Sunday, November 27, 2011

"Jessie....What did he just say?!!"

November 2011

This month I cracked off another stereotypical American event I’ve wanted to do since getting here. That is attend an Ice Hockey game. The opportunity came about through Jessie, who I have developed a slight tradition of going to most UNC football games with, and her cousin who were planning on going to the Carolina Hurricanes game vs The Philadelphia Flyers. Needless to say when offered I did not turn it down one little bit!

The game was held in Raleigh, at the Ice Hockey stadium (obviously) which apparently also doubles up as a concert venue (not so obviously…), and so Jessie’s cousin, David and his family picked us up from campus and drove us there. The family were really nice and chatty, and seemed to enjoy a good laugh, although at times it seemed to be my expense (price of being the foreigner I guess!). On the way to the stadium we stopped off at Chik-fil-a for dinner (it’s a fast food chain for you Brits, and not bad either!), and had a tailgate in the parking area before the game, with me getting filled in on the basic rules of Ice Hockey and general family banter passing among everyone. As we started to make a move into the stadium, I was presented a selection of clothing to wear in support of a team, and not having a clue what was going on (what’s new) I chose a jersey at random. I later realised that all of the family except Sally were rooting for the Flyers, as they originated or went to college there (I forget which one it is) and the kids were following their Dad, with Jessie supporting the Flyers because of her mums allegiance (terrible I know). Anyways I didn’t realise this at the time, and thank god I picked out the red Canes jersey so I was rooting for the team I had the most affiliation with (ok, it’s not much affiliation but at least I’ve lived in North Carolina – I’ve never even been to Philadelphia!). 
Pre-match Warm-up
Pre-match Redness

The atmosphere in the stadium was electric. The teams were warming up as we got in, and music was blaring and crowds cheering. We watched the teams’ right by the rink side for a little bit, enabling a good photo opportunity! As we sat in our seats the spectacle really began, with lights flashing and music blaring as the teams came out. I noticed very early on that whoever decided on what music gets played at these games either really likes thrash metal music, or else that’s the stereotypical clientele that attends these games. I’m gonna guess it’s the latter to be honest…

The game itself was good to watch, fast paced action, lots of barging and rough and tumble going on. A few fights occurred which is always good to watch (let’s be honest, the only reason for watching Ice Hockey at home is for the fights!) and even a slight concussion of the Keeper who was knocked down backwards into the goal. I’m sure I annoyed the hell out of everyone around me constantly asking about the rules and stuff, but hell you have to learn somehow! Being one of two Canes fans in the group I was with also meant I made friends (well, became acquainted with) an interesting character sitting next to me, who found it very amusing I was sitting with a crowd of Flyers fans, and even more amusing that I was English and at an Ice Hockey game. I just found him incredibly hard to understand with the loud music and INCREDABLY southern accent. But he provided someone to high five when the Canes scored so that was good at least, even if I couldn’t understand every other word he said!

The real entertainment was crowd watching and the activities at the period breaks (Ice Hockey has 3 periods for those of you that didn’t know), which involved eating a huge burger meal in under 30 minutes (he failed) some sort of music chairs game on the ice (basically everyone falling over) and some random game involving eating spicy wings and solving anagrams that were all of 4 letters long. All for pretty decent prizes as well to be honest! There was also a dance competition for t-shirts (none of us got any – I blame Jessie for her terrible dance moves!). The sheer intensity of the game, which I have come to realise is the game for almost all American sports now, was immense and I really found myself swept up in it. I just couldn’t get over the usage of metal music for everything, and the rather laughable films of the players looking hard into the camera all serious like. Both Jessie and I agreed that we would never be able to do that and would end up pulling a face and being silly – not the most conducive thing to do if you’re trying to scare the other team I guess!

Unfortunately the Flyers won 5-3, which meant that Sally and I had to put up with the other bragging on the way back to Chapel Hill. Blood wish the Canes had won! It was a great match to watch and experience, and a great evening all round with yet another incredibly friendly and generous family. I am seriously lucking out with peoples generosity here – will definitely have to reciprocate in Manchester to balance out the Karma or something! If the Joseph family are reading this then thank so very much again for your hospitality and putting up with my British-ness! And thanks to Jessie for inviting me along! As the guy sitting next to me at the game said, I think I may become addicted to watching the sport now… God help my grades next year back in Manchester!

