Thursday, 30 April 2015

My Travel Bucket List

I have been lucky enough that over the past couple of years I have been steadily ticking things off my bucket list. I have gone on a gondola ride in Venice, climbed Mount Vesuvius, seen the Mona Lisa in Paris, and visited a Speakeasy bar in New York. I have brought in the new year by stuffing grapes in mouth in Madrid, touched Juliet's boob in Verona, seen Anne Frank's tiny world in Amsterdam and drank Guinness in Dublin. And all these things have been amazing. So what else would I possibly want to do?

The answer = a lot.

Of course it is. I often describe myself as a restless wanderer and no title could fit me better. I am forever trying to see new things and have new experiences. I am hungry for it. So when I was asked to only discuss my top 3, my brain went AHHHHH...NO I REFUSE. And I spent a good couple of hours, trying to whittle it down from a list that had at least 30 different locations on it. But this is what I finally decided were my top 3 travel destinations.

USA - visit all 50 states
As you can see on my blog, I had my first little taste of America a matter of weeks ago, when I visited Boston and New York. But now I want to see MORE. ALL OF IT, in fact.

When I was in year 11 and attending boarding school, me and my best friend (who shared a room with me) decided that we wanted to learn the 50 states of America. Don't ask why - we didn't even know what all the counties of England were called. I still don't. But we managed it and now, if anyone asks, I can reel them all off without a problem. A skill which, surprisingly enough, isn't actually that useful, except very occasionally when I am doing a crossword or taking part in a pub quiz.

America is just so big and therefore it is made up of so many unique cultures. You can visit two states that are right next to each other and they are completely different. Which is why I don't want to miss anything out. It's like travelling to England and going 'oh well, I have seen Europe now. Done.' You just wouldn't do that.

This country has been off limits to me for a very long time. Let me explain...

I first caught the travel bug when I was around 18 or 19 years old. And I started jetting off everywhere. Which made my little sister, who was around 13 at the time (and still stuck in boarding school), very jealous. So she decided when she finishes boarding school herself, we would go on a trip somewhere to celebrate. And until that time, I was NOT to visit that country at all. It would be our place, that we would BOTH experience for the first time together. And the place we picked was Greece.

Which is very unfortunate for me because Greece is beautiful and I have wanted to go there for years, ever since I studied Classical Civilisation for GCSE. I don't know whether it is just a perverse reaction to my sister's banning me from the country or whether I genuinely really really want to go but recently it has become a bit of a personal Mecca for me. There is just so much culture and food, so much history and so many beautiful islands and towns. I want to visit all of it but Athens, Santorini, Delphi, Olympia, Rhodes, Mycenae, Crete (I tried to get by this one by saying technically it was an island off Greece, but she still didn't let me go) are top - the list goes on and on. Maybe we should go interrailing and see lots of it, instead of staying in one town. So much to explore, my brain can't cope.

I think you should all be proud of me though - I stayed true to my promise for four years and have never set foot on Greek soil. I only have one more year left to wait thank goodness.

Photo courtesy of
Prince Edward Island, Canada
I am a total literary nerd. But despite this, and despite the fact I studied Anne of Green Gables at university, I didn't realise the island where it was set, was actually a real place until fairly recently. HOW?? Something was missing from my university education, if they didn't even tell me that, after a term of studying it.

With some beautiful beaches; a yearly Jazz and Blues Festival (I can not even describe how excited jazz makes me); some wonderfully scenic walks and it's capital being called Charlottetown (I just HAVE to visit that, don't I?) this fast became one of my top islands that I would like to visit. It looks truly stunning and somewhere you can escape from all your everyday little worries. Just what you want when you are travelling.

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Wednesday, 29 April 2015

New York City - April 2015

I was only in New York for a limited amount of time - 2 full days with an evening and a morning added on - so there was no way I was going to do everything that I wanted to. Therefore I had to be very picky about how I was going to spend my time and what I was going to do. And I feel like I managed it well. I got a brilliant overview of the city, and while I am certain that I will return in the (hopefully) near future to explore more deeply, I think my time here served as a great introduction to the city.

So if you are on a tight itinerary like I was, these are the sights that I believe you just can't miss when you visit New York for the first time. And I will tell you a little bit about my experiences there.

