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Part 2 - USA East Coast

1 British Pound (GBP) = 1.66 US$

Boston | New York | Washington DC |



Off on our journey at last - Thursday 3rd September

I arose bright and early at 6am today. The only time I ever manage to spring out of bed early is when I'm going on holiday - it's a shame I can't apply the same rules for getting up for work. I said farewell to my mum and Zara the mad Alsation dog (will it remember me after a year ?) and set off for the airport with my dad for the 7.40 am shuttle down to London. I met Gavin inside with his mum who snapped lots of photographs of us as we left (much to my dismay as I felt about 100 years old with my massive lack of sleep induced bags under my eyes. Our flights to London were pretty non-eventful with the exception of a single moment of fear. As we were about to board the shuttle the British Airways rep noticed that one of our tickets was not inside our boarding pass and informed us that we couldn't board the plane without it ! Panic set in as visions of us spending the first night of our travels in Scotland flashed across my mind. Luckily she still allowed us on the plane - the soor faced girl at the check in desk had mixed all our tickets up, putting them in the wrong boarding passes and "losing" one of them.

We arrived in Boston 10 hours later(after a 1hr and a 7hr plane journey) at 12.40 local time (17.40 our time). We took the subway for 85c to our B&B (You can also get the boat for $8 or a taxi for around $20 but we decided that we should start are travels in true backpacking style with the cheapest form of transport, instead of jumping into the first cab !). We are staying in a private B&B in St Stephen's street for five nights. It's in the South end at the edge of Back Bay on a very picturesque tree lined street of Brown Houses. The room is huge with a comfy, but creaky double bed, lots of cupboard space, a setee bed and a tree ! We've only met the landlady once so far and her Dalmation Dog tried to bite me - lucky I'm used to that sort of thing ! We spent the rest of the day wandering around Downtown Boston and the Boston Common, eating burger and chips (or fries as they are known here - chips to them are crisps to us !). We had a couple of G&Ts in the bar round the corner and collapsed in a heap on the bed at around 9pm, ready for tomorrow.


First Full Day in Boston - Friday 4th September

We did the big touristy bit today. First the 2.5 mile Freedom trail which is a walking tour of Boston. You follow the line of red bricks on the pavement passing churches, shops, gardens, museums etc. It was a really good way to get a feel of the place and a good way to work of all the burgers ! I think we've walked about 6 miles in total today (at least), so I'm feeling a bit tired, I've got a big horrible sore toe from smacking it against a metal thing sticking out of the ground and my thighs are aching from climbing up and down the 294 steps up the Bunker Hill monument. Apart from that, it was a great day !

We did lunch at Quincy Market which has lots of different fast food stalls, then headed across the river on the underground to Harvard Square, the home of Harvard University. We wandered for a while round the area which is really nice then headed down Massachusets Avenue for about half an hour trying to find Cafe Liberty - an Internet Cafe from the Lonely Planet Guide Book, but just our luck it had closed down. The only other Internet cafe in Boston charges $13 for 1 hour so we decided to give it a miss.

At night we headed to China Town which not surprisingly is full of Chinese restaurants and Cafes, but it also has Malaysian and Vietnamese places as well. We stopped in Pho Pasteur which serves nothing but Noodle Soups (Pho) and had a huge plate of chicken noodle soup for $4.95. Very Tasty ! We later read in Lonely Planet "...The Combat Zone extends about a block in each direction from the Chinatown subway. The X-rated movie theatres and topless clubs have recently disappeared from this area, but it's still the seediest in Boston. Use Caution after dark" ! We always pick the classy places !


The Harbour Islands - Saturday 5th September

We decided to go easy on the old feet today and took a boat trip out to the Boston Harbout Islands. It took about 50 minutes to get to Georges Island and we didn't have time to shop for picnic things so lunch was a hotdog, crisps (chips) and biscuits (cookies !). Oh, how healthy we both are ! The tourist info leaflet said to take half a day to explore Gearge's Island and a full day if you want to explore other islands too. If we'd had a huge picnic and lots of beer I think we could have managed the half day, but it took us half an hour to explore the island then we spend a couple of hours lying on the grass, resting our weary legs ! Afterwards we took the free water taxi to Gallops island (you can also go to islands by the name of Grapes, Bumpkins, Lovells, Deer and a few more) and did another half hour walk. It was a good day out, but if you go bring a picnic - there is only one snack bar on only one of the islands ! The boat trip costs $8 return and you can get $1 off with the Harbour Islands Tourist Information leaflet.

