17.10.22 — Travel

Andrea & Andrei’s Wedding

After landing back in Spain and catching up with friends around Madrid, it was time for me to head out for one of my first adventures outside my home city. This took me up to Gijón in the north, where I’d very important business to attend to in the form of Andrea and Andrei’s wedding!

I hopped in the carshare after work on the Friday and had a very pleasant trip up with my driver, Ana, who I’d travelled with on my trip up to Gijón for my birthday weekend back in April. We had a good laugh during the trip, which concluded when she left me in a petrol station in Asturias. Cami came to pick me up from there and we headed towards her place, where she’d kindly agreed to put me up for the weekend.

As I’d arrived relatively early, we’d time to head straight to the seafront and have a meal out in the city centre together. This we did, and I was happy to catch the gorgeous pink sunset over one of Gijón’s lovely beaches before heading off for a delicious sushi meal.

We also ran into some celebrations on the street, as the local festival was in full swing. We followed the sound of a marching band with some huge drums to the main square of the historical centre of the city, where we encountered a photo opportunity that we simply couldn’t miss…

Me and Cami are secretly a couple of century-old Asturian children.

The next day was the day of the big event. We grabbed a taxi with David, who was to be one of the best men, and headed down to the hotel where the bride and groom were getting ready. I infiltrated the room where Andrea was getting prepared, where we all had a drink and I met the rest of the bridesmaids: Cami had been invited to do the honour of being one of them too!

Once everyone was ready, we then taxied our way up to the venue to celebrate the ceremony itself. We had a quick drink before sitting down for the ceremony to begin, which was a lovely and unique affair fitting of the couple. There were some pretty good wise cracks in speeches from the bride and groom’s family and friends, after which we all dispersed and the eating and drinking began.

Cami looked absolutely stunning as one of the bridesmaids!

Things kicked off with some drinks and nibbles in the gardens of the venue, where I tried some delicious local cheese, meats, and seafood. We were then sat down for lunch, which being Spain was a huge five-course affair with all sorts of tasty dishes.

The long lunch over, we gathered round to see the newlyweds’ first dance, after which the bar was officially open and the DJ began playing some tunes. We had a boogie, sat outside for a good chat, and eventually wound up munching on even more food as some food truck offerings were laid out for us to graze on.

The night then drew to a close in the early hours of the morning with the traditional rendition of Asturias, a song that lives in the hearts of all who are from the region. We weren’t ready for the night to be over, though, so we all hopped in a a car and headed into the centre of Oviedo to keep on partying!

After some singing and dancing in the parties that I mentioned earlier, me and Cami struggled to flag down a taxi but eventually managed to get ourselves back to Gijón ready for a good night of sleep. This actually worked out quite well, because despite the unlimited gin and tonics on offer, I’d been pretty well behaved and drank plenty of water along the way.

This meant that we could make the most of our Sunday, and so we pottered down to the beach once again for a wander around and some lunch. That we did, ending my trip with some lovely ramen and beer in another Japanese restaurant that Cami knew before heading back to the train bound to Madrid.

The seafront in Gijón is always a lovely place to go for a walk.

It was an absolute honour to be invited to join Andrea and Andrei for their special day, so I’ve to extend my thanks to them for allowing me to form part of the celebrations. A big shout out to Cami for also letting me crash at her lovely flat in Gijón – it’s a lovely place to escape from the madness of Madrid for a while!

13.10.22 — Journal

The Return to Spain

After a crazy monthlong trip around the US and Canada, I was finally back in Europe with plenty of energy. Having done so much whilst in the Americas, I was inspired to make a shedload of plans and keep up the holiday spirit back in my home city of Madrid.

The first thing to do was to catch up with all my friends that I hadn’t seen for a month, so I spent a good few evenings meeting up for drinks around the city. If there’s one thing I’d missed whilst across the pond it was the concept of cañas (pronounced ‘can-yas’), meeting up with mates on an outdoor terrace for a few chill beers.

