Our new background picture – us happily motoring down the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park.
[Or for those of you who aren't British - I pass my driving test and am unleashed on an unsuspecting American driving public]Baby Driver - Simon & Garfunkel at their road trippiest
They say that amongst the most stressful things to go through in life are (i) leaving / changing job; (ii) moving house; and (iii) getting divorced. Well, I am of course a fantastic over-achiever – whilst (i) and (ii) were firmly in reach (see the stress-wrinkles!!), (iii) seemed sadly unlikely given my single status. Hence I decided to throw one more challenge into the mix: how’s about learning to drive? Too easy?? How’s about learning to drive IN MANHATTAN. With a total of 3 WEEKS to get your test.
In all seriousness, this was something I’d always promised James I’d do before we set off together on our RTW trip, incorporating as it does a 2,500+ mile drive across America. Lesson one – starting (in rush hour) on 52nd street before turning down Park Avenue – had me questioning the depth of our relationship: was I really willing to go through this? Really?? Many phone calls / active counselling sessions with my poor unsung parents later, I was calmer. The lessons continued, my prowess (confidence? lack of fear??) grew, and within a few weeks, I was the proud owner of a NY state driving licence (which, for those interested, in its temporary form looks JUST like a receipt. Haven’t accidentally thrown it away…yet).
This was a week before our road trip. Yep, that’s right, a road trip involving all SORTS of challenges rarely seen in a Manhattan driving lesson: motorways, bendy roads, supermarket car parks, calm and non-aggressive drivers (how does it work when no-one cuts you up whilst swearing at you in something very foreign and very fluent?). The challenges are endless. This post, then, is the first of a confessional series. First off the go:
Driving on an interstate [check out the SERIOUS expression]. Turns out I’m a SPEED DEMON. Who knew?!!
Skyline Drive. We’ll post a map of this. Suffice to say: BENDY. Think Alpine roads, then supersize (this is America after all). This puppy has a “runaway truck ramp” – 100m of gently upward sloping gravel bed – coming off it in event of truck-speed-bendiness emergencies! Day one: no-one died. Day two: starting to get the hang of it. I think. Also, no-one died. Bring on day 3!!
Driving…I guess it ain’t ALL bad.
It must be something to do with my accent. Whenever I telephone to book accommodation I seem to throw whoever it is at the other end into a fit of utter panic.
I like to think I sound reasonably normal. But now we are in North Carolina, and we have been in Virginia, and we are going to Kentucky. Whereas most accents involve the occasional mispronunciation of a vowel or two, in this part of the world entire new syllables and grammatical forms are invented round the campfire on long winter nights. As a result, perhaps, Lucy and I are most definitely not from round these here parts (y’all).
We have been staying in a series of beautiful countryside cabins and campsites, yet whenever I call to make a reservation I get a long speech as if the Queen was coming to stay:
It’s rustic (nervous) no, it’s really rustic … it was built in the 1930s (panicked) you have to walk ten yards to the bathroom … wifi only works near the main lodge (really panicked) you may have to run the hot tap a little before it heats up … the fridge is only small … (desperate sounding) the cooker runs on gas … your cellphone might (pause) not WORK!
Despite the physical hardship, we are sleeping ten hours a night. Life is tough.
First stop on the road: Washington DC, a pleasant 4 hour drive or so south of New York. This was the only part of our journey where we had pre-booked a hotel (SEE how intrepid we are), which ended up something of a blessing given that James & Lucy’s timing (we’ll leave NYC by noon) proved a little on the [traditionally] optimistic side (left the island about 4….).
Things we loved about Washington?
Air and Space Museum. Totally insipring uber geeky fabulousness!!! With rockets!!!!
The Capitol. Totally awesome building. So awesome it got an epic point from James.
The gadzillions of american flags and eagles we saw. DC is in the midst of a massive upheaval (job creation programmes anyone?), all of which clearly need some highly visual patriotic support.
The White House (but also see below…..)
FDR and Martin Luther King memorials; neither of which we took photos of but we do have a lovely picture of James holding up the Washington Monument taken from just by the FDR memorial. Heaven only knows what’s happened to Washington Monument now he’s gone….
Bikes!! Absolutely the best way to get round DC. James’ notion of running everywhere is clearly daft. Not to mention making me sweat and go red in the face
Art….despite a somewhat tragic looking James (or is that the bull??).
Last but definitively not least, the totally uber awesome robes in our hotel. RRROOOAAARRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!
Things we were less fond of?
Everywhere being under construction. This, believe ot or not, is the view down the famous reflecting pond. No reflections, no pond, no happy Lucy. Made up for slightly by HUNDREDS of large diggers
Food in the Air and Space Museum. McDonalds anyone? NYC I miss you already
Crowds at the White House. And the fact that this (we’re on a fairly hefty zoom here) is the closest you can get to it without months of forward planning and a large group tour. Humph.
