Category Archives: America

2016 year in review

Allow me to join the bandwagon of saying that 2016 as a year was just a big ol’ thumbs down. But personally, 2016 was a big year. I finally registered as self-employed and joined the masses as a full-time freelancer and all that that entails. It’s been hard, but fruitful, and satisfying, and I still very much enjoy working for myself. And in terms of travel, well – it was probably my best year yet in that regard too. Jon and I ticked several places off our collective travel bucket list, including a country that I’d been wanting to go for absolute ages. I think 2017 may be a bit slower (I say, when I’m getting on a plane again next week…) but we’ll see how long I can hold off on making a plan to head somewhere new and beautiful.

So in the tradition of my yearly look-back – some of my travels and personal highlights from the past 12 months.

 

January – Playing tourist in London with my friend Joe. I know I go there all the time, but I hadn’t had the chance to play tour guide for anyone in a while, and it was so good to explore one of my favorite cities with one of my favorite people.

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February – For Jon’s birthday I treated him to a fancy weekend away at the St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. We had an amazing time, which included lounging in the spa, watching the Eurostar trains come in, and indulging in a truly decadent meal (which was quickly followed by a very luxurious and sensual food coma).

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We also had a little weekend away in Bristol to surprise a friend for his birthday. A gorgeous city!

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Also Jon took this picture in February, and it still makes me laugh, so here it shall be.

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March – we didn’t go anywhere, but I did buy a paddleboard and made good use of it on the river as the weather slowly (so…so….slowly) warmed up.

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April – Jon and I went to Barcelona with some friends of ours to celebrate a few different things – new jobs mostly! We rented bikes and cycled all over the city and ate our weight in tapas.

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barcelona tapas

May – Jon’s Christmas present to me was a weekend away in Cornwall at a gorgeous historic hotel that had great food, fantastic outdoor space, and also happened to be dog-friendly. We already can’t wait to go back. And on the way we stopped off at Tintagel to see King Arthur’s “castle”, and everything was gorgeous in every way.

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tintagel cornwall roadtrip

June – Phew…June was crazy. A three-week road trip of the States can be pretty intense! We did New York City New OrleansAustin – San Antonio (realising I never got around to blogging about it…oops!) – then finally Ohio before heading back to England, much poorer and fatter.

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July – I took a quick jaunt to Paris for a long weekend with some lady friends of mine. The trip was…not the best, for a few different reasons, but it was wonderful for other reasons. And Paris is always a good idea, particularly Paris in summertime.

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August – Finally, a month with nowhere to go! Some friends came down for the bank holiday weekend, we spent time on the beach and went to a cider festival, and English summer was in full, glorious swing!

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September – Another month with no place to go, but this is also the month we got a car, which was intensely exciting. We broke it in by exploring beautiful nature further afield. The Seven Sisters Cliffs were first up.

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OctoberMorocco, a country I’d long wanted to visit. Hot, vibrant, completely bonkers and a great way to spend one’s 32nd birthday.

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November – The year began to wind down, us with it. Things took a turn for the deeply melancholy. Beach walks and outdoorsy goodness happened while the weather cooperated, and many expat Thanksgiving celebrations took place at the end of the month.

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December – Nowhere to go, but lots to do, including finally making it to the ice rink in front of the Brighton Pavilion, and taking what has become an annual walk along the South Downs Way on the last day of the year, followed by a pub lunch.

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Here’s hoping for a better 2017, in all realms.

Austin, Texas : South Congress, La Barbecue, bat watching and a pub quiz

 

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After the expense of New York City and the hustle and bustle of New Orleans, getting to Austin was like taking a breath of fresh air. Hot air, but fresh air, that we could actually afford to breathe.

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It was also a strange place – a city where every public bathroom, even in grocery stores and shops, even for men, had notices that women shouldn’t be drinking just in case they were pregnant. A place where I saw more casual gun carrying than maybe I have seen in my entire life. It was disconcerting, and at times I wasn’t sure if it felt strange because Texas is so different from the Midwest, where I grew up, or if it’s really a lot like the rest of America, but I’ve been gone too long and everything feels too different now. I’m still not sure.

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Our friends were kind enough to let us take up space at their beautiful little bungalow while we were in town, but they were working, which left Jon and I to our own devices most of the time. We didn’t have much of an agenda, as usual, just a few things to tick off.

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After accidentally walking up and down the wrong parallel street on our second day in town, we found our way to South Congress Ave, home of boutiques, antique shops, bars, restaurants and cafes. Just as picturesque as you would imagine.

