Since my time in Boston is now over, I thought I’d write a little about my travels in the northeast and my take on the places I’ve been to.
I still haven’t figured out Connecticut. Several parts contain very typical, quaint New England towns. Good seafood, clean, and generally nice places to be. Several other parts are the exact opposite. Dirty, less safe, and with New York-style attitudes. As expected, this becomes more relevant as you get closer to NYC. In many ways, Connecticut is just a suburb of other states. Depending on the side of the state people live, many people will commute to either New York City, Boston, or Providence.
I spent three weekends in the Fairfield area, and I never had a great feeling of the area in general. It probably didn’t help that usually I was just driving from the office and back, but I still went out to try to explore and never found much. I spent one evening in Stamford, which had a nice, shady feel to it. The city is full of company headquarters and not much else.
New Haven is somewhat similar Connecticut, but much nicer. Yale is located in New Haven and is one of my favorite college campuses that I’ve been to. It’s modeled after Oxford, England and has an amazing atmosphere. The Gothic style churches and campus buildings give the city a great feel. I found an excellent Mexican/organic cafe on campus that I visited a few times, and I went back to New Haven a second time pretty much just to have dinner here. Like the rest of Connecticut, New Haven has a very dirty side. Many places I would avoid at night. But I learned that it’s just the Connecticut way.
On the way back from Connecticut one weekend, I stopped in Providence for a night. It was my second Couchsurfing experience and I stayed with an extremely friendly guy (who happened to be gay). He was an interesting guy who loves to travel around. He works for Delta part-time and is able to jump on any domestic flight with an open seat for free (international is usually $30 or so) . I envy him for being able to go anywhere at any time like that. He was planning on taking a trip to Brazil a week after I stayed with him. He said he only keeps the job for those benefits…I don’t blame him.
Providence is a nice little city. Unfortunately, it was raining the entire time I was there so I didn’t stay too long. I just explored for 5 hours or so on a Saturday morning. One of the highlights there is Brown University. The geography of this campus is really cool…the campus is on top of a steep hill which leads down into the city. Because of this, the campus feels isolated from the city and feels like a small college town. Then you walk down the hill and you’re in a completely different world in a moderately sized city. The coolest part of the city is their canal system. Several different canals split up the city which makes for an interesting layout. Everything was very clean and welcoming. I always said that I was going to head back down when there was some warmer weather, but I never did make it back down. I’m sure the restaurants and bars right by the canals are just amazing on a warm summer night.
When Mom and Dad came to Boston, we took a day trip up to Maine to visit Dad’s supplier. We went directly up to Dad’s supplier which is in a small town in east-central Maine. After that, we worked our way down the coast and made a few stops that were listed in my guidebook. First, we stopped in Freeport, Maine, which is home to the L.L. Bean headquarters. This is a pretty cool place; they have a certain architecture that all buildings have to follow, so it’s cool to see these chain stores in unique buildings. The L.L. Bean stores are enormous. I believe there were 4 different stores that split up the departments (hunting/fishing, home furnishings, bikes, etc). The stores are open every minute of every year.
We then stopped in Portland to get some dinner and sightsee. We walked around the city following my guide book to see the landmarks, and it’s definitely a typical port city. A lot of fish, older run down buildings, and many crazy people (the kind that talk and scream at nothing). We then headed down to a restaurant on the water for some of that famous Maine lobster. It definitely lived up to the hype. Since we were there in March, the off-season for tourists, the lobsters were amazingly cheap. Some of the best lobster you can find at one of the better restaurants in town for the same price as a decent meal back home. One of the nicest places we saw was the Portland Head Light, which is one of the oldest light houses in the world. Thew views of the coast were spectacular, and the waves crashing in were definitely brutal in the 50 degree weather. All in all, we had a great time in Maine.
