A fond farewell to the British girl in the USA

States Visited 16 states, too many flights, multiple road trips, 128 blog posts and 396 days later my time in the USA and Washington DC has ended. I always knew this year would be amazing, and I had planned for it for so long that I worried it wouldn’t live up to everything I thought it would be. How wrong I was..
This year has been life changing, I have made friends I will keep forever and seen some of the most beautiful sights. I have captured amazing photographs and tried some great food (and way too many burgers). I couldn’t have asked for a better time.
Did I miss my family? Of course.
Would I change any of it? No
Would I do it again? 110% yes.
Would I go back in a heartbeat? You betcha!

IMG_4811 IMG_3121 64020004 Albert once told me that he deserved an entire blog post devoted to him, and I’m not going to massage his ego, but I will say a thank you to him.
I have made some incredible friends this year, friends I will keep for life, and in the past 8 months I’ve had Albert along for the international exchange student ride (although he’s American). Although we’ve driven each other crazy at times from him stealing my food, or me falling asleep on our many road trips (sleeping is so easy in moving cars for me!) We have seen a lot of places together, done some crazy things (as seen in the multiple photos) and he has been an awesome friend. So thank you Albert for showing me California, putting up with my bubble tea addiction and driving me to the most beautiful places. You are an amazing friend.

Thank you to all my friends I have made this year who have been my friends and family while I was abroad. I love you all so much and can’t wait to see you again soon. And thank you to everyone at home who read my blog, kept up with all my stories and excused my multitudes of photos! You are great!
Dray in the USA has left the building… IMG_2212 IMG_0526

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

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A mini trip back to the great place that is DC: 9/11 Event and First NFL Game

I flew home to the UK on July 30th, to spend some time with my family and to get back for my Grandad’s 80th Birthday. IMG_5208 IMG_5274 IMG_5379 We had an amazing weekend together as well as being introduced to Sherman – Niamh’s new puppy. He is a cutie! IMG_5073  IMG_5108
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fter spending a few weeks at home watching mountains of episodes of The West Wing, I found out that an event I had created  for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund had been approved. I decided that this was something worth seeing and helping out with. It was a Candlelight Ceremony held on 9/11 at the Vietnam Wall. I came back to DC on 5th September to spend some time visiting friends as well as helping out at the VVMF. And my gosh was it worth it:
DSC_6688 DSC_6702 DSC_6715 DSC_6717DSC_6742DSC_6749 DSC_6771 IMG_5924IMG_5940 JC2_8802-XL The event started at 7pm and we had a lot of people there to visit the wall and place a candle. We managed to leave the candles at the wall until 1am and then unfortunately had to pack away the beauty. I was so happy that I was able to be there though.

My first NFL Game: Washington Redskins vs Jacksonville Jaguars!

In my year in Washington DC I managed to see a Baseball game, Ice Hockey, Basketball and multiple rugby games. But I never managed to watch an American Football game live. I watched a lot in my apartment (much to the annoyance of my roommate) on a Monday evening doing my homework but never made it down to the FedEx Field in Maryland during the season.
Luckily this all changed with my trip back to DC. On Sunday 14th September I headed into Maryland with a fellow Brit Nick, Albert and Sean to see our home team play Jacksonville. My first words were “oh wow!” when I reached my seat at the top. The field was huge! IMG_6042 I was in awe of the place, and it wasn’t long before the Redskins scored a touchdown! IMG_6057 IMG_6053 After picking up my Redskins paraphernalia IMG_6108 I was able to enjoy a great win by the Redskins: 41 – 10! A complete blow out. I had an awesome day, even though I forgot the game was outside and wasn’t wearing sun cream (I had a bit of a pink nose by the end of the day!) IMG_6096 IMG_6097
Although this was a mini trip back to DC, it was great to have some sunshine for a few days and see everyone again (although it had only been a month!) Although the jet lag has been a killer the past few days, it was 100% worth it.

