Few destinations on earth are more popular or exciting than the Caribbean. Even just hearing the name probably brings to mind images of white sand, blue ocean, sipping cocktails on the beach during the day, and dancing with locals in the evening. However, the Caribbean is far from one single place. It’s made up of more than seven-thousand different islands! This means that, if you’re looking for a holiday destination, you’re going to have to decide which island you want to spend your time on. And, believe it or not, there are actually a fair few differences between many of these islands. In order to make your decision just that little bit easier, here are some of best of the best that the Caribbean has to offer.
Ah, the final leg of my 3 month journey. I was leaving the land of Chic Fillet, devout Christians and crazy drivers (that’s the south in a nutshell) to return to the Big Apple. The next day I would board my final flight which would take me home to London.
I arrived in New York La Guardia Airport after an enlightening flight with Frontier Airlines. The 2 hour flight was about $90 so I can’t really complain but the seats were about as thin as a piece of card and hard as nails. They also had barely enough leg room for a hamster which was an issue for me and a fellow 6ft 4er sitting behind me. There were spare exit seats but they cost $80 and no amount of shocking flirting got me one for free. I also found it pretty funny that when us passengers weren’t listening to an announcement the cabin crew lady shouted down the PA system; “Helooooooooo”. You could see it was budget airline and I found it pretty funny, but the flight was actually fine.
In New York I was to be staying one night at Q4 hostel in upper Queens but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out how to get there on the subway from the airport. In London I’m used to there being an underground map everywhere I turn and helpful staff waiting to assist you. But I swear there was not one map on the subway station so I was forced to do that age old thing of talking to people. Eventually I got to my hostel which was probably the nicest one I had stayed at all summer to be fair. The shower was big and super warm whilst the beds were singles and large enough even for my gigantic form. I played pool with a few guys from the hostel then made a final pack of my backpack and fall asleep for the final time on American soil.
The journey to the JFK the next morning was a really pleasant one. To get to the airport you get the AirTrain which is a kind of monorail that sweeps through the city and has great views over most of the buildings. I checked in at the airport with Virgin which is the standard airline Camp America peeps fly with then hit the duty free. I’d somehow forgotten to get my mum and dad presents when I was travelling (bad I know) so a bottle of New York wine each from duty free was a good purchase at the airport! I got to my departure gate pretty early and was glad because it was right at the end of the terminal and had a huge glass end where you could see loads of the airport. I sat there for a good half an hour just watching all the goings on that were happening below and took a pretty good time-lapse.
On the flight the age old problem of my enormous legs popped up once again. Exit seats on virgin are about $70 extra and I aint paying that! On the flight over from London I just asked the steward very nicely and he discretely bumped me up to an exit seat for free without the paying customers noticing. Having done that I thought I’d try the same back to London.
They were having none of it.
I asked one lady and she insisted I paid the extra. Thinking she might be in a bad mood I asked another stewardess but she had the same answer. Not one to give up, I employed a new tactic; annoying them. I decided that my legs were not comfortable behind the chair in front of me so stuck them out in the aisle and went to sleep. Needless to say I got in their way and after about half an hour and 6 trolley journeys past my legs the stewardess came over and said I could move to a bulk head seat that had more leg room! VICTORY!
I sat down in my new seat feeling like a baws. I was now sitting next to lady who had a son who was in competitive swimming and we spoke for hours about the swimmers life and the world they live in. Time flew and we had landed in Heathrow before I knew it. Bags collected, through the border and then out the airport to meet my dad who was picking me up after 3 months way.
I was back on English soil and in a car heading home to my own bed. I didn’t shut up the whole way home with my countless stories to tell.
Thoughts and feelings to follow; it’s going to be emotional.
North Carolina was the first real southern state I would be visiting on my travels through the country. I was going to be arriving in the capital Charlotte and staying in a small town half an hour’s drive away. I was told to expect ‘southern hospitality’, lots of Chic Fillet’ (a southern food chain) and the streets to be empty on a Sunday as everyone would be at church. Many people also asked why I was going to Charlotte – ‘Eugh, why are you going to Charlotte?’ was the common question. The simple answer was that Kyle, Marc and I were travelling to North Carolina to visit our best friend from over the summer – Sasha, and it turned out to be one of our most enjoyable destinations yet!
We arrived in Charlotte on the trusty Megabus to find a beaming Sasha excited to pick us up! It was late in the afternoon and we had agreed to get food when we met, so we put our bags in Sasha’s car and drove straight to a Mexican restaurant. Here we had the biggest cocktails that I’ve ever had; they were large on the menu and they meant it! We also nearly got in an argument with a grumpy old man sitting behind us because we were apparently moving around too much on our bench. Knowing this was the south I pretended to be gay in order to piss him off that little bit more (you can see his head in the photo below). I ordered the meatiest food I could find on the menu which included shrimps, steak and chicken which was duley devoured.
