Sunday, 31 July 2016

Philadelphia

When I arrived at my host’s house in Philadelphia, we didn’t get up to an awful lot. Him and some friends just smoked a lot of weed while I watched, and then we went and got some alcohol. We ended up just drinking all night and playing some table tennis. We tried going to a nearby bar but stupidly Pennsylvania doesn’t accept international driving licenses. They refused my British license, telling me I had to have my passport! I found this outrageous given that even in D.C. I didn’t need my passport, nor NYC. Given that I’ve already lost my passport once this holiday, I didn’t feel like risking it again. Instead, we went to a liquor store and got more alcohol there for the night. I can't remember why but I ended up heading back to his friends house for the night instead so stayed their instead of the couch.


Yesterday I decided to get out and about to explore the city.  My back was in agony though I didn’t know whether I’d actually make it! I was so hung-over too it was a very painful process. Thankfully, it was made a million times better by the great company I had - I ended up meeting with a guy named Kevin that I befriended over the first republican debates in Santiago Chile last summer. He was in Philly for the Democratic Convention as he works on the campaign trail for Sanders, but now for Clinton with Sanders out of the race.






Friday, 29 July 2016

There's always time for tea.

After being dropped off at the station by Malcolm's wife, I worked out a route to get to Princeton. It was surprisingly expensive though so I'm pretty pissed off. It cost $11.50 to get to NYC Grand Central, $2.75 to get to Penn Station, and $16 to get to Princeton Junction, as well as another $3 to get to Princeton town itself. The whole journey was just lengthy and not a lot of fun, especially with my back in increasing pain. To make matters worse, when I got to Princeton it turns out there had been a miscommunication with my host (Marc), and he thought I wanted to look round Princeton, not that he lived right there - So I had to wait 45 minutes for him to pick me up. It was only 15 minutes away from his house though so didn't take long to get back after that.

Marc has a great house - well, it is his granddads but he is doing it up to sell it on for him. It meant there was plenty of room and super comfortable beds. Marc himself has a lot of odd random jobs that he does, all mainly related to IT/ web development/ promotional work. For example, he has to film himself doing anything for two hours a day and live-stream it to his friends app. He also has a company that charges men to text questions to real-live people to gain responses on things like how to reply to a particular girls message on tinder, or where to take a date etc. It's an interesting concept. While I wondered at first if men really need this advice, it became apparent they did! 


Meet Marco.
Anyway, Marc attempted to cook us dinner - I say attempted, not because he was a rubbish cook, far from it, but because I didn't eat it. He didn't mind though and just found it funny that I was like a baby trying things for the first time, he even said he felt envious that I got to experience it all new. Since he lived in China for a year, he is obsessed with Chinese products - from noodles to tea. He also lost a lot of weight over the past years and so now only eats largely organic products - my nightmare really!

He was a really funny guy though and great to be around so we headed to a real dive bar nearby for a couple of vodkas before curling up to watch 'Drunk History' - just as it sounds, drunk people retelling historic events. It was quite funny but soon got boring. I think it would be far better if you 100% knew all the events they were talking about. Anyway, after we watched the film hook and just passed out soon after. 

Yesterday my old tutor from Warwick, now at Oxford, phoned me for an hour to ask for some advice. But after I'd finally finished with him, Marco drove me to Princeton University so I could check out the town. Unfortunately he had a lot of work to do so couldn't accompany me around the town, but that was fine I just wandered around by myself.

I actually went on a university-organised tour of the campus too, but it started to chuck it down and my back was in so much agony though that I couldn't wait around much longer so left slightly before it ended. I also visited the Art museum, but, if you read my blog often, you'll know I don't actually find them that interesting, so I only stayed briefly before heading back out. After having a totally amazing burger, I decided to call it a day and bussed back to Marco’s.

