Category: Travel


The second day of the excursion to DC was taken up with a look at the Jefferson Memorial and a moving visit to Arlington Cemetery. On this day – 28th April, the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan was on a state visit to the US. Security was high, of course.

After checking out of the hotel, and arranging to store the luggage and the car for a couple of hours while we did some further sightseeing, we went and had a closer look around the Jefferson Memorial. It was even better on the inside, in my opinion, than the external view promised. Here are some of the photos from there.

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I couldn’t resist a shot over the water of the Martin Luther King memorial – different again in daylight

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We also took a stop off at Union Station as I wanted to get these pictures of the statue of Columbus and the bell:

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After going back to the hotel and having lunch there, we picked up the luggage and the car and started out to see Arlington Cemetery. Such amazing grounds where war heroes famous and not so famous are buried with honour. The highlights for me, though, had to be John F Kennedy’s grave and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. We watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns and the laying of the wreath.

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We drove around doing a bit more sight seeing before heading back to Philadelphia. Sights included the First and Second World War memorials, the White House, the Kennedy Center and the infamous ‘Watergate’ Hotel.

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So, with a little sadness, we made our way back to Frankie’s home in Philadelphia. This was my last weekend in the States and the last trip away from Philly.

It had been a fantastic trip and I think it strengthened me for what would be happening when I arrived home. Of course, I owe so many thanks to the lady who I visited as my girlfriend, and left as my faincée, Frankie.

I have been home for more than 2 months now, so this update is long overdue. The reason for the delay is that I came home to minor disaster, which had me feeling for a few weeks as if the whole trip had been no more than a vivid dream. Thankfully, I have photos and my engagement ring to remind me of the reality of those better times. I won’t dwell on the minor disaster here, rather share the photos and some of the awesome experience of the last weekend excursion – the one to Washington DC.

For our last weekend together for this trip, we had to decide between a return visit to the Outer Banks in North Carolina, or a visit to Washington DC. It was a tough call, but as I didn’t get to see DC last time, we decided on that. In spite of the huge and obvious difference between the two places, I am glad we made this decision.

We were there for one night and left quite late on the second evening, giving us more or less a day and a half to see the sights.

After checking in to the hotel and experiencing a pretty amazing brunch buffet, complete with Bloody Marys and Mimosas (or Buck’s Fizz – Champagne and Orange Juice), we headed out to do one of the trolley tours.

For me, the highlight of this part of the visit was the Washington National Cathedral. It was with a little sadness that we didn’t have time to either get off the bus and look around there and then, or to return there the following day.

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When we’d done this one, we got off and had a snack and a drink at the Hard Rock Café, before getting on to another trolley for the ‘Monuments by Moonlight’ tour. We were so lucky with the weather for this. If we had opted to do it the following night, it would have been overcast and rainy. As it was, it was a lovely, balmy, clear evening and it made the tour rather magical.

The Lincoln Memorial and Washington Monument are somewhat ‘iconic’ for me, but discovering the Jefferson and Martin Luther King Memorials was an amazing experience too. We decided that we would have to visit the Jefferson the following day in daylight.

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The final stop on that tour was the Iwo Jima Memorial – very fascinating and moving:

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After that we were all ‘toured out’ for the day and went back to the hotel.

Next up was Day 2. As I said, we went to look at the Jefferson Memorial. We also went to Arlington Cemetery and got a glimpse of the White House. Photos to follow in the next post.

We went to a concert at this beautiful location on 11 April. We hit traffic on the way, so we just had time to have the dinner we had pre-booked, go to the concert, and take a few night time shots in the conservatory.

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The concert was by ‘The Crossing’ – a chamber choir, performing a selection of conetmporary music on the theme of ‘light’. Performed in the amazing conservatory at Longwood Gardens, it was a wonderfully atmospheric show.

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The place was so amazing that I asked Frankie if we could make a return visit the following weekend. She was up for it, in spite of allergies. I can hardly describe the beauty of the place with its flower gardens, herb garden, open air theatre, lake, tree house and Italian Water Garden. They say a picture speaks a thousand words, so here is a collage of shots from both visits covering the flora.

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I will be posting more photos from the gardens when I get home, and will add links in here.

The following Sunday and Monday (26-27 April), we had a sightseeing trip to Washington DC. This will be covered in the next and last illustrated post about this amazing trip to the States.

Even when I ‘know’ what to expect when visiting the States, I am always overwhelmed and somewhat surprised. This trip, and especially New Orleans and Disneyworld, has been no exception.

