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Old 19th May 2018, 22:08   #1
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Default Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA

It was never in my plan to backpack 'Murica' but once you get an opportunity, you should go with the flow.

And boy, USA didn't disappoint me. Though it was only a two week trip, it was way above my expectations. I visited four major cities in USA and a small town, had one of best travel experiences given I travel a lot. My observations about USA will be reserved at the end of this travelogue. This will be straight forward travelogue with direct information.

The B1/B2 visa was easy to get as I had extensive travel history in developed countries.
Next was search for airline tickets and making many tweaks in itinerary. Team-BHP helped me here as I was not aware about multi city option route for same airline. I looked a lot for airlines fares for weekend departures in end of April and our national carrier suited a lot. Why? Direct connectivity, fares less than the gulf trios and morning arrival in USA. Given I have never travelled by AirIndia, I was a little bit apprehensive but decided to take the plunge. Tickets were booked and subsequently, everything fell into place. All planning was done by me down to last details like which airport should be preferred to which AirBnB/hostels to choose.

I hope to provide small tit bits here and there to save some money while traveling. I took most of the USD in forex card and few dollars in cash.

Here is how the itinerary fell into place:
27th April: Pune to Mumbai, Mumbai to JFK, NY by AI 101
28th April: New York City (NYC)
29th April: NYC
30th April: NYC
1st May: NYC (Yeah I gave four days to NYC but I feel they were still less)
2nd May: NYC to Washington DC by Amtrak North East regional express in the morning.
3rd May: Washington DC
4th May: Washington DC to Boston morning flight by American Airlines morning flight AA 2130 and Boston
5th May: Boston
6th May: Boston
7th May: Boston to Chicago by Spirit Airlines Flight 773 in afternoon (The fare was cheaper than the Amtrak rail ticket!)
8th May: Chicago
9th May: Chicago and evening departure by Greyhound Bus to Lafayette, Indiana.
10th May: Lafayette, IN
11th May: Lafayette, IN
12th May: Lafayette to Chicago by private shuttle bus and then AI 126 from Chicago to Delhi and AI 102 from Delhi to Mumbai.

In hindsight, I should have landed directly to Pune on 13th May, but with a dual mind whether to crash at home in Mumbai after a tiring trip, I booked to Mumbai but in the end came to Pune on 13th May.

You might be wondering what am I doing in Lafayette, IN for two whole days. Well just relax after covering so many cities and attend the graduation ceremony of my cousin brother at Purdue University in middle of nowhere, that is Indiana.

I used public transport extensively in all the four major cities extensively, traveled by foot to cover most locations in city, used railways, roads, airlines, personal transport and experienced extreme variations in weather during these 15 days.

All pics are taken using OnePlus 3T phone.

So let's begin with this back packing trip to land of opportunities, United States of America.

Day 0: Pune to Mumbai, and then AI 101.

Completed all the office work by 1430h. Took Uber to Wakad bus stop from office, luckily got a Borivali MSRTC bus which dropped near Santacruz railway station. Took a auto rickshaw to T2. By 1830h, I was in check in line. It would have been earlier if I had beaten the dreaded slow moving WEH traffic. In around over 400 INR, I was at CSIA airport from Pune.

Now in spite of doing web check in, AI made me stand in common line. AI bundles domestic passengers on international flights like AI 101 as we had a stop at Delhi. So the line became big and slow. I stood in line for like 20 minutes. At least there should have been a separate line for web check in and domestic passengers.

The international security check lines at CSIA always amaze me. People still travel with nail clippers, lighters, sharp materials and what not in carry on luggage! The CSIF guys controlling the X ray scanning has to move every time to pin point the luggage, tell another officer to check the luggage again, then move back to the machine to scan forward. It is much better at airports in Europe like Schipol, Amsterdam where there are two conveyor lines after luggage comes out of X ray scanning machine. At Schipol, the carry on luggage that is suspicious goes to another security officer who watches the X ray image in screen in front of him while the one which is clear goes to passenger. Such system helps save a lot of time. Sorry for the rant but wasted 20 to 25 minutes standing in the line.

Next, immigration lines were also bigger. On weekends, any time you go to CSIA, from 1930h to 0300h, there will be huge lines and add extra 20 minutes. I was clearly exhausted by the time I stood in three different lines!

Only positive was the AI 101 777-300ER was a brand new aircraft (VT ALV) registered in early 2018. I wish it had continued all the way to JFK. Though we started boarding at around 2030h for 2100h departure, we didn't start from aerobridge till 2150h. We took off around 2200h to reach Delhi around 2350h. The aircraft had touch screens and I tried to go through Inflight entertainment (IFE) which had dismal collection. The seating was spacious in AI 777-300 ER with 3-3-3 layout unlike Emirates 777-300ER with 3-4-3 layout which felt very cramped to me. You have generous leg space and good seat width. This is definitely a positive point for AI and food is always good suited for Indian taste buds.

We landed at Delhi around 2350h and were taken to cargo terminal, loaded in bus and taken to T3. Due to these delays, my co passenger missed his train to Bhatinda. Again the security checks near the boarding gates for departure to USA are namesake. I think I settled by 0115h on 28th for flight starting at 0145h.

Now this was an old AI 777-300ER (VT-ALS) but had started to show age. Don't know how the fleet of AI starts to degrade so early. Some more passengers and we were off to JFK, NY around 0215h IST. My IFE didn't work the whole flight but luckily I had a book, read it and slept.

Day 1: NYC

Early morning, the pilot announced that John F Kennedy is engulfed in thick fog and he is trying to land after seeking permission from JFK authorities. I guess our AI pilots had CAT IIIB training and we were allowed to land in dense fog. And it indeed was very dense. The time in NYC was around 0815h EDT.

