Monday, 30 June 2014

New business cards

Just a quick post to show off my new business cards which arrived today. My previous ones were outdated with the logos of old brands I used to operate before I sold my company last year. I'm really pleased with the retro design of these new ones and they're printed on recycled pulp, so they feel nice too.

Also I've just got back from my first time at Glastonbury, which was simply incredible. Two or three blog posts on their way about that soon!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Summer Ball Season

Summer Ball Season is nearing it's end for another year, during which I visit many different Universities around the country for their end of year parties with Headphone Disco.  This is a busy and exciting time of year for me, accompanied by a packed out summer of festivals. These University events vary in size and budget, from smaller scale events with a modest line-up, to a huge productions with big names on the bill. 

Headphone Disco is popular at events all over the World, especially at student based events including Students' Union venues and student summer balls. If you don't know what it's all about, imagine a room full of party people, each wearing a pair of headphones, on which they can choose between two DJs battling it out simultaneously over two wireless channels. It's loads of fun to go to one and I have a great time performing too!

This year marked my third visit to Bath Spa University, where there's always a lively party crowd. When I first went in the outdoor marquee I'd be working in for the night, I was greeted by a large gentleman in a skimpy leopard print onesie on the stage, doing rock covers. It was actually quite entertaining, but it certainly came as a surprise!

Bath Spa Ball funny entertainment...

Essex Uni is always a busy show and although it's a very late night/early morning, it's lovely to see the sun come up over Wivenhoe Park, in the grounds of the Uni where the ball takes place. The photo below was taken at around 4.30am, with no filter. What a stunning and eerie looking sky! Travelling around the country doing these shows often means I get to visit friends en route too, so it was lovely to see Charlie and Dom in Watford on the way back from Essex.

Beautiful sunrise in Essex

It was great to be reunited with my good chum Stefan for the Birmingham Guild of Students Grad Ball. This was a Discovision show, where we mix videos on two big screens on either side of the stage, as well as playing all the usual singalong tunes to get people singing and dancing. The stage set up here was particularly good and the marquee we were in was just the right size to get a great atmosphere going as soon as a few people started piling in.

Reunited with Stefanwolf

 Disco Josh and Stefanwolf doing a Discovision show at Birmingham Guild of Students Grad Ball

Each year I perform at many different Oxford and Cambridge College Balls, which are always very grand and impressive events. Many of the different colleges from each University host their own ball, which take place at each college generally every two to three years. Food and drinks, along with a great variety of entertainment is included in the ticket price for these balls, with tickets varying in price from anything from around £60 and up to as much as £200 being the highest ticket price I've seen.

5.30am in Cambridge: A man is making giant bubbles 
and a lady is trying to pop them with a plastic sword

At one recent show I was delighted to discover that Laura Mvula was performing on the main stage before we were due to perform. My girlfriend's parents are fans of her music and have seen her live a few times, including supporting Prince on his recent tour. I was instantly very impressed with her fantastic voice and stage presence, along with her band which was made up of a cellist, harpist and lots of other lovely instruments. Their sound was incredible and it worked so well in what was a fairly small main stage tent at this ball. I've since bought her album, which was Mercury Prize Award nominated in 2013. 

This same ball was also host to A.Skillz, who is a brilliant mashup DJ. He did an awesome set and it was great to chat to him [and have a cheesy photo with him] after his set backstage.

 Laura Mvula in Oxford

A.Skillz and J.Skillz

The historic colleges that these balls are held in often create an impressive backdrop to the events, as you can see in the photo below. It's lovely to walk around the grounds and discover various stages dotted around, along with lovely installations and food vendors, including vintage ice cream and popcorn stalls. After performing at and organising many other Uni and college shows over the past few weeks, I'll now focus my attention on the many music festivals we'll be bringing our awesome show to this summer!

