Politics, politics, politics…

Entry three: Wednesday 8th August:

Politics, politics, politics…

The time is 11:43 pm and I’m sat in my undies in a beautiful hotel room in Aspen, Colorado. (The undies are a result of the heat- we can’t find the air conditioning- I’m not being pervy.) Anyway, having found this beauty online this morning, we made the 150 mile journey from Colorado Springs over here today, driving through the mountains reaching peaks of 12000 feet. I haven’t filled you in on our stay in Colorado though, however, so I’ll go in reverse-chronological order.

We arrived into Denver airport around 8pm local time on Wednesday 1st, having endured a 3 hour delay at La Guardia in New York. The delay was ridiculous- apparently the rain in Chicago delayed our pilots from getting to New York on time, hence we got onto the plane on schedule and then had to ‘deplane’ on account of the delay, supposedly due to post-9/11 security regulations, only to be hurried back onto the plane half an hour later and spend two hours on the runway circling. Why are these people always on strike!?

Anyway, our first full day in Colorado Springs, having settled into my dear Uncle’s beautiful home, said Uncle decided to take the day off work and give us a tour of Garden of the Gods. It was a world away from New York- suddenly the scenery around us was green, not grey- the objects scraping the sky were Rocky Mountains, not Chrysler Buildings. And in general, Colorado had a generally happier vibe to it, rather than New York, which is akin to London in terms of tourism and busy commuters rushing to get to work, people were a lot more chilled here- probably due to the fact that everyone we encountered had a huge, pristine house and some sort of recreational vehicle.

Which brings me of course, to the weekend- Neil very kindly offered to take us camping up in the mountains- something he regularly enjoys with a close-knit group of buddies who all own dirt bikes or quad bikes. We stayed in a campervan and enjoyed the benefits of his friend Noel’s cabin, a beautiful wooden cabin in the middle of a forest with easy access to mountaintops. From there, we tried our luck at quadbiking (exceeding 25mph no less!) and drank in the view- it really is indescribable from 8000 feet in the air. I don’t mean to come across as all hippyish, but it really was beautiful sitting up so high watching the river without the sound of passing traffic to ruin the moment. The fear of bears, on the other hand, brought me back to reality!

Meeting all of Neil’s friends really gave me an insight into the ways of Americans versus the ways of the English. Neil tells me that Colorado is quite a conservative state, and I certainly had some impassioned (drunk) political discussions with some of his friends around the campfire, and got a deeper insight into this Mitt Romney fellow who’s getting so much attention at the moment. Overall, I don’t know if I can go as far as to say Americans are more into politics than English people; obviously it depends on the individual, but they certainly do come up in conversation more often, and they all seem to centre around American patriotism. Talking of which, Americans seem to have so much more pride in their country than we do in England- just attending baseball games which are interrupted by the national anthem told me that much.

Perhaps the American pride is simply a result of their way of life- I honestly felt as though all the people I met had never experienced stress in their lives. During my time in Colorado Springs I went to a lot of people’s houses- all of them were huge, tidy, with various amenities that would be unheard of in England- whole basements dedicated to entertaining, with their own bars, football tables, drumkits, even cardboard cut outs of John Wayne! I guess they’re just happier, particularly in this state, because of the scenery they have around them. I’m sure I’d be grinning from ear to ear on a daily basis if I could see mountains every way I turned. The people of Colorado really seem to take pride in the nature around them- you could tell simply by how often the recent devastation from forest fires came up in conversation.

Comparisons between the Americans and the English aside, Craig and I had quite a few adventures in our short time in Colorado Springs, not including a very uneventful Rockies game. We spent a day in Cave of the Winds, a huge cave underground with all sorts of natural beauty- stalactites and such. I also went on a zipline 500 feet above a forest- which Craig was too scared to go on! We also took our lives into our hands by hopping on a pair of pushbikes and trying out American roads, which was a good enough reminder to stay on the right hand side of the road…

We cycled up to a local five star hotel, the Broadmoor, and managed to blag our way into valet parking- for our pushbikes- and a free walk around the hotel lake. We decided if anyone asked, we were posh little rich kids from England whose fathers were Brian May and Richard Branson. So after being treated like William and Kate rather than Craig and Katie for an afternoon, we got back on the bikes and tried to accustom ourselves to the roads once more…

…which is just as well, as this afternoon we headed over to Colorado Airport to pick up our hire car and begin the real trip- the road trip. After a lot of waiting around, all I can say is-

Thank God for trainees.

