A Travellerspoint blog

D.C - American propaganda, Space & Hitler

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I made it to breakfast! Yeeaah. It was a self-catering affair - I made a toasted bagel with cream cheese. It wasn't great but it was free calories so it was sufficient.

In my head I had a loose plan to visit the Natural History Museum today, I've been to the one in London and I just love those museums; being a lover of all things science, the place just rocks and I can spend hours upon hours in them. As with travelling and maybe more specifically, as with me, that plan changed not long after thinking of it. I saw one of my roommates Chris, a guy from California, in the lobby and we chatted for a minute and he said he was off to the Capitol Building with another guy. So I tagged along for the trip. His friend Lars was from Germany (I think :oS ) we chatted and exchanged travelling stories on the 20 minute walk to the Capitol. It's an impressive structure and another major iconic building of America. It's the place where all the politics go down - new laws get made here etc.

We walked around the perimeter taking the usual photos. I got my signature Sackboy photo. Sackboy for those who haven't seen my Facebook photos is a teddy that someone gave me as a gift from work when I left. I said I'd try and take him with me and thought it would be funny to take photos of him in front of all the sights around the world. It's not the smallest teddy in the world by a long way so it's proven to be a bit of an annoyance at times, only just fitting into my backpack before I set off, and it takes up most of the room in my daypack - but comedy will always prevail for me. The photos look funny and therefore I will suffer the annoyance and, probably more significantly; the embarrassment. Taking it out of my bag when I'm on my own and trying to sit him somewhere to get a photo gets some funny looks and laughs, but so what I think - comedy wins so screw you. The most embarrassing part however is about to happen in this story where I'm up to. It's happened several times so far and will happen many more times:

We entered the Capitol building after taking our photos and as usual in all these buildings there was a full security check. Metal detectors, bag screening and usually a pat-down. I seem to always set off the stupid metal detectors first time, but this time I went straight through - awesome I thought. ''Who's bag is this?'' God damn it. ''Mine.'' I had a small bottle of water which apparently in America, is always a bomb in liquid form. Fancy that, a 24 year old tourist from England with liquid explosives. So I had to go out and throw it away and start all over. I went through again and waited for my bag. The strange shape of the teddy obviously made the guard curious, so he opened the bag and had a look in, gave me a weird look then handed it over. This opening of my bag to see a teddy bear and then looking at me thinking I'm either a big girl or just plain weird has happened several times and it's not the most comfortable of moments - a strong big framed security guard or indeed, member of the police force, looking at me casting judgments isn't too great of an experience. Luckily however, they all hand it over after a quick look and silent insult. I did think that maybe someone would think it's stuffed with drugs or something and cut him open - Nooo! I'd rescue him don't you worry Mandy. Luckily no one has yet.

My manliness in tatters, the three of us walked to a big hall full of statues and queues of people. A good thing about Washington D.C is that most of the museums and sights are free, somewhat like London. An even bigger bonus about the Capitol Building is that they have free guided tours. You can go to a lot of the free sights, but without a guide you might not learn anything about the thing you're looking at. Obviously some sights just look great and you don't need to know, or care, about its history etc. but a place like the Capitol is full of history and there's a lot to be learned about the goings-on here.

We got our tickets and were led into a big cinema room. The short 10 minute movie that followed covered a lot of the history of the building, when and why it was built, and some of the laws that were made in the building etc. All with a big American twist of course. It was pretty hilarious, even to Chris from California. It was basically a propaganda movie. The first 5 minutes went on about how American's are great and all they ever want is freedom and the same rights for everyone - then it very subtly said ''the Capitol Building was built mostly by black slaves''. Lovely stuff. The movie then made it sound like they did the Native Indian's a favour by pushing them out of their own lands as they took over the entire landscape of North America. I'm thankful that the American with me was intelligent and unbiased, so to realise how ridiculous the whole movie was; many jokes ensued.

We then started our proper tour led by a happy & knowledgeable lady by the name of Whitney. I made her name up. We went through many big hallways stopping to learn about certain statues; one room we went into had a star in the centre, she told us that this was the very centre of Washington D.C. When you look on a map you notice that all the streets originate from the Capitol - 1st Street, 2nd Street etc.

We went into the room that's below the big dome which makes the building so recognisable from outside. The tour lady told us about the painting on the inside of the dome and who did it (of course I have forgotten). The one bit of information that I do remember about this room was a painting that stretched all the way around the room. It was really high up just below the dome. A kind of skirting board around the top of the room if you like. A very big room. The painting basically had all of America's history up to a certain point. Our guide pointed out the starting point; Columbus arriving by boat on the shores of America, and the finishing point just to the left of the start; The Wright Brothers setting off their first plane. We were told that the artist who did this impressive painting had a good sense of humour and so he left a little surprise in the picture. You had to look close but near the start of the painting there is a woman holding a baby; well if you look very close you can see that this baby has an old man's face - the artists own face. Pretty cool.

We went into a lot of rooms, learning mainly about past presidents when we came to their statues, we also saw where President Lincoln's desk used to be, among others - and where a lot of the politics goes down nowadays.

