Hi guys, welcome to my travel journals..
I have captured so much in my journals that it will take a while for this page to update and so this page will grow over time.
I will try to add stuff I think you will find relevant and interesting and will attempt to format in a way that will make it easy for you to digest and scroll to the sections you want rather than read the lot.
You will get a feel for the trips I do and I will share what went well and what didn’t go so well so you can gather a balanced picture of what it is like to travel and what to expect when you prepare yourself.
Leaving Day 10th May
We had chosen to go to New York first and then on to Canada and LA before heading to the other side of the world.
This decision meant that in theory the more expensive parts of the trip were covered off early on so if we were sensible with our money here we could more easily negotiate the rest of the trip.
We would finish up in Malaysia and Thailand which would be really cheap in comparison when we would expect to have much less in the bank to rely upon.
Got up far too early to make the trip to Heathrow. The alarm went at 3:45am and my mum and dad kindly took us to the airport. We got there around 6:30pm so went for a well needed coffee and a bit of breakfast.
So the folks left at around 7:00am for a really uncomfortable and emotional goodbye knowing that we wouldn’t see each other for a year, tears were shed and of course what you are about to do dawns on you a little.
12:30pm local time
My thoughts and Comments about your first leaving day for a long trip
Yep you guessed it, the chances are you will all have this awkward and emotional moment when you decide to depart on an extended backpacking tour. A year away from home for most people seems a very long time, some people though can carry on for some time after.
Whether (like me) you have the awkward moment at the airport as you leave or whether you decide to get yourself there and avoid the PDA it is likely to be a bit daunting and heart wrenching.
Different people deal with things in different ways so try not to worry about this moment as it can only make you more nervous and can really stress you out before you even leave. In my experience it is best to get it over and done with rather than prolong matters but you may just find it a little more difficult when the moment comes.
If you are on your own you may need the flight out there to get over it but try to relax and make sure you are as rested and ready to go as you can be when you get there. I like to take the flight time to reflect.
On a long haul flight you usually have the free alcohol option but that just makes it tougher then you get there faffing about when you are hungover and can’t be bothered.
Try not to worry, things tend to flow after a while and lessons are learned quickly when you are on the road.
Believe me the amount of wrong turns I made may have seemed inconvenient at the time but more often than not meant I experienced something unexpected and new, as a result I learned more about me and grew more as a person. You will too…
New York Day 1 - Statue of Liberty, Ground Zero & Washington Square Park
New York, New York… Day 1
After a good sleep we got up for breakfast about 8:30am, not a usual good sleep in but we certainly enjoyed the extra 5 hours we had gained from the flight..
Breakfast was free and I had a Bagel, Blueberry muffin, an apple and an OJ.
Today was the start of New York and its many sights.
The statue of Liberty
We decided that our first stop would be the statue of liberty as we had been told by the nice railway guy that there was a free boat to Staten Island which gives you a great view.
While on the free ferry you don’t get to jump off to go onto the island but this option does save you paying $25 each – or $28 each if you wanted to climb to the top of the crown.
The boat was a large vessel just up from the tour boat section at the front and literally a 5-10 minute walk from the Bowling Green station in Manhattan past the Vietnam War memorial and the lovely parky area around the subway entrance / exit.
From the boat you get a great view of Manhattan, the statue of liberty, a selection of islands and a couple of bridges including Brooklyn Bridge.
Once on Staten Island we came straight back on approximately a 1 hour round trip and for free!
I have to say the statue of Liberty was a bit smaller than I had anticipated as the movies make it look like a dominating force on the horizon, it was still pretty grand and a view not to be missed if you go to New York.
From here it seemed logical to visit the world trade centre and because it was a nice day a walk would be good and along the front would be great!
We walked along the front for a while and saw lots of nice gardens & seating areas and some old guys playing volley ball on an outdoor court…excellent..
After walking a couple of blocks up and couple across we headed to an eerie looking sight which you could tell was ground zero.
The traffic freely moving, people walking around with some noticeable references to the re-build on some of the surrounding buildings. As we walked around we observed the numerous information boards and listings of the many people who died at the site.
Near the subway entrance there was a man showing us pictures and telling us about the devastation that occurred around the site. He said 9 buildings had fallen and that glass needed clearing for 4 blocks in each direction.
The guy also said that very few people who were underground at the time were identified by DNA so the initial lists were incomplete.
There was a girder there that still stood and looked like a cross with a bit of cloth on it but the cloth-like part was actually melted steel. The small church across the way was open and has a memorial reference to all the dead.
