Saturday 10 August 2013

Friday 9th to Saturday 10th August 2013

The last day.
We didn't have much planned other than being at the airport in time for the flight home.
The forecast was an 80% chance of thunderstorms so we made the decision to forego the beach in Cape Cod in favour of a tour of Providence.
It had started raining by the time we left the hotel. We hadn't hurried to leave but even so it was almost 10am before we did.
We took another tour of Ocean Ave, beautiful even in the rain, but too wet to risk the camera.
We turned towards Providence calling in at the Heritage Gallery in East Greenwich, run by three generations of one family, two painters and one glass artist. It transpired the glass artist was a fuser, who made wonderful landscapes as well as smaller coasters and jewellery.
The rain continued to pour down as we continued on to Providence, but got so bad it became dangerous on the road so we pulled off into a parking lot to wait it out.
After about half an hour it had commuted to light rain and we found somewhere for lunch, an Olive Garden restaurant.
Providence we saw, briefly, through the murk as one of the promised thunderstorms hit. There was no point traipsing round a city trying to sightsee and take photos in the pouring rain with thunder and lightening overhead. So we didn't.
We headed for the airport instead. We hit the traffic about 10 miles from the city and spent the next hour and a half crawling through it. The traffic going the opposite direction had even longer queues. We were helped by the express airport lane for HOV - high occupancy vehicles with two or more passengers; it saved us about half an hour.
As hoped our luggage was inside the allowed weight limit, glass and all, so after a meal and a lengthy wait we were on our way.
We'd changed into warmer clothing at Logan, just as well as it was 9 degrees and raining in Reykjavik.
Another hour and a half saw us on the plane to Heathrow.  
We enjoyed America and would like to go back, this time to the west coast. Some places reminded us of England, we felt right at home, others were very different.
I was glad Graeme was doing the driving, although I did drive for a (very) short time. The automatic helped!
Generally, we found the Americans polite, helpful and friendly. We never felt alienated or unsafe. We traveled on many different types of transport and I have come back wanting to know more of the history and geography of the places we visited, especially in New England.

Friday 9 August 2013

Thursday 8th August 2013

After a breakfast of fresh fruit, scrambled eggs with cheese and toast, we bid farewell to Brooklyn and New York.
We'd left late to avoid the commuter rush but the roads were still busy with every road seemingly at a standstill.
Fortunately the interstate wasn't far, through Queens and the Bronx, but whilst it was moving, it wasn't moving fast.We didn't have a long way to go, 200 miles or so, but we wanted to get to quieter roads.
Our route took us along the Merritt Parkway, a garden highway, one of the first in the country, with pretty bridges, narrow grass verges and wooden crash barriers.
We left it to visit the Essex Steam Railroad Company, a charming little company that runs steam trains along the Connecticut river valley.
We literally just made catching the train - we paid after our ride rather than before.
There were a lot of old-fashioned carriages, open sash-type windows and mahogany woodwork.
We got a running commentary on points of interest along the route.
There is an option of getting off at Deep River and catching a steam boat, the Becky Thatcher, for a cruise along the river, but we stayed on the train. There is a further option of getting off and walking to Gillette Castle too, but we were going there afterwards anyway.
Aboard were the president of the railway, President Lincoln and Mary Todd, all in period costume, and they took the time to walk down the train and talk to all the passengers.
At the northern end of the line the train reverses and goes back to Essex, stopping to pick up and drop off boat passengers.
The whole journey took about an hour and was the complete antithesis of New York!
Of course we took the obligatory photos of a steam train! We visited the gift shop and had bratwurst in the cafe before continuing our journey.
Gilette Castle was custom built by an actor of that name and tours are available. It looks like a ruined castle.
To reach it we caught a ferry, with the car, for the short journey across the Connecticut.
A roll on roll off ferry, it takes about 10 minutes and costs $4 and is one of only a few car ferries that don't operate 24/7 on a highway.
Taking our leave we drove through Niantic to Mystic and the seaport there.
A short visit was on the itinery, but when we got there it cost $24 each to enter but we only wanted to be there an hour.
We didn't go in but we could see the various buildings and boats connected by a boardwalk.
Instead we drove the short distance to Mystic itself. This is sailing country and the inlets abounded with small craft.
A drawbridge guarded the entrance into the village proper, and a pretty village it was, shouting money from every quarter.
On our way out we were held up by the drawbridge being raised and our view was obstructed, not only by the raised road but the large bascules counterbalancing its weight.
Our hotel for the night was in Middletown, Newport. Two long, high bridges carry traffic to the islands of Rhode Island.
After booking in we went for a scenic drive round Newport's Ocean Ave. Bellevue Ave and surrounding roads, is full of mansions, in large grounds largely hidden from camera view. You get tantalising glimpses through gateways but nothing long enough to take a photograph of from a moving car.
We took a quick look at the harbour, with a great view of one of the bridges, and Fort Adams.
For dinner we wanted seafood and the hotel receptionist had given us an idea of where to find the restaurants .... but we couldn't park anywhere close. We tried! Backwards and forwards along two lane carriageways looking for a space, for roads in that we could search in.
Finding ourselves at the top of a hill, a long way from the harbour, we found a empty meter.
Luckily the perfect restaurant was just across the road. Clam chowder, lobster bisque, grilled shrimp and a steak washed down with beer and wine, perfect.
The night was warm, the promised rain hadn't arrived and were in a lovely town. Tomorrow is our last day.

