29 December 2012

Meet Me In The Ironbound...

Where is the Ironbound? I saw a huge sign promoting Newark's Ironbound district on my way back from another early morning shift at Newark Liberty International Airport. I live within the heart of this Portuguese and Brazilian infused neighbourhood, it's the epitome of what makes me love the USA! NJ's Ironbound scene serves some of the best American food I have tasted! 

Newark's Ironbound is a short hop on the train from the Big Apple, here lies my current hometown glory. I have lived in the colourful Ironbound district for almost one year, during that time I have completely fell in love with the wide array of Brazilian and Portuguese foods and the many other treats that are on offer. The action mostly takes place on Ferry Street, at first it seemed like a foreign place when I arrived in February 2012 but once I got to know and love this NJ community it seemed authentically American to me! The Ironbound has a strong European and South American vibe, bringing me closer with the multicultural setting that I am used to. It's not for the faint hearted, I adore these Newark streets to much to care! 

Having that European present has helped throughout my time here in Newark, NJ because the bread sold is similar and I can get Portuguese chocolate in the smaller shops on Ferry Street that tastes just like the good stuff in England. Three languages are spoken on the streets within Newark's happening Ironbound district, Spanish of a South American tone can be heard on a daily basis but not as it's spoken back on the Mainland. Portuguese can be heard in a European chat from Portugal and a lighter Brazilian tone from those folk who hail from Brazil originally. Leaving English as the third language spoken within the Ironbound, I feel very at home because English isn't the only language spoken in England. I will be living here until January 2013, but I know that I will return one day for certain! 

My days off are usually spent in NYC but I have lots of love for my Newark Ironbound community, going hungry is simply impossible within this part of New Jersey. I took the plunge during my first few days to discover the joys of the Brazilian and Portuguese delight of barbecue chicken that was served with rice and black beans. I fell in love with that hearty dish so much so I would walk from my Lafayette Street apartment to the boundaries with Newark Penn Station to Ferry Street BBQ for my usual 'frango' meal. Things are kept down to the line within these sorts of eateries, I constantly listen out for those Portuguese conversations that I wouldn't be able to understand but they would set the scene perfectly. Funnily enough I have lost weight since moving to Newark's Ironbound for my job with Virgin Atlantic, I know that it's down to lots of walking and keeping my energy up with good food! Yes, the good stuff B!

Newark chose me, with an industrial placement to complete as part of my degree I was given the chance to work as a Passenger Services Agent for Virgin Atlantic at Newark's Liberty International Airport. Calling the Ironbound home made it pretty simple to get the bus from Newark Penn Station for my split shifts, I have never been to a place like Newark in all my times visiting the US but I wouldn't want to change this experience for the world. With good food and a selection of lively bars I needn't of bothered going into the city during my down time! Apart from Ferry Street I live for Wilson Ave, it's got a gritty sense about it and a great place to have a drink or two with the sports playing in the background, that would have to be Blitz Sports Bar on the corner of Wilson Ave and Kossuth Street. Compared to my Walt Disney internship I have experienced a whole new world for sure! Of course, Michel Teló's hit 'Ai Se Eu Te Pego' has to be playing now! Obter sua vida! 

I'm not religious, nevertheless I caught a glimpse of a church that was featured in Steven Spielberg's 2005 movie "War of the Worlds". It's honestly insane to think I'm living within such a normal but amazing Newark neighbourhood, yes it does get crazy when the sunsets but that's the way she rolls. I like to refer to Newark as New York City's litter sister, she's knows how to hold her own and makes up for any of NYC's overcrowding with tourists because Newark's Ironbound district serves something special indeed! I don't think I'll be going into this said church because I always get side-tracked by Andros Diner on Wilson Ave, his nonstop all-American diner serves the best breakfast in town! Yes, I have to be true for the Ironbound keeps me full up!

My industrial placement will be concluding in just over a week, so I look back to my time living in the Ironbound with a host of amazing memories and to believe that I would not want to change a single thing! I know that in my heart that I will return to the Ironbound in the future, for when that time will be I just do not know? From those boozy afternoons at Blitz and the occasionally jug of sangria I know that being legally allowed to drink alcohol in the US this time around resulted in some crazy times! I may have seriously slimmed down with my constant walking to and from Newark Penn Station and my manic schedule at the airport but the hearty Brazilian food keeps me going! Ferry Street keeps it real, down to the core I know that living in the Ironbound requires attitude! Sim!

Meet Me In The Ironbound...

Joseph Harrison

25 December 2012

Season's Greetings!

The holiday season this year has been quite something that I've never experienced before! I've been introduced to Thanksgiving and I also went out for a lovely meal with my loves from the airport. I dreaded this part of year back when I started work at the airport but I don't know why I was so stressed about being away from home this holiday season?! O' Xmas!

The holidays are a time for family and friends, due to me being on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean friends have become family in a really lovely way. My Honey Bee's have played a beautiful part during this holiday season. In November, Leah welcomed me to her Thanksgiving celebrations. The British don't celebrate this holiday so it showed me something totally different. I loved my first Filipino Thanksgiving. I remember the amount of food that was laid out on the table and the customs that made me take a plate of food home, a custom I didn't argue with! OK! Things have changed so much this year I just don't know where all the time has gone?! I'm ready for whatever comes my way because life is a challenge that we just have to keep fighting! Newark has got under my skin, I want to leave but in the same breath I don't so I will enjoy this time of year. I'll leave the staff party out! I was wasted B! 

The night was set for myself, Fiorella, Valerie and Leah to meet for a Peruvian meal in the heart of New York City! I made my way over from Newark to meet Valerie and Leah at Journal Square PATH station, where we caught the train to 33rd St to meet Fiorella outside a random Starbucks close to New York Penn Station. As we all stood in front of Madison Square Garden we could feel the electric love from the Christmas lights that shone bright in the city. At Starbucks I became 'Jonny' because I must speak with such a crazy sounding accent?! Pio Pio was so busy but we got lucky with our cosy compartment, we loved our food and the time spent together chatting endlessly was priceless! I have been officially Peruvianised? The food was absolutely amazing! On our way back to the trains and buses we took some time in Times Square, we saw Britney up in lights and shared a timeless and precious moment together. Don't worry my loves for we shall be reunited soon! I love you all so!

I felt it was key to encapsulate what a NYC Christmas should really be, so I ventured to 'The Rockefeller Center' to see the Christmas tree. It did feel like I was starring in the 'Home Alone 2'! The atmosphere was perfect, so much so little flakes of snow started floating through the nights sky. I knew that my current American adventure would be coming to a close soon so I wanted to make sure I saw everything I could in the time remaining. Enjoying a Christmas away from home felt good to know that I could do this again in the future. I kept to my route and kept the time in mind, that Hurricane Sandy has made getting the PATH train quite difficult indeed! NYC has been an amazing place to live close to and to also experience the festive season!

What would you define as the traditional Christmas meal? Turkey and all the trimmings springs to mind, yes with Brussels Sprouts. I decided to break from tradition and go for some Vietnamese food, I went back to Pho88 Vietnamese Restaurant for my usual meal, it was a great break from my usual Christmas meal. Pushing my homesickness to one side I went for a cold Bubble Tea, setting my first Christmas Eve away from home to be the best yet! Happy times they have been so far and I will refuse to let that change on the 25th of December! Whatever happens next year I can assure you that I won't be taking the NYC Subway from Canal Street to make the last PATH train back to Newark! I don't know why I was worried being away?! Christmas Eve 2012 was so amazing! 

Christmas Day will see me greeting the VS17 flight from London Heathrow Airport. I volunteered to work as a couple of months ago the thought of Christmas wasn't something I was looking forward to. My placement year has changed me slowly but surely and I actually looked forward the Christmas period because I knew that when this time of year appeared I only had a few weeks to go before I would be boarding my Virgin Atlantic flight. But fast forward to present-day, I don't see working on Christmas Day as a bad thing at all. Who do you know that had the opportunity to say 'Happy Christmas' to one of Virgin Atlantic Airways A340 aircraft's? Even though I won't be at work until 9pm in the evening I'll be good till then. I shall look back at this year and smile, I have had such an amazing time this year, so I'm going to enjoy this Christmas whatever the big day brings! Welcome to Newark Airport! It's Christmas!

