I was fortunate enough to be awarded with a scholarship to attend a conference in Ames, Iowa at Iowa State University. Where? Yeah thats what I thought. After a quick google I determined it was a state in the mid west, and after conversations with several family members repeatedly saying, “so you’re going to Idaho” and me saying ‘no Iowa” and them thinking I was the confused one… I booked my flights.
No international flights from the UK go straight to Des Moines airport so it felt fitting to make my first trip to the USA include a stopover to the Big Apple. I mean why the hell not! Top tip if there is ever a way to see more than one place on a trip and a multi-stop flight won’t raise your costs (most the time it’ll actually reduce it!) absolutely do it!
The only issue was no international flights meant I had to get a domestic flight. Now for someone who loves to travel, suppressing my fear of flying has been ok so far (until there is turbulence then I just hang on to the poor guy next to me and stare like a deer in headlights but thats another post…), but the thought of getting on a tiny jet for 3 hours with 1 member of cabin crew and no person sitting next to me to cling onto because there are only single aisle seats, momentarily freaked me out.
Nevertheless I still paid for it because I was going, and Iowa intrigued me.
So this was the view from my seat as we took of from Newark airport. I was feeling strangely at ease, and the view was stunning. Unfortunately this was the calm before the storm, and the following 2.5 hours (including a 30min diversion around a storm) involved no in flight service because the air hostess couldn’t stand up safely, bumping and sliding and my laptop shutting itself constantly so I couldn’t distract myself with work. I looked at my fellow passengers, as I am aware I tend to get more scared than the average person, but they looked pretty deer like, at which point I just stared at the lightening and rain out the window and hoped Iowa was worth it.
Iowa was awesome. I landed and the people at the shuttle desk were so friendly and sorted me out with my luggage and transfer. My driver was really nice and even though it was gone midnight, apparently as windy on the ground as it was in the air and pretty cold, I was happy and excited for the journey ahead.
I met my host and turned in for the night.
The next day I got a lift to main street Ames and spent hours walking around independent shops selling everything from designer makeup to dog food, and all the comic books, vintage clothes and chocolates you could want in between. Having just arrived from New York it was a complete opposite shopping experience, but somehow mirrored the typical ‘American’ feeling I had expected from watching sitcoms. I liked it and the shop keepers were really friendly, and equally surprised by my british accent and intrigued as to why I was in Ames of all places!
The comic book shop was probably one of my favourites. As a lover of the Big Bang Theory TV show, I have for years wondered what its like to go to an American comic book store. Its pretty cool. And the guys in the shop were pretty Big Bang Theory esque too. I think my boyfriend was pretty happy with his marvel comic gifts!
I went into a sandwich shop called ‘Downtown Deli’ and asked for a recommendation. They gave me this and it was amazing – Italian pastrami sandwich with potato salad and soda. I couldn’t eat it all despite trying pretty hard but I would recommend anyone who happens to be in Ames to check this place out! Again the people were so friendly – theres a theme here right?
The next day I headed to Iowa state campus for the international welcome breakfast and tried Monkey Bread for the first time. Its so good. Its a mid western cake style food almost a cross between danish pastry and cake? And it tastes good. Cake for breakfast why not?
After breakfast we took a visit to the Reiman Gardens, which are located on the Iowa State University campus. This was one of the highlights of my trip. The gardens are immaculately presented with different greenhouses growing all kinds of tropical plants. My favourite part by far was the butterfly house. A beautiful array of several species of butterfly with their own unique patterns and growing amongst bright flowers in a humid glass walk through building. You can’t stay in there for very long without feeling pretty warm but its definitely worth a visit!
On the penultimate day of my stay I went to a ‘tailgate’ at the Iowa state football stadium – a pretty impressive building! There was no game on unfortunately (definitely want to catch one next time I’m in the states), but we had the same food and a comedy show from the Iowa nice guy – who yeah realised there was a british girl and jokes flew my way of course!
It was a nice evening and I couldn’t help but notice the massive contrasts between UK and US university life – the scale for one thing, and like have you ever seen a UK university with anything close to a sports stadium as impressive as this? And thats considering their basketball team is their biggest asset apparently, not the football team!
Everyone was wearing their school ‘colours’, which is basically branded merchandise with their University logo on it. Again UK universities don’t have this, well not on that scale, we have tops with the uni logo or a hoody with the name but this is more themed around the semi-professional sports teams that operate out of the universities on scholarships and showing support for their teams. I didn’t have school colours so I brought and Iowa state top from the charity shop in Ames. Top tip they have a lot of cool stuff in there including fancy dress stuff (paddys day outfit was sorted quickly – thats another post!), based on Ames main street and at a fraction of the price of the University shop!
So my final day arrived and despite there being sunny (and pretty windy days) previously, today it decided to snow. Of course. Yes here comes the weird Iowa weather I was talking about. I mean the UK is pretty known for its sporadic weather but this was weird even by UK standards. I got to the airport anyway and my connection to Detroit was very calm, no turbulence, no fear, bright blue skies and my first internal flight is now a distant memory… ish.
I love Ames and I would return in a heart beat. I think what makes travelling so great is the people you meet. My host Casey and her friends were amazing and all the people I met along the way were so friendly.
So if you’re ever in town, heres my top 5 things to do:
1- Visit the Reiman Gardens
2-Eat a sandwich at the Downtown Deli
3- Try monkey bread!
4- Visit the comic book store
5- Buy Iowa State merchandise from the charity shop on Main street