Location: New York, USA
To get from Washington to New York we were booked on a coach, so had to walk all the way down to Dupont Circle with our cases and backpacks, fortunately it wasnt that warm out and it was pretty much all downhill!
The coach set off at around 9:45am after the pickups, then dumped us a Penn Station in New York at around 2:30pm. Then we had to find a cab and our hotel! Negotiating your way around the streets of New York is difficult enough under normal circumstances, adding a large case, a backpack and not knowing where the hell youre going into the equation makes it almost impossible everyone is in a hurry, and its so busy all the time! We did find a cab, and $12 later we were in front of our hotel which was right opposite the UN building.
The hotel was OK, we were on the 38th floor and the best thing about our room was the view out of our window, we had a clear view of the Chrysler building and the Empire State building. After dark the whole area was lit up and it really was quite a spectacular view.
So, our first day in New York and we had to hit the subway (argh!!) This was a little more stressful than Washington, it was much busier for one thing, and there wasnt really any help available to advise us on how to use the machines. We got a metro card which said it gave us 4 trips figured that would be good enough to get us started and off we went in search of the right train.
Amazingly, we managed to get to Central Park, which was actually where we wanted to be! It was lovely, and much like everything else in this country HUGE! The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day, which made every look so much prettier. We stopped off at a cafe for a drink, and after spotting that the previously empty tables outside were now full of small children, we headed out another door where all the tables were empty. After finishing our drinks we headed out the other entrance to the seating area only to find wed inadvertently headed into the zoo!! Im far too honest, and even though no-one had noticed I felt like a criminal being in there without paying, so we turned round and headed back into the cafe to go back out the front entrance, only to have someone at the door to the cafe grab our hands and stamp a purple smiley face on the back of them so that we could get back into the zoo! I thought about explaining our innocent mistake, but decided it would just be easier to accept the damn stamp and go!
Our next stop was the Empire State building, on the walk from the station we bumped into the hop on hop off bus ticket sellers and managed to get a really good deal. Bearing in mind we had 3 days here, but the middle day was already booked up with a full day Niagara Falls trip, they managed to give us a ticket that lasted 5 days, and included the uptown, downtown and night tour bus routes, entrance to the Empire State (or Rockafeller), a 2 hour Circle Line cruise, the boat over to and entrance into the Statue of Liberty, entrance to a museum AND money off for shows and a meal at Planet Hollywood all for $86 each which wasnt bad.
So after the Empire State building, which was quite empty really, not much queuing (this is definitely the right time to go to the USA, spring weather was perfect and not too many people around although the volcano couldve had something to do with that!!). The views from this building were fantastic, we didnt pay the extra $15 to go up to the very top, this was high enough!
After the Empire State, we went on the uptown tour, all round the top of central park, then swapped over to the downtown tour so basically covered the whole area. We stopped off for dinner in Times Square then jumped onto the night tour to which went over to Brooklyn so that you could see the Manhattan skyline at night, then used the subway to get back to the hotel. It was a great day.
Had an early start on 21st, we were picked up at 6:40am and taken to JFK, flown up to Buffalo, then driven to Niagara Falls. They take you over the border to the Canadian side of the falls, which to be honest, is really the only way to see this! You cant see that much from the American side. Have to go through the full immigration to get there and back even though your only there for a few hours!
It made my day to see that they were running the Maid of the Mist boats, they werent supposed to run until May, and we thought wed be doing the tunnels behind the fall, which wouldve been OK, but Id really wanted to go on the boat. It was unbelievable, I cannot believe how wet you get! But its fantastic, and I got a Canada stamp in my passport to add to the rest!
We got back at around 10pm so the day was quite tiring, but at least there were no flight delays everything went very smoothly.
Our last full day in New York, we went on the cruise, got great seats on the top level of the boat, once again it wasnt too busy so there was plenty of room on the boat. On the way back at the end of the cruise we noticed a huge wall of black cloud closing in, the rain started just before we got off the boat, we got a cab down to the Statue of Liberty only to find that place closes up at 4pm! And wed run out of days!!! The rain had cleared though, just a passing downpour and then the sun came back out.
Now that we had a bit of unexpected free time we stopped off at Rockafeller on the way back to the hotel, even though wed done the Empire State, we thought wed give this one a go too Im glad we did, it was almost empty up there, and the views are great, no bars on this one, its all glass panels which makes the whole thing look more open and the view more impressive.