Visit the 9/11 memorial

I was 9 years old when this tragedy took place. But although I was young, I can remember this day well. I was so annoyed that all my normal cartoons were cancelled replaced with news item after news item about New York, my screen filled with the smoking buildings. And those images will stick with me forever: the devastation that was caused, the suffering that I could plainly see. I was so young and there was a lot I didn't understand, but I still could see the hugeness of this event. And it was the first time that I was properly faced with how the world wasn't an entirely nice to place to live.

The feeling that I experienced when I was at the memorial was unlike anything that I had ever felt. After so many years, the terrible event finally became real to me. Not that I thought it was a fake - but I was a child when I had viewed it being splashed across the television like something from a film. Now here I was faced with a literal hole in the skyline of New York, where two towers should have stood. I was faced with hundreds of names of people who were having a normal day at work. I was faced with hundreds more names of people who died trying to help others to safety. It was shocking. And incredibly humbling.

The memorial consists of two huge pools of water, set at the exact points where the bases of the two towers would have stood. Each name of the people who worked there is etched around the edge and I read all of them until it made my eyes go funny. And on a wall opposite was a mural depicting those from the services who had lost their lives, helping others to safety. It was all a little overwhelming. What a waste of humanity. I hope something like this never happens again.

Go on a boat tour
I went on the Circle Line tour and yes it is very clichéd and touristy, not to mention slightly on the pricey side. But I loved it.

The tour was just over an hour and a half, taking me down the Hudson River, around the bottom of Manhattan and then back again. I got to see the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, The Statue of Liberty and of course, it was a perfect opportunity to see various landmarks of Manhattan within the skyline. I don't know why but I have become a little bit obsessed with the skyline - the layout is just so...busy. And so different to anything I have seen before. In fact, I was so busy looking towards the city, that I almost missed The Statue of Liberty. I was literally the only person on that side of the boat, still staring in completely the wrong direction.

We had a tour guide on board as well who was obviously extremely knowledgeable about everything to do with New York so he pointed out all the landmarks to us and the various villages and told us a little about the history. Which was all fascinating. If you don't have a lot of time, it is a great way to see the entirety of Manhattan very fast and to gain an excellent introduction to the city.

Go up the Rockefeller centre

Whenever I look at a painting in a gallery or wherever, I always start by looking closely at it - I get my face right in there and stare at the individual brush strokes. I marvel at the intricate detail and the technical prowess of the artist. And then I take a step back. And then another and then another. Until you take that final necessary step and the picture suddenly becomes clear. That's what it was like looking at New York from the top of the Rockefeller centre.

It took 67 floors (up to which you were elevated at breakneck speed. We went so fast my ears popped) to take that necessary step back. After which, I walked up two more until I was on the roof itself. And then I really felt I could breathe. While I loved the intricate detail of New York, it was when I had taken the step back I could appreciate the city as a whole. It took out all the people, the cars, the noise, even the roads. And it was so incredibly peaceful up there. I could have sat up there all day, just staring out across the city. It was fascinating. You noticed so many different things that didn't catch your attention while you were rushing around below.

The reason I went up the Rockefeller Centre and not the Empire State Building was a conscious decision. It was based on the advice of a friend who had recently visited NYC and told me to go up this building which was pretty well matched in height, so I could have the Empire State within my view of the city. Something I would not have considered but probably thought of later. Best advice ever.

Sit in Central Park
This was easily my favourite place in New York. The atmosphere just completely changed, like you were stepping through a portal to another world. Gone was the hustle and the bustle and the cars and the millions of people. Hello calm tranquillity. It's like an oasis in the desert and a much needed break if you have become a little exhausted by the city.

Like everything else the place was huge. And was just stunning. I got lost in here many times but I didn't mind. I found the Alice in Wonderland sculpture which I was faintly proud of, but I was unable to locate the zoo (don't even ask me how - surely the zoo is pretty big). I also found the Literary Walk and Shakespeare's garden so I was feeling suitably inspired by various literary greats. Belvedere Castle gave me a good viewpoint of the park, and I got lost in the woody bit, otherwise known as The Ramble, which wasn't very imaginative of whoever named it. I think they did it on purpose so if you did enter The Ramble, there was no way you were going to get out alive.

My favourite bit though had to be Bethesda Terrace. Even if you haven't been to Central Park, you should recognise this, because it is used in countless films including Friends with Benefits (which is my go-to sick day film). I spent a long time here, listening to the various buskers and gazing out over the lake. Clearly I looked lonely because loads of people came up to me, and they were even more eager to chat when they heard my accent. And considering the rest of the city was relatively unfriendly, it was quite a welcome surprise. If you don't do anything else in New York, I strongly urge you to visit this park. It's one of the prettiest I have visited.

