Author Archives: OllieBriggs

25.09.22 — Travel

New York with Megan

After saying our goodbyes and leaving the beautiful state of Vermont, Megan and I were then on a plane and on our way to our next destination: New York City! We arrived at JFK, waited an age for our bags, and eventually headed for the metro to take us into the centre of the Big Apple. On there, we observed some of NYC’s famed characters: it really is a melting pot for all sorts of people.

I was then surprised to be greeted by greenery as we climbed the steps out of the metro station that was nearest to the hotel we were staying. I knew that we were getting off at Columbus Circle on the corner of Central Park, but being greeted by trees instead of skyscrapers felt rather odd for New York. We then turned to face the classic sight of huge glass buildings and headed into the grid of streets to search for our hotel.

Our room was lovely, with views over the Lincoln Centre and the square in front of it, formed by the intersection of Broadway with Columbus Avenue. Now in the city, I began to wonder how I’d feel about being back, after my last visit nearly eight years ago left me admittedly nonplussed.

Once unpacked, we left the hotel in earnest as we were dying for something to eat and I’d decided that I really wanted to visit Katz’s Deli, a spot in the south of Manhattan which is famous for it’s huge pastrami sandwiches. I’d had one of these New York staples at some other random place last time I was in the city but I’d found it a bit lacklustre, so I was determined to try the real deal.

We arrived tired and very hungry, but we got chatting to some of the locals who said they came quite often and told us what we should order for the proper Katz’s experience. Once we’d then figured out how the ordering system worked, we got chatting to the server who let us try some of the famed pastrami. It was absolutely delicious and melt-in-the-mouth, so I proceeded to order the reuben sandwich as advised while Megan went to grab some chips and beer.

The sandwich was then as delicious as it was huge – and thank goodness that it was a decent size seeing as it had cost us $26! We didn’t really touch the chips as just half the sandwich each was more than enough to see us through until the evening. The craft beer was surprisingly good and the atmosphere in this New York institution was abuzz with people from all walks of live convening to chow down on Katz’s rye creations.

Reinvigorated, we then wandered towards the Brooklyn Bridge where we’d decided to watch the sunset. The walk took us past some very cool sights, lovely street art, and through some of New York’s iconic neighbourhoods such as Chinatown and Little Italy.

The streets of these neighbourhoods were buzzing with activity, from restaurant terraces to ambulant traders selling and moving their goods around. The sun was already low in the sky and golden hour was in full swing, so the walk over to the bridge was made all the more beautiful.

We arrived at the Brooklyn Bridge rather tired, but we headed out over the span regardless to take plenty of photos and enjoy the evening colours as the sun set over Manhattan. The weather made a decent change from the last time I was in New York and headed over the Brooklyn Bridge with the girls from my degree – that time we got stuck in a blizzard!

It was lovely to see the bridge at this time of day.

Upon arriving at the halfway point over the bridge, we decided that we’d go no further as our feet were killing us. We took refuge on a free bench to chat and watch the sky change colours over the Manhattan Bridge just across the way. The peace didn’t last long though, as a group of school kids descended on our spot and leant over the railing shouting “honk your horn” to the passing cars. It was quite funny, but we eventually grew weary of them and headed back on to Manhattan and the metro.

It was also great to be up there without being stuck in a blizzard…

Our next stop was Washington Square Park, a little park that was packed full of all sorts of characters, including a guy sat across from us who had some chill music playing. A police officer then came over and told him to turn it off, which made us as well as him quite cross as we were enjoying the relaxing vibes. We got chatting to the guy and agreed that there were more scandalous issues than some quite music to be dealt with in the park…

We then headed a few streets down and to the Comedy Cellar, where Megan wanted to grab tickets to see a comedy show. The standby line was huge, so we got chatting to a girl who was flying for the “Grisly Pear” just a block away. We decided to head there and have a drink as we were wilting quite badly after a busy afternoon.

The fun cocktails soon had us revived and in the mood for some comedy, so we bought tickets to the stand up show. I’d no idea what to expect as I’d never been to a stand up gig like this and I’d learned that American humour can be a bit odd, but I was excited as we headed into the little back room and the show began.

The show was absolutely hilarious, even if there were very few people in the audience. I couldn’t believe the number and variety of acts that got up on stage, which ranged from some great pieces to some that absolutely bombed. Those who were funny were hilarious, and it was then an interesting experience to see those who didn’t do so well and how they pushed on through their set. It really was a great new experience.

Megan and I left the comedy club pretty tipsy and hyped up, upon which we stumbled across a pizza place just next door. We grabbed two huge slices and sat on the terrace to eat them and take in the buzzing atmosphere of the street. From there we wound up sneaking into a bar so that I could go to the toilet, after which we headed down to the metro to be greeted by some unwelcome companions: rats! We took some photos of them, arrived (eventually) at our destination, grabbed some sweets from a 24h pharmacy next to the hotel, and headed to bed for the night.

What a wild first day in New York City!

The next day I awoke with a somewhat heavy head, which Megan fixed straight away as she’d been out and grabbed some bagels and cream cheese. They were probably the best bagels I’ve ever had, they were delicious and chewy and the cream cheese was super rich. We then headed up to one of the hotel’s best features, a rooftop pool with views over Broadway. The pool was small but a quick dip in its cool water fixed my headache in a flash.

Heading down to Central Park, we then hired a couple of bikes and set off for the day’s first activity, a cycle around the iconic park. After they’d taken my driving license hostage as a guarantee, the two of us joined the flow of cyclists doing the same and headed for our fist stop: the reservoir.

I wasn’t too fussed about visiting a reservoir: there’s plenty of them in my hometown back in the UK. It was only after we’d tied our bikes to a lamppost and reached the water’s edge that I understood what all the fuss was about. The clear space provided by the reservoir made for some impressive views over Manhattan and the reflections over the water were the cherry on the cake.

After this stop, we carried on to the upper end of the park. A huge drop past a construction site was a lot of fun, but what goes down must come back up. This incline took place on the aptly named “Great Hill”, and it nearly killed me off. I powered on, though, and we eventually made it back to the bike hire place and grabbed some huge milkshake floats to give us the energy to power on.

From there, we grabbed the metro down to Times Square, where we’d a plan in mind. I wasn’t too bothered about visiting the busy and pickpocket-ridden square, but we were on a mission to try and bag some cheap tickets to watch a musical on Broadway. We joined the long queue which had already formed, where we were told the wait would be around 45 minutes.

It was hot and we were tired and sweaty from our bike ride, but we persevered, motivated by the possibility of getting our hands on tickets to see the musical that we’d both agreed we wanted to see: Moulin Rouge. The queue inched on slowly but surely, and before we knew it we were at the ticket booths.

The rest is history as we managed to get hold of two tickets to watch Moulin Rouge on Broadway that evening. The tickers were cheaper but not exactly cheap at $115 each, but we realised it had been well worth it as we checked where we’d be sat: two rows from the front and just off to the right! We were both amazed and emotional but also hungry, so we grabbed a sandwich from a sketchy looking deli after chatting about our luck and pumping ourselves up.

Back at the hotel, we took our sandwich up to the rooftop pool, where we enjoyed our surprisingly tasty late lunch and had another quick dip in the cool water. We’d to then head to our room and shower and prepare for our evening: time was running out!

We grabbed a taxi down to the theatre, partly because we wanted to live the experience, partly because we didn’t want to ruin our nice outfits, and partly because we were running out of time! We arrived with just enough time to grab a gin and tonic and some water before the show began, after which we headed inside to the theatre proper.

I was absolutely awestruck upon entering the space. Everything was lit up in red and punctuated with little white lights and the scenery had a depth and detail to it that I’d never seen before. After taking some photos, we found our seats and the show began.

The show was absolutely spectacular. The lighting, the music, the costumes, the acting, the singing, the pyrotechnics, the story: it was all perfect. The sets and how they moved were breathtaking. It was an assault on the senses in all the best ways.

At the intermission there was a scramble for the toilet, so I headed off to buy another gin and tonic. I decided to treat myself to my gin of choice, Hendricks, which was a big mistake: it was $34 for the bloody thing!

The second act was then even better than the first. I cried my eyes out during the emotional moments as the story drew to its conclusion and then was completely overwhelmed by the finale, which was a crazy medley of music and dancing and singing and confetti.

