About My Best Souvenir

I am Samuel, a 21 year old male from London, UK, who is currently travelling the world. The purpose of this blog is for me to write about my travels and experiences like a kind of journal and also post photos as I go along for my friends and family to access back home and keep up to date on what I am up to. Feel free to follow me, read about what I’m doing, and ask me questions.

Interesting Questions Americans Ask British People

In twenty minutes from now I will be leaving for the airport to go to Menorca, but before I begin a new chapter of my blog, I wanted to leave you with one last post about America. While I was there, I kept a mental note of all the strange, stupid and surreal questions/statements people asked/made to me during my stay, in the hope that they could one day make an entertaining blog post.

 
Here is a list of just a few of the odd things Americans have said to me:

 
1. Have you ever tried ice cream before?
2. Is London a Christian country or a catholic one?
3. Have you ever heard of garlic bread?
4. What does “don’t jimmy riddle in the back of me jam jar” mean?
5. Do you love tea?
6. Do you love the Queen?
7. Do you know the Queen?
8. Have you ever seen the Queen before?

9. Can you say “sack of potatoes”?

10. When meeting someone for the first time:

 
Them: What is your name?
Me: Sam
Them: Sorry?
Me: Sam
Them: Psalm… wow; can you spell that for me?
Me: Yes: S.A.M.
Them: Ah, that’s funny; it’s spelt just like the name ‘Sam’
Me: My name IS Sam; I just have an English accent
Them: Oh
Us: *Silence*

11. “She’s a Vegan. Do you get those over there?”
12. Do they really say ‘fetch’ in England?
13. Say ‘bloke’
14. Say ‘Doctor Pepper’
15. A friend trying to get his friend to imitate my accent:

 
Him: Say ‘hot water’ in a British accent
Her: What’s a British accent?
Him: [Pointing at me] HIM!
Her: I thought he was England or Ukrainian. You know, they’re the same.

 

16. Wow, your English is really good.

 

God bless America.

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White Sands, Turquoise Waters, and Gunpoint Robberies: A Fun Few Days in Miami

If I were to be completely honest with you, I would tell you this: before I arrived to Miami, I had very low expectations of the place. Maybe I’m a location snob, but I like places rich in culture, charm and class – places steeped in history, filled with leafy boulevards, beautiful people and quaint sidewalk cafés (which is why I despise going to Brighton and pubs) – so Miami had never exactly appealed to me.

Pictured: the bane of my existence

This is what my face is like in Brighton

Nonetheless, I went there two weeks ago. I was met at the airport by Camilo, a friend of mine whom I had met a couple of years previously in England. (He is a Colombian who lived in Canada, and had I known he was now living in Miami, the whole palaver of not finding anywhere to stay until the morning of my flight [briefly mentioned in the previous post] would have been avoided.) As he drove me through the city, from the airport to his house, I felt that my previous notions about Miami had been correct – It seemed to be nothing but a vast and uninspired expanse of concrete with a few palm trees scattered across it as a half-hearted consolation. To me it seemed the place had no personality, no soul – the entire city, a grey expanse tinted a grubby yellow by the sun, seemed fake.

 
[Reader: if you love Miami and I have offended you, please do not storm off at this point without finishing – things are about to change, I promise.]

 

Though I wasn’t finding Miami to be a beautiful place (or even remotely attractive) I was, nevertheless, enjoying myself. I was spending time with Camilo and his sister, meeting their friends, making new ones, and generally having a good time. It was two days into my stay in Miami that my opinion about it began to change. That night I went, for the first time, to the beach. This was the first time in a year that I had seen the ocean, so to feel the sea-breeze, hear the sound of waves breaking, and look out at an endless horizon came as an unexplained relief. There was something about walking along the shore under the stars and feeling the sand under my toes, with the blue darkness of the warm Atlantic on one side of me, and the restless lights of the city on the other, which was calming and almost alleviating to me. As I walked along the sand I noticed the silhouette of a large piece of driftwood, bobbing along with the rhythm of the waves at the point where they broke onto the shore, suddenly begin to crawl out of the sea onto the deserted beach. I approached cautiously, (obviously it was some kind of sea monster) whereupon I realised it was a huge sea turtle coming to nest. I was even able to touch its shell (don’t attack me, animal rights people – I was gentle.) Maybe you wouldn’t agree, but for me this was an amazing experience.

