Brussels, Belgium

Mussels and Beer, definitely on the Menu in Belgium!

Mussels and Beer, definitely on the menu in Belgium!

I’d settled back into a regular work routine with a new job shortly after arriving in Dublin (a bit too quickly perhaps), fully assessed the impact on my bank balance of 3 weeks jaunting round Australia, converted the rest of my savings to Euros and was finally comfortable and financially secure enough to plan some trips to mainland Europe.  Then I spent the rest of my savings on a 2nd hand BMW sports car.  The BMW was certainly going to facilitate some weekend trips around the emerald isle, I had already ear-marked some Irish sights to check out, but after a quick look at the price of using a car ferry I realized this vehicle wasn’t going to get me across to the mainland European countries that I had really moved here to see.

Dublin as it turns out is one of the most well connected capital cities in Europe, therefore after some quick investigation on my new favorite travel website Skyscanner, I discovered that cheap return flights to almost any destination in Europe were plentiful around the 100 Euro mark.  In fact, there were almost too many destinations to choose – Spain, France, Scotland, Amsterdam . . . it was hard to pick where to start.  Wanting to go somewhere new, accessible and most of all affordable, an easy choice emerged – Brussels.

Manneken Pis, the most famous sight of Brussels - a statue of a boy urinating into a fountain

Manneken Pis, the most famous sight of Brussels – a statue of a boy urinating into a fountain

The city promised much – Belgian Beers, Belgian Chocolate, Belgian Mussels, Belgian . . . well, you get the idea, this was definitely going to be a food-centric weekend.  After a quick flight, a quick passport check and a taxi to a modestly priced, sparsely furnished and somewhat dubiously located hotel, it was time to get some eating underway and check out what the night-life in Brussels was like.  Thanks to a tip from our taxi driver, we were advised that a large concert was underway in the Grote Markt van Brussel (Grand Place – a fairly typical yet still impressive European central market square).  My girlfriend and I headed over on foot to see if we could get anywhere near the spectacle.

It wasn’t hard to find as the thick crowds converged on the edges of the square and after some shuffling a quick glimpse of the main stage was made.  Dinner however was the priority so the crowd was ditched and the weekend of gluttony began.  Indeed Belgium didn’t fail to disappoint and thanks to my girlfriend’s basic yet invaluable French translation skills, we managed to decipher the majority of most menus presented to us.  The wine was excellent, the beer even more so, with the variety of Belgian beer offerings simply staggering.  Hoegarden as it turns out is Belgian’s cheap stuff, the stuff they export to the rest of the world, the equivalent to Australia’s Fosters, Mexico’s Coronas, America’s Budweisers, Thailand’s Chang… anyways, you get the drift.

The Atomium

The Atomium

Food and drink aside however, Belgium really does hold the mantle of Europe’s most underrated capital city.  It doesn’t have the spectacle of Rome’s statues and ruins, but a quick jog through a inner-city park quickly reveals dozens of corroding and graffiti-ed, but still impressive bronze-statues.  An accessible and wide-spread public transport network affords easy access to numerous tourist attractions.  Mini-Europe, a park consisting of miniature models of recognizable buildings across all of the countries in the European Union is somewhat gimmicky, yet still an excellent way to spend an hour.  The Atomium, a giant steel structure in the shape of an Atom is as impressive, if not more so, than Seattle’s Space Needle, though the long lines to wade through at the end of the day in order to reach the top were frustrating.

Shopping options – plentiful, Historical sites – numerous, Night-life – certainly no shortage of options, Affordability – just right.  I honestly couldn’t work out why this great city wasn’t higher on most people’s list of must-visit tourist European destinations.  Is it because the name conjures childhood traumas of Brussel Sprouts for too many people?  Or is it just out-shone by more iconic cities like Rome, Paris and London?  Maybe its the fact that Brussels is simply missing one big draw-card… its main attraction Manneken Pis (a statue of a little boy peeing into a fountain), the home-city of Jean-Claude Van Damme and the headquarters of the European Union just seems to be one of the countries squashed in between everyone else.  And it shows – with French, German and Dutch all official languages and a flag almost identical to that of Germany.

Maybe its for the best… Brussels has a lot going for it and is probably best without any more hordes of tourists, which already overwhelm the most well-known tourist traps.  Nevertheless, if I were to recommend a city for a weekend away with beer and food as the top priorities, Brussels would certainly be it.

Australia – The Return

My right foot enjoying an Aussie Beach again

The prospect of being a tourist again in my home country was an interesting one.  I’d been away just over two years without setting foot on Australian soil and through careful planning had put together a slightly hectic itinerary to make the most of three weeks in Australia by covering Sydney, Perth and the entire East Coast of Queensland from Brisbane Cairns.  Alas, travelling light wasn’t an option as in order to minimize flight expenses the decision was made that my girlfriend and I would pack all our belongings in Boston, ship as much as possible ahead for our eventual arrival in Ireland and take the rest with us on our travels around Australia.  Furthermore, belongings from an old suitcase left in Sydney and boxes consisting of over two decades of who knows what in Townsville would be sifted through and added to our already over-packed bags.

Packing and re-packing of course occurred the morning of our departure but finally our bags were sealed and managed to come in just under the baggage allowance.  The Boston to New York flight was a standard affair, the 5+ hour layover in New York with plans to check out Manhattan one last time however were scrapped after we were unable to check in our bags early.  After a last-minute VISA over-sight (who would’ve thought foreigners needed to pre-register for a standard travel VISA in Australia . . . surely such inconveniences are reserved only for countries in Asia!), our bags were finally checked in, security was cleared and the mammoth New York to Los Angeles to Sydney flight began.

Anyone who’s done such a long-haul knows what happens next.  Eating, watching movies, sleeping and repeat.  Alas, the lay-over in Los Angeles, while not long, disrupted that cycle and necessitated our evacuation of the plane WITH carry-on luggage, only to return again into exactly the same seats.  Minor grumbling over lay-overs aside, we finally landing in Sydney Monday morning (nothing to declare of course), taxing to the house of the first of many friends who’s hospitality we would be taking advantage of.  On arrival, I cruelly denied my girlfriend the option of immediate sleep and instead insisted on doing what any Australian ex-pat would do after arriving home.  No, not beer . . . I wasn’t THAT desperate for a bitter on tap.  I of course found the nearest coffee shop (thankfully our first port of call was the suburb of Newtown) and inhaled a Flat White.

