The One With The Big Cities (Part 4): San Francisco

Steep.

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Eclectic.

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Diverse.

haight ashbury homes

Foggy.

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Evolving.

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All are words which have been used to describe this unique city. In some ways it is the uglier cousin of the Californian cities. It doesn’t offer the sun, sea or surf of more stereotypical Californian cities like Los Angeles or San Diego. It doesn’t offer the Hollywood lifestyle, the prospects of fame and fortune, nor the glamour of the cities further south.

Instead San Francisco is the odd-one-out of the three major coastal Californian cities. Just mentioning the name evokes mental pictures of struggle, or rebellion. Not in a physical manner, of course, but in an artistic, creative manner. It is the most un-Californian city in California.

The city perhaps is defined best by what it isn’t. It is not fame and fortune. It is not glamour. It is not sun, sea or sand. It is not excess, nor is it hope and dreams.

Sure.

But trying to work out what it is, is like trying to pin a bar of soap to a wall. Frustratingly difficult and likely to leave you scratching your head. Hence, I suppose, the rather vague term with which it is perhaps most associated.

Bohemian.

Mission_Murals-07-cropped

What does it mean though? A city full of unconventional people being regularly unconventional surely evolves into a city full of convention, doesn’t it? Either way, San Francisco is, in essence, the American epitome of unconventional. One of the main tourist attractions is a prison, which sits awkwardly juxtaposed against a marvel of engineering, all set against steep, ostensibly unsuitable hillsides of the mainland on an exposed stretch of coastline which is regularly covered in sea-fog and buffeted by wind. It is also located close to the edges of tectonic plates making it a prime location for earthquakes. It is not (and we return to that phrase again)  your typical city.

The sights are, as with the other major cities, well known and world-famous. The Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, SF Museum of Modern Art, Chinatown, Golden Gate Park. All are familiar names, and none need further detailing. However, San Francisco is more than its sights I would suggest. There are very few places in the world where going on public transport is the experience it is in San Fran. The cable-cars, by themselves, are a symbol of the city. Most cities have places you want to go to, specific tourist traps, but San Fran doesn’t seem to fall into this trap. Rough Guides advises that the best way to see the city is to just “dawdle”, seeing where you wind up. In this regard, San Fran is at least a two day stop on our journey.

Which, necessarily begs the question of where to stay. Like most big cities, hotels aren’t cheap, especially in the summer months, but with enough searching, especially in the hostel market, it is possible to find places which don’t break the bank. Hostels.com advises that there are 11 suitable hostels in the main bay area of the city. Here are just a few of those with the highest ratings:

H.I. San Francisco City Centre

Slap bang in the heart of everything, this hostel looks to be pretty much as good as you are likely to find in a hostel in any major city. Aside from its awesome location, the facilities look to be pretty damn good, and there are all the facilities you might need. However, there is no parking available with the hostel itself. Instead, there is a nearby car-park, but it charges at a rate of $10 per 12hrs. Which impacts on the cost of the hostel. Otherwise you can expect to pay $30 per night. It scores 85%.

Green Tortoise Backpackers

This is much better in naming terms. Green Tortoise. Awesome. Anyway, the location is once again pretty much excellent, being closer to the seafront than previously. It also has good facilities and has a great sense of social events for people who are staying. However, once more there is no parking, although the hostel apparently has a deal with a nearby parking lot, this could cost an extra $20 per night. It charges anywhere between $30 and $40 per night, but it does score 87%.

Adelaide Hostel and Hotel

Again pretty central in the city, the first point to note is that Adelaide has parking facilities. Which is a bonus. Like the others it has all the facilities you would need, including lockers for storing stuff. It appears much more hotel-y than previous entries, and this might be a good thing. It charges $39 per night pretty much across the board, but this includes tax. It scores 81%.

Orange Village Hostel

Again, it is central to the rest of the city, and it does have parking facilities (though working out quite where such facilities are is pretty difficult). It also has pretty much all the other facilities you need, like the other entries do. It seems more basic than other entries, but has been recently renovated. It charges between $27 and $40 per night. It only scores 70%.