After absorbing everything that was going on and taking a little time to reflect on what must have been a horrendous environment for the people there and their families at the time we went exploring into a world trade building.
We saw lots of stores, business areas and a large greenhouse covered area with palm trees and a stadium like stair approach it was all very ambient and felt nice.
A bit of a wander
After Ground Zero we went on a bit of a wander and covered off a whole range of sites in the city we saw Chambers Street, city hall, soho, the library, NYPD, little Italy and ended up in China town while looking for a tube station.
As we had just meandered around the city we had got a little lost and I had no idea how we ended up in China town.
This being the first time I had experienced New York and also the first time in a China town area I have to say I found it a little intimidating but not too bad.
It was heavily populated with Asian people as you would expect and so asking for directions was a whole new experience..
I wish I had taken a little more time to explore that area now but hindsight hey?!?
So anyway if our directions were correct we would only have to walk about 3 blocks up and 10 across bit of a wander when you have heavy feet but off we headed regardless as we wanted to go see Washington Square Park.
Washington Square Park
It was a site for sore eyes when we finally arrived at the Grand Street subway and we felt like we were able to get our bearing and navigate for ourselves again. Off to W4 Street and off we go..
First impressions were WOW! This was a really great park in the middle of the big city. On the way in we walked past rows of benches with around 16 outdoor chess tables, this is quite a random site to see when you are from the UK and pretty awesome.
Anybody could join in with the people already sitting there with a game already set up waiting were happy to offer you a game while others even had time slots available for you to choose.. Pretty mental!
Further into the park we discovered 4 guys singing some tune in what I would describe as similar to a barbershop quartet, these guys were amazing, always loved that sound so was well worth sitting and chilling for a bit to take it all in.
In the background you could see people rushing about setting up for some kind of show.
A little nearer to us we were privileged to witness a show of our own going on with the squirrels running right up to you and playing around on the grass. Sadly the battery had died on the camera so I couldn’t get any decent pics but I am sure you get the picture.
Washington Square was one of those spots well known for celebrity spotting almost famous itself. We didn’t see any sadly but then again one could probably have walked past and I wouldn’t notice, not really a celebrity worshipper but there are a few I wouldn’t mind bumping into I guess..
Time to head back to the Hostel
We decided to walk back to W4 Street station and stopped for a comfort break in the local Mc Donald’s.
I thought this was worth a mention as I had not seen this before either; Mc Donald’s offered a “Smile Guarantee” yep you read that right.. If your server did not smile before taking your money then you would receive a free small fries with your next visit. A smile is contagious…Blinding!
New York Day 2 - The Empire State Building & a Graduation party?
It was a struggle to get up after the hard work and energy spent on Day 1 but on second thought we decided we would drag ourselves out of bed and head for breakfast. As interesting as it probably isn’t for you I had cereal and an apple pie.
New York was such a great city to visit and there is so much to see and do, we really wanted to extend the trip for another few nights but the Hostel didn’t have any availability for us to stay there.
As fortune would have it Kez and Wez were moving Hostel that morning and this ended up being a great opportunity for us not only to exchange details and stay in touch but also it gave us the possibility of finding another Hostel with relative ease albeit over on the West-side of Central Park.
We went onto 42nd street East on the Green Line and took the Purple 7 line West, changed to the A/C Blue line and went back uptown to 86th Street to the Hostel on 86th Street (this is really for my benefit! Lol!). The hostel had beds in the same Dorm so problem sorted and back to the tourist duties.
The Empire State Building
We got to the Empire State Building a few blocks walk from 42nd Street station, you would think it would be really easy to find given how large and iconic the building is but we ended up chatting to a NYPD officer, giving his dog a bit of a stroke and headed inside..
This was another of those WOW moments and prompted a quick grab of the camera for awesome pic of the entrance.
There were loads of shops etc and 3 ticket options giving you the opportunity to watch films clips, head to the higher viewing gallery etc or you could go for the basic option which was to head on up to the viewing deck / floor at the 86th floor.
We are backpackers so guess what option we decided to do.. yep that’s it we decided to do the basic 86th floor viewing and managed to blag a discount too Cha-Ching.
(You can always watch movies and read about the building and its history at a later date)
The only thing left to do was take the lift up 80 floors.
This was an experience all of its own and caught me a little by surprise if I am honest.
The lift has to be the fastest I have even stepped foot in and I don’t know if you are anything like me but lifts always give me that brief thought “I really hope this doesn’t get stuck as I am beginning to need a wee” ha ha.
