By Joe Gaskin (UBC, Canada)
The biggest and best trip of my time abroad came right at the end of term. UBC was weird in that university finished for the year at the end of April. This means you’ve got just under 5 months’ summer holiday. Of course, I had some sensible aims for this time off, such as work experience and earning money, but I could not ignore how good an opportunity this was to go further afield from Vancouver and travel.
So I got my best mate on board and we sat down and planned our journey down the East Coast of America. The main reason for this route was that we hadn’t had the chance to see the other major Canadian cities of Toronto and Montreal since we’d been abroad, and we thought we could not leave Canada without having visited these places. We allowed a month for the trip which would start in Chicago and end in Savannah, Georgia (one end of the country to another, both geographically and culturally). To keep the costs down we thought it’d be a good idea to travel by coach between the cities we’d be visiting. There were times when this seemed like a huge mistake (such as the 13-hour journey from Chicago to Toronto) but, on the whole, the coach life didn’t seem so bad (it helped having a laptop loaded with movies and tv shows with us). The accommodation was a mix of airbnbs and hostels which was great because we got to meet a whole bunch of people – both locals and non-locals – with whom we could experience the cities:
Chicago has become one of my favourite cities in the world. It has a very gritty, working class, northern feel to the city which makes it charming in a weird way. One of the top things on our list there was to have some famous Chicago pizza pie which certainly didn’t disappoint. The weather didn’t disappoint either (depending on which way you look at it). It was very windy, hence the city’s nickname, and quite rainy as well which was a shame when we were searching for great views over Lake Michigan. Whilst we were there we went to the art museum, we saw the big giant bean, we saw some comedy at a famous club that produced the likes of Steve Carrell and Tina Fey and we also went to see some live blues music which was definitely one of the best music events I’ve ever been to.
I really liked Toronto as it seemed like everything was in walking distance, so much so we didn’t use public transport once when we were there. Whilst in the city we of course went up the CN tower, we went to Toronto Island where you can get a great view of the city’s skyline and we explored the city’s cool market streets. Over our year abroad, my friend and I had become pretty avid Canadian sports fans so we fulfilled our short-term sporting dream of seeing the Toronto Blue-Jays (baseball) and the Toronto Raptors (basketball). From Toronto we also took a trip to Niagara Falls as it was only an hour and a half’s drive away. I can’t honestly describe to you how spectacular the falls are – pictures certainly don’t do it justice. The sheer size of them amazed me. Whilst there we took a boat trip into the mouth of the falls and also went on a walk behind the falls. Would definitely recommend going.
Montreal had a different feel to it compared to the other large cities we visited. It felt rather European – especially in its Old Town. It was hot and sunny whilst we were there so this just added to the European feeling and it was great just to wander the narrow windy streets of the Old Town that were laced with small cafes. I could certainly see the attraction of living in the city. There’s also a big hill/mountain in the city that you can climb up and get some great views as well as a spectacular cathedral.
I loved Boston. Right in the centre of the city it has a lovely small town feel to it as its centred around the Boston Common – a nice green park in the city. Boston is steeped in history and it’s all accessible to the public for free. Just follow the ‘freedom trail’ around the city and you can learn all about the different buildings, historic events and people that shaped the city and the country. Of course, being huge sports fans, we couldn’t go to Boston without seeing the Red Sox play baseball at the historic Fenway Park (the oldest baseball ground in America).
Martha’s Vineyard, MA
We went to Martha’s Vineyard for a short break from the city life and it didn’t disappoint. It’s such a cosy, quiet little island that I can see why so many famous people choose to holiday there. All the different villages have their own unique architecture making them very picturesque. We also got the chance to watch the sunset from the top of a cliff face which was unreal as well. Probably the best part of our time here was the fresh lobster sandwich we had from one of the local fishermen – delicious.
New York, NY
Without a doubt the best city we visited. There was just so much to do that I guess we didn’t even scratch the surface with the 3/4 days we had there. You could spend the whole time just seeing the sights: Times Square, Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty, Central Park, the High Line, Empire State Building, just to mention a few. We also visited Ground Zero and the memorial to the 9/11 attacks. This was a very sombre experience. We visited the museum at the site and were touched so much by the exhibits that we did not utter a single word to each other whilst in there. Right next to the site of Ground Zero is the new One World Trade Centre building where you can travel to the top and see some great views of the city – I have never been so high in my life. We also saw some more live music in NY as we went to see a jazz band in one of the famous clubs – we were wined and dined and treated to some fantastic music. We also saw some improve comedy in a small comedy club which felt very New York.
Again, I loved the feel of this place – everything was in walking distance and there was loads to see. Of course, we took a trip to the historical sites of the Liberty Bell and the Old Town Hall where were learnt even more about the history of the USA. We also went to the ‘Rocky Steps’ and saw the statue dedicated to the character at the foot of them. Being keen ‘foodies’ we sought out the best place in the city for some philly cheesesteak, which I have since longed to have again. We are also big fans of the sitcom ‘Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ so we made sure we visited all the sights featured on the show such as the Italian Market, the water fountain as well as the original Paddy’s Pub on which the show is based.
We stayed in a great area in D.C. There was loads happening nearby so it was one of the most enjoyable stops on our trip. We didn’t have too long in the city but we still managed to have a long walk down the National Mall from the impressive Lincoln Memorial, by the Monument to the Capitol Building. We also stopped off at the White House to see Barack, and visited the National History Museum. Since the city is the capital of the States, there are tons of different memorials dedicated to various wars the country has been involved in and some important people. We visited the Vietnam War memorial which was a long wall with all the soldiers who had fought and died in the war. It was a harrowing thing reading all the names and realising just how many people lost their lives. We also saw the Korean War memorial which was my favourite as it was constructed of many statues of soldiers lurking in the bushes – a very impressive site.
We stopped off in Richmond just to break up our journey further South. To be honest I’m glad we didn’t spend too long here as it seemed like a very sleepy city/town with not much going on. Granted we were there on a Sunday, but the streets were just empty. We did visit the military museum there and then we just walked around the town where we stumbled upon the weirdest festival I’ve ever been to (it ended up being the saving grace of the city). At the festival was a mix of events such as speed climbing, kayaking and slack lining (yeah I don’t really know what it is either). But the best event of them all was dog jumping (yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds). This is basically where a dog chases after a toy and leaps into a pool of water to see how far they can jump. It sounds like the most ridiculous but entertaining thing ever, and it is for those watching, but for the participating owners it was serious business. The thing that topped it off was the commentator for the event who also doubled up as the scorer and event organiser. He would always find something to talk about such as, commenting on each dog’s technique and ways they can improve as well as the toy throwing ability of the dogs’ owners. Seriously surreal.
Charleston was like a proper summer holiday. The weather was scorching, showing just how far South we had travelled. We spent a whole day on the beach just relaxing and building up the tan (or avoiding the sun burn for my pale, ginger fiend). We even saw a shark in the water whilst we were in which caused a bit of a panic. We also had a day in the town of Charleston which is a lovely place. There’s plenty of history due to its position in the heart of the Southern states. There was also a great market and a boardwalk on the ocean front. In the evening there were plenty of rooftop bars/restaurants to hang out in and get a good view of the city and the sunset.
The final stop on our trip and definitely one of my favourite stops. Again we just had quite a lazy few days in the city by just wandering around and taking in the southern charm. It’s just a great town to chill in and have drinks on the river front or in the town square. We also visited the bench where Forrest Gump was filmed. Our stay in Savannah was the perfect relaxing way to end what was sometimes a hectic trip but a thoroughly enjoyable and one that I will always remember and look back on with fondness.