North America

And the River churns – Rafting the Yough River

Saturday 24th May

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The morning was spent getting to know our housemates and preping ourselves for our rafting trip.

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Henrietta Lodge, Ohiopyle PA. Home to 14 people for 3 days (and a bathroom and half only)

The lodge was even prettier in the daylight… We got to know each other pretty well by the end of the weekend:) All together, 3 lodges had been booked for the friends and family of the couple. Jane and I were housed with the bride’s family. I can tell you she has some crazy funny aunties! I want to be like them when I am their ages!

The rest of my friends were housed in a different lodge, 15 mins drive from where we stayed. Thankfully there were plenty of volunteer drivers.

One of the boys (boyfriend of the bride’s sister) cooked breakfast and we all had bacon and eggs…then around 11am, a love pie was brought out. Yes, you read right…a love pie! I felt like a Hobbit having a second breakfast and it was darn good too 🙂

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Lauren’s Love Pie: raspberries and mint filling…I am not a fan of raspberries but I enjoyed that home made pie nonetheless!

 

 

 

 

 

 

By 12, we were in the tiny town centre : there one store and a couple of coffee shop/rafting equipment and souvenir shop.

Our group had 22 people and there were a couple of other groups so it made for quite a big party to take on the river. The weather was gorgeous and we were all in high spirits.

I have been rafting before, when I went to New Zealand for my other friend from that company’s wedding a few years before, so I thought I had that down. I forgot that in NZ, each boat had a trained guide in to take care of all the stirring. This time, we were on our own in the boats! The guides were in kayaks around and I think the river was a little faster than the one in NZ due to recent rains.

First rapid, I stayed in but Jane went over board. She was at the back stirring and wasn’t particularly enjoying that. Of course as a good control freak that I am, I was quick to offer her to swap places…big mistake. Next rapid, I literally bounced off the boat. I was caught in a churn – I can’t remember the technical term for it. It’s not a whirlpool which goes round flat, it the one that makes you think you are in a tumble-dryer and basically you are dragged down to the bottom of the river…freaking scary stuff! All I could think off was “keep your eyes shut, or you’ll lose your contacts”…that came seconds before “shit! I am going to drown”. It felt like I was in there for minutes but it was probably only a few seconds before one of my team mates pulled me back in the boat, shivering and spluttering! I coughed up water and blinked a few time to get the contacts back in place. Had to put one in my mouth as it had popped out and that’s the best way to sanitise it. And away we went again. I felt surprisingly relaxed after and not the least worried it would happen again. I had done my part…yeah, right. We stopped for lunch for about 45 mins and off we went again.

Our boat did well until the second to last rapid…We all had to get in to keep in the boat (instead of sitting on the side), I was in before my co-pilot and he was heavier than me…you guessed what happened next? Oh yeah, I bounced! It was like in the cartoons. In he went, out I went! This one was far less scary than the other time, I just popped my feet up and let the current take me to one of the boats before us who dragged me out and kept me on board until we got reunited with my boat. To be fair, half the boats lost people on that one as it was a particularly churny rapid…

There was major drama too as one of the support guide got hit in the face with a paddle (accidentally of course) when Cousin Jeff went overboard. There was a lot of blood. It was so close to the end too. Luckily, those River Guides are pretty tough. He just shrugged it off when they managed to stop the bleeding. We invited him to the Pizza party that was planned for the wedding guests after the rafting trip…He bloody deserved it (yes, pun intended).

Mel, the bride, was well organised and had a waterproof camera with her, so here are some shots of the day…

The trip took longer than expected so we were all quite late to the Pizza party (some of the other guests had passed up on the chance of getting wet – can’t imagine why?- and went for a more leisurely activities: Fallingwater House visit). Pizza was cold when we got there (and we were pretty much starving) but so was the beer so it was all good! Overall, a very good day! Although it could have been dramatic to have this the day before the wedding!!

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Entering Amish country – Welcome to Pennsylvania

Friday 23rd May

I would not have chosen Pennsylvania as a holiday destination if it hadn’t been for my friend’s wedding. I met the groom when he was a work placement had my old company. These were the days, we all still remember them with nostalgia. The company was a sociable one and we made friends forever in there. Hence a group of us decided to make the trip to Pennsylvania to celebrate his nuptials with him. And boy, am I glad I went!

Jane and I drove from Washington DC to Pittsburgh. It felt like a mini-road trip, even though it’s only a 3 and bit hours drive. Although it took us closer to 4 and a bit thanks to an epic GPS fail. I say Jane and I drove, but Jane did all the driving as although I do have a driver’s license and they do drive the right side of the road, I have never been a great driver, especially when I don’t know where I am going. What am I, however, is a great co-pilot and despite the issues with the GPS, I kept us going in the right direction (sans maps, if you please!) until we got the bugger fixed.