 




Here's some interesting things I learnt today:
·      Princeton has eating clubs – These are private buildings that act as social houses for upperclassmen to eat their meals. They own a large mansion on Prospect Avenue and hire cooks. A selective interview process is required to join one!
·      In 1933 Albert Einstein became Resident Scholar at the Institute for Advanced Study, and this lasted till his death in 1955 – he died in Princeton. Interestingly, he was once offered to become President of Israel, but he turned it down. 
·      Prospect garden was planted by Woodrow Wilson’s wife, Ellen, since he was once President of the University.
·      The official entrance of Princeton University is the Fitzrandolph Gate, legend has it that if you walk through the main gate before graduation, you will not finish your degree, so students avoid it religiously and only use it symbolically once they finish their degree.

Anyway, I fell asleep basically straight away, and just slept from 7pm onwards. Today I just hung out for a bit with Marco, and drank WAY too much tea, I felt like I physically had the sweats haha. I also just got super stressed out searching for my missing jeans. I’d spent $40 on these jeans from forever 21 just last week! I was so pissed off, no idea where an earth they could have got to, it was so annoying but classic me. Eventually I just had to give up, and Marco drove me to Trenton train station where I got a train for $9 to Philadelphia.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Couchsurfing & Moral Dilemmas in Stamford, CT.

Sanka dropped me back off at the station yesterday morning and I spent $7.50 getting to Stamford, Connecticut using MTA North trains. When I arrived Malcolm, a 49-year-old male host, picked me up. We had to collect some uber passengers along our way back to his, which technically isn’t allowed on uber, but it wasn’t the only time he didn’t strictly follow rules…

I got into a moral dilemma when I got to his house. It was a beautiful place, totally huge. It even had an attic area for an au pair, as him and his ex-wife had one for 5 years while raising the children. He is only recently divorced, and they share two sons between them.

Anyway, we were talking about him spending so much on legal fees and what have you, then he mentioned how he has started using airbnb. He has a guest in his attic that takes boats out for the rich bankers of New York. He began telling me how he needed more airbnb reviews, and that two couchsurfers had asked him to stay and he questioned if they’d mind using airbnb instead, so he lowered the price to $20 for them and allowed them to book it through there instead. Then, sure enough, he just casually dropped in the same for me, saying “hey, I just need some more references, would you mind using airbnb too?” This is once I was already at his house! This is completely against couchsurfing rules and would get him kicked off the site if I informed them he was asking for money. I didn’t know whether to just pay it and sulk, or tell him to f*** off kindly.

After posting on ‘Female Travel Bloggers’ facebook group, I decided that was it, I’d politely tell him I didn’t feel comfortable doing this and if that meant I had to leave, I would kindly do so. He ended up replying that it was okay, and he understood. He said didn’t want me to leave, it was fine to stay.  I still felt awkward, but I had little other choice. 

When he collected them, his two sons came and met me at the beach. His house was a one-minute walk from a private beach that’s shared among houses nearby, it was gorgeous, especially with the beautiful weather they had! It was well-kept and there was a variety of kayaks/ paddle boards along the side that belonged to those who also used the beach. My host had a small boat too. I watched the boys play baseball for a bit and fell asleep for a while in the sun. 


Upon returning to the house we settled down to cook dinner together. Since his wife had only left him a few months a go, he was having to learn to cook from scratch as she had previously cooked all of the meals. This meant he paid for all of the dinner ingredients to be delivered once a week alongside different recipes for him to try out with his sons. We ended up making guacamole beef burgers and a variety of salad - it was pretty darn good if I do say so myself!  When the boys settled down to watch TV, Malcolm and I just chatted history and politics for a few hours on the back porch before eventually calling it a night.

This morning Malcolm had to teach a music lesson, so I took one of the boys to the park to play some basketball then we all took the boat out to Cutie's Island nearby. We found a few crabs and just enjoyed relaxing in the water for a while. There is an old burnt down house on the island too - it was built in the 1950s and was only around for 10 years before it set on fire. Now, people often go to the island to camp remotely and get drunk really, so there were a lot of broken glass bottles/ cans around the area. 