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During our shuffle from place to place, I found a beautiful bird print for my office and purchased a secondhand book at South Congress Books, where they had an extensive collection of signed and first edition reads by tons of my favorite authors. It’s a great little place and they don’t mind if you spend too long browsing through every nook and cranny.

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Uncommon Objects was another great little antique/vintage stop – the kind of place where you could waste hours looking at all the bits and pieces inside, finding something new and interesting in every visit.

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Of course the Mexican food in Austin was on point. The whole food scene in Austin is insane. We had Torchy’s Tacos multiple times (I mean…they have multiple locations, so I don’t feel THAT bad about it).

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The original Torchy’s food truck called to us. We ate here on a very, very hot afternoon and were serenaded/shouted out by loads of the very loud Grackles – what a wonderful name for a bird!- that congregate there, hoping for leftover bites from the diners at their picnic tables.

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And the food diary continues! Crawfish, in this case. Roudabeh and Taylor actually brought these in a cooler from New Orleans because R loved them so much. They spent some time teaching Jon the appropriate techniques for getting every last tasty morsel out of the little guys.

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One of the things I miss the most now, living in the UK, is a good pub quiz. Pub quizzes in England are the worst for me! I don’t know anything that’s more than 5 or 10 years old, and huge swathes of the knowledge just doesn’t exist in my brain- sport, pop culture, politics, the monarchy, old tv, etc etc. But in America I kick ass at pub quiz.

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All this to say, we crushed it. Out of the 30+ teams ours ended up coming in 5th after lingering in the top 3 through the whole night. It was great and the huge amount of beer on tap wasn’t bad either – if you go to Austin, definitely check out Pinthouse Pizza. 

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But back to the food. BBQ is an institution in Austin, everyone knows that, but there are a few competing houses of BBQ to get your fix. We were encouraged to head straight to La Barbecue, where notoriously the line is known to take up to 5 or more hours at the weekend with people waiting to get their teeth into some hot hot barbecue meats.

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Fortunately, we were on holiday, so we went on a Wednesday in an attempt to cut down on that wait time. You know things are serious when you find yourself getting into line for barbecue at 10 in the morning on a weekday. Jon really outdid himself – he’s the real MVP here. We got a beef rib, a brisket sandwich, coleslaw and…more brisket. It was intense, and then we went back to the house and took meat naps. And we only waited for around an hour, which wasn’t horrible.

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Another great, off the beaten track food discovery (our friends are the best!) : Quality Seafood Market, an old-fashioned place situated in a strip mall off of the highway, where you can drink cheap beers, eat a fresh seafood dinner and buy some more Gulf-caught fresh seafood on the way out to take home with you. Obviously we were there for the 25 cent shrimp and $1 oysters (and happy hour drinks on top).

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I swear it wasn’t all eating and napping though. On one night in particular Jon and I drove over to the South Congress Bridge to take a spot on the hill and wait for the bats to come out. Apparently it’s a tradition in the city – the bridge has become home to some two million bats over the years, and those bats come out from under the bridge at dusk each night to hunt for food and do what bats do. It was a beautiful evening for sitting outside and in the end, the bats did come out, although it was almost too dark to see them by the time they graced us with their presence.

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There’s more to our Texas visit, but I’ll leave that for another time. For now, I leave you with thoughts of barbecue, shrimp and bats dancing in your head (the essence of Austin, really).

A wild weekend in New Orleans

It started with flying into hurricane weather and ended up with getting into a car and driving the eight hours to Austin, Texas and in between well…what happens in New Orleans, right?

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After a quick few days in New York City, we flew down to the deep South (a part of the country I’d never been to) to meet a group of our friends, making a precarious landing just as a storm set in that delayed all of those friends’ flights. It ended up being a bit of foreshadowing for how the rest of the weekend would go, with intermittent storms breaking up the sticky hot heat.

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It was dark and humid when the taxi pulled up in front of our Airbnb just north of the French Quarter.  We came to find out that our cottage was actually the former home of the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, although we wouldn’t find that out until we’d already been there two days (the things you learn when you take a walking voodoo tour!).
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There was food….so much food. Oysters as big as my fist, delicious Cajun sausage,  Creole/ramen fusion, gumbo and crawfish and also, rum. Ohhh the rum. A delicious Louisiana rum. It was my downfall. That and the heat, which, hello, England, not used to anymore. It got the best of me, eventually, but not before I’d put forth my best New Orleans party efforts.

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The architecture and the streets of New Orleans blew me away. It was a steamy dreamscape, all iron railways and hanging plants and dilapidated beauty everywhere.

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A highlight of the weekend was sipping cocktails with Jon and Evie at a place called Cane & Table, a falling down, shabby chic cocktail bar reminiscent of Old Havana (she says, having never been to Cuba). The thrumming ceiling fans barely broke through the sticky heat, but the cocktails were great and the company was second to none.

