Adventures Stateside; A Texas Roadtrip. Houston

Ruby the VW Campervan is parked up at a Heathrow hotel for half term. We decided to take advantage of the January flight sales, bagging some cheap seats to Houston, TX, enabling us to tick off a few more items off our ever expanding bucket list.

Wednesday

Despite travelling down late after work on Tuesday night, our alarms were still set to an ungodly hour on Wednesday, in preparation for our 10am flight. We really enjoy airport departure lounges so always make a point of giving ourselves plenty of time in there. It was my first time flying from Terminal 5, which I adored, especially travelling there by driverless pod, it felt like something from the future.

Sadly our flight was delayed for 3.5 hours as there was a problem with the window in the flight deck. At one point it looked like it may be cancelled altogether- so by the time we got on the actual plane our emotions were all over the place but we were relieved we were finally on our way.

https://videos.files.wordpress.com/BKI5fm6T/img_1769.mov

10.5 hours later, and a pretty uncomfortable flight due to the family behind us continuously kicking our chair backs, we had touchdown and were very excited to be back in the USA. We hadn’t slept but I did get chance to catch up on the recent series of Body guard- wow.

An hour later and we had requested our Uber and were enroute to our first Air b n b of the Roadtrip. Tired but very happy to be here.

Our Air b n b was in the Montrose area of Houston, an area close to both the interstate and downtown, and an area famous for having plenty of bars etc. The road itself was a lovely quiet residential street and the apartment was a really great space, equipped with the most comfy bed we’ve ever experienced and enough gadgets to keep my very own gadget man husband occupied in our downtime. On arrival at 7pm we wasted no time in showering, hitting trip advisor and taking a walk a couple of blocks away for a bite to eat and couple of beers.

We found The Pit Room, a really casual bbq joint, which served the most phenomenal beef brisket- a state dish, we’ve read. Keith had strips of brisket with coleslaw and I had brisket tacos with mac n cheese, washed down with a local IPA for Keith and a Texan Cider for me. It was divine and suddenly all our travel related stress had vanished. Next door was their sister bar, the patio, where we enjoyed a couple of drinks and soaked the atmosphere of the local baseball time team, the Astros, playing the Boston Red Socks. Before too long though, our weary bodies began to remind us that we’d been awake almost 24 hours,so we headed back for a long comfy nights sleep.

Thursday

Travelling East to West always means we wake up extra early on our first few days – we never mind as we are always keen to get out and about exploring. Today was no different, we were awake by 0430, so after an hour NASAmanagedor so of dozing and researching eateries etc, we actually were up and out by 0615 in search of coffee. We took a walk round the neighbourhood admiring all the beautiful homes in this historic district, eventually finding The Breakfast Klub, a place I’d read loads about. Apparently it’s the place to have breakfast. We were met by super friendly staff, and huge mugs of coffee. I ordered their signature dish of waffle and wings and Keith had waffle and eggs and bacon. It was as huge, but hands down the best breakfast I’ve ever had. Arrive early though, it filled up really quickly.

From there we walked down another mile or so to Avis to pick up our rental car. The handover was smooth and by 9am we were on our way to NASA, about 20 miles south of Houston.

Words can’t describe how much I adored our visit to NASA – it was everything I hoped it would be and more. As soon as we arrived we went to take the tram tour- this is advisable as we’d read that sometimes the wait becomes so long you miss out later in the day and it is unmissable.

The tram tour takes you right around the site with 3 stops -first being the historical and famous mission control room- which was the centre of activity when both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin famously became the first men to walk on the moon, then again with the Apollo XIII mission. The room is currently undergoing major renovation, however we got to see the original computers and equipment and also sat in the VIP viewing area. If you visit next year, you’ll see it completely set up including the flight data etc on the screens.

Next stop was the NASA training mock up centre. This was really exciting as we got to see where all the astronauts train in the mock up capsules. We saw all the capsules including Soyuz, The space shuttle, Orion- the brand new one capable of travel to Mars- along with robonauts and buggy’s that are still under development. It was so exciting, we were both in our element!

Last stop of the tram tour was the Rocket Park, where we saw Saturn V. It was huge and just mind boggling. Saturn V was the rocket that got men to the moon.

The grounds of NASA are like a uni campus- and what we didn’t realise was that it is still entirely working- so we were seeing government workers driving around doing their business, including astronauts having meetings etc. All the training facilities are still here and used daily. How exciting to be able to observe it all. Underneath the historical mission control room was the active mission control for the International Space Centre so we had to be silent when moving about in that building. How cool!

Back at the Johnson Space centre and we got started on the exhibitions, of which there were loads. The Americans really do these attractions well. Our favourite exhibits were the space shuttle and jet it piggybacked on- being able to see inside the space shuttle was so exciting. The flight-deck was beyond complicated to our untrained eyes!

We also saw the very first capsules that an American orbited in space in, the Gemini and Mercury. We got to go inside the training mock up of the Skylab, which preceded the international space centre.

We saw the last ever Apollo capsule to return from space and see actual moon rock.

And Keith had a proper nerd out when he discovered the original Star Trek Galileo shuttle prop in the cafe.

After a full day exploring NASA on the back of our jet lag, by the time we got back to our apartment we were exhausted, so we had a quick shower and took an Uber to a restaurant recommendation from our host.

La Tiempo was a lovely Mexican in Montrose and we enjoyed a fabulous meal washed down by some margaritas. The meal was fantastic but we were so tired so had an early night- went to bed dreaming of rockets and space!

