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Published: January 17th 2016
Sorry for the delay with this next blog, we decided to take a break with publishing blogs over Christmas. We hope you continue to enjoy our travels that follows on from India...to our adventures in the States! Pre-Trip
For this world trip, along with visiting countries we could easily travel around on a budget, we also wanted to go to countries that we knew would stretch our finances a little. Japan and China were destinations we had to include so then it was a decision between countries like Australia, New Zealand the States and Canada. Our budget could not cover all 4 and in the end we decided on the States. It was the slightly cheaper option and we were eager to visit all the places we had always seen on TV as children. The places we have always wanted to visit but had never really had the time…. Walking the freedom trail, eating endless southern soul food, getting lost in some blues, brass and country, visiting the Mississippi, going to the white house and walking down the Walk of Fame… The list was endless and now it was possible.
For the last couple of weeks
in India we had been looking forward to, deliberating and planning our trip to the US. To couch surf or not… to bus it or hire out a car. Travelling throughout South East Asia we met many people from the states who fully recommended car hire. Exploring cities and accessing national parks would be completely impossible without a car we were told. This whole idea of a car culture was new. We looked up car hire and this seemed completely out of our price range, over 2k alone and the biggest problem was that we intended to start in New York and finish in San Francisco. If we were carrying out a loop, starting and ending in the same place this would have been much cheaper.
Car hire was out of the question then. How on earth did we intend to travel about? We had been told a few times that travelling on the greyhound could be likened to ‘Prisoners on wheels’ and was generally unsafe. However this was our only option, so we decided to go against advice booking buses from New York to San Francisco via Mega-bus and Greyhound a month in advance. For a
total of $618 we managed to book buses to 11 different destinations (some taking more than one leg) also including a flight from Austin to Las Vegas for 2 people. For us this was completely reasonable. We just had to hope that these buses were not as bad as people say.
When it came to accommodation, with many hostels in major cities starting from $40 per person we considered couch-surfing, even emailed a few hosts. However we had no success, either emailing too early or late or not getting a reply altogether. Plus there was the annoyance of having to read a person’s profile (a 2 page biography) which then wanted you to answer several things about them or prove you had the same things in common such as music taste or wanted you to be a solo single female traveller. We thought the whole idea of travel was meeting people you would not usually meet otherwise. Clearly not always the case. Either way we decided we would go on as we started; booking either hostels or something new to us ‘motels’.
Back to 'normality' (we thought) - no more hassle, standing out as
a tourist, a break from fruitless haggling, stares and requests for selfies. Don't get us wrong, the past 7 months have been incredible, the most amazing experience ever for us both. But we are definitely in need of some home comforts having been on the road for so long. Plus Chris has been dreaming about a decent burger for the past 6 months. But normality as we know it… Not quite.
Technically it took around 40hrs travelling (inc wait times) via bus, train and plane from Kochi to New York via Chennai. Suffice to say we were both exhausted when we arrived in NYC at 6.30am. Luckily our hotel had a room ready and we didn't have to hang around until the 3pm check in before getting a room. We fell straight to sleep.
Prior to booking a flight to the US, all visitors must complete a visa form known as ESTA to allow US officials to vet you before accepting you into the country. We completed this online back in Laos. As we approached the desk to board our New Delhi to NY flight, the man asked us
"Do you have an ESTA"
"Do you have the reference number or a print out?"
"Err...no. Website said everything was taken care of"
"Regardless, I need to see it"
Having no print out, this guy and another colleague, who both had no idea what they were doing, attempted to access our info via the ESTA website. Initially they wouldn't even let us try and log into our email on their phone (no Wi-Fi in the airport), insisting they knew what they were doing. Our flight was boarding and due to leave in 20mins. Checking our email, we only found partial information. ESTA don't actually send a final confirmation email through with your numbers as they said once it is confirmed you do not need the details. We tried logging into the website with the info to no avail. Now our names were now being called out over the tannoy to board the flight. We couldn't afford to miss this flight.
The manager said he could not board us without seeing the confirmation numbers. We were panic struck. Pleading with the duty manager and showing him the only email we had. Another member of staff kindly
let us use their phone, but using the incorrect email address the website kept coming up to say there was no ESTA confirmation for us. We were a mess.
