Sam here. I am in fact still alive. Laura had given me a brief break from doing the blog posts but apparently that time is over and I’m back on them again. Fortunately we’ve had an action packed week in Washington so it’s a nice easy post to write!
As anyone who knows us well will know, we are huge fans of the West Wing, the greatest television show to have ever aired, and normally we rewatch the entire 7 seasons once a year. It’s obviously based in Washington (at the White House!) so we were like kids in a candy shop getting to walk around and see all the sites from the show. We were impressed and surprised by how close we could actually get to the White House, and we even got to go inside the Capitol building where the house and senate meet (alas only to the visitor centre, as we’re foreign we aren’t allowed in the chambers whilst they’re in session.)
We also got to go around all of the monuments, such as the WWII monument and the statue of Abraham Lincoln. Having seen all these things on television for so many years there’s something particularly weird to actually seeing them in real life. I don’t think anything disappointed. Everything in Washington seems to have been well planned and built meticulously to impress and doesn’t fail to. We were also blessed by clear weather every single day, and everything looks better in the sun :).
It turns out there’s much more to do than explore the government buildings. We were lucky to be staying with our friend Casey who we met 4 years ago when we got engaged in Fiji and he was an incredible host, keeping us busy and entertained the whole week. Thanks to him we even got to do our favourite activity: wine tasting!
Apparently, all bar 1 state produces wine in the US, and a short 1 hour drive took us to the vineyards of Virginia. They specialise in reds but I personally preferred the whites, and each one of them proved a stunning location. Not having to bike round like we normally do was a turn up for the books too!
Washington is also home to the Smithsonian museums. There are about 18 or so different ones on a range of topics, and they’re all absolutely free (which suited us to a tee!) Laura and I parted ways for this, she went to the American History museum to look at, amongst other things, the inaugaral ball gowns of the first ladies (snooze) whereas I went to (literally) the most popular museum on the planet, the Air and Space museum! I don’t think I’ve been so wide eyed before as I walked into the main hall. They have the only existing lunar module left (the bit that landed on the moon during the apollo mission, although this one has never left the planet) along with the actual command module that brought back Armstrong and co on Apollo 11. They also had a ton more stuff but I won’t ramble as Laura will just delete it. Suffice to say it was incredible, and I barely scratched the surface in the limited time I had there.
We also got to go the National Portrait Gallery, which amongst other exhibitions has all of the portraits of the presidents. This was really interesting as it had a small overview of each one- it’s amazing how many presidents have died in office! Getting the Vice Presidency seems like the easiest way into the big job.
So, we certainly had great company, great museums and great monuments, but Washington also had amazing food. I am absolutely putting back all the weight I lost over the previous 7 months. All the food is so rich, the portion sizes large, that even though we’re basically doing one meal a day I’ve definitely put on a few pounds. I think the copious amounts of beer probably aren’t helping either (the US is a haven for microbreweries).
On our final day we managed to get a bottomless brunch in (my new favourite breakfast meal has to be steak and eggs, I can’t get enough) and spend the afternoon drinking, seeing friends (our buddies Dani and Nick who we met on the Inca trail swung by) and even managed to squeeze the England match in too. Safe to say when we woke up at 5am this morning for our flight we were a tad hungover, but another 15,000 steps around New Orleans and we’re back to normal again (I’ll save that for the next post.)
A huge huge thanks to Casey for looking after us so well, and we can’t wait to see him in London next year :).
Finally! Our month in the USA has arrived and we’re so excited! We absolutely love NYC (who doesn’t?) and when we told my parents we were coming here, mum was straight on the web, searching for cheap flights. Fast forward 10 months and here we are, Sam, me, Mum and Dad all together in an apartment for a week- surely there would be some arguments? Tension? Frustration? Well, surprisingly, not really.
Sam and I flew over to stay with some friends who live out in Westchester for a few days. We had such a great time, eating so much, visiting cute little towns, hiking and hanging out with the ever adorable Valerie, their 1 year old daughter. Josh and Steph have the most beautiful house and gave us so much to aspire to in the future!