A brilliant day.

Friday

Another early morning, so we made the most of it by having an early breakfast down the road and checking out early. We had a driving tour of some cool sites in Houston. It’s really sprawled out so you definitely need a car. We took a drive down Heights Boulevard, a traditional affluent neighbourhood with fabulous houses and wide streets.

From there we popped to see the water wall which was really cool and then onto the Beer Can House- yes, a house made of beer cans! It took the designer 20 years to collect enough beer cans!

Our final stop was to get some cupcakes from the only cupcake ATM- Sprinkles. The cupcakes were good and it was novel ordering them through the ATM at the back of the shop. Only in America.

High on sugar, it was time to hit the road, our next destination was calling. We are off to Dallas.

Until next time

Lx

2 Days in Marblehead and Salem, MA

Day 7

Wednesday arrived and it was time to wave goodbye to North Conway. It was fun place to base ourselves and it gets very busy during the ski season here. One of it’s other attractions is the shopping village on the outskirts of town, and we decided that seeing as it was pouring with rain still, we would indulge in a hour or so of mooching round the Outlet stores.

An hour later and I was dragging us out before we had to remortgage the house! Keith and I brought a couple of pairs of Levi jeans – K got the bargain of the century – £9 for a pair of Levis I think he paid! Mum and Al got a couple of Levi T Shirts. We then popped across to Tommy Hilfiger and I saw a leather jacket that I fell in love with, and at £65 rather than £150 was a bargain so I had to have that despite worrying about my luggage allowance! Mum found herself a pair of Vans.

We hit the road and carried on towards Massachusetts. Our next location was another Air B n B – this time more of a BnB basis where we had the top floor two bedrooms and the owner lived downstairs and provided breakfast. Before we could check in we had lunch in The Sail Loft in Marblehead which was a great find. We grabbed lunch and by then the rain was beginning to stop, hallelujah, so we enjoyed a little wander around the extraordinarily pretty streets of old Marblehead. The houses were wooden and oozed character, and they all had charming Fall decorations lining their steps and porches. There were some cute little stores and a seafood restaurant on the seafront that caught our eye so we made a reservation for dinner and headed towards our accommodation.

After a quick freshen up we decided to get our glad rags on – I was feeling a bit better so we poshed up and went for a corker of a seafood dinner at The Landing. On our way (I was DES!) we stopped for a drink at a historical tavern where we had a nice chat with some friendly locals, before making our way to the restaurant. Despite it’s prime location right on the seafront the prices were very reasonably priced, and we therefore ended up with a lobster dinner each. It was my first time (and Mum’s) – I have a phobia of shellfish with their antennas on (there must be a better word for that??) so much so that my girlfriends call us The Prawnettes because of it! So for me to have a lobster was a huge event – and my god it was flipping gorgeous.

Day 8

Today was non driving day as Marblehead is just on the outskirts of Salem and therefore a short UBER ride away. We started our days exploration of historic Salem by a tour of the Witches Museum which was very interesting and well presented. We all really enjoyed our visit.

After this we went to the oldest Witch House in Salem, which was fascinating and we event got to see John Proctor’s fork.

The rain was beating down again (boo) so we headed for lunch at the historical Lyceum Hall, which is where Alexander Bell made his first long distance phone call! It is now a seafood place and so we enjoyed a lovely seafood dinner. The clam chowder was gorgeous. Mum and Alec decided to take the trolley tour that afternoon, so Keith and I visited the house of the Seven Gables on our own – wow, that was so interesting. We even got to go and stand up in the gable and see some floorboards that were over 300 years old.

WE also managed to see Alison’s house from Hocus Pocus which was really cool as it’s such a great movie!

I’d read abut a gin distillery in Salem so naturally we had to visit. The walk was a little way out but eventually we found it hidden away, it had a speakeasy bar that is open certain hours, so we got to try some of the spirits in rather delicious cocktails.

There were some locals in there who couldn’t believe we had found the place – I get the impression that its off the beaten track for tourists – so glad we found it though. The gin had a very heavy green cardamom taste, but I loved it so brought a bottle to bring home. Visit Deacon Giles Distillery

We had dinner at the Howling Wolf, which despite being absolutely packed, gave us a very tasty meal at a ridiculously cheap price, before heading back to our air b and b to pack our cases up good and proper as we were heading to the airport for an internal flight tomorrow.

Until Next Time

Lx

New England in the Fall; A 2 day road trip through New Hampshire

Day 5

Monday dawned a typical Autumnal day and we were up and dressed fairly early. The car was loaded up (no mean feat seeing as we had a steep flight of stairs to navigate and HUMUNGOUS bags) As the shopkeeper open the country store, we settled our bill and hit the highway, stopping for some lovely Autumnal pictures along the way.

Our destination for today’s activity was the Mount Washington Cog Railway, the world’s first Mountain Climbing Railway. We were very lucky – the weather was PERFECT, not a cloud in the sky! We arrived early in case we got caught in traffic, so had a little shop in the gift shop and a picnic lunch whilst we waiting for our 1pm train to descend from the top.

Soon it was our turn to board, as we were lucky to be in the first of 3 carriages so we got a great view.

The Railway track was astoundingly steep in places, and the ascent took around 45 mins. You could get up and wander to the front to look out of the front window and the back window also had amazing views as we got higher.

