Travel: Washington airport has comfy floors

On Wednesday 21 August we upped and left the lovely hostel in New York and headed for the Greyhound. I was slightly anxious to discover what awaited me on the coach as I had heard all sorts of horror stories about it beforehand. A friend from camp sent me a message about his experience of the Megabus and I could only imagine a similar thing was about to occur.

In the words of Carlo Dorresteijn, “Megabus is like a weird sort of museum. Wifi comes from a router that appears to be powered by an old, obese, deeply depressed hamster spinning on a rusty wheel with a dynamo ripped from a bike attached to it. A bus driver who keeps chatting through the crackling speakers about the traffic situation still being the way it was five minutes ago in a language I can only guess is supposed to be English. A gay couple heavily making out in the seats behind me [one the size of Peter Kay and the other the size of Dec from the comedy duo, Ant and Dec.] Bus Driver update: Ladies going to the bathroom should not try and crouch over the toilet to avoid touching the seat with their ‘fragile bits’. I went to the toilet, sat down, closed the door, which slammed into my knees a good inch before closing.”

All very delightful tales so you can see why I was a little hesitant about stepping onto the coach. To my surprise the whole journey was a breeze. There was no weird bus driver warning the ladies on board to not crouch over the toilet, no crackling radio and the wifi seemed fast and quiet. I was slightly disappointed that I couldn’t locate the sound of a dumpy, brown hamster roaming around a rusty wheel. My Greyhound coach story was therefore very uneventful and I ended up playing word association via Whatsapp messaging with my two traveling companions.

Arriving in Washington, DC, I expected it to be a little less humid but unfortunately I was wrong. As soon as you stepped off the air-conditioned coach you were engulfed by this overwhelming humidity. We made our way into Union Station and happily sat eating lunch back in the safety net of air-conditioning. We then took a quick tube to meet Kerry to drop of our bags as she was letting us stay at her house for the night. After briefly saying hello we hopped back on the tube towards the centre because we wanted to go and see the White House.

The White House was very much what the name says it is…white. The grass was also very green and the big black gates that surround the place towered above me.

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It didn’t take long to discover that walking was an issue in the current weather conditions. You took one step but it felt like 50 and Siobhan’s mosquito bites (which had swelled to the size of a mango on her leg) were starting to get to her. Luckily we bumped into Carlo who was leisurely riding around on rentable red bikes. It is these bright ideas of his that gives him the nickname Mr Fantastic.

We soon found ourselves our own red bikes and were gleefully able to cycle around Washington Mall with Carlo as our tour guide. That day we saw the Lincoln Memorial. It was very grand.

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By this time it was around six in the evening so Carlo suggested we head to China town for some dinner. He took us to a Thai restaurant and we enjoyed our first proper meal in DC. (Oh, I forgot to mention, Carlo isn’t actually from DC…he just new a lot about it.)

Tired from the days cycling and traveling we decided to head back to Kerry’s house to relax in preparation for the following day. I don’t really know why I was surprised at the size of her university living space because after living in America for three months, things like this shouldn’t shock me. American’s do not do anything on a small scale. The food portions are huge, the luggage they bring to camp is monstrous and the bagels are gigantic. Why would I ever think that university accommodation would be small, like it is in the UK?

The next day we were out on our personal Carlo tour by lunchtime. As I sat cycling on the red bike I was so grateful of there existence. The breeze that you got from a bit of a downhill made my hair blow and it was heavenly on the back of my neck.

On that day we cycled along the reflection pool, watched a march at the WWII memorial, made a quick stop at the air and space museum, had a tour around the Roosevelt memorial (which was seven acres), stood next to the giant piece of rock that was carved into Martin Luther King, visited the Thomas Jefferson memorial and looked at the Vietnam Veterans memorial. All in a days cycling.

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Whilst in Washington, I always felt as though I was being followed by the Washington memorial. It seemed to spring up wherever I went. If you don’t have long to explore the place at least you will be able to say that you saw the tall pointed thing – it is everywhere.

For dinner we went to a place called Vapiano, an Italian in Chinatown (what are the odds?). I shared a pizza with Siobhan and we both thoroughly enjoyed it.

