Monthly Archives: November 2014

Concrete Jungle Where… You Can Go Whenever You Want!

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New York, NY. It’s without doubt the most famous city on the planet and the first geographic place that anyone thinks of when it comes to the United States. Growing up it was always ‘The America’ that you seen on Television, so being able to travel there for a few days whenever I feel like it, takes some getting use to.

In Europe we’re use to cheap airlines, Ryanair will get you pretty much anywhere on the continent for not a ridiculous amount of money – provided you are of course willing to put up with the whole ‘Ryanair experience’, which involves constant in your face advertising and generally be treated like cattle. If you want to travel cheaply in the US, then the answer is Megabus.

Megabus have a fairly expansive network, meaning it’s possible to travel to almost any State on the East coast for as little as $5 if you book in advance. Megabus exists in Europe – it was actually founded and still owned by Scotsman Brian Souter (a big supporter of Scottish independence btw) – but with much higher gas prices, yet cheaper air travel you wouldn’t necessarily use Megabus for a journey lasting more than a couple hours.

I’d strongly advise taking the bus when you can, especially with the free wifi, it’s good for catching up on that assignment that’s due tomorrow…

New York itself… is well, New York. I thought this would be a fairly easy blog to write, but where to start… It’s incomparable to almost any other city on the planet and despite visiting the place three or four times, I’ve still to make it to things that were on my list for trip one.

But here’s just a few tips:

1. ‘Top the Rock’ for the best views.

NYCTotR

Despite not being the tallest building in Manhattan, the Rockefeller Center offers perhaps the best views of Manhattan. It’s also the home to NBC, so you get can get a tour of their studios as part of you journey to the top.

2. Central Park for urban refuge.

NYCCP

The refuge from city life. From the ice rink, to boating, to the zoo. You could easily spend days inside Central Park without wandering back into the concrete jungle.

3. The High Line

NYCHighLine

Built on an elevated section of a disused railway, the High Line is a 1.45-mile-long park that cuts through Manhattan’s lower west side and snakes through the skyscrapers.

4. Go see where Brett & Jemaine lived!

NYC FC

If you’re a fan of New Zealand’s ‘fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo’, you can go check out their old apartment building in China Town and the ‘New Zealand consulate’ is also just round the corner. Sadly, there was no signs of filming another season when I was there 😦

5. Visit a Speakeasy!

NYC PDT

During the years of prohibition, Speakeasies were a common occurrence throughout the country for those looking for their tipple. There’s still a host of bars in the city where you can travel back in time, and drink like it’s still illegal.

Take a visit to Crif Dogs – a hot-dog joint, and access through the old phone booth.

6. No matter, where you’re from – you’ll find something to remind you home.

NYBurns

I had just finished lamented my friends with my “Scotland invented everything” chat, when oor national bard showed up.

7. It’s the city that never sleeps, just go with it…

NYCDRINK

MUSIC and VALOR

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As I slumped back in my chair, exhausted from the six hours already spent on the bus – complete with two-and-a-half hours stuck in traffic – and with at least another five ahead of me, I didn’t expect to find out, that in just over 48 hours I would be able to see some of the biggest names in world entertainment, for free just a 20 minute walk from my apartment. But that is when I found out about the Concert for Valor.

The concert, which featured Eminem, Dave Grohl, Rihanna, Bruce Springsteen, The Black Keys, Zac Brown Band, Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Underwood, Metallica, and Jessie J, and hosts included Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, and John Oliver. It was as bizarre as it was awesome.

A lot of my friends who now live in DC warned me about the potential madness of 800,000 people descending on the place but I thought about how unique an opportunity this was. It wouldn’t be unusual to have any of these acts play back in Edinburgh, the majority have but all of them in the one place at the same time was too much to miss.

The temperature has well and truly dropped here now, but we were given a day off from the blistering cold and it was comfortable enough to stand for those several hours in the elements. The event too was also remarkably well managed, with despite the amount of people, it was well sectioned off so it never got too crowded.

My cell died very early in the evening, but this is the Black Keys sound-check:

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As I thought about writing the blog on the concert, I realized that I hadn’t really mentioned music here at all, which is shocking because the scene here is very good. I had expected the city to be lively and eagerly anticipated being able to attend major sports here in DC, but I hadn’t really thought about the potential to see so many world-class music acts.

Within a month of arriving, a host of my favorite bands were playing within stones-throwing of distance of my apartment. Grouplove, the Foo Fighters, Vance Joy – there’s been some fantastic performances which I really didn’t expect to get a chance to see during my time here.

Even the biggest Scottish names are playing closer to where I live here, than they’ve ever had back in Scotland. I just found out that two of my Dad’s former employees’ band is playing at 9:30 club this week. From the U Street Music hall, to the Verizon Center, there’s always something going on and for every taste.

