Tag Archives: USA

USA in Photos

America is really photogenic. The National Parks, instantly recognisable icons, busy streets and empty, stunning scenery on the side of the highway. It’s all so beautiful that there is a dilemma whether to just take in the views or spend the time capturing it on film. My one month trip to America (post-camp) was broken up nicely as pre-car crash and post-car crash: our car was written off in Las Vegas. Following the crash, I bought a new memory card for my camera, so I also have pre- and post- crash pictures.

I don’t really know what my aim is when I take pictures. Sometimes the photos are captured for this blog, or because the views are incredible and I just want to remember it. Other times they’re for Instagram, and sometimes because they are just funny pictures. But I am not an expert photographer, nor do I intend to be.

Anyway, that is a roundabout way of saying these are some pictures from my travels round America post-car crash.

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The Hoover Dam.
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Grand Canyon.
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A New Orleans cemetery, from the outside.
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On the train, welcome to Yazoo City.

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A church in New Orleans.

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Go Greek at Loyola University, New Orleans.
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Flying the flag at the Grand Canyon.
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Near the market in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
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A criminally beautiful Forever 21 in Washington D.C.
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“Reporting from outside the White House…”
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Work being done on the Capitol Dome.
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The Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument on the Potomac River.
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A beautiful quote in D.C.’s Holocaust Museum.
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On the banks of the Hudson River.
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Which bridge over the Hudson? I don’t know – maybe Brooklyn!?
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A little boat just doing its thing.
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Need I say? The Statue of Liberty, baby.

If you like these there are more on my Instagram.

Do like taking photos when you travel? Why do you take yours?

For the love of jazz

As some of you may know, this past summer I travelled across the US by train making stops in cities as I went. In a two week long trip I visited five cities so, as you may expect, this resulted in almost whistle-stop experiences in these cities, with certain elements of the places having more of an effect than others. In Chicago and New Orleans that effects was music, more specifically – jazz.

I have never been much of a jazz enthusiast. Honestly, I think something gets lost between the transfer of the live act and the recorded product. All I had heard, if I’m being honest, when I listened to recorded jazz was a lot of noise and different instruments doing their own thing. Listening to jazz live though – that is something else entirely.

The stage at the Millennium Park.
The stage at the Millennium Park.

In Chicago I caught the beginning of a jazz festival. This is when the love began – sitting in the Millennium Park, having the music wash over me. The festival was an international one, and the band were from South Africa. They had amazing songs about Nelson Mandela, sung by singers with such beautiful voices and the music was so… smooth. They were just practising – the festival started properly the next day, these were the free practice sessions – but that made it even more exhilarating; they would try different things, not playing it safe, going off the script, laughing together if it went a bit wrong. The whole atmosphere was just so chilled, and there was such a wide variety of people gathered, from kids chasing each other around to old couples sitting together, holding hands.

These guys were amazing. Absolutely my favourites.
These guys were amazing. Absolutely my favourites.

But nothing in Chicago could prepare me for New Orleans. I love this city. Frenchmen’s Street is one of my favourite streets in the world. Unlike Bourbon Street which is insane (and more than a bit disgusting), Frenchman’s is a lot more relaxed, with cool little bars, small clubs and markets where you can buy trinkets and artwork. Yet, what I absolutely loved was how there was just amazing music playing on the streets, with crowds gathered around the musicians, so close to the artists. There was one group, my favourite, that even had a tuba player – I hate to think where he lived to have to drag that with him all the time. The music just brought everyone together, and seemed to give the city an incredibly relaxed feel. Jazz could be found everywhere – I saw jazz musicians by the river, in the market place, in burrito restaurants; the music happily invaded the city.

My time in America – in these two cities especially – has made me love jazz (live jazz, I still can’t quite love the recorded version). I would love to go back to both cities for longer than just a few days (and with more money!) so I could spend more time hunting for smaller, more intimate settings in Chicago instead of a music festival, and find the really crazy jazz in New Orleans, where people just let go completely and play something truly amazing and unique. Until then, however, I’ll just have to search out jazz at home, and anywhere else I travel.

How do you feel about jazz? Do you think there’s a difference between the live and recorded final piece? Let me know!

Best U.S. Cities

Straight up, I should point out that the only city in America where I spent longer than 3 days was Los Angeles, and that was because I was working there for 3 months. L.A. was not my favourite city however, not by a long shot. While I may not have been able to spend as much time in my favourites (as are detailed below) as I would have liked, they certainly left an impression on me and I would love to go back for more.