We arrive in Pittsburgh greeted by a setting sun over a scintillating river dressed with beautiful bridges…poetic, innit? Well it was a gorgeous sight and one I really didn’t expect. I had images of an industrial city, blackened by years of the steel factories black smoke…nuh uh! The steel factories have long been closed and Pittsburgh regeneration programme has done a fantastic job! See for yourself, if you don’t believe me…

We were due to meet at 6pm for drinks and to gather up the crew of guests who were going to see Pittsburgh’s Pirates play the Washington Nationals at baseball. Now what a nice way to start a wedding weekend. I had seen a baseball game the last time I was in the US and I had very much enjoyed it, even though there hadn’t been much action and the hosting team, San Francisco Giants had lost. This time, I was in luck. The game was quite lively and the Pirates actually won and we got given a T-shirt on arrival. Some company sponsoring the team were handing them out for free. We were quite late arriving so I got an XXL sized one. Can’t wear it outside, but makes a perfect nightie! Yaaargh…

 

We left a few minutes before the end of the game – which lasts 4h if you didn’t know – so we could be the crowd. We were all going back to the lodge we had been booked in by the mother of the bride near where the wedding was happening (on Sunday). It’s about 1h30 drive south-east of Pittsburgh and the GPS got us turned around again. Thankfully, we had the bride in the car so she got us out of the mess and on track in no time but it meant that it took us 2 hours of small, not brightly lit road to get to our destination: Henrietta Lodge in Ohiopyle, PA.

Now if you have never heard of Ohiopyle, don’t feel bad, neither did I. It’s a little river town (emphasis on the little) in the middle of National Park. There isn’t much here to do if you are not into outdoorsey stuff or if you don’t have a car!

The cottage though is lovely, even though I felt like I was in an episode of Full House, with the number of people sharing it!!

NB: I didn’t actually see any Amish as they are much further down within Pennsylvania.

 

 

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White House Down, or…

How I spent an afternoon in DC!
Disclaimer: Apologies in advance, this is a long post…but it was a long, packed day (and a bit)

Thursday 22nd May

Day 5 of my holiday and it started with a little bit of a panic attack. My travelling had so far been event free, which is quite rare for me. There is always some drama with tickets or dates or something random.

My time in New York was coming to a close and I had booked myself a bus ticket on a Megabus to go to DC, which was my version of a road trip. I had thought of taking a train but all the tickets were already gone when I looked online the month before (Amtrak website) and time wise, there wasn’t much difference. It cost me $33 on a pre-booked sale to do NYC to DC in 4h30. Not bad, especially considering that the bus has A/C and free wifi! Yes, that’s right, there was wifi on the bus! Eat that London Bus! Granted this was more of a coach trip than a bus, still… Now, where did the panic occur I hear you wonder…This all seems perfectly well planned, particularly that I had found out a couple days before, during one of my numerous meanderings where exactly those buses started from…well my impatient friends, the panic came as I was having my last breakfast at the Hungry Ghost. My bus was for 9.30 and I had calculated that I needed to leave by 8.30. I was awake way earlier than planned so decided I had time for breakfast. I had just finished my  last ginormous donut (went back to the coconut one which was my favourite) and catching up with my journals…I thought, let me get my ticket out to an accessible pocket and just triple check the streets where the bus departed…when I saw the departure time again…9am…wtf??? My bus left at 9am, not 9.30am??How? And then I remembered…I had been planning 9.30am for the longest time and then at the last minute, I decided that it wouldn’t be too hard to make the 9am and I would gain extra time in DC…Idiot!! (that is not the first time something like that happens to me unfortunately)…Suddenly, I didn’t have time to finish my coffee and potter around. I packed up and ran for the C train, stressing myself that it was taking too long to arrive. Finally I was in, constantly checking my watch, trying to calculate whether I would need to run for it from Penn Station stop or if I could get away with walking it…It looked ok, 3 more stops….and then the man standing next to me started shaking, stiff as a board…we just had time to catch him to break his fall. He was having an epileptic fit. Oh yes, I never had to use my first aid before and now that I was stressing about missing my bus, I finally got the opportunity?! Damn. Sorry if it sounds a little callous. I really felt sorry for the poor guy and I helped get him in the recovery position (when other people wanted a) to restrain him and b) put him flat on his back) but there is always that part of you that say “couldn’t you have had it in the train after me?”. We stayed in station for a couple of minutes. Poor dude was still fitting. The driver told us to get back, that we would get help from the next station. As I had been helping, I felt I needed to wait until someone came. Lucky for me, we stopped at a station with alternative trains and they didn’t need me. I dashed to jump on the A train (thankfully fast to Penn Station) and then ran most of the way (4 avenue blocks with bags and suitcase, thank you very much), only to discover that I had plenty of time…still, if I hadn’t run, something else probably would have happened!

