Dallas – Day Two – April 2017

Day one hadn’t really involved much. I’d planned to get in to Dallas around lunchtime and a police stop added about an hour on to our journey, by the time I’d checked in and stuff it wasn’t worthwhile doing much else before grabbing dinner with Amber and Macie before a few drinks followed. You can read more about that here.

Anyway, the next morning allowed me a chance to get my first real glimpse of Dallas and find my bearings. From a tourist point of view there isn’t huge amounts to do in Dallas so I didn’t have any major plans for my time in the city, my visit was based around visiting friends.

One of the few things I did know about Dallas was that it was the location of the famous JFK assassination so I decided I’d start my day with something JFK related and visit the JFK memorial.

Don’t bother!

IMAG5627
The JFK memorial. No, seriously, this is it.

Everybody interprets art differently but I just didn’t “get it”.. It’s an eye-sore and walking up to it you wouldn’t have a clue what it’s a memorial for. The USA has some incredible memorials but this isn’t one of them and I found it a real shame. I’d gone to see the memorial and instead my eyes were drawn to a pretty building across the street. The memorial was such a disappointment!

IMAG5629
Am I missing something?

My plan afterwards had been to visit one of the museums which had been recommended to me – the 6th floor museum which overlooks Dealey Plaza where JFK was assassinated but I’d had enough JFK disappointment for one day and decided I’d have to have a re-think. In the end I opted to go to Dallas’ aquarium instead.

The aquarium was busy, I think there were a few school groups on a day out so I felt like I spent a chunk of my time there trying to hurdle children. It was alright but not the best aquarium I’ve been to. When I visited Atlanta a year earlier, its aquarium proclaimed itself as the best in North America and I’d have to agree Atlanta’s was better than Dallas’. It’s still a good day out for the kids though.

Following on from a bit of time at the aquarium my attention switched to lunch. For those that have followed my travels you’ll possibly know that I’m a bit of a Hard Rock Café fanatic and in close vicinity of the aquarium was Dallas’ own HRC so it seemed a good lunch spot.

Unfortunately the HRC had other ideas, they were closed to the public due to a private party! I didn’t even know you could do that! Consequently it meant I wouldn’t be adding Dallas to the list of Hard Rock Café’s I’ve been to, I suppose it gives me an additional reason to return to Dallas though!

Seeing as I wouldn’t be eating at the HRC I contemplated where else I could go and decided I’d try find somewhere close to where I’d had dinner last night as there seemed to be a few places in the area.

On route I passed one of Dallas’ weirdest points of interest. The good thing about exploring on foot is you tend to see a lot more and I was taking in all of the views when I felt like I was being watched! Something on the opposite side of the street caught my attention – a massive eye ball!

IMAG5723
Dallas’ eyeball

I’d only passed it by chance but had to cross the street to get a better look, you can’t get particularly close to it but it was interesting nonetheless. Swiftly moving on eventually saw me arriving in to the Dallas area known as “Deep Ellum”. I passed the bar we’d eaten at the night before which was perhaps on the outskirts of Deep Ellum because once you get in to the heart of the area what you’ll find is street art everywhere!

IMAG5663
Deep Ellum!

It was quite the surprise! The whole area is full of art covered walls and murals. I was in amazement at the amount of art in the area on street after street after street. It’s an area you HAVE to visit in Dallas, particularly if like myself you’ve got an interest in seeing street art when you travel. I allowed myself to get lost for what felt like ages – every time I thought I was finished admiring it I’d spot another mural on the next street along.

My favourite piece was probably the proposal. I spotted a wall with “I LOVE YOU” written in massive writing and then on the corner of the wall a sweet little message asking the girl to get married. I thought it was such a clever idea and hopefully wasn’t wasted with a rejection! If anyone knows, please tell me she said yes? Haha.

IMAG5693

IMAG5691

My street art admiration had completely distracted from my original intentions which were to find food! Eventually I stumbled upon a pizza place called “Serious Pizza” and it felt a pretty apt name. This was a serious pizza! The size of the slices were huge! I ordered a slice and it was still bigger than I’d anticipated! Two hands definitely needed!
Serious pizza wasn’t just serious about its food, the local area had obviously offered some inspiration and the walls were covered with their own murals which I thought were pretty cool! My favourite being the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles inspired piece.

IMAG5672

Having spent my afternoon trawling the area admiring the food and the art I popped in to one of the bars in the area for a drink to kill a little time before meeting up with Amber later on. The plan for the evening was a quick trip to Oklahoma!

Something that had come up in conversation at dinner the night before had been that I’d never been to a casino! They’re not common in the UK, I’m not sure why really as you can place a bet on just about anything here. Going to a casino sounded fun but the UK wasn’t the only place with a lack of casinos, gambling laws prohibit Texas from having them so we were contemplating driving up to Oklahoma or over to Louisiana and in the end we found ourselves driving up to Durant, Oklahoma.

It wasn’t a huge drive, an hour or so perhaps. Amber and another friend, Lanie, came and met me in Dallas and then we made the drive up together. It was fun to go on a mini road-trip together and cross the state line too! The car ride included Lanie introducing us to the famous musical “Hamilton”.

I knew of it but I’d never listened to it so we spent our trip up to Oklahoma listening to the first half of it and it won me over pretty quickly. It is something I’ve listened to a LOT since coming back from Texas and I’d definitely go and see it live so thank you Lanie!

Soon we were arriving in to Durant’s big casino. I always anticipated I’d visit a casino some day but it was always more likely to be Vegas if anywhere. Vegas I expect to be wild, big, noisy, lively. This had a very different vibe to it and felt more family-focused.

It was still fun but most of the other visitors seemed of an older generation. I took out about $20 I think and that was pretty much my limit. For me it was really the equivalent of playing the 2p machines you get at seaside resorts in the UK. You put your money in until it’s gone and that was pretty much my thinking here – spend the $20 until it’s all gone.

Had I won huge I wouldn’t have complained but I pretty much stuck to the $0.01 machines so there weren’t exactly huge rewards anyway. It was a fun time and I’m glad I’ve had my first casino experience. Vegas is still very much on the list but I think the need for more casinos in the UK isn’t something that would particularly bother me.

IMAG5722
Choctaw casino in Durant, Oklahoma

After leaving the casino we made the slow drive back to Dallas, taking a little detour through some more rural parts of Northern Texas. Amber gave me a little tour of where she’d grown up, went to school and even the town she worked in now. It was pretty late and consequently dark but it was still cool getting to see this small part of Texas and putting an image to the places I was vaguely familiar with because of Amber.

By the time they dropped me off at my hotel it was pretty late, silly o clock in the morning so I made my way up to my room and we said our goodbyes. It left me with just one full day left to enjoy in Dallas. Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

Dallas – Day One – April 2017

If you read my last post (here) you’ll know that reaching Dallas was quite an ordeal but I was finally here! I was in Texas, probably five years too late but I’d actually made it. It felt a bit surreal. I didn’t really know much about Dallas in truth but I was here to finally see a friend (Amber) of many many years!

I arrived in Dallas with a dead phone after 15 hours on a bus so arriving at my hotel was firstly an opportunity to charge my phone but secondly to just enjoy a little bit of comfort. I’d done nothing but ‘relax’ and sit on a bus for hours but it felt nice to be away from that environment and in a comfy hotel room. Eventually my phone was back on and I was keen to see Amber as soon as possible.

I hadn’t really seen anything of Dallas yet but we arranged to meet for dinner at a nearby part of town, along with Amber’s friend Macie. This was a three-city-trip spanning Washington DC, Nashville and Dallas. One of the first impressions I made of DC was that the architecture in the city is stunning, my first taste of Nashville was hearing music absolutely everywhere! In contrast on my walk to our meeting point my first impression of Dallas was one of confusion – “why are there so many damn roadworks?” I don’t know what was happening in the city but they were everywhere and a bit of an inconvenience walking around too haha. Dallas was not off to the greatest of starts!

Anyway, I arrived at this little bar before Amber and Macie and couldn’t help but notice on the front door there was a sign reading something along the lines of “no guns permitted”. It astounded me! Did this need clarifying? Is America that gun crazy that you have to clarify that you’re a gun-free bar?

Maybe it’s the crazy European in me but would this put people off eating or drinking here? “I can’t take my gun to dinner? Forget it!”

Why would you need a gun with you? If that had read “guns welcome” instead would people legitimately have felt safer going in?
Don’t like your service? Shoot the waitress! Someone accidentally knocks your drink over? Blow their brains out! Maybe it’s just me but walking in to a bar full of guns (particularly adding alcohol in to the mix) would have me on edge if anything.

Anyway moving on from my own bemusement, Amber and Macie had soon arrived to join me and in we went (without guns obviously). I don’t really know how to explain the feel of the bar, it felt a little run down but in a charming way? I really liked the character of the place and I guess it felt a little more me – I’m not one for high-end cocktail bars haha.