Once it was all over and we’d taken some more photos in the confetti-covered theatre, we headed outside into the crisp evening air and began to look for something to eat. We were still absolutely buzzing and the crowds outside the theatre waiting for the actors to leave were wild, but we powered through them and eventually grabbed some grub in a greasy spoon along the way.

I over-faced myself by ordering fried chicken with mac and cheese and pickle coleslaw: I’d clearly forgotten that portion sizes in the US are huge. Megan knew what was up and just grabbed some sides. It was very delicious, however, even if I am still doubtful about the merits of mac and cheese…

We then headed back to the hotel on foot, passing by the Lincoln Centre and a silent disco that they were holding on the square outside the entrance to this iconic location. We took a few photos but were too exhausted to join in the boogying, so headed back up to our room and straight to bed.

It had been another absolutely crazy day in the Big Apple, one in which one of my dreams of seeing a musical on Broadway had finally been realised. We weren’t doing too bad at all!

The next day began quite late as I’d slept in once again. Megan had been out and grabbed some treats from a farmer’s market that she’d stumbled upon, so we shared some carrot cake for breakfast. I wasn’t complaining!

We then went for a walk through Central Park, where we saw some of the sights that we’d missed the day before doing our bike ride. We sat for a while to enjoy the music provided by a violinist, after which we headed down to the pond which was as busy with tourists as it was with turtles who didn’t seem to mind getting very close to the onlookers.

Leaving the other end of the park, we headed to our first museum for the day: the Neue Galerie. Megan wanted to see a Gustav Klimt piece, the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, so we headed in and straight to this famous painting. I was fascinated to learn of the history of the piece, but also discovered the works of Egon Schiele, another expressionist painter who’d been mentored by Kilmt.

From the Neue Galerie we crossed the road and headed in to the behemoth of a museum that is The Met. It was as huge and overwhelming as I’d been warned about, so we decided to follow the suggested route and see some of the highlights. I was keen on catching a glimpse of the Temple of Dendur, a sister temple to the Temple of Debod here in Madrid which was also moved stone by stone from Nubia in Egypt.

It was awesome to see another of Nubia’s temples in such a cool space.

We spent a while admiring the temple, which is showcased in a striking huge room within the museum. I was torn by this approach to preserving the ancient structure when compared to the temple in Madrid. In New York it is kept in an air conditioned room and in perfect condition, whereas in Madrid it has been left open to the elements – but on the flip side, Madrid’s temple is fully accessible and open to all, whilst New York’s is kept behind acrylic screens and a paywall.

Other exhibits I enjoyed from the museum were the reja del coro (the choir wall) from the Valladolid Cathedral here in Spain, a diamond encrusted snuff box, and a Faberge bunch of flowers. We also had a good snoop around some recreations of rooms from aristocratic houses and palaces from Europe before heading outside for some lunch.

Lunch took the form of a greasy mess from a food truck just outside the entrance to the museum. As museums and New York itself are great at wearing people out, I wasn’t surprised when Megan said that she didn’t fancy going back inside and was going to head down to a shop she wanted to visit. We parted ways for the afternoon and I headed back inside the enormous museum to see what else I could see.

I began my solo visit with a look around Chroma, an interesting exhibition which sought to reveal the original bright colours of much Roman and Greek sculpture and architecture which we usually only see in plain stone and marble. I then headed off to a photography exhibition featuring the work of Bernd and Hilla Becher, after which I finally tired myself out poring over some technical drawings and headed out of the museum myself.

Even the architecture of The Met was like an exhibit in and of itself.

From there, I hopped on a bus down to the 5th Avenue Apple Store and its famous glass cube. Since my last visit, the glass stairs and lift had been replaced with steel and mirrored counterparts, and the surprisingly vast space downstairs had been completely remodelled with trees and new skylights which let in an impressive amount of natural light.

I didn’t see anything else of interest, so I grabbed another bus and carried on southwards to the next stop on my solo journey: Grand Central Terminal. Entering the famous train station, I found that I was much more moved than I thought I would by the cavernous concourse and its high ceiling.

Now pretty tired myself, I headed out of the terminal and hopped not he metro back to the hotel, upon which I discovered the source of an annoying music box rendition of “Pop Goes the Weasel” that we’d been hearing on repeat from the hotel room: an ice cream van parked just outside the Lincoln Centre.

Reunited with Megan back in the hotel room, the two of us had quite a substantial nap which left us feeling a bit groggy. I took some photos from the window of the room before the two of us headed up to the roof, where I gave my sister Ellie a ring to wish her a happy birthday. It was quite the video call: she was back at home having drinks with Johann and my parents, and I was showing them the sunset over the skyscrapers of Manhattan from our vantage point over the city. It was lovely.

It was awesome to see the sunset and watch the world go by from the top of our hotel.

From there, we showered and headed out to 9th Avenue just by the hotel to grab a drink before something to eat. We wound up sat in a lovely little Italian restaurant down a side street, where I had one of the most delicious cocktails I’ve ever tried. Animated by the lovely drinks, we ordered some food after a woman next to us at the bar recommended some dishes.

This cocktail had gin and many other excellent but alas unknown things in it.

The food was lovely and we were hugging a great time, but we decided to end the night there and head back to the hotel as we were pretty tired. On the way back we did nip into another 24h pharmacy to pick up a few more snacks, which came in handy as we watched a couple of episodes of Derry Girls in bed as we were kept awake thanks to our long nap just a few hours earlier.

It wouldn’t be New York City without a random pipe in the street emitting steam.

The next day we woke up somewhat late and neither of us rushed out of bed, as our only plan together was to go out for brunch. For this, we headed a few streets up Broadway from the hotel and to a local diner that Megan had found by doing a bit of research. We had a lovely chat over breakfast, where I was thankful to finally be served a cup of half decent coffee after a lot of dodgy brews since I’d arrived in the US.

We then headed back to the hotel and I rested for a bit whilst Megan packed her suitcase. I then accompanied her down to the local metro station as it was time for us to say our goodbyes. After three weeks together in Canada, Vermont, and now New York City, we were parting ways. Megan was now to fly back to Burlington to begin work the next day and I was to have one more day alone in the Big Apple before heading on to my next and final destination – but all of that shall be revealed in due course.

For now, I was sad to see Megan head down the stairs and on to the metro back to the airport, but I was also excited to see what I’d do with 24 hours alone in the huge city that is New York…

23.09.22 — Travel

Leaving Vermont

The day after the curious show by Bread & Puppet, me and Megan opted to have a relaxed morning at home before going out for a late breakfast around midday. Megan wanted to take me to one of her favourite local spots, an old diner that she’d picked out after I’d waxed on about wanting the whole American experience.

After shoving some quarters in the parking meter, we headed to Henry’s Diner, an ugly looking place on the outside which was then lovely and cozy on the inside. We were seated in one of their yellow booths and the pinafore-sporting waitress took our order: two “Little Henry” breakfasts with a choice of all our favourite delights.

The food was absolutely amazing and the coffee was absolutely awful – but I think that added to the charm. As Megan said, it’s not a diner breakfast without some bad coffee! I tucked into some poached eggs, home fries (deliciously spiced fried potatoes), French toast, maple syrup, and an “English muffin”, in inverted quotes because I’ve never actually seen one in England.

Back home, Megan went for a nap and I decided to jump back on the bike that I’d used just a few days before and head down to do a spot of tourist shopping. I gave Ellie a ring from the supermarket, where we laughed at the supersized versions of everything and she decided what she wanted me to buy for her to try when she comes to visit me in Madrid: some peanut butter M&Ms.

As I left the supermarket I saw that it had began to pour it down, but I hopped on the bike anyway and enjoyed the refreshing rain as I powered up the steep hill back to Megan’s place and ready for our evening’s plans of watching The Bachelorette once again.

In the end, we went over to Maureen and Terry’s for our Bachelorette evening. Maureen cooked up some delicious butter chicken and we served ourselves some generous gin and tonics whilst we watched the show in their cozy basement room. The traditional dessert break involved some tasty treats, including lime cheesecake and chocolate shortbread.