We had just over an hour on the top of Mount Washington to explore the summit, which was about all we needed- it can reach up to 100mph winds up there, and even though the views were amazing it was flipping cold!

The return journey was in places terrifying, it was so steep! And just the brakesman at the front of each individual carriage operating the brakes. Absolutely marvellous engineering, we just loved our visit. Video highlights here.

It was about 45 mins drive to North Conway, a ski resort within the White Mountains, which would be our next base for 2 nights. We had hired another air b n b, this time we had an entire wooden house to ourselves, complete with hot tub! Happy days.

We were soon in there with a beer, before getting our glad rags on and heading for dinner. By the way, in New Hampshire they don’t measure out spirits – I ended up with a pint, yes a pint! of gin! Whooooah!

Day 6 – My Birthday!

Today was a non driving day as it was my birthday! Sadly the weather god’s hadn’t taken a note of this special day and it absolutely hammered down ALL Day. However, it wasn’t the end of the world as we had booked onto The North Conway Scenic Railwroad for a return journey through the very pretty Crawford Notch. After a pancake breakfast, we crossed the road to the train station ready for out 11am departure.

Our accommodation on the train was up in the dome – a raised area with glass roof which I’m sure in better weather would have been spectacular.

Sadly in the rain, it was a bit dismal and we were all a bit rough (ahem) We had waitress service throughout the journey and despite me thinking there would be no alcohol on board, there was, and so we enjoyed a relaxing train journey and a couple of cocktails. Not a bad way to spend my birthday.

The train turned around at Crawford station, and we headed back to North Conway.

Although we enjoyed the train ride, I don’t think it was anywhere near as spectacular as some of the others we’ve done in the past. If we had to choose one we would definitely recommend the Cog Railway over the Scenic Railway. Video highlights here

Unfortunately I was full of a head cold and therefore didn’t fancy venturing too far out for my birthday meal. However there was nice place a couple of doors down from our accommodation and so we enjoyed a meal and a couple of cocktails there before a relatively early night. Not before trying the most delicious bourbon I’ve tasted. Jim Bean MAPLE bourbon. 🥃 am-aaa-zing

< strong>Highlights of New Hampshire<<<<<<<<
hington Cog Railway

The road through Crawford Notch

Jim BeamMaple Bourbon

New England in the Fall; a 2 day Roadtrip through Vermont

Day 3

Keith and I got an Uber from our Boston city apartment to the airport, leaving Mum and Alec to finish their packing and have a quick clean up of our Air BnB. We weren’t abandoning them, we just felt the process of hiring our Rental car would be quicker and easier as a twosome rather than a four – and it also saved us having to lug all our luggage back to the airport.

We hired our Medium sized SUV from Dollarcar and for 6 days with unlimited mileage it came in at around £200. The pick up process was quick and easy and we were left to our own devices to go and pick the vehicle we wanted.

We chose a lovely white Kia Sorento and half an hour later I was making my American driving debut. Initially it was terrifying given that the airport is slap bang in the middle of the city. And the driving in Boston reminded me of the driving in Delhi! OMG. But I soon got used to it- basically no rules, expect the unexpected, and Keefy was a fab co pilot. Talking of Co Pilots – Colin the Co Pilot (my iPhone Map system) worked a treat – I had downloaded the whole of America offline for £19.99 and it was brilliant.

We picked up Mum and Alec from the apartment along with all the luggage – which JUST fit in the back – wow we sure don’t travel lightly! We drove past Harvard University before picking up the Highway, where it didn’t take too long at all before we started seeing some phenomenal Autumnal colours on the roadside trees.

Around 3 hours later we were rolling into Wilmington, which is where we were picking up the Scenic Highway 100. Just before Wilmington there was the most beautiful scenic lay-by, which turned out to be one of my favourite views in Vermont.

We stopped for lunch at the Village Roost in Wilmington, before heading North on the Scenic Highway 100, which offered fabulous views as the road wound up and around various ski resorts. The villages were fairly small and remote really, and the houses just so charming – all wooden with picture perfect porches. You could just imagine kicking off your shoes, jumping in one of the comfy chairs and watching the world go by.

Not too far into our journey on the Scenic Highway, we stopped off at the Vermont Country Store in Weston. This is one of the oldest Country Stores in America and dates from the 1940s. It is huge – and here is a tip – don’t go in hungry (or do if you fancy a free lunch- so many samples available!) Wow, what a place – thank goodness we were flying in and out of America and therefore had to consider weight limits, otherwise my credit card would have had a right battering! It was filled with local meats, cheeses, chutneys, jams, maple based products, local alcoholic beverages, clothes, games, old fashioned sweets, kitchenware – oh the list goes on. We brought some maple syrup and some hot Apple Cider (none alcoholic) and made our escape. Certainly worth a visit though – what a lovely shop!

We carried on to our next Air BnB, which was near to Woodstock, with plenty of picture stops on route.

The apartment was a charming loft conversion above a country store. Another chance to buy tons of local produce!

The owner met us and was very friendly – she said they operated an honesty system, basically leaving the shop open for us overnight and if we fancied midnight munchies we could just go down and help ourselves – make a note of what we had and settle up when we leave. She would also prepare us a breakfast basket each morning and leave it at the bottom of our stairs! How cute!

Once we had got over the fact that we all had to share a room (ahem) we got our glad rags on and went for a meal. Unfortunately the downside was that there was nowhere within walking distance, however I didn’t mind driving.