Having browsed the menu I decided I was going to get a burger but wasn’t prepared for the judgment of all of Texas (slight exaggeration) that was coming my way.

“How would you like your burger?
“Well done please”
“You’re not from around here are you?”

Amber and Macie sat opposite me were both amused. My welcome to Texas had been a prolonged drug and gun search and yet I’d somehow committed a bigger Texan crime here!
“Well done?!!! In Texas? Time to rethink that no guns policy!”

I’d only been in Dallas five minutes and I’d already offended the locals. Dinner was good though and it was so nice to finally be spending time and chatting in person after such a long friendship.

IMAG5614
Barcadia – Beers and arcade games, what more could you want?

After dinner we moved on to a nearby bar called Barcadia – a bar with the added bonus of a number of arcade games you could play. They had a bunch of the ‘classics’ which proved to be fun along with some drinks. Unfortunately it was only the two of us drinking, Macie was sadly the designated driver for the evening but “kindly” suggested that me and Amber do a “pickleback shot”. – whatever the hell that was!

Up for a drink and a little intrigued I went up to the bar, ordered myself a beer and then two pickleback shots. The pickleback came accompanied with one of the following. There were three choices, I can’t remember exactly what the choices were but it would have been one of the following four: Tequila, Sambuca, Vodka and Whiskey.

I have the feeling Amber decided on whiskey. I say whiskey because I was dreading it and I don’t think I would have with the other options! Whiskey usually results in me being sick immediately so I was expecting the worst but given how rare this opportunity was to enjoy the company I figured I’d drink whatever.

We’ll go under the premise it was whiskey. Irrespective of the choice, I still didn’t really know what a “pickleback” shot was, nor how you took it as she poured two drinks – the other being pickle juice. Was it like a Jagerbomb? Whiskey and pickle juice in one? Do you drink it seperately? What’s the deal?

I enquired with the barmaid who advised that you take the shot of whiskey and then follow it up with the pickle juice to “take the taste of the whiskey away”. It doesn’t sound too bad, right?
I don’t think pickle juice is all that common in England so it wasn’t something I’d ever had before – I don’t know what the consensus is across the pond but I hear the word juice and I’m expecting something nice! Something kids would drink, you know?

We get back to our table and I get ready. I’ve got one hand on the whiskey, one hand on the pickle juice. I’d already braced myself for the sickening taste of the whiskey so I had a firm grip on both glasses ready to wash down the taste with the pickle juice as quickly as possible. “Go!”

I downed the whiskey (or whatever it was) – “bleurgh”. It was everything I expected it would be– awful! Fear not though, here comes the pickle juice to save the day!

“BLEURGH. What the fuck is that?” I nearly gagged. My reaction had Amber and Macie in hysterics – I’d responded worse to the demon juice than I had the whiskey. There’s a reason pickle juice is not commonly consumed in England – it’s bloody awful!

Want to do a pickleback shot in Texas? Down the pickle juice and then have yourself a whiskey to take the taste away! I’m so glad I’d ordered a beer at the same time just so I had something to rid myself of the taste of the pickle juice. That pickleback shot still haunts me! Perhaps it’s karma for all of the times I’ve inflicted Jagerbombs upon people?

All that said, for some reason Amber loved them and kept going back for more. I stuck to the beer from that point on rather than attempt any other crazy concoctions of shots. After a few more pleasantly tasting drinks we decided we’d move on to our next bar –  which just so happened to be home to a mechanical bull!

IMAG5618
When in Texas..

 

This bar had a few more people there but still wasn’t overly busy, probably because it was a Wednesday night. We ended up having a couple of beers and then attention focused to the bull – “when in Texas..”

I’d needed the few beers to get to a point where I was comfortable of making a fool of myself. I don’t think it went terribly, not that I stayed on for majorly long but it felt like an alright first attempt. It’s probably something I’d do again but maybe with a little focus on trying to enjoy it more, I think you get so wrapped up in concentrating on trying to stay on that you don’t enjoy it fully. Maybe that just comes with practice though.

We didn’t stay much longer after that. Amber was a little drunk and the pair of them still had a bit of a drive home so we called it a night. It’s a shame Macie hadn’t been able to have a few drinks with us but overall it had been a fun first night in Dallas.
Macie kindly dropped me back at my hotel before they headed home. On the drive I couldn’t help but admire night-time Dallas, much prettier on the eyes when lit up with the lights of the city.

JasonAmber4
Me and (half of) Amber! Blame the photographer! Haha

It was a fun first evening in the city and we managed to get a couple of photos to mark the occasion, although hopefully next time in Texas we get some better ones and some with Amber’s whole face! Haha.

Anyway, early impressions were that I was going to enjoy my time in Dallas. Stay tuned to read all about the rest of my trip!

Jason

Welcome to the USA – Texas style!

Following on from Washington DC and Nashville, the third and final stop of my mini US tour (Apr 2017) was Dallas. If you’ve been with me on this journey from the beginning you’ll possibly remember that my motivation for this entire trip was to visit some friends,

With a friendship dating back well over 10 years, my first trip to Texas had been long overdue. I’d hoped to visit sooner but sometimes things don’t quite go to plan. Nevertheless it was finally happening and I was so excited! All I had to do was get there from Nashville.. I decided I’d take an overnight bus!

This was my first time traveling on a Greyhound bus and this story probably begs the question why it wasn’t my last. I thought an overnight bus journey was a fantastic idea. It was going to be a long journey (14-15 ish hours) whatever time I traveled so why not travel in “dead time” as I like to think of it. Why waste daytime hours traveling when you can do it in hours you’ll be sleeping, right?

A fool-proof plan so I thought – I was wrong! My bus left Nashville late on Tuesday evening and at around 2-3am I was being woken up and thrown off a bus in Memphis. “We need to clean the bus!”

Now? You couldn’t have done this in Nashville at a somewhat more reasonable time? Can’t you just clean around me? I want to sleep!

I remember little of Nashville’s bus station, and you can read why here, but Memphis’ I remember as clear as day. For one it was pretty small so a lap of the station didn’t take very long. Secondly, given I was a little drunk and sleepy I didn’t dare make use of the available seating in the station. I knew if I sat down I’d be waking up hours later stranded in Memphis – I had to ensure I stayed awake!

Following a 30-45 minute break we were finally allowed back on the bus and I fell asleep pretty instantly. My next memory was waking up in Little Rock to the most beautiful sunset! It felt like it anyway, the reality is it probably wasn’t but when you spend 13-14 hours on a bus you probably tend to exaggerate the highlights a little.

I admired it beautifully and swooned over Little Rock. Wait.. Little Rock? We’re in Arkansas! We’re no longer in Tennessee and we’re in a new state, that little bit closer to Texas! Feeling excited I made sure to stay awake from that point on and admired the sun rising up over the US.

Soon enough we’d arrived at our first stop in Texas, a scheduled 15 minute stop to allow us enough time to use the facilities and stock up on snacks. However before the first person could even get as far as stepping off the bus they were turned around and returned to their seats by two officers who climbed on board.

“Welcome to Texas! Time for a gun and drug search!”

Perhaps it’s something about the Southern states in the US but the whole “welcome to the USA” could do with a little work, some of you long-time readers will recall I had a similarly “warm welcome” on my trip to Atlanta. If you missed that you can read it here!

Anyway, back to Texas. I can’t recall what they actually said, I’ve probably put it friendlier than it actually was but nevertheless I was still more relaxed than most. As you’ve probably established by now I’m pretty laid back but additionally I knew I had nothing to worry about. Just co-operate and you’ll be gone!

One by one the officers rummaged through each passengers belongings before dismissing them from the bus. By the time my turn came I was fully prepared for them to look through what they needed to but what I perceived to be helpfulness went unnoticed. It didn’t stop a patronising bunch of questions anyway.

I don’t know if it’s just because we were inching that bit closer to Mexico but having seemingly answered all their questions correctly and having found nothing in my possession I was disposed of like vermin. I’m not sure there was a proper signal that suggested I could go, just a grunt and a look of bemusement at what I was still doing here.

“Oh, I’m free to go? Your communication skills are excellent by the way!”

I gathered my things together and picked up everything I didn’t want to leave behind on the bus and then committed the crime of the century. I thought I’d check my pockets to ensure I had everything I needed and then got smacked with the full force of this officer’s shitty attitude.

“WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING!!?”

“I..”

“Don’t put your hands in your pockets!”

“What? Why don’t you get stuffed!”

Alright, so maybe I skipped saying that last part but it certainly crossed my mind, worded a little stronger than that too. Why give me such shitty attitude over something so trivial and literally just after searching my body and my possessions? What exactly do you think are in my pockets that you don’t know about?

