Monday, 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! I'll make it count!

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! I know what I'm talking about, we all have those moments to deal with life! Keeping it 100, 24 hours, 7 days per week!

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 year has been a winner!

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! 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 Puerto Rico?

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! Sure, I'm living!

Happy 50th Blog!

Joseph Harrison

Thursday, 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 the 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.  French Canada was looking very different to what I had seen in Ontario! What good is sitting alone in your room? It's not! getting on the metro I found the Gay Village, getting some drinks and some dinner I didn't exactly for it all! I knew what I wanted! Enoying the evening I went to a shady looking venue as the midnight hour neared. I made that birthday night count, those details don't need to be mentioned but what happened gave me a French flavour for certain! That's enough! Oui, le Canada sert la variété! J'ai adoré le Canada Français! O'Canada!

Montréal had such an amazing vibe, the fusion of old and new worked superbly. 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! Was I in Europe or North America? I lived to hear the Montreal folk speak their strand of French. It wasn't like the tone that I had learned at school. if truth be told I was glad to hear something that I couldn't quite understand. The mystery of the French Canadian chat impressed me much as I explored the winding streets of Vieux Montreal. I really need to get back to Canada in the future! If only I had the funds to enjoy the fine French Canadian food, I turned to the beverages!

Regardless of the time or day, I made sure that I spent some time beside the waters of the St. Lawerence River. The freezing cold temperatures felt fresh compared with the ice cold bite that Jersey is serving right now! Looking upstream it was crazy to think that the French Canadian province of Québec, most of Canada's colonial past can be traced back to the British but Québec had the French paid a visit after 1535. Back in the 15th Century I would have been standing within a place called 'New France'. I felt that the Old Port would have had seen many French vessels pass through its waters. My visit to the Old Port was short but it was sweet, looking back it's been great to look back into history to see how diverse Canada's past has been, no wanting to comment on its pre-colonial existent. 'New France' may not exist any more but Québec serves as a part of Canada's present French connection. Cette 'Nouvelle France!'

Did I see Quasimodo? Did I see Judge Claude Frollo? No! One thing that I did see was the outstanding, Basilique Notre-Dame de Montréal. That cathedral commanded the attention and made the bitter cold look great! 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, Canada! My time management skills were shocking, I wasn't on my travelling game because my birthday had me messed up! I didn't go insider the Notre-Dame, the outside was enough for me. No Esmerelda either! Getting it back to the second day I got my hangover self sorted, I think a repeat visit without so much sauce needs to happen in the future! With all the twists and turns, Montréal had my birthday on another level! Oui, MT!

Keeping on my game I washed the hangover away, got myself out of bed and onto the Métro de Montréal! Getting out of the Old City, I had my sights set on Mont Royal because I had done some research about that normal looking French Canadian neighbourhood. Taking the 'Orange Line' from Place d' Armes to Mont-Royal. If truth be told it was great to walk along Mont-Royal Ave East. I didn't hear any English spoken as I walked along that normal Montréal shopping street, it was a comfort in many ways. The vast  majority of signage displayed along that road on the shops and restaurants made me feel as if the Atlantic Ocean had shifted that Canadian province back to France. Did I need or want to buy anything? No, I was happy with my window shopping during that French Canadian day of exploration. I definitely got lost but I found my way before the sunset. I need to revisit Mont-Royal with an iPhone for maps!

Le Stade Olympique de Montréal stood before me, I had been following the darken street signs with hope a metro station would appear. I had majorly messed my hours up, the stadium had closed to the public but it was easy enough for me to catch a few glimpses of the facilities. By that time I had been walking all day, the hangover was real but I needed to carry on. I really liked the 1970s concrete structure of the velodrome with its circular concrete design. L'observatoire olympique stood over me, it was like a skier who was poised to take on a huge mountain top course! After having a sly walk inside the Velodrome I found the metro, taking me back to Place d'Armes I found the Chinatown area that had been hiding before then. Ordering up a storm I took my food back to my L'hotel room in the heart Vieux Montréal. The day had been successful regardless my lack of technology nor forward planning. I rested well that night, there would be no alcohol or tricks turned!

Fresh from a good nights rest and a hearty Chinese takeaway, I packed my bags and headed for Montréal's Downtown area before my afternoon Air Canada Rouge flight back to Newark, NJ. Catching some of the 'park life' was much needed, within the open grounds of the magnificent Basilique Cathédrale Marie-Reine-du-Monde et Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur. Shamefully, I didn't pay any attention to that cathedral, although I did sense a royal presence in the form of Montreal's 'Queen Elizabeth Hotel' by Fairmont. How, 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! I bought two Canadian albums plus a Kate Bush album, sorry Céline! From the winding streets to the slanted French conversations both oozing Québécois cool! C'était tellement royal! Oui!

Montréal compact city centre had me on the 747 bus route that would take me back to the Aéroport International Montréal-Trudéau, that's how I found the downtown in the first place! My birthday trip to Canada's Québéc Montréal city gave me much to explore and to seek, from the charming French streets of Vieux Montréal to the delights of the Gay Village. My budget priced luxurious hotel room had me in the centre of the 'Old City' with the Notré-Dame on my doorstep! The Québécois French Canadian conversations and language had me feeling as if I had hopped over the Atlantic Ocean to Paris, France! This autumn has been a very Canadian time, it's definitely given me two sweet escapes! After my Toronto and Montréal visits, I know that Canada won't ever become a stranger! It will be a few years but I definitely have Québéc City, Ottawa and Vancouver set in my Canadian travel sights! Le Canada français m'a ouvert les yeux sur une nouvelle façon de vivre au Canada! Je reviendrai!

J'adore Montréal !

Joseph Harrison

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Who's Calling? ... It's London, England!

London called me back during my whistle-stop 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 NYC Subway, getting used to the London Underground for the day was a nice change, I couldn't help but notice all of those commuters! Now, did somebody say 'Mamma Mia?' Sure, London! 

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, sure I was ready for the next! OK go, London!

I caught 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 business, America!

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, next!

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 camp as Christmas? If that was even possible? Sure! 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 for London! I love London, so!

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!

I Love London!

Joseph Harrison 

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

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. Of course I took back my hometown glory, B!

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 gourmet airplane food that was served with lots of red wine! Fly high, fly high!

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 fulfil, 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 Virgin Clubhouse sisters! Although, Newark life seemed far away but Bilston was felt 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 an 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 a lot less 'Downtown' compared to NYC's Chinatown! My homecoming week in Bilston was truly amazing! London was lovely! Yes!

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