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On Sunday we spent the afternoon in the achingly cool and quirky Le Richelieu Hotel’s pool, playing games and escaping the heat. This is the part where I got too much sun, drank too many cocktails and feel asleep quite early. But them’s the breaks. Worth it.

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There was just one thing that disappointed me during our stay and that was that when we tried to go to the Pharmacy Museum it happened to be closed! We went after checking out Voodoo Authentica, which I also definitely recommend popping into, but I was sad about that – the Pharmacy Museum is housed in the site of the apothecary of America’s first licensed pharmacist, and has exhibitions on bloodletting and leeches and the period of town when voodoo practicioners thrived and modern medicine was just finding its legs.

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It was a fantastic little visit, a whirlwind 3 days, and all of it only served to whet my appetite for the city. I hope to go back to New Orleans at some point, definitely leaving more time to explore next time. And maybe less rum. But just maybe.

After Louisiana it was on to Austin via a very long drive, so stay tuned….USA road trip 2016 to be continued!

Three days in New York City

I hesitate to use the word epic since it so rarely is used anymore to describe things that are actually epic by definition, but I’d say a 17 day road trip across 4 American states and 5 major cities ticks all the boxes for epic in my own life, so here we are.

Several weeks ago, Jon and I flew into the hell hole that is JFK International Airport on Wednesday evening, and the heat that greeted us as we walked out of the terminal was like a breath of new life into my cold, damp lungs. We ubered into the city (can we use Uber as a verb yet?) and eventually found our hotel, the trying-very-hard-to-be-trendy W Hotel on Lexington. It was very nice, but the minibar had a Snickers that cost a ridiculous $12 USD so we steered very very clear of that nonsense. The bathroom was pretty much as big as our flat here though, so all is forgiven.

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Three days isn’t really that long, and our trip mostly consisted of eating (shortlist of what was eaten: bagels, ice cream, very bad Italian food, very good tacos) and revelling in time spent with one of my best and oldest friends who now lives in the city and has a fancy job at Christie’s, meaning he’s smack in the middle of Rockefeller Center every day, watching them film The Today Show.

There he is! There we are!

 

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I’ve been to NYC a few times, but Jon hadn’t been since he was a little kid, when his family lived in Connecticut and his dad worked in the heart of Manhattan, commuting in every day and leaving the little Norris fam out in the suburbs. Wandering around with Jon and his fresh eyes was particularly fun, especially as he acclimated his very British self to the streets (and people) of New York. It was like dipping a toe into America before heading straight to the deep end further on in our trip – I always think that NYC is much more European than American in its sensibilities, so it’s a good middle ground on the spectrum.
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There wasn’t much on our bucket list really – we are both big fans of wandering and picking a thing or two to do per day, filling in the rest of the itinerary around that, all very low-key. We only had one full day in the city anyway, but our list included a walk down to Battery Park to take a look at the tip of the island, waving to the Statue of Liberty from afar.

 

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There she is – way out yonder.

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I also really wanted to take a moment at the memorial to the World Trade Center and 9/11. It was sobering, and much more emotional poignant than I could have possibly expected. I think it’s a fantastic space and they’ve done such a good job with it as a place of remembrance. I’m very certain I couldn’t make it through a visit inside though – outside was more than enough.

 

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Walking and eating took up most of our time. It was very very hot and you may be surprised to hear that Jon and I aren’t really used to that sort of thing, living in England as we do. It was amazing just to be outdoors with no need at all for a secret hidden jacket in my bag, but also it was very sweaty and I immediately got sunburned. Worth it.

 

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New York, your parks are too beautiful.

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Bagels were a big draw for both of us. We went to the same place around the corner of our hotel both mornings – a little place called Fresh & Co. It’s a chain in NYC with a dozen or so locations, and I highly recommend it. They have lots of healthy options, including gluten-free bagels and turkey bacon/sausage, but they also do all the regular stuff, and their salads look amazing too. The staff was also delightful.

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Jon ate four bagels over the course of two mornings. He is dedicated to carb loading.

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We just had to walk through the Beaux-Arts beauty that is Grand Central Terminal. We were walking by and you can just stroll right on it, so it seemed like a good thing to do.

 

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Another must visit was the American Museum of Natural History. After a lazy lunch in Central Park (where Jon and his bottomless pit of a stomach ate an entire tray of street meat and rice while I had a cherry ice cream sundae), it was off for a few hours in one of my favorite museums in the world. What a place.

 

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It seems like a building that’s locked in time. I can very easily imagine ol’ Teddy Roosevelt wandering around its halls.

