2011 was a truly epic year, here are my top 20 most memorable and favourite personal moments from my adventures in the USA.

20. Hiking in Glen Onoko, PA

9th April – One of the more last minute plans, I made my way to Philadelphia to meet up with Peter and his friends to go hiking at Glen Onoko near Jim Thorpe, PA. The day was notable for a number of reasons; we found a man painting with an easel half-way up who was very talented, another man entertained us as he drove at high speed on a moped over speed bumps and there was further entertainment on the way home whilst the ‘up-hill’ breath holding competition was held. Two people also fell in love, but sadly I was neither, nor both.

Glen Onoko Warning Sign
Glen Onoko Falls

19. Hands On Jackie Robinson Park, Harlem, New York, NY

16th April – Despite an early start on a Saturday morning I was glad I got out of bed to volunteer with colleagues at work to help with Hands On New York. Our task was to rake leaves, plant flower and freshen up Jackie Robinson Park in Harlem. It was a cold, hard days work but rewarding when we got to the end of the day!

Volunteering in Jackie Robinson Park, Harlem, NY

18. Ice Skating in Bryant Park, New York, NY

17th December – this was the first time I had ever gone ice skating and for me it was a truly terrifying experience, but I was encouraged by my friends Emma, Peter and Jessi (professionals) and Katie (a fellow novice!). The caramel popcorn from the Christmas market was also amazing!

Ice Skating in Byrant Park

17. A day in Providence, RI

13th September – In September I had a couple of University friends staying with me and on one of these days my friend Adam and I decided to take a day trip to Providence, the state capitol of Rhode Island. The bus journey took over 4 hours and I left my NYPL copy of ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ onboard (which I never got back and later had to pay for). Both the weather and the city were beautiful. The day finished with my first ever visit to ‘The Cheesecake Factory’ yum!

Providence, Rhode Island
Benefit Street, Providence

16. Liberty Enlightening the World, New York, NY

12th February & 14th September – Having spent considerable effort researching my family tree and knowing that some of my own ancestors made the journey to New York in generations past I was particularly interested in seeing the Statue and Ellis Island.

The Statue of Liberty, Liberty Island, NY

15. The Royal Wedding in Times Square, New York, NY

29th April – Ok I’ll admit it, I did get up a little earlier to watch the Royal Wedding ceremony on the TV. Then on my way to work I got off a stop earlier, walked through Times Square and watched Baron and Baroness Carrickfergus kiss on the balcony!

Watching Baron and Baroness Carrickfergus in Times Square

14. 9/11, New York, NY

11th September – This was the 10th Anniversary of 9/11 and my university friend, Adam, happened to be staying with me at the time. We walked along Broadway in Lower Manhattan, taking in the sights and sounds, many came to remember whilst others came to make a point. Later we took a tour of the United Nations which was very impressive and I probably spent too much in the gift shop! That night we took the Staten Island Ferry to look at the two giant beams of lights and 1 WTC which was lit up with red, white and blue lights, a truly remarkable sight.

A True Patriot
9/11 Protests
The New York Stock Exchange
Lower Manhattan on 9/11 from Staten Island Ferry

13. US-NI Mentorship Program Ceremony, New York, NY

30th November – I was the fourth participant to be placed on the US-NI Mentorship Program in it’s inaugural year. The ‘graduation’ ceremony was a special event to celebrate the end of the first year and it was actually the first time that all participants were present in the same room together believe it or not. It was a nice way to end the year and for me the highlight of the night was when my fellow participant and good friend Peter gave a speech on why he was returning home and why this is an exiciting time to be in Northern Ireland.

US-NI Mentorship Graduation Ceremony

12. Thanksgiving near Princeton, NJ

24th November – Karen, a VP in the company I was working for invited me to join Thanksgiving with her and her family. Having arrived in the USA late in the evening on Thanksgiving 2010 this was a wonderful way to celebrate the previous 12 months and to take some time to reflect on how thankful and privileged I was for having this amazing experience. We had some very tasty not-so-traditional Lasagne followed by the traditional Turkey and some delicious pies for dessert. After food, I enjoyed helping Karen and her family put up their Christmas tree! Earlier in the day I also had the opportunity to check out the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade which was quite spectacular!