From my observations, Sydney hadn’t changed, not one bit.  Manly, Bondi and Balmoral beaches were all exactly the same, the same buses ran between Lane Cove and the city, the Harbour Bridge and Opera House were identical, surely something significant must have been updated in the last 2 years?  Alas, the status quo remained.  Friends were much as they were, former work colleagues had slightly nicer suits and different employers, Queensland continued to win the State of Origin.  The only difference I could really make out was an increase in the Thursday Happy Hour drinks prices at the Wynyard Hotel and a trial of free wi-fi at the Circular Quay train station.

Perth's Skyline, not quite as I remember!

Perth’s Skyline, not quite as I remember!

Therefore, Sydney proceeded with a standard line-up of drinks, reunions and checking off of the main tourist attractions.  Before I knew it our allotted time was up and we were off to Perth.  Now Perth certainly wouldn’t be on my must-visit list of Australian cities but as my girlfriend’s two younger brothers resided there, it certainly necessitated a trip.  Compared to Sydney, Perth certainly had changed.  I’d only been there once before on a weekend trip, but the inner-city sky-line barely resembled the destination I had visited many years earlier.  With the freedom of a loaned car (i.e. a nosy work Ute rather), we managed to explore some of Perth’s attractions I’d previously missed including King’s Park, the Swan Valley and Fremantle.

As on my previous visit Perth impressed me and there was certainly no shortage of sites, bars and beaches to enjoy.  Alas, after several nights of boozing our stint on the West Coast came to an end as we hopped on another flight to head back to the more populous side of Australia, this time to Brisbane, capital of my home state of Queensland.  Perth had several of my girlfriend’s family to visit (including an adorable Great-Aunt), though Brisbane had significantly more of mine.  The number had expanded since I’d been away with the sprouting of three new additions in the last year – two nieces and a nephew.  We all caught-up at a local community day (the name of which community now escapes me) to hear my Brother Dave’s band play some tunes and to allow me to distribute some gifts hastily acquired at Niagara Falls the previous month (I opted to go with Canadian stuffed toy animals).

My mum also came down for the visit and we headed out for a visit to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary to view the full range of Australian wild-life on offer.  I’d never been there despite living in Brisbane for almost two years and the array of creatures on display was excellent and included a large array of birds, kangaroos, snakes and of course bucket loads of Koalas.  Kangaroo feeding resulted, as did a sheep shearing demonstration, though alas no crocodiles were on show.  Thankfully a subsequent to my other brother Will’s humble abode rectified this situation as we were treated to a full viewing and handling of his collection of snakes, lizards and baby crocodile – Cuddles.

Petting Cuddles the Crocodile

Petting Cuddles the Crocodile

At this point I could relax, content that a true Australian experience had been delivered due to the fact that my girlfriend had petted my brother’s pet crocodile that he kept under his house.  Relaxing for too much longer however was not really feasible as once again the demands of our itinerary dictated the next stage of our journey – a road trip from Brisbane to Cairns, a journey of over 1700km (that’s over 1000 miles for the backwards folks reading still on imperial).

I’d done Townsville to Brisbane a couple times, usually when almost broke in my mate’s shitty non-air-conditioned Toyota Corolla when only half of those in the car had a valid driver’s license.  I swore I’d never do it again, yet due to wanting to hit Townsville, Rockhampton and Brisbane in the space of a week, a car journey seemed liked the best option.  Spacing out the trip helped too, the first stop was up to the Maryborough for a quick catch-up with an old high-school friend and a view of the sunset from Hervey Bay.  Next was Rockhampton to visit my sister and her newest creation Izel where I proved that I was able (barely) to handle holding a 3 month old baby without too much trouble.

After a lunch-stop in Mackay to see some more high-school friends, next was Townsville for a night with my mum (also visiting my 20+ year old cockatiel Georgie) necessitating a late-night visit to The Brewery for a few pints of the excellent locally brewed Ned’s Red, a morning visit to the Townsville Aquarium and a very quick tour down The Strand.  Finally after one last day of driving, (with significant delays due to road-works), we arrived in Cairns marking the end of our road-trip and the opportunity to put up our feet for a couple nights.  In Cairns I finally made it into the ocean (it was Winter after all and the oceans further south were a bit too nippy for my liking) and headed up to Port Douglas for one last magnificent sunset, a catch up with yet another high-school mate and an outdoor picnic dinner and movie.

A welcome sight in Cairns at the end of a Queensland road-trip

A welcome sight in Cairns at the end of a Queensland road-trip

All that was left was the rental car return, one last night in Sydney and thus concluded my three week whirl-wind trip of Australia.  If there’s one thing the trip gave me a further appreciation for it was the fact that especially in a country like Australia, it’s always impossible to fit everything in.  A day trip to the Blue Mountains in Sydney was scrapped, as were plans to hit-up Margaret River south of Perth.  Brisbane certainly felt rushed, I’ve still never gotten to the XXXX Brewery and the Gold Coast didn’t even get a look in on this trip.  The Whitsundays were passed without time even for a glance out the window in a rush to reach Townsville and a snorkel trip to the Great Barrier Reef was replaced with a wander through the Rainforest instead.  In the end though, it was catching up with Family and Friends that was on top of our agenda and in that regard, we certainly achieved our objective.

Philadelphia – Round 2

My last Trip to Philadelphia the year before was a solo adventure with the sole purpose of attending the Popped Philadelphia music festival.  A long-weekend ensued where I couch-surfed, played mario-kart with college students, made random friends from other countries and finally saw The Shins perform live.  This trip looked to be a very different experience as I wedged into a van after work on Friday, crammed full of Boston’s Eire Og Camogie Team.  Camogie (the female variant of hurling) is an Irish sport, similar in many ways to hockey though players are allowed to hold the ball, kick the ball and whack the ball with their paddle, or camogie stick rather. My girlfriend was one of the members of the team so jumping in a rental van with an overnight bag for the long-weekend sounded like a splendid opportunity to revisit a city that I hadn’t done much sight-seeing in before.

As it turned out, the sight-seeing on Day 1 consisted almost entirely of the Irish Gaelic Games, basically a large congregation of Irish Ex-Pats living in the U.S.A. playing stick-whacking (er, I mean hurling / camogie) and Gaelic Football, a sport similar to Aussie Rules but with a round ball.  Still though, I couldn’t complain, there was plenty of food and drinks on-hand and being a spectator to some Irish sports (even though I was visiting an American city) was pleasant enough to pass the time.  The Boston team played well (considering their limited practice sessions in the lead-up to the games) and were up against Toronto and some other U.S. city whose name I can’t recall  (DC or Chicago probably). They lost their first game and although I was doing my best on the side-lines to offer support and drinks I was actually silently praying their second game went the same way so they could avoid going through to the finals and therefore being required to play again the next day.  They put in a valiant effort and when the clock ran out the score was tied, resulting in some overtime play.  The game was closely fought in extra time, but unfortunately Toronto came out with a single extra goal to win in the end.  ‘Hooray!’ I inwardly cheered, knowing that this therefore left the rest of the visit wide open.

