was a decision I’d instantly come to appreciate. “Well done Jason, good choice!”
I was itching to get out and get a taste of DC’s nightlife. Sadly, no sooner than I’d checked in was I throwing up in the bathroom. I don’t know where the sudden sickness had come from but I thought better of going out. I was tired anyway so decided to just get an early night (8/9ish) and kick off the trip early tomorrow morning.
I set my alarm for somewhere around 5 or 5:30am I think (“are you crazy?”) but as it was I ended up waking up closer to 4:30. I hadn’t yet adjusted to my new timezone and my body was still on UK time (9:30am) which meant I just naturally woke up.
I did contemplate going back to sleep for an hour but I was also conscious of my hostel dorm roommates. I was awake anyway and I was pretty certain they weren’t going to appreciate a wake-up alarm going off at silly-o-clock in the morning. So I dragged myself out of bed, went to shower and got ready for the day.
“At 4:30? Are you crazy Jason?”
There are few things that I’ll willingly get up that early for but one of them is unsurprisingly football. Back home I’m a Tottenham season ticket holder so I’m reluctant to miss home games, I even usually plan my travels around the football schedule haha. So if I am traveling I’ll often try and catch the game.
Even then, this is ironically one of those kickoff times I hate getting myself up for to go down to London. 12:30 on a Saturday? A lunchtime kick off meaning an early start leaving Peterborough? No thank you!
It’s bad enough in England but it was a 7:30 am kickoff time in DC and I was keen to try and watch the game. I have sympathy for the poor Americans who drag themselves out of bed every weekend to watch the games, I’d be recording it and waking up at a normal time of the day but as a one off I don’t mind it.
I wasn’t sure how many bars would be showing the game at 7:30 in the morning but one place I was absolutely sure of was over in DC’s Chinatown – around 2.5 miles away – which is where the DC supporters club gather for EVERY game. There might have been somewhere closer to where I was staying but I knew that going there I’d be among like-minded idiots.
I hadn’t yet had a chance to get to grips with how the public transport worked, nor where the stops were so I decided I’d just walk it. I mapped out the route on my phone and headed off, leaving a little after 5am which would give me ample time to find this bar on the other side of the city.
You might find this surprising but oddly, the streets are pretty empty at 5am on a Saturday morning. The sun hadn’t quite come up and I have to say, it’s a cool way to explore a city for the first time. Every so often a car would go by but for the most part I had the city to myself. DC continued to impress me. The architecture just stands out and I had to stop several times on route to stop for photos of this building or that building and “ooo look at that one too!”
I was making slow progress on my walk at which point I met my first stranger of the walk. I think one of the fears people have when traveling, with company or solo but particularly the latter, is their safety. There are various tips and guidelines you can follow but I think the best advice I can offer is to trust your own instincts.
This old man was waving at me from across the street, trying to get my attention and it was vaguely in the direction I was going so my curiosity got the better of me. I’d completely misjudged how long it was going to take me to get across town so I had plenty of time to kill with a friendly-looking stranger. At the very worst I fancied my chances of outrunning him if things took a turn for the worse.
My faith was justified. The guy was homeless, we had a friendly little chat and then I passed over some cash for him to get a bite to eat. I said my farewells, got back on my way and soon enough I was in Chinatown.
It took me a little while to find this bar that I was looking for, it’s tucked a street further down than the main part of Chinatown but eventually I’d found it. I tried pushing the door, I attempted pulling the door but to my horror it was locked! There was no sign of life in or outside of the building and I panicked a little. I hadn’t walked miles for this sodding bar to be closed! What’s going on? Where is everyone?
Admittedly I was earlier than anticipated so I waited for a few minutes but nothing. The bar is attached / next door to this hotel so I thought perhaps there was a chance there was another entrance within the hotel. I had a wander in and it appeared that there was – also closed!
