New York: Day One.

New York Subway station – a hub of energy. A constant crescendo of noise. Passengers were coming and going, trains were constantly arriving and departing. Everything was so fast (after all it was New York). Amidst the hustle and bustle, we stood staring at the subway station map. I’d say it was more like a puzzle. The different coloured lines were heading off in all sorts of directions. It was like a kid had been let loose with a set of marker pens. Confused, we had to find our destination stop. Our hostel, New York Budget Inn, was situated on 34th St and the nearest station was Lexington ave. All we had to do was follow the green line – simple. Oh, how very wrong we were. Lost, tired and extremely sweaty amongst overcrowded city, we sought refuge on the corner of the street and rooted out the map. After finding our bearings, we headed down the road with our eyes peeled looking for the big bright sign. There was no big bright sign. Snuggled in between a restaurant and pop up newsagent, we had reached our destination. All checked into our 4 bed dorm, we took off our shoes and took five minutes. I have never been so grateful for air conditioning in all my life. At half Eleven, once we had refreshed ourselves and got out of our sweaty travelling clothes, we decided to head out and explore. After all, we were in the city that never sleeps. Engulfed in the crowds all heading in one direction, we reached Times Square. Speechless. I have never seen so many lights in all my life – well, it wouldn’t be hard coming from our house where lighting is a luxury. All of a sudden I felt alive with energy; it didn’t feel like midnight at all. Shops were still open and their queues building thick and fast. Performers plastered the square. Tourists invaded every inch of space. Homeless people sought refuge on every street corner. The square hummed with noise. There was nothing quiet about this place. My neck felt stiff from the constant craning and my jaw sore. I was in awe. I had lost sense of everything; time, tiredness and all things familiar. Yes, I felt like a tourist, but now I felt like a real traveller. After being mesmerised by the nights scene, we headed back to the hostel and soon were out for the count.

Early the next morning, we prepared ourselves for the day and heading downstairs for breakfast (Dunkin’ Donuts and coffee). Of course we were too late. Parched and famished, we headed to the nearest cafe. Needless to say it was a Starbucks, just one of New York’s 202 stores. Fed and watered, we wandered aimlessly along Fifth Avenue and headed back into Times Square. Unchanged from the night before. New York was a big place, we were aware of that, yet we wanted to see it all. After a few minutes of deliberation, we decided that the ‘sightseeing buses’ were going to be our best bet for the next few days. Perched on top of the bright red bus, you could tell we were tourists from a mile away. We met our tour guide, a happy-go-lucky kind of girl, who fed our appetite to learn more about New York. Stopping and stalling on the road, Downtown, she reeled off facts and figures about the buildings which ran either side of us. As always, most of this information went in one ear and out the other. I was too busy trying to make sense of everything which surrounded me. However, I do remember one fact – it was about the Empire State Building. It only took them one year to build it – all 1,250 feet of it. You’re probably thinking to yourself who on earth built it? Well, surprisingly, I listened in to that bit too. If any of you know the famous picture of a group of men eating their lunch on a steel boulder a few hundred feet from the ground. The typical bathroom painting. It was them.

Much to our dismay, we had to cut our journey short, as we jumped off and set off to explore Soho. So-ho beautiful (sorry, I really couldn’t resist). The place where Kim Kardashian has a boutique shop – Dash, Bloomingdales – the place where Rachel works in friends and finally Brandy Melville, the place which Amy follows on Instagram (surprise, surprise – it is a very stripey shop). Only a stone’s throw away from the commercial and tourist trodden central Manhattan, Soho with its whitewashed buildings and elegant cobbled streets was a complete contrast. We pottered down the street as though we were well-to-do celebrities, ignoring the fact we both had a budget for the day. If one place could have described us, it was Soho. Shabby-chic cafes, vintage bookstores and independent shops- it felt like an American Sheffield. Hasten to leave before we spent the whole three week budget!. On the side of the road, we hailed our ride. Unfortunately it wasn’t a top of the range Bentley or a luxurious Ferrari, it was the big red bus again. After a cracking tour guide on the previous bus, we had high expectations. It’s safe to say we were disappointed. The patronising and patriotic man, sat in American flag socks and bleach white trainers, barely spoke two words for the entire journey. Relieved we had reached our stop, Downtown Manhattan, we made a swift exit. Stopped in our tracks, he set straight his tipping policy. Let’s just say ten bucks was the minimum rate. After escaping the fraudster, we found our bearings and headed down to Ground Zero.

Ground Zero. A very solemn place. The atmosphere was very absurd. Its perimeter was outlined by tourists and the noise around it was somewhat deafening. However, there was a strange feeling of emptiness. I could feel the hairs on my neck and goosebumps on my arms. Despite the respectful setting paying homage to those who lost their lives, the monument was being used as the backdrop for tourist’s selfies. There is a time and a place. Standing proud, only a few feet from Ground Zero, is the One World Trade Center – a symbol of strength, determination and a country hungry to rebuild itself after such a devastating historical event.