Liberty . . . in bell form!
Philadelphia that weekend was rather crowded, not just due to the proliferation of Irish visitors for the Gaelic Games, but also as a result of a large music festival on in town – Made in America.  As to be expected, the Irish were out in full force every night, over-running any Irish bars found in the area.  We all made it out to witness the spectacle, but after a long day in the sun with quite a few drinks already under my belt I opted for an early night and retired to the hotel room.  The music festival was a tempting thought the next day, with Pearl Jam one of the headlining acts, but we opted instead to check out the rest of the city.  Unfortunately, the festival was actually occurring on the streets of the city depriving us of visiting perhaps the most iconic of Philadelphia landmarks, The Rocky Steps in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. As it turns out however, Philly has more than enough other sights to see and after hopping on a tour bus, we struck out to view the Liberty Bell.

As far as historic bells go the Liberty Bell is the only one I remember specifically visiting  therefore I can ensure you its most definitely the most impressive bell I’ve yet to encounter.  That being the case however, it wasn’t particularly impressive (in size at least), but did have a very informative and interesting display around it.  I won’t bore you by regurgitating historical information about said bell, not that I retained much of this information anyways, apart from the fact that it was badly made and therefore susceptible to cracking.  Quite amusingly however one of our party did actually successfully undertake a mission to lick said bell (she shall remain nameless).  For those of you unaware why such a thing would be done, I shall refer you to  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2uKF9JpGCPU.

A full-fledged Irish Breakfast!Food as always was of course on the menu and after stumbling accidentally upon the Irish Hunger Memorial we visited The Franklin Fountain nearby, a delightful dessert shop reminiscent of an older time when men frequented barber shops on a daily basis for a quick shave and cars were still something of a novelty.  Although only founded in 2004, this ice-cream parlor shop featured a dazzling menu of home-made style desserts with tasty fountain drinks also on offer.  Certainly not cheap, but after a lot of wandering through Philadelphia looking at old buildings and bells, an afternoon of sugary desserts certainly didn’t go astray.  Keeping with the Irish theme of the weekend, a full-blown Irish breakfast was also ordered on the 2nd day and I do have to admit that the Irish certainly know how to put on a good breakfast.  Setting aside any thoughts of what might reside in either the black or white pudding that was served, eggs, hash potatoes, baked beans and sausage certainly make a welcome cure for any hang-over, even though the resulting trip to the bathroom later in the day may prove somewhat gastronomically undesirable.

The last night out had the potential to offer a jam-packed evening of Irish drinking shenanigans but thankfully resulted instead in a nice quiet Italian dinner where the friendly owner of the Italian restaurant we stumbled upon kindly sold us a couple bottles of red vino from his collection (this was fortunate as the restaurant turned out to be BYOB only, an excellent feature of dining in some Philly restaurants . . . if only this existed in Boston)!  All in all, Philly proved thoroughly entertaining on my 2nd visit with the downtown are and dining scene resulting in some truly excellent experiences.  Whilst not the prettiest American city I’ve visited, I certainly wouldn’t pass up another trip back to Philly, since I’m still yet to actually have a proper Philly Cheese-steak Sandwich IN Philadelphia itself.  All well, hopefully next time I’ll manage to avoid the Irish breakfasts and desserts and  fit one in!

Boston – Couchsurfing

Over a year ago I was sitting alone in Beijing, eating lunch by myself and wondering where I could find some drinking buddies in this city who spoke English.  I’d done enough of the sites – seen The Forbidden Palace, Tiananmen Square, the Olympic Buildings and would climb The Great Wall as well soon.  There didn’t appear to be too many backpackers around the district and I was sorely lacking in good company.  All of a sudden a friendly chinese bloke (whose name now escapes me) approached my table, started up a conversation and next thing I knew we were enjoying a few beers while I tried to teach him how to play chess.  His English was pretty good, he worked as an accountant in Beijing and liked to come hang around backpacker hostels / restaurants like the one I was in to meet foreigners, practice his English and also find westerners who would be interested in learning some Chinese from him.

He was a certainly a friendly chap and as I hung out with him he asked if I was on a website known as Couchsurfing (http://couchsurfing.com/).  I’d heard of the website before, I knew a couple friends from Australia had used it to score free accommodation whilst travelling around the world but didn’t know much more about it apart from that.  It sounded like an interesting concept so at some point over the next few months I signed up and created a profile.   As it turns out, America isn’t really the best place to start couch-surfing and after several rounds of requesting accommodation in San Francisco, Chicago and New York to no success, I almost gave up on the site.  Thankfully I didn’t however and over a year later I found myself sitting with three random British students on the roof of my house, drinking cheap red wine whilst looking at the night-time Boston skyline.  They were staying with me through couch-surfing and I’d only just met them that week.

“Why would I let strangers stay with me for free?” is the obvious question most Americans ask when I try to explain couchsurfing to them.  The answer for most people is just as obvious – “So in turn, you can stay with strangers for free!”  Couchsurfing fundamentally is more than just about providing or scoring free accommodation, the real driving force behind the on-line community is to connect with like-minded individuals – in my case fellow travellers and open-minded adventurers from different countries.  Since I began opening up my house to strangers and hosting I’ve had visitors from England, France, Mexico, Canada, Taiwan, Germany and Kazakhstan.  That’s really why I got involved, I enjoy meeting people and experiencing other cultures while travelling.  Couchsurfing allows you to do that from the comfort of your own home.

The concept is simple, you create an on-line profile (similar to facebook) with photos, details about yourself and as you meet and connect with people through the site, gain references and vouches to signal to others that you’re a trustworthy individual.  If someone wants to stay with you who has no picture, no references and a half-baked profile created last week, its easy enough to turn them away.  If however you get a request from a travelling European student who’s stayed with over 40 people, each writing them a glowing reference, its easy enough to deduce that they’re not going to run off with your TV at night.  Just like buying goods off strangers on EBay or booking a random overseas hostel, you do have to place a certain amount of trust in the information shown on the site, but once you get over that initial hurdle, it starts becoming easy to filter out the good surfers from the bad.