An Oxford College campus providing a lovely backdrop to an end of year ball

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Download Festival 2014

Last weekend I went to Download Festival at Donington Park for the first time, managing the Headphone Disco show in the Side Splitter Arena on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. 

Download is a quite different to other festivals I've been to and I wasn't sure what to expect. I thought it might be a bit rough, like I've experienced with Reading Festival. At Reading there's always a bad feeling like something is about to kick off, especially on the Sunday night, when practically everything gets smashed apart, or set on fire in the campsites! I was totally surprised to discover that there is a fantastic atmosphere at Download, with a friendly crowd who are passionate about music and on the whole aren't there to cause trouble. 

Being totally rock and roll

Front Of House Wristband

After getting our wristbands and having fun with foam hands at the staff accreditation tent, I got to drive the van on the actual Donington race track! Sadly there's a 10mph site curfew, but it was still pretty surreal driving on the race track, even at snails pace!

What I really liked about Download, was the variety of stuff for people to do at night, after the main music programming has finished, which is missing from some other big festivals. This included a huge area called 'The Village', which was a central point between all the main campsites. This had the Side Splitter Headphone Disco Arena [which was a Comedy Tent on the Wednesday and Thursday nights for early arrivals], the Dog House, which had a great line up for DJs, a Cinema Tent, along with lots of food vendors, bars and fun fair rides. The Village and main campsites are about a 15-minute walk away from the main area and it works really well having two main areas of entertainment. 

I got to drive the van on the Donington race track!

The amount of work I need to do at a festival for Headphone Disco vastly varies depending on the number of headphones required and the number of nights the show is on. Download was a much more work-based weekend than some, but we still found time to see some awesome bands and have lots of fun. I really enjoy managing Headphone Disco shows anyway and I'm lucky to be able to do things that I enjoy for a living.

Friday was spent sorting kit on site and getting ready for the weekend shows, so I was really looking forward to entering the arena for the first time on Saturday. On Saturday we wandered between stages, with Bowling for Soup being the main highlight of the day. It was also lovely to catch up with my Uni friend Emma whilst watching bands on the main stage too. On Sunday we positioned ourselves up on the hill opposite the main stage and watched Joe Bonamassa, Volbeat and Steel Panther. My parents are big fans of Joe Bonamassa and I was really impressed with his fantastic guitar skills. Although they had a really gothic looking stage backdrop and props, Volbeat were surprising mellow, with lovely vocals and tunes. If you don't know Steel Panther, they're basically a touring Spinal Tap-esque band, who are talented musicians, but with a funny [and rude] songs and lots of funny [and ruder] banter on stage!

 The arena entrance

Having a stage picnic whilst sheltering from the rain!

 Get your knobbly knees out for the lads!

The Headphone Disco ran very smoothly indeed, with no headphones lost, despite us not taking deposits for headphones as we usually would. My whole crew worked very hard and enthusiastically chatted to festivalgoers as they came into the Side Splitter Arena. Lots of people came in with drinks in their hands, so the crew put them on for people, which looked pretty funny, but was a nice touch! The Headphone Disco was packed all weekend, hitting capacity and being one-in-one-out on the Saturday and Sunday nights. 

I'd have loved to have DJed at Download, but Rock music isn't really my speciality, so the very awesome DJ Jinx and DJ Damo rocked the party. They played a mountain of incredible tunes across two headphone channels all weekend and the atmosphere was amazing. Check out the video below of the huge Headphone Disco crowd passionately and loudly singing In The End by Linkin Park, who played a headline show on the main stage that day.

We had a surprising highlight to our day on the Sunday afternoon. We happened to sit near two guys who were playing pranks on people way back on the hill, opposite the main stage. At many festivals the bars give 10p back per paper cup that's returned, to help encourage recycling. Many people collect the cups and cash them in. Although this is an easy way to make money, I often think that it's a shame to pay to come to a festival and pay more attention to cup collecting than the music!

