After almost 8 weeks in Central America we were really looking forward to being somewhere a little bit more civilized. Central America was amazing but there is only so much rice, beans and tortillas that one can handle! Interestingly, Cuba turns out to be a major tourist destination for Canadians – therefore flights from Havana to Toronto are fairly cheap. So we thought why not start our 2-month North American road trip in Toronto?
After picking up our long-term rental car from the airport, we made a bee-line for the supermarket. Our AirBNB apartment had a full kitchen and we wanted to make good use of it after spending the last 2 months basically eating out. Another thing… it was freezing cold! The temperature was half that of Central America and it was miserable outside. So we decided to go shopping and both of us managed to get some very cheap winter coats that we will probably discard somewhere in Africa later in the year – such is the life of a traveller…
Toronto is an impressive city but we did not find the people as welcoming as those in Central America. Pedestrians are also king in Toronto and you do not need to look while crossing streets – cars just give way automatically. We visited the landmark CN Tower which used to be the world’s tallest free-standing structure / world’s tallest tower for 34 years. It is also one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. Not sure if it justifies the $40 entrance fee though!
From Toronto we made our way down to the US via the Niagara Falls border crossing. On the way we stopped off for lunch at the Trius winery on the Canadian side – Brooke has written more about our experience at the winery here. On approach to the legendary Niagara Falls, storm clouds opened up and torrential rain poured down. It was extremely wet and visibility was very limited due to fog. We stopped at both the Canadian and American side of the falls, took a few obligatory selfies and then drove on. It was good to see but we may have to come back one day when the sun is shining to fully appreciate this natural wonder.
On our eastward journey through upstate New York we made a stop at Taughannock Falls – a 215 foot waterfall right next to the infamous finger lakes which honesty felt more impressive than Niagara Falls. I guess nice weather does have a weird way of influencing how you feel about certain places. We did a bush walk through the state park and went right up close to the base of the falls. It made for a perfect break in our long day of driving.
As we crossed the state border into Vermont we visited the Lincoln family home – Hildene. No, this was not the home of Abraham Lincoln. It was the home of his eldest son Robert, who was the president of the Pullman Car Company – famous for their luxury sleeping railroad cars a hundred years or so ago. An old restored Pullman railroad car was on display on the estate, along with a lot of Abraham Lincoln memorabilia. Interestingly, there are no living relatives of Abraham Lincoln left, even though the Lincoln name will no doubt be remembered forever.
Finally, we made it to Boston Massachusetts where the sun was shining brightly. Boston seemed very relaxed and it had a good vibe about it. Brooke also knew some old work friends in Boston so we finally had some other people to go out with! We spent a day in downtown following the freedom trail – a 2.5 mile long marked path that passes by several significant historical places. Great we thought – we do not have to navigate this city, we just need to follow the red line! Truth be told we did not walk the whole way. We made use of a fantastic technology called Uber which works very well in Boston. We also managed to see a Major League Baseball game – the Boston Red Sox vs the Baltimore Orioles. It was important to tick off some very important American traditions like eating hotdogs, singing “Take me out to the ball game” and booing Manny Machado. If you don’t know who that is then google 🙂
The journey to New York was a dangerous one. Torrential rain made a 4-hour ride from Boston turn into almost 7 hours of treacherous driving. Brooke and I both agree that New York deserves a whole blog post to itself so NYC will not be covered here. Let’s skip ahead to Philly and talk about their wonderful cheesesteak sandwiches. (Yes, cheesesteak is one word).
Our destination for the day was Washington DC and what better place to stop for lunch than the home of the cheesesteak sandwich, Philadelphia. We made sure to stay well clear of West Philadelphia as we heard about the ‘couple of guys who were up to no good… started making trouble in the neighbourhood’. Instead, we visited Reading Terminal Market and sampled a delicious cheesesteak sandwich from By George. Needless to say it was amazing! As we drove out of Philly we swung by the Art Museum steps (a.k.a The Rocky Steps). The area was roped off and there were tonnes of rubbish everywhere probably due to a concert the night before, so we just drove on through. Last stop before DC was Baltimore where we stopped for some ice cream in the inner harbour. Off to the national capital we go!
Washington DC can be summed up by three M’s – Monuments, Museums and the Metro. Brooke’s overseas godmother kindly hosted us for three nights – It was great to have someone local who knew all the cool things that the city has to offer. Washington DC is a well planned out city which is made for walking but we also made the most of their fantastic metro wherever we could (New York needs to take note of Washington DC’s metro system as they could learn a few lessons). In DC, there are memorials to everyone and anyone who was important in American politics and/or war. My favourite memorial is Lincoln’s where a 19-foot statue of the man himself sits within a Parthenon-inspired structure. From there you can gaze out onto the National Mall and see the the Washington monument mirrored in the reflecting pool and the Capitol building behind it in the distance. What a wonderful place to contemplate life… if it weren’t for the throngs of tourists! I hear the best time to visit is 2am in the morning – just don’t go climbing any statues. We also saw the Thomas Jefferson memorial, WW2 memorial and the White House (from a very far distance as they have blocked off most of the streets around Trumps new home).
Washington DC also boasts some of the best Museums in the world. We had visited so many Museum’s in New York already so we decided just to focus on two in Washington DC; The Newseum and the Smithsonian National Air and Space museum. The Newseum is all about the press and how historical events have been covered in the past in print media, radio and TV. There are up to 400-year-old newspapers on display covering various historical events such as the signing of the US constitution, the sinking of Titanic, and both world wars. The Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery is also a must see in the Newseum – the images are absolutely incredible.
The Smithsonian National Air and Space museum has always been one of my favourites. It houses things like the Apollo 11 Command Capsule, the Wright brothers plane and Amelia Earhart’s plane – one could spend hours in there. But one of the best things we did in Washington DC was see the Capitol Steps. These guys perform live on stage, satirizing American politics – “putting the MOCK in Democracy”. Their material is fresh from the day’s headlines and is soooo funny. A must see if you are ever in Washington DC.
Last stop in DC was Arlington Cemetery which houses the graves of the Kennedy family and a lot of US soldiers. It was amazing to see the endless grave stones which seemed to go on for miles and miles.
That wraps up the North East part of our North American road trip. Off to the Mid West we go!