The immigration lines at JFK are clearly marked and we just had to scan passport, verify fingerprints, take a self photo and print a slip and submit it to the CBP officer. There were no immigrations lines as such at JFK when I cleared it. The process was quick. May be fog conditions had diverted most of international flights. And I had stepped on the new world soil. A sense of excitement had worn off all the tiredness of the long travel.

I had booked AirBnB apartment in Upper West side of Manhattan, quite close to Central park on 93rd Street. I was going to use Subway extensively in NYC for four days and took a 7 day pass for 33$ (32$ is actual fees + 1$ is card fee). The Subway network in NYC is huge. It can be intimidating for first timers but easy to use. Took Air train from JFK to Jamaica station, then the E train to 42nd Street, and 2 train to 96th Street. NYC Subway has concept of fast and slow trains like Mumbai suburban system. I immediately felt comfortable with the Subway. There are no staircase escalators in most of NYC subway stations. So if you are traveling with aged people, it can be little bit inconvenient. Though most of stations have lifts.

NYC Subway is very convenient. It is well connected. It is little bit noisy and I felt it was safe even during late night. And yes some lines run 24 hours. Lot of homeless people stay on the subway. Most of the residents of NYC ignore people asking for money on Subway. 42nd street station have a lot of performances going on at the Subway station as it is closer to Times Square. I feel with Google maps and announcements in the train, it is easy to use. Google maps even show which exit you have to take at the subway station! Also realised that JayZ, the rapper from Brooklyn took his name as he used J and Z lines a lot.

Reached my AirBnB apartment. A good and a nice room with a kitchen to cook. Sorted out by mobile internet issues as my phone had latched to AT&T and changed it to T Mobile as Vodafone had roaming pact with them. The only disadvantage was my phone didn't support bands on which T Mobile had 4G. So I was on EDGE in NYC and Boston but had excellent HSDPA connectivity throughout other parts of USA. May be a global band phone would have helped. This was a learning lesson to look for 4G bands before buying phone. I guess USA is the only exception because One Plus 3T had worked flawlessly on 4G bands in Europe and Asia.

Refreshed myself and I had to start exploring the city. By 1230h, I was out on streets. NYC was cold on all the four days with chilly winds and rain on two days of my stay. Spring has arrived or not, it was big confusion for me. Most of the trees were devoid of any leaves and some trees had Spring colour.

First I had to satisfy the Hunger pangs. I went to Ramen restaurant, ordered a Ramen bowl and then I realised servings in USA are huge. They are for two people! Struggled to finish it.

Headed straight to Central Park. The feeling entering Central Park and soaking in the experience was something I can't describe. There are some pockets in Central Park which gives you hidden views of the city. Roamed the park aimlessly feeling the warmth of the sun and then relaxed watching the time pass by with the city bustling in the background. Few pics to do justice to the city.

Entering Central Park though the West side of the city
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Manhattan skyline
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I was well into evening that I got up to leave to my apartment. I had some light snacks and hit the bed early as I was dead tired with so much travel.

Day 2: NYC

I woke up at 0430h with stomach grumbling. Fired Google and searched for good breakfast places and I selected to eat some Bagel at a joint named as Absolute Bagels which was like 10 blocks away from me. It was raining slightly that day. I started around 0545h after getting fresh and doing some home calls. Absolute Bagels are on 103rd Street and serve some of the best Bagels in the city. Just get them buttered and toasted, you have the perfect bagel to start the day with coffee. Link: Absolute Bagels

Early morning walk made me realise NYC has lot of rats going from one drain to another. One can be 'Splinter' from Ninja Turtles.

Today was going be a long day. I had opted for walking tour downtown with New Sandemans Europe tour. They are free tour service and in the end you pay to the guide as per your satisfaction. Isn't it great! The tour guides are volunteers and from my experience, they are fun and try to give you the best about the city. I have taken their service in Europe in cities like Amsterdam. If you can walk and keep up pace for three to four hours, then this is the best thing that can happen to you. We also had a small break for restrooms in the middle of the tour. The tour guide with us was Ryan. They have a common meeting point in Downtown and slowly people started to gather at the point. After segregating the Spanish and English tour guide seeking people, we were like only seven left for English speaking guide. First shock of my life! The Spanish guide seeking audience was like 60 odd people and here we were only 7 people! Heck, the Spanish guides were two and each had a microphone and small speaker. Our guide was just smiling at us and we just said among ourselves, less the better. Realised that Spanish is spoken extensively in USA.

The tour guide started from Bowling Green, which was first public space to open in NYC, covered few important parts in Downtown like Broadway, Stock exchange, Trinity church and many more small places and ended at 9/11 memorial. If you are a history buff and want to know the history of New York city in an interesting way, I definitely recommend this tour to you. Also you get to hear about NYC from a New Yorker who does the tour out of love and not money. It was a little bit cold that day but bearable.

Some pics shot while walking the whole downtown.

Bowling Green, the first public space in NYC
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NYC stock exchange, now a days trading goes on somewhere else.
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The memorial of erstwhile twin towers.
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One world trade centre
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In Afternoon, visited a friend in mid town. It was great meeting him after so many years. He suggested many places for lunch and we picked Gotham West Market This place is really good, you get all type of cuisines here and again the serving here is good and large. Then we walked a little bit aimlessly before hitting the Times Square.

Times square
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I headed back to my apartment in the evening. I was dead tired after walking so much. New York City is a city which you explore block by block. And best way is walking and Subway.

Day three: NYC

Yesterday, I had seen long queues to see Statue of Liberty. Today being a Monday, as expected the crowds were less but the weather was on bad side. Chilly winds were blowing and the chill factor had increased a lot. I had purchased NYC city pass for three places in their list to be covered. I am still thinking whether the pass really helped me save money as I haven’t cross checked the three destinations I visited with the actual cost of pass. Anyways, the pass allows you to board ferry to Statue of Liberty and Ellis island and visit the same. But you are not allowed to climb the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. It costs more. The ticket I purchased becomes equivalent to seeing the statue of Liberty on a free Staten island ferry. But you are compensated by visit to Ellis island. The ferry also gives lot of information about the statue of liberty on the move via a speaker.