The summer sun was still shining down on my neighbourhood.

Another afternoon I headed out to the Royal Botanical Gardens with Sara. This was a place I’d been meaning to visit since I first visited Madrid but which I’d never got round to, so we decided to head there together seeing as it was free for the afternoon.

We had a good snoop around the plants and exhibits, but it was a markedly average time of year to visit. The blooms of summer had passed and they hadn’t yet replaced the summer foliage with the winter one. I did enjoy a photography exhibition that they had on inside one of their buildings, however, and so took note of some of the works and photographers that had caught my eye.

After leaving the gardens, we wandered past the Museo del Prado which it sits alongside and headed up into the literary quarter to have a drink and a proper catch up. As usual we had a great laugh whilst chatting about our summer’s antics.

The Prado is one of the world’s most famous art museums.

Later that same week I met up with Hugo, Sergejs, and some more friends to have a meal out to celebrate Hugo’s birthday. We headed up into the north of the city and to an American BBQ restaurant that they’re a fan of – something I found somewhat ironic after having just arrived from the US a few days before.

We had a great time at the restaurant, where one of Hugo’s friends knew one of the waitresses from having worked together there in the past. We shared some delicious meaty dishes and had a good few drinks, during which the desserts were on the house as a gift to the birthday boy!

Continuing the celebrations, we arranged to meet up for a picnic that weekend. Despite the delicious desserts at the restaurant, I theorised that it wouldn’t be a proper birthday without some cake, and so I whipped up a Victoria sponge for everyone to try down by the river. This was also prompted by the need to use up some self-raising flour that I’d bought while down in Murcia a while ago – it’s a nightmare to get hold of here in Spain!

Not a bad attempt thanks to the self-raising flour.

In another moment of me doing something I should have done a while ago, I also finally bought myself a helmet to use whilst cycling around the city. I put it to good use in some of my many cycles home, but I also spent some time enjoying the more tolerable late-summer temperatures and did plenty of walking and exploring. One of these wanders took me through the Campo del Moro, the royal palace’s formal gardens which I’d also never been inside.

The next weekend I was back out with Sara once again, but this time joined by her boyfriend Eric and his friends who were visiting from the north of Spain. We had some drinks around the centre of Madrid and then headed to a restaurant in the north of the city, where I enjoyed some delicious salmon and some drinks.

My next adventure took me to Arganda del Rey, a town on the outskirts of Madrid where Luis is from and where his family still live. I grabbed a lift with Carmen to join Luis and friends in the centre of Arganda one evening, where we had some food and drinks before heading out to the edge of town and to the main event: the fair!

These fiestas are a staple of Spain, and the last one I’d been to was up in Gijón back in July, so it was high time for another! The group of us headed into the action, where we grabbed some more drinks and headed over to dance to the music as we waited for another of Luis’ friends to take the stage for his DJ set.

We had an absolutely fabulous night out at the fiestas, dancing and laughing and eventually filling ourselves up with huge sandwiches full of chorizo and morcilla, a Spanish blood sausage which is one of my guilty pleasures. As the only person not from Arganda in the group, I then headed with Luis back to his family home where I stayed over in one of the spare bedrooms.

The next morning I had quite the heavy head, but this was soon tended to with a breakfast of homemade and freshly fried tequeños (Venezuelan salty cheese sticks) courtesy of the lady who takes care of Luis’ parents. Me and Luis spent a good while in their picturesque garden munching on these cheesy delights whilst calming our hangovers with a hot chocolate.

Luis’ family’s garden is a lovely spot shaded by grape vines.

We then headed out into the centre of Arganda del Rey, where the streets were buzzing as everything was prepared for the encierro. This is the name given to the running of the bulls, an event played out in small towns across Spain which is exactly what it sounds like: bulls are let loose to charge through the streets whilst people do their best to outpace or at least outmanoeuvre them.