The next day we headed back into the centre of Burlington so I could finish off buying some gifts for Maureen and Terry to say thank you for them having me and ferrying me around so much to show me their beautiful state. We decided to have lunch back home as we’d to eat up all the leftovers before leaving Vermont for our next adventure – but I’ll leave that surprise for the next post.

We’d then another evening around the telly planned, this time at Malory’s. A few days prior whilst drinking before our an evening of karaoke, Malory had asked me if I’d ever watched Diana: The Musical. I was shocked to learn that such a musical existed, and she was so excited to show it me that we simply had to organise a night in to watch it all together.

The evening kicked off with some pizza and a good chat, after which I was served yet another mediocre gin and tonic. I’ve had lots of lovely drinks during my time in the US, but Kevin was absolutely on the money when he made his observation that all American gin tastes like trees.

Diana: The Musical was then quite the experience: we laughed through the whole thing until a dessert break for some lime biscuits which were dangerously moreish. I wasn’t really sure how to react to the existence of a musical recounting the life and death of Diana, but it was a great evening of lighthearted fun.

The next day saw me and Megan back out on our final adventure before the two of us were to leave Vermont, a trip that would take us to the peak of Mount Mansfield. It began with a pass through a thin and winding road called the Smuggler’s Notch, which was used back in the prohibition era (when alcohol was banned in the US) to smuggle all sorts of tipples from Canada and into the United States.

During the drive we had the music on full whack, singing and giggling our way up to the cable car which would take us up the hill. I hope you weren’t fooled into thinking we’d suddenly decided to scale a mountain after our bike ride: we were doing some bougie mountaineering.

The views as we climbed the surprisingly long journey up the hill were spectacular and so I took way too many photos to even begin to share here. Once at the top we wandered around to take in the views, during which time Kevin rang and I took the opportunity to wave hello from the top of Vermont’s highest mountain.

After a quick chat with Kevin, we decided to look at having a go at one of the trails to get to the ridge, the highest part of the mountain. The trail looked pretty rough though and the non-stop barrage of warning signs at its entrance was the final nail in the coffin for our hiking fantasies. We did wander in for a while, however, taking some photos in some cool spots along the way before growing tired and heading back out.

This was the very top of the mountain which we’d still not reached.

This tight, wet, and mossy squeeze was the only way to carry on, so we called it a day.

Now back at the gondola station, Megan grabbed a waffle and we headed outside to eat it on some of the famous Adirondack deckchairs which had been placed overlooking the valley below. The clouds eventually began to roll in heavier and heavier, so we grabbed our return gondola and headed back down to the car.

We then headed on to our next destination, one I’d been super keen to check out since Megan had told me so much about it in Madrid: the Von Trapp Lodge! This hotel is still run by the Von Trapp family, the same one whose feeling from Austria was so famously depicted in The Sound of Music.

Of course we drove on with the soundtrack from said film playing on full volume, singing along to the many catchy songs that the fabulous film has blessed humanity with. Once at the lodge we grabbed a drink and out outside, where Megan told me that the girl that had just served us was the great granddaughter of Maria and the Captain! Crazy!

Megan knew the place inside out as she used to work there, so she suggested that we then head down to the beerhall for another drink and a spot of lunch. There, we shared some pretzels with cheese sauce, bratwurst with sauerkraut, and a chicken schnitzel. The food was good and the company even better as we got chatting to many of Megan’s ex-colleagues.

Leaving the Von Trapp Lodge behind, me and Megan had one more stop to make before we headed back to Burlington: the Ben & Jerry’s factory! We didn’t have time to do any kind of factory tour of Vermont’s most famous frozen export, but we did grab some delicious exclusive flavours in some fresh waffle cones and goof around at the photo opportunity…

Megan was very impressed at being roped into taking this touristy photo.

It had been another busy day, and I’d to get packing ready for the next leg of my trip, but this moment of packing wasn’t the end of the days plans. Maureen and Terry came over to Megan’s place and I presented them with their gifts, after which we headed out together to a local Italian restaurant.

Pascolo’s was a great place where we were seated in an old cellar with a low roof and a lovely atmosphere. We grabbed some wine and spend the evening chatting about all sorts. My fresh gnocchi was delicious and we had lovey evening which made for a fitting sendoff, after which I said goodbye to Terry as we headed to our separate cars in the pretty Burlington evening.

I’d not said my goodbye to Maureen just yet, as she was back at Megan’s place bright and early the next morning in order to give us a lift to our next destination. Megan and I then waved her off as she dropped us off at Burlington Airport, where we grabbed a short one-hour plane and our next adventure begun…

19.09.22 — Travel

Bread & Puppet

After our super intense series of activities the day before, I was shocked to wake up feeling pretty refreshed. With this fresh energy, Megan and I headed out the door pretty soon in order to head over to her parents’ place for one last morning with Scott before he left for Croatia.

Maureen made some German pancakes according to an old family recipe, which were accompanied with a delicious combination of cinnamon, apple, and maple syrup. I had a lesson from Megan in how to properly fill and fold them in order to enjoy these fresh German and Vermontese fusion breakfast.

We then said our farewell to Scott before heading out to go and see “Bread & Puppet”, something which I had no idea what it could be. Maureen had said it was political and Megan had said it was weird, so I was very intrigued to see what lay in store for us on another sunny Vermont day.

After a long drive, we began to draw close to our destination and I saw a sign saying “circus”, so I wondered what the heck we were going to see. As we drew into the car park I saw a group of people gathered on a semicircular hill in the distance, but before we headed over to join them I had to go to the toilet. The toilets took the form of a hole in a wooden bench into which you’d to do your business and then cover it with some sawdust which you’d throw on top – it was all quite the experience!

Megan looked radiant in her colourful outfit in the sun.

We then headed to the “circus”, where we climbed up the hill and found a spot to sit and watch the series of different acts, which covered everything from COVID ignorance to the rights of immigrant dairy workers in Vermont. It was good fun and I took plenty of pics, even if the sun was relentless in its beating. It ended with a part on women’s reproductive rights, with a huge puppet of a woman being raised after defeating the Supreme Court.

I thought it was all over then, but Megan said we’d to follow the parade that had began to play music to the next part. This was a green area which thankfully had some shade provided by a forest, so we sat down there and watched as the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen unfolded. People in white were dancing and walking and moving all around in complete silence in a form of interpretative theatre/dance.

We followed the people in white with their various flags to another field.

Megan afterwards explained how she’d interpreted it as forbidden love between two households and the storm which froze someone, but I was completely confused. The climax of the performance was the arrival of a huge dragon made from recycled materials, which crested over the hill to the sound of a trumpet from a guy stood near us spectators.

With the performance over, the heat and the confusion and the dehydration were all getting a bit much. Megan had a quick nap and I rested my eyes for a bit whilst everyone headed over to watch “Hallelujah”, which I thought was going to be part of the song but wasn’t in the end from what I could hear.

Megan awoke just as the final performance on a hill was taking place in the distance, and we resolved to head over to finish with the traditional offering made by this theatre company called Bread & Puppet: bread and aioli. I was quite hungry and so excited to get some food, but the alioli was way too garlicky for my taste and so I abandoned it as we recached the car.

We headed back in the glorious air conditioning of the car, needing to get some drinks and cool off a bit as Megan was still very tired. We first stopped by a beautiful lake that we’d seen on the way, where Megan waded in and I splashed water on my arms and face, and then we carried on with our journey back towards Burlington.

To grab a drink, we then stopped at the first sign of a shop, which took us into a town in the middle of nowhere and a “general store” that made me feel somewhat uneasy. There, we grabbed some drinks and sweets and headed onwards for home.

The sugar from the sweets and the drinks revived us a bit, so before heading home we stopped off at Megan’s parents’ house to pick up a couple of air conditioning units for the condo. We then went back home to install them and finally settle for the evening after another very long day.

For our evening meal, Megan was keen on grabbing a Chipotle, so we hopped in the car and headed there only to find the place had closed early for the evening. Somewhat disappointed but still driven by hunger, we quickly made some alternative plans and headed to another local spot.

El Cortijo was a cuttle little spot in a renovated old diner in the centre of Burlington, where we sat at the bar and ordered a burrito and some enchiladas to go, grabbing some chips and guacamole whilst we waited. We ate our food back at home in Megan’s half-unpacked living room, after which we headed up to bed for an early night.