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My last week as an exchange student in DC

I arrived to Washington DC on 19th August, and fell in love with the place instantly. I was here for two weeks shy of a year, and had the most incredible time. Before I knew it my internship with the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund was over and I was on my final weekend in America (or so I thought, but that comes later!)
We had amazing weather so decided to head down to Maryland Bay to spend a day at the beach – this was perfect: no salty water and lots of sunshine! IMG_4730 Albert, David, Hope and I travelled the 40 minutes to Maryland (after I had stood for 30 minutes letting the P20 dry!) laden with a lot of snacks, towels, books and pillows. IMG_4732 IMG_4769 Even though I live beside a beach in Brighton, it was nice to be able to walk into the water without freezing! IMG_4788 IMG_4777 Now although I had put my P20 on, I still managed to burn my bum cheeks. However I was lucky as unfortunately Hope burnt all over, as did David! Albert is annoying and never burns! So we were all pretty exhausted by the time we came home.
However after a cold shower and a nap I was blown away by a surprise party from Hannah and Albert at the house. Everyone had come to say goodbye and give me a fond farewell which was awesome. IMG_4808 IMG_4539 IMG_4522

The next day I went with Albert to the Newseum, one of the last museums I hadn’t visited in DC. This may have partly been because I had to pay for this one! Stingy student I am!
However it turned out to be one of the best museums I had visited. I touched one of the largest pieces of the Berlin Wall IMG_4854 as well as seeing many Pulitzer prize photographs that were incredible IMG_4865 There was an exhibition on 9/11 which was very difficult to watch, but also very interesting as it highlighted the journalists at the time who had to report this devastating story. I also found that the US are as obsessed with the royal family as I am: IMG_4916 IMG_4917

I also got my obligatory photo with the Washington Times of the day, and of course the Capitol: IMG_4888 IMG_4906 That night we also took a trip to Panda Cafe – the chinese I was addicted to for most of the year, and who gave me the best Passionfruit bubble tea. I have to admit, it was an addiction. Some people have shoe addictions, some clothes – mine is bubble tea! IMG_4843

My last night in America was spent at the most American place I could think of – a baseball game. The Washington Nats were playing away from home, so we headed up to Baltimore to watch the Orieles play: IMG_4951 IMG_4952The stadium was amazing, and much bigger than the Nats, and we won!! We had the hotdogs, beer and everything else American – it was the perfect last night. IMG_4967 IMG_4978 IMG_4984

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Historical Trips to Sleepy Hollow and Gettysburg

Gettysburg: 
As a student of History, and American History particularly, I knew that Gettysburg was one place I would have to visit before the end of my trip. The Battle of Gettysburg was fought July 1–3, 1863, in and around the town of Gettysburg Pennsylvania, by Union and Confederate forces during the American Civil War. The battle involved the largest number of casualties of the entire war and has often been described as the war’s turning point. Gettysburg is not only famous for this battle but for the Gettysburg Address, one of the most famous speeches in American History, and can be found on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial. IMG_4394 It was pretty awesome to be able to stand in the same spot that Lincoln stood in over 150 years before. The speech was in the Soldier’s National Cemetery, and looked very similar to Arlington: IMG_4387 IMG_4388  Albert and I went with David who is an expert in all things Gettysburg as his aunt and uncle have worked there for years. His uncle is even a part of the Battle reenactments, which we managed to see as we arrived. IMG_4343 IMG_4344 IMG_4345 These men spend the whole weekend sleeping under the stars with no access to any technology (sounds pretty nice!) and act out battles that occurred on these spots many years ago.
We headed for lunch at the Dobbin House Tavern which is the oldest house in Gettysburg and was build in 1776 for Reverend Alexander Dobbin to begin a new life in America for himself and  his family. Now a cute restaurant with period waiters and candlelight meals, it was a really cool setting: IMG_4373 After lunch we headed out to multiple sites of various battles that occurred during the Civil War including the Battle of Little Round Top IMG_4473 IMG_4475 IMG_4487
IMG_4498 This was also the spot of one of the earliest photographs taken which was actually set up. The soldier didn’t die at the spot but was placed there to show the atrocities of the war. One of the first cases of of war torn photography.
I was so glad I was able to see Gettysburg before I left, a place truly enriched with history.

