Our few days around Cape Cod were well-planned and certainly well-spent. We took a train back to Boston on Monday and immediately took another train down to Plymouth, where we arrived at a very remote train station in the middle of nowhere – Plymouth Central Station. We walked for miles trying to find a bus stop, but all we could find was a Dunkin’ Donuts. Luckily one of the Dunkin’ Donuts employees could help us, explained the way to Plymouth Plantation and even called a friend of his, who happened to be a cab driver, to pick us up. The man dropped us at Plymouth Plantation and came back after the museum visit to give us a lift to the closest bus stop.
Plymouth Plantation was an incredible experience. It is a living museum that focuses on the first settlement of the Pilgrims, English colonists that came to America in the 17th century. Historical interpreters have been trained to act and speak just like the Pilgrims back then. Some of them even fake a British accent and pretend not knowing modern devices, such as cell phones or cameras. They tell you their stories, how they made it to America and how it felt to be stuck on the Mayflower for months. In addition to the 1627 English Village, there is also the Wampanoag Home Site, which shows the Native Americans living right next to the settlers. I really have to say Plymouth Plantation is one of the best arranged museums I´ve ever seen.
We arrived in West Yarmouth (in the south of Cape Cod) in the evening, where we stayed in a pretty run-down, typically American motel. However, it was cheap, so we granted ourselves a nice bottle of red wine to go along with our cheap backpacker-dinner consisting of crisp bread and instant noodles.
There was one incident that´s worth mentioning: People who have travelled to a number of places may have noticed that door knobs work differently in different parts the world. One day, Philip was desperately trying to lock our room door for almost ten minutes and for some reason, after many attempts, both of us couldn´t manage to properly lock it. An elderly couple staying next to us came out of their room and just slammed the door shut and it was properly locked. After another five attempts to slam the door, we realized that we were too soft. By the sixth time our door was shut and everyone on the motel parking lot was starring at the German young backpackers, who were not able to simply shut a room door. 🙂
On the next morning we hitchhiked to Hyannis from where we took a bus to Provincetown, which is located at the very end of Cape Cod. P-Town is a very small fishing town with lots of bars, restaurants, shops and beaches. It certainly is a picturesque village and most people are extremely open-minded and friendly – not only because the city is a popular spot for the LGBT community in the US. Keeping that in mind, it isn´t surprising that the village is very colorfully designed (lots of rainbow flags on the streets) and holds a very liberal atmosphere. We walked through Commercial Street (that´s the main street in P-Town), visited the Pilgrim Tower, chilled on the beach, shared a chicken pita and had one pint of Ben&Jerry´s Icre Cream afterwards. At 7.30pm we took the ferry back to Boston, where we arrived one and a half hours later. The ferry itself was a so-called “fast-ferry” flying with 120km/h over the Cape Cod Bay. We were standing at the bow watching the spectacular, illuminated skyline of Boston unfold in front of us – one of those rare moments that can just not be captured on a photo, only in your mind.
One of the first things you notice while travelling through the North-East of the United States is the enormous environmental difference. There are no big cities, no large highways, not many factories. In fact, I now understand why Vermont is called “The Green Mountain State”. Once you get out of Boston and cross the border to New Hampshire, all you see is trees. And trees. And more trees. And the landscape does not change when you get to Vermont: Trees. Trees. More trees. And mountains with trees. Lots of trees. Seriously guys, I have never been on a vehicle for hours and the only things I see at the roadside are trees. However, the most fascinating thing about the Northeastern New England region is a natural spectacle that only occurs in fall – the Indian Summer. It is a period of warm, sunny weather, followed by frost at night. In these weather conditions, leaves turn red-ish before falling from the trees. Everything looks very colorful and scenic. And even people around here say that September and October are the best months to visit Vermont.
With 42.000 inhabitants Burlington is Vermont´s biggest city and is home to 10000 students going to the University of Vermont. Burlington is only 150km from Montréal, which explains the fact why so many French Canadian people are in the city as well. Apart from the harbor front and one pedestrian zone, Church Street, in which most shops are located, there is not much you can do around Burlington. The only reason why we went there in the first place was because the Megabus line to Vermont terminates there and it was the closest place to Montpelier, our actual destination in Vermont. We stayed in Burlington´s only hostel, one big room that is divided into several dorms by curtains. The only two doors in the hostel are the front-door and the bathroom door and that´s it. Even the community area and the kitchen facilities are only divided by curtains. The overall atmosphere in the hostel was kind of weird. We were the only young people there, even though this was officially a “youth hostel”, but most other guests were between 40 and 60 years old and seemed to have their permanent residence there. Also those people were very non-talkative and Philip and I were slightly embarrassed when breaking the silence to whisper one or two words to each other. Having experienced this very unusual hostel-atmosphere, we weren´t wondering any more why the first question asked at check-in was: “Wooow – what brings YOU guys to Burlington??”