The over-riding feeling I get from looking through some of the reviews for the places is that the scores are affected by the neighbourhood. Whilst this is a potential concern, it is to be expected in most cities. All the hostels have staff to get advice from about where to go and where to avoid, especially at night. But it’s a big city. If you’re naive enough to think that everywhere is going to be nice and touristy all the time, then travelling anywhere will be a rude awakening for you!

Overall, San Francisco is a mess of a city, but in a good way. There are sights and sounds, there are places to go and things to see. There  is enough to keep anyone entertained for weeks. We shall be there probably three nights and two days. It should be enough to get a small insight into such an undefinable city.

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The Long List

This post is something aside from the normal ones that have appeared on here. It isn’t about places to go, or sights to see. There are no photos to colour the piece and there are no sarcastic comments, glib remarks, or attempts at humour.

Instead, I wanted to add my thoughts, incoherently formed as they are, on the events which literally shook Boston yesterday.

There is something odd about viewing an event happening in a different country. As the first stories broke on Twitter last night, my gut reaction was one of dismay. It was the same dismay which I had felt months earlier in the aftermath of the Newtown shootings. One which had previously been felt after Clackamas, after Aurora. One which was lined with confusion and anger and frustration that these events can be allowed to occur, and keep occurring.

Except that as it has developed, it has become awfully apparent that this event is not like Newtown, Clackamas or Aurora. It is much, much worse. There was nothing random about these bombings. They were strategically placed to cause maximum destruction. The shootings were the responsibility of one person, this is something much more organised and thought out. And it is this which is worrying.

I cannot fathom, or begin to explain, what would drive people to this stage of destruction and violence. It is incomprehensible to me. What is the thought process of someone intent on destroying other people? As I write this, there appears to be no group to have claimed any responsibility, which is even more concerning to me. Generally after big events like this, some terror cell claims that they were the brains behind it. But not in this case. Was this the work of some disaffected few trying to attract attention from the higher figures in terrorist organisations? Who knows.

Whatever the truth, that they chose a very public, and international event to make their, at this time, unknown point; is deliberately cold and merciless. There is, of course, the added factor of it being a very family-orientated event, with children running in smaller races, which somehow makes it much worse. Those behind it took that into consideration, and ploughed ahead anyway.

In many ways, the remarkably low death count (just 3 confirmed at the time of writing) is a testament to the work of the volunteers, the emergency services, and Joe Bloggs, the average guy on the street for responding as quickly as they did to these blasts. The damage has been done though. Lives destroyed by the blast. Limbs shattered, or entirely removed. Emotions broken.

And we keep returning to the ‘why?’ of it all. It is this which sticks in the throat the most, but it is as though an answer to the question will somehow make things better, in some small way. Which, of course, it won’t. The question then evolves into ‘why we search for meaning in something so despicable?’. Why do we look for understanding in such acts? Do they help us understand, or forgive? Does it make us feel better knowing that those who were responsible for this had some goal, or achievement in mind? I cannot think it does. I can’t.

For those lives either literally or emotively destroyed by the bombs, can having understanding really help? Does understanding aid forgiving? Do they, or will they, ever want to forgive? All are questions to which I have no answers. Which leaves me with a feeling of frustration and anger. But these are different sorts of frustration and different sorts of anger to those which I had after the events of Newtown, Clackamas, Aurora, or any of the others. These are feelings of helplessness. My despair after the shootings was that the Americans cannot sort out effective gun control measures, and that this allows these things to keep happening. I was blaming the politicians as much as the shooter.

In this case there is no-one to blame. There are no questions to be asked of authority figures like there are after shootings. The consequence is that this hangs in the air, a cloud of confusion, over everyone. Perhaps it is this feeling which answers some of the earlier questions. People want to know a reason, or who was responsible not for understanding, or healing, but to assign blame. A more destructive feeling, sure, but one valuable to anyone who has been wronged in some way. In the absence of anyone to blame, there is a feeling of drifting. You see it in the news, with the basic information and eye-witness accounts being repeatedly broadcast.

Nothing more.

They are waiting for someone, or some group, to sink their teeth into. But there is not one forthcoming. After a shooting there is a forensic analysis conducted by news groups of the shooter, the neighbourhood, and the reignition of an age-old debate. There is none of that here. There is something of a news vacuum. It is this absence of news which people dislike the most I think.