Despite having a million thoughts running through my head, I wasn’t sure any of them would actually be appreciated so I settled for smugly keeping them to myself (“Ha, I told him.. in my head at least..”) and getting off of the bus.

One by one passengers followed but a couple of guys were escorted off. I don’t know whether they’d actually found something in their possession or whether they just couldn’t bite their tongue if faced with the same “friendly” attitude.

Unfortunately the delays added a good hour on to our journey, all I wanted to do was get to Dallas. Eventually one of the guys came back, some young black guy who proudly proclaimed “Daddy’s back!” as he stepped on to the bus.

It was a well-received return on board including by myself, I loved the cockiness of it having been in no doubt he was probably panicking only a few minutes earlier. I guess if he had anything he was let off with a slap on the wrist.

I don’t know what happened with the other guy, perhaps he slipped back on and I didn’t notice but there was little concern from anyone else about his whereabouts and we were off! It’s surprising what a gun and drug search can do for the mood of the place.

Everyone had perked up a bit and the previously-quiet bus was now full of chatter, including my neighbour who’d brightened up a bit. Everyone was pleased to be on the way again and I suppose it provided a good story to tell at a later date. A warm welcome to Texas and further example of the famous Southern Hospitality. They don’t warn you about the interrogations and searches!

Fortunately it was an otherwise uneventful journey from there. My only other gripe with the journey was that the power outlets didn’t seem to work on board. I’d done nothing to preserve my battery life on my phone in Nashville on the presumption I could charge it overnight but none of the outlets seemed to be working so all of the passengers found themselves in the same predicament of not being able to charge our electronics.

Now ordinarily it wouldn’t be a problem but my own cockiness / confidence has risen quite significantly. I went to Sydney as a newbie traveller a few years earlier and didn’t have a clue what I was doing so I was ridiculously prepared. I knew journeys, locations, street names, adjacent street names and on and on and on. I knew Sydney better than the locals having not even been there! Alright, I’m exaggerating but you get the point. I was prepared for every eventuality and had an endless supply of paperwork (and copies) should anything go wrong.

Four years later why would you bother with any of that? I’ve travelled plenty and you don’t need to go to all of that effort. Contacts are on my phone, maps on my phone, accommodation details on my phone and consequently I arrived in to Dallas with a dead phone.

I’d made it to Dallas but now where do I go? I don’t know where I am, I don’t know how to get to my hotel, I don’t even know what hotel I’m staying at – what was the name of it again?

I figured I’d just wing it. Dallas is tiny right? I was obviously going to just stumble upon where I wanted to be. Let me add I’d remembered one small detail, I was staying on Commerce Street, I had no idea which hotel but I figured if all else failed I’d get a taxi to Commerce Street and charge my phone at an establishment somewhere to save me.

However I wasn’t in any rush so plan A was just to see where I ended up – perhaps I’d even find somewhere for lunch that I could also charge my phone at.

So I stepped out of the bus station and had a decision to make – left or right? I opted to go right but I only got as far as the street corner and something changed my mind. Travelers instincts or intuition maybe but right just didn’t feel right to me so I turned around. Left it is!

I walked in the opposite direction to the next street corner. Where am I anyway? I looked up and would you believe it, there was a sign reading ‘COMMERCE STREET’. Unbelievable! The one street in the entire city I had to find and it was there in front of me!

Dallas
Left or right out of the station?

Now I know what you’re possibly thinking, it wasn’t coincidental. For instance Dallas’ bus station is downtown and I’d chosen to stay downtown, perhaps I’d picked this particular hotel as it was this close to the bus station. It certainly sounds like something I would do so I couldn’t rule it out but I don’t remember doing this and certainly at the time it wasn’t something I’d expected. It may have been pre-meditated but it was forgotten about by the time I’d reached Dallas.

Even with that stroke of luck in mind, I could easily have gone right instead of left! It might have been justice too and a lesson learned. I should have had to face the embarrassment of walking miles, getting ridiculously lost and then having some taxi driver mock me as we drove past the bus station on route back to my hotel.

However the reality was all I’d achieved was boosting my ego further! I’m a genius! I don’t need tonnes of paperwork, instead of biting me in the ass I’d ended up exactly where I wanted to be anyway.

Admittedly I still didn’t know what the name of the hotel was, nor which way up or down Commerce Street my hotel was. From memory I was stood at 1100 Commerce Street and I knew I was staying at 1900. I turned right and the next sign I came to was 1200 which was again a stroke of luck and before I knew it I’d arrived at my hotel problem-free.

I was met with a friendly receptionist, checked in and then collapsed in my room. I was finally in Dallas! Stay tuned for the rest of my first day next time on the blog!

Jason

Nashville – Part Two – April 2017

Hey everyone! It has been a little while since my last post so I thought I’d kick this post off with a little explanation as to why. Haleigh’s visit to England was the biggest reason why in all honesty, she was here for two weeks and obviously we wanted to maximise our time together around work. We spent a couple of days in Paris and did some other cool stuff. Additionally I turned 31 yesterday so another Wednesday passed me by without posting in honour of birthday things.

Speaking of which, I typically try and post once a week and Wednesday has generally been my day of the week I try and get a post out. I intend to change that going forward so welcome to the first of what will hopefully be a weekly Thursday evening post. I’m not particularly busy during the week but obviously things crop up from time to time. However Thursday is a day I’ll typically have free every week. Nobody has Thursday plans do they? (HA! If you know, you know.)

Anyway, last time out on the blog I talked about part one of my trip to Nashville so let’s get on with part two shall we?

Nashville had very quickly won me over on day one, you can read more about that here, but there was still the best part of a day left in the city for me to enjoy before my overnight bus journey to Dallas.

I’d had four nights in the US and three of those had been spent sleeping in a hostel in DC so it was hard to pull myself out of bed in the morning, I’d enjoyed my first night in a hotel and it had been particularly comfortable. Eventually I got up, freshened up and went to check out via a little detour. I hadn’t had time to use it but one of the selling points for the hotel was a guitar-shaped swimming pool and I had to swing by to get a photo before departing. Very fitting for music city!

IMAG5507

Having checked out of the hotel I made my way back over the “deadly” bridge from the night before and in to downtown Nashville. I had a few ideas on what I could do in the city but the first thing that really caught my eye was a sign for the Johnny Cash museum, I was a little intrigued so walked down towards it but just before I got there I stumbled upon the ‘Sun Diner’. I wasn’t seeking breakfast but all of a sudden it seemed really appealing so I popped in.

Inside was this pretty diner. I don’t know if it had any connection to Tennessee’s famous Sun Record Company but given the name and the long wall of portraits and memorabilia it seemed plausible. If there is no connection, it certainly seems to have been inspired by Tennessee’s musical history. The food was good too! I ordered some pancakes and along with a cosy atmosphere it’s certainly a breakfast spot I’d recommend.

IMAG5516
Sun Diner, Nashville

Given the Johnny Cash museum was only next door you think I might have made this my next stop following on from breakfast but oddly by the time I’d finished I didn’t really fancy it. I continued exploring and soon came across Nashville’s Hall of Fame walk. It’s essentially Nashville’s Hollywood equivalent with the floor covered in stars representing musical legends such as Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash and more.

Moving on, one thing that had repeatedly been recommended to me was Nashville’s country hall of fame museum. I really wanted to see what all of the fuss was about so made this my next stop. With minimal exceptions, country music isn’t something we’re typically exposed to in the UK and consequently wasn’t a genre I’d really grown up with so I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy this museum too much.

It didn’t get off to the best of starts with the first exhibit being dedicated to ‘Alabama’. My first thought was actually that it was a cool concept. So this room would be dedicated to the state of Alabama, perhaps Tennessee another and who knows what other country-loving states they’d exhibit. However I’d completely misunderstood, this wasn’t a room dedicated to the state of Alabama, it was dedicated to the “world famous” band called Alabama.

IMAG5531
Alabama! The band, not the state!

Oh of course! That amazing, incredibly well known, highly successful band called.. wait, who? Alabama? Well known? Highly successful? I’ve never heard of these guys!

Admittedly I don’t pretend to be some musical guru, history will prove I’m a terrible pub-quiz teammate when it comes to music rounds but throw me a bone here. I’d gone in to this museum worried that I knew nothing about country music and this first exhibit pretty much smacked that theory right in my face. I was now worried the museum was going to be a complete bust.

Don’t get me wrong, the Alabama exhibit was actually quite interesting and informative. I went out of there feeling like I knew the band a little better and the exhibit was well presented too. Ultimately though it meant nothing to me and was probably one for the Alabama fans.

Fortunately things picked up from there and I LOVED the rest of the museum. I quickly appreciated how much influence country music had had on the world and some of the great legends and musical icons that the genre had given us. The museum delved in to a number of household names. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, Taylor Swift and on and on and on.