Heading off to see the interpretative creations of Bread & Puppet was definitely a unique experience. I’ve never seen anything quite like it in my life and I doubt I ever will again, so once again I’ve to say thanks to Megan for dragging me halfway across Vermont in order to experience this quirky experience. After a rather intense day, this experience in the Vermont countryside was definitely another unforgettable one!

18.09.22 — Travel

An Intense Day in Burlington

Before I get into the intense day, I should quickly mention the party that we attended the evening before. We’d all been invited over to Megans parents’ place to help out with preparations for Scott’s leaving do, as he was then off to Croatia to begin a new job the day after – quite the change!

Megan and I were tasked with “shucking” some fresh sheaves of corn, which just turned out to involve peeling off the inedible husk. We then set about designing the cheese platters, which turned into a competition as we fought it out to create the best designs between the cheeses, crackers, grapes, and the lovely wooden boards themselves.

Everyone then began to arrive and the party got underway, with plenty of drinks and a BBQ served buffet style. I got chatting to Megan’s family and friends and we all had a good laugh, during which I was particularly happy to be called a charmer by Megan’s great aunt!

After one of my personal favourite moments of the night – the dessert buffet – people began to head out as the night wore on. I said goodbye to Scott and me and Megan headed back home to save up some energy for the next day: our intense day around Burlington.

It was a lovely and relaxing evening before what was to come the next day…

On the way to the ball game a couple of days prior, Megan had told Breen, Aaron, and Scott of our plans to cycle down the causeway in Burlington. Breen and Scott had laughed our plans off, saying that it was going to be way too hot and that we’d wind up way too tired to do it.

Megan and I didn’t exactly rush out of bed and by the time we did the weather was already hotting up, but we decided that we had to attempt this bike ride, even if it was just to spite Breen and Scott. So, and without further ado, we packed some supplies into a backpack, grabbed the bikes from the garage, and headed out on our journey.

The first stop was at a pharmacy near Megan’s house, where we grabbed some energy drinks and bars for the journey. After noting that the mudguard on Megan’s bike had come loose, we then wound up having to MacGyver a solution with some electrical tape that we also grabbed in the pharmacy. I should note here that the pharmacies in the US are wild – they have everything that a normal supermarket in Europe would have!

Our botched job worked quite well as we powered on down the streets and to our next stop, the farmer’s market. We parked our bikes against a barn which we then headed inside in order to check out an antiques market. It was pretty hot and sweaty inside, but I did really like some of the stuff on offer like some old Vermont registration plates and road signs.

From there, we moved on to the open area of the market which was jam packed with tonnes of stalls. I grabbed a fresh ginger beer and we wandered around for a bit, resisting such temptations as nepalese dumplings but then caving to another in the form of some peanut butter cookies filled with maple syrup (of course) cream. A pretty wild combination!

We then carried on to the bay to merge onto the bike path that lead to the causeway, where I found my “base pace” (a saying that Megan taught me from her gym). We carried on for a good while, passing under a high bridge and a residential neighbourhood where the bike path deviated from the edge of the lake for a while.

It was a gorgeous day and a beautiful trail, but the heat was a fearsome opponent.

Along the way to the causeway, we stopped at a lookout spot over the lake to rest, and then at a cool bridge so that I could take a few photos and catch my breath. We then stopped at a little park for a toilet break and to refill our empty water bottles – it was now over 30°C and we were getting pretty exhausted!

After this last stop, we powered on until a dodgy gear change left the chain hanging off my bike. With a bit of teamwork and some sturdy sticks we soon had it back on, and then pushed ahead to reach our destination: the causeway.

This jetty of curved land connects mainland Vermont with one of the islands in Lake Champlain, so we cycled out about halfway and then stopped in the shade for a while. We took in the views over the water on either side as we munched on the snacks we’d bought earlier, including the wild and very sweet peanut butter and maple syrup fusion cookies.

We then began the long journey back, which soon became a pretty intense challenge as the afternoon heat combined with our exhaustion. A good few rest stops later and after throwing what was left of our water over ourselves, we concluded that we couldn’t manage the rest of the cycle all the way home. We decide we’d stop in the bay, tie up the bikes, and grab a taxi back to Megan’s place.

We tied the bikes up outside an ice cream parlour in the bay and grabbed ourselves some soft serve “creemees” – maple syrup flavour, of course. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten an ice cream so fast in my life – I desperately needed some sugar and something cold!

Megan then looked for a taxi, but the cheapest one for the five minute journey was over $23. We thus – perhaps foolishly – decided to carry on and try to push ourselves to cycle the final uphill stretch back home.

The journey began with optimism, but then the slow incline of a seemingly endless road started to really get at me and I began to lag as Megan steamed ahead. I was motivated to carry on by some light rain that began to cool me off and by Megan, who was cheering for me to carry on as she waited next to some traffic lights.

The rain became torrential as we turned off this long road and onto a steep uphill section. It felt pretty amazing, and I took off my cap to allow myself of the soaked to the skin. The killer came with the second section of this incline, where the road got steeper and the rain became properly violent, but we pushed on and eventually made it to the final stretch back home.

You can’t appreciate it in the photo but the rain really was something else.

Now finally back home, we parked up the bikes, dumped or stuff on top of the car, and ran to the pool where we jumped in fully clothed. We were on cloud nine, laughing and splashing in the relief that the cold water brought us!

We then headed inside, where we dried off and went for a nap. I was supposed to be up at 7pm, but I slept for an extra hour – I think I deserved it after the slog of a 32km (20 mile) journey that we’d done in 32°C heat! I then finally showered and headed downstairs where Breen, Aaron, Malory, Martín, Megan, and Ryan were already having some drinks in the kitchen.

I fixed myself a gin and tonic with earnest, and our evening of drinks moved to the back porch, where we played a competitive game of beer pong and then some card games. These worked a treat to get us all merrily on our way (except for the designated drivers, of course), and we headed out to Burlington to carry on our evening.

As I’d been to watch the softball game and met the team, I was greeted with a chorus of “Ollie!” as I entered the bar where we were going for our first drink – turns out the team was also there! We had a quick drink and then left for a place called “Lamp Shop”, where the roof was choc full of retro lamps that were connected up to flash in time with the music. As those who know me and of my obsession with lights can imagine, I loved it in there.

As much as I loved the decor, the music wasn’t really my jam, and so we wound up moving to yet another bar. Here it was karaoke night, so it was time for me and Breen to take the mic once again and show the Vermonters how it’s done!

In the end we didn’t have chance to sing as we’d arrived late and our requests never came up before lights on at 2am, but we had a blast dancing, singing, and chatting. I was giving it my all and signing with the best of them though, so at one point the woman leading the karaoke handed me the microphone so that me and Malory could really go for it!

With the lights on at this rather divey but very fun bar, those of us who’d stuck the out until the end then went to grab a kebab to end the night. After a good wait for our greasy goods, they went down an absolute treat and then I was given a lift back to Megan’s place.

And so ended a rather wild and intense day, but one of the best I’ve had in a while. We’d really given it our all: we’d cycled hard, we’d napped hard, and then we’d partied hard! As you can well imagine, I then slept like an absolute log and was ready for our next adventure, but more on that in the next post…

15.09.22 — Travel

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

I pick up here where I left off in my last blog post, after another day of explorations after work over in beautiful Burlington, Vermont…

Another day saw another day at work, which ended when Petergaye and I went out for lunch together. We went to a place called “Union Jack’s”, a supposedly British establishment which was anything but. It was very funny to see their take on Britishness, with gift cards themed to look like £10 notes and weird vinyls of red telephone boxes all over the place. I took an age to decide what I wanted and then got held up as the lady behind the counter didn’t understand my pronunciation of “tomato”. British my arse!

After my lunch of a huge sub sandwich and a cookie, I laid down for a while and wound up having a decent nap. With Megan back home, the two of us jumped in the pool, which was an excellent idea as we were still battling the heat and humidity that were refusing to let us exist without excess sweating.

It was then time for us to get dressed and ready for our evening’s activities, which – as you may have guessed from the spoiler of a title – involved going to see a baseball game! Outside of the softball (like a tamed-down version of baseball from what I gather) game that I’d seen the day before, I’d never seen a “ball game”, so I was excited to throw myself into the atmosphere and see what it was all about.