Getting started on couch-surfing is admittedly hard when you have no profile, it certainly was for me, but once I got hosted a few times I generally found responses to my couch-requests to be more forthcoming.  Like any search related activity such as looking for a job, apartment or the right pair of jeans finding a host on couch-surfing can take time and won’t always result in success, particularly in high-demand locations (e.g. Manhattan, New York) or smaller cities (e.g. Providence, Rhode Island).  To be a good couch-surfer, here’s a few points to get your started:

* Respect – When you’re a guest be respectful, you shouldn’t treat where you’re staying like a hotel.  When I’m a guest I always take the time to chat with my hosts and do my best to either contribute to cooking, cleaning or if we go out, shout dinner or a couple drinks.  Its certainly appreciated when guests do the same, especially if they’re staying for an extended period (i.e. 3 or more nights).

* Hosting Availability – If your profile says available for hosting, be available for hosting and respond to requests!  I’m sure I’ve sent dozens of requests to hosts that look ideal, only to have no absolutely no response.  If you can’t host your status should say “Not Right Now”.  If you do have the green light on for host respond to guests in a timely manner, even if its just a quick rejection along the lines of “Sorry, too busy this week, won’t be able to host you at the moment.”

* References – Leave accurate references in a timely fashion.  Its pretty simple, hosts shouldn’t have to chase after guests for a simple reference several months after they’ve stayed.  References are crucial to the success of couch-surfing and especially for new hosts or surfers, building up good references is important.

* The Dating Site for Homeless People – Don’t hit on your guests or hosts, just don’t do it.  I’ve heard stories of this occurring and its just not on.  Then again, this isn’t always a hard and fast rule . . .

At the end of the day, couch-surfing is a great concept, a great way to travel and a great way to meet locals.  If you’re open to new experiences, I’d highly reccommend giving it a crack.

Boston – The Party

The night started in a similar fashion to my last birthday party / house party.  My birthday party from the previous year was back in Australia, most people were fashionably late, there was no sound system to speak of and I was fairly certain we would be taking the party elsewhere at some point in the night, either to another house-party or adult venue.  Siting with the two other attendees in my kitchen at around 8PM we were off to a slow start.  The food had gone well, Colin’s seafood pizza and calzone were both great, the gaucamole was delicious and the volume of extra large salad I made was still at 95% (at least they’ll be left-overs I thought).  People then came in a rush, first our new  neighbours from the 1st level down-stairs, then more friends (some who had even bothered to follow the fancy dress requirement), then more random people who were trying to get to the party down-stairs but found themselves up here by accident.

We had a decent crowd growing, the sound system sucked, but drinks were flowing well, especially the UFO beer which everyone had decided to bring in following with the Space theme.  I did my part as a good host, showing newcomers around and lamenting the fact that we had a whole spare room, which would have been perfect for a dance party.  Eventually as the night went on we moved our party down-stairs, where our neighbor’s house party was in full swing.  Lots of engineers greeted us, a young but cool crowd and the two parties meshed into one seemlessly.  We could have left proceedings there, spirits were high, single guys were talking to single girls, there was more than enough entertainment to keep proceedings going.  I took a gamble though and suggested we make another move, there was another house party on nearby, an open house party at the CS Palace with bands scheduled to perform and a German called Tim who had created a massive anus out of paper machete.  The opportunity was just too good to pass up.

We arranged for transport, and managing to fit perfectly in the two cars of the DDs, before we knew it we left the safety of the familiar and ventured across to East Somerville.  “Trust me,” I told everyone, “this will be worth it!”  I was right, the party was in full swing, the house was packed far too full as always and the next band was setting up.  Alas, we had missed the previous act Enlarged Anus, but apparently they were excellent as many people later told me.  Its probably  worth pausing for a moment and considering if at this point I thought it odd to be hearing people express their joy at seeing a band called Enlarged Anus.  With the direction this night was taking, I wasn’t surprised in the least.  We neglected to BYOB, but some was easily found, though the fellows who discovered the Aussie group drinking their Captain Morgan were a bit miffed.  “I’ve got some JD back at my place,” I told them.  “If you’re ever round you’re welcome to it!”  Little did I know I would be making good on that promise by the end of the night.

My costume was still a mystery to most, such a lack of appreciation for Dr Who in the country!  Eric at least was extremely enthused when I demonstrated my working Sonic Screwdriver, complete with sound-effects and green light.  The next band Free Pizza started playing and it didn’t take long for us to hit the mosh-pit.  I never anticipated a full blown mosh-pit could be possible in such a small space, but somehow it happened, crowd-surfing also included.  I noted the looks of concern from those that resided at the house, the floor in the living room was certainly taking a pounding and considering how many people were stuffed onto it, it seemed a really possibility that something might give.  As it turns out, it wasn’t the floor, but what was likely a noise complaint from the neighbors.  Mid-song the music stopped, Tim (the German piece of shit who played from inside the anus) was on the mic and the party was given its marching orders.  The police strolled in and everyone quickly piled out.

It was at this point that once again things could have gone into  wind-down mode.  The police weren’t arresting anyone and we were piling back into our transports to head back to my place.  Abhi being an upstanding citizen was helpfully telling a couple girls that drinking on the street wasn’t the best idea in plain site of police.  One of them drunkenly responded with, “who cares?” and took another swig, before then quickly hiding her bottle after seeing the police officer no more than 20m away look directly at her.  Right beside me I saw a snare drum being dropped by someone obviously carrying too much musical equipment from the house, feeling helpful I gave him a hand and assisted him getting his stuff to the car down the road.  Engaging in a bit of chit-chat with the musicians, I soon learned they were scheduled to play next and were fairly disappointed at not being able to.  The decision made itself really without much input from my brain as I blurted out, “Hey, I’ve still got a house party going . . . AND a spare room, why not come round and play at my place?”

I gave the guys the address and my cell and before I knew it, I had just arranged for a band to play at my apartment.  I jumped back in the van to abuse from my gang asking where I’d been and why I’d taken so long.  “All good guys,” I said, “just arranging for a band to come play at my house.”  This obviously generated some excitement, the party was set to continue.  We arrived back, the 1st floor party was still going, but had little energy left, “Spread the word,” I instructed my party disciples, “let’s move this show upstairs so the band has a decent crowd!”  The rest was a blur, before I knew it, I was helping the band carry their equipment and setup upstairs in my apartment, they did a quick sound-check, then started with a Radiohead cover as I instructed those at the party to hurry up, stop talking in the living room and move into the next room to see the band.