Day 4

Sunday dawned cooler than what we’d been used to on the previous days but it was still clear. We were up relatively early and on the roady 9am. Today’s destination was the Northern part of Vermont. We had fun driving over the historical covered bridge opposite our accommodation – these are a common sight in Vermont and are really pretty.

We carried on just down the road to Quechee Gorge, which is billed as New England’s answer to the Grand Canyon. It’s a steep gorge with a tree lined river running at the bottom and you get a good view from both the bridge at the top and on the river level at the bottom, after a mile or so hike.

Back to the car and our next location was somewhere which I was very excited about – The Ben and Jerry’s Factory!

It was definitely an indulgence for me this stop, I adore Ben and Jerry’s! As you got out of the car, the air carried the smell of ice cream. Yum. We signed up for the next tour, which was 30 mins long and although nothing too special, it was really cool to be there and you got to see briefly where the magic happens!

Next stop was Stowe, home to the Von Trapp Family Lodge – the place which they escaped to from Austria. It’s in a really pretty area and is a ski resort from end of November. The scenery was gorgeous, although the town was more spread out than we imagined which made it hard to explore on foot.

We had a fabulous meal at Piecasso, which specialise in pizza – of course Keith HAD to have the large (just for himself!) ! Oink! It made a good picture though lol and tasted gorgeous.

Alec was nominated to try the local beer “Heady Toppy” – I’d read about it, apparently its voted the best beer in the world. Well, at 8% it must be one of the strongest! Keith really enjoyed the Von Trapp beer. Mum had a Stowe Cider which she loved. I had wait for it……. a tap water as I was in charge of Kelly the Kia.

We started heading back towards our digs along the Scenic Route 100, but this time North to South. We managed a stop at a local distillery to pick up some Bourbon with Maple and some small batch gin. Both of which are gorgeous! We also stopped at the Cider Mill where we had some fresh apple juice, hot cider and I tried the cider donuts, which were good.

We opted for a chill that night as we had been non stop since arriving. It was nice to catch our breaths for an evening – the boys fell asleep by 9 and Mum and I caught up on Strictly.

Vermont Highlights

  • Wilmington
  • Quechee Gorge
  • Ben and Jerrys Factory
  • Vermont Country Store
  • Stowe- esp Piecassimo Pizza and Von Trapp Beer/Stowe Cider

48 hours in Boston, MA

Day 1

We had arrived late (well 8pm – but 1am English time) so after arriving at our Air B n’ B around 9pm we hit the sacks, and therefore woke up very early on Day 1.

Not wanting to waste a second, we showered and were out by 7am having breakfast at Dunkin Donuts, which was near enough next door to our 2 bed flat.

Our Air BnB was located on the outskirts of Charlestown, about 10 mins cab from the airport and about 10 mins taxi to the centre of Downtown Boston. We like the idea of AirBnB as because we are used to motor homing, we really just needed a base, with a shower, bed and coffee making facilities.

Day 1 started with us exploring the Freedom Trail – which is a 2.5 marked trail through the centre of Boston taking in the most famous and historical sites the city has to offer. Before we booked Boston, I had no idea about what a historical city it was.

boston-nps-map

Our plan was to take in half of the freedom trail on day one and half on day two. We began at the Visitor centre on Boston Common so took a Tube from our accommodation to Park Street Station.

We walked through the common admiring the golden leaves and soon found ourselves at the State House.

We followed it though the city centre stopping at the old Burial Ground and the Old State House which is where the Declaration of Independence was read (pictures above).

We popped into Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market – two of the oldest markets in Boston – Faneuil Hall was great to shop for souvenirs and Quincy was a food lovers heaver. Crammed full of food stalls from every cuisine you can imagine, but a recurring theme was seafood of course due to our seaside lication, and lobster and clam chowder featured heavily – as it’s a popular dish here in New England.

Mouth’s set to drooling we popped to the waterside grabbing a beer each at Boston Harbor Cruises ‘The Landing’ – harbor-side bar, before making our way to Quincy Market to pick up a picnic lunch.

I opted for the Lobster Ravioli and boy was it good – Keith went for a Lobster roll, Mum a mac n cheese pie and Alec, a Hot Dog.

After lunch we went back on ourselves back through Boston Common and up Beacon Hill – we stopped for a quick beer in the famous Cheers Bar – slightly disappointing inside, but a must anyway, before exploring the trendy and insanely pretty Beacon Hill district.

All the houses around here had gorgeous fall decorations on their doorsteps and Acorn Street was worth a stop for a picture with its charming cobbled hill.

We went for another wander around Boston Common before requesting an Uber to take us back to our apartment for a freshen up and change for dinner. That was a mistake – traffic in Boston is horrible most of the time. Avoid taxis during peak hours – we called ours at 4pm and it took us over an hour to get 3.5 miles. If we hadn’t have been so tired we could have walked – but the T rail is very good and cheap so if I were there again that’s what I’d do.

Day 1 was our lobster meal night. After many recommendations from Twitter etc, we had pre booked a table at Legal Seafoods in Seaport region. Alec had never had Lobster and it was his dream to eat it in Boston, one of the reasons behind our trip. We had a cocktail on the roof terrace before we made our way to our table by the window – Keith and Alec had the full lobster experience, whilst Mum and I had other lobster alternatives. The meal was fantastic, as was the service and I would wholly recommend this place to try Lobster, our server held Keith and Alec’s had throughout the “cracking the lobster” procedure and actually the meal was very good value -each lobster was under £30 each!