After the Mexican restaurant we popped into a bar for a drink then headed back to Sasha’s apartment where we would be crashing for two nights. Sasha’s apartment was lovely and cosy with 2 sofas to crash on and a blow up bed for the lucky one of us. Sasha had bought a small brown dog just before we had arrived and it was instantly petrified of us when we entered the apartment! The Dog was running around barking and growling at us and i didn’t trust it from the start! I think she was a rescue dog and had a chequered past which made her this way. Never the less she seemed to have calmed down a bit after we had settled in. Or so we thought. There we were engaging in the classic Netflix and chill on the sofas while Kyle was on the floor next to the dogs bed trying to make a friend. All of a sudden when Kyle got too close the dog started growling an went for his finger! We were all pretty shocked then Kyle showed us his cut and bleeding finger! Sasha tended to it so the bleeding stopped and then told her dog off. I made sure not to go near the dog again – crazy bitch. We watched Netflix for the rest of the night then hit the hay.
The next morning I was up at 7.30 am while Kyle and Marc were still asleep as I was going with Sasha to her high school swim team practice. I was going to help coach the 1 ½ hour session with her as we had been the camps swim coaches over summer where she had always talked about her high school swim team and how proud of it she was! We arrived at the pool and I was amazed at how good it was! 3 high schools shared this pool and it had TWO 10 lane 25m swimming pools all prepped and ready for competing! Back home it is unheard of to have secondary schools with swimming pools like this unless they’re the top private ones! Even community pools in London only usually have 1 25m pool! You can really see why the Americans dominate swimming on the international stage! The session was good fun, there were about 20 kids ranging in ability and they listened well and enjoyed the new things they tried out!
After the session we grabbed a coffee to stay awake then headed back to the apartment to pick up Kyle and Marc as it was time to go to work at a car wash! The car wash was Sasha’s high school drama departments fund raising event to raise money for the department play. We had a space in the local Chic Fillet’ parking lot to wash the cars and had kids standing by the main road with car wash signs and donation boxes. The community in the local area really support the high school. A fair amount of people come through to get their car washed and people even pulled up just to donate without getting their car washed. We 3 guys got stuck in and I took responsibility for making the wheels and hub caps extra shiny while the other people were in control of the hose and washing the body! It was a fun time but the kids were going to be there for a few more hours and we had a big last night ahead of us so we headed back to the apartment to have showers and chill. That night we headed out to the outskirts of Charlotte to a bar with giant Jenga and Battleships. Once we had played enough games we then headed to a Brewery bar. I forget the name of the brewery bar but my god it was amazing! We arrived at around 10.30 and it was packed with people having a merry good time. We found a high table with some stools and promptly ordered a tray each of 5 small glasses of different beers brewed in the local area. They ranged from pale ales to stouts and all tasted great! Kyle then ordered some bread sticks with a pot of cheese to dunk them in and my word the cheese tasted amazing, i couldn’t get enough of it! Impressed by the quality and taste of the food I expectantly ordered steak tips. I wasn’t disappointed- the steak was magnificent and I would have ordered more if I knew I could eat it! Truly blown away by the food we had eaten and the drinks we consumed we left the brewery happy bunnies and headed home for the night.
MY next stop was going to be Atlanta which was to be my final stop on this trip before heading back to New York to fly home. I had planned to make it as far south as Florida but without realising it I had pretty much spent all my money that camp had payed me and I wanted to have some dollar left over when I returned home. As a result I brought my flight home a week early. I dint really mind though, I had seen so much of the states so far and 1 week less wasn’t a killer. Plus, I had already made my mind i was coming back to the states one day.
North Carolina and Sasha were great to us. When people ask again; ‘Eugh, why would you want to go to Charlotte?’ I’ll tell them; ‘Because it’s a bloody cool town, with amazing people, amazing food and that all important southern hospitality’.
Over the years I’ve found that wherever you’re travelling, there’s always one or two main travel companies that are relatively cheap which you turn to in order to get from place to place. America was no different…… All hail the Megabus!
Booking a Megabus is a great way to get from city to city in the USA and is far cheaper in most cases than a trip on the railway or a budget flight. They’re even pretty comfortable; with air con, Wi-Fi, power outlets and enough legroom in some seats for someone as tall as me (6ft 4). Knowing this, I booked a Megabus from New York to my next stop Philadelphia where I was going to be spending 3 nights. I arrived in the early hours of Friday afternoon, in the centre of a city steeped in American history and basking in glorious sunshine.