At night we went to Casa Mexico in the Harvard area - recommended by our trusted Lonely Planet guidebook for some tortillas and enchiladas. The food was OK, but not a patch on Miro's Cantina Mexicano in Rose Street (Edinburgh) ! Gav thinks I'm too fussy about my Mexican food - he's probably right ! Afterwards we went for a couple of drinks in an Irish bar - I couldn't actually see anything Irish about the place apart from the fact that it sold Guiness, but it was a pub and that's the main thing ! Later on when we got back to the B&B Gavin fell asleep sitting reading his book for over an hour and I didn't have the heart to wake him - life is so hard sometimes !


Wandering round Boston again - Sunday 6th September

Another hot day without a cloud in the sky (oh, this is the life !). We went to the bus station this morning and booked tickets for the express bus to New York City ($32 one way) for 10am on Thursday morning. We did lunch at Quincy Market again then wandered round a big shopping mall in Copley Square with shops like Tiffany's, Gucci and others a wee bit out of our price range. Afterwards we went up the John Hancock Tower to the 60th floor Observatory ($5) - the tallest building in New England. I've got a thing about tall buildings and like to go up as many as possible as we'll no doubt find out in New York. It was well worth going up the John Hancock Tower - we had views of 40 miles from all angles round Boston.

Later on we visited another shopping mall in Lechmere called the Cambridgeside Galleria which had shops like Sears, Foot Locker, Record Tower, Gap and Filene's - a bit more within our price range. I managed to resist the temptation to buy anything. I weighed myself on a horoscope telling weighing machine and I seem to have put on 7lbs since I left Scotland. Please don't let it be true !!

We returned to the B&B for our usual 2 hour "siesta" then headed out to the North End, otherwise known as "Little Italy" for some Italian Cuisine. I don't know if it was because the place is really popular or if it's because it is Labour Day tomorrow, but the place was heaving, with queues of people waiting outside most of the restaurants (or should I say "ristoranti"). After wandering about for 20 minutes we found one with a couple of tables left and blew our daily budget on one meal. It was one of these places where they put salad and bread on your table whether you want it or not and charge $8.50 for the pleasure. It was tasty food though and we went home happy with bellies full !


Salem - Monday 7th September (Labour Day)

We seem to getting up later and later every day - I suppose that's what happens when you don't have work to go to ! We headed up to the North Station late morning and caught the 12.15 commuter train to Salem ($5 return). The train windows were rather mucky and looked as if they hadn't been cleaned since last year, but the scenery didn't look very exciting anyway. We arrived in Salem about half an hour later and had a wee wander about then visited the Salem Witch Museum ($4.50). This consisted of a half hour audio-visual presentation about the Salem Witch Trials which took place in 1692. Hundreds of men and women were impisoned, hung and one man even pressed to death by the end of the summer of 1692 - many wrongly accused. The town is full of witchcraft shops, psycic & palm reading places, new age shops and lots of other places with a witchy theme. There's also the Witch Dungeon, The House of the Seven Gables and Dracula's House, but we decided that one museum was enough and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering round town, looking at the shops and walking round the harbour. Later on we ended up in a bar - our excuse - it was pouring with rain and we had to go somewhere for shelter ! I actually got ID'd at the bar which was quite bazaar, but nice I suppose (hasn't happened for about 6 years !). Apparantly in a lot of places they ask for ID if you appear to be under 30, as the legal drinking age is 21. Gavin has not yet been asked - either he looks much older than his 26 years or he's just big and scary. Talking of bars & pubs - I've not seen many of them here in Boston. Maybe it's just because drinking is a national pastime in Scotland and every corner you turn there is another 3 bars !

Tonight I have the evil task of squashing all my worldly possessions into my backpack again. I've definately brought too much with me, but I have a second chance to pack less in New Zealand for the second part of the journey. Tomorrow it's New York, New York, New York !! Tall Buildings - can't wait !


New York City - here we come - Tuesday 8th September

It was an early rise at 7.45am today and down the stairs for our last "continental" breakfast. I always thought a continental breakfast was cheese, ham, bread, toast, orange juice, tea etc but it's been cake on Thursday, cake on Friday, cake on Saturday, cake on Sunday, cake on Monday and yes, you've guessed it - cake on Tuesday !