First glimpse of DC as I walked out of Union Station

First glimpse of DC as I walked out of Union Station

The journey was completely uneventful (thankfully so) and the grey and wet of NYC was replaced by hot and baking of DC. I had booked myself in a hotel as close to Union Station as I could as a) I didn’t want to have to figure out transport and b) as I only had the afternoon and evening in DC, I didn’t want to spend most of it on the subway. I had done a search on Trivago (very useful) and found the Phoenix Park Hotel for a very reasonable rate. The hotel is literally 5 mins walk from Union station and 15 mins walk from Capitol Hill. It’s quite old fashioned but the staff was friendly and the room was clean and surprisingly quiet. The one downside was that although wifi was complementary with room rate, the signal didn’t stretch as far as the 8th floor where my room was, and the bathroom was tiny. Ok for me as I was on my own, but the room was a twin room. Then again, you don’t need to spend that much time in there. Ah, and there was no mini fridge in the room. If you are there for one night like me, no big deal but if you are there for a few days, you can keep cold drinks.

I had agreed to meet Jane there. She is a friend of the bride to be (you do remember that I was state side for a wedding, right?) and flying in straight to DC. We had organised the hen party in London together and hit it off so well that, I chose to go to DC to catch up with her so we could share the hire car together. I had just the time to drop my suitcase, freshen up and change (it was boiling hot there compared to NYC) and I was on my way to meet with her. We spent the afternoon strolling around Capitol Hill, checking all the major sites.

This area of DC is quite impressive as all the monument are huge and so white! With the sun out like that, they were positively gleaming. Unfortunately because of the time constraint, we didn’t have time to go into any of the museums and I really would have like to visit the Smithsonian, still there was plenty to see. I was very impressed by the Lincoln Memorial. It’s much bigger than I could have imagined. It was quite strange to walk around and see all those sites that I have seen in movies. Even more so than in NYC as in DC, everything is concentrated within a few kilometres. It was particularly all vivid in my head as I had just watched White House Down with the lovely Channing Tatum just before I left for New York.

 

We couldn’t get very close to the White House because of the upcoming Memorial Day celebrations. They had gated all around it, in preparation for some event or other. From there, we just wandered around in search for a place to have dinner, which we found in Chinatown…although we didn’t eat Chinese but Mexican 🙂 Chinatown there is a little more obvious than in NYC.

Jane was staying in Alexandria district so she had to take the subway back after dinner. I decided to walk back to the hotel so I could see the sights at night. Boy, that was creepy. Capitol Hill at night is pretty much like The City in London on a weekend night. Absolutely deserted. You get traffic but no pedestrians. I am guessing most of the people working there, get out to the neighbouring districts as soon as the end of day bell rings. I nearly got myself lost too as it was too dark for me to find my points of references. Thankfully, because of the Memorial Day preps, there was a policeman on duty who pointed me back to the right direction. Saying that, although it was eerily quiet, seeing those big white monuments at night was quite something too…

Union Station at 8.30am!

Union Station at 8.30am!

I slept surprisingly well considering I was in a hotel – I normally have fitful sleeping and the sun was already hot when I checked out, even though it was not even 9am. I was meeting with Jane at Vienna Station (end of the Orange Line) where we were going to get a cab to the car hire office at Dulles Airport. We were only due to meet at 10.30 but I wasn’t sure of the schedule of trains. I thought well, even if I am early, I can go to a coffee shop and wait for her….Big mistake. Because I was within the rush hour times, I got to Vienna by 10am, only to discover that there is absolutely nothing around there. It’s just a station, no coffee shops, no shops of any kind, not even a park…Luckily, the weather was gorgeous and I just parked myself at one of the bus stops and read my Kindle (thank god for Kindles!) and though, pah, it’s only 30 mins…or it would have been if Jane hadn’t missed her connection and was delayed by at least 30 mins! She got there eventually and after a couple of false starts – mainly due to GPS failure, we got to Pittsburgh just in time to get a beer before we had to get to the Pirates Game we were all booked in. But this, will be the subject of another post…

 

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New York, New York – Day 4 – Welcoming Fleet Week!

Wednesday 21st May

Hibiscus donut @ The Hungry Ghost, Brooklyn

Hibiscus donut @ The Hungry Ghost, Brooklyn

 

My last day in NYC was all about Fleet Week (and the Hungry Ghost’s giant donuts – I braved the Hibiscus one, which tasted really sweet…I am not sure what hibiscus is supposed to taste like though).