Chris and Lars wanted to go and see the Library of Congress next, I did too - but it wasn't so high on my list of things to see, and I was running out of days in D.C so I made a note that I would try go back if I could, but for now I left them to it and I headed for the Space Museum. Woop.

I was pretty hungry so I tried to forget my bad hotdog experience of New York and I opted to get another from a street stall. The lady asked me if I wanted raw or cooked onions. Oh maybe this is where I went wrong I thought. I asked to look at them both. I found the answer to the reason I disliked the hotdog of NYC; the cooked onions were the horrible yacky ones. Someone who has more cooking knowledge will know what they are cooked in, but they are certainly not to my liking. I asked for raw onions and ketchup and sat on a wall in the sun and enjoyed this one a lot more than the previous.

Space Museum time. Alright. After another teddy peak from the security I was in and eagerly looking the museum map over. The museum's full name was The Air & Space museum so there was quite a bit I could skip over that I didn't care too much for - the planes and stuff basically. I went straight for the big league; the sections on space and the universe. My geeky side was getting ready for a nerd party in here.

It was good, but to be honest it wasn't the greatest museum in the world. Some of the information was a little dated and the sections for space & the universe weren't even that big - but I had a good time and spent an hour or so in there. There was a cool bit where a live camera was recording in infrared and it was displayed on a TV screen. Aside from the fact that the camera was aimed at a really awkward place where only 2 people at a time could go on it, and the fact that it was aimed quite high so you could only see the top half of tall people and little people had to try and stand on things; it was cool. I imagined myself being hunted by the Predator for the 30 seconds I stood in view of it. Good old school movie memories.

I left the museum and looked on the map to see what I could do next as it was only half way through the day. I noticed that the Holocaust Museum was down the road so I set off for some of that.

The security guard at the Holocaust museum let me keep my bottle of water this time after I had to drink some to prove it wasn't anything dangerous. I had to resist the temptation to pretend to start freaking out after I drank some.

The Holocaust Museum was very good. Photographs weren't allowed so I've nothing to help jog my memory but it was a really good informative revealing museum. There was a lot of very graphic images and some of the most horrific videos I've ever seen. Growing up through my teenage years in to my twenties with the full force of the internet at my hands I've seen some pretty horrible things before, it's what guys do when they get together - but this museum shocked me. It was very educational and very sobering. I left the museum after a couple of hours quiet and without the bounce that I'd had every day thus far. Thanks a lot Hitler. Douche.

It was late afternoon now and I'd done quite a lot so I figured it was time to make my way back to the hostel. I walked north up one of the main streets. I was pretty close to the Washington Monument, it looked awesome lonely in the clear blue sky with the sun heading for its resting place behind it. Quite a few times I've used the sun to find my way home in New York and Washington. Both my hostels have been north of all the main sights so when i know roughly what time of day it is, relative to where the sun is, I can find my way north. It's not exactly up there with surviving in the jungle eating bugs and drinking my own piss but it's a start!

On my way back to the hostel, maybe 10 minutes before getting back I saw a police squad car and some kind of official SUV vehicle (CIA/FBI I don't know) with their lights flashing but no sirens blaring out. They were parked on a corner kind of haphazardly and as I got closer I noticed that no one was in them. I looked around to see if I could see any action but there was nothing to see. After I buried the temptation to jump in the squad car for a free shotgun ala GTA-style, I turned right to carry on my journey - I walked maybe five steps and something caught my eye; I turned my head to the left and there, immobile, half out of an underground parking lot were four black SUVs, two behind two, all full of suited guys with shades on, just staring at me, motionless. Excitement flooded me; should I take a photo? A video? Should I just stand to the side and see what happens? Should I wave? But I knew I couldn't do anything, I had to keep going. For all I knew, the president could have being having a secret lunch somewhere and anyone acting stupidly could be arrested shot or something. I looked back every 10 seconds or so while I walked away down the long street but I saw nothing. Damn. I hate getting a glimpse of action and never finding out what's happening.

Evening time was spent on the netbook and I also visited the hostel's movie room. It has a big 60 inch or so TV and about 20 separate leather (lazy boy style but without the awesome perks) comfy chairs. I spoke to an American guy who was in D.C for a week on leave from the army. He mentioned he'd been in Iraq, I wanted to ask questions but I didn't know the etiquette when it came to questioning people serving in the forces so I didn't bother.

The best thing about the evening was an advert on TV. Perhaps the best advert I've ever seen in my life. I was on my laptop not really watching the adverts when I heard ''Are you single? Are you Christian?'' I looked up. ''Well log on to Christianmingle.com today!'' OH THIS IS AMAZING I thought. The advert went on, ''Some people leave it up to God's good will to decide but now you can find your own partner!'' It went on for the whole advert like this, I was sat there open-mouthed ready to burst out laughing as soon as it finished, waiting, so not to miss any more of this comedy gold. As the advert finished the American guy loudly proclaimed ''WELCOME TO AMERICA BAHAHA!'' Everyone burst out laughing. The whole minute or so was absolute comedy perfection. I honestly could not have made a better parody of such a subject if I tried. Welcome to America indeed!

