Posts Tagged With: Washington DC

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 ┬álast 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 ­čÖé Chinatown there is a little more obvious than in NYC.

Jane was staying in Alexandria┬ádistrict 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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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┬áto 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)┬áit’s the start of Fleet Week┬áand 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!! ­čÖé

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 ┬ú10 (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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