New York

One day in May this year, in the midst of panicked revising and one too many snacks, my friend called me up to ask if I wanted to go with her to see a play she’d spontaneously bought tickets for – only after I said yes did she tell me that the play was in New York. So began the months of booking flights, finding an airbnb, and mass excitement as we planned are first trip to New York (for the grand total of four days there). I thought, instead of doing a day-by-day description of what we did each day, I’d go through the things that were completely different to London – from transport to food to the weird and wonderful.

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Times Square

Our first full day we managed to find our way to a CVS to pick up the necessities, swinging by a Dunkin Donuts on the way back to see what the fuss was all about. Then we started our journey to more central Manhattan, which is where we first experienced the subway, which still confuses me. We succeeded in finding the right station and descending into the depths of their underground, purchasing a Metrocard that we could use for the rest of the day. We then failed by going through the barriers, only to see that we were on the Uptown platform. ‘Not a problem’ we thought, our naive London minds going instantly to memories of ending up on a Northbound Victoria line train instead of Southbound. Surely this number 6 train would be the same.

We were very wrong.

Turns out that for some stations, the only way to get on the right platform is by crossing the road above the station itself. There’s no underground path to the right platform, no, you’re stuck. So starts the hasty exit and the pleading with the staff on the other platform to please let us through because our Metrocards told us that they were ‘just used’ so couldn’t possibly let us onto another platform. It’s safe to say that for the whole subway trip we reminisced about the London underground system, with the coloured tube lines that have names instead of a mix of numbers and letters. We also missed the armrests some tubes have, which stop people from taking up three seats instead of one. (It seems we also lived up to British stereotype and complained a bit).

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Grand Central Terminal

What I found most interesting about the layout of New York was the fact that it was a grid, all straight lines and corners – very much unlike the higgildy piggildy layout of London with it’s various twisting alleyways and secret paths. With New York, your directions were just ‘straight up until you get there’ or ‘take a left then a right’. Each street was a number, counting up and down. Still didn’t mean that we had an easy time not getting lost. We had numerous, desperate hunts for wifi spots in order to connect to Citymapper so we could find our way around.

On a side note of public transport, their traffic light system needs some serious work. For pedestrians, there are no buttons to press in order to get the lights to change – you just have to wait until the red man turns white (instead of our green). Not only that, but when you cross the road, cars can still turn in. No wonder there were so many signs for the majority of accidents happening on corners – as you cross the road, cars are still speeding around bends, hurtling towards you as you try and make sure you don’t end up being roadkill.

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We went to see Hamilton and it was incredible.

Besides the obvious highlight (aka Hamilton is the greatest thing I’ve ever seen/heard/experienced), food was what I was most looking forward to trying. Everything seemed to be bigger and far sweeter than anything we’d ever tasted, and experiencing a proper Diner was great fun – from all the memorabilia on the walls to the waiters carrying fishbowls of filter coffee. However, there were a few things that weren’t as good as I had hoped – chocolate, for one. Hershey’s chocolate doesn’t even hold a candle to the classic cadbury bar. There was also a place that asked me whether I wanted my tea ‘hot or cold’, as if ‘cold’ was an option for a mug of green tea. Barbaric, I tell you.

And the final thing that left us completely perplexed, was tipping. My god, the tipping. We had some vague idea that you tipped around 15% at lunch, 20% at dinner, and that was all we knew. We were already astounded by the fact they had notes for $1, and the coins were all cents and quarters. Somebody seriously needs to write an ‘idiots guide to tipping’, though come to think of it there probably already is one. What had us confused was the way you tipped when charged by card. How it’s supposed to happen is this:

Your meal costs $20, so they charge you that amount and on the receipt you write on the tip, eg. $5, and then the total $25. They then take that receipt and ‘close’ the cheque (side note, you don’t ask for the bill, you ask for the cheque), charging you for the total you’ve left.

Yet no one told us this. So up until the final day, we were asking to be charged $25, and writing $20 total and $5 tip on the cheques. After getting the impression that the waitress was acting offended when we asked to be charged $25, we asked if she could explain. Then came the laughter, the look in her eyes which, as someone who works in retail knows, meant ‘I am so telling everyone this when I go on my break’, and general amusement at the British girls.