The rest of the week was spent working out Thanksgiving plans, a study schedule and looking at plane tickets home for Christmas. I can’t believe that I’ll be home in a little over a month from now, it really feels like my time here has just begun… Luckily, I have another semester.

‘Away Down South in Dixie’

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‘Away down South in Dixie’

I’ve just returned from my trip to the South – having visited the majority of the North-East, some of the Midwest, South West and California, I knew that regional differences the United States was a real thing. I knew, of course that the South very much had its own culture but didn’t know what to expect.

There was no banjo playing that tune from Deliverance, nor did I witness any racism. Cattle shows, a lot of tractor stores, very high number of highway adverts for fireworks, an equal amount for gun and knife shows, but the number one I thing that will take back – the food.

Apparently, the whole world has been misusing the word barbecue! A barbecue is simply not grilling outdoors but slow roasting, in a pit. I quickly announced that we had some fantastic barbecue on our second day here from one of the best barbecue from a Texan who use to do the cook-outs at the White House… “Barbecue in Texas is also not quite barbecue”.

My first full-day in Clemson, South Carolina, I was immediately indoctrinated into the world of ‘proper barbecue’ at the Smokin’ Pig (http://thesmokinpigsc.com/). It did not disappoint!

For less than $7 you get some of the best food I’ve tasted in my life, I’m salivating just thinking about it.

A little further South in South Carolina’s state capital, Columbia, there’s another great restaurant that encapsulates both the areas great food but also perhaps the only thing that surpasses it, the people there.

Upon stepping off a 10 hour bus journey, which started at 6am in DC, I was made to feel at home very quickly at Yesterday’s! (http://www.yesterdayssc.com/) and the food is as good as welcome! Reasonable priced, deliciously tasting and the hospitality better than anywhere. It really does give a great impression for a first time visitor life myself… they also love College football (obviously). 

I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who can stomach 10 hours on a bus, which truth be told was a fairly pleasant experience. Aside from having to wake up at 4am (I can’t think of a genuine reason why someone would wake up at such a time, except for travel), everything was great!

There’s wifi, plenty of personal space, great views and it’s an excellent opportunity to do some school work. The bus also stops off for quick changes in Virginia, at a few different places in North Carolina and South Carolina, giving you the chance to very quickly sample a little bit of each state. I am going to enquire about getting my driving license here, but truth be told, Megabus is extremely efficient and its network extensive! It’s also owned by Brian Souter, fellow Scot and major political donator to my former political party back home.

I also found another little bit of home in the South!

Stornoway is a small rural community on an island, which is very religious… everything closes on Sunday, so Pendleton is actually pretty progressive in comparison.

Halloweekend!

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As I sipped my third lattè in my favorite cafè in Columbia Heights (The Coupe), working on an ever-so-slightly late paper on Reagan’s actions during the Cold War, nostalgia and a mild bout of homesick struck me.

The trick-or-treaters were out in force and as the seventh, 3ft Ironman adorably sauntered by the window it brought up memories of my own childhood Halloweens. Much was the same, except perhaps the increase in quality of costumes and community enthusiasm for the semi-holiday.

There’s a lot about America that reminds me, not of home now, but of childhood. From shopping again at Safeway (they were bought over about ten years ago in Scotland, but a not-so-insignificant part of my childhood was spent annoying my mum there on Saturday afternoons), to the sensationalism and enthusiasm for events, such as Halloween that seems to disappear slightly as you grow up in Scotland.

Halloween still exists and is celebrated, however the enthusiasm kinda dies off by the time you reach your early-teens. Halloween is really something for kids.

In the United States however, it is just as much for the college-aged adult as it is for children. It’s not only the free candy and drink specials, but the opportunity to show creativity, the bizarre, abstract and in some instances, a little more than usual (Hollywood’s stereotypical interoperation is pretty spot on!).

There are two types of people you see dressing up for Halloween: those who think ahead and put in a lot of effort and those who don’t. I’m the second one.

An hour before I was due at the a party, me and my girlfriend were still constume-less. With reference to a recent South Park episode, I ended up in a dress and wig intimating a shoddy-Kiwi accent.

I’ll spare the internet the very few pictures I allowed to be taken, but it went down extremely eel and all in all, it was a fantastic weekend and the most I’ve enjoyed halloween since I was about 12 years old. I’ve not felt homesick really since I’ve got here (I definitely do miss things from home, don’t get me wrong), but the enthusiasm for halloween gave me a sense of nostalgia; and little piece of stereotypical Americana made me really appreciates being here in DC, at GW.

My only regret is not getting the time to go round the embassies, but I’ve feeling this wasn’t my last DC halloween.

I wish I had time to write more, but there’s so much going on here that I’ve never been so busy doing things I love!

I’m off for my taste of the South next week….