The events of Boston yesterday are tragic, and are likely to be far-reaching. We can only wait and see what the outcomes are. We are people, left feeling helpless without the information we need to move forward. Putting into words thoughts about this act is difficult. I do not know anyone in Boston, and only a handful of Americans, but this is action has world-wide resonance, and as I watch in the UK, I am left with this cocktail of emotions and thoughts which have frustratingly few answers. I can only imagine what it is like for those in Boston, and America.

My final thought comes courtesy of The West Wing. It is one of those ‘hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck’ scenes which I find myself coming back to after all the violent events which occur. It puts things into words better than I can…

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The One With The Big Cities (Part 3): Las Vegas

Having traversed middle-America after leaving Washington, the next major city will be Las Vegas. Perhaps this does a disservice to Denver, but the latter is more likely to be a pausing point on our way into the Rockies, rather than a bona fide stop. Consequently it is Vegas which is the next big city to have a look at.

LasVegas

Las Vegas, much like all the other major cities that we’ve looked at, or will look at, is iconic the world over. It is a symbol of optimism, fantasy, excess and excitement, all in one small confined space in the middle of the desert. It is a strange place as settlements go, it is not built on a water source, it is surrounded by desert and can get pretty damn hot in the summer months. There are nearby mines in the hillsides around the city, and it was this which caused the creation of the city. Essentially Vegas was a resting point for desert travellers. With the development of the nearby Hoover Dam and the legalisation of gambling, Vegas grew into the city it is today.

Of course, Vegas is famed for the casinos running down The Strip, and I was going to try to write a piece about how there are so many other things to do in the city beyond the casinos, but that’s pretty much impossible. That is not to say there aren’t things to see, there are. The Museum of Organised Crime and Law Enforcement, The Las Vegas Natural History Museum, The Las Vegas zoo, as well as Preview Thursday and First Friday on the first Thursday and Friday of each month which showcases upcoming exhibits or works by local artists in the Downtown part of the city; are all good examples of things to do outside of the casinos. The problem is that these are practically the only things to do, short of day trips to the Hoover Dam, or the Grand Canyon.

Instead, it is the nightlife which Vegas is famous for. The casinos which run down either side of The Strip are free to enter, but expensive to leave. Gambling, be it at the slot machines, the poker tables, the roulette wheel or just blackjack, is the order of the night. Some casinos are more famous than others, and all have equal claim to your money, unless you’re sensible and gamble only what you can afford to gamble.

There’s the MGM Grand

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…the Bellagio

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Paris

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Caesar’s Palace

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Planet Hollywood

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…and many more to choose from.

The real issue will be where to stay in the city. The advice from Rough Guides is that “you can get a high-quality room on the Strip for well under $50, at least on weekdays” with “dining and entertainment prices [being] much more reasonable than they’ve been for years”.

All the casinos offer rooms at varying rates, though in the height of summer, when we shall be visiting, the prices tend to go up. However, there are other places to stay besides in the casinos. The hostels which are available are somewhat removed from the hustle and bustle of The Strip, and offer us an alternative place to stay.

Hostel Cat

Distanced some 2.5km from The Strip, Hostel Cat is one of the closer hostels to the centre of the city. It is very cheap to stay in (just $12.50 for a twin room a night), and has all the facilities you would need. It also has free parking which is pretty useful in our case. It scores 83% on Hostels.com.

Las Vegas Hostel

Another hostel from the school of creative names, Las Vegas Hostel is very similar to the above mentioned Hostel Cat. It is closer to The Strip, at just 1.2km, and also has free parking. However, for a private room it charges $30 a night, and for a shared dorm, from $22 a night. It scores 74%.

AAE Casino Wild West Las Vegas

Proving you can never have too many words in your name, AAECWWLV, is about half a mile from The Strip. It appears reasonably basic, judging by the pictures available, but for $10 a night, it might be worth it. There are things which aren’t included, such as food, but its proximity to the sights of the city means that shouldn’t be a problem. There is also free parking and luggage storage, but no lockers. It scores 87%.