Frankie’s brother, Josh, got married in Disneyworld on 7th April and we arrived on the 5th, returning home on the 8th. I was expecting a kind of exaggerated version of the UK’s Butlin’s holiday camps – not the socialist ethos of Billy Butlin’s original promise of a ‘week’s holiday for a week’s wage’, but what Butlin’s has become in the 21st century. Of course, if you put something the size of Disneyworld in the UK it would take up a large portion of the coast. Still, nice try Butlin’s!

In our stay, we did the tourist bit in two of the parks – The Magic Kingdom and Epcot. Both lived up to their promise of ‘magical’. With spectacular light and fireworks shows, parades, and of course, friendly staff. The warmth and sunshine (apart from a substantial downpour when we were in Epcot) were also very welcome. It was wonderful to go and sit by the pool and have morning coffee before the resort (we were in the All Star Music Resort) started getting busy.

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The wedding itself was at the ‘Yacht Club’, with a lunch at the Grand Floridian. It was a beautiful day in every way.

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So that was the central part of my trip. Basically, I came over to accompany Frankie to her brother’s wedding. All the rest – including getting engaged to her – built up around the event.

I am into my last week here now. The next post will cover two visits to an amazing place more locally – Longwood Gardens. The have the most amazing flower gardens, lake, conservatory (where we went to a very enjoyable concert of choral music with a dinner before hand at the restaurant), Italian Water Gardens. It is breath-taking!

For my last weekend here, we are planning a trip to Washington DC.

USA 2015 Part 2-New Orleans

As a Brit who had never been to New Orleans before, I could never have imagined anything like it. We really don’t have anything like it in the UK. I had thought it was just Jazz, Alcohol and striptease – but it was so much more!

So having got over all but a residual cough from the flu, Frankie and I went to New Orleans for the weekend of my birthday, for what was to be an amazing blow-out of a weekend. I am describing the place as a first-time visitor from a little island nation the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and as such it was just mind-blowing!

Frankie had booked us into a fabulous hotel about 50 yards from Bourbon Street – which is where the 24/7 partying goes on. First night there we went to a club on the corner where they had live music sets, punctuated with DJ sets. There were waitresses going round selling shots from test tubes and huge mock hyperdermics! I had one, but unfortunately ended up wearing more than I drank. If ever you are visiting for the first time, you have to have a cocktail called a ‘Hurricane’. Be warned though – it tastes sweet, fruity and innocent… And then you stand up and it hits you like the Louisiana humidity! One striking thing about this club was how much fun the staff seem to have there.

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What was the best part of New Orleans? The night life? The cajun cusine? The Music? The sightseeing? I couldn’t choose – I would have to say all of the above. I will insert some foodie photos at the end of this post.

The second day, we went sightseeing. Frankie grew up six years of her life in New Orleans, so she knew a lot of the best sights. She was pretty clever though when we went into Jackson square. We came into it from Royal Street and she said “Don’t turn around until I tell you to.” At first I was a bit suspicious (we spend a lot of time joking around with each other like playful young lovers trapped in the body and a half of old farts). But when I finally did turn around, the sight that hit my eyes just blew me away:

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I knew nothing about St Louis’ Cathedral, so when I saw it the sound of my jaw hitting the ground was almost as loud as the spectacular sound of the bells of St Louis ringing on the hour. It is a gorgeous building – inside and out. Here are some more shots:

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The following day – the Sunday before my actual birthday – we took a ride on the ‘Natchez’ – a genuine working paddle steamer. We had an informative narrative on the first half, until the boat doubled back, and then we had jazz playing. I requested they played ‘I can’t give you anything but love’ for Frankie, which they were very happy to play. Funny thing is that we have heard that song in different arrangements about four time since. I think it may be telling us it’s ‘our song’ – what do you think?

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All too soon, it was our last day in New Orleans – but it was also my birthday! What a fabulous evening we had! It started with an amazing meal and ended with more jazz and cocktails. It was certainly the most memorable birthday of my adult life!

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So to the foodie shots. I had so many new (to me) tastes in NoLa – from fried oysters, to jambalaya, seafood platters, muffaletta, beignets and of course Hurricane cocktails and Mint Juleps.

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And so the end of a long weekend in New Orleans furnished me with a completely fresh palette of experiences and memories. I never thought – never in my life – that I would celebrate my 57th birthday in such an amazing way.

Next step of the trip was Disneyworld, and Frankie’s Brother’s wedding. But that’s another post!

Already almost two thirds of the way through my mega-trip to the states already, and it has been amazingly eventful!