Thursday 8 August 2013

Wednesday 7th August 2013

Our second and final day in New York city.
Today we were going to visit the places we had missed; but first the place that caused New York to hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, Ground Zero.  
We caught the B line from Newkirk in Brooklyn to Dekalb Street.

The New York subway system is vast. There are numbered lines going north-south and lettered lines coming in from the suburbs. The stations are stiflingly hot, the trains icy cold.
The platforms are long and narrow and there could be three tracks side by side, the middle one being the through line.
The stations are small, just steps down, ticket machines, platform unless more than one line is present.
Travel is by Metrocard only and each journey, however long or short, is $2.50. Up to four people can share a Metrocard and, once bought, can be topped up easily.
The stairs from above go straight on to the platform and the platform either side of the stairwell can be just a few feet wide.
The trains themselves are no different to anywhere else, but the newer ones have digital displays for which train you are on, where it's going, the time and the next stop. They also have a list of stations the train is stopping at and how many stops it is from where you are. The older ones have nothing other than the line you are on and the start and finish stations.  

At Dekalb we changed to the Q, and then the R to Rector Street.
The World Trade Center was down in the lower west side, not the easiest to get to from Brooklyn.
We had booked our time, 10am, from home and there is only a 30 minute window. There is a lot of queuing, three checks that you have a ticket, but entry is free.
The route round the construction site eventually brings you out into a large open area with lots of trees, including the survivor tree which survived the destruction.
The memorials are large square pools, set deep into the ground, with a smaller square sinkhole in the centre. Water flows continually down the sides and into the sinkholes.
Around the top are slanting granite plinths with the names of everyone who died inscribed on them. It's a very peaceful place with lots of low granite blocks for people to sit on and contemplate.
There is still building work going on, but the Freedom Tower, on the new 1 WTC is close to finishing and will be the highest in the western world.  

We left and walked into the financial district, along Wall Street, past the Federal Reserve, Federal Hall, the New York stock exchange and paid a fleeting visit to Trinity Church. We found the original Stone Street, supposedly full of old buildings, but now so full of restaurant tables you can't see the buildings at all.

Heading towards the river we found the Charging Bull, symbol of the bull market in the stock exchange, but there were so many people crowding round it that we took a couple of token photos and moved on to the Bowling Green park next to it for a quick rest.

The river wasn't far and we took the Staten Island ferry across the river and back again.
The ferry gives you great views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline, and is free of charge. The statue is on the right going to Staten Island.

Staying with the nautical theme, once back in Manhattan, we walked alongside the river, past the old slips, to South Street Seaport aand Pier 17.
Here there are lots of shops, mostly selling souvenir merchandise, and food outlets.
We had lunch and I tried a corn dog, very tasty, whilst Graeme had a chili and cheese dog.

As our bus tickets were still valid, we hopped on one for a couple of stops, to where China town meets Greenwich Village, then walked through the Village to Lafayette Street where we stopped in one of the innumerable Starbucks for coffee.  
Onto the 6 line uptown to Grand Central Station for photos. What a building! It's impressive from the outside, but when you walk in it's wall to wall pale marble.
Huge, high-ceilinged areas, chandeliers, steps, even the tickets booths are carved marble and ornate.  

A walk of about eight blocks down 5th Ave brought us to Macy's, New York's most famous department store.
It's huge, and encompasses a whole block.
We had a wander around, but were flagging by this point so had some dinner there.
Revitalised, we carried on, and came away with my anniversary present.  

Heading back to the hotel we caught the B line and treated ourselves to wine and beer once back in Brooklyn as Chelsea were playing in the final of the Guiness International Champion's Cup; unfortunately they lost to Real Madrid.  

