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By paultogneri

New York, NY. It’s without doubt the most famous city on the planet and the first geographic place that anyone thinks of when it comes to the United States. Growing up it was always ‘The America’ that you seen on Television, so being able to travel there for a few days whenever I feel like it, takes some getting use to.

In Europe we’re use to cheap airlines, Ryanair will get you pretty much anywhere on the continent for not a ridiculous amount of money - provided you are of course willing to put up with the whole ‘Ryanair experience’, which involves constant in your face advertising and generally be treated like cattle. If you want to travel cheaply in the US, then the answer is Megabus.

Megabus have a fairly expansive network, meaning it’s possible to travel to almost any State on the East coast for as little as $5 if you book in advance. Megabus exists in Europe - it was actually founded and still owned by Scotsman Brian Souter (a big supporter of Scottish independence btw) - but with much higher gas prices, yet cheaper air travel you wouldn’t necessarily use Megabus for a journey lasting more than a couple hours.

I’d strongly advise taking the bus when you can, especially with the free wifi, it’s good for catching up on that assignment that’s due tomorrow…

New York itself… is well, New York. I thought this would be a fairly easy blog to write, but where to start… It’s incomparable to almost any other city on the planet and despite visiting the place three or four times, I’ve still to make it to things that were on my list for trip one.

But here’s just a few tips:

1. ‘Top the Rock’ for the best views.


Despite not being the tallest building in Manhattan, the Rockefeller Center offers perhaps the best views of Manhattan. It’s also the home to NBC, so you get can get a tour of their studios as part of you journey to the top.

2. Central Park for urban refuge.


The refuge from city life. From the ice rink, to boating, to the zoo. You could easily spend days inside Central Park without wandering back into the concrete jungle.

3. The High Line


Built on an elevated section of a disused railway, the High Line is a 1.45-mile-long park that cuts through Manhattan’s lower west side and snakes through the skyscrapers.

4. Go see where Brett & Jemaine lived!


If you’re a fan of New Zealand's ‘fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo’, you can go check out their old apartment building in China Town and the ‘New Zealand consulate’ is also just round the corner. Sadly, there was no signs of filming another season when I was there 🙁

5. Visit a Speakeasy!


During the years of prohibition, Speakeasies were a common occurrence throughout the country for those looking for their tipple. There’s still a host of bars in the city where you can travel back in time, and drink like it’s still illegal.

Take a visit to Crif Dogs - a hot-dog joint, and access through the old phone booth.

6. No matter, where you're from - you’ll find something to remind you home.


I had just finished lamented my friends with my “Scotland invented everything” chat, when oor national bard showed up.

7. It’s the city that never sleeps, just go with it…


As I slumped back in my chair, exhausted from the six hours already spent on the bus - complete with two-and-a-half hours stuck in traffic - and with at least another five ahead of me, I didn’t expect to find out, that in just over 48 hours I would be able to see some of the biggest names in world entertainment, for free just a 20 minute walk from my apartment. But that is when I found out about the Concert for Valor.

The concert, which featured Eminem, Dave Grohl, Rihanna, Bruce Springsteen, The Black Keys, Zac Brown Band, Jennifer Hudson, Carrie Underwood, Metallica, and Jessie J, and hosts included Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, and John Oliver. It was as bizarre as it was awesome.

A lot of my friends who now live in DC warned me about the potential madness of 800,000 people descending on the place but I thought about how unique an opportunity this was. It wouldn’t be unusual to have any of these acts play back in Edinburgh, the majority have but all of them in the one place at the same time was too much to miss.

The temperature has well and truly dropped here now, but we were given a day off from the blistering cold and it was comfortable enough to stand for those several hours in the elements. The event too was also remarkably well managed, with despite the amount of people, it was well sectioned off so it never got too crowded.