We arrived in NYC at about 2.30pm after a 4.5 hour bus journey on Greyhound and I caught my first glimpse of those amazing skyscrapers. Unfortunately we don't have a Lonely Planet Guide for New York so we were missing those vital independent opinions and price guides to hotels and hostels. I had printouts of a few cheapish hotels from the hotel guide on the web and we also had a wee city pack guide to New York. After a few unsuccessful phonecalls to some of the hotels we wandered to the Sherman Hotel on West 47th Street since it was the cheapest at $45 a night. After wandering in and discovering it resembled a jail we wandered straight back out again. By this time Gavin and I were being a bit mean to each other and getting a bit tired and hot and fed up so Gavin said "Right, let's go to the Ramada and I'll pay !" Who was I to argue ? So in we went. I felt a bit out of place with the crystal chandeliers and me in my denim shorts with my backpack. We got a shoebox sized room for $164 + tax for the night - what a bargain and decided to try and find something slightly less expensive for the next three nights. This was not to be an easy task ...

We phoned the Holiday Inn - advertised price $89, actual price $249 !! The Carter hotel - advertised price $69, actual price $189. The Excelsior, listed at under $120 in the budget section of our guidebook, actual price $179. Most of the other hotels we phoned seemed to be fully booked or quoting huge prices, but we finally managed to book Hotel 31 on East 31st Street for $75 + tax (The same as the advertised price !). It is a 4* and has air conditioning, cable TV, hairdryer, phone etc so it sounds OK. You can get double rooms in a lot of Youth hostels and YMCAs, but you usually have to book in advance. We're generally giving hostels a miss in the U.S as they segregate the sexes into different dorms which is a bit inconvenient for us.

Tonight we went up the Empire State Building just before sunset and the views were amazing (cost $6 or $14 for a combined ticket including the virtual skyride). The Empire State Building was built in 1929 and finished in 1931. It's 1,250 feet high with 102 floors ! We only went up to the 86th floor , but you have great views of the city from all directions and it is well worth it. I probably took almost a whole 24 picture spool of photos, which will no doubt turn out not very exciting ! The World Trade Centre Twin Towers are the only ones in New York higher than the Empire State, so I'm sure I'll go up there in the next few days !

The rest of the evening was spent chilling out and drinking champagne in our hotel room and eating lots of chocolate. Gavin got the champagne when he left his work and we've been lugging it around until we found a hotel with an ice machine ! I'm quite concerned that I'm going to resemble a barrel when I leave this country and have to be rolled on to the plane ! Tomorrow it's off to our new hotel, lots of salad and lots of walking !

Tall Buildings

More Tall Buildings - Wednesday 9th September

Got up this morning at 10am which felt more like the middle of the night - a combination of the dark curtains and last night's champagne drinking ! We ate the traditional breakfast of pancakes and maple syrup, then jumped into a New York cab with the traditional non English speaking driver to our new and cheaper hotel on East 31st Street. The hotel is nice, we're sharing a bathroom but the room is comfortable with everything we need at twice the size and less than half the price of the Ramada !

We planned on doing the statue of Liberty today, but changed our mind since access to the crown was closed due to the windy weather. Instead we settled for the World Trade Centre and took the elevator to the 107th floor. It set us back $12 but it was worth it for the view. We spent about an hour wandering round the observation decks and taking almost another spool of photos. Afterwards we wandered round the streets of New York - Gavin ready with camera in hand to capture action shots of police cars and fire engines - unfortunately they were too fast for him ! We wandered round Chinatown, up Broadway and 5th Avenue and then when we could walk no more we took the subway back to the hotel.

Tonight we visited the all-you-can-eat $8.99 Chinese Buffet. Let's just say I'll have to wait until tomorrow to write more when the blood has been re-directed from my stomach back to my brain !


Shop, Shop, Shop - Thursday 10th September

Today we walked and walked in no particular direction. Visited Macy's the biggest store in the world, The Rockerfeller Center - more shops and 5th Avenue - even more shops. If I'd had lots of money and lots of space in my backpack I would have been in seventh heaven , but unfortunately that will have to wait until one day when I jet over to NYC for the weekend with Kirsteen and Judith and lots of money for Christmas Shopping - maybe in 10 years when I've made my millions. Will Concorde still be around by then ?

I bought some cool sunglasses from Macy's as I managed to lose the other pair (after 2 years !). The only trouble is, if I look through them at a certain angle, the pavement looks all bumpy, when really it is not, then I see a bump which is not really a bump and nearly fall over as it really is a bump (no I have not been drinking !). Tonight we planned on seeing Saving Private Ryan at the cinema round the corner, but missed it by an hour, so we settled on watching American TV in our hotel room and found that the commercial breaks are about the same length as the show itself !