 

I walked up and done the harbor shore watching the big warship pull in the Hudson River. Quite a sight. I wanted to catch a glimpse of the wave of sailors taking over the city but I think this was mostly happening from the evening or the following day. I was too early basically.

Still I went to visit The Intrepid Air and Sea Museum, an WWII aircraft carrier which is permanently docked near Pier 83. It was interesting and as the day was a little overcast, not a bad place to finish my time in NYC. I was meeting a friend in the West Village in the late afternoon for some drinks and ended up having a very late lunch at a place called Bubby’s on Gansevoort St (start or finish of the High Line depending if you are going South to North or the other way around). I had the most amazing pulled pork sandwich (did I tell you I love pulled pork?!) and just chilled there for a couple hours, resting my feet, reading my Kindle, taking my time. I probably could have squeezed in  a trip on the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty during the day but I just couldn’t get the strength to rush anywhere…I have to leave some stuff for a future visit right? I definitely want to go back and this time, I will definitely take a near empty suitcase!

Here is the final NYC gallery…so long Big Apple, it’s been real!

 

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New York, New York – Day 3

Tuesday 20th May

Dolce de Leche @ The Hungry Ghost, Brooklyn

Dolce de Leche @ The Hungry Ghost, Brooklyn

I didn’t have to be at the Rockfeller Center until 11am so I took it easy that morning. Enjoying another magnificent donut, this time Dolce de Leche with roasted almonds…yum!

Still I was in town with time to spare so I took that opportunity to pop round to Sketchers and buy myself some Go Walk trainers…OMG, how have I lived without a pair of these before, I have no idea…they are so comfy I could have cried from the relief my feet felt! I spent a bit of time trying to decide what colour to go for: conservative navy or in your face turquoise? I chickened out and went for the navy (only to regret my decision by the following day…and honestly if I had been cleverer and had come with an almost empty suitcase as I had been advised, I would have bought 2 pairs)…

Now to the Top of the Rock…once you have your timed ticket it goes a lot quicker…although you get sent through a middle ground and get to wait watching a couple videos (which I found interesting personally but most people didn’t bother with).

And to the piece de resistance… oh my, the view from up there is amazing. I was also quite lucky to have a beautiful day! The only other iconic building you can’t see properly is the Chrysler building as it is hidden by another – apparently the best view for this building is on top of the Empire State building.

After that, I just walked down 5th Avenue and enjoyed the sites…Went to Grand Central Station, although it wasn’t at rush hour so it was quite tame. I did see some video shot for Dancing with the Stars thing though (but none of the Russian hotties), then walked through Little Italy where I ate a Spicy Pulled Pork (I love pulled pork!) pizza, then walked through Chinatown – quite disappointing actually, passed the Courthouse, completely by accident. Walked across to the river and down to WTC (World Trade Center site) to see the 9/11 Memorial and the new Tower One. I was knackered as you can imagine but it was such a gorgeous day that I couldn’t imagine doing it underground.

Once I had done all that, I just had the time to hop on the subway to get back to Pier 83 to go on my Circle Line – Harbor Lights evening cruise…The clouds suddenly appeared by then although it was still warm enough…we didn’t get a proper sunset unfortunately but the Skyline at twilight and night is amazing.

 

 

 

 

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New York, New York – Day 2

Monday 19th May

So I woke up bright and early and rearing to go. I found a lovely little coffee shop round the corner from the flat and next to the station where I could catch the C train into town. It’s a little hipster but their coffee is scrumptious and – I love America for that – it’s the same price if you get a medium or large coffee…’well, it’s just extra hot water, really’. They also do, ginormous doughnuts! What’s not too love?

Breakfast at the Hungry Ghost - Coconut Donut, yum!

Breakfast at the Hungry Ghost – Coconut Donut, yum!

The place is called The Hungry Ghost and has a queue of people grabbing their coffee to go from 8am…I wasn’t in hurry as my plan was to get to the American National History Museum first and it doesn’t open until 10am. I also managed to get myself some serious blisters from my wanderings along the Brooklyn Bridge so I needed to wait until the pharmacy across the road opened to get some plasters (band aid over there :)). So I settled myself with my coffee and giant coconut donut and pulled my holiday journal. When I travel, I like to write long hand, so I had brought some loose sheets of pretty paper to keep a record of my tribulations, feelings etc. Although I only had been there for a few hours, I had a surprising amount of things to write about…I won’t bore you with them here 🙂

Breakfast completed, band aids bought and stuck all over my heels, I set off on the C train to get to ANHM. Dead easy to get to: hop in in Brooklyn and get off at 81st Street. Et Voila!