Day 2

Darned Jet lag – we were awake early again, so got up and dressed and went for breakfast at Dunkin Donuts once more. Today was part 2 of the Freedom trail, along with a look around the Naval yard, USS Constitution, the Italian North End and we even squeezed in a boat trip too!

We took our T line train to Haymarket station where we picked up the Freedom trail and followed it all the way around the very charming North End – the “Little Italy” section of town. It’s a lovely place to browse around, perusing menus for later on, taking pictures of the many buildings decorated in lead, and smelling the wonderful aromas of coffee and other Italian delights. The buildings are charming and it was lovely looking around.

Before too long though it was time to head back to Long Wharf for our 10.30am Historical Harbour Cruise. What we didn’t realise when we booked it, was that today was the day the USS Constitution was making it’s first sailing in over 2 years because of restoration works that have taken place. Also – when it’s not being restored, it only sails once a year – so we were beyond thrilled to learn that not only was it sailing but it had just left it’s shipyard and was about to sail RIGHT PAST US! Wow! It truly was the most wonderful sight.

The Harbour Cruise worked as a hop on, hop off, which was perfect as we got to hop off at the Navy Yard, where the USS Constitution usually is based – despite it not being there we could still look around the USS Cassin Young, and also pick up the ending of the Freedom Trail, which led us through the absolutely stunning area of Charlestown and up to Bunker Hill Monument.

We climbed the 492 steps up Bunker Hill Monument and we rewarded with views of the USS Constitution making it’s way back to the yard.

We opted to go for a sandwich lunch at one of the oldest taverns in Boston, which handily was right by the Bunker Hill monument, The Warren Tavern. It served delicious food – mum and I loved our clam chowder, whilst the boys had humungous burgers. The local Downeast Pumpkin cider was one of the best ciders I’ve tasted.

After lunch we walked back to the Navy Yard where we were in time to see the USS Constitution back in dock – what a majestic ship she is. Our Harbour Cruise picked us up at 2pm and we made our way back to Long Wharf.

From here we walked the mile down to the Boston Tea Party Museum and got booked onto the next tour. Whilst this wasn’t my cup of tea (scuse the pun!) – Keith loved it. It was a proper all out American presentation of the history of the Tea Party Massaceur and was very interactive – i.e. the actors all gave us a role to play. There were a couple of moments inside the museum which were pretty impressive (technology based and I won’t spoil it) and also you got to see one of the original tea crates which was  pretty cool.

We made our way back to the apartment for a quick change before heading back into downtown for a couple of local beers in two more historical taverns – The Green Dragon and The Bell in Hand, before wandering into the North End for a delicious Italian meal at  Quattro.

Itinerary Details

Day 1

AM: Freedom Trail  from Visitor Centre Boston Common to Visitor Centre Fencuil Hall.

Lunch: Beer at The Landing (Boston Harbor Cruises) and Lunch at Quincy Market

PM: Beacon Hill District especially taking in Cheers Bar, Acorn Street and Chestnut Street.

Evening: Pre dinner cocktail on the roof terrace then seafood dinner at Legal Harbourside (Floor 1) 

Day 2

AM: 9.00am  Pick up Freedom Trail at Haymarket Station then do the North End Section up to Copps Hill Burying Ground.

10:30 Pre booked Harbour Cruise   $22.99 pp (Hop on Hop Off)

11:00 Disembark Harbour Cruise at Navy Yard, look around then continue up to Bunker Hill on the rear end of the Freedom Trail.

Lunch: Warren Taven – one of the oldest tavern’s in Boston

2pm: Take the Harbor Cruise back to Long Wharf and walk to the Boston Tea Party museum 

Evening: Couple of beers at Green Dragon Tavern and The Bell In Hand – both historical taverns then an Italian meal in the North End – we went to Quattro and it was delicious.

ACCOMODATION

Air B n B – 2 Bed apartment by Sullivan Square transport hub. Total for 3 nights for 4 people – £ 411

Next Up: (Coming Soon)

2 Day Roadtrip in Vermont

2 Day Roadtrip in New Hampshire

24 Hours in Salem, MA

24 Hours at Niagra Falls

New England in the Fall – a 10 day road -trip taking in New England’s Autumn Foliage

Last week was half term and Keith and I (along with my mum and stepdad) packed our bags and hopped across the Pond to the USA – taking advantage of a rather great Virgin Atlantic “January Sale”. Keith and I took a couple of days out of school (something which we rarely do, but are lucky enough to be able to if we wish, due to our self employed status) No trip to New England would be complete without seeing the stunning Autumn colours – so travelling a couple of days early enhanced our chances of seeing the peak foliage.

After months of planning – I was ready to take charge – I’d adopted the position of  Tour Manager and Chauffer and after a rather good and exceptionally good value National Express coach journey from Thetford to London we were all checked in, and ready for our evening flight to Boston MA.

You can read all about our adventures Stateside using the links below.

48 Hours in Boston

A Two day roadtrip through Vermont

A two day road trip through New Hampshire

Two Days in Marblehead and Salem, MA

24 Hours in Niagara Falls, Canada side 🇨🇦

American adventures on Amtrak- Part 10 travelling on the Amtrak “Coast Starlight” from LA to San Fransisco then onto Yosemite National Park and back home.

