East Coast Trip – Day 2 (New York)

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2-Oct-2015 : Had an early wake up call. We were still half asleep, but we were to leave by 6:00 am and if we missed the bus, we would be stuck in the hotel only :). We quickly got ready, had breakfast at room only and went down to the lobby for the tour bus to arrive. We were waiting there for long time and someone asked us did you guys had complimentary breakfast? Now we didn’t knew about that, so I went there and got few goodies for us :). Bus came in bit late but we were not complaining after having nice breakfast. It was still raining and was chilly. We were in a part of world at a time of the year, when it’s neither warm or snowing, but had to do with this chilly rainy weather :(.

The bus was going to drop us to China Town like yesterday and as we had opted for self tour we were on our own from then till the evening pick up time. After more than an a hour’s drive, reached there around 8:00 am. After showing up at tour’s office, they told us to be back there by 6:00 pm for the bus back to the hotel. We picked up some maps and subway routes fliers and immediately started our tour, I being the guide as I had been to NYC before :). We had decided to use subway and NYC cab a lot today to cover the places. Not only we wanted to experience these iconic modes of transport, but they also were the best thing to use to get around NYC.

We first found the near by subway station and got the tickets. I had used NYC subway before so had some idea about the different routes and how they operate. It can be bit overwhelming for someone new to this city, but for a Mumbai guy like me it was no big deal to figure it out quickly. There are different routes like A,B and C and once you figure which route covers which part of the city and in which direction you want to go i.e. up/down its simple. We traveled a lot by this mode of transport and by end of day we were loving it. It was Ar’s 1st train ride and she enjoyed it a lot. In some instances we took wrong train or stopped after or before our station, but that’s what is called the journey 🙂

Now to give you some idea about this place, NYC is dived into 5 areas, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens and Staten island. Each area is divided into streets and avenues, where former runs east-west and later north-south and they are numbered. So say you have to go to 10th st, 5th ave, you have to just following the directions, so simple. Why can’t we have this everywhere :). Also where street and avenue cuts its called intersection. On most of these intersections you have a subway station, majority of them being underground and some of them along with rail lines run multiple levels below ground. Off course many of them pass below the streets and while walking on them you will feel the vibrations of the trains passing literally below your feet 🙂 I wonder what are the experiences of people leaving in homes just above the subway lines:)

While at home, we had already booked few attractions, which included Statue of Liberty cruise and ours was scheduled at 12:30 pm. So we had to cover few attractions in the north of the city and head south to catch the cruise.  Our first stop was going to be Central park. Central park is a huge park in the middle of NYC and it can be accessed through multiple entry points. So we got off the subway at a station we thought was the right one, but it turned out to be couple of stations too soon.As we were running against time, we just got out of the station and picked the yellow cab. The iconic yellow cab of NYC. Ar’s first. She still remembers the ride. It dropped us at the gate of the park and we walked around a bit, It was raining and very cold and so this place which is normally crowded was almost empty. We also wrapped it up quickly and decided to move to the next one, though we would have loved to spend more time there.

Next stop was National history museum. We wanted to show Ar the dinosaur displays they have.From Central park,  we took a cab, which we had difficult time finding and consumed our valuable time. We already had booked the tickets online and had to just pick the real tickets. We had less time and were on the run. We had to reach Battery park before 12:00 pm to be one time for 12:30 pm cruise. Museum opens at 10:00 am and we were among the first ones to arrive :). We directly went towards Dinosaur section. Ar didn’t like those big reptiles, maybe she is bit too young for them now. We had a look at few geo displays and were already over time. There’s so much to see and explore there, may be even a day might not be enough and so we were bit sad to have to move so early,but that’s the limitations you have with a tour.

We hopped out of the museum and looking at the watch knew that we have to take the cab. We spent much time in finding one and to no avail. I spotted a subway station and we took the sub. We had to get to the Battery park station and were not sure which line to pick. I picked the line which I thought is the right one and after boarding it realized it does not go to batter park. So we got off it at a station where it takes the detour and rushed outside and took the cab. After much anxiety reached just in time. It was still raining, but more of a drizzle. We boarded the ferry we were on the way to see the most iconic attraction in the US. I had been to Statue of Liberty ferry before (after lot of running and bit of luck), but we had only seen the Statue from a distance and had not visited the island and also had not been to the top of it. But finally we were here together and we had booked the pedestal access as well (crown has been closed). The 15-20 minutes to the statue is just an amazing journey, not only you see great view of the harbor and the Statue itself, but you also realize that this was the first thing many immigrants saw when they reached the shores of US after long and turbulent travel.