In our soon to become traditional sport-watching pose

I've converted to a new religion....

November 2011

I've decided to follow a new religion. Basketball. This is a religion in North Carolina. In fact, it may be bigger than religion itself (at that’s saying something about the South!). I attended the “Late Night with Roy” event a few weeks ago, and have been watching the games over the last few weeks. It's really sunk in how phenomenal basketball is at UNC in particular and in general in the state.

The retired jersey numbers in the Dean Dome

Late Night with Roy
UNC was asked to play against Michigan State, at the first Carrier Classic game held on the deck of an aircraft carrier on Veterans Day, with the President himself being there at the game. I believe there was a little media coverage of the game back in the UK, but here it was a big deal with a lot of coverage. Obviously it was held to commemorate veterans of the US armed forces, with only serving and retired personnel able to attend the game (plus people who knew people in the right places!). It was certainly amusing to see guys in uniform going mental and flying UNC/MSU flags in the stands! It was even cooler to see the court on the deck of this aircraft carrier (apparently the ships captain was Tar Heel too), and the players jerseys were camo print in the teams colours. What was even nicer (as it was for veterans day) was that the players names were replaced by "USA" on the back of the jerseys, in order to commemorate the US veterans. I think that's a cool thing to do and seriously wish something like that would occur at home.

I watched the game myself with some of the American guys and girls I have got to know through Pat at Willey’s house (which is VERY nice, but that’s another story). Being hardcore basketball fans, they had set up the room well with tiered sofas and a good supply of food and booze knocking around. Coupled with Carolina blue and excited college students the game was great fun! It was amazing to see how into the game everyone got – basketball really has a massive following here. And I guess with UNC tipped to win the NCAA (the college basketball league here) there is a lot more excitement among the fans. I have to admit I am hooked now, and completely taken in with the Tar Heel sporting life. Probably reflected in the fact that I own more UNC things now than Manchester… oops! We won the game 67-55, which prompted various people to sing (scream) the Tar Heel Chant, and Willey proclaimed to anyone and everyone “THAT'S Carolina Basketball!” Tar Heels eh?

Scene from the Carrier Classic

I also went and watched an exhibition match between UNC and Pembroke (no, id never heard of them either) before the Carrier Classic, in the Dean Dome. This was the first proper game I had seen in the Dean Dome, and even though the stadium was far from being packed, it was a great buzz to be there. Again, the number 1 ranked UNC beat Pembroke 100-58 slow game, but which turned into a really entertaining game. Well, once I had an idea about the rules and knew what was going on…. The highlight however which had me and Julie in stitches was a little girl over the other side of the stadium from us. She spent the whole game standing in the aisles of the seats dancing away to the music whenever it came on. I’m gonna be very un-macho here and proclaim it was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen! Even funnier was a small boy sitting in front of us, who turned around and took a liking to Pat, pointing at him and repeatedly saying “Bas-ket-ball” to him. Everyone was in hysterics, not less Pat who simply repeated it back to him every time. That’s classic dad skills there right?!

Scenes from the Dean Dome
The hype surrounding this year’s basketball is amazing. Whole channels on the TV are devoted to it, and people will spend an evening staying in watching college basketball games on the sports channels. This is a world away from UK University sports, which has a very low key following just within the university, and possibly a brief mention within local papers if they have done particularly well in a competition. Contrast that with the generations of family’s which follow a certain college team, regardless of whether they attend there or not, and the following in parents footsteps of attending a certain college. Even attending a UNC basketball is almost a privilege. In order to go watch at game at the Dean Dome (the UNC basketball stadium), you have to apply online, and then it’s a lottery as to whether you get a ticket or not. And you only receive 2 tickets. One ticket for the Duke game. Mental! The dean dome is a crazy place – just over 20,000 seat stadium, reaching high above the court with the usual big screens, marching band, cheerleaders and loud music. I think it seems louder in the Dean Dome due to the roof and slightly smaller stadium compared to other stadiums I’ve been in. However, the Duke stadium has only 8,000 seats so apparently that gets completely mental in there! To me it seems phenomenal that these college students playing for UNC/whoever (and they are only students at the end of the day – no different to the Manchester Men’s 1st football team in reality) are put on TV every week, are known on sight by people all over America and can have stats recited about their previous games. Its crazy the amount of coverage these guys get – none of them older than myself – pushed to a fame like status. 