It’s an incredible museum, one of the most enjoyable I’ve been to infact. It was presented really nice, not overly crowded, really interesting and there were plenty of interactive pieces too. Be it memorabilia or access to unreleased clips I just seemed to find myself immersed in to the world of country. I spent far longer exploring the museum than I’d anticipated and probably could have enjoyed it for longer too. However I was conscious that there was still more of Nashville for me to see.

It was around 1 by the time I came out I think so my morning had flown by. Unfortunately by the time I exited the museum, rain had appeared. I stepped out in to the street and there was a light drizzle so I decided to duck in to one of the first bars I encountered to get out of the rain. I figured I could have a quick drink whilst waiting for the rain to pass and catch a bit of the set from the band setting up on the stage in the corner.

I finished off my beer but the band hadn’t started yet so I gave them the benefit of the doubt and ordered a second, I wanted to hear a couple of songs at the very least! The band eventually kicked things off and were quite good, the old couple that had been sat next to me at the bar got up to dance which was just adorable.

IMAG5590
Legends Corner, Nashville

By beer number three the heavens had opened, there was a fully blown thunder-storm which combined with the near-perfect setting gave me zero desire to head back out in to the street. Others looked on (and filmed on their phones) in amazement at how badly it was coming down. Every few minutes some poor drenched soul would come flying through the door seeking shelter. Until things calmed down I had no intention of going anywhere and continued to enjoy the music, friendly atmosphere and an attentive barmaid who kept the beer flowing.

Beer four was quickly followed by beer number five and oh would you look at the time – it’s drunk-o-clock! This was NOT how things were supposed to go. I was catching a 14 hour ish bus to Dallas that night and my big plan to ensure I slept easy was to spend my evening bar-hopping and having a few beers. Beer makes me sleep easy so it was a fool-proof plan to get sleep on an overnight bus.

However my morning and afternoon was reserved for exploring Nashville, this damn thunderstorm had scuppered my afternoon plans. Instead of exploring Nashville all I’d achieved was a ‘rehearsal’ to the evening plans. I realised I was going to have to grab some food which unfortunately wasn’t a possibility where I was, sadly I was going to have to brave the miserable Nashville weather.

My intention was to walk down to the Hard Rock Café at the end of Broadway, I’m a fan of HRC’s anyway but where better to visit one than in music city? Sadly I quickly abandoned that plan, I didn’t fancy the extra two hundred yards down the street and jumped in to a restaurant a little closer. In hindsight it was probably a bad decision and I should have powered on to the HRC. I didn’t really enjoy my choice.

The food was fine but it wasn’t a “here for the night” place so with a fuller stomach I moved on. I had been recommended a couple of bars and wanted to see at least one of them before leaving Nashville so made my way over to the famous and highly rated BB Kings.

In all honesty I just didn’t feel it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t visit but personally I just felt completely out of place! Admittedly the numerous beers earlier probably hadn’t helped and made me a little more paranoid because I just felt like EVERYONE was staring at me. All I wanted to do was finish my beer as quickly as possible and get out of there!

Alas my next problem. I ordered the local IPA on the menu and my waitress returned to tell me that it was unfortunately unavailable and asked what I’d like instead. I didn’t have a clue so asked for a recommendation – “the Bearwalker” – alright, sure, let’s do that!

Back comes my waitress a little later and sits down a black beer in front of me. This is my IPA (Indian PALE ale) replacement? I’d been hoping for a like-for-like recommendation. Do I complain? I mean technically it is what I ordered, I just didn’t know what I was ordering.

I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt and hope it was an honest mistake. It’s possible her beer knowledge was limited but it’s also possible she was completely trolling me and purposely found the darkest beer on the menu to serve me (seriously, paranoid much?).

Anyway, of course being English I stuck with the undesirable beer rather than send it back and opting for something different. I do drink dark beers occasionally but it’s by no means my go-to beer. I find them less enjoyable, they’re usually a higher-percentage so get me drunker and consequently they take me longer to drink. Ordinarily it wouldn’t be a problem but unfortunately I did quickly feel out of place and I now found myself in a place I didn’t want to be at, with a beer I didn’t want to be drinking and sadly drinking it at the world’s slowest pace.

I was already drunk and this beer was probably the one that tipped me over the edge. The sensible thing to do would have been to have just left the beer but it wasn’t the cheapest place and I was reluctant to pay near $10 for a beer I wasn’t going to finish.

On the plus side it did kill some time and the music playing was enjoyable too. Looking back I think it was my position (literally and mentally) that probably spoilt my visit. I was already drunk before the “bearwalker” so might have enjoyed BB Kings a bit more had I been sober.

IMAG5599

Additionally for some reason they sat me down in the restaurant so I was amongst other diners enjoying their food and chatting away. It didn’t feel like a bar or a club to me, it felt very much like you should be here for food and the music is a bonus. Whereas all I really wanted was to enjoy the blues music and have a drink, perhaps if I’d sat at the bar area I would have felt a bit more relaxed and enjoyed it more so I’m willing to give it a second chance next time but on this occasion I didn’t stick around for a second beer.

“Wise decision Jason..”

Hold off on the praise because although I moved on, I stupidly returned to one of the bars from the night before and squeezed in one more beer before bidding farewell to Nashville. I certainly didn’t need that last beer but I suppose the only alternative was (water, food, fresh air, NOT another beer) to wait around for ages at the bus station.

IMAG5499
George Jones bar – I liked this place a lot!

Things are a little hazy from there. I remember leaving the bar and trawling through the wet streets and puddles of Nashville en route to the bus station but my memories of Nashville bus station are minimal. I’m surprised I even found it given how drunk I was, let alone ensuring I got on the right bus (“Welcome to Canada!”).

My next clear memory was getting woken up and thrown off the bus in Memphis at 2am so they could “clean the bus”. Thanks Greyhound, you couldn’t have done this at 10pm in Nashville at a more reasonable hour?

Unlike Nashville, Memphis’ bus station I remember clear as day. I spent 45 minutes pacing this little room and you quickly appreciate every little detail, I didn’t dare sit down as I wasn’t sure I’d stay awake and I didn’t particularly fancy waking up in the morning and finding myself stranded in Memphis.

After what seemed like an eternity we were allowed back on to the bus. I must have dozed off almost instantly because the next thing I remember was waking up to this beautiful sunrise in Little Rock, Arkansas! It wouldn’t be long before I’d be in Texas. More on that to come!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Nashville – Day One – April 2017

Those of you following the story from the beginning will know this was a three-city trip and that I’d kicked it off in Washington DC. You can recap on that here but it was time to move on. DC had really set the standard for this trip, it surprised me a lot and had really exceeded my expectations and I was hopeful that Nashville would follow a similar trajectory.

First things first though, I had to get there! I’d bitterly got myself to bed at a reasonable time, sacrificing a night out in DC, which ensured I was up early for a morning flight. Morning flights are typically a no-no for me where possible. I don’t mind as much when it comes to beginning the holiday early and getting to my destination in the morning but there’s always that risk of flying hungover and feeling terrible (I’m looking at you Lisbon / Newcastle).

Fortunately I’d avoided that dilemma here and I was up early to pack the last of my bits, get ready and perhaps have a last look around DC before making my way to the airport. I finished freshening up, squeezed the last of my things in to my bag and as I zipped it up, my zip came flying off! My bag was now uncloseable (is that even a word?)

“Ahhh! Panic!!”

Alright, alright so most of you will know I’m not really the panic type. I’m ridiculously laid back and knew I had some time before I had to leave but regardless, I still had a problem that needed resolving and quick! I suppose there’s a lesson to be learnt here. Something along the lines of “pack the night before Jason” or some other crazy advice but much like my hangover situation I’m going to lay the blame at another pesky morning flight – never book a morning flight!

I was short on time and didn’t even know where to begin looking. I hadn’t spent my time in DC shopping, I didn’t have a clue what was local to find a replacement. The hostel staff weren’t particularly helpful either so I just set off and hoped for the best. About 50 yards later I realised how ridiculous it was to even contemplate walking around with a half-open bag and in the end I just hedged my bets and flagged down a taxi.

To the airport! Why waste my time in DC? I didn’t have a clue where to start looking and I was 90% certain there’d be somewhere at the airport I could buy a replacement. In all honesty I don’t quite understand why because who hasn’t got their luggage sorted by the time they’re arriving at the airport?

“Idiots like you Jason!”

Touche but still, it’s a bit of a risky business model isn’t it? I’d estimate most passengers flying already have sufficient luggage opposed to uncloseable (I’m making it a word!) bags with them. Nevertheless my gamble had paid off and soon enough I was repacking my things in to an extortionately priced brand new suitcase. It ate in to a large chunk of my emergency money but that’s what it’s there for I suppose, problem solved.