I'm looking forward to the big day really, before we attend our shift me and Valerie will spend Christmas Day afternoon together! She graciously invited me along to her friends house to be a part of their Christmas gathering. Americans tend to open their presents in the evening so we won't encroach on their family time. I'll be calling my family to wish them a 'Happy Christmas' so that will be emotional but I'll just be quick to make sure there's no tears before bedtime. I'm sort of looking for to a different Christmas Day, it will be a novelty to have a lie in as traditionally me and my brother would be up at the crack of dawn, that was a few years ago though. From our Peruvian meal to that Thanksgiving evening I've had some amazing holiday times with my beautiful friends. Ditching Bilston for the Rockefeller Center and Bubble Tea in Chinatown was an amazing experience that I'll forever cherish! Literally, I ate Vietnamese food in NYC on Christmas Eve that's bloody fantastic!

It's Christmas! Why Did You Take So Long?!

Joseph Harrison

15 December 2012

Good Morning Baltimore!

Stepping off my Amtrak train I said "Good Morning Baltimore!" Would the charms of Hairspray translate through to modern life Baltimore? I wanted to see what Baltimore had cooking up, I was ready to see something gritty! Trusting another landmark city along the U.S.A's North East Coast, I wanted to get to down to the 'Inner Harbor!' Maryland wasn't ready for me!

Another day, another city! Well that's a motto that I have been living by for the last year. My last trip took me to Baltimore, Maryland. My main motivation was to see if this city was anything like it was depicted in the film "Hairspray." I was quite impressed at what I saw! What you going to show me first? Baltimore! The Inner Harbour was my first stop, after getting off at the wrong light rail stop which proved to be rather Interesting. The December sun was lovely, the sun shone nicely onto the waters before me. I loved Baltimore because it was real and for me that counts for something! Harborplace, the surrounding area around the water looked modern, working nicely with the local feel of the area. In the distance was the Baltimore National Aquarium, this site definitely made the 'Inner Harbour' look a part of the modern age. This addition to the 'Inner Harbour' was something I was not expecting to see. Let's go B!

Baltimore didn't hold anything back, I kid you not! I have lost count of how many new places I have visited during 2012 for that I have been truly blessed! Baltimore, Maryland only stands a few stops away by train from Newark, New Jersey so I splashed out on the Amtrak to say 'Good Morning! Baltimore!' with some kind of class! Class? I don't know the meaning of the word! I wanted to see something that would challenge my senses and put me out of my comfort zone, lets be real I call Newark, NJ home right about now! Looking back at the 'Harborplace' I literally never knew that Baltimore had something to serve like that pocket sized harbour! Americans, why do you spell 'harbour' without an U? Let's leave the English differences behind and get down to business because I had a feeling that Baltimore wasn't going to wait for my adventure hungry self! Baltimore is located in-between District of Columbia and Delaware, so I got my freak on in Baltimore! Yes B, I love America!

Dominating the 'Inner Harbour' was the U.S.S Constellation, a vessel that is currently placed in front view for all to see at 'Harborplace'. The U.S.S Constellation was constructed in 1854, sometime before the Tracey Turnblad. This ship served during the Civil War and in 1999 was brought to sit in the waters of the 'Inner Habour' essentially becoming a point of interest and attraction with the Baltimore local folk and tourists alike. I believe that the U.S.S Constellation sat beautifully with the sun reflecting off its ebony exterior. Baltimore felt similar to Newark, NJ in some respects, these respects I shall not divulge to their full entirety. My year in America has enabled me to see several places that aren't featured in the tourist brochure, for that reason I see this as an experience as I've always got to be on my guard. Baltimore holds its own, serving a upfront personality that I identified with wholeheartedly!

Unlike NYC and Washington, D.C. Baltimore serves an individual flare that's actually quite endearing in some ways. Writing its own rules in a city that whispered to me that judging a book by its cover is just very rude and wrong to do! The sun shone bright during my Maryland outing but that December coldness made its presence known for sure! Time waits for no one, not even me so I didn't hop aboard the U.S.S Constellation for I didn't have plans to be in Baltimore when the stars would be in the sky. Baltimore didn't have anything to hide for the drabbest places always serve some first class shades of glam! Why I did I choose Baltimore? I passed through on my way to Washington, D.C. during August 2012 and I just wanted to see some of the ratchet scenes like I did before from my Bolt Bus window! Baltimore called me back some months later and I can wholeheartedly say that I was shown a day that I would not want to forget for a while! Go on with your glam self, Baltimore!

Moving away from the waters of the 'Inner Harbour' I discovered another historical point of interest. Preserved from the shipping days that have given Baltimore its prowess as a shipping city. 'Fells Point' gives visitors a perfect view at Baltimore in the past. It's linked well with the 'Inner Harbour' as there was good signage and also the waterfront was in constant view. The cobbled streets and picture postcard shops that stood in front of me were fantastic but something just didn't look how I envisaged things to be. I used to work at Disney so I know what an engineered attraction looks like! I really believe that the investment in this area will safe-guard the heritage and history of Baltimore, obviously not excusing for the current decaying properties in the nearby Ghettos. Overall, 'Fells Point' and the rest of its historical delights have been lovingly restored to a very high standard but I wanted to the crazy side!

Baltimore has a lovely corner of calm and restored history that honestly looked just smashing but I wanted to live life on the risky side, loving the drama gets me in trouble without fail! Throughout my day in Baltimore I saw the 'Inner Harbor' and war time ship and now a preserved corner of Maryland history. Why had it not occurred to me that I should of visited Baltimore a lot sooner!? Baltimore had shown me so much, stepping off my Amtrak MD bound train I was loving the variety of sights.  I'm going to be as honest as I want, its clear that my writing style is quite punchy and somewhat unapologetic at times but I don't need your confirmation or blessing because I'm going to fashion this blog and this publication from my own perspective. Oh! I got a bit lost then but I made my way out of 'Fells Point' in constant pursuit of Hairpsray's Tracey T! I love that film! 'Fells Point' had something special, it felt like I transported back to another time. Oh yes, Baltimore gave me life! 

Taking a walk away from the tourist appropriate streets of 'Fells Point' I made my way onto 'Eastern Ave.' Each step I took the feeling of the street changed, not entirely in a good way but it had the feeling of being in a bad council estate like back in England. Baltimore is a city that has grit, which I respect so all is not lost! If the truth be told, these new streets before me were more like the ones I had seen in the 'Hairspray' films. 'Eastern Ave' got a little bit too much at one point, I had made the decision to turn around to walk back closer to the Downtown area of Baltimore. So, breaking away from the predictable streets of 'Fells Point' to the slightly sketchy row-houses of 'Eastern Ave' showed me a small slice of the Baltimore that I set out to see. In this instance I seriously think that my Britney persona was completely to blame for that choice! Eastern Ave kept it real, OK?! 'Eastern Ave' was serving truth!

From the waters of the 'Inner Harbour' to the sketchy streets of 'Eastern Avenue' I believe that I saw the perfect blend of Baltimore. Will I get another chance to see more cities across the North East Coast? I don't think so, but my travels continue in two weeks. I love you Baltimore! I even took the liberty of wishing you a 'Good Morning!'. Let's just say that the next adventure will be a lot closer to base. So, yes I remember now! Eastern Ave put me in my place for sure and I always like to take things outside of my comfort zone for we need to grow and experience things that challenge us! Ratchet or not I don't care what anybody thinks because Baltimore showed me a day that was raw, edgy and very captivating for your information! Love the tourists traps but remember just down train line or the highway there's a new and undiscovered city that is waiting to show anyone what it has got to give! Maryland's provincial city showed me so much more, I was sad to leave that evening!

Good Morning Baltimore!

Joseph Harrison

7 December 2012

FWN EPCOT: Disney Love

Future World North, EPCOT within the Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando holds many happy memories from my program. Even now over one year on I'm still feeling the Disney Love and know in my heart that the friendships that I made will stay with me forever! My current stay in the USA has allowed me to reconnect with some of my dear Walt Disney Internship friends!