Anyways, I am SO excited for the basketball season; getting to watch a few games in the Dean Dome and hopefully experience the pure mental-ness that will grip the UNC campus over the next few months as the Tar Heels progress in the AAC.

On a related note, did you know that the iPhone is a UNC fan? If you have the Iphone4S with the Siri voice recognition say “Tar” into it. Siri will reply with “Heel!” which is one of the UNC chants at sport events. Therefore the iPhone is a Tar Heel! Needless to say Duke fans were not amused one bit….

Friday, November 25, 2011

Halloween. American Stylee....

October 2011

As many of you know, Halloween is a massive event in America, with many of the aspects of the celebration having crossed the pond to England. However, at home it is nothing like the pure mental-ness that grips Chapel Hill for Halloween. Couple that with the fact it was my birthday also, a pretty great night was had!

Halloween is big-ed up a lot here, with shops stocking Halloween merchandise from around the beginning of October. And the stuff you can buy for Halloween is mental – literally anything from candy (sweets) to pumpkins to a full blown costume with missing hands and pumping blood. And anything decorative in between. Those of you who know me well enough/looked on facebook would know my birthday happens to be on Halloween, and so with the knowledge that Americans LOVE Halloween and birthdays, I was very much looking forward to experiencing the both together. Needless to say I was not disappointed!
After being woken up at midnight by my hall mates to say happy birthday (I wasn’t as grumpy as I appeared to be I promise!) I woke early to find a lovely e-card from home waiting for my in my email. Cue homesickness on quite a large scale, which isn’t a great thing to have on ones birthday! Anyways, being a Monday, I only had one class in the afternoon, so I spent most of the morning laying in bed, enjoying the fact I could do nothing and not feel guilty, something which very rarely happens at UNC. I was also watching my emails constantly, hoping my costume and a package from home would be delivered to the package centre in time.

Dressed up (with nowhere to go...)

God I am so cool

Luckily both were delivered that day, so I could go through with my (well, what I thought) hilarious costume of a chav for the evening. Unfortunately, it wasn’t really understood by Americans, and I had to explain myself a fair number of times (what’s new I guess…). As I wasn’t allowed to organise the party in the evening I received rather cryptic instructions (read: I had no idea what was going on until I demanded to know) to get to the Pritchard Ladies house, only to be swiftly texted to be told to take my time as they weren’t ready yet. Women (and John!)! Anyways, we had a great take away Mexican food together and a good laugh as is usual with them lot, and Pat came by too which was nice. The girls (and John) then disappeared to ‘get ready’ – god knows what they had been doing before hand – although I was then incredibly surprised to be presented with an amazing card hand drawn by Lexi (absolutely stunning) and lovingly (well, amusingly at least) signed by everyone inside, and a birthday sign with some cracking caricatures of everyone too. Plus some cool presents and a rather tasty cake (which did not last long at all!). It is customary on someone’s 21st to have 21 things for them to do (usually involving alcohol related shenanigans), however with me being 22, and it being Halloween with a lot of cops out, it was decided it would probably not be a great idea to get arrested for doing something stupid on Franklin Street.


ANYWAYS, on Halloween part of Franklin Street is shut down and taken over by people (mainly students) to gather together and have a good time. And show off their costumes. We had all dressed up too, with a notable costume from Andrea and John as a Siamese Hick Twin. Which involved them squeezing into a leg of some huuuuge overalls they found and talking in southern accents. The most hilarious bit being the fact they couldn’t walk very far at any speed because of the restrictive nature of the overall legs!  Franklin Street was a fantastic atmosphere, with some amazing costumes from “the 1%” (going off the occupy protests) to the little critters from ‘Despicable Me’ and a giant penis. No seriously. Halloween isn’t quite like at home where the costumes tend to focus around vampires and ghouls and “scary” things, but merely an excuse for people to dress up (fancy dress isn’t as big a thing as it is in the UK. And cross dressing is a big no-no. Thank god MSUOTC isn’t here with me that’s all I can say!). But the effort people go to was quite incredible. According to the paper the day after over 2,000 people attended Franklin Street – much less than the 10,000’s of previous years, restricted due to safety fears. 

