Pedal power

For Christmas (2013, I should note), I bought my Dad a track cycling experience at London’s velodrome.  Yes, that velodrome, the one where Team GB’s cycling contingent ensured that the cycling team as a whole would have come tenth in the Games medal table by themselves if they were competing as a country (bumping Australia down to eleventh).  As part of London 2012’s legacy programme (which we all know I love), the velodrome was built as a permanent facility, and slated to re-open in Spring 2014 as part of the Olympic Park’s redevelopment.  The velodrome and aquatics centre did indeed open on time, and as well as playing host to the regular training of elite athletes such as Tom Daley, members of the public can book sessions for their own moment of glory.

Predictably, velodrome sessions are very popular – many clubs book sessions and attend as groups – so Dad struggled (also because he can be indecisive) to get his day booked.  After prodding him into it on a few occasions, he finally managed to find time in his hectic schedule, and off he went to live out his Chris Hoy fantasies.

As just a little more background, I bought this gift as cycling is one of Dad’s favourite Olympic sports: he, like many other Brits in recent years, has become fascinated with both track and road cycling, and enjoys watching the annual events which take place between Games.  In terms of his own level of activity, Dad’s in his 50s and, during the summer months, plays tennis at least once (if not twice) per week, cycling to and from the courts in our village as his warm up.  He’s never cycled indoors on a track before, so the whole experience was completely new.  As I sadly wasn’t available to tag along and watch on the day, I posed him a few questions regarding his session…

What were your expectations of the day?
My expectations were to have a bit of a trundle around the very boards and circuit that were graced by all of the Olympians in 2012.  There are not very many venues where this can be done!  I was reminded of a friend who, many years ago, was trying to persuade me about the virtues of golf by telling me it is one of the few sports were you can literally follow in the footsteps of the top players.  I will never play football at Old Trafford or tennis at Wimbledon but I have cycled on the same track as the heroes and heroines of London 2012


approaching the venue: a little quieter than during Games time!


What was the coaching like as a participant?  Did the coaches help you to get what you wanted out of the experience?
The coaching and direction was very clear and straightforward.  It was kept to simple basics (which was good for a novice like me but I don’t know how it was for more experienced riders).  It was indoor track cycling 101 which I thought was effective and the right level to pitch it.  I got the impression that after watching us for a couple of laps the coach figured out the level of my ability (and, presumably everybody else’s) and tailored his instructions accordingly as I went past him

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watching from the stands


What was the highlight?
The highlight was achieving the little personal goal that I set for myself of doing a lap on the blue line and then managing to keep going until the end of the session!  It was also great to be in the centre of the velodrome and to experience it from that perspective as well as just being able to cycle on the track

How was the atmosphere of the venue?
It was fairly low-key and came across as a regular working day at the velodrome for the employees.  In that sense, it was all quite functional
[note from Becky: I suspect this will be pretty different when the World Championships are held next year!]

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being in the middle of the track: one of Dad’s highlights


As a British taxpayer, do you think that this venue adds value to our country’s experience of hosting an Olympic Games?
Yes I do.  It is the legacy in action and, when I was there, the velodrome was publicising what is available to cyclists indoors and outdoors
[as well as track cycling experiences, the facility offers visitors sessions on the outdoor mountain biking track] as well as forthcoming events such as the World Indoors Track Championships next year.  This is only happening because London hosted the Games.  The cycling facilities are available to everyone who can pedal a bike so I think it is a great asset

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Dad was in awe of these guys, this shows the real angle of the track (also pictured, the blue line he conquered)


Thinking back to Berlin… do you think people will be following in your tyre tracks 75 years from now?
This is a very good question.  I find it hard to imagine unless there is a commitment to investment and up-keep over the next 75 years because improvements in technology and materials will inevitably happen which means that a sporting venue cannot stand still.  As we saw in Berlin, the running track is not the same as the one that Jesse Owens ran on in 1936 and I am sure that the other facilities have been improved over the years (with the exception of the outdoor swimming pools!)

