Saturday, December 27, 2014

Twenty Something Travel to [Washington D.C.]

Good evening readers!

I was here at the capital of United States! Washington D.C. resembles a 'government town' because all the main government branches (the Congress, White House and Supreme Court) are located there with over 100 embassies around the District. Note that Washington D.C. is a federal district therefore not a state in the U.S. and it is definitely not located in the state of Washington. I personally prefer Washington D.C. over New York City because the former projects a cleaner, safer and somehow more systematic impression. We also crossed over to Arlington to visit some famous places such as the Pentagon.

Street view of Washington D.C. with tourists gliding on a two-wheel electric scooter.

Transportation

If you ask me to state one thing I love about Washington D.C. it will definitely be the repetitive concrete like ceiling vaults overarching the entire Metro station. Based on my googling skills, these concrete like ceiling vaults reflect the influence of Washington's neoclassical architecture which is also echoed in most of the buildings there.

My favourite Metro station design in the entire world.
Washington D.C. is easy to navigate if you choose your accommodation wisely. Basically if you stay near the White House, you are close to all the must-visit-places in WDC. You will hardly need to take a cab to arrive to your destination because WDC is explorable by both foot and their Rapid Transit System. With my travel buddy, Philip, we made use of Google map to lead us the way with some help by the Metro railway system to places which are too far to walk. The smart card for the Metro is called SmarTrip. You can read about it here. If I'm not mistaken, the excess fund in this card is not refundable. So, top-up only when you need to use it.

For those of you who flying straight to WDC, this will not concern you. We actually took Megabus from Boston to WDC. The whole bus ride was 10 hours to, 10 hours fro. Yes, that was the longest bus ride I have ever experienced in my life. The two-way ticket fare was surprisingly cheaper than that of New York City, it costed only USD 90. We took a night bus so by the time we reached, it would be morning. The bus ride was quite dreadful because I could not sleep properly and it was quite cold in the bus.

Accommodation

Hotels located near White House are generally expensive so we decided to stay in a student hostel near central to ease travel while cost us less money. We finally settled on a student hostel called Washington International Student Center located at 2451 18th Street N.W., Washington DC, DC 20009. When we reached the area, it took us a while to look for the entrance of the hostel because the door was so small and there weren't any signs to guide us the way.

Bars and restaurants near our hostel.
The hostel is strategically located above bars and restaurants so you would not have to travel far for morning breakfast or dinner. The Metro station is within walking distance. The cheap overnight price is also one of the attractive aspects. But other than that, don't even bother.

I was very disappointed when I reached the hostel because there was a weird and mouldy smell. We were assigned to a 6 bedded bunk and were shocked by the condition of the room. Dirty clothes were all over the floor and I would say the place was not well-maintained. But we were just going to sleep and spend most of our time out, so we decided to just try to bear with it. You can read the Tripadvisor reviews of the hostel here. I've read through most of them, and I would say the negative ones are very accurate.

We were in great horror this particular night when returning to our room. A group of guys who smelt like alcohol gathered in our room, chatting. They then left when they saw both of us. Basically, that hostel is never meant for students. No student ID is required upon check in. The fact that it is located above bars made me feel slightly safer because of the human traffic at night. So if something happens, we just have to run all the way down. The hostel staffs behaved quite strangely especially the middle-aged owner who asked me to follow him 'somewhere' for no reason. I was terrified and insisted that I got to look after my friend's luggage while he was showering. After consistent failures, the strange owner gave up and asked me to meet this guy called 'Anthony' next morning. We of course did not bother to do anything and just went out early. To sum up our stay: We were so scared to stay overnight to the extent that we woke up super early and came back super late. Just because we did not want to spend our single second there.

Now, here's the tip: If you are planning to spend less for your accommodation, do more research and read the reviews of the hostels. Let's say you are not comfortable with the condition, just leave and look for another decent hostel if you are going to spend a couple of days in that city. If you are a female travelling alone, make sure you stay in a trustworthy hostel and if not, please pay slightly more for your stay in a proper hotel. Better be safe than sorry!

Food


Again, nothing fantastic about the food because our mission was not on food. Nevertheless, we did savour every meal we had because even their most basic burger was so filling and tasty!

Dinner at Pentagon Mall. *No upsize requested. 
 For breakfast, I recommend this place called the Corner Bakery Cafe located in Chinatown. I have no idea why something so American is stationed there but their breakfast set served was appetizing!