For my last weekend in Boston, I took a trip up to Acadia National Park in Maine. This is a very famous national park right along the coast with many mountains, lakes, and great trails. From what I can tell, it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in Maine. I had high expectations of the place, and it definitely met these (a common theme for my time around the northeast). I drove up there with a friend I met in Boston, and we arrived late Friday night. I had called in for a campsite a few days earlier, and apparently they booked me for an RV site. Setting up a tent on all gravel is not an easy task. We got the tent to finally stay up (although overly-lopsided) and made it through the night.
We woke up in the morning and drove to Bar Harbor to rent some bikes. I’d researched and found that there are miles and miles of carriage roads that were created by John D. Rockefeller in the early-mid 1900s. The carriage roads were, of course, originally meant for horse carriages, but they’re now used for runners and bikers too. We found our route and made our way around. The trails were sometimes challenging, but the downhill coasts made it worth it. Some of the views were amazing, where we could see several lakes in between all of the mountains along with glimpses of the ocean. One cool thing about our ride was the Maine blueberries. We found that Maine blueberries are very popular, and we found several spots along the bikes trails were wild blueberries that were edible. Free blueberries! It was tough to get away from these once I started throwing them in my mouth without slowing. A very memorable spot was the Jordan Pond House. This is a very famous place, set along a beautiful lake in the middle of the mountains. It’s known for it’s popovers and tea. I’d never heard of popovers, but they’re pretty much a hollowed out muffing with a very different texture served with butter and jam. Even if we would’ve biked the 15 miles to get here just for the popovers at Jordan Pond House, it would’ve been worth it. My friend also got lobster stew…and I’m not sure if much can top that either. The atmosphere here was very posh…the waiters all wore blue shirts and nice khaki shorts, there were probably 50 tables outside, and hundreds of people were around the restaurant. This is the place to be on a nice day.
After getting back with our rental bikes, we went to a little restaurant and got lobster rolls (we had to take advantage of the Maine lobster!). Lobster rolls are grossly overrated. They’re very popular, but I don’t think it’s that special. It’s pretty much just lobster meat on a roll with some mayonnaise…for $12. Not filling, and the bread takes away most of the lobster taste.
Overnight, mother nature decided to rain on us. Unfortunately, this was the first time I had used the 1980s tent and had no idea that the tent is not only non-rain resistant, but it actually draws more water in than if we had just slept outside. I woke up at 4 a.m. absolutely soaked. After cleaning up and heading out towards Boston in horrible moods, we decided to stop at this place my friend wanted to go to, Echo Lake. It was Sunday morning, probably 70 degrees and cloudy, but it was a perfect time to go swimming! Only one guy was sitting by the lake, so it was just us swimming in this beautiful lake with a small mountain bordering the one side. I wish I could do that every Sunday morning.
On the way home, we stopped at this little lobster shack to get our last fill of lobster. I ordered a 1 1/2 pound lobster, 1 pound of steamers (clams), and an ear of corn for $17. That’s why you have to love Maine.
After my class in Connecticut on the last Friday in May, I took a 5 hour drive down to Washington DC to take advantage of Memorial Day weekend. This turned out to be another great Couchsurfing experience. I stayed with a college student who grew up in Omaha. I didn’t hang out with her too much, but she did show me around some and then let me explore. I stayed for 3 days and 3 nights and saw a lot.
The mall was surprising very large and wide open. I didn’t expect it to be as wide as it really is…it literally takes 10 or 15 minutes to walk across the width of the mall. And the length is even much larger…a full two miles from the Capitol building to the Lincoln Memorial. I really enjoyed seeing these buildings and monuments that I had seen so many times on TV and in pictures. The Capitol building is enormous and really a beautiful building. One cool thing I saw was being at the Capitol building during sunset with the entire building turning a shade of yellow.
The Lincoln Memorial was another one of my favorite places. I never realized that he’s split up into halves to show his two personalities. The one side is relaxed and his suit is a little wrinkled and more casual to show his laid back side. The other half has his hand clinched and everything very neat and professional to show his more serious side. There’s also something special about the Lincoln Memorial since, in Illinois, we’re the “Land of Lincoln.”
