Here we go with the long anticipated USA travel posts! So as you might know I did a road trip by bus, which allowed me to discover both the East Coast and the West Coast of North America. That's why I decided to split my travel diary in two, first telling you what happened between my arrival in New York and my departure from Washington. Next week I will then talk about our trip from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. Instead of recounting every little thing we did in America, I will just give you a brief introduction to the places we visited, tell you what I particularly liked or disliked about them, and of course also give you some food and shopping suggestions along the way. Are you ready to discover North America with me?
Our first destination was New York where we stayed at the Marriott Downtown, which is situated in Lower Manhattan, close to the World Trade Center. There wasn't much going on in this district of the city, which was a pure office quarter before 9/11. Therefor we had to take the Subway to get to almost any attraction of the city. Taking the metro in New York isn't that complicated, even though there is no assistance for tourists whatsoever.
The attractions we decided to see were the Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, the Rockefeller Center and Times Square. While the Brooklyn Bridge was nice to see, I would recommend crossing it really early in the morning when it isn't full of tourists. Comparing the Empire State Building and the Rockefeller Center, I would definitely suggest to get on 'Top of the Rock' rather than on top of the Empire State Building. The entrance prices may be the same (and not quite cheap!) but the view from the Rockefeller is just so much better because you'll have the Empire State Building right in front of you and can even overview Central Park. As for Times Square it's nice to see but you'll want to avoid it if you can't handle huge crowds of people.
Food: The best food and best service we had in New York was at Dos Caminos, a Mexican restaurant on Times Square. We had vegetarian tacos, guacamole, homemade ice tea and a delicious dessert.
While in Europe hotel rooms naturally come with breakfast, most American hotels only offer breakfast as a supplement. So if your hotel food is too expensive (or too unhealthy) you'll want to look out for one of New York's many Pret A Manger stores.
Another good place for a little snack is the Chelsea Market in Meatpacking District. It's a food hall with dishes from all over the world, but unfortunately it's hard to find a place to sit down in there. We had quite good pasta at Giovanni Rana Pastificio & Cucina, which is a rather expensive place though. When you're on a budget make sure to ask for tap water, which is free in every American restaurant!
Other places I've been recommended but didn't get the chance to try are: By Chloe, Chalait, Jack's Wife Freda and The Butcher's Daughter.
Shopping: Something else Chelsea Market is good for is shopping local designers and artists. There's even an Anthropologie in there, which you should only enter if you have enough money and enough space left in your luggage.
Verdict: Unfortunately I happened to be really disappointed by New York. Not only was it sticky hot over there, but the city is also extremely dirty and loud. I could get used to the noise but I can't get used to crossing last night's burger leftovers everywhere I go. I will probably give the city another chance, especially as I didn't manage to discover some cosier districts such as SoHo or Greenwhich Village, but I will definitely not be returning in summer.
Niagara Falls & Niagara-On-The-Lake
After one and a half days on our own in New York, we met our tour group and continued our journey towards Canada. Our main destination were the Niagara Falls where we stayed on the US side at the Sheraton At The Falls Hotel. The same hotel also exists on the Canadian side and you should definitely opt for that one as it has a view on the Falls. The Niagara Falls are way less high than I had expected them, but it was still nice to see them, especially by night when they are lit in pastel colours, which makes them look like huge candy cotton. There's also superb fireworks by the Falls every Sunday, Wednesday and Friday night during summer season. However I think what I most enjoyed about Niagara Falls is the nice environment, which leads me to Niagara-On-The-Lake.
Niagara-On-The-Lake is a small town on the Canadian side, not far from the Niagara Falls. We made a little excursion there and the town immediately got my heart. Imagine the setting of Hart of Dixie in a movie with Zac Efron and a bunch of Englishmen as background actors. That's about how idyllic and picturesque this town is. And as if the cute little buildings and the streets full of greens and flowers hadn't convinced me yet, there was furthermore a White Dinner happening on the village square of Niagara-On-The-Lake. I seriously felt like conveyed right into a romantic summer movie.
Food: For the best view over Niagara Falls you should book a lunch or dinner at the Skylon Tower.
For breakfast I can recommend TGI Fridays which has an all you can eat buffet featuring everything you ever imagined Americans have for breakfast.
As for Niagara-On-The-Lake you'll wanna make sure to just sit on a bench and enjoy the atmosphere. Do so with an ice cream from Cow's, which isn't just an ice cream parlour, but at the same time the cutest souvenir shop for cow lovers.
Verdict: I don't think you need to see the Niagara Falls before you die, but Niagara-On-The-Lake made me realise that Canada might be a much more interesting country than I have thought so far.
Washington D.C. & Alexandria
After about 24 hours in Niagara Falls we drove to Lewisburg to spend the night there. The other day we continued our journey towards Washington, and on our way we stopped at the Kettle Village and a farmer's market, both led by Amish. It was really interesting to learn about the culture of those people and I wish I could regularly shop their fresh fruit and vegetables.
In Washington we stayed at the Capitol Skyline Hotel, which for me was the prettiest hotel we had in the US. The hotel has a rooftop pool and a really good breakfast (which unfortunately again isn't included in the room price). Even though the hotel is far away from the city centre, it is super close to Capitol Hill, which seems to be one of the city's most interesting districts, besides Georgetown which we didn't manage to visit. Apart from that, Washington is all about monuments, museums, and the political history of the country.
To me the only interesting part about our stay in Washington was our excursion to the picturesque town Alexandria. It has a lovely harbour and a multitude of cute restaurants and shops along the street. There's even a Trolley that takes you up and down the main street for free.
Food: Ambar is probably the most hyped restaurant of Washington and I've been recommended it several times. Unfortunately it's hard to get in there without a table reservation, so we tried Lavagna instead, which is situated on the same street in Capitol Hill. Excellent service and delicious homemade Italian dishes with a twist.
In Alexandria we had dinner at the Daniel O'Connell's pub which has a charming rooftop terrace and serves delicious club sandwiches.
Shopping: Apparently Georgetown is good for shopping but as I haven't been there I can only recommend the shops in Alexandria. Go to 3 Sisters for colourful clothes and a cute atmosphere, to Sur La Table for the most amazing kitchenware, and to Paper Source for stationary dreams coming true.
Verdict: Even though Americans are quite talented at creating awesome monuments, and even though I don't see myself as lowbrow, I have to say that to me Washington has got to be the most boring capital I have visited so far. Again it seems like the real gems in America are those you've never heard about in Europe. So besides Niagara-On-The-Lake I now have a huge crush on the charming town of Alexandria.
That's it for my first travel diary. I tried to keep it as short and informative as possible, but if there is anything else you want to know about my holidays, any city I've visited, the flight, or vacation in America in general, then certainly don't hesitate to contact me!