Washington DC!

We finally arrived in Washington mid afternoon, after a long car journey. We would be staying in a hostel called Hostelling International Washington DC for two nights. I’ve actually been quite impressed with this accommodation. Their beds are surprisingly comfortable, breakfast is pretty good, the bathrooms were very clean, and they even provided towels free of charge which is a nice treat from a hostel. In my opinion though, the best thing about this hostel is the location. It turned out to only be a ten minute walk from the White House, and the majority of the monuments and memorials we wanted to see were easily within walking distance as well. A map of the nearby area was provided by the hostel, showing all the museums, monuments, restaurants, bars etc. which was incredibly useful. This is definitely somewhere that I would stay again if I’m ever back in Washington.

Check out the hostel website link here!

http://hiwashingtondc.org

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The day we arrived we had a couple of hours before dinner, so a group of us decided to see if we could find the White House. As I just mentioned, it turned out that it was only about ten minutes away from the hostel which was incredibly convenient! Seeing the White House for the first time was a strange sensation. On the one hand, it was incredible to finally see a building that is so famous, and that i’ve grown up seeing and hearing about on the news. I feel like It’s such an integral part of American culture, and it’s something that I’ve always wanted to see – and now I finally have! On the other hand, it wasn’t quite what I expected. Don’t get me wrong, it was amazing to see and it was certainly awe inspiring. But it was also one of those classic moments of ‘it looked different in the movies!’ I suppose it just goes to show once more than you can never truly trust what you see on the TV.

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Walking around to the back of the White House (which I have to admit, I’ve always believed was the front of the building) we were surprised to find that we couldn’t get anywhere close to the gates to take a photo. There were numerous barriers and men with ‘Secret Service’ written on bullet proof vests walking up and down, so we decided to ask what was going on. Apparently they were waiting for the first Lady to return to the White House, and thus no one could go anywhere close to the building. We decided to wait for a while and see if we could spot her (or at least the vehicle transporting her) but sadly it wasn’t the case and we had to leave to get ready for dinner.

IMG_0359My first evening in Washington may have been short, but it was still incredible. I got to see one of the most famous buildings in the world, and thus check yet another thing off my bucket list! I just hope that one day I can get a little bit closer to this amazing building and take some better photos of it. I spent the rest of the evening creating a plan of attack for the next day in the city.

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 “Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide

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Trek America begins

Whilst at camp, I decided that I wanted to travel with a company after camp had ended. It would be a good way to see multiple destinations and do a variety of adventures, and it also meant that I would simply be able to get on a bus each morning and be driven to our next destination and accommodation without having to organise it all myself! I decided to go with a company called Trek America, on a tour which would last two weeks and would show me Eastern USA. This morning, the adventure officially began!IMG_0321

We started our trip from a hotel in New Jersey. It’s a great location as it’s right next to the airport, so if you’re travelling to America specifically for this trip, it’s incredibly convenient. Getting there from New York wasn’t much of a hassle either, as a bus from Port Authority stopped literally just down the street. There are 11 of us in my group, two boys and nine girls (plus the tour guide) ranging in age from 19 to 34, so quite a varied group! We introduced ourselves, loaded the trailer, and set off!

IMG_0327Our first stop was Philadelphia. Less than 90 miles away from New York, this city was one the capital of America until the end of the Revolutionary War in 1790 when it moved to Washington DC. The city was once the second largest in the British Empire, superseded only by London itself. It was also one of the main locations during the War of Independence in opposition of British rule.

IMG_0333Sadly we didn’t get to see much of the city. I would have loved to have gone to see the Liberty Bell (the existence of which, I have to admit, I only know because of the movie National Treasure). We go to go to see the location of the famous Rocky steps, which can actually be found in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The 72 stone steps are not only a good tourist attraction, but are also used by people as the location for their workout. We were very impressed by one woman who ran up and down the steps half a dozen times just in the time that we were watching her – whilst most of us struggled climbing them just once!

IMG_0335We then experienced a traditional dish from Philadelphia – the steak and cheese sandwich, or the cheese steak as it’s known. It sounds like a strange combination of ingredients I know, but it was actually really delicious. Apparently the dish was created in the 1930s by two Italian brothers,  Harry and Pat Oliveri. The brothers traditionally sold hot dogs and sandwiches on the street, but one day created this dish for themselves for lunch, when one brother suggested the other go buy some beef. A customer, impressed by how good it smelled, demanded the unusual sandwich for himself and, tasting it, suggested that the brothers should sell it. And thus the new meal was born!

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Sadly that was all we had time for in Philadelphia. The phrase ‘short but sweet’ comes to mind! It seemed like a really interesting place though, and somewhere I would love to go back and explore properly.

