New York, New York

This will be the final entry in my series on my Round the World trip April-June 2013. I stayed at the Q4 hotel/hostel in Queen’s Plaza, which was right opposite the subway and so it was really conveniently located for getting everywhere I needed to go. It had great facilities, including a large kitchen and communal area with a pool table and tennis table. I could have done without the annoying people in my room turning the lights on at 3am. I’ve stayed in plenty of hostels before and never come across people who so blatantly ignore dorm etiquette. But that’s a problem with the people, not the hostel. It was super easy to meet people in the communal area too, which is the main draw of any hostel. 

Here are some highlights from my 5 day trip to New York City in June 2013.

1. Ellen’s Stardust Diner

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When my friend Sarah promised me a trip to this diner on Times Square for our meetup in NYC (something for me to look forward to after a 26 hour flight from Sydney arriving the night before and thus a consequently sleepless night), I knew it was going to be one of the highlights of my trip. I wasn’t disappointed. The waiters SING to you while you eat, producing favourites from Grease, The Lion King and other fabulous show tunes (a lot of the staff end up going on to work in Broadway, so you can imagine how high the quality is). A song from Annie was requested and as soon as the waiters started singing, a group of school kids on a school trip stood up from their seats on the balcony and joined in. It was a completely all-American/Glee style moment that left me with the biggest smile on my face. 

2. Central Park Zoo

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This zoo is iconic, having been featured in so much of pop culture. I wasn’t let down; it’s a beautiful zoo with a great range of animals. 

3. Central Park

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I spent a lot of my 5 days in New York wandering around Central Park, either with friends or lovely people I met at the hostel or by myself in the last couple of days after everyone else had left the big apple and I was on my own. The weather was gorgeous, which always helps. 

4. The Daily Show with Jon Stewart

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In the same day, I got to go and watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart being filmed in the TV studio. I was lucky enough that another American friend of mine, Becky, had a spare ticket and I absolutely jumped at the chance to go to my first ever tv set. So cool!

5. Tourist Hotspots

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There are some things you HAVE to do if you go to New York City, so I spent a good day ticking off items on my tourist list: The National History museum, the Empire State Building, the National Public Library, Grand Central Station and the Statue of Liberty.

6. Ground Zero

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It was extremely harrowing to visit the place where the World Trade Centre once stood. Ground Zero itself has been really well done and is beautiful as a monument in memory of all those who died as a result of the events of 9/11. Being a somewhat young person myself, this is an example of an event I can say I remember where I was when it happened and to visit the place I remember seeing in the news had a significant impact on me. 

7. The New York Highline

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My friend Lizzie recommended this to me and I am so glad I went! An abandoned railway line converted into a walkway and gardens makes for a beautiful and pleasant walk through the high rise buildings of New York. They even have food stands under the bridges, which makes for a good lunch spot. 

 

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Things I did in Paris this Weekend

(23-26 November 2013)

1. Palais de Versailles (this time including the gardens and Marie Antoinette’s creepy hamlet where she pretended to be a peasant)

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2. Paris Village de Noël, Avenue des Champs Elysées

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3. Macarons at Ladurée and Pierre Hermé

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4. Montmartre, including the Café des 2 Moulins, where Amélie was filmed

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5. Saw a cat that looks like Hitler

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On the Road in Tanzania

17 July 2013 – Day 24

It was “morridge” for breakfast – our camping version of porridge made with muesli and milk powder rather than porridge oats. It was a welcome late start for us, with a trip to see the snakes that Snake Park camp is named after. In enclosures not very far from where we had pitched our tents was a large collection of local wildlife, mostly snakes but including crocodiles and owls too. It was only as we read the information on each of the local snakes that we started to really appreciate how many dangerous creatures we were sharing our homes with. A mental note was taken by many to double check our tent doors were always shut. We had (luckily) missed out on the snake feeding the day before as we had been in the Serengeti, but those who stayed behind reported that it was fairly gruesome – they fed the snakes live rabbits. After we got a chance to hold some of the snakes and (baby) crocodiles, we headed back to the truck to head off for our next destination, Marangu.

Marangu is in the foothills of Kilimanjaro. When we arrived it was still early afternoon. There were reports that that you could see Kilimanjaro from the campsite bar so we rushed off to see it. There were quite a few photos taken until someone pointed out that it probably wasn’t Kilimanjaro after all… So we were never quite sure if we got to see it or not.

It was a beautiful evening so we grabbed a couple of drinks and sat outside. At this point I was refusing to use the Internet unless it was free (my resolve weakened later) but a few people bought WiFi vouchers. After diner we stayed up a bit longer to continue to get to know our new passengers. Milla provided us with excellent cheesy music to sing along to, which divided the group somewhat. Eventually we went to bed for an extended sleep as we had a free day the next day.

