New York to D.C. to Fort Lauderdale in 7 days – Part 1

So my pre-Christmas trip to New York wasn’t my only trip to New York over my winter break. Nope, I made two more visits, with a stop home and a few days in Florida in between.

Anyone who follows me on Instagram (@ybtraveler) may have noticed that I was posting obsessively about how my Sasha was coming to New York the second week of January. Sasha and I met on our Contiki tour over the summer (she was one of the wonderful souls who looked after me when I got sick all over the Louvre) and we quickly became lifelong friends. She lives in Australia, so after our Contiki ended, I figured it would be long before I got to see her again.

FALSO.

Sasha messaged me on Facebook in October confirming that she and her family were coming to the States on holiday in January. January! We were only separated for seven months! She was going to be in New York for almost two weeks and I knew I had to go up to visit.

So we concocted a plan that I would visit her overnight in New York, then kidnap her from her family and bring her back to D.C. for a few days. She loves Obama, so naturally a trip to the White House was a must.

On the morning of Jan. 6, I headed to Union Station once more to catch another Megabus (which was only $3!!!!!!!!) to New York. It was snowing heavily that day, so there were major delays and traffic on the road, but I finally arrived in the city around 2 p.m. I walked to our meeting spot, the McDonald’s in Times Square, and instantly saw Sasha. Ahhh! We squealed, hugged and nearly cried for several minutes, then finally started making our way back to her hotel so I could put my things down.

I met Sasha’s parents, a lovely, lovely couple, and her sister Corey, and then Corey, Sasha and I headed out for pizza and stroll down Broadway. We ended up walking all the way to Central Park and took our time perusing the snowy woods and long pathways. Soon, though, the cold got the better of us and we headed back to the hotel. We met back up with her family, grabbed some food, then made our way back out to go grab some drinks.

Three Irish Pubs and several $10 drinks later, it was nearly 5 a.m. We had made some “friends” at the last pub we visited and stayed wayyyyy too late. (Connor from John Sullivan’s, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry!)  And we reluctantly headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.

We woke late the next morning (well, afternoon) just in time to part ways with Sasha’s family and catch out Megabus back to D.C. We arrived in the city around 6:30 p.m. and took the metro back to my apartment on campus. We had an early night that night, just grabbing dinner with my Parents at the best Indian restaurant in the world, the Royal Taj in Columbia, and spending a little bit of time at my parent’s home in Columbia. Then we headed back to my apartment to unwind with some Chardonnay and finally get some sleep.

The following day was our tour day of D.C. After our wholesome breakfast of leftover Indian food, we rode the metro back into D.C. and got off at the National Mall. With a temperature of 11 degrees Fahrenheit (-12 Celsius) the ground was covered in ice and snow and we realized we didn’t want to stay out long exploring the monuments. After snapping a few photos at the Capitol and Washington Monument we sought shelter and warmth in one of my favorite museums, the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History.

After two hours at the museum, we left to go hang out in front of the White House for a bit (Obama was apparently too busy leading the country to come out and say hi. Geez.).  Then, we headed to La Tasca, a great Spanish restaurant, to meet my roommates for happy hour. The Sangria was great, the tapas even better, and the happy hour prices were unmatched for an otherwise expensive D.C. restaurant. Even so, after three pitchers of sangria and six rounds of tapas later, Sasha and I realized we didn’t have enough money to continue partying in D.C. It sucks to be broke sometimes! Back to my apartment it was then, to continue the festivities in a much more affordable setting.

The White House
We didn’t get any pictures with Obama, but at least we got a snapshot of his house!

 

Of course, we had another late night that night. But as opposed to hanging out in bars and clubs, we hang out in my apartment building and I introduced Sasha to more of my friends from school. I was so happy everyone got along so well! Almost too well… We stayed up until 4 a.m. again just talking, laughing and dancing. I’m just happy I got to give Sasha a glimpse into the American collegiate experience.

We had yet another early morning the next day. This time I had to get Sasha back to Union Station to catch a bus back to New York, and then I had to head to the airport to get my flight to Fort Lauderdale later that afternoon.