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Posted by Explorer_T 20:29 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Dead people & full stomachs

Sunday May 8th. Arlington Cemetery.

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Yeah so I missed breakfast again. I was up until 2am the night before so when my alarm went off at 9am I was certainly not in the mood to get up. I eventually got up around 11 again I think and went down to the common room to check Facebook & emails. I Skyped a whole bunch of people; my Dad, little sister Laura, little brother Aidan and step Mum Elaine all came on to talk on the first call. Next I spoke to the girlfriend, my Mum, my sister Elke and step dad Robert. They were just about to eat KFC so Laura enjoyed trying to make me jealous. But I reminded them that I was indeed, Skyping them from Washington D.C = I win.

Today's mission was to complete what I didn't the previous day - Arlington Cemetery. For those who don't know, this is the place where thousands of American soldiers are buried; from the Civil War, through the World Wars, to Afghanistan and Iraq. President Kennedy is also buried there amongst some other famous names.

The weather was great again today so I donned my sandals and shorts and set off to walk to the cemetery.

I was just across the first road when a girl I recognised from the hostel was walking alongside me. Normally it would be that awkward time when two people are walking at the same speed and you feel like you should either speed up or slow down - how anti-social we are lol. But this is travelling life so I threw out a hello. We chatted for a short while we walked the same way. She was from Switzerland… or Sweden. One of those European countries that everyone (me) mixes up anyway. We parted ways after 5 or 10 minutes and I continued on my own in the baking heat. I strolled past the busy Lincoln Memorial again as the bridge to the cemetery is directly behind it.

The bridge is quite impressive; going over a big river, with lots of keep fit people running over it, planes take off somewhere nearby and therefore pass over the bridge quite low every 10 minutes so or which is pretty cool to see. There was a small area of grass near the entrance to the bridge and a few people were sat reading overlooking the river, and for some reason quite a few male keep fitters chose to stop here to do some abs crunches and various other abs exercises. Probably one of those competitive instances that some men have - as an alpha male American runs by and sees someone exercising;, 'Oh this guy is doing crunches!? I'm gonna get down & do some leg raises! See how the motherf***er likes that!' Maybe that's how the congregation formed I don't know.

The bridge was quite windy so I had to take off my faithful hat, hoping that no one would judge my hat-hair. Even though I have short hair, once I wear a hat for an hour or so, when I take it off my hair has taken a unique style that's impossible to get any other way. Usually having, like, a parting on both sides of my head and the top just flattened horribly in all different directions.

While I was on the bridge I started talking to another person, this one was also from Sweden... or Switzerland. She spoke a lot better English than the other and she told me that she had just arrived in D.C and due to start working for a law firm for a few months. For today she wanted to visit the cemetery and the Pentagon. We discussed that she probably wouldn't get very close to the Pentagon or see very much and also discussed my travelling plans. I didn't ask too many questions about her intended work because, well, it didn't interest me whatsoever.

We stuck together as we entered the cemetery as we both wanted to see the Kennedy burial site first so we decided to help each other find it. You realise pretty quick how big this cemetery is; I hadn't done much homework on the place and the map I had of the city ended just at the entrance of it so I didn't really know. I did now, this place is huge. It's over 600 acres. See that now means something as it can be compared to the 800-odd acres of Central Park that I mentioned in my earlier blog. This place was just 200 acres less than the massive Central Park, and it's all gravestones. Why am I visiting again?

As we walked up along the first long path an ambulance rushed past us. I made an inappropriate joke about it being a handy place to die if you was gonna - it got one of those laughs where the person really doesn't want to laugh as it seems offensive, but they still see the humour and therefore can't help but actually laugh. So it's okay I didn't offend her just yet. Terese - I just remembered her name.

We walked past hundreds and thousands of white headstones up towards the JFK burial site. Understandably there was a discreet hushed atmosphere everywhere; it was quite refreshing to have so many muted Americans. The JFK site itself was very nice; it was on higher ground than most of the cemetery so it had a view across some of the other headstones, and the Washington Monument still stood prominent in the distance. It was all cool and stuff, for a bit - but to be honest I didn't have the same emotional connection to all this as the patriotic American citizens, so I moved on quicker than most.

I parted ways with Swedish at this point and headed up towards the 'Unknown Soldier'. I've heard and seen of this before so was looking forward to see it for real. For those who don't know it's a tomb that started with a soldier from World War One whose remains couldn't be identified. There are now a few unknown soldiers there from different wars. It is permanently guarded by a military guard. Quite a few countries have them but I've never seen one before.

I was very fortunate here with the timing. As I approached up the hill I could see a crowd but I just assumed it was the usual tourists. I got closer and realised there was some kind of ceremony happening. I found myself a good spot and watched the proceedings. I never actually knew exactly what was happening but basically there was a line of old women (who I presume had been involved somehow in WW2) and they would walk in a line of 5 led by an old man who was dressed in full military uniform to the centre, and the women would all drop a white flower in front on the tomb. This repeated over and over until each woman representing a different state of America, had laid down a flower. Yeah it got a bit boring, but I wanted to see if anything exciting would happen.