Anyway, these two guys tied a shoe lace to a paper cup and covered the lace in grass to disguise it. We watched in delight as so many people fell for it. More and more people were watching it going on as the afternoon went on, to the point where there was a loud cheer every time! Most people were really cool about it, but a couple of people got really angry. Check out the video montage below that my girlfriend Emily put together. Hopefully it's as funny to watch on here as it was to be there!

Our friend Sam collected 250 cups the night before we watched people being pranked. Luckily for him, he didn't get pranked before being in on the joke!

 Sam collected 250 cups, to get the 10p deposits. He claims it didn't take him very long!

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Wychwood Festival 2014

Just over a week ago I went to my fifth Wychwood Festival in Cheltenham, which was the tenth anniversary of the festival. Wychwood is held each year at the end of May at Cheltenham Racecourse, set amongst the rolling Prestbury hills. There are usually several artists each year that I already know, that I'm excited to see live and I always discover lots of music I haven't discovered yet too. Each year I manage the ever popular Headphone Disco in the Big Top at the festival. We put on a huge party after the main programming each night of the festival, with hundreds of festival-goers singing and dancing to two channels of music that you can only hear through the headphones. 

Wychwood is held in my home town and the weekend is always a very sociable one. Lots of my friends are involved with the festival, including my good friend Stefan managing the festival as one of the Directors, friends helping in the box office and backstage, friends helping me with the Headphone Disco and the numerous other friends who come along and party for the weekend too. Having been away travelling for most of the last six months, it was great to catch up with loads of people at Wychwood this year and I could barely walk ten metres without bumping into another lovely person to stop and chat to! 

The mighty Thrill Collins on the main stage

Shortly after I arrived on the Friday, local heroes Thrill Collins took to the stage, playing their fantastic songbook of 80s and 90s pop covers in skiffle style. Thrill Collins are absolutely brilliant live performers and always get people up and dancing wherever they go. They're playing my sister's wedding in August of this year, which I'm really excited about! Thrill Collins released their new EP at Wychwood and had a long queue of people eager to have their copy signed in the onsite record shop after their set. The new EP is called Our Souls and is available on iTunes here. You can check out their amazing Rap Odyssey below.

The Big Top at Wychwood Festival

The Big Top music line up was curated by Smashing Blouse this year and last year. Smashing Blouse are promoters who mainly run club nights in London. The Big Top line up this year was great, with King Charles, Craig Charles returning for the second year running with his lively funk and soul DJ set, Wolf Alice, Bipolar Sunshine and Kyla La Grange to name a few. 

On the Friday night I had to head off to run a University Summer Ball show for Headphone Disco and returned in time to catch the beautiful sunrise over Cheltenham Racecourse in the early hours of the morning. 

A rather pixelated photo of dawn at Cheltenham Racecourse during Wychwood Festival

Justin Fletcher was second on the bill on the main stage on Saturday. Justin is famous for his alter-ego Mr Tumble, a popular character on children's TV. My friend Peter brought his two kids along to see Mr Tumble and they absolutely loved it. Justin did a meet and greet afterwards and Peter's kids were too shy to say hello. That didn't stop Peter being a big kid and having a photo taken with him though! There is loads of other great stuff for kids to to at Wychwood and Peter, Erin and Fraser had an amazing day out, having fun at the various kids workshops and activities on offer. 

My musical highlight of the day was Bad Manners, who took to the stage at around 4.45pm and drew a huge crowd. Led by frontman Buster Bloodvessel, the band played a brilliant set of cheery tunes that you can't help but dance to. They finished on the Can Can, which was great fun and hilarious to see their horn section dancing to this whilst playing! Newton Faulkner followed on the main stage, which was was a much more relaxed set compared to the high energy offering from Bad Manners. I knew many more of his songs than I thought, but he isn't really my cup of tea.