Taken back and touched by this setting, we decided to grab some food and wandered down the pier to catch the Staten Island ferry. Of course, we went the long way about doing it and ended up on the side completely opposite from where we needed to be. Once aboard the ferry, we were rocked from side to side, trying our utmost to keep down the margherita pizza which we had just consumed. On our voyage along the Hudson River, New York opened itself up. New York looks so different when you’re outside it. As we passed the lady herself, (the Statue of Liberty), it made me realise what a proud country America really is. There is something about America which is so different from the culture we are all so familiar with. By the end of the day, my feet needed an awful lot of TLC, by that I mean a new pair of shoes needed to be purchased. We were both exhausted, we could no longer feel our feet and we were faint with hunger. There was only one answer. Pizza and Netflix.

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America Road trip 2015: From LHR to JFK.

On August 24th, I prepared to embark on my first real journey as an adult, turning 21 only a couple of days before. I woke up that morning feeling a mixture of emotions. I felt overwhelmed with excitement as I knew that in a matter of hours I would be reunited with my best friend for the first time in three months. Deep beneath the excitement, I was a bag of nerves. I was hit with the sudden realisation that today was the day I had to get from London Heathrow to John. F Kennedy airport – alone. Like most people, flying was not unfamiliar. Flying alone was. Despite knowing it wasn’t hard (after all I only had to get from A to B) I was convinced something was bound to go wrong. During the two hour drive down to Heathrow (which involved a few wrong turns), I went through exactly what I had to do and where I had to go umpteen times. Finally, I had arrived at my first stop off point. Extremely nervous with my passport clasped tightly in my hand, I made my way through London Heathrow airport – Terminal 3, Zone A to be exact – to the Virgin Atlantic airways desk to check in my garish rucksack.

Arriving at the terminal with a headache and a 25lb rucksack I needed to get rid of, I wandered aimlessly to figure out where I had to go. I headed to the desk and was greeted by a woman caked in makeup and dressed up to the nines. I had a double take at the screen above me to make sure I wasn’t checking in for a flight to Benidorm. After a short encounter with the China doll, I was directed to the oversize baggage point (a point I now know is non existent). The only thing oversized was a Cockney in a hi-vis jacket slumped on a dirty trailer with the odd pram and suitcases suffocated in cling film. After a few grunts, he asked me where I was going and told me to dump it on top. I was convinced the bag wasn’t going to follow me to JFK – no matter how big or bright it was. Nevertheless, the bag was on the trailer – all straps tucked and tied – so all that was left to do was head to the dreaded security. I’ve always disliked going through security because you always enter with a guilty conscience. I made a quick mental note of what was in my bag and had almost convinced myself I had something absurd like a pair of nail scissors in there. It’s like a gold mine trying to find scissors in our house, so the chances of finding a pair in my bag was pretty slim.

Once I had sailed through security, I made my way into the lounge and let Amy know I had made it this far. At this point, I was wondering where she was on her travels and couldn’t help picturing her chuckling at the thought of me and my travels. During the months running up to this day, we would always joke about how I wasn’t going to make it to her completely intact. I nearly bet money that I was either going to end up on a plane to Singapore or I was going to meet her with an extra baggage of stories about my mishaps along the way – so to get this far was an achievement. I found a seat closest to the screen and with a boots meal deal in hand sat staring at my flight in hope that I wouldn’t lose it. After 15 minutes, I realised I couldn’t sit and stare at it for the next three hours. In desperate need of comfort, I paraded the lounge in hope of finding some slouchy seats. Once satisfied, I put my feet up and pulled ‘Don’t tell the Bride’ up on BBC iplayer. Three hours and an abysmal wedding later, I boarded my plane and prepared myself for the six and half hour journey over the Atlantic Ocean (after realising I had downgraded my seat during the online check – in)

Landing in JFK at 18:50 after a relatively smooth ride, I took a huge stretch and grinned at the fact I had actually made it – Aisling Monica Kiely had actually made it. After waiting for what seemed like ten years in the queue, I made my way up the desk to be greeted by the hard faced security man at customs. The hard faced look didn’t last long – it was an Irish fella. It didn’t take for him long to cotton on that I had an Irish name and from then on the jokes came flying thick and fast. Typical, as always I was the first one in and last one out. I managed to escape him, with a few awful jokes in the bank and a thick American stamp marked in my passport. I picked up my orange sack, said goodbye to the other lone traveller I had met on the plane and made my way to the double doors. Thrashing my way through the double doors, with a ridiculously heavy orange sack on my bag, I was faced with a sea of faces – among these faces I had to find my best friend – it felt like a game of where’s wally. In true Liverpudlian style, Amy shouted my name and we ran to each other, separated by a thick metal bar and squeezed each other until we nearly burst. Pacing up our separate sides, we were reunited for one final time and she asked about my journey. An array of feelings took over my body, yet relief was the most over powerful feeling of all. I was relieved I had made it, however I was so relieved to be back in the company of my best friend, still as smiley as ever – just this time a lot more tanned. Filled with excitement, we made our way to the Airtrain, shouting over one another in an attempt to fill each other in on three months worth of news. Three months apart. Nothing’s changed.

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