This was a crazy lift experience you step in and the door close, you can see through a crack in the doors which doesn’t help but the acceleration on this thing is phenomenal in that it literally takes about 10 seconds and boy do your ears pop on the way up, crazy times but quite impressive.
You get off at the 80th floors and fell like you have just been in the great glass elevator from Charlie and the chocolate factory.
As you step out you walk into a room to be faced with a photographer ready to snap your happy / horrified picture that you are luckily enough to have the option to purchase later on.
Once the pic is taken (you feel like you are in boarder control) you are escorted to the next lift for the remainder of the 6 floor journey to the viewing deck on the 86th.
So you get off at 86th and the first thing you see other than the pretty comprehensive gift shop is the security guard carrying some serious weaponry, this is not a place they take security lightly, a little unnerving but it is relatively reassuring at the same time.
As you head outside of the gift shop you have a large viewing area which allow you the opportunity to capture the panoramic views of New York. You may have a 3 foot wall and some serious caging above it but I have to say that is a comfort as it is not often you are able to get outside at 86 floors up and while being exposed to the elements.
On a good clear day you can see for 25 miles from the top of this amazing feat of engineering, sadly it was a bit of a cloudy stormy day for us reducing visibility to between 2&5 miles.
I am not going to complain even though the storm in the distance soon bared down upon us as with thunder, lightning etc fizzing about on the horizon, still got out there for some picks and the unnerving look down at the side of the building.
What a great view and altogether a real feel good experience.
If you are going to New York make sure you don’t miss out on this one..
So we took the elevator back down, bypassed the overpriced photo we had posed for earlier and decided to head over to Maddison Square Garden.
The rest of the day & eve
We negotiated our way to Maddison Square Garden and just as we were arriving you guessed it the rain came down and completely soaked us, when would there be a better opportunity than now to make the courtesy purchase of an “I love NY t-shirt”. (I resisted the urge myself)
While we were there we went in to check it out but found that it was really expensive just to take a tour around the stadium so figured we would probably try to catch a game instead, the tours had finished for the day anyways and we wanted to head back to the Hostel for free pizza Wednesday.
You can’t beat free stuff when you are staying at a Hostel as it gives you the opportunity to save money and socialise with fellow travellers, share a few stories, tips and recommendations.
Free breakfast is quite unusual but never before or since have I found a Hostel with free Pizza. It may have been margarita but 4 slices down was pretty awesome in my book.
Kez and Wez were going to come back for some free Pizza but had were a bit late as they had been moving over to the other Hostel, a chore we would have to endure tomorrow.
We managed to find out that the celebration they were setting up for in Washington Square Garden the day before was a graduation party with food, drink and entertainment until 10pm so we purchased some 6 packs and headed over to check it out.
So by the time we got there it was 8:40pm and everything had finished and closed down as the rain had caused them a bit of trouble but there were still loads of people about, next option was go to the waterfront and sink a few with Kez and Wez but alas we made a wrong turn and ended up in Soho.
Chalk that one up to experience and head back to the Hostel with Kez and Wez, drink a few beers, socialise a bit and get a cab back to our hostel, $6 for a yellow cab (our first one) not bad for 2am…
New York Day 3 - Bank Fraud - Crazy goings on!
After the late night last night we decided to get up a bit later, to check out, get our deposits back and move on over to the new Hostel.
We left at 10:30am ish, jumped onto the green line, took the purple to 42nd street and walked to port authority to get the A/C line to 86th Street.
When we got to the Hostel it was time to log on for a bit of internet time and to check the bank accounts, mine was all fine, new account opened and ready to go etc, my travel partners account however had been opened but had £2k debited that we knew nothing about.
3 days into a year tour and this happens?!? Is it time to go home already before we even started?!?!
Very disturbing and time to get in contact with the bank.
Neither of us knew what was going on or where the funds had gone. To find out we needed to contact the bank and to do that we needed to purchase a phone card to get in touch with the bank back home.
A quick visit to the shop around the corner and we managed to buy a $5 card which should provide 3 hours of calls, can’t be bad..
The bank was not helpful at all at the time but eventually managed to transfer us to the fraud team to discuss our options. Our 3 hour calling card took a bit of a hammering and had only lasted for about 10 mins before it was empty!
What the hell is going on? Check out our “calling cards” post so that you get the max from your calling card and don’t waste it like we did, wish I had known at the time as it could have saved a fortune..
