SOTM World Tour – East Coast USA

The planning for the SOTM World Tour had always been done with chasing the sun in mind.

Kate and I had therefore enjoyed months of sun in many countries, including a record heat wave in Japan of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But ever since we entered the US, over on the west coast, we’d been seeing reports of this year’s lingering winter storms hitting the very places we were eventually going to reach.

And so we braced ourselves for an Arctic blast when we headed to Washington D.C. We weren’t disappointed.

We were staying with my excellent chums, the gorgeous Chelsey and dashing John, who are soon to tie the knot themselves. I was delighted to learn that they had a dog, a rather large hound called Tallulah.

You can see John and me shivering in this photo along with The Goat, as I affectionately named Tallulah. This is on account of how she likes to eat most things, including laptops.

Incidentally we got to DC via a very comfortable Amtrak train ride. I rather liked the shot I grabbed of our chop-choo with my iPhone as it pulled into the station.

And when we were in DC, I was reminded of how awesome its subway train stations are. Unless you’re Zoe Barnes (for those who’ve seen House of Cards).

Seeing as the weather was so freezing, we decided to hit up some of the remarkable museums that DC has to offer. In the National Museum of American History you can see Miss Piggy herself. Kermit is also on the premises but he wasn’t on display during our visit, sadly.

Also on show were Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street. Confusing everyone with the nature of their friendship since 1969.

A personal favourite of mine – the Cookie Monster. He too dated from 1969 and looked a bit worse for wear. All those cookies play havoc with your fur, clearly.

Is there anyone who doesn’t like the Swedish chef? I met two charming Swedish sisters in Koh Chang earlier on this trip, and asked if they knew the Swedish chef personally. They didn’t find it as funny as I thought they would.

Now then, this simply blew me away. This is the original Wright Brothers flying machine, which made the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight in 1903.

The canopy was replaced in 1985, but otherwise this is the actual aircraft that changed the world, forever. It was an overwhelming sight.

This is another jaw-dropping exhibit at the museum – a section of the diner counter from Woolworth in Greensboro, North Carolina where black diners sat at a whites-only section.

This, and many other protests like it, led to the store dropping its policy of segregation. Amazing and terrifying to think America had this policy within living memory, when almost all of the rest of the world had long since dropped apartheid-style policies in their governments. As for their societies, that’s another matter.

But reminders like the Greensboro counter makes Obama’s election as president even more welcome.

Speaking of Barack, we popped round to the White House to find, to my delight, that it was living up to its name on account of all the wintry weather. Last time I was here, in 2009, it was sunny and hot, so this was a great contrast for my photographs.

1965019_10154005278715241_324059401_nHere’s a photo from my previous visit to DC. Don’t ask.

During that last trip I was lucky enough to meet Chelsey (seen on the far right) and take her SOTM. She invited Kate and me to stay with her and her fiancé John (on the far left).

We had a fruitful SOTM meet up in Acre 121, the bar that John runs, and met smashing types like Glinda and Maynard who run the Travelationship website.

1982046_10153977085495241_1369452790_nHere’s a couple of SOTMs that I took at this splendid gathering. As always, click on the SOTM images to see their pages on the main website.


12052014And this is Kate’s childhood friend Alexa, who now does political stuff in the capital.

12042014I also enjoyed a couple of slices at Dangerously Delicious Pies while in town. The guy who served us looked like the bloke off LMFAO, amusingly.

We also popped into Ben’s Chili Bowl, one of DC’s most famous culinary spots.

I enjoyed one of the establishment’s half smokes, a hotdog with a blend of pork and beef. Named after Bill Cosby, who’s quite partial to them, apparently.

There’s a sign up in the joint that says only he and President Obama can eat there for free. I realised at one point that when Obama won his first election, he came here for a meet and greet, and I was sat right where he stood to shake hands with the staff. Also, I was photobombed by some bird who looks familiar.

So after bidding DC a fond farewell, we headed for an overnight stop off in Baltimore, where my excellent friend Elissa, a long-time supporter of SOTM, offered to put us up and gather a few friends for me to photograph.

Turns out her apartment overlooks Greenmount Cemetery, which has a number of notable eternal residents. None more notorious, though, than John Wilkes Booth, the man who shot Abraham Lincoln.

1185283_10153972686245241_456779371_nThis is the Booth family plot. Wilkes’s grave appears to be the headstone closest to the camera. It’s the only one that’s unmarked.

Elissa explained that people leave a one cent coin, known as a penny, on Wilkes’s grave because it has Lincoln’s head on it. So that’s exactly what Kate and I did.

Thanks once again, thanks to Elissa’s efforts, a few people were rounded up for a SOTM meetup that night. I got several smashing shots from smashing people. Here’s a couple of them.

01052014Also during the meet up bar, Club Charles, I bumped into movie director John Waters, who I interviewed in 2010 for the BBC.

I asked if he remembered me from the interview, and he said: “Gosh, I’ve done a million of those.” But he chatted briefly and was still as nice as when I met him the first time.

Early the next morning we took a bus to Philadelphia, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go because I’m a huge fan of Rocky, which is set in this city.

We were staying with Kate’s friends this time, Kelly and Dave, who were superb hosts and much fun. Kelly patiently drove us around to see a few sites from the Rocky movies.

First stop, the area where Rocky jumped benches in front of Independence Hall. The hall itself is hugely interesting inside, for it’s where a few disgruntled types decided to sever the Colonies from Britain over a few misunderstandings. Or something like that…

Not-so-fun fact: it was freezing cold and I was quite stiff, but after posing briefly for this photo, the back of my left leg ached all day. When I get back to London life, I’m hitting the yoga again. Hard.

These are the famous steps that Rocky runs up several times in the series of films. They officially belong to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but I’m glad that they’re widely known as the Rocky Steps.

In fact, several people I met in Philly told me, in all sincerity, how the Italian Stallion is regarded as a god, as almost a real person in the city. He’s much loved and clips from the movies are played at major sporting events for Philadelphia’s teams.

This makes me very happy.

The view from the top of the Rocky Steps.

Kate, Kelly and I ran up the steps. Had to be done. It really did.

Also, this is something that I’ve really always wanted to do – pose with the statue of Rocky, which featured in Rocky III. A real highlight of my life, let me tell you.

This is Pat’s King of Steaks, famous for its cheesesteaks, and also where Rocky stood in the first movie. He was given $500 by his loan shark boss to help with training expenses.

1976987_10154005258470241_1891352800_nA plaque marks the spot where Rocky stood in that scene, demonstrating again how important a figure he is to the people of this city.

And if they’re good enough for Rocky…


Dave and I were stunned to learn that neither Kelly nor Kate had ever seen Rocky. So that night Dave put the movie on, and it seemed to go down well with the ladies. One day, only five more to go.

Finally, Kelly took us to Elfreth’s Alley. This sounds like a euphemism from an episode of Blackadder, but actually it’s the oldest residential street in America. To my glee, I noted the old school Union Flag hanging up there.

It’s probably for educational purposes, but I secretly hoped someone British had bought the property and hung the flag to irk the locals.

10153682_10154005261420241_1314690556_nIt was a great spot for Kelly’s own SOTM.

02062014That’s it for this time – after Philly, Kate and I travelled to New York and Boston for a low-key period on the trip, staying with Kate’s family. I’ll pick up our travels again when back in Europe, starting with a travel conference in Germany.

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