All the passengers on our flight had boarded and the flight departure time had just passed. Eventually- 5 mins after it was supposed to depart they agreed to board us onto the flight but warned us that they did not want us to get sent back. The other passengers on the plane were clearly not pleased with us nor the flight crew but all that mattered to us was that we made it. A close call indeed.
As the plane began to taxi, P quickly checked the phone again and actually found both of our ref numbers...in the phones photo gallery! We'd actually took a picture of it from the laptop. Whoops! All that kafuffle when we actually had the codes.
Being tired from nearly 2 days of travel already, we did what any sane backpacker would do. Instead of a taxi we took public transportation: the sky rail to Queens ‘Jamaica station’, a train via the subway to Manhattan and
then another subway train to Chinatown station ‘Bowery’ all during rush hour. Plus as luck would have it for over half an hour on both the Queens and the Manhattan train both over-packed and stuffy already, the trains stopped at a complete stand still mid-line due to some problems with the signals. A journey that was meant to take 1 hour took nearly 3. A least we saved a few dollars hey!
30 degrees in NY and blue skies! We could not believe it. Back home in sunny Manchester, during this time of year it is maybe 16 degrees (if we are lucky). With this weather we were looking forward to updating our wardrobes and getting rid of few things. Chris felt embarrassed walking around NY in his dusty, well-worn and partially repaired walking shoes. This was fine in other parts of the world, but here we felt conscious of ourselves again. Walking through the streets of Manhattan P spotted one guy’s expression turn from neutral to shock when he looked down at Chris's shoes. This caused a lot of laughter between us both. They were perfectly fine in Asia, but here, we decided he just couldn't get
away with it without people turning their noses up at them. Replacing our clothes was slightly tricky. Finding summer wear seemed impossible, all the stores were selling jumpers, coats and beanie hats. Did we mention its 30 degrees outside?
On previous trips to NY we've always came around winter - when the cold penetrates clothing and the snow mounds are as tall as P. We would always take advantage of the sales, shopping for 8 hours straight, filling our empty suitcases and wearing layers of new clothes on our journey back home. Not this time, our choice of clothes were limited, as was our budget. Going from Asia prices to US prices was definitely a shock to the system. "How much for a t-shirt??" How much for water?? We had to contain every bit of shock as we parted with our dollars.
Knowing that we intended to stay here around 5 weeks with many of our buses (Grey hound and Megabus) booked a month in advance to save us money, we decided to buy a sim card from one of the many phones shops in Chinatown. $50 it cost us for 30 days of
unlimited internet. Daylight Robbery.
Even buying food was a shock. Annoyingly in supermarkets the food was not labelled with food prices. What!!. How were we to make financial conscious decisions when buying food?
The manager of our hotel pointed us in the direction of Little Italy, as there was a food festival going on stretching for a few blocks. Walking the streets of little Italy the buzz in the city was exhilarating. We were both excited just walking through the huge streets, with the clear blue skies and the empire state building in the distance. The hotel manager was right when he said we couldn't miss the food festival. For about 3 or 4 blocks down one avenue, food stalls stood side by side, selling a selection of foods from huge sausage sandwiches, to deep fried snickers to sushi. As it was in the heart of Little Italy; pizza, pasta, gelato and cannoli's were also in abundance too. The street was packed with people strolling up and down browsing what was on offer. We did the same. We walked up and down before Chris settled on one of the biggest sausage sandwiches we'd seen. With
a lack of many veggie options P opted for a pizza slice and corn on the cob. Total cost: $17. That’s 1100 rupees! Do you know how many meals in India we could get for that? Not impressed Haha.
Like we said the price difference needed some getting used to. We just hoped that not all food in the states costs this much, this was just street food. Saying that, our food tasted amazing. Chris even tried a deep fried Oreo which tasted better than he thought it would.
Even though we've been to NY few times already visiting many of the tourist sites on previous visits (sorry readers), we still seemed to walk around with our mouths wide open in awe. The diversity, the scale and the buzz. It seems there's always something going on. With no agenda other than to shop, we casually strolled the streets, all the way from Chinatown (lower east side Manhattan) where we were staying, through Little Italy & Soho and up Broadway towards the bustling centre around 34th street (near Macy's). We could have easily caught the subway but we wanted to take the time to absorb the city.