 
The next day I returned to the beach, but this time in the daylight to swim. Intelligibly, the atmosphere had changed completely to that of the night before, but I hadn’t anticipated the kind of ambience that I encountered there that day. The whole beach and surrounding area felt like a party. Music played from all directions, bar patrons sipped cocktails along the waterfront, and people danced on the beach. Save for its hordes of people, the beach itself – with its white sand, leaning palms and turquoise waters – conformed to the paradigms of how paradise should look.


We spent my few days there eating out at restaurants, relaxing on the beach, and spending time with friends. I went to a Colombian restaurant to relive my time in Bogotá, where I ordered cholado – a beverage of chopped tropical fruits, crushed ice and condensed milk, typically mixed with ice cream. I miss Colombian desserts!


After going out for lunch on my last day, some newfound friends and I decided to go to Bayside – an area in downtown Miami of restaurants and bars with enthusiastic street entertainment all wrapped along the edge of the marina. There we walked around listening to the Colombian salsa that played live on the waterfront, and watching the couples who spontaneously began to dance along to the Latin rhythms. Impressive yachts lined the water’s edge and their proud owners sat out on them drinking wine as the sun went down. The atmosphere was like one big party and it was infectious. I loved the laidback feel of the place, and this was reflected in the attitudes of the people I was spending time with.

After eating at Bayside overlooking the marina, we decided to go to a late showing of Madagascar 3 at the cinema! The movie finished around 11, and while driving home, we all decided to turn around and go to Dunkin’ Donuts for a snack. In Miami, people don’t make plans – they just go with the flow.

 
There were around ten of us at the restaurant, and somehow, as we sat around a long table with our coffee and donuts, we got into an intense debate about relationships. Camilo had some very strong (and controversial) ideas on how relationships should “be done”, and the rest of the group disagreed. Then the disagreeing opinions of the individuals that made up the rest of the group began to conflict with each other’s disagreeing opinions, and the whole group ended up arguing discussing the issue with some intensity. Of course we were all very grown up and diplomatic about the situation, but soon we found it was 3am, and we had been in the donut shop for over three hours. It was time to leave.

When the discussion had become too much

Pushing open the doors out onto what we presumed was going to be an empty parking lot, we were somewhat bewildered when we were greeted by blue and red flashing lights, a helicopter flying low overhead, sniffer dogs patrolling the pavement, a cordoned off street, and hordes of serious looking police officers standing around their patrol cars.

“GET BACK INSIDE!” they ordered.

 
So we turned around and re-entered the shop. The man behind the counter asked us in disbelief if we seriously hadn’t noticed anything that had just happened, and our confused faces confirmed to him that we really hadn’t. Apparently our debate had absorbed all of our attention and the store had been robbed at gunpoint just a few feet from where we had been sitting without any of us noticing. I found this hilarious.
Here is CCTV footage of the whole ordeal. I can be seen sitting at the far left of the screen.

 

 


Anyway, along with that adventure, I had a great time in Miami. Being in a city with a 70% Latino/Hispanic population, its laidback and relaxed atmosphere was something to be expected. The people I spent time with there spoke to each other in a language that can only be called Spanglish – a tongue which oscillated between both English and Spanish equally, which at once I found both charming and confusing. I met many new people and I made some new friends, and I hope to be able to go back there for a longer time in the future.

I am now back in the UK. I have been busy over the last two weeks since i got back, so forgive me for not writing about Miami until now. Tomorrow I fly out to Menorca with my sister to meet my parents who are already there, and while I am there I will try to find a job. I’m writing this looking out of the window at a grey sky and rain, but I will be writing my next post from the middle of the Mediterranean in 30+ degree heat! Until then!

Goodbye, Saint Louis!