We ran across this old seemingly abandoned car along the way.

Breen and Adam picked us and Scott up and we headed over to Ryan’s place, where we parked the cars before taking a dodgy back path through a forest and then a graveyard in order to get to the stadium. I was moaning about the uphill climb the whole way, but the excitement soon took over as we neared the baseball ground and began to hear the crowds.

We arrived amongst throngs of other people and there was a real buzz in the air. The shape of a baseball stadium is quite funny, as everyone gathers around the corner where the batter hits the ball, with the other three sides of the stadium practically empty.

I’d dressed as American as I could for the occasion.

Before we left, I’d been told that it was “hotdog night” or something to that effect, which it turns out involved hotdogs on sale for just 25¢ each. As you can imagine, the first thing we did was head straight to the designated 25¢ hotdog stand, where we were told that there was a maximum order of six per person.

I know what you’re wondering, and yes, we all got six hotdogs each. In our defense it was going to be a long evening of baseball and they were only pretty small!

A logistical nightmare then followed as I’d to do some exuberant gymnastics in order to get the ketchup and mustard on the buggers whilst also juggling a hotdog, the box with the other five hotdogs, my beer, my fan, and my camera. We then headed to the stand and found our seats, which involved another impromptu dance in order to clamber over the other rows of seats with my hands still very much full!

My five remaining hot dogs and my beer: the American dream!

The game had already begun as we sat down, and so we got straight into the business of eating our hot dogs, drinking our beers, chanting, jeering, and all that other good stuff. I had the rules of the game explained to me in roundabout terms by everyone who’d come: Megan, Ryan, Scott, Breen, and Aaron, and I tried to follow along for a bit before I ran out of beer and got thirsty again.

Heading out behind the stands for more beer, we wound up missing half an hour of the game as the queues for the bars were now really quite long. At one point in the queue we heard a guy yell “HEADS!” from up in the stand, only to turn round and narrowly avoid being hit by a ball that came sailing over the top of the stadium.

To our disbelief, this then happened again just a few moments later, and this time it hit the guy who was in the queue behind us square on the back. He laughed it off but I’m pretty sure he was left with quite the bruise the next day – they really are heavy balls!

Back in our seats, the sun began to set. As with all Vermont sunsets, this one was absolutely beautiful and had me wandering up and down the stands to try and find the best angle to get some shots of the sky.

There was then a rather exciting moment as the local club’s mascot, the Lake Monster, headed out on to the field flanked by some guys with t-shirt guns. We screamed and waved and jumped around, but alas we were left empty handed.

Then the most curious thing happened as some old style organ music began being piped into the stadium and everyone began to sing: “Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd…” Naturally I was very lost and had never heard the song, but it stood out to me as an unforgettable moment from an already amazing trip.

Our next trip out of the stadium to grab beer saw me also get my hands on some merchandise. I picked up a blue cap with the club mascot on it, a yellow shirt with a hotdog holding 25¢, and a pin with the lake monster mascot on it.

We were then lucky enough to catch the star of the show himself, the Vermont Lake Monsters’ mascot. We jumped in line to meet him and grabbed some excellent photos. We were having a fabulous time and were super giggly, so this is the best one I managed to salvage!

After our brush with royalty, me and Megan headed over to a stall which was selling something called fried dough. It turns out that this is just a huge plate-sized portion of just that: dough that’s been fried. It tasted like a doughnut and came accompanied with – of course – maple syrup.

Upon reentering the stadium with our snack, we saw that we’d been so long outside faffing around that the game had since ended. The rest of the gang came down from their seats to join us on the first row and share our sugary and greasy treat, which was as delicious as that may or may not sound!

I then took the opportunity to grab a photo of myself in the empty stadium, as well as some sneaky stolen shots of Megan and Ryan and another couple who were sat relaxing with views directly over the field.

And with that, the my experience at the ball game came to an end. It had been an absolute blast of an evening and something I had never experienced before. The closest I think I have come is when I went to watch my hometown, Burnley, play a match, or perhaps when I saw Atlético de Madrid play Copenhagen once. Big thanks to Megan for making this happen, as it’s something I’d been nagging her about doing for months before landing in the US!

To end the night on a high, we wound back at Al’s for more ice cream. We roped some ladies into taking photos of us on my film camera – I can’t wait to share the photos from that – and grabbed some creemees (their weird word for soft serve ice cream). As you may have guessed, the creemees were maple syrup flavored – what else!

14.09.22 — Travel

Megan Moves

Before getting stuck in, I should highlight that the title of this post refers to Megan moving into her new place, as I mentioned in my first post after arriving in the US. She surely can move, being the salsa expert that she is, but I never did get chance to go to salsa evening – one for next time!

As I say, we pick up after our camping weekend and on the day of Megan’s big move. I had to work in the morning, so woke up bright and early and headed downstairs to join my team virtually. Megan was already up and packing the last of her boxes, after which she headed out to pick up the van she’d rented to move over her furniture and the bulky stuff.

Watching the scene unfold from the window, I just had to head outside and take a photo of everyone as they packed up the last bits into the back of the van. It was a warm day but Megan, her brother Scott, and her friend José were in high spirits whilst I was stuck inside finishing off my day of work.

I eventually finished work and disconnected, at which point I relaxed for a good while as I’d been tasked with house-sitting whilst everyone else was out leading a hand with the move. I did have to pack my suitcase, though, as I was joining Megan and her new housemate for the first night in the new place!

Ellie, the family dog, took a great liking to my socks.

Scott then came to pick me up and I thus became the last thing to be moved over. I met Petergaye upon arrival, who’d just moved into the other bedroom that very morning, and the three of us had a great chat whilst I unpacked my suitcase into my new home for the next week and a half.

As the evening wore on, the three of us wound up jumping in Megan’s car and heading into the centre of Burlington, where we grabbed some delicious pizza and cocktails to celebrate the end of a long day for all of us – even if I had been spared the heavy lifting!

After a good laugh after sharing many funny tales, we headed over to a local institution (Maureen’s words, not mine) for some ice cream. Al’s French Frys (that’s how they spell it) to me looked like the set of a 1970s movie, so I was sure to take plenty of photos along the way.

I grabbed myself a little tub of ice cream topped with warm chocolate sauce and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, one of my favourite American snacks. It did make for a delicious dessert, but I may just have over-faced myself after plenty of spicy chicken pizza.

The next day I was back at work in the morning, so joined Megan and Maureen in the afternoon as they finished unpacking some more boxes and giving some of the downstairs rooms a good scrub. Me and Megan shared some leftover sandwich and a nice warm cookie for lunch before resting most of the evening away: it’d been a demanding couple of days and the muggy weather was not letting up.

We eventually arose, showered, and headed out for the evening/late afternoon. We firstly picked up some tacos at Taco Gordo (literally “Fat Taco”), which was a cute little spot with some very tasty tacos and a fun drink that I grabbed as it was called an “Ariana Grande” and had a fun swirl in it. It was very similar to the margarita I’d had before I grabbed it, but it went down a treat, even if I wound up with brain freeze as I’d to down it when we realised we were late for our evening’s entertainment.

I enjoyed the eclectic mix of styles of the wooden houses along the streets of Burlington.

Taco Gordo was loud, colourful, and chaotic – a bit like home back in Spain!

We then drove over to a local University Centre that Megan used to take some classes in. There, we’d arranged to catch a touring piece of theatre called “Desperate Measures” that was showing in the centre’s theatre. The whole set up reminded me of my many years working at Burnley Youth Theatre, where we’d often have professional touring theatre companies stop by and I’d get a chance to catch some great theatre.

We took our seats inside and right in front of the stage, where the set indicated that we were about to watch a western. Maureen had also mentioned that it was a comedy, and so I was quite bemused that on my trip to the United States I’d wound up watching a western comedy live on stage.

The show was pretty funny, partly because I really got into it and partly because of the drinks we’d had beforehand. It had a very odd plot though. It told of how a man condemned to death could only be set free if his sister (a nun) agreed to sleep with the police chief, who then managed to fool him by switching herself out for a body double in the form of a prostitute who was in love with the condemned man and would do anything to save him.

Confused? We were too.