It was our last trip on the Amtrak trains, and one we had been looking forward to, as we knew some of it hugged the dramatic coastline of the West Coast of America, The Pacific Ocean! We couldn’t believe that we had made it to the west coast, over 3000 miles from New York where we had started, and over 5000 miles away from London!

It was a long journey lasting over 11 hours, but we spent some time in the observation lounge watching the ever changing coastline- we even saw a school of dolphins swimming just off the shore.

2015-08-21 21.07.55 2015-08-21 20.27.53

Lunch and Dinner was taken on the train, and we disembarked around 21:30 at Oaklands, just outside of San Fransisco.

2015-08-21 20.25.54 2015-08-21 13.38.52 2015-08-21 20.25.35

We were up early the next day as we were off on a guided coach tour of San Fransisco, which was fabulous, it took in all the sights, including the famous Lombard Street (a very steep and windy picturesque road), The Palace of Arts, The Golden Gate Bridge and even a fine view of the city from Twin Peaks. Our guide was really knowledgable and we thoroughly enjoyed the morning. We were dropped off at Fishermans Wharf, a lively area by the sea at lunch time, and along with our friends, Steve and Arlene, we popped for a swift beer followed by some local crab for lunch. It was a lovely spot, and we even saw the famous San Fransisco sea lions.

2015-08-22 16.57.22 2015-08-22 17.36.06-1

2015-08-22 11.05.16 2015-08-22 19.16.08

2015-08-22 19.15.57

2015-08-22 21.33.512015-08-22 22.01.03

Later that afternoon we visited the infamous Alcatraz. We had booked our tickets well in advance, and a good job too, as it was totally sold out for the time we were there. It was an incredible trip- what an interesting place to visit. The old prison has been left as it was when it was in use- the cells are all available to view and the audio tour was fascinating, telling tales of prisoners who had been held at Alcatraz and also those who escaped.

2015-08-23 00.26.37 2015-08-23 00.00.39

That evening we joined Steve and Arlene on a trip into Chinatown for dinner. We travelled on the famous San Fransisco “Cable Cars”- interesting, as we all thought they were going to be up high in the air, but in fact they are little wooden boxes that travel on the middle of the road- more like trams come to think about it. They are fascinating to ride on, even a little scary actually, they whiz up and down the hills and the braking system is nothing other than a wooden block that traps under the wheel!! Also, the health and safety regs obviously aren’t a priority over there as there was nothing to prevent you hanging out of the side as the carriage was hurtling up or down the hill!

2015-08-22 20.49.59

2015-08-22 20.53.09

2015-08-22 23.06.22 2015-08-22 23.05.05

Next day was a free day, and our last free day in San Fransisco. We were up fairly early and got the metro bus down to Golden Gate park. We enjoyed a visit to The Japanese Tea Gardens, then had a pleasant walk through the park, and onto Haight Steet, famous in its day for the “hippy” part of town. In fact, back in The Summer of Love, this was where the hippy subculture began. Nowadays, traces of these hippy days are still evident, the street hosts independent stores, restaurants, book stores, smoke shops, and even a naked man with nothing other than a sock on his you know what! We enjoyed a nice Thai meal before carrying on. This section of town was home to some of our favourite bits of architecture in the whole city. Beautiful wooden townhouses, with turrets and bags of style.

2015-08-23 18.41.59

2015-08-23 18.38.33

2015-08-23 18.47.38 2015-08-23 18.49.37 2015-08-23 20.09.50 2015-08-23 21.16.22 2015-08-23 21.34.39

Once back at the hotel, it was time to say farewell to the rest of our tour group, including the tour manager. They were all flying back to England Monday afternoon, but Keith and I were staying on for an extra couple of nights as we had booked an extension to Yosemite National Park. There were a couple of hiccups on this final chapter of our journey, but I won’t discuss them online yet as its currently under investigation. Despite the hiccups, we were pleased to take in Yosemite, its a breathtakingly beautiful part of the world.

2015-08-24 18.56.48

There is an excellent free shuttle which operates around the National Park making it accessible without the huge hikes, however there are plenty of trails for different abilities. We did a short walk on our first afternoon taking in Yosemite Falls, which sadly had dried up as California is in the middle of a 3 year drought. Still the glacier cliff face was amazing, and the tall trees were HUGE!

2015-08-24 22.43.16

Next day we did the trail up to Vernon Falls- around a 3 mile circular trail which went quite steep! Still, it was worth it as we found some water in the waterfall. The views are just beautiful.

2015-08-25 17.51.19

Soon, it was time for our transfer back to San Fransisco for our final night before our flight home. We were feeling sad that our adventure was over, but satisfied and in awe of the places that we had travelled to. It had been our first experience on an organised tour, and we absolutely LOVED it. Having a tour manager with us throughout was a luxury, he took the stress and the thinking out of every aspect, meaning we could relax and just enjoy. For anyone thinking of exploring USA, we would highly recommend Great Rail USA Coast to Coast. All the Americans that we met on our journey were impressed with the itinerary, several saying that we were seeing more of America than 80% of Americans. It was extremely well organised and our tour manager, John Levick was a true pro. He stayed calm no matter what, was informative, friendly and totally in control. He took care of our cases, our tickets, everything. All we had to do was turn up on time and follow like sheep!

Seriously, if you fancy taking a trip of a lifetime, without the hassle of driving (I still cannot get my head around HOW BIG America is!!!) this tour is for you.

American adventures on Amtrak- Part 9 – The Grand Canyon to LA and staying on The Queen Mary at Longbeach

We travelled to the Grand Canyon from Williams on The Grand Canyon Railway.