I didn’t know this for certain until today, but this is my last day in Saint Louis. There have been a few hiccups in finding somewhere to stay in Miami, and yesterday, the day before my flight was due to leave, I still had nowhere to go once I land there. A friend of mine was calling friends of his and waiting for their responses, and while I waited I had a goodbye meal with friends, packed my suitcases, and eventually went to sleep without knowing whether or not I was really leaving. This morning I woke up with an email confirming that a place has been found, and now all I’m waiting for is a phone call to make arrangements to be met at the airport. One of my personal philosophies is this: ‘Don’t worry. Ever.’ (Deep, I know.) So to be left without knowing where I am staying until the last minute has been a test of this mind set. (I’d like to say that I have passed this test with flying colours).

Now I know that I’m definitely leaving, I feel kind of sad. I arrived in Saint Louis two months ago (it feels like only two weeks) without having any idea of what to expect, but during my time here I have met new people and made lasting friendships which I really value, I have come to love the city of Saint Louis, and (here comes the cliché – brace yourselves:) I feel I have grown as a person (sorry).

I am truly going to miss this place and the friends I have made, but I am definitely going to return some day, hopefully very soon. This is a short post because I need to finish packing my suitcase and get it into my head that I am actually leaving in a matter of hours. I also need to arrange being met at the airport. Anyway, I will update you on my travels when I arrive in Miami!

The Houses of Saint Louis

One of the things I particularly like about Saint Louis is the city’s houses. People here take great pride in them, and making them look pretty – painting them in different ice-cream shades, adorning them with matching pots of flowers, decorating their porches. It really makes for pleasant walks, especially now in the summer time.

Here are a few photos I took of some houses while walking around the Central West End:

This last one is my favourite – I want to buy it from whoever owns it now! I guess I will need a job first though.

I don’t know if my photos show how charming the area really is, you might have to come and visit for yourself!

Texas – Part Two: San Antonio

Apart from gorging myself almost constantly, I was also able to walk around San Antonio and enjoy its tranquil ambience, rich history and warm weather. The city features colonial cathedrals, quaint cobbled streets, and Romanesque towers, all hidden like gems in amongst its tall concrete office buildings. After turning every other corner I would be pleasantly surprised to stumble across some charming side-walk café or an old fashioned tram rattling along a stone-tiled street.

I later found out that this is actually the oldest active cathedral in the Unites States!

We also visited The Alamo, a former Roman Catholic mission and fortress compound, and site of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836 (thanks Wikipedia). It is apparently a very important landmark in the history and culture of Texas, but don’t ask me about it – I was too hot and tired to be bothered to read the information provided inside the building. I did like the architecture though, and could appreciate its history though I didn’t necessarily know anything much about it.

My favourite part of downtown San Antonio was, inevitably, The Riverwalk – a network of pathways alongside the banks of the San Antonio River, creating an oasis of tranquillity one story below the bustling city. Elegant restaurants with little white-clothed, flickering-candled tables line both sides of the river, while flowering trees twist upwards and droop over the green water. Picturesque boats of photo-taking tourists glide slowly past underneath stone arch bridges, and the atmosphere is definitely one to be savoured.

Usually, I am not the kind of person who would be taken aback by such a commercial place, but honestly, I loved it. The fact that this peaceful place could be found just by descending a flight of steps from the busy city streets above made it all the more alluring.

One balmy night we decided to eat at a particularly classy restaurant on the Riverwalk. Feeling extremely sophisticated after being seated at one of the pristine white-clothed tables, and getting deep into conversation before our appetizers were brought out, I froze mid-sentence after feeling something warm and lumpy drip suddenly onto my head, down the back of my neck and inside my new white shirt. Already knowing my doom, I rushed (rigidly, with fingers spread out on stiff, extended arms) to the bathroom, and gagged when I turned around in the mirror to find the confirmation that, yes, a pigeon had decided to expel its bowel contents into my hair. In my opinion (and sadly I am talking from ill-fated experience), the Riverwalk is one of the worst locations in the world to be defecated upon. However, if I look on the bright side, I will now certainly never forget that place. Thank you, kind pigeon.

The Riverwalk allows you to see the city from below, so the next day we decided to get another perspective – we visited the Tower of The Americas. This tower with its viewing deck offers an aerial perspective of the city, and like the Riverwalk’s view from beneath San Antonio, the view from above also provides some tranquillity. From 750 feet above ground, the viewer can watch the hustle and bustle of city as though from another world, with the wind whipping through the air being the only sound he can hear.