This wasn’t a great day so we kinda just kicked about the Hostel to regroup feeling a little deflated and not wanting to do too much until the situation was resolved.
Time to get the washing on and have an early night I guess..
New York Day 4 - HMS Intrepid
Day 4 its back on..
The fraud team at the bank said they needed to stop the account and investigate as the funds were moved by telephone banking on the day we had left the country and actually while we were on the plane. The calling card died so we had to get another and call back.
When we called back this was confirmed but luckily the funds in the other account were still available and could be transferred to another account for use by telephone banking. (pretty random given the fraud was by telephone in the first place)
So now this was under investigation and given funds were available for now and that hopefully the £2k would be available later in the year it was time to get the backpacking back on again.
Not a usual attraction for us but we decided to visit a museum but this was a museum with a twist, it was a massive battleship moored at the waterfront HMS Intrepid.
We took the subway to grand central station then walked over a couple of blocks and down a few blocks as the site wasn’t really close to any subway stations.
As a bit of a short cut we took a chance and headed down what looked like a suspect alley way only to discover it was a car washing area and not dodgy at all and arrived at the water front.
A block short of the destination we were quite pleased with our navigation and headed down a block and over the bridge to the site.
We paid to get in and wandered over to the right to check out some largely impressive tanks, a piece of the Berlin wall and some other things before walking down to a large submarine.
Pretty impressive stuff so far and you could access the sub on a free guided tour.
We waited 15 mins and dived in ha ha.
The sub may have looked large from the outside by was seriously cramped on the inside, you could check out all the various sections including the mess and the crew quarters.
Submariners would work alternative shifts and share a bed / quarters, the showers were tiny and the floor was a mass of tinned food which the crew would walk on to save space.
So we ended the tour up-periscope and surfaced from the submarine. We went over to board the main battleship to
get on the deck to take a picture of the Concord on display, a true marvel of engineering, well ahead of its time and left on display at only a few sites in the world following its decommissioning.
By now you should be able to take a walk around as the engines had been removed but when I was there the fuel lines remained so it was not deemed safe to visit.
The concord is not the largest plane you will see but really was a show-piece of history filling people with intrigue and fascination..
A service for the wealthy and aspiration for everyday people back in its flying days scores of people used to hang about the airports to witness the take-off and landing close to the airport to feel the power and exhilaration provided by the engine sheer enviable power. Plane spotters! Ha ha
Inside the ship there was loads more to see, Jeeps, Motor Bikes, info on the planes, how to land a plane in a simulator, dive boat operation, space shuttle diagrams and loads of other stuff like that if you were interested to read about it.
I had a go on an inside climbing wall, climbing the first section in a respectable 28 seconds. On the second section my fingers and forearms struggled leaving me feeling like they had been stretched another 2 meters even though I only had a meter to go to the top; can’t win them all I guess! Lol
The rest of the day..
It was time to get back to the Hostel but not before we decided to travel via time square, pretty impressive if not massively busy part of New York.
The Ferris wheel spinning full steam ahead and loads of toys, teddy’s, sweets, gadgets and the like and with electrical goods at much reduced prices when compared for the same items in the UK.
Time Square had all the trademark electronic advertising boards and it feels like the place is a living breathing entity as it rarely looks the same for more than a few seconds.
While much more spectacular at night it must be crazy on NYE when the fireworks go off!
Back at the Hostel it was time to catch up with friends, drink a few beers, eat a bit of ice cream and relax. It was never going to be a late one as we had to check out in the morning.
Luckily we had already managed to sort out Grey Hound bus tickets at the port authority for our onward travel to
Toronto Canada on the night bus tomorrow evening.. Only a 10 hour journey ahead!!
New York Day 5 - Central Park & Madison Square Garden
Our last day in New York.
We checked out of our room and had the rubbish scenario of having to either take all of our stuff with us or pay $20 for the Hostel to hold or bags for the day.
Luckily our new found friends had offered to store our bags in their hostel room, while a little uneasy about it having only know these guys a few days we trusted them with gear and ultimately our travelling world given it would be on our backs for the rest of the year.
Saved us $20 and gave us piece of mind, they went back to the Hostel we originally stayed at so snuck our bags in for us and we agreed to meet them at 7pm to collect and say our goodbyes.
They were heading off to the Theatre that afternoon to queue early and see if they could score some cheap tickets.
These guys were experienced travellers who knew all the tricks, fair play to them and great to learn from!
