I decided to stay in America over the Christmas break instead of flying back home and I would encourage other students to do the same.
I was lucky enough to travel to Montreal, New York, Boston and Miami and each destination was completely different from the last. After overcoming the initial loneliness of spending Christmas away from my family, I really valued the opportunity to travel and spend time with other exchange students who were in the same position.
Before coming to America my friends and I decided to spend Christmas together in Montreal. This was an easy choice to make for me as the flights home from Cleveland are extremely expensive. Instead, I decided to use the money and travel around as much as possible. I flew out to Montreal on Christmas eve, got a freezing cold greyhound to New York, spent less than 24 hours in Boston and took a spontaneous trip to Miami to finish off the holiday. The four cities could not have been more different and Miami has since become my favourite place I have visited.
I spent my Christmas day and New Year’s Eve in Montreal alongside other students from Manchester studying abroad. We stayed in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal neighbourhood and I would recommend taking the walk-up Mount Royal to get great views of the city and to go ice skating.
On Christmas Eve, we were invited to have dinner with other exchange students from all over the world. Spending Christmas away from family can be tough, but it felt special to meet so many other students making the most of their time abroad. All of us were given Christmas cards despite being complete strangers and it was a sweet gesture.
On Christmas Day, we managed to successfully cook a full Christmas Dinner for 10 people in an Air BnB, which was as chaotic as it sounds. We went on a Christmas day walk, watched Love Actually and exchanged presents; it felt like a home away from home.
Being in Montreal in the middle of winter was tough and you should not underestimate how cold it will be. But the city had a lot of culture and history and was a great location to spend time with friends.
We took an 8 hour Greyhound to travel from Montreal to New York and stayed there for 5 days. New York was packed with things to do and great food but was as hectic and busy as you would expect. The city was full of character, the street scene was interesting and all the tourist attractions were definitely worth visiting.
We visited The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Bridge, Grand Central Terminal, Rockefeller Centre, High Line, Times Square, Central Park, the list could really go on. I would not miss visiting the World Trade Centre Memorial as it was breathtaking.
Even though we were hit by a massive snowstorm across the East Coast, we managed to pack in a lot in the 5 days but it was not nearly enough time to cover such a great city.
We stayed in Boston for a night but this was not nearly enough time. Compared to New York, Boston is a laid-back city with a lot of open space. Having visited Boston since it has really grown on me. It is a nice city to walk around with my favourite area being North End where there is familiar European architecture. If you have limited time like us, I would not miss Faneuil Hall Marketplace. There are great food stalls selling Boston treats like Clam Chowder in a bread bowl.
In a rash decision, I decided to extend my holiday for a few more days and join some friends in South Beach, Miami. After battling – 20 degree weather and snow storms the warm beaches and palm tree-lined streets were much needed. Miami has now become one of my favourite destinations. I loved the bustling strip of hotels on South Beach, the colourful art deco houses and the idyllic sandy beaches.
Little Havana was a great neighbourhood to walk around and try delicious Cuban food. The downtown area was flashy and extravagant, like most of Miami. Be prepared to spend quite a lot of money in Miami, but I would go again in a heartbeat.
A year ago, I would not have pictured myself jet-setting around North America instead of spending Christmas at home in England. Yet my holiday was one that will be remembered for a long time. I loved the way students in a similar position came together and supported each other during the time and I would urge other people to do the same.
By Annabel Savage (Stony Brook University, The State University of New York, USA)
I’ve just returned to SBU from Thanksgiving, and while passing through New York, on the way to visit friends, I realise how much I have taken my proximity to the city for granted. Life will be a little less magical when it is no longer a bus ride away.
No matter how many times I go into the city, it will never loose its charm. Only a bus ride away from campus, and with four months to explore, I was convinced I’d tick everything off my list. Instead, everything is still very much unchecked and I find myself with only 2 weeks to go.
Although there is still a list of things I would like to do, I feel I’ve explored the city as more than a tourist, and often find myself wandering around, trying out different cafes and taking in the atmosphere downtown.
Here are some of my highlights:
Bike Rides in Central Park – My brother came to visit for a weekend in October and the weather was still nice enough to enjoy all the Park had to offer. The Park itself is huge, so you’re slightly limited by foot, but renting bikes allowed us to get all the way to the top of the Park, see the different lakes and get a little exercise (so we could pretend to justify the food we ate later).
Ice-Skating in Central Park – Running theme; the Park is beautiful! To celebrate our last weekend together in the city before Thanksgiving and exams, some of the internationals and I went into the city for the weekend; and no Christmas trip would be complete without ice-skating. It was picturesque and relatively quiet and felt like we were on a film set!
Broadway – Coming from London, I’ve seen quite a few West End productions, but there was something magical about seeing Matilda the Musical on Broadway! I took a 7 year-old family friend, and I’m not sure who enjoyed it more! I was also lucky enough to see a play with my brother which had transferred from the West End.
Top of the Rock – For such a tall city it’s difficult to see it from above, but the Rockefeller, at 70 floors high, gave us a great vantage point over Central Park, the Empire State and the rest of Manhattan. I’m still hoping to fit in a night-time trip too!
Long walks – My dad also came out to visit and we spent 8 hours walking from the Park down to the World Trade Centre Memorial. The Memorial itself has been beautifully done and it a lovely place for reflection. We explored Downtown – Soho, Greenwich Village, Tribeca with amazing shops and cafes!