The room filled up, the crowd got their dance on once again, the unnamed band played loud and actually put on quite a show!  Somehow my party had gone from one where music was played out of a tiny portable speaker attached to my phone to  having a fully decked out band consisting of singer, two guitarists and drummer.  I gave a shout-out from the mic to all those with birthdays in the room (there were a few of us) and then brought out the police tape to ensure people could engage in the tried and true “let’s cover ourselves with ridiculous colored tape game” and still try to dance.  Alas, the band was too good for the party, it was getting late, really late and people were out of stamina.  Slowly everyone filtered out until the band was playing to no one (I assume they wanted to finish their rehearsed set).  The kitchen was quite a site, nothing appeared broken but the JD was now almost all gone and the beers had all left the fridge, after all, the least I could do was offer some free booze to the guys in the band.  In typical hipster fashion as well the PBRs were well received.

As it turns out, my salad came in handy as I offered it to the band members after their performance and they hungrily devoured its contents, after the brilliant addition of cheese and olives to the mix.  “Crash if you need to,” I told the band.  In the end they decided to head off and simply left their gear, which I said was fine and could be collected later that day.  At around 5AM the band and any last stragglers made their way out the front door, I locked it behind them and then looked back at the mayhem spread across the apartment.  The remnants of a destroyed cardboard space-ship lay in the spare room, half-drunk beers were sprinkled throughout all corners of the apartment and the pile of dishes stacked inside the kitchen would ensure a decent amount of dish-washing would be required to return things to a natural order.  Somehow though I had managed to host a a house-party crazier than that of my birthday a full year ago.  What further amazed me was that I was on the other side of the world in a place were I had only just properly settled down and had only really started forming a decent social network.  In fact, what had happened was the most  ridiculously epic house party I had ever thrown.  I don’t know if I’ll be able to replicate the success of that party again soon (though the band did offer to come back and play anytime!) but regardless, it sure was a night to remember.

Austin

The end of my flight-pass had come, it was a sad day indeed.  I didn’t feel I had done it justice, but I hadn’t really enough remaining cash to make use of it properly.  I’d hit South America though and seen some more of the U.S., so on the whole it was still a worthwhile purchase.  One weekend was left, one last destination to fit in, where should it be?  Cancun, the Carribean, Vegas, Colorado, New Orleans?  I could have done any of them, in the end I chose Austin, Texas.

After sending out a few couch-surf requests and hearing nothing back, I thought I’d just wing it and see what accommodation I could find when I got there.  I landed and caught the hourly bus from the airport to the city, checking out what hostels were in the city on my way there.  Alas there weren’t many to choose from, Hi-Hostel seemed liked the best option, which didn’t look particularly appealing due to their standard “no-drinking” policy.  One other option came up however, the Bee-hive hostel, I gave them a ring, got a  voice-message and promptly hung-up, I figured if the front-desk wasn’t manned at  this time of day, place was probably was a bit dodgy.
Much to my surprise, I got a call back in 5 minutes from the hostel, informing me I could stay at another hostel, the Rusty Railway Hostel instead, which was just south of downtown.  “Would you like me to pick you up on my scooter?” I was asked.  Why not I thought, what have I got to lose?  An hour or so later, I met one of the most interesting individuals I’ve yet encountered on my travels, a man known as the Scooter Rocket, riding indeed on a Scooter.

To understand who Scooter Rocket is, simply watch the following youtube clip (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yF6-JGQW8lk).  Scooter now runs the Rusty Railway Hostel in Austin (http://www.facebook.com/rustyrailway), whose location is not advertised so Scooter can try to filter out any dickheads who want to stay.  Scooter runs an awesome place, a personalised hostel experience, very affordable with a super chill vibe and even some great cooking on occasion, nothing quite beats some pumpkin pie to cure the previous night’s hangover.  Once checked in I immediately headed back out to check out the night-life of Austin with a partner in crime from the hostel.

As we bar-hopped our way back into the city, numerous food-carts with delicious menus were sampled on the way, until we ended up along the deadly 6th Street, an expansive strip through Austin’s downtown lined with bars, restaurants and night-clubs.  I had already visitted Bikinis Sports Bar & Grill for lunch that day (the name of the venue says it all really, they have waitresses, who wear bikinis) and the night that followed had it all.  Starting with some shots in an upmarket cocktail bar, we headed East towards the more “seedy” end of 6th Street, stopping in at the Chuggin’ Monkey while we listened to some live blues music.  We checked out several more venues, with nice outdoor beer gardens, one we couldn’t get into, which we later found out was due to Green Day playing a secret show there that night.

Thoroughly exhausted the next day, I joined Scooter on a bike ride to check out something called the Cathedral of Trash.  Walking into the backyard of a normal looking house in a suburban area south of Austin’s CBD, a structure a couple stories high came into view.  At its base is a large sign “Welcome to Trash Vegas” and it doesn’t take long to realise that the tower rising up out of the ground is composed entirely of trash – bicycles, old computer parts, bowling balls, sports equipment, sewing machines, furniture, anything that could possibly be considered junk had been used to create a mammoth sculpture.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it before and would highly reccommend a visit to anyone stopping by Austin.

The following night was jam pack once again starting off with some real Texas BBQ for dinner (music provided by a trio of singing golden oldies), some live music at a cafe (4 singer/song-writer guitarists) and then once again to 6th Street for even more live music at a Beach Club themed bar.  I can certainly see why Austin has a reputation as the live music capital of the world, just about any bar or restaurant I stepped into had some sort of live entertainment!  Scooter also proved that a bad dancer he most definitely is not as he tore up the dance-floor with the ladies (and in a pretty sober state I might also add) before then joining them by dancing on the bar itself.  Knowing there was no point going up against a pro like him, I instead discovered the availability of a scorpion tequila shot, which as one would guess is a shot of tequila containing a whole scorpion!  Best of all, it came with a free corny shirt advertising the fact that one had consumed and survived said scorpion tequila shot.  Like a lot of cities in the U.S.A., I barely scratched the surface of Austin and know its somewhere I definitely want to head back to again!  With good weather, a great music scene, excellent night-life and fantastic food, Austin definitely ranks in my top 5 cities in the U.S.A.

