We arrived at Boston Logan airport at around noon. We headed to the Boston Common Hotel on Copley Square, via the 171 bus and first the “Blue line” and then a quick change to the “Orange line” at State Street station.
After checking in we went exploring with a brisk walk to the Boston Common via Clarence Road, past the John Hancock Tower, which is perhaps the most recognisable building in the Boston skyline. Beside the Boston Common is the Boston Public Gardens, which is where the famous bench scene with Robin Williams and Matt Damon from Good Will Hunting was filmed. Along the top of the Pubic Gardens, in Beacon Street, lays the famous Cheers bar. This is where the outside scenes of the comedy series were shot. The interior, however, differs and you can visit a replica and fully functioning Cheers Bar restaurant at Faneuil Hall Marketplace. We headed to the top of Beacon Street, on the northern tip of the Boston Common, towards the Massachusetts State House.
Boston is of course also famous for Harvard and MIT, which we visited by train, as it is on the northern side of the river. From Back Bay Station, travel north on the “red line” and change at Downtown Crossing to the “orange line” towards Harvard Square station. This is a beautiful campus with spectacular views back to Boston main. With more time, we would have spent a day here. MIT is situated on the same line back towards Boston.
You can also take a tour called the Freedom Trail, which takes you along the history of Boston and the significant role it played in the War of Independence. This departs from the bottom of the Boston Common Visitors information centre on Tremont Street and takes your through the Brownstone area.
We took a noon bus to New York from Boston South Bus Terminal. The buses are fitted with wireless internet and power points, which is invaluable when travelling. Alternatively you can also take a train or fly from Boston Logan airport, which takes around one and a half hours. The bus takes just under five hours and the train around four hours. The benefit of the bus is the cost is significantly lower, but also, the approach of New York is quite spectacular. The route goes along the Interstate 84 (I84) and the I91.
The bus then goes past the Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and through Harlem, along Adam Clayton Jr Boulevard, which runs straight to Central Park and down Columbus Avenue all the way to Penn Station. This definitely beats going by train, just for the views.
In the evening we grabbed a slice of Pizza from a New York deli; a slice being a quarter of a pizza. The streets of New York at night are alive with stereotypes and clichés, but one of these seems to be truer than the others: this city never sleeps.
We stayed in the upper West Side, which is a great location for central park. However, all of New York is connected by the subway train system, so you can definitely stay a little further out. Central Park is a great place to begin your exploration of New York, for the southern edge borders on 5th, 6th, 7th, Broadway and 8th Avenue. Our first full day was on a Sunday, so we witnessed a fun-run in the Central Park, grabbed a couple of giant pretzels and walked south, watching baseball matches and looking over the Upper Manhattan skyline. 5th Avenue is the main artery that runs past the Empire State Building, Trump tower, the famous Tiffany’s, The Rockefeller centre and numerous big name stores. In 42nd Street, heading east, almost hidden by the attention grabbing Chrysler Building behind it, is Grand Central Station. This is the setting of many Hollywood blockbusters, so well worth a see.
The Empire State building has spectacular views during the day, but it runs from 8am until 2am. We headed straight to the Empire State building, to avoid standing in very long queues. Having conquered the scaling heights of New York, a quick drink and snack in Legend - a dark New York Irish bar in 33rd Street just below the Empire State. We headed to the West of the Empire State building, in West 34th Street, Broadway crosses 6th Avenue at Herald Square. Further west, we crossed over to 7th Avenue, for Madison Square Gardens.
We had baseball tickets to see the New York Yankees play the Boston Red Sox at Yankee Stadium, so we travelled along subway line D to 161st Street. What is more American than a hotdog, beer and a baseball game with which to finish the weekend?
We had an early morning commute to downtown Manhattan to take the Staten Island ferry. This is a different and rather good way to see the Statue of Liberty if you do not have enough time to visit this American lady. Instead, stand on the right and enjoy a spectacular view completely free of charge. We had a quick cannoli and “Danish” while gazing at Manhattan across the bed of water; the ferry runs around every 15-20 minutes. On the way back a great place to stand is near the front of the boat for some beautiful views of the New York Skyline. You can see all the way into Brooklyn and note Coney Island to your right. Once at the bottom of Manhattan, we walked through Battery Park towards Wall Street via Broadway. The famous bull is located at the top of Bowling Green in Broadway. You want to head west on Liberty street and to get to Ground Zero, the site where the twin towers used to stand. A good view of the One World Trade centre is to be had from the St Paul’s Churchyard. We headed east on the A and C subway lines towards High Street, Brooklyn. From there we followed the sign boards towards the Brooklyn Bridge with the aim to walk back to Manhattan. The Brooklyn Bridge has a full pedestrian walk built above the traffic, with park benches from where to admire the view.
