Friday, 8 May 2015

USA road trip - Final thoughts

Everyone that you speak to after returning from our trip wants to know what the highlights were. I can honestly say it is so difficult to pick out just one thing that stands out for me.
We enjoyed every bit of our trip, and there is no place I would've left off if I had to do it again.
Yes going from sunny California to freezing Chicago was tough, and maybe we should've rather done the cold first, but I loved Chicago. It's such a cool city with such a different feel to New York that I wouldn't have wanted to miss it.

However some of the things I really enjoyed on this trip are:

Driving down the Pacific Coast highway, which has to be up there as one of the prettiest drives I have done in my life.

Hiking up Runyon Canyon and just LA in general was really fun. I can't really tell you why but its probably just because it's a city you see on TV or in films so often that it was just cool to finally see it in real life.

Grand Canyon, really the pictures don't do it justice. One of the most incredible sights I have seen.

Vegas and all it's crazy, party fun.

Chicago I loved. The freezing cold boat trip was probably a highlight, at the time it definitely wasn't but now I can look back on it and laugh. And it's certainly something I won't forget.

New York City, even the second time round I loved the city. I really enjoyed this time round spending more time exploring the boroughs and really getting a feel for it.

New York - New York

We had been to New York before in 2011, so we decided that this time we would spend a lot more time exploring New York and it's neighbourhoods and really getting a feel for the city. New York is amazing, it has a real buzz to it and there is always so much going on.

Rather than following the normal follow me around type post, for New York I'm going to just do a bit of a round up of some of the things we did and enjoyed as most of what we did involved walking around a neighbourhood and eating and I'm sure 4 days of me repeating this might bore you to death get a bit repetitive. So here goes...

Something we didn't do the last time we visited the Highline so I was determined to get to it this time round. We planned a route that would start at one end and finish around Chelsea so that we could get some brunch which is a NYC weekend institution. The highline is an old disused train track that has been transformed into a urban park. The walk is really cool, taking you above the NY streets and although in winter the garden was pretty dead I could imagine how beautiful it would be in Spring/ Summer. We finished the walk at Bubby's which is known for great breakfasts and cakes. Although we didn't get any cake I got the pancakes which were almost the same thing. So delish.

Another thing to do around Chelsea is a visit to Chelsea market, which has lots of different food stalls and small shops. We went there after brunch but it was heaving, so actually went back to next evening for dinner. There is so much choice and everything is pretty cheap, so its an easy way to ensure everyone leaves happy. 

We took a walk from Chelsea to Greenwich Village, which is one of my favourite boroughs in NYC. If you are going to visit, take a walk all the way down Bleeker street and enjoy feeling like you've stepped onto a film set. I loved that walk and took some time to choose where I would live once I've won the Lotto!


 We walked loads in NYC, but once we couldn't do anymore we hired some bicycles and cycled around Central Park. One tip is don't rent bikes from just by the park entrance by Columbus Circle, walk one block up to 9th Avenue and you will find a few bike shops literally charging half the price! Make sure you check your bike before you take it though, Jeremy learnt the hard way that cycling around on a kiddies bike is no fun :) We did a full loop of the park stopping off to check out the Alice in Wonderland statue on the way. We also took a little detour out to Levain Bakery for the best choc chip cookies you have ever tasted.

Levain Bakery
The last time we visited NYC we checked out Carnegie Deli, so this time round we decided to head to Katz's. This deli is famous for being where the famous Meg Ryan scene was shot from When Harry met Sally. The sandwiches here are amazing, seriously tasty and generously portioned. We got the Rueben with pastrami. The atmosphere and good food more than makes up for the slightly chaotic ordering system and queue for food. 

Katz's Deli

No visit to New York would be complete without a visit to Times Square and to be honest it didn't really feel like we were in New York until we went there for a visit. It's just such a fun place, the hustle and bustle lit up by the glow of the billboards, all the tourists snapping pics and sitting on the steps to take it all in.

Times Square

The World Trade Center memorial hadn't been finished on our last visit, so we made sure to check it out. I think the memorial is such a great tribute and it was a good way for me to comprehend how big the buildings were and really take in the scale of what the devastation must have been after the attack. We booked a tour with the families' tribute center where they have people that were directly affected by 9/11 telling people their stories of the day. Our guide was an ex fire chief who was called in to help the day after the attack. He lost a good friend on that day, and listening to his version of events was really moving. The families tribute center is funded by donations, so I encourage a visit there when you visit, it really is a moving experience. 

Our last night in NYC we decided to head out for some dinner and drinks. We headed to Soho as this was one of the areas we walked through during the day and thought it looked really cool. We went to DBGB kitchen for some drinks beforehand, which was really cool. I had fun trying to take some selfies using the mirrored walls :) Afterwards we headed for dinner at Jack's wife Freda which I had heard a lot about. It didn't disappoint, with the halloumi starter being the highlight for me. The salty cheese and sweet grapes worked really well together. The restaurant itself is quite small, but as we only got there at about 9pm there was only 1 or 2 other tables there. Afterwards we headed back up Bowery road and found a really cool hotel and stopped for another drink at the hotel bar. By far one of the most fun nights we had in NYC.

Selfie time

My hubby at Jack's wife Freda


Steak Frites - yum
Our last day in New York we decided to take a wander over the Brooklyn Bridge to get some pics of the NY skyline and to check out the area called DUMBO (Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass) in Brooklyn. We did this walk last time we visited but it doesn't get old, neither does the views. DUMBO is a cool area, although our visit got cut short as we headed to meet up with some friends that had just arrived in NYC and just got engaged! We met up with them and then headed for some drinks at Hooters (why not). All in all a great end to our last day in NYC and the last day of our epic road trip! We had such a good time and could highly recommend a road trip of the states if you get the opportunity.

The newly - engageds :)

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Washington - The Nation's Capitol

After our train journey we arrived in Washington in the early afternoon, and headed off to our AirBnb to drop off our things. Because we only had about a day and a half in Washington we thought a walking tour would be a good idea. We booked one for the next day and then headed off for a bit of exploring.

Lots of people recommended a visit to Georgetown when you are in Washington DC, so we took their advice and headed over there. It's definitely a very cool area to walk around in, with the colourful houses making every road a sight to see. I loved walking around and choosing the houses I would like to live in :)
While walking around we stumbled across Baked and Wired bakery, which I had read was a rival to Georgetown cupcakes so even though we weren't hungry we decided that we needed to pay a visit and get a take away cupcake. The bakery is so cute, and the cupcakes all have imaginative names. We went for the Unicorns & Rainbows cupcake, which I can confirm was delicious.

Baked & Wired
Unicorns & Rainbows
 After checking out the area and a stop off for a pre dinner drink, we wandered around looking for somewhere to eat. Jeremy had a craving for mexican, and we stumbled on Bandolero. The restaurant says it serves modern mexican and has mostly small plates, so we ordered a bunch of different things to share. The highlight for me was definitely the crazy corn, which was delicious, but all the food was  super tasty.

The next morning we woke up slightly later than usual, and after changing our walking tour to an afternoon one, decided to have a slow start to the day. Washington DC is known for having an awesome food cart scene, so we decided to skip breakfast and go straight to lunch on the way to the tour. We stopped off on Franklin Square and were greeted by loads of food trucks parked along the road. There was a big variety of food types and it took us a while to figure out what to get. I eventually went for Mac n Cheese, which was good but not great and Jeremy had a falafel salad which was amazing!

Mac n Cheese from Capmac
After filling our tummies, we made our way to the meeting point of the tour. Jeremy and I don't usually go for organised tours when we are travelling, we prefer to take our time seeing things on our own. But when there is a lot to see, or lots of history to learn about I think tours are a great way to go. We went for the National Mall tour by Free tours on foot and I can highly recommend it. Our guide was very knowledgeable and it covered all the main sights on the mall.