Being a New York City Boy I made it my first challenge to see my darling friend Ritika Kumar. Being that Ritika lives in Upstate New York and I currently reside in Newark, New Jersey we met in the middle Yes, NYC Baby! There's truly no other place like it for a Disney Love reunion. Our first encounter saw us take on the 'Empire State Building', I will not lie I was quite worried about the height but things were fine! We got slightly lost around Manhattan but eventually found our way, things got hectic towards the middle of our afternoon so we made it our mission to find an Applebee's to have some food. We decided to call Zach Airstarr because our Disney catch-up made us miss our Future World North favourites just that bit more! The drinks started to flow and before we knew it, we started downing some tequila shots! Things got pretty crazy but had a great first meeting but NYC was ready for us! No, not at all B!

Our second meeting took us to Central Park, where if I may add that the weather was sublime. This time around Ritika's older sister came along for the ride, we had a great time at Central Park for we just lazed in the sun and continued talking about our post Disney lives. Also during our second meeting we saw it necessary to visit the Disney Store in Times Square to be reminiscent of our time spent in Orlando, I bought a New York City Minnie Mouse plush and the cashier thought we were a couple, how odd?! Both of our meetings concluded with a visit to Applebee's, too many tequila shots and good times we have had at that epic American eatery. We're meeting for our third and final time this trip but I will making my way to Ritika's home in Upstate New York where we will no doubt find a Applebee's to terrorise! Ritika, I was genuinely blessed to have had this opportunity to see you again, until next time Ritika! If you made the cut, we're friends! No, life is not made of magic!

Life in Orlando as a Walt Disney World Cast Member was pretty damn fantastic, I worked in the happiest place in the world with a great bunch of people that opened my eyes to a whole new world. Lots of my colleagues were from Central, Latin and South America so the mix of Spanish spoken back stage, on the shop-floor and outside of work was amazing to hear. I met people from England to but it was amazing to forge new friendships with people from the USA, I had been to America many times as a tourist but I had never had that kind opportunity before, I was loving every moment! Accepting that job during my first semester at university, I made it to the USA! We can dream but only with hard work they can come true! Yes!

September 2012 saw me take to the skies to the 'Enchanted Island' of Puerto Rico, home to two of my fellow Cast Members who I worked with at EPCOT's Future World North. I had an amazing five days seeing the sights and enjoying the culture of that Spanish infused American Commenwealth nation but unfortunately I didn't get the chance to meet Valeria or Janice. I got on with my Puerto Rican holiday, spending most of my time within the timeless Old San Juan protected centre. Puerto Rico called my name because away from FWN EPCOT I made some extra special Rican friends who made my experience unforgettable! Let's just say I fell for the charms of Puerto Rico before I had even arrived on the island! Maybe one day we'll meet again, but we undeniably had fun in Orlando!

Breaking from the borders of the United States I made the journey to Toronto, Canada. I totally loved Toronto because Alexandra my Canadian lovely lives in this city! Getting to Toronto turned out to be a very stressful journey, missing my flight to then miss my coach connection that day to see Niagara Falls. I must admit that because of my unfortunate situation I was able to see Alexandra on my first day! After reaching Toronto I took up the challenge of exploring the city of Toronto. Later on that day I was reunited with Alexandra, we went out for a lovely dinner and got our drink on! Crossing the Canadian border was so easy, the immigration officers even wished me a nice stay, they predicted right because my weekend in Toronto was amazing! It's very crazy to think that my Toronto weekend inspired the title of this blog by Alexandra's caption for our photo together! I have a few secrets to tell!

As my current Industrial Placement in Newark, New Jersey is nearing its completion date I will soon be jetting off to see my Disney Diva, of course that has to be Zach Altstatt! He introduced himself as Zach Airstarr on the first night that I arrived at my Chatham Square accomodation, I was like 'has this fabulous guy named himself after a trainer?' I was very wrong but this lover of all things Lady GaGa became an amazing friend of mine, we even went out some shady nightclubs in some sketchy Orlando neighbourhoods with Alexis from Chicago but we slayed on the dancefloor nonetheless! I'm going to see Zach and his boyfriend, Dawin during the first week of January 2013 before I fly back to England. I honestly cannot wait to put the world to rights with Zach because we are quite the pair when we're in each others company! I know that I have thrown back my Walt Disney memories more than once but I wanted to give this post to celebrate my Disney friends who come from afar B!

Disney Love Lasts Forever!

Joseph Harrison

1 December 2012

The High Line, NYC: View From Up Above

October to now has been manic, I made it back to NYC to see something new. From Toronto to Montreal I needed to get back to the streets! This week I made It my mission to get back to NYC. There's something about this city that I'll never be able to shake away, would I want to forget New York City? Never! Jumping back on the PATH train to NYC to discover the High Line!

Taking a chance on the alternative route I chose the High Line. A once bustling network of track line that was dominated by rail wagons that carried cargo to New York City's 'Meatpacking District' and dock areas. How could a disused rail line on the banks of the 'Hudson River' be a bustling and cutting edge tourist attraction and local point of interest? The year is almost out so I wanted to seek something new because NYC is mega, so the odds of seeing a new places were on my side for sure! Looking for something completely different I exited the 33rd St bound PATH train from Newark Penn Station, getting off at 23rd St station to make my way to the High Line for I was ready to be surprised by this alternative NYC haunt, well it's more like a urban work of art! New York City has the perfect mix of city and sights, I love this place from the bottom of my heart! Yes NYC, your sleek High Line was worth the wait!

The once booming tracks of NYC's Westside are no more, a bright idea was accepted to transform the decaying elevated line. Before any intervention the High Line sort of created itself, due to nature and so on, plant life made its way onto the track bed. Along with a huge helping hand the High Line was thankfully restored into a beautiful and rustic elevated walkway. I absolutely loved the mix between the existing track line and the modern decking that looked perfect for relaxing in the summer sun, let that be for another time! I wonder if another city could recreate such a formula that the High Line has achieved? NYC is a city that has many faces and personalities that suit the changing pace of such a crazy cool place but the High Line has its own chilled out vibe, elevated on the former train tracks with its sculpted gardens and foliage, I want a UK version! I love the hustle of Times Square but the winding High Line is like the breeze compared to that crazy corner. Relax!

Stretching a little over sixteen blocks starting from Gransevoort Street in the heart of 'The Meatpacking District' right up to 30th Street. Bridging the gap between the industrial and tourist appropriate areas the High Line made me believe that its a cool and contemporary place to see New York City from a whole different view. Captured to the left is an example that shows Old and New can work well in NYC! What I loved about the High Line was that it made me feel that I was in a oasis of calm in the centre of complete mayhem, the mayhem being New York City. I loved walking along the pathway as the slow trickle of visitors didn't get in my way, for a mega-city I felt completely at ease as if I was not in NYC for the High Line's got chill. Let's go back!?

It's clear to see that 'The Meatpacking District' is undergoing a renaissance period, with the boom of several new apartments and developments being constructed all along the corners of the High Line. By this time of my placement year I had pretty much seen all the main tourist traps but had one more interesting place to discover, this being the High Line. Bearing in mind the season of winter is setting in, the frosty looking trees and under-nourished plant life looked perfect for the timing. Come on! I wasn't expecting to see the track bed full of colourful blooming flowers and healthy looking greenery, that would be simply stupid! Nonetheless, I was impressed with what I saw in the respect of plant life as they do say the autumn is one of the prettiest seasons, anyway that's what I think!

I'm definitely on the final assault of all things New York, my time living here is ticking, oh I know! the High Line is definitely a great and alternative way to see another side of NYC. If I might add the shopping just off the 14th Street exit looked exquisite, only my friend Leah could appreciate the couture on offer. If we had the money there would sure be a shopping trip on the cards! Lee let's save for Broadway! As I discovered the High Line I really got a feel for a side of New York City that I had never seen before. If you have an hour or two spare, then visit this cutting edge invention to see New York City from a whole other level. The weather was positively freezing during my time at the High Line, I wasn't alone, there was a mixture of tourists snapping photos and local New Yorkers taking a late morning jog, pushing through the December chill! New York City is magical! The High Line had me dazed.