The head of police then falls for the “nun” and declares that they have to get married in order to secure the condemned man’s pardon, which involves some more people switching, this time under a wedding veil instead of the veil of darkness. Then everything goes to pot thanks to a contract that the sheriff coaxed the inspector into signing, during which time the nun and sheriff had somehow fallen for each other and got married too.

Got that? Me neither.

The next day saw me work until mid afternoon, so the day’s activities were left until a little later in the day. Me and Megan kicked things off with some cheep beers down at a place in Burlington which had a lovely beer garden, after which we grabbed some cheap pizza which we ate off paper plates as we sauntered back to the car.

The weather was good and the beer and pizza were cheap.

From there, we headed to a local playing field and to a softball game that had been arranged between Megan and friends and another local team. I’d no idea what baseball or softball was, but I soon learned that it’s basically just the same old rounders that we used to play at school, but with big gloves “in case the ball hurts our hands.”

As the game began, I tried some hard iced tea. This basically consisted of some grim, over-sweetened tea with alcohol mixed into it. It somehow managed to be simultaneously disgustingly sweet and unpleasantly bitter, and so me and Megan headed off to a nearby supermarket to pick up some alternative drinks.

The supermarket – like all American supermarkets – was way too big and had way too many options. This stressed me out, especially as all of the drinks were weird combinations and all I wanted was a plain old premixed gin and tonic. With time running out, I grabbed the lest horrific looking drink combination and we headed back to the pitch.

Our bench was quite a mess but we did, of course, clean everything up before leaving.

It turns out that I made a bad choice, the mojito-style creation that I’d picked up was equally as disgusting as the hard iced tea, but nevertheless I’d still to join everyone in “shotgunning” my can on the pitch. This involved making a hole in the bottom of the can with a key, then opening the top of it and downing the whole thing as it came rushing forth. It was not pleasant.

This little kick of sugar and alcohol got me in the mood for the rest of the game, during which Megan was drafted in to bat a couple of times and I made a keen observation that the other team were taking things much more seriously than ours. It was therefore a shock to absolutely nobody that they thrashed us.

I was even lent a team jersey despite my lack of sporting talent.

I’d had a great evening, despite our team’s loss and the horrible drinks on offer. I was pretty tipsy in the car ride back home, but sobered up as we arrived home and munched on cookies and reheated pasta from earlier in the day. It was great to join the team for the evening, even if the only time I stepped on to the pitch was to shotgun my drink!

11.09.22 — Travel

Bougie Camping

After having lunch down by Lake Champlain and then having a tour of the islands which lie on it with Maureen, I was getting pretty used to being down by the water and I was slowly falling in love with this gorgeous corner of the US. My first weekend in the states was to take my connection with the lake up a notch, as we’d arranged to go camping by the water with Breen and Aaron for a night!

The day of the camping trip began as me and Megan were tasked with taking the dogs out for a walk. Megan took care of Ellie, her family’s dog, and I was put in charge of Libby, Breen and Aaron’s dog. This quick route took us back around Williston in time to pack the car ready for our weekend in the wilderness.

We then headed off in earnest towards the campsite, located in a national park on one of the islands on the lake. We stopped off for lunch at Seb’s along the way so that I could get myself a corn dog, a disgustingly greasy snack that I once had in Florida and have been pining to have again ever since. Big thanks to Megan for accommodating my random requests!

Breen and Aaron joined us there for our deep-fried lunch, which was followed by a stop at a local brewery. I grabbed myself a “flight”, which turns out is the name for a tasting selection of small beers. Megan did the same but wasn’t too keen on most of them, so I wound up drinking for two.

As you can imagine, I turned up at the campsite quite content, and so relaxed whilst Aaron helped (see: did everything) us get set up for our night of bougie camping. If you’re like me, you’ll have never heard of the word “bougie”, but Megan uses it a lot and I have fallen in love with it. It comes from the word “bourgeoise”, and means just that – something which rich people do. I guess I could have easily said “glamping”, but “bougie” is much more fun!

I say it was bougie camping because really we weren’t that exposed to the elements, as Breen and Aaron had managed to snag us a fabulous spot with a lean-to (a wooden structure open on one side) and views over Lake Champlain. We pitched our tent inside the lean-to and then went for a wander down to the water’s edge.

It was a picturesque scene with the fire roaring and the views over the lake.

We got a decent fire going to warm us up as the evening wore on. The blaze was, in fact, too decent – we wound up burning through firewood at such a speed that we (see: not me, other people who weren’t as lazy as me) had to head back twice for more. It did its job of keeping us cozy as we cracked open some beers and chatted the evening away, and then came in useful again as we toasted some hotdogs over the flames.

As the night wore on it was time for dessert and another American tradition: s’mores. These uniquely named creations consist of toasted marshmallow sandwiched with some chocolate in between two biscuits. I gave it my best shot – getting a hot toasted marshmallow off a skewer and into a sandwich is more of a logistical nightmare than it may seem – and tried my first s’more. It was nice, but I still maintain my opinion that American chocolate tastes like cheese, and so I wound up sticking to plain old toasted marshmallows!

After a trip to the toilet block to brush our teeth, we settled in for our single night of bougie camping. I slept surprisingly well, even if my nuisance bladder had me up a couple of times during the night. There was a silver lining, though, as latter of the two toilet trips saw me up to catch the sunrise over the lake.

Once I’d gotten up properly, preparations began on the breakfast of pancakes with chocolate chips which were – naturally – to be doused in Vermont maple syrup. Me and Megan were feeling pretty peckish and extravagant though, and so decided to crack the leftover hotdogs out. We toasted them over the fire and wolfed them down just as Breen finally had enough of waiting for her camping stove to heat up and popped the frying pan with the pancakes directly over the campfire.

With breakfast over, the four of us then packed everything away, extinguished the fire, and jumped back in our respective cars to head back to the mainland. Our original plan had been to stop at Seb’s for ice cream, but it didn’t open for another while and so we wound up grabbing coffee instead. In the café the four of us read the lonely hearts section of the local newspaper – it provided us with plenty of laughs!

Back at Maureen and Terry’s place, we unpacked our stuff and I sat down to write my postcards to my parents, my sister, and my auntie and uncle. In order to send them on their way, I’d only to head out into the front garden, pop them in the letterbox, and raise the little red flag up so that the postie would know to pick them up. It’s a pretty neat little system!

That evening was the last one I was to spend at Megan’s parents’ place, as the next day the two of us were to move into Megan’s new condo. We spent the last evening eating Maureen’s delicious chicken parm pasta bake and relaxing in front of the TV whilst Megan packed up the last bits ready for the big move.

We wound up watching America’s Got Talent on the TV, where a guy making pretty bad cycling jokes was booed off whilst the crowd went wild for a guy dressed as a pair of trousers made equally bad trouser-related jokes. I still don’t get American humour.

08.09.22 — Travel

Lake Champlain

A fresh new day dawned in Williston, but we had some rather interesting plans which would take us out of the neighbourhood and down to the waterside in Burlington proper. Before this, though, I woke up suddenly energised, and decided I should go out for a jog.

This was a terrible idea as it turns out. I’ve not done anything like it for quite a long time (foreshadowing for an upcoming blog post), but I managed to get out and about before arriving back and collapsing into the hammock in the back garden. There, I waited for Maureen to return home, as Megan was still out working at the summer camp.

Maureen soon showed up with some treats in the form of artesanal Oreos, which were absolutely delicious and soon turned into a problem as they became my go-to sweet snack whilst staying at Megan’s parents’ place. With our biscuits eaten, we rested our weary legs in the pool and waited for Megan to arrive back home.

After Megan had a quick nap the two of us packed and headed out for the afternoon’s plans: kayaking! This is a sport that I enjoyed back when I was a Boy Scout and used to set out on the suspiciously murky canals of Lancashire, but this time we were to head into the vast expanse of Lake Champlain.

Lake Champlain is a huge body of water which separates Vermont from the state of New York, whose border is flanked by a huge and beautiful mountain range called the Adirondacks. I’d caught a glimpse of it when we’d gone down for lunch at the docks, but this time we were going to head down to the local community sailing club and hire a couple of kayaks to head out onto the water.

The journey down to the lake took us through the centre of Burlington and past some frat houses: another thing I thought only existed in American movies! We arrived, rented our equipment, and were soon cast out into the somewhat unstable waters of the lake – it wasn’t like the peaceful stillness of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal!

