Through the Viewfinder
And What Alice Found There
After the scenario with Greg’s currency card and the unnecessary stress it brought upon us, it was such a great feeling to finally be on our way to the States! Years of dreaming and months of planning had finally led us to this day! Our flight was 7.5 hours long and for Greg’s first long haul flight it went pretty well. Around 1pm (ish) local time we finally touched down in NYC and were welcomed to the country with a huge thunderstorm. We stood in line for over an hour waiting to get through customs at JFK, picked up our bags (which had been thrown off the conveyor belt and into a heap on the floor) then headed straight for the taxi queue and hopped into one of New York’s famous yellow cabs.
I’m glad the taxi driver knew where he was going because by this stage the rain was so heavy the windscreen wipers weren’t moving fast enough to clear the water away! This was my first experience on an American road and what an experience it was! We quickly learned that they don’t pay any attention to road rules out there, with cars crossing over lanes from all directions and pretty much nobody sticking to the speed limits. However, we successfully made it to our hotel in one piece and luckily the storm had passed by the time we got there and the sun was coming out!
We stayed at the Broadway Hotel and Hostel in one of their rooms with a private bathroom. The room was reasonably priced especially as we were only 10 minutes walk from Central Park. After dropping our bags in the hotel we headed straight for the park, had a quick wander round and then decided to find somewhere to eat as it was getting dark and we were both in need of an early night.
The next day was a long one! I don’t know how people can go to New York for a week and not run out of things to do?! Obviously, there was loads we didn’t see – museums, art galleries, shops etc but we did all the main sites in one day. Here’s a quick overview of where we went:
1 - Central Park (again) – I’m not sure if it looked dead just because of the time of year that we visited but the park was nowhere near as pretty as I had imagined. It also didn’t feel much like a park with roads going through it everywhere and traffic and crossings etc. It was nice to walk through for a change from walking on the pavement, but to me it was nothing special.
2 – Times Square – This was really good actually and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. The square is just so huge with unbelievable amounts of light coming from the digital billboards! Standing right in the middle certainly made us feel small!
3 – Macy’s Store – We didn’t go inside the famous department store but it was interesting enough from the outside, all done up in a circus carnival style with weird and wonderful window displays!
4- Empire State Building – We only saw this from the ground, we didn’t go up it or up the Rockafella Centre. Neither of us really knew what the Empire State looked like and were expecting some beautiful, fascinating building but we actually struggled to find it! Eventually we worked out it was the tall boring building opposite Macy’s – plenty of nicer looking buildings to see in my opinion. We stopped for a quick photo and then moved on.
5 – The High Line – This is an old train line that runs above street level. It closed down as a railway line in the 1980’s and has since been made into a walkway and public park with great views over the streets of New York.
6 – Ground Zero Memorial – Really interesting but very sad. It was incredible to stand where the Twin Towers used to stand and just remember the all the lives lost on that horrible day.
7 – Wall Street & The Charging Bull – Nice walk down the iconic Wall Street to the statue of the Bull. The statue itself was way too crowded with people climbing and posing on it for photos, ruining the view for everyone else.
8 – Statue of Liberty – We only saw this from the land but it was a lot smaller than I expected! I knew it was away from the shore and I’d read about boat trips out to the island it stands on, but I thought it would still look huge like it does on the films. Very disappointing – the Vegas version was better!
Overall, we’re glad we went to New York but everyone goes on about how good it is and we were quite disappointed and expected more. In reality it’s just another city with the odd building or statue that happens to be famous. I wouldn’t go back to New York and we certainly had more fun in other places on the trip!
Our next stop was Chicago – we flew there from JFK and picked up the car. After the salesman tried to make us buy various insurance (which we didn’t need) and then tried to make us upgrade to a Mustang (like we could afford that?!) we eventually drove away with a Hyundai Sonata. Nothing fancy but a nice, comfortable car.