Another cool thing I never knew with the Jefferson Memorial, Thomas Jefferson has a clear line of sight into the south windows of the White House. So if the President looks out his front window, he can easily see Jefferson.I also visited Arlington Cemetery, which is didn’t know much about beforehand. There can’t be a better place to honor those who have died for our country’s freedom than being at Arlington Cemetery.
Another DC landmark is Ben’s Chili Bowl. This is a well known restaurant that I had just heard of right before going to DC. It’s a small, old fashioned diner that has been around for almost 60 years. Through the good times and the bad, Ben’s has been serving chili dogs, cheeseburgers, fries, and any other healthy, delicious food. The lines to this place are ridiculous. I went on a Sunday afternoon at 4 p.m., which I thought would be early enough to be a slower time, but it was still packed. The line weaved around the small diner and then out the door. This place is for real. I got my chili dog, fries, and coke, and sat on one of the barstools. Sitting at the diner counter, enjoying the chili and mustard soaked hot dog, and people watching is one of my most memorable moments from this trip. The crowd is a perfect mix of locals and tourists…everyone loves this place. It can’t get any more American than this on Memorial Day.
I got an early start on Monday morning of Memorial Day weekend to do drive to and do some sightseeing in Philadelphia. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I absolutely enjoyed my 5 hours or so here. The Liberty Bell, Freedom Hall, Ben Franklin’s old neighborhood, and Pat’s King of Steaks (the original cheese steak) were the key landmarks of my visit. Since I destroyed the front bumper of my car around noon, I ended up leaving earlier than planned. Even still, Philadelphia gave me a great impression and I’m planning on stopping by on my way back to Cincinnati.
On my drive down to DC, I decided to stop in Maryland to see if the crab cakes are really that good. I ended up stopping in a small, random town on the coast of Maryland called Havre de Grace and found a small crab shack called Prices Seafood. I’m not sure if I had had a crab cake before this, but they really are amazing. I must say that it wasn’t too filling, but it was definitely worth the price. Other than the interstate, this was my Maryland experience.
I’ve had the chance to go up to New Hampshire twice. In February, my boss invited me to go to his second home which is on Newfound Lake in New Hampshire. The co-op and his friend came along also. We went skiing at Bretton Woods in the White Mountains, which was the first time I had ever skied. I enjoyed it much more than I could’ve thought. I definitely regret not getting into it sooner. When I was younger, I had heard someone broke their leg skiing so I always avoided it. I decided to take skiing head-on…I went down the bunny hill twice and then jumped on a decent sized trail. It took several (and I mean several) falls before getting a good feel, but I had a great time. I’ll definitely be skiing more in the future, and I’m happy to have had the chance to try it in NH.
The second time through New Hampshire was on a trip up to Montreal (which I’ll talk about next). I left work early on a Friday and got up to the White Mountains around noon. I decided on the Flume Gorge and the Cannon Mountain tramway. The Flume is a hike up through a huge gorge with 100 foot walls on both sides. It was cool to see, but it was very touristy which took away some of the beauty. The Cannon Mountain tramway is a 10 minute ride up to the top of the mountain which has great views of the other White Mountains. I would’ve rather hiked up the mountain, but on a time constraint I decided to go with the tramway. Views of mountains in Vermont, Canada, Maine, and New York area all visible from the top. Both were cool trips, but I got tired of all the tourists very quickly. The drive up I-93 through NH is one of the better drives I’ve been on. Not the Rockies, but a very nice drive.