Plus New York never seemed as expensive we we took City Breaks here. We passed through Union square where there were locals playing chess on the small tables, a tarot card reader laying out someone’s destiny and a farmers market further up selling organic goods. Even the small parks we passed were busy with runners, dog walkers and people just enjoying a relaxing afternoon basking in the warm weather.
Unimpressed with the lack of sales in the stores we visited, we hopped on the subway to take us to Fulton Mall in Brooklyn. We don't think the mall actually exists any more, it is just a long street with many stores lining it, from locally owned clothes stores to large retailers like H&M. We'd discovered this strip many years ago, back when we were in search of urban wear for cheap prices. The street has changed somewhat since our last visit, maybe it was just the weather. One of the stores we could always bet on having good quality clothes had became more of a sportswear shop. It no longer sold the local trends we Chris desired (big fitted t-shirts). After trying a few stores, Chris did however
manage to find himself a decent pair of pumps and he could finally get rid of his dirty sewn up shoes. Yay.
Happy with our purchases we decided to walk back from Brooklyn via the Brooklyn Bridge before sunset. We'd be lying if we said we wasn't exhausted by this point. The skies were a clear blue turning an orange hue as we approached the huge bridge connecting the borough to Manhattan island. A perfect time to capture a great picture we thought. Shame we were on the wrong side of the bridge, we could only see glimpses of the amazing water front view through the thick steel girders of the bridge and passing cars. There were many cyclists using the narrow pathway along the bridge, most seemed to be returning home from work as the sun went down.
The following day we were off to Boston. Only to return for a couple of days afterwards.
Returning from our visit to Boston (see next blog) we'd heard about a couple of festivals going on in the city. From our new hostel in Queens, we caught the subway to Harlem to find out what
the African American day parade was all about. An event that sees a procession of schools, colleges, employment groups, religious groups, brass bands, cheerleaders, local businesses, NYFD, NYPD, activists and more; all driving/marching/dancing along the long stretch of closed streets. Music was in the air and we could feel the strong sense of community amongst the people here. We were really surprised by the fact that the police and the sanitary workers proudly took part with the disposal truck vibrating with loud music as it passed. Some of the performances from the dancers and drummers were amazing too, we didn't want to leave too early in case we missed something. We also managed to grab ourselves some soul food from a local vendor: potato salad, collard greens, mac & cheese, corn bread for us both and fried chicken for Chris. Delicious.
Returning to our hostel on via the underground we will never forget the soulful voice of a busker who had husky but yet soothing voice as he effortlessly sung away to some Motown hits. We were amazed by such talent by this guy and many others you catch at the underground here had, all trying to
make a living as the swarms of people exit and board the trains around them. He was clearly enjoyed however and so after delaying a ride or two we tipped him and made our home.
The next day we took a trip to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Surprisingly we have never visited either of these sites considering this is our 4th time together in NY. Both islands came with a free audio guide which helped us understand the story behind both sites. We found it interesting how the statue of liberty stood for so many different things for so many different people over the many years since it was erected; from being a symbol of independence to a symbol of freedom, equality, new prospects and resilience. Ellis Island was also interesting visit, we learnt how hundreds of thousands of immigrants came from all over the world in search for a new beginning and a new life.
Following the audio guide trail we passed in and out of rooms as the headphones transported us to the early 1900's accompanied with images in each room detailing the process all these new migrants had to go
through. There was so much to explore but unfortunately we didn't have time to deviate from the guide for in depth exploration as the museum was nearing closing time and we needed to catch one of the last ferries back.
That same night we attended a comedy night not too far from Times Square, buying some tickets from one of the men near Times Square selling them. It was a comedy night where up and coming comics who want to test out new material come to perform. As with all nights like this it's a mixed bag but we really enjoyed the whole night and had our favourites along with a good ole belly laugh. The states is just proving to be everything we hoped it would be.
Accomodation: Q4 hostel (Queens) and U.S Pacific hotel (Chinatown)
Kochi to Chennai via overnight sleeper train
Chennai city to airport via local train
6 hours wait in the airport
Chennai to New York via New Delhi with Air India (2 flights),
then a sky train and 2 subway rides to our hotel in Chinatown.
The result = 2 extremely
tired travellers. 16th September 2016
Tot: 2.238s; Tpl: 0.113s; cc: 14; qc: 45; dbt: 0.0509s; 1; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb