The last time we were on the East Coast of the United States and Canada we had done a route through most of New England, some of Quebec and Ontaria. The most direct route took us from Quebec City through Montreal and finally over Toronto and Niagara Falls back into New York. Back then we decided against the detour of driving up all the way to Ottawa, which is the capital of Canada by the way ;)
This time we had an invitation by a friend of ours who’s currently living in Ottawa, so we just had to incorporate it into our roundtrip. We left the Adirondack Part and quickly came up to the border crossing into Canada at Cornwall, with the usual amount of awkward questioning and some waiting. Soon we were back in the land of Tim Horton’s and helpful people. This is not just a figure of speech, we actually stopped at the very first Tim Horton’s we came across and listened to the people cheerfully chatting in the seat next to us. The rest of the drive towards Ottawa was uneventful, taking us up to the Trans-Canada Highway (“follow the only road”) straight into Ottawa.
Our friend was still out skydiving so we had some time to kill and walked along the Rideau River with the sun slowly setting. The next day Katrin and I explored the city of Ottawa, which is something that can very comfortably be done on foot. We saw the locks at the Rideau Canal and went up to Parliament Hill. The queue in front of the Centre Block building was manageable so we lined up and were in in no time. There was no guided tour but we were free to explore the building ourself and even go up Peace Tower in an elevator. The observation deck provides good view over the city centre, the River and the surrounding countryside which is very flat. Before we left we snuck into a session of parliament where I had to surrender my camera in order to get in.
The rest of the day was spent wandering the city, first downtown and then near the canal. This being the capital there are a number of federal buildings as well as embassies. We even had time to do a little shopping. Interestingly enough, Ottawa is just across the river from the city of Gatineau which is in Quebec. While bi-lingual signs are omnipresent in Canada, I had never really discovered bilingual areas in Canada except for some areas of Montreal. In Ottawa I noticed that the work crews scaffolding buildings or paving roads were either francophone or spoke English, but they did not seem to be associated in any way. A very interesting experience, especially considering that french-speaking Gatineau is only a short walk across the bridge.
For dinner we met up with our friends and went downtown. On the way there we stopped at Nepean Point which gives a spectacular view of the Canal locks and Parliament Hill. After that we found a nice place to eat in the Byward Market district which packs a number of bars and restaurants of all colors. We retired a little earlier as the next day would already take us back across the border into the US.
Our next stop after Washington would be a little bit further north. In fact we had to drive a whopping 800km to get there, and since we didn’t want to lose any time, we did so in a single day. Our detour via Washington had uprooted our original schedule, but we were trying to catch up with our second destination after New York City: The Adirondack Mountains in the Adirondack Park in Upstate New York. During our 2008 trip to the East Coast this was one of the highlights of our tour and we were determined to spend some time in the park again.
We had booked the hotel for the night one day in advance as we usually do on these sort of trips. We only ever book our first night before we fly. For the rest of the journey we pick a city and a hotel every night, just one day in advance. This way we can shuffle our schedule as we go along and extend or shorten stays. For the Adirondacks we had booked a motel in Lake Placid (New York), site of two Winter Olypmics. After spending most of the day on the road, we arrived in Lake Placid way after nightfall and immediately noticed the crisp and clear mountain air. What a difference to Washington indeed.
The next morning we went looking for breakfast in downtown Lake Placid, which is basically just one strip of road with restaurants, bars and shops all catering to year-round tourist. We found a really cute coffee place that still had a spot on the porch, which is where the photo above was taken.
Obviously we had come the Adirondack Mountains to do some much-needed hiking after a week of city sightseeing. We knew that there were some good hiking routes nearby, close to where some of the Olympic sites outside of city were situated (Ski Jumping etc.). The 20-minute drive to the trail head took us through the absolutely gorgeous countryside around Lake Placid. It may be hard to grasp, but this was apparently the absolute best week to watch the Indian Summer as we had been told. And true enough, on our way to the trail we saw cars on the shoulder every few hundred meters with the drivers getting out and taking pictures of the fall foliage. Amazing!
After a few miles we left the plains and forest on a small gravel road, already alive with hikers and cars parked on the side of the road. We decided to park there as well only to discover that it was another kilometer to the trail head and that there were hundreds of cars park along the road. Hard to believe, but all of these people had come there just to hike! There was no hidden amusement park, no souvenir huts and no rides, just plain and exhausting hiking routes. We even had to get in line to sign into the trail log which we had tried to skip until a ranger explicitly asked everyone passing by to sign in. Rush hour!
Fortunately the parking lot was the start to many different trails and after a few minutes we had lost sight of nearly everyone. We kept alongside an older lady for quite a while who was out hiking with her kids and grandkids. She told us that going Upstate New York and hiking was a regular family tradition. That day she was hiking the easier 7-mile round-trip trail up to Phelps Mountain (the one we were hiking as well) because she had sprained her ankle the day before and the rest of her family was doing a more demanding trail that day.
The rest of the trail took up past a wooden dam (Marcy Dam) which was almost destroyed by hurricane Irene and all the way up Phelps Mountain. The fall foliage along the way was simply breathtaking. I didn’t take that many photos but the hike took us the better part of the day. Back at the parking lot the sun was already setting. The next morning we left Lake Placid headed north, but before we were outside of the Park boundaries we stopped a few times to take pictures of the beautiful scenery. This last (and prettiest) shot was taken in Saranac Lake, New York.
After our first day in NYC it was time to pack our bags and head on. We had some last-minute scheduling changes which meant that we would spend the better part of the next week in the capital, Washington, DC. Like NYC, it would be our first time in Washington and we were really looking forward to it. I had to work most of the time so that left Katrin to explore the city herself. I entrusted her with my X100 and she did not let me down.
After Manhattan, Washington was a completely different experience. It starts with the wide streets, carefully planned when the capital was first envisioned. Lining these huge streets are museums and a lot of federal government buildings. While DC does not have much to offer in terms of a proper downtown city centre, it has an incredible amount of sights, gardens, beautiful architecture and significant landmarks.
The best spot to start exploring the city is at the US Capitol. You can take a subway, which by itself is interesting because you immediately notice the differences to New York. Unfortunately the rotunda of the Capitol was hidden behind scaffolding when we were there, but Katrin had beautiful weather on our first few days. Starting at the Capitol you can then make your way down the National Mall, a 3-kilometer park which spans from the Capitol all the way to the Lincoln memorial at the edge of the Potomac. You can easily spend more than a day walking the distance as both sides of the park are lined with several world-class museums, all of which a free to visit. Among these is the excellent Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, a must-see for every aviation buff. On top of that there are numerous memorials dotted throughout the beautiful park, the most iconic being the Washington Memorial. When you get to the WW2 memorial you have the choice of continuing on along a huge reflecting pool to the Lincoln memorial or you can turn right and head for the White House. Needless to say that is something you have to visit as well. On our fourth day I had some time of to explore the city with Katrin and we saw the president arrive in Marine One. Pennsylvania Avenue is another thing I had always wanted to see, looking back towards the Capitol you can see the route the President takes after inauguration.
Apart from the all of the federal buildings we managed to explore another beautiful Washington area on foot: Georgetown. This residential neighborhood is located in the North-West of Washington and is home to Georgetown University. I can only recommend wandering through the quiet and picturesque side streets to get a look at the unique architecture and the myriad of absolutely pretty little brick houses.
I’m really glad we got to see Washington. It is the perfect city to spend a few days taking it a little more relaxed than in Manhattan. If you’re into museums you won’t be disappointed, just be prepared to walk a lot to see everything. Since I was busy most of the week I did not really have time to read up on the city and plan accordingly, and like always we narrowly missed some things we would definitely visit next time, like Arlington National Cemetery. We had spent our first week in the US and were looking forward to the next week which would take us somewhere completely different.
Last year’s big vacation took Katrin and myself to the beautiful US East Coast once more. We first went there in 2008, our first big vacation abroad. Back then I created a dedicated blog for our trip where I dutifully posted an entry for every day of our stay, including photos uploaded to flickr. I did the same thing for our 2012 vacation to the Canadian West Coast & Rockies. In the end, although blogging everyday while you’re on vacation was a lot of work, especially with spotty WiFi and different hotels every night. Still, the result was a beautiful and rich account of our time and we both caught ourselves reading the old posts every now and then, kind of like an online vacation diary.
This time I had decided against blogging in advance. The primary reason for me was that I have since started post-processing all of my photos and would not want to upload any of my shots on the road. And having a vacation-blog without photos is kind of dull, so the decision was an easy one.
Anyway, with enough time passed, me having crunched through all our shots and over the last weeks uploaded the most interesting ones to flickr, now is a good time to recap some of the highlights of this epic road trip.
New York City
We flew from Frankfurt into New York City on our first day. We had originally planned to stay there for a few days and then make our way north, but due to some work-related scheduling changes we would be heading south just a day later. But we had a few more days in Manhattan after our round-trip, which I’ll include here as well.
Anyway, New York City, the big apple, Manhattan and all the sights that have become so familiar after years of watching all kinds of TV shows. Neither me nor Katrin had ever been to NYC, in fact we had intentionally avoided the stress of the big city when we were in New England in 2008. But this time we were curious enough to get an apartment in the heart of Manhattan, in Chelsea to be exact. Arriving at JFK, we took an airport shuttle van downtown, our noses peered against the windows, glad we didn’t have to navigate the traffic on our first day there. Our driver was a little crazy and amped up, he even took us straight through Times Square. We were a little overwhelmed when we got the hotel but still went out for a few more hours to get a slice of New York-style pizza and got a first glance at the sparkling night skyline.
The next morning we got up early, since we only had until 6pm before we had to leave the city. So, true to our usual routine we made the most of it and spent the whole day wandering the city blocks. We started due south and headed for the financial district. Along the way we came through West Village, Washington Square Garden, SoHo and Little Italy. This small stretch of the city, noisy and sometimes somewhat filthy as it may have been, really made me appreciate why a lot of people love living in Manhattan. At the World Trade Center we saw the 9/11 memorial and like so many other people stared down into the bottomless pools where the Twin Towers once stood. After that we naturally took a quick stroll through the financial district before arriving at the southernmost tip of Manhattan at Fort Clinton.
We then went our our only subway-ride for the day which took us all the way up to East 86 Street next to Central Park and the Guggenheim museum. We walked a few blocks until we hit the Met and then made our way through the park itself. Like the rest of the city, Central Park was alive with people of all ages, but it still felt good to get away from the busy streets for a while. On the western side of the park we joined Central Park West, were apparently a huge climate-change rally had taken place earlier that day since the street was still cordoned off and completely deserted except for some retreating police cars. Standing in the middle of that 4-lane road in the heart of Manhattan was an experience to behold. We did a fair amount of additional blocks that day, seeing Rockefeller Center and Times Square. This was our first day in Manhattan.
On our return trip we had decided to spend two more days in New York since we didn’t manage to see everything we wanted to see earlier. This time we went with a much cheaper hotel in New Jersey (it was located right next to Holland tunnel) and then simply took the subway downtown. We arrived at the hotel late, so on our first night we only went into the city to get something to eat. After some searching we found a nice Italian restaurant which had a very small porch right on the sidewalk. After we sat down we noticed that we could see One World Trade Center in it’s entirety.
The next day we followed the advice of one of my colleagues and started out in the meatpacking district. There, the so-called “High Line” starts out. The High Line is a park on a stretch of elevated railway that was abandoned in the 1980s. At some point the citizens of New York started an initiative to properly develop this railway as a park, building stairs, walkways and planting all sorts of plants, flowers and trees. By now the High Line is almost 2.5km long and is a wonderful way to explore Manhattan, an absolute must-see if you ask me. Since you’re walking above street level it’s a more quiet experience, plus you don’t have to look out for cars all the time.
At the northern end of the High Line we visited the USS Intrepid museum (a Vietnam-era decommissioned aircraft carrier) which is packed with all kinds of different aircrafts on its flight-deck and its hangars. For the rest of the day we explored some more on foot, going to Grand Central Station, the New York Library and the Flatiron building. On the next day we only had a few hours before our flight from Newark, so we spent it in the Liberty State Park in New Jersey.
To sum up our New York experience, we were both positively surprised. Like with Paris, I had expected the city to be lot more hectic and filthy, and more cramped. But Manhattan turned out to be a very pleasant experience: Colorful, vibrant, diverse. Sure, you occasionally get hit with some unidentifiable smell and some street corners are bustling with tourists, but in general I have a much better understanding of what makes New York worth living for so many people. The restaurant and shops also have a big share in that. Needless to say we can’t wait to go back.