Now I could relax, now I could focus on Nashville. I happily waved my bag goodbye at the bag-drop-off area and about 30 seconds later I realised what I’d done. Admittedly there wasn’t a huge selection of suitable bags at the airport but my “any bag will do” approach to shopping had somewhat backfired. I’d bought it, packed it and checked it in but.. what did it actually look like?

Was it blue? Or maybe black, or grey? What was the brand? Any distinguishable features? No?

“Panic again!!”

Yeah, that still didn’t happen. It wasn’t really my problem was it? My only concern was that I was hungry and really wanted some breakfast and a cup of tea. The luggage situation was future Jason’s problem, let him worry about that in Nashville. So feeling care-free I went and found myself some breakfast and was soon boarding my flight.

The plane was probably the smallest I’ve flown on, I reckon only around 100 passengers with pairs of seats on either side of the plane. It was cosy I suppose, perhaps even a little too cosy. My neighbour was some young woman who’d come well prepared with lunch, laptop and notebooks to work on. With that in mind she’d re-position herself dependent on her activity. Time to snack? Stow the laptop away. Time to work? Table tray down, laptop open.

The flight was going swimmingly and then I felt something brush up against my arm. Now, I swear this happened but every time I try and look back at it logically I begin to doubt my memory. Am I remembering this right? I mean, it doesn’t sound like your typical airplane etiquette or dare I saw the type of boundaries you’d expect with a stranger but nevertheless this is still my recollection.

So, I felt something brush my arm and as I looked to my right there was her leg. I can understand you’re in a confined space and perhaps your arms brush or your legs brush or oops, I’m really sorry and I knocked you but arm to leg contact? It felt weird, to me at any rate. She however didn’t flinch which just puzzled me more. She was perfectly content sat as she was rather than having her feet planted firmly on the floor.

photo of woman sitting on brown wooden chair in the middle of a grass field looking away
Photo by mododeolhar on Pexels.com

The above is obviously a stock photo found online but essentially similarly positioned sat down with her feet up on the airplane seat.

Is this normal? Is this how Americans flirt? I mean, of course I’m flattered but I’d be good with a traditional in-the-sky beverage if you want to get to know eachother better or even a hello would do. What’s going on? None of those thoughts exited my mouth of course, I just sat there in a confused state, maintaining stereotypical British politeness and refrained from apologising for having my arm in a completely natural position.

In her defence (“what!?) it was only for a minute or two before her feet were back on the floor of the plane and social etiquette had been restored. Perhaps she’d just been uncomfortable sat in one position for so long but most people tend to go and stretch their legs by having a wander on the plane. Anyway, the rest of the flight I’m pleased to say was unmemorable and we’d soon landed. Me and leg-lady went our separate ways and I was finally in Nashville!

IMAG5497
Nashville happens here!

I passed on through the airport, down to baggage claim and then I remembered what past-Jason had done. I went down to baggage claim and was worried it was going to be a nightmare. Fortunately there was only one flight’s worth of baggage on our allocated carousel, likewise it seemed most passengers hadn’t actually checked in a bag so there was only around a dozen bags at best whirling around but I still couldn’t tell you which mine was.

One by one they disappeared and inevitably one single bag was left on the carousel – I guess I’ll have that one then.

Don’t worry! It was actually mine, I did check the contents before I left the airport. Ordinarily I’d have probably just jumped in a taxi in to Nashville but it had already been an expensive morning. Far more than I’d budgeted for so I took the cheap option and went and found a bus I could catch.

Soon enough I’d arrived in downtown Nashville, I was in “music city” and it was instantly apparent. The second I’d stepped off the bus I could hear music, I think the music was coming out of some museum we’d stopped at but still, it was a great first impression of Nashville. The second sign that I was going to like Nashville only took a matter of minutes as some beer-bike-thing went pedalling past me. It looked like fun and Nashville already appeared to be a city that I was really going to like.

PedalTavern
Pedal Tavern – looked like fun!

I made my way across the river and checked in to my hotel. Within a few minutes I’d had a text from my friend Sam who was waiting outside. Sam, her husband (Scott) and their daughter (Ariel) had driven up from Alabama for the day to come and meet me.

I was hoping to get to Nashville earlier but I think it was around 2ish by the time we met up. We’d planned to go to the Parthenon, a replica of the famous sight in Athens. It’s not something you’d typically expect to find in a city such as Nashville but we were keen to check it out. It turns out it’s actually closed on a Monday, which was somewhat unfortunate given it was a Monday. However we still decided to go, ultimately the main attraction was the exterior anyway and just seeing the building. We didn’t really have to explore it too much further.

NashvilleParthenon
Greece or Nashville?

We drove over to Nashville’s Centennial Park. It’s a beautiful setting for such a landmark and was pretty peaceful when we got there – probably because it was a Monday. It was quite cool to see up close though, walk around the park and get a few photos along the way.

It began raining which seemed a good time to call it a day and move on. We contemplated what to do next but there wasn’t too many options really. Given the weather we didn’t really want to be doing anything outdoors, it was late afternoon so didn’t really seem worthwhile checking out one of Nashville’s museums and we had a little’un with us too which meant we couldn’t really go pop in to one of Nashville’s many bars and watch some music either.

In the end we decided we’d grab a late lunch / early dinner which was a lovely chance to chat and catch up over pizza. It was undoubtedly a highlight of my time in Nashville and we even managed to get an obligatory photo from the day which was nice.

JasonSam

Sam and Scott kindly treated me to lunch, it was unexpected but much appreciated (thank you again!) and met with a promise I’d return the gesture next time we get an opportunity to meet up. Sadly time was ticking away and with a little’un to worry about they had to make the drive back to Alabama. With the rain pouring they dropped me back at my hotel and we said our goodbyes.

I relaxed for a bit in my room and struggled with the idea that at some point I’d have to move again. I’d spent three nights in DC sharing a hostel dorm with three other people. Now I had privacy and a large comfortable bed – it was incredibly tempting to just have stayed there for the evening.

However I knew my time in Nashville was short and this was my only proper chance at a night out in “Music City”. Fortunately it seemed like the rain had stopped so I made my way back over the bridge and in to downtown Nashville with a clear plan – bar-hopping!

IMAG5490
The bright lights of Broadway, Nashville

Nashville is a dream night out. I’d heard a lot of good things prior to my visit and Nashville’s nightlife doesn’t disappoint. Broadway in particular is just an endless number of bars, most if not all of which offering some sort of live music to watch. Don’t like a bar? Move on to the one next door, or two doors down, or you get the point..

If it sounded good I was going in for at least a beer before moving on. The first place I walked in to was called the George Jones, it seems to double up as a museum during the day but upstairs was a nice bar. At the back of the bar was a female country singer which set a nice mood in the room. I think there was a rooftop bar too but given the drizzle I didn’t bother checking it out. It was a nice place, one I could have quite happily stayed at for much longer but after two beers I made a move. On to the next!

IMAG5499
The George Jones, Nashville

As suggested above, I didn’t have to walk too far before finding the next couple of bars I liked the look and sound of. One had a really nice atmosphere with some artist singing a mixture of his own songs whilst taking requests from the room. I can’t remember the name of it but I had a couple of beers there before moving on and picking up a CD on the way out.

I wasn’t typically someone that would listen to country music before this trip (Nashville has changed me!) but it’s nice supporting local artists where you can so I figured I’d pick up a little souvenir of my night. It was actually a bit of a disappointment hearing it when I got home, I enjoyed his live performance a lot more but perhaps that’s just because I had a few beers down me by that point.

A couple of bars, little more music and few more beers later I decided to call it a night. I could have stayed out a bit later but I’d had fun, was the right level of tipsy and was also conscious that I had to cross over a bridge on the way back to my hotel.

Fun fact but I have an irrational fear of bridges. I don’t know if fear is the right word but I certainly don’t like them. Don’t ask me why because I’ve got no idea. I don’t know what I think’s going to happen. I suddenly forget how to walk, lose my balance, stumble and go head first over the bridge? 100% plausible right?

I can’t explain it, certainly not logically and worse yet – it’s not even an every-time type fear which would at least make it somewhat rational. Some bridges I’m perfectly fine on – Brooklyn Bridge for instance I didn’t have a concern in the world about falling on to the oncoming traffic below.

Back to Nashville: irrational fear or not, to put myself most at ease I walked on the opposite side of the path as far from the bridge edge as possible and right by the road. Seemingly happier to be right next to the vehicles whizzing past me. Sure, I might get hit by a truck but at least I won’t fall in the river!

Well you’ll be pleased to hear my bridge walk was a success. I have a 100% success rate in fact, who’d have thought? I made it safely back to my hotel, ordered some room service as reward for surviving my “near-death” experience and then crashed in to the comfortable bed I’d been so looking forward to sleeping in. It was the perfect end to a memorable first day in Nashville.

Stay tuned for day two!

Jason

Washington DC, part two (Apr 2017)

Day one in DC had been long. I woke up around 4:30 am on Saturday morning before rolling in to bed at around 2am on Sunday morning. You can read more about that here but needless to say I was in no rush to get out of bed early on Sunday and slept in a little bit.

I wasn’t asleep majorly late but likewise there was no need for me to be up at the crack of dawn either. After freshening up a bit I decided to go on the hunt for breakfast which proved to be somewhat of a struggle. Admittedly I hadn’t done any prior research for breakfast spots so I’d left it to fate for a place to jump out at me in passing but nevertheless, my walk seemingly didn’t take me by any appealing breakfast spots.

Getting hungrier by the minute I soon passed a place which had a few outside tables but it looked a little posher than I’d ordinarily eat at. Perhaps it’s just because I’d been walking for so long and didn’t fancy taking another half an hour to find somewhere but I decided I’d give it a try. The weather in DC was particularly warm, even early in the day so I opted to get out of the morning sun and looked for a table inside.

It was quickly apparent that it was every bit as posh as it looked from the outside and I quickly felt out of place, dressed rather casually in shorts and a t-shirt. Nevertheless the staff were friendly and although a little more expensive than I’d intended when I set out, I was on holiday and why not treat yourself occasionally? It was a good breakfast and a good way to kick off the day.

After finishing off my breakfast I realised I wasn’t too far from Chinatown so I ended up strolling through the area very briefly, it’s pretty small in comparison to other Chinatown’s I’ve been to but it’s still nice to walk through.

IMAG5143
Chinatown, Washington DC

Quickly moving on I walked in the general direction of DC’s Capitol building. It was the one thing I was particularly keen to see today. There was plenty of cool architecture along the way, DC is a bit of a dream city on that front. I was happily snapping away and then across the street I’d see another cool building, then another around the corner and on and on and on.

Despite continually losing my way and getting distracted by something new catching my eye I eventually wound up in front of the Capitol building. It’s safe to say this is the standout landmark of the city and dare I say would be the standout landmark in most cities. Forget the White House, it’s the Capitol building people should be flying to DC to admire.

IMAG5363
The Capitol, Washington DC

It’s a lot bigger than I’d realised and it just blew me away. In front of it is a massive field and it’d make for the perfect picnic spot! I could have visited for longer, I did contemplate looking in to whether they do tours but thought better of it and went back to exploring. It’s certainly something I’d do next time I’m in DC though.

Close to the Capitol building is DC’s botanical gardens. I’ve visited a few in the US (and elsewhere) which usually have some sort of admission price but like many of DC’s attractions, this was free to enter. Perhaps for this reason I didn’t think it was as good as others I’ve been to. It was a nice respite from the DC heat but I didn’t spend much time there at all. Brooklyn’s and Atlanta’s botanical gardens were both better as far as the US is concerned.

Heading back outside, opposite the Capitol building is DC’s famous ‘National Mall’. For those not familiar with it, this isn’t a ‘mall’ of any kind. It’s essentially a long strip that  leads from the Lincoln memorial, past the reflection pool and up to the Capitol building. It’s a popular spot for protests and marches descending on DC and was perhaps most famously the setting for that “I have a dream” speech from Martin Luther King Jr.

IMAG5380
Security car along the National Mall

I walked from the Capitol Building along the National Mall, it’s a pretty area and would make for a good photoshoot setting if that takes your fancy. Whilst a solo photoshoot had no interest for me, I did end up taking a number of photos as I walked along.

Feeling a bit peckish, I decided to go grab a late lunch and conveniently not too far away was DC’s Hard Rock Café. I’m always keen to add a visit to my collection so I popped in, making this my third HRC that I’ve been to in the US. Typically when traveling solo you’re encouraged to eat at the bar, which doesn’t really bother me and usually means you’re eating pretty quickly.

I took a seat at the bar and the staff were typically friendly and encouraged me to look around whilst I waited. One of the standout pieces of memorabilia, if you can call it that, was a national flag on the wall which was made out of guitars which I thought was pretty cool!

IMAG5398
Guitar inspired national flag

Having satisfied my need for food I got back to exploring and wandered back towards the Washington monument and then on to the World War two memorial which I really liked. I think the US in particular is a country which recognises the services of their veterans and those that have served the country so you tend to find a lot of their memorials are impressive.

IMAG5436

The World War two memorial was undoubtedly my favourite. It’s eye-catching and along huge pillars lists every state within the US, plus other US territories which presumably went to war alongside them. DC has a number of impressive memorials but if you were to just visit one I think this should be it.

IMAG5442
World War 2 Memorial with the Washington Monument

I continued to wander, aimlessly really as I wasn’t too interested in visiting the museums on this trip. Many of them are free and they’d certainly be something I’d look to do next time but I was pretty certain there would be a next time.

DC had surprised me and was a city I really liked. I think it’s certainly underrated and deserves a little more hype about it, particularly when you consider it’s the capital. It’s a city I’ll definitely be going back to and with weather between 20-30c I wanted to enjoy being outdoors, the museums could wait for another trip and a rainy day.

IMAG5269
Another stunning building I just happened to pass. 

With time ticking away I decided I should slowly make my way back towards my hostel with one final landmark to get a proper glimpse at. I’d seen it in passing but had made a conscious decision to come back to it at some point. If there’s anything you have to see in DC it’s surely the White House and I knew irrespective of whatever else I did in DC that I’d make some time to see the White House – as it was I’d left it for last.

It wasn’t planned like that and you think it might be fitting that’s the last landmark to see in DC but actually, that might have been a poor decision. As I said above, DC was a city that really surprised me. I didn’t expect to like it quite as much as I did. I’d spent close to 48 hours admiring all aspects of the city, the architecture in particular is jaw-dropping. After having had my breath taken away on so many occasions I looked across at the White House and couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed.

IMAG5448
The White House

That’s it? I knew just around the corner was this stunning building, I’d seen it the day before and it stopped me in my tracks. I couldn’t even tell you what the purpose of the building was but that’s just DC. Even your bog-standard houses were dripping in character and beauty so the White House just felt a little insignificant.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice enough building. I’d say it’s nicer than the house I live in for sure but did it blow me away? Not at all. I’d already seen about 50 nicer buildings in DC alone.

“Who lives there then?”
“Arguably the most powerful person on the planet.”
“Oh..”

IMAG5418
A picture of me 500 miles away from the White House

I just didn’t get that Buckingham Palace wow factor from it. If you weren’t familiar with the White House (“Where have you been?”) you wouldn’t automatically assume there is someone of prominence or importance living there. The only giveaway might be that there’s about a 20 mile (I’m exaggerating..) perimeter from the fence to the White House.

It probably isn’t actually as far away as it feels but I think because it doesn’t have that grand scale you do end up feeling quite far from it. Again using Buckingham Palace as a comparison, I’d estimate you’re closer from fence to front door of that magnificent landmark than you are the White House.

Despite my general disappointment, it’s still something you’ve got to see when in DC isn’t it? Content I’d got a few photos I made a slow walk back towards my hostel. I was staying in the Adams Morgan neighbourhood and it surprised me that even on a Sunday night there was that buzz in the air. I could understand it the night before, it was a Saturday and you also had the Washington Capitals (Ice Hockey) playing which added to the atmosphere in the city but a Sunday? DC may be all politics by day (it’s not) but by night they definitely know how to enjoy themselves.

All I wanted to do was hop in to one of the many lively bars I passed but I’d been sick the day before so still wasn’t feeling 100% myself. Additionally I had an early morning flight so thought better of it, grabbed some food and bitterly had a relatively early and relaxed night. With three nights in DC I’m gutted I didn’t really get to enjoy the nightlife fully (the late night gig on Saturday was some consolation) but I told myself I’d make up for it next time.

Had it been the last night of my trip perhaps I’d have tempted myself out to some bar and faced the consequences in the morning. However I wasn’t flying home tomorrow morning, I was flying down to Nashville. Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

Washington DC, Part one – April 2017

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.

IMAG5448
The White House – home of the president!

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.

IMAG5157
Just your average street in DC!

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!”

IMAG5155
DC looking as pretty as ever!

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.

IMAG5143
An early morning 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.

IMAG5156
No Weetabix today!

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.

IMAG5177
A seemingly never-ending line of people!

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.

IMAG5201
Putin making an appearance too!

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.

IMAG5252
They (who) seek to establish systems of government based on the regimentation of all human beings by a handful of individual rulers… call this a new order. It is not new and it is not order.

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.

