I never quite know how to respond when people ask me that. It's a bit of an open question. I usually just say "amazing" but find it hard to elaborate. It's probably because I have nothing specific that I can point towards to justify my amazement. What was amazing was the whole package: living a completely different life, meeting lovely people, going outside my comfort zone, consuming litres of ice cream, seeing a bit more of the world, understanding a different culture, even making a financial profit.
A more useful response might be that I can't think of a single thing negative about my summer. Sure, there were the minor problems with the flights, there was failing to serve Barack Obama, and there was a nasty phone bill I've neglected to mention on here before. But seriously. These aren't big deals. Perhaps if I'd hated my job, or if Martha's Vineyard had turned out to be a complete dive, or if a skunk had sprayed me directly in the face causing me to lose my footing and stumble backwards into oncoming traffic; perhaps then I'd feel differently. But none of those things happened and as a result my summer was amazing.
"Would you do it again?"
Yes. I'm only a student for another year so realistically only have one more shot at it. I fully intend to skive off my graduation ceremony next year in favour of another summer like the one I just had.
Oh, and if you happen to be thinking about doing something similar, I really can't recommend the experience highly enough. But you've probably got that impression by now. A good place to start is BUNAC, or you could just talk to me.
"Got any miscellaneous photos you've wanted to post before but haven't had the chance?"
Funny you should mention that.
A final note...
I've really enjoyed writing this blog and would like to imagine at least a couple of people have enjoyed reading it. I don't get many comments so it often feels like shouting into a void, but that's totally understandable. If anyone does have an opinion or some constructive criticism, now would be an excellent time to raise it. I'm thinking about starting a new, more general blog about my dull, studenty life, but I feel uneasy about the whole thing. Without a clear central topic it might just descend into "today I bought a cucumber from Tesco lol". We'll see (link). In any case, you can definitely expect another America blog (link) to surface at some stage in May or June.
Thanks so much for reading.
I type these words from the cupboard-like room of my new student house in Nottingham, England: a universe away from New York City, where I spent five wonderful days last week. While in New York, Beth and I did all the usual touristy things: We saw Times Square, Central Park, Liberty & Ellis Islands, Wall Street, Ground zero, Coney Island, and so on.
But there's far more to a city than just its famous, usually overpriced landmarks. I could talk for ages about many of our day-to-day experiences, but I really want to wrap this blog up soon while the subject matter is still fresh and before I'm pummelled relentlessly with coursework. So here are just the highlights. As always, the pictures are selected from literally hundreds.
General Manhattan / Times Square
I don't know which group is more reckless, but the taxis in Manhattan are homicidal and the pedestrians suicidal. I was pretty surprised to leave the city without witnessing anyone smash their skull against the bonnet of a yellow blur.
The Empire State Building
We went up the Empire State Building. Mere photos can't do the spectacular views any justice. While we were at the top, the weather deteriorated and gave way to an impressive thunderstorm, prompting most people to go back inside. Probably wise.
Liberty & Ellis Islands
This was excellent value for money. Tickets included a ferry ride to each island, entry to two really interesting museums and an audio tour. The whole trip lasted the best part of seven hours and cost just $20 (about £13). Definitely worth doing.
We actually arrived in New York on September 11th, so it only seemed suitable to visit ground zero. Nine long years have passed and the place is still very much a building site. We had considered locating the planned mosque to see what all the fuss was about, but ended up thinking better of it.
Another pretty looking Ivy League university to cross off the list. Its alumni have won more Nobel Prizes than any other institution in the world: 95. Compare that with Nottingham's two.
Until seeing its name on the subway map, I hadn't even realised Coney Island was in New York. The place was a little disappointing however and would better have been visited in mid-August while there were actually people around. All the rides were closed.
Yet another flights fiasco. We were sitting in a departure lounge inside LaGuardia Airport at around 6:00pm when Beth mentioned seeing flashes outside. I brushed this off as delirium induced by dragging two massive cases across a major city, but then I started seeing the flashes myself. They were happening surprisingly frequently, once every three or four seconds. Soon afterwards, the news of flight delays and cancellations began streaming from the PA system. I laughed aloud in helplessness when I heard about the cancellation of our own flight to Ottawa. All aircraft had been completely grounded while the tornado (yes, tornado) spun around outside.
After the weather had calmed down a bit, we managed to worm our way onto a replacement flight to Toronto, where there was still a small chance we could connect with the last flight to Heathrow. Obviously, this didn't happen. We touched down in Toronto five minutes before the London flight was due to take off and, for the second time this summer, I prepared myself for a night spent sprawled across a patch of hard, shiny, airport floor. But I needn't have worried because the lovely lady from Air Canada booked us into a nearby (posh) hotel instead.
We slept comfortably and caught the first flight in the morning to Heathrow. During the flight, I watched Last Night and The Lovely Bones and thoroughly enjoyed them both. In as much as you can enjoy films about topics like the end of the world and serial child-killers.