It looks like the High Line will be steaming ahead due to a new construction program. A timeline was displayed on a notice board stating that during the 2012/2013 period, a new extension lengthening of the High Line will surpass it's current end point beyond 30th Street. I don't know when I'll be visiting the High Line again but I will make time for it upon my next visit to New York City! So, I have something to look forward to when I return to New York in the future. I've done it, I saw the High Line at long last even though it took me ten months to get myself over to this side of New York City I truly believe I saved the best for last! I feel really fortunate that I got the opportunity to see such a unique thing and that I will remember for a while longer. But I still loved what I saw and what has been created out of something old. It's all about the art of reinvention. My mornings stroll along that redeveloped former railway helped me forget about the freeze, I was feeling NYC!

I Love The High Line!

Joseph Harrison

26 November 2012

The Final Countdown!

Time is ticking by, the last ten months or so have been absolutely mental! I literally have less than five working weeks of my placement remaining, so I see now a good time to see what elements have made the final countdown. From my early morning shifts at Newark Airport to that leisurely Puerto Rico time, I have been blessed during this placement year! Yes, B!

I might not of mentioned but I have been working as a Passenger Services Agent since February 2012 as part of my university work placement. I simply had to serve an element of my airport days into this 'final countdown' post! From my first shaky days I have grown into the airport environment from my take on things, I'm now used to reaching Newark Liberty's Terminal B for my morning shift at 03:30 for our early morning VS18 flight bound for London Heathrow Airport. Learning to check passports, making sure those expiration dates and visas were in check took some consideration but I know what I need to look out for, nothing or no one who's shady gets past my check-in desk! Through the nature of the job I have built up a special and straight-forward character that helps me to get my job done! My friend Brit knows what I'm talking about, we all have those moments to deal with life! Don't we though B?!

Seeing the Virgin Atlantic cabin crew alight from their 'Golden Touch' coaches from their New York City hotel does make me think about becoming a flight attendant once I graduate from university but I'm enjoying the airport life for now. I have been fortunate enough to have worked in the Virgin Clubhouse since my early months at Newark Airport, I must have the flare and personality to be looking after some of the airlines most lucrative and famous clients? Whatever it may be I have built amazing friendships with my Clubhouse sisters, Fiorella Sanchez works with me some mornings and we have a brilliant time working our clubhouse to perfection! Yes, my working team is small and people do talk but I know what I'm here to do, I'm good with that! I won't lie, I'm going to miss the check-ins and conversations with passengers on daily basis, but I'm loving the journey! Working split shifts has made my sleeping pattern crazy, I cherish a full nights sleep but this opportunity wins!

Totally, Toronto? Yes, I boarded my first international flight since arriving from England to Toronto's Billy Bishop Island Airport with Porter Airlines. Thanks to our boarding gates being in close proximity I managed to get a helping hand when I missed my early morning flight from Newark Liberty! Typical that I work at an airport and I end up being late for a flight! Canada opened a new door for me, I stepped into a modern and funky city that was in the form of Toronto! I adored the vibes that Toronto's Dundas Square served, it was like breath of fresh air to see Queen Elizabeth on their Canadian Dollars and to hear a sort of familiar accent spoken! I had came to Toronto to see my former Walt Disney World co-worker, Alexandra had some time free during my dates in Canada, we planned to met up on my first evening. We went for a hearty meal at Jack Astor's, I found a proper can of Strongbow Cider at Jack's! O' Canada!

Marrying the night we pre-drank to the heavens, hitting Toronto's Gay Village I was in my element! I hadn't gone into experience New York City's rainbow night scene, so I was living to see the sights and delights of Toronto's best corner! Let's just say a great night was had by us all but a gentlemen never reveals such encounters! Bright and early the next day I somehow got my MegaBus to see the Niagara Falls, I don't know how I did but it was worth it! Standing behind the safety bar allowed me to see the raging waters of the Niagara Falls, if I looked closely enough into distance I could see the American side! Of course I visited the CN Tower, it was only a short walk from Billy Bishop Island Airport so I did that first but I didn't appreciate the price tag! During that time during my placement I had been given some crazy news to stay within the U.S border but I wanted to explore Toronto, Canada! I gave my 22nd birthday a French flavour as I spend it in Montreal, Quebec!

Summer 2012 was a memorable time for many reasons that have made the grade during this 'final countdown' post. Breaking out of the Newark's Ironbound I took the NJ Transit train down to Point Pleasant to relax and tan at the beach! The temperatures soared during August to digits that I can't remember! Like an adventurer I took a chance on Delaware to see what Wilmington had to offer, people told me I was crazy to visit that state but I was motivated by their negative opinions. Little did they know that Wilmington showed me three respectable sights during that summer day! Washington, D.C gave me some respite from the manic working hours I was pulling off at the airport, those late to early shifts had me fried! Two days in D.C did the trick, seeing those presidential landmarks along the National Mall injected some American pride into my life! Yes, the Obamarama Overness was all that I needed! Who said PR?!

I had almost maxed my holiday allowance, not caring about that one bit I booked up to spend five days in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico! Getting to the 'enchanted island' was no problem at all because Puerto Rico is a commonwealth nation that's part of the United States. I loved the Spanish colonial nature of Old San Juan's cobbled streets and period feature buildings. I took great pleasure exploring two historic sites, including; Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo San Cristóbal. Seeing the pride that Puerto Rico possesses was amazing as at every opportunity their very own Puerto Rican flag proudly fluttered in the breeze! I crisscrossed into a part of town that served an edge for sure, it was not a tourist experience but that's why I loved it so much! Captured above is the El Yunque National Forest, I took an amazing day trip where I felt like I had been transported to another world! My 'final countdown' now stands complete, I will make the most of my remaining five weeks!

Happy 50th Blog!

Joseph Harrison

22 November 2012

Montréal, Québéc: Bijou Du Canada Français

With my 22nd birthday fast approaching I wanted to enjoy myself in French Canada's capital city, Montréal. Taking off to the beautiful French inspired streets of Vieux Montréal, I made the most of my time in this beautiful Canadian city. Montréal, Québéc pushed me to make some new friends and to try something different! Bien sûr, le Canada Français était prêt à servir

Touching down into Montréal's Trudeau Pierre International Airport I made my way to my hotel in Vieux Montréal, which translates to Old Montréal. L'hotel became my residence for two and a half days, I had made a perfect choice of accommodation for a great weekend. Being that this trip would begin on my 22nd birthday I decided to splash out on a nice hotel. The art-deco infusion of the old architecture and retro art design set the perfect balance. I could have been a million miles away from Newark because the scenery around me was almost like a fairy-tale, Montréal's old town had captured my heart and I don't think I'll ever get over the contrast between this city and Toronto. My first impressions of how Old Montréal felt couldn't be put into words, if anything I pictured it France! French Canada was looking very different to what I had seen in Ontario! Oui, Toronto semblait être un monde loin!

It was after all the evening of my 22nd birthday and I wasn't planning on sitting alone in my hotel room! Jumping into the unknown I navigated my way through the metro system to reach Beaudry, a station in the heart of Montréal's Gay Village. I found a nice Portuguese chicken fast-food restaurant to get something to eat before I could toast my birthday properly as the Air Canada Rouge flight from Newark, NJ didn't have a good in-flight service. I was looking for something interesting to do, maybe grab some beers and see how the evening panned out. It was dark by the time I reached Rue Sainte Catherine and being a Wednesday it was quite quiet. I was learning that I didn't need to be in a group to have a good time, no I was fine because I'm a survivor! Choosing Club Sky to have my first birthday drink I even got talking to an Air Canada flight attendant who bought me dinner! Following on from the dinner I found this bar, let's just the rest of the night got scandalous for sure!

Montreal has such a amazing vibe, the fusion of old and new work together superbly. One of the main sights I saw was the outstanding, Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal. That cathedral commanded the attention and made the bitter cold look great! I must admit the French language that was spoken by the locals did sound quite familiar but had a different accent and pronunciation for certain words. I swear the history instilled within the buildings of Vieux Montréal transcended into the streets, seeing the street signs displaying the words 'Arret' instead of 'Stop' gave this part of the city a sense of individuality in my opinion. My birthday weekend was turning out to be amazing! I made a champion decision to spend my 22nd Birthday in Québéc, C!