Get down at South Ferry station on MTA network and after getting ticket using pass, we had to undergo an airport style security check, and then you can board the ferry. You get very good views of NYC, Jersey and Brooklyn on board the ferry. We reached the statue of Liberty, took and audio guide for free and did a ‘pradikshina’(circle it) of the statue. Few pics of downtown skyline and statue of Liberty.

Manhattan skyline
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Hudson river, left is the New Jersey state.
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Next we did Ellis island. Now this was a surprise package for me. Ellis island documented the hardships the immigrants suffered to set foot on land of America. It acknowledged the discriminatory policies of immigration which allowed people from Western Europe to immigrate easily with greater quotas. It also had lot of stories told by immigrant themselves, what they experienced in America. The immigrants were screened quite a lot before they were even allowed to set foot. They had to undergo some sanity tests and IQ puzzles were also asked to be solved. Puzzles were the favourite of authorities as most of the immigrants didn’t speak English. Famous one is one recounted by a Polish Immigrant as seem in below picture.

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The main building of Ellis island
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Main hall where screening took place in the Ellis island building
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The Ellis island museum was really eye opening as to see America was made by hardworking people who endured hardships just to set foot on America and make it big.

One thing which Ellis island was silent on was about slavery. I guess USA might be having some museums about slavery in USA.

Manhattan as seen from Ellis island
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The whole visit took more than half day.

After enduring too much chilly winds, I decided it is better to go somewhere inside. I again picked the Intrepid space and air museum near 46th Street. Again here i utilised my NYC pass. USS Intrepid was an aircraft carrier. One of the major reasons to visit it was that space ship shuttle Enterprise is kept here and I wanted to see it in real as I am a fan of space exploration. And an added bonus was I also saw the actual Soyuz capsule which someone had donated to museum.

Soyuz capsule
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Enterprise spaceship
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Apart from the USS Intrepid, the museum has a submarine which I didn’t visit due to lack of time and few fighter aircraft to display. Kids will enjoy this place as there are few simulators and lot of places to see on the ship. I roamed the ship, tried few simulators and failed miserably in landing a shuttle.

I came back to the apartment and crashed on bed as it had been a very long and cold day.

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Day Four: NYC

Today forecast of weather was going to be good. I again made a early start from the apartment. It will be cold but at least the sun was out. Again the bagels at the same favourite place, and then I started to Brooklyn bridge. The downtown and Brooklyn bridge are the first things that immigrants see as they are reaching Ellis island. The bridge itself is iconic and a national monument. Walked the bridge halfway. You get some good views of NYC. Dumbo, the area near Brooklyn also gives you go view of Manhattan. So you can walk below the area of Brooklyn bridge and also get a good view of the awesome skyline of NYC.

Brooklyn Bridge
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The suburb of Brooklyn
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Your truly
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Brooklyn Bridge is a national monument
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Next I went to one of better and unknown parks in Brooklyn, Prospect park. It is less crowded and very huge. You have New Yorkers doing their daily activities in the park. Walked a section of park from one subway line station Prospect Park, I think F line to Grand Army on 4 line of Subway.

Walking though Prospect Park
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Soldiers and Sailors memorial arch near Grand Army subway station
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There was a reason to take the 4 line. I wanted to visit the Grand Central terminal.

The bustling Grand Central hall
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Grand Central terminal hall, a picture reminiscent in most of Hollywood films. I had to visit it. The roof of main hall of Grand Central is painted with zodiac sings. Donít forget to look up if you visit this iconic place.

Look up!
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Next I visited the Met museum. Utilised my NYC pass. If you ever visit the Met museum, donít forget to see the temple of Dendur. They have reconstructed the whole temple as it is from Egypt. There are lot of collections in the museum.

Temple of Dendur
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Work in progress
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Met exhibits
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To satisfy hunger pangs, I had late lunch at Sarvana Bhavan in mid town Manhattan. This branch is like walking distance from The Empire State of building. In spite being 1st of May, the building was not crowded. I had horror stories of long lines to enter the Empire state of building. It looks like most of NYC was working on 1st May. It was build way back in late 1920ís. You can imagine building such a high storied building long back!

Empire state building, 102 floors high!
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The views you get from here of the skyline are amazing. You can see the whole Newark, Downtown, Uptown and Brooklyn. Though it cost more to enter the top floor of the building, the views from the top compensate you on a clear day. Few pics from the Empire state of building of NYC surrounding areas.

East side of the empire state building
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Panaroma shot of NYC
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Downtown and Brooklyn
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Downtown Manhattan
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East side facing NJ state and Jersey City
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Uptown Manhattan
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Upper East side Manhattan
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Walking the streets of NYC, you are also greeted by slights like this, tulips blooming bang in the middle of the city.

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I wanted to visit again Times Square in evening to catch it in full glory.

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Again I visited Downtown to have Joeyís pizza and then World trade centre station. The Oculus, is a Subway station that was designed by a Spanish Architect and it looks fabulous in night with less crowd. Also not to forget the World One financial centre at the night.

Oculus world trade subway station
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One world trade centre in night.
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It looked to me most of the financial business have moved to mid town from Downtown and Downtown has become more like a residential area. A late night ride on Subway, back to Apartment for an early morning train ride to Washington DC.

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Day Five: Washington DC

Got up early and then made it all the way to Penn state railway station on Subway. Penn state station can be a little bit confusing but friendly guidance by some cops made me reach Amtrak platforms on time.