My cell died very early in the evening, but this is the Black Keys sound-check:


As I thought about writing the blog on the concert, I realized that I hadn’t really mentioned music here at all, which is shocking because the scene here is very good. I had expected the city to be lively and eagerly anticipated being able to attend major sports here in DC, but I hadn’t really thought about the potential to see so many world-class music acts.

Within a month of arriving, a host of my favorite bands were playing within stones-throwing of distance of my apartment. Grouplove, the Foo Fighters, Vance Joy - there’s been some fantastic performances which I really didn’t expect to get a chance to see during my time here.

Even the biggest Scottish names are playing closer to where I live here, than they’ve ever had back in Scotland. I just found out that two of my Dad’s former employees’ band is playing at 9:30 club this week. From the U Street Music hall, to the Verizon Center, there’s always something going on and for every taste.

The rest of the week was spent working out Thanksgiving plans, a study schedule and looking at plane tickets home for Christmas. I can’t believe that I’ll be home in a little over a month from now, it really feels like my time here has just begun… Luckily, I have another semester.

‘Away down South in Dixie’

I’ve just returned from my trip to the South - having visited the majority of the North-East, some of the Midwest, South West and California, I knew that regional differences the United States was a real thing. I knew, of course that the South very much had its own culture but didn’t know what to expect.

There was no banjo playing that tune from Deliverance, nor did I witness any racism. Cattle shows, a lot of tractor stores, very high number of highway adverts for fireworks, an equal amount for gun and knife shows, but the number one I thing that will take back - the food.

Apparently, the whole world has been misusing the word barbecue! A barbecue is simply not grilling outdoors but slow roasting, in a pit. I quickly announced that we had some fantastic barbecue on our second day here from one of the best barbecue from a Texan who use to do the cook-outs at the White House… “Barbecue in Texas is also not quite barbecue”.

My first full-day in Clemson, South Carolina, I was immediately indoctrinated into the world of ‘proper barbecue’ at the Smokin’ Pig ( It did not disappoint!

For less than $7 you get some of the best food I’ve tasted in my life, I’m salivating just thinking about it.

A little further South in South Carolina’s state capital, Columbia, there’s another great restaurant that encapsulates both the areas great food but also perhaps the only thing that surpasses it, the people there.

Upon stepping off a 10 hour bus journey, which started at 6am in DC, I was made to feel at home very quickly at Yesterday’s! ( and the food is as good as welcome! Reasonable priced, deliciously tasting and the hospitality better than anywhere. It really does give a great impression for a first time visitor life myself... they also love College football (obviously). 

I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who can stomach 10 hours on a bus, which truth be told was a fairly pleasant experience. Aside from having to wake up at 4am (I can’t think of a genuine reason why someone would wake up at such a time, except for travel), everything was great!

There’s wifi, plenty of personal space, great views and it’s an excellent opportunity to do some school work. The bus also stops off for quick changes in Virginia, at a few different places in North Carolina and South Carolina, giving you the chance to very quickly sample a little bit of each state. I am going to enquire about getting my driving license here, but truth be told, Megabus is extremely efficient and its network extensive! It’s also owned by Brian Souter, fellow Scot and major political donator to my former political party back home.

I also found another little bit of home in the South!

Stornoway is a small rural community on an island, which is very religious... everything closes on Sunday, so Pendleton is actually pretty progressive in comparison.

As I sipped my third lattè in my favorite cafè in Columbia Heights (The Coupe), working on an ever-so-slightly late paper on Reagan’s actions during the Cold War, nostalgia and a mild bout of homesick struck me.

The trick-or-treaters were out in force and as the seventh, 3ft Ironman adorably sauntered by the window it brought up memories of my own childhood Halloweens. Much was the same, except perhaps the increase in quality of costumes and community enthusiasm for the semi-holiday.

There’s a lot about America that reminds me, not of home now, but of childhood. From shopping again at Safeway (they were bought over about ten years ago in Scotland, but a not-so-insignificant part of my childhood was spent annoying my mum there on Saturday afternoons), to the sensationalism and enthusiasm for events, such as Halloween that seems to disappear slightly as you grow up in Scotland.