At the other side of the Brooklyn bridge, we grabbed a burger from a Wendy’s and headed up towards Time Square. But first: a detour off the “2” line, on West 23rd Street; the Hotel Chelsea (Otherwise known as the Chelsea Hotel if you are familiar with the Leonard Cohen song.) Former residents include Dylan Thomas, Arthur C Clarke, Janis Joplin, Stanley Kubrick, Jane Fonda and many more. It is an architecturally beautiful building, with a lot of history attached.
We headed up 7th Avenue on foot, straight to Times Square. It took us two nights to get there, largely due to the scale of New York, but partly because of the short amount of time we had in the city and the amount we wanted to see. This is the centre of the city, where everything comes together. Broadway runs right through it and you will be able to spend hours just being. Here is the golden opportunity to grab a hot dog from a street vendor, another true stereotype.
We headed back to our hotel in West 80th Street, with a late night stroll through Central Park, still alive with insomniacs towards Strawberry Fields, a commemorative plaque to John Lennon who was shot down outside his Dakota building apartment in West 72nd Street.
We had an early bus to Washington DC. We took the “1”line to Penn Station and walked to West 34th Street for our bus collection. We were there in April, which is the ideal time for Cherry blossoms, something that Washington DC is famous for. The bus takes you along the I95, around Philadelphia and after a brief stop in Baltimore, we were dropped off at Washington Union Station. We walked to Hotel Harrington, situated in 11th Street, which is four blocks from the White house. From there you are only one block from The Ford Theatre, where Abraham Lincoln was assassinated and a short walk from the middle of the National Mall. The National Mall is the collective name of the Lincoln memorial on one side, the United States Capitol on the other and all the Smithsonian museums in between. We struck some bad weather, which is part of the travelling game, so we headed out for a walk to the White House North Lawn, via the Capitol Brewing Company on the corner of 11th Street and H Street NW. This is a lovely restaurant full of locals – and their own beer isn’t bad, either.
Heading West along H Street NW, we arrived at the White House just before the rain came down heavier, causing a bit of a washout. Blessings come in disguises; a perfect evening of enforced rest for the road trip section of our journey which was to begin the next afternoon.
At dawn, the air fresh with the combination of a clear sky and the deluge from the day before, we headed south west towards the White House south lawn and further along towards the Lincoln Memorial. This is spectacular on a sunny day, the reflecting pool at its best; the sun still hanging low in the East above the Washington Monument – the obelisk often seen in movies.
We walked east through the World War II memorial opened by George W. Bush and around the Washington Monument. The great thing about DC in spring is the blossoming cherry trees, almost impossible to avoid. You could spend days in the Smithsonian museums along the way. The highlight for us, however, was the United States Capitol, which is free to enter. Inside of this opulent building there is an under-ground walkway to the Library of Congress, another spectacular building, filled with the story of the men and women who built it.
From the library we headed to the Ronald Reagan Washington National airport on the southern side of the Potomac River – as well as being in the state of Virginia. The “blue” metro line runs straight there, past the Arlington National Cemetery, where famous presidents and other notable figures are buried. It is also a known for its view of Washington DC, across the river.
We picked up our car and headed out on the road, via the I66 and turned onto I81, with the aim of heading down onto the Shenandoah River closer to Roanoke. You can also drive via Route 340, or even the Skyline Drive, which takes you through the Shenandoah National Park. We headed down the Lee Highway on Route 211 and caught Route 340 through Shenandoah and Elkton, re-joining the I81 at Harrisonburg. Eventually we checked into a road-side motel in a town called Troutville; ten minutes from Roanoke. It was a long day which started on the Potomac River and ended up on the ascent of the Appalachian Mountains.
After a nice breakfast consisting of waffles, fruit and the usual warm options, we made tracks via Roanoke towards Ashville. The route along the I81 takes you across two state borders; Tennessee and North Carolina. We took a slight detour to the Virginia Wine Route at Abingdon, Virginia. There are a huge number of wine farms on route 211, which cuts right through the Shenandoah National Park from our previous day.
Further along the I81 you head through Bristol, which is on the state line - the one half of the town falls in Virginia, the other in Tennessee. Bristol is also recognised as the birthplace of Country music. Heading south on the I26, we grabbed a Monte Cristo sandwich in Johnson City, Tennessee and headed further down along a glorious mountain pass all the way into Ashville.