IMAG5217

IMAG5220
This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.
IMAG5225
In these days of difficulty, we Americans everywhere must and shall choose the path of social justice.. The path of faith, the path of hope, and the path of love toward our fellow man.
IMAG5230
Among American citizens there should be no forgotten men and no forgotten races.
IMAG5233
I never forget that I live in a house owned by all the American people and that I have been given their trust.
IMAG5239
(Top) I see one third of the nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished. – (Middle) The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.
IMAG5247
We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred is a wedge designed to attack our civilization. 
IMAG5249
I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded.. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed.. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.

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!

Jason

New York City: The verdict!

Here we are – the finale to my (June 2016) New York City series. For those of you who haven’t been following from start to finish I’ll leave links to previous posts at the bottom, however the rest of you will remember I started this series with an introduction of my high hopes for NYC.

I’m London born and bred and consequently still consider the city my home. I’d always said it was my favourite city in the world but I’ve welcomed the challenge to find somewhere that surpasses that. I love big cities and at this point of my life (June 2016) I’d been to some incredible places. Some of my favourite destinations I’d visited included the likes of Sydney, Berlin, Edinburgh, Budapest and more but in my eyes all fell short of the high standard that London sets.

My dream city / destination growing up was New York City and in my mind, if anywhere could surpass my love of London surely this city was as worthy a challenger as any. I’ve always held high hopes for NYC so after finally getting the luxury of visiting, how did it measure up? I reflected on a wonderful trip, New York City is an incredible city and somewhere I knew I could easily call home. Did that necessarily mean it was better than London though? I sat and pondered it, weighed up the pros and cons of both cities and eventually reached the below decision.

BigApple285
New York City!

The Challenger: New York City!
Let’s begin with our challenger. I spent a week in the city and wow, what an incredible week. I went to NYC with high expectations and it didn’t disappoint. It lived up to the high standards I hoped it would do and as I said in my last post, I’d struggle to name just the one singular highlight.

It was a faultless week. There are a lot of similarities between New York City and London, both are cities I know I could visit time and time again and never get sick of. As a travel destination New York City has everything you could want from a city break and its diversity really does have something for everyone. I struggle to fathom that people would not enjoy New York City. Too loud? Visit Central Park or better yet, get out of Manhattan altogether. Brooklyn botanical gardens is still one of my favourite retreats in the city.

BigApple657
Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

Maybe you didn’t mind the loudness but couldn’t find something that aligned with your interests. “What!!?” Impossible. I’m not saying you have to like everything that NYC has to offer but if you found nothing on offer that you enjoyed then you weren’t looking very hard. Museum person? World class museums. Theatre – NYC’s perhaps the most famous Broadway on Earth. Sports? Pretty much every major (American) sport on display at the very least. Nightlife? City that never sleeps. Shopaholic? High end department stores, markets and antique places everywhere. Foodie? Multicultural city with every type of food on offer. I could honestly go on and on and on. NYC has EVERYTHING! I’ll give you a pass on saying you wouldn’t want to live there but visit? I can’t comprehend the logic in not wanting to.

“So it’s a faultless city?”

Ah, well no. I was desperate to look for some cons to NYC and the easiest came to me from a friend that once claimed New York City to be the best city in the world. Hang on though mate, didn’t you stay in New Jersey?

“Yeah to save..” – too late. Ha! How can NYC be the best city in the world if you can’t afford to say there? London wins!!

London7
London!

The existing champion – London!
Wait a second, London’s extortionate too! Damnit! I’m back to square one!

The one con I could genuinely find for NYC is the one con I have of London too. I love everything about London. It’s home and finances aside, it is faultless in my eyes. NYC can offer everything but similarly what does London lack? Museums, theatre, sports, nightlife, great food, multicultural etc etc etc.

London6
Green Park, London

NYC is without doubt an incredible city and worthy challenger to London but as far as I was concerned London could match anything thrown at it. Equal in pros, equal in cons.

“So it’s a tie? You pesky little fence-sitter!!”

Hang on, hang on. I didn’t say it was a tie now did I? Yes, it was an incredibly difficult call and I scratched my head long and hard over which city I considered my favourite and there was one surprising, and perhaps harsh, deciding factor that I’d yet to consider.

LondonJan19
London!

The decider

*drumroll*

“New York City isn’t London though..”

That’s right. I’d overlooked this city-defining criteria in my impartial adjudicator role. NYC wasn’t London, that definitely has to go down as a con against the former.

“Great system Jason, well done!”

Being objective, the two cities are incredibly difficult to split but my somewhat flawed system means that sadly NYC does fall just short of my favourite city in the world. Was it ever really in doubt?

New York City rose to the challenge and threw everything it had at me to sway my thinking but ultimately that emotional attachment means London is perhaps never likely to be surpassed as my favourite place in the world.

Nevertheless I couldn’t have loved NYC any further and it’s definitely somewhere I’ll be returning to.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the series, for those of you that haven’t caught my previous NYC posts you can read those below but it’s time for me to wrap this up.

Stay tuned for what’s next!

Jason

P.S – All other New York City posts
NYC Introduction
Manhattan
Empire State, Top of the Rock and a surprising encounter!
Brooklyn
Liberty and Ellis islands
Coney Island

New York City: Exploring Liberty and Ellis islands

Welcome back to my NYC series! For those of you who haven’t been following along (why not!!?) then let me catch you up! I was in New York City for a week back in June 2016 and so far on the blog we’ve had a little intro plus looked at my time in Manhattan and Brooklyn. You can catch up by clicking those links but today’s post is covering trips to two of the city’s famous islands.

I was somewhat tempted to include this in my Manhattan post which covered a lot of the touristy things the city has to offer, because I’m not entirely sure this justifies a post of its own, but my problem was that this isn’t Manhattan. It didn’t feel right to include it.

Anyway by this point in the week I think we’d seen a lot of the touristy stuff already which left one last “must-visit” thing to do: a trip to the Statue of Liberty! We’d seen it from a distance but hadn’t really got up close and personal with ‘Libby’ yet.

BigApple285
Statue of Liberty with Manhattan in the background

You can take the Staten Island ferry which is free and will take you past the statue, however we wanted to visit the island itself and go up the statue which you have to buy tickets for. We pre-booked our tickets and opted for one of the earlier departures in hopes of beating the crowds a little bit.

Consequently we were up relatively early. We were staying in a 4 bed dorm in a hostel over in Brooklyn and it seemed one of our roommates had similar intentions, making an early start to her day so we got chatting about our plans. She was off to do a walking tour of the city but as it was we were going in the same general direction so decided we’d all go off together. Meeting other travellers is definitely one of the perks of hostel life!

Sadly delays on the subway meant that she missed her tour and had to abandon her plans. We ended up strolling past Wall Street which is in the heart of NYC’s financial district and we had a bit of a look around the area before making our way over to Battery Park, which was where our ferry picked up from.

Our new friend was tempted to pick up an on-the-day ticket to Liberty Island but decided not to, so we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways. I figured we’d cross paths again but despite staying in the same room we bizarrely didn’t see her again before leaving. Admittedly I think we only had one night left at this point of the trip so must have just missed eachother. Sometimes that’s how it goes I guess.

Anyway, having arrived at Battery Park we were soon joining the queue to board the ferry. You have to go through airport-like security before being allowed on board but as we’d arrived early in the day it was a pretty smooth and quick process.

Once on board we went and found ourselves a prime spot to get some photos in the trip over to Liberty Island. We’d seen the statue before now but from the Empire State, Brooklyn Bridge or even at Battery Park I don’t think you truly appreciate how big the statue is. Movies and TV shows do little better in portraying the scale of this iconic statue.

As we passed by I was in awe at the sheer scale and magnitude of what was in front of us. Seeing ‘Libby’ in the flesh was impressive and you can’t help but admire Manhattan’s skyline off in the distance too. Soon enough we were departing the boat and walking on to the island itself. We quickly made our way to the entrance to climb the statue.

BigApple332

We were quite lucky that we were one of the first going up. I don’t know if they limit how many people can be up there at a time but I’d hope so. It’s a pretty cramped space and you’d barely be able to move if it was a complete free-for-all. It offers some good views but honestly? It’s not worth going up!

It’s a bit like the Empire State but by going up you can’t really see ‘Libby’ in all her glory. You’re too close to get a decent view or photo. Additionally whilst the views of Manhattan are impressive, I’m not sure they’re any better than they are at ground level.

BigApple321
View from up at the statue!

You’ve got a few options as far as Libby is concerned. You can go up the statue like we did, just visit the island or settle for passing by on a ferry. Personally I’m glad we visited the island, it’s not a big island but it was nice to walk around and take a countless number of photos in our own time. It didn’t feel like a rushed experience. Whilst you could go for the free ferry to save some money, I’d recommend visiting the island and benefit from that extra time to enjoy it. Going up the statue however just isn’t value for money. I wouldn’t do it again so if you’re looking to save some money, settle for just visiting the island.

