July 20th 2011 touch down in New York City, JFK. I know many people including myself have dreamt of this moment and it was finally happening. I remember the taxi journey from the airport to manhattan, the excitement was too much. I saw my first Wendy’s (popular american restaurant outlet) my first “Ugly Betty” style houses as we drove through the region of Queens. My first stereotypical overweight Americans plodding along the sidewalk of what I can only describe as the “ghetto”. It was just like the movies. I was buzzing, “I can’t believe we’re in America, I can’t believe we’re in America”. Because I couldn’t.
So we arrive at our hostel, camouflaged in what seemed like a normal townhouse building. It was called Tone on Lex around 79th and Lexington avenue if I remember correctly. It was typically New York-ish structure. A dark, tall and narrow building. 3 or 4 stories high. As you walked through to the back room there was a little kitchen communal area with one fan hanging from the ceiling which I remember didn’t do much in the hellish conditions that was the HEATWAVE! For the first time in goodness knows how many years it was 40 degrees plus. It was the type of heat that literally punched you in face as soon as you stepped outside. Sweat would appear in places you didn’t realise it was possible to sweat. I remember taking refuge in the banks and they’re heavenly air con, you could tell the staff were not best pleased with our presence. “just checking my American bank account…” of course.
So where to start with The Big Apple?! Well perhaps the pizza! So much pizza everywhere! PiZZA! I remember the first night getting one of those slices of pizza everyone had pre told me about, it was pepperoni, huge and delicious! Pretty much on every street corner there would be a pizza place.
One of the first places we checked out was of course central park. I didn’t realise how vast it was until I was there and then examined the many free maps you could pick up along the way. It was pretty huge. So it’s amazing enough to be walking through central park but what happened on the 2nd day in this wonderful country was pure amazement. I saw Beyonce. Yep you read that right I saw Beyonce, she was just casually strolling through central park with who I presume was a friend, a kid and her bodyguard (although he was wearing casual clothes the ear piece and constant talking into his shirt gave him away). It’s amazing how much impact one person can have, no one dared approach her. it was almost scary.
Times Square is one of the few places that actually presents itself in real life the exact same as on television. It was one of those places you actually felt like you were part of the world, living right in the craziness, you felt alive. The towering buildings, the blinding lights, the hustle, the bustle, the massive billboards, it was all happening in Times Square. Ferris wheel’s in shops was apparently normal for America. Crazy-ness. It was in Times Square we bagged ourselves some tickets to see our very own Russell Howard at a little comedy club that night. If you’ve ever been to NY you’ll be very familiar with the street guys and gals attempting to sign you up to their “discount” comedy club tickets, we know you’re trying to con us so don’t even bother give us those tickets for $10 and be done with it! And he did. The evening at the comedy club was very eventful, as much as I hate to say it I didn’t find Russell Howard as funny as the American comedians, though maybe this was because he was trying out new material to try and reach out to the American sense of humour, seeing what worked and what didn’t. It was a good night though, got chatting to a few of the comedians after the show, bagged a few free drinks, some waffle fries and guest list to see the show the following night. I wish I could recall the names of some of the acts that night, I’m sure I have them written down somewhere, a lot of them feature a lot on comedy central in the states apparently, they were very good.
Did anyone else have to double check with a passer-byer if the empire state building was in fact the empire state building? No? Just us then. I really thought it’d be bigger! And the same goes for the statue of liberty, I suppose with all the films and tv shows we build up our own illusions of what we expect from cities like NY, perhaps I expected too much, but they were still pretty awesome. I can now watch those many many films based there and happily brag to everyone that I’ve been there. You know it’s how it goes. We even saw the “Home Alone” bridge. Score!
I remember one night we planned to go to a few American bars with some of the people from the hostels. The bar we started in was SO American it was like being in a film. Baseball being showed on all the TVS, chicken wings being served to the tables, “bud” everywhere and a load of americans, I loved it! We then relocated next door to a karaoke bar, now this was some experience. It England most are too shy and reserved to take to the mic unless a copious amounts of alcohol have been consumed. Not in America, and it was a wide variety of people who took to the stage as well. Young people, old cowboy looking people and what can only be described as hill billies were giving it there all. Fair to say the music was not too my taste, but hey I was in the US so country and western was to be expected. I just remember it been a very odd experience, riveting non the less, but the $2 pints of cider helped the night along just fine!