It was incredibly hard to say goodbye to Sasha. It’s so rare to find a friend that you connect with so quickly that within days of knowing each other you know you’ll be friends forever. She is so fun and hilarious and unbelievably kind and full of life—it makes me so sad we live on exact opposite sides of the planet! But we decided that now that she has come to the U.S., it’s my turn to visit Australia. So I guess I better get to planning…

Sasha’s visit was way too short, but we packed a week’s worth of adventures into three and a half days so I can’t complain. I left her at the bus station, and got back on the metro to make my way to the airport. But as this adventure came to an end, I was about to head off on a new one, this time in sunny, sunny South Florida. 🙂

Yes, I still traveled over winter break

I haven’t written anything for a while and there’s a good reason! I’ve been on winter break and have taken a complete hiatus from everything — blogging, Twitter, working, studying — to save my sanity. I was beyond stressed out last semester with trying to balance work, school, a social life and traveling, and was incredibly burnt out by the end. To make matters worse, next semester, I’ll be working 37 hours per week (with three, maybe four jobs)  on top of five of the hardest classes I’ll be taking in college. So I needed a break.

Of course, a break for me doesn’t mean sitting still. I made sure to fit some travel in where I could. Since I’ve been extremely low on money lately, I couldn’t afford to go anywhere international, but I stuck with cool places nearby — New York, Florida and a staycation in Washington, D.C.

First stop was a day trip to New York City with my friend Brian two days before Christmas. It was super spontaneous, given that we decided to go just two days prior, but we wanted to experience New York at Christmastime.

On Dec. 23, we woke at the crack of dawn (4 a.m.) to catch our 6:30 Megabus from Union Station in D.C.  We got to the city around 11 a.m. and, after some much-needed coffee, headed to Rockefeller Center to see the iconic, 85-foot Christmas tree. Ice-skating at the center was ridiculously overpriced, so we let other people spend $50 to skate and then happily watched them glide and topple on the rink.

Next we headed to Brooklyn to have our share of world-famous pizza at Grimaldi’s. The wait was horrible. There was no waiting space inside the restaurant, so Brian and I along with maybe 50 other people waited outside in a line stretching down the sidewalk. We shivered from the cold as a slushy rain/snow mix fell from the sky. By the time we got inside we were famished, but of course, the restaurant was so packed that  it took at least half an hour to get our pizza. And service was awful; we saw our grumpy waiter only twice; once when we ordered, and once when he delivered the check (which was cash only). But let me tell you, the pizza was delish. We got half pepperoni, half meatball (toppings were a whopping $3 each) and devoured entire large, brick-oven pizza. That being said, the dish was still not exquisite enough to make up for the otherwise unsatisfactory dining experience. I’m glad we went, but I don’t think I’m going to be a repeat customer.

Grimaldi's Pizza
The rest of the day was more pleasant. Despite the cold rain, we walked around Brooklyn and got ice cream at the Brooklyn Farmacy and Soda Fountain, an adorable ice cream parlor with great staff that was recently featured on Food Network’s Top Ten Restaurants, a deserving award. Then we walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first time, and went to meet some of Brian’s friends for dinner in the West Village.


The bridge was more stunning than I imagined. The long wires that stretched from the center of the bridge down to the entryways created a web-like network that was intimidating but beautiful. The lights from the cars driving below added an interesting illumination that just added to the overall aura of the bridge. And, of course, the view of the New York skyline from the peak of the bridge looked just as it does in the photos.


Later, during dinner, one of my friends from school saw something I had posted online about being in West Village and messaged me saying she was at a jazz bar just down the street! What a coinkydink! So Brian and I parted ways with his friends after dinner and went to meet my friend Lily at the Fat Cat Jazz Bar. Luckily the bar was 18+, so Brian, who is 19, could get in. I grabbed a cider from the bar and Brian and I joined Lily and her friends at a table where we talked, played games, and listened to the jazz musicians jam. But soon it was nearly 11 p.m. and Brian and I had to make it back to the pickup stop to catch our midnight bus back to D.C.