New York is an extremely busy city, a seething mass of humanity and an extensive city full of people of every description.
It truly never sleeps.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Tuesday 6th August 2013

New York city. This time  we caught the Q line to Times Square, putting ourselves in the heart of Manhattan.
A seething mass of people, in cars, on buses and on the sidewalks.
Busy, chaotic and vibrant.

We needed to convert our online purchase of a city tour package into real tickets at Madame Tussauds just off Times Square. It took about 30 minutes due to the queues, but once done we were free to roam.

We caught our first bus to Central Park West where we got off to walk across the park. It's a lovely retreat from the bustle outside its borders with lawns, rocks and even a mini castle and ponds. We didn't linger for too long as we had a lot of city to see. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was directly across the short side of the park so we headed for there and caught another bus opposite the Guggenheim Museum, itself an interesting, um, modern building.

This journey ended at the Rockefeller Center, a three block complex with shops and dining areas underneath. There seems to be ten food outlets for one of any other type, and that doesn't include the numerous food trucks, selling all manner of snacks, ice creams and drinks. We had a pretzel, but weren't impressed. The German ones are much nicer!

Lunch was in a deli near the Rockefeller Center before we headed for the Top of the Rock, a fast elevator ride to the top of the tower. Unfortunately we had almost an hour to kill before we could go up, and the irritating little bods checking tickets wouldn't let you loiter until your due time so we just had to spend some time looking at the shops in the underground complex. Hardship!
Finally our time came round and we had the privilege of queuing to enter an elevator to go up two floors, then queuing again to have our bags searched before queuing once more before shooting up to the 67th floor, but the views were worth it.
There were two more floors to climb for even better views.The day was warm and sunny and we could see for miles.
The view over the city was breathtaking and I didn't want to go down.

The bus tickets we'd bought were valid for uptown, downtown, Brooklyn, the night tour and a ferry ride out to the Statue of Liberty.
We'd covered the bits of uptown we were more interested in and had had two tour guides, one fairly enthusiastic, the other less so. When we got on the downtown tour, we found a gem in Jerry.
He was born and bred Queens and the passion he felt for his hometown shone through with every sentence. Not only was he well-informed, he was passionate about it too. From the history of New York to where to eat and how much it would cost, he was eloquent and entertaining.
He was our guide for the whole of the downtown, through Greenwich Village, China town, Little Italy and back to Times Square.

We were undecided whether to take the night tour or not as it was a two and a half hour trip, no stops, starting late. We didn't get back until 7.30pm and we hadn't had dinner, but when Jerry said he would be the guide, that was the deciding factor.
So, we went and bought a picnic for the bus, grabbed a quick drink in an Irish bar and were back to the bus within half an hour.
We were not disappointed. Jerry was indeed our guide and he didn't let us down.
Between him and the bus driver, Chester, it was a very enjoyable trip. The route covered some areas not covered on the day tours including a visit to Brooklyn via the Manhattan bridge and a slow/stop when we could take night photos of both the skyline and Statue of Liberty.
We were late back to the hotel, but we were happy.

Tuesday 6 August 2013

Monday 5th August 2013

We bid an early farewell to Washington as our parking meter kicked in at 7am and we didn't intend feeding it.
As it was we joined rush hour, Washington-style, fortunately most of it going in the opposite direction.  

We left DC via Maryland, and passed Annapolis onto the Chesapeake Bay bridge, 4 miles over water, each carriageway having its own bridge.
We stopped for breakfast 2 hours later in Centerville, MD, just down the road from Middletown, DE .... our first Dunkin Donuts.    

We stopped in New Castle in Delaware on the Delaware river estuary. A quaint little town, with old buildings, a village green and a great park next to the river.  

Lunch was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in the historic district.
We followed a walking tour round the older parts, with cobble streets and brick pavements.
The Declaration of Independence was signed here, and the Liberty Bell had a queue of people wanting to see it.
Lunch was in the City Tavern with iced water served in goblets. Charming place with waiters in period costume.

After a quick detour to visit the head office of Unisys on the outskirts of Philadelphia (or Phila on all the signs!) we hit the interstate again stopping for coffee in New Jersey, before arriving in Brooklyn, NY, via Staten Island (thanks for the scenic route SamSam).  
Our hotel is a privately run bed and breakfast very close to the B and Q rail lines between Brooklyn and Coney Island.

Once settled we caught the B to Brighton Beach, a Russian enclave. The shops were selling Russian goods, the train track was a loud intrusion and overhead (just like on TV) and it was very busy. We walked down to the sandy beach and had dinner at a Russian restaurant overlooking the sea and the wide wooden boardwalk. It was full of people strolling, chatting, relaxing and having a lovely time. After dinner a chill wind had started to blow so we had a brief stroll along the boardwalk before catching the train back.

