Time for part 3 of the USA trip down memory lane! In the fall of 2013 we went back to the States, the Northeast this time. I think this post might be even longer than the one about our honeymoon, so grab a cup of tea… Again, this trip was a customized self drive booked with Thomas Cook, 3 weeks this time.
Before our flight we stayed at the Sheraton again, our flight didn’t leave until noon this time, but it’s just so convenient!
Our United Airlines plane took us straight to Dulles International Airport, Washington D.C.. We were happy with the United flight, much better than the American Airlines one… It was the Captain’s last flight before his retirement, a special occasion and upon arrival at the airport our plane got a water salute, very cool!
The first leg of the trip was a Washington D.C. city trip and for the duration of this bit we stayed at the Capitol Skyline Hotel. The hotel was fine, nothing extraordinary but we had a spacious room (with a distant view of the Capitol) and there was complimentary shuttle service to the main DC sights. Breakfast wasn’t included but there was the option to have breakfast at the hotel at an extra cost, which we did and it was a great buffet.
The hotel is close to Capitol Hill so after our arrival we took a walk up there to see the Capitol, the Supreme Court and Library of Congress. We snapped a few pics and then went back to the hotel after our first encounter with the USA’s capital.
On our first full day we took the shuttle to the Mall and started our day at the National Air and Space Museum, one of many Smithsonian places to visit. Admission to Smithsonian museums (most are located on the Mall) is free, which makes Washington D.C. one of the cheapest places to visit, there’s so much to do for free! (Unless there’s a government shutdown, then everything is closed… We narrowly escaped this scenario!)
If you’ve seen Night at The Museum 2 you’ll know all about it and we absolutely loved the National Air and Space Museum. There are guided tours, which I highly recommend, that take you on a tour of the highlights (The Spirit of St Louis!, Apollo 11 Command Module!,…), which allows you to go back afterwards if you want to see something more in detail. There’s an IMAX theater (not for free, unfortunately) and there are plenty of temporary exhibitions. If you’re somewhat interested in aviation or space exploration this is the place to be.
After our space trip it was time to plant our feet firmly on the ground again and explore the Mall some more. The Mall is not only where the Smithsonian Museums are located but also numerous memorials. War memorials, presidential memorials, there are many here and you can see them all by taking a haunting yet beautiful stroll around the Mall.
The most famous one is probably the Lincoln Memorial and it sure is impressive. This trip would take us to some more Abraham Lincoln spots, but this was the grandest of all. When you see this place, you’ll know how much his presidency has meant for the USA.
The Vietnam War Memorial and Korean War Memorial are really beautiful, very symbolic.
We also went to the Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial, which is quite a long way on foot, but once we were there we were happy we did it, because it’s stunning and you get a great view of the Mall: you see the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument and at the far end the Capitol.
By the time we continued our walk towards the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the Tidal Basin the sun was setting and that made our walk to the F.D. Roosevelt Memorial and Jefferson Memorial even more enjoyable.
It was quite a long walk back to the hotel, but we did make it and were very much in need of a good night’s sleep.
The next day we went to the White House (shuttle service to the rescue again), unfortunately visits are no longer in the cards, but to see the outside is a treat as well! It looked smaller than I had expected, but maybe that’s because of the distance.
We made our way to Ford’s Theatre and saw Lafayette Square, Decatur House and St John’s Church along the way.
I told you we’d see more of Abe Lincoln (after a few encounters you can call him Abe, okay?) and Ford’s Theatre is where John Wilkes Booth shot him. Our ticket also granted us access to the Petersen House across the street where President Lincoln was taken after the shooting and where he died the next day. Anything you’d ever want to know about Lincoln and his presidency is covered here, this is a DC must!
We continued our walk that would take us by the J. Edgar Hoover Building and to the Old Post Office Pavillion. The inside of this building is not worth visiting, but the reason for our visit was a trip up the tower. At the time of our visit the Washington Monument was not accessible and to get an aerial view of the city we went for the next best thing. Apparently this place will become a Trump hotel, so visiting the tower is probably no longer possible. But the Washington Monument is back in business!
Our last stop of the day was the US National Archives (free admission!) where we saw the Declaration of Independence, Constitution of the United States and Bill of Rights. A trip to this area is all about the birth of what is now known as the United States of America and these documents are must-sees if you’re into history, especially the history of the USA.