Motel 6

Literally across the street from the MGM Grand, Motel 6 is a cheap, pretty basic stopping point. Whilst it offers free parking, it doesn’t offer either luggage storage or locker facilities, and its other facilities are limited to internet and a swimming pool. It costs $21 a night, and charges a “nominal fee” for Wifi. It scores 78%.

Sin City Hostel

Offering more facilities than many of the competitors, including lockers, luggage storage and free parking, Sin City Hostel still appears a pretty basic accommodation option. It is located at the top end of The Strip, and is pretty well priced, $16.50 for a twin room, and less for mixed dorms. It scores 77%.

 

Rough Guides describes Las Vegas as a place which “palls most visitors after a couple of days” and this is likely to be the case for us. However, it is still somewhere completely worth seeing and experiencing. There are numerous places to stay, be them hotels or motels or hostels. The truth of the matter is that pretty much everything worth seeing in Vegas is located along The Strip and is best viewed at night under the neon lights. It is a city which is essential to our trip, but one which is unlikely to keep us entertained for a long time.

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The One With the Big Cities (Part 2): Washington DC

Washington DC is going to be our first taste of America, and therefore it’s important that this is a good taste. As a city, it falls into the shadows of other American cities due to the disaffection that the world has for its politicians. Consequently, the vibrancy of New York, the bohemian nature of San Francisco, or the excesses of Las Vegas are all considered much more appealing than the authority of Washington DC.

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Perhaps this is unfair. After all, Washington, besides the politics, has numerous attractions, places to visit, and sights to see. There are museums, memorials, galleries, parks, restaurants and cafe’s within the main ‘hub’ of the city:

Smithsonian American Art Museum

The Smithsonian houses a wide range of art collections, varying from classical era work to contemporary pieces all under one roof. The works are, fairly apparently, all created by American artists, some famous (Hopper, Lichtenstein), some not so. They tell a tale of this country through the centuries, and could provide an interesting starting point for our entire journey. Context is everything, and fully appreciating the context of the places we are going to visit can only help us appreciate the places themselves.

Cost: Free entry

Opening times: 11.30am – 7pm daily.

Things to see: The gallery lists 10 highlights in a small brochure, including Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe, Hopper’s Cape Cod Morning and Bierstadt’s Among the Sierra Nevada, California.

 

National World War II Memorial

Perhaps it is the historian in me which wants to visit this space. Perhaps it is the human. Either way, the effects of this global conflict rightly continue to echo through the ages. Memorials are seldom cheery places and I would guess that this is no different. However it is a place which demands a visit, if only to appreciate the scale of the conflict from an American point of view.

Cost: Free entry

Opening times: 24/7

Things to see: Field of Stars, the plaza at night.

 

National Gallery of Art

Much like the Smithsonian, this gallery houses an incredible range of work, but from a much wider base than the aforementioned gallery. It has work from all across the globe, be it old or new, be it on canvas or sculpted. In short this sort of one-up’s the Smithsonian for appeal to audiences from outside America. Visiting either is sure to be on our list.

Cost: Free entry

Opening times: 10am – 5pm Monday-Saturday. 11am – 6pm Sunday.

Things to see: Works by the classicists such as Da Vinci, Raphael. Later works by the likes of Vermeer, Cezanne, and Picasso.

 

National Museum of Natural History

Much like England’s own version the Natural History Museum, the American version houses a wide range of exhibits relating to the natural world. The museum takes the visitor on a journey through life, exploring numerous facets of the world around us. It is surely worth a visit.

Cost: Free entry

Opening times: 10am – 5.30pm daily.

Things to see: Lets be honest, pretty much all of it.

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Of course there remains the spectre of politics which hangs heavy over the city. Pretty much everywhere you go, you are likely to be reminded of former presidents and former glories. It is impossible to escape. Naturally there are things to see which relate to the politics over the city too. In essence they are sprawled along a 2.5 mile stretch between the Lincoln Memorial and the Congress Building. All are free to go and simply look at.

Washington

 

All are iconic in some form or other, and worthy of visiting. Indeed, for viewers of The West Wing (admittedly, one of my own favourite tv shows of the last 20 years), most will seem familiar stops in the city.