They sell food ranging from bagels, muffins, pasta, soups to oatmeals.

Bread + mushroom + potato + avocado + tomato + scrambled eggs + sausages 

I also ate a strawberry waffle for breakfast the other day in a random coffee shop near our hostel. 
Due to our "no rice, no steamed vegetables, no steamed meat, no Chinese tea, no herbal soup" rule, we were able to taste different kinds of burgers. Next, I am going to introduce you the best burger I have eaten so far in WDC. I highly recommend you to pay a visit and order a burger if you happen to be near. Maybe I was starving at that time, that's why I gobbled the entire burger up in like 6 minutes. Rich toppings, well-cooked meat, freshly cut fries, wide range of sauces and free flow of soft drinks (they have coke in berry, orange, lime and grapes flavour btw)! But my point is, the burger was in so far the best that I have ever had. 

Present to you, the Z Burger! You can visit their website here.

Address: 
Columbia Heights (Tivoli Theatre)
3301 14th St. NW
Washington, District of Columbia 20010

Places

WDC is no place like New York where you have plenty of entertainment and the entire street for you to shop till you drop. If you enjoy looking at building's architecture, knowing the history of US and probably interested in visiting the location of government branches in person, WDC is for you. We covered quite a decent amount of places, including some parts in Arlington. For instance, Lafayette Park, White House, Headquarters of the Department of Treasury, United States Department of Commerce, General William Tecumseh Sherman Monument, Eisen Hower Executive Building, American Red Cross National Headquarters building, World War II Memorial, Reflecting Pool, Lincoln Memorial, Arlington memorial, Marine Corps War Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, Pentagon Memorial, Calvary Baptist Church, Saint Mary Church, Smithsonian Institution, International Spy Museum, National Building Museum, US Courthouse for Arm Forces (COA), Supreme Court of the US, Library of Congress, United States Navy Memorial, International Monetary Fund,Vietnam War Memorial Wall, Korean War Veterans Memorial, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr Memorial, National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden, Natural Museum of Natural History, Delta Solar Sculpture, Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, the United States Capitol etc.

If you are amazed and start wondering how we were able to cover so many places in just 3 days in WDC, here's the secret: Most of the places mentioned above are actually close together. I say 'close' meaning within walking distance or next to each other. So, you would be able to cover quite a lot of memorials/museums, just like how we did. So plan your itinerary beforehand so as to prevent re-visiting the same area again and again.
Out of all these places, my favourite building, other than their Metro station, will be the United States Capitol. One special feature of this Capitol is that it has a staircase with 365 steps to the Capitol's dome to represent the number of days in a year. As the legislative branch of the government, adopting the neoclassical architectural style, the United States Capitol housed Congress since 1800.

Functions of The Capitol:
1. where Congress meets to write the laws of the nation
2. where presidents are inaugurated and deliver their State of the Union messages.

Here are some pictures to share:

My perfect picture of White House. Where's the gate? *smirks*

Acting as the President of United States for one second.
The Pentagon

International Spy Museum

Library of Congress
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum
Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial angle.
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
The United States Capitol
It was fun travelling in WDC but tiring as well. But it's worth the 10 hours bus ride! I hope you enjoyed reading this post as much as I enjoyed my trip. If you have any questions regarding this trip, drop them in the comment box below! :)

-Travelling is addictive.-

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Twenty Something Travel to [Boston Habour Islands]

Happy Saturday readers! 

If you like island hopping, this post is for you!

During the summer, I spent most of my time staying in Boston. On one of the weekends, my friend and I went for a Boston Habour Islands National Park trip. Boston Islands National Park is a National Recreation Area with 12 diverse islands and peninsulas for visitors to explore. Being able to leave the city area and experience the distinct side of Boston, this trip made me realised that there are actually 1600 acres and 35 miles of undeveloped ocean shoreline on the islands. 

The Boston Habour Times

How to get there

There is only one and only way to explore Boston Habour Islands. By taking the ferry it is, unless you want to challenge yourself and swim all the way. The ferry ride costed USD 15 and took us around 15 minutes to reach our very first island-Spectacle Island.