I do love many aspects of Spain culture, but their treatment of bulls is not one of them. It was fascinating, however, to wander around and see how they had prepared the entire town for this event, and how they have permanent infrastructure in place such as holes in the floor in order for the huge iron walls (with gaps enough for a human but not a bull to slide though) to be installed.

My weekend in Arganda ended with some ice cream and a very warm car journey with Luis back up to the centre of Madrid, where he left me at my house and I spent the rest of the day mooching around and feeling sorry for myself as I nursed my heavy head.

This wasn’t the end of the late-summer festivities back in Spain, but I’ll have to leave my next little adventure for my next blog post. There’s a lot to catch up on after pumping out thirteen posts from the Americas!

10.10.22 — Journal

The USA & Canada

If you’ve been keeping up with my blog over the last month or so, you’ll know that I’ve been publishing a load of blog posts from my monthlong trip across the US and Canada. In the end there’s thirteen blog posts to get through, so I thought I’d make a little directory to list them all for quick reference!


1Montreal

I land in Canada after a long journey over from Europe. I’m met at Montreal airport by Megan, and we spend a night in the city.

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2Williston

We cross over into the US and I spend my first few days with Megan and her family in their lovely house just outside the city of Burlington in the state of Vermont. We explore the beautiful nature of Vermont and I get my first look at at American high school.

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3Lake Champlain

My adventures in Williston continue, with a series of activities on and around the beautiful Lake Champlain. Me and Megan go kayaking, Maureen takes me on a tour of the islands, and we have some fun evenings of meals out and karaoke at the local bars.

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4Bougie Camping

Me, Megan, Breen, and Aaron spend a weekend in the Vermont countryside at a fancy camping spot with views over Lake Champlain. I have a corn dog, make s’mores, and we all chat into the early hours of the morning.

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5Megan Moves

Megan moves into her new condo and I join her there for a week of remote work and busy afternoons. We head to the theatre, I join a softball game, and we eat plenty of tacos, pizza, and ice cream.

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6Take Me Out to the Ball Game

I have the full US experience with a trip to a baseball game, complete with 25¢ hot dogs and lots of other treats. Highlights include a beautiful sunset and a drunken photo shoot with the team’s mascot.

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7An Intense Day in Burlington

Me and Megan cycle 32km in the summer sun out into Lake Champlain and get caught in a rainstorm on the way home. We celebrate our busy day with an evening of drinks and karaoke!

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8Bread & Puppet

Megan takes me for an alternative experience with some outdoor theatre in the Vermont countryside. A unique experience that I can’t really sum up here…

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9Leaving Vermont

My last few days in the state of Vermont see us head out for a diner breakfast, scale Vermont’s highest mountain, visit the Von Trapp Family Lodge, and pass by the Ben & Jerry’s factory.

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10New York with Megan

Me and Megan have an absolute blast in New York City. Highlights include visiting the Brooklyn Bridge, eating at Katz’s Deli, watching a comedy show, cycling Central Park, watching a show on Broadway, visiting the Metropolitan Museum, and enjoying the panoramic views of Manhattan from our hotel rooftop.

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11Alone in New York

Megan bids me farewell and leaves me alone in New York for 24 hours. I head up the Highline, visit the 9/11 Memorial, get emotional watching the sun set over Manhattan, and then get lost on the metro out of the city.

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12Buffalo

I fly over to Buffalo to spend a few days with Kevin and James in their city. They show me the highlights of the city and its food, and we spend a hilarious day at the county fair. I end my trip in style with a drunken night on the town with Kevin and fly back to Europe with one of the worst hangovers ever!

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13Toronto

Whilst with Kevin and James, Kevin and I headed off to Toronto for a day trip. We stopped at Niagara Falls and then explored the Canadian city before heading back to Buffalo.

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If you don’t want to click around, you can also just start reading the first of the blog posts and then click “Next blog post” at the bottom of each page to read them all in order. I’ve also updated my travel page with all the new locations that I visited along the way!