Washington DC – Round 2 (plus Maryland)

My Jetblue flight pass was running out and it was time to head back to Washington D.C. again. I’d only managed to connect with one of my cousins, Steve, last time I was there and this time the plan was to catch-up with Richard as well. Like Steve, Rich had met me before, about 20 years ago in Europe, therefore I didn’t recall much of the encounter.  What would you like to do on your visit, he asked before I arrived, watch some football, drink some beer, do some sight-seeing? I was still worn out from my week in Colombia, therefore my response was, a few drinks and a quiet one watching a bit of American football sounds great!

As it turns out, my 2nd cousins actually live in Maryland, just north of D.C., but this
wasn’t a problem as the train took me straight to their suburb. I arrived in the
middle of autumn and the landscape was simply stunning, red and yellow foliage draped the entire area like nothing I’d ever seen first-hand before. Awaiting me was some great hospitality by the Levines, BBQ, beers and more BBQ filled my weekend as I enjoyed their hospitality.  Over dinner a few potential activities were suggested for the rest of the weekend, one of which involved going to the local gun-range nearby. Shooting some guns, hells yes I said! I had yet to fire a weapon up until that point in my life and figured that sooner or later the opportunity would present itself to do so somewhere in the U.S.A.  Therefore Rich and I headed down with his two shot-guns to shoot some clay pigeons.

Frankly, I was surprised that I was allowed onto a gun range with a loaded weapon, wouldn’t I need some sort of gun license? Apparentely not, at no point was my I.D. even checked, we simply talked to a couple guys at the desk, bought a card, then headed down to the out-door arena with our guns and ammo. I must admit, shooting a shot-gun in real- life was fun, I’m sure I’ve killed scored of zombies with such a weapon in video games, but actually learning how to use and operate one in real-life was pretty cool. That being the case, my ability to actually hit the flying targets was pretty dismal, I averaged hitting about 1 in 10, therefore if the zombie apocalypse does come upon us one day, you probably don’t want to be hanging out with me for survivial.

Apart from shooting, I was left with more than enough time to continue exploring Washington D.C. and I hit up as many of the free Smithsonian museums as I could while I was there. The Air & Space Museum took up most of my time as I took in the large exhibition covering the Apollo missions, followed by the Natural History Museum, a quick view of the Constitution in the National Archives and a couple other random other art / history museums that I found to wander into. Despite having a full day, still others beckon for my next visit, the Spy Museum, the Newsuem, the Library of Congress and of course the White House.  Regardless though, at the end of the day, I was thoroughly exhausted, but knew I had finally done Washington D.C. justice.

Taganga / Santa Marta

The not quite perfect beach of TagangaI saved some money by taking a bus instead of a plane to the North Coast of Colombia, but in the end it wasn’t worth it.  The air-conditioning in the bus turned the vehicle into an ice-box, a problem that is apparently common on Colombian buses.  I had been warned of this and had decent enough clothes to accommodate, but would have been far more comfortable with a blanket.  For those travelling Colombia by bus, always bring a warm blanket!  I managed a window seat and had a decent amount of leg room, but for most of the journey was accompanied by a rather large Colombian gentleman seated next to me.

I used my phone to watch some TV shows (once again lamenting my lost IPad) and then did my best to get to sleep.  Unfortunately I continued to be awoken fairly regularly by loud Spanish-dubbed Hollywood films.  I’m not sure what any of them were, one had Nicholas Cage, another was the latest Adam Sandler flick with Jennifer Anniston.  I knew from a quick glance that I wasn’t particularly interested in watching any of them and regardless, my lack of Spanish prohibited my ability to enjoy said entertainment.

Lunch!There were a few stops along the way where I stumbled through ordering food by pointing and handing over money. Overall, it wasn’t a pleasant journey and in hindsight I should have forked over just a bit more money (probably about 50% more than I paid) to get a flight that would’ve taken several hours instead of 24 hours.  Had I done so, I also would’ve reached Santa Marta by Friday night and been able to enjoy a night out on the town (which despite the advice given to me was NOT dry on Friday).  However, the ride certainly wasn’t the worst overnight bus I’d been on, several journeys in India which involve vomiting and worse sleeping conditions certainly have this one beat.

Finally arriving at the Santa Marta bus terminal just after midday I hopped off the bus and consulted my Lonely Planet to decide what to do next.  It was then I realised that this was a first, the first time I’d finally arrived at a destination, on my own, without any accommodation booked.  Every stop along the way in America thus far I had planned out at least a week in advance, securing accommodation through friends or family.  Here I was now in a non-English speaking country, standing outside a bus station, with only a vague plan to head to the nearest beach.

The only time I’d ever traveled this way before was back in India with my mate Matty several years ago and for the most part I was following his lead, trusting that we could find accommodation no matter where we landed.  On our trip, we had landed on a southern beach in Goa just before New Year’s and from all reports just about everywhere in Goa would be booked out by tourists.  Matty didn’t see this as a problem though and sure enough we easily secured some extremely cheap accommodation less than 50m from the beach off a young kid who approached us within half an hour of arriving.

Doing the same on my own now should be much easier, it definitely wasn’t high tourist season and my current edition of the Lonely Planet had a huge number of options with respect to where to stay.  I jumped onto a small local bus with a sign saying “Taganga”, the beach I was shooting for.  After a fairly long ride through the bustling city of Santa Marta, crammed onto the back-seat shoulder to shoulder with locals and my backpack on my lap, I finally saw the beach come into view.  It certainly wasn’t Goa or the pristine beaches of Thailand that I was used to, the roads were for the most part unpaved, fishing vessels crowded the bay and rubbish covered much of the ground.  I’d seen worse sights however and just the fact that it was warm (I planned to change into shorts ASAP), on the ocean and held the possibility of scuba-diving was enough to lift my spirits.

The Octopus Dive Crew!It didn’t take me long to find Casa Holanda, which while not the cheapest option on the beach, was recommended in the Lonely Planet and did provide a private room for 30,000 pesos a night ($15 USD a night).  I could’ve paid half that to stay in a hostel, but a private room seemed like a good idea, it even came with a double AND single bed, so had I not been travelling alone would have been even better!  After checking in (blundering my way again through a conversation with no Spanish), I ditched the jeans and headed out in search of some scuba-diving.  I quickly came across Octopus Dive Center and I quickly booked in for a night dive and double-dive the next day.

I’ve dived with a number of different crews over the years, but the Octopus Dive crew are definitely one I’ll remember.  Consisting mostly of local Colombians, their general jovial demeanor was always on-show, whether it was trying to get the rusted old 4WD started, pushing each other off the boat at various times throughout the day, or just running around the shop and engaging in wrestling contests.  Not exactly the most “professional” team on show, but absolutely hilarious and a blast to drive with, I’d have no hesitation recommending them to anyone wanting a great dive experience.