So there you have it: legacy in action for the everyperson.  Almost three years post-Games and venues are open, busy, providing people with gainful employment.  Visitors can enjoy being part of something they helped to fund, we haven’t been left with enormous facilities that there’s no use for.  LOCOG’s aim for London 2012 was to, “Inspire a generation”.  If this doesn’t meet and possibly even go one better than that, I don’t know what would.


The tree of life

My Mum started it.  I was young and impressionable, and we were on a painful cycling holiday in Germany when she took us to a Christmas decoration shop.  It was the middle of the summer, horribly hot with more bugs in the air than I knew the names for.  But we came away with a couple of festive souvenirs, neither of which I could identify now, though the seed had been planted.

My Christmas decorating tactics when at university mainly involved tinsel.  I’ve never been a big fan of the stuff on trees, but when you live in a flat or house which is mainly corridors and banisters, it begins to make sense.  As one housemate once put it, “it looks like Christmas threw up in here” – I was delighted that, at the time, we lived in an enormous house, which I’d decided could “handle” a huge amount of glittery strings.

I’ve never really had my own tree, as I’ve chosen instead to wait until I’m back at the family home (which I’ve managed for every Christmas) to really enjoy a traditional tree (I do own a three-foot baby pink tree, bought mainly as it was incredibly cheap).  My family aren’t allowed to decorate the tree without me, and if I live away, I make time to return a few weeks prior to Christmas in order to put the tree up.  Because I, too, have started something: I’m building a collection of ornaments.  The pace has picked up since I’ve begun travelling more for pleasure – I now ensure that I don’t return home from a significant trip without a new decoration for my future trees.  Until I get my own home and family, they’ll hang on my parents’ tree, to remind me where I’ve been.  These are their stories…

London 2012 ornaments
When I first saw these at Spirit of Christmas in 2012, I didn’t know whether to fall in love or be appalled.  I didn’t think they could possibly be genuine, as I couldn’t imagine LOCOG licensing such a product… but they did, and they were.  I snapped up two of London 2012’s mascots for the trees of my future – one is in traditional Beefeater dress, the other is (of course) an ice-skating Santa.  When I posted a photo of them on Instagram, a friend who was similarly mourning the loss of the Olympics was desperate to know where I got them, and when I gave her the name of the supplier, immediately bought a set online.  2014 will see Wenlock and Mandeville grace our tree for the third time, as their manufacturers enjoy a prime spot in Fortnum and Mason’s Christmas shop.  Olympic legacy via Christmas decorations – something LOCOG should be proud of.

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The ruby slipper
Of all the things available to stare at in Washington DC, one which I couldn’t possibly miss was the ruby slippers at the Museum of American History.  The Wizard of Oz is still one of my favourite movies, so in 2013 I duly made my pilgrimage to see the famous shoes.  Sadly, they don’t make them big enough for my Yeti-sized trotters, but the Smithsonian do sell ruby slipper ornaments, and my collection immediately expanded.

Festive lobster
Amongst the weird and wonderful everythings of New Orleans, I spied something so perfect that I laughed out loud.  As well as proudly proclaiming it’s birthplace, this piece involves an appropriately-attired lobster playing the saxophone.  Of course.  But it also pays homage to one of the best pieces of dialogue in The Best Christmas Movie ever.

Viva Las Christmas
Another destination on my 2013 road trip, another certainty of finding glitzy tat.  There was a selection of typical options in Las Vegas, but rather than choose my favourite one, I selected the one which best commemorated my first visit – the hotel my friend and I stayed in is represented here, and a small piece of the Strip occupies a branch on my tree.