There are good, cheap places for food and drink in the city too. The Washington tourist website lists a few cheap places including:

Ben’s Chili Bowl

Chinatown Express

Brasserie Beck

Of course though, there are plenty of places to find food and decent beer in the city, and it will be a case of exploring to see what we can find.

Finally, accommodation. Whilst the largest part of our journey will involve camping, it would be impossible to do so in the big cities of America. We are likely to be looking at cheap as chips hostels or bed-and-breakfasts for somewhere to stay in these towns.

In Washington, there are a handful of cheap hostels to consider:

 

Hostelling International

Creatively named and located pretty damn close to the centre of the city, this hostel has pretty much everything you could possibly want in a hostel for a reasonable price. The cheaper dorms are the more crowded ones, but there are lockers available to store all our stuff. Generally speaking the rooms are between £20 and £30 per night, which is pretty reasonable. It scores 88% satisfaction on hostelworld.com.

Duo Housing DC

Not quite as close as the previous entry, Duo Housing is a smaller place with a similar price. Again, there are all the facilities you would like in a hostel, and their emphasis is on “interaction amongst the guests”. Again, roughly between £20 and £30 a night. It scores 86%.

Downtown Washington Hostel

Another in the ‘creative naming’ category, this hostel is further east than either of the two previously. It appears to be located in the part of the city which is home to bars, restaurants and shops, rather than things to see. This is no problem however, as Union Station is within throwing distance. Again with all the facilities, this comes in at slightly more expensive, between £25 and £40 per night. It scores 86%.

DC Lofty

Slightly further north, DC Lofty is still pretty close to the city centre, and has recently been refurbished. It is smaller than any of the others, but comparatively priced. That said, there are fewer of the facilities available, although the main one, lockers, is still present. It scores 82%.

Capital View

This hostel is located roughly the same distance from the centre as Hostelling International. It appears to be smaller, and a bit more basic however, the prices are slightly cheaper too (between £20 and £30). It does have numerous facilities, but less than the aforementioned Hostelling International. It scores 82%.

 

Any of these, plus a few others are viable options for our couple of nights in the city. They are broadly similar affairs, costing pretty much the same prices. At such low prices, you cannot realistically expect too much, but these hostels do offer good facilities for us, and have generally good reviews too.

At the beginning there is Washington DC. A city steeped in political history that is somehow less ‘busy’ than other cities. The absence of skyscrapers undoubtedly helps, but also the presence of greenery, cutting a swathe into the centre of the city. There are things to see and do, and all at low, or no, prices. If we have one full day in the city, simply walking down from the Capitol Building to the Lincoln Memorial will keep us busy, with numerous places to stop at along the way. Accommodation isn’t that expensive for a big city, and travel around the city is likely to be pretty straightforward using the metro system. In short, Washington is perhaps likely to be a useful starting point for us as it is likely to be gentle acclimatisation to a big American city. It’s a city full of history, and one which will break us into the trip very nicely.

 

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The One With the Big Cities (part 1)

Having taken you through all the places we are looking to visit, I am, over the course of the next few months, going to look in more detail at certain things which I’ve perhaps already touched on. Initially in the course of the next four or five posts, I am going to look at the major cities which we are going to pass through on our journey. I shall try and include things about what there is to see and do on a limited budget, places to stay and places to eat. In this, there will also have to be a heavy dose of realism. Our time is (despite being two months long) pretty limited if we want to get to all the places we’ve already looked at. Driving so much is going to be a pretty draining experience, and it is likely that we might not feel much like exploring somewhere upon arrival. Consequently we might have to have an extra day in some places to give ourselves a fair crack at appreciating it. I’m also going to try to give budget guesstimates for each of the big places, based purely on what to see and the cost of accommodation.

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The One With New York

Two months of travelling.

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Across rivers. Across mountains. 

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Through forests. Through plains. 

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Eventually, we will wind up in New York. 

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It’s a city whose name resonates across the globe. A centre of American hope, of wealth, of opportunity. It is a place where people have been travelling to for much of the past century. Its landmarks are iconic. Its streets are familiar to people who have never even set foot in the city.

It is cosmopolitan.