The view of SOL when you approach close to it is just amazing and Ar liked it much (she has been talking about going to SOL many times since then). Ferry docked at the island and  we got off and went straight towards the pedestal.You have to keep all your belongings in the lockers before you enter. Now the lockers were so small and we had bag full of lot of stuff. Somehow we cramped all that into a locker. The locker is bit tricky and in the first instance we closed an empty one (The door is spring controlled and once you close, its locked and someone (not sure who ;), released the door just as we opened it ). In fact all the time we spent on the island I was bit tensed about the locker :). Once you enter in you can either take a lift or go by staircase. Seeing a long line at the lift we decided to take the stairs, little did we know it would be 8 floors climb. Huffing, puffing we reached the pedestal of the statue and the view from there is worth all that. But now it was raining heavily and was very windy and cold out there. We hardly spent time there before we started our descent.

It was again a long way down and we went and picked out stuff from locker which was relief. We went to a restaurant nearby and had coffee. Then we decided to head back to mainland. But instead of going back to mainland directly we decided to go to Ellis island which was the original port of entry from where immigrants entered US and now houses an immigration museum. Its around 10-15 mins ride by ferry and the old world charm of the island is instantly welcoming.The museum had lot of old artifacts of that time in the building which housed the customs. It has lots of old pictures along with information. If I would have had time, would have spent the whole day there, but we were short on time and so we wrapped the trip and took the ferry back to NYC. It was great being there among the history around us. We reached back by around 3:00 pm. It was raining heavily now and was so windy that the umbrella was of little use,  we were all wet and shivering. We were also very hungry now, but could not see any eating joint around. So decided to head to Times square and go to the Bombay restaurant 🙂  We waited for a long time for a cab, but due to rains all were full and couldn’t get hold of any. Just then I realized a subway station was just besides where we were standing :). So we took the sub and went straight to Times Square.

At Times Square, I got really confused and  couldn’t find the restaurant, which doesn’t happen normally. While searching, had seen a pizza joint and in the end just raised our hands and decided to go there after long and unfruitful search. We had the famous thin crust NYC pizza and in that weather it tasted even better. Ar as always loved pizza.  We had spent lot of time finding restaurant as well as spent more time than we should have in this pizza joint. It was 5:00 pm and the tour bus pickup time from China Town was 6:00 pm  We tried to find a cab all around but no luck  Then decided to take a sub and went to station purchased the ticket only to realize that line does not go China town. After much efforts and running around found the right station, but I was sure we would be late and to add to it the tour office was some walking distance from China town station.  It was bit of a panicky situation. Luckily, just then found a cab, after getting in told him we had only 20 mins to reach the destination and he said we might just make it, that was relieving:). He was a friendly guy and dropped us right on time, arriving at the last minute!!

We rushed towards the office. Almost all others had arrived and were waiting for the bus to come, which then turned to be more than 30 mins of wait :(. Finally they started boarding at around 6:30 pm. Then a sad thing happened. One of the guest (who were an Indian mom and daughter duo)  had an asthma attack and she could do no activity. There was lot of back and forth about what to do, like to call emergency or they would board the bus. Finally she was able to walk and they decided to head back to hotel. We reached the hotel by around 9:00 pm. We helped the mom to her room which incidentally was just opposite ours.After a long day we just had some snacks and decided to call it a day. Tomorrow we were again going to explore NYC but with our guide. I had been feeling bit unwell (slight cough and cold) and went to bed immediately. Wake up call being the same, at 6:00 am :).

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US East Coast Trip

20151001_060932This trip has been on cards for many days. G and Ar had arrived in US in April almost 6 months after I came here and it had been a long time we had been on a vacation. Also due to other priorities the only feasible option was to go in October, which was the latest we could go as any later than that would mean going there just to see snow :). So after lot of deliberations October 1st week from 1st-7th was finalized. We locked the plan with over 2 months to go, which would be well in advance to book tours and flights.

Now once the dates were locked down, it was time to think about the tour. We had from the very start decided that we would go with a tour operator. Though as much as I like planning our vacations, I was not looking forward to manage this multi city east coast sojourn. We did a lot of analysis on tour companies and packages and finalized 7 days, 5 city east coast tour from TakeTours. With tour dates finalized, we went ahead and booked direct flight to and from LAX to NYC.We had to book the flight to align with the tour pickup and drop off date/times, which meant early morning flight from LAX to NYC and night flight back. The good thing is that the tour guides pick you up at the airport on arrival and on the last day would drop you off at the airport or hotel as per your plans.

Below was the tour itinerary for 7 days:

Day 1: Arrival and night tour of New York.

Day 2: Reserve day for us to explore NYC on our own.

Day 3: Tour of NYC.

Day 4: Tour of Philadelphia.

Day 4: Tour of Washington.

Day 5: Tour of Niagara.

Day 6: Tour of Boston.

Day 6: Tour of Boston and drop off at NYC airport.