Ashville is known locally as Beer Capital USA and has in excess of 12 craft breweries in the town limits. It is also known as the birthplace of Thomas Wolfe, his childhood house featured in his 1929 novel, “Look homeward, Angel.”
A good day, ended in a nice town with good quality local beer and wine.
We headed north, back on ourselves a little, to a little town called Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We began by heading north up the I-40, which is a glorious drive through Pisgah National Forest, eventually turning onto the Route 321 towards Gatlinburg. This is through a series of gaps (natural dips in the mountains casing a gap for the old explorers of the nineteenth century) and creeks. You get a distinct sense that this is unlike any other place on earth.
Gatlinburg is an entertaining town, with beautiful shops and a well-maintained Aerial Tramway that goes into the Ober Gatlinburg. This is a ski spot, but even during spring it is geared for more, with a Grisly Bear sanctuary and spectacular views of the Great Smokey Mountains. We had lunch at a BBQ joint at the Aerial Tramway’s departure terminals, named Bennetts.
We headed on from Gatlinburg towards Cherokee, which takes you across the North Carolina and Tennessee border, clearly marked with a view point and memorial built by die Rockefellers. At the base of the mountains we saw a number of Elk and other deer.
Cherokee itself is a quaint community of Cherokee Indians and is well worth a visit. From Cherokee we headed back towards Ashville on Route 90, joining the I-40 and then re-joined the I-26, just below Ashville towards Charleston, South Carolina. We would not make it, instead stopping in Spartanburg just across the North to South Carolina border.
South Carolina; tomorrow we explore.
We continued down the I-26 with the aim of stopping in Columbia, which played an important role in the battle for racial equality. It has also seen the American story develop through various stages of bankruptcy and wars, most notably the civil war. A stark reminder of the brutality and ill-feeling of the civil war is the statue of George Washington missing the lower half of his cane, with a plaque reading: During the occupation of Columbia by Sherman’s Army (February 17-19, 1865) soldiers brickbatted this statue and broke off the lower part of the walking cane.
From Columbia to Charleston which is where the first shot was fired to trigger the start of the civil war. We started with lunch at Sticky Fingers a famous BBQ smokehouse on the corner of Meeting and Hasell Street in the centre of Charleston. A block lower down we visited the Historic Charleston City Market for local tourist shops amongst the historic centre of town. Rainbow Row is actually East Bay Street and well worth the walk to lower Charleston. Above Sticky Fingers, in Kings Street, lays the University campus. The most striking characteristic of this campus is due to its location; the prolific live oaks, ageing with the town.
To the north of the Charleston Main, across the Cooper River, we headed to Mount Pleasant via the Arthur Ravenel Junior Bridge. As you come off the bridge, you can take a right towards Patriots Point, which houses the WWII aircraft carrier, the USS Yorktown. Mount Pleasant is also the location of the most photographed plantation in America, Boone Hall.
After a long day, we found refuge in our hotel bed near the airport, due to a lack of rooms in town. However, there are some fabulous hotels in Meeting Street to fit most budgets.
We rose early for a long drive to Orlando, via some great stops. All of these stops can be explored with much more time, but we were perhaps trying to see too much in the time we had.
The first stop was about twenty minutes from the airport, the Magnolia Plantation and Gardens, which is on the Ashley River Road. Here you will find a splendid southern garden build up from the wreckage left by the Civil War. It is some sort of attempt at atonement for the act of slavery by the Drayton Family. So it is natural that in between the azalea and magnolia gardens, a deeper history tugs at your sensibilities, like the slave houses and the contrasting Plantation House. You can spend days here; in fact your ticket is valid for 7 days, so you can indeed return.
From the plantation we had carefully planned to head down Route 17, for it takes you through Beaufort county, towards Savannah, Georgia. Along the route we stopped at farm shops and purchased locally grown and pressed peach juice, a pecan nut pie and a bag of deep fried Cajun peanuts (Georgia is after all known for its peaches, pecans and peanuts.)
Savanah is often referred to as Charleston’s ugly sister. However, the centre of town is in my opinion much more picturesque. We had some lunch on the riverside; the obligatory crab chowder and hush puppies of course, coupled with a nice locally brewed lager. From there to the Colonial park Cemetery, where many war heroes are buried. The headstones give a snapshot into the foundation years, talking of men who died in duels, or the endemic spread of seasonal diseases.