Then some 'leading lady' came down some steps with a soldier and she laid down the final flower. Two more military guys marched over and they all saluted while one of them played the national anthem through the trumpet. It was quite touching to see all this and then hear the national anthem played live. I've seen things like this so many times on the news and in movies but to hear it here was pretty special. Lots of American's started crying at this point; the American national anthem is kind of depressing and associated with death I think though - compared to my image of the British anthem being screamed and shouted by football fans in glory! Maybe it's just my limited experience thus far.

I did feel like a bit of an intruder. It looked like many people were there for the very reason of the ceremony and there's me, a British tourist in my hat, sandals and shorts recording the whole thing on my camera, not emotional in the slightest. Oh well they didn't close it off or anything so it wasn't my fault.

After there I went to the memorial for the crashed space shuttles; the recent one in 2003… or 2005, around then, and the one a fair few years further back.
I spent a good few hours in the cemetery without really noticing. The place was huge and like a big maze, quite easy to get lost. It would be pretty scary at night time. Insert joke about more zombies.

I can't really write too much about the time there apart from that. I made my way back to the hostel which took a good 40 minutes or so. I had a plan here though - those doomsday people! I was ready! I thought of all the questions I could ask and thought of their probable and predictable answers, and therefore my counter-questions. It was on my route home, this was going to be great. As I neared the area I realised something terrible. They had all gone. I don't know if it was just a one day thing or they were asked to move or what, but there was no trace :( Maybe they did the world a favour and topped themselves, since they were looking forward to death so much - why wait huh? One can hope. I was severely disappointed though. Lots of fun, missed out on.

On the way back to the hostel I saw another crazy homeless man; he was running and kind of, ducking & dodging things that weren't there. It looked pretty scary whatever was happening. Not scary for me, but scary for him.

I decided I was gonna keep sober whilst in D.C. There are a lot of museums and monuments to see. A lot of sensible things that need a clear head basically and plus the night life didn't seem all that great. So my plan was to just wander around during the days, then write blogs & Skype people in the evenings. Later, on this particular evening when I was hungry I took a stroll to find somewhere to eat. I came across this fast food restaurant called Five Guys. Bit of an odd name I thought. Anyway I went in to check it out. Pretty much all they sold was burgers and chips. Sorry, fries. Another silly little mistranslation there that can get you totally the wrong food. The restaurant walls were covered in awards and newspaper cut-outs of reviews for their burgers and fries. ''The best $5 burger you can buy''. I opted for the bacon cheese burger and fries. You can choose as many free toppings as you like from the list which is pretty cool. I chose mushrooms & onions.

This. Meal. Was. Huge.

Honestly this is why they call it Five Guys. One meal serves five guys. The burger was ginormous for starters; it was properly fat and good quality as well, absolutely loaded with the toppings, so many onions and mushrooms and decent bacon (none of that terrible bacon you get at McD's). It was served in a brown paper bag so I just grabbed the huge burger out and started eating at a table. I had a few bites and realised I should take my time as it was going to be a big effort. I looked in for some fries and grabbed some out. It took me around 15 minutes or so to finish off the burger, all the while eating fries at regular intervals. I looked in the bag after I thought I was near the end of the meal to see the equivalent of about 4 large portions of British McDonald's fries. No joke. There was a paper cup style thing that the serving of fries was meant to go in, what a joke, I needed a bucket. I ate as many as I could and squeezed all the rest in to the large cup and set off back to the hostel - slowly. I could barely walk. I felt like I'd eaten a large wilderbeast and three fields of potatoes.

Taking the cup of fries back to the hostel was just me not admitting that I couldn't finish the meal. I kept the cup with me, disillusioned and optimistic, thinking I could eat them sooner or later - but I didn't. I had to throw them away, all 1.5kgs worth of left over fries.

I went to bed breathing heavily; kind of regretting the meal choice but also strangely happy with the meal choice. I was fat and full. I was an American.

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Posted by Explorer_T 21:51 Archived in USA Comments (3)

First full day in D.C - The White House & ...zombies?

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My first official full day in Washington D.C began around 11am when I woke up. (When I woke up? Obviously - reading that back sounds so obvious but I'll leave it there to admit my own obviousness) New day new city. I was excited for one of the perks of this new hostel - free breakfasts yeaah. Unfortunately it only runs until 9:30am so it's unlikely that I'll get a lot of use out of it. It's a good reason to get up early and get on with the day though.

But as I said I awoke at 11 and therefore I would have to pay for my breakfast on this occasion. I didn't have a definite plan for Saturday, I hadn't even looked at the hostel's location relative to the sights, but I trusted that it was a high rated hostel for a reason. (Incidentally the hostel is with the same chain as the one I stayed with in NY - Hostelling International)

I checked the map I was given at check-in and realised that The White House seemed to be only a 10 minute walk or so away from the hostel! That sounded like a first destination to me. The White House being a 10 minute walk from my hostel seemed unreal. A short stroll to the home of the President of America!? Alrighty then!