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Wreathed lighthouse
Ptown, Cape Cod, isn’t really about subtlety, so there’s a certain irony in the simplicity of this piece.  Eva and I spent two lovely days on and around the Cape this summer, and once we reached the end of our trek, she enjoyed Ptown as much as I did.  My criteria for decorations isn’t that they must be tacky – it’s that they should represent the place they’re from, as well as being obviously festive (so it’s not enough that an ornament is able to hang from a tree, it must also be clearly Christmassy).  The wreath is key here, otherwise it’d just be a (admittedly lovely) porcelain lighthouse.

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The one which didn’t make it
“Wouldn’t it be great,” Eva and I said, perhaps a little tipsily, “if, when we’re in Hawaii, we find a Christmas decoration which marries Hawaii and Christmas?  Something like, I don’t know, Santa in a grass skirt?”  Well, of course somebody had already thought of that.  I delighted in scrolling through the Santa’s Pen website whilst we waited at an airport for a flight.  When we made it to the store in Honolulu, I was agog at the choice, and eventually plumped for Santa, in said grass skirt, enjoying a drink in a hammock.  The sales assistant wrote “Mele Kalikimaka” (Merry Christmas) on it for me… and I promptly lost my purchase, but only realised the night before we were due to leave.  After the shop had closed.  And we left before it opened.  And they don’t ship internationally.  Heartbroken doesn’t even begin to cover it, but at least I have an excuse for a second visit to Oahu someday…


Spoilt for choice
Berlin was bound to be tough: Germany is famously festive, with Christmas markets galore if you travel in November.  We went in October, and in the major cities, you’re always going to find it a little tricky to find something more unique and less mass-produced.  So I compromised, and made a trip to the highly-commercial Kathe Wohlfahrt.  I spent a long time selecting my ornaments, and came away with just two, both of which appealed to my horsey side.  The girl on the hobby horse is unpopular in our house already, but I couldn’t resist this miniature mirror into my childhood.  And the little deer-at-the-manger scene is simple but beautifully detailed – hopefully you can see the tiny strands of hay in the feeder.  Along with the lighthouse, they will make their debut on the tree in 2014.

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I’m not sure how many more ornaments I’ll get the chance to buy over the years, but I enjoy having an eclectic and non-matchy tree: whenever I see a shot of a tree on Facebook or Instagram, where the poor thing has been swathed in traditional glitzy baubles and trussed up with ribbons (why?!  Ribbons are for gifts!), I shake my head, turn to look at my traveller’s tree, and look forward to sharing the stories even more.  Because “I went to Homebase and picked out things which were on three for two” just isn’t interesting.

How to do it

Regular readers of my blog will know that my favourite L word is Legacyevent legacy, to be precise.  Events aren’t just about what happens in the moment, they expire, and it’s a challenge to see not just how long you can make it last (though given that I’m the queen of stretching birthdays out for two weeks, my love for event legacy is unsurprising), but how much of a positive impact the ripples can have on their surroundings, and for how long.

Olympic Games are notoriously poor at producing good legacies, which is why the IOC has become a huge fan of the event industry’s favourite buzz word – these mega-events take seven years of pre-production (and that’s just from the moment of winning the bid, there are at least three years prior to that devoted to pitching and bidding and schmoozing), only to expire within four weeks of competition.  By that point, a city is often left with brand new Olympic-quality facilities which it sometimes has no idea what to do with.  It’s not just the competition venues, it’s the athlete housing and media capabilities.  So things have to change.

Legacies haven’t always looked like they do today, with tree-lined parks which are home to affordable housing for local people, and world-class facilities which will train the stars of the future whilst providing entertainment and a place for residents to keep fit.  Occasionally, a legacy is accidental or, at least, something which could’ve been completely different.

On my recent trip to Berlin, I visited the Olympiastadion, the venue which hosted the 2006 football World Cup final, but which is also infamous for holding the 1936 Olympics.  Where, hindsight keenly showed us, Hitler oversaw the building of what would become an enormous rally ground.  What he probably didn’t predict is that, almost 80 years later on a windy Tuesday in October, the park would be full of people wandering around clutching personal electronic devices and being guided around the park via GPS in a variety of languages.  This, dear readers, is a legacy many events may only dream of.