I know that getting back on a Canada bound flight was the right thing to do! The November weather in Montréal, Québéc was bone-chillingly cold but it never stopped me from exploring the narrow street corners to see the hidden art galleries and restaurants, for which most of them served haute cuisine. I will be honest I didn't make the time to go to any nice restaurants whilst in Montreal because I didn't have the funds to pay for such lovely food, but I know that I will be travelling to France once I arrive back from my placement year in the U.S! Was I really in North America? Montréal had me under a spell and I was loving every single moment of it! Did I have a plan to execute whilst in Montréal? No, but I was taking in every moment! Montréal avait son propre plan de fou pour moi!

Taking the metro to the nearby neighbourhood of Mont Royal to see the Stade Olympique and Tour de Montréal. I reached the Mont Royal area without any difficulty but finding the Tour de Montreal proved to be a task that I never want to repeat ever again. I don't know whether the route I took was the best to choose but never-the-less I made it to Montréal's Olympic Park. During that Mont Royal afternoon I wasn't focused on finding the Stade Olympique immediately because the feel of the main shopping street felt so French, they possessed a feeling of familiarity as if I was back in the South of France. I did a lot of walking that day but it was all an experience, hearing the broken French spoken and recoginsing what some of the shop fronts meant. By the time I reached the tower it had just closed. I saw the whole journey and process worthwhile, I saw a lot of the Mont Royal area during my day M!

Fresh from a good nights rest and a hearty Chinese takeaway I packed my bags and headed for Montréal's Downtown area before my flight back to Newark, NJ. I appreciated Montréal's bustling city centre, the department stores served a sense of European cool whilst the architecture looked positively French! I found a HMV store, I stuck with the Canadian theme because I bought two Canadian albums plus a Kate Bush album, sorry Céline! From the winding streets to the slanted French conversations that both oozed Québécois realness, I completely understand that French Canada as Québéc has an identity that's truly its own take from France. The old town and port side of Montreal gave me life, I was exposed to a different Canada compared to what I saw in Toronto, Ontario when I visited in October 2012. My next Canadian city trip would ideally be to Vancouver, British Columbia but I know I have no holiday time left! Montréal, je vous remercie pour un grand voyage!

J'adore Montréal !

Joseph Harrison

20 November 2012

London Calling!

London called me back during my whistlestop trip to England, I am spending the week at home in Bilston with my family. Surprising me with a brilliant day in the big smoke I was spoiled by my mum! From our West End show to a lovely walk alongside the River Thames, I was blessed! Should I make a habit of leaving the country? Yes, it's so much better in London! 

Waking before the birds me and my mum took the early morning Virgin Trains service from Wolverhampton to London Euston, I was still in a daze because after living in Newark, NJ it felt so different compared to my hometown. My short trip is only for about six days then I'm back on the VS1 to Newark, USA! Pulling into London Euston it was then time for us to go 'underground' to get to our next destination. I now have a mixed view of the London Underground due to certain events from 2007 but I know that as time goes by my fears will evaporate like steam from a kettle. The first part of our day was such a whirlwind I'm going to need a few more moments to get back to what was going on! I had been more used to taking the PATH and the New York City Subway, getting used to the London Underground for the day was a nice change, I couldn't help but notice all of the commuters! Now, did somebody say 'Mamma Mia?!' 

Back in the city of my birth it felt right to take the London Underground to Covent Garden to have a nice walk around the Piazza, I have fond memories from when I was a little boy because I was born in London and I had the opportunity to live there until I was almost six years old. Feeling the atmosphere and the vibrancy of London's Covent Garden was great, it was lovely hear British accents and it was also quite amusing to hear the bewildered American tourists as they made their mark on London town! I was having a great time working and living in America during my work placement for university but it was great to be in the city that my Newark Virgin Atlantic flights head off to from my New Jersey airport base. Enough of that chat about the United States, it was lovely to spend the day with my mum without anybody else, I'm no longer a child but I always seemed to be spoiled every now and then! It was turning out to be a busy day, I was ready for the next! OK, London!

Catching a glimpse of the Tower of London as we made our way closer to the banks of the River Thames, it resonated the fact that London may not be home anymore but it still holds a special place in my heart and mind. Since I began blogging in March 2012 I don't feel ashamed to say that the photo that I captured of Tower Bridge looks mighty fine! I'm no professional blogger yet but it's become a passion of mine, a hobby for certain! The busy waters of the Thames looked ace during that chilly October afternoon. It was almost tine for us to head west for the next part of our full packed day in London. For that moment I took a quick second to appreciate London, it felt so different to me compared with New York City! No need for that America, B!

From a random angle it did get me thinking that 2012 has so far been a great year for the city of London! Now, I'm by no means the sporting type but I'm proud to say that I watched the opening of the London 2012 Olympics from my Washington, D.C hotel room. Recognising that connection with London it was something that created a sense of home, well from the respect that London will forever be the place of my birth. Plus, my American co-workers constantly refer to my home as London when in actual fact I have lived in the West Midlands for more of my life so far, it's no ones fault. Speaking of England and all of it's charms I was pleasantly surprised to see that the weather was behaving itself during our London day! Yes, the City of London looked great but I really wanted Soho! Now!

Taking our seats at the Novello Theatre in the heart of London's West End Theatreland, it was time to enjoy the musical spectacle that was 'Mamma Mia!' Inspired by the hits of that legendary Swedish pop super-group, it was an amazing show that was full of their best numbers like 'Gimme, Gimme, Gimme' and 'Dancing Queen!' Of course the whole show was as camp as Christmas, maybe it was camper than Christmas? If that was even possible?! Viewing the matinee performance meant we could have some tea in London's Chinatown, located just around the corner from the West End. I had experienced a very different theatre experience when I saw the Broadway version of 'Evita' at the Marquis Theatre in the heart of New York City's Times Square, I know that the British understand when applause should be given! Yes, we know that within protocol it's always polite to show thanks to the cast! Applause!

Tea that evening after the show was lovely, London's Chinatown can get quite pricey but each time me and my mum have a theatre day in London we find somewhere that serves a fairly priced set menu. We enjoyed our Chinese meal very much, it was the end of a lovely day that we spent in London. It was time for us to make our way back to London Euston for our train back to Wolverhampton but I do remember there being a complication with the 'Tube' so we had to make a mad dash for the train but we made it just in the nick of time! From my comparisons with New York City and taking the London Underground instead of the NYC Subway I had a lovely day in London! The show was very good and getting back to Soho was equally as pleasing, it was back to Bilston to spend my remaining days with my family before my return to Newark, NJ. London, you will always be a city that I adore! London, you are timeless! Enough of that soppy talk, it's time for Bilston! Major's Chips, please!

Love London!

Joseph Harrison 

7 November 2012

My Hometown Glory...

I've been on a several trips over the last nine months but something very special set this trip apart from the rest of the list. Making the decision to go back to England for a week did not take much thought. Meeting new family members, re-connecting with friends and making the most of being back in my hometown of Bilston, UK. I took back my hometown glory!

Embarking on my journey to become a 'Passenger Services Agent' for Virgin Atlantic Airways at Newark's Liberty International Airport, I knew two very important births would soon happen! Born eleven weeks between each other are my new baby cousins, Poppy Willow came first then she was followed by Micky Boy. I can remember the days that they were both born, so when I met them for the first time on the 26th of October 2012, it was a very special moment. Honestly, these babies are so beautiful, words cannot describe how precious they are. You could definitely say that they are the perfect new additions to my family. Meeting these babies had to be one of the highlights of my visit. Not forgetting my other cousin Indigo Nemo, he's almost five and it was amazing to see how much he had changed whilst I was away. It was official that I had become a new cousin twice over, I love those babies!

Landing back onto British soil I demanded that we had Major's chips for lunch the day after I arrived from Newark, NJ! As much as I love my American life I remain defiant that some of those home comforts cannot be replicated on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Had I been on a diet during those nine months away working in Brick City? I have definitely lost a lot of weight since I left for Newark, NJ but whatever my family say about my slimline look I know look good! The reality of being back home had not sunk in for the first 24 hours but I needed to snap out of that daze because I would leaving from America at the end of the week! Seeing my two new cousins for the first time had to one of the main highlights from my homecoming week! Had I just travelled as an Upper Class passenger on my London bound Virgin Atlantic flight? Yes, I truly felt like a superstar as I enjoyed my flat-bed seat and my gourmey airplane food that was served with lots of red wine! Fly B!