I'd been telling lots of my friends to go and see King Charles in the Big Top at 9pm. King Charles is a classically trained singer who has won the International Songwriting Competition. He is backed by a great band, who we've seen live at Truck Festival in Oxfordshire and at the O2 Academy in Oxford in the past. I discovered his music after he teamed up with Mumford & Sons on track The Brightest Lights a couple of years ago. King Charles' set didn't disappoint and hopefully he'll have gained some new fans from my friends who I dragged along to see him!

On Sunday we were awoken from our on site accommodation by the sound of KSH and the Going Goods, who opened the main stage at 11.30am. Having seen this band many times before, as friends of ours, they always put on a brilliant performance and have a very feel good vibe when they play. The band's sound is a mixture of British Hip Hop, Beatboxing, lovely vocals and catchy riffs. This is the first big festival stage they have performed on and they even got to sign lots of CDs for fans in the signing tent, which was a great experience for them all. I chatted to them backstage during the day and they were all buzzing from the whole experience. Definitely well deserved. Check out their song Dedicated below.

Craig Charles' orgasm face on stage

Later in the day on Sunday we checked out some of Craig Charles' DJ set in the Big Top. He played last year and went down so well that they snapped him up again for this years' festival. Craig Charles' Funk and Soul Show is broadcast on Radio 6 Music every Saturday evening and his DJ set is a fantastic mix of classic Funk and Soul tunes, to get you dancing. He really got into it and had the whole Big Top dancing, which was really very packed, especially for just 2pm in the afternoon!

Throughout the afternoon I spent some time wandering around the many market stalls at Wychwood and bought some nice bits and pieces including a Fab lolly cushion! You get to a certain age where you start to enjoy buying soft furnishings and sadly that time has come for me. Our favourite stall was a converted retro caravan, which sold lots of lovely vintage and retro homewares. They're called Huddle Inside and Out and you can check them out online here. I caught snippets of a few bands throughout the afternoon, including Gentlemen's Dub Club and Lee Thompson's Ska Orchestra.

The Boomtown Rats closed Wychwood Festival 2014, headlining on the Sunday night. Sir Bob looked great in his snake-skin suit and put on an amazing show. I met Sir Bob on a bus in Edinburgh 9 years ago, when I headed up from Southampton to Edinburgh on a Megabus for the G8 Summit. He gave me tickets for the Live-8 show at Murrayfield Stadium, which was amazing! I was hoping to chat to him about this backstage as it was such a memorable thing in my life, but understandably due to his difficult personal circumstances recently, he kept himself to himself in his dressing room before the show. What an amazing guy he is putting on such an incredible show at such a difficult time in his life.

As always, Wychwood offered a great programme of music spanning many genres, loads of fantastic stuff to do for kids, lots of late night fun at the Headphone Disco and a brilliant selection of food and drink at the various stalls and bars on site. Roll on my sixth year next year and many more years to follow!

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Boston post #3: History in Boston

My girlfriend Emily and I recently visited our friends Phil and Char in Boston. You can read about some of the things we got up to in my previous blog post about Boston here. I also wrote a post about our visit to Boston Calling Music Festival here. There was so much to do in Boston and we packed so much into our week long visit, that I wanted to write another post dedicated to all the historical stuff we got up to. History is fun!

On our first full day in Boston we went on a Harvard Campus Tour. As with much of the things we did while in Boston, this was recommended in our trusty Lonely Planet Guide Book. The Harvard Campus Tour was free of charge and lasted around an hour. We were guided around by a friendly girl who had just finished her freshman year at Harvard. The tour included just the right amount of information, mixed with some humour and interesting stories, to make it informative, without being boring.

We headed quite far out of the centre of town, to Coolidge Corner, to visit the JFK Family Home [the John Fitzgerald Kennedy National Historic Site]. Annoyingly we hadn't spotted the opening times in our guide book, or when I briefly looked it up online, as this is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays from May-October, as we discovered when we arrived. Although we didn't get to look inside, it was brilliant to see the house from the outside and explore the neighbourhood. Emily was really excited to see lots of suburban American homes and see that homes actually look like this in real life and not just in movies! We chatted to a lovely American couple outside, who were visiting from Nashville, Tennessee, who also didn't realise that it was going to be closed.