It was really easy to get to; I just followed one road by the reminiscing name of New York Ave all the way to the grounds of the White House. The roads and sidewalks in D.C are really wide and spacious and nowhere near as packed with people as I got accustomed to in New York City. It was a big change of pace. There are no buttons to press to wait for the 'green man' like in England. There wasn't in New York either, you just wait until the white man comes on and then you can walk. Here in Washington D.C it's just slightly modified in that there is also now a timer showing you how long you have to cross over. Some give you 60 seconds, some 45 and some 20/30 I think. It's helpful because you know whether you have to run or not to avoid being killed. I also quickly learned that if you're currently not allowed to cross you can look at the adjacent crossing to see how long is left for those pedestrians and therefore know when your time is coming. It's quite hard to just make a run across the roads when you shouldn't here. I've done it a few times but because the roads are so wide, even when there are no cars in view, you could still cut it close as the cars really bomb it around so most times its worth waiting for the proper time. Boring.

I passed a small park area which looked lovely in the sun except for that slight tarnish again. What is this tarnish? It's Homeless people. More specifically, black homeless people. (I'm yet to see any white homeless people?) They were led on most of the benches on the small park area, hid under fury robes and covers. Fancy that; the capital city of the almighty United States of America and just a 10 minute lazy stroll down the road from the iconic Presidential White House there are dozens of poor, hungry, homeless people. Make of that what you will.

I arrive at the intended destination and realise it's actually the rear of the house that my road led to. It kind of looks just like the front but you are miles closer to be honest. I got a few photos of the back and set off to make my way around to the front.

The area wasn't as busy as I'd thought it would be. There are just pockets of tourists dotted at the best photo spots and then nice big spacious areas in between. It was cool, very cool; having seen it in so many photos, on so many news programs and in so many movies it was pretty special to see it in person. A slight problem was that there was only one small sidewalks worth of room to stand on to look at the White House. And with the view of the White House only being quite narrow because of the tall trees on either side; the small sidewalk was quite packed. The road behind was being patrolled by the secret service and their patrol cars & horses so people weren't stood on the road at all. I didn't stop long out at the front because you're quite far away even at the closest point and once you've got a few photos there's not much else to be done. Also don't act like an idiot whilst there as there's a sniper posted up on the roof! I can't help but imagine a comedy version of these snipers being like British builders, 'Hey dude check out this fit bird through my laser scope!' As cool as it first sounds being a sniper on top of the White House, I bet it's so boring. Literally just stood/led there looking at annoying tourists all day. You'd have to be mental to even try anything dodgy here. The patriotic locals would probably kill you before any secret service.

I walked away from the front of the White House towards the biggest thing in view; the massive towering structure that is the Washington Monument. This is the tall pencil type monument for those not sure. Yes I avoided comparing it to a penis. Children please this is a serious blog here. There is a big park area to walk past first, then a road, then the grassy hill leading up to the Monument. As I was making my way around the first big park area on the path I realised that no one was in the centre of the park where there surely would be a great view of the White House, away from all the noise and urgency of the tourists. I walked to the centre and wow, it was a lot different here. It was tranquil and perfect. I popped my mp3 player on, sat on the grass and just enjoyed the view in the baking sunshine for about 15 minutes.

Next was the short walk to the Washington Monument. On the way there I saw a convoy of vehicles parked at the side of the road in between the park and the monument. I could see that they were all decorated with the same graphics & writing, with lots of people in some kind of uniformed clothing, so I was intrigued and headed there first.

Okay these guys were just full of Lols. The vans were all fancy with high quality graphics printed on them - but their message? The first one I saw was one of those billboard type vehicles. My walking pace slowed as I realised who these people were… The billboard read: ''Judgement Day. May 21 2011.''
The second, third, fourth, fifth and so on were the same as each other and read: ''Have you read the awesome news? The End of the World is Almost Here! It Begins on May 21st! The Bible Guarantees It!''

Like I said; full of Lols.

I saw a lone man in New York with a sign saying May 21st was the end of the world but in New York you just pass by as most people are crazy there. But these guys were the real deal. These were fully organised, motivated and dedicated nut jobs. The big vans had the 2012 year at the top with a cross through it, like a no smoking sign type thing. These guys are having a PR war with another bulls*** nonsense conspiracy theory. Love it. It all makes me feel intellectually superior and I pity them.

I felt a subtle urge to video a conversation with them but luckily for them, I was still feeling all peaceful from the scene on the grass moments earlier. I did however still feel the need for something a bit..naughty. I couldn't pass this by without getting at least a little giggle from it. I passed the major bulk of cheaply mass-printed T-Shirt wearers and stopped by a bench and trashcan opposite one of the furthermost vans. I had to wait until some tourists passed by, then a cop on a bicycle, then it was my opportunity… I whipped out my camera, hastily balanced it on the bin, set the annoyingly long 12 second timer and ran in front of the van. I posed a kind of 'disappointment stance' with my hand on my face. What you call a 'facepalm' if you hang around on the internet quite a lot. I heard the click of the shot and then ran back to grab my camera, I turned to see several curious doomsday prophesiers starting to walk my way. Needless to say I was off.

I made a mental note to return the following day with my camera hanging around my neck set to record a conversation of some kind. The possible questions that I could ask ran through my mind. I would need to stay polite, but also try to convey my total lack of respect for them. Louis Theroux style. The first question I would ask would probably be something like, ''on a scale of 1 to 10, how embarrassed will you be on May 22nd?''