18 July 2013 – Day 25

Finally, time for a lie-in – except that I found I couldn’t stay asleep beyond 7am now anyway due to the shift in my body clock. Despite the fact that there were activities on offer, I decided that I’d stay behind at the camp to chill. We ended up watching Django Unchained up on the truck beach and heading to the bar later to relax. When you’re on the go all the time, it’s nice to just stop and take a break every now and then.

19 July 2013 – Day 26

We had a long drive day. We were now heading towards the coast to catch the ferry to Zanzibar. In the morning, it was my cook groups’s turn to buy food for our meal the next day. We stopped at a roadside market before leaving Marangu – this was our first try at market shopping in Africa because up until this point we had been to supermarkets. We combined our money with the cook group for that night so that we could buy a treat – goat. They were making a vegetarian meal and so didn’t need so much money. We managed to find potatoes eventually and between the six of us we bought out the whole vegetable stall. Feeding 24 people is no small task, after all. After buying out supplies we jumped back in the truck and set off towards the coast.

20 July 2013 – Day 27

Today was the day we were off to Dar es Salaam, the port on the Indian Ocean where we could catch the ferry the next day. The weather had started to seriously heat up the closer to the coast we got. The nights being cold, this shift in temperature was noted by all. I had certainly not dressed for the stifling heat. This would have been fine normally – with the canvas sides up and the truck rolling along we usually got a good breeze even if we got dusty. However, the traffic in Dar es Salaam was really bad, meaning we got stuck on the main road and we we had no way of cooling down other than to break open the eski and pass the time by having a few drinks. Before entering Dar, Joe and Kyle had told us to keep an eye out of the sides for thieves, who would likely try and steal anything that wasn’t screwed on to the truck while stationary in the traffic. At first our only visitors were vendors trying to sell us fizzy drinks and a man trying to sell us machetes, but soon enough we heard that someone had managed to take the oil stick.

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We arrived at our beachside camp in Dar and after setting up our tents (some members of the group struggling due to the amount of alcohol consumed during the traffic jam…) we jumped into the sea for a bit until I had to go off and cook our goat stew & mash potatoes. It seemed to go down well and we all headed to bed fairly early. We would have an early start to catch our ferry to
Zanzibar.

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(My camera was out of battery at this point so thanks to Drou & Mandi for the photos!)

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Ngorongoro Crater & Serengeti National Park

15 July 2013 – Day 22

It was an early start for us all again as this time we were heading off to the Ngorongoro Crater, a national park situated at the centre of a huge crater. By about 8am we had reached the crater lip, a few hours after we had left Lake Manyara, We all bundled together at the viewpoint to take a few photos and get a feel for how huge the crater was. All kinds of animals and birds all lived together inside the bowl of the crater, providing both fantastic game viewing opportunities as well as a beautiful backdrop.

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We had an excellent day for game viewing. We saw managed to see the Big Five again, this time with the special addition of a black rhino in the distance. We also got to see a porcupine, which was larger than I expected. Our safari guide told us it was the first one he’d seen in 9 years. Porcupines are nocturnal and so you don’t usually get to see them when you do game drives.

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We stopped for lunch at the side of a large lake filled with hippos. It was sunny and hot, but we were advised to keep our eyes on our lunches at all times. It became apparent why when eagles kept swooping down to try and take our sandwiches. Baboons too were present yet again but we had learnt from our previous encounters and managed to fend them off.

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Sometime during the late afternoon we crossed from the crater park into Serengeti National Park, perhaps one of the most famous game parks in the world. A few of the local Masai were waiting at the gate. I say local, when in fact they had to walk for miles to get there. They await the tourists and will pose for photos in exchange for coins. We were told that the dry season is the best time for game viewing because the animals have little choice of food and water and so often are found at the same watering holes or nearby. In fact, just as the sun was setting we were lucky enough to spot a cheetah in the grass and lots of plains game.

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When we made it to the bush camp, we were delighted to find that our safari guides had set our tents up for us – the best treat of the trip so far! After tucking into a pre-cooked meal (another treat! We were truly being spoilt), we were advised not to venture outside in the dark alone or without a light, as we were camping in the middle of the game park and there were no fences between us and whatever animals were roaming about in the dark. Indeed, Caz and Brendan swore the next morning that they heard a lion outside of their tent during the night.