We spent 2 nights in Chicago staying in Pilsen Road House – a lovely boho style apartment on the outskirts of the city. Chicago was great – we saw Buckingham fountain (but it had no water in), the start of Historic Route 66, the giant Bean statue, had a trip to the Cheesecake Factory, and also went up the 360 Tower for amazing views! The weather was also fantastic so we had some time in the afternoon to sit on the beach, which isn’t actually next to the sea, it’s the shore of huge Lake Michigan! I’d definitely recommend Chicago and I feel like there’s quite a bit to explore there, with some lovely places to eat and have a drink in the evening. If you ever visit you have to go to Giordano’s and try one of their pizzas – it’s what Chicago is famous for! SO MUCH CHEESE!
After Chicago we headed out on the road for the first section of Route 66 towards St Louis. We drove this section on the highway as it’s a lot quicker than the historic route (we drove on that later on in the trip) and arrived in St Louis in the afternoon. St Louis is a nice little place and we walked to the Gateway Arch which unfortunately was under construction so we couldn’t go up to the top (we soon found out that American’s must love construction as it was everywhere we went – literally everywhere!). There were some nice buildings to see and it was a lot quieter than Chicago and New York so it was nice to wander around. We had another thunderstorm and took shelter in a 7 Eleven supermarket before making our way back to the motel for some sleep. We stayed in America’s Best Value Inn which, as the name suggests, was very good value! The best part was probably the free breakfast the next day – a buffet style breakfast but everything was in packets, designed for people on the road like us to grab some food and get going. Seeing as nobody else was around I took the opportunity to load up and grabbed an armful of food to snack on throughout the day!
Our next stop was Nashville, but not before a pit stop in Kentucky for… yes you guessed it…some Kentucky Fried Chicken! It was amazing and we soon demolished a whole bucket of it between the two of us. Finally arriving in Nashville we checked into another motel and headed out on foot to go exploring. Another thunderstorm hit and this time we took shelter in a monument which luckily had a roof on, but I was beginning to think the storms were following us and prayed they would leave us alone soon and we’d get to see some proper sunshine. Anyway, despite the stormy welcome, Nashville turned out to be one of my favourite places on the whole trip. It had such a great vibe, with live music coming from every bar, people walking around in cowboy boots and stetsons just like in the movies, and everyone just seemed so friendly and happy. We had a great night visiting some local bars and enjoying the country music, despite the fact the rain came back again and I ended up throwing my shoes away because they got so destroyed.
After a sad farewell to beautiful Nashville, the next day we were back on the road, this time heading for Memphis. We managed to book a fairly cheap motel only 10 minutes walk from Graceland (Elvis Presley’s house) which was one of the main reasons we were visiting Memphis. We had a great afternoon looking around – neither of us were massive Elvis fans but it was very interesting seeing where he lived and where he made is music. We did the Mansion Tour which had the planes included, so we got an audio tour of his house and then a sneak peek inside his two aeroplanes. You could have paid extra to look around his car exhibits and the trophy room but we wanted some time to explore the town of Memphis too so we didn’t choose that option. Graceland is a must do for any Elvis fans or anyone in the Memphis area – well worth it!
That evening we headed into the town to explore and had a lovely stroll around the streets, with horse drawn carriages and old wooden trolleys (trams) coming along every now and then. After wandering around for a while thinking how quiet it seemed, we soon stumbled across the famous Beale Street where all the bars are. That night there was also some kind of motorbike show on, with rows upon rows of Harley Davidson's lined up along the streets! It was amazing! You could see bikes lined up as far as the eye could see, with loads of interesting custom bikes to see and some really old vintage ones too. We had a great evening and again we loved how happy and friendly everyone was around there. After wandering up and down looking at all the bikes and demolishing a huge portion of nachos between us, we finally called it a night and headed back to the motel for some rest.
Our first week of adventures was now done. We had already seen and experienced so much but there was even more to look forward to. After Memphis we were heading into the deep south and we could not wait. Louisiana here we come!
To be continued…