I hope you enjoy this series of posts documenting a crazy month touring around Canada and the northeastern United States – I certainly had an amazing time!

02.10.22 — Travel

Toronto

As mentioned in my blog post on the few days I spent at my last stop on my US trip, Buffalo, me and Kevin also spent a day in Toronto! This day trip took us out of Buffalo and out of the US into Canada, but we’d first a stop on the very border to make.

I have to admit that after so many weeks in the US and a particularly busy time in New York, I’d completely forgotten that Kevin and James live nearby a very famous natural wonder: Niagara Falls. I was excited to catch a glimpse of the famous waterfall, so we parked up on the Canadian side of the Niagara River and headed towards the huge column of spray.

It will sound very cliché, but I did get quite emotional even before the falls came into full view. Just being close to the edge and watching the sheer quantity of water go flying over the edge from the top end of the falls was impressive enough, and so I had to hold back a tear as we headed further down the river’s edge and the full glory of this famous landmark presented itself.

The photos I’ve included – much like any videos I’ve ever seen of the falls – do not do the place any justice. I had never imagined the huge, panoramic size of the waterfall – it was breathtaking.

Another aspect that can’t be appreciated via photo is how bloody misty the whole area surrounding the falls is: we got absolutely soaked! It was a hot and sunny day, thankfully, so its cooling effects were quite welcome.

It was also cool to stand and look across the river to the US side.

After a quick trip to the gift shop and the loos, we hopped back into the car and headed on into Toronto proper. Me and Kevin had a good karaoke session in the car along the way, belting out some Spanish karaoke classics until we arrived and Kevin just fully drove over an entire pavement as a shortcut to get into a car park – it was hilarious!

We grabbed ourselves some public transport tickets and headed off to the city’s gay district, where we had a drink and indulged in a spot of shopping, all whilst pretending to be two old Spanish ladies who were overestimating their grasp on the English language. More hilarity!

Kevin then made a plan of other things we should go and see and we duly headed off to check out the places he’d identified. We passed through the city’s main square, to the old town hall, a famous indoor market, and then off to the distillery district.

The streets of Toronto were lovely and showed the city’s famous skyline.

The distillery district was just that, a whole district which was once an industrial complex full of breweries and distilleries. It had since been converted into a rather bougie area full of restaurants and bars, so we found a place with a table outside and had a pint to end our day in Toronto.

The distillery district was an absolutely lovely way to end the day.

As day turned into night, we headed back to the car and began our journey back south towards the US and Buffalo. Kevin wanted to take me to a mystery restaurant for tea, but the traffic out of Toronto delayed our arrival by a good while and so we decided to head off to Jim’s Stakeout. This was a little bit of foreshadowing for the evening after when we’d both end up back in there and in quite a state!

After messing up my dates and telling the immigration officer that I’d arrived in the United States on the 24th of August – a date which hadn’t even passed at this point – I was miraculously let into the country after the officer himself didn’t even seem to notice my monumental gaffe!

I had an absolutely great day in Toronto and at the Niagara Falls (which I’d been spelling wrong all my life, yikes). Kevin was an absolutely great tour guide and the best company one could wish for when exploring a new city!

After this I headed back to Buffalo, so if you’ve clicked into this blog post from there, time to head back!

Travel

Buffalo

After a few days in New York City, it was then time for me to head off to the last of the cities on my monthlong tour of Canada and the US: Buffalo! It’s not a conventional stop for people wandering around the States, but I was off to see two very special people: Kevin and James! I’ve known Kevin for a long time now and I met James when he came over to England back in the day and then again when he stopped over in Spain for a few days, but now it was time for me to see the two of them in their own place.

The flight over from New York was a quick one, and I was soon being picked up from the airport by Kevin. We nattered all the way back to their flat, where James had prepared a homemade meal of chicken, mac and cheese, greens, and corn bread. It was all absolutely delicious!