We were supposed to be getting a Toyota Yaris- despite the tenacious salesman trying to sell us a ‘bigger car’ after taking Craig’s height into account. However, a young-looking trainee passed our salesmanthe wrong set of keys which happened to be for a Toyota Corolla. The salesman just laughed and said, ‘hell, you’ve been waiting long enough, I’m gonna upgrade you to a Toyota Corolla.’ So that was a very welcome upgrade! A gorgeous, laughably large ‘small’ (by their standards…) car with air conditioning- what more could we ask for? Shame I couldn’t blag free second driver insurance in that giveaway but hey.

After getting a little lost by Colorado Springs airport, Craig had quickly adjusted to automatic transmission and roundabout-less American highways and we were on our way, which brings me into present time, after a four hour drive through some very high and precarious-looking clifftops. We are now chilling out making the most of the free wifi in our gorgeous hotel in Aspen, and look forward to a day exploring tomorrow in our shiny new automobile.

So there you have it- politics, parking and precarious mountaintops, all within a week. Next stop after Aspen is Utah, so watch this space…

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Cheeky update

It’s 2 in the morning to my lovely Englanders, and 7pm here in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Just thought I’d add an update as I haven’t posted in ages. Having seen all there was to see in New York, a Broadway show, Times Square, The Statue of Liberty etc, we’re now in Colorado Springs staying with my Uncle and will be here until Wednesday when we get our first hire car. I will post more descriptive blogs later about our trips to the mountains and such, but right now, dinner calls…

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New York: The Land of Saying ‘No’

Entry Two: Sunday 29th July

New York: The Land of Saying ‘No’

I didn’t have time to upload a blog yesterday as it ended up being such a busy day and I was getting a lot of funny looks in the tiny Starbucks while I happily rinsed their internet, having finished my drink hours earlier (or at least it seemed like it.) It appears though that Starbucks is the only way I’m going to be able to keep in touch with people, so things may be a little delayed as we tend to only go in there in the mornings for a cheeky bit of Facebooking. It seems slightly uneconomical; it’s either $10 for 24 hours of wifi in the hotel or $10 dollars for two drinks and free wifi in Starbucks, but then, we don’t have to get coffee every morning, and at least in there we do get a drink and aren’t confined to our room.

Anyway, wifi rant over, I’ll begin with Saturday, which seems so long ago now, it being 5:30 Sunday evening. Saturday had been planned long in advance as the day in which we would go and see the Yankees play the Red Sox (baseball!) but that wasn’t till 4pm…more on that disaster later.

Thus we took it upon ourselves to explore more sights, namely, the Rockefeller Centre, followed by Central Park. We didn’t exactly go in to the centre, more so looked around, but the sights were enough to take a few decent pictures.

Which leads me to our next faux pas. Lunch. Knowing of the impending Yankees Game and the inevitable shocking food and drink prices that stadiums love to charge (more on that later!) we decided to eat a lot while we could, and, being English and pathetic, went for what we knew, in the form of TGI Fridays.

You have to hand it to American waiting staff- they really do try. But then again, they work for their tips, and following a delectable California burger/steak and ribs, we were presented with the bill, which alone, was enough to make one’s heart stop.

Just remember the exchange rate. Just remember the exchange rate.

$65. That, sadly, is not even the worst part- asides from Craig’s $7.55 pint, the biggest joke of all was what was written on the receipt. In England, it’s standard practice to give 10% whether the waiter treated you like royalty or ruffians; in America, they have a whole tiered system. There, before our eyes, was a calculated breakdown:

STD SERVC: 10% $6.50

GD SERVC: 15% $10.00

GRT SERVC: 20% 13.00

 

I honestly couldn’t believe it- not only was there a suggested service charge but they’d also guilt-tripped us into having to decide upon whether it was standard, good, or great service! Does this mean to say that in England at the very best our waiters and waitresses give standard service? As Craig rightly pointed out, were the service only to be ‘standard’, should we even tip at all?

 

With a little part of us dying inside we gave the man $75 and left. $75 for lunch. $75 for two drinks and two mains, no less. After that we decided not to eat out unless we absolutely had to, at least, not in New York!

 

The next part of our day leads me to the title of my blog; in New York, it seems, you just have to say no. With a little time before we had to head off to our Yankees game, we decided to take a walk to Central Park, and, had we had a dollar for every time a vendor in the street tried to sell us something- tours, bike rides, designer handbags…well, we’d probably have had enough to cover us for lunch. The worst part, however, was in Central Park itself.

 

There we were sat, on a rock, minding our own business, when a rather angelic character came up to us and began with, ‘good afternoon madam, sorry to disturb your beauty…’

 

No worries mate, you’re not disturbing, it’s more of a constant state than an action.