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Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Boston - April 2015

Take one girl. Stuff her full of American TV Shows and Films. Watch as she becomes obsessed with America. Allow a decade to pass. Give her the ideal opportunity to visit America. Observe as she almost dies with excitement.
This is me. As if you haven't guessed already. Although actually I think this could describe quite a large number of my friends.

America is always portrayed to us British as very much like us but bigger and better and with a cooler accent. Add to that, the number of American TV shows that we get over here - New Girl, Friends, The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, 90210, Gilmore Girls, Gossip Girl...I will stop there or this post will just be a list of American television. And don't even get me started on the films. American culture is fast becoming intermingled with our own. Which makes America seem tantalisingly close yet just beyond our reach. We know the culture well, yet we haven't seen it in the flesh. Do you know how ridiculously frustrating that is???

Anyway, at the beginning of this month I was finally able to visit my own personal Mecca. And when I say I nearly died of excitement, I am not exaggerating. I was a nightmare for weeks, it was all I could talk about. And as I was flying out to visit my American friend Laney, who is ridiculously clever and doing a Masters in Boston, I had no one to share my excitement with, in the lead up. Therefore I just kind of spewed America thoughts and facts and worries and excitement at anyone in my vicinity. I am so sorry, my UK friends (particularly my housemates) I know I was a nightmare. And I love you all for putting up with me.

Then again, if I didn't die from excitement, there was a faint possibility I would die from worry. This was the first time I was flying alone. And I realise that, aged 22, this is faintly pathetic but I am sorry if I have a lot of friends who want to travel with me. I am not a great flyer at the best of times. I am fine when I get up there but leading up to it I am so worried about everything. Whether I have got everything, whether I am going to arrive on time, whether I am going to be arrested at security, whether I am going to find the gate, whether they will make an announcement when I am peeing that the plane is actually going to leave an hour earlier than originally planned. Always a possibility. So I turned up three hours early, and, of course, got through bag drop and security ridiculously quickly. Within about half an hour I would say. Which meant I had a long time to kill.

A very long time it turns out as my plane ended up being delayed by three hours. I have never ever been on a delayed flight before. But I have to rack up that particular first when I am alone. When we'd eventually sat down on the plane, they admitted to us that the reason for the delay was due to a technical fault. Really? That's what you are going to tell 200 people shortly before you take them thousands of feet up in the air? You couldn't think of anything else to make up? But luckily we did get there safe and sound and I stepped out for the first time on to American soil.

Ahhhhhh is what I thought - I had made it across the pond. Oddly enough I felt faintly proud of myself even though it wasn't me that had got me there.

What followed were two weeks of thorough exploration. I really thought that was ample time to fully get to know the city. Because honestly it isn't that big. And I instantly felt very at home in it.

In some ways it IS very like England. Boston Garden/Common reminded me very strongly of Hyde Park while Quincy Market was very similar to Covent Garden. And these were my two favourite places in Boston so I think I am very much a home girl.

Saying that it does have its own charm, that's completely different to anything you would find in England. And there is absolutely tonnes of history. History I knew nothing about which is just ridiculous considering it is as much our history as theirs. Boston was such an important seat for the American revolution and on my wanderings I found the grave of Samuel Adams (who signed the declaration of Independence, essentially making America a country in it's own right) and I visited the house of Paul Revere and saw the USS constitution. None of these words would necessarily mean anything to you, but they are all important points in America's history where they broke away from the English and gained their independence.

There was a walk around the town called the Freedom Trail which was just a red brick line working it's way through the entirety of Boston (and dipping into Charlestown, across the river) linking all the important landmarks that were part of the American Revolution. In an effort to learn more about this fascinating history, I walked the entire thing in one day. Let me tell you that was a mistake. It's around 3 miles long. But I did learn a lot more about the revolution. And what I notice is just how much historical Boston, is still part of today's Boston. They are not only proud of their history, but modern Boston, grew up around these important monuments. Fanueil Hall is still being used as a concert location, education centre and it includes shops. And I just love how you can be walking along, surrounded by skyscrapers and then you blink and there is a little historical building that is hundreds of years old. Such a good representation of what America is.