2015-08-19 15.51.352015-08-19 22.16.38

It was an interesting way to get to the Canyon, although the cheesy cowboy show at the beginning was a bit much for us! Haha. Our group got bumped up to First class which was fab, and the carriages were wonderfully art deco, wood panel lined. Real old fashioned luxury.

I still can’t talk about experiencing the Grand Canyon without getting a tear in my eye. It was the single most amazing place I’ve ever been. Absolutely sensationally awesome. Funnily enough, we didn’t actually see it until about an hour or so after actually arriving, as, because we had booked the flight over the Grand Canyon, we were bundled straight onto a waiting coach and driven to the airport. So our first view was this:

2015-08-19 20.20.59 2015-08-19 20.21.54

I made a short video of our flight – but I’m aware that nothing I can show you here will ever prepare you for seeing the canyon for real.

We flew on a 19 seater propellor plane – now, I am not a good flyer, and I am so proud of myself for getting on! The funniest thing happened once it took off, Keith and I were sat on the second row back, and I looked round to see EVERYONE looking PETRIFIED. It was the single most terrifying thing I’ve ever done, but in the same breath it was the most wonderful experience I’ce ever had. A funny comment from one of our fellow group members as we landed “I don’t know why they have vomit bags on the seats, I think spare pants would be more appropriate…!”

2015-08-19 12.53.12-2

2015-08-19 20.01.18 2015-08-19 20.01.25 2015-08-19 20.05.00 2015-08-19 20.05.16 2015-08-19 20.05.39 2015-08-19 20.26.17 2015-08-19 20.27.10 2015-08-19 20.27.41 2015-08-19 20.27.59 2015-08-19 20.43.54

Back on  the ground and with very shaky legs, we caught our coach back to the rim and enjoyed an hour looking over the edge. It really is the most amazing place you will ever visit.

2015-08-19 21.34.00 2015-08-19 21.35.48 2015-08-19 14.23.49 2015-08-19 14.28.18-2

Our journey back to Williams on the Grand Canyon railway was spent trying to make sense of what we had experienced, helped by the train bar, where we spent the entire 2 hour journey, trying all the cocktails on offer!! At one point the train jolted to a stop, and we looked out of the window to see cowboys on horses running next to our train. Next thing we know, these “cowboys” are on the train “robbing us” – all part of the show, very cheesy but a bit of fun!

2015-08-20 00.05.42-2

That night we had some time to kill in Flagstaff before boarding our overnight sleeper train to LA, so we carried on with the beer, enjoyed a nice meal with Arlene and Steve, some friends we had made and then a few sherbets at the Irish Bar across the road from the station. The train ran 3 hours late, so we ended up having a few more than intended!

2015-08-19 22.01.37

After a very heavy sleep (no idea why…!) our arrival to LA was sadly 3 hours later than planned, which resulted in us having less time in LA. We managed to get a whistlestop tour in, with lively guide Kenny. we saw The Dolby Theatre, home to The Oscars, but couldn’t get in die to them setting up a premiere for that night. We saw Hollywood Boulevard and also some of the stars on the sidewalk. We also saw a naked man on a street corner (our guide just said, welcome to California!) and we took a drive through Beverly Hills and Rodeo Drive.

2015-08-20 20.14.13 2015-08-20 19.41.09 2015-08-20 19.39.39 2015-08-20 19.36.27 2015-08-20 19.35.19 2015-08-20 19.35.09 2015-08-20 19.17.37 2015-08-20 19.08.02

Our first sight of our room for the night, The legendary Queen Mary, was exciting. The Queen Mary was built as a luxury ocean liner and for many years held the title for fastest crossing from England to New York. It was so fast that come WW2, it was used as a troop ship to cart Americans to the war, and was so fast that the German U Boats couldn’t catch it to attack it. We were so lucky to be spending the night on this marvellous ship. They’ve left on board exactly as it would have been so it was lined with rich wooden walls, luxurious suites, and marble flooring. It was fabulous. We enjoyed our hour tour of the boat and afterwards went down into the engine rooms to look at one of the propellors. All the fixtures and fittings were original in the rooms, although they had added a flat screen tv for guests! We enjoyed cocktails in the first class lounge at the front of the boat before having dinner looking out across to Long beach. Perfect

2015-08-21 00.53.01 2015-08-20 23.41.34 2015-08-20 23.17.00 2015-08-20 23.14.20 2015-08-20 23.12.54 2015-08-20 23.02.11 2015-08-20 23.00.00 2015-08-20 21.37.40 2015-08-20 21.34.44 2015-08-20 21.34.21 2015-08-20 21.34.12 2015-08-20 19.20.33 2015-08-20 19.22.12 2015-08-20 19.32.16 2015-08-20 21.21.23 2015-08-20 21.16.32

American adventures on Amtrak- Part 8 – Durango to Flagstaff via Monument Valley

We had a quiet night in Durango – still trying to process the scenery that we had seen on the past couple of days, knowing that there was much, much more to come! We stayed at the Doubletree by Hilton which was lovely, we had a nice balcony overlooking the river Colorado and it was very quiet.

Next day and another early start, but we were all excited as today was the day we were travelling through Navajo country into Monument Valley. Jeff, our coach driver/tour guide was fantastic, pointing out the sights to see. Our first stop was at Twin Rocks Trading Post, situated just below some impressive sandstone sculptures.