On our way to the subway, we stopped and listened to a street band play. They were all so energetic and it sounded great. As entertaining as the band were the real entertainment came from a young man in a very bright pink shirt. His facial expressions and dance moves were killing me, I couldn’t stop laughing. I really wish he was my friend!

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That evening we collected our stuff from Kerry’s, said goodbye to Carlo and thanked him for giving us a guided tour and headed to the airport to spend the night. Sleeping in an airport is very uncomfortable and mundane. The quiet music helped drift me off to sleep but the hard floor made sure it wasn’t a good one. Luckily I slept the whole way on the plane journey to LA.

My favourite thing about Washington was definitely the little red bikes, what was yours?

 

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Travel: American street fighting, cool chairs, markets, beer gardens and fast rides!

Last Wednesday was a quiet day at camp as half of Teenside went on a trip. I therefore took pictures and worked on the calendar.

Thursday consisted of similar activities as did Friday. On Friday evening I left camp with Ashley and headed to her house in Long Island. We ate McDonalds in the car on the way home before arriving at her house at around 9pm.

I immediately planted myself in her bed and found it very difficult to move from that spot. Later on in the evening one of Ashley’s closest friends came over with a friend of his (Chris and Mac, like Mac and Cheese – I found that funny!). Chris was what I can only describe as your stereotypical frat boy. They both said ‘YO’ after pretty much every sentence and I began to find it funny.

They both seemed very friendly! A while later one of them mentioned pizza and my ears pricked up…I could definitely move for some pizza, so we all ended up piling into Chris’ snazzy car.

Ashley drove and as usual she did something crazy like not stopping at a stop sign. We can laugh about it now as we survived but I am pretty sure it is a serious thing to skip a stop sign.

As we arrived at our pizza destination we went to find a parking spot but was rudely interpreted by a mass fighting session. Very large, what I assume were American men, just starting flailing their fists at each other in an attempt to severely harm one another. Sat in the safety of the car, mouth slightly ajar, I began to laugh at how ridiculous the whole thing was. Shimmying forward slightly we were able to make it past the fighting gang in order to park.

As we walked down the street people were trying to break up the fight to our right whilst a man on our left sat on a wall reading a book with the strangest smile on his face. I mean, who on earth sits on a wall, at gone midnight, casually reading a book whilst a fight occurs on the opposite side of the street?! I couldn’t quite grasp the events that occurred and I still look back with utter wonderment at who the book reading, smiling man was. I sort of think you have to have seen the man to realise how strange the whole situation was. This man was surely from another planet or something!!!!

We then proceeded to walk past a huge log that had been fitted with chair backs – it was a log chair! I was amazed.

We crossed the road and I began to excitedly walk to the pizza shop until I was interrupted, yet again, by another outburst from the big bald American fighters. One man went a little far by grabbing a small blonde and forcing her to cross the road. The poor girl started screaming and tried to put a stop to him picking her up by putting her feet on the floor. The strength of him and the size of her plus her very high heels just did not help matters and she ended up being dropped on her bum in the middle of the road, for all to see.

Sadly it all died down pretty much after the girl got up, swore and walked away.

The pizza shop mission continued and I was very happy to taste the goodness that is Little V’s margarita pizza. I am sad I will never get to eat another slice!

Once we had all finished we headed back to the car and I have to say that I was a little excited to see the log chair and smiling book man again.

This time I actually got to test out the chair and was surprised to find out that is wasn’t that comfy. I should have known.

Up the road I could see that one of the ‘professional’ fighters was wobbling around on the pavement. With nervous footsteps I proceeded to walk past him only to be stopped by him stroking my face and bopping my nose.

After the nights events I wasn’t surprised that he did that. I calming and cooly shrugged it off and got in the car.

The next day we traveled 2 hours to the New Jersey, 6 flags theme park. What a day! I still, to this day, do not know how the three of them managed to get me on the rides. I am not a roller coaster person. They are just so fast and I definitely could not breath whilst I was whizzed aimlessly around. Some even went upside down! I found closing my eyes and yelling at Ashley the whole way round was the best way to get through it.

