A Travellerspoint blog


Boston, USA (20th - 23rd June)

We got the Yo! Bus from New York to Boston. It's another bus company owned by Greyhound that's cheaper and better than Greyhound itself. We got to the bus stop pretty early, but that turned out to be a good thing as they seemingly over-sell the buses so if you're not there early enough you'll have to wait for the next one instead, which mightn't be for hours. The journey was a lot longer than expected, mostly due to the amount of traffic getting out of New York. I think we arrived about 2 hours late.

Finding cheap accommodation in Boston was pretty much impossible. We ended up booking a mystery hotel through Hotwire, which still wasn't cheap, but it was a nice little treat for our last few days in North America. The hotel was Club Quarters and it was as central as you could get. It's mostly aimed at the business crowd so there's free wi-fi and free wireless printing, which was really useful as we had a few booking confirmations for Iceland that we needed to print out. The only slight downside with the location was that the area it was in would all shut down at about 6pm, so finding somewhere to eat when we arrived was pretty difficult. There's a pub attached to the hotel, which was still open, but it was rammed. We ended up just going to Subway, as nowhere else seemed to be open.

I'd been to Boston before, but way back in 1997 and only for a day or so, so it was really nice to return and see some more of the city. I really like Boston, it's got a relaxed kind of atmosphere. We only had 2 full days there and it was really hot, but we still managed to see a decent amount. On the first day we walked some parts of the Freedom Trail, plus had a walk around the Beacon Hill area with its cobbled streets and gas lamps. As the Boston Bruins (Ice Hockey team) were in the upcoming final, there were quite a few statues around the city that had been given Bruins shirts:


We also went to see the Cheers bar, which was used for external shots in the show. Then we went for a drink at the replica studio bar at Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

On our second day we went to the Samuel Adams brewery for their free tour. That was brilliant - I can't recommend it enough. It was a good length, the guide (Jess) was really good, it was very informative and it ended with tastings of 3 different beers where you got to pour your own measures and then keep the glass. And all for free!!! They weren't even allowed to take tips - any donations went towards charity. If you're in Boston and have any remote liking of beer, you've got to do it.

After that we went to the Tea Party boats. Back in 1997 we went to the Tea Party boat, so it was really interesting to see how it had all changed in 16 years. Unsurprisingly it had changed a lot. Back in 1997 there was just the one boat, whereas there are now 2 and a 3rd is due once it's been renovated/maintained. I think the one we went on in 1997 might have been the one that was now missing, as that's the largest boat. Back in 1997 there was a brief bit of role-play and re-enactment, but mostly you just wandered around the boat for yourself, pretending to throw tea overboard and such like things. It's now a lot more controlled as you go around various areas as part of a group. It's all done as re-enactment and you're given the name of someone who was at the tea party. There's a lot of interaction with digital displays and it's much more elaborate and informative than it used to be, but it did also seem slightly over the top at times and a little boring. It's not cheap either. It was still enjoyable and there were some nice additions, but I think I probably preferred the low-key approach of 1997.

The tea party boats:

Posted by chantalpatton 03:45 Archived in USA Comments (0)

New York, USA (16th - 20th June)

We took a bus from Washington DC to New York. We'd had enough of Greyhound so took the Bolt Bus. Granted it's owned by Greyhound, but it's cheaper and it claimed to have wi-fi and extra legroom on all buses. It did have the wi-fi, but the legroom was barely adequate and could only be described as 'extra' if it was in comparison to having none at all. Still, the journey was fine, as far as I remember.

From New York we took a bus over to New Jersey where we were staying in our third consecutive Airbnb apartment. It was only just in New Jersey, so we could get to Manhattan in about 15 minutes, which was brilliant, plus we got a great view of the Manhattan skyline from the end of the street:


The apartment was another basement one, though not a studio this time - we had a separate bedroom and everything! We only briefly met the guy who owned it when we were leaving, but he'd left detailed instructions for everything. The only thing missing, weirdly, was a tin opener; which was only annoying because we realised that after we'd bought some tins!

On that first evening we headed back to Manhattan and went to the cinema. We went to see 'Before Midnight', which was ace - I love all of the 'Before...' films and it was great to have a new one. Then on our first full day in New York we had some practical things to sort out, like booking bus tickets for our onwards journey to Boston, plus finding a new camera for Jamie. His had been playing up, so I said I'd get him a new one as a birthday present. In Chicago we'd spent ages in a Best Buy, trying out different cameras and finally deciding on the one that seemed the best, only to discover it was out of stock. We tried a second Best Buy in Chicago, but that was out of stock too. We then tried various places in Washington, none of which had it either. But, finally, we tried a camera shop in New York that actually had it. Hooray! They even had a choice of colours and it came with a free case and memory card. Awesome. After that we went to Central Park for a while before we then went and met up with my friend Cary and his partner Joe. The four of us headed to the East Village for dinner and then a coffee and some cheesecake. It was great to get to see them.