Chicago

I immediately liked Chicago because it had such an amazing atmosphere. It was so laid back and chilled, and everyone I met was lovely. I was in Chicago during the run up to the city being host to a giant jazz festival, so the hostels were full (and more expensive – why I didn’t stay longer) the streets were busy and the music really good. I really discovered jazz in Chicago (and got more involved in New Orleans, more on that later). Before America I hadn’t realised just how good jazz could be as I had never heard it live. I have now decided that it is music that needs to be heard live because it sounds just awesome. Also, I would go back just for the pizza. Amazing.

Washington D.C.

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There is so much to do in Washington D.C. that you just can’t be bored. Aside from L.A., I was in D.C. for the longest amount of time and could have comfortably spent another week, even a week and a half there. I went to so many museums, toured Congress, saw the Lincoln Memorial, the MLK Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial… I walked by the Potomac river both in the day and as the sun was setting, stopped by the White House, explored Chinatown and got some good chow mein. I did so much but there was so much more to do! I didn’t get to see all the museums, or where Lincoln was shot, or the Vietnam War Memorial, nor the wider city of D.C. If you’re looking for a holiday destination this year where you can soak in culture until you explode, Washington D.C. is your destination.

New Orleans

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New Orleans is just so cool. I was there during a huge gay pride event and so I’m not sure if Bourbon Street is like that all the time, but that place was crazy. I was a much bigger fan of Frenchman’s, a lot more chilled out and relaxed, with good jazz streaming out the windows of clubs, or being performed right there on the street. I would describe New Orleans as Paris crossed with Coventry (hear me out) – it has the beauty of the French capital, as well as obviously being hugely influenced by French style in general, while having the run down, slightly grimy, ‘but don’t you dare judge us’ quality of Coventry. It’s a fun city where beautiful universities contrast with the eerie cemeteries (featured image) which are only a few miles away. I didn’t get to go to Algiers, but I’m sure that it would have allowed a whole new plethora of contradictions. Definitely a city worth visiting, if only because everyone will be so jealous you’ve been there!

What are your favourite American cities? Would these three make your list? Let me know.

Recipe: Burritos

Inspired by my trip to America, yesterday night I spontaneously decided to try and make burritos, having been craving them since coming home. (Yes, after visiting the USA, I was inspired to make Mexican food. But they were so good!) I didn’t have a recipe, instead making up as I went along, and while they weren’t quite as good as Chipotle, they were pretty tasty!

I used mostly what I had in the fridge, so if you too are inspired to create burritos I wouldn’t worry too much about quantities. We had plenty left over. Feeds approx. 5.

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Ingredients:

– tortillas

– rice (approx. 300g)

– chicken breasts, diced (4)

– onion, sliced (1 med.)

– peppers, sliced (3)

– tomatoes, chopped (4)

– kidney beans (can of)

– lettuce, roughly chopped

– lemon (1, for juice)

– dressing: salsa, sour cream, guacamole, etc.

– cumin (lots of!)

– seasoning

I feel slightly guilty in that I couldn’t be bothered to make my own salsa or guacamole (heads up, the guacamole I bought wasn’t great – I should have know, it was ‘Guacamole-Style’), but you can make it if the mood so takes you.

Instructions:

So I don’t really know how the ingredients are usually cooked in Mexico (or America for that matter) so I ended up just frying everything (in sunflower oil, if anyone’s wondering).

I started by draining and then frying the kidney beans by themselves.

While they were frying I put the rice onto boil, seasoning the water with cumin, salt and a squeeze of lemon juice. (I mostly left the rice to do its own thing, waiting for the water to be absorbed and evaporate, rather than draining it. Just make sure you stir every so often so the rice doesn’t stick and burn on the bottom, especially as the water levels get low).

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Then I put the onions on to fry (in a separate pan from the kidney beans), seasoning them with cumin, a bit of dried chopped garlic and ground black pepper. I like my onions to be soft so I waited until they were browning, but you can let them become translucent if you prefer them crunchier.

Once the kidney beans softened I removed them from their pan, placing them in a bowl, and put the chicken onto fry in the pan with a bit of lemon juice, seasoning it with (what else!) cumin and ground black pepper.

Once the onions were browning I put in the peppers, adding a bit more cumin and a squirt of lemon juice, and frying them until they softened. Once they had softened I added the tomatoes, frying them for about a minute, and then adding the kidney beans into the pan. I also added a bit of sour cream and salsa to the mix (and more cumin!), and covered the pan with a lid to let it sweat a bit.