This was my last day. The 5 days had gone quicker than I had expected and already it was time to say goodbye. That evening we went out for farewell drinks, and, naturally, being with Mexican friends in Texas, we drank tequila. (In an Irish pub, obviously.)

Cheers!

I got home and packed, and eventually slept at 3.30. At 4am my alarm went off, ready for me to wake up and leave for the airport, in order to head back to St. Louis for the next 5 days. As I said before, 30 minutes sleep the night before a flight is never a good idea, but spending the evening with new friends was definitely worth it. I was sad to leave so soon, but I am sure I will be visiting again in the future.

Texas – Part One: Good Food and Missing Passports

I have just arrived, exhausted (please remind me to never again catch a plane without having had at least 30 minutes of sleep the night before), back to St. Louis, after spending 5 days in Texas. (Actually, I returned yesterday. I was just too tired to think about writing until today)

After a struggle in St Louis airport trying to convince the authorities that, yes, I could take an internal flight within the United States without a passport just as long as I had photo ID (and having to explain to them what the phrase ‘internal flight’ meant), I arrived in San Antonio, Texas, on Sunday morning ready to spend the coming days being shown around the city and spending time with friends. Upon landing, I discovered that the popular saying – “everything is bigger in Texas” – was indeed true. The first thing I noticed when stepping out of the plane was the amount of obese people wearing ridiculously bright colours (I didn’t think they needed to be drawing any more attention to their bodies which rippled beneath their neon sportswear with each waddling step). I also found, to my delight, that people in Texas actually do wear cowboy hats – something which, until then, I had always thought was just a clichéd stereotype. This was to keep me amused for the next five days.

Like these guys! Real life cowboys!

I was picked up from the airport by my friend Jesus (I know! Plus his best friend is called Angel, so I felt like I was in the bible the whole time) and from there we went to the end of the church service to meet some more of his friends and then go out for lunch, where everyone laughed at my accent when I ordered a Doctor Pepper. Come to think of it, the majority of activities we did during my stay in San Antonio were based around food, which I believe is the perfect, and perhaps the only true way for an outsider (and especially one with limited time) to gain knowledge of, and get a feel for a new place and its culture. Here are some of the restaurants we ate at:

On the first night, Jesus, Angel and I went to Mi Tierra, a family run Mexican restaurant and bakery which first opened its doors back in 1941. It is open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, and all year round it is decorated with over-the-top Christmas decorations. Mariachi singers float from table to table, serenading couples and families as they dine with Mexican love songs in their deep-voiced harmonies and dramatic vibratos. There I tried fried ice cream (another thing about Texas – EVERYTHING is fried. More about that later.), which was delicious: a scoop of vanilla ice cream rolled in coconut, pecans, peanuts and toasted flakes, topped with a homemade caramel sauce and whipped cream, and served in a ‘sopapilla’ (a kind of thin, deep fried pastry shell). All of this was then sprinkled with icing sugar (powdered sugar for the Americans) and the whole thing was amazing.


The next day we drove for over an hour outside of San Antonio to eat at a restaurant called The Salt Lick. The journey led us through miles of countryside: around rolling hills, through green and yellow farmlands, and over sleepy streams, until we came to the restaurant. A brick and wooden building stood in the middle of this uninhabited countryside, with no visible sign of civilization anywhere except for the full-to-bursting car park which encircled it – a sign of a good restaurant. As we walked through the doors, the first sight to welcome us was a huge open pit barbecue laden with enormous steaks, full racks of ribs, and sausages hanging in bunches above the grill in its rising smoke. From this moment I knew I was going to enjoy my meal. The restaurant had a bring your own beer policy, so customers would come in clutching six packs of it. We sat at a wooden bench table and I ordered ribs and sausage with coleslaw and beans. The meat was so good, and their homemade barbecue sauce made it even better.