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade
Thanksgiving Dinner
Thanksgiving Christmas Tree

11. Sleep no more, New York, NY

15th September – Shakespeare’s Macbeth as you have never seen or experienced it before, in the dark, walking around endless rooms and passageways wearing a mask. Simply amazing. I also enjoyed many other performances in New York including How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying starring Daniel Radcliffe, Phantom of the Opera, The Addams Family, The Fantasticks, Freud’s Last Session, Cambridge Footlights and A Night With George.

10. New York Stock Exchange, New York, NY

8th February – We were invited to an American Ireland Fund party on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange!

Trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange

9. Northern Ireland Represented, New York, NY

Throughout the year I had the opportunity to attend high profile events through the American Ireland Fund and the Northern Ireland Bureau. These included events in both the Residence of the Irish Consul-General, Noel Kilkenny and the Residence of the British Consul-General, Danny Lopez. During the year I also got to meet Geraldine Hughes, Liam Neeson and the Northern Ireland First and deputy First Ministers, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness.

Geraldine Hughes
Liam Neeson
Northern Ireland First and Deputy First Ministers

8. Philadelphia, PA

I have visited Philadelphia many times during the year and have many memorable moments from my time there. Some of the highlights include Pat’s cheesesteaks, Bassets Ice Cream (America’s oldest ice cream company), touring the Kimmel centre, seeing STOMP live, visiting the Museum of Art and Rocky steps, Independence Mall and the Liberty Bell.

At the Rocky Steps, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Philadelphia in the Fall
Ice Cream Trolley
An evening by the pool
Liberty Bell
Schuylkill River, Philadelphia
Perkasie, PA

7. A day in Jim Thorpe, PA

20th February – This was the first adventure of the year that the trio of Ben, Peter and myself embarked on. One of the most memorable moments was Ben and Peter’s rendition of ‘Ice Ice Baby’.

Carving ice sculptures in Jim Thorpe
Jim Thorpe, PA

6. Cycling in Boston, MA

19th-21st August – The first time I went to Boston we had to cross the George Washington Bridge to meet Peter at a car park in New Jersey. It would have been a good idea had there not been a massive frickin thunderstorm directly overhead! Regardless I really liked Boston, it reminded me a little of home. We hired bikes and cycled round the city (I hadn’t cycled in years!). Memorable moments included Ben drawing a mouse on the wall, running through water fountains and solving riddles at the Top of the Hub restaurant on the 52nd floor of the Prudential Tower whilst eating delicious freshly baked cookies. I enjoyed it so much I returned to Boston on 17th September with my university friends Adam and Laura where we visited Harvard and ate more cookies!

A thunderstorm over the George Washington Bridge starts the weekend adventure
Boston State House
Charles River, Boston

5. Lake Winnipesaukee, NH

29th-31st July – Earlier in the year we had attended an Emmanuel College Alumni Dinner hosted by Lord Winston of Dinton at the Harvard Club in New York City. At that dinner we met a lovely couple, Averill and Gregory who we became friendly during the year and in August they invited us to spend the weekend at their cabins on Lake Winnipesaukee. The weather was amazing and we enjoyed meeting their friends who were staying with them from England. We got a tour of the lake and saw the house where Nicolas Sarkozy stayed one summer and Mitt Romney’s summer retreat. Peter, Ben and Vicki had a go at water skiing but I couldn’t join them because of my ear!

The sun sets over Lake Winnipesaukee, NH
Peter waterskiing on Lake Winnipesaukee
Group photograph with Lake Winnipesaukee in the background
A dragonfly on the jetty
Group photo at Riverside station, Newton, MA

4. North Carolina

3rd-7th November – Hurricane Irene upset the original plans for a visit to North Carolina on the last weekend in August, but thankfully I was able to reschedule the flights and enjoyed Fall in North Carolina instead. Highlights included walking around Duke Gardens, visiting Hillsborough, our day trip to Raleigh where we saw some classic vehicles and some live music, we took another day trip to Wilmington where we saw some beautfiul landscapes and pelicans. We also got to see Samuel Beckett’s Endgame at the Gate Theatre in Chapel Hill.

