Times like these

I received a text not too long ago from a friend, one of four friends that I lived with in Texas back in 2010. Two of these friends I regularly keep in contact with, the other two have been busy travelling, one with a fiancé he met whilst working on a cruise line and the other with a wife and as of last week, a baby boy. 

How times change, it only felt like yesterday that we all left the Lone Star State in 2011 and made our way up the east coast before flying home from New York.

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Mate can you remember in New York when we were sitting in Times Square late at night reminiscing about the year just gone? One of the most memorable times of my life.

Of course I did, I replied that I remember it perfectly. The other three went to bed in our run down hotel just around the corner. There was one double bed for five guys, we stayed up as long as possible to avoid having to sleep on the floor with luggage bags for pillows. I remember there were two carpets in the room with completely different patterns, split right down the centre. I have no idea of the logic behind that but with us being so close to Times Square, it wasn’t like the hotel was going to run out of guests anytime soon. 

When I have been to NYC, I have always opted for location over comfort. With my visits all being in my late teens/early twenties, it’s not like luxury was an option anyway. Great things came from that hellhole of a hotel, the main one being the memory revisted in that text. I remember the two of us sitting there in the early hours on plastic chairs, watching the people go by and the lights dazzle. There was one ad in the distance that I’m sure was Coca Cola, with an animation that made it look like construction workers were working behind it, the shadows of people with tools and sparks flying. We debated whether the people were real for about an hour, I think the only winner there was Coca Cola. 

What made it most memorable was that it was the very last memory of an amazing 13 month experience. Sitting there and talking about everything that occurred was like the last page of a book or the last episode of a series. It was the first time I really sat down and thought about it, despite being in one of the most active and alive places on earth. 

The best thing about the final page is that page one is always there to revisited when we want to. It only takes something as small as a text to trigger this kind of butterfly effect and bring back so many memories.

Photo by Wojtek Witkowski on Unsplash

Does your town have a Ghost Bike?

I have a few photos from various countries of bikes being used for things other than riding. Everything about a bikes design is built with the belief that a person will be on top of it, so seeing a bike upright without feet on the pedals and hands on the grips can be a little eerie, like finding a glove without a hand in it or a clothing lying in a field. Where is the person?

Take this photo of a bike, taken by the beach in Rio.

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Okay, this one isn’t as strange as it has been used as a stand for souvenirs. It is probably very difficult to ride like that anyway, but it looks cool and I decided to take a photograph. Looking at the background it does seem like bikes were pretty common here, I can’t remember seeing so many whilst I was there. This is another great example of the power of photography. Our memories change over time, our photographs don’t. Photographs are a way to look back in time for what it was, we might see things we couldn’t remember being there, or didn’t realise at all.

I also took this picture of this bike in Austin, TX.

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This one has a different story. I cannot remember what was on the sign other than the name of person that died and the words ‘Ghost Bikes’… I decided to google Ghost Bikes today and it is a pretty fascinating read. They first appeared in St Louis, Missouri in 2003 and since then 630 ghost bikes have appeared in 210 locations around the world.

From the website GhostBikes.org it has the following to say about the phenomenon:

Ghost Bikes are small and somber memorials for bicyclists who are killed or hit on the street. A bicycle is painted all white and locked to a street sign near the crash site, accompanied by a small plaque. They serve as reminders of the tragedy that took place on an otherwise anonymous street corner, and as quiet statements in support of cyclists’ right to safe travel.

The bike was found on a bridge, I am pretty sure the same bridge as this one, although I may be wrong. It was definitely taken shortly afterwards.

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I thought this may have been a one off at the time. Clearly it isn’t and it shows how the internet can bring people together, people that have a shared story of loss with a mutual passion or profession. The following countries have Ghost Bikes, some in multiple locations:

Different nations, very similar stories and I am sure there are ways to find out about these people and a little insight to their lives that were tragically cut short.