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The day was a lot of fun yet extremely tiring. We didn’t end up getting back to Ashley’s until 12pm and we were up at 5am to travel back to camp ready for visiting day.

Sunday was a long day and I don’t think I have ever been as tired. I was so tired I nearly started crying whilst I stood taking pictures of all the kids embracing their parents in humongous hugs. I miss the famalam! Sucking it up I continued to wonder round the tents taking pictures of all the families that had descended on our camp.

After lunch I was required to stand and direct cars out of camp. It is amazing how difficult that job was, simply because no one listened or looked at my very clear arm directions. Then the rain came and I was all lovely and soaked by the end of the day, in need of a hot shower and a comfy bed.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday consisted of usual camp activities. I photographed the campers and edited the calendar.

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During the week all the Israeli staff worked hard to put together a whole day of activities for the campers. In the morning everyone gathered in the Eddie Canter theatre and watched them perform a little skit. I found it hilarious as the majority of it consisted of them taking the mic out of all the American and English staff. I love the Israelis!

I proceeded to take photographs all day and in the evening the Isreali Friendship Caravan people came to perform. They danced and sang and one even managed to pull me onto the stage to dance with him. It was very awkward because of my awful dancing abilities!

On Friday, I took pictures and completed creating the calendar. It has been a mammoth task as lots of photographs needed to be crammed onto 12 pages. I am however pleased with the result.

Sadly, Friday evening was Kerry’s last night at camp so we all headed to the diner for a fair well meal. As shocking as it may seem, I did not have the French onion soup this time, instead I opted for BBQ ribs. Slightly disappointingly they weren’t as good as Frankie and Benny’s ribs but they were a lot better than anything camp could have fed me.

It was a lovely meal and at the end we got someone to take a group picture…the Super Saturday Specialist Squad :).

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The following day my alarm went off at 6.30am and I sleepily switched it off and fell back to sleep. I was completely oblivious to what the noise actually meant and it was only after my alarm went off again at 6.40am that I realised I was supposed to get out of bed. It was painful but I new a day in the city would justify the early wake up call.

This weekend the camp driver happened to be traveling into the city so we (Casey, Dan and I) were able to catch a free ride in. Typical of John, he slept through his alarms and missed both the bus and train ride. ‘He so stoopid!’

The bus drive was pretty silent due to the early hour but when we made it closer everyone peered out the window and got a glimpse of the Bronx and Harlem.

Dan and I decided we wanted to go to the photography museum in Times Square so we separated from Casey and caught the subway. Whilst we waited to board the cart a woman got off the train with a bag containing a little dog – I found it amusing.

The photography museum was amazing. I was able to see a lot of new photographers work that I hadn’t seen before. One of my favourite installations was a collaboration between photographers Michael Subotzky and
Patrick Waterhouse. The piece was a photographic investigation into the lives of people living in the iconic 54 story Ponte City residential tower in Johannesburg. The photographers had gone into everyone’s flat in the 54 story building and taken a photograph of their television screen, the residents within their homes and their doors. Each project was displayed within a tall light box which complimented the images due to the many silhouetted figures that were featured in the Windows, Ponte City, 2009 piece. It also worked well with the Televisions, Ponte City, 2008 piece because it made the images feel more like mini television screens. The Doors, Ponte City, 2009 piece didn’t necessarily need the light box but as a set it worked well.

Another great piece was by a man named Sohei Nishino, in fact it was more than great. He produces huge diorama maps of his exploration of different cities using a 35mm film camera, yes FILM! He shoots up to 10,000 pictures during his month long journey on foot throughout entire cities. It was absolutely amazing and I aspire to one day produce something as spectacular as that.

Diorama map, New York, February – July 2006

Diorama map, Jerusalem, September 2012 – January 2013

There were many other photographers work that I found interesting and I plan on creating various blog posts about each one when I return from my travels.

After leaving the museum, I headed round the corner towards the New York Library to meet Casey as Dan headed to meet his friends. On my way I bought a ham and cheese baguette from Pret A Manger to eat on the steps whilst I waited for her.

I felt honored to be walking round such a well known building. I can totally understand why everyone makes such a big fuss about the place and I did find it funny how there were more tourists wondering around the place than people actually sitting and reading the books.