My intention was to spend about 1h in the museum and then head out to Central Park to have a picnic…I wanted to see the dinosaurs…mostly. I live in London, home of its own famous National History Museum with its own dinosaur exhibits…yet, I have never been to it. I want to, I just never got round to it.

According to the guide, the ANMH is free but a donation of $22 is suggested. Let me tell you this: it is more than suggested. You can’t get in without a ticket. You have to queue for it, even if you are not planning on seeing the paying exhibitions. When you get to the till, the cashier tells you in a friendly voice that the suggested donation is $22 but you can give whatever you want. When you are faced with that, I think you’d feel pretty shitty to say “well in that case, I’ll donate $10!”…or maybe it’s just me being a bit of a wimp (I’ll admit to that readily). So I pay the suggested fee…For those who haven’t been to London yet, our museums are free to enter too and we don’t make you go through the ticket office to enter unless you are planning to go see a paying exhibit.

Saying that, I loved it there. Of course, they know that the dinosaurs are the major attraction so you have to go through the whole museum before you can get to them (top floor) but it’s well worth it. I am not a huge museum type of person, at least not an arts one but I love history. The downside of the visit was it seemed to have school day that day and there were school kids everywhere, so some rooms were busy and mostly….LOUD! In a place where the noise bounces around and get amplified, it can get a little grating.

Still I managed to spend nearly 3 hours in there, getting lost learning about tribes in the Amazon or rituals in deep Africa…It was fascinating (I have moments like that when I got to the British Museum)…And then finally the big guns. The dinosaurs!! I had never seen reconstructions or dinosaurs bones before…You don’t really get a sense of scale until you see the 3D representation of those creatures. Jeesh, I don’t think man would have survived as a specie if we had co-existed. Huge!

 

Central Park

Central Park

When I finally emerged from there, I was starving and completely confused by the sunlight. Some of the rooms in there are so dark that you can easily forget that the sun is shining out there. The museum is literally nesting against Central Park so I only had to cross the street. My plans for a picnic were largely foiled as a) I didn’t have any food with me and there weren’t any minimart around b) I really didn’t fancy eating a hotdog or pretzel which seemed to be the only thing you could buy around. I walked around for a bit, found a really pretty place to sit down by the lake (is it called a lake?) overlooking Manhattan skyline. It’s quite a striking view. Loads of people were just sitting around having picnics, boating on the lake, walking around or cycling. The inside road seemed to have been blocked to traffic so you could pretty much walked anywhere. I paused for a few moments, taking in the sight and the sun. Lovely. The sound of the traffic seemed to have been drowned out by all this nature. I heard a growl. I imagined that there were some wood creatures around but didn’t think they would come out during the day when they were so many people around. Another growl…looked around, no one seemed affected. How strange. Growwwwl…Oh my, it was my stomach telling me it had been hours since my giant donuts and complaining. How embarrassing.

I left my little peaceful spot in search of some food…I was surprised that they weren’t more food options around and I was nearly ready to give in and get a hotdog from a cart when I stumbled across a restaurant. The Tavern on the Green. I think it is the only restaurant inside the park on this side of it…and too pricey for me 😦 But, they have a take away booth at the back of it which offers sandwiches and cold drinks to go. They also have a little terrace where you can sit to enjoy being outside. Sold!

After that I started to walk towards Rockfeller Center. I had bought a ticket for the Observation Desk through a company in the UK and it was dated. I had time for it, the site had said that you could go any time between 11am-10pm. So I wandered around, chatted to a lady who tried to sell me a Big Bus Tour ticket (not interested) for a while, found a NY Yankee shop where I bought a baseball ball my sister had requested for one of her friends – completely by accident might I add, as I had been directed to a completely different street for it. Finally I got to 30 Rockfeller (I had troubles finding it as the map I had was really bad) only to discover that I had to exchange my voucher for a timed ticket and that the queue for that was huge *sigh*…Halfway down the line they announced that there were no more tickets available for the afternoon but if you get some for the next day…I was worried because my voucher specified that it was for Monday 19th but when I got to the front of the queue they didn’t seem to care. I am glad though that I hadn’t planned this for my last day or I would have been screwed. There was no mention that I needed to exchange my voucher for a timed ticket, grrrr… So I found myself at loose ends. I had planned to go up there and now, my schedule was a little off…so I walked…and walked…my feet and knees were killing me but walking is definitely the way to see NYC.