If you want to travel from NYC to Washington DC, the trains are really comfortable option. Now Amtrak operates Acela high speed express between NYC to Washington DC. Avoid them because the fares are really high and time saving is minimal. Instead prefer North East regional express trains and you will save a lot of money. They are comfortable with extra leg space. They are fast. At average speed of 101 kmph, we covered NYC to Washington DC in like three hours 25 minutes.

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A window seat is much coveted for me in spite of being grown up and I was able to observe the changes in nature as we headed southwards. Leaves on trees slowly started to make appearance and by the time we crossed Philadelphia, the scenery had turned full green. It was a welcome change compared to bare bone scenery in NYC.

The union station is main station of Washington DC. Washington DC had really good weather. It was sunny with temperature in range of 25 degrees celsius, This time I decided to indulge in little bit of luxury and decided to take Uber to my hostel from the union station. And I was able to book a uber because I got high speed internet on my mobile. It was really frustrating to be on EDGE in NYC and this was a welcome change.

National Archives building of Washington DC
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I had booked HighRoad hostel in Washington DC. This is a clean hostel and staff are really friendly. Why I liked this hostel a lot because they customised this hostel for travellers like me. They friendly staff gave a small booklet, like the best places to eat and drink around the hostel. It helped a lot. Next, this hostel has pamphlets about detailed description of how to reach popular places in Washington DC from hostel turn wise and public transportation in terms of Subway line and which bus to board to reach them. They have a common kitchen which is very good and airy, stocked with all utensils you want. I would definitely recommend this place.

Washington DC looked a bit more polished than NYC. The Subway doesnít have a wide network as NYC but it is quick, quiet and efficient. The city bus network in Washington DC is also good. In two dollars, you can board any city bus and travel. On the first day, I didnít have exact change of two dollars and the bus driver allowed me to board by paying only one dollar. I was pleasantly surprised.

The Farragut West subway station, Washington DC.
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My first stop was the Smithsonian national museum of natural history. All Smithsonian institutes in the capital are free of charge to enter. Even the zoo is free. Since this was time before summer break started, all the museums were kind of filled with school kids from all parts of America. Casually asking a chaperone with kids, I got to know the schools have to raise funds to sponsor the trip unlike India where we have flat fees for trips in school. Heck, you need to even fund the shirts of those kids as kind of memorabilia that they visited the capital. I would say an unfortunate part of this museum visit is students are given a sheet having question and answers, their observations of a particular specimen and need to complete the same. Though it is good learning, but for an uninterested kid in museum, it is not fun. And museums are generally boring for a huge section of crowd unless you have genuine interest.

The national museum of natural history has a huge collection of animals which have gone taxidermy treatment. Even some skeletons of dinosaurs are present along with a huge fossil collection. You can even watch volunteers work on fossils in a closed glass section.

Below are few shots from the natural history museum

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I next proceeded to Lincoln monument. The weather was becoming truly hot, just like India and temperatures were reaching 30 degrees celsius. The monument is huge and the walls are plastered with speeches from Lincoln himself.

Lincoln monument
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Walking from the Lincoln monument to Washington monument
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Reflection of Washington monument in the lake.
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And then the long walk started to Washington monument. On the way visited few more monuments like Korean War monument and World war monument.

Korean war memorial
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World war 2 memorial

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The total walk in the museum and then in the hot sun was really exhausting to me. After a long walk to nearby metro station, got down at Farragut West, then again a bus to reach hostel. This long walks had left me depleted in energy levels.

The hostel lies in Adams Morgan area. This area offers really good food with lot of options to drink and eat. Some eateries are highly rated and with a pocket book given by hostel, I just had good food in one of them, Smoke & barrel and retired early.

Day six: Washington DC

It was early morning and again it was clear day and hot weather was going to welcome me late in the day. The national zoo was like a 15 minute walk from my hostel. Started around 0900h after having a typical and heavy American breakfast.

Walking Washington DC streets in the morningBackpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-walk_washington.jpg

So I was kind of first to enter the museum when it opened. The museum has huge area and good collection of animals. Feeding session of African lions was going on and I watched it with only one or two spectators.

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They have Orangutans and they have a learning centre type of thing where you can see orangutans up close. The zoo has constructed rope ways so that they can have exercise and travel from one enclosure to another above your head. They had gorillas and I had an opportunity to see a baby gorilla born in March in arms of her mother when she came out of her place. Next important attraction for me were the pandas. They were total three in number lazing and doing nothing. Volunteers were there to give information near every enclosure.

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Saw few more animals, reptiles, lemurs and a red panda and I said, this was enough for the day. It was already noon and again I proceeded to Farragut square, the centre of the city. I saw White house from a little far as some Chinese delegation had come and they were not allowing us closer to White House.

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I had lunch from one of the food truck near Farragut square and then in spur of moment decided to visit Arlington national Cemetery in Virginia.

Farragut square where I had lunch.
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Again the subway dropped me near the cemetery. The cemetery is huge and canít be covered walking as I had initially thought. A quick glance through the interactive map made me realise graves of eminent people like Grace hooper, the astronauts killed in Challenger mission are spread far and wide in the total area of the cemetery. I had to take a guided tour on board a vehicle which was over in one odd hour. The guided tour is good but if you leave your vehicle, at places like tomb of unknown American soldier, you have to wait till the next tour vehicle arrives. The tour guides are good and give important location of graves during the tour. We have to maintain silence for sometime as we saw one military burial happening from distance.

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The stone commemerating the astronauts who died in Challenger space mission in 1986
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The tomb on unknown soldiers is constantly watched by soldiers just like we have at India Gate.
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The Amphitheatre near the tomb of unknown soldier
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In late afternoon decided to visit Holocaust museum but whole museum was crowded by screaming school kids making it a picnic spot. They have one dollar entry fees to enter the main exhibit which you need to book online. I wrapped the visit early and then visited National museum of American history. This too had very good exhibits like filaments tried by Thomas Edison before arriving at the Tungsten filament. Some really old artefacts like engines, old prototype batteries are kept. It has good exhibit of most machinery which helped build America.