On Franklin Street

Once we had had a good wander around Franklin Street, we headed back towards the Pritchard House, to be greeted with the sight of people literally spilling out of the house. While it was great that so many people were at the party, it was really too many and quite a worry for the girls who didn’t really know many of these people who had arrived at their house… However, it was a good party and there were a fair number of people I knew who had come to celebrate with me, although unfortunately a lot of them left early due to the number of people in the house. I stayed to the bitter end (hardcore right?!) and got to bed at the decent time of 3.30am. At least I remembered the whole evening unlike last year…

Costumes everywhere!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Deforesting Chapel Hill (Homecoming)

 October 2011

Homecoming to me is a distinctly American event – I certainly don’t know of any UK institutions that put on anything like homecoming. SO what is homecoming? As far as I can tell (seeing as I didn't actually bother asking for an official definition), homecoming is the last home game within the football season, and involves alumni of UNC coming back to Chapel Hill for the weekend. Usually certain years are targeted, such as 4 years, 25 years etc etc, but I think all alumni are welcomed back regardless of when they graduated. The key event of the weekend was the football game, but other events are put on, such as meals, socials and a (sort of) big concert on the Saturday. 

The football game itself was against Wake Forest, a smallish private university not far from Chapel Hill (in American terms that is…). Apparently there is a slight rivalry between the two (although not to the same extent as NC State and Duke), although its not really a true rivalry as we “beat them every time”. I quote here as I cant vouch for that, nor really want to (in case of a witch hunt from Forest fans..). Anyways, in the weeks preceding the game there was a fair bit of hype in going to beat Forest. This was most noticeable to be through the selling of homecoming t-shirts with “Deforestation” emblazoned across them. I’ll be honest and at first thought the Anti-coal coalition had taken a dramatic new direction and had started to campaign for wood fires as energy sources again in order to harp back to the 16/1700’s, but now “Deforestation” is the act of “kicking the shit’ out of Wake Forest” (I paraphrase as I can’t quite remember what it actually said!).

Cheerleader antics
The game itself was good fun – I joined up with Jessie and Kiever again, with Mary-Ellis joining us too and managed to get right into the Tar Pit – the student area of the stadium where it usually gets pretty wild. I realise I have never really written about the atmosphere of a college football game, so I can say now it is amazing. The chants, loud music, marching bands and crazy competitions during break plays are fantastic. The fact that the stadium can hold 60,000 people is a testament to how popular college sports is in America, and on TV there is channel after channel showing various college teams in different sports. American Football I feel is the most outrageous (that I’ve seen so far at least), with players charging out of the tunnel with the American flag flying – almost like a battle charge – and music blaring out, fans screaming and banging benches and smoke billowing. The video above shows Steven Fry's experience of college football from Alabama (where they go TOTALLY mental for it!) and the second one is a hype video for UNC. I tries to find the actual one they play as the team come out onto the field, but I couldn't, so this is the best YouTube could offer (skip to 1min in - that's when it gets interesting!). Neither video quite puts across the atmosphere experiences in the stadium, the noise etc. I don't know if it's just me, but it's certainly more intense than football (soccer for you Americans) back home. Although I'm guessing this is due to culture, but still is an absolutely amazing experience!

Anyways, deforestation was successfully completed in the Kenan Stadium, with a comfortable score of 49-2. The concert that evening was attended by myself (was too busy parting somewhere else!) but apparently it flopped with less than 10% of tickets being sold – oops! Homecoming was an interesting experience and something I don’t think happens in Manchester (however, not being an alumni means I wouldn’t know!), but it’s certainly nowhere near as big. Although this probably  has something to do with the fact that college sports is so ingrained in the American culture, and has such a following from people who have left, or may have not even attended the college they follow. It certainly means a hell of a lot of money is involved in college athletics – and a huge amount of fame given to college students who just happen to want to play some sport.

