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The best of…

An attempt to condense five months of travelling into five minutes of highlights…

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The Lake Shore Limited and New York

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In two weeks crossing America, I’d encountered almost every American stereotype – the cowboy, the Amish, the corn-growers, the hippy, the gun apologist. There was still time, on the last leg of the trip, to tick off another stereotype – the distantly Irish. To his credit though, he turned out to have the best story I’d heard in five months on the road.

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Chicago

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In 1994, we received the letter most Irish families receive at some time – long-lost American relations were coming over looking for the family left behind in the Aul Sod. After a couple of days in Dublin, which they spent speaking an almost impenetrable language involving phrases like “French fries” and “garbage disposal unit”, they continued on their tour of Ireland before heading home. 18 years later, having had no contact myself with them since, I had been told to wait outside the police station in Chicago’s Union Station, where I was to be the excuse for a fairly large-scale family re-union.

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The California Zephyr

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Part of the inspiration for this trip came from Michael Palin’s Around the World in 80 Days, much of whose final land route I’ll be following for the next two weeks. Certainly, it’s the only place I’d ever heard of my next destination, although it proves an inspired one – Glenwood Springs, Colorado.

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California

Golden Gate Bridge in sun

America was always going to be about big. Even having been at a sumo meeting a few days previously, the people are still big. Soft drinks come in cans twice as large as home. Massive SUVs are everywhere. Even still, I’m surprised by the first sign I see after entering Los Angeles’ LAX airport – “Low clearance! 7’2″”. I duck my head and just about make it through.

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Nagoya

Japan sumo initial clash

Nagoya was the first – and last – place I arrived on my trip without any idea as to where to stay. Hostelworld was letting me down in Japan, partly because Japan doesn’t really do budget accommodation. But it does cater for those who suddenly find themselves in need of a bed for the night. At the info desk in the train station, I asked after the nearest capsule hotel, and was directed to the fourth floor of a shopping centre ten minutes’ walk away.

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Tokyo

Japan Tokyo Shinkansen

Japan is strange. Famously insular – outside contact was banned between 1641 and 1853, on penalty of death – the country seems to struggle with the idea of inviting tourists in. They want the money – what Japanese doesn’t? – but there’s always the hint of a suggestion that are you sure you wouldn’t want to stay at home after all? A 7-day Japan rail pass is excellent value, but to buy one, you need to enter the country with a voucher which can be exchanged for the rail pass in Japan. For no reason that I can see, the rail pass cannot be bought in Japan. Instead, you have to buy a voucher, and not more than three months before its first use, so I couldn’t buy one before I left home. Alternatively, I could buy one in any of the six Japan Rail agents in New Zealand, all of which are located in Auckland.

Train travel in Japan is quite expensive – it’s the only country in the world with a profitable passenger rail service – so before I even reach the country, I’m already having to scale back my plans.

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