New York Times Square

It is big and little. It is confusion and order. It is chaos and tranquillity.

Central park

It is the end.

New York means so much to so many people. For us, there is a sense of finality located in this city. The years of talk, of planning, will end in this city. We shall have covered somewhere in the region of 6,000 miles, across four different time zones. We shall have seen a lot of what this country has to offer, but missed so much more.

And yet, this melancholy will be shaken out of us simply by arriving in this sprawling concrete jungle. If we time things well, the chances are that we shall have at least a couple of days to spend in the city, with enough spare money to make everything worthwhile. Of course there are the greatest hits of the city. Statue of Liberty, Empire State, Times Square, Central Park. All roll of the tongue as part of the sites of this city. There are plenty more too, Ground Zero, the Guggenheim, Fifth Avenue, the Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art, all names familiar to almost anyone. The question will quickly become how do we fit it all in?

And what of where to stay? Rough Guides warn us that “Prices for accommodation are well above the norm for the US”. It is my guess that a hostel is likely, depending on the cash reserves we have left. There are a number to choose from too, with Hostels.com indicating that there are 29 hostels in and around Manhattan, all of which have good prices, though these tend to go up, the closer to the date you get, and depending on the season. There are practical things we shall have to do in the city too, like return the car we will have used, like selling our used equipment, like living out of our rucksacks for the first time since the first night in the Washington.

There are other things too, pizzerias and pubs will beckon us at the end of the sight-seeing. The night-scenes will call to us, despite our likely fatigues. Depending on how we feel, we might find some sport to go and watch. As I said, the question will be how to fit everything in. A lot, will, after all, depend on the time we have left, our outward flight will leave at the end of July. We will have to get everything done in the country by then. And getting everything done in New York might just be the hardest part of the entire trip.

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The One With Cuyahoga and Niagara…

From the banks of Lake Michigan, our next goal is the awe-inspiring Niagara Falls. Roughly speaking this is somewhere between 9 and 10 hours drive away, skirting through or around towns like Toledo, Cleveland, Erie and Buffalo. It’s a pretty long trek, especially one so close to the end of our journey (indeed, it is likely to be our penultimate long drive of the whole trip). However, there is a useful and suitable stopping point near to Cleveland. That of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Um, yeah. I sort of just repeated myself, didn't I?

Um, yeah. I sort of just repeated myself, didn’t I?

Cuyahoga Valley is not a big sprawling area of open meadows, rising mountains, and crashing waterfalls. It is something much different. It is small (31.8 square miles). Its river does not appear to crash through the scenery, instead meandering sedately through the park, and into Cleveland before pouring out into Lake Erie. The highest point in the park is just 1180 feet (360ish metres). Indeed, the highest point in Ohio is only 1549 feet, with only seven other states having lower high-points. As the name suggests, the park is primarily a valley, going down to the river, rather than up to the clouds. The impression I have of it is of somewhere quiet, calm, and lazily slow whatever the time of year.

Slow, but stunning.

Slow, but stunning.

Of course there is something more, it is a park nestled into the edge of a city. And a thriving city at that.

Cleveland is the second largest city in the state, with anywhere between 2 and 3 million people living within the general vicinity of the city. This bustling city built on the manufacturing industries has, tucked neatly into the south side, this apparently lazy national park, a place where the pace of life seems slow, mimicking the river which wanders its way through. It is a contradiction in terms.

From our point of view, the lack of camping options in the park itself thoroughly limit the opportunity to spend significant time there. There is camping available, but nothing we can drive up to, and whilst requiring a reservation, in the height of summer, it is likely to be a pretty busy place. Whilst Cuyahoga Valley might be a good place to stop and stretch our legs (it is roughly 4 1/2 hours east of Warren Dunes), it isn’t really somewhere we would want to stop for a concerted period of time.

...although...

…although…

Instead it is Niagara which is our next port of call. The town, split neatly down the middle by the falling river into Canadian and American, is tucked right up at the top of the USA. At the end of the 32 mile stretch of land between two of the great lakes (Erie and Ontario), the waterfall, and the township to which it lends its name, is likely to be a bustling tourist haven, full of people with expensive Japanese cameras and see-through ponchos. Despite this, the opportunity to visit such an iconic place is one we cannot pass up. Whilst the majority of our journey is likely to be quieter, straying away from the tourist hot-spots, there are a few exceptions, of which Niagara is one.