Our third day it was all about the Smithsonian again, this time we went to the National Museum of American History, which is the best if you’re into American culture.
You can see a variety of things here from the Star Spangled Banner (huge, by the way, huge!) to some of the First Ladies’ dresses.
We saw Dorothy’s ruby slippers, Julia Child’s kitchen, a strip of Route 66,… This place is amazing and I think it was my favourite Smithsonian museum.
We also went to the National Museum of Natural History which is quite similar to the American Museum of Natural History in NYC.
Another interesting stop was the Bureau of Engraving and Printing where you can get a free (see, I told ya!) tour and see how they print US dollars.
We ended our day by walking to Georgetown where the university is and this is such a cool area, very laid back.
Time to leave Washington D.C. behind, pick up the rental at Alamo and head to Philadelphia, but not without visiting Gettysburg on the way there. Famous for its Battle, that resulted in the Union’s victory of the Civil War, and Abe’s famous Gettysburg Address (which you can see in his memorial, by the way) it should be high on, if not at the top of, your list if you’re visiting Pennsylvania.
Your ticket will give you admission to the museum, a film (narrated by Morgan Freeman), the Cyclorama and of course the park itself. We didn’t have enough time to do all of these so we skipped the museum and started with the film and Cyclorama and then got on a bus to get a tour of the battlefield.
For Americans this is a crucial piece of their history and they know so much more about it then we do. It’s not a bad idea to get a general idea of what the Civil War was about before embarking on this journey. The tour is so very detailed, it’s not about the Civil War in general facts, the guide describes the battle in detail, as if you were there.
After our Gettysburg battle experience we arrived in Philadelphia, ready for another city trip!
We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express (Penn’s Landing), near the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Like all Holiday Inns it was a nice hotel, nothing too fancy, but definitely good enough for us. And they offer complimentary breakfast, oh, those cinnamon buns!
Philadelphia is home to some of the oldest buildings in the States, that might be why we loved it so much, it has a European feel to it.
Elfreths Alley is the States’ oldest residential street and it is so very charming. There’s no doubt that it’s time to emerge yourself in some American history here.
We walked up to the National Constitution Centre, after a few stops at the Betsy Ross House and the Arch Street Meeting House.
A ticket at the National Constitution Centre will grant you access to Freedom Rising, The Story of We the People (very interesting interactive exhibit) and my favourite: The Signers’ Hall. In this hall you will find life-size bronze statues of the Founding Fathers, all 42 of them! You can see how you measure up to George Washington (good luck, he was a tall man) or maybe Benjamin Franklin (local Philly hero). I thought this was so cool and well executed!
After some lunch it was time to head to the historic heart of Philadelphia, and the US: Independence National Historic Park. Buying tickets online for this place is recommended, because it gets seriously crowded.
We had now seen the Declaration of Independence and Constitution in DC, seen statues of the men who signed it, time to see where the magic had actually happened, right?
Independence Hall it is then, but you’ll also find Old City Hall, Congress Hall and the Liberty Bell here. This place oozes history and you should not miss out on this!
We strolled through this beautiful city, saw some parks and beautiful historic houses and yes, we had some Philly Cheesesteaks.
Our second day was more about present Philly. We walked to the Love Park, Rittenhouse Square and followed the Benjamin Franklin Parkway up to the Museum of Art. Not to visit the museum, but those famous Rocky steps, of course!
And yes, many people are running up those steps Rocky style… There’s even a Rocky statue at the bottom of the steps.
We went back to the city centre and stopped by the Rodin museum, there’s free access to the lovely gardens, and the Benjamin Franklin Institute. We were on a schedule this day because we had baseball plans that night. We had a date with the Phillies and the Mets at Citizens Bank Park, which was actually not far from our hotel at all by car.
This wasn’t a success like the Knicks game had been in NYC, we didn’t really get the game and it started to rain, the Phillies were losing… We did have some great hot dogs and funnel cake!
After these two city trips it was time to head to New England.