Washington Monument
WW2 Memorial
WW2 Memorial

Vietnam War Memorial
Vietnam War Womens Memorial
After arriving at our end point of the tour, the Lincoln Monument we realised that if we hurried we would make it across to the Arlington Cemetery before closing time. One tip: don't do the walk from Lincoln Memorial to the cemetery unless you have comfortable shoes on and time to kill, it takes a lot longer than you think!!

The cemetery itself is a working US military cemetery, which according to our guide has about 25-30 burials a day at the moment. It's easy to forget that every gravestone in the cemetery is a life that was lost, so I tried to remember that while walking through. The grave stones literally go on for as far as your eye can see. It's hard to describe the feeling you get while walking through the cemetery, it's peaceful and slightly eerie all at the same time. We also got to witness some tributes being laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, by some of the school groups that were there. The ceremony and care paid for each of these tributes was quite something to see.

After visiting the grave of JFK, we headed back towards the Lincoln Memorial to explore it properly as we didn't have time to do that after the tour. The statue itself amazing, at 5.8m tall and the has a great view of the Mall. It's also from these steps that Martin Luther King did his I have a dream speech, so it is a place of great history. On our way back home we stopped off to see the White House and say hi to President Obama! We were exhausted after all that exploring, so headed home for an early night.

The White House
The next morning we woke up to rain, so headed down to the National Museum of American History for a look around. The museum itself is quite interesting and filled with artefacts from America. I especially enjoyed the food part of the museum which chronicles how America's food has changed over time. We then made our way to the train station to catch our train to our last stop on our tour New York City!  

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Chicago to Washington - Overnight train!

Because Jeremy isn't a massive fan of flying, we spent some time looking for different ways to travel between Chicago and Washington. We came across the Amtrak Capitol Limited service which runs overnight between the 2 cities. Once you take into account the flight and a night's accommodation cost it actually works out cheaper to take the train, so our decision was made and tickets booked.

As our train was only at 6pm we had some time to explore Chicago that morning before heading off. We decided to check out the Navy Pier, and once we got there we thought the Ferris wheel looked like a good idea. The wheel itself didn't look all that scary from the ground, but once we got going we had some nerve wracking moments seeing as neither Jeremy nor myself are fans of heights! But the views from the ferris wheel of Chicago and Lake Michigan more than made up for it. The lake is huge, it looks more like the sea as you can't see the end.

Lake Michigan

After exploring for a bit it was time to catch the train. We arrived at Union station and asked for directions to our platform. The guard said if you are on the sleeper service you get to use the lounge and took us there. On checking in at the lounge we were asked what time we would like our dinner reservation for? Turns out you get all your meals included on the sleeper service and you don't need to pay extra for it. What a bonus.
We checked in and waited in the lounge (which also had some free soft drinks and snacks) before we headed off for the train. The nice thing about American trains (compared to some European trains we've travelled on before) is that the sleepers are only for 2 people. So Jeremy and I had a room to ourselves. We went for the slightly cheaper room option which meant a shared bathroom down the hallway, which really wasn't a problem. The room was pretty small but all you needed for the night. The train also had a dining car where all the meals were served and a viewing car which had comfy seats and big glass windows where you could see the scenery. For dinner we were given a choice of meal, a salad and dessert. All the food was really good (especially for train food!) and Jeremy's steak in particular was delicious.

Our sleeper car before the beds were made

Dining car

My chicken and vegetables

Jeremy's steak

Choc Mousse

After a good nights sleep we headed to the dining car for breakfast, and were told that because we were running slight late we could probably fit in breakfast and lunch, as the car doesn't close until a specific town rather than a time. The waiter in the dining car also told us that having lunch at a specific time would also allow us the best views along the way. So thats what we did. All in all the train was a great experience, and definitely one I would recommend you do if you get the opportunity!