If you did honestly believe that the world was going to end in the next few weeks why would you spend it doing that? Go and enjoy yourselves! I don't know if they are trying to use scare tactics to get as many people to 'reconcile with God' as possible before the 'end' - but another question from me would be; if it's possible for everyone to do that... for everyone to reconcile (because they never turn anyone away) at such a late stage, no matter who you are and what you've done - why bother being good all your life when you could do what you wanted all your life i.e. blaspheme and such, then right at the end, make your peace with whichever God they believe in, and you've got your ticket to heaven? My head is full of these questions and I actually can't wait to return the next day.

Fortune tellers left behind, I headed for the imposing Washington Monument that can be seen from pretty much everywhere in D.C, due to a ruling that all the buildings can't be over a certain height as to not ruin this effect.

I walked up the path surrounded by huge areas of grass to the monument stopping to take photos every few steps, each one being more difficult to take as it got higher and higher the closer I got. Again I didn't stay too long here; it looks more impressive from a distance when you can actually fit it all in one frame. Once you get to this monument you can see quite a lot around the area. I spotted the World War 2 memorial with the now hollow reflecting pool (in repair) behind and then the Lincoln Memorial behind that. Everything is visible from each other and therefore really easy to walk to. This travelling cities business is too easy I thought.

D.C is really well designed, it's kind of like one huge museum - full of monuments, grassy areas to lounge around on, actual museums; the traffic system runs like clockwork aside from the few crazy drivers (okay quite a few crazy drivers).

I spent a good half an hour or more near the WW2 memorial just led on one of the many areas of grass. I had the Washington Memorial behind me, the WW2 stuff around me with the pool and fountain in front of me (the sounds of a fountain are so relaxing) then in the distance there was the Lincoln Memorial. Mix all that in a big pot with about 25 degrees worth of heat and you have a pretty blissful afternoon.

This is where I was glad that I didn't load my day to day activities with a packed itinerary. The feeling of just walking around these areas, then stopping and lying on the grass in the sun taking it all in, because I can - oh it's just the best feeling. What's that? Am I thinking the past 2 years working & saving in the most boring job ever was… actually, worth it? Maybe. Just maybe =)

After a lot of relaxing I set off again down some paths in between trees heading towards the large building that encloses the President Lincoln statue.

The area was pretty busy. There are a lot of steps to be sat on and appreciate the view. I went up to the top and entered in to the room with Lincoln sat upon his large chair. This again is one of the most famous images I have of America. I snapped a few photos and asked a not-so-happy-to-oblige Eastern European guy to take my photo for me.

I looked on my map and realised I was quite a way from the hostel now, maybe around a 30-40 minute walk. I also realised I was just a bridge away from the famous Arlington Cemetery (the one with all the small white headstones with people from the wars etc.) However there were some looming dark clouds hovering over where I worked out the cemetery to be and so thought I should not risk it as I was fairly tired, plus it was around 4-5pm, so I decided to make my way home.

I came back to the hostel and got myself on a sofa in the common room with my netbook and started sorting through the days photos. As it got to evening I was fairly hungry so I checked my map and there was a local McDonalds about 10 minutes from the hostel. However bad the Mcd's reputation is for all the reasons we all know, it can sometimes just be a safe familiar dose of cheap terrible quality meat to munch on. I headed out in to the dark night.

The scene was kind of like a zombie movie. The wide streets were dark and quiet. There were low groaning sounds to be heard. Dull mutterings. The slow limping homeless scattered the streets. They were the slow moving kind of zombies that are pretty harmless so it was all okay. One guy was either on something or lost a bit of brain function as he was, kind of swatting the air with one arm. Almost as if when someone is next to you but slightly behind and you rudely swing your arm out to tell them to go away. Like you would with your annoying sibling that wants to get your attention or something. Well this dude was doing that over and over whilst walking towards me. Don't fear for me though, whatever was going on in his head was far too interesting to deal with me.

I ate my food in the store and had a brief chat with a group of three middle aged to elderly black guys. They looked like they could have been homeless from their clothes but I'm not sure. One was in a wheelchair, and he was really funny. Whenever a black woman would walk in he would get all frisky and shout the stereotypical lines to try and chat her up, ''a humm, what's happnin baby? I like that round thang ya got over there!''

I avoided the zombie hoards on the way back and got back on with the internet business. I Skyped Laura and then my cousin Andrew. It was good to speak to both of them. My Grandma also popped on to Andrew's screen to say hi which was nice as I got to wish her a happy 70th birthday!

I was then still up until around 2am writing one of these blogs!

Anyway that is Saturday and my first full day in Washington D.C. Loved it.

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Posted by Explorer_T 21:48 Archived in USA Comments (1)

From NYC to D.C

Conclusions on NYC and busing it to Washington D.C

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My very last day in New York only had one thing on the agenda - get the bus from 33rd & 7th to Washington D.C at 1pm.

I got a bus through a company called Boltbus. I only booked it the night before but it still only cost $21 which isn't bad at all. If you book about 3 weeks in advance when the fares first come out you can land a $1 fare from NY to DC which is mental.