I came across 5th Avenue, the Public Library, got to the foot of the Empire State building, found where I could buy Sketchers but I couldn’t remember the exchange rate so held out, made my way across to get to The High Line, found Macy’s (which is pretty much like Selfridge’s in London so I went in, took a couple of pics and went out again…not my style of shop)…One thing that I learned on that day is how long avenue blocks are, compared to street blocks. I probably should have taken a break somewhere, have a coffee or something to rest my feet but I was so keen to see the city I just ploughed on…I don’t know how many kilometres I covered on that first day but I know it’s a lot.

On my way to the High Line, I came across the area where I was going to need to come to catch my bus to DC, so I was pleased with that. It also showed me how Mr Google got the walking time wrong from Penn Station stop to 11th (it’s a lot longer to walk).

 

By the time I was finished walking the High Line, I was absolutely knackered. I had pretty much walked for 5 hours straight with shoes that weren’t meant for it…I stopped at a German bar in Brooklyn for some dinner – a bit of a mistake really as their menu only consisted of hot dogs which wasn’t what I had in mind for dinner but I was too tired to try find something else. I think I was pretty much fast asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow…

 

 

 

 

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New York – New York: Day One !

Oh-My-God! I freaking loved NYC!!

From the moment I landed to the day I left New York, I loved my timed there… It’s a great city and I was lucky enough that the weather was amazing…

Sunday 18th May

2014-05-18 17.19.07

Getting ready to land

I landed 45 mins earlier than scheduled…yes, 45! Never happened to me before…I usually have stressful travelling (not whilst in the air but before and after take off/landing there is usually some drama) but not this time…well, except for the few minutes before I took the Heathrow Express where I thought I had forgotten my wallet at home and I had to literally empty my backpack (I had changed it the night before and sweated I forgot to transfer the wallet too). At JFK, I was through customs in 10 mins tops. The longest part of the process was getting from the plane to the passport control as I think our plane landed the furthest away from there.

One funny anecdote whilst on the plane (Delta Airline one) was as all the attendants were American, they had trouble with my accent…You should have seen the look of total confusion on the attendant when I asked for a “tonic water”…I don’t know how to translate tone in writing but I had to repeat it three times before my neighbour, although American herself but one who seemed more used to the Britishness of my accent (although it’s a bit of a mishmash of accents to be fair to the attendant) americanized it for me 🙂 She also didn’t know that tonic water came in diet form…

It was easy enough to get into town, thanks to my Airbnb hostess’ instructions, although the Air train could do with some station’s announcement. They don’t really tell you which station you are pulling in and the signs are not that obvious.

 

My Brooklyn Home

My Brooklyn Home

I got to my home away from home at 3pm on the dot and was met at the door by my host’s living boyfriend, who very kindly offered to take my suitcase up the stairs…who says chivalry is dead?! My hosts were a friendly couple, although I interacted more with the lady of the house. The flat itself is a bit dated but really clean and my room was at the back, overlooking a garden so quiet, which is really important for me. I slept really well the whole time I was there. I am not sure the bed would have been big enough for a couple but that wasn’t really an issue for me 🙂 I had a few chats with her which was nice. It was like flatsharing again.

After such a long flight, I should have been tired…and to be fair I was a bit but I knew I couldn’t go to bed too early or I would be completely out of sync for the rest of the trip…so after dropping my bag, sending a couple messages (courtesy of the free wifi) to tell everybody that I had made it in one piece and changing clothes (it was barmy compared to London weather), I set off to explore the area around the flat…I had plans to go see the Brooklyn Bridge which my Google Map had told me was only 10-15 mins walk from there….um…don’t always trust Google Maps and also, remember to take a copy of the  map with you and not just a picture of it on your phone! I made that mistake and realised that I couldn’t actually see street names on my small iPhone screen so I got lost… Adding to my walking journey by a few kilometres, although it did give me a chance to get a sense of the area better…it also highlighted that the little walking pump I had bought were really not good enough for this much walking!

I did find the bridge and what a glorious sight it was…and busy too. It seems everyone had the same idea as me on this end of Sunday. I walked across it, taking in the sight of Manhattan in the setting sun and got all the way to where One Police Plaza is nestled. I say nestled because it is in a leafy cul-de-sac, a lot quieter and plainer than I thought it would be….Then I walked back. I stopped at a grocery store to get some food and cash and after a nice shower, I was fast asleep as soon as my head touch the pillow.

Mr Piggy also had fun, see his tribulations here!

 

 

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The Fantastic Mr Piggy

2 more sleeps and Mr Piggy and I are off to our next adventure…Can I get a “hell yeah!!”? No? Never mind.