The next day we'd planned a lot of outdoor activities but woke up to discover a forecast of rain. We decided to postpone the Staten Island ferry, but we still managed to visit the 9/11 Memorial before the rain started. As that whole area's still under construction, you need tickets to see the memorial (which are free) and there's a ridiculous amount of security you have to go through, but once it is all done it'll be freely accessible. The memorial itself is all really nicely done with the 2 fountains in the outlines of where the towers used to be.


We then went to Other Music for a bit (yay record stores), then for a coffee, then for food in a random pub (as the Mexican place I'd scoped out in advance was actually just a take-away and it was raining), then on for drinks at a cool bar with a jukebox (which Jamie had actually been to on his previous trip to New York in 2008).

On the 19th the weather was better, happily, so we did the free trip on the Staten Island ferry. It meant we got to see the Statue of Liberty - yay! I went to New York in 1997 and 1998, but only for a day each time and we didn't make it to the Statue of Liberty, so it was great to finally get to see it. We couldn't take the ferry over to Liberty Island though as it was still closed following Hurricane Sandy. It should be re-opening today actually - 4th July. After that we went over to Brooklyn for a bit of a wander around and some dinner. We came across a cool little place called Siggy's, where aliens eat for free. Only the green-skinned type of aliens though, apparently (racists!). We then walked back to Manhattan over the Brooklyn bridge, which was really cool. Then we headed to Times Square and walked around a bit more, marvelling at how bright it is with all the lights and how many people there are.

Like the other US cities we'd been to, we could easily have filled a few more days there, but it's also somewhere we're bound to go back to at some point.

Posted by chantalpatton 02:34 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Washington DC, USA (12th - 16th June)

We took an overnight train from Chicago to Washington, which was a lot more pleasant than the overnight bus from Banff to Vancouver. I like how much legroom and space you get on American trains. From Washington we headed out to the Takoma Park area in Maryland, which is where our Airbnb accommodation was. We had a studio apartment to ourselves, which was really really lovely. The owner met us and gave us an impressively thorough introduction to the apartment and also to Washington - she had maps and guides, plus provided breakfast foods and coffee and such like. It was a bus journey from the subway system, so it took a little while to get to and from Washington, but it was worth it to stay in such a nice place.

On our first full day in Washington, the weather forecast was for storms, so we planned a day of museum visits - specifically in the Smithsonian museums, which are mostly free. We started off at the American History Museum, which was decent, then moved on to the Air and Space Museum, which was good too. It's a shame we didn't get the chance to go to the zoo at some point during our trip, as that's also free (as is the one in Chicago that we didn't have time to visit either), but it was a bit out of the way.

Our second day in Washington was a nice sunny one (pretty hot in fact), so we had a day of sightseeing. We managed to squeeze in all the main sights, including the Capitol building, the FBI building (as a big X-Phile, I was particularly excited by this!), Ford's Theatre, The White House (of course), the Washington Monument (which is still being fixed up after the earthquake), the Lincoln Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial. Here are a few photos:




On our third and final full day in Washington, we spent most of the day at the Newseum, which if you can't guess from the name is a museum about the news. It's not free, but it is very very good and well worth the money. Also, your entry ticket is valid for 2 days, so you don't need to rush around. We didn't have 2 days available, but we got there early and had plenty of time to see it in one day. There are a lot of interactive exhibits, plus an interesting variety of exhibits. It's aimed more at older children and adults and it's designed to be walked around in a specific order, so it's all very controlled and easy to ensure you don't miss out on anything. Definitely recommended. Afterwards we managed to squeeze in a quick visit to Arlington Cemetery before it closed. That was great to see, just because it's so iconic - being a fan of shows like The X-Files, The West Wing and Bones (all set in Washington), it was quite exciting to get to see all those small, white, uniform graves in person. Is it a bit weird and wrong to say a visit to a grave site was exciting? Oh well. Here's a photo:


All in all I really enjoyed our time in Washington. Mostly because it's just full of iconic sights, which are all pretty close together. It would have been nice to have had a bit longer there so we could have explored some of the different neighbourhoods, like Dupont Circle and Georgetown, which are meant to be really nice. But hey, maybe some other time.

Posted by chantalpatton 11:47 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Chicago, USA (7th - 11th June)

Chicago was the first place we used Airbnb, which had been recommended to us by a few people. If you're unfamiliar, it's a website where people let out spare rooms or whole apartments, like they're running their own B&B (though breakfast's not always included!). We'd booked a room with its own bathroom, though it was pretty much like having our own apartment as it was totally separate from the apartment of the lady we were renting it from. It was down in the basement, but all was good - nice size, clean, tidy etc. Marie met us and showed us around, plus even did some laundry for us. The only problem we had while we were there was a problem with the plumbing, but that wasn't a major issue as we were mostly out and about anyway. We were staying a little way out of the centre, but we could get the subway in fairly quickly, plus there were a lot of good cafes and restaurants in the neighbourhood.

I didn't have a preconceived notion of what Chicago might be like, but I was still slightly surprised by how much I liked it. There was a good vibe to it as a city and there was loads to see. In fact we could easily have stayed longer as there were quite a few things we just didn't get time to do.