We sill had many thing to go over, but we were glad having booked the vacation after it being in planning stage for a long time. One of the factors holding us back was Ar still getting used to US and she taking some time to get comfortable with people. Also this was going to be the longest trip for Ar and we were bit worried about the food. We were contemplating taking Ar’s stroller with us, but thinking about more negatives than positives of it we ended up not carrying it which turned out to be a right decision.

It was time for us to get ready and we did lot of shopping mainly lot of food for Ar. We also stuffed in lot of winter clothes and ended up with 1 big bag and 2 small ones, much more than we would have liked to carry :).

To give more insights on the way these tours work is that the base package covers the cost of travel (through bus), accommodation and free tours. Not mentioning the airfare, you have to take care of food and paid attractions. So your tour of Niagara is off course free, but if you want to take the Maid of the Mist tour in Niagara you have to opt in with tour guide and pay for it separately. Now I had been to NYC and Niagara before and so with some knowledge of attraction, decided to book Statue of Liberty tour, Natural History museum etc myself, instead of through them. Unchecked the last item off the list, of booking the airport shuttle both ways and we were all set, though wait for Oct 1 was a long one.

PS: We even bought the car just before we went for the tour :), which was to stand idle in parking for long time. Don’t ask why 😉

East Coast Trip – Day 1 (New York)

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1-Oct-2015 : I didn’t sleep at all the previous night. The flight was at 8:00 am and shuttle pickup was at 4:30 am and I was bit paranoid of missing the flight :). G and Ar also went to sleep late as we were packing till the last day or rather hour. I woke G up at 3:45 am and we got ready. Woke Ar at the very last moment and got her ready in sleep only and boarded the airport shuttle, which came early than the given time. There was also some confusion on where he had parked and it took some running and calling up to locate. We reached the airport bit early and after check in rested in the waiting area. Flight took off on time and we were off for much waited and needed 7 day vacation to East Coast.

The flight was a long one, 5 and hours duration and we reached New York around 2 pm. After picking the bags, reached the lobby and we were looking for the tour guide, who was supposed to stand there with our name board. But after couple of attempts at finding the guide in the lobby, which was supposed to be easy as they were to be wearing a yellow jacket, I was getting frustrated. I did see few people wearing yellow jacket, but none was expecting us 🙂 Finally called the tour operator support number, once connected the lady at the other end was not understanding what I was speaking and I was not sure what she was saying. After lot of confusion, frustration and many calls later we finally  got hold of the guide. She guided us to the shuttle pickup area which picked us up shortly and dropped to China Town. G was quite frustrated, first the fiasco with the guide and she was expecting we would be taken to the hotel first and have time to rest a bit and freshen up. Welcome to the trip .. 🙂

At China Town we were provided with lockers to keep the luggage as we were going to go to the hotel later in the night after tonight’s tour. I liked the idea of lockers, though we would have rather liked to go to hotel and then think about starting the tour. After dropping our luggage, they took us to the food court where we were to wait till the tour bus arrived in the evening at around 6:00 pm. Now the way these tours work is that you have to register for each attraction/sub tours either at the start of the day or just before the tour begins and so we registered for the night tour of NYC.

Once that was taken care of, it was time to think about the food and in that big food court there were not many options for us. Luckily we had brought lot of home-made food and so we picked a table and had our dinner. Once done we had to kill time before night tour bus pick us up at 6:00 pm. The weather was very cold, windy and it was raining continuously so we were not venturing outside, but after some boredom, we decided to walk and explore the area a bit. We would have been out for only 10 minutes before we were half wet and it was quite chilly out there, so we quickly made our way back to the comforts of food court.

Finally at 6:00 pm, the bus arrived, we picked the luggage from lockers loaded it on the bus , the rigor we would get used to over the next 7 days. We reached Manhattan by around 6:45 and out first stop was Rockefeller Center.I have been to NYC before and have seen most of the places. Its a great city, something you like coming back to. Tall buildings, famous landmarks, city on the move, it is truly THE City. The next stop was Times Square.They parked 2 blocks from it and we walked the remaining way and explored it. It’s always so vibrant and its fun to be there. We spent more than an hour there and once back tour guide asked us to have dinner at nearby places. Just opposite to where we had parked there was this Bombay restaurant which is supposed to be the oldest Indian restaurant in US. We already had brought home-made dinner, so did not try it out that night, but we had decided to try it out one of the 3 days we were going to be in NYC.

Once the bus was boarded again, we were on our next stop, which was a vista point in New Jersey to get the NYC skyline view. After crossing over to NJ, we stopped at a park along the creek. From here you get a spell bounding view of NY city. The night time view of the lit towers along the harbor is just amazing. One could just sit there and enjoy the view for all times. We took some great pics and then started towards our hotel.

The hotel was far, around 1 hour drive in New Jersey. The hotel was ok,  we expected better. We had our dinner and went to sleep. We were quite tired. Tomorrow’s pickup time was 6:00 am and we had opted for self tour of NYC, so we were going to explore the city on our own..