 

He then began to recite a well-rehearsed tale of how he had helped build a charity which served to house 10,000 homeless children, yadda yadda yadda. I’m not heartless to say the least but having spent $75 on lunch, wasn’t feeling particularly charitable. We couldn’t get a word in edgeways however so we thought we’d let him have his moment. And that he did.

 

As soon as the words ‘I’m sorry…’ left Craig’s mouth he rolled his eyes at us and minced off angrily, not even giving Craig the opportunity to volunteer a reason. Wow. And I thought all charitable people were nice people. Obviously not. I honestly didn’t get over his rudeness until we were at the Yankee Stadium, but that’s another tale. There’s the moral of the story kids- always say ‘no’ in New York, to vendors, to expensive restaurants, and certainly to rude chuggers.

 

The next part of our day and what would turn out to be its entirety was the Yankees Game. I’ve warbled a little as it is, so, long story short, it would be nice if Americans could make up their minds! The game was delayed by two hours due to rain, which became heavy, heavy rain, and there were thousands of us simply sitting waiting for the announcement that the game had been called off. No such announcement was made, however, and having dressed and re-dressed the pitch, the game finally went ahead, and finished around half past nine rather than seven as we were expecting. The Yankees ultimately lost, but we benefitted from the kindness of the couple next to us who lent us something to wear during the downpour, and the hilarity of a Boston Red Sox fan getting arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

 

One subway ride and slice of classic New York pizza later, we were back at the hotel and ready for bed, glad to be away from the $11 beer on sale at the Yankee Stadium. And I’m signing off for now, as this blog has been very delayed in posting!

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Start spreading the news…

At 11:30 Thursday morning, the thought that in a matter of hours I would be in New York City hadn’t even dawned on me. At 16:10 Thursday afternoon, sat on a 777 at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5 waiting to take off, it still hadn’t crossed my mind. When the plane started to set down into Newark Liberty International Airport, scratching the surface of New York City’s skyline, that- that’s when it hit me. All of a sudden I could see the iconic skyline that had formed the basis of so many hours of entertainment throughout my childhood- I’m ashamed to admit that the first thing I thought of was Friends as I cast my eyes over the Statue of Liberty and the domineering Empire State Building. After two years of talking about it and months of planning it, we’re finally here- the Big Apple. New York City.

At present it’s 4:15 Friday afternoon (though the wifi here is questionable so this may not be uploaded until later!) and I’m sat in a hotel a stone’s throw from Times Square gathering my thoughts about the cultural differences between the UK and the US. My first thought was last night- at the airport, I watched as the stern-looking gentleman at customs tirelessly questioned Craig about more or less every aspect of his life- what his job was back home, what degree he had, why he moved out of his last house, what career path he planned to take post-America… it was as if he’d just walked onto the set of Parkinson rather than through passport control. I managed to get away with a simple, ‘why are you here and when are you leaving’- guess I just have one of those faces. This led me to question the sense of humour of Americans as a whole- naturally in England we’re a far more liberal country; I think if my reply had been ‘to get away from the bloody Olympics’ in the UK I’d have had a much better reception than here, but then, it is customs, and I suppose post 9/11, nobody can be too careful.

One train ride and a surprisingly quick taxi ride later we were settled into our hotel in a very dark and rainy New York City, and the next difference between the UK and the US hit me, albeit this time, not a very cultural one.

What is up with all the toilets in New York City?

Seriously. We thought ours was blocked. But alas, it seems, having now visited public washrooms in Bryant Park, that all toilets in NYC are ridiculously full of water. This is a bit of a tricky subject to discuss, but it may become an issue! What if I drink a lot and end up overflowing the bowl?! What if I fall in and drown? What is my impact on the environment if I’m sucking the life out of Niagara every time I flush?! I guess it’s just something we’ll have to get used to, and I’m praying that if my memory serves me, the next state we’ll be visiting, Colorado, has slightly more modestly-filled toilet bowls.

Water closet-induced panic over, this morning we took a stroll out onto Times Square, ridiculously early in fact as it was one in the afternoon in our heads, and did what we’d planned to do all along- go into Starbucks and drink it on Times Square like a right couple of pretentious ****heads. We did just that- only we resisted the urge to order ‘mocha choca latte ya-yas’ or ‘orange mocha frappuccinos!’ The morning started off cloudy due to last night’s rainfall and so we discussed our plan of action for the day ahead, deciding against the Empire State Building on account of the cloudy weather.