We didn’t have any actual stops in New Jersey (and we simply drove through Maryland and Delaware, but they have been checked off the “States we’ve been to”-list), but I did want to go to Asbury Park (The Boss!). I now regret we weren’t able to spend more time there because the ocean views there were so beautiful. The boardwalk there was very relaxed and cool, definitely worth a longer stay! We had a quick look at the Stone Pony and got back in the car to drive to Connecticut.
First stop: Yale University in New Haven. The whole college experience is such a huge part of the image we get of American culture in movies and tv series, especially the Ivy League Colleges, so any chance to drop by one, I’ll take.
They offer tours here, but we didn’t make it in time, so we walked around by ourselves. You’re not allowed to go in the buildings or anything, but you can definitely get the Yale vibe. Not shabby at all.
That night we stayed at Simsbury 1820 House in… Simsbury. Man, this place was amazing. Loads of character and a nice breakfast.
We were in real road trip mode now and heading further up north. After a brief visit to Hartford, Connecticut’s capital (oh hey, Gilmore Girls fans!), it was time to drive into the Empire State, New York. The Hudson Valley is a gorgeous area that was once the place to be for the rich and famous: families like the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts.
We visited the Vanderbilt Mansion in Hyde Park. These new American aristocrats were influenced by their European counterparts and it shows in the architecture. This place is huge, and very “upstairs downstairs”, the tour will take you to both.
This wasn’t even one of their big estates, it was just a small cottage to them… More about the Vanderbilts later!
We weren’t in New York for long, that evening we were staying at the Crown Plaza Pittsfield in the Berkshires, Massachusetts.
Once again, a very decent hotel, nothing special but exactly what we needed. Pizza recommendation: Baba Louie’s!
And just like that we were already leaving Massachusetts as well and we on the road, to Vermont.
We stopped in Bennington to visit the Old First Church and its graveyard and the Bennington Battle Monument.
can should take the elevator in the Monument to get sweeping views of the glorious Green Mountain State.
On our way to Burlington we took a little scenic drive to see some of the covered bridges. In Burlington we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, you know the drill by now: good, especially those cinnamon buns…
Burlington is the largest city of Vermont yet it feels like a cosy town. Unfortunately, we only had one evening to spend here but it looked like so much fun. I’d definitely recommend some more time here. You just never know when planning these trips, you win some, you lose some.
When you think about Vermont, what comes to mind? Ben and Jerry’s! You can’t leave Vermont without visiting the factory, you simply cannot!
They offer 30 minute factory tours at their Waterbury location and we went on the first one, because we had quite a bit of driving to do that day.
So yeah, ice cream at 9:30 am, you know what, it’s the Ben and Jerry factory, if you can’t do it here… The tour was great fun, you get to see a Moovie and a bit of the production line. And you get to taste! But we had our hearts set on tasting some flavours we can’t get in Belgium so after the tour we went to the Scoop Shop and had some more ice cream. Good times! They also have a great shop with some funny merchandising. A Vermont must!
After leaving Waterbury we took a little scenic drive to Stowe. When the snow hits New England this is the place to be to ski, but in the fall this makes for a lovely fall foliage drive.
We wanted to see the State House in Montpelier but parking was a nightmare so we just saw the outside.
We left the Green Mountains behind and went to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Another day, another state…
On our way from Vermont to New Hampshire we stumbled upon Rainbow Sweets Bakery in Marshfield. Because of our early morning ice cream feast we were just looking for a quick bite but then we entered pastry heaven! Bill welcomed us with open arms and told us all about his pastries. We had lunch (I had some amazing Spanakopita) and we just had to get something sweet as well. I can’t even remember what I had (something with chocolate?) but it was delicious. Ask Bill about his St Honoré! Or don’t, he’ll tell you about it anyway!
In Franconia Notch State Park you can take the Cannon Aerial Tramway for more stunning views, but we had some bad luck with the weather and didn’t get any views at all. When the skies are clear, this must be on your list!
Our next hotel was the North Conway Grand Hotel. We like a bit of outlet shopping in the US and this hotel is next to an outlet shopping center. Bonus: 0% sales tax in New Hampshire. We arrived quite late and the shops were still open. There were hardly any customers left, it felt like we had the place to ourselves, right next to the hotel, great stuff if you ask me. We had dinner at Applebee’s, another fine American culinary institution!
