At the time of writing, it’s a mere ten days since I left camp, but already I’ve covered over 1,000 miles and been through six states. Here’s the short version of events!
New York, NY: 26 – 29 August
Very little of tourist value was achieved, as some friends and I stayed with a native (thanks, Matt!) in Queens. The first few days post-camp can safely be termed as “recovery” and “readjustment”: we made a very exciting, fresher-style trip to the supermarket (“we can buy things! And can consume what we want!”) and then had to have a lie down. And that pretty much sums up three days.
Washington DC: 29 August – 2 September
The real adventure began with a four hour bus ride and a short wait for a fellow Brit – I’ve been joined by my good friend Emily for the next ten days. Emily’s evening arrival from London meant that our first evening involved little other than a very long gossip at a local restaurant… where we were accidentally joined by four of my friends from camp… who happened to be staying in the same hotel as us!
Our first real day involved a lot of walking (about 10.5 miles!) as we headed from our hotel in Dupont Circle to the Mall, via the White House (not sure if Barack was in or not). We walked the length of the Mall twice, heading first to the US Capitol before walking all the way back to the Lincoln Memorial via the Washington Monument and a look around the National Museum of the American Indian. We then visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum by which point we were suffering from information overload and decided it was time to enjoy something less serious: we took the Metro to Nationals Park and, for the second time this summer, I watched a home team lose. The New York Mets beat the Washington Nationals, and we got even more exercise by purchasing $10 standing tickets.
Saturday involved less walking, but more museums: the National Museum of American History (Wizard of Oz shoes! Michelle Obama’s inauguration ball dress! White House crockery from various Presidential administrations! Obligatory Christmas decoration purchase!), the National Museum of Natural History and the National Air and Space Museum. Again, we were quite museum-ed out by the end, and this time recovered with a trip to a book store to purchase maps for our imminent road trip.
Our final day in DC was more sedate in terms of information-intake, but retained our level of activity: we visited the National Zoo on a very hot day. Em was stunned to discover it was my first trip to a zoo (take note, Mum and Dad, “how did you make it through childhood?!”), and I was anxious, given that I’ve been spoiled having visited South Africa last spring. I fulfilled my prophecy, and felt mostly sad and disappointed: many of the animals I saw were ones I hadn’t seen in Africa, but I could tell they didn’t have the same spirit of the animals I did see, irrespective of species. It felt wrong to see these animals in such close quarters – although I know that positive work is being done by zoos worldwide in terms of animal conservation and breeding programmes – and I suspect I won’t visit another zoo in a hurry.
The following day, we collected our car and set off into the unknown…
Washington DC to Nashville, TN: 2 – 5 September
I took the first leg of driving when we collected our Chevrolet Malibu… and was promptly incorrectly directed off the Interstate and into the Pentagon car park. There have been few other errors though, and we have successfully navigated to Potomac Mills Outlet, our hotel in Roanoke, the Smoky Mountains, Gatlinburg, Nashville and Memphis.
Driving in the US is a new experience for me, and my thoughts are as follows: where is all of the signage?!; how does one determine what the speed limit is? (see: lack of signage; variable Interstate speed limits); merging on and off roads is a generally terrifying experience; undertaking should be legal worldwide; why is there no sign when you drive from one time zone to another?
In general, I’m having a fantastic time on the road: as Em said, “I feel like a proper grown up now”, our car is a great drive (and has been dubbed Podge after much deliberation) and we’ve seen some amazing sights we would not have seen had we travelled by air, bus or rail.
Our final stop together is New Orleans, where we will say a sad farewell to Podge… and I’ll continue with the rest of my trip.
Trip in brief – top sights so far:
- The view from near the top of the Smoky Mountains – and being 5,000 feet up on a state border
- Tasting 12 varieties of Moonshine in Gatlinburg – and hastily heading to the nearest restaurant afterwards having realised we hadn’t eaten all day
- Watching a woman consume a doughnut using a spoon and fork (and buttering said doughnut) at breakfast in DC – on the list of things you don’t expect to see even in America
Stay tuned for details on the rest of the trip at a later date…