It was a long, tiring day, but an absolute blast. We were zonked by the time we got back to Union Station at 6 a.m. Christmas Eve and headed home quickly. But I had work at 10 a.m., so I only got a few hours of sleep before I had to fire up the engines again (go figure). But totally, totally worth it.

I made it!

What a long day it has been! But an incredible day at that!

I’ll start from where I left off in my last post:

I made it to New York by 5:45 p.m. as anticipated. But since the Bolt bus dropped us off at a different place than from where I had planned on being dropped off by Megabus, I had to recalculate how I was getting to the airport. I got two different sets of directions from the Bolt bus driver and from a friendly NYC local (I know, a friendly New Yorker seems like an oxymoron, right?), and took the advice from the latter to take the A train on the New York subway to JFK airport.

The line at customs was frightening.
The line at customs was frightening.

I arrived at the airport an hour later, just to find that my flight was delayed from a 9:45 p.m. departure to 11:15 p.m. So all that panic for nothing! I sat around in the airport for about three hours after going through customs, charging my phone and iPad. I flew Kuwait Airlines because when I was purchasing tickets for this trip in November, Kuwait Airlines had the cheapest tickets. I soon found out why. When we finally boarded the plane, I saw it was lacking, uh, modern comforts. The seats were outdated and the inflight entertainment needed some major TLC. But the staff was friendly, the food was fine, and the ride was really not uncomfortable, so I wasn’t disappointed with the flight. I got what I paid for.

Breakfast on the flight was an omelette, beans, yogurt, roll, orange juice and coffee.
Breakfast on the flight was an omelette, beans, yogurt, roll, orange juice and coffee.

I had a new cultural experience with the airline being based in Kuwait, however. All passengers were given moist towels to wash their faces and hands after boarding the flight. Later on, we were given another set of warm, wet clothes to wipe our faces and hands before landing. The flight attendants also gave specific directions as to when to close and open our window shades. No exceptions. I have not looked into why this is the routine with this airline, but I am very curious as to why! I didn’t mind having to shut and open my window at specific times, though I did wish I could have kept it open longer to be able to enjoy the view — but I did like feeling fresh and clean after wiping my face and hands!

We touched down in London at 11:30 a.m., an hour and a half later than scheduled, because of the delayed departure. Luckily my friend Sarah was patiently waiting for me at the gate. After a long, long day of traveling, it was awesome to see a friendly face!

I made it London!
I made it London!

 

London, Rome, Paris, Barcelona, Dublin, Zurich: The ultimate itinerary for my trip to Europe

Euro Trip 2014 MapIs this real life? Am I seriously heading to Europe in less than one week? I’m so excited, I can’t even see straight, and I really hope I haven’t scared away any strangers as I randomly gaze off into the distance as I daydream about the trip. I’ve been planning to go back to Europe since the day I stepped foot back in the U.S. last summer after returning from Spain. I just can’t believe it’s now one week away.

I’m finally taking the time to jot down the entire itinerary of my 24-day trip through 11 cities in six countries. Primarily, I’m making the list for personal reference, but I hope my friends and family can use it track where I am along the adventure. And of course, I hope anyone reading this will be inspired to plan a fast-paced Euro trip of their own. I’m sure it will be the experience of a lifetime.

June 10th – Washington, to New York, to London

I live in D.C., but my flight to London leaves from JFK airport in New York City. So I’ll be using Megabus to get to New York (have I written my ode to Megabus yet? I’m practically married to the company at this point), where I’ll then have four hours to make it to the airport and get myself through customs. This will be my first time flying internationally alone and I’m, like, crazy nervous. But I’m so excited for this trip that I know I’ll combat my nerves with thoughts of beautiful England, enchanting Ireland, feisty Spain, alluring Italy, majestic France, intriguing Monaco… wait, what was I talking about again?