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For it is not – yet, one might argue – the fate of any other Olympic Games.  London’s legacy is foetal by comparison, but those in charge should learn from Berlin.  The Olympiastadion has pulled off an incredible feat, arguably thanks to input from the Brits themselves.  When Berlin was divided post-WW2, the stadium was part of the British sector, and was duly preserved.  Between foreign occupation, the Cold War and a divided state, the park could easily have fallen into ruin.  Instead, it has not only survived, but thrived.

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My family and I chose to take the fairly new multimedia guided tours, which was €3 per person on top of the park entry fee.  Don’t tell those who run the stadium, but they could be charging twice that – many other tour operators do.  We were each given a smartphone-type device (they’re GPS enabled – you can click on each part of the tour as you get to it, but the map guides you around and is set to autoplay when you reach the relevant section) and headphones (which, my Dad remarked, have the added bonus of keeping your ears warm) before departing on our tour.  There are two versions – 65 minutes or 100 minutes, and we chose the latter.

We were given a wealth of information on our tour, beginning with the stadium’s original history as a horse racing venue.  You’re then sped up to it’s predominant current use as a football stadium, where the events pro in me drooled at the brilliantly-designed lighting system which creates no shadows on the pitch.  Then the real reason I’d insisted on a visit began, and we were taken around the park, with the opportunity to see the list of gold medal winners from the 1936 games, the site which bore the Olympic flame, and many other things.

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As I walked around the park, there was an incredible example of legacy at every turn: alongside the rally ground, which is still used as a polo field (polo was an Olympic sport in 1936, and one which Team GB won a medal in!), there is a small field with practice cross country fences (this part of the park wasn’t explained, but I could see that it wasn’t big enough to have been the actual course – a rider was using it, though!).  Across a small road, there were also at least two outdoor sand schools, both of which were in use, presumably by either visiting riders or those who keep horses nearby.

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Further walking led to a small outdoor pool where swimming practice was taking place – yes, outdoors in October!  There’s a reason the team in question – a local water polo club – are incredibly successful… Also training on the day were various levels of age group football players, making use of smaller pitches within the park.  When I reached the final stop on the tour – the original Olympic swimming and diving pools – my guide informed me that the pool is available for members of the public to use in summer months, almost 80 years post-Games!  Many Olympic pools since have fallen out of use less than eight years post-Games, never mind eight decades later.

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The tour involves a lot of walking, and the park is very different to the images we are shown of how the delivery agencies hope for London’s Olympic park to look (it’s very austere, lacking in decorative flora and fauna – although, this makes it very low-maintenance – but I think that’s a subtle awareness from the German’s that their park is unique, that it is also an eerie reminder of Nazism, as well as a place of sporting significance), but it is an incredible experience.  Many people remember only the negatives in Germany’s history, but the present is very much positive, with a venue which was built to last seeing sustained use.  It’s certainly a place which I would be proud to see my tax dollars funding in the present day.

As I crossed from the pool to the stadium, multimedia device in hand, to meet up with my family, I wondered how many people could be wandering around London’s Olympic park eight decades from now, what they might be clutching and how their experience could be.  I hope that there is something good to see, that the facilities are open for business, that we have built it and people will come.

Admiring “The View”

Last week I looked down on London from what is currently the tallest building in the European Union.  From when I commuted daily through London Bridge in September 2010, I’ve watched the building grow taller and taller with fascination.  There have been days when much of the structure has been shrouded in London’s infamous fog and mist, as well nights when it has lit up the entire skyline.  The progression of this behemoth has been intriguing, and I’ve watched with interest from trains, foot, buses and even the balcony of my flat in Brixton.