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To heat the first 4 tortillas, I put them in tin foil and put them in the oven on a low heat (120ºC). When we’d got through them I became lazy and just put the rest in the microwave for 30 seconds. Works just as well both ways.

Once the chicken was browning, the kidney beans soft and the rice cooked, I took the pans off the heat. In one tortilla I placed rice (putting a lot of rice into the tortillas is recommended), a bit of chicken and some of the pepper-kidney bean mix, along with lettuce, and some sour cream and salsa. Then, wrapping the tortillas up, and then wrapping them in tin foil (again, recommended – it stops the tortilla from disintegrating in your hands), they were done! And they tasted pretty good, even if I do say so myself.

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If you decide to give these a go, or if you have any recommendations for improvement, let me know!

Adios USA: Things I learnt

I am currently writing this in JFK International Airport. Not shockingly, I am waiting to board my flight (home, not to another interesting destination). I have spent 3 months away from home, visited 8 states, have spent almost a week travelling on trains, explored 4 national parks and had one experience with Enterprise Road-Side Assistance following a car crash. It’s been awesome.

As often happens to people following long trips, I have come to certain realisations. I’ll skip the self probing discoveries about myself and instead focus on some broader ones about travelling in general. The most important is one that is said a lot, but which I never really took seriously until my road trip: know who you’re travelling with, and know them well!

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After finishing camp and before taking a two-week train trip spanning the US I spent a fortnight with three former coworkers, on a road trip to different national parks and Las Vegas. I had heard and read about the importance of knowing who you’re going to travel with in the past, but dismissed it. Nonsense, I had thought. I have travelled with other people before – friends, family – and had no problems. I’m no longer going to be so cavalier.

Please don’t misunderstand: I really enjoyed that two week trip. However, travelling with people you’ve known for years, sometimes your whole life, and people who you met 2 months before are two very different experiences. I felt restrained in doing what I wanted, worried about boring them or that I was wasting their time. I realised I needed time alone, not because of them but because that’s just who I am, but felt bad saying no to them when they asked if I wanted to explore Vegas with them. One of the members of our group had a really hard time compromising which could sour the atmosphere. Also, realising on day four that none of them had very much camping experience meant that I had to explain how to put up the tent properly, but I did in in an aggravated way because I was tired.

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Being tired was a major problem. Maybe even bigger, however, was money. When you’re with other people your budget is not your own, and as a budget traveller this was probably my biggest issue. It was especially an issue after the car crash (I hadn’t been in the car) when my friend who had been worst affected needed to sleep in motel beds rather than camping. In a crash that should have killed her this was a very small price to pay but it hit my purse all the same.

My new found wariness about travelling with people even affected me in hostels, where I tried to avoid going anywhere with people. At night I felt better, because there was less I wanted to do at night other than experience the city after dark. But in the day this was now my time, and I didn’t want to have to pay for anything I wasn’t comfortable with.

Our car crash brings me to insurance. Here I am going to be a hypocrite: I am going to recommend insurance, say I am sold on it, and yet have spent this last week travelling the US without health coverage (and am currently hoping JFK’s roof doesn’t fall on my head to teach me a lesson). Let’s say, then, that I am sold for sure on insurance, and despite my protestations in Vegas that I don’t like to gamble, when it could save me money I have a bit of a problem (it is something that should probably be worked on).

Finally I discovered that while some people can just rock up in a city, having bought the ticket for the bus in 5 hours before, simply to wander around to see where they can stay, I am not one of those people. Maybe I could do this in South East Asia, or South America, where everything is cheaper even booking on the day, but in the US – and being on a budget – this was just not an option I considered (this was not true when camping however, but there were 4 of us and we had a car that we could – and did – sleep in when times got tough).

So, in the future, unless I know the other person I’m travelling with extremely well, and we’re on the same budget (I can’t explain how important that is for me) then I will travel alone. Total control over travel is not something trifling or small, and it stops full blown arguments because someone hasn’t helped to cook for the fourth day in a row. I will get travel insurance, and I will continue to book at least the travel in and hostel I’m staying in before I arrive. Honestly, these are things that just make me feel more comfortable as a traveller, and when you are on the road feeling comfortable and safe is so important.

Update: Just so you know guys, the roof of JFK didn’t fall on me. Yay!

Do you have any travel tips? Are you an insurance gambler? Let me know.

‘On the Road’, on the road

I’m unsure as to whether I can really call reading On the Road while stationed and working in one place ‘on the road’, but I was away from home so I’m going to claim that it counts.