All in, we loved Washington and, remarkably, after 2 days there, we felt like we’d been on holiday for weeks. Still, you know, at the end of the day it’s a (albeit beautiful and inspiring) city like any other…My heart yearns for the open road…
We are carrying too much luggage. And by that, I don’t mean that we have one too many pairs of oatmeal trekking trousers in our backpacks and we are worried about the carbon footprint of flying them around the world (although we do, and we are).
We are not people to refuse to carry deodorant for weight-saving purposes. We have sensible, if ostentatiously heavy backpacks, and they aren’t the problem. By “too much luggage” I mean that we have taken advantage of the fact that the first leg of our trip involves driving a large car boot across the States to thoughtfully, pointedly and deliberately carry a bunch of RIDICULOUS crap that we don’t really need. We are considering it one month’s worth of soft start to long periods of being butch and rugged in deserts and on islands (and on desert islands).
Our “America-only” box contains the following highly critical travel accessories:
- Hard copy guidebooks of all the places we are going to. To be read, and then replaced with Kindle versions for the main trip
- A tent (so far, so sensible, although ours is yellow and has flowers all over it)
- A double air mattress (which will already get you frowned at in most semi-serious hiking campsites)
- A fluffy duvet, two sets of clean, white sheets and some soft pillows (erm…)
- A bulging bag of heavy toiletries including big bottles of shampoo and conditioner, a heavy glass bottle of aftershave, the world’s second largest bottle of vitamin pills etc.
- Two bottles of excellent champagne (but of course! One white, one pink, donations left over from our leaving parties)
- Four bottles of good sauvignon blanc
- One bottle of 18 year old Bunnahabhain single malt (for those long winter evenings. In the USA, in May)
- Two huge bars of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk (thanks Mum! Thanks Dad!). Also, one bag of fluffy white marshmallows for toasting over campfires
- A big container of home made muesli for breakfasts (obviously plus china plates, bowls etc.)
- And, la piece de resistance, a full-sized, mains-powered Nespresso coffee machine and four weeks of capsules (and a milk frother – seriously, what use is coffee without frothy milk?)
Having carried the box back and forth down a couple of long hotel corridors, I also discovered a three litre, three kilogram bottle of ginger ale that had previously been lurking in our fridge at home that Lucy couldn’t bear to part with. We have some serious drinking to do!
We have NEVER been running together. Not once. I am quite used to heaving myself up and down the West Side Highway. Lucy, on the other hand, “runs like a gazelle” but “finds it really dull” and therefore doesn’t tend to trouble herself with such things.
This evening, therefore, was a first for both of us: a five mile run up and down the National Mall in Washington DC, past all the museums that we have spent the day happily visiting (more on that later) and around the Washington Monument. James and Lucy jogging together – who knew?
Six men worked all day yesterday to pack all of our lives – sorry, all of our belongings – into a 20 foot crate for shipping to England. So what do you do on the last night in your home, when all the things that made it your home have gone?
Well, you camp.
We didn’t mean to have a second leaving party. Oh no. Quite the reverse. In fact some of us (who can say who?) may have woken up that morning like bears with sore heads, vowing never agin to cease from our existence of solitary tranquility. We paused from meditative contemplation only to examine the fridge, secure in the knowledge that all the evil alcohol had been purged from our lives through the previous night’s party.
Or maybe not. We have incredibly generous friends it seems, and our humble efforts to diminish the accumulated hard liquor supply of the past three years had been rather squashed by the influx of new arrivals. Still we thought, no need to be hasty. Perhaps we could just invite a few, select friends round to eat the last of the leftover pizza and drink a glass of wine.
Just the one glass mind….
And so they came, our wonderful friends; first came Jon & Tek; we watched Jeeves and Wooster and shared a glass of wine. Matthew and Michelle followed; a second episode, a second glass of wine. Then came Tim and Jess, fresh from dinner with friends. Well, that unlooked for pleasure must be celebrated … champagne seemed to fit the bill. Next up, Stellah and Cordelia, upping the fabulous stakes with their wonderful outfits – to which we matched bellinis. Last came Giusy, bringing (as always) the party – and two huge helium balloons. The first we flung into the night, weighted to perfect buoyancy by the slightly unusual, but rather effective, ballast of a carefully nibbled slice of pizza.
What could top a pizza balloon? What more could anyone wish for…?
Well, to our minds it seemed quite simple. A wish balloon of course. What lovelier than to cast our wishes onto the summer night sky to find who they may … maybe if we were really lucky landing with the unfortunate recipient of the pizza balloon…
What a WONDERFUL night
Our last drinks party at 83 Mercer. We’re going to miss you guys.”We’ll
There are a number of our friends who have managed to fit long adventures into highly successful careers. Thanks for the encouragement, guys!
Dan & Melora – the original travel blog
Tom & Eden – global ambassadors for packing cubes. Don’t laugh until you have tried them!
Ben & Jo – luckiest, most size-mismatched couple in the world
Nick & Phoebe – loved it so much they did it twice
Tracey & Mike - Lucy’s sister and broinlaw. The original six month honeymooners.
Cabe & Caroline – not because of their travel (although they do) but because they exemplify the ability to have fascinating cultural experiences without ever leaving home.