I did a LOT of walking when I was there. And what I enjoyed was - it was homely enough that I was able to do this. It was small enough that I could walk everywhere without it being a problem. I overestimated my walking abilities occasionally though. One of these points was when I decided to walk to Harvard, which was in the neighbouring town of Cambridge across the river. About three miles away. Why did I think that was a good idea? It was a lovely walk down the river though. But what surprised me is just how many universities are in Boston. I walked past four to get to Harvard - Simmons College, Emmerson College, Boston University and then another of Harvard's campuses. On top of that there was the University of Massachussetts on the other side of town, MIT, Northeastern University and the Berklee School of Music all within easy walking distance. That's 8!! In one town. When in England we normally have 2. That's crazy.

Harvard was absolutely beautiful, as I expected. I loved exploring the university and seeing just how different it was to the UK universities. It was so picturesque but actually a lot smaller than I thought it would be. The campus universities within the UK are kind of like mini towns in themselves with shops and cafes and bars being as much a part of the uni as the academic buildings. But Harvard was very much a place of learning with only the academic buildings. Obviously there wouldn't be a bar on campus as that would encourage underage drinking but they didn't have a café or anything. I found it very odd.

It turned out to be a very educational trip because I spent a huge amount of time in the Museum of Fine Arts too. I realise art is not everyone's thing but I love it. And there was a ridiculously huge range in here. I actually went there on two separate occasions because I had missed a whole wing which included several galleries that I really wanted to see. But that's how big it was. I got ridiculously lost more than once, and finding certain galleries and exhibitions was proving pretty impossible. A real test of my intelligence. I saw some wonderful art though including some beautiful American impressionism which really gave me an idea of what American life was like. And there was some Monet and some Pollock and some Renoir, all of whom I love. And finally some really exciting modern pieces. Even some die hard art fans don't always like modern art. Like anything, there are good and bad bits to it. But I just love the way it is such a direct comment on the modern society in which we live and it really makes me think.

Obviously one of the best things about visiting Boston was hanging out with Laney and I send out so much love to her for putting up with me for two weeks. I first met her a few years ago when she joined my uni on a study abroad programme. We have kept in touch since she has been back in the US but I hadn't seen her in person for almost two years.

And it was a joy to spend some proper time with her, discussing books and visiting book shops - she took me to Braddle which is the BEST second hand book shop I have ever been to. Seriously it's amazing. She showed me around the bars in Boston, and I loved the sports bars, where I could watch live baseball for the first time. I had a proper American style burger and fries which was AMAZING, I tried their incredible lobster rolls in Quincy Market, I had a very unhealthy yet very American breakfast of pancakes and we had takeaways of greek food which isn't common in the UK (she laughed at me a lot for pronouncing gyro wrong and to be honest, I still can't say it. I don't even know if I am spelling it right). And finally we visited The Cheesecake factory - which is genuinely one of the best restaurants I have ever been to. Cheesecake was one of my favourite desserts and this was just so BEAUTIFUL.

This trip was perfect. I was feeling incredibly restless as I hadn't been out of the UK in around 6 months. So it was good to breathe some different air and experience a place which was brand new. I could barely believe I was actually in a different continent. And my first real taste of America has proved to be totally addictive - I loved every second. When can I take a second bite?

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Wednesday, 22 April 2015

America vs England

If you follow my twitter, you will have noticed that for the past couple of weeks I have been away on my very first trip to the United States. SO EXCITING. I have been obsessed with the US for a long long time (I watch far too many American films and TV series) so to finally have an opportunity to visit this wonderful country is amazing.

But obviously with it being my first time, it has all been quite overwhelming. And the differences between England and America have been more common than I thought they would be. So before I start writing about my adventures in Boston and New York, I decided I would go through these differences a bit, and talk about the things which I found surprisingly strange when I was over there.

Crossing the road is dangerous
I genuinely thought I was going to die. In England it is simple. Traffic is going by - you are told to wait. Traffic stops - you cross. In America it is not quite the same. You might be told that it is ok to cross, but this is not a guarantee of your safety. There is a possibility you might still get mown down from a car which is turning. Best to be wary at all times.

They drive on the wrong side of the road
And they sit in the wrong side of the car. It took me a little while to get used to this. And even after two weeks of being there, I still jumped a little when I saw a dog or a child in the passenger seat as I thought they were driving the car.

Parks that aren't really parks
There are some beautiful parks in both New York and Boston. Boston Common being one and Central Park being the other. However, spread between both cities there are also a lot of mini parks. Yet these aren't actually parks at all. They tend to be little concrete squares, occasionally adorned with a tree or some flowers that most definitely do not live up to our standard of lush green parks.