Halloween still exists and is celebrated, however the enthusiasm kinda dies off by the time you reach your early-teens. Halloween is really something for kids.

In the United States however, it is just as much for the college-aged adult as it is for children. It’s not only the free candy and drink specials, but the opportunity to show creativity, the bizarre, abstract and in some instances, a little more than usual (Hollywood’s stereotypical interoperation is pretty spot on!).

There are two types of people you see dressing up for Halloween: those who think ahead and put in a lot of effort and those who don’t. I’m the second one.

An hour before I was due at the a party, me and my girlfriend were still constume-less. With reference to a recent South Park episode, I ended up in a dress and wig intimating a shoddy-Kiwi accent.

I’ll spare the internet the very few pictures I allowed to be taken, but it went down extremely eel and all in all, it was a fantastic weekend and the most I’ve enjoyed halloween since I was about 12 years old. I’ve not felt homesick really since I’ve got here (I definitely do miss things from home, don’t get me wrong), but the enthusiasm for halloween gave me a sense of nostalgia; and little piece of stereotypical Americana made me really appreciates being here in DC, at GW.

My only regret is not getting the time to go round the embassies, but I've feeling this wasn't my last DC halloween.

I wish I had time to write more, but there’s so much going on here that I’ve never been so busy doing things I love!

I’m off for my taste of the South next week….

I count myself very much as a city boy. My childhood was spent in what could be described as a stereotypical suburban setting - not to dissimilar to the average American student I would imagine, except more haggis and tartan.

I can’t ever see myself living out with; or far from a city, I need some sort of hustle-n-bustle going on and almost constant entertainment. However, my favorite spot in my home city of Edinburgh, Scotland isn’t a restaurant, an historic monument or a famous watering hole – there’s a lot of all of these! It is instead, Arthur’s Seat; an extinct volcano which rises majestically from the city’s Old Town and tower’s over the Scottish capital like a watchful guardian.

It acts somewhat as an escape from urban life, much in the same Central Park in New York is meant as a sanctuary from the city that never sleeps. This week I discovered DC’s answer to Arthur Seat, and it’s spectacular.

Rock Creek Park, which I knew literally zero about until a few weeks ago is quickly becoming one of my favorite spots in the District.

It’s one of the oldest national parks in the United States and covering over 2000 acres, it is one of the largest urban parks in the whole country. I’ve not much of a chance to properly explore it in all its glory, I’m reliable informed that it includes “a golf course; equestrian trails; sport venues, including a tennis stadium which hosts major professional events; a nature center and planetarium; an outdoor concert venue; and picnic and playground facilities. Rock Creek Park also maintains cultural exhibits, including the Peirce Mill and Civil War fortifications, such as Fort Stevens and Fort DeRussy.”

I’m definitely planning on spending some more time there in the near future, so far I’ve just went for a few a walks and hikes. I very much doubt I’ll get time to see the whole thing before I leave but its a great escape in a city which is constantly moving.

By paultogneri

Monday last week started off great! It was a glorious sunny and warm day. I thought I had put away shorts for the year but today looked like a good day to pull them out again. Wearing shorts in Scotland in any month is usually something of a risk, so getting to do so in October felt like a novelty.

Off I skipped to campus listening to some mellow summer-like music. Everything seemed great. However, even before I emerged from the Foggy Bottom metro a blast of wind hit me at the bottom of the escalator - unusual considering how nice it had been 15/20 minutes previous. Upon emerging from the escalator like a curious meerkat, I could see my glorious, everything-is-right-with-the-world day had got a bit windier and colder.

I had taken about two steps outside the metro when my blissful summer beats were interrupted by an alarm noise I wasn’t sure my iPhone was capable of making.


“Tornado Warning in this area… Take shelter now.”

