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New York & The North East USA

RTW - New York

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After 19 hours of travelling, I had finally arrived in my last destination, New York just after midnight on a cold November evening. I then had to make my way from JFK airport to my hotel in Chinatown, adding another hour or so to my day, but when I finally arrived I did find my room to be lovely and warm, and easily set about going to sleep and having a long lie in.

Grand Central

Grand Central

Waking up at about 9am, I decided not to keep lying in bed, as I had a very early start the next day, and so started exploring New York. I started my day going over to the Flatiron building, and then walking up Fifth Avenue, past the Public library, Rockefeller Center, and into Central Park - before heading back down to Grand Central station, the Chrysler Building and finally the UN building - where I had booked a tour in the late afternoon. The UN is classed as international territory, and once inside we got to see the Security Council chamber, (unfortunately the main debating hall was closed for repairs), and many artefacts and awards, before going to the shop and buying gifts and postcards with special UN stamps for postage.

UN

UN

After this I went off to Times Square to eat and then head back off to bed, as for the following three days I had booked an excursion to Niagara Falls and Washington DC.

Meeting early the following morning in Chinatown, I boarded the bus that would take us on our trip with mostly Chinese tourists, but also Europeans and some Americans and Australians. Each of our days involved early starts and late finishes, but crammed in a lot into just 3 days!

We began the trip heading north, stopping at the Secret Caverns en route...however with the trip already not being cheap, I decided that for most of these "optional excursions" as they were called, I would not bother with. Unfortunately this did mean hanging about outside on my own in the cold for 45 minutes most of the time...but in the end I realised this was probably worth it, as they were all tourist traps I wasn't bothered about.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

Eventually we arrived at Niagara Falls in the evening, and after getting some dinner I went off to explore the falls in darkness, which meant that they were lit up with lights from the Canadian side. Unfortunately the way the trip was planned, and the experience of American immigration meant I had to scrap my plans to cross over into the Canadian side, where the best view undoubtedly was....but I did get to get insanely close to the waterfall edge!

Horseshoe Falls

Horseshoe Falls

We returned to the falls again the following morning to see them in daylight (where water got inside my camera and almost ruined the day's photos) after we had visited the Niagara Fort up by Lake Ontario, where there was even a view of Toronto!

View across Lake Ontario

View across Lake Ontario


US Capitol

US Capitol

On the final day of the excursion, we started by visiting Washington DC. Here we visited the Capitol building, the White House, and Lincoln Memorial before going on a river cruise past the airport and Pentagon.

Washington DC

Washington DC

We then went to the Space museum, where I touched part of the moon, before heading back off towards New York.

Stopping in Philadelphia for just 15 minutes, we got to see the Liberty Bell and the Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed, before making our way back to New York and completing our excursion.

Liberty Bell

Liberty Bell

Although the excursion was very quick, and involved a lot of driving, I really didn't mind, I got to see a lot of things and have now seen everything in the USA I wanted.

Having arrived back in New York, the following morning I got up and headed straight over to the World Trade Centre memorial site, which had just opened a few months previously, allowing visitors to see the new fountains on the site of the towers.

South Tower Fountain

South Tower Fountain

After visiting the moving site, I then took a short walk over to take the free Staten Island ferry which gives a great view of the Statue of Liberty as it goes past (which many others seemed to also realise).

Statue of Liberty

Statue of Liberty

The change in Staten Island involved a quick run through the ferry terminal to make the return ferry in 1 minute, or wait another half hour - successfully I made this, unlike many others who were shouting "ruuuuuuuuuuuuun" only to fail to board in time.

Manhattan

Manhattan

Making my way back to Manhattan I walked around much of the civic and financial buildings, such as Wall Street, before crossing Brooklyn Bridge and taking loads of pictures of the Manhattan skyline. It was here that I got a laugh, thanks to a girl was discussing with her friend the biggest issue in her life - that whenever someone asks her where she's from, when she replies Brooklyn they always reply "No, where are you REALLY from? ...Nobody is from Brooklyn" #FirstWorldProblems

Central Park

Central Park

On my final day I had a late flight, and so after leaving my suitcase back at my hotel, I went off back to the Rockefeller Centre, where I went up to the top floor, giving me great views to the north over Central Park, and to the south over Manhattan, with a great view of the Empire State Building in its full glory.

Manhattan

Manhattan

I then finished the day and my trip with a wander around Central Park, before heading off to the airport and my flight home.

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in USA Tagged waterfalls boat tower park city capital parliament border rtw niagara liberty Comments (2)

Touring the Colonies

RTW - Caribbean

sunny 25 °C
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Eventually arriving in St. Maarten I wondered - would this really be worth it? Should I have just flown straight to New York and be done with this palava of getting there? After all, I had just taken an 5 hour overnight flight from San Francisco on a boring old plane, waited in a mostly closed Miami Airport without WiFi for another 5 hours, and then boarded another fairly old boring plane for 3 hours to an island that from the face of it seemed much like Fiji - bad infrastructure and potential for hassling, and this was also hurricane season! - but boy was I wrong, this island was amazing!!!

