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Busy. Amends

19 Jan

I’ve been busy writing for Australian Geographic, so in lieu of any blog posts, here is what I have been writing for them as way of an apology.

Queensland’s Desert River Channels Protected – Aus Geo

World’s Oldest Fishing Hook Found – Aus Geo

World’s First Night-Flowering Orchid Discovered – Aus Geo

Survival in Antarctica: Alone for 10 Weeks – Aus Geo

On This Day: Australia’s Last Convict Ship Docks – Aus Geo

On This Day: Australia’s First Postage Stamp Released – Aus Geo

Dingoes Use Tools to Solve Novel Problems – Aus Geo

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Syddersss

24 Nov

I’ve been in Sydney now for nearly three weeks, and despite a spate of bad weather for the last couple of days, I am loving it. I’m writing for Australian Geographic in  the week, and start a new job tonight at a bar. Sydney is such a fun, vibrant city, it’s hard not to love it. It seems to have all the charms of a smaller town with all the electric excitement of a large city. It’s beautiful – those who have been down to Circular Quay and seen the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge will testify to that – and has everything I could ever want. In fact, it’s going to be difficult to leave.

Not that Australia is perfect. It has a real gambling problem: one government website claiming 70% of Australians playing the pokies (gambling machines) regularly, and one in six of those having a real problem. It’s also expensive, in some cases more so than New York, which surprised me. I thought I’d left those days behind me.

Before I go, I’ll just leave you with some cracking music from Chris Thile and Michael Daves.

Los Angeles and Sydney.

4 Nov

I spend a few days in LA, for the most part relaxing before my big trip to Australia on the 2nd. I spend a few hours wandering around aimlessly in Hollywood and Downtown LA, go for a few drinks with Faroese Pauli and his Musician’s Institute colleagues, eat some quesadillas in a Salvadorean restaurant that, despite being situated in an English speaking country, necessitated the full extent of my Spanish language GCSE in order to extract our order from the dirty kitchen. Real Hispanic food.

After sightseeing in LA, I realised one very notable thing. I don’t like LA. It’s dirty, smoggy, unfriendly, confusing and a bit boring, at least for a tourist. Aside from Hollywood, there wasn’t a great deal to see without going 2 hours on the subway, and even Hollywood seemed a bit tatty and unrealistic. The Grauman’s Chinese Theater was alright, and I saw the Hollywood Sign which is pretty iconic, but one of the best things about LA, aside from my friends, was leaving it.

Then on a sixteen-hour flight to Sydney. It’s uneventful, my usual routine for a long-haul flight: aisle seat, for easy access to toilets and more beer, a healthy supply of the free beer, and cram in a few movies. One of the good ones was ‘Senna’, about the doomed F1 driver. Watch it.

And now I’m in Sydney. I lost a day on the flight over the date line, so left on Wednesday night and arrived on Friday morning which sucks, but it’s just getting to summer again, and I have high hopes. For now, I’m going to chill out for the weekend and start job hunting on Monday. I can’t wait.

New York City Moves To The Sound Of LA

1 Nov

Rolling on through what I can only describe as a creepy uneasiness of Salt Lake City, the bleached bones of Nevada and the ‘Little Big’ town of Reno, I finally barrel through the jagged Sierra Nevada mountains and into California. The land of pines and palms, crystal glasses and crystal meth, Steinbeck’s paradisiacal finishing line, Schwarzeneggar’s political stomping grounds and ultimate collapsed legacy, California has it all, the land of yellow gold, black gold and silicon gold. It’s the third largest state in the Union, the most populous, and has the second- and sixth-largest cities in the United States, namely Los Angeles and San Diego. Other cities of note: San Francisco and Sacramento still entice hopeful refugees just as they have been doing since California was admitted to the Union in 1850. My first stop in the Golden State, Sacramento, is the State Capital, and the western end of the original Trans-Continental Railroad, the starting line for the Central Pacific Railroad as they ploughed East, laying track, blasting rocks and fighting Indians. Since crossing the state line, I have been on a train hurtling down from the northern mountains onto a vast, dry plain. California countryside always looks dry. I am only in Sacramento for a few hours, but I have enough time for a pint, so I walk to Old Sacramento to indulge myself. It’s my first city in California, and Old Sacramento is built up like the Old West. The saloon I venture into has peanut shells on the floor, a spittoon running along the foot of the bar, sarsaparilla specials and a wax cowboy, complete with gun. I strike up a conversation with a retired property manager lamenting his decision to road trip with his wife and reminiscing of his good friend, currently in Cambodia with his third wife, a twenty-one year old ‘Asian goddess’. Either way, he and his wife reunited after a few hours respite from each other and continued through on their way through to Mexico.

I got on an uneventful train to Fresno, and finally arrived to see my good friend Nick on the platform. We’d gone through music college together in Coventry. His chin befitted his status as a guitarist in a bluegrass band (see the Links page), covered in a thick beard that Ambrose Burnside would have been proud of. And Fresno is where I have been, indulging myself with California Burritos from Robertitos, Taco Bell, Hot n’ Ready and In N Out Burgers, and plenty of whiskey. In retrospect, it hasn’t been the healthiest week or so. Turning southward, I went to Los Angeles through Bakersfield, and a complete change in topography to vast farms, oil fields complete with busy derricks, rolling iron hills covered in tufty scrub and one of the most horrendous car accidents I have ever seen (even worse than some of the Ghanaian wrecks).

And now, Los Angeles before my flight to Sydney. My journey to America began with the Atlantic Ocean and is finishing with the Pacific. But more on that when I leave.