… ‘I wonder if that’s why Obama’s cancelled his trip?’… if I had an iPhone 6 I’d probably be able to read the whole notification from Politico. …

I was heading for a class at the Vern but needed to print a paper off in the Library first. I thought that could suffice as my shelter, plus it didn’t seem that windy. I made it to the Library with relative ease, printed off my paper and looked longingly at iPhone 6 deals online. It was getting close to 1pm and the start of my class, so I thought I better make a move for the Vern Express. Nobody was really bothering about the Tornado warning, so I thought to hell to with it and made a run to the bus.

Anyone out, around campus between 1230 and 1pm can testify to the ridiculousness of the rain and wind at that moment. I could only have been outside for 30seconds but I was soaked through and hating the decision I took to wear shorts. Nonetheless, everything turned out A-OK and when I finally got home it made the day appear all the more adventurous.

My mum was somewhat concerned when she seen my Facebook post advertising my excitement of a tornado warning, questioning if I was in a basement or whatever keeping safe. I reassured I was never in harms way… not on a rickety school bus firing along the Potomac in a rain storm which made seeing 5 ft in front of you difficult.

Nonetheless, it as something I really didn’t expect to experience this year. I thought any weather difficulties would come in the form of snow days…

This week has been full of midterms and they are tiring! It’s kinda funny, we don’t really do midterms in Scotland - we normally have one paper due for class followed by an exam at the very end - but with American television we are too aware of what they are and the fear they can instill into every student’s life. Our assessments back home are also generally spaced out, which made cramming them pretty much all into one week, something of a surprise.

I had perhaps the very worst start to them. I turned up for my first class on Tuesday a little earlier than normal. It was a helpful review session ahead of our midterm, so I was eager to catch as much of it as possible - I’ve done enough college courses in my life to know that if Professors care enough to host a review session, they normally give you some useful hints and a clue for the actual tests.

So there I was, one of the first to arrive for class that day. But something was definitely odd, it took me a couple seconds and then as the realization of what was going fell over me like a blanket of fear.

I began panicking and quickly grabbed by bag, looking for the syllabus I was pretty sure was in there somewhere. I eventually found it and my worst fears - at that precise moment - were realized. The midterm was today! I had, for some unbeknownst reason switched the dates of my classes around in my head.

I had less than ten minutes before the class started, during those moments every thought went through my head. How much can I cram in those few minutes? Should I cut my losses, leave the class and plead for a do-over with the Professor? This was worth 50% of my grade, if I walk out with 0% will that screw up my entire year, perhaps my entire degree? Could I drop the course without breaking visa rules? Would I be able to make it up next year? I wonder how Hilary and Shawna can help me? Are they gonna be pissed? I wonder if a Tornado warning might save me?

Getting sidetracked thinking about Tornadoes basically made the decision for me. I had an answer book in front of me, the Professor had arrived and I was just going to have to give it a go.

The question sheets got handed round and felt like I was the last to get it. We had to answer 1 question out of a possible 3, I’m not particularly religious but I was definitely praying for some divine intervention at that point. And then, it fell in front of me…

Question 1. Scottish Independence….

I think I did ok.

It’s feels like we only just got here and made ourselves at home, but already reality has given us a slap in the face with the joy known as midterms.

In Scotland, we normally have only one exam and one paper due for each class, so having another exam thrown at you in the middle of a semester is a new experience. I’m not going to lie, I would much rather be having fun than reading the Federalists papers - which are apparently very important - but thus we are to here study amongst other things.

I actually think that the system here of almost continual testing is more rewarding, cramming last minute is somewhat less of an option.

Everyone has felt the need to buckle down and get some studying going before we can gallivant around the country in November. Our summer wardrobes have also all but come to the end with fall really coming alive in DC.

A lot of people I have spoken to had told me that fall in DC was best time to be here and I’m starting to see why. Festivals and Oktoberfests have been springing up across the city with a backdrop of golden foliage. It’s the sort of climate that makes you crave the warmth of a good cup of coffee whilst you study. 