It was great fun to be out on the water and back in a kayak after quite a few years. I am quite confident in a kayak, but in a moment of stupidity and brazen commitment to getting some good photos I had decided to take my phone with me. This made me panic the whole time about falling in lest I lose it in the murky depths, so I started with a bit of a nervous wobble.

The cloudy skies and the uneven water created some breathtaking views.

We’d set out in the late afternoon, so the sun was already pretty low in the sky, making for some beautiful displays of light as it danced on the waves. We headed out and towards it and towards a beach in the distance, which we dragged ourselves up on to upon arrival as I was developing a rather painful stitch in my leg.

Back in the water, we continued our journey onwards, a journey frustrated somewhat by the kayaks or the undercurrent (we’ll never know what it was) which seemed intent on dragging us port side (to the left). We eventually made it to the spot which the guy had designated as the outer limit of the area we could explore, where we watched a group of friends jumping from a rock and into the lake. It was a gorgeous spot, so we stopped to chat there for a while whilst the sun broke through the clouds.

The rays from the sun and the isolated rock made for an almost ethereal scene.

We then began our journey back to the sailing club, which was now quite far away thanks to the two legs we’d already rowed. It turned out to be quite the slog of a trip back thanks to the distance, our exhaustion, and the unwelcome turbulence created by some passing boats.

We eventually made it back to the shore, where we showered and changed into our glad rags ready to spend the evening on the water once again, but this time in a rather different capacity. We drove the short distance down the lake and parked outside a place called Splash, a gorgeous floating dock restaurant with views out over the lake.

Maureen joined us out on the dock, where we nabbed one of the best tables in the house just by the water. Cocktails in hand, we chatted the evening away as we nibbled on some good food, watched the sun set behind the Adirondack Mountains, and saw the return of The Spirit of Ethan Allen, a boat which takes people out to watch the sunset from directly over the water.

After tea, Maureen headed back home while me and Megan headed to a local bar where we’d arranged to have a drink with some of her friends. The bar was about as American as they get, full of sports memorabilia and people who’d been our playing baseball! We stuck to our plan of one drink and then home as we’d both a busy agenda waiting for us the next day.

Megan headed back for her penultimate day at summer camp the next day as I had breakfast with Maureen, who then took me out to begin our day’s explorations together. She’d a trip planned for the two of us which would take us back out to Lake Champlain, but this time over terra firma rather than on the water itself. It turns out that the lake has three main islands on it, and our plan was to head out and see the most important sights from these: North Hero, South Hero, and Grand Isle.

Out trip started on the Sand Bar, a natural sandbar connecting the mainland with the first of the three islands. I took plenty of photos over the lake and we got chatting to another lady who was passing by before heading onto the island proper.

We first stopped at a little shale beach on another part of the island before then heading up to a gorgeous old hotel with views over the water which has now been transformed into an event space. We then headed to a hotel that Maureen used to work at when she was young, where we met the new owner and had a snoop around the renovated facilities.

These are called Adirondack Chairs, named after the mountains in the background.

It was then time for lunch, and Maureen had arranged for one of her friends to join us for lunch. We met up at an old petrol station which had a cute shop and sandwich bar. I bagged myself a turkey sandwich with all the trimmings, including bacon, cheese, and pickles – the Americans sure know how to do a sandwich properly!

We ate our sandwiches on the porch of the local parish hall, chatting away about Michael’s experience living between the US, the UK, and Spain, a trio of countries that I know pretty well. As we chatted, a cold and cloudy front blew in, so we eventually had to pack up shop and head back towards the mainland.

As the weather held out without raining on us, Maureen and I did decide to make a cheeky stop at a local institution, Seb’s. This pit stop on the island had a lovely gift shop, which we had a good snoop around so I could pick up some postcards, and a snack and ice cream counter. The two of us grabbed a hot fudge brownie ice cream, which was super rich and came with a cute little cherry on top. I simply had to get a photo of the two of us with out sweet treats!

In the car on the way home, Maureen showed of her skills tying the stalk of the cherry into a knot with her mouth, and I gave it a shot. Alas, I was useless, even after continuing to attempt it throughout the evening until it was time to go back out.

The evening took us back to the bar from before, but this time there was a whole different vibe going on: it was karaoke time! The rest of the bar didn’t seem too animated, so I signed Breen and myself up to be the first to sing. Naturally we had to kick things off with my go-to karaoke song, Wannabe by the Spice Girls. We then sang many songs, ate some free popcorn from the machine they had out, and had an absolute blast.

Back home, Megan threw some mozzarella sticks in the oven and I introduced her to the joys of dunking them in jam. It might sound a bit odd, but you can’t beat a good sweet and salty combination!

The next day was quite a relaxed one: I spent my time in the pool, having lunch, and then out shopping with Megan to pick up some supplies for her new place and our weekend plans – but more on that very soon. We ended the day with a Chinese meal back at Maureen and Terry’s place, which was a nice relaxed way to end a rather chilled day.

A scenic tour of Vermont, from the huge houses to the gorgeous sunsets.

I’ll leave this blog post here, as the weekend’s activities that followed deserve their own blog post – and because these posts are getting pretty long and it’s taking me forever to get them out! I can only beg you all for patience whilst I try and get them out in between my busy work calendar back here in Madrid…

29.08.22 — Travel

Williston

Now in the United States after our weekend in Montreal, Megan and I cranked up the music and it was full speed ahead to the first place that I’d be staying: her parents’ place. They live in the sleepy suburb of Williston in the city of Burlington, the biggest city in the state of Vermont in the north-east US.

We rocked up outside their place around mid-afternoon and headed inside to a gloriously cool welcome from the air conditioning. This fiercely counterbalanced by the extremely warm welcome from Megan’s parents, Maureen and Terry, who had me in the kitchen for a couple of hours nattering away about all sorts.

Eventually I wanted to get unpacked, so I was shown to my room, a lovely space in which I was presented with a gorgeous gift in the form of a basket full of local goodies: maple syrup sweets, maple leaf decorations, and – of course – a huge jar of maple syrup to take back with me. Megan was not lying when she said that Vermont loves its maple syrup!

Once unpacked, I headed downstairs for tea (I still refuse to call the evening meal ‘dinner’). Maureen and Terry had prepared a delicious meal of meat skewers with roast vegetables, where the caramelised pineapple was really the star of the show!

I was then introduced to Megan’s friend, Breen, who’d nipped over with her dog, Libby. The three of us headed out for a walk after tea, wandering around the block whilst I eyed up all of the huge houses. It was also during this walk that I was introduced to the pressing issue around these parts: skunks. After years of only hearing about skunks in fairy tales and other children’s stories, I was briefed on how to avoid them and their dreaded foul-smelling spray.

We then stopped for a quick drink at Breen’s place, after which me and Megan pottered the short journey back home and I headed to bed for the night – it had been another day of plenty of travelling and moving around!

Another day of travelling ended with a relaxing evening in my new home for the next week.

The next day began bright and (way too) early thanks to the dreaded jet lag. I headed downstairs, had some breakfast with Terry, and waited for Megan to show up. She headed off with her dad for the closing on her new house – more on that to come – and so I stuck around with Maureen chatting the morning away.

When Megan got back, I headed out with her and Maureen for my first American excursion. This day trip first took us to Costco, a wholesale shop selling oversized versions of everything: from toilet rolls to cereals and even salads. I had a lot of fun people watching and even managed to pick myself up some new underwear, so it was quite the productive trip, even if I spent most of the time making crude observations about consumerism.

The three of us then split up, with me and Megan heading to her new place, a gorgeous condo closer to the centre of Burlington proper. She gave me a tour around, we ate some cookies, drank some coffee, and waited for a plumber to show up.

Here’s Megan with the keys to her fabulous new condo!

He came pretty late, so we wound up abandoning him to his work and heading down to a place that Megan had picked out for lunch. At this gorgeous lakeside spot we had some delicious nachos and a couple of sensuously smoky cocktails whilst sat at the bar.

The cocktails soon had their desired effect and we wound up gossiping with the girl behind the bar. I told her about what I’d seen of Burlington so far, and both her and Megan agreed that I’d to be careful what I said as everyone knows everyone in the small state of Vermont.