Filaments tried by Edison
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Ronald Reagen administration building
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Streets of DC
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I came back to my hostel and on their recommendation had food at an Eritrean/Ethiopian restaurant. A big meal and it suits our Indian palette. The restaurant name is Keren restaurant and coffee hub. Slept early as I had a flight to Boston early morning.

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Day seven: Boston

It was a morning flight from Ronald Reagan international airport (DCA) to Boston Logan international airport onboard American Airlines. Took an Uber from hostel and we departed and landed on time. Now Boston Logan international airport gives few rides from airport to the city and not vice versa.

I was mesmerised by scenic Boston when I saw movie ‘Good Will Hunting’ and always wanted to see this city.

Take the silver line one for free from the airport and arrive at south station which is in the centre of city. A kilometre walk through China Town and I am at my hostel, Hosteling international, Boston. Hosteling international is closer to Tuffs medical centre and downtown. The huge Boston common and public garden are closer to the hostel and everything is in walking distance. The crowd here is younger and vibrant. Again the spring arrival in the north and most of the trees were bare bone and had less amount of leaves them. They had a check in time after 1600h which they enforced strictly. As I was casually chatting with the volunteers with what the city has to offer, they mentioned me to join the freedom trail walking tour which was just going to start. As I always go with flow, I dropped my back pack in locker and joined them.

It was again a long walk to Boston Commons visitor centre. On the way, got to know many people from the hostel. We got a small discount from the hostel and we started to wait for the tour to start. The tour costed us 12.6$. Boston that day was cloudy but not very cold.

State library of Massachusetts
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Some information about the freedom trail. It is around 1.5 mile trail and starts at visitor centre, Boston Common ground and ends at the Bunker hill monument. We were going to end this tour at Quincy market and if you want to continue, follow the red brick trail all the way to the Bunker hill monument. The freedom trail organisation maintains the trail and provides a guided tour. The guides are dressed in traditional attire of 1770’s. We got a guide named as Hanna and she gave us good history about Boston, starting right from how the colony was established to the freedom struggle of Americans. The tour was full of history anecdotes which were impersonated by Hanna herself . The Boston common ground is the oldest park in USA. We spent considerable time at the Granary burying ground, walking the trail we collected lot of tit bits about Boston, how the Boston massacre took place, and then the American revolution. The tour was for like two hours and it ended near Quincy Market. In all it was good experience knowing all the history of Boston and public figures associated with the struggle for the freedom.

Walking the downtown with the tour.
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We had a nice and sumptuous lunch with few friends I made from hostel in a Barracuda tavern near the burial grounds. One thing about Boston is that you have tall building near the old historic buildings. After arriving back at hostel around 1600h, did check in, took some rest as I had an early start today and did loads of walking.

Decided to visit the Boston public gardens in the evening and took a walk near Charles river front.

Boston Common gardens, the oldest public garden in USA
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Boston public garden with statue of George Washington and blooming tulips.

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I sat on the Charles river front doing nothing, just observing the evening progress.

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Day Eight: Boston

Today was a clear and sunny day and I had to complete the freedom trail. I was going to go reverse in direction of freedom trail. So I decided I will first reach Bunker Hill monument. Also I had to take public transport in Boston. The SubWay in Boston is older than NYC. I don’t know but none of my cards which included Indian credit cards worked on the machines to take the day pass. Even the 20$ note wasn’t getting accepted. I even took help from the Boston subway personal and after few attempts, he announced that my card which he gave me had day pass loaded without losing any money. He said, just go and don’t worry.

I was just happy saving few dollars. Took the ‘T’ as they called, orange line and I reached the Bunker hill monument. Bunker hill is the place where a bloody battle took place between revolutionists and the British Army.

Walking from the orange line to Bunker Hill monument.
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You have to climb the circular stairs around 300 which is not at all recommended for people having fear of heights or having claustrophobia. But before that, do visit the museum and enjoy a small talk given by park rangers about the monument. You get good view of Boston from the top, Charlestown is visible so is Logan airport and the Atlantic. You can see the planes land and take off from Logan.

Upclose the monument that was crowdfunded and built.
Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-bunker_hill_1.jpg

Charlestown and Logan Airport from the small window of Bunker Hill monument.
Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-charlestown_logan.jpg

After walking down the circular steps, walked the freedom trail reverse.

A clear and beautiful day in Boston
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Walking on Freedom trail, soldiers monument in Charlestown
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After a long walk, and I was at Boston Public market. I decided to go and have a walk in Harvard University. I had heard they have a very good natural history museum. Again the public transport and we were at the university. Roamed a little bit here and there. This university is shown in like many films. Took a walk near the Harvard yard and then visited the museum. It has a good private collection of lot of things. Below pics from the museum and Harvard University.

Harvard university
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Sledge used to explore North pole at the Harvard natural history museum given by Robert Peary
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Taxidermy specimens of Humming birds at the Harvard natural history museum
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Again took the subway to reach main downtown. Roamed a little bit of downtown and came back to the hostel.

Park street church at night
Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-park_street_church.jpg

Day nine: Boston

The previous day had gone asking people whether it was worth the risk paying for the whale watching tour. After evaluating the risk, I decided to do 1100h tour for whale watching. Again took the ‘T’ to reach the Long Wharf from where the Boston Harbour cruises start to ply deep in ocean for whale watching tour. Paid around 56$ dollars for the ticket and we started dot on time. We were given candies in the boat. Got some good view of Boston skyline and the harbour as we set sail deep into the Atlantic.