Sleepy Hollow:
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Two weeks before my heading back to the UK, Albert and I made another trip up to Philadelphia to visit his family and also take a little trip up to New York to visit the town of Sleepy Hollow. The village is known as the setting of  “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”, a short story by Washington Irving, who lived in neighbouring Tarrytown and is buried in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Although the place has now become the place for Sleepy Hollow (the movie) and Sleepy Hollow (TV show!) this town was also the home of many famous people: Elizabeth Arden as well as the Chrysler family and Carnegie family. IMG_4644 One of the most lavish parts of the cemetery however belonged to a family who has their name written all over New York: The Rockefellers. With their own path up to their mausoleum this was the place of the rich. IMG_4651 IMG_4653
We also saw the gravestone of Washington Irving, whose story renamed the cemetery to Sleepy Hollow: IMG_4633 IMG_4634
It was a great little town, somewhere where everyone knows each other’s names I would imagine. IMG_4576 IMG_4711
We spent the rest of our weekend in Philadelphia spending time with Albert’s family who were preparing for a new baby in the house this month. Sunday was spent at a country club that Albert’s uncle belongs to – it was a lot of fun, and definitely something I could tick off the bucket list!
We had a great last weekend visiting Philly, which is somewhere we have visited multiple times, and always had a lot of fun at.

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Happy Independence Day and a Visit to Luray Caverns!

When I first arrived in Washington DC, I was a month late for Independence Day. Although this day is the celebration of America’s independence from the British Empire, I always wanted to see the amazing fireworks at the Lincoln Memorial. I was lucky enough a year later to experience this on July 4th 2014. Albert and I had only arrived back in DC at 3am on July 4th (feeling the jet lag and everything!) so we didn’t head out to the National Mall until the afternoon. Near to the Smithsonian museums, a festival of countries was occurring with lots of food and drinks to try. IMG_4102 IMG_4103 We also found many people getting into the true American spirit: IMG_4106 Walking up through the National Mall there were thousands of people dressed in Red, White and Blue heading towards the Washington monument and Lincoln Memorial. By the time we arrived there, many people had already set up their blankets and were getting the best spot. IMG_4120 IMG_4121 Seated next to us were a group of International students from across the world who were travelling the US. They had definitely picked the perfect weekend for DC! Albert was in shock however that he was spending the most American day of the year surrounded by “foreigners!”
By the time the sun started to set, the National mall was packed. We had been given a free Funnel cake, and had seen a guy propose to his girlfriend just beside where we were sitting, which produced a lot of applause! IMG_4142 IMG_4144 IMG_4146 The fireworks were set to start around 8:30 when the sun had completely set, and although I stated in an earlier blog post that the Disney fire works were the best i’d ever seen, July 4th was a big competitor! Putting on our glow sticks, we were ready! IMG_4172 IMG_4173
IMG_4187 IMG_4183 IMG_4224 IMG_4282 IMG_4283 IMG_4306 The firework display lasted for about 30 minutes (which killed the battery on Albert’s phone who decided to record it all) and was stunning. With music playing in the background, and a lot of ooohs and ahhs, this was an amazing event.
Walking back through DC to get home, I thought how lucky I was to be in such an amazing city for this day. All across the country people were celebrating, but I was pretty happy I was in DC! IMG_4317

Luray Caverns:
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Although we were feeling the jet lag after 4th July (California has a 3 hour time difference) I only had a few weekends left until I left DC, so Albert and I headed to Virginia to see the Luray Caverns.
Discovered in 1878, Campbell, three other men, and his 13-year-old nephew, Quint, were exploring the area, looking for a cave. With the help of local photographer Benton Stebbins, the men dug away loose rocks for four hours before, candle in hand, Campbell and Quint slid down a rope into the cave. They could scarcely believe what they saw. The party had discovered the largest series of caverns in the East, an eerie world of stalactites and stalagmites seen by the light of a candle.

Heading into the caves, I was reminded of a trip to Lanzerote when we visited a volcano that had some incredible views. And this was just like it: IMG_1407 IMG_1422 IMG_1446  There is also a part of the caverns called the Dream Lake, which has an almost mirror like appearance. IMG_1455 Albert decided that he was going to be a professional photographer for the day, so there weren’t many photographs of us! IMG_1484 IMG_1541 There was also a Wishing well which donates all money thrown in to a different charity each year. IMG_1630 The Caverns were very cool, and there was a lot of history there, including the bones of a young girl who had been buried nearby and her body had falled into the caves. Outside we visited the Luray Caverns museum, and attempted to find some gold (we were out of luck!) IMG_1689 IMG_1690 It was a great mini trip out, and an awesome way to spend Independence Day weekend!

