I recently travelled to the US and Canada for quite an adventure. Here’s the story of my trip…
Some trip facts:
I flew approx. 7,000 miles there and back.
I drove 1127 miles in a rented Toyota RAV4 (driving in the US & Canada was a dream compared to the UK).
I walked almost 46 miles in 8 days.
I visited/travelled through New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Ontario (Canada), Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, and D.C.
Day 1 – Saturday – NYC
We were a pretty excited threesome, flying from Heathrow to Newark. I enjoyed the airplane food (just like Zach in my first novel!) We collected our rental car and drove towards NYC. It was dark and we noticed Manhattan lit up as we approached – the new World Trade Center (a.k.a. Freedom Tower), and the Empire State Building standing out among all the other skyscrapers. The skyline is so familiar from all the American TV shows and movies we’ve seen, yet it is kind of surreal to actually be here.
Driving through Manhattan was much easier than I imagined, and we found our hotel quickly. Exhausted, we are now going to bed, excited to start our holiday (vacation!) properly tomorrow…
Day 2 – Sunday – NYC
It was a beautiful sunny day so we decided to walk to the Rockefeller Center, and the walk in itself was pretty cool – you see so much more walking than you would on the subway. We looked up at the skyscrapers, saw yellow cabs, lots of people everywhere, hot dog and pretzel vans were on the corner of each block. It was just like I remembered it from my last trip here nearly 20 years ago …
We reached Rockefeller plaza and watched people ice skating … then went inside to go to the “Top of the Rock”. The staff were very friendly and amusing, making jokes. After successfully passing security, we rode the elevator which has a clear ceiling so you can see how fast you’re travelling up – 45 seconds to get to the 67th floor.
The views are amazing as soon as you walk out with Central Park in one direction, and the Empire State Building in the other -just awesome.
After spotting all the famous landmarks and taking a million photos, we travelled back down the elevator and walked from there to Central Park. As soon as you step inside, it’s peaceful – despite being surrounded by busy roads and Skyscrapers. We walked up the east side, stopping for a hot dog from a van on our way for lunch.
Next, Grand Central Station.
More photos, then another walk – to the Empire State Building. Although we’d seen it from our hotel and Top of the Rock, standing on the side walk looking up is still pretty amazing. We paid a quick visit to Macy’s – the largest store in the world, and after enjoying a great dinner, we headed back to the Top of the Rock for our night time viewing. It was much quieter now, and we went straight up to the top deck.
NYC at night is very different than during the day. You see different things, and Manhattan is pretty amazing all lit up. We could just about make out Laby Liberty, lit up on her island. I usually prefer a mountain view to a city one, but it was really rather beautiful.
A quick stroll to Times Square – busy and crowded but cool to see … and now we’re back at the hotel, exhausted – but wow, what a day.
Day 3 – Monday – NYC
A yummy breakfast … then a cab ride to Battery Park, which is being re-landscaped, but looks like it’ll be lovely when complete. The queue for the ferry boat, despite the fact that we pre-booked (thankfully!) was long and the security staff were rude and abrupt, which spoiled it a little (they may do this every day but this is a once-in-a-life time trip for most – I wanted to yell this at them but I’m British and reserved so I just took their rudeness and rolled my eyes, of course).
The ferry ride itself was a bit crowded with school kids, but when we got on the island our day improved. We walked around the perimeter – the view of Manhattan is very impressive and we were bathed in glorious sunshine. Seeing the Statue of Liberty up close – really the most iconic recognised statue in the world, which stands for everything I love about USA – liberty, freedom, spirit, the American Dream – was just awesome. We had a nice lunch there before moving on.
Next, Ellis Island – which has so much interesting history about the “peopling” of America, and reading about diversity of the people who came through looking for a new start was rather inspirational. We sat for a while on a bench in sunshine – looking out at the views of Manhattan again, eating ice creams – you’d never believe it was October!
As our return ferry approached Manhattan, I spotted my friend Sam waiting for us. Sam and I met on a student exchange trip back in 1995 (almost 20 years ago!) and we’ve kept in touch ever since. I haven’t seen him for 5 years before today so it was great to give him a hug and catch up.
Now a merry foursome, we walked to the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero. I visited the Twin Towers with my school mates and Sam back in ’95, and went to the top, so going back there when those towers have gone was really quiet weird, sad and surreal. But I loved the fountains, which cover the footprint of what used to be. The names of those who lost their lives are cut out of the sides, and we spotted a white rose – the staff there put a white rose besides the names on their birthdays. There’s something quite lovely about that. It was rather moving.
Next, we walked to Brooklyn Bridge and crossed over on the wooden board walk, which was pretty cool. The sun was setting and the view was pretty… Once in Brooklyn, we found Grimaldi’s – a famous pizza restaurant. We ordered a large pizza between us, choosing one topping each (Italian sausage, onion, garlic and pepper with mozzarella cheese) – it was very yummy indeed.
After filling ourselves with pizza we walked down to the water, it was dark by now and pretty cool to see the Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan all lit up. The Empire State building was changing all different colours.
Another hug for Sam and we were bidding him farewell and in another cab back to our hotel. It felt like it was about 11pm, so I was pretty shocked to see it was much earlier. What an amazing two days we’ve had.
Day 4 – Tuesday – Journey to Niagara
Time to move on… we picked up our car and drove for a few hours before stopping at a Walmart. The variety is pretty overwhelming. We stocked up on sweets and candy that you can’t buy at home, there are so many different flavours of M&Ms and Pop Tarts.
