USA Tag

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Things to do in Boston

After a quick visit to Massachusetts, I've put together a short list of things to do in Boston. The city is quite compact and tourist-friendly so it's possible to pack a lot into a day if you've got some commitment! One of the most enjoyable things is walking around and getting a feel of the city, which is a lot more European than some of the other US cities. Although, a word of warning, it can get bitterly cold! Freedom Trail This is the most popular tourist attraction in Boston and it’s a must for any traveller who wants to understand a bit about the city and its place in American history. The trail is a path through the city that takes walkers past important sites. You can do it yourself for free or you can do a guided tour. The best place to start is at Boston Common and follow the...

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12 October
washington, national mall, US politics, economic problems, white house, lincoln memorial, washington monument
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Is the sun setting on America?

Sunset at Washington DC On a visit to Washington DC, I was reminded of that old phrase, “the sun never sets on the British Empire”. Walking down the National Mall, the sun was setting behind the Lincoln Memorial, casting an orange glow before darkness fell over America’s seat of government. It may seem a little bit tacky but the symbolism of the sun setting on the United States couldn’t be ignored. There’s a strong argument to be made that the superpower’s influence around the world is waning as the US finds itself powerless to tackle within its own borders a deep inequity that calls into question the fundamental standards on which it has stood for so long. I promise this will be the last of this series of political essays (and I know those of you who want more stories about restaurants that serve penis will be pleased to hear that). However,...

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11 October
JFK, John F Kennedy, Barack Obama, library and museum, Boston, Massachusetts, politics, analysis
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JFK – before he was an airport

JFK Presidential Library, Boston There’s a moment on a tour of the JFK Presidential Library that brings on tears. Around me, as I stood there, some people sobbed. I could even feel that slight sting in the eyes myself. The moment comes right at the end of the exhibits in the room dedicated to that fateful day in Dallas. Unlike the other rooms before, there were no glass display cabinets or typed explanations. It was just a room painted completely black, a date on the wall – ‘November 2, 1963’ – and television screens with that infamous broadcast of Walter Cronkite informing a nation they had lost a president. The sadness comes not from the act of the assassination itself, which is now a part of history rather than a pain in the national consciousness, but from the realisation of how great and inspirational a president can be. At a time in...

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07 October
boston freedom trail, history, politics, massachusetts, famous buildings in boston, how america's history has shaped it
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It’s time to grow up, America

The Boston Freedom Trail It’s in Boston, the city sometimes described as ‘the cradle of America’, that we pick up this story of ‘America, the resentful adolescent’. You see, to stick with this metaphor, the USA has been a rather spoilt child over the years. It was born into privilege with rights it feels are indisputably intrinsic. But as we’re about to find out, it might be time to pack away the cradle, to not rest on its birthright, and to make a name for itself as the adult it could be. Now, just before we go on, there are two things I need to say. The first thing is that I’m going to drop the silly child metaphor from here. And the second thing is that this is not a politically-motivated story and is not taking aim at either side of the ideological debate. What you’re about to read is an...

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06 October
new york, times square, pretzel vendor, where can i get a pretzel in new york
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The pretzel man’s the bread-winner

Surrounded by the throngs of pedestrians, the horn-tooting traffic and the flashing jumbo screens of Times Square, Chris quietly goes about his work. He’s claimed his territory on the corner of 43rd Street, marking it with the smell of pretzels as much as the trolley he sells them from. The streets of New York are filled with street food. On almost every corner you can buy nuts, kebabs, hot dogs and plenty more. Many of the vendors are young (and most are immigrants) but Chris is a bit of a pretzel veteran and has been at his trolley for more than a decade. We get chatting when I stop to buy a bottle of water from him. 20 years ago, he tells me, he moved from Greece to New York. “I also wanted to go to Canada or Australia but I got a visa for America first so I came here”, he...

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04 October
where is jackson heights, queens, new york, neighbourhood, garden apartments
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Ugly Betty lives here… and other Jackson Heights facts

Taking a short trip from Manhattan on subway number 7 is like the ‘Small World’ ride at Disneyland. You sit, watch and listen as nationalities, languages and accents swirl around you in a dizzying cacophony. It reminds me of my visit to the Anaheim theme park as a six-year-old. (Expect without the fairy floss… and the tantrums when I wasn’t allowed any.) I’ve been taking the 7 train a couple of times a days since I arrived in New York a week ago. That’s because the 7 (the only purple train line on the subway map, incidentally) takes me from the madness of Manhattan to the apartment in Queens that a friend has very generously lent me. Although to describe it as Queens is an injustice. I’ve been staying at Jackson Heights, officially one of the most culturally diverse neighbourhoods in the USA, and one of those areas that the proud...

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03 October
Occupy Wall St New York, protest, demonstration, Wall Street, US, NYC
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Occupy Wall St

Not far from the New York Stock Exchange, which now has more barriers around it than a fortnight ago, protesters are still occupying a park as part of their campaign to… to… well, to do whatever they’re trying to do. The hundreds (and, at times, thousands) of people who have been gathering are committed to a cause. The problem is that it’s not necessarily a common cause – and it’s a cause that they have trouble enunciating. In theory, the campaign is based around the distribution of wealth, regulation of large companies and universal welfare. You wouldn’t necessarily know that on quick glance, though. The mainstream media has been giving the demonstration limited coverage and a lot of the independent journalism seems to have been fairly nonjudgmental, as if supporting the cause somehow makes them more in-touch than other media outlets. So I thought I would head into the financial district myself...

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30 September
The Ace Hotel at Palm Springs, celebrity, glamour, Hollywood, desert, party, oasis, accommodation, motel
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Finding an Ace in Palm Springs

Glamourous Palm Springs In the romantic days of Hollywood, decades ago, when movie stars were glamorous and mysterious, rather than trashy and mass-produced, there was a desert hideaway where they would gather to get away from the lights of the big city. Two hours drive from Los Angeles, in the middle of the scorching desert, the biggest stars in the business built themselves an oasis. It was called Palm Springs, the name apt for the illusion of shade and water that was so artificially replicated. Bob Hope, Shirley Temple, Ginger Rogers and Clark Gable were some of the stars who found relief in Palm Springs early on. Coming later were the likes of Elvis Presley and Elizabeth Taylor. Today, the city is still popular with the Los Angeles movie and music sets but the A-list shimmer has faded. It seems to be more about money than talent – a fitting parallel to...

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29 September
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Sign of the New York times

It's been less than 24 hours since I arrived in New York and already I've been astounded by something that so fits the American cliche that I wondered if it was a joke. I just can't quite comprehend why this sign on the subway is necessary. Does it say something about New York society? Or is it just a simple statement of fact? If you have a suggestion, please let me know in the comments below. ...

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23 September
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US Road Trippin’

It was on the third night of driving that I finally gave in, my eyelids heavy and the rest of my head throbbing from a lack of sleep. Despite wanting to stay conscious, fatigue beat good intentions in what had become quite a battle of attrition… and I fell into a slumber, rocked by the movement of the van. Don’t worry. Before you panic, you need to know I wasn’t behind the wheel of the van - the twenty year-old blue and white Chevrolet van that guzzled the gas but made up for that greed with a generosity of space and comfort. No, the driving duties had fallen to TJ, the nomadic musician who was in a rush from Los Angeles to Chicago, and had picked me up as quickly as he’d picked up speed on the desert highways. We were strangers to each other, but we had come together for...

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12 August