This hotel is huge, it’s the perfect place for families. There are plenty of activities for everyone and the rooms are very spacious. Because this was such a family oriented hotel there were plenty of amenities and the laundry facility couldn’t have come at a better time for us. Exciting times in North Conway.
Before hitting the road again we had a great breakfast at Peach’s. It’s like you just walked into some family’s home and they are gracious enough not to kick you out and then serve you an amazing breakfast just because they’re so damn nice. Great find!
We were now heading towards to most northern point of this trip: Maine.
There’s only one National Park in Maine, but it’s a stunner: Acadia National Park. After checking into our room at Best Western Acadia Park Inn (nice hotel, basic breakfast included) we drove to Acadia National Park where you can drive along the Park Loop Road, a scenic drive that will show you the highlights.
We were not leaving Maine just yet but we did leave Bar Harbor behind and drove towards Portland where we walked around and had some lunch (lobster roll!). We continued our way back down South to Freeport where we stayed at Best Western Plus Freeport Inn.
Freeport is the place where LL Bean, outdoor specialist, started and their flagship store there is a sight to behold.
Once again, some outlet shopping had to happen and in Freeport you don’t feel like you’re in an outlet shopping center, it’s like the stores are scattered around town among the other buildings, I really enjoyed this place. Another lobster roll was consumed that evening, at Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen and all was well.
Why not squeeze in another city trip? Boston is up next!
On our way to Boston we visited Minute Man National Historic Park, where you’ll find the Old Manse and Old North Bridge where the first shots (“the shot heard round the world”) were fired at the British during the Revolutionary War, another crucial moment and turning point in this nation’s history.
In Boston we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express (good, cinnamon buns: you know this by heart by now).
Being a tourist in Boston is very easy, they have done all the work for you, you just need to show up and follow the Freedom Trail.
This route will take you from Boston Common to Bunker Hill (or the other way round in our case) and along the way you will see the Paul Revere House, which you should visit, Faneuil Hall, Old State House, Old South Meeting House, and many more historic Boston places.
The weather was splendid when we ended our walk in Boston Common and admired the State House so we hung out in the park for while.
Of course we had to go see the Cheers pub and we walked to the Charles River Esplanade, a great spot to find a little place in the grass and unwind.
Our second day in Boston was kicked off at Fenway Park, a Boston landmark. We got a tour and still didn’t understand anything about baseball, but it was interesting to see the place and hear stories about the Green Monstah.
We got an aerial view of Boston at the Skywalk Observatory and walked around some more to discover Copley Square, Trinity Church and Boston Public Library.
We left Boston and took some time to visit another Ivy League campus: Harvard. This time we were able to take a tour, led by a student and she took us all around campus. It was a very interesting tour and I liked that it was given by a student.
After a few days in the city it was time to had back to the coast. We went to Plymouth and the famous Plymouth Rock, where the Pilgrims are said to first have set foot on land, after their journey on the Mayflower.
On our way to our next hotel we stopped by the Hoxie House in Sandwich, one of the oldest houses in Massachusetts. Unfortunately, we arrived just as it was closing down for the day but the lovely ladies working there were kind enough to let us have a peek and told us about the house and the area. When they found out we’re European their reaction was cute “Oh, this house probably isn’t that old to you then”.
Even if you’re not interested in the house, the area and those views are well worth a visit.
The trip itself was interesting, it was fun to be out on the water but the whale watching was a bit disappointing. That’s what happens on these trips, you just never know when a wild animal will or won’t make an appearance. We did briefly see some minke whales and the excitement on the boat when they were spotted was quite entertaining.
Provincetown is a quaint little town, it also claims to be the first place the Pilgrims landed at, and apparently it’s a very popular LBGT destination. We spotted some stunning beach houses (nothing too fancy, just beautifully located) while we were looking for the Marc by Marc Jacobs store.
We were quite pleased with the hotel in Falmouth, it was very calm and had a good location.
After leaving Falmouth the next day we had planned on going to the Ultimate Cape Cod location: Martha’s Vineyard. We decided to skip it however, because we would have to take a ferry there and back and we wanted to have plenty if time at our next destination: Newport, Rhode Island.
Yes, another state, and the smallest one at that.