But the drama wasn't over yet. Heathrow airport delivered the final kick in the groin as we waited for our bags to appear at the baggage reclaim area. Tens of minutes passed without any sign of our luggage and the conveyor belt gradually became more and more bare. Bored of waiting, Beth enquired at the desk. The guy quickly admitted that he didn't know where our bags were, but that his best guess was Ottawa.
Two days later Air Canada delivered our stuff.
I really love theme parks. I can say that with some conviction because, as you’ll remember, I originally intended to work at one this summer but wasn’t successful. Anyway, the USA is famous for some pretty decent, better-than-Alton-Towers parks and I wasn’t about to leave the country without at least a single visit.
My park of choice was Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey. Just a short journey down from New York City, it’s home to some amazing roller coasters, including the world’s tallest and fastest (!), Kingda Ka. Other notables are Nitro, El Toro and Superman: Ultimate Flight.
(I didn't take these photos)
The conditions and timing of our visit were spot-on. It was the first Sunday after Labor Day, ensuring the complete absence of schoolchildren along with the bulk of summer vacationers. Furthermore, the morning sky was dark grey and ominous looking. As we left Manhattan, spots of rain started appearing on the windows of the coach. Shitty weather puts people off going to theme parks and I twiddled my fingers together approvingly at the prospect whilst saying “excellent”. All that needed to happen now was for the rain to ease off, and after a short period of getting damp, this is exactly what happened. We ended up having the park to ourselves in relatively nice weather. Perfect!
Rides that would normally attract 90 minute queues were walk-on jobs. We rode the (completely epic) Nitro first, three times in a row. We didn’t even bother getting off and on again because there just wasn’t a queue. The ride operators looked delighted to have any company at all and kept telling us which seats to try next. The back was definitely my favourite.
The park got slightly busier as the day progressed, but only by enough to peak queues at around 15 minutes. We got on all twelve coasters at least once, including Superman twice, Nitro four times and the mind-blowing Kingda Ka five times.
Riding the world’s tallest and fastest roller coaster was something I needed to document. But with ride photos selling for $12.99 (before tax), I needed to make an effort. I experimented with various faces and poses, but the one that cracked me up the most was the classic terror/horribly-distorted face approach. The photo guy didn’t even break a smile while he printed it out and slotted it into the cardboard sleeve. He’d obviously seen it all before.
Incidentally, my effort was utterly trumped by another guy we later met on the coach, James, who’d managed to compose himself brilliantly at 128mph, frowning impatiently at his watch, which he’d held out perfectly. It was hilarious, but you really need to see it to appreciate it.
All in all, I had a really wonderful day. In the end, I was left pondering whether or not I had been better off selling ice cream rather than operating roller coasters. The button-pressing, restraint-pulling job looked monotonous as hell, certainly more so than the Ice Cream & Candy Bazaar, but the surroundings might have made up for that. I don’t know.
Expect a post about New York at some point.
Thanks as always.
Too much has happened since I last blogged. I now find myself in a difficult position where the towering backlog of interesting things to write about far exceeds the time I can possibly dedicate to writing about them. The only solution is to throw together a quick and dirty highlights issue. Fewer big chunks of prose; just loads and loads of photos interspersed with disjointed remarks about my busy existence. Right, let's go.
Beth (girlfriend) floated into Martha's Vineyard late on Saturday night after an insane flight. Hurricane Earl, obviously embarrassed about his impotency over Martha's Vineyard, literally blew her plane off course over Nova Scotia, forcing a landing in unexpected Toronto. She boarded a replacement flight to Boston and, against the odds, managed to catch the last coach and ferry to MV. Far better than I managed.
I waved goodbye to the Ice Cream & Candy Bazaar, Edgartown and Martha’s Vineyard as a whole. It was sad to part from the wonderful people I’ve shared my summer with, many of whom I will surely never meet again. But there’s always Facebook.
We travelled to Boston on Tuesday and checked-in to a Super 8 in Watertown, a district in the western outskirts of the city, which we would call home for the following four nights. During our tenure in Boston we walked the Freedom Trail, visited the aquarium, stood outside Fenway Park, saw Quincy Market, and frequented Dunkin’ Donuts.
The city of Cambridge, just across the river Charles from Boston, is home to a couple of universities you’ve probably heard of: Harvard, consistently ranked #1 in the world, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, currently ranked a comparatively shameful 4th. A biology student named Martha (a nice coincidence) gave an excellent guided tour of her prestigious university while our “tour” of M.I.T was less formal and mostly involved infiltrating the main building and trying desperately to avoid detection by masquerading as students. I felt a bit like Sam Fisher, but without those lights on my head.
There’s an Ipswich in Massachusetts. Obviously, we had to visit. I was intending to write a humourous blog post comparing this quaint little town famed for its fried clams with my own home town, famed for its prostitute killings. But do you know what? I cannot be arsed.
So, what's next?
I’m typing this blog from the discomfort of a cramped seat inside a coach bound for New York City. New York City as in The Big Apple. The City That Never Sleeps. The... okay I’m all out. We’re staying there for five nights before flying back to London on Thursday. Hopefully I’ll do a better job of keeping you in the loop than I have done recently. Though I strongly suspect otherwise.
Thanks for reading.