“Oh the places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss

New York Bus Tour – Uptown

The rest of the day was spent doing the tour of Uptown New York. I must confess, I think one of the reasons I enjoyed the tour so much was because of our guide. Whilst he was really informative, he was also amusing, telling jokes and getting everyone involved. The tour was actually a ‘hop on, hop off’, but I decided to stay on for the whole circuit non-stop, which took around 2 hours.

IMG_0202We began by driving up Central Park on its Western side, passing by the American Museum of Natural History – which is definitely going on my list of things to do the next time i’m back in the city! We saw Grant’s Tomb, which I must confess I had never heard of before, but I actually found quite interesting. This is the tomb of the 18th president of America, Ulysses S. Grant, and his wife Julia Dent Grant. Apparently, he was supposed to have been buried somewhere else, but this location would not have allowed his wife to be buried next to him. So instead, the ex-president was buried in Riverside park, an act I personally think is quite romantic.

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We then drove towards Harlem and went past the Apollo theatre, before driving back down 5th avenue. We went past the Museum of the City of New York, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, more places that I wanted to visit but didn’t quite have the time. It’s amazing how quickly seems to go by in the city! I certainly could have done with another week to try and fit in some more sights.

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The tour ended very close to Times Square which was absolutely perfect for me. Looking back, I’m incredibly pleased that I decided to do this tour. Although I simply saw a lot of sights, instead of actually going inside or doing them ‘properly’, I’m still glad that I did it this way. I know for a fact that there’s no way that I could have walked to all of those places in the time that I had, and although the subway is convenient, it doesn’t let you just sit back and watch the city go by – which is something that I love doing. It was an easy and convenient way to tick multiple things off my bucket list for the city, and the great thing is that now I already know which bus tour to go with the next time I’m back in New York!

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‘One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.’ Henry Miller 

New York Bus Tour – Night Bus

So, the third and final trip of my day was the night tour! This departed from near Times Square (which was why it was so perfect that this is where the Uptown tour stopped). I took the 7 o’clock bus, which was the earliest available. It was also the best according to our guide, due to the fact that this time allows you to see the city as the sun is going down, and thus get to experience a New York sunset. So I would have to agree that this was probably a very good bus to choose!

IMG_0268We traveled down through Greenwich village, passing the Empire State Building along the way. We drove through China Town and saw the street where Little Italy is – two places I have to confess I was quite disappointed I didn’t manage to see. We then drove over Manhattan Bridge, which was absolutely stunning. The sun was just beginning to set and so whilst you could still clearly see the city, the lights were simultaneously beginning to appear in the nights sky. Truly beautiful.

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We continued the tour through Brooklyn Heights, another area I wish I had had time to explore properly! The guide told us that in New York City (if you are living in an expensive area) the general rule is that you pay an extra million dollars for a good view, an extra million for a balcony, and an extra million for a parking space! It’s good to know that I would never be able to afford any of these things if I tried to live in that area!

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The tour lasted for about 2 hours, which I think was a good time period. It truly allowed you to see the city come alive in the darkness, and we actually stopped once we had passed over Manhattan bridge so that we could all take as many photos of the city as we wanted. It was a stunning view, and one that I am incredibly pleased I had the opportunity to experience. Even if you’re not particularly interested in the route, or the history of the city, I think it would almost be worthwhile to go on this tour just so that you can experience for yourself the change in the city as the sun begins to set. It was an astonishing end to my stay in New York, and something that I am incredibly happy that I did.

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‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness’ Mark Twain

New York Bus Tour – Liberty Cruise

Before I came back to New York again, I decide that I would buy a ticket for a bus tour. I’d done a lot of walking in the couple of days I was here previously, and a bus seemed like an increasingly appealing idea. Partly I admit, because of laziness, but also because it would be nice just to sit back and enjoy the city without constantly having to look at a map to work out where I was meant to be going! I decided to go with the GoNY bus (the green one, for anyone who’s done a bus tour in NYC). IMG_0026

The reason I decided to go with this bus company is because they did a really good deal. A normal tour for say, the Downtown area, costs $34. Same with their Uptown tour. They also had a night time tour, a Brooklyn tour, a Downtown Liberty Cruise, bike rental in Central Park for an hour, and tickets for the Museum of the City of New York. Now, you could choose to do any one of these things, or you could choose to do all of them for $54 (apparently saving $129). You could also have 72 hours to do all of them. This seemed like a pretty fab deal, and they also have a very good map which shows you exactly where each of the buses go, where they stop, which attractions they stop by and what else is in the local area. I essentially felt that it was good value for money and that they were well organised.

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I started off my day by doing the Downtown Liberty Cruise. This took us underneath the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn bridge, along the coastline of New York, and then to the statue of Liberty. I really enjoyed the trip. The guide was very entertaining and gave us a lot of information that was actually pretty interesting. He also seemed approachable, so a lot of people asked him questions. We saw some amazing views, and we stopped for a good amount of time next to the island so that we all had time to get as many photos of the statue of Liberty as we wanted. The guide was very good at offering to take photos for families or groups as well.