 

 

 

When we got back the boys mum came to take them out to lunch, but I was about to leave too so she was very kind and offered me a lift to the station - I suppose they must have hosted Couchsurfers together when they were married. She teaches music at Yale, and we bonded over our love of travel and beautiful places. The boys were telling me about the small plane their dad owns, and how he sometimes takes them out to Vermont on it... Talk about wealthy! Haha. Yet... Still asked a poor student for $20... Mhmm... Whatever! I'm over it now. Onto the next place. 

Monday, 25 July 2016

Yale University Exploration

Yesterday I got the train from Grand Central to New Haven using the MTA North Line, it’s a commuter train, took about 2 hours and cost $16 for an off-peak single ticket. I ended up staying with a guy on couchsurfing that I wouldn’t usually accept, for the simple reason that he had no references. However, I asked him what would reassure me he wasn’t a murderer, and he sent over his airbnb profile. He has hosted close to, if not over, 60 people in the last 2/3 months! All the reviews were very positive too so I took him up on the offer and became his first ever couchsurfing guest.

He was kind enough to pick me up from the train station, and on the way back to his took me to East rock so I could see over the whole city. He also showed me Eli Whitney’s house (guy who invented the cotton gin and musket, shaping antebellum southern USA), and George Bush’s uncles house. There are tons of beautiful houses around New Haven; they are all huge too!

After watching some more OITNB, we decided to go to the ‘worlds best pizza joint’, Frank Pepe’s Pizzeria. An Italian immigrant founded it in 1925, and its most famous pizza has clams on top of it. Sadly, the queue was so long we went to this place called The Bar instead. Honestly, the pizza was amazing and I ate until I couldn’t physically put anymore in my mouth. We had mashed potato on the pizza!! How weird is that? It was surprisingly delicious along with bacon. My mouth is watering thinking about it.

Today I used GPSmycity app to walk around downtown and explore Yale. You can go to the undergraduate admissions office and they have tons of free tours by students around the campus, but I decided to check it out for myself. It was honestly beautiful, way prettier than Harvard, and almost as nice as Oxford. However, New Haven has some really dodgy areas. Around the main park, I was cat-called constantly and there were so many homeless begging, and people just passed out intoxicated on the grass.

I looked round Yale Law School too, and it was exactly as I had imagined – apart from the library actually, I thought that would have been more impressive, but the other library called Sterling Memorial Library is supposedly way better, but I didn’t know if I could enter so didn’t bother trying.  My favorite building was Woosley Hall, it reminded me of the Bodleian library at Oxford. It was designed by the same person who did the New York Public Library actually.

Yale itself was beautiful though, and definitely a university I could see myself studying at. It reminds me of Warwick in that New Haven is a university first, and a town second. It's just dominated by the presence of students and Yale in general. I'd say it was more beautiful than Harvard, but less pretty than Oxford - nearly there though! For that reason, Oxford gets a 10, Yale an 8 and Harvard a 7 out of 10. I didn't like how rough New Haven suddenly turned though... that's why it's 2 less than Oxford!

  

After napping on the green for a while, and sending some postcards out, I wondered around trying to find some of the museums. Just my luck though, all of them were closed today as it was a Monday! I hate it when places do that. So that meant I couldn’t go to the art museum, or the natural history museum (which houses a load of dinosaurs). I would try going to them tomorrow, but I’m moving on to Stamford, CT – I passed it on the train and it looked beautiful so I want to go check it out and then make it back to NYC so I can get all the other buses that I booked.

 
Eventually I wandered back home just in time to watch a huge storm unfold from the veranda of the house while watching my laptop and doing some work. When Sanka got back home we agreed to try to go to Frank Pepe’s again with one of his airbnb guests Peter. This time we were far more successful and managed to eat there. It was good, but honestly I thought the pizza from the bar yesterday was better! But maybe that’s because we got more unique flavors at the bar. It was still really good regardless.

After we went to watch another group of couchsurfers play at a local venue. It was a shame there was hardly anyone there, but the band were totally amazing and blew me away! They're called Rock Walls & Tall Women. I’m convinced they’ll make it big one day and be the next All Time Low for example. You should look them up, they’re from Chicago, listen to them here. At midnight we ended up heading back, I watched some more TV and eventually fell asleep.