We went off the central park to meet a guide responsible for a 1 hour free rambler tour at Belvedere Castle, one of the 10 different free walking tours offered at Central Park, do a bit of digging and you will discover them yourself…
It has to be said that Central Park is lovely a picturesque site in the middle of a huge bustling city.
A man made park designed to help the New York residents escape the city and it really does work. If you are in the right place it seems like you are miles away from the city, unable to hear the hustle and bustle which is replaces with birds singing and a sense of ambience.
As you wander about you will discover lots of nice lakes, streams, wildlife, flowers, boulder and trees.
All the water there is connected to the US central supply and its volume can be reduced or increased to meet the levels required by the state.
In the winter for example the water levels are reduced to allow people to go ice skating so that if the ice breaks there is less chance of drowning, what a fantastic idea and a great bit of engineering.
Even the streams are linked to the mains supply to ensure they continue running, mad and cool at the same time.
At the end of a fascinating tour we took a walk to the strawberry field’s area where John Lennon was shot.
This is a tranquil grassy gardened area, there are signs warning that no ball games or music among other activities can be played as a mark of respect.
Yoko Ona still lives in the apartment block that oversees the park which has an elegant memorial on the floor in the middle of the linked pathways.
Central Park is another part of New York that you really should spend a little more time if you can afford the time in a fast paced city visit but see how you get on, I will certainly visit again one day and see the parts I missed this trip.
On to Madison Square Garden
Not people to waste the valuable time we had in New York we headed back for a fun packed visit to Madison Square Garden where my travel partner had decided to buy me a ticket to the basketball for my birthday. Pretty awesome and I was well up for it.
The only match available for us to watch was a ladies match New York Liberty vs LA but that didn’t matter it was all about experiencing this world famous stadium to watch a game!
What a fantastic stadium, great view (we had awesome seats), quality play, decent crowd, music supporting play and build up with the usual anthems etc, a fun and exciting half time show, candy floss and all the other bits that went with it.. A great afternoon’s entertainment.
Does it matter who won? Not really but it was LA as I predicted in the warm up.. but I really had no idea! Ha ha
Leaving New York & our Bus trip to Toronto
Sadly it was Time to leave New York
So it was time for us to head back to the hostel to collect our bags..
Ok so we were meeting the guys at 7pm.. time was ticking and it was 7:35pm, we were getting a little worried but knew that they were great people so kept the faith.
They turned up a little late as they left something they needed at their previous Hostel and had to go and get it, it was no worries.
They let us in to have a shower and get our stuff together before we had to head off we said our goodbyes, exchanged details and promised to go stay with them in Australia when we made it to the other side of the world..
We thanked them for the help and advice and went off to the bus… they went off to the city to party… something just didn’t seem right there! Lol
Time for the bus
We had heard lots of stories about the Grey Hound bus journey from New York to Toronto so were a little apprehensive about how comfortable, clean etc it would be and with a 10:45pm leaving time we just had to get on with it.
There were loads of people getting on the bus so there must have been more than one leaving and as it was our turn to board we were pleasantly surprised, there was loads of room, it was clean and tidy and the seats were reasonably comfortable.
So off we went to Canada with 2 expected stops on the way as well as a boarder stop as we entered Canada. We bought a hot chocolate just before we left to help us sleep on the way and enjoyed the lights of New York looking like a postcard moment as they slowly drifting further away into the distance.
I didn’t really sleep that well but that was ok as it gave me time to reflect on the experiences I had had so far and there had been a lot to take in in some pretty exhausting days in New Your, every moment was worth it including visiting the papaya shop and eating a world famous Sabrett hot dog from a street vendor.
Stop 2 came up and the driver went through the bus to check ID, a number of people got off at this stage, whether this was because it was their stop or because they didn’t have sufficient ID for the boarder crossing was unclear but when the bus driver looked and sounded like Dolph Lundgren I don’t think I would have argued either! lol
Just as I was drifting off we approached the Canadian Boarder, this mean we all had to get off the bus, grab our bags and wander through customs having answered a few questions only to get back on the bus and resume the journey.
The trip was ok, not better or worse than expected as 10 hours on any bus is going to be a challenge and I don’t usually sleep well on any kind of transport sadly.
Sure enough we arrived in Toronto Canada on a Sunday morning at 9am ready to search for a Hostel on little sleep..Time to put on those sunny’s!
Toronto - coming soon
Winnapeg - coming a bit later
Jasper National Park - coming a bit later than that
Vancouver - Might be a while
Victoria Vancouver Island - I was here a month so could be some time
LA, Vegas, Figi, NZ, AUS, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand coming eventually
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