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On leaving the library, Casey got a text from John letting us know that he was on the train into the city. We then decided that we had best get an hour or so shopping in before he came to meet us. We went into Zara and I was very good because I didn’t buy a thing. We then walked along the street and popped into a few shops along the way before reaching a huge Forever 21 clothes shop. It was like Topshop in London, ridiculously big with too many people in it. When I was in the changing room I overheard someone say they had been in the place for 2 hours. Again, I was good because I put all the clothes I had collected back on the rails before I left the shop.

John then met us outside the Hard Rock Cafe and Casey decided she wanted to shop on her own so we split up. John and I both wanted to buy some Havaianas and John wanted to walk along the High Line so I followed him. He seemed to aimlessly wonder around the city with a lack of care for whether he was going in the right direction. I sort of just went along with it because I new how much he liked to explore – TEVA! It turned out to be a good thing because we found lots of ‘snazzy’ things along the way and did actually end up at the High Line eventually. I couldn’t quite tell you where exactly we walked but we found a little market that sold lots of old things, including cameras. I was happy to explore the market and true to form I touched all the bits and bobs, stroked the fur coats and tried on all the different rings. If my Dad was there he would have been copying my actions with a bemused facial expression and comments such as ‘why do women always touch the clothes?’

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The High Line was lovely to walk along and I would recommend every tourist visiting New York. As we were walking we found a ‘hip and happening’ bar called Gastro Market that sold their drinks in jam jars. I was very excited by this so we bought a couple of drinks and sat out in the beer garden. We were both fascinated by the rocking metal chairs and I found it very difficult to get back up once I had sat down. The garden had hanging lanterns above your head which I imagine look lovely at nighttime. If I had the money, I would definitely go back there to eat. Lacking in the funds we sadly left the rocking chairs behind and continued our journey along the High Line.

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It was fascinating seeing the old rail tracks amongst newly planted trees and the views across the Hudson river were just great. Half way along John found a friend with matching hair and the guy asked to have a photo with him. We also saw a bride and groom and the rest of the wedding party having photographs. I was very pleased that John had suggested we walk along it!

As we neared the end of the strip, finally getting closer to the Havaianas shop, we heard and then saw a bar that looked lively and fun so we promised to return there once we had bought our shoes. When we entered the Havaianas shop I immediately saw the flip flops I wanted. I hunted through the sizes, trying a lot of them on to actually figure out what American size I was. Meanwhile John was not having as much luck. The mens section of the shop consisted of a small stand in the corner. They did not have the ones he wanted and he was very upset. When I bought mine, I immediately relished in the delights of no longer having paper thin flip flops. I did feel quite bad when I saw John’s sad and envious face…but what can you do?!

I finally found out that I was in Chelsea and just like the London version, it was expensive and fancy.

We then walked alongside the rivers edge and found the lively bar that we passed on the High Line; the Brass Monkey. It was very busy out in the beer garden but we managed to find a seat at the end of someone else’s table. By this time it was around 7pm and my stomach was definitely in need of some food. I was extremely happy to see that the food wasn’t all burger and pizza. I ordered fish and chips and John wanted bangers and mash and we both agreed to share them both. When it came I was in food heaven. The chips had a spicy tang to them and the bangers and mash was very flavorsome. I would definitely go back and eat there again. The atmosphere was great, they sold interestingly named beers on tap so John was happy and you could watch the sunset over the river; lovely.

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After eating we headed back in the direction of Times Square, by this time my feet were in agony and I do not know how I managed to make it back.

On Sunday evening camp put on a staff banquette and we all dressed up to attend. I still can’t believe I wore a dress and heels whilst at camp when usually I am in dirty clothes and flip flops. I danced, laughed, posed for pictures and ate some tasty veggie kebabs. A great way to end an enjoyable week.

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p.s. Check out how long my hair is…when did that happen?

Travel: Cold feet, hundreds of bodies and a place at camp…

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The summer of a life time is slowly creeping up on me.