Disappointed that wed missed the Statue of Liberty, we worked out that if we got the train early the final morning, we could get there for the first boat at 9am and have plenty of time to go round it and get back for our flight, so we got up early, checked out of the hotel, dumped our luggage and set off on the New York subway system during peak rush hour! It was just like being on the London underground!
I cannot believe the security at the Statue of Liberty its even tougher than airport security! You get the standard airport type checks just to get on the boat over to the island, then to get into the statue itself, you have to go through the whole thing again, but in addition you go through a sniffer machine to check you for traces of chemicals/explosives e.t.c! Once again, the combination of not too many tourists, and the fact we were the first boat over to the island, meant the queues werent too bad. We were done and back to the hotel, courtesy of the bus, by 12:30, plenty of time to get to the airport and check in for our flight.
Felt a bit guilty after checking in and walking, passport and boarding pass in hand, past the poor, stranded passengers who were eyeing our boarding passes from the standby queue... thought we might get mugged for them at one point!
Our first delay of the holiday, a whole 30mins due to a fuelling issue at JFK, not bad given we have visited 4 countries, using 4 different airlines, and taken 12 flights over the past 10 weeks.
So thats all folks, were back home, life has returned to normal and the trip will soon become a distant memory! Bit depressing really.
Thanks for reading our blog, we really appreciated all the messages you sent us. Apologies for the slack updates at the end there, but blame the planet ranger web site crashing and losing a week of our blog, photos and messages then not allowing us to update it anymore!
Location: Washington, USA
We had 3 whole days in Washington, after the flight mix up, we didnt get to the hotel until quite late, fortunately for us, they had a restaurant in the hotel which actually turned out to be very nice. There wasnt much time for anything else, Washington pretty much shuts up shop by 8pm!
Our hotel was just north of Dupont Circle, so we headed down to try to get a train or something to the main attractions, while wandering aimlessly around Dupont Circle we spotted another of the hop on hop off buses, so hung around the stop waiting for the next one. After buying the tickets and taking our seats we realised that the next stop was directly opposite our hotel which was a result (if only wed known before we walked all the way down the road!).
So our first day in Washington was basically spent on the bus once again getting a feel for the area and working out what we were going to do over the next 2 days. We did stop off at the international spy museum, which was different to your bog standard museum. Youre kind of treated like a spy, you have an induction video thing, then have to memorise a new identity I chose Gretta Schmidt, an astrologist who was the same age as me from Bornstadt and was visiting London for business for 4 days. Figured sticking to a similar age e.t.c would make it easier to remember. Vic, however, chose a 15 year old student... hmmm, yeah, I cant see him pulling off that disguise myself... :o)
After that, you finally get to see some museum stuff which is the interesting part (unless like me you keep reciting your new identity so you dont forget the details!) It basically lots of spy gadgets, all kinds of weird looking things, and how theyve developed over time. Plus stories of real life rogue agents how they were caught, how they were punished e.t.c I found this stuff really interesting.
Just before you reach the end there are some touch screens with questions on your new spy identities to test how well you remembered everything I was feeling very confident, only to find the questions were a joke!! The asked random questions that were nothing to do with what was on the card I memorised! Cant believe I remembered all that crap for nothing...
On the way back we stopped at the White House, which is really just a very large house, very far away from the fence you stand at with a fountain halfway between you and the house. Cant see much, but you cant go to Washington and not see the White House!
So the second day, we took the bus again and stopped at the Lincoln memorial to take some pics then headed down to the Air and Space museum, which was MASSIVE! You probably need more than a day to get round it all, we concentrated on the bits we really wanted to see. We watched Hubble in the IMAX they have in there which was really impressive and also very interesting to see/hear the story of the satellite/space telescope.
After a full day of exploring the museum we headed back, making sure we were in time for the last bus. While waiting for the bus, a guy walked up to me and asked me if there was a subway nearby, I couldnt be sure if he meant the sandwich shop or the train but realised it was irrelevant anyway because other than the museum wed just come out of and the bus stop I really didnt have a clue where anything was.
Our final day in Washington, and unfortunately our bus ticket ran out! So we had to rely on the subway/metro system. After getting some help from the guy in the information booth, we managed to purchase the correct ticket and he guided us to the correct platform arming us with a map.
The stations are quite large, and very clean, nothing like London underground. The trains were nice, seemed quite new looking and once you got the hang of things it was pretty easy to find your way around. The subway brought us right out in the centre of the Smithsonian museums, between the Capitol building and the Washington monument which was perfect.