'Cheap' theatre tickets
Let me get one thing quite clear. Nothing about Broadway is cheap. And even when it says that you get 50% off, you are still going to be paying around $80. WHAT? I am a huge theatre fan but REALLY?

Corn bread lies
This is neither corn nor bread. It's actually kind of cake-like. Yet you eat it with chilli. I am very confused right now.

Price boards also lie
When you walk into a café or restaurant or pub, do not trust the advertised price. It might seem cheap but at the till you have to pay a price which is completely different. And then you have to pay a tip as well. Not cheap at all.

Universities are on lockdown
Universities here are normally all quite open, especially if they are campus universities. But I went to visit Harvard which is just outside Boston and my god that uni is like an FBI centre. You have to have student ID to get anywhere.

You don't have to enter pins
The chip and pin machine is not very common in America. Mostly they just swipe their card and are done with it. So weird.

Are they even speaking English?
I can understand what these Americans are saying. And yet, at the same time, I can't. Why do they find it necessary to change every single word in the language?

No signs anywhere
I don't think they like tourists very much - because there are no signs at all. And I mean NOWHERE. In London we are so helpful: outside every tube station there is a map of the surrounding area with the landmarks made clear. The tube system is clearly signposted and announced and there are paper copies of it if you are stuck. There is none of this assistance in America, particularly New York. It's like they enjoy torturing foreigners and laugh at their bewildered faces.

Toilets that flush when you're not ready
I came to hate the toilets. Most have automatic flushes, which when you stand up (or sometimes just whenever they feel like it) beginning their flushing process. It makes going to the loo so much less relaxing as you don't quite know when you are going to be evicted from your cubical.

So there's a few things to bear in mind if you are travelling to America any time soon. If you want to see what I got up to, then check out the #BritInBoston tag on Twitter. Or you can look out for articles on here which I will uploading in the next few days/weeks.

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Monday, 6 April 2015

Packing tips

After 7 years of boarding school and 4 years of university, you would have thought that I would be at least ok at packing by now. If not a semi professional. But you would be wrong. It still stresses me out, I still panic and it still takes me forever.

So I thought I would give you some tips to help you out. Follow these and you will become the packing Queen (or King).

Crank up those tunes
It will make the packing process far more fun and inspire you to keep going and never give up and get the job done. All the greats sing about packing obviously.

Make a list (or three)
I love lists. Make many. Categorise it into clothes, electricals, DO NOT FORGETS, and documents and you won't go wrong.

Look around your room
Just a brief sweep around your room once you are done, will occasionally allow you to spot things you had previously forgotten or moved from their usual home.

Think through your day
Going through the process of your average day can help a lot more than you think. What do I do first? I wake up - pajamas check. Then I brush my teeth - toothbrush and toothpaste check. Etc etc.

Lay everything out
It becomes much easier when you can see everything. So put everything on your bed before you tuck it away into your suitcase. Then you will be able to notice immediately whether you miss something.

Get your friends involved
Just having them sitting there and chatting to you while you do it, is helpful. Firstly, it will ensure you actually do it and don't procrastinate. Secondly, they are a second pair of eyes so will keep an eye on whatever you are doing, be on hand to give opinions and probably be able to spot things that you have missed.

Don't leave it until the last minute
Last minute packing is stressful. Trust me - I once did it horrendously hungover at 6am and it was not pretty. Learn from my mistakes. Do it the night before at the absolute latest and then you can relax and just become excited about the fact you are going on holiday =]

And the golden rule - Overpacking is better than underpacking. It is far far better to have too much than too little so if you are unsure, just bung it in anyway. So long as you don't go over your weight allowance, it won't do any harm. And you know that if you don't take that particular dress, it is the exact item you will be desperate to wear when you are abroad.

As you might have guessed, I am writing this particular post because I am going on holiday hooorayyyyy. To Boston to be precise. And I am so excited, I might just die before I get on the plane. I have been planning to fly out to see my friend for about a year now and I have been obsessing about America for roughly 10 years. So I literally can't wait. It does mean I am going to be off the air for a couple of weeks. But I will update you all when I get back on the 19th April. And if you want to follow my adventures, as they are happening, I will be updating Twitter using the Hashtag #BritInBoston and I will probably put a few pics on Instagram too so make sure you follow me on both of those websites.

Ciao for now

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