I was left with one last hope – ask the hotel receptionists. Now, you’ve had the benefit of a bit of background and a bit of context so, although you might think I’m a bit crazy waking up at such a time for a game of football, the question won’t sound out of the ordinary to you at the very least. However without that context it’s a very different conversation.
I started my conversation with something along the lines of..
“Excuse me, the bar next door is closed. Do you know when it’ll be open?”
There was a look of complete bemusement from the receptionist. I pondered if my accent was really that difficult to understand. I was speaking English, what was the problem? So I asked again, perhaps I reworded it, perhaps I didn’t. I can’t really remember but it was clear I’d got my point across this time.
“It’s closed” she responded with a look of disgust.
Oh no! It suddenly dawned on me what I’d asked and what she’d actually heard. I was reasonably hoping that this bar, advertising that it showed every Spurs game, would be opening soon. From her point of view, what she’d actually witnessed was some guy wandering in from off the street desperately looking for an open bar.
She wasn’t confused by my accent at all, she was confused because typically people aren’t looking for a bar at that time of the morning. I didn’t have to be a mind-reader to envisage what was going through her mind. She thinks I’m an alcoholic! Abort mission!
I embarrassingly scarpered back in to the street pretty quickly. I told myself I would NEVER be setting foot in to that hotel again haha. I wandered back around the corner, trying my luck one last time at the normal entrance, still convinced somebody would show up and fortunately within a couple of minutes the barman was walking up with the keys to get ready ahead of kickoff. Hurrah! It was open after all, I’d just got here far too early, we’re all good!
By kickoff there was probably around 20 Spurs fans in the bar to watch the game – the support overseas always blows my mind. The match itself was a routine win, 4-0 I think so it got the day off to the best possible start. I didn’t stick around afterwards so by 9:30 I was off to find some breakfast, settling for this cute little place not too far from my hostel – which meant I’d walked miles today already.
I ordered some pancakes, alongside a pot of tea and I was then ready to begin exploring the city properly.
After filling my stomach I walked in the general direction of central DC but skimmed past the White House, there was a bit of a crowd and I figured I’d see it properly later on. I kept walking along this road and a couple of police cars whizzed past me. In the distance there was this occasional roar or cheer or whatever so I figured something must be going on. Feeling curious I followed the noise (and the police cars) and went to see what all the fuss was about.
A bit like border control, I was keen to avoid getting in to a heated political debate whilst in DC so I found it somewhat ironic that on day one, the first thing I really saw in the city was a political march. It was a tax march, a protest against Donald Trump to publicly release his tax figures. I was in disbelief at how long the line of protesters was, it seemed to go on forever.
I followed the crowd for so long and soaked up the atmosphere a bit. I’d like to say it was a peaceful protest, some of the chants and signs people were carrying certainly had me chuckling but I didn’t see it kick off nor any sign of trouble occurring.
As tempting as it was to stick around, I was keen to see a bit more of DC so I left them to it and escaped the crowds. After strolling for a while I somehow found myself arriving at the river, not really looking to cross over I turned back and soon stumbled upon the impressive Roosevelt memorial.
DC has a lot of memorials, some really good ones infact but this was a highlight and something I’d personally recommend. Not only are parts of the area picturesque but there’s a few statues and there are numerous Roosevelt quotes carved in to these stone walls. I couldn’t help but feel that the current president would benefit from a visit and perhaps take some inspiration from the memorial too.
There was so much to see, plenty of which I haven’t included here so I really recommend checking it out when you’re in DC. After a good chunk of time I was done and wandered over towards the Jefferson memorial, which took me around the water and past a few cherry blossom trees on the way. Given the hype I found the cherry blossoms a bit lacking and underwhelming, perhaps it was the end of the season so there weren’t as many as throughout the rest of the season but I was expecting a spectacle and in the end it was just the odd tree with a bunch of Instagrammers huddled underneath it trying to get some photos. Based on my experience I’d suggest skipping DC and heading straight for Japan if you want a good look at cherry blossom trees.