The rest of my stay in Taganga consisted mostly of diving, eating and of course some partying.  The diving conditions were good with fairly warm water and decent enough coral and fish on show.  Food was twice as much as it should be, meaning a full meal cost 5 bucks instead of 2.50, but was all good with lots of tasty soups, fresh seafood and juice available.  I quickly made friends through those I dived with, mostly Australiasn again (as usual), though late night festivities were restricted due to the continued alcohol ban.  As one of the Aussies I met pointed out though over dinner, “this is Tagana mate, anything is possible”, it was indeed and even though the restaurants wouldn’t serve us booze, a quick trip to the liquor store next-door where purchases were sneakily put into a brown paper bag easily fixed that problem.

Scuba-diving off TagangaColombian beer was decent enough, rum was better value and went down well, with much being consumed on Sunday night after our diving was finished back at a local hostel.  Since it was still the weekend on Sunday after we finished most of our purchased booze, I went for a wander with my new Aussie and Pommie mates Nick and Alex to see if any local bars or night-life was open.  As it turned out, none were, but we ran into another contingent of tourists who led us to a rather bizarre Israeli hotel located at the far end of the beach.  Several stories high, the place was fairly palatial and after walking through the large metal gate, a massive pool and bar laid out before us.  The bar we discovered was open 24 hours, therefore further drinks didn’t prove a problem.

The next day was spent recovering, I opted out of further festivities the next night as well so I could ensure I was in a fit state to make my flight the next day.  Everyone I’d met was either staying longer to continue diving, continuing on their journey through South America or had already been backpacking the contient for several months.  I hated them all and was embarrassed to admit to them I’d only allotted myself a week in Colombia.  I was now in back-packer mode, I was relaxed and care-free, I wanted to stay here on holiday and continue exploring, thoughts of changing my flights quickly entered my mind.  In the end I left as planned, I had scheduled myself a job interview on my return next week and had already pulled out an “emergency” credit card to fund this trip.  My time in South America was far too brief, but nontheless I had made it to my 6th continent, gotten in some diving, made some new friends, experienced some culture and reminded myself how easy it was to slip back into holiday mode.  The trip gave me a brief taste once again of the freedom that comes with being backpacker and the incentive to save up again and hopefully explore more of South America soon.

Bogota

The Sprawling Mayhem that is BogotaI landed in Bogota, the capital of Colombia located in South America after a long series of flights across North America.  After a weekend on the West Coast in Seattle, I intended to use my flight-pass to get myself in one trip to Colombia, which necessitated returning to Boston.  Therefore I ended up flying from Seattle to Long Beach, California, then an overnight flight back to Boston, then to New York, Orlando and finally Bogota, arriving at around 10PM.  Overall, I think I was travelling for almost a day and a half, it was a long and tiring journey to say the least!  After landing and taking a taxi through the streets of Bogota, the city reminded me of many other large sprawling foreign cities I’d been to in recent the years, whether in India, China or South Africa.  The obvious difference here of course was the use of Spanish on signs and buildings.

Unfortunately my plan to learn Spanish over the Summer had been unsuccessful, so I wasn’t having any luck deciphering the signs flying past me or conversing with the taxi driver.  I did have my first experience understanding Spanish though after not too long when a bizzare man came up and started dancing in front of the cab, dressed as a robot, with his own music.  “Locco, Locco!” the taxi driver I said, I laughed and agreed, “yeah, that guy’s crazy alright.”  Fortunately, my lack of Spanish skills weren’t going to impede me too much as I had to arrange for some couch-surfing prior to arriving and to start off I was hosted by the wonderful Cami who was a local who grew up in the area.

She showed me around Bogota the next day, taking me into the center of the city and introducing me to the local equivalent of Starbucks called Juan Valdez.  Since Colombia is known for its coffee, I had to try some and observed that although Juan Valdez is a well known coffee-chain, the lay-out and feel of the stores is almost exactly the same as Starbucks.  I ordered my coffee (with Cami’s help) at about 10 o’clock in the morning and was surprised when they asked if I would like brandy or whiskey in it!  As tempting as it was, I declined.

Square full of Pigeons!Bogota is a massive sprawling city, full of traffic, bordered on the East by a luscious green mountain range.  There’s plenty of history, different areas to explore and a decent bus system which can be used to get around, though  its train system was destroyed in riots many decades before.  I had a stroll around a local shopping mall and then wandered through the center of the city, with Cami showing me her University and the main sights including churches, the residence of the President and various other historic and Government buildings.  I took an entertaining guided tour run out of the tourist information office and then paid a visit to the must-see Museo del Oro, the Gold Museum.  Apparently housing one of the largest collections in the world, the museum had loads of pre-Hispanic gold artifacts with gold shaped into just about everything including jewelry, armour, weapons, kitchen utensils and art-work.

I then learnt that the timing of my visit happened to coincide with elections across all of Colombia which were being held over the weekend.  Much to my shock however, because of the elections I discovered that the country would dry the whole weekend, in other words no alcohol could be bought or served!  This is apparently to avoid the practice of politicians heading out to bars and shouting drinks to people in order to persuade them to vote their way.  To ensure this I didn’t miss out, I went out on Thursday night where I sampled some Colombia brews at a Bogota Beer Company bar as well as some aguardiente, a local anise-flavoured liqueur.  There was definitely a party vibe in the area, a huge and rowdy crowd in sports jerseys were parading down the street, their local team had apparently just won the national soccer comp.  I enjoyed the spectacle, until an enthusiastic supporter jumped out from behind me and threw a handful of flour in my face, resulting in me coughing for the next minute or so before I recovered.

So I’d witnessed a bit of the night-life in Bogota and seen the historic sights, I had to decide where to go next.  I had my Lonely Planet, plenty of suggestions and it was obvious I could go in just about any direction and find something great to check out.  Colombia was a massive country.  After researching, I soon found a destination which offered exactly what I was after, warmer weather, beaches and scuba-diving.  I made my way to the bus terminal, bungled once again with no Spanish through buying a ticket and after a wait of several hours, boarded an overnight bus to my destination – Santa Marta, located almost a whole day’s ride away on the North Coast.