We slept in the next day – or rather tried to sleep in. (Of course, being that the entire hostel is just one room divided by curtains, you pretty much hear everyone get up and move around, especially people getting up at 6am to go to work). We didn´t check out before noon as the weather was pretty shitty. In fact, it was the first time that the weather threw a monkey wrench in our day plans. So we rearranged our travel plans and took a bus to Waterbury in the afternoon in order to visit Ben&Jerry´s Ice Cream Factory. What can I say? The factory tour was only $4, the ice cream samples were free and the ice cream afterwards was divine. As Waterbury is only about 5 miles from Montpelier and buses only run like three times a day, we had already designed a very appealing hitchhiker sign with the title: “We need a ride to: M O N T P E L I E R”. I know – not very creative, BUT when we held the sign, the very first car stopped and took us to Montpelier. And on top of that, the guy dropped us directly in front of our motel entrance. What more can you wish for?
Montpelier is the smallest state capital in the United States with just 8000 inhabitants and lies in a valley surrounded by green mountains. There is one main street with small shops and a few restaurants. There is only one big grocery store, two small movie theatres and one bus line. Montpelier´s main attraction is the Vermont State House with its golden dome-shaped roof. On our second day we hiked up to a look-out, from where we could see the whole area around Montpelier and the natural spectacle of Indian Summer. We were very lucky that day, because the sun was shining and the temperature was quite pleasant. At night, however, temperatures dropped below freezing point. Our first accommodation in Montpelier was the Econo Lodge, which was by far the most luxury accommodation we had during our trip along the East Coast. Unfortunately, we could only afford the lodge for one night (…) and so we spent the two following nights at a place that we´d found on AirBnB. Our host, Karin, made us feel very welcome and we spent our first evening talking to her about our travels and, most of all, Germany, because she is German as well. She told us that she´d immigrated to the States about 35 years ago and that she´d found a real German group amongst the Vermonters. We rounded our evening off with a nice, traditional episode of Tatort on ARD´s online media center and some pieces of homemade German wholewheat bread.
Whilst staying in Vermont we also went on a day trip to Barre, a neighbor city of Montpelier. That city is even smaller than the state capital and is often twinned with Montpelier in businesses. For instance, the cinemas in Montpelier and Barre work together and have certain agreements on movie times and movie selections. There is not too much to visit in Barre apart from the Granite Museum (because granite played an important role in Barre back in historical times) and the Barre Opera House. Since the weather was rather unpleasant, we ended up watching a movie in the local movie theatre after having finished our 30-minute- sightseeing tour. The whole day was crowned by a very awkward situation on the way back to Montpelier. We were waiting at the bus stop when a colored guy came by mumbling, cursing or just talking to himself. (We couldn´t exactly make that out…). Then he sat down next to me and started rolling a joint…
The guy: “Ey – does da bus go to Mo’peliiir?”
Me: “I hope so. We gotta go there, too!”
The guy: “Ah! Ya not from here?”
Me: “Nope – we´re not!”
(I noticed the strong smell of weed. And the guy noticed that I had noticed that he wasn´t rolling a normal cigarette.)
The guy: “At least ya ain´t the cops eh…hehe… Ain´t much else to do round here – good stuff, tho”
I just looked at him in astonishment when he then offered me some pot. Then he shook his head and off he walked not caring about that bus or the two of us watching him light up his joint. I think that shows pretty much what Barre and Montpelier are like…
We took a bus down to New York from Burlington, Vermont. The ride was six hours and we had one stop-over in Saratoga. We arrived New York in the evening and were dropped somewhere in lower Manhattan, from where we had to take the subway to our accommodation in Brooklyn. I remember my first impression of New York was a mixture of this: OMG. BIG. PEOPLE. SO MANY PEOPLE. LOOOOUD. PEOPLE. BIIIIIG. OMG!!!
The neighborhood, where we stayed, was a total black-district, but quite nice: Some Deli-shops around, a few take-out shops and the subway station one block away. We stayed at a very cool and cheap accommodation that we´d found on AirBnB, which made everything perfectly budget as hostels in NYC are comparably expensive.
On our first day, we did a long walking-tour through lower Manhattan. We crossed the Brooklyn Bridge, visited the New York City Hall, walked down to the Battery Park, from where we could see the Statue of Liberty pretty well. We visited the 9/11 Memorial and exhibition, which was very touching and intense. Apart from that, we also took a look at the World Trade Center Fountains and the new, almost finished One World Trade Center with its 1776m of height. After all of that, we were not only exhausted, but also kind of overwhelmed by everything, so we decided to give ourselves some time to “digest”. At night, we visited the very famous New Yorker Chinatown with its food stores, shops, seafood street markets, fake Prada and Gucci stores and thousands of Asians that hardly speak any English. Afterwards we went to Little Italy, a rather expensive neighborhood with pretty authentic Italian restaurants and more decent shops. Our highlight that night, besides the cultural experience in Chinatown, was Time Square by night. They were broadcasting an opera on one of the big screens while we were there. Lots of people took that opportunity and enjoyed the free show making it one of their last warm late-summer nights outside.