Just like the Hudson Valley, Newport was once a popular destination for wealthy Americans. They built mansions here and put their mark on this place.
You can see the exterior of some of the mansions by taking the Cliff Walk. It will take you on a lovely walk along the ocean and spectacular houses. Once you see these mansions from the outside you will want to visit them, well, we sure did.
We got our Newport Mansions Experience Tickets at the Newport Visitor Centre and although these granted access to 5 properties, we only chose 3, it was still a beneficial ticket! There are tickets that cater to all needs, depending on how much time you have and which mansion(s) you’d like to visit.
We went to Marble House (those Vanderbilts again), Rosecliff (modeled after Grand Trianon at Versailles) and The Breakers, the grandest one of all.
If you can only visit one mansion, it has to be The Breakers, surely the jewel on the Vanderbilts’ property crown and a perfect representation of the Gilded Age.
The interior is, of course, somewhat kitsch but this house is so perfectly located and those views are breathtaking.
That night we stayed at Best Western Mainstay Inn (no longer Best Western these days?, anyway, decent hotel) and the following day we left for the last leg of our trip, back to the state of New York.
We passed through the Hamptons, where we did some window shopping (that Tiffany’s!) and had some lunch and ended up at our last coastal destination: Hotel Allegria in Long Beach. Such a beautiful and fancy hotel, it was very unfortunate we only got to spend such a short time here. The drive from Newport was quite long and we were leaving early the next day…
We got a room with a partial view of the ocean and that beautiful boardwalk. But as beautiful as that boardwalk was, there were no cafés or restaurants to be seen! A few blocks away from the ocean we had some burgers and fries at Five Guys, so good…
As I said, we had an early start the next day because were heading to our last stop: NYC.
We had to drop off our rental in Manhattan and to avoid crazy traffic we decided to leave early. We dropped off the car, dropped off our luggage at Amsterdam Court , located near Times Square, which sounds like a nightmare but this place is really good, and dashed over to City Sights NY to exchange our Woodbury Common Premium Outlets vouchers and then made another quick sprint over to Port Authority to catch the bus.
We had planned on going to the outlets earlier in the trip (when we went to Asbury Park) but that would have been on a Sunday and Sundays at these places can be horrible, especially if you have to park your car, so we decided to do it as a bus trip from Manhattan, since it wasn’t our first time here anyway.
If (outlet) shopping is your thing, and especially if you’re interested in brands like Dior, Céline, Saint Laurent,… this is your walhalla. This also means a lot of people (tourists everywhere!) come here and it can get hectic. So if you’re a casual shopper you might wanna skip this.
That evening we had some great Asian food near Times Square, can’t remember the exact place…
Our first NYC trip was all Manhattan, so it was time to venture out to Brooklyn the next day. We saw beautiful brownstones, walked around Prospect Park, had delicious almond croissants at Bien Cuit, and quickly regretted those once we saw all the food trucks at Grand Army Plaza, you can’t have it all, I guess!
Brooklyn is huge and there’s so much more to see, but we went back to Manhattan to discover The High Line.
This former railroad is now a park that offers unique views of NYC, because of its elevated location. Very cool, definitely take a walk here, you don’t have to do the whole thing.
I remember we had lunch at The Park, but honestly, I can not remember where we went that afternoon… It must’ve involved lots of walking but where oh where?
That evening we had dinner at DBGB, one of Daniel Boulud’s restaurants. It’s all about modern versions of French classics, American classics and sausages here. Nice place.
The next day was our final full day and some shopping was done, but mostly we casually walked around and enjoyed just being there.
Our last dinner was at Minetta Tavern, a very cool place with a very meaty menu. Also French classics here but the old school way. The food is great, really great, but the atmosphere is especially unique. The place is buzzing with Manhattan vibes, it’s busy, noisy and crowded and it was awesome.
And just like that our trip was coming to an end.
Next day was departure day and after a walk in Central Park, some cokes and slices, it was time to fly back home.
If you’re thinking of visiting the US and are particularly interested in its history, this is the area you should be visiting!
I consider myself very lucky to have been able to travel to these places and to be there again when this post goes live. Of course I will tell you more about that trip (and the inevitable haul) when I get back.
Have you ever been to the States? Or is it on your bucket list? Let me know in the comments!