For those of you who have followed my past endeavours, you will have noticed that where ever I go, I take Mr Piggy with me and ensure he gets his screen time. He has travelled a bit already and you can see his photographic adventures on Mr Piggy’s World Adventures.

MrPiggy

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East Coast USA * The planning

It has been a long time since I have been on a proper holiday (June 2012 to be precise) as I don’t count the time I spend in my home town as “proper holiday”.

This year I was meant to be the year of being cancer free and back to my meanderings. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be so…Having suffered a major blow in the “remission road”, I fortunately still get to travel.

I had had plans a couple years to make Costa Rica my next holiday but again, I have had to change the plans. Not due to my health, mind you but because some of my lovely friends have decided to get married this year and as the bride-to-be is from Pennsylvania, the wedding will be held there…Yay…

My first time to the US was only a couple years ago, a mere few months before I got diagnosed actually and was the last time I had a proper holiday, so I think it is only fitting that my first holiday since I am able to travel again is to go there again…this time to the East Coast.

NYC Skyline, courtesy of Google Images

NYC Skyline, courtesy of Google Images

Since being invited, I have struggled and toyed with many itineraries in order to make the most of my time there whilst trying to keep the cost to a reasonable budget. I am not doing it on a shoestring but I don’t want to be chucking pounds out either.

After a lot of research (and as many itinerary advice as people asked) and a little worry that I wouldn’t get my passport renewed in time, I have finally settled for the following travel plans:

Sunday 18th May (pm) to Thursday 22nd May (am) – NYC – can I get a “hell yeah!”?

 

Thursday 22nd (pm) to Friday 23rd May (am) – Washington DC – Sir, yes, sir!

(Courtesy: Google images)

(Courtesy: Google images)

Friday 23rd (pm) to Monday 26th May (pm) – Pittsburgh/Mill Run – Dumdumdada Dumdumdada…

Action packed schedule. I fly in NYC and fly back out from Pittsburgh to avoid having to waste half a day transferring back there. And I am taking a bus between NYC and DC where I am going to meet up with another of the wedding guests and we are going to share a car to drive up to Pittsburgh.

 

 

 

 

 

(Courtesy: Google images)

(Courtesy: Google images)

The wedding venue is about 1h30 south east of Pittsburgh but we are going all the way up as a large portion of the wedding party (including yours truly) will be attending a baseball game on the Friday evening.

The wedding will be held on the Sunday but again, some serious action plans for the Saturday: white water rafting and a motorcycle ride on the back of CousinJeff’s Harley…I can already feel my inner biker chick nodding her head, tongue out and fingers making the devil’s horn gesture! Rock on baby, rock on!

Anyway, back to the planning…most of it concerning NYC to be honest as it is where I am staying the longest and by myself.
Now, I have never been to New York and like many, I have grown up with 70s, 80s movies where the city is the backdrop so I have an image of a gritty city where the Bronx and Brooklyn are not places you want to hang out…I was never a huge fan of SATC, unlike my friends. However, I was pleased to discover that the city is much safer than it used to be and thanks to a friend’s recommendation, I found accommodation using Airbnb.
If you don’t know this service, you have to check it out…it’s pretty awesome. People all over the world, who have spare rooms or even whole apartments can rent them out like a B&B. Although, you have to send a few enquiries before you get a successful booking, it allowed me to get 4 nights in a brown stone in Brooklyn (apparently it’s Hipster central there now) for a third less than if I had booked a hotel. And I get to experience NYC like a New Yorker. I hate hotels when I am on my own, they always feel soulless and it’s always very noisy.

Here is a list of the things I am planning to go see, visit, check out:

The Top of the Rock Deck – this one I have pre-booked for Monday 19th via Viator as it appeared to be cheaper and saved the queuing. I am told if you have to do an observation deck, this is the best as you can see the Empire States building and the Chrysler building from it (whereas you’d miss seeing those if you were on top of them…doh!).

Walk along the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset – I am going to try to do that on the day I arrive as I don’t think after a 6 hours flight in cattle class I’ll have much more energy for more…but you never know. The plan is to walk across it all the way to One Police Plaza (1PP). It might not be a huge touristy place but I am a huge fan of cop shows and that’s my little homage – as a side bar, I still have to go and check out Scotland Yard in London and I live there!

Circle Line Cruise – Night lights: that is another tour that I have already pre-booked with Viator. Again it appeared to be cheaper and you can hop the queues…I am still too French to enjoy queuing the way Brits seem to.