The journey was about 4 and a half hours and I wish I could say I looked at the scenery on the way but I really didn't. There was wifi on-board the bus so naturally I was on Facebook and writing up a blog.

I thought about my time in New York. I was going to miss it big time. I could have easily spent a few weeks there. If I had known how much I would love it, I would have definitely stayed for 2 weeks on this trip. The whole vibe of the place is just something else. The sheer diversity was on a scale I'd never seen before. Wherever you went, at whatever time, something cool would happen and you'd have a story. If I blogged everything from even just one day, I'd have a blog the length of a novel already. All the standard sights were obviously great and I loved all of them - but I think my favourite thing to do was just go on a random wander and see what happened. In a few hours walking in NYC you will see more kinds of people than you've ever seen in your life. I reckon my favourite place was probably Times Square at night time. I spent so many hours there and would go back in a heartbeat. Amazing place. I started making a video compilation to try capture my enjoyment and time spent there.

I got speaking to the girl next to me on the bus who was actually from D.C and had recently moved to NY. She was just going back to D.C for the night to say her goodbyes to her friends. She helped me find my way to the metro once we got off the bus which saved me some brain power so that was cool.

On the bus journey into D.C and also on the short walk from the metro to the hostel I already noted how nice the wide streets looked, but with a slight tarnish. We'll come to that later.

I arrived at the hostel around 7pm I think and I was motivated to get some chores done straight away while I was up and moving. I took my dirty clothes from the week in New York down to the laundry room and washed & dried for a total of $3.25 including the soap. I also had a shower and got settled into the room and spoke to an elderly roommate from Australia who told me about a nice Indian food place across the road.

Hunger strikes.

I took a trip there soon after and had a table for one chicken korma which was really nice. A huge portion too I only just managed to finish it. My small table wouldn't have fit another person's meal so it's a good job I went alone.

That was Friday; I've kept it short to try catch up to reality with this blogging business so I can more accurately recall what I've done during the days. I don't know if I planned to blog about every single day or not, but I've had so many stories to tell each day it would be a shame to leave a day out up to now. Maybe there'll come a day when I can say I was bored and literally nothing happened?

Saturday will include my first days worth of wandering around Washington D.C!

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Posted by Explorer_T 06:49 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Last day NYC - Obama, CIA, Snipers, Fifth Ave & Central Park

Just your average normal day ya know.

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The morning after the night before. That's a phrase that people say right? I slept till around 12 lunch time which gave me around 6 hours sleep. Strangely enough I didn't feel too bad apart from the tiredness. My 5am OJ and pizza must have helped.

I got up slowly and started to think what I wanted to do with the day. My roommate Scott mentioned that President Obama was in NYC right now and he was setting off to hopefully see him. I had heard that he was visiting and I did plan to go to Ground Zero where he was apparently going, but the night out had thrown me off.

I didn't know what time he was due to arrive or what he was actually doing. Some people thought he was doing a speech. The problem with the current hostel life compared to what I'm used to is that ordinarily I would verify anything by checking on the internet - but with the wifi only working 4 floors below from my dorm, and it being a major effort to go up and down with a laptop etc., for the first time in my life peer-rumours and gossip make do for my current affairs and local news.

As I left my top bunk I realised that I'd gone to sleep with my bottle of water slightly undone. This yes, resulted in a now slightly damp bed and a slightly damp pair of boxers. For a verrrry short moment I thought I'd wet myself which was not a fun thought to entertain.

After drying my bum, I got ready quickly and headed off down to the lobby. I saw Michi again and she tagged along and we headed off quickly towards the subway. She was a lot rougher than me, which was fun. It's always fun for the more sober person to mock the more hung over person. It was a bad morning for her to be rough as we were in a major rush to try get to Ground Zero. Luckily as I was on form I got us there quickly and we were soon in the middle of a huge crowd of people and police at a road side.

TV crews rushed around looking for good spots, people chatted about what was gonna happen, snipers looked down upon us from the roof tops, blacked out Landrovers stopped with the suited CIA getting in and out - it was all pretty cool.

We were stood around for maybe 15 minutes when I saw a familiar face passing by - no not Obama tryna sneak past, it was Mike, with Alex! How surreal; in all this madness, I bumped into a friend from home. We discussed the night before and I apologised on behalf of the awful tour guide that resulted in their early departure from the night. He hoped that the night carried on being just as awful after they left, so not missing out on a good night. He was a little saddened when I told the story of how it ended up being pretty damn good.

We started to realise that Obama wasn't going to be doing any public appearance and so started to make plans for the rest of the day. Mike and Alex wanted to do the ferry past the statue. I would have gone, just to spend some more time with them but seeing the statue three times is too much and this being my last day, I needed to finish off the things I wanted to do.

It was my last full day in New York as I was due to leave the next day on Friday so I had a short to-do list of: Fifth Avenue, Central Park, and ride that huge bull!

Michi stuck around with me to help me complete the list. I'd spent quite a bit of time with her now and so was used to speaking a little slower for her, and adjusting my phrases when I got used to what she didn't understand etc. I realised I now kind of sounded like a foreigner with my slowed, broken, strangely phrased English.