After eating, I unpacked and installed myself in their spare room before we headed into the centre of Buffalo and to a bar for some drinks. Me and Kevin got a bit tipsy off vodka cocktails and had a good sing and a bit of a boogie. We then headed back home, where me and Kevin indulged in our usual activity of chatting away into the early hours.

The next day we woke up somewhat groggy after just two cocktails, but we were soon on our feet and out the door to begin some explorations. We took the car down to the city centre, where we first headed into the impressively tall and ornamental city hall. The interior was then a complete surprise, with its gorgeous Art Deco architecture and artwork.

Buffalo City Hall has quite a presence in the middle of the town centre.

We then grabbed a lift and headed upstairs for the next surprise in the form of panoramic views over the city and Lake Erie. I took some photos and James pointed out some of the most important spots from our vantage point up in the clouds.

Leaving the city hall behind, we headed up the road and to hotel to grab some coffee. James and I had a nosey around some of the rooms of the hotel whilst Kevin bought drinks, and we reconvened at the car to head over to another part of the city.

I very much enjoyed the illustrations on the wall in the hotel.

We stopped along the way at a mural that James wanted to show me, where I took a photo to prove that I’d visited Buffalo, New York. If that’s confusing to you, it’s because New York City is in New York State, in which Buffalo is also situated. I don’t know about you, but I was never taught US geography, so I’ve learned all of this in just the past few years!

To reiterate: I was now in Buffalo in the state of New York.

From there, we headed down to the docks, where we saw some of the important sights including a bunch of decommissioned military boats and submarines. I also had my photo taken with Shark Girl, a sculpture and local landmark, but I shan’t include the photo here as I look pretty terrible!

The sky began to darken as some dodgy looking grey clouds walked in, so we headed back to the safety of the car as we waited for the storm to break. We headed over to a supermarket I wanted to visit, stopping at Tim Horton’s (a Canadian coffee chain) for a bagel along the way as I was still living my bagel obsession after those I tried in New York.

The supermarket in question was Trader Joe’s, where I bought lots of supplies for my visit. We then headed over to Kevin and James’ preferred supermarket, which was nice and had some fabulous cookies, but was a bit too big and overwhelming for me as tends to be the case with supermarkets in the US. I did grab some root beer which I’d never had before, upon which I discovered that it tastes like sarsaparilla – I loved it!

On the way home, we stopped at an outlet, where I wanted to buy some new shoes but wound up grabbing some new jeans in an Old Navy. I was sure to take a photo of myself with the Old Navy bag and send it to Megan and friends back in Vermont – apparently they love the place!

We then stopped to grab some dinner: pizza and chicken wings. Buffalo is famous for both of these indulgent foods, so I was keen on trying them. The pizza was lovely but the stars of the show were definitely the wings. They were lightly spicy with a blue cheese sauce and were absolutely delicious!

And now for a quick intermission whilst me and Kevin headed somewhere else…

The next day, Kevin and I headed over the Canadian border and into Toronto to pass the day, and I want to leave that for a separate blog post. You can read that here!

Back in Buffalo the next day, it was just me and James for the morning as Kevin had to work until the afternoon. The two of us hopped in the car and James showed me around some of Buffalo’s hidden architectural gems and other neighbourhoods of the city. It was a very interesting trip and it was great to have a a tour guide who knows the kinds of things I appreciate!

We then headed to the North Campus of the State University of New York at Buffalo (quite the mouthful) in order to pick Kevin up from work. Before we left the campus, we had a quick snoop around, as I was keen to check out an American university after having seen the high school in Burlington. It was very interesting but we were growing tired and hungry, so the sight of the aggressive campus geese was as good a sign as any to head off.

Lunch was at a spot called Rachael’s, where I grabbed a light lunch of chicken salad after my body was crying out for some greens after a good few days of absolutely indulgence in Buffalo, Toronto, and New York City. It was also a good idea to eat something healthy before we arrived at our next stop: we were off to the county fair!