We had a look around the Smithsonian castle, then spent pretty much the entire day in the Natural History museum. This is an impressive museum, it puts our attempts in the UK to shame really. All these museums seem to be huge and they just have so much to see in them. If you looked at everything in this particular museum I think youd be in there for a week! As we were on the train, and it was the weekend, we didnt have to worry about the last bus or rush hour on the trains, but after several hours walking round, we were ready to call it a day and headed back to the hotel.
So even though there was quite a lot more to see (we only got to see Arlington cemetery from the bus!) our time in Washington was over and it was time to venture onto our final destination New York!
Location: San Francisco, USA
Our second day in San Francisco was spent travelling around on our \"hop on hop off\" bus - which I think is well worth the money, they take quite a while to go round everywhere, but it\'s a great way to get the lie of the land. We stopped off again at Pier 39 for a visit to the Aquarium and a cruise around the bay which was the closest we got to the Golden Gate Bridge, but to be honest it was a great view and sitting on a boat in the sunshine (if you ignore the icy cold breeze!) was a very pleasant way to see that particular sight.
After that we made our way back to the hotel, negotiating our way around the homeless guys, particularly the \'bush man\' who likes to hide behind his wilting tree branch then scare the crap out of passing pedestrians by \'jumping\' out and shouting at them, then demanding \'payment\' for making you jump.... only in America eh!
We ate at the restaurant attached to the hotel again tonight, but rather than the first night where we struggled to taste anything because we were so jet lagged, we treated ourselves to a nice meal then retired for the evening (we were still finding it hard to stay up very late!)
For our final day in San Francisco we were wondering what else there was to do to be honest, I picked up a message on the blog from Paul Tucker, recommending Lori\'s Diner and found one literally 2 mins from our hotel, with view over the bay, you could even see Alcatraz and the Golden Gate Bridge if you stood on the chair, twisted round and leaned over a bit! I wasn\'t that hungry so thought I\'d opt for pancakes, I should\'ve realised that there wasn\'t really a \'light\' option when a humungous plate came out piled high with 3 of the biggest pancakes I\'ve ever seen. They were lovely, but I only made it through about 2 of them (I cut the rest up in an attempt to make it look like I\'d not left as much!). What with the portions and the free drink refills, I think we could\'ve stayed in there all day!
Well, you can\'t go to San Francisco without using the cable cars at least once - so that\'s what we decided to do today. We took a simple return trip up the hill, to the cable car museum. Vic likes to know how things work and couldn\'t rest until he found out exactly how they operate the cable cars! He was very excited when he realised it was the \'central hub\' for the cable car system as well as being a museum, so we watched lots of large, noisy machinery whizzing the cable round and round... oh joy. Don\'t get me wrong, it is interesting, but I was more into the pictures and stories from the earthquake and the rebuilding of the cable car system afterwards. Its free and definitely worth a visit.
After waiting ages for a cable car to take us back to the Wharf, we completed another circuit on the hop on hop off bus, just because we could. The tickets were for 48 hours and we didn\'t really have anything else to do! We sat on the other side of the bus this time though so we got a slightly different perspective...
On our walk back to the hotel over the past few days we\'d noticed an \'interesting\' restaurant called the \'Rainforest Cafe\', which is pretty much as the name suggests (i.e. a restaurant that is done up to look like a rainforest they have tropical fish tanks and a huge fountain in there too!). We had a great dinner there on our last night, we were made to wait 40 mins, so went for a few beers, then returned to be taken up to what looked like a half empty restaurant - can\'t quite see why we had the 40 min delay... but it was a \'kids eat for $2.99\' night so perhaps they\'d all gone home by then (thank goodness!). It\'s a very entertaining place to eat, in addition to the usual over animated and over friendly waiter staff, we had a model gorilla right next to our table leaping into action every 10-15mins shaking palm trees and making noises, combined with the elephant and other gorillas e.t.c. dotted around the restaurant it was quite amusing! Probably more for kids to be honest, but we had a good night theres one in London too in case anyone fancies a visit!
So up to travel day we had an internal flight from San Francisco to Washington, I wont bore you with the long story but suffice to say we missed our flight. All Ill say is that you should never leave a man in charge of any important paperwork!
Fortunately for us, United Airlines are nothing like Easyjet, so without too much fuss they just booked us onto the next available flight which was an hour later than the time we thought wed be flying. Pretty good result all things considered, perhaps they were more concerned with the fact that all their European flights had just been cancelled due to the volcano and in comparison, our little problem was a piece of cake!