Tar Heels reset for a touchdown

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

"Stop eating seductively at me!" (Fall Break: Washington, DC)

October 2011

This week we were given a very generous two days off class by the wonderful administrative people of UNC. Simply as a reward for reaching halfway in the semester. How nice right? Until you remember that back home I would normally get a measly week after 6 weeks at Manchester. Two days to recuperate from the stresses of the last 8 weeks seriously isn’t enough. No wonder US students are always so overworked and under rested…

Anyways, as we had a few days off I was desperate to get out of Chapel Hill and go and see another part of the US. Much as I love being in Chapel Hill I am definitely a city boy at heart and need to get into a bustling, busy place every so often! So Andrea, Harriet and I booked ourselves into a hostel in DC and planned on spending a few days sightseeing and having a bubble in the nation’s capital. We managed to grab a lift (ride) off Jess (one of the Pritchard girls) and her dad, who were going to DC to get Jess a visa for her study abroad in Spain next semester, which was great as it saved us some money, and meant we could have some good banter on the way up there. We piled into Jess’s car on Wednesday afternoon – bunking off lessons for the day (just sinking back into the English attitude of not going to lectures for a day!) and set off on a mini road trip. Jess’s dad was sound and really chatty asking us loads of questions about our experience of the USA and how it’s so different yet similar to back home (he had spent some time in the UK before), and also cracked out some amazing dad jokes, much to Jess’s embarrassment! Driving up towards DC made me realise two things about America. It really is bloody huge, which I knew anyways, but the size sort of escapes your notice when you haven’t really travelled anywhere in the country, and also how beautiful parts of it are. Driving along the interstate, the trees were amazing colours (OK, its fall so that’s expected), but lots of forest seemed to be left, compared to the UK where you drive along the motorway and it’s all pasture land and neatly hedgerowed fields. The drive itself took around 5 and half hours, with a few stops offs for petrol. And a Taco Bell stop; because none of us had had one since arriving in the States.
Loving the Bell

We arrived in DC in the rain – typical – and after a quick hug goodbye to Jess, handshake and thanks to her dad, we ran into the front of the hostel we were going to stay in for the next few days. I wasn’t sure what to expect of the hostel, as it was the cheapest we could find in DC, with a fair number of both good and bad reviews. However, upon arrival it seemed perfectly adequate for what we needed it for – ie a place to sleep and not much else. It was a converted town house-type place in which about 12 beds were crammed into each room and a small number of showers and toilets for the residents to use – not ideal, especially for the girls. However, it was clean and sociable enough with an eclectic mix of people. I knew that all sorts of people used hostels, from my (limited) experience of staying in some in the UK. However, those hostels were slightly more upmarket to the one we were in, seeing as my parents stayed in the UK ones, and as such I was expecting there to be a slightly younger people vibe. As it was as soon as we walked into the social area of the hostel we were greeted to the sight of two older guys sprawled across the sofa watching ‘24’ and engaging in banter with a much younger girl on the other side of the room. At least, I hope it was banter because otherwise “You’re going to hell” could be deemed to be rather offensive seeing as we were out of the South…

Washington DC as the capital of the USA is quite different to the stereotype of American cities with big towering skyscrapers and tower blocks. Instead, DC has a more modest height to it, which apparently is the consequence of a ban put on the city planners to not build anything above a certain height, in order to preserve the character of the city. The buildings also seem much older and more European in their look - again probably in part due to the restrictions on city planning. An interesting bit of information that, and I think it certainly contributes to the character of DC - as a city I certainly prefer it to Atlanta, GA.

Once we were shown around, with numerous rules explained to us (and I mean a hell of a lot of rules!) we dumped our stuff, sorted out lives out (well, I did at least) and then made off into the rain for some food, stopping briefly to chat to a guy from Richmond, London downstairs. Random how you bump into people how originate not too far from your home! We didn’t really have much of a clue as to where to go, so just began to wander towards the centre of DC, eventually coming across a restaurant/bar which Harriet got very excited about as it shared her name (Harriet that is…). It seemed a pretty chilled sports bar style place, and so I ordered some chicken wings (VERY spicy – have learnt to ask what sauce they get covered in now!), Andrea ordered some ice cream and Harriet couldn’t eat anything on account of her nut allergy. Unfortunately for her.

Once we were suitably fed and watered (or alcohol-ed in Harriet and mines case!) we wandered in another direction, coming across China Town. Which was very brightly lit and bustling for a Wednesday. We trawled a few places (that would let us in with Andrea being under 21), some nice, some horrendously expensive (don’t ever go to Green Turtle - $8 a beer!). Calling it a night, the girls had major issues working out which way to get back to the hostel, and so with me laughing at their uselessness – I mean it’s not hard to navigate a block system is it?! – I led the poor souls the right way.  
It's raining men! (or just water...)