June 11th – London Calling

I’ll arrive around 10 a.m. where my lovely, lovely travel pal Sarah will pick me up from Heathrow airport and help me get acquainted to the city. She and I will be staying with her aunt in Wimbledon, and Sarah will have arrived a few days before I do, so she’ll be ready to hit the town as soon as I get there.  Sarah’s been to London more times than I have fingers, so she’ll be my personal tour guide and take me around the London bridge, Big Ben, the London Eye, Abbey road, Platform 9  and 3/4, etc. She and her aunt are being so awesome about letting me stay with them and showing me around, and I can’t say enough how much I appreciate it.

June 12th – Explore London

Sarah and I will do more sightseeing and souvenir shopping early in the day. We bought tickets to Once, the musical, and will have to make our way over to the theater midday. Afterward, there will be time do more exploring after the show before we retire early to get a good start the next day for Dublin.

June 13th – Off to Ireland!

For more details, see my post: How we’re seeing Dublin in 38 hours (we might just be crazy)

Rising early, Sarah and I will take a train to the coast of England and then ride a ferry across the water to Dublin Port. The 8-hour journey will take up most of our day, but we’ll arrive with just enough time to hang out in Temple Bar and take a nighttime sigh-seeing tour of Dublin.

14th – Irish Overload

This will be an incredibly fast-paced day, with a morning 3-hour walking tour and then back-to-back visits to the Guinness Storehouse and Jameson Distillery. At night, we’ll go out like true Irish lassies and hit up a bar crawl with our fellow hostel visitors.

June 15th – Back to London for a Bit

A ferry and a train will take Sarah and I back to London, and spend the rest of the day relaxing and recovering. Sarah will be preparing to head back to the States, and I’ll get ready to start my Contiki tour the next day. But we must get one last scone together before we part.

June 16th – Head to the hotel in London to start my Contiki tour

I’ll have to check in to the hotel by 2 p.m. and then spend the evening getting ready for the tour. There will be orientation for the trip where I will meet the tour manager, chef and my fellow travelers. The checked-in travelers have a chance to go out to dinner, but we can’t get cray cray since we have to get up early the next day to head to Paris.

June 17th – Depart London for Paris

Off to Paris! We’ll begin our voyage on a ferry to France, where we’ll pass the White Cliffs of Dover. Then we’ll hop on the Contiki coach bus and travel through World War I battlefields in the Valley of the Somme to Paris.

Once we arrive at our campsite, we get to set up camp – which I’m super excited about because apparently, we’re sleeping in pairs in these cute little blue tents. I’m sure tight quarters will force us to become very close with our fellow travelers – literally. Once we have set up camp, our bus will leave for the Tour of Illuminations, which will take us around the beautiful, lamp-lit streets of Paris, passing the Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Champs-Élysées.

June 18th – 19th  Explore Paris

The city of love will bring us plenty of sightseeeing to do over these two days: Left Bank, Notre Dame Cathedral, Louvre and more. I know the enchanting smell of French baguettes will draw me in and I’m so looking forward to chowing down on some French cuisine. Plus, shopping!! I know everything will be way expensive, but I will do my best to find a few Parisian gems to ring back to the states. Our tour also includes a trip to Versailles, France’s most well-known château, where we will explore the impressive exterior of the extravagant palace. I’ll have to make sure I bring extra memories for my camera!

On the last night in Paris, we get to experience a Parisian night out, starting with an optional dinner in an atmospheric restaurant and authentic cabaret experience, complete with can-can girls and champagne. I’m so ready to live the high life.

June 20th – Depart Paris and drive through Bordeaux

Surely tired from the previous night’s festivities, we’ll pack up our campsites and head through Loire Valley, traveling past rolling vineyards and chateaus. On our way to Spain, we’ll stop in Bordeaux and visit the UNESCO World Heritage listed St. Emilion, with its fortified medieval city.

June 21st – Biarritz and Pamplona

Leaving Bordeaux and heading south, the bus will stop at the beach resort of Biarritz, known for some of the best beaches and surf in Europe. Since I’m not a huge sun-bathing person, I’ll probably spend most of my time in Biarritz hitting up the coastal shops and boutiques. Apparently, Biarritz has great beach fashion and locally made linens and regional produce like hams and salamis.