I’ve two favourite spots in the city so far. The first is Saxby’s Coffee in Georgetown (b/t N 35th St & N 36th St). It’s a bit of a walk from Foggy Bottom but its a great place to nestle in for an afternoon of studying/buzzfeed reading. 

My other is The Coupe in Columbia Heights. Open until late and only a stones throw from my apartment, it’s a great place to spend the afternoon either inside or out; and in the evening part of the place turns into bar. A great reward for a day hard spent at ‘dem books.

With it being fall of course our summer wardrobes our almost useless, so I’ve some serious shopping has been in order. There’s no shortage in options with malls about across the city and the majority with excellent metro connections.

This past weekend I had the welcome bonus of the use of a car, meaning that we were able to pay a visit some malls in Silver Spring and Bethesda. Whilst it was only a short distance away it was great to get out the city and see somewhere else for a change.

Back home, the weather is always a topic of conversation. You can get all four seasons in a day in Edinburgh, so small talk often revolves around the daily weather. So it’s somewhat natural that the sudden drop in temperature and arrival of pumpkin spiced everything comes with a different view, and aspect on DC has emerged. We’ve all now been in the city for over a month and a half. We have our favourite coffee shops, we understand the metro and seeing Marine One fly-over or a motorcade going-by is not unfamiliar to us. We’re no longer tourists and more like residents.

It’s not all plain sailing though - little ever is - culture shock hasn’t been sudden but it does exist. I’ve been to the US even DC itself before, but being a tourist is much different to actually living in a place. Coming from a country where anything 65F+ is sunbathing weather, the immediate culture shock was the heat and humidity. I’m no stranger to heat and love nothing better than relaxing by a pool, but I was to humidity and I really wasn’t expecting it when I arrived. That first full day in DC was great but dealing with the subsequent and unexpected mosquito bites the following day, was not. So there’s little things that can still blindside you.

Nonetheless, the city is beginning to feel like home. I’ve purposely held off doing any travelling until I was well rooted in the city and now that’s happened, I’m busy tracking down cheap flights (Virgin America has deals to the West coast for as little as $179 at the moment). I’m looking at spend a little time all over the place, New England, the South, Pacific North West, Colorado and California or all on my bucket list for the year.

That sense of reality is helped by the impending mid-terms which are stacking up thick and fast. Much of the general stereotype of a year abroad, particularly if you’re studying on a program in Europe is that academics go out the window and its a year of partying and debauchery. Whilst partying and debaucher is still a running narrative here, academics are still a huge factor. Classes are demanding but ultimately interesting and rewarding. There’s a greater sense of freedom in choosing your subjects here and professors are much better at providing real life examples to their teachings which makes the whole experience ultimately more rewarding.

So, it’s been another week of class, socialising, watching sports and general fun times.

Friday was spent recovering from a surprise party for Ellie, one of our study abroad troop. Saturday was spent watching College football - I was kinda disappointed that GW didn’t have a team but at the same time allows me to follow any team that’s really playing and generally enjoy the game which is fantastically passionate. Sunday was another trip to H street and the Pug for brunch for a friends birthday, followed by very stereotypical drinking from red solo cup in a backyard playing beer pong, boom cap and various other games I generally didn’t understand but all in all a good weekend.

By paultogneri

One of the things that I was looking forward to most living in DC was American sports. Whilst the rest of the world has turned the beautiful game into a religion, soccer in the United States is growing but still a minority sport. Much is often made elsewhere in the world of the apparent rejection of the game by the majority of the American public, instead opting for Baseball, Hockey, Basketball and of course their own version of ‘football’.

Football/Soccer in other parts of the world dominates sporting life so much that is, in many countries the only sport that matters. Of course, there is hockey leagues, basketball leagues, rugby and golf are two big sports in Scotland but football dominates above everything.

It’s nice being somewhere where one sport doesn’t dominate. If the ‘skins (Washington Redskins) lose - as they did on Thursday night - then, don’t worry too much the Capitals season is just about to the start and the Nats just clinched their division with the best record in the league! It’s nice being able to support so many teams.