Getting onto the Boston Habour Islands National Park ferry.
I must say the ferry ride was quite comfortable. Although visitors are encouraged to actually make reservations for the main Boston ferries, we managed to buy them because we went very early to queue for the tickets. The park ferries leave regularly from several mainland piers, so you must plan your trip beforehand. This is to prevent missing your last ferry and end up staying overnight at one of the islands. If you are interested in purchasing the ferry ride tickets, there are booths set up at Long Wharf-North in Boston. You can get onto a ferry right after purchasing the tickets because the pier is just right at Long Wharf-North!


If you intend to explore all the available islands, it is not very possible in one day. We spent almost half a day just by exploring two of their islands - Spectacle Island and Georges Island. 

External view of the high rise building in Boston.

First stop: Spectacle Island


We were told the island name is originated from the shape of the island. Does it look like a pair of spectacles?
A picture with the sign board.
We hiked to the tallest hill on Spectacle Island to have a panoramic view of both the habour and the city. You can bring your bikini to swim as well because there are shower facilities on the island itself. If not, by just admiring the beauty of the scenery and nature will keep you occupied.

GREEN.

Picnic is always a good idea.
The view at the top of the hill.
You probably can't tell from the pictures, it was actually scorching hot at the top of the hill. The tip is try to put on sunblock before you start the hike because I got my tan line here while doing the hike. If you are like me, you probably will not enjoy picnic at the top of the hill because it's really hot, and windy at the same time. Perhaps you couldn't imagine this island used to be a place full of dumps for 30 years. After some resurfacing and landfill operations, known as 'The Big Dig', the island regains its charm and is now accessible to the public. Despite the heat, we sat randomly on the grass, idolizing the greenery and sea view before we left for our next stop.

Second stop: Georges Island


Reaching Georges Island.
The dock.

Stepping onto Georges Island, it seemed to be more lively than Spectacle Island. There were ducks and birds all over the place and more things to tour too. Georges Island is the home of historic Fort Warren, a Civil War-era fort famous for its exquisite granite archways. The fort used to be a patrol point, training ground and prison. However, since its decommission in 1947, it is now a place for recreation. 




Battery Stevenson's gun well for 12'' disappearing gun.

Things to take note*

1. It can get very hot in the afternoon. So do bring your cap, sunblock and sunglasses to protect yourself from the sun and heat if you are not an outdoor person.

2. Do check the timing of the next ferry if you are planning to hop onto the next island on time before you start exploring.

3. All the islands have a carry in, carry out trash policy. So make sure you do not throw your dumps anywhere on the island and bring a plastic bag along with you to ease trash disposal if you plan to have a picnic over there.

In short, the Spectacle Island is Spectacular and the Georges Island is Gorgeous. Go for it and tell me your thoughts about the islands in the comment box below!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Twenty Something Travel to [New York City]

Good day readers!

I will be starting blog posts on my travel destinations around the world called the 'Twenty Something Travel to" series. Travelling is the most enjoyable thing one can do in life, at least to me. If I have unlimited financial supply, I would not buy a big mansion or buy a fancy Porsche. Instead, I will spend them all on travelling locally and overseas. For the very first travel post, I will be sharing my travel experience in the favourite city of all times, New York City a.k.a. the Big Apple. Although I am not a pro traveller or someone who is qualified to give travel advice and travel guide, I do hope these series of blog posts on my travel encounters would give you some idea on how to navigate these destinations and perhaps, ignite the passion to travel in you!

New York City, being the most popular and known for its high density of population in the United States, did not fail to impress me with its high rise buildings, great food and colourful billboards. I was lucky to have Philip, my travel buddy, with me when exploring New York City in the summer. 

Transportation

New York City was not our first destination and it took us around 4 hours to get there from Boston by Megabus. The two-way ticket price was as cheap as USD 80 per person as compared to taking internal flights which would cost us 4-5 times the price with equal length of time.

We navigated NYC using Google map and two methods of transportation: by foot and by subway (not the foot-long sandwich - but an underground electric rail system). I would say it is entirely possible to not take the yellow cab at all to get to must-go-places in NYC. Just get a Metrocard, top-up as per usage and you are ready to go! You can read about the Metrocard here.

*Note that different states in the US use different kinds of smart cards for their railway system. Be prepared to invest on one whenever you travel out of state. Some smart cards do not offer refund for unused funds. Tip: Purchase the ones which require you to pay as per ride so that you wouldn't have to waste your money!