On Memorial Day, we visited the New England Holocaust Memorial. This is a very beautiful and poignant tribute to the millions of people killed by the Nazi regime. Although this made us feel sad, it was also very thought-provoking and well worth going to visit. The memorial is beautifully presented, with lots of quotes from Holocaust survivors engraved in various places. There are six large glass covered columns which make up the main memorial, with all of the glass covered in tiny written numbers. The numbers were given by the Nazis to concentration camp prisoners, which tattooed onto them. Each number represents someone killed during the Holocaust. 

Continuing with our historical adventure on Memorial Day, we walked most of the Freedom Trail. This route is marked by a red brick or in places painted red line that spans nearly three miles around Boston, leading you to various historical sites of interest around the city. We stopped at the Old Granary Burying Ground, where some famous people are buried, including Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin's family and other important people from the Revolutionary era. We spent a lot of time walking around Boston Common, which has many statues and memorials to important dates and people in Boston and American history, including a statute of George Washington. We did what lots of annoying tourists do nowadays and stopped for a selfie with the great man!

On one side of Boston Common lies the grand Massachusetts State House, with the Old State House a little further away. We didn't go inside either of these places, but would have done if we had a little more time. Other stops on the trail include visiting the Copp's Hill Burying Ground [another cemetry, but still interesting!] and the Old North Church, which had lovely grounds and a memorial to soldiers who have died in service in recent years. We stepped on and off the trail and saw a couple of the places on different days while visiting other places, but the Freedom Trail is great, whether you do it all, or dip in and out.

I won't go into detail about the history of all of these places and people, but if you are into history and you don't know about the Revolutionary War, the Boston Tea Party and other huge parts of American history that took place in Boston, then I'd definitely recommend you take the time to read up on it. Alternatively you could put Boston on your bucket list of places to visit in the future!

George Washington selfie on Boston Common

Further along the Freedom Trail, the USS Constitution is docked in Charlestown. The USS Constitution is the flagship of the US Navy and is sailed around Boston Harbour every year on the 4th of July, to maintain it's commissioned status within the fleet. It was free to look round, after going through airport style security checks to enter and we were allowed to look around most of the ship. Current servicemen do short guided tours of the ship, but we decided to explore on our own. I've always loved old ships, since visiting the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth as a child, so it was great to see this fantastic part of US history.

We wanted to go and see the Bunker Hill Monument while in Charlestown, as it's not all that far from the USS Constitution. This monument is on top of a hill that boasts a great view of Boston from all sides. Unfortunately it was starting to rain while we were in the area, so we decided to head back to avoid getting too soggy!

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum. The Boston Tea Party was a political protest against the British Monarchy that took place in 1773. The tour is hosted by fantastic actors in period outfits, who enthusiastically tell the story of how the Boston Tea Party unfolded. It starts in an assembly room, where guests are invited to take part by reading from cue cards. We then walked down onto one of the two Boston Tea Party ships that are docked there, where we were shown around the wonderfully restored ship. One of the actors asked for volunteers to help throw the tea overboard, reenacting what happened during the night of the protest centuries ago. He was of course looking for kids to volunteer, but I jumped straight up as I'm a big kid at heart and really wanted a go! Unlike the actual protest, these 'tea boxes' were on rope and could be pulled back onboard. The whole tour was very informative and interesting and we had lots of fun.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Boston post #2: Boston Calling Music Festival

A few months ago we were looking into dates to go and visit our friends Phil and Char, who are living and working in Boston, Massachusetts. We stumbled across a fairly new music festival taking place around the same time we wanted to visit, so booked our flights based around the date of the festival. The festival is called Boston Calling, taking place twice a year in Boston City Hall Plaza. For a festival that had only been on a couple of times before, it had a really strong line up and loads of artists we were really keen to see.