Something I also found different here is the real sense of unity that American sport franchises can give to a city/area/state. In Europe, there is normally at least two major clubs in the one city and fierce rivalries ensue. Here in DC, when the ‘skins are playing almost any bar showing it will have a host of loyal fans wearing their jerseys and cheering them onto… not much by the looks of it this season, but it’s nice the sense of unity it can bring.

We’re not immune from watching US sports elsewhere in the world. Growing up Mighty Ducks was on almost weekly in my household and street hockey was played almost daily during the summer months. The Sandlot, Angels in the Outfield and the Little Cowboys are all childhood favourites which introduced the majority of us to American sports and it’s great - and still somewhat unreal - to be able to go to games and it being as stereotypical as we seen on Television.

It does give us incentive to adopt teams and having travelled a bit in the US before, I already had somewhat questionable allegiances to many west coast teams. Having been in NorCal shortly after the Giants won the world series, they were my unofficial team. That was until I actually attended my first baseball game, where the Nats took on the Giants here at Nationals Park. Despite the game ultimately ending in a Giants victory, I quickly found myself rooting for my new hometown team.

And why not continue that across all the sports? I’m here in DC for one year, so might as well jump on for the emotional roller coaster that supporting a sports team is. I’ve even got a Nationals baseball cap, which I actually where - baseball caps went out of style along with VHS tapes in Scotland, so I would be mocked endlessly back home for ‘going native’.

I should warn fellow DC sports nuts however, I can be somewhat of a curse. I proudly proclaimed my support for the ‘skins the play before RG3 was horrendously crippled.

Nonetheless, I’m here for the ride!

[Disclaimer: I’m just going to totally ignore the whole ‘skins name issue because I can].

By paultogneri

This past weekend has been one of a range of emotions for me. As I mentioned, being away from Scotland during the referendum was a big sacrifice in choosing to come to GW this year. It was compounded with the fact that I’d been suffering from a flu the week previous - I’m a total kid when I’m sick, all I want is to be brought tea and soup - so this past week had been tough.

When choosing to come to GW it was because it was such a good and unique opportunity, I’m not a superstitious person but I had hoped it would stand as a good omen for a yes vote on Thursday, alas it was not to be.

I did have very good company to watch the results come in as many former friends from back home, now based in DC made the trip out to The Queen Vic pub on H Street NE, a classic British boozer which ironically enough was full of Yes supporting bar staff - either Irish or American.

As the night progressed, it became quickly apparent that the result I and those who had gathered at the Queen Vic had hoped to come in, wasn't going to. Nonetheless it was great to see many old friends again and some other Scots who are here in DC. The local news even showed up to get our views on the night:

Screen Shot 2014-09-21 at 16.19.04

The following day was spent nursing a whisky hangover and binge watching Netflix. Saturday however seen us back to H Street NE with the H Street Festival - which was a blast!

H St NE was voted 6th most hipster place in America by Forbes Magazine in 2012 and you can still see why.

The festival spanned over 10 blocks along H Street NE with the street blocked off to traffic, as thousands of DC residents caroused the many stalls, which ranged from face-painting and t-shirt sales to art and political campaigns. I was told that there was over 200 businesses, restaurants, community organisations and merchants there that day.

I even got the chance to meet the mayor who was walking amongst other residents in jeans and a polo shirt, almost fitting in if it wasn’t for the two armed bodyguards watching his every move.

I spent most of my time enjoying liquid refreshments in one of the many bars with outdoor seating.

There was live music on a host of stages from local acts all afternoon, with some real talent on show.

Amongst the highlights was the Washington Nationals Presidents race down a block.

Next week sees “fall’ arrive and I’m eagerly anticipating a lower temperature. I’m also looking at forming plans for a trip to New York, another to South Carolina and back to the West Coast for some much needed relaxation in Southern California.

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