View from the Apartment

View from the Apartment

The apartment I was staying it wasn't that cheap, but then it came with a kitchen, free WiFi, a huge double bed, air-con, satellite TV, beach front access, great location and best of all - free international calls! Just a 20 second walk from where I was staying was the most beautiful beach you can imagine - even on a miserable day (of which there was very few, as shown by the landlady's comment on one, that it was warmer inside her house than out, something she was not used to!) the sea was still turquoise! There was a supermarket about 5 minutes away with a range of products, an efficient and cheap (mini)bus service that ran almost constantly, and above all else, friendly un-hassling locals!

Maho Beach

Maho Beach

The island was also far more entertaining than I had imagined - being there for 10 days I thought I would be utterly bored out of my skin, but actually, I could have stayed another couple of days! Three times I took a half hour walk along to beach to Maho Bay, where at the end of the runway, planes (including huge Jumbo Jets from Europe) land just 20 metres or so above spectators' heads - a thrilling experience after you get used to the fact they aren't actually going to hit you, as much as how it looks. There was even a bar at the end of the beach for spectators to make themselves as comfortable as they wanted...relaxing in on a beach chair, swimming or simply standing by the fence.

Phillipsburg

Phillipsburg

Another day, I also took the trip over to the capital of this Dutch colony, Philipsburg, to do some serious souvenir shopping, and found the beaches on that side of the territory island were as equally beautiful.

Dutch-French Border

Dutch-French Border

I also spent a longer day taking a colonial trip over the border into the French side (after all this was one of the worlds smallest divided islands), stopping at the Dutch-French border (Belgium of the future?) before taking the ferry over to Anguilla - a British colony.

The French side of the island, classed as an integral part of France itself, and therefore part of the Eurozone and the EU, was completely different to the Dutch, feeling much more colonial, and using different languages, currency and even electrical sockets - to call one side to the other is an international call, despite a completely open border.

View over Marigot, Saint-Martin

View over Marigot, Saint-Martin

I spent a few hours walking around, as well as walking up the hill to the fort, where there was a beautiful view of the western side of the island, as well as Anguilla over the channel.

Tsunami Warning Sign

Tsunami Warning Sign

Anguilla, unlike St. Martin was completely flat, with the entrance to Passport Control containing a Tsunami warning sign!

Above all else, this island will remain in my memory as one of the most beautiful places I'd ever been....turquoise seas all around, and I would not only recommend it, but I would also happily go back myself.

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Sint Maarten Tagged hills boat beach airport island sand plane border rtw colony Comments (0)

Made In China

RTW - Shenzhen

sunny 27 °C
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After debating for some time, on my final full day in the area I crossed into mainland China, visiting the city of Shenzhen.

Taking the metro up to the border, and crossing the pedestrian bridge through the no-man's-land, I went around the corner, where after filling in some forms and handing over about £50 I was given a 5 day visa to the Special Economic Region - far easier than applying for a normal Chinese visa.

Being checked at passport control where they used Dell computers that were indeed "Made in China" I was allowed into the world's most populous country and I was met by another friend of mine, Alex who took me round the city.

Diwang Building

Diwang Building

The city, twice as populous as its more famous neighbour, felt in many ways just like Hong Kong, and was far less communist than I had imagined. One of the most surprising things I learnt was that this was just the first of a whole conurbation of cities that stretched all the way to Guangzhou, 70 miles north and contains around 100 million people! We took a trip around the city, including visiting the Diwang Building, the 17th tallest in the world, where the observation tower is dedicated to the handover - with a wax model of Margaret Thatcher meeting the Chinese Premier to agree the exchange.

Thatcher

Thatcher

After visiting Alex's flat in a typical-for-China skyscraper, I then crossed back into Hong Kong for my final day.

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in China Tagged tower city border rtw Comments (0)

Lion City

Eastern European Kinda Fun - Lviv

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Having spent all day in Krakow, we took the overnight coach to Lviv in Ukraine, which despite only a 5 hour trip by road, involved more than 3 hours crossing the border - half an hour to queue, 45 minutes to check our passports on the Polish side, another half hour in no man's land, an hour checking passports in Ukraine, and then just when we thought it was finally time to go through, half an hour to search the coach.

Even more fun was when the military style border guard in Ukraine, who had clearly never seen a British passport before spent two minutes staring at me and the passport, and then came back 45 minutes later, called me, and I had to get off the coach and explain to her why I was trying to enter her country. Luckily Halina explained it all for her as the border guard spoke no English, and I spoke no Ukrainian. However at least I finally got a stamp in my passport!

In Lviv I stayed with Halina's family and spent most of the time walking around the city. The city felt rather as I suspected - pretty buildings in the city, but rather shabby in the outskirts. The public transport was also incredibly cheap - 15p for a bus ride to the city centre from outside the city, but the roads were incredibly poor - some roads even had potholes in the potholes! But it was an experience.

Opera House

Opera House

Meeting Halina's friends, we went to a pub under the Opera House and met her sister after she finished work. Luckily almost all of the people I met spoke English, as unfortunately my Ukrainian is not too shabby, and everyone was really nice. That night we went to a club in the city, which despite being rather posh was only £5 to get in.

Old Town

Old Town

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Ukraine Tagged city border poland&ukraine Comments (0)

België

Eurovision 2011 - Antwerp

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Final full day, went to Antwerp to explore some of Belgium. Explored the Town Square, ate a waffle and some fries, before coming back and stopping at the old border control building.

Grote Markt

Grote Markt

Posted by kmmk17 17:00 Archived in Belgium Tagged city border eurovision Comments (0)

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