On my last day (Wednesday) it’s the start of Fleet Week and apparently the ships are pulling in the harbour that morning and from what I gather, the streets are filled with sailors (weyhey!) and you can go check out the boats…Sir, yes, sir!! 🙂

Other things on my list are: the American National History Museum, Central Park, the High Line, a bit of shopping (can’t really miss that opportunity), Time Square and Broadway – hopefully get cheap on the day ticket for a show, the cafe where Harry Met Sally did “that” scene, apparently Magnolia Bakery is a must too…everyone I talk to about this trip comes back with their “must do” or favourite and I’ll try to cram as much as I can without missing out on enjoying where I am at. One thing I won’t do is art galleries and art museums even though The Met and MoMa are well recommended…I can’t stand that type of museums…history, architecture and anthropology: big YES! Art: not so much…

I have very little plans for the evenings apart from the twilight cruise on Tuesday. I am not a big night person and my clubbing days are well behind me (if they ever were in front) but I don’t mind.

On Thursday morning, I take a Megabus (apparently the Greyhound buses aren’t that reliable) to Washington DC. I found a hotel near Capital Hill without breaking the bank thanks to Trivago. There I will meet with J and see the most obvious sights: Capital Hill, the White House etc. I don’t think I will get time for the Smithsonian which is a shame but that’s what you get for a half day.

Friday we drive to Pittsburgh – we are supposed to catch up with another friend of mine, Mr C, who is coming via Baltimore but we haven’t agreed yet where we are meeting. Now Mr C is a funny one as he intends to cycle back from the wedding to Baltimore…Yes, peeps, cycle as in push bike! So we have to make sure the hire car can take the bike.

As you can imagine, I am well excited about this trip! Of course updates and photos will follow once I am there.

To complete my prep, I also got myself a US sim card which I bought on Ebay for £10 (and it came with $10 credit). I am not planning on spending loads of time on the phone but in areas where there is no wifi, being able to get a bit of data should be nice. I have also made sure I snapped pictures of all the maps I needed and even printed some…Did I hear some snigger “OCD”? Yes, I know but I feel happier when I have a bit of control, thank you very much!

5 more sleeps….

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Itchy feet

This year, thanks to dealing with breast cancer, isn’t supposed to be a travelling year. I have set myself to plan for a holiday next year so as to celebrate being clear and free of the cancer (one can hope) and to celebrate the fact that I will turn 40 (I can hardly believe it). Strangely enough, it is not daunting me that I will hit that big milestone. As a single woman without kids I should be terrified as it will mark a big scary jump on my biological clock but somehow, because of aforementioned cancer, it has lost its scariness. I suppose being faced with a life threatening illness (even if it hadn’t reach the heavy stage) makes you appreciate all the potential birthdays you will get.

Any how, this was not meant to be the subject of this post. I am not here to talk about my boobies or my ticking clock but about my itchy feet!

I am not sure I will be able to wait until next year to go on a trip somewhere I haven’t been. First I have been invited to spend the weekend in a plush hotel in Barcelona early June. That’s one of the privileges of my job. It’s what called a FAM trip – don’t ask me what FAM means, I don’t actually know; what I do know is that it means a free weekend away flights and accommodation included, thank you very much! I have already been to Barcelona so I have done all the touristy things to do there.

NYC Skyline, courtesy of Google Images

NYC Skyline, courtesy of Google Images

Yesterday, one of my colleague was talking about trying to find a destination in Europe for a 5 days trip and I was giving her ideas of where to go and that made me long for a break away. I then went onto lastminute.com to see where I could go for 4/5 days myself (so I don’t take too many days off) and by myself (so I don’t have to rely on anyone else to be free) but without actually doing a group tour holiday and my eyes settled on New York. A city break would be ideal and I have never been to the Big Apple.

As you may have read before, I have a tendency to obsess a little when I start thinking about something like a holiday so of course, I went straight to Amazon and bought myself the Lonely Planet New York City guide so I can start looking at what I can do over 4 days and where would be best for me to stay without having to spend my time in the transport and be safe if I travel alone.

NYC Skyline, courtesy of Google Images

NYC Skyline, courtesy of Google Images

I am thinking I could go in Sept/Oct this year considering I will have been done with all the active treatments relating to my breast cancer (I have finished chemo end of March and I am about to have the operation on 21st May, so I should be finished with it before summer starts…well if summer ever starts here). It will be the opportunity for me to check out the city that is the background for many of my favourite tv shows, such as CSI:NY.

NYC, courtesy of Google Images

NYC, courtesy of Google Images

Considering the operation I am going to have and the fact that following removal of lymph nodes you have increased risks of infection, it might not be possible for me to so my African safari next year or even go anywhere which requires shots so I might have to go back to the drawing board for my grand holiday.

NYC Skyline, courtesy of Google Images

NYC Skyline, courtesy of Google Images

Categories: Dreams, North America, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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