Then it was time to head to Brooklyn to meet Mum and Dad Dixon. The apartment we’re staying in is fantastic, it’s just that we’re so far away from tourist central- it’s around an hour to Grand Central and Sam and I quickly realised (reluctantly) that our days of siestas were over. There’s no point in coming back during the day when it would take so long to get back into the city.
Dad has never been to NYC before and it became apparent very early on that his mind was blown. In a good way. I thought his head was going to explode when we got to Times Square. Again, in a good way.
We’ve walked non stop for almost a week, so much that on a night we were exhausted and had to go to bed by 10pm pretty much every night. Obviously we’ve done all the touristy stuff- Empire State, Central Park, Rockefeller, Greenwich, Times Square, UN, Statue of Liberty etc but we’ve also done some really amazing things that, unless friends had recommended them, we would never have considered. We took a tour through the 9/11 Tribute Center, with 2 firefighters who were on duty during 9/11- it was amazing, in a very sobering way and I think was Dad’s highlight of the trip.
We also took a free guided tour of the NY Library- so so interesting and even better after the 3 glasses of wine consumed in the Oyster Bar at lunch.
We spent a day in Brooklyn- Coney Island, Williamsburg (amazing bars,) Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope. What an incredible place! Brooklyn is gigantic and we could have easily spent a week exploring it without even stepping into Manhattan. Shamefully we didn’t even get to the other boroughs- there was just no time. We wanted to get upto Harlem on Sunday to see the gospel choirs but again, there was just no time.
Our friend Josh works at Google, so Sam got to go for a tour- he came back incredibly depressed because he doesn’t work there. Just look how happy he is:
One thing we’ve been surprised by is the incredible diversity of NYC- the food (oh god, the food,) architecture, neighbourhoods and open spaces. I don’t even want to think about how much weight we’ve put on- it’s so bloody difficult to say no to anything! From amazing steaks, to yummy brunches to delicious bagels and pretzels, we’ve been so spoilt. Yes it’s pricey, but double yes, it’s worth it.
We did find the 18-20% service a little steep but it’s all about what you’re used to- I think if we had that in HK or London, we’d be used to it too. For the most part, service has been pretty decent so I didn’t mind too much.
Tomorrow, Mum and Dad fly back to UK and Sam and I take the bus down to DC to hang out with the lovely Casey, Dani and Nick, all of whom we met travelling over the past few years.
Sam and I found out last night that Kanye was playing a ‘secret’ gig fairly near to where we’re staying. For about 10 seconds we considered it.
Then we realised it wasn’t starting until 2am.
Kanye, you’re entertaining in a what’s-he-said-now-way, but really, 2am?! No thanks.
So after raving about Bilbao and how much we loved it, Spain has outdone itself with San Sebastian, about 2 hours along the coast. I could go on and on about the architecture and scenery but I’d bore myself as well as everyone else so instead, here’s a couple of photos to illustrate for me:
We were so lucky that the sun came out pretty much as soon as we arrived and only disappeared when we were on our way to the bus station to go to Madrid. It meant we could walk for miles in amazing sunshine, and sit outside in trendy but overpriced cafes. Bliss! We even managed to find a lovely hostel in the middle of the city for a not-exorbitant-price. We stayed at ‘A Room in the City’ and would highly recommend it. It’s basic but we got our own room (complete with awesome bunkbeds) and shared bathroom (surprisngly really really nice) for 30 a night. Impressive when you consider average hotels start at 45 a night. Menu del dia in restaurants came with a bottle of wine- RESULT for backpackers everywhere!
The city is separated into different parts and our favourite (and judging by the crowds, everyone else too) was the old town. Lovely little streets lined with pintxos bars and cute shops, cafes selling calorific looking cakes and great coffee. It was quite easy to get lost in it and we found ourselves wandering for ages. There’s a great coastal walk around the edge of the city too- you can easily walk from one beach to the next in 30 mins.
SS also has some incredible beaches within a few minutes of the hustle and bustle of town. The above photo was taken just 10 minutes from our hostel and was so lovely. It was super hot and we tried our best to get back our bronzed glow from South America but I think we need a few more days!
Key ingredients for a perfect few days away:
Do yourself a favour- make sure you visit San Sebastian.
Onwards to Madrid!