After witnessing what for me was the first attraction of the fair, an argument in the car park between a parking attendant and a very cross man, we bought our tickets and headed inside. We saw some cows and other animals, but I think the main draw for me was just looking at the people in the fair. It’s times like this when I begin to understand anthropology – the study of people and human behaviour.

James then wanted to show me the bizarre section where prizes had been awarded for all sorts of bizarre things, from the packing and presentation of pickles to the best patriotic photography. Once back outside, I grabbed a fresh lemonade and we wandered into the part of the fair with the main event: the rides!

I love this photo with all of the colours and energy of the fair.

I failed to convince Kevin and James to hop on the Wild Mouse or the Dodgems with me, so I’d to settle for a ride on the Ferris Wheel. This turned out to be a pleasant surprise, as it provided some great views over the sprawling fair from up in the air.

I then spent the remaining tickets on a spinning monstrosity called a Zero Gravity which I’d always wanted to try since seeing them online. These menacing things take the form of a circle in which you stand facing the centre with your back to the wall, which I did diligently with just four other small children for company – not a good sign.

The rickety metal ride then began to spin at increasingly higher speeds, pushing me against the wall with the g-forces generated. Then came the vertigo-inducing part of the experience, as the whole thing began to tilt until we were basically being spun upside down as if we were in a washing machine. All of this whilst being held in place by nothing but the centrifugal force generated by the spinning!

This was the view that greeted me once I hopped on this terrifying thing.

The sensation of having my organs moved around for what felt like an eternity wasn’t the most pleasant one, but I got off with a big smile on my face and sat down for a moment while I caught my breath and balance. From there, we headed off to look for “I Got It”, James’ favourite fairground game.

“I Got It” was loads of fun! We’d to throw small rubber balls from a bench into a box with a 5 × 5 grid, where they’d settle in one of the 25 squares. The objective was basically the same as in bingo, we’d to shout “I got it!” if we managed to land a horizontal or diagonal line of five balls.

I can’t stress how addictive this game was, we sat playing until we’d all spent all the physical dollars that we had on us! We didn’t win anything more than one free game at one point, but it was well worth the splurge as it was loads of fun – and hey, I was going to have to spend my dollars at some point before leaving!

Money spent, we wound up in a hall which was a bit creepy and full of pushy vendors, but at least it had some AC to cool us off. On the way out we ran into a parade of horses on our way to grab a county fair staple: fried Oreos. These decadent snacks take the form of Oreos which have been fried in a doughnut-like batter. I wasn’t the biggest fan, and opted to grab myself some sweet and salty kettle popcorn instead – it was fresh and delicious!

We then snooped around some RVs, where I was rather appalled at the excess of people having what is basically a second home sat empty and parked on their driveways. I did, however, enjoy the drink I grabbed afterwards, which was like a root beer but even stronger – I’m mad at myself because I’ve completely forgotten what it was called!

It was then getting rather late and rather warm, so we headed back to the car and back home. James then had to head off to work, so Kevin and I pottered down to the local metro station to head into the city together to spend my last evening in the Americas.

The metro was quite dodgy looking but I wasn’t too shocked at this point: the US is really terrible at public transport. The train was clean and punctual, though, so I can’t complain. It left us near the docks that we’d visited a few days before, from where we pottered down to a bierhaus for some German food and beer!

We grabbed what I would describe as a maß after my experiences at the local beer festivals in Herzogenaurach, which are basically big steins of beer. Although we accompanied these with a selection of bratwurst sausages, the beer soon had us tipsily chatting with the waitress and I began to sing along to some of the German songs that I knew thanks to Luisa and my two visits to her hometown in Germany!

James eventually came and picked the me and Kevin up, and not before time as we were quite tipsily away. James was exhausted after work so headed home, dropping me and Kevin off at the bar we’d all gone to together on my first night in Buffalo. We grabbed some gin and tonics there, where things got a little out of hand and we wound up ending the night at Jim’s Stakeout for fried chicken sandwiches!