2015-08-17 17.07.20 2015-08-17 17.10.00

Our next stop was absolutely breathtaking – not often you can silence an entire coach full of Brits, but this spot sure did – Goosenecks State park, an impressive canyon with some neat river meanders. Absolutely amazing. (click on pics for full res)

2015-08-17 17.50.32 2015-08-17 17.51.13 2015-08-17 17.54.45-1 2015-08-17 17.55.57 2015-08-17 18.00.39

Next stop was the eagerly anticipated Monument Valley, with pictures stops in various locations, including the spot where we all shouted…”Run, Forrest, Run”….

2015-08-17 18.40.58 2015-08-17 18.39.00

2015-08-17 18.51.42-1

2015-08-17 18.50.53

We stopped for lunch just beyond Monument Valley at the place where Jeff Wayne used to stay when he was filming wild west films. It had a cool museum with loads of photos of them filming various movies etc. We ate traditional Navajo food, Frybread with beef stew for me and chilli for Keith. Delicious – and amazing to think we fancied such hot food despite it being high 30s outside!

2015-08-17 19.51.56 2015-08-17 19.52.48 2015-08-17 19.54.28 2015-08-17 19.49.21

On our journey from Monument Valley to Flagstaff we passed several traditional Navajo houses, called Hogans, and made out of sandstone. These days, Navajo People are becoming more westernised, many living in trailers (to use they look like static caravans). Apparently this is because they never can buy the land they live on, it belongs to the ‘Navajo people” – so rather than building permanent houses, living in trailers offers them the luxury to move to a different patch of land as and when they want to.

2015-08-17 20.55.12 2015-08-17 20.55.23 2015-08-17 20.56.47

We arrived at our hotel for two nights in Flagstaff just in time for Happy Hour and a dip in the gorgeous outside pool before having dinner with some of our group. Next day, we had a free day so enjoyed a pool day and also exploring the hotel “Nature Trail”- a 1.5 mile circuit through the woodland. A lovely way to spend our free day.

2015-08-18 13.16.49 2015-08-18 18.45.09 2015-08-18 19.15.17 2015-08-18 22.23.14 2015-08-18 23.04.42

American adventures on Amtrak- Part 7 – The Rockies and The San Juan mountains, Colorado

Our journey from Denver through to Grand Junction on The Californian Zephyr was fantastic. It was a daytime journey and passed right through the heart of The Rocky Mountains. The scenery was breathtaking, we followed the Colorado River through the majority of the journey and we saw hundreds of people enjoying the river, be it on kayaks, dingy, canoes or just swimming. What was hilarious was something that we had been prewarned about- the “locals mooning” at the train as it goes by – we were in stitches when we saw our first- and it kept the whole carriage amused as we played “spot the mooner” Some did to whilst balancing not their dingy, some from the side of the river, some old, some young – it didn’t seem to matter! Hilarious!

2015-08-15 20.10.23

2015-08-15 21.54.30

Photos don’t do the journey justice, so I took a selection of videos, which you can see below:

We arrived at Grand junction, Colorado just n time for a dip at the outdoor pool at the hotel (temperature was 38 degrees at 7pm!!!) and a few glasses of local wine and a meal at the local brewhouse. The Colorado wine didn’t blow us away, but the meal was delicious. There were some interesting sculptures dotted along the High Street, including this one of the buffalo, made out of bumpers of cars!

2015-08-16 01.22.50

Next day we had another big day of travel – we were heading to the San Juan mountain range and up to Silverton by coach, then joining the Durango-Silverton narrow gauge railway back down to Durango. Our first rest stop was at the amazing village of Ouray, which is nestled at the foot of the hills, and at the bottom of what the locals call “The Million Dollar Highway”. The town is very small but authentic wild west in style, and had numerous cowboy style buildings from the late 1800s.

2015-08-16 16.30.04 2015-08-16 16.33.41 2015-08-16 16.41.55We met a couple of locals whilst having a drink in Ouray who were excited on our behalf at the prospect of the next leg of our journey. They said that The Million Dollar highway had to be one of the prettiest roads in the world. Well, we are inclined to agree. Our coach driver tackled the steep mountain pass admirably- a few members of our group went pale, but the scenery was simply breathtaking.

2015-08-16 17.25.35 2015-08-16 17.26.07 2015-08-16 17.35.55

As soon as we arrived at Silverton (named because they used to mine silver there) we knew we were in for a treat. It was so so SO amazing there – really oldey worldly, horse drawn carriages being pulled, old saloon bars, cowboys etc. Absolutely fantastic place, I would really love to go back! We found a saloon bar/restaurant called Grumpy’s – we were enticed by the honky tonk pianist playing. We enjoyed a couple of pints of local beer and a buffalo burger each in an amazing atmosphere.

2015-08-16 18.36.02 2015-08-16 18.36.20 2015-08-16 18.36.28 2015-08-16 18.37.56

2015-08-16 19.29.51 2015-08-16 19.35.21

2015-08-16 19.12.24

Our journey from Silverton to Durango on the narrow gauge railway was absolutely incredible. I still can’t even describe how much we loved it so I’m afraid I’ll have to give you the pics and vids instead!

2015-08-16 20.09.25-1 2015-08-16 20.57.25 2015-08-16 21.00.37 2015-08-16 21.32.57 2015-08-16 22.53.26 2015-08-16 23.05.31 2015-08-16 23.05.48 2015-08-16 23.06.18