Hillsborough, NC
Hillsborough, NC
Carolina Beach State Park, NC
Carolina Beach State Park, NC
Pelican flying over Fort Fisher near Wilmington, NC

3. Marine One landing at The White House, Washington DC

27th-30th May, Memorial Day Weekend – Following Barack Obama’s visit to the Republic of Ireland and other countries in Europe we witnessed the final stage of his journey home as he landed in Marine One on the South Lawn. With snipers on the roof and mutliple decoy helicopters it was quite exciting to witness! Other highlights included getting free admission to the Washington Monument, seeing the Lincoln Memorial, visiting the Museum of Flight, visiting the Iwo Jima memorial and Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia,  and setting foot on Northern Irish soil in the form of a quick tour of the Northern Ireland Bureau given by our host for the weekend Norman Houston. We returned to Washington DC on Columbus Day weekend (7th-9th October) where we saw the new Martin Luther King memorial and the Thomas Jefferson memorial. I returned for a day trip on 6th December to visit the Library of Congress and the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The White House
Marine One with decoy helicopters
Marine One
Marine One landed on the South Lawn of the White House
US Capitol
Thomas Jefferson Memorial
I Have A Dream

2. Pacific Coast, LA to San Francisco, CA

8th-15th December – I flew from JFK into LAX on the 8th December and met my friend, Jonathan, from University who had flown in from LHR (Heathrow). We rented a hire car, a pretty reasonable Mazda 3 and headed to Venice Beach where we took some night shots. The following day we ate at the Urth Cafe and drove up to the Griffith Observatory where we got amazing views overlooking LA and saw the Hollywood sign. Whilst we were in LA we saw them starting to set up equipment for the overnight filming of a new Ryan Gosling movie Gangster Squad. That night we had a fascinating drive around Beverely Hills and Bel Air and headed to Santa Monica to grab something to eat – Santa Monica was one of my favourite places on this trip and we enjoyed a very delicious Aurora sauce at Locanda Del Lago and an amazing Irish Cream gelato from Angelato Cafe. On Saturday we departed LA and started our two day drive to San Francisco driving along the Pacific Coast Highway making many stops including Malibu Beach, Santa Barbara, Morro Bay (our overnight stop), Hearst Castle, Big Sur, Monterey, Santa Cruz, 1 Infinite Loop Cupertino (Apple HQ) and Amphitheatre Parkway Mountain View (Google HQ) before arriving in Pleasanton, CA where we would be staying with family friends as a base for exploring San Francisco. San Francisco was also brilliant and we took a cable car to visit Chinatown, Lombard Street and Fisherman’s Wharf before visiting Pier 39 to seal the sealions. We took a night tour of Alcatraz which I would highly recommend. Obviously we also drove across the Golden Gate bridge, had lunch in Tiburon and then visited Muir Beach and drove around Muir Woods. On my final day before flying back from SFO, I visited the USS Pampinto submarine and the SS Jeremiah O’Brien Liberty Ship which were both very interesting and enjoyable.

Venice Beach
Los Angeles
Hollywood Sign, Los Angeles
Santa Monica
Morro Bay
Hearst Castle
Elephant Seal
Golden Gate Bridge
Golden Gate Bridge

1. Mumford & Sons, Telluride, CO

15th-20th June – In June, my friends Ben, Peter, Katie and Jessi had an adventure I will never forget! We flew from Newark to Denver Colorado where we hired a beast of a rental car, a Chevy Tahoe and stayed with Peter’s friends near Castle Rock on the first night. Our destination was Telluride to see Mumford and Sons perform at the annual Bluegrass Music Festival. Along the way we enjoyed Georgetown, Loveland Pass, Breckenridge and the natural hot springs at Glenwood Springs. For most of the holiday we stayed at Ouray (the ‘Switzerland’ of America) and enjoyed horse riding in the mountains with our guide called Post who was quite an interesting character. We also went to the Box Canyon Falls, visited a ghost town and saw real chipmunks! The girls also made some new friends, Garrett and Steveo, which provided Peter and I with much entertainment. The festival itself was brilliant and Mumford and Sons were awesome! The rain and weather which only started shortly before the set and lasted for most of it, ‘After the Storm’ the sun came out and we could see snow on the upper parts of the hillside which was amazing. A truly remarkable and enjoyable holiday and most deservedly number one on my list!

Mumford and Sons perform at Telluride
Telluride, Colorado
Colorado Group Photo at Loveland Pass
Horse riding with Post
Colorado Chipmunk
Ouray, Colorado