Of course, in the city that never sleeps, anything can happen, and before long it was baking hot and sunny, so we took a stroll down Fifth Avenue towards the landmark, taking in the scenery around us along the way- Bryant Park, the Chrysler Building, the New York Public Library, another Starbucks…

I think in my head I must have had the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building confused; the difference was certainly noticeable! Craig pointed out the top of the building from behind another, and it wasn’t until we were standing right outside it that suddenly it hit you in the face like a mean right-hook from Mike Tyson. Trying hard to avoid the hoards of ticket touts, we nipped into another Starbucks to buy a cookie and steal their wifi before heading up the big beast.

Say what you want about the Empire State Building- the view from the 86th floor observation deck is completely indescribable. It’s hard to grasp that thirty seconds in an elevator could propel you this high, but the popping of the ears was a sure reminder of the distance we’d travelled, as were the breathtaking views of the city. I always thought of myself as prone to altitude sickness, especially considering we’d climbed the stairs the last 6 floors (hence I’m not lying when I say I climbed to the 86th floor of the Empire State Building!) but it was remarkably fresh up there, and the true heat of the city was a real slap in the face on the way back down.

With all this over by only 12 pm, it certainly felt like time for something to eat, and where better than the home of the square burgers, Wendys. It was here that I noticed and continued to notice the third and final (for today) difference between the UK and the US; although we’re comforted by the fact that we speak the lingo, the nervous foreigner inside me is very aware of the difference in vocabulary. For example, in Wendys, I ordered a salad, not only to compensate for the Starbucks cookie but also to avoid having to say fries, one of many words which I found on my travels would become a hindrance to me, a native little Englander. In just one day I’ve found myself saying grocery store instead of corner shop, potato chips instead of crisps, vacation rather than holiday and Lord only knows what else, all because, like I say, the nervous foreigner within me thinks these alien Americans simply won’t understand if I use my native vocabulary. Of course I’m being completely ridiculous, and it sounds really silly saying such American terms with my over-enhanced English accent, but it’s something which is preferable to the awkwardness of explaining that a boot is a trunk, or at least, it seems so. I’ve already made one faux pas, by assuming that the blue water bottles are still and the green ones are sparkling- turns out, ‘seltzer’ is sparkling water, so watch out for that one kids.

So there you have it, my first full day in New York City and the blunders one can make if one isn’t culturally aware. It’s now 5 pm and I think I’m going to hit the hotel gym, as it’s on the top floor, air conditioned, and I don’t want to come back to England looking like a sack of potatoes. The wifi in this hotel is $10 a night so this may not make it live until I can next get to a Starbucks, but until next time, I’m signing off for now, and look forward to updating my next series of awkward US-based blunders.

 

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timesquare

timesquare

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Entry two: Bon Voyage

I always get a peculiar feeling when I come to London. As the train rolls into Kings Cross from wherever I’ve been, most likely, Peterborough or York, I’m always in awe; even though this is a more-than-familiar sight, I always marvel at the sheer vastness of everything, from the Emirates Stadium to Kings Cross station itself. Of course, more often than not there’s some new development at the station that I wasn’t aware of, so that’s enough to impress/irritate me in itself.

Today I travelled down from Peterborough, having moved out of my lovely lovely student house in York on Monday, never to see its crummy but homely 70s decor again. I loved that house like a baby..or something, and it’s the last symbol of my studenthood, the penultimate piece of student life to be taken from me before my graduation next Wednesday. Craig and I drove down to his native Peterborough Monday morning and today I’ve travelled down to London to visit my mother and sister ahead of their birthdays tomorrow.

As I said before, whenever I travel to London I get a peculiar feeling; by all accounts, it’s my hometown (or rather, Twickenham- zone 5- still technically London [even though I lived in Surrey from birth to age 14!]) and therefore very familiar, and yet, over the past four years, I’ve become gradually more accustomed to York and am happy to call it home. Everything I relished about London beforehand is now everything that riles me about it- the noise, the hustle and bustle, the crowds. York is more or less my paradise, cheesy as it sounds, while yes, I still enjoy the tough exterior that getting the night bus home at 3am has given me, I now enjoy the feeling of being safe at all hours in York. York is so quiet, with relatively little traffic, and it’s a lifestyle I could easily get used to.