A few months ago I attended the London, Camp America Recruitment fair in the hope to be placed at a camp I had chosen. A few days prier to the event I searched through all the camps that were attending online to see which ones appealed to me the most. With my heart set on Camp Westmount I got on the train to Reading to meet my friend, Siobhan, who was also hoping to get placed.

The alarm was set for 7am and when it went off on the morning of the big day I couldn’t believe I had even had an hours sleep let alone 8. Begrudgingly I rolled out of bed and got dressed, wrapped cold pizza in tinfoil and left the house. The cold, winters walk to the station woke us both up and we boarded the 9am train to London Paddington.

Arriving in London to be greeted by the hustle and bustle of early morning travellers we headed for the underground to join the monotonous clan. Luckily once we took to the surface the sun was poking its head between clouds but this did not deter the cold effecting us.

As we approached the building, that was playing host to the Camp America fair, queues were already forming. At this point it was 10am and there must have already been 200 young adults chatting and shivering in line. Donning a green #iamCA sticker we joined the back of the line and was handed a large booklet filled with information.

With frozen fingers I sifted through the booklet and circled, for the second time, the camps that looked most appealing. In discussion with Siobhan we each changed our minds on wanting to go to Camp Westmount. Siobhan liked the idea of spending her summer in California whilst I liked the sound of Surprise Lake Camp (SLC). The destination of the camp wasn’t my priority because I new, if I got placed, then I would travel America afterwards. It just so happened that the camp I found most tempting was in New York. What drew me towards SLC was the short right up that described what they were all about. The paragraph sounded friendly and fun which is what won it over for me.

It must have taken us a good hour and a half to come to our final decision about the top 5 camps we would look to get placed at. We both figured that we had best decide on a few favourites because the likely hood you will get placed at any is ambiguous. Once we had sorted this out it was a matter of waiting for the doors to open at 12am.

Without anything to occupy us the impending feeling of frozen toes and red noses came to the forefront of our minds. I don’t think my toes have ever been as cold as they were that morning. In the end I walked down the street to get a cup of tea and as much as I love tea, I didn’t want to drink it because it was keeping my hands warm.

At 12am the que surged forward and the nervous really started to kick in. As we slowly crawled further towards the entrance I realised how hard it was to walk. The frozen toes were truly getting to me and getting a place was ever more paramount.

After what felt like an eternity we finally entered the realm of warmth. We were ushered up a flight of stairs and motioned to sit on chairs facing a big screen. The man spoke and I half listened and half revelled in the fact I could feel my body defrosting. After watching a short video we were left to fight to the deaths to try and get placed at a camp.

I spotted the SLC stall as I was walking down the stairs towards the main room that held all the other stalls. Once I reached the bottom I wished Siobhan good luck and headed towards slot 61 where SLC was based. I smiled at the camp representative and asked if I could collect some leaflets. Reading through them clarified for me that this was the camp I wanted to spend my summer at.

Avri, the camp representative introduced himself to me and I returned the pleasantries. He carried on talking to another girl and it looked like the interview was going well for her. This made me more determined to try and have mine go the same way. After he had finished he invited me to sit on the hot seat and he began asking me interview style questions. I answered them with honesty and enthusiasm. I tried to demonstrate parts of my personality as I was advised on the introduction video. After answering all the questions my heart quickened as I watched Avri write down a few notes. He then turned to me with a smile and said he would like to offer me a place. With a sigh of relief and a shake of his hand I already felt like part of the team.

What I felt was so lovely about Avri himself was that he didn’t sit behind the table like every other camp representative did. He sat opposite me whilst he asked me the questions making me feel more at ease. The fact that he chose to sit on the same side as the people he was interviewing says to me that he is presenting himself as an equal.  After speaking to him for more than a minute I felt comfortable in his presence.

Once the forms were signed and I had bid Avri farewell, I made my way towards the que to have my photograph taken and to pay my deposit. Standing in the line I nervously rang Siobhan to ask if she had also been placed. Luckily she had so we both were able to leave with smiles on our face.

The entire day consisted of lots of queing and many excited people drifting from stall to stall. It was definitely an experience I wouldn’t want to relive in a hurry but it was all worth the nearly frost bitten toes and cold pizza for lunch. I am one step closer to being able to wake up in New York City.