Philadelphia (plus New York again)

Some Band in Philadelphia . . .The bus ride to Philadelphia wasn’t too long and was fairly comfortable as far as bus-rides go however I was still left feeling rather exhausted by the time we pulled into our destination.  I was finally having some success getting acceptances through couch-surfing and this time I was staying with someone called Donna who was going to College at Temple University.  Her place somewhat resembled a hostel due to there being several other couch-surfers crashing there at once, but everyone seemed pretty cool and before long we were all playing video-games together.  Donna and her flat-mate were both pretty awesome and likely two of the coolest nerd-chicks I’ve yet to encounter.  Their apartment was a shrine to geekdom and we spent much of the night playing Smash Bros, Mario Kart (where I was continually beaten convincingly . . . I blame the poor Gamecube controller) and discussing which Internet memes were commonly known between America and Oz.

The next day proved that it is indeed NOT always sunny in Philadelphia.  In fact, the dismal weather forecasts were right and the down-pour was absolutely torrential.  As a result, the location of the festival was changed at the last minute, which was a shame as the original outdoor location sounded pretty awesome.  Instead the festival was being held in-doors at the Temple College basketball stadium.  This kinda sucked because the food and drink that made available turned out to be the typical greasy and over-priced rubbish that one typically gets at American sports venues.  It worked well for me however because as it turned out, I was staying right next to Temple College, so the entrance to the stadium was only several blocks from my accommodation.
More Music and Lights!I’d bought an extra ticket to the festival so had put up an ad on Craigslist to off-load it, unfortunately the festival wasn’t sold out either so I knew I was going to be making a loss on it.  Thankfully someone responded pretty quickly to my ad  and I hadn’t discounted the ticket too much so I arranged to meet him before the festival at a pub around the corner.  I met Ashley, a nice English lad at the pub who was joined by Jonny, also from England.  We all enjoyed a few pre-festival pints, compared music tastes and quickly became friends like most Aussies and Pommies generally seem able to do.

We made our way to the festival, Jonny didn’t actually have a ticket but managed to get one for an absolute bargain at $10 off a scalper outside!  Good times resulted, I didn’t know a great deal of the other acts preceding The Shins however a couple were memorable including Elbow and Cage the Elephant.  The Shins put on a great show, sounding better live that I would have thought and also playing some new material from their upcoming album.  After the festival I said bye to Jonny, who unfortunately couldn’t stick around for the 2nd day of the festival and then took Ash back to the video game den and allowed him to beat my host at Mario Kart on my behalf.

The 2nd day of the festival held a bit more variety in the types of music acts, Charles Bradley singing funk and soul and displaying some truly provocative dance moves got the crowd going fairly early.  Then came Kreayshawn, truly one of the worst travesties I’ve seen ever perform live (and that’s saying something as I’ve unfortunately witnessed part of a performance from a fiend known as Ke$ha).  The creature Kreayshawn is a female American rapper who makes some truly terrible sounds which come in the form of some just as dreadful lyrics.  One example – “I got the swag and it’s pumping out my ovaries”.  I have no idea what said swag is that she might be referring to, but I know for certain that I definitely want no part of it.
Philadelphia!The rest of the acts that night were much improved with Foster the People playing a good set and then finishing with plenty of dance music in the form of Girl Talk and Pretty Lights.  Despite feeling rather wrecked after spending most of the day on my feet, I joined Ash and a few friends he had from spending time at a college in Colorado for some festivities, which came in the form of a genuine American college party.  I’d been to one of these before in Hawaii many years ago and knew what to expect as it turns out pretty much all college parties in this country follow the same recipe – kegs of beer in someone’s over-crowded backyard and plenty of people playing beer-bong.  We all had to pay the hosts $5 to enter (girls got in for free of course), which then entitled us to a plastic cup which we held out while standing around a keg for 15 minutes at a time to acquire an average tasting beer, half of which contained foam.  Before long we grew tired, so went down the road where I acquired some of my favourite American fast-food (buffalo wings) and then made my way exhausted back to bed.
Tourists waiting in Line for a photo with Rocky The next day after a good sleep in, I left with the intention of seeing something else of significance in Philly before jumping on my bus to New York.  I arrived at the bus station a full hour early, and after a quick look at Google Maps, realised I should be able to make it to the the “Rocky Steps” and back.  Therefore, I set out on foot along the river with my luggage and after about half an hour got to the building marked on Google Maps.  I wandered back and forth around the building a couple times before I finally found the main entrance with the iconic steps.  I got someone to take a quick photo of myself at the top, then snapped one of the Rocky Statue (complete with line of tourists waiting to get their photos) before jumping into a taxi to rush back for my bus.

Alas, it wasn’t meant to be, the bus I’d booked was literally pulling away just as I arrived (I swear it left at least 2 minutes early).  Therefore, I had to wait a couple more hours in a stand-by line instead.  While doing so I decided this time in New York I should see a Broadway show, no matter what it was.  Book of Mormon was my first choice, but tickets continued to be ridiculously priced so instead settled on seeing Chicago.  Chicago was entertaining and I happened to be sitting next to two Australians during the performance who were visiting from Sydney.

That night a chance reunion occurred courtesy of the wonders of technology.  Those who know me are aware that I often use apps on my mobile phone and one of them is called Foursquare.  The premise of the app is pretty simple, it verifies the location of your phone via GPS and allows you to “check-in” to locations nearby, they can be restaurants, bars, night-clubs, shops or just about anything else.  When I checked Foursquare on my phone I happened to see an old friend called Lindsay was checked into a sushi-bar on the other side of Manhattan, I’d met Lindsay and her sister in Europe back in 2007 and hadn’t seen either of them since.  A quick message and next thing I knew I was having drinks with her an her husband in another random Manhattan bar.  The next day I explored more of Manhattan, mostly around the Rockefeller Center, generally wandering into and out of random stores and then subsequently getting disorientated.  I checked out the awesome Nintendo World store, and briefly contemplated the purchase of a Nintendo 3DS so I could relive playing Zelda in 3D.
Ash and me no doubt fairly inebriated!Later that day I met up with Ash again who was back in New York and we hung out some more.  After a quick walk through Central Park, we headed back to where he was staying in Brooklyn and started tucking into some cheap beers (I could tell I was well over budget on this trip already)!  After meeting more random Australians (again!) we all went out for some Thai food and subsequently ended up in Manhattan, first checking out a house-party I was invited to by a couch-surfer the week before and then hitting some more random bars.  Overall, even though this was a short trip, I think I had more fun in my week of travelling to DC, Philly and New York than I had in quite awhile.  This trip reminded me why I loved travelling and everything that goes with it and as I limped back to my empty Boston apartment, I continued to wonder why I had actually decided to settle down!