The bull was first. I completed my mission. I jumped up on to its snout and up on to its head. I nearly slipped as my smooth bottomed pumps lost all grip at one point. But I succeeded after grabbing on to its horns to stop myself from making the biggest ass out of myself in my entire life, and probably a hospital visit. I don't think my insurance has climbing a massive metal bull and falling off on to my head in its policy so I'm glad I didn't fall for a few reasons. Needless to say I rode it like a rodeo king waving my appropriate cowboy style hat around. One of the few times its left my head.

Next was Fifth Avenue. The famous avenue with all the luxurious stores frequented by wealthy locals & tourists. What was I going for? To take photos and make my girlfriend jealous of course. None of these stores really interest me. I soon realised that photographs weren't just frowned upon, they were outlawed in the stores. Meh to all of you.

The first shop I went in to was the Abercrombie & Fitch store which was full of shiny 'beautiful' people. I put beautiful in quotes because all the staff were all obviously hired as they fit that, strong bone structured and smooth skin type face style which doesn't always really appeal to the real world. They all looked like dolls to me. Anyway I didn't actually know that you couldn't take photos yet, and so when I saw the huge deer head on the wall I snapped a photo - a member of staff immediately came over and told me off. Ohh. At least I learned this fact early on from this petite female sales assistant and not later in the 'big business' shops.

The big business shops I refer to? Louis Vuitton. Wow this shop was crazy. The doors were opened by the by the smartly dressed doorman and in we went. Boom - security everywhere. About four were at the door as we entered. These weren't your overweight Middle Eastern Primark security guards like in England; these were big black dudes in suits with ear pieces ready to rip s*** up. As I looked around the shop on both levels I could spot around 15 or so straight away. Most were giving me the evil eye as I had my DSLR hanging around my neck.


We did a fairly quick lap of the lower level and got out there. I don't know why photos aren't allowed but it didn't have a nice atmosphere at all. I'm sure if you're dressed smartly and don't look like a backpacker they'd be your best mate but for me at least, it was uncomfortable and I was out of there sharpish. I felt like I'd sneaked in to the White House or something. Also, no price tags, which sucked. I wanted to brag to someone about a bag I saw for $XXXX but oh well. I guess the people who shop here don't need price tags. I don't envy their ability to spend horrendous amounts of money on something as unimportant and silly as a bag. Sorry girls.

Next was Central Park, the last big thing I wanted to do in New York. Fortunately as you walk north up Fifth Ave you reach the bottom of the park, so we could just carry on straight in.

The park is huge. Obviously so I suppose, I think it's fairly common knowledge that Central Park is gargantuan. Google informs me that its 843 acres. That never means much to me though as I've never been a farmer and used acres in my everyday life. You could say 400 acres or 800 acres and I'd just react with the same fake attempt of astonishment. Okay new Google search and just the length is 2.5 miles. Hum, seems a little less than it seemed to me but still, if you take in all the walking from side to side etc. there's a lot of walking to be had! 6 miles perimeter so I reckon you nearly do that while exploring it all.

So the park itself is just a cool place to be. Endless paths to take. There's a zoo and everything. My aim was just to walk somewhere in the middle straight up as far as the Great Lawn and the huge lake and then we would be roughly a few blocks below where our hostel runs parallel.

The park is teeming with keep-fit people. More people are running than not. Hundreds and hundreds of runners everywhere. There are also tonnes of people walking dogs, playing sports of all kinds - it's just a cool, friendly place to be. The Lungs of New York is a very fitting way to describe Central Park.

Smoking within the park had recently been banned too, which is a great thing - the lungs of NY are healthier than ever.

There was a great moment when an old couple were taking a photo of some wildlife and another man was taking a photo of them taking their photo. I saw this happening as I approached, then another woman saw the opportunity and raised her camera to take a photo of him taking a photo of them taking a photo! I had my weapon at the ready and quickly raised it and snapped my awesome photo of a woman taking a photo of a man taking a photo of a couple taking a photo of the wildlife. Perfect timing! The whole thing only lasted an instant.

I put my adventurer hat on (metaphorical hat - of course I already had my real hat on - it's rarely been off!) and stormed off down paths. When I came to an option of 2 or more paths, I chose the one that looked least like a proper path, hopefully leading down further in to somewhere isolated and interesting. Michi would often stop to consult her map to see which path to take but I'd already chosen and was off.
We arrived at the Great Lawn and it's just that; a great huge open flat lawn. Hundreds of people were on it but yet there were still acres (hehe) of room to lounge around and do whatever you wanted.

We led down on the grass for about 20 minutes; Michi listened to her MP3 player and I observed all the goings on of the lawn. Then we carried on up to the big lake. A lot of great photos were taken. We walked up the left hand side of the lake up to roughly where I had to leave to return to the hostel to pack =( Michi wanted to go to the Guggenheim Museum so we parted here and I went off to pack my backpack for the journey tomorrow when I would unfortunately leave New York. But it's not like I'm going home - I'm going to the Nation's Capital; Washington D.C!

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Posted by Explorer_T 19:36 Archived in USA Comments (2)

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