Boston Calling took place over three days on 23rd, 24th and 25th May. Memorial Day on the Monday provided an excellent rest day after lots of partying at the festival! The music programming started at 6pm on the Friday and ran all through the day and evenings on the Saturday and Sunday. We headed down to City Hall Plaza early afternoon on the Friday to check it out and found the site still being built. We were able to wonder around at this time without the need for a ticket or wristband and it was cool to see the site taking shape, with a few hours left until the doors opened. 

The calm before the storm: The red stage before doors opened

We headed back later in the evening after doors opened and collected our tickets from the box office. It was super busy, but we didn't need to queue for too long to get in. There was a no re-entry policy on the Friday and no wristband required, which I think was to try and minimise queuing time, when so many people would be arriving after work, at the same sort of time. This was a good idea, however everyone needed to queue for a small tent to show their ID to get an ID wristband, to prove you are aged 21 or over at the bar. This queue was long and slow, with no barriers or queuing system in place. The large queue also blocked the entrance area. This seemed to be very badly thought out. 

We deliberately arrived after the first act, Cass McCombs, to give ourselves a bit longer to get ready after our friends finished work and because we hadn't heard of this artist. The second band of the night was Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, who we are big fans of and were really excited to see live. I've watched loads of their YouTube videos and their performances always look really lively. They were great performers and the lead singer especially had a brilliant stage presence and generally created a good feeling in the crowd. You may recognise their biggest hit Home, which you can check out on YouTube below.

Next up and headlining the Friday night was Jack Johnson. I am familiar with some of his songs, as he has been around for years, but I've never been that into his music. Although he played flawlessly, I didn't find all of his performance all that exciting and he didn't interact with the crowd. It got livelier towards the end though and it was a brilliant finale when he got Edward Sharpe et al back on stage for a big jam at the end. 

Towards the end of Jack Johnson's set, a chap who had been standing right in front of us got down on one knee and proposed to his partner. We all cheered and clapped, as did lots of people around us and it was a really lovely thing to see at the start of the festival weekend. They were both delighted and emotional, but that didn't stop them dancing enthusiastically to the rest of Jack Johnson's set!

Marriage proposal right in front of us!

We headed back to the festival early in the afternoon on the Saturday to see Maximo Park. They've been around in the UK for a long time and we were surprised to discover, when announced by the lead signer at the end of the set, that Boston Calling was their first US festival show. There was a good sized crowd for that time of day and the show was fun, with very well choreographed dancing by the charismatic and well-dressed frontman.

Walk Off The Earth followed, a band who shot to fame when a video of five of the band playing one guitar, covering Gotye's Somebody That I Used To Know went viral. We saw them do it live and it was very impressive. Check it out below.

Whilst back at the apartment having a few drinks before heading back for the evening performances,  I made a sign to hold up for Frank Turner. I've seen Frank Turner several times and decided that I'd hold up a snazzy sign, which I had never done before. It's definitely a bit sad, but I was hoping the sign might get me noticed and I'd get asked to join him on stage. Sadly we were quite far back and another guy with a sign was pulled up on stage to play harmonica with Frank

Cool or sad? You decide!

Accompanied by his brilliant band, Frank Turner was outstanding as ever, with an enthusiastic and charming set of his newer and older songs. Frank always looks like he is genuinely and completely enjoying himself when he performs and this rubs off onto the crowd. I knew Frank Turner had a good stateside following, but was still very impressed by the huge crowd that has flocked to see his early evening set. 