The Shard as it looked when I was a commuter [By Pearse (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons]

The viewing deck opened in February 2013 and, even by Londoner standards, it’s pricey.  My feeling has always been that a drink should be included for the price that is charged, and I only made my way up in the two lifts provided because I was bought a ticket as a birthday gift.  Although expensive, the view is fascinating, particularly for someone so accustomed to seeing various parts of one of the world’s best cities from the ground.

I could happily have spent hours gazing down at London’s bustling streets, and I spent much of my time up there not picking out buildings and streets that I know, but reflecting on memories of time spent in the city.  I’ve lived within easy reach of London for most of my life, and feel that it was an important part of me even before I worked and resided there.  The view was overwhelming for me, as there were so many memories which caught my eye: closest to my location was my former office at St Mary Axe, and many buildings I walked past twice per day (as well as a few which didn’t even have foundations three short years ago – I barely recognise parts of the City anymore).  Glancing further afield I spotted the Olympic Stadium, a venue I haven’t properly entered, although I’ve also seen London from the Olympic Park’s Orbit.  The Millennium Dome – somewhere I visited when it first opened, and have been to since it became an exhibition space (I also used to be able to just about spot it from my bedroom in Brixton).

Dominating the south London skyline is the Razorblade at Elephant and Castle and, just visible was the Oval in Kennington – a place I have enjoyed with friends.  I wasn’t able to pick out my Brixton home, as the day was a bizarre combination of cloudy and bright, which was making me squint.  As the trees of London’s parks haven’t yet come into bloom, it was also difficult to pick out the right geography to orientate myself.

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Somewhere in this direction is my former home!

Moving around to the west are more popular tourist locations: the London Eye, an attraction I’ve visited more than once and hurried past many times as a busy Londoner; the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace, other buildings I rarely pause to contemplate; Battersea Power Station, familiar to me from train journeys even when I was little, as our train slowed on the approach to Victoria station.  In addition to these central London landmarks, I’m good at picking out Wembley Stadium in the distant reaches of northwest London: I spent days working there during my time in event recruitment, and it’s another building I was able to see from my flat in south London (the view is pretty incredible even from only six floors up!).  Wembley’s arches can be tricky to spot against a cloudy sky – it’s easier to see at night – but I managed even through the grey.

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Most London landmarks spotted wins a prize! And if you can see Wembley, you’ve got great eyes

The experience reminded me of people, things and places that I miss, but some things that I don’t.  It’s strange to return to my former home and be regarded as a tourist, and part of me feels like I will always belong – I navigate tubes and negotiate buses without thinking, as well as being happier to cut through small, uncrowded streets rather than trudge through crowded main drags in the West End – but I feel like an outsider these days, peering in from the outside… or down from above through a telescope into the past.

Views of London from The Shard are my own images, first image of The Shard in progress courtesy of Wikimedia.


If wishes were holidays…

…I’d have been on lots!  I went without for a long time: during my mid-teens, I rebelled against family holidays and opted to stay at home, missing out on a few trips in favour of being by myself.  Limited funds when I was at university generally meant that foreign holidays were a non-starter too – the exception being the skiing trip I went on during my first year – and instead I stuck to visiting friends in various parts of the UK when I was able to take time out from studying or work.

Between January 2007 and March 2012, I didn’t leave the UK.  Then, following a generous gift from my grandparents, I was able to book a dream holiday to South Africa, where I spent almost two weeks riding along beaches and galloping with zebra – the definition of heaven.

And that got me started!  A year later, my sister was working for the agent I had booked my South Africa trip with, and together we spent a week in Kefalonia to celebrate my birthday (I’ve already been told to expect no birthday or Christmas presents for several years, which is fair enough!).  Just a month after we returned from Greece, I departed for my summer in the US, where I spent 13 weeks working prior to four weeks of holidaying.

I’ve now been back in the UK for two months, and as the nights have drawn in, I’ve found my thoughts increasingly drifting to ideas of further foreign adventures, as well as being inspired by this post on one of the blogs I follow.  I love the sentiment that every ride is like a holiday from daily life – and I quite agree – but I have discovered that there’s nothing quite like a sunny day on a foreign beach with a new equine friend galloping beneath you to blow the cobwebs away.