I don’t really feel like I’d done too much on day one, a lot of walking really but before I knew it, it was late afternoon. Sadly the sickness I thought I’d slept off returned and threatened to spoil the rest of my day. I struggled on, trying to make the most of my afternoon but in the end I just accepted defeat. I didn’t really fancy continually throwing up through the streets so I headed in the direction of my hostel, hoping to grab dinner along the way.
Walking through DC was rather disappointing, there was a similar buzz in the air that there had been on Friday night. On this occasion it was aided by the fact it was peak Hockey season and the Washington Capitols were playing that night in the NHL playoffs. The streets were full with a sea of red (Capitols wear red jerseys) with every restaurant and bar I passed occupying various fans in pre-match mode.
I eventually found a restaurant I liked the look of, which was a little bit away from the hordes of hockey fans. It had a nice vibe and was somewhere that ordinarily I might have stayed for one or two beers but despite wanting to, I couldn’t bring myself to eat.
Every mouthful seemed to give me the urge to be sick once more so I barely touched my meal – it felt like a huge waste both in terms of food and money. There’s little worse than returning a near full plate of food that was perfectly fine, I don’t know why but I felt a little embarrassed for the second time today. I headed back to my hostel feeling a bit sorry for myself, I was supposed to be going to a gig that very evening but it looked in doubt at this point. Another early night looked far more likely.
Fortunately it was actually quite a late gig and after a nap I’d perked up a bit with plenty of time to still go out and enjoy some live music – Biffy Clyro of all bands to be seeing!
I’d booked my trip and about three weeks later Biffy announced a US tour with the last date of their tour just happening to be in DC whilst I was in DC. They were playing some small intimate venue, to a capacity of about 1,000, and I knew I’d have to go!
So I picked up a ticket for myself and Alison, intending to drag her along which ultimately left me with a spare on the night.
I knew there was a good chance Ali might not make it but it was a risk worth taking, I figured I’d easily get rid of a spare. Biffy headline festivals back home so demand for a tiny venue like this is going to be through the roof! I was wrong!
$25 tickets in this intimate little venue to see Biffy Clyro on a Saturday night and they’re still selling tickets on the door, are you kidding me DC? How has this not sold out? It’s Biffy (fucking) Clyro! It was mind-blowing to me how little interest there appeared to be for this gig. Why have Biffy not conquered America already? They should be playing venues far bigger than this!
On the plus side, like a few months earlier in Munich, this was another late gig. The doors were at 10pm, which annoyed me a little given the venue was DC’s famous 9:30 club. The club is literally called 9:30, why are doors at 10? You’ve missed a trick there!
Nevertheless, I’m fully on board with another late gig. Take note England! It’s a great way to finish off a Saturday night!
I made my way in, grabbed myself a beer and found myself a good spot to enjoy it. The supporting band (O’Brother) came on at around 10:30 I think and played for at least 30 minutes, perhaps a little longer. I thought they were decent. However it was the main act that was causing a bit of a buzz before in the room. Oddly this was my second time seeing Biffy, the first of which had been in Brussels so I’ve yet to see them in the UK.
They ended up being every bit as good as I remembered in 2013, they’re a great live band and it was a pleasure to have seen them in such an intimate venue. Biffy’s presence might have gone unappreciated by DC’s locals but those that had come out were in good spirit and it was also clear that there were plenty of other Brits in the room. The Scottish flag hanging from one of the balconies seemed to go down particularly well with the patriotic Scots in the room.
It was a great night and I’m glad sickness hadn’t snatched away the opportunity to experience what was a trip highlight. It was probably around 1am by the time I walked out of the club and probably closer to 1:30 / 2am by the time I’d walked back in to my hostel but despite being a little exhausted it had been well worth it.
I made sure to have a bit of a lay in the next morning but was soon up and ready to go for day 2 in DC.
Stay tuned for that next up on the blog!