Roadtrip USA – Part One

Timing is everything. We had scheduled our US roadtrip with our gallivanting traveler friends for October, the start of ‘Fall’ – otherwise know as the best time to see famous National parks. We had booked a car, mapped a route and we were so excited to hit the road.

As our luck would have it, the US Government shutdown began one day before we set out for our two and half week roadtrip, which meant that the National parks we had wanted to visit were closed. We had to rethink our route and research what we could see in the state parks. We hoped to bide our time and see if, by chance, the government shut down ended so we could see impressive places like the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley and Zion National park.

We met in Las Vegas and picked up a trusty full-size Chevvy Impala car that was full to bursting point once we were all in. We made our way through the Nevada desert to the state of Utah. Our first few nights we spent in Springdale, a very rustic town at the entrance to Zion National Park. Even though the park was closed to tourists, the highway running through the park remained open so we were able to see some spectacularly red rocks and sheer cliff faces.

Haunted grave yard in Springdale, Utah.

Haunted grave yard in Springdale, Utah.

While we drove through the dry and dusty landscape, we thought about how strange and surreal the landscape might have been to the pioneers of America’s West. There were many times we looked out the window onto flat and desolate plains and felt lucky that we had a car and air conditioning but also the luxury of a GPS showing us the quickest way to civilisation.

We also visited some of Utah’s most stunning state parks, the Escalante Petrified Forest State Park and Red Rock Canyon. With all that driving we were bound to get hungry along the road so luckily we had great drivers who were not adverse to a coffee break and a slice of blueberry pie (or two)!

Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon

Our route took us North to a town called Provo, a few hours from Salt Lake City. We happened to be there on a Saturday night and we asked around to find the town’s hot spot. The local pub was the place to be that night with lots of dancing involved! We had read about a lovely walking trail to Stewart Falls, very close to Robert Redford’s Sundance Resort. We spent a few hours walking and admiring the change in climate – we had been in 30 degree weather in Springdale and it had dropped to about 14 degrees in Provo!

Chicago, USA.

We hopped back across the US border to Chicago, a city that has a number of our friends singing it’s praises! It is easy to fall into the trap of having an expectation of a city – more often than not you are disappointed with it once you actually experience it for yourself.

Chicago skyline from the river

Chicago skyline from the river

We were pleasantly surprised with our time in Chicago. With everything from the deep-dish pizza to the architecture, it definitely had that Chic-ahg-oh attitude: upfront and unapologetic.

It is certainly up there with America’s most impressive cities, in the sense that it has so much to offer both it’s people and the tourists! We had a fantastic time on an architectural cruise of the river where we learned about the great Chicago fire and how the city was so rapidly rebuilt. While I have always tried to appreciate buildings and their architectural style in all the cities we have visited, I found Chicago’s buildings to be not only beautiful but also striking. Each building we saw had such a clear architectural message. While this was pointed out to us in detail by the architect leading the tour, it was not difficult to be impressed by the buildings before we knew why they were built.

We also spent a day at the Museum of Science and Industry, an amazing museum just south of Chicago’s downtown. It had everything – a 747, a model of downtown Chicago complete with intricate train system, a hurricane and tsunami demonstration wing AND a chick hatchery! Believe it or not, I had never seen a chicken hatch from an egg. Have you?! I was embarrassed to find that I was more visibly alarmed by the process than the primary school kids also watching the baby chick tumble from it’s eggshell. I don’t know who was more shocked by the whole thing – the chicken or me? ANYWAY…if you are in Chicago, you MUST go to this museum.

We decided that instead of catching the bus back downtown, we would hire a bike from the stands dotted around the city. We spent about two hours cycling along the lake shore, admiring the water on our right and the city skyline on our left. I was so pleased that this bike ride passed without incident (take that Amsterdam!) and I thoroughly enjoyed taking in the view and the vibe of this grand city.

But the best part? Doing all of this with Jez.

Chicago on wheels

Chicago on wheels

New York, USA.

Jez and I love big cities. New York is not the biggest city we have visited on this trip (statistically behind Beijing, Moscow and Istanbul) but it certainly is a place where you know you are experiencing, or in the epicentre of, something significant.

Personally, I love being caught up in the rush of people as they flit from office buildings; from lunch; from the subway; from their tiny apartments to shops, restaurants and galleries. New Yorkers always walk with purpose! During our 12 days in the city we walked with purpose and at length (as we often do!) to see a number of amazing sights.

One of the best experiences was visiting the Statue of Liberty on Liberty Island. On a gloriously clear day, we caught a very crowded ferry across to the island to see Lady Liberty up close. We went without an audio guide, preferring to take in the view back to Manhattan and across to New Jersey with quiet appreciation. Our online tickets gave us access to the inside of the pedestal, which housed a museum and the original Liberty torch.