In the centre of town, Forsyth Park is surrounded by colourfully painted houses, rivalling Rainbow Row in Charleston, and in the centre of the park a fountain waits like a beacon at the end of wide walkways lined with live oaks. This will seem familiar to movie buffs, for it has been featured in many Hollywood classics.
We headed south on the I-95 towards Orlando for a four hour drive. We had dinner at a Denny’s just outside Jacksonville, Florida. This is generally a good value restaurant with bottomless soft drinks and quick service. With two hours left – just over halfway – our next stop was the comofrotable pillows of a Days Inn situated in International Drive. It runs parallel to Universal Avenue, which leads right to the front gates of Universal Studios.
You can buy tickets to Universal and Disney world in hotel lobbies to skip the queues when you arrive. This is not always available, and is no cheaper than booking it in advance or even at the gate, so we purchased our tickets at the gate. This took a little longer and in future, we would book it at the same time as our airplane tickets.
Universal Studios is for the younger adult - or perpetual child. The rides are based around the movies made by Universal Studios, but with your ticket you also get to go into Islands of Adventure, which is where Harry Potter World takes centre stage. You can even take the Hogwarts Express from one to the other.
We headed to Cape Canaveral, for the Kennedy Space centre. This is where NASA and now SpaceX launches their rockets and is a really interesting place to visit. Since NASA is based and dotted around a nature reserve, you will also see alligators and rare birds.
We spent the day there and then headed south towards the Florida Keys. Determined not to drive too far, we found refuge in Fort Lauderdale ready to rest and prepared to head to the home of Ernest Hemmingway – and oh so close to Cuba.
From Fort Lauderdale we drove south, with Route 1 (yes route 1!) towards Marathon Key. The keys are a series of little islands running from North Key Largo to Key West, which is the furthest you can go by car. Marathon Key is the last island before the 7 mile bridge, which heads toward Key West. We stayed in Marathon Key, because it is an hour from Key West and good value for money on accommodation, as well as being located near the Bahia Honda Key, which is a splendid state park with wild beaches and spectacular views.
We stayed in the Coconut Cay Resort and Marina, which is walking distance from shops and the local airport. There are plenty of restaurants in the area, as well as Tiki bars for cocktails and sundowners.
We headed to Key West. This is the key on which Ernest Hemmingway made his home while writing some of his classics. It is also the southernmost tip of the USA and only 530 kilometres from Cuba. For Key lime pie – obligatory in these parts – this is the town. Key limes are indigenous to the keys and are much smaller and tarter than regular limes. So it really doesn’t taste the same anywhere else.
The town is filled with history, curiously convoluted with Cuban history and old houses that have been moved to more favourable streets as the town grew. We spent a long time in Duval and Whitehead Street (the latter of which runs past Hemmingway house towards the Southernmost Point.)
Coming to the end of a massive journey, we headed to Miami via Route 1. Florida is known for its factory outlet stores, which has to be seen. There are plenty along the route to Miami.
The Miami that you see on pictures and in movies – or television crime shows – is set very much around Ocean Drive. This is the epicentre for restaurants and hotels and also the centre of the Art Deco district, Miami’s claim to fame. At the top of Ocean Drive you will recognise the Royal Palm building, as a symbol of all that looks familiar.
The beaches are very easily described as huge. You can rent four post beds luxurious chairs to set up your day on the beach, or even rent a golden Ferrari from many locations. There is only valet parking available, which does not cost an arm and a leg and you can claim your car from many convenient stalls along Rodeo and Collins Avenue. It is a little surreal and a little opulent all at the same time.
It was a splendid trip, we had seen many different Americas, from the oldest city of Boston and the imperial New York city, through the modern Rome which is Washington DC and the lowlands of Virginia. We scaled the heights of the Appalachian Mountains and visited the depths of the dark history of American slavery in Charleston; and of course, the sunshine state with all its marvellous splendour from Orlando to the Keys and finishing it in perhaps the modern dream-like city of Miami.
Perhaps we had too little time for all we wanted to see; so what would we add?
Day 1: Boston
Day 2: New York
Day 3: New York
Day 4: New York
Day 5: New York
Day 6: Washington DC
Day 7: Washington DC
Day 8: Ashville via the Skyline Drive (slower drive)
Day 9: Ashville
Day 10: Gatlinburg and stay in Cherokee
Day 11: Charleston via Augusta and Columbia
Day 12: Charleston
Day 13: Savanah
Day 14: Orlando
Day 15: Universal Studios
Day 16: Cape Canaveral (NASA)
Day 17: The Keys
Day 18: The Keys
Day 19: The Keys
Day 20: Miami
Day 21: Miami