After grabbing a taxi home, I then awoke the next day with an absolute monster of a hangover and the panic that I had to somehow pack my suitcase and be out of the door by midday in order to catch my flight back to Europe. I somehow managed to power through all of this, but I began to seriously wilt as we headed to the airport in the car.

There was a pretty big queue of cars at Canadian immigration, where the heat began to beat down on us and I began to regret ever drinking a sip of alcohol as we waited in line to have our passports checked. I did survive, though, and had to say my goodbyes to Kevin and James at Toronto airport as a torrential rainstorm began to lash down.

From there I’d then to endure the nightmare of a flight back to Madrid, which included a four-hour layover in Lisbon. I was so groggy and my stomach was awful on the entire flight back over the Atlantic, which wasn’t helped by the baby crying in the row in front of me and the fact that I was sandwiched in between two other people with very little legroom. To add insult to injury, I’d then to make a manual flight transfer in Lisbon airport, involving passing through immigration, picking up my suitcase, and then checking it back in. Nightmare!

I can’t let this rather unpleasant trip back to my home continent of Europe mar the amazing memories I made in Buffalo with Kevin and James. From exploring Buffalo to highlights such as the country fair and all of the delicious food that we ate, I can’t thank Kevin and James enough for taking me in and showing me their lovely city. It was a great way to end my trip across the Americas, but more than anything it was just lovely to be reunited with the two of them so we could spend plenty of time together.

Now back in Madrid, I nearly fell asleep in the taxi back home, where I arrived to discover that the two plants I’d left in the flat with an automatic watering system had survived their month alone. I jumped straight in bed for a nap, after which I unpacked and settled down for a chilled evening of watching Legally Blonde: The Musical in bed.

What a trip!

28.09.22 — Travel

Alone in New York

I pick things back up after leaving Megan on the metro to head back to the airport as we finally parted ways after three weeks together exploring Canada and the northwest of the United States. I was now alone in New York City and had a full 24 hours of time to go and explore everything it had to offer, so how would I begin? Heading back to the hotel for a nap, of course.

After my nap I spent some time journalling, looking through my photos, and starting a little bit of light packing so I wouldn’t be in such a rush the next day. Once that was all done, I headed on to the metro in my half-broken shorts and headed to the first spot on my solo adventure where I’d craftily planned to kill two bird with one stone.

I hopped off the metro near Hudson Yards, where I first searched out the Uniqlo shop in the fancy new shopping centre in order to buy some new shorts. I changed into them in the changing rooms there and threw my broken ones into a recycling bin as I headed outside to see the next attraction: the Vessel.

I’d seen and heard a lot about this sculpture on some of the YouTube channels that I indulge in from time to time, from the technical challenges of the whole Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project to the controversy surrounding deaths by suicide from the Vessel itself. While they work on solving this last issue, the Vessel is closed to visitors wishing to climb up, but we were allowed inside at ground level to take some photos.

On the way out of the newly developed Hudson Yards area, I grabbed a hotdog at one of the trusty New York food trucks. I wandered down past the sprawling rail yard and headed up on to a landmark that I’d briefly visited last time I was in the city: the High Line. This lovely park through the west side of Manhattan has the curious prestige of being constructed on an old elevated railroad, and offers a slither of greenery and some interesting views over the city’s streets.

I gave Ellie another quick buzz as I thought she’d like the concept of the High Line. We had a quick chat but she was already in bed, so I then gave Kevin a ring and we had a great laugh as I wandered down to the end of the park.

My idea had originally been to head back to the hotel to freshen up and change before heading out for the evening, but as I reached the end of the High Line it was already getting quite late. Not wanting to miss the sunset, I stayed out and decided to head down to Ground Zero to see the 9/11 Memorial as it was on the way to the place I’d decided I wanted to spend the evening.