It was funny; while I was reading it, I didn’t think On the Road had had any effect on me other than providing some enjoyment and making me feel frustrated with Sal (just get away from Dean, for God’s sake Paradise!) But following the end of camp I spent two weeks on a road trip and, bizarrely, I started wanting to experience the thrills Sal Paradise had travelling with Dean Moriarty. I wanted to experience that kind of wild thrill, that electric excitement, that’s possible only when your with someone who’s on another plane of energy and is willing to live life freely, be damned the consequences.

Feeling so American #usbling #ontheroad #usliterature #kerouac

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Dean is a character I loved to hate. In the book he came off as so insincere, for me at least. I didn’t believe in how he could feel life the way he did, feeding off the jazz and the excitement of being selfish; it was a show, a cry for attention. Any time Sal got back together with him I groaned for this naive individual who couldn’t see that his idol was so selfish and unthinking and shallow. However, some time after reading the book – and I’m talking months after – Dean starts to seem like someone you would maybe follow, even if only for a day or two. It could be almost automatic. Because even if his love for life is fake it must be amazing to be around someone who just let’s go and doesn’t care, when usually there is so much to do and think about.

It is a book that lures you out of your everyday life, making you want to travel crazily just as they did. You want to rent a car and do their crazy route across America. When I was doing my two week road trip I felt slightly disgusted and disappointed in myself that I couldn’t drive for 24-hours straight like Dean could.

Maybe that’s the true latch of On the Road. Despite knowing that Dean’s crazy and will leave you dying at the side of the road (or in Mexico) if the circumstances suited, we all want to be a bit crazier, a little more selfish. We want to be able to throw off everything and do stupid stuff just like Dean, in spite of the fact that being an accomplice – Sal’s role – can be so very dangerous.

(Sidenote: A book that I really read while actually on the road was All the President’s Men, which some may know from the screen adaptation starring Robert Redford and Dennis Hoffman. It’s about two journalists journey uncovering the Watergate scandal and coverup and it really is a very good read and highly recommended. I also reread Catch-22. Damn. That book is even better than I remember it.)

Leaving Los Angeles

So. After almost three months I am saying goodbye to sunny California and heading to Chicago (on the train if anyone’s wondering). It was a bit anti-climatic, especially seeing as I had already technically left – I did a two week road trip through Californian national parks, Las Vegas and to the Grand Canyon. After 3 months though, you do definitely get a feel of a place.

Finally (finally!) went to Hollywood. #hollywood #hollywoodland #hollywoodsign #touristy #USA

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Its safe to say that LA wasn’t my favourite city (congrats Berlin) but nor was it my least loved (hello Krakow). Instead it falls into a category that is definitely… middling. I still don’t quite know how I feel about LA. Thinking hard there aren’t honestly that many things that I could say to people that I liked apart from the weather, though that makes it sound awful. It wasn’t.

Naples. No not Italy, but fancy USA. #longbeach #LA #USA #sunset #nofilter #prettypretty

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Perhaps part of the problem was that so many people from LA seemed to detest LA. I had a variety of people tell me they couldn’t wait to leave, that they hated their own city, with one person remarking that, “So many people want to leave, they just don’t have the means”. Dislike for the place that you live is usually feigned – many people may joke about hating where they live, especially in Britain – but there was some real loathing of LA from some of the residents. If everyone hates where they live it makes it difficult to love the place when you’re merely visiting.

There is also, I felt, a lack of character in LA. I had never been somewhere where all the buildings lacked… something. They missed a special element, whether that is a lack of older buildings – a difficult feat for such a new city to have had accomplished – or unusual buildings. Even artwork – in most cities there is street art that gives a city a definitive feature. I love Birmingham but it isn’t the most character filled place on earth (not in a good way, anyway). But even Birmingham has the Bull Ring bull! LA was just so bare. It was depressing.

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I did, however, adore the weather. It’s so nice to be able to plan something weeks in advance and not having to have a contingency plan for if it rains. And I loved In and Out, which may seem like a strange thing to pick out of all the other things LA has to offer, but In and Out was like a camp ritual, and it represents so much more than simply a fast food joint for me.

Camp treasures #secretpal #calilife #mykidsknowmysenseofstylesowell #mufasa #dreamcatches

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I think that’s what I’ll take away from LA more than anything else – all the great memories I have of this place. Despite not liking where they lived, the people I met were incredible. If it wasn’t such a hassle what with visas and flights (and the pay for internationals was better) I would definitely have returned next year. As it is, instead I will be saying bon voyage to LA and California for the foreseeable future. I will remember you fondly (though not as fondly as Berlin).