Trains

26 Oct

Chicago

After leaving Memphis for yet another overnight bus, I left the South and arrived in Chicago at 9am. I had a few hours to burn, so I took in a few sights: the river, the Lake, and of course the Willis Tower. Now that is a sight. Nearly twice as tall as Canary Wharf, I had thought the Empire State was a big lady, but the Willis Tower is absolutely enormous. What’s more, it takes up it’s own block, so you can walk all the way around it. But I wasn’t in Chicago long, before I boarded a 52-hour train to Fresno.

Trains

The 2,500 mile train ride was fantastic. In the first day we shot across Illinois, crossed the Mississippi (again), went through the farmland of Iowa, Des Moines, into Nebraska and Omaha, by morning were just coming into Colorado. Stopping in Denver (cold), we then went up into the magnificent Rockies for some seriously epic views. We then came down the other side after crossing through the Moffat Tunnel into Utah, Salt Lake City (creepy) and Nevada, into the Sierra Nevada range and then stopping at Sacramento, which was where I had to get a connecting train. Saying goodbye to the friends I had made on the two-day train ride, I went into quaint Old Sacramento for a beer, which I had with a nice retired guy who was taking a well-earned respite from roadtripping with his wife in the bar, before getting on the train to Fresno.


Tennessee

26 Oct

Knoxville

I left DC and took an overnight bus to Knoxville. After debarking in the middle of nowhere, I finally extracted from a local which bus I needed to get to get to the Greyhound station. And it was closed. And in the middle of nowhere. Or so I thought. So after a massive, fruitless wander, I finally got to the station and settled down for a while, before being told that the one direction I hadn’t wandered towards from the station contained the downtown Knoxville area. Which is quaint. It consists of rows and rows of cinemas and theatres, red brick courthouses and the odd glass skyscraper. I watched 50/50 to pass some of the time, a film review to follow soon.

Memphis

Eventually I managed to leave Knoxville after a ten-hour layover, on another nighttime bus to Memphis, arriving at 2am. I was staying with my friends Heather and Trevor from my time in music college in Coventry, and their brand-new son Judah. Memphis is amazing. There’s the Peabody Hotel, where they keep ducks in the lobby fountain (next to a self-playing piano), and herd the mallards into an elevator at bedtime and take them up to their rooftop ‘duck temple’. We went to the mighty Mississippi, saw the Pyramid Arena, the Lorraine Motel (I’d already been to the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial and seen where he gave his ‘I have a Dream’ speech, I had to go see where he’d been shot as well) and of course, the glorious Beale Street.

Beale Street is two different places. Nighttime Beale is a police-cordoned, alcohol-fuelled, neon-lighted blues paradise, with more music than you could possibly take in in one night, giant plastic cups of flowing beer, and an incredible amount of culture. Then there is Beale Street during the day, which basically revolves around the family-owned, century-old general store Schwab’s. We were also there for the gay pride parade, in which I’m convinced we were followed around all day by the float full of guys in drag.

And barbeque. Don’t go to Memphis unless you intend on getting some pulled pork. Vegetarians: just go and have a sniff, or have your life choice sorely tested as you watch regular folk eat the most tender, delicious meat ever cooked.

In a sentence, Tennessee is my favourite state.

It’s been a while.

25 Oct

Since my last post, I have been working in New York as much as possible to afford to get to Australia, and then made my way West, often without any WiFi or internet access. My bad.

But here is what has happened in a nutshell (or a few).

I was working hard in NYC, right up until my last day in the city. It was tough, but I made it: I got my plane ticket, and a series of buses and trains totalling just under 4,000 miles, all for under $1,000. Which made me happy. So I said my goodbyes to New York, and got on my first bus.

Washington DC. 

The capital of the USA is an odd city. It’s laid out in an odd way, it has a massive social disparity and an eclectic atmosphere. On the one hand, there is the National Mall, the face of the United States of America, built in imposing white marble which is unfortunately falling apart. On one end is the Capitol, looking a little like a cleaned up Ion Cannon that the Rebels take out a Star Destroyer with in the Empire Strikes Back. Following it down, a green expanse, flanked by the Smithsonians, until it is broken up by the tatty Washington Monument, and the White House. Then, the memorials: the World War Two, Korea and Vietnam memorials, with the incredible Lincoln Memorial at the far end, with the reflecting pool dug up, echoing a scene from Fallout 3. Across a small body of water, the Jefferson Memorial watches over it, and the new Martin Luther King Jr memorial is just to one side.

Firstly, the Smithsonian Museums are incredible. The Air and Space, especially. They are chock-full of so much amazing exhibits, the Hope Diamond, the Apollo 11 reentry module, John Glenn’s Mercury spacecraft, SpaceShipOne, the Bell X-1, the Wright Flier, the Spirit of St Louis, the original Star Spangled Banner… if I had to describe the Smithsonian in a word, I would just say ‘go’.

Then, Arlington. Devastatingly sad, I spent my few hours there in the blazing heat whizzing around the massive expanse of graves trying to find the couple of ones I wanted to see enough to fit into my short time there. John Basilone, JFK, RFK, the Unknown Soldiers.. Kids were walking around with T-Shirts bearing pictures of the fathers they had just buried, veterans were finding the graves of their close friends, it was a massively sad few hours.

Washington DC is a fantastic city. All it needs is some form of local government with a say in Congress – it is wasting away with its current lack of money. But perhaps Obama’s successor will be more open to Change.