Travel Diary: So long America, it was fun :(

I wanted to find an image that represents the USA in differing ways for this post, I decided on this picture taken in Austin, TX.

The famous yellow taxi. Glass highrises dwarfing the one storey eateries lining the grid traffic systems. Right lane driving. These all stand out to me as a British traveller.

My home city of Durham bans building over two storeys high in some areas to prevent obscuring any views of the cathedral, or so I was taught on a geography trip back in school. Grid systems would be ideal, sadly this is impossible when our city was built when horses were the main mode of transport. It was also important to build in an area that was difficult to conquer, common throughout Europe. It is a city that has always taken my breath away, not just because of the views but the effort needed to walk up to the market place. You can see why the centre is pedestrianised, and how this spot was perfect for the building of a castle and cathedral.

Credit: Van Rhijn Aerial Photography

But this post is about the New World. Today, I received notification that my US visa expired. It isn’t something that I have looked to renew as I have spent the years since 2010 in Malaysia, Brazil and short breaks in Europe. A lot happens in this space of time. I lost my father and uncle in recent years which of course took the wind out of my sails. I had no ambition to travel at all but thanks to great friends and amazing family, I got back on my feet. I would love to have went back the States and it feels weird that I haven’t, I made great friends and still keep in touch.

Sometimes we don’t get upset that something is over until it is over. I haven’t thought much about the visa still being valid but now I see it isn’t, I slumped a bit. If anything it is a reminder that I need to visit this great nation once again, one so vast that one image alone cannot portray the United States of America accurately. I miss the food, the friendly people, the numbered streets and alphabetised avenues and people thinking I’m Irish or Australian.

My visa expiring has inspired me to visit again one day!

Destination: Sydney

Time: 00.00

Check online banking. Payday is finally here.

Time: 00.05

I head to the Australian government website and apply for the Working Holiday visa.

Time: 00.35

Online form completed, I eagerly await it being authorised and sent to my inbox.

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In fact, as I wake up this morning it seems to have already been granted. Can that really be the case so soon? Not that I am complaining, I remember how long it took to get my J1 Visa in the United States.

A bunch of forms printed, filled in and sent back, an arranged interview at the embassy down in London, train tickets purchased, a day in the embassy, security checks and all belongings taken away from me and finally, a stamp in the passport. Not that I am complaining here either. It was worth it in the end. This wasn’t so straight forward for a friend as he lost one page of his documents on route. He had to wait outside for us and come down another day. Immigration have no time for that.

Their visa was a little different. I had to work for one company for 12 months. With my Aussie visa I can work wherever the work is, as long as it is no longer than 6 months with any employer. Sounds like a good deal to fuel my years holiday. Of course if any company decides to sponsor me I can extend my stay. If I do farm work for three months I will be able to extend for another year. What I find exciting on this trip is that I have no idea where I will be heading in the next few years. Will I head back to Europe? What if I find that special someone and build a family in Australia? Being a single guy in his late twenties is a little strange like that.

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I feel everyone has some kind of advantage. If you are in a relationship, awesome. I assume the relationship is one in which both people have similar interests and can feed off each other in terms of inspiration and funds to travel. If you are single you have a free pass to do what you want , when you want with little impact to anyone. Take a week or a year out, it’s up to you. If you are reliant or have someone rely on you, blog about it, tell your story and build a following, your unique perspective of what it is like to travel will be picked up by curious ears I am sure.

This may be the last year I blog from the UK. Thankfully I have a couple of years left of my twenties to blog with as much content as I can, I will make the most of it.

It is amazing that we have the option to follow people as they travel and document their lives through blogs, vlogs and social media. I am sitting here reading about lives in lands that historical populations did not even know existed, wishing I was there as this summers day is so dark I need my standing light on despite being early afternoon. If that doesn’t motivate me to get up and go I don’t know what will.

I will see you all on the other side, I will be here until then if you want me.

First image: Liam Pozz– Unsplash

Second image: Josh Wip– Unsplash