One of our more gangsta moments came when the need for fried chicken outweighed any sense of danger we had. It was 1am Becks, Billy, Ryan, Elliot and I fancied some chicken. I remember Courtney the delightful girl who worked at the hostel told us she knew a great chicken place just down the road. Around what felt like a good 45 minute walk through Harlem with the G’s looking us up and down we arrived. Think it was safe to say we were all glad to arrive alive. Apparently Courtney said a lot of the locals were wondering why she was hanging with white kids, but she said it was all good, they only talk here in NY whereas in her home town in Chicago they would have just shot you. Dandy.
If theres one thing to remember when in NY it’s that liquor stores shut real early on a Sunday. So stock up or you’ll be wondering around the city with no option but to buy bud from a supermarket. Sad times.
I love this city, I know a lot of people don’t but I really do. I see where the term “la la land” derived. Yes they may be just a tad insane and live in their own dream world, but hey it works and it’s a lot of fun! Before I went I heard the streets are gonna be dirty, the people are gonna be crazy and it’s not all its cracked up to be. Those people were wrong, although the streets were actually a little bit dirty, but thats besides the point! The point is that if you are looking for a “rad” time LA is the place to be, I mean where else would you go for a sit down meal at 2.30 in the morning, and be surrounded by people who think this is a perfectly standard procedure. Where else in the world would you step out of a bar at closing time and be greeted by a load of MC’s on the street with a camera, who then invite you to feature in their music video? And would someone please tell where else in the world would you be invited into VIP in a club and be told “you’re lucky to be in here you know, usually it’s only celebrities or gang leaders…” the answer is no where.
Everyone there is of course looking to “make it” in some way or another. Rock star, actor, model, director, anything and good on them! The rest of the world may think a lot of these kids are deluded but at least they are chasing their dreams no matter how far fetched and out of reach they may appear to people on the outside. I for one admire their determination and positivity. If I was an American I would have certainly been one of those young aspiring rockstars doing everything i possibly could to get a gig at the whisky.
I don’t know if it was just because of our charming British accents but I also found the majority of people to be delightfully friendly and welcoming (oh except one bus driver, but that’s another story for another day). People were always interested in your story, why you were here, where you were going. I remember a popular response from locals when I said I was travelling, they would ask “why” I don’t think they grasped the difference between travelling and a holiday. Or if they did they didn’t see the point.
But of course there’s much more to Los Angeles than just the insanity that is Hollywood. As most of you would have expected I absolutely adored and fell head over heels for Venice beach. That surreal but beautiful place that derived from Mr Abbot Kinney trying to recreate the Venice of Italy in 1905. I spent many a days attempting to surf, checking out the lifeguards and strolling the boardwalk, sampling and taking in all my new favourite place had to offer. I knew I’d love Venice before I had even been. I did. Freak shows, street performers, chilli cheese fries, marijuana doctors and a quick bit of star spotting as we saw Jessie J being wheeled around in a wheelchair, this place was bizarre but wonderful. The only thing that really and I mean really annoyed me was that I missed the RHCP rooftop performance for their latest music video by what must have been an hour or so. I remember a girl strolling into our hostel saying ” oh red hot chilli peppers just did a secret gig on the beach” we had literally been there an hour ago and we were only a 10min walk away. GUTTED might just be the word. But I can’t blame this on the city, it didn’t know I was to leave the beach so eagerly that day.
There’s so SO much I could write about this city and I’m sure I’ll come back to it at some point but I shall leave it at this for now. I love Los Angeles and I will be back. If anyone wants to join, meet me at Angels and Kings on Hollywood boulevard. Oh what fun we had.