On the next day we walked through upper Manhattan. I had designed a walking route through Little India, Korea Town and the area around 5th Avenue that led us along all the interesting spots and buildings. We saw the Chrysler Tower, the Empire States Building, we had some free ice cream samples while entering the Grand Central and some more samples on our way back outside. After three hours of walking, we granted ourselves a real American burger with fries (though, the fries were more chip fat than fries) and continued our tour afterwards. In the afternoon we went up on the observation deck of the Rockefeller Center, which took us about 2hrs because of the lines. However, the view was totally worth all the waiting lines and also every penny of the $30 we had paid to get up on the roof. I would’ve loved to stay on the observation deck for a few more hours enjoying that awesome view of Manhattan, but, unfortunately, we had to leave after a couple of minutes to get to the Bronx. We had spontaneously purchased tickets for a baseball game of the NY Yankees against the Baltimore Orioles. We’d both never been to a baseball match before, so that was the perfect chance for us to see the Yankee Stadium, a baseball match and experience the American baseball devotion. It was quite an experience! I can certainly tell that watching a baseball game in the stadium is not just about baseball. Not for me and definitely not for the Americans. People just seem to come there to socialize, to eat, to have a couple of beers with their friends. We even saw quite a lot of people wearing suits, apparently coming directly from work. Most people paid very little attention to the game. They were busy taking selfies, eating their hotdogs or posing for the “kiss-cam” in between each inning. That day was also kind of an exceptional game as the Yankees were beaten by the Baltimore Orioles.
Walking so much on the previous days, we decided to spend a relaxed day at Central Park on Wednesday. The weather was pretty fair, so we took a walk around Central Park and then sat down in Sheep Meadow (a huge grass field) and did some reading. In the evening we were supposed to meet a good friend of mine who is currently studying in New York, but after many attempts (from both of us) at meeting near the Brooklyn Bridge, we eventually gave up and so Philip and I had to enjoy our last night at the Brooklyn Bridge Park on our own. The view was absolutely spectacular, though: Definitely one of the best night skylines I´ve ever seen!
On Thursday morning, we started the day with a last big brunch as we had to get rid of all the food we still had left. Before making my way to Newark Airport, I spontaneously arranged to meet my friend (from the day before) at the World Trade Center Station since I had to take a train from there anyway. And this time we did manage to meet up. All´s well that ends well… 🙂
Unfortunately, I also had to say goodbye to Philip at the WTC-Station, which was kinda heart-breaking (probably more for me than for him cause he´s a guy…;) ) after having been together 24/7 for almost three weeks. I have to say, I was pretty much expecting it to be a very cool time, but still I am sooooo glad that we got along so well. We usually wanted to do the same things, shared the same views, had the same ideas. It turned out we are both very similar travel-types, which made the whole trip very convenient and certainly unforgettable. We did visit a lot of cities, saw a lot of amazing places, but all of that wouldn´t have been such a great experience if we had not been such a perfect travel team. Philip – you were a pleasure to travel with and I hope you´ll keep having such an awesome time back in Canada!
Summarizing my stay in New York I have to say, my first impression of New York had a negative connotation. Now I can safely say that New York did fascinate me in many (different) ways – the ethnic diversity, the buildings, the sights, the busyness, the lifestyle. Certainly one of the best memories of New York, which I will always treasure in my travel-heart, is the view from Top Of The Rocks and also the skyline of Manhattan standing between Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge at the waterfront.
However, some friends, who had already been to NY, told me about New York being the world´s best/nicest city. Obviously, hearing phrases like that automatically raise expectations. Honestly – and maybe that is because I might not have been long enough in the city – New York fell short of MY personal expectations. I enjoy being in big cities, I love big city life, but I could not imagine living in New York. It´s just too much of everything!
The streets are crowded, especially in Manhattan, people are generally in a rush and are comparably impolite (even rude sometimes!). For example, when someone accidently bumps into you in a packed train, they don´t say “excuse me” like any other American/Canadian/British person I´ve met. What you get in New York is “Watch OUT!!” Apart from that, there are traffic jams on every street corner (I would certainly not recommend driving in New York) and you constantly hear cars tooting. In fact, I learned that in New York, blowing the horn doesn´t have anything to do with a “dangerous” situation or a “You´re in my way” – situation – people just seem to toot in order to let everyone know: “Attention!!! I am comiiiiiiiiiing!!!!” As much as I love skylines and skyscrapers, some parts of New York are insane. When you look up, the only thing you see is buildings and towers, but you can hardly see the sky. And also distances are unbelievable: Living in New York you´d easily spend 1,5 to 2 hrs (if not more) on the subway every day just to go from one place to another. So, my conclusion is: AWESOME & FASCINATING metropolis for a trip, but certainly not a city that I would enjoy living in…
The next update will be a conclusion/summary of my entire trip, some numbers and facts as well as a few travel tips/insiders for everyone who might travel in the same areas sometime. STAY TUNED!