Content that we’d spent enough time on Liberty Island we made our way back to the ferries for the second part of our trip. All ferries departing from Liberty island go to Ellis island which is included within your ticket. You then have the choice of exploring or catching a ferry on to your final destination (New York or New Jersey).

BigApple351
Ellis Island immigrant building

We chose to stick around. Ellis Island was the landing point for all of the USA’s immigrants (illegal aliens, right?) and would be the first place you’d see coming in to the USA. Ellis Island is now home to a museum which delves in to the history of that and shows the process and various other bits and pieces in relation to immigration.

For a free museum it’s pretty interesting, they also offer an audio tour if that takes your fancy but I seemed to get mine out of loop and then couldn’t figure out how to reset it to go back to where I was. So I gave up on it as it was no longer relevant to where I was in the museum. It was still enjoyable though and seeing some of the processes for admitting / rejecting immigration status was particularly interesting.

You can go out the back of the museum which had an exhibit listing all of the names to have come through Ellis Island. It’s an incredibly long list, fortunately in an alphabetical order so if you wanted to you’d easily find your own family name.
Out back also provided some great views of Manhattan so myself and Kelly got a few photos before calling it a day.

BigApple360
A moody looking Manhattan from Ellis Island

Given you have no choice but to visit Ellis Island, it’s a worthwhile inclusion. I think it’d be a shame to skip it and head straight back to the mainland. Overall we’d had a pretty fun day, by the time we were leaving it was a lot busier and as you can see the weather was also taking a turn for the worse so we’d timed it well by going early. The trip to Liberty Island in particular had been a trip highlight and something I’d certainly recommend.

Sadly as we near the end of the week we also near the end of the trip and consequently the end of the NYC posts. This was the last big thing to do on our list, we’d covered a lot of the must sees within the main part of the city. For that reason we were able to escape the city for a day at the end of the week and experience a very different side to NYC.

Up next on the blog? A trip to Coney Island!

Stay tuned!

Jason

NYC: Exploring Brooklyn

Continuing with my NYC series (June 2016) takes us on to Brooklyn! Most people visiting New York City for the first time will spend most of their time in Manhattan but our accommodation was over in the Brooklyn / Williamsburg area so we were fortunate to see quite a bit of Brooklyn too.

NYC’s (Manhattan) skyline is probably my favourite skyline that I’ve seen and one of the best places to view it is from across the water in Brooklyn. Consequently one of the first tourist hot-spots that we visited in Brooklyn was a trip down to Brooklyn Bridge park.

I say hot-spots but on the morning we visited it was actually pretty quiet. This little parked area is one of the best photo spots in the city as you can get right by the water and get some great photos of both Brooklyn bridge and the city’s skyline in the background. It also seemed a dog-walking favourite for some of the locals so the four legged ones approve of this location just as much! To be fair, if you’re going to walk your dog you might aswell do it somewhere with a view, right?

BigApple503
Manhattan views from Brooklyn Bridge Park

After snapping plenty of photos we followed the signs towards Brooklyn Bridge as we wanted to tick off one of the bucketlist items for many visiting NYC, walking the bridge end-to-end. I suppose it doesn’t really matter if you walk from Brooklyn to Manhattan or vice versa but I personally felt like we did it best in walking towards Manhattan (and its stunning skyline) rather than away from it as there isn’t really anything noteworthy to see walking towards Brooklyn.

Much like Brooklyn Bridge Park, the beginning of our walk felt pretty quiet. We weren’t up obscenely early but given the bright blue skies I was a little surprised it wasn’t busier. Walking towards Manhattan provided us with numerous photo opportunities including that of the Statue of Liberty which was as close as we’d come to it at this point of the trip.

As we continued to stroll along it began to get busier, perhaps just because it was later in the day but it also felt like much of the foot traffic had started at the Manhattan side so inch by inch we’d encounter more people – many of which were oblivious to their surroundings and were consistent in their ability to get in to people’s ways, particularly cyclists who must hate having to tackle this bridge to get between the two boroughs.
Overall though it was an experience I enjoyed. It offers some wonderful views and for a city as expensive as NYC, it’s surely one of the best free activities.

BigApple579
Brooklyn Bridge views on a beautiful summer’s day

I think we spent much of the remainder of this day in Manhattan so our next adventure on the Brooklyn side of the water was later in the week. Myself and Kelly planned to meet our friend Pran over near Brooklyn’s botanical gardens so made our way on the subway towards Prospect Park. Getting off the subway we decided to go and get a refresher. We were pondering the local options and just before we were about to enter one place, a local onlooker steered us away and advised us to check out a place further down the road.

For all the talk of New Yorker’s being unfriendly, she was one of many we encountered who again took time out of their day to help us. We followed her towards this tiny little shop selling juices of various kinds. The woman was fascinated with our accents and was friendly with the shop assistants too, she was definitely a regular so added a homely and local feel to the place.

The verdict on the juice was a little less positive and more of a mixed bag. Personally I was quite fond of mine but Kelly was less convinced, I think we’d both appreciated the effort of a local recommendation though. Soon enough we’d waved goodbye with our juices and found ourselves a little shaded spot in Prospect Park to enjoy it (or not in Kelly’s case haha).

Unfortunately for us Pran was on the other side of the park and waiting over near Brooklyn’s botanical gardens so we had to navigate our way over to meet him before making our way in to the picturesque botanical gardens.

BigApple657
Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

There was a small entry fee but personally I felt it was value for money. The botanical gardens are quite large, stunning and felt really relaxed. Locals can acquire an annual membership (I think) and I had envy of those sat in the shade with a book which gave off the impression they were locals and frequent visitors of this beautiful part of Brooklyn. It’s a little out of the way for those staying in Manhattan, perhaps even ourselves to some degree but it was worth a visit and somewhere I’d definitely go back to. If I lived locally I think I’d frequent it a lot as an escape from the chaotic city.

Eventually moving on from the botanical gardens we ventured in to Prospect Park which was equally peaceful. Central Park is one of my favourite parts of Manhattan and Prospect Park is Brooklyn’s less touristy equivalent. There perhaps isn’t as much to do here but tell that to the locals who were out basking in the sunshine whilst enjoying a variety of activities: picnics, reading, sunbathing, kite-flying and more. Similarly to Central Park, I could easily see myself spending many an afternoon here as a local. There was the right balance between having a bit of life to it whilst maintaining a level of tranquillity. Along with the botanical gardens, it offers the perfect escape from city life.

BigApple706
The peaceful Prospect park, Brooklyn

Beyond those two days the main activity throughout our time in Brooklyn was eating and drinking. Our hostel was in Brooklyn anyway so it was somewhat convenient but Pran also lives in the area so we had the benefit of some local insider recommendations which perhaps let us experience the best of Brooklyn / Williamsburg for food and a couple of beers. We checked out a few places, including the ‘famous’ Robertas which delivered on its reputation in offering (one of) the best pizzas in New York City. I know everywhere probably says they have the best pizza in the city but the waiting times here go some way to suggesting the locals agree.

Sadly between Kelly not drinking at the time and Pran having to work throughout the week we didn’t have any crazy nights out, nothing more than a couple of beers at a variety of different places but given some of my hangovers traveling it’s probably no bad thing. At any rate, I knew New York City was somewhere I’d definitely return to so I could forego drunken antics on this trip and instead could embrace the company and enjoy a more relaxed evening.

Despite not being crazy, some of the bars we went to were pretty cool. The Wythe hotel’s rooftop bar offered great views of Manhattan and there were others (I can’t remember the name of) with a much more chilled vibe. One of my favourite evenings was quite early in the trip. I couldn’t tell you the name of the bar but we picked up some beers inside and then found ourselves a table in the street. We watched the sun go down and just talked away for a couple of hours which was really nice, particularly having not seen Pran for a while before this trip.

With the exception of a couple of nights, which were also fun, we didn’t really see much of Manhattan’s nightlife but Brooklyn / Williamsburg felt hip and a fun place to enjoy an evening.

I think on a first visit to NYC it’s easy to overlook Brooklyn and spend all of your time in Manhattan but there are a few gems to be found in Brooklyn too. I’d probably stay in Brooklyn again when I return to NYC. Not only for the above reasons but there were a few things we didn’t get around to visiting. We did pass the interesting-looking library but missed out on going in, similarly Pran raved about Brooklyn’s museum which we ran out of time to enjoy.

BigApple702
Brooklyn Library

Nevertheless it was a good first introduction to the borough and one I thoroughly recommend making time to explore. That wraps up this portion of NYC. Next up on the blog? Trips to Liberty and Ellis islands.

Stay tuned!

Jason