Monday 5 August 2013

Sunday 4th August 2013

Washington, home of the American president.
We were staying at the State Plaza and had a kitchen and dressing room in our suite on the 7th floor. No breakfast though so we set out to find some.

The White House was about 10 minutes walk so we went there first.
As it was still early there weren't many people about so we had a good unrestricted view of the iconic scene. It looked lovely in the sunshine and manicured gardens.

The quest for breakfast continued as we passed no end of closed coffee shops. It was Sunday, and a city that works Monday to Friday, so we were getting hungry until we asked a policemen and he pointed us in the direction of a tucked away Starbucks.  

The Mall is huge, both in width and length, ringed with museums for every taste. As we were only here for a day we chose two.

But first the Capitol building, dominating the east end of the Mall and next to one of two reflecting pools. There wasn't much reflecting going on as firstly it was a bit windy and the water was moving too much and secondly there was absolutely nowhere to sit if you did indeed want to reflect on anything.
A group of Bolivian dancers were getting ready to perform, braiding hair and donning brightly coloured clothing and headgear, but we didn't see them perform by the time we'd looked at the Capitol and walked round the pool.

The Capitol is impressive, in white marble and stepped in front with a white domed tower. Unfortunately they weren't allowing anyone up the steps.

The first museum we came to as we set off down the Mall was the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, one of our choices.
The museum has a large round atrium going the full height of the building, four floors, with three reconstructed canoes at the base.
We went up to the fourth floor and made our way down through all the exhibitions ranging from the early years, when the settlers arrived, right up to modern day and where they are now.
It covered Indians from North, Central and South America.
There were plenty of examples of clothing, implements and weaponry.
We had lunch here too, fry bread with cinammon and honey, and chili soup.

The Smithsonian Museum of Air and Space, our other choice, is next door.
This houses the history of flight ending in space.
There are interactive games and scientific experiments, flight simulations and a visit to a modern cockpit alongside the first ballon to circumnavigate the Earth and moon-landing craft.  
All the museums are free and open all year round, seven days a week, except for Christmas Day.  

The obelisk-shaped Monument, commemorating George Washington, graces the opposite end of the Mall but was covered in scaffolding, like a number of the other buildings.
It faces the Capitol to the east and the White House to the north.
To the south is the Tidal Basin, an enclosed body of water with an outlet to the Potomac. Here you can hire a pedalo, but today they were fighting the wind.

It was blowing strongly as we walked round to the Thomas Jefferson memorial.
This building is large, round and white and dominates the basin. It's an attractive building that draws the eye.

Further round is a memorial to Franklin D Roosevelt.
At first glance it's just a wall, but then it opens out into a series of water features, or would have been if there had been any water. We guessed, due to signs saying no wading and coins ruin the fountains! Quotes of Roosevelt's were chiseled into the walls.

Next in line was Martin Luther King, unfortunately also shrouded in scaffolding, but the main statue of the man was clear and proud in white marble.
Again, his quotes were resplendent on the surrounding walls.

There was a memorial to the soldiers who had died in the Korean War, but we didn't visit. From what we could see it was a number of statues of soldiers in combat gear standing in grass.

After a brief cooling down break, that featured iced tea and ice cream, we visited the Lincoln  memorial, the largest of them all.
Raised up on steps, in white marble and surrounded by Doric columns, the memorial is very impressive. It reminded me of a Greek temple.
The statue of Lincoln is inside and you have to climb the steps and go inside to see it.
It looks out over a second reflection pool all the way back to the Monument and beyond, in the distance, to the Capitol. The White House can't be seen from anywhere except right in front of it.

It was decision time. Did we walk the five blocks back to the hotel or a further mile across the bridge over the Potomac into Virginia to visit the National Cemetary at Arlington?
The cemetary won out, so we hauled our weary limbs a bit further.

Straight off the bridge is a wide, neat road and at the end was a large wall, but we didn't have to go that far. The entrance came up on the left into a large airy building with a shop and information. Continuing through the building comes out in the cemetary.
Lines upon lines, in field after field, of white regular headstones. A sobering sight.
We walked to the grave of John F Kennedy which was on a little hill all by itself. With the grave of Jaqueline Onassis alongside, an eternal flame burned. We would have liked to have visited the tomb of the Unknown Soldier but by then our feet were protesting loudly and we considered catching the Metro back, but we had one more place to visit.

Back across the river we went round the back of the Lincoln memorial, past where the Vietnam memorial is planned for, and on to the Albert Einstein memorial. It is a large cast bronze statue, reclining against some steps, with a shiny nose where peole have rubbed it for good luck.