Streets of New York

Accommodation

When it comes to accommodation, it is very important to choose one which is of reasonable price, strategically located, clean, safe and with friendly staffs. This is because you do not want to end up walking the whole day and finally when it is time to rest, you face problems of smelly pillows, bad cleaning services and faulty air-conditioner. We stayed in Yotel for the entire trip and I must say our stay was pleasant! Despite it being a 3-star hotel, they have the standard close to a 4.5-star hotel! It is located extremely near to Times Square and everything is within reach! 

Yotel's address: 570, 10th Ave, New York, NY 10036, United States. Link here.

Yotel has a robot at the entrance to store your luggages if you are checking in or out early!

Food

As students, we did not really go for high-end restaurants or even bother to hunt for good food in NYC. Our demand for food was simple to fulfil - to be filling! We agreed with each other that we should not go for any Asian food. In other words, no rice, no steamed vegetables, no steamed meat, no Chinese tea, no herbal soup. So we tried their pizzas, burgers, fries, burritos, coke and ice-cream. I miss the burgers and something called guacamole over there! Not that no burgers are sold in Singapore but they just taste different, somehow. People kept telling me before my trip that food portions in the US are shockingly huge and I second that after experiencing it myself! I ended up sharing or not being able to finish all my food because they are just very generous when it comes to food. 

My burrito with my favourite guacamole at Chipotle. 
Pizza for breakfast at Villa Italian Kitchen.

Standard size of an 'ordinary' pizza sold anywhere.

Places

We spent our weekends there visiting the Fifth Avenue (LV, Prada, Dior lovers' heaven), 911 Memorial Tower, The Reflecting Absence Memorial and Museum, American Museum of Natural History, Central Park, 7th Regiment Memorial, Chinatown, City Hall, Courts, Federal Hall National Memorial, Wall Street, Grand Central Terminal, Guggenheim, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Statue of Liberty, Little Italy, Rockefeller Centre, Rose Center for Earth and Space, Times Square, Trinity Church, Public Library, Intrepid Museum etc. There is a USD 20+ admission fee for most of the museums and I would say it's worth the money.

I was stunned by the elegant and exclusive buildings architecture. I have yet to find out the different architectural styles of different buildings. They all look extraordinarily magnificent and bold, 'photogenic' as well, as compared to the modern buildings found in my home country. Here are some pictures to share:

Subway Station

Central Park

Grand Central Terminal


Metropolitan Museum of Art
Wall Street
The Reflecting Absence Memorial
Times Square at 10pm.
Colourful billboards along the street of New York.
The New York Times building.


[Mandatory Tourist Shot]

Highlight of the trip

The highlight of our trip was actually the fireworks displays during Independence Day on the 4th of July! Initially, we tried to google 'where is the best place to catch the fireworks in NYC'. Results showed the Empire State Building and some other confusing places. We then approached a traffic police at the streets and she kindly told us to walk to Brooklyn Bridge before 9pm.

Being as kiasu as possible, we reached the place around 5pm and guess what, people were much earlier than us! We tried asking people where would be the best place to get the full view and different people told us different spots. Now, here comes the tip: when in doubt, follow the bigger crowd! We saw quite a number of people sitting beside the main road which was blocked for the event but more people were walking in the direction of the Brooklyn Bridge. We were like: let's just follow the bigger crowd. I would say the crowd was crazy and the NYPD (New York Police Department) did a good job in crowd control!

We regretted not buying food before heading there because we were starving while waiting for the fireworks. We were like two clueless people in the crowd trying to figure where the fireworks displays would exactly be. At around 9pm, the first blast turned out to be right in front of us (too close to be true)! I must say I had a great time watching the fireworks displays and celebrating this meaningful occasion with the New Yorkers.

Sneak peak of 0.01% of the crowd near Brooklyn Bridge. 
NYC has the most incredible and amazing fireworks in the world! (not even exaggerating)
p/s: To kill the perfect picture of being able to catch the fascinating fireworks, we had a terrible experience of trying to get a cab back to hotel (under cold and windy weather) after the event around 11.30pm because they closed some of the subway entrance to control the crowd. We were so cold and hungry at that time. We ended up getting some hot food at a random restaurant near midnight. Then, we bravely came to a consensus to walk back to our hotel. It was pretty scary but phew, we reached safely.

I think this blog post pretty much sums up our trip in NYC. If you have any questions regarding my trip to NYC which are not mentioned in this post or any travel experience in NYC that you would like to share with me, feel free to drop your message at the comment box below!

With love,
PY