The hostel I was staying at was called Apple Hostel and was about a 10 minute walk from where I was dropped off. Having a large backpack and satchel was tough work in the blazing heat, but once I arrived I was welcomed by some great staff, checked in and met my dorm mates; Dan and Kieran from England and Kyle from Detroit, Michigan. After introductions I soon realised I had somehow developed a layer of sweat and dirt from my short foray from the bus to the hostel. A shower was needed and taken.
Once settled in I learnt that every night the hostel puts on a different themed night to get people to mingle. Tonight was wine and cheese night! Safe to say myself, Dan, Kieran and Kyle drunk the majority of the wine and ate most of the cheese. I don’t know what it was, maybe it was the fact I’d been living on camp food for 8 weeks, but the cheese and wine tasted so good! That night we headed out our hostel, walked for about 20 seconds, and were on Market Street; pretty much the go to place of a night time in Philadelphia with plenty of bars, restaurants and pizza joints. We saw a bar with a sign advertising $2 beers; we were straight in there and didn’t leave till the early hours of the morning. The night was actually one of the best I have had so far in the states. You know that saying it’s not where you go, it’s who you’re with? Well the group of guys I was with were awesome and we chatted all night about various things from Kyle applying to be in the CIA to Kieran driving tanks in the army.
The next day Kieran and I decided to be proper tourists and take in the historical sights on offer in Philadelphia. Firstly we visited the Ben Franklin buildings. These showed how during his time in Philadelphia Ben Franklin used giant printing presses to publish newspapers critical of the British policies in America. You were able to see the whole process from creating the print design to pressing to producing the paper – very interesting, free and well worth a visit. The Ben Franklin Museum displays many of his inventions, travels and philosophical thinking; although not free it is still interesting and has many interactive pieces which probably entertained me more than they should have. After I was done playing we headed to the liberty bell exhibition and I kind of think you can skip this because, well, it’s a bell. It’s really historical and all, but you just walk up to it, say something like ‘yep, that’s a big bell’, take a photo, then leave. There are windows that allow you to view the bell from the outside which I think is a much better option as it will save you time and disappointment. The final stop on our ‘let’s be a good tourist day’ was Independence Hall where the declaration of independence was signed. There are tours of the hall every half hour and although free, you need to collect tickets from the visitor centre across the road as numbers are limited. I suggest doing this early as we had to wait 3 hours for our tour and had a lot of time to kill.
The weekend I was in Philadelphia was also the weekend of the Made in America concert where artists like Beyoncé were performing. During the 3 hour wait we had until our Independence Hall tour we wondered over to the concert following the huge crowds. The concert stage was on top of the legendary Rocky steps, which Sylvester Stallone famously ran up in one of his Rocky films. The concert and stage prevented people from running up the steps and taking that classic photo with your arms up in the air. Kieran was rather annoyed about this; one of the main reasons he came to Philadelphia was to run up those steps. We got talking to some police officers at the concert who said that the stage would be taken down over night and people could run up the steps from the early hours of tomorrow morning. Kieran was ecstatic and planned to go up the steps to catch the sunrise the following morning. In a moment of madness, fully knowing I’m by no means a morning person, I agreed to join him.
That short wonder killed enough time and it was time for our Independence Hall tour.
Above everything else, this was the highlight of my day. This was down to two reasons; number 1 the building itself was bloody awesome and pretty much untouched from the days it was used. But the main reason for my love of the tour was the tour guide. Each tour group is sat in this little room to start with and our tour guide introduced himself and gave a brief but enthralling history of Independence Hall and Philadelphia, which was previously the capital of the USA. He interacted with the group extremely well and asked questions such as ‘put your hand up if you would of signed the declaration of independence’ ………Kieran and I kept our hands firmly down, common, we’re British! We were then taken through Independence Hall and the Senate and at the end I was looking for an opportunity to tip as I was so impressed by the tour we were given. But nope, the guide just said thank you for coming, showed us the exit and waked straight out!
Are you kidding me?! In a country where everyone just expects a tip for something as little as giving you directions, the one guy I met on my whole travels who I genuinely wanted to tip just walks out on me before I had the chance?! I was baffled!!
Once I had gotten over my confusion we headed back to the hostel which was having a movie night later. That night the same group form the night before went out just off Market Street to a cool bar (link) that had giant Jenga, $1.50 beers and $4 cheese steaks, what more could you want? Another great night was had and we headed back to the hostel to sleep with an alarm set for 5.45am for our Rocky Run.