Talking about Chicago as a tourist destination, I just realised I forgot to mention our border crossing from Canada to the USA in my previous blog entry. As is usual, the border guards quizzed us on where we were going and why. When we said we were flying to Chicago the following morning, we were met with a derogatory "why are you going there? That's not exactly a tourist destination! It gets cold there." Jamie pointed out we'd just spent a year in Toronto, so were used to the cold. This seemed to arouse his suspicions even more - he asked us why we were over on the west coast when we could have just travelled directly from Toronto to Boston (where we'd said we were flying home from). We attempted to explain the appeal of travelling across Canada and getting to see the country, as well as a bit more of the USA, before just flying back to the UK. He still didn't seem hugely impressed but proceeded with the next stage of the inquisition, which involved scanning our passports. By doing this, it flagged up that we already had permission to be in the USA - we'd gotten it on our way to Buenos Aires when we'd had to change flights at Newark. Despite only being in Newark for about an hour, we'd been granted 60 days in the USA. It had seemed silly at the time, but was now incredibly useful and meant we didn't have to go through the whole fingerprinting rigmarole again. It was also funny to watch the customs guy instantly shift from suspicion to satisfaction.

But back to Chicago - after arriving at Marie's place, we pretty much headed straight back out for a gig we wanted to go to - Eleanor Friedberger at the Empty Bottle. We met up with a girl that Jamie knew via last.fm and had a good evening.

The rest of our time in Chicago can be bullet-pointed thusly:

- We had a nosey at The Bean and other interesting sights at Millennium Park and Grant Park

Buckingham Fountain:

- We went to some great places for food. Chicago Diner was a standout - it's a veggie restaurant with some awesome food, plus a peanut butter milkshake that Jamie described as "amazing". The guy serving us was brilliant too - he spoke some Welsh and recommended other places for us to go. There was also a radio station on that seemed to only play songs that Jamie loves - it was freaky. Another place worth mentioning has to be The Wormhole - a coffee shop with an 80s/early-90s film and video games theme. They have a Delorean up in the rafters (for want of a better description) and an old Nintendo, complete with a load of games, which you can play. We had a coffee and played some Super Mario Land 3. Not a bad way to start the day.

- We went to the Museum of Science and Industry, which isn't cheap, but is really good. The exhibits are very interactive and there's a lot to see, including some chicks hatching (so cute). I also volunteered to make my DNA visible through an experiment you can do yourself at home (one I've seen Brian Cox do on one of his shows), which was cool. Another favourite part was where you could challenge another person at relaxation. Yep, competitive relaxation. You and your challenger put sensors on your head and a computer then monitors your brain activity and if you're more relaxed than your competitor, it moves a ball along a track in the direction of your opponent. It's quite hard to then stay relaxed as you see the ball heading towards you, but the less relaxed you are the quicker it's going to head your way. Jamie and I were fairly equally matched, we were both really relaxed, but he just had the edge and beat me, damn it.

- We went to the Art Institute of Chicago. That wasn't cheap either, but again it was really good with a lot to see.

On the morning we left Chicago, we went to say goodbye to Marie as she'd left us a note. Because she felt bad that we'd had to put up with the plumbing problems, she'd made us a pair of gloves each. How sweet is that? A great first experience of Airbnb.

Posted by chantalpatton 16:23 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Seattle, USA (6th - 7th June)

We got a Greyhound bus (yes another one) from Vancouver to Seattle. Thankfully it wasn't overnight, but it arrived half an hour late, despite being parked just a few bays away! That takes some skill. Almost every time we stopped, the driver said we'd just be there for 5 minutes, so we didn't risk getting off to get food or anything, but then we'd end up sitting there for about 20 minutes. This combined with the detour due to the collapsed bridge meant that we arrived 2 hours late in Seattle. As it was only meant to be a 4 hour journey, that's quite a big delay.

We visited Seattle in late 2011, so this time we were just passing through - it was cheaper to fly to Chicago from Seattle than it was from Vancouver (by quite a bit). We'd initially considered booking a flight on the same day, assuming the bus couldn't possibly be as much as 2 hours late! Thankfully we changed our minds and booked ourselves a place to stay up near the airport. It was a motel - specifically the Sea-Tac Valu (sic) Inn. We were initially given a room that already had some people in - people who weren't impressed we'd just walked into their supposedly private room. That mix up got sorted out and we made it to our people-free room, which was ok, though there was a sticky patch on the carpet near the bed and the door looked like it might have been kicked in on a few occasions. Basically, from things we heard and saw, there was definitely some prostitution going on at that motel.

As we were starving by this point, we headed out in search of food. Subway was the best we could find, though we also got some treats from a supermarket, then retreated to our room and holed ourselves up for the night.

The next morning we caught one of the public buses to the airport. We'd been expecting a free shuttle from the motel, but it turned out it wasn't actually free and instead cost slightly more than the public bus, so we declined that 'freebie'.

All in all, not the greatest of days, but vaguely entertaining in retrospect.

The wonderful area of Seattle we got to stay in:


Posted by chantalpatton 15:44 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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