Leaving Biarritz, we cross the border to Spain and spend the evening in Pamplona, the city know for the Running of the Bulls. Pamplona has an awesome Gothic cathedral that I’m sure I’ll obsess over, and amazing Basque restaurants that serve traditional foods like barbecued lamb, fresh trout and red peppers.

June 22nd – Off to Barcelona!!!

Lately, I’ve become increasingly obsessed with Barcelona. Already suffering from an obsession with Spanish language and culture, I can only image how I’ll soak in the incredible, vibrant colors and beachy vibe of one of Spain’s best-known cities.

So on the way to Barcelona from Pamplona, the bus will head through the Baroque city of Zaragoza, set on the banks of the Rio Ebro. We’ll stop for lunch and engorge in Spanish tapas, and get a chance to check out another amazing Spanish cathedral. Once we arrive in Barcelona and set up camp, we depart for the city just in time to hit up Montjuic, a hilltop with full vistas of the city and location of the 1992 Olympic Games complex. Then we will check out the Sagrada Família!!!! I can’t wait!

Later, we get to enjoy a night out in Barcelona, which I’m sure will be one we won’t want to tell the kids.

June 23rd – Explore Barcelona

After a morning walking tour of the city, we’ll have free time to visit shops on Plaça de Catalunya, La Rambla, Parc Güell, or hang out on the beach. That night, there will be a family dinner and optional Flamenco show, then we head out for a night out in Barcelona – part two.

June 24th – Off to the French Riviera

The rugged coast line of the stunning Côte d’Azur will capture our attention as we roll along on the coach bus, stopping for lunch in Arles.  The beautiful city of Cannes will great us as we roll along the Riviera on our way to Antibes.

June 25th – Explore the French Riviera and Monaco 

On this sunny Wednesday, we’ll stop at the Fragonard perfumery, the home of the French perfume industry. We’ll have some free time to explore the area and try some French wine and, at night, get to explore Monaco and maybe even blow some cash at the Monte Carlo casino.

June 26th – Off to Florence

Leaving France, the tour crosses over the border to Italy. First stop: the Leaning Tower of Pizza (hehehe had to do it 🙂 ). We next drive to our campsite, have a family dinner, take a tour along the river and unwind with a glass of Tuscan wine.

June 27th – Explore Florence 

We’ll hit the museum and the city centre, take a guided tour through crowded streets, and watch a demonstration of Florentine leather making. At night, we’ll have an optional group dinner  (an authentic Tuscan feast, which there’s no way I’m missing), and then head out to experience Florentine nightlife.

June 28th – Head to our last stop: Rome!

Traveling through Tuscany, we’ll leave Florence and head to Rome where we’ll set up our last campsite on the tour.  A coach tour if the city will guide us through the Colosseum and Piazza Venezia, where we’ll then then step off the bus to see the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. With our free time later, we get to check out the Trevi Fountain or see the Spanish Steps. And at some point, obvi, we’ll  be stopping for pizza and gelato.

June 29th —  When in Rome…

In the morning, a tour guide will take us through the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica. Then, of course, the tour leads to the Colosseum and Roman Forum.

Free time later in the day will give us a chance to explore the city, eat more pizza, go shopping, and, knowing me, take lots of pictures. I just really want to know what it means to “do as the Romans do.” Ha.

Then, it’s our last night out! I know that I’ll have made some awesome friends during this crazy Euro adventure, and the group will want to go out with a bang. And if that predication is wrong, I’ll just go out by myself. Whatevs.

June 30th – Ciao for now Rome!

On this day, everyone packs up and rolls out. The tour ends midday Monday and we’re all on our own to transport ourselves back home. But Europe won’t be able to get rid of me that quickly. I’ll have a few more days before I head back to the States.

July 1st – 2nd – ?????

Still not quite sure what I’ll be doing these two days before heading back to London. My friend Rachel, who is studying abroad in France, and I planned to meet up in Switzerland, but that might not be possible anymore. So I will probably just be spontaneous and pick up a one-way ticket to some place I’ll want to explore before heading back to the Heathrow airport the night of the June 2.