Lower Manhattan from Liberty Island

Lower Manhattan from Liberty Island

We spent one afternoon walking along the famous Highline, an elevated rail system that has been turned into an urban oasis running from Midtown, through Chelsea and finishing in the Meatpacking district. This park in the sky literally runs through buildings and beside skyscrapers. It’s a popular place for people to picnic and people watch or just admire the views to the sky.

View from the high line.

View from the high line.

Another beautiful afternoon was spent walking the entire length of Central Park. Yes, the entire length! We caught the subway to the Upper West Side and walked from 110th street, Central Park North, through the Observatory Garden with manicured lawns and up over the baseball diamonds nestled between rocky outcrops. There was plenty of activity in the park, as it was Saturday afternoon, so there were families riding bikes and enjoying the sunshine. We walked through a particularly wild and woolly section of the park called the Ramble which had a beautiful view across the pond and up to the buildings of Times Square.

Walking through Central Park

Walking through Central Park

We arrived in New York just in time to help celebrate the end of summer, the Labor Day weekend, at a festival called Electric Zoo. We had an amazing time and met a bunch of awesome people. We were astounded at the number of people who approached us, out of nowhere, to chat about the music, their city and where we were from. It was so much fun!

Even though we left New York with many souvenirs of our adventures, I know one of the most special memories will be experiencing the first chill of Autumn in early September. To feel the heat and humidity disappear from the air and the sun’s glow change ever so slightly, was to experience something significant. Something we will always share with this big city.

New York, New York

Well Jez and I are completely exhausted! We have walked and walked and walked! After the Yankees game on Friday we got off the subway at 86th street and walked through Central Park for the afternoon. The park is just beautiful – people walking, running, reading and picnicking everywhere!

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Captain J. Longhurst then lead us on another long walk on Saturday. We walked to the Empire State Building and spent almost an hour waiting to get up to the viewing deck. I had even pre-purchased tickets on line to avoid the queue but the wait to get in the lifts was the killer! The view from the top is amazing! Well worth the wait. We then walked from Midtown through Greenwich Village and had dinner in Little Italy (a huge 18″ pizza…) and kept walking until we crossed the Manhattan Bridge in to Brooklyn. Jez wanted to take photos of the skyline so we watched the sunset over the city and walked back across the Brooklyn Bridge. We were exhausted!!

Yesterday was the 4th of July so we wandered down to the Hudson River to watch the fireworks. We found a great spot to see them and waited a few hours until they started – there was lots of red white and blue!!! Its sweltering hot here at the moment, its so muggy and there is no breeze to carry the heat away. Thank goodness for air conditioning!

Tomorrow is our last full day in NYC so we’re seeing some museums and then off to see West Side Story tomorrow night! I’m so excited!!!

New York

We arrived in NYC at about 7am this morning, exhausted after another overnight flight. We thought we were being clever by booking a few overnight flights to save on accommodation, but I’m not sure if we gain much if we arrive in a new city without a wink of sleep!

We jumped into a bright yellow cab and told the driver to drive to Times Square, where our hotel was. When we got closer we realised the street of our hotel was cordoned off by about seven of the biggest fire trucks I’ve ever seen! Never a dull moment in this city! We found out later it was an electrical fire across the road. The hotel we are staying in is amazing – about 30 seconds from times square and the room is just perfect.

We’ll spend tomorrow walking around the city and getting to know Times Square. I bought Jez tickets to a Yankees Game for his birthday so we’ll be doing that on Friday. I’m super excited to go to a baseball game! It’s a lot warmer in NYC so I’m finally able to put on some summery clothes. Love this city!

Leaving San Francisco

Jez on the Cable Car

Today was our last of four days in San Francisco.

We had to check out of the Hotel Diva at 10am, which meant a lot of time between leaving our bags and our flight to NYC at 10pm. We decided to take a MUNI bus to Golden Gate Park which is home to SF’s botanical gardens, a museum and an art gallery. It’s a beautiful garden, an oasis in a busy city. I particularly loved the Japanese Garden located inside the park, with its quiet and calm vistas.

I have to say, there is nothing more satisfying than getting from A to B without a hiccup on public transport in a foreign country! The bus we caught to Golden Gate Park went up Haight St, which we thought was similar to King St in Newtown because of its shops and cafes.This city has a very relaxed and comfortable vibe.

We wandered around for a while, visited Sephora (brilliant make-up store not available in Australia) and other and then had to head back to the city and on to the airport for the red-eye to NYC.