At the time, there were many a time when i absolutely despised this, having to drag around a huge backpack that seemed to outweigh and outsize myself. Trying to pack all my belongings up each time we moved somewhere new, and always struggling to make everything fit no matter how clever my tessellation skills. It always seemed like you had accumulated more each time, though this was surely impossible! but now looking back its one of the things i missed the most. at times i remember looking at my red and grey borrowed backpack propped up against an airport wall and thinking to myself ‘This is all I have right now, I’m thousands of miles from home with nothing but the contents of this bag to survive on’ …what a wonderful feeling. Absolute freedom. No house, no car, no wardrobe, just this bag, with its polyester sack securing and rounding up the items that would help you along in your journey.
I think any traveller will tell you, it’s the people you meet along your trip just as much as the places you go, that make the trip what it is. I was fortunate enough to meet some incredible, inspiring people on my travels, which of whom I will never forgot. Young homeless adventurers, budding film producers, European surfers, hopeful rockstars and of course the avid party animal. I’m a strong believer in fate and serendipity and positive thinking. I believe I met all these people for a reason, they were all meant to be on the same path (if only for a little while) and that they were all supposed to play a part, big or small in the whirlwind that was this trip. Those people were genuinely some of the most interesting. warmhearted, pleasant and likable people I’ve ever met. You wouldn’t meet these types of people staying put in your home town. Don’t mean to come across harsh but you just wouldn’t.
-Being on a budget
This may sounds like a strange one to some as being on a budget is usually the bane of a backpackers life BUT it is fun when you think back on it. Deciding which instant noodle flavour to have for dinner. Deciding between a chocolate bar or a packet of crisps for lunch. Staring into fancy restaurants (or ANY restaurant for that matter) and hating those rich non-travellers inside for being able to buy a proper meal. Sorting out communal dinners with your fellow hostel roomies (a particular favourite was beans eggs and toast with a cup of tea between 5, $3 each. BOOM). The rush of excitement when you find out your hostel does free meal vouchers and contemplating what the infamous ‘backpackers’ meal will be like in this place. Debating on EVERY single thing you buy, even if they were essentials…”shampoo for $4?! I’d rather go without!” Driving around in circles mindlessly trying to find a ‘Target’ or ‘Woolworths’ just any supermarket. Searching down a Maccy D’s for the free wifi whilst pretending you’re looking at the menu knowing full well you will not purchase anything as you have no money! Hmmm maybe I don’t miss it that much actually…
-Waking up in a new place knowing the world is your oyster!!!!!
LA, San Fran, NYC, Melbs, Sydney, Nadi….I have no idea where I am anymore! I don’t know if any fellow past/present travellers will agree with me here but being constantly “on the road” as such left us feeling like we were going slightly insane, in a good way though! I think its the amount of freedom, the break from routine, the sheer knowledge that you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, go wherever you want and explore places you only ever dreamed of going. I think backpackers eventually get this sudden urge of power when they are at an airport thinking they can go literally anywhere their little hearts desire, and its true! I think this hits most people when they are at the final stop waiting for their plane back home. I for one had this sitting in Brisbane airport waiting for my flight back to rainy old London. “I have my bag, I’ve been doing this for months, there’s no reason why I can’t just skip terminals and jump on a place to NZ!” But of course that little thing $$$$$$ may have played a part in my return to Blighty.
-The pure excitement of being in a place for the first time
I personally have dreamt of going to the US for as long as I can remember and Australia likewise though America was the big one. Landing in JFK knowing I was finally in this wonderland I had dreamt of so many times was one of the most overwhelming and physically powerful moments I have ever experienced whilst travelling in my life. I remember the taxi journey from JFK to Manhattan Island. “I can’t believe we are in America! AMMMMERICA! asif we are in America..” Yep I was that excited. But anyone who knows me will know California, LA in particular is THE ONE. The daddy of them all. I have annually made an announcement that I would go to LA every year since I was 16, pretty sure my friends were sick to death of it as I never actually had made it. So the flight from JFK to LAX was full of excitement quivers to say the least. Getting to LA was a dream come true and I know I will never experience that same “first time” excitement of being in the States ever again, so I savoured it. If I could I would go back, box that feeling up and sell it to you all, because it was magical. I’d be rich.