July 3rd – GOODBYE EUROPE

Oh, parting is such sweet sorrow. I fly out from London that morning, expecting to be back in Washington, D.C. later that evening. With the next day being July 4th (U.S. Independence Day), I can’t think of any better way to feel welcomed back to my home country than with firework, hot dogs, and everything stars and stripes.

Gracias, Merci, Grazie

My Trip to New York City

ny2

I went to New York City last weekend to visit some of my friends from study abroad. One friend lives there, the other was visiting from Alabama. Since I’m only four hours away from the city, I figured it’d be easy enough to go up for a night and see them. I figured correctly. I had a blast.

My friend who lives in NYC studies at Hunter College, and her dorm is down 1st Ave. She was sweet enough to let me stay with her and sleep on her couch, which saved me a TON of money on accommodations (when I was first looking for a place to sleep, I considered staying at a budget hotel or hostel in the city. Hell no. Even those cost at a minimum $50/night, and those were the sketchy places. While I’m broke, I still do somewhat value my safety. Thankfully, my dear friend saved me from this nightmare).

To get to New York, I took Megabus, of course. Because I waited until the day before I left to get my ticket, I had to spend a little more than I had expected: roughly $60 round trip. Generally, RT tickets from D.C. to NYC cost about $40, sometimes even cheaper.

Waiting for the bus!
Waiting for the bus!

HIGHLIGHTS

1. City Streets

Oh, how I love the city. When my bus arrived at 3 p.m., I chose to walk to my friend’s dorm instead of call a cab. It took about 45 mins, but I loved every second of strolling along those New York streets, skyscrapers towering over my head, eclectic people hustling by, vendors selling hotdogs on every corner and uneven sidewalks making it super difficult to carry my stuff.

2. Mis chicas!

When I got to my friend’s apartment, we spent spent hours catching up over a bottle of red moscato. It had been over eight months since we studied abroad together! Then we got ready for a night out and went to meet our Alabaman friend at West 4th. Mmm, the New York subway. When we finally saw her, of course shrieks, hugs and “I missed you”‘s were in order. After that, we walked around, took in the city air and took lots of pictures.

3. A Night on the Town

For dinner, we went to The Park, an awesome American restaurant with great food. We had some drinks, caught up even more, then went to the lounge area of the restaurant to get cray and dance.  The Park has an incredible, earthy interior, and the dance floors were perfectly situation between the bars. I’ve also got to note The Park’s fantastic music selection, which was ridiculously on point all night. We stayed and danced for a few hours, being sure to watch the dance off that broke out on the second floor; then headed to Finnegans Wake, an Irish pub down the street from my friend’s dorm, to wind down over some cheap IPAs. We stayed til 3 a.m. and finally parted ways as our Alabaman friend went back to her hotel and my NYC friend and I headed back to her place.

I wish I could have stayed longer, but I had to leave early the next morning to get home to study for exams. My sweet friend saw me off in the morning, and then I traveled to the bus port to catch my bus back to D.C.

LOWLIGHTS

1. The Buses

As much as I love Megabus, I’m going to throw the company a little under the bus here (pun intended) and say that I was a bit disappointed with the service. My bus from D.C. to NYC was a late getting to the terminal, and the bus wasn’t even a Megabus bus — rather a generic Dillon’s Bus Service one. I was comfortable nonetheless, but the bus didn’t have wi-fi or power outlets — two things a blogger can’t live without. Also, the bus I took back to D.C. got to the New York terminal late as well. I’m not usually one to complain, but it was not pleasant  having to stand out in that New England cold for an extra 30 mins, nor to get home 30 minutes later than anticipated.

2. Urban America

The Big Apple was majestic as always, but I always take note of the bad smells, polluted air, rude people, crowed streets, trashed sidewalks, traffic jams, street urchins and dirty subways.  I know these are all things that make New York such an iconic city, but I can’t help but compare to the beautiful streets and wonderful people of the cities I visited in Spain. But that’s America for ya.

OVERALL

Despite a couple late buses and bad smells, I had a fantastic  time. I can’t wait to go back in the summer and visit my friend again — after my Euro Trip, of course. 🙂