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And there are dinosaurs!
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On Friday morning, slightly worse for wear from a rowdy dinner the night before in the Meatpacking District with a couple of friends, Jon and I had just enough time to down another bagel and coffee breakfast before taking a walk over to Rockefeller Plaza to poke around and take in the hustle and bustle.
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I’ve never seen a building with as many American flags – Saks Fifth Avenue is a pretty patriotic place, apparently.
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And then it was back to the airport for our flight to New Orleans. Three days (really two) could never be enough in that beautiful city, but it was a great way to whet the appetite for the rest of our stay in the US. I can’t wait to go back.

Three days in New York City – A very loose itinerary

(in case you’re looking for a little inspiration)

Day One: 

Check in at the W Hotel

Blockheads Burritos for burritos and margaritas

Day Two: 

Fresh & Co for coffee and bagels and then…the walking begins

Washington Square Park

9/11 Memorial and Museum

Battery Park (then go all the way back up north – could walk along the Highline if you give yourself time)

American Museum of Natural History (leave a few hours for this – also it’s pay as you wish, but only if you talk to someone in person at the till)

Hotel to freshen up, hotel bar for a drink

Dinner at an Italian restaurant that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone because it was both expensive and not good. I think it was called Santina? Then more drinks at a German beer garden nearby.

Day Three:

Fresh & Co for more coffee and bagels

Walking – this time to Rockefeller Plaza

Hotel check out and back to JFK

 

 

 

Ohio in 2015

Not going home for a solid two years makes a place not feel like home anymore, in a lot of ways.  The varied emotional states of spending extended time with family doesn’t really make me miss living in the same state, if ya know what I mean, nudge nudge. But I miss them! Of course I miss them. The other weird thing about being home is that unlike most children my age  (that would be thirty) who visit their parents for a day by driving to their house in the morning/afternoon and then leaving in the evening, I end up being super infantilized and spending days on end at one of my parents’ houses, sleeping on couches and being cooked for and stuff. It makes me feel young, and dumb, particularly since my last two visits have been without my Jon. But being with friends back in Ohio, checking out places new and old, gives me a weird sense of loss for the life that I’m not living there. The place where I could be living or working or socializing, not just with Jon but with all the other people I love that aren’t living in the UK. A weird parallel life that some other Ashley is living;  a wispy ghost of an existence that could have happened had my life taken a different turn or two, somewhere along the line.

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Our 4th of July Weekend

It’s pretty easy to feel ultra patriotic when celebrating a holiday outside of the country itself. Something about that buffer zone of space allows me to unironically wear an american flag on my chest and make a playlist that includes Toby Keith and that version of God Bless America sung by Lee Greenwood that they always play at the fireworks shows (to be clear, the playlist also had Sufjan Stevens and the Boss, I’m not some kind of monster). All while eating USA shaped cookies and drinking drinks. Freedom!

We had a pretty action packed weekend, and made our annual trek to an American diner with Colin and Jess on Friday night. This year we tried out a new diner though, and they had tiny decorative thingies in the drinks, plus Jones Soda, so they win the diner competition, in my opinion.

We ate dirty burgers and onion rings and reveled in Americana. It was nice.

Afterwards, Jon and I joined a bunch of other friends for an outdoor screening of Labyrinth at Preston Manor. The weather had been amazing all day, so of course the sprinkling of rain started as the movie started, and finished right as the movie ended. In true English style though, everyone just whipped out umbrellas and raincoats and got on with watching David Bowie in a large codpiece. Dance, magic, dance!

Saturday we had big plans for a bbq on the beach, and it was going to be awesome. But this is England and the sun never really came out….so instead people came to our house and we had a good time there too. Lemons to lemonade and all that jazz! I made a cherry pie and deviled eggs (I ate probably what added up to 6 whole eggs, I’m a little embarrassed), Jess brought the aforementioned patriotic cookies and cupcakes too, and we ate and ate and drank and ate. Dave and Penny came down from Nottingham, Ariel came from London, Bruce wore a bandanna, and it was pretty fabulous.

Eventually we ended up at a pub and finished the night that way. So traditional! Sunday was spent cleaning up literally every dish that we own since those are the kind of parties we have, and then Penny and Dave were back to Nottingham, and the celebrations were officially over. In my mind, the 4th of July was always the middle of summer (I know it isn’t, technically), but this year I don’t feel that way, and I’m glad. Maybe because we’re going away at the end of the month…but I’m happy to be able to host some fun parties every now and then, even if I can’t count on the hot hot humidity of an Ohio July to back me up. And if the summer wants to just keep on going like this, that’s fine too.