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We can see the new England aquarium as we leave the wharf.
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This was a guided tour. As we were venturing deep into the sea, the cold was increasing proportionately. Here also we had school kids and they were given a small sheet to observe the whales and report all the activities the whales were doing. Common, just watch the whales and go home and not record how many times the whale breached to the surface. Anyways, we had a good guide and he was giving good information. He was continuously scanning the horizon for whales. First sighting of humpback whales. We went closer to them and he said they were sleeping. They were coming out of water just to breathe. We left those whales and proceeded further. This time our guide caught some flock of sea birds congregating at a spot. And we raced over there.

There were four to five humpback whales hunting fish in full glory. Whenever, the whales would surface with fish, the birds used to flock over there. It was an amazing sight. I think the sight of seeing the whales hunt is magnificent so are the sneaky birds who try to sit near the mouth of the whale and try to snatch the food. We observed those whales hunting for like half an hour. The guide was even telling us the name of the whales based upon the pattern of the tail. And he was continuously photographing them. The Harbour cruises maintains a site where they document their activities. We also spotted few fin whales. The guide who was with us was extremely knowledgeable. It was tough holding your mobile phone in the cold on the bow of the ship.

Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-whale1.jpg

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I am sharing a link where our observations were recorded by the guide. The link is 1100h observations Do click on it for some awesome pics and description of what I saw on the day.

I have uploaded one video on youtube as below.

Sadly the guide said we have to go or else the coast guard will start searching us. Before we left, we gave our coordinates to one more Boston harbour cruise ship and they were racing towards us as were leaving the hunting ground of whales. After we went inside the warm environs of the cruise ship, I had chat with the guide. I also got to know that the gulf stream brings in tropical fishes to this area and the new England aquarium tries to catch them and put them on display as the fishes are anyways going to die when the water becomes cold. If you don’t get to watch the whales, you can reutilise it on some other day. They do maintain a record of trips which didn’t have any whale sightings. So you can’t fool them. The total tour took around three and half hours to four hours. I think this was the best part of my stay in Boston.

I had Lobster lunch at Quincy market. I came back to hostel to do laundry. I had some nice conversations with fellow hostel mates and again hit the streets of Boston at night. Roamed the downtown and came back to hostel again late night. Tomorrow, I have to reach Chicago.

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Day Ten: Chicago

Took Spirit airlines from Boston to Chicago early afternoon. The fare including my check in luggage was cheaper than the Amtrak train fare from NYC to Washington DC. I reached in afternoon around 1500h in Chicago. Through the window seat of the flight, saw the outline of two great lakes in North America.

Chicago looks huge from the top.

Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-chicago_airplane.jpg

Followed the instructions in the airport to take the ‘L’ subway of Chicago. The blue line connects the ORD airport with the downtown. I took a pass for 20$ for three days which allowed unlimited travel in ‘L’ and the buses of Chicago. I am glad I took the Subway as the road from ORD to Downtown Chicago had heavy traffic as I saw from the window of my subway train. Few stations on Chicago Subway have places reserved for free where musicians can perform to the waiting crowd. And it looked like the roads of Chicago were battered a lot due to snowfall. In peak hours, I say the subway is best to avoid the traffic from airport. The downtown section of the ‘L’ is called the loop and rail buffs will love to see diamond crossing of the subway tracks.

Reached downtown, changed to red line which dropped me near my hostel, Freehand Chicago on East Ohio street. This is more like a hotel with few rooms having dorms. Hunger pangs started developing in me as I didn’t have lunch as such. Pizza made Chicago style is called deep dish pizza. I ordered one at a local pizzeria but didn’t know it takes 45 minutes to prepare one. After confirming with my server, I ordered a green salad till my pizza arrives. The wait for the pizza was worth it as it was delicious. By the time, it was early evening and I decided to walk to Navy pier. Spent some time over here sitting on a bench overlooking Lake Michigan which looked like an ocean.

Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-chicago_nay_pier.jpg

Evening and the sun setting
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Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-chicago_lake_michigan.jpg

Took the ‘L’ to reach downtown, walk a few blocks, roamed around and came back to the hostel. Chicago is pretty safe and you need to avoid few areas in the city.

Once I came back to my hostel, for the first time in so many years of backpacking, my hostel mates were people who had come to Chicago to attend some fairs and conferences. All the regular hotels were crazily priced and were full due to three to four conferences and fairs going on in the city. Chicago, as you know is in mid west and middle of no where. I casually asked my hostel mate who was an American how did Chicago grow into so much prominence and he gave me interesting insights on Chicago.

Day Eleven: Chicago

It was predicted it will be a sunny and pleasant day and when you open your window shades, nothing makes mind happy to see blue skies. Today I was going to roam around Chicago, see few museums. Took ‘L’ again and this time I went to the Field museum.

Walking toward the Filed museum
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Field museum
Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-field1.jpg

Field museum and Shredd aquarium are closer to each other. Field museum is huge. Here, it was first time I saw mummy of cat. Ancient Egyptians used to love cats a lot and they mummified even the cat. This museum also has a good connection of Egyptian mummies and temples, natural history, taxidermies of wildlife animals and dinosaur skeletons. I spent like two hours here and you can spend even more here.

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Chicago skyline as seen from Field museum
Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-chicago_skyline.jpg

I then moved to millennium park by taking a bus. Millennium park is where the famous artwork Cloud Gate has been installed by British artist Anish Kapoor. This Cloud gate has now become synonymous with Chicago.

Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-cloud-gate.jpg

Roamed the gardens of Millennium park. They even have crown fountain installed near the South Michigan avenue. As the day progressed, it had become very warm and sunny.

Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-fountain.jpg

I decided to visit the art institute of Chicago. It has really good collection on par with the Met museum of NYC. It was evening by the time I completed by the art museum.