After a frustrating incident trying to sign up to use the public bike system and then a painfully sweaty wait for a train in the city’s decaying metro system, I finally made it to the memorial. I spent a while wandering round, taking in the solemn atmosphere of the place, and taking some photos as the sun began to set behind the buildings.

The area is a lovely and fitting tribute to those who died during the attacks, but part of me did question the almost excessive commercialisation of the area and the events that it is unavoidably associated with. Having the site become a tourist attraction that felt almost like a theme park didn’t sit 100% well with me – and I say this knowing that I’d come along to look at it too. It left me a bit conflicted.

They place these flags on the names of the people for their birthdays.

Not wanting to have my sunset plans ruined by New York’s unreliable-at-best public transport, I headed over early to my next destination. The metro dropped me off at Brooklyn Bridge Park, on the other side of the water from Manhattan. From there, I began a slow wander down to the water’s edge, where my plan was to watch the sun set over the infamous skyline.

This view was cool with the Brooklyn Bridge hidden in the background.

Upon turning the corner and being confronted with the sight of the skyscrapers over the waters of the East River, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a bit emotional. I then pottered further down and to the water’s edge, where I spent a good amount of time just taking in the views. This spot provided view of it all: the remains of the old dock, the Statue of Liberty in the distance, the colours of the evening sky, the impressive the Manhattan skyline, and a panoramic view of the Brooklyn Bridge that we’d been on just a few days prior.

This view struck me as very unique, combining greenery with the skyline.

These pylons are all that is left of the old dock.

After taking countless photos from this awesome vantage point, I finally turned the camera on myself and took a rare selfie to prove that I’d actually been in New York. It was also time for me to stop gawking at the views and listen to my body for a second, which was now crying out for something to eat and drink. I wandered down the length of the park in the hunt for some food and knew I was getting closer as I saw people were holding nearly immaculate ice creams – call me Sherlock Holmes.

I wound up queuing for a while for a pizza place under the Brooklyn Bridge before I realised that the line didn’t seem to be moving and there was seemingly complete chaos inside. Impatient thanks to the hunger and thirst, I abandoned the line and looked for a while for an alternative before settling for yet another food truck meal. The food isn’t great but they are always there like guardian angels when you find yourself in a pinch!

I took my chicken kebab back down to the waterside, where I sought out a free bench and sat down to watch the sunset advance. As day became night, the city lights began to appear and I spent another good time in the dark photographing everything that caught my eye.

As the dark and cold grew more intense, I said my goodbyes to this awesome spot and walked back to the metro. Once back in the hotel, I finished off some more packing and headed through the masses of photos that I’d taken on the trip so far before heading off to bed. It’d been a beautiful and somewhat emotional last night in New York City!

The next day, as my journal from the trip notes, was a “pretty mechanical day”. I woke up, finished off my last bits of packing, showered, left the hotel, and dragged my trusty blue suitcase down to the metro to head off to the airport.

This journey back to the airport didn’t go like clockwork, however, as I saw a turn come and go as we sped past and some kind of interior compass or innate directional intuition told me that my train should have taken that turn. I checked Google Maps and, sure as hell, I’d gotten the wrong train and we certainly should have taken that turn.

I don’t know where I get this refined sense of direction from, but I sure as hell was grateful for it as I jumped off the train at the next station, took the next train in the opposite direction, and then waited for the next train that actually would go to the airport.

Three trains later, I eventually arrived back at JFK, where I grabbed my last cream cheese bagel and headed to my flight. It’d been quite the hassle of a journey to get me back to my gate out of New York City after having arrived only four days prior, but it was well worth it as I headed off for the last stop of my grand American adventure.

After a few days there with Megan and then 24 hours alone, New York had been an absolutely amazing experience that turned my perception of it from a once-and-done trip to a place that I’m already planning to revisit. The absolute chaos of the Big Apple is overwhelming, so I could never stay there for longer than a few days, but the diversity that forms the city and the always-on electric atmosphere make it unique amongst cities.

I’ll definitely be back to New York, but for now, I was off to another US city…

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…