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Beautiful view from our trip on the Staten Island Ferry

With a lack of signs and queues, it’s sure that NYC is a very different place to London, but I loved it nevertheless. The pancakes were incredible, Broadway simply magical, and the High Line is a sight I won’t soon forget. Part of me wished those four days would never end, but my bank account was very glad that there was a limit to our stay. And that, in a nutshell, was my experience of New York.

p.s – to any English travellers, do not, I repeat, do not, ask where the ‘loo’ is. It is always the restroom. ‘Toilet’ might get some funny looks too.

p.p.s – to any London travellers, be warned that not only to people make eye contact out in the open and on public transport, but Americans are prone to starting up conversations with complete strangers. Gone are the subtle sighs and tuts, instead are out-loud complaints and nudges to the person next to you. *shudders*

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Room for Improvement

It’s unsurprising that there a very few people who feel 100% happy with themselves – be that of their physical appearance, mental state, achievements, wealth, and more. With unfair media representations, everyone has expectations which are often unattainable. Personally, I’ve struggled with feeling happy in my own skin, as mentioned in several posts(see here and here and here), but over the past few years I’ve been able to feel more confident about my work achievements and, every now and then, I feel better about my looks.

However, there is always room for improvement – or, at least, that’s what my mind tells me. It just doesn’t matter where I get to, I’m still making comparisons with everyone I see. Why can’t I be as effortless as her why do I have acne why I am I podgy in really inconvenient places why why why. 

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It can be a pretty nasty cycle to get stuck in, looking at everyone else and wondering why they are all so much better than you in completely different ways. But I came across some inspiring quotes – probably discovered through late-night scrolling on the internet – that gave me a bit of a kick up the arse. Instead of just wallowing in self-pity, why not actually try to do something about it?

Some things have quick remedies. For example, I hated the fact that my heels were so rough with dry skin. One trip to lush to buy a foot scrub and some lotion, I had one less problem to obsess over. Earlier on in the year, I was panicking about my future, but after sending several emails and spending a couple months in sheer panic, I secured an internship.

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Now I’m onto physical appearance, and that’s a bit more tricky to deal with. I decided that I wanted to be leaner and fitter, rather than thinking about weighing less because focussing on my weight just depresses me more than anything else. For some people looking at weight helps them focus and gets them motivated, whereas for me I see that number, crawl into bed, and eat some crappy food to try and cheer myself up – which really doesn’t help the initial problem.

At the beginning of this year, I started doing yoga in an effort to do some exercise during the week and although I don’t always manage to fit it in (sometimes due to being busy, other times due to sheer laziness), it has helped me a lot. Now entering the new year, I’m debating between starting up running or joining a different sports society, so we’ll see how that goes. To try and help the rest of the ‘podgy in inconvenient places’, I’m trying to eat slightly healthier from here on out. Normally I’m not bad with what I eat, but I could probably do with eating some better, nutritious meals to help my body out.

So, yes, ‘room for improvement’ can be a bit of a risky mantra, especially as it implies that you are never perfect, but who the hell is perfect? Striving for better is hopefully going to do more good than harm, so we’ll see if this new regime manages to stick. Though I’m sure that serving of chips and mayonnaise I had yesterday doesn’t really help (it’s ok, I had a really healthy breakfast to balance it out – I mean, that’s how healthy eating works, right?).

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Back to Basics: dragons, books and nibbles

Long time no see – I’d tell you the usual excuses for my absence (aka hello essay(s) my old friend, it’s not nice having exams again), but instead I’ll let you listen to me ramble about something pretty ordinary. In fact, you could call it rather basic – which is the idea, because I’m going back to basics.

Now I’m not really talking about this by focussing on student life, such as how most of my diet revolves around simple pasta, bread and veg. It’s more of a Tuesday afternoon musing session because I’m now on my last essay of the term and in the midst of revision and, honestly, I’m trying to channel my procrastination into something ‘useful’. (Yes, I’m counting blogging about my feelings and useless thoughts as beneficial – just to ease the guilt).

Seeing as I’ve already mentioned food, let’s go to the ‘nibbles’ part of the post. I don’t know why, maybe someone can come up with a fancy explanation about sensations or whatnot, but everything seems so much better with a dip. Crisps and dips? Yes. Pita and taramasalata? Hell yes. Cucumber and houmous? Always. (Apparently you can spell it as houmous or hummus according to Wiki, so no complaining) Just any nibble-y food in general just seems so much better. Little bites of food can sometimes seem so much better than huge bowls of something, and actually dipping food into something seems so much better than stabbing it with a fork.

Next up on one of my musings: books. It’s a known fact that when Kindle was first released, I was practically the captain of the pro-books team and anti-electronic books. There’s just something about turning a page and holding a real book and that new book smell? Only thing that beats that is the puppy smell. However, one Christmas I was given a Kindle and nothing was the same again. Suddenly I could buy 4 e-books for the price of 1 regular book, not to mention that I could now fit over fifty books into my bag when going on holiday with ease. Not to forget that you can basically read in any position and one-handed. Forget days past of crumb troubles getting stuck between pages and the arduous task of trying to turn a page with only one hand. I admit, the Kindle changed me. When I upgraded to a Kindle Fire, it only worsened. Now I could actually see the book covers as well and ‘flick’ through my library with a swipe of a finger. I can highlight, look up word definitions by just tapping a word and get the best book recommendations. I can go online and buy a book within seconds. Now when I finished a fantastic book at 11pm, I didn’t have to wait until the next day to get the sequel – with a simple tap, it’s on my Kindle by 11.02pm and, before you know it, I’ve finished the trilogy by 3am – completely satisfied.