We had a lovely lunch down at the docks on the lake.

Lunch over, we wound our way into the centre of Burlington for my first proper look at the city. After passing through the chaos of the town square, we made our way onto Church Street, the main shopping street through the city centre. I bought myself a black cap with “Burlington, Vermont” on it as a souvenir and then a cocktail mixer from a speciality drinks shop. I tried a sip of it straight from the glass on the way back to the car – way too sweet!

Upon arriving back at Megan’s parents’ place we hopped in the pool, where Megan’s friend Malory was waiting for us alongside Maureen. We stayed in the water for probably way too long, gossiping and splashing around before we were summoned out to eat delicious pulled pork and homemade coleslaw sliders.

Fed and watered, we then gathered in the living room with a smattering more of Megan’s friends for their Monday evening ritual of watching “The Bachelorette”. This trashy reality TV programme sees a bunch of single men battling it out for dates with two single women. It was as terrible as you can imagine, but me and Breen had a good laugh throughout as we snickered away at how exaggerated everything was – until we got told off for being too noisy. The Bachelorette is serious business.

A dessert break halfway through the show allowed me to get some sugar in my body in the form of some homemade biscuits that Megan’s friends had brought, but this wasn’t enough to stop an overwhelming tiredness take over me. With the show over, I said my goodbyes and headed off to bed.

The Bachelorette was a fitting wind-down after another busy day.

Next in my series of American adventures was a trip to the high school that Megan has been working at for the past few years. She was back for a few weeks in the summer as she was working at a summer camp for students for whom English wasn’t their native language.

We rocked up early so that Megan could coordinate with the other teachers and also so that I could have a quick tour of the place. I was thrilled to discover that it was just like the movies, from the locker-lined corridors to the huge theatre, and then the American flags and individual desks in all the classrooms.

With the students seated, I was drafted in to help out with some of the day’s entertainment. I sat out such events such as musical chairs and other physical activities, but was more than happy to try my hand at cupcake decoration. I made myself a purple monster of which I was very proud, but was dismayed to hear that I’d have to wait for the end of the day to eat it.

My purple monster, Geoff, looked good and tasted bad.

Once the summer camp was over, the yellow school buses had taken the last students home, and my cupcake had been well and truly devoured, Megan and I headed back home and were tasked with taking the family dog, Ellie, out for a walk. This allowed me to snoop around the neighbourhood even more, from the lovely houses to the intense green nature that forms so much of Vermont.

Back home, we waited for Megan’s brother Scott to arrive back. Once he did, we headed out for some food together at a series of food trucks that had gathered in the parking lot of a farm shop just up the road. There I tried my first Philly cheesesteak and some disgustingly sweet fizzy pop whilst enjoying some live music provided by a local a cappella group.

We then begun the short walk back home after the group had packed up and we’d finished our food, but stopped along the way to head into a field and watch as the sun began to set. We took lots of photos, but the coolness of the air and the jet lag that was still nagging at me meant that we didn’t manage to stick it out to see the sun disappear beyond the horizon.

Some cool tractors and a bit of accidental Wes Anderson.

I had to try my new hat out and climb inside this skip.

With the entire family gathered in the living room, I then spent a while introducing them all to the joy of Eurovision, running through my favourite acts from this year’s edition. It was like being back watching it in Norway, except that everyone was quite bemused by this most European of traditions!

The next day now took us out on another adventure around a spectacular part of Burlington and Vermont in general, but this post is already quite long, so I’ll have to live that one for next time!

25.08.22 — Travel

Montreal

Hello there, I’m back!

It’s been over a month since I last posted, but the reason is a valid one: I’ve been gallivanting around across the pond for an entire four weeks! This American adventure took me on a wild trip around Canada and the USA doing so much that I’m going to have to break my trip down into a series of what I assume will be about a dozen blog posts.

But enough with the intro, it’s time to strap in, because here goes the first one…


My journey began as I said goodbye to my two plants, saying a little prayer that the funky automatic watering device I’d put in them would keep them alive for a whole month. I headed down to the train station with my suitcase and backpack and jumped on a train to the airport, where my first couple of dramas occurred.

I was firstly interrogated by a guy in the check-in queue over how long I’d been in Spain. I panicked, thinking it was some kind of immigration issue, but it turns out that he just wanted to compliment my Spanish! The next close call came as I’d no idea what kind of batteries were in some of the stuff I’d packed in my suitcase, calling for the stereotypical rushed unpacking and repacking of my suitcase in front of the check-in desk to fish the little buggers out of there.

The rest of the journey then went without a hitch, with the added little surprise of lunch being included which even came with a glass of red wine – I’ve been flying Ryanair for many years and so I was pretty amazed that anything was included for free. The wine improved the rest of the journey no end, and I was soon in Canada for my first ever visit to the country.

It was my first time in Canada and the first time I’d been to see Megan after so many years of saying I’d visit!

Things got off to a rocky start as the arrival forms I’d prepared to enter Canada wouldn’t work, and then my flight’s suitcases took an eternity to show up in the baggage reclaim. I did manage to spot my new bright blue case as soon as it came down the slide, and so headed out in earnest to look for my guide for the first part of my American adventure: Megan!

The last time I’d seen Megan was when she visited Madrid back in 2019 along with Loredana and Heidi. The four of us met in Madrid, and I’d always said I’d go and see all three of them: I saw Heidi in 2018 and 2022, and Loredana just last year. Megan’s from Vermont in the US, so this was always going to be a slightly tricker one, but it was time to be reunited!

Megan met me in arrivals with a balloon which said “congratulations” in French (apparently there were no welcome ones), and the two of us excitedly headed off to find her car and head into Montreal proper. We found our hotel, checked into our room, and got ready for our first night out checking out the city.

We wound up stumbling across a comedy festival hosted by Just For Laughs, the Canadian prank show that I used to watch as a child – I never thought I’d come across them again! We watched on in amusement as street performers made their way up and down the street whilst we searched for somewhere to grab a drink. Once sat down, the show continued on as we tried a local beer and watched the parade of comedians go past.

We’d decided that while we were in Canada we wanted to eat some poutine, and so ordered some only to be told that the kitchen was closed due to the fire system malfunctioning and dumping foam all over everything. We thus headed across the road and to another terrace, where we were served a hearty portion of the gravy and cheese curd-covered chips.

After our very Canadian meal we headed back to the previous bar, enjoying one last half-pint and chatting to the waiter before heading back to the hotel for a relatively early night – I was pretty exhausted after the day of travels!

I had a pretty rough night’s sleep thanks to the jet lag, but the early morning meant that me and Megan could squeeze in some activities before breakfast. We’d wanted to go check out a vantage point atop a hill near the hotel, but the drive up their turned out to be in vain as the road was closed off. The two guys manning the blockade suggested we walk up, a suggestion to which me and Megan laughed in unison.

At least we got to see some pretty houses and areas along the way.

We retreated back to the hotel to make the most of the free breakfast, after which we hopped back in the car and drove down into the Old Port, one of the oldest areas of the city. We had a wander around as the clouds rolled in, stopping by at a café along the way to grab a chocolate croissant after Megan spotted that an underground bakery had some really good looking ones on offer.

At this same café we grabbed some bread that had full olives baked into it, resolving to eat it as we headed back out on the road later on. We took some photos around the area, wandered down to the water, and then grabbed the car back to the hotel to pack and check out.

Don’t be fooled by my hat, it was sweltering out.

Once back in the car, we began our journey out of Montreal and out of Canada itself: it was time to cross the border over into the US. We waved goodbye to the city that I’d been in for less than 24 hours and headed south to a remote border crossing point that Megan had decided would be less crazily busy than the main one.

It was a lovely drive, passing through small Canadian towns and past some beautiful natural scenery before arriving at the backroad border crossing, which consisted of a little white hut and a cone in the road. Despite its benign appearance, I wound up stuck there for a while whilst I got asked a lot of questions and had my details taken.

I was very relieved to eventually be released and reunited with Megan, now in the US! The rest of the journey saw us power on through a bunch of small American towns, where the Canadian red and white tricolour had been swapped out for the Stars and Stripes.

But that’ll have to be all for now: stay tuned for my next blog post, where I’ll delve into the first destination on my American adventure!