16 July 2013 – Day 23

Finally, the day I’d been waiting for the entire trip – the Serengeti! Up early as normal, tents packed away and we were off again into the park. Our luck was in almost straight away. Our safari guide got wind of a cheetah sighting so we sped down the dusty tracks to find them. We were more than lucky – we found two cheetahs. We watched them for a while before we set off again, only to swing by later and find that something more exciting was happening. A jackal had arrived, along with a young impala and they were giving chase. Our guide said that apparently cheetahs don’t like to eat young impala or something, but I wasn’t sure how much I believed in this so-called conscience on the cheetah’s part. The jackal managed to slip through the cheetah’s barrier and snatch the impala. It ran off, the cheetahs at full speed chasing after it. Although the cheetah’s are far faster than jackals, they’re not strong at all and so didn’t manage to win this fight. We were all fairly gutted when the cheetahs gave up and the jackal ate the baby impala. Such is the circle of life.

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We had another good day of game viewing, though by now we were dusty and tired. Dirt from the dry tracks outside poured in through the windows we kept open to cool ourselves down. We eventually made it back to Snake Park, Arusha, where our truck, tour leader and a few of the others who had stayed behind were. The Numpty for that trip went to Jenni, who bravely asked “are there penguins in the Serengeti?”

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That night we stayed in the camp bar late into the night, relaying our adventures and getting to know the new members of our team who had joined us in Nairobi. Another tour company’s driver let us try some biltong (dried meat, beef in this instance). Emma showed us her incredible moves, doing the worm for us on the dusty floor and she ended up gauging holes in her feet and banging her chin, but she was awesome all the same. It was very late indeed when we got a scolding from a teacher staying in the campsite and after that it was time to call it a night.

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Into Tanzania

13 July 2013 – Day 20

I had my first night on my new “mattress”, a kind parting gift from Stebbs. If you recall the earlier “roll mat” incident (where my roll mat got lost somewhere during the journey from Birmingham to Nairobi via Amsterdam), I had to buy a new roll mat from the local supermarket, Nakumatt. Stebbs had found herself without a roll mat too but instead of buying a mat made of thin foam and the cries of many uncomfortable campers she bought a thick foam child’s mattress. Since this was going to be a difficult thing to transport back to the UK, I was lucky enough to inherit it. I no longer had to worry about waking up with a numb arm or with my shoulder digging into the “cold hard ground”, as Becky’s idol Taylor Swift would say.

We got a later start that morning while we waited for the new passengers to have their induction to the truck and truck life. Once that was done, we piled onto the truck for the drive into Tanzania and onto Arusha.

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Due to a weight limit issue at the border (in that with all our new passengers we were over the weight limit allowed at the weigh station), the “oldies” were given the task of walking across the border and pretending we didn’t know anyone else from the trip. Joe kindly gave the directions to a chapatti restaurant a few hundred yards across the border where we could wait to be picked up (and get breakfast at the same time). Personally I was really looking forward to this reward for yet another successful border crossing, but sadly we never got that far. It turned out that the chapatti place wasn’t there anymore, a fact which became apparent when we reached the end of the row of shops and hit a dusty track leading off into the distance.

There was little shade and we had left all our water on the truck so we hurried inside a roadside bar to get out of the heat and find water and toilets (though from what I heard, “toilets” wasn’t the right word for the facilities the others found, but we were used to that by now). We stationed a psychedelic tie-dye t-shirt-adorned Luis on the side of the road to act as a sign-post to the truck so they could find us and the rest of us amused ourselves with trying to through stones into a column of old tyres, much to the chagrin of a Masaai man who walked past us and gave us a glare. Oops.

Eventually we were picked up and we set off on the road again. What was only supposed to be a 7-8 hour drive ended up being our longest drive day to date, taking almost 12 hours. When we arrived into our first camp of Tanzania (famous overland haven Snake Park), it was late and we were hungry. Tents were set up in the dark and food was quickly thrown together.

The sky that night was truly one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. Being so far away from light and other forms of pollution, the nights in Africa are dark indeed. With the milky way stretched above me like a roof of diamonds, I was sorely tempted to just stand there craning my neck up and watch for shooting stars all night. Sadly we had an early start the next morning so that was very much short-lived.

 

14 July 2013 – Day 21

It was an early start the next morning to pack for our 3 day safari into the Serengeti and surrounding parks and we piled into three safari jeeps. It was a couple of hours drive until we reached our first park, Lake Manyara. During the drive, there was plenty of singing to songs from the Lion King, as was to be expected. The Serengeti is famous for its perfect savannah landscapes as became well-known in the Lion King.

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As always, the first glimpse of wildlife we saw came in the forms of baboons, though luckily this time none of them decided to climb in the jeep with us! They did, however, manage to steal some marshmallows from one of the empty jeeps while we had a toilet stop. Cheeky monkeys…

We were lucky enough to see lots of elephants, thus already completing our Big Five collection (lion, leopard, rhino, water buffalo, elephant). We stopped for lunch at a viewpoint and took in the beautiful weather and scenery.

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