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The Dream of Sitting on the Friends Couch and Eating at the Cheesecake Factory – Warner Bros Studio!

I have been a fan of the Big Bang Theory since it started out. I know there are a few haters who think it is a silly program, but I have always loved it! Which is why on our penultimate day in California, we started the day with a trip to Pasadena and the Cheesecake Factory! IMG_3833 IMG_3838I definitely did not finish that whole piece, but luckily Albert was more than happy to help! Our next stop was to somewhere we hadn’t initially thought of going to, but knew we couldn’t miss out on – Warner Brothers Studio! Home of Ellen De Generes, Friends, The Big Bang Theory and How I met you Mother, this was the tour to see! IMG_3857We saw various stages for different shows, as well as some movies such as My Fair Lady. There was also an exhibition devoted to Batman with all the costumes from the movies including Poison Ivy (flashback to Halloween!!) IMG_3887 IMG_3894 Unfortunately there were some stages we couldn’t take pictures on such as Pretty Little Liars and the Big Bang Theory, but we saw them! Believe me!
There was also a Harry Potter exhibition, similar to the studio in London, but there was also a Sorting Hat that would tell you your house. Albert got Griffindor but I got Hufflepuff 😦 IMG_3911 IMG_3912 However the biggest part of the tour, and most exciting part for me was seeing the Friends coffee shop. Having watched this show for years, and still being able to recite many episodes (much to Dads annoyance!) I was so excited to be able to sit on the Friend’s sofa! IMG_3943 IMG_3940 IMG_3951 This was probably the highlight of the trip for me, although Disneyland was also pretty amazing!! We saw so many different shows and also heard a lot about how sets are designed and props are chosen. We even got to see Hart of Dixie filming (another american TV show). Warner Bros Studio was very cool, and I think I enjoyed it more than Universal. IMG_4003 IMG_3989

Venice Beach:
Our next stop after Warner Brothers was down to Venice Beach. There are a lot of different beaches in Southern California, but Venice is probably the quirkiest. It reminded me  a little of Brighton with its various market stalls and shops, except Brighton would never be this hot! IMG_4036 IMG_4037 As well as seeing various street performers we also saw the basketball courts that is used in many TV shows like NCIS LA and the body building beach where Arnie started! IMG_4028 IMG_4092 This was our last day in California, and a perfect finish to our 8 day trip. We saw some amazing sights and managed to visit 3 states! Although we were exhausted by the time we got back to DC, and nearly missed our flight, we made it home in time for July 4th!
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Seeing the places on my Bucket List – Rodeo and Hollywood!

I have always been a fan of Pretty Woman, of Julia Roberts with her crazy red hair and her trip down Rodeo Drive! So of course this had to be ticked off the list on our visit around California. 
Rodeo Drive is the home of the rich and famous – not only is there Tiffany’s and Burberry, but also Cartier and Vera Wang! One day I will have the money to buy a Vera Wang dress – but not then! I was a window shopper that day! IMG_3019 IMG_2978We headed up to the Hollywood sign – although I really wanted to climb on it! (This apparently isn’t allowed anymore) IMG_3038 After this, we headed to downtown LA. This is the home of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the handprints of many famous stars. IMG_3065First of all I had to put my handprints next to miss Marilyns, and then we headed off to find our favourite stars. IMG_3084 Sandra Bullock has the same sized hands as me!! And I was very excited to find the signatures of the Star Trek cast, although Albert was not as excited about this. IMG_3079 Albert really wanted his picture taken with Jack Nicholson’s hands IMG_3100Together we had our photographs taken in the Harry Potter casts hands, although I have done this before when we went to the Harry Potter Studios IMG_3113We also found some pretty cool souvenirs, and I also got to have my photograph taken with some Batman characters!! IMG_3121 IMG_3134 We had a great time in downtown Hollywood, and then went to meet two of Albert’s friends, Annie and Alex. For the first time in a year I got to go to Olive Garden (which gives you unlimited salad but wasn’t too exciting!) 
I was then taken to a piece of art in LA called the Urban Lights. Located at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, it is a series of 202 restored street lamps from the 1920s and 1930s. IMG_3153 IMG_3148We had a great time down here getting some amazing photographs and messing around like acrobats! IMG_3162 IMG_3181 IMG_3185 IMG_3186 IMG_3187

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