Then, we continued our journey to Niagara, which despite taking several hours was really rather beautiful due to the fall trees – beautiful shades of red, orange, yellow, browns – stunning.
We passed into Canada via the Rainbow Bridge and got our first sights of Niagara Falls – wow. You can see all the photos you want and watch videos, but seeing it with your own eyes is so different, it’s just spectacular.
We drove through Niagara ON, passing lots of hotels, gift shops, casinos, and restaurants to the Marriott Fallsview hotel. We’d paid extra for this hotel, and hoped it was worth it. The valet took our car, we checked in, and went up to our room on the 16th floor… Wow, was it worth it. The view was so amazing that I just started giggling happily. There are floor to ceiling windows with panoramic views of both the American and Canadian falls.
After pulling ourselves away from the window, we went and had dinner at Applebee’s, which was delicious. Love it here.
Day 5 – Wednesday – Niagara Falls
Why go and eat breakfast in the hotel restaurant when you’ve got this amazing view? We opened some Pop Tarts, pulled the chairs to the window, and ate in our room looking out at Niagara. Just amazing. We then walked down to the falls, there’s a ballustrade all along and you can walk from Horseshoe Falls down to the Rainbow Bridge. We kept stopping to admire the views and take yet more hundreds of photos. Next up: the boat trip.
Now, when they give you a red poncho, you kinda wonder if you need it. Then later on, you’re so grateful you didn’t turn it down. We boarded the boat opposite Bridal Veil falls, which are pretty amazing, even if they’re overshadowed by the Horseshoe. Almost as soon as the boat starts off, you get wet from the spray – and everyone screams and squeals, and there’s lots of laughter. We were really wet, but it was rather thrilling.
So on the boat went, towards the Horseshoe falls – and they get you pretty close – it was choppy with lots of spray, and you get a face full of water – it’s a better thrill than any theme park water ride I’ve ever been on and totally exhilarating. We got soaked. I’d been holding my phone up to video and take photos and even got water up inside my sleeves. We laughed a lot. Amazing.
After a gift shop visit, we walked back towards the hotel and the sun came out, slowly drying our cold wet clothes. We took yet more pics and walked right up to the top of the falls where the water travels over. It’s so fast… again, you have to see it with your own eyes…
Back at the hotel, we got some panini’s and hot chocolates and sat looking out of large glass windows at the falls. Then, up to our room to just chill, mess about, and admire that view some more. There was a lot of laughter that afternoon. When our stomachs started to growl we headed out and walked through town for a while and got some dinner.
Back at the hotel, there was less spray tonight so you could see the lights on the water a bit better. Very pretty. They shine different colour lights at the water, which change regularly; red, white, blue, yellow, green, purple.
Day 6 – Thursday – Niagara to Washington, D.C.
Eating breakfast in your hotel room while watching the sun rise over Niagara Falls = just awesome. Time to move on again, though.
The drive to Washington DC was really quite something. We passed a lot of beautiful fall trees, rural villages and very typical American small towns, just like you see on the movies with the porches and wooden slating, shutters, and flags out front. Most homes were decorated for Halloween which was pretty cool. We saw a lot of snow mobile signs and one place had them for sale like you might at a car dealership.
After driving through New York state, Pennsylvania, and Maryland we finally came to DC. There was a lot of traffic but we eventually got into the centre and passed the White House and Capitol building which were pretty cool, can’t wait to see them in the daylight tomorrow. The hotel here is lovely and the staff very welcoming. We got a take out pizza and ate it in our room. Cannot wait to explore here some more tomorrow.
Day 7 – Friday – Washington, D.C.
After some delicious cinnamon French toast at the breakfast buffet, we set off this morning to walk all around the centre of Washington DC. We saw the Capitol building, the Washington monument, the White House – front and back & with Halloween decorations – and went to the White House visitor centre. Stopped for lunch at a nice little place … then on to the WWII memorial – really amazing, they should have something similar in London – then the infamous Abraham Lincoln memorial which I loved, then the Martin Luther King memorial, and a good look at the Jefferson memorial from across the Tidal Basin.
All of these sites are so iconic and recognisable and it’s so cool to see them for real. The architecture in Washington reminds me a little of London. I really, really like it here, it’s just kind of clean, quiet, and elegant. So glad we came here.
Day 8 – Saturday – Washington, D.C.
Grabbed a quick breakfast from Starbucks this morning, picked up our car and drove to the Smithsonian National Zoo – where we headed straight to the Panda enclosure. There aren’t many places you can see pandas, especially a cub. The zoo is free entry, and it’s very open and relaxed. We were delighted to see three pandas including baby Bao Bao, up in a tree. So cute.
More time in a gift shop, and a quick visit to see a few other animals, then we went to a large shopping mall in Virginia for a wander around before returning to DC … This afternoon we went to the Air and Space museum in the national mall, which was really cool … lots about war planes, the Wright brothers, moon landings, exhibits about the universe – all very interesting and I’d like to go back and spend more time there.
Dinner tonight was at the Hard Rock Cafe in Washington. Pretty cool.
Day 9 – Sunday – time to go home…
Breakfast and then the drive back to Newark Airport – so sad to be leaving, it’s been such a whirlwind, fast holiday and we’ve seen so much in just 9 days! We drove through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey and arrived at Newark a little early… plenty of time to read in the airport and now we’re just about to fly home. What an amazing trip, what amazing things we’ve seen and I’m so happy to have shared it with two awesome travel companions 🙂