We were looking forward to seeing Death Cab For Cutie later in the evening, who are one of Emily's favourite bands. Sadly it started raining heavily early in evening, so we ended up heading back to our friends apartment in a taxi. We stuck it out for a bit under a bit of shelter at the festival, but very quickly got very wet, with still a long time to wait before Death Cab were due on stage. We saw online the following day that many people who did stick it out said the show was amazing, but I think we would have been rather miserable and very cold by the time they took the stage. We met a guy outside the merchandise tent who had found himself a big cardboard box to shelter from the rain. It's a shame where weren't more boxes to go around! Char and Phil have been living in Boston since November and said they haven't seen rain like it in all that time. Typical it would chuck it down at the wrong time!

Someone taking shelter from the rain!

We were particularly excited about seeing Bastille on the Sunday, who drew a huge crowd. It's brilliant to see British acts doing so well in America, especially as Bastille haven't been around for all that long. I follow them on Instagram and noticed that they were only in America a week before, but just the day before the Boston Calling show, they were performing at Radio 1's Big Weekend in Glasgow, UK. This must have been a late addition, as it seems crazy to schedule their tour like that deliberately. Bastille frontman Dan's vocals were a little hoarse to begin with, and I definitely think his mic was at a lower volume than it should have been in light of this. His voice did however improve throughout the show and they put on a great performance, which went down really well with a very lively crowd. Dan walked out into the crowd at one point, and got absolutely mobbed! I'm looking forward to seeing Bastille again at Boardmasters Festival in Newquay, UK in August.

Boston Calling Music Festival was all-round very fun and great value for money, costing less than £100 for a three day ticket, which is very competitive compared to many UK festivals and shows. There wasn't a huge amount there other than the two stages, bars and a few food vendors, but space is limited due to the festival location in City Hall Plaza. The bar and toilet queues were really very long at times, which could do with being looked at, but these are just a few teething problems, for a generally very well run festival, which has only been running for a couple of years.

One big thing that worked really well at the festival, was having two stages side by side, alternating the bands that were on. This meant that there was only a 5-minute gap between each band throughout the day, with the other stage being set up for the following band each time. I have heard about this format at other festivals and it was great seeing it work so well at Boston Calling

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Boston post #1: Our first time in America

My girlfriend Emily and I got back from Boston last week, which was our first ever visit to the USA. We went out to visit our friends Phil and Char, who live and work in Boston

Arriving in Americaaaaaaaargh!

We arrived early afternoon on a Thursday, feeling not too sleepy after getting a few hours kip on the plane. We got a free shuttle bus directly from the airport to South Station, where we walked and were able to navigate our way to our friends' apartment in Downtown Boston. We dropped off our bags and excitedly headed out onto the American streets, to go and have a wander around Boston Common. One of the first things we saw on the common was a sea of small American flags. There were 37,000 flags in total, each representing someone linked to Massachusetts who has been killed in military service since the Revolutionary War. The sea of flags was enormous and it was a very lovely and poignant tribute. We continued to explore the common, which has many permanent memorials and statues for important dates and people in American history. I'll be posting a Boston History blog post later this week. 

37,000 flags: a memorial to Massachusetts military

The following day we woke up super early, due to being jet-lagged and headed off to Harvard University for a campus tour. I'll post more about this in the Boston History post later in the week. To continue our academia adventure, we visited the Massachusetts Institute of Tenchnology [M.I.T] Museum, which is near the financial district of Boston. It was surreal walking down the road amongst huge Microsoft, Google and other huge corporate offices, in a very smart area of town. The museum was really interesting, with loads of hands-on exhibits, a lot like the Science Museum in London, but on a much smaller scale. Many of the exhibits are robots that have been made by M.I.T. students as part of their course. There was a special hologram exhibition on, which was a lot more interesting than it sounds! 

Robot at the M.I.T. museum

Emily being scientific at the M.I.T. Museum...