BUT, this is called Back to Basics, and the reason I’m yammering on about books is because I’ve recently started going crazy over actual books that I can hold in my hands. It all started with a Waterstones voucher and the introduction of the Clothbound Classics. I am now darting back and forth between Kindle and real books, in love with both of them. I now know that I can’t go back to using just one format – a healthy combination of the two suits me just fine. I’ve got into the habit of buying the really expensive books on Kindle to save some money and the really pretty books in proper book format so I can stare at them whenever I like. (What a life I lead.)

Finally, I get to the part that probably interested you the most: dragons. Now, I’m sure you’ll probably be disappointed as it’s not about Game of Thrones (but still, so excited about Season 5 – Team Daenerys all the way). What I’m actually talking about, has a loose connection to dragons I’m afraid. I’ve found that my eyes get pretty blurry most evenings (I’ll be impressed if you can see where I’m going with this) and it’s probably due to the fact that all day I’m staring at a screen. I look at powerpoints during lectures, my laptop when I write essays, my laptop again for research as all of our material for university is online, my phone to contact my friends and family, and, most of the time, my Kindle to read. It’s not really surprising that my eyes get sore and need a break, one of the reasons I’ve been getting back into reading proper books.

Still, I hear you cry ‘What the (insert swear here) does this have to do with dragons?’. I’ll tell you, dear friends. I soon realised that I’d need to do something in the evenings that required little focus, would give my eyes a rest, but still be interesting enough that I would enjoy it. And so, the moment you’ve all been waiting for – the idea came to me in the form of dragons. Origami dragons. It’s reasonably entertaining and I now have a string of them flying across my room – it’s as close as I’ll probably get to a proper dragon.

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Anyway, I hope you’ve enjoyed this post with musings that are sort of connected under the vague title of ‘Back to Basics’. Catch you next time.

Day 3 in Manchester

I am happy to say that today was better than yesterday, mainly because we can smugly say ‘We know tomorrow’s news today’ because, well, we worked on it! Both Bekki and I woke up with slightly less-cricked necks, but unfortunately I then had to pick out some popcorn I’d missed in my bed last night.

It felt really cool turning on the TV this morning to see stories that yesterday we’d been writing about, but what did break my heart was the awful news of the passing of Robin Williams. I grew up watching Aladdin, Jumanji and, my favourite, Mrs Doubtfire. To think that such a wonderful person isn’t alive anymore just makes me want to start crying all over again.

Work today was a lot more interesting than it was yesterday and, thankfully, it rained today only once when we were inside – progress! Guy Patrick, the head of The Sun Manchester office and who gave us the work experience, was back in today and it was great hearing from him. Over a cup of coffee, he told us all about a typical day and the usual going-on’s of the office and even of the bad reputation The Sun gained after an article entitled ‘The Truth’ which still to this day stops many Liverpool readers from picking up The Sun. For those of you who aren’t aware, this article was stating that victims of Hillsborough were disrespected by being urinated on or having belongings taken by Liverpool fans. This wasn’t said to be fact, but someone working for The Sun ran the article and entitled it ‘The Truth’. Despite the fact that no one involved in that article works at The Sun anymore or the fact that no one at The Sun now condones it, people still boycott The Sun for this reason alone.

I find it so interesting that a single article can have such an impact and that, fifteen years later, it’s effect hasn’t waned.

Anyway, after that we went back to the office and helped out one of the reporters research by trying to find out some facts like location etc. It did feel a little like detective work at one point, but the best part was spending most of the day on Twitter searching for any leads or information.

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After that, we had the chance for more coffee and talking with two of the reporters we’ve been working with telling us about their very different pathways into journalism. One went from the bottom to the top, making her way through agencies until landing a job at a national newspaper and the other got into the Sun on a graduate programme. I always love hearing about how people get into the jobs they’re in now, but their advice was not to do Journalism as a field of study in college/university – not because it’s bad as many people in the office did Journalism at university, but they reasoned that if you have a degree in something else (like English, History, Geography etc) then at least you have something to fall back on so you don’t have to worry should Journalism not work out as well as you’d hoped.

After our second round of coffee, we were back to the office to have a look into features which was really interesting. It was more like a Buzzfeed style and basically our task was finding the source of a Vine video, finding out the names and ages of the people in it and where they were from. We then had to take it a step further by saying what made this certain Vine interesting and scrolling through tons of internet pages to see if we could find any quotes to use.