I came over to visit Frankie, primarily to go to her brother’s wedding at Disneyworld, Florida, but we planned trips either side of it and once again I’ve had an unforgettable time here. Fran’s birthday was two days before I arrived, and mine was two weeks later, so we had joint celebrations. more on that in another post – it was a major experience!

So the first big life-changer happened the second day here. I proposed to Frankie and she accepted. So we are now officially engaged. Within a couple of days we were shopping for rings and came back with some really nice ones.  Originally we ordered the emerald engagement ring pictured below, but then went out and got matching wedding rings in silver with black diamonds. So they are doubling as engagement rings too. Fran was pleased enough with the emerald ring to keep that as well so – double-whammy!

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The double selfie above was taken at Atlantic City where we were over-nighting to see ‘Celtic Thunder’ in concert. More on that in another post.

So the engagement was the second day here. By the fourth day I had come down with flu and a couple of days later, Fran had picked it up from me too. We both had a couple of very uncomfortable days – aching, sneezing, not wanting to do much at all – followed by a couple of weeks of residual coughing. I have a spirometry test planned when I return home and won’t be too surprised if there is a slight worsening in my COPD. It is still very mild, though, and I refuse to be completely beaten by it. This bout resulted in us missing one planned event – a concert of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony by the Philadelphia Orchestra (who I have listened to in recordings since I was about 5 years old!). It was sad, but we have done so much else it is easy to shrug off and think that there will be other opportunities to see equally fine concerts in the future.

There have been so many levels of adventure in this trip – from sight-seeing, to ‘partying’ (yep – never too old to party!), gourmet experiences, music and a ridiculous number of selfies – alone and with my fiancée. Whenever I meet up with Fran – which so far has been once a year, we have a blast and this trip has been no exception.

The next part of the trip is worthy of its own post, as is the one after that. Firstly, my birthday weekend in New Orleans. If you had told me 20 or 30 years ago that I would be marking my 57th birthday in New Orleans with a spectacular meal, many cocktails and an evening of jazz, I would have said you were crazy. Yet here I was with my new fiancée having a crazy weekend in the heat and insanity of Bourbon Street.

So New Orleans will take up the next post, followed by Disneyworld, Florida, and my now-future brother and sister in law’s wedding there.

This is just a quick update with a couple of photos after my post earlier today.

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It was indeed an emotional occasion – the end of an era for Nikki Greig, and all who were touched by her energy, enthusiasm, cheerfulness and empathy. She has her last day at PSS tomorrow and flies out to Australia on the 25th of the month. As I said in that post, she was the second person I met at PSS and in the process of learning to cope with depression, she has been an inspiration along with her team mate in some of the classes, Paddy.

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Of course, as she is going to Australia, the hat was obligatory while we sang ‘Waltzing Matilda’ to her. The leaving do was marked by a few tears, a lot of smiles and a generous helping of laughter (oh and generous helpings of cake too!)

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As is my habit these days, when I left, I said “See you soon!” then realized I wouldn’t and got a bit of a lump in my throat. No, won’t see you soon, but I hope to hear that you have had a blast on your travvels, Nikki.

Today will be an emotional one for us folks involved with PSS, whether they are service users, peer support volunteers or staff.

Nikki Greig was the second person I met at PSS. She and Paddy, the first person I met, ran the course on Depression and Anxiety that was so pivotal in my learning to cope with the rollercoaster of life with depression and anxiety.

She has also been a great asset for the creative folks that make up the rich tapestry of service users at PSS. She was responsible for organizing the fabulous evening at Siren last month, as well as many more events before. It was hard not to be inspired by the energy, good humour and enthusiasm with which she did things.

Soon after the Sticks ‘n’ Stones (Siren) event, she announced to us service users that she would be leaving this month. She is off travelling – starting in Australia and going where her heart takes her.

I know that all of us, service users and staff alike, will miss her. But on the other hand we have to say good on ya, Nikki. Life should be a series of big adventures, and I for one hope that this one will furnish you with some fantastic experiences and memories, with many more adventures to follow.

Bon voyage! We’ll miss you!

Life Changer

I haven’t posted anything here for several weeks now, the reason is, as I mentioned in my last post, that I have been on an incredible trip to the East coast USA. This has been a real life-changing Summer for me on so many levels. My trip encompassed Philadelphia, New York City, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina. I experience the 4th July in a small town American crowd (Salem, Mass). I saw concerts by the Rolling Stones, The Eagles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bad Company, Yes, Carl Palmer, The Boston Symphony, and others. I saw a Broadway show (Chicago).