The art institute of Chicago
Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-art-insti-chi.jpg

Van Goghs painting of his own room in asylum
Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-van-gogh.jpg

I again took the ‘L’ to reach the Chicago riverfront. Sat on stairs, took food and drinks from a nearby restaurant and passed the time by immersing myself in a book that I carry with myself. There are some simple joys of solo traveling that you don’t follow a schedule and can do whatever you want without considering the needs of the other person.

You can see the numerous stairs on the riverfront. Chicago river is connected to Mississippi river basin using Chicago river portage. One of the main reasons Chicago prospered.
Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-chi-riverfornt.jpg

It was late in the evening that I left the riverfront and walked to hostel. Spent some time in the bar of the hostel and called it a night.

Day Twelve: Chicago

Today, it was my last day in Chicago. Woke up leisurely, checked out from hostel. Stored my back pack in luggage room and I was back to explore the remnants of Chicago. Today the weather was kind of mixed, a little bit sun here and there and lit bit cloudy. I decided to take the risk of visiting the Willis Tower (formerly known as Sears tower) given how the weather was behaving for the day. This building was once upon the time the highest building in the world.

Willis Towers formerly known as Sears towers
Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-willis.jpg

Willis towers has retractable glass made structures on which you can literally stand and see the city. These structures can be pulled inside the building if there is a storm brewing in Chicago. The view from Willis tower is amazing. You also realise that the skyline of Chicago is amazing and midwest just looks like a flat land with no undulations anywhere. Some pics from the Willis tower.

North side of Chicago
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The Suburbs
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The West side
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Looking Lake Michigan and can someone spot the Field museum?
Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-chicago_sky5.jpg

Again took the ‘L’ and visited a popular restaurant in Chicago, Girl and the Goat. This serves limited portions of food unlike all other restaurants in America. The sea food that I ordered was really good. They have open kitchen policy and you can dine with anyone on those high tables in the restaurant.

After having a good lunch, I took the ‘L’ and came back to the hostel. Collected my luggage and started to the GreyHound terminal in Chicago.

I was going to visit a small town named as Lafayette, Indiana from where my cousin brother was getting graduated. It is like 200 kms from Chicago.

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I had booked GreyHound given it was the cheapest option. My GreyHound bus starting at 1615h was going all the way to Nashville, TN and the first stop was Lafayette. We started at 1630h and after escaping the treacherous traffic jams of Chicago, we finally hit the interstate and were doing good speeds of 65mph. Indiana is a state where west part runs on CDT(Central day time) and suddenly time switches to EDT (Eastern day time). I know it is little bit complex but Indiana doesn’t need to be in EDT. The sun was setting like really late in mid May now even though we were low on latitude. I really doubt how people cope with winter morning here on ET. Indiana is a state which has flat lands for miles and miles. It can get quite boring just looking out of the window and getting treated to same scenery.

I reached Lafayette. My cousin brother came to receive me. It was good meeting him after two years. We walked to his apartment which was like one mile from the bus stop. I think my real vacation of rest started from here.

Day Thirteen: West Lafayette

Literally did nothing this day except seeing Purdue university in evening. Met one of friends here in aerospace department. We were waiting for our uncle who was driving from Toronto. As soon as he came in the evening, we took his car to do some shopping in Walmart and nearly malls.

Day Fourteen: West Lafayette

My cousin brothers graduation day! His parents arrived from India late night yesterday and we had a nice family reunion, two of my uncles, aunt and cousin brother. The convocation ceremony in afternoon was really good, everything was planned as orchestrated by the Purdue university and it ended on time. Some photo sessions later, we had dinner at a Mongolian buffet. It was my last day in USA.

Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-purdue2.jpg

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Neil Armstrong graduated from this school and this school gets good aerospace projects.
Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA-neil_arm.jpg

Day Fifteen: West Lafayette to Chicago and then to Mumbai

Took a private shuttle from West Lafayette to ORD airport, Chicago even though it is two times costlier than Greyhound in the morning. I had to take AI126 from Chicago to Delhi. We took off from a grey and cloudy Chicago. Service this time was better than AI101 flight. Landed on Delhi on time on 13th May. Delhi experienced a storm that evening. Airport was closed for some time. My flight to Mumbai was allowed to take off after waiting a lot of time on the runway. No flight were landing in Delhi we were lucky to take off. As we were taking off through the storm clouds, saw the flexibility of the plane wings under the duress of the storm winds. Landed at 2000h in Mumbai and then I proceeded to Pune instead of going home. I had office to attend next day and the American trip came to an end.

Few observation about USA.

1. People are friendly and engage in good conversations.
2. Public transport in all cities I visited was very good. I never got a feeling that I got stranded somewhere in the city.
3. Museums. I visited six museums and they were meticulously maintained and had interesting exhibits.
4. The public transportation in rural America is really bad. Even I have heard that even in some cities it is bad. I randomly heard that some counties vote against public transportation so that homeless don’t crowd their area with the two dollar fares.
5. Food. I didn’t visit any fast food chains over here for food if you discount chipotle. I was having proper food in restaurants over here. Though it was heavy on pocket, I think the sheer amount of different cuisines I ate over the past 15 days compensated it. Food servings are huge and you can be really full with like one serving for the day.
6. Infrastructure. In some places, I felt it was crumbling but over all it is good.
7. Lot of homeless people in the cities. I think the least amount of homeless people I saw were in Washington DC. West Lafayette was a university town, so homeless people were none.
8. Cities are safe if you avoid the bad areas of the city. I only felt a little bit unsafe in downtown area of Boston, that too late in night. West Lafayette is completely safe.
9. Strict rules to serve alcohol. Sometimes, they even ask for secondary ID.
10. Water fountains available at most of the public places along with free restrooms. Unlike Europe where some restaurants also charge you for restrooms and there is lack of availability of free drinking water at public places.

I may go back to USA in couple of years down the line just to do a road trip and visit the national parks. If you have doubts whether to visit USA or not, just visit and experience it.