A wet, hot-spot. If that isn't a contradiction in terms...

A wet, hot-spot. If that isn’t a contradiction in terms…

Between 3 1/2 and 4 hours from Cuyahoga Valley, Niagara is somewhere we are going to have to forego the camping experience for the comfort (or otherwise) of a cheap hotel, motel  or hostel in the area. The problem is that this will be high-season. The prices will be more and will impact on what we have left of our budget. However, a bit of shopping around and we should be able to find somewhere for less than $50.

Apparently, there's lights too.

Apparently, there’s lights too.

Once we are there, there is basically little to do other than wonder at the ferocity of the falls. We are likely to fall into line with the other tourists, journeying on the boats into the mist and taking copious amounts of photographs with the background of a river. Quite how long we are likely to stay in the town and at the falls is anyone’s guess, but my impression would be that it is something which might only take half a day to appreciate. This would leave us with enough time to make the last leg of the journey, to the end of this two month roller-coaster journey through various landscapes, climates and time-zones. Knowing this to be the case, we shall endeavour to make it a fitting end. And where else can we head but to New York City?

 

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The One With Lake Michigan

This part of the trip will depend largely on time and progress since leaving Mount Rushmore. Having resolved that neither of us really want to visit Chicago, we have one of two choices to make. Do we head for the west or the east side of Lake Michigan?

Of course there are merits to both sides of the lake, however, my general perception is that the west side of the lake is the more populated Chicago suburbs, stretching pretty much up to Milwaukee, some 90-odd miles from the Windy City. Consequently, for the pair of us looking for quieter locations, it is the east side which perhaps offers our best bet for somewhere to stop on our route eastwards.

That is not to say the east side is free from large towns, but there are noticeably fewer, and there is more of a gap between them, at least according to Google Earth. There are a handful of potential campsites near to the lake itself, but as this is ostensibly a stop-over point, we don’t want to go too far from the route east if we can help it. Consequently, I have chosen to select some campsites south of Benton Harbour, a small township roughly 100 miles around the shoreline from Chicago.

Roughly this stretch of shore line...

Roughly this stretch of shore line…

Perhaps a little surprisingly, there appears to be a dearth of campsites along this stretch of coastline. The main one in Michigan state is Warren Dunes. This state park offers access to the shoreline and the white sand beaches, as well as good camping facilities. It has two campsites, a modern ($25) and a rustic site ($16), which offer us enough places to pitch up for a night and appreciate the scenery. There are, as you might expect, high sand-dunes which offer views over the lake and beaches and the modern campsite has all the amenities you might expect. At the end of a long drive, pitching up in a wooded area next to a beach seems likely to be pretty damn good! The usual word of caution though, in summer, it is likely to be busy, but reservations can be made six months ahead of arrival if need be.

Yup. A pretty impressive place.

Yup. A pretty impressive place.

There are others, slightly away from the shoreline. Bob-a-ron campground, near Warren Woods State Park looks to be an option, but appears to cater for those who want to camp, but only to have access to things such as golf-courses, bowling, or visiting the zoo. Likewise, Judy’s Motel and Campground appears as though it’s a campground in name, offering a stopping point for RV’s and mobile homes.

From Warren Dunes to our next stop is an interesting drive. Either we skip through Canada (although having to go through all the border patrol stuff and a ferry crossing) and make it a six hour journey, or we take the longer way round, making it a 9 hour journey, but offering us the opportunity to stop at Cuyahoga Valley national park along the way, if we want to break our days up.

In all, the lack of decent campsites around the shoreline of Lake Michigan which are relatively close to the route we need to take eastwards is a little disappointing, however, Warren Dunes looks like a good option for a night’s stay. If anyone knows of any really good campsites in this general area, we would love to hear about them!