While in the northeast, I wanted to make it to Canada since it’s just a drive away. Montreal was the closest city so it won by default. I had heard mixed reviews going in, but I enjoyed the experience. The province of Quebec is mostly bilingual, but French is the first language. It’s very strange as you drive up through northern Vermont; the radio stations suddenly become mostly French speaking. Everything seems so far away from the US, but I’m still in my car which is obviously very familiar. As I started to get into Montreal, I got a little nervous. I realized the night before that my GPS wasn’t going to work in Canada, so I quickly looked at the map on Google and wrote down directions. This is all I had as I drove into one of Canada’s biggest cities. A few wrong turns later, I made it to my host for the weekend – a PhD student from Panama. Javier was a great Couchsurfing host, as he showed me around two full days and took me out with his friends at night. I really enjoyed Montreal. It’s very strange to sit at a restaurant and hear half the people speaking in English and the other half French. All the street signs are in French, and some people get mad when you try to talk to them in English. It’s like a hybrid of being abroad and not. Obviously Canadian culture is very similar to the American culture, but Montreal, in general, is very different.
The old city is the big tourist spot, which I very much enjoyed. This was the part that was originally settled and developed and is right along the river. As far as architecture and the general atmosphere, you can’t get much closer than being in an old city in Europe. Montreal is actually an island surrounded by rivers, which I didn’t realize until Javier educated me. Montreal is a city full of culture with some sort of festival or event pretty much every week. The city has a lot to offer: nice parks, shopping streets, sports (if you like hockey, Canadian football, and curling), and good food.
Javier is very involved in the Couchsurfing community in Montreal, and he actually meets up with other CSers every Saturday night. Since I was there on a Saturday night, we went out to the weekly meetup at a bar. It turned out to be a great time with probaby 20 people attending. People would bring their Couchsurfers, and others would attend alone. It was a great time with people just reaching out to meet other people. That’s what I love about Couchsurfing.
One place I really wanted to go to was Burlington, VT. I’d heard the Couchsurfing community there was very close, and I had heard about Lake Champlain. This little city blew me away. I stayed with a Couchsurfer who had hosted many people, so they knew the places to go. It felt like I was just staying with a few old friends. They took me down by the lake, which might be the most beautiful lake in the country. The lake is a few miles wide, but the other side is upstate New York and a mountain range. This is one place that is tough to leave once you’re there…especially after seeing the sun set over the mountains on the other side of the lake.
Vermontonians (?) love their beer. They’re very proud, so my new friends took me around to different bars to try out all of the beer. I absolutely enjoyed their company and the local microbrews. I must say that Burlington is a place that I would consider living, if I decide to live in a smaller city (200k population). The hospitality that the Couchsurfers showed me, the natural beauty, and the local beers will always hold a spot in my heart.
I had never heard of Martha’s Vineyard until I had met a few people from Connecticut. I knew that housing prices were ridiculous, tourists enjoy it, and that it seemed like a very snobby place. Well a few of these turned out to be true. I decided to make a relatively short weekend out of the trip. The island is off the coast of Massachusetts, so I drove down early on Saturday morning to take the ferry over. There are very few Couchsurfers here, so I had to actually pay for a place to stay. I had a tough time thinking about paying for a place to stay…even though it was just $40.
I arrived and immediately went to the bike shop to rent my bike for the 2 days. I rode the 5 miles or so to get to the hostel and drop my stuff off. I’m not sure if I’d ever done so much in a morning before…I had woke up, drove an hour and a half, took a ferry to an island, and biked 5 miles by 10 a.m.
The hostel was the nicest hostel I’ve ever been in. The receptionist was very welcome, the people were friendly, and it was extremely tidy and clean. Only 3 of the 8 beds were taken in my room, and the hostel even cooked breakfast in the morning!
After dropping my stuff off on Saturday, I made my way west. The island is about 25 miles by 8 miles. The biking around the island was really fun. There were several bike trails that made it easy while in the countryside, and towns were small and quaint that were simple to bike through. I stopped at a small fishing village on the western side called Memensha. Here I relaxed on the beach for a while before heading to a small, local fish market where they sold lobster. This was my kind of place. To not be considered a restaurant, they couldn’t serve anything or have tables. So you would go up to the window, order, and then go out back (near the harbor) where there are wooden boxes, flipped over plastic containers, and other pieces to sit on. I got some crabcakes and a lobster on a paper plate while sitting on a wooden box. In my opinion, this is the way to eat lobster!
