Our final two weeks on the East Coast of the US
15.12.2011 4 °C
We were more than ready to move on from Memphis, Tennessee, after an extended stay due to the Thanksgiving holidays. On 26th November we checked out of our motel and took a 10-hour overnight Greyhound bus to the Windy City of Chicago, Illinois.
The journey itself went fine, although we didn't manage to get much sleep so we were shattered by the time we got to the Chicago Getaway Hostel, our accomodation for the next 4 nights. It turned out that the hostel was one of the nicest we've stayed in on the trip; it was in a great location, was clean, had free breakfast and free internet. :-)
After having a power nap for a few hours we were up and ready to explore the neighbourhood of Lincoln Park. Just a few blocks from the hostel was the park of the same name, which had an amazing zoo (free admission!) that we spent the next few hours looking around.
By any zoo standards, it was incredible with a range of animals from lions, bears, seals and much more. It was a great way to spend our first day in Chicago even though it was raining.
It was a special occasion on 28th November, with Kayleigh turning 26. :-) we had breakfast and got the train to Downtown Chicago (called the Loop after the famous train tracks over the streets) to kick off a day of sightseeing. We walked through the city centre, past the Willis Tower (USA's tallest building) and many other impressive skyscrapers.
Carrying onto Millenium Park, we looked around various art sculptures and the human face fountains. Our favourite part was Cloud Gate, nicknamed the Bean, which with its odd shape reflects the city and is quite unique. We had fun pulling silly faces and taking amusing photos, we're total art connesieurs! ;-)
As we continued walking round the city, we were pleasantly suprised to find Chicago's Christmas Markets at the Daley Plaza. Our first instinct was to look for a hog roast (like in Manchester), but they didn't have one so we had tasty bratwursts which went down a treat. To top these off Kayleigh had warmed mulled wine while Phil had a nice German beer. Good times!
It was early evening by the time we got back to the hostel, and we only had an hour to get ready for Kayleigh's birthday present from Phil (she had no idea what is was yet!).
A quick train journey got us to Lincoln Square, where we headed to the Chopping Block, an infamous cookery school in the city.Kayleigh was excited as Phil had booked for us to do a 3-hour hands on Pasta Workshop. We learnt how to make pasta from scratch, and cooked 3 different dishes while sharing a nice bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon. It was great fun!
At the end of the class we got to sit down with the rest of the group and enjoy the food. Indeed, we made so much everyone got to take home boxes of leftovers - that was our next days meals sorted!
Another attraction we were keen to see in Chicago was Navy Pier, known for being the top tourist attraction in the city. Although it was off season when we visited we enjoyed looking around the shops, boats and rides and it was easy to see what a great day out it would be in the summer.
We had a late lunch at Giordano's Pizzeria, famous for it's stuffed crust. This place does not kid around either, their pizza is more like a deep dished pie full off pizza goodness. We enjoyed as much as we could but had to take half of our order away with us. Yum. It was a great way to end our stay in Chicago.
On the 1st December we packed our bags and began our 20-hour Greyhound bus journey to Washington DC (the longest bus ride of our entire trip). In fairness it wasn't too bad a ride, we got to see some lovely scenery (including a snow-covered Indiana) and we both managed to get some sleep.
Having arrived in the capital at 8am we headed to a nearby cafe for some hot drinks, mainly to wake us up and we couldn't check in until midday anyway. It took only a short 15 minute walk to get to our accomodation, Hostelling International Washington DC.
We dropped our bags in the 10-bed dorm and went straight out to have a look around. The hostel was only a few blocks from the White House, which had been decorated ready for Christmas.
After taking a few pics we walked round to the National Mall, where most of the museums and monuments in DC are located. It was at this point that tiredness kicked in, and we decided to leave the rest of the sightseeing to another day. We headed back to the hostel for a bite to eat, watched Addams Family Values in the TV room and had an early night!
We slept in until 11am the following day, missing the free breakfast in the process (doh!) Never mind though, we had a Chilli Dog on the way to the National Mall. Once there we checked out the National Monument, the WWII Memorial, the Abraham Lincoln Monument and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. They were all really impressive.
For our last full day in DC, we walked to the Museum of Natural History and checked out the various exhibitions, including dinosaurs, mammals and the infamous Hope Diamond.
The Museum also had a really good section on the origins of man. What do you think to how the two of us would look as neanderthals??
Across the road from there, we continued onto the Air & Space Museum which had the Apollo 11 landing pod, history on the Wright Brothers and lots about the Battle of Britain.
As this was our last day, we figured we could 'treat' ourselves to a Nando's. :-) However we hadn't planned on the portion sizes being bigger than at home, we ended up eating absolutely loads, but it was so good!
We had a great time in Washington, but even after 4 days we had only just scratched the surface as there is so much to see and do. And with 5 days of our trip remaining, we took a 4-hour bus from the capital to the Big Apple, New York City.
Arriving at about 5pm, we hopped on the subway from the Port Authority Bus Terminal to 103rd Street, where a 2-minute walk got us to our hostel, Jazz On The Park. We were so excited to be in NYC that we barely even looked at our room before dropping our rucksacks and getting back on the subway heading for Times Square. The weather was pretty grim, it was chucking it down, but that didn't stop us as we wanted to see one of the most iconic parts of the city. It was exactly how you'd imagine, huge flashing lights, packed with tourists, yellow taxis flying by, it was great.
The next day the weather hadn't improved much at all, but we put our coats on and took a walk through Central Park. We had fun seeing the reservoir, Belvedere Castle and the Ice Rink, but nobody was skating as it was so wet. :-(
From Central Park we strolled down Fifth Ave, where we did a bit of window shopping and saw the festive window displays. Further south we reached Rockefeller Plaza where the infamous Christmas tree was lit up, it was beautiful! We were certainly in a Christmassy mood by now.
All the walking had worked up our appetite - conveniently located across from Rockefeller was a small pizzeria so we went in for a slice each. Yum!
We woke to sunny, blue skies the following morning, so after a bit of breakfast we got the subway to Lower Manhattan, jumping off at Chambers Street. It was in the Financial District and one block from the World Trade Centre site, which was busy with construction for the new Freedom Tower.
We wandered down the most 'powerful' street in the world, Wall Street, and continued onto Pier 17 for a bite to eat. Just a few blocks from here we got on the walkway for the Brooklyn Bridge, apparently the "world's first steel suspension bridge", completed in 1883. It was great fun walking across taking in the magnificent views of the city. A definite highlight!
After a quick visit to Soho, we headed to Macy's and then onto the Rockefeller Centre to see the Christmas tree lit up at night. It was even more spectacular. :-)
On 9th December we were very excited to be out early for a day Kayleigh had planned way back in March this year, as she had booked for us to do a helicopter tour of New York for Phil's birthday present. We took the subway to Lower Manhattan and got to Pier 6, Downtown New York's Heliport. We didn't have to queue long, and before we knew it we were whisked off in a chopper and were flying high over the city!
The weather was perfect and the views were absolutely spectacular, we could see for miles and the sight of New York city really did take our breath away. The tour gave us the opportunity to see everything the city has to offer, including the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, the Empire State Building (which towered over everything else!), the Yankee Stadium and just the sheer size of the tri-state area.
We couldn't help but feel like that was the finale of our life-changing trip, so we headed straight for a pub to enjoy some cold brewskies while drowning our sorrows lol.
For our last full day in New York, we spent time walking down Fifth Ave and buying the odd Christmas present to take home with us. The main highlight of the day was going to see Grand Central which was enormous, a lovely old-fashioned building. Apart from that, we packed our bags (throwing quite a bit of well-worn clothes away!) and prepared for the journey home the next morning. :-(
And onto our final day, which seemed to arrive very quickly, we checked out and took the subway to JFK airport where we relaxed before a 5-hour flight to Reykjavik, Iceland, arriving at 2am in the morning NY time. Another 3-hour flight got us back to Manchester, and over 8 months after leaving we were back home, tired but happy to be greeted at the terminal by family. :-)
Since we've been home we've spent time catching up with family and friends, which has been great as we've missed a lot of people.
Its extremely hard for us to sum up our trip, as we've done so much and seen so many amazing things, meeting loads of interesting people along the way. However we can say its been a trip we'd do all over again in a heartbeat, every single penny we saved was worth it and we don't have any regrets at all.
From partying on the beach in Thailand, to visiting family in Australia, to jumping off canyons in New Zealand, to snorkelling the Blue Lagoon in Fiji all the way to seeing New York at Christmas time, its been the perfect trip for us. Even though we got engaged before we left for Bangkok, we're even closer as a couple and have a lifetime's supply of happy memories to enjoy, and even more photos!! Haha!
We'd like to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who has been reading our blog, checking out our photos and leaving comments for us, its been so nice to know that people have been with us every step of the way.
Anyway, we have lots of stories to tell and videos / photos to show, but we'll have to save them until the next time we see you. :-D
Loads of love,
Phil & Kayleigh
P.S - To anyone who's been following the map below, we can confirm we have done over 32,000 miles or 52,000 kilometres. Haha!