My list has actually been growing steadily for a while, and this is the point it’s now got to:

  1. Brazil – several of my friends have been in the past couple of years, and I’ve been keen for a long time.  It always looks glamorous, as well as a good combination of relaxing and fun.  I’d love to ride along the beaches, take in the sights, sounds and smells of this exotic location and perhaps do all of this in 2016 when I could also observe some fantastic competition…
  2. Morocco – again, this country has been on my list for a long time.  I would love to take a gallop along the beaches, as well as checking out the non-horsey tourist traps the country is famous for.  Geographically and culturally, it seems like a fascinating destination
  3. Mexico – has joined the list recently, partly inspired by investigations related to horsey trips, but also because I’ve been bitten by the laying-in-the-sun bug.  If I can get enough money saved, this will be an easy one to tick off next year once I’m finished in the US…
  4. South Africa – I’d like to make a return visit, partly because I’ve not yet seen all of the “Big Five”, also because of the diversity of riding on offer.  My first trip allowed me to take in the Eastern Cape, but I didn’t make it to the Western Cape and Cape Town, a destination high on my wish list
  5. Portugal – As I mentioned previously, I’m keen to expand upon my dressage skills, and where better than at a specialist centre in a warm country?  A centre-based tuition-focused holiday wasn’t my idea of a good time recently, but I’m now in the frame of mind where I’m ready to put myself to the test and really knuckle down

There are many other places in the world I’d like to visit, but these are the riding-focused ones.  Which parts of the world would you like to ride in?  Let me know if you have any questions about the places I’ve visited – I’m happy to share my experiences!

End of the holiday

The point which has always seemed so far away looms large: I fly back to London this week.  When I get back in the UK, I’ll have been away for 17 weeks.  I spent a week in Florida, largely by myself for the first time in a long time.  I enjoyed the generous hospitality of long-time family friends, and naturally slid into contemplative mode whilst entertaining myself on the beach (it’s a tough life).  What I think is one of the main attractions of living this lifestyle repeatedly – there are people at camp who return time and again, and at various points I wondered what motivated them – is the fact that, although there is a long stretch of hard work and precious little time off, at the end of it is the month of freedom which you’ve earned.

No role I’ve previously undertaken would allow a month off without a serious catch (the one here is that you’re not earning), and that even those employers who do allow an extended break would have trouble finding time in the calendar for it to fit in.  A month off allows the extensive travel which I’ve undertaken – two weeks of paid holiday is great, but there are usually two days of those weeks dedicated to getting to and from the destination, and feeling that you have to cram a lot into that time.

Whether I’ll return to camp next summer remains to be seen, but it’s something I’m considering.  I made some great friends – some of whom I know I’ll see sooner rather than later.  I learned a lot about myself, what I’m capable of and what still needs work, as well as how to adapt the way I work to the specific environment I found myself in.  I’ve been to some places I didn’t think I’d visit – either at all or on this trip – and I’m very glad I made the effort.

I’m excited to get home and see my family and friends who I haven’t seen for several months – apparently even the cashier my parents regularly use at the supermarket has been asking after me.  I’m also equal parts nervous and optimistic about what the future holds when I return – it’s currently a blank canvas, and I have ideas about what I do and don’t want (though these have a tendency to be quite fluid…), so it’ll be interesting to see which ones I can see through.

Across America – holiday update part one

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.

Washington Monument seen from the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC

Washington Monument seen from the Lincoln Memorial, Washington DC

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.

Road towards the Smoky Mountains, Tennessee

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…

The holiday starts here

Today I leave camp, not for the first time this summer, but for the last.  Full review of my thoughts on the experience later in the week, but for now I’ll look forward to the next month with an outline of my plans.