My trip home was something of a whirlwind as I only had limited time to accomplish all I wanted to do. I had to reschedule meetings with friends to January as that's when I return home for good. There was one engagement that I really wanted to fulfill, for this meeting was with my dear friends that make the CDC. Formerly known as the 'Christian Drama Club' we are a small drama group where I'm lucky enough to have found six solid friendships that will last a lifetime. Five out of seven of us met in Birmingham for a lovely day out, we went for something to eat, shopped in the city and to end our memorable day we enjoyed a coffee inside the Bullring at Forever 21. Being back in Birmingham for that day was very surreal as it almost feels like my American life has just become the norm, but I'll be living the student life in Birmingham soon! Will CDC make a comeback? I hope that we can reunite for a show or two! Maybe?

So, whilst I enjoyed my midland week of surprises disaster struck, Hurricane Sandy blighted the North East coast of America. As Newark is my home for now I was very worried that my flight would be cancelled and that my friends in New Jersey would be put at risk. It was a double edged sword, I was glad I was home safe with my family but I wanted to know my friends in New Jersey would be safe. It was mad to see New York City being battered by Hurricane Sandy because I have a lot of love for that city! The news channels and internet kept me informed when my friends lost access to Facebook, yes social networking sites actually has actually got a worthy purpose during a time like this one. One other thing was that it was very strange not to see my friends from the airport for a whole week. I had been in constant contact with them since February, so I really missed my VS Clubhouse sisters! Although, Newark life seemed far away but Bilston was lovely for that brief moment!

To top off the whirlwind week back home in Bilston, me and my mum went to London to see Mamma Mia! The Musical at the Novello Theatre, it was great a great show! Embarking on our London day trip was a early birthday present as I will be away in November for my 22nd birthday. It was a lovely surprise and a super day all round, we made it to the waters of the River Thames where I took some striking photos of London's Tower Bridge. Being back in London made it feel real as I had been working at Newark Airport within Virgin Atlantic's ground operation for their London Heathrow bound flights, now I could say that I recently been to the flights final destination! After our Mamma Mia theatre experience me and my mum went for a lovely Chinese meal within London's vibrant Chinatown, it felt certainly less 'Downtown' compared to NYC's Chinatown! My homecoming week in Bilston was truly amazing!

From my Upper Class arrival to meeting my new baby cousins I would say that this week was worth every second that I had missed home during my work placement! I had this vision before coming to America thing time around that these big cities like New York City is where the 'Beautiful People' exist, but this trip made me realise the most important people to me are right where I left them in Bilston. Departing again for Newark, NJ wasn't easy but I had booked a birthday trip to Montreal within French Canada's Quebec province for my upcoming 22nd birthday, I had to get back to Newark's Ironbound to continue my final three months of my work placement. Bilston had been everything I had wanted to be, I had never know that former industrial town to make such a great holiday destination?! Before I now I'll be home before my return to university in Birmingham but Newark, NJ requires my present for a little bit longer. Oh Bilston, thank you for being my hometown glory!

Back To Bilston! 

Joseph Harrison

28 October 2012

Flying High... Virgin Atlantic Airways!

35,000 ft in the air, I must of been somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, seated comfortably at the Upper Class bar on-board Virgin Atlantic's Indian Princess otherwise known as G-VGOA. My first trip home to England after nine months of working at Newark's Liberty Airport as a Passenger Services Agent took a unexpected turn. The Virgin Atlantic experience was flawless V!

Checked into my flight at Newark Liberty International Airport's Terminal B, I made my way to the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse for some early morning hospitality. After what seemed like a lifetime the day had finally arrived for me to fly back to England for a week! No word of a lie, I was treated like a superstar by the Lounge Concierges. I indulged in some breakfast, I had a bowl of scrumptious oatmeal with fruit and a glass of orange juice. After working with the Clubhouse team for almost one year I had made friends with the waiting staff, so I suppose it's not what you know, its definitely who you know! The Clubhouse was quite busy for the morning flight, I did my own thing and enjoyed every moment being a Upper Class passenger! I picked up my bags and headed for the TSA checkpoint to reach gate 55. Could my morning get any better?! I could tell my journey home with VS was going to be  amazing!

The final boarding calls were made by another new gate-lead in training. Gate 55 was poised for the daily departure of their London bound VS18 flight, finally I was passenger! Being ushered to take a few minutes until I was allowed to board did plant a seed of confusion into my head but all would become clear in the end? I just wanted to board my Indian Princess aircraft bound for Mother England, but would I still be sitting in 56D? Within little under ten minutes my economy seat was changed to 12A! My new seat wasn't in the Economy cabin anymore, it was at the front of the Upper Class cabin! I would be flying high with the wealthy and possibly famous, I had witnessed some famous faces travel in Upper Class and for that reason I couldn't believe my luck! It's no secret people have differing views of Economy and other lower cabins but on that freezing morning we all shared one common destination. I'm not here for bragging rights, I want to inform and share my story! Let's buckle up!

How could this be happening? After my passport was checked I made my way to my Indian Princess where I was greeted by the Flight Service Manager who was in charge of the cabin. I was welcomed on-board the aircraft with several friendly smiles and pledged to me that if there was anything that I needed, I just had to ask one of the cabin crew members throughout the course of the flight. I've always experienced top quality service during my previous Virgin Atlantic flights but this Upper Class experience would take me to new heights! I was in a state of shock, before take-off as I made my way to the Upper Class bar where I helped myself to my first glass of Champagne, a drink that I would become quite familiar with during that flight to London Heathrow Airport. I simply had to get a photo of myself stretching out on the purple fully-reclining seat. Oh, how I wanted to proclaim; "Champagne for everyone!"

Reclined, relaxed and feeling like a complete superstar I lounged in my seat and gazed at the Upper Class cabin in awe. It was time for the breakfast service to pass through the cabin, due to the layout of the Upper Class cabin there were no trolleys for everything was ordered and served to the passenger at their own table within their pod. A second breakfast? Do you really think that I was going to say no to another slice of Virgin Atlantic Upper Class hospitality? I think not! Silver service was present throughout the flight, I truly ate like a prince and enjoyed every course. I politely requested a Bacon Butty with a cup of English tea with two sugars and some milk, now if that's not a personal enough service for you then I perish the thought. I don't think I'll be travelling this way for a long time, so I wanted to enjoy every-single moment while it lasted! It was such a pleasure to see things from the other side, I am blessed to have travelled lots but that regal experience was ace!

Dinner was served about three hours into the flight, a lot of the Upper Class guests had requested their Upper Class pods altered into 'bed mode' for the early morning departure meant we had to check-in at Newark Airport from 04:30 am, I was completely euphoric, so sleep wasn't possible for me no matter how hard I tried to catch a few z's. I dined from the finest bone china plates and used silver cutlery as I enjoyed a flavoursome cheese-board accompanied by a deep glass of Australian Rioja wine that complemented the Stilton and crackers perfectly. Moving through to the main course I chose a sirloin of beef which was accompanied with garden vegetables in a red wine sauce, enough red wine? No! The steak melted in my mouth, that airplane food was exquisite! It was a shock to my system, I had never dined in such a opulent setting on-board an aircraft. Yes, I was loving every moment VS!

My entire flight could only be classed as mindblowing, I couldn't asked for anything more than what I received on-board my London bound flight. I was comfortable and extremely well catered for, I mad use of the Upper Class bar but always remained classy because nobody wants to be trashy at 36,000ft in the skies! My Virgin Atlantic Cabin Crew were extremely attentive and polite, nothing was ever too much trouble. From that point of view it has only made me want to pursue my dream to be a flight attendant. From the moment I arrived at Newark Airport right through to my express disembarkation I could not of faulted the high level of customer service and professionalism made by the Virgin Atlantic Airways Ground Crew and Cabin Crew! I was reclined all the way from Newark Liberty to London Heathrow with several intervals at the Upper Class bar, where I chatted with the Upper Class Cabin Crew. I could not ask for a more relaxing and comfortable flight! Oh, home sweet home!