That afternoon we headed to the World famous Fenway Park Baseball Stadium to watch the Boston Red Sox play the Toronto Blue Jays. The Red Sox won the 2013 World Series and Fenway Park is the country's oldest Baseball Stadium. We were recommended a visit here by our good friend Alison and it didn't disappoint. We had been awe-struck by everything American since we arrived in Boston and being here was quite simply about as American as it gets! We managed to get good seats, behind the home-plate for less than £20 each and enjoyed American snacks and drinks, which are sold by lots of enthusiastic staff who run around the stadium with their various wares. The game started at 4pm, which is later than the usual start time of 7pm, to encourage families to come. Sadly the Red Sox lost, but we didn't have a clue what was going on in the game anyway, but we loved it! I bought myself a Red Sox snapback cap as a souvenir. 

We found so many everyday things amazing whilst we were in Boston, as we associated so many things with movies we have seen. We found even the most simple things cool, like fire hydrants, ambulances and railway crossings! We even stopped for a photo outside a local fire station and took a school-bus selfie, as you do! Emily even took a photo of a drain cover at one point, as it said BOSTON DRAIN on it! 

Outside the local fire station, being geeks...

School bus selfie!

At the weekend we went for a lovely brunch with Char and Phil, in the beautiful Beacon Hill area of Boston. This whole area is filled with red-brick buildings and is postcard-perfect and is generally lovely to wander around. We had fancy poached eggs and all the trimmings for brunch and I have to say that they were the best eggs I have ever tasted! 

Whilst on the subject of my enthusiasm for American food, I also had THE best pizza I have ever had whilst in Boston, just from a takeaway! It was delicious and so big that I had enough for two lunches out of it, as well as my dinner! We also went out for food in Chinatown on our last night and I had the biggest portion of noodles served to me that I've ever seen. I hate to leave food on my plate, so gave it a good go, but this was simply too enormous to completely finish! We had so much other lovely food during our week in Boston, including tasty lunches in Bruegger's Bagels and at Falafel King, not to mention good old Dunkin' Donuts too!

Beacon Hill

One of Emily's friends recommended we go on a Samuel Adams Brewery Tour, which was in a residential suburb, quite far out from the centre of Boston. The tour was free, but they ask you to make a suggested $2 donation per person, which all goes to local charities. The tour lasted about an hour, which was hosted by a very knowledgeable chap who explained about how the beer is created. The tour concludes in a large room with a bar, where you try three different beers. One of the beers we tried had only just been put on the tap for the first time that day, so we were the first members of the public to try it! I am not a huge fan of craft beers and Emily generally hates all beer, but we had fun and found the tour really interesting!

Phil and Char, our friends we stayed with in Boston, live in a lovely apartment in Downtown Boston, on the edge of Chinatown. It was the perfect base for our visit and we were very lucky and appreciative to be able to stay with them there. As it was Memorial weekend while we visited, they were allowed to leave work early on the Friday and had the Monday off, so it was great to spend lots of time with them.

The apartment itself was lovely, plus one of the floors of the apartment block is a large social space, including an outdoor swimming pool, gym, pool table, computer workstations and plenty of space to sit and relax. We played more games of pool during the week than I think I've played in the rest of my life combined! It was nice relaxing by the pool over the weekend, with drinks from famous red cups! I'm not sure why red cups have become such an iconic thing, as we have bought them online for using at parties in the UK before, but there is just something about them that is very cool!

Red Cups by the pool

During our week in Boston we also went to Boston Calling Music Festival on the Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, visited lots of historical sites, including the USS Constitution - the flagship of the US Navy, The Boston Tea Party Museum and the family home of former US president JFK. We also went on a Harvard University Campus tour, as previously mentioned. I'll be posting about the festival and about our historical adventures later this week, in further blog posts about Boston.

Our whole week was incredible and definitely the best holiday I've ever been on. Many of the things we did were free and we didn't spend a huge amount while we were there. Things like alcohol are quite expensive in Boston, but not much different to places like London or Paris. Boston was an amazing first American city to visit and I'm really excited to visit the US again in the future, with New York and San Francisco at the top of my bucket list.

Sunset on the flight home with KLM