Stumbling across China Town

The next morning, after a fairly slow start, we mosied out of the hostel and down 11th street towards the centre of DC. It was a beautiful day after the rain of the previous one, and a crisp morning. Now having spent 2 months in the South, and being used to brisk mornings turning into pleasant days, even in October, we were totally un-prepared for the cold that DC had to offer. Especially the girls who had come out in skirts. Oops! This meant that the days plan had to be revised to ensure stops were made within buildings to warm us up at regular intervals! To begin with, we had a wonder around, with Harriet and Andrea taking so many photos that they could have been mistaken for Japanese tourists, and I put my camera away with the intention of just stealing their photos off Facebook. The first stop was the International Spy Museum, for which Andrea being a savvy person (or skint student) managed to get in a little cheaper due to Harriet and I completely forgetting to use the money off coupons we had found.

Honestly tried, but didn't manage to get arrested on a terrorism charge

To get into the tour guide part of this blog entry, the museum was good. It had lots of information relating to the spy industry and both governmental and industrial espionage. There was also a vast array of equipment on display that real spies used (apparently), and some elements of interactivity, although this usually involved putting on some headphones to hear the display in front of you being read out. However, the sheer size of the museum meant we were in there for a good few hours, and after the obligatory trawl through the gift shop (it always amazes me how much crap is on offer in these places!) and the discovery of the most humorous book displaying some phenomenal chat up lines (which were then subsequently repeated on loop to each other the rest of the weekend). Once we had left the black hole, innocently labelled as a ‘gift shop’ (pah!) the rest of the morning was spent walking down The National Mall taking lots of pictures. As you do. The National Mall stretches from the US Capitol down to The Washington Monument and beyond to the WWII memorial and Jefferson Memorial, with the White House off to one side. This bit of DC is usually the most identifiable, and it has most of the big museums lined up adjacent to it. It was actually quite a pretty place, if it hadn’t been for the huge maintenance works going on in the middle of the grass…

The National Mall

The early afternoon was spent in the Holocaust museum, which I would seriously recommend going to if you ever find yourself in DC. Despite the very sobering nature of the museum, I felt it was excellently put together and dealt with the issues sensitivity and a good mix of objectivity and intimacy at the same time. Needless to say, we spent a good few hours in there being taken round the museum which looked at the holocaust in the most minute detail at moments. Once we had emerged with a few tears in the eyes, I managed to break the moment in the most inappropriate way-that only I can-by stating I was starving. The evil looks I got from the people around didn’t make me feel very welcome at that point, so we took our leave sharp-ish into the cafĂ©. Which you had to go through security scanners for. Yeah, explain that to me – in case someone holds up the place for some doughnuts?!

There go the girls
Looking towards the Capitol

We then went up towards the White House, got lost trying to negotiate the bomb bollards in front of the gate, which was in front of the 200m garden strewn with cameras, laser pointers and probably Mutant Ninja Turtles hiding in the bushes or something… Anyways, the whole posing touristy thing of taking pictures through the fence complete, we began to wander back towards China Town for a Hooters dinner that Andrea craved (well she said she craved a Hooters dinner. I’m not so sure she was referring to the food…). We also passed the only Nandos restaurant in the USA. Yup. The only one. Can you imagine the carnage that would entail if it was the case in the UK?!
The White House itself

That evening was spent trawling a few bars again, mainly in the China Town area. We also hooked up with Elston, another international from UCL who have got to know fairly well, and the guys he was with in DC. On the way back into the Hostel we came across a Duke fan lounging on the sofa in front of the TV. Well, we didn’t know he was a Duke fan at first, until we got chatting to him. I think he was a little overwhelmed and alarmed by the number of UNC students within the building when he found out as he left the room pretty sharp-ish afterwards!

The next day was the marathon day. We managed to get out of the hostel at a decent time, and made our way straight down to the National Mall to hit the museums before they got busy. After a little detour into the Smithsonian Art Gallery, we headed into the Air & Space Museum. I should mention here in another tourist guide way that the Smithsonian museums within DC are free to the public, which is great. However, they don’t tell you that once you’re inside you have to pay for the interesting stuff. Anyways, the Air & Space museum was pretty impressive with various planes and things hanging from the ceiling and lots of different exhibitions about various bits and bobs. All rather interesting stuff! As we were walking out about 2 hours later we saw the queue to get in. And were promptly thankful for leaving early! Other museums visited were the Natural History Museum by Harriet and Andrea, and the American History Museum by myself. I didn’t stay long as I thought the constitution was in there. It wasn’t, so I left. And went to the national archives where it actually was located. Oops! When I did get into the National Archives, it was quite cool to see the constitution, displayed alongside the Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence (or “the receipt” as I jokingly referred to it as to an American standing next to me. He didn’t take it well…). A little piece of (rather recent) history to be seen there!