A Lazy Afternoon in Central Park - Friday 11th September

This morning we arose late again and decided to do the laundry, to start the day with excitement. How good it feels to have a rucksack full of clean clothes once more ! I managed the healthy eating bit for breakfast with freshly squeezed orange juice and a fat-free muffin at the cafe round the corner. We then walked the 28 blocks to Central Park, dropping in to the Manhatten Mall on the way. Spent a couple of hours, lazing about in the sunshine in the Sheep Meadow in Central Park with joggers, rollerbladers and cyclists flying past and a view of the tall buildings all around. Gee, it was just awesome :-) Our guidebook describes Central Park as the "escape valve on the pressure cooker", which seems about right. After lazing about we hired a wee rowing boat and rowed around the lake for an hour - pretty hard work, then walked the two miles or so back to our hotel. It was the middle of rush hour - crowded streets, roads jam packed with cars, trucks and cabs honking their horns, steam coming out of the drains. In my opinion walking is the best way to experience the city. It's easy to navigate as most of the streets are numbered (e.g 1st Street, 2nd Street etc) and arranged on a grid system. It's also great for people watching and hard not to spend a lot of time looking up at all the tall buildings instead of where you are going !

At night we went to the cinema to see "Saving Private Ryan" starring Tom Hanks. It's set in the 2nd World War and is a really moving film, but extremely gory - men getting shot, intestines hanging out and arms falling off. I hope I don't have nightmares tonight ! Tomorrow it's off to the Washington DC.


Washington DC - Saturday 12th September

We bought a guide book a couple of days ago and decided on Hotel Americana as our home for the weekend. It has a good writeup and costs $70 a night, which apparently is quite a good price for Washington DC. Accomodation is the highest expense when staying in DC, but the majority of the museums and tours of buildings are free, so you can save money on that instead. The prices of most of the large hotels often decrease by 50% on the weekend when it is less busy.

We took the 10am Peter Pan bus from New York via Baltimore to Washington which took just over 4 hours and cost $32. It was pretty much the same as the Greyhound bus, except for a film which played on the journey, which I ended up not watching anyway as it was a kiddies film. We arrived at the bus station around 2.15pm and stepped out into the 96 degrees heat. It felt like an oven after sitting on an air conditioned coach for 4 hours !. We took the metro to our hotel which is actually in suburbian Virginia, but only 15 minutes from the city centre. The metro system in Washington is clean, air conditioned and relatively uncrowded (especially compared to the one in New York !) and a pleasure to ride. It costs $1.10 at weekends and outside rush hour and a bit more during rush hour.

Our hotel is about a block away from the Crystal City metro stop and the rooms are nice and big with private bathroom, air conditioning, a big TV with cable channels, a small fridge and breakfast included.

We spent the afternoon and early evening exploring the Capitol area. All museums shut at 5.30pm, so we just wandered up to the Mall and had a look at the Washington Memorial, Reflecting Pool, Lincoln Memorial, Capitol Building and Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The contrast between New York and Washington is huge. The streets of Washington are so wide, everything is spread out and the place seemed deserted after the hustle and bustle of New York.

After a couple of hours our feet were killing us so we headed to the Dupont Circle area and dropped into the Luna Diner recommended by our guidebook for some turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes and steamed veggies. Very Tasty !


Museum Day - Sunday 13th September

The weather was a cooler 90 degrees today and we managed to get up reasonably early - probably due to the fact that breakfast finishes at 10am. We took the metro to the Zoo first which was quite nice (and free too!). After that we spent a couple of hours in the U.S Holocaust Memorial museum which was really interesting. For the main part of the museum you get a free pass and wait until the time on the pass until you can enter (about 45 minutes for us). You then get an identity card of a real victim of the Holocaust and walk round the three floors of exhibits where you can watch and read about the Jewish people, the years of Nazi uprising. the ghettos and concentration camps and see a car from a train used to transport victims to the concentration camps, bunk beds from Auszwich, belongings such as shoes, uniforms, suitcases and other exhibits. I could have spent a few hours in there but we were trying to squeeze in the U.S National Air and Space museum as well.

By the time we got to the Air and Space museum it was almost 4pm and we were absolutely shattered from all the walking so we only spent about an hour there. It was really interesting and is the most visited museum in the world, but I probably would have enjoyed it a lot more if my feet hadn't been killing me ! I literally collapsed on the bed as soon as we got back to our hotel room. We managed to muster up the energy later to go out for some food. We went to a really nice Thai restaurant called Haad Thai and had some Chicken Satay and Pad Thai. The rest of the evening we spent packing for our flight to L.A tomorrow and watching the X-Files (we're only on stop on the metro from the Pentagon as well !)

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