Then there is the breath-taking diversity of scenery.  From the beautiful greenery of New England to the Blue Ridge Mountains, the swamps and beaches of North Carolina, stunning skylines; there was wild life, including deer, squirrels, chipmunks, blue herons, blue crabs, pelicans, cranes, humming birds, orioles, mocking birds… the list is endless.

I could not have done the trip without the encouragement, generosity and confidence of loved ones past and present. It goes without saying I couldn’t have done it without Frankie (Frances Pabon), who organized, planned and gave me enormous practical help as well as showing me such awesome hospitality and love before and during the trip – and way beyond.

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New York City

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The Blue Ridge Mountains, NC

Of course, this being what I consider the trip of a lifetime, it has had a massive impact on my attitudes towards my life.

Firstly, for so long now I have allowed my health issues to hinder my life. I have never considered myself as disabled, as such. But I have had health issues that did have an enormous effect on my day to day living (I would go so far as to say that it was not living, but just ‘existence’). Depression has blighted my life for almost 15 years now – and then it got to the point where the treatment was impacting far more on my life than the condition is was supposed to control. I have also had increasing amounts of pain in my back, legs and feet. At times, the pain is excruciating, it’s true, and it does have an effect. But this Summer has driven home to me that I do not have to be a slave to the pain. Over the course of the Summer, as well as the travel experience, I have completely quit taking Prozac (gradually – please if you are reading this and you take it, never attempt to come off the drug ‘cold turkey’ and never without discussing it with your GP). I have also been assessed for, and accepted on to an intensive pain management course, which deals with the pain holistically. Where pain can not be eradicated, the idea is to deal with it psychologically and also to find a way to ‘work around’ the difficulties caused by the pain. I have reached the point – long overdue – where I am needing to stick two fingers up to the pain and not let it control, oppress and ruin my life.

I also grew up feeling that I had a real phobia of heights. Well recent travels, including the last one to the States has proved that I can handle heights. I actually found that I loved flying, rather than being petrified of it as I had been before. I didn’t find the observatory of the Empire State Building in New York at all worrying. In fact, I found ‘St John’s Beacon’ here in Liverpool more scary – but that is more to do with the fact that the beacon is on a narrow cylinder, so it sways. My ‘fear’ has, it turns out, been a very sensible fear. I have no depth perception. So when I am up high, I have no judgement as to how high. Without ‘landmarks’ to latch on to, I can’t tell how far away something is – horizontally or vertically. Of course being up high without a protective shell – an Empire State Building, and Eiffel Tower, a London Eye, etc – of course it’s scary if you have no idea how far you would fall if you were to slip!

The trip has also added impact to the feelings I had shortly before I left about wanting to pursue my creative interests – again, in some cases, and more in others. I thrive on creating – whether it is music, photos, abstract/fractal images or simple video clips. The inspiration I have found this summer has driven home the need to pursue those more.

So in conclusion for now, this summer has been one I will never forget. It has been an inspiration for a future me. I have been incredibly fortunate to have been able to do it. I acknowledge that the extent of what I crammed into July and the top and tail end of June and August has been an extremely rare blessing.

It has taken a few weeks to settle back into my ‘home reality’. I am now reflecting on the trip and hopefully will write a ‘retrospective’ journal of the experience.

I can gladly say that I have quit the Prozac now. So much has changed in my attitude thanks to the support of friends and family.

The ultimate test for me was to travel alone – something I had a phobia about for quite some time. I was offered what is proving to be the trip of a lifetime and immediately the anxieties popped up – all the ‘what ifs’ and ‘worst case scenarios’. Then I realized that living like that is not living, but merely existing. So I gradually developed the attitude ‘if not now, then when?’ and grabbed it with both hands. It’s hard to be depressed in such mind-blowing and different circumstances as I am in at the moment – having a blast on the East Coast of the USA (based near Philadelphia). Interestingly, I used to be very badly phobic about flying – that, too, has changed. I loved the flight over and the domestic flights that have been involved too. So now I’m saying goodbye to Prozac – and I hope that I will never mention it again except retrospectively, or in passing, on here.

I started by saying I am taking my life back, and I think it’s safe to say that I am doing just that. I can not say all this without thanking Frances Pabon, who put this trip together for me and encouraged me and is putting up with me for the duration. Thank you so much for that, Frankie. You are a star!

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Pickering Wharf, Salem, Massachusetts, USA – 4th July, preparing for the evening’s celebrations.