Shopping – No trip to the City would be complete without a little shop! I’m saving myself for the last weekend here, so I don’t run out of money before I return home, but with cheaper prices and numerous exclusive chains and boutiques it would be rude not to!
Eating! – Finally the food! Although the portion sizes often leave me defeated, it’s hard not to be lured in by the endless options of quirky cafes. I’ve eaten overlooking the Grand Central concourse, tried out ‘kronuts’ and shared a table with Jake Gyllenhaal in Soho at breakfast! Certainly beats eating in the Uni canteen!
Thankfully I still have one weekend after finals to explore before I head back to England! For now it’s back to the library!
By Lisa Scott (Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada).
As my first semester at Queens University had ended and my second semester would be starting in two weeks, I decided to make the most of my Christmas Vacation and visit the states. My first stop was Chicago where I eagerly awaited at the airport for my brother to arrive from London, England. It was lovely to see a member of my family after four months away from home and we certainly had lots to catch up on whilst we traveled to our hotel.
Chicago was a little warmer than Canada so it was nice to put the snow boots aside and wear some nicer clothes. We spent our first few days touring around the city and we visited the museum district, wandered along navy pier, ate a lot of chocolate in the Hershey’s shop, shopped until we dropped on magnificent mile, sang our hearts out at the candle lit carol service and took lots of photos next to the big bean that acts as a huge mirror. When Christmas day arrived and we were over 3000 miles away from home we decided to make it a Christmas to remember. We started our day ice skating in the snow, then we went out for a lovely Christmas dinner with cocktails followed by a trip up the tallest building in Chicago which had a very scary glass box to stand in and then we finished the day by relaxing in our hotels rooftop heated swimming pool and sauna.
On Boxing Day we left Chicago and flew to New York City. It has always been my dream to visit NYC and I loved every minute of being in the city. We celebrated the New Year at central park, where we watched the sky light up with amazing fireworks and danced in the open park until our legs were tired. We spent a lot of time being tourists and visited; the empire state building, Rockefeller center, Times Square, Brooklyn bridge, Statue of Liberty, New York public library, Central park, 9/11 memorial and watched Spider man the musical in Broadway. After seven days it was time for me to say goodbye to one of my favorite cities and head to Boston.
Luckily we managed to catch a flight just before a snow storm hit New York which lasted several days and cancelled most of the departing flights. We spent the last few days of our vacation in Boston, visiting Harvard, playing in the snow and tasting more of America’s amazing food.
Christmas Vacation away from home was a totally new experience for me and it was very strange not being surrounded by family and friends opening presents on Christmas day. However, I can definitely say I loved every minute of it and can’t wait to visit the states again on my next vacation.
By Helen Sheldon (Stony Brook University, New York, USA).
I currently have a couple of hours to spare before I take the train from New York Penn Station to Stony Brook University, so I thought it is prime time to write an update on my journey here to NY and my two nights staying in Times Square itself!
I arrived into New York’s JFK airport Monday lunch time, and I had to travel an hour on the train and subway to the center of New York.. I could have taken a cab, but being a student again means I must save money where I can! The journey was rather painful because my suitcase, which came in at just under the 23kg mark, is not the most agile of cases to travel with! Luckily I made some Irish friends on the plane who were taking the same journey as me to Times Square so I wasn’t travelling alone. This proved to be very useful as when me and my suitcase got stuck (I mean completely stuck – it was horrendous) in a turnstile when entering the Subway and I had to be rescued by three men (no joke), I could laugh it off instead of dying of embarrassment as I held up hundreds of NY lunch time travelers..
When I finally arrived at 42nd Street Subway, I left the building to be greeted by the bright lights and bustling crowds of Times Square, but tiredness and desire to let go of my suitcase meant I headed straight for my hotel after bidding goodbye to my Irish friends.
Here is a picture of the amazing view of the Empire State Building from the bedroom window!
That Monday evening I wandered around the typical tourist sights in and around Times Square, however admittedly this isn’t really my cup of tea. It is nearly impossible to walk on the pavements as they are packed with tourists taking hundreds of photos, people are constantly trying to sell you mini Statues of Liberty and every other imaginable gimic, and sadly there are a few dodgy characters around who aren’t afraid to come up and talk to you, which unfortunately ruins the initial NY magic for me. However, aside from the overcrowded tourist destinations, it is very east to find some lovely areas of Manhattan. There are plenty of small parks dotted around which are lit up with fairy lights in the evenings, lots of beautiful old architecture which stands out against the shiny new sky scrapers, and of course, there are plenty of amazing shops! Sadly though I have had to refrain from buying much as I don’t think my suitcase can hold any more! The shops think of literally everything – they even provide outdoor seating areas for the husbands who are tired from shopping!
Despite the not-so-pleasant trip around Times Square the day before, the day after on Tuesday I took a trip over to New Jersey, which has the most beautiful sights, immaculate buildings, and a fantastic view of the Statue of Liberty herself! I took a short ride on the subway to get there, and took the ferry back over to Manhattan. This is the view that you are greeted with as soon as you leave the subway exit – one of my favourite so far.
I am soon to leave the hotel and meet Edgar, another University of Manchester student who will be studying at Stony Brook University, at the train station where we will travel to the University together. The excitement is beginning to build at settling in to my new home! It is now time to close up my suitcase again and start the next leg of my journey!