The next day we drove to Austin, which, though only an hour’s drive away, had a completely different atmosphere to San Antonio. It was a vibrant, youthful city, full of young fashionable (and noticeably healthier – i.e. less obese) people. I didn’t see one cowboy hat that day. We spent our time touring the city, eating good paninis in hipster cafes, visiting the state capitol and walking along the river. (Hugo and Angel kayaked; Jesus and I watched). Later that night we went to another restaurant called Fonda San Miguel – recognised as one of the finest Mexican restaurants in the country. The dramatically lit building, surrounded by banana plants, palm trees and brightly coloured exotic flowers, was washed in light greens and blues and decorated with Mexican mosaics. The huge hand-carved wooden doors bounded by engraved stone welcome you inside to an interior full of hanging lanterns, warm colours, large plants, Mexican artworks and a lively atmosphere. The food was to die for. I had enchiladas de pato (duck), followed by pastel de tres leches (three milks cake), and finished it all off with café de olla, a sweet cinnamon coffee.

enchiladas de pato

I’m getting fat.


These were the three restaurants I enjoyed the most out of a week of good food. I will write about what else I got up to in my next post!

Happy Flag Day!

Here in America, believe it or not, today is Flag Day (yes, it seems they have a day for everything here). So I thought I would take this opportunity to share with you a little something I have learnt about the flag while I’ve been here. This may be my most boring post to date, but I found this difference between American and British culture rather interesting.

 
Last week I was watching the news and found myself amused at one of the stories that the station was featuring that evening: a store owner had been flying an American flag, which happened to be a little old and tattered, over a ‘strip mall’ (retail park, for us English people). Here you can read the story.

 
That was the whole story. And it was one of the main stories of that evening. The feature included interviews with members of the surrounding community who were all deeply disgusted with the state of the flag, and who looked sadly into the camera as they told the reporters with genuine hurt how offended they were at the ordeal.

 
I couldn’t help but think how trivial the issue was. The point of the news story was that the flag was ‘tattered and torn’ and that it was disrespectful and insulting to the nation, to which the reporters, interviewees, and TV audience all seemed to agree.

 
In England, or any other country I’ve visited for that matter, people do not seem to care about their nations’ flags like the people of the USA do. Here the star spangled banner flutters from the doorway of most every home; hangs nobly outside malls, businesses and restaurants; and flies regally above every government building. You cannot drive for one minute down the street without seeing those broad stripes and bright stars at least five times.

 
The rest of the world, I would say, is indifferent to flags. Perhaps they might like their countries flag to some extent, but it wouldn’t go any further than that – into the kind of obsessions that the Americans show for theirs. That is why I couldn’t understand what the major concern was on this news story; about an old flag flying above an insignificant retail park, and the response of outrage that this received to me seemed like somewhat of an overreaction.

I smiled as I watched the story, snorting from time to time with derision and incredulity, when I turned my head to find Mike and Linda (the couple with whom I’m staying) solemnly shaking their heads. From then on I resisted the urge to laugh at the news feature out of respect for them. But when it was over I asked them what the big deal was.
Linda explained to me how important the flag is for the people of America, for everything it represents. She even showed me a leaflet entitled ‘When and How to Fly the Unites States Flag’ that was kept in a kitchen drawer. Here is what it says:

 
• The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.
• The flag is never allowed to touch the ground or the floor.
• The flag of the Unities States of America should be at the centre and at the highest point of the group when a number of flags of states or localities or pennants of societies are grouped and displayed from staffs.
• The flag should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds but always allowed to fall free.
• Never fly the flag upside down except as a signal of distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
• The flag is never flown in inclement weather except when using an all-weather flag.
• The flag can be flown every day from sunrise to sunset and at night if illuminated properly.
• The American flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing. Therefore, the lapel flag pin, being a replica, should be worn on the left lapel near the heart.

 
At first I found this all kind of ridiculous and amusing, especially later when I found out there is a national annual holiday solely for the American flag. But as time went on this principle began to grow on me, and I have since become quite impressed with the attitude towards not only the flag, but the general outlook of respect and patriotism that the people of this country have for their nation.

 
It was recently the Queen’s diamond jubilee. All the streets in the UK were lined with Union Jacks, people threw parties and dressed in the colours of our flag. In a way I am disappointed that I was not home to take part in this – one of the rare occasions in British culture that allows for patriotism. The only other time in my life that I have felt a shared sense of loyalty and a common patriotic spirit was during the royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. I think we in England could learn something from the Americans about being proud of, and respectful to our country.

 
Happy Flag Day!