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The company provides a shuttle bus going back and forth to the Pier for the boat. The only slight issue for me was that I decided to meet them there as it made more sense considering the location of my hostel. I ran into a slight problem as I couldn’t find the pier initially and had to wander around for about 10 minutes asking if anyone knew where it was (turned out I had walked straight past it). The issue came from the fact that I was expecting some sort of big company sign, and instead you had to walk around the back of what looked like a storage facility. Admittedly, it did have a sign saying ‘pier 36’, but as I already mentioned, I had been expecting a big green ‘GoNY’ logo so hadn’t even noticed it! So a word of warning for anyone planning on meeting the company there – pier 36 is quite easy to miss so keep your eyes open!

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‘Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.’ Henry David Thoreau 

Brooklyn love

So, back to New York once again! This time I was staying in Brooklyn, in a place called The New York Loft Hostel. I would definitely recommend this hostel if anyone is looking for a good place to stay. The staff were really friendly and helpful, and they provide a map of the local area with a list of good places to eat, shop etc. which was very useful. Here’s their website if anyone wants to have a look!

http://www.nylofthostel.com

I have to confess, the thing that I loved the most about the local area was the graffiti. I know it’s not for everyone, and whilst I’m not a fan of most graffiti, I do love it when they create intricate images. I just find them incredibly impressive (especially because I know I could never do anything like it!) I spent an afternoon just wandering up and down the local streets having a bit of an explore and taking pictures of my favourite finds. So here are just a few of my favourites…

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‘If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light. Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness and fears.’ Cesare Pavese 

A day in Central Park

My second day in New York was spent exploring Central Park. After so much walking the day before and fitting in so many different sights, I wanted to have a slightly more relaxing day. Besides, Central Park is so large and has so many different aspects, that it was almost impossible not to want to spend a whole afternoon there!

IMG_9882Central Park is of course one of the most famous of New York’s attractions (not surprising since it’s one of the most filmed locations in the world). The park is made up of 843 acres, the land being set aside in 1856 when the area still made up the northern fringe of the city. The park was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux in 1858, after they won a design competition. They titled their plan the ‘Greensward Plan’, which incorporated a naturalistic style including winding paths and relaxing ponds. In 1962 the park was designated a National Historical Landmark and today is the most visited urban park in America.

IMG_9903I entered the park from the Southern end, which meant that I soon came across the Central Park Zoo. I have to admit that I was quite tempted to pay it a visit. After all, it’s a zoo in the middle of New York City! However, I decided that it could wait for another day. I’m sure that I’ve seen most of the animals that they have there, and I feel like zoos are much more fun when you’re in a large group of people.

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I wandered up the park, taking in the sights.  I passed a little amusement park for children which had some amazing views of the city behind it. There were numerous musicians and street performers, stalls selling posters and paintings, artists creating caricatures, and places to buy snacks. I easily could have spent a lot of money buying souvenirs and art work, but sadly I have no room to take it home with me!

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For a while I just lay down in the sun and read, which was incredibly relaxing. As I’ve previously said, I love reading but sadly I didn’t have much time to do any whilst I was at camp. Reading whilst looking at all the skyscrapers towering above the trees was slightly surreal I have to admit. After watching so many films and tv programmes set in this amazing place, it was almost difficult to believe that I was actually there myself!

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After my read I continued walking until I reached ‘The Mall’ – also known as the ‘Literary Walk’. This path is the only straight line in the park, and is actually a Parisian-style promenade. It’s a beautiful walk, with statues of literati at the southern end (where I started from) and is lined with North America Elm trees, which are apparently quite rare.

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At the end of the Mall I came to the Bethesda Terrace and Fountain. This is one of the largest neoclassical fountains in New York – a term given to a Western movement in art, literature, music etc. that drew its inspiration from the ‘classical’ culture of Rome and Ancient Greece. At the centre of the Bethesda fountain is a sculpture of an angel designed by Emma Stebbins in 1868. She was the first woman in New York to receive a public commission for a major work of art. The fountain depicts a female angel, surrounded beneath by four cherubs representing Health, Peace, Temperance and Purity. The statue refers to Chapter 5 of the Gospel of John, where an angel blesses the Pool of Bethesda, thus giving it healing powers. The statue is also known as the Angel of the Waters and is, in my opinion, incredibly beautiful.IMG_9937

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I have to admit, I think that walking through Central Park was one of my favourite parts of my time in New York so far. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular with the residents of the city, as it truly does provide a breathing space from the busy streets which at times can almost seem claustrophobic. It was incredibly beautiful and if I’m ever in New York with an afternoon to spare I already know where to go! Someone told me that you can’t truly say you’ve experienced New York unless you’ve been to Central Park, something I now wholly agree with. Now all I’ve got to do is go back there in the Winter time and see it in the snow!

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‘I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.’ Oscar Wilde