Finally it was the end of the day and, after movie night, Bekki and I were knackered. This was really shown on the elevator down as we stopped on the fifth floor, but Bekki wanted to get a move on so pressed the button to close the doors. I’ll probably never forget the look on the poor chap’s face when he looked up to his phone to see the long-awaited elevator arrive, only to have the doors shut in his face.

We went home for a quick breather, and my favourite part is when we use our card to a room as when you insert it in the door it makes a little buzzing sound that sounds like the door is burping. Then went straight back out again for dinner at a really sweet little Italian called Caio Bella that was basically underground – Bekki’s first time in a restaurant! The windows at the top of the restaurant showed the pavement, so I won’t be walking past in a skirt anymore. The food was nice and brought to us quickly and, again, cheap! We both had two courses each (and I couldn’t finish all my main dinner, which never happens, so they weren’t shy in portions) and it was all only £8.95 with drinks excluded! Thinking about it, we’re doing really well on the not-spending-all-our-money front.

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We’re back at the hotel now still trying to drag out the great day seeing as I’m missing my prom at home which, although kinda sucks, doesn’t feel too bad as I’m out in a new city meeting incredible people and working at the UKs top newspaper – yeah, not too bad at all.

Day 2 in Manchester

The day didn’t start off well as the uncomfortable hotel bed left me with a crick in my neck, not to mention the crazy hair; the provided hairdryer was broken so through the night my hair settled into a mussed up, frizzy, wavy mess. Really good way to make a first impression on the journalists I’ll be spending the rest of the week with. I really wanted this to be the day to waltz into the offices looking polished and perfect, with my action face on. The universe decided that today was not that day.

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Bekki and I left the hotel a bit too early and stopped by Costa for breakfast. It was all going well until we tried to access the toilets, only to find that there was a code for the toilets on the bottom of the receipt….is this normal? I feel like this isn’t normal, mainly because it’s never happened to me before. What’s wrong with leaving the toilets accessible without a lock?

On we marched to the building where The Sun office was located and it’s safe to say that it looked incredibly imposing, which made us feel a little out of our depth. At the reception desk, we were greeted by one nice receptionist and one not so nice receptionist who must not have had her coffee fix this morning seeing as when we went through the wrong entrance (who knew there was a wrong entrance?) she spat out ‘Come on, wake up girls’. Again, not a great start.006003009

Up we went to the sixteenth floor and when we finally arrived we warily crept into the room for The Sun, Times and Sunday Times like two children entering the teacher’s lounge for the first time. We found the table which belonged to The Sun and for the rest of the day spent our time with four reporters (I think). Everyone had their own space with a new computer and old keyboard, not to mention the large TV on the wall that was on Sky News all day. 

The first task of the day was reading today’s papers, making sure we were up to date and hadn’t missed any important stories. Then we went online and scanned through all the local papers we could find, searching again for any big stories that had been missed and should go in the paper or any new, fun, quirky stories that could make the national cut. 007

This was pretty much what we did throughout the whole day, apart from two attempts at writing articles. I’m not sure if I can say what they were about until the paper is printed tomorrow, but we were able to write an article, get some great feedback on how to write in The Sun’s style, and even see the article written for the same story that is being used. I found it really interesting how the style was all about being short and punchy, no superfluous language anywhere. I suppose this could be why The Sun is so popular – it’s accessible to everyone and you don’t need to be an expert in anything to understand certain articles.

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Bekki and I took a quick lunch break to a great place called Chopstix – not only was the food good, but it was really cheap too which really helps with saving money for the rest of the week. 

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Back again to work, we had another attempt at writing an article before going back to searching for interesting stories. We found articles about teddy bear cameras, sheep on a motorway, cardboard sculptures, and grannies that were under 40 but, alas, everything we found was either already covered or a few days too old. 

We just about managed to escape the rain, but Bekki almost had a heart attack when a bus blew its horn – who would have thought she lived in London?! Back at the hotel, we ordered some extra pillows hoping that tomorrow we’ll wake up with our necks far happier. We also tried to sort out the hairdryer issue, only to have a very flirty maintenance man from Greece appear and ended up settling down in our tiny room for a chat. It took several very subtle hints before he finally left and he winked six times in total in ten minutes – yes, we counted. 011

After deciding we were going to have a pub dinner tonight, we found a pub called Yates which had 2 main courses for £8.95. YES you read that right – for the both of us. Being a student in Manchester must be so easy!

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So that’s it for today as we’re settling in for a movie night – thank goodness    for Film4 – and here’s hoping to a another great day tomorrow. Eleanor, out.