Britain's True Flag Carrier!

Joseph Harrison

23 October 2012

Totally Toronto!

Crossing the U.S/Canada border had to be done, making a weekend of it I took off to Toronto! I was still a thousand or something miles away from home, so I adored certain similarities during my trip. I was ready to experience a new country, a country that still has my Queen on their money! From the top of the CN Tower to the mighty Niagara Falls, I totally loved it!

Arriving in the heart of the Habourfront area set the tone for this adventure. As I gazed up at the formidable CN Tower I thought to myself what a opportunity this was, I felt like such a fortunate soul as I gazed at the Ontario Lake. I took the lift to the top of the tower to see Toronto from a higher platform, the view was still astonishingly high considering the dreary weather. More about the weather, Toronto was so cold and the rain only made things worst. I was out of the United States of America, might I add the Immigration Officer that cleared me into Canada actually wished me a pleasant stay and I asked another officer for directions and she was more than happy to tell me where I needed to head for. Toronto looked mighty fine!

Descending back down from the towering heights of the CN Tower I thought to myself how extremely lucky I was to be in Toronto at the time! To my peril I had woken up at the same time my original flight was scheduled to depart from Newark Airport, it was probably taxing down the runway as I scrambled for my 'Gold Lincoln' taxi?! Thankfully, Porter Airlines had their check-in desks close to Virgin Atlantic so I called a favour to help me out in my situational panic! Before I knew I was up in the air and on my way to Toronto's Billy Bishop City Airport on my way to my first Canadian experience! Regardless of what happened during that early morning hour I had made it to my destination in one piece, I even ticked something off my travel list! Toronto, I was only getting started C!

Everything happens for a reason so I knew that my trip to Toronto, Canada would be a success no doubt. I have a habit of not printing any maps unless its attached to my accommodation papers so my first steps around Toronto were completely unplanned and navigated simply by the slightest hint of a Wi-Fi connection. Moving away from the CN Tower after my meeting with the clouds I ventured towards Toronto's Downtown district, by mistake I ended up checking out the Chinatown and the University of Toronto, but only at a glance. I attempted to take the underground metro but decided that my morning didn't need any more disruption so walking in the rain seemed like something that would bring more randomness to my already crazy day! The architecture in places did remind me of England, with some of the older buildings and the townhouses representing something familiar! I was back on track B!

After checking-in to my Downtown Holiday Inn hotel I met with my friend Alexandra for some dinner with her and her flatmates, I had worked with Alexandra during my Walt Disney World internship during the summer of 2011. Jack Astor's was our dining choice and might I add it was lovely. I was beyond excited to find a can of Strongbow Cider on the menu, something that I had not found in America at all! With our stomachs satisfied I was introduced to the LCBO, for alcohol was only sold from there and let me say it was like walking into a sweet shop but for alcoholic drinks! Going back to Alex's we got our drink on and showed Toronto's Gay Village what we were made of! I remember going to several bars but we ended up at Fly for the rest of the night, I had an absolutely amazing night and whatever happened I know that it got down right scandalous for all the right reasons! Up until that point I honestly couldn't believe how totally crazy my day had been in TOR!

Toronto seriously kept me on my toes during my weekend away from the USA! After my monumental mishaps from the previous day I had another set of surprises. I had originally planned to land in Toronto and then go straight to see the Niagara Falls but fate led me along a different path! Booking another coach online for the next day I managed to miss that one too, but thankfully enough the representatives from Coach Canada were excellent and helped me get on the next departing coach to Niagara! I had finally had enough of the crazy and quite frankly I just wanted to see the epic Niagara Falls! Pulling into the coach-stand close to the Niagara Falls I found out I had to get a bus from there to the central area by the falls, was Toronto trying to trick me or was I still too messed up from the night before? I soon after met with the mighty Falls and it was all worth it, everything had been building up til that moment.

Watching the 'Maiden of the Mist' sail close to the falls made the power of the water look like nothing like I had ever seen before! The area near to the falls looked like Blackpool's Pleasure Beach with the many fast-food restaurants, casinos and entertainment arcades. I chose not to indulge in that area because it wasn't what I set out to visit. I did have to take a few moments whilst I was taking the photos of the Falls because it was a once in a lifetime moment, almost like going to Disney World for the first time? This trip was turning into a complete whirlwind, from that moment when I thought I wasn't even going to make my flight and the rest of the mayhem! Visiting the Falls was definitely worth it, as I mentioned before I didn't pay much attention to the brash entertainment complex that sat next to the Niagara Falls. What was I to do next? After catching a glimpse of the American side of the Falls it was time to get the coach back to Toronto for tea and to take it easy.

The Yonge-Dundas Square looked very modern and cutting edge throughout the morning and night, it was almost like a chilled out Times Square. Downtown Toronto was a pleasure to experience because the crowds of tourists didn't make any difference, I found that I could get on with my sightseeing quite nicely. My Holiday Inn Express was located right across from the action of this area, it was a premier choice for a budget price! Being such a short trip I wanted to get as much in as possible, I was fortunate meeting up with Alexandra because our meal was around the Yonge-Dundas Square area, within one of the flagship shopping centres. My shoes got wrecked from the weather after I landed into Toronto so I found some Toms from this Downtown centre, I was very thankful for Toronto having some chill! I loved that Queen Elizabeth remains a figure in Canada, she's still on their money! TOR felt homely!

Concluding my epic weekend in Toronto after checking-out of my hotel I stopped by the Historic Distellery District to see what remained of that former brewing site. A lively network of shops, restaurants and cultural venues fronted me as I walked through Toronto's Distillery District that dated back to 1832. Making my way closer to the airport for my flight back to Newark, NJ, I had a nice walk close to Lake Ontario that finished my manic Ontario weekend perfectly. As a precautionary measure I checked into my Porter Airlines flight early to avoid any of the mistakes that I made before. The dedicated terminal and departures lounge was really slick with personal power outlets in all directions, I enjoyed complimentary snacks and soft drinks whilst I waited for my flight to be called. Let's just say the return flight wasn't so smooth, bad weather contributed to that factor but I got back to NJ in one piece! Yes, my weekend in Toronto was sensational! It was all Toronto!

O' Canada! 

Joseph Harrison

11 October 2012

Queen of Queens

Taking a break from the tourist map I trusted the New York City Subway system to the Borough of Queens. Manhattan gets too much sometimes and with a surprise day off work I mixed things up for a change! Trading my usual Brazilian cuisine for something from Jackson Heights, it was going to be a spicy day without a doubt! Was it the Q, N or R train? Go go Queen Bee!

Take the N, R or Q train direct to the New York City Borough of Queens. I took the R train and got a little lost but eventually, I made my way to Queens. What's Queens known for? It's home to John F. Kennedy International Airport, which happens to be one of New York City's largest and busiest airports. The comedy "Ugly Betty" was focused around this part of New York City too! But let's get one thing completely clear, crystal clear! I didn't go to Queens for those reasons, no but to see the neighbourhoods of Jackson Heights and Astoria. I would say that the areas of Queens that I saw appeared to be safe and didn't pose to bring me into any dangerous situations. I would definitely recommend this corner of New York City because it doesn't serve what the predictable places do within Manhattan, for me its all about taking a leap into the unknown! My Subway ride from Newark was long, I need Jackson Heights!

Arriving in Jackson Heights was like arriving in no other place that I'd previously been to in NYC before, walking onto 73rd street transported me to a colourful Indian neighbourhood! Before my eyes the streets were lined with countless Indian restaurants, Indian bridal wear stores and Bollywood DVD stores. Honestly, I felt like I wasn't in America for a few minutes as this street felt as if it could be of been in Southall, London or Pleck, Walsall. It was a definite relief to hear people speaking Hindi and other Indian languages as most people in New Jersey and New York speak Spanish and Portuguese but that's not a criticism, I would say it was a nice change for I hear the same sort of languages so it was nice to have a change! My Industrial Placement isn't just about work, trading my afternoon shift after my morning shift got cancelled I wanted to make the best of the day! I had been hesitate to explore The Bronx so Queens had to be done before I would miss the chance! Oh yes, NYC!

