Right, well, I’ve been a bit slow writing this up, but I thought I ought to comment on my America trip now that I’m over the jet lag and have had a full week and a half to do this!
Essentially – great! For those of you who don’t/only partially know I went on a trip to America with a mate, visiting New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. In eleven days we covered roughly 9000 miles and took about 800 photos between us.
New York City is exactly how the movies, TV series and stories portray it. Huge skyscrapers and wide roads, plenty of yellow taxis and horns sounding at all hours. We stayed in Manhattan, in a hostel next to Central Park – looking back we couldn’t have wished for a better place to stay. Both days included a walk through the park.
In fact, walking was a big part of our days. At one point we’d walked from 63rd Street down to Battery Park (but wussed out and took the subway back). We also walked around the usual sights – Ground Zero, UN Building, Empire State Building, New York University, Washington Sq Park, Madison Square Garden. We also took the ferry to Staten Island, wandered around there for a bit, got a Taco Bell and came back. The Statue of Liberty is nice, but smaller than I was expecting.
By the way, there’s a big hotel opposite Ground Zero – Hilton Millenium Hotel I think – I’m sure millennium has two n’s in it (Google seems to agree). A bit embarrasing if they never checked that.
As for the people: well, what a great place. We didn’t venture too far off Manhatten so I can’t be sure the smiles weren’t for tourism dollars (such a cynic, me) but the people we met were polite, patient and generally all-round pleasant folk. One minor encounter on Staten Island with an irrationally rude person I’m putting down to an anomoly.
On to Philadelphia by Greyhound on the New Jersey turnpike (which is, by the way, a great ride if you’re a Sopranos fan). Philly/Phila is a very historical city – it was where the declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were drafted (and I think, signed); the US government resided there for ten years before moving to Washington DC, and the Liberty Bell stands there to this day as a reminder of America’s freedom. It was also an important battle site between the Americans and the British in the American Revolution. We, err, came second.
From everything I saw, the locals call it Phila while the tourists (and thus, the tourism sites) call it Philly. Can anybody confirm that?
Finally, to Chicago where we stayed at the house of a very nice couple my travel mate knew from his university days. Staying with locals is definitely a great way to see a city. You get a sample of all the area as the residents see it, not the tourists (which I prefer as a more ‘genuine’ experience). We ate at several local restaurants, all with diverse backgrounds and origins. We saw the sights of suburban Chicago (including a wonderful sand beach onto Lake Michigan), travelled the tollways and Metra, and had some great evenings out.
We of course also did a few ‘touristy’ things – went up the Hancock Tower (which is free if you buy a drink at the bar two floors above the observatory!), saw the Bean (a huge metal warped sphere), went to the Shedd aquarium and rode the Loop. Chicago is, like New York, quite vertical. Donald Trump owns some land on the Chicago River and is planning to build the world’s tallest concrete-based tower there. Sears and Hancock already conquer the skyline and there are a myriad of other neck-stretching towers in the city.
So, that’s about it. We also saw a bit of Newark – the only notable thing there is the rabbits all over the grass at Newark International. I’ve never seen such ‘tame’ wild rabbits.
- Chicago O’Hare airport has the most pathetic flightside provisions I’ve ever seen (although that’s been limited to Heathrow Terminal 4, Vienna Intl, and Philadelphia)
- Most things in American toilets (or ‘washrooms’) are automated. This includes taps, some toilets and I’m fairly sure a towel dispenser too. Unlike Britain however, you need to remember to flush urinals manually.
- Tipping is a bit odd at first, but you get used to it.
- American bills and coins are hard to identify. I spend at least 20 seconds looking for a quarter in my hand while at a corner store. It seems this is universal; the lady behind the counter asked "isn’t that a quarter there?". It was a dollar.
- You can buy a large (and I mean large) bottle of Vodka for $12. You can also buy 3 liter bottles of drinks. Americans like choice apparantly; every variety of Coke imaginable is sold in the States.
- Mountain Dew is revolutionary the first time you try it, but you quickly tire of the taste of it.
- Chilli sauce, jalapenos and other strange green liquids are as common a seasoning/topping in America as salt and pepper is here.
- American suburban roads have stop signs everywhere.
- I swear every Dunkin’ Donuts we passed had a cop car parked outside.
- Taco Bell is a genius idea and should be brought to the UK.
- Drive through ATMs are also genius ideas and should be brought to the UK.
- Turn right on red is a nice idea and should be brought to the UK (carefully).
- I have an unhealthy addiction to coffee. I drank my way through every standard item on Starbucks’ menu while in America. Peppermint frappuccino is niiiiiiice.
There we are. Photos are all on Flickr with even more commentary!