Categories: Places | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

The One Where We Try To Get To Somewhere…

The road east, is, as I’ve said before, something of an unknown for us. There are certain milestones and places we would like to see, but, in a similar manner to the road west, there is a bit in the middle we know little about, and has little which has really grabbed our attention. A lot of the American mid-east is quite flat, farming land, with miles of fields, rolling hills and rural pastures, which are likely to be largely unremarkable, and relentlessly unvarying.

Of course, it can still be awesome too...

Of course, it can still be awesome too…

In a way, the time we spend travelling along the roads in this part of the trip is going to be a bit like the calm before the storm. Currently our journey will end in New York City, most likely doing all the things tourists do in the big city. Before that, we have Niagara Falls and all that that encompasses. The journey before this across and up to Niagara is likely to be the quiet part of the whole trip, with nothing really screaming to us to go and see it. We will probably make camp on the shores of Lake Michigan, east of Chicago (which doesn’t really grab our attention), but we shall also need somewhere else to stop between here and Mount Rushmore. Quite where this is likely to be is anyone’s guess, depending on a multitude of factors along the way.

We are likely to take the I-90 east through counties of South Dakota, before either heading south through Iowa and Illinois before heading back north up to Lake Michigan. Alternatively we can go straight for a lot further, following the I-90 all the way into Wisconsin before going south, skirting the edge of Chicago and back round up the side of the great lake. Either journey is quite a long one, and finding somewhere to stay in South Dakota looks like the best option for us.

The I-90 is the red route at the top, Highway 240 is the yellow route...

The I-90 is the red route at the top, Highway 240 is the yellow route…

To further lengthen our journey, just east of Mount Rushmore is the Badlands National Park. From what I’ve read about this park, it is perhaps not somewhere we might want to stop, but we can make a detour through the park via Highway 240. This road, also known as the “Badlands Loop”, was included in the Rough Guides “World’s Greatest Roadtrips” list, which instantly makes it somewhere we might want to go. It is roughly 38 miles long, so, without stopping, should add little more than an hour to our journey time, but has some spectacular views and rugged scenery. From what I can tell, it is a pretty uncompromising place, and would perhaps not really be somewhere we might want to pitch our tent. That said, it is worth driving through and having a few stops at different spots just because we can.

Quite where we go and where we stop from here is still very much open to interpretation. There are a range of small campsites which are reasonably close to the I-90, so finding somewhere to stop for a night along the way should not be difficult. If we cannot find a campsite, there are also numerous motels along the way, which, at approximately $50 per night would be the more expensive, but convenient option to take. Either way, it is this section of the journey which perhaps remains the greatest unknown element for us. However, that’s all part of the experience, right?

Categories: Routes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

The One Where We Think About Money

The more I write stuff on this blog, the more I am desperate to go. Summer 2014 seems a long, long way away at the moment, and although my savings are increasing, I thought it would be wise to try and tie down roughly how much this whole jaunt might cost us.

money

Here are my rough calculations in pounds (£) and dollars ($):

Flight outwards – c. £600 (c. $900)

Cost of car rental – c.£1500 (c. $2275)

Cost of equipment – c. £500 (c. $750)

Cost of camping/motels/hotels etc – c. £300 (c. $450)

Cost of fuel – c. £600 (c. $900)

Cost of food etc – c. £300 ($450)

Return flight – c.£600 (c. $900)

Total – c. £4400 (c. $6625)

 

This is just the basic level costs of stuff, and already we can see that the cost will be quite high. However, there are a bunch of things to think about, for example, whilst the costs of flights will be individual (ie £1200 total), the other costs we can share between us. So, by that logic the cost looks more like this:

 

Flight outwards – c. £600 (c. $900)

Cost of car rental – c.£750 (c. $1140)

Cost of equipment – c. £250 (c. $380)

Cost of camping/motels/hotels etc – c. £150 (c. $230)

Cost of fuel – c. £300 (c. $450)

Cost of food etc – c. £150 ($230)

Return flight – c.£600 (c. $900)

Total – c. £2800 (c. $4230)

 

Therefore if we both save approximately £3000 each, we should have enough to cover ourselves whilst out there. After all, it would give us a combined pot of approximately $9100, which should see us around the country. The figures are quite daunting, but perfectly manageable! Indeed, the hard part is the saving!

Categories: Places | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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