26 – 29 August: New York City.  No plans as such, and I’m woefully under-researched (those who’ve ever tried to teach me anything in an academic setting will be asking, “What’s new?”), so this could be a wild adventure or a quiet few days readjusting to being in the real world

29 August – 2 September: Washington DC.  A good friend from the UK joins me in DC (which is just as exciting as the fact that I’m on holiday for a month).  High on the agenda are trips to The White House, the zoo and a baseball game, but other than that, we’re still deciding

2 – 6 September: Road trip!  We’re picking up a car and heading south.  Our journey to New Orleans will be via one night stops in Nashville and Memphis and, providing I don’t get us lost, I’m very excited about this portion of the trip

6 – 10 September: New Orleans.  We’re joined in New Orleans by a newer friend – one of my colleagues from camp.  It looks like a weekend of partying and dining out is in order

10 – 14 September: Las Vegas.  I say goodbye to my British friend, but my camp friend and I continue the party in Sin City.  Then, all being well…

14 – 25 September: Florida.  I’m being hosted by my brilliant godparents, who have offered me a place to stay for as long as I wish.  So the remainder of my time on my visa will be spent relaxing in their area

Still open to suggestions for activities in DC, Nashville, Memphis, New Orleans and Vegas (preferably at the cheaper end of the spectrum, or ones which involve winning rather than losing money!), but much of the accommodation is thankfully now booked.

So it’s all happening: goodbye camp.  Hello comfortable beds, any foodstuff I wish to consume and no further responsibility for children.

Holiday plans: update and request

I previously blogged on my vague travel plans at the beginning of my summer in the US. Incredibly, I have just three weeks left at camp, so it’s time to start finalising things and getting organised (as well as excited).

My itinerary has become a bit more concrete, so here’s the latest:

  • 26 August – leave camp, head to New York city. Request: activity suggestions! I’ve previously been up the Empire State building and on a boat trip around Manhattan, so avoiding repeats. Ground Zero is on my list and possibly Ellis Island… is it worth it? I really enjoyed my trip to Yankee Stadium last month, but will be leaving another baseball outing for later in my trip…
  • 29 August – friend from the UK arrives in Washington DC, meet her at the airport. Request: best way to get from NYC to DC with ~50lbs/25kgs luggage? Cheapest option is preferable! Also required: accommodation recommendations for DC. Our plan is to go to the baseball whilst in DC – the Mets are in town this weekend – hopefully for an evening game this time
  • 2 September – leave DC bound for New Orleans. We’re hoping to do this portion by road and would like to be in New Orleans no later than 6 September. Request: most fun route from DC to New Orleans via road? Must-do activities en route?
  • 6 – 10 September – New Orleans. Request: accommodation recommendation – cheap and cheerful preferred here, as well as ideally a French Quarter location
  • 10 September – travel from New Orleans to Las Vegas with a summer camp friend (probably by air). Request: accommodation recommendations for Vegas – we’re happy to splash out a little here, but deals are preferable and we’d like to stay on the Strip (moon on a stick, anyone?)

After that, the vagueness of my plans returns! I’m planning on spending at least a week in northern Florida with friends, so it’s likely that I’ll go straight there from Vegas. I’d happily continue on the road with my friend from camp, but her intention is to visit California after Vegas, taking in many places I’ve (very fortunately) already been to. So the likelihood is that I’ll fly to Florida and enjoy some relaxation time.

As you can see, my plan to stay east has gone somewhat awry – I’m easily persuaded at the moment! I’m excited to see what the US has to offer on this trip – it’s my first with friends rather than family, and the only limit is my budget.

To help with your suggestions, here are some likes and dislikes:

  • Likes – horses, seafood, comfortable accommodation, coastal drives, historical museums (particularly famous homes), shopping, photography, theatre, film
  • Dislikes – art galleries (unless primarily photography), hiking and sports involving water (no rafting/falling from the sky, whether attached to a rope or not)

I’ll stop before this starts to sound too much like a personal advert! All suggestions gratefully received.