It seemed a long way back to the hotel, but it was only a few blocks, and we were glad to see it as we'd walked quite a number of miles in very hot weather.  
Dinner was in a nearby restaurant and afterwards we walked back down to the White House to take photos of it lit up. It was not to be. We could walk round the sides, but when we got to the place we'd been earlier in the day the police were moving everyone further away. We could only assume he was home.

Sunday 4 August 2013

Saturday 3rd August 2013

Back to a more normal day except breakfast was waitress served, not self-service as it had been up until now.
Biting the bullet I had a short stack of pancakes with maple syrup and 'breakfast meat' aka crispy bacon, with grapefruit juice. A short stack, I was informed, was two pancakes, a tall stack three. Thinking I could quite happily manage a couple of pancakes, I ordered the short stack, but forgot to include the American factor. They were both the size of a dinner plate and a good half inch deep. Needless to say, that although delicious,  I didn't finish. I didn't get offered a box either.

Once we'd checked out we wandered down to the farmer's market, just one stall, and giving it up as a bad job continued on our way.
The county we were in, and the neighbouring one, had a weekend long yard sale. Anyone could put goods out for sale along the roadside.

First stop was a double span, double width covered bridge, in Philippi, the only one left that has a US road across it. The US roads are classified in a number of ways: interstates, freeways, highways, county roads, US roads, state roads and common or garden town roads. They all have their own number, some have two or more if they are classified that way, plus the number is displayed with a different boder. US roads have a ' sheild', state roads are square with black numbers on a white  background, and county roads vary in colour.  

We found a couple of yard sales to have a look at before continuing on to US33 over the Appalachian mountains, a fun road, one US motorcyclists are particularly fond of, lots of bends, switchbacks and blind corners. Our Toyota Camry didn't enjoy it quite so much as, being an automatic with cruise control, it couldn't work out which gear to be in.  

Seneca Rocks, as a tourist destination, was a bit of a let-down, but great if you like rock-climbing as it's the most climbed vertical rock face in the US. We went for a walk down to the river, a very rocky, narrow creek.
Families were there, making the most of the weather setting out tables of food and playing games.  

The aptly named Spruce Knob, highest mountain in West Virginia, was our next destination.
For a change there were places to stop and take photos and we leapfrogged a pair on a Harley Davidson motorcycle all the way to the top, useful if you need a photo of the two of you.
There were, indeed, spruces at the top. All the other trees were deciduous, as the mountain was only 4860 feet high. A tall observation tower allowed you to (almost) see over the treetops in every direction.  

We fuelled up in Harrisonburg before visiting Luray Caverns.
This is the fourth largest cave system in the US and well worth a visit.
Costing $24 each, you enter as a group but once all the safety information has been imparted you are free to follow the path through at your own pace. Guides are situated along the way to tell you what you are looking at and what to expect next.
The caves were dry as the caves are at the top of a hill and water no longer flows through them. Lots of stalagmites and stalagtites, curtains of rock and some that looked like towelling.
The mirror pool was especially good as it was hard to believe there was any water there.
The piece de resistance was the organ; a large chamber named the cathedral housed a number of separate stalagtites and it was discovered that if they are tapped gently they resonate in a series of notes, hence the organ.  

It was getting late and we still had a long drive ahead with the Skyline Drive to look forward to; 100 miles of road along the top of the blue ridge mountains. We were driving 30 miles of it to Front Royal. It costs $15 to go along the road and never closes.
Lots and lots of overlooks, alternating one side then the other, with lovely views as the sun went down.
Best of all we saw two deer, one just a baby, but they were way too shy of the camera.
There is a speed limit lf 35 mph over most of the road but the Camry had trouble with that too.
We enjoyed the drive, made better with the sunset and low lying cloud.
Once again we had the road practically to ourselves and the peace and quiet in the hills was lovely.
It was over far too soon, even though it had taken us over an hour to drive.  

Washington next. It was over an hour away and darkness had fallen and, on top of that, the drizzle that at started at the caverns, and had stopped on Skyline Drive, suddenly became heavy.
So were driving on I-66, in the dark and in the rain.
Good job we had SamSam to show us the way because we could barely see the road, never mind the white lines (that sometimes had cats eyes and sometimes didn't).
I was a bit terrified, mostly because I couldn't see a thing. It turns out we came in across a bridge over the Potomac. I never saw it!
We made it though. The hotel was 2 minutes from the interstate. The concierge found us a parking space on the road for free (no charge for parking on Sundays), and we were here.