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Old 11th June 2018, 07:10   #6
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Thread moved out from the Assembly Line. Thanks for sharing!
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Old 11th June 2018, 11:50   #7
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Default Re: Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA

That's a great tlog buddy made me nostalgic, I was in US from 2008 till 2013. Nice pictures and very crisp review. I took the chicago tour on a boat once, it was fun. Did you visit John Hancock Building as well?
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Old 11th June 2018, 12:47   #8
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Default Re: Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA

This is a wonderful backpacking solo trip. Nicely narrated too. You experienced the essence of East Coast to the T. One is real pumped up to venture on such a trip after reading this TL. Would be great if you could provide a break up of the total cost you incurred.

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Old 11th June 2018, 20:35   #9
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Default Re: Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA

Originally Posted by Singh09 View Post
That's a great tlog buddy made me nostalgic, I was in US from 2008 till 2013. Nice pictures and very crisp review. I took the chicago tour on a boat once, it was fun. Did you visit John Hancock Building as well?
I didn't visit John Hancock Building. It is now called 875 North Michigan Avenue. There is a restaurant on 95th Floor where someone suggested me to have a single drink and enjoy the view but I visited Willis Tower instead of John Hancock building. I got a good view from Willis Tower.

Originally Posted by prince0407 View Post
This is a wonderful backpacking solo trip. Nicely narrated too. You experienced the essence of East Coast to the T. One is real pumped up to venture on such a trip after reading this TL. Would be great if you could provide a break up of the total cost you incurred.
Thanks for the appreciation. I generally don't write rosy travelogues. I like to keep it straight forward.
I haven't calculated how much I spent for the whole trip but it was less than INR 2,00,000 based on a rough calculation.

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Great adventure and a great write up. I did 6 weeks of hitchhiking and the famous Greyhound-busses in the early 1980's. it's good to see and hear you can still make your way through the USA the backpackers way. Although these days very few people hitch hike.

The greyhound busses were a great way to get in touch with local folks as well. I always found Americans quite curious and open to strangers. That is in general and on the road. It must be a spill over from the old how the West was won days. People relied heavily on all sort of people they met along the way.

People sometimes call Americans shallow in terms of their relationships. I have always found them to be very practical. You try to get on with your fellow travellers. Once you go your own way, you concentrate on the new arrivals.

When we lived in the USA from 2009 - 2012 we still experienced the same. Most of trips were road trips with our own car. But again, in general it was very easy to get in touch with local folks and people were always happy to help out.

I remembered being offered overnight accommodation by perfect strangers on more than one occasion.

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Old 12th June 2018, 10:06   #11
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Default Re: Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA

Great travelogue, man! Thanks for sharing.

This one sure brought back memories of my 2nd favourite country on the planet (after India, obviously). Having spent 2 years on the East Coast, I completely agree with you that the USA has a lot to offer to the traveller. Might not be as romantic or historic as parts of Europe, but there's just so many fun things to do in the States. I like how you did it - 4 cities in 2 weeks (instead of cramming as much as possible like so many tourists do). Rather see 4 cities properly than just splash & dash through 10.
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Old 12th June 2018, 14:08   #12
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Nice travelogue. I liked how you spent 4 days at New York rather than spending half a day, tick some places off and hop on to the next. This is how it should be done. I also liked your observation part of the travelogue. It was crisp, to the point and no exaggerations. I am just back from a 30d National Park trip. Ping me if you need a few pointers.
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Old 12th June 2018, 15:14   #13
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Default Re: Backpacking 'Murica' - 2 weeks in the USA

Lovely write up and to the point.Nice pictures.I see you have done a lot of research based on your choice of restaurants as you avoided the touristy places and visited the popular ones with the locals!!

Solo trips are really nice to take once in a while as you get to do things at your own will and pace.

In April 2017 I did a similar solo trip to New York Boston and Chicago. Your travelogue brought back memories of my trip.

Thanks for sharing!
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Old 12th June 2018, 19:43   #14
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Wonderful travelogue and brings back memories of my own first family trip to the USA in 2011. New York is truly wonderful - and Central Park is among the nicest urban parks in the world. We had done the same journey to DC by a Northeast Regional - though we did not do Boston or Chicago (with a 3.5 year old in tow, Orlando was a must). Purdue brings back wistful memories too -it was my dream college when I was an engineering student, though I ended up going for an MBA in IIM instead. The one thing you missed was driving in the US - you should have driven a rented car down to West Lafayette, and then gone further to Indianapolis (just 1 hour away) to visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the home of the Indy 500. Thanks for the post.
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Old 12th June 2018, 21:53   #15
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Originally Posted by sameer sultan View Post
Lovely write up and to the point.Nice pictures.I see you have done a lot of research based on your choice of restaurants as you avoided the touristy places and visited the popular ones with the locals!!
Thanks for sharing!
Yes, living in hostels, the best place to ask for local recommendations are the volunteers who sit near the desk. They are mostly locals and when they are not doing check in formalities, they blurt out lot of information. I have actually not listed all the restaurants that I visited. Also I tried the beers on the tap if available at the restaurants that I visited. They even give you taste of beers on tap for free so that you can choose the one which you liked the most. Also never compromise on food when you are traveling. If no fuel goes inside your body, how will you walk!

Originally Posted by Hayek View Post
New York is truly wonderful - and Central Park is among the nicest urban parks in the world.
The one thing you missed was driving in the US - you should have driven a rented car down to West Lafayette, and then gone further to Indianapolis (just 1 hour away) to visit to Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the home of the Indy 500. Thanks for the post.
NYC gives you a different kind of feeling that can't be described.
Renting a car in USA was going a little bit out of budget for me. Remember, I am backpacking and I needed to control the costs somewhere. Purdue University is really good. Next US trip will be a road trip for sure.
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