I consider myself to have two personalities- my York personality, and my London personality. Whereas my York personality comprises of a well-spoken, patient, polite and easy going person, (not including while drunk) as soon as I hit London I go into what I call ‘London’ mode- on the tubes, it’s every man for himself, while unseasoned public transport users from beyond the Watford Gap might wait patiently to get onto the Piccadilly Line, I barge my way in, in keeping with the general hasty rudeness of London’s people. I’m sorry to say it, but London me is rude, unrelenting, impatient and tough, whereas York me is far softer and much less confrontational. So long as I establish barriers and am sure to make the transition from one personality into the other in the right locations, then I can get on in both places quite easily. It’s always amusing for the first couple of days in either location however, when moving from one to the other- London Katie in York is almost cockney and quite willing to go out alone at night, whereas York Katie in London momentarily fears walking down the street.

Just because I adopt these two separate personas, doesn’t mean I have a preference for either, however. While I enjoy the independence I have by knowing London’s transport network like the back of my hand, ultimately, it’s down to which location I prefer rather than which Katie. And the more I think about it, unlikely as it is, I really would like to settle down with a nice comfortable job in York.

How likely is that though?

I’m frequently reminded that ‘all the graduate employment is in London’, especially in the field of journalism, which is the career I want to pursue. The really annoying thing is I was more or less certain, perhaps arrogantly, that I had a job at a local magazine in York, based on nothing really other than getting on really well with the interviewers. C’est la vie I guess though. I’ve recently completed a week and a half’s worth of work experience there, and I really enjoyed it, so hopefully they’ll think about taking me on in the future, and if not, there’s always the experience.

I’ve since been (reluctantly) looking into magazine/newspaper work in London, and as ever, there’s far more choice down here than there was up there.

For now though, and ultimately, the point of this blog, which I’ve meandered around for so long, is that, as of the end of this month, I will be avoiding both locations to do the classic student raaah thing. I tell myself though that this won’t be an annoyingly pretentious trip. Sorry kids, I’m not going to a third world country to feed some hungry orphans and ‘find myself.’ I’m going to the biggest, most all-consuming, capitalist country in the Western World- that’s right, I’m going to America.

More specifically, NYC baby. Craig (the boyfriend) and I are flying out on July 26th, staying there for a week before moving on to visit my Uncle Neil in Colorado, and then will be hiring a car and driving down the West Coast. It’s something we’ve always talked about and we figure we may as well do it now ‘while we’re young.’ I’ve had enough people telling me to do it over the course of the past few weeks, so I guess I should embrace the spontaneity of youth for one last time and hold on to my studenthood. I’ve saved (some) money for the trip, and usually, I like to have the security of having money in the bank, but perhaps it’s time to let go of my paranoia and actually enjoy myself for once rather than letting myself be limited by financial fears.

So, fellow 2:2ers, there’s my second update on my plans- we fly back to the UK in September. I should imagine my next entry will be from a distant land. I’ll look for jobs when I come back!

Ciao for now!

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Entry one: Katie Thompson B.A. (Hons.)

Please note, this blog was originally posted on June 27th, but due to problems with Tumblr, I’ve relocated to WordPress. Thanks.

My name is Katie Thompson. I’m 22 years old and today I found out the result of my degree.

I finished my course in Bachelor of Arts Spanish and Linguistics at the University of York on June 7th 2012. It was a modest course; while the University itself had been running German/French and Linguistics courses for some time before I joined, 2008 was the first year for Spanish as a course and as a result there were only seven of us on the course. Not a problem really, but of course, over the subsequent four years it’s fair to say we were subject to some experimenting.

Twenty days after handing in my final assignment I have now confirmed what I knew all along: I shall be graduating with a 2:2 degree, something which I have completely mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I feel completely numb: I was expecting this; I had calculated my degree result previously and it equated to 57% give or take. On the other hand, there was a tiny tiny glimmer of hope within me that the university might be so kind as to bump my grade up a little. But alas.

The purpose of this blog, then, is to guide others who find themselves in my position. This could be now, or a year from now when current second years find out their degree result- I want to prove to people that contrary to popular belief, there is light at the end of the tunnel if you don’t get a 2:1. Let me add, that is not to say that I am demeaning anyone with a 2:1 let alone a 1st- obviously they have worked extremely hard and they are due their credit. My role is simply to create this blog and update it over the next year or so with the next steps of my life, so that others who fear they might not make the grade can take some comfort.

Of course, this is entirely experimental- I cannot predict the future; for all I know, my future may be doomed. Hence this is as much an experiment as it is a consolation for those in the same boat as me. At present I have no idea what I want to do with my life; I’m moving out of my current house in York on Monday and then am completely lost. It’s quite scary- on the one hand, I am completely bound, on the other, I am completely free.

In summary then, I would ask all students to please follow this blog and look to it for advice, in order to avoid the feeling that those with a 2:2 deserve to wallow in despair. After all, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

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