As I walked through the Asian infused streets of Jackson Heights I was attracted to this film poster, a beautiful Indian actress headlined a new film called "Heroine!" I chose to visit one of the many Bollywood DVD stores and found out that the beautiful actress went by the name of "Kareena Kapoor". I bought the DVD without hesitation as I don't watch many Bollywood films, it's only right to have a respect for world cinema. I started to become really hungry, so I realised pretty quickly that I would have been a fool not to have some authentic Indian cuisine in Jackson Heights for the streets were full of pungent aromas of the many curry restaurants. I finally decided to chose a modern looking restaurant called "Delhi Heights". I ate well at 'Delhi Heights', the open buffet had many tasty Indian dishes that suited my taste buds very much, I also indulged by having a cup of Masala chai. Better still it was all for $16.00!

My Guyanese friends from the airport were of Indian heritage and they would always harp on about how Jersey City had the best Indian food, maybe they'll take me to one of their favourite places soon? Nevertheless, the feel of Jackson Heights took on a third personality, as I walked beneath the tracks of the overground Subway train I had been on earlier that day I sensed a Latino vibe going on! I didn't have anything to eat but I sure intrigued, catching a sign I could tell I was close to LaGuardia Airport! My Delta flight wasn't faraway! Since being in New Jersey and New York City I have been relishing the chance to see these culturally infused neighbourhoods, yet more sights and smells fronted me as I moved away from Jackson Heights' Asian corner. I had even done one better than my American colleagues, some of them hadn't even been to Queens yet and they had lived in the NY/NJ area since they were born or when they emigrated from their birth country! I wasn't doing too badly!

Moving on from the Desi infusions of Jackson Heights I took the N train towards Astoria-Ditmars Boulevard to have a nose around another side of the Queens neighbourhood. I wondered if this next part of Queens would be fit for a Queen like myself!? The subway journey into Astoria showed me that this section of Queens is undergoing a huge change, something of a revival that's keeping the buildings of yesterday looking in good health for today's modern and fast-paced generation. I loved Astoria, for it firstly posed to be a very Greek and Turkish part of town with its tavernas and specialised butchers but the further I walked into the maze of tightly-knitted streets the vibe changed to a Middle Eastern vibe. From the Greek and other Eastern European charms these new streets that stood before me oozed several Arabic cultures from Yemeni, Egyptian and Lebanese influences. Queens, NYC had everything!

From the Hookah lounges to the Halal meat suppliers and spice traders I felt like I was walking along a road of International relation and adventure! The shear change in cultures gave me life, those tavernas and grocery stores had said goodbye, it was refreshing to see that Middle Eastern vibe for sure! I wish I had time for a bite to eat but that wasn't so! Feeling contented with my Queens outing I needed to get my tricking self back Newark, New Jersey for I was probably on the early shift, connecting to the Wi-Fi at a McDonald's I found the nearest Subway station to make the journey back over the Hudson River. Taking the risk paid on in the end, it pays to be spontaneous from time to time! Who knows next year when I go to Turkey I might see some stores that remain me of the Arabic themed hookah lounges and barber shops from Astoria? I'm so glad I traded my shifts away so I could have a stolen opportunity to see another side of NYC! Yes, I made those dollars back!

She's Royal! So Royal! 

Joseph Harrison

9 October 2012

The Spirit Of Boston

Breaking away from NJ, I boarded my Amtrak train to Boston, Mass! From the 'Freedom Trail' to Harvard University, the great city of Boston had many different charms that make this city so individual compared to its Northeastern cousins, D.C. and New York. Boston showed me something familiar with its many British towns names, a sense of colonial charm could be felt.

Taking a stroll through 'Boston Common' to capture a quintessential view of Boston, it was one of those places where I stood still and visualised the what the colonial British way of life would have looked like back in the 1600's. I tried my best to block out the gloomy weather as I walked through this spectacular park. Boston possesses all the key ingredients to be a perfectly balanced city with a small-scale feel, unlike its cousin New York City that doesn't have a second to think about anything else. I must admit the weather in Boston was identical compared to a drizzly and unsettled winters day back in England, needless to say the similarities will never end! You could say Boston was not quintessentially American! This trip was a quick escape from Newark, NJ for being in the current concrete surroundings of Newark's Ironbound it did feel good to be surrounded by some green park space for a change! Boston had spirit!

My trip to Boston was quite a spur of the moment thing, before taking my stroll through Boston Common I arrived into the city's own South Station by an Amtrak train from Newark, NJ. I didn't want to take the coach, leaving Megabus for the return leg of my trip I enjoyed the coastal route as the states of New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island before arriving in Massachusetts. That Mass trip was the first where I stayed in a hostel, not feeling as plush as my D.C. Marriott splurge I saw nothing wrong with that Hostelling International Boston dorm room. The area around my hostel was crazy, it was slightly unnerving at points but I had become accustomed to the streets of Newark and its Ironbound District. Forgetting about my 4 am alarm I had a great walk around the cosy city streets of Boston's Beacon Hill side of town, a familiar sense of an English city came to me as the dusk fell over Boston. Concluding my first evening I decided to see 'Pitch Perfect' at the movies! Yes!

I wanted to seek something different, something regal whilst I was in the city of Boston! On my second day I decided to take on the historical 'Freedom Trail' its a must to when in Boston. The 'Freedom Trail' was a really easy way to see the top historical buildings that this city boasts and to see others sides of the wider city centre area too. Some of the top picks include; Massachusetts State House, Boston Common, Park Street Church and the 'sensational' Fanueil Hall. Captured to the right is 'Fanueil Hall' a place that oozed a colonial edge! Navigating the trail was somewhat complicated at certain stages as the red line on the pavement disappeared every once in awhile. I took this challenge very seriously for I hadn't gone to Boston to sleep! Nevertheless, I soldiered on through the trail aiming to see as much as possible. I got stopped by two students who asked me if I was voting for Obama! Oh, no! I'm a Brit!

Even though my working hours at the airport get crazy I wanted my trip in Boston to be full packed, making sure of that I wanted to see more of the Freedom Trail. By chance,I found the charming preserved neighbourhood of Bunker Hill, loosing the red line somewhere along the way I found the historic war ship the USS Constitution docked in front of me. Finding myself along a normal residential street I must of taken a wrong turn, trusting Boston for that moment I came across a serene colonial maze of pastel coloured houses, the area felt like I was back in the days of the first British settlers in the New World. Looking up I saw a grey tower, the Bunker Hill Monument took me an age to climb to the top but the misty view of Boston I got from the top was well worth those stone steps. The Freedom Trail had showed me heaps, I now understand why I didn't entertain any of Boston's nightlife because I was constantly on the move. Yes honey, Boston had me exhausted!

Leaving a quiet corner of the city near the USS Constitution I got onto the metro to Harvard. Yes, the world famous Harvard University.' I wanted to see the American University that everyone talks about when they visit Boston, I have to say that I wasn't disappointed! What a formidable looking place this educational institution fared to be. The small Harvard Square oozed perfect student environment with a difference, I would say its gave a sense of borderline kitsch, for it was still a student town after all. I decided to take a break from my military style sight-seeing antics by having some really tasty Chinese food at a local Harvard town restaurant, I must say that the price was very kind to my wallet. Peering through into a courtyard with many coloured chairs I knew I there was going to be limits. Of course the student halls looked just like they did in the movies, well the dorms! I had UCB not Harvard!

Stepping back into time I took the commuter rail to Salem in search of a witch hunt. Choosing to take a rail journey that I no clue about, departing from Boston South Station I set out for Salem. No, the Sanderson Sisters weren't going to be making an appearance, with that being said I had high expectations of Salem but saw a town that heavily relies on the distant witch trials of 1692. On the whole I tried my best to look past the tourist haunts to find an original grave memorial for the women who were hanged, all believed to be witches. Now that's mad! Making the most of my last hours in the 'Bay State' of Massachusetts I stumbled upon 'Pioneer Village' a modified village that resembled British life in the 1692 era. Making for a great end to my Bostonian trip I got real, rushing back to South Station in just the nick of time for my Megabus back to New York City! From the feelings of home to the bizarre tourist traps of Salem I couldn't of possibly taken more in that weekend!

Get Me Back To Boston!

Joseph Harrison