I then biked over even further west to Gay Head, which houses the more famous lighthouse on the island. When up by the lighthouse, I took a picture for these women who were sightseeing. I got to talking to them and found out that they were from Maine and were there on vacation. They left while I sat there and admired the view of the Atlantic Ocean. After that, I decided to go into this nearby restaurant to watch the sunset over the water. When I got my seat, one of the ladies from Maine saw me and told me that I could join them if I wanted. We had dinner and had a great time watching the sunset (it helps that they wouldn’t let me pay) on a warm Saturday evening. This is one thing I love about traveling alone…there is no way I would’ve had the chance to spend an evening with 4 Mainiacs (as they said people from Maine are called) had I been traveling with anyone else.
On Sunday, I woke up early and biked several miles to get to some of the southeast beaches. Again, it was a very successful morning. I biked 5-10 miles and got to a beach by 9 a.m. I must say that biking to a beach is a very liberating feeling. It’s nice to feeling to not use a single drop of gasoline to get to a place as natural as it gets. This has refueled (no pun intended) an interest in biking which I haven’t had since middle school…but more on that later.
You know when you are a kid and go to a place like Disneyworld and everything seems absolutely perfect? The funnel cakes taste sweeter, the hotel is out of this world, and Mickey Mouse couldn’t be more charming (at least for a minimum wage worker)? I think that Martha’s Vineyard is Disneyworld for adults. From what I saw, there is absolutely nothing negative about this island. Not once did I see anything that I didn’t like…the whole island was extremely clean, the towns were quaint and welcoming, the beaches were natural and varied, the seafood tasted better than ever. I can see why people will pay a million dollars for a decent house here.
New York City
I had the chance to visit NYC two times in my time in the northeast. Both times were really fun weekends, once with Chad, Travis, Sarah, and Kendra. It’s always fun to sightsee around the city, and there is definitely a lot to do there. I really like the Wall Street area, little Italy, and some other areas. However, I always feel very overwhelmed and usually am ready to get out of the city after a few days. With people everywhere all the time, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. I’m still undecided if I would ever want to live there. I think that if I had my own place with my own space, I would be able to take the city in stride. But when I’m just visiting and trying to see as much as possible, I’m always ready to head to a quieter place.
On my moves to and from Boston, I stopped in Pennsylvania both times. While in Australia, I met a guy named Matt who is from near Philadelphia. So on my way to Boston, I called him up and we met in Scranton, PA, for dinner and a few drinks. Scranton is now popular because of the show “The Office”, which is by far the best show on TV. It was fun to go to these places they talk about on the show. We went to Poor Richards for a drink and then Alfredo’s Pizza for dinner.
On my way back to Cincinnati from Boston, I took a few days to stay with my good high school friend, Brady. He had just moved to Pennsylvania for a job. It turns out that he literally lives 5 minutes from Matt, the guy I met in Australia. The three of us had a fun time discovering different restaurants and bars around the area.
On the way back, I stopped in Gettysburg and Hershey. Hershey was a huge disappointment, since the “tour” is just through a huge, new building built for tourists. I drove by the actual factory, but there is no way to get in there. I stayed for about an hour, did the tour of the media facility, and took off.
I really enjoyed Gettysburg. It’s a beautiful area, and the free tours from the park rangers were interesting. It’s neat to be at a site that was such an important part of our history, but it’s depressing to think of the 51,000 soldiers who were killed, wounded, or lost in battle.
How could I talk about the city that I have grown to love in just a few paragraphs. I’ll be creating a whole new post just for the great city of Boston.
That pretty much sums up my travels in the northeast. As you can probably tell, I enjoyed my time there and would definitely like to have more time there. I think that I will have more time there sometime in the future. Whether it’s in 3 years, 10 years, or 25 years, I’m not sure. But someday I’ll be back!