Luckily we got in before the little terrors!

Suddenly being camera shy...

Afterwards we all started on our huge walk around Tidal Basin and up towards the Lincoln Memorial, zig-zaging a bit to see the MLK memorial and a few others. This was a quite nice walk, with the sun out and not too cold at this point. Just the bloody distance! The memorials were amazing though – the American’s sure know how to construct a memorial that’s for sure! From there we walked (more bloody walking) into Foggy Bottom (yup, that’s the name – quality!) and sat in Starbucks letting the blood get back into our feet, and decide where to eat. We were directed towards a part of foggy bottom which had a number of restaurants around a central square, and decided on the Italian place. It was pretty average, except the olive oil was very splashy and I got it all over me, but I'll move on. 

Congress Building

Looking down the National Mall

Statues of various celebrities...

Yeah, iconic image with no water. How inconsiderate of the builders...

Not wanting to head back to the hostel only to head out again, we moved into the bar just next door to the Italian place, and thank god we did. It was the nearest to a proper British pub I have been in since I arrived in the USA, and coupled with an incredibly friendly and chatty landlord meant we had a very pleasant evening sat at the bar drinking away. Well, Harriet and I did. Andrea not being 21 meant she had to stick to soft drinks unfortunately. Anyway, slightly inebriated (I did my usual thing here of trying any beer I’ve not heard of!) we headed back to the hostel and into bed. 

The next day Harriet was heading back to Chapel Hill as her sister was coming to stay for the week, so me and Andrea had the day together. Aww, bless! The day was kicked off at the Smithsonian Zoo, which Andrea was VERY excited about and promptly went for the Japanese look again, taking pictures of everything! The zoo itself was awesome – spread over a mile or so and home to many different animals, including elephants, tigers, komodo dragons and pandas. And it was free – how amazing is that?! I would definitely recommend going if you ever fancy seeing something else in DC apart from memorials and museums. The afternoon was taken up in Georgetown, which is quite a tendy, not-your-typical-American type of area of DC, and has a large student population (or at least I assume it did from all the student types floating around in Georgetown hoodies). After a poke around the place, we decided to strike out across the river to the south of the main street, and pleasantly surprised, found ourselves back in Virginia. Simple minds I know but it did amuse us for a bit having simply walked to Virginia! From there we decided to walk down to Roosevelt Island, which was a good call because it was beautiful. And the memorial in the middle was pretty impressive too, but then I had come to expect that from DC by now! The evening was spent in a rather swish Cuban bar/restaurant, with good food and music – perfect round up to an awesome weekend!

The next day was an earlier start, with a lengthy walk to the Megabus stop roughly 2 miles from the hostel. Thankfully we managed to get there with no real hiccups (I may have taken the wrong fork in one road…) and with plenty of time left to get on the bus. The journey was long and uneventful, and we arrived back in the South at Durham bus station in the sweltering heat. Typical. The next few hours were to get even more typical, as with it being a Sunday no busses were running to Chapel Hill (at times I do think the USA can be quite backwards), and so Sods Law came crashing down upon us both, with the realisation of the only way of getting back to Chapel Hill without paying an extortionate amount of money on a taxi was to hike up to Duke and hope the shuttle was running. Hike to Duke. Gulp. Having heard a lot about this place from people I wasn’t sure I wanted to go into Dukes campus and openly ask someone how to get back to UNC. They might throw the keys to their Mercedes or something at me… Anyways, I will definitely go on record as to say that the Duke campus is beautiful, with a gothic look to it, and with Andrea doing her womanly thing some Dookie helped us onto the right bus to get to the other side of the campus and onto the UNC shuttle. And no key were thrown. Thank god! Needless to say, by the time we got back onto UNC campus we were more than ready to be back and crash in our rooms!

Yup, in a bar as usual!