Wanderlust Wendy

U.S. East Coast City Tour: Boston, New York, D.C.

Our epic road trip from Montreal down the Maine Coast ended in Boston. We returned the rental car and commenced the US East Coast city tour across Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. Frenchie has never been to any of these cities. Before our road trip, the only places he has seen in the US were St. Louis, Missouri, and Carlsbad, California. I needed to show him the US is a lot more than those two towns. 

3 Days in Boston

We were in Boston for only a few days, and the weather wasn’t particularly cooperative. Thanks to the Hyatt Credit Card, I cashed in points for our stay at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Boston, near the Boston Common. Before the weather turned, we embarked upon the 2.5-mile (4km) self-led walking tour on the Freedom Trail. The trail begins at Boston Common and follows the red line marked on the street, covering all the major historical sites in Boston, including the Italian neighborhood in North End, and ends on Bunker Hill

On the way, stopped by Quincy Market for a late lunch. It’s pretty touristy, but nevertheless, a quick spot to get some food and taste that bowl of Boston clam chowder. The walking tour is a great way to get a lay of the land, and since we were going on our own, we took all the time we wanted to wander down side streets and photographed Boston’s colonial architecture. 

Since we’re staying near Chinatown and were craving some Asian food after a week in Maine, we hit up Gourmand Dumpling House. It came highly recommended, but I’d caution the expectation. The experience was worse than any busy, chaotic restaurant I’ve ever frequented in China. During busy hours, customers are asked to share tables. Perhaps they are re-creating that “authentic feel?” The food was decent, though, for the price point, I don’t know if the rude service was worthwhile. It’s an experience for sure, though. 

We ventured out on the T (Boston’s subway) one day to Cambridge on one of the days to check out Harvard. The kids seem really young, and then I realized that kids who were born in the year 2000 were walking around this campus now. One of the reasons I love hanging around college campus is the selection of great cafés. We visited 1369 Coffee House, located away from the bustling Harvard Square. The coffee was tasty, the service was great, and the neighborhood vibe was quite pleasant.

Back in Boston, for those who love to shop and have a high budget, Newbury Street is fun to explore. The architecture is especially iconic. We met up with a friend for dinner at Saltie Girl – a small but delicious oyster spot. Pricey, but delicious! On a separate meal, I took Frenchie to experience Shake Shack. While the American fare wasn’t his cup of tea, I rather enjoyed the mushroom burger monstrosity while people-watching down Newbury. 

One Week in New York City

We arrived in New York after a long MegaBus ride from Boston. The trick with MegaBus is to allow twice the amount of time because it’s bound to be delayed. Bring a book, set the right expectation, then the journey is rather tolerable. It still blows my mind though the only way to get around the major cities in the US is either the expensive way of flying or via crappy bus services… I digress. 

Upon arrival, we headed down to our friend’s brownstone in Crown Heights, Brooklyn before heading back up to midtown. I had reserved tickets for the Daily Show with Trevor Noah. We love his show and when a friend told me it’s easy to reserve the free ticket, I had to do it! The line was long and our ticket didn’t guarantee a spot, but nevertheless, we got in! TV Studios are funny. Images we see all the time become tiny in real life. The segments went by in a frenzy of cheers, and then it was over. If you have a favorite show, try to get tickets. It’s a really great experience to see your favorite TV host in flesh!

After the show, we stopped for the obligatory Time Square viewing before heading down to West Village for curry at Mint Masala.

Playing Tour Guide

Xav’s French cousins happened to be in New York at the same time, so I put on my tour guide hat one day. We met at the City Hall and crossed the Brooklyn Bridge. Took a bus that crossed the Jewish neighborhood to Williamsburg. We ate American-portioned cakes at Martha’s Country Bakery and checked out the NYC skyline from WNYC Transmitters Park

In the afternoon, we crossed back into Manhattan on the L train. Stood in line for that pepperoni pizza from Prince Street Pizza (worth the wait!), and ate the greasy goodness at Washington Square Park, watching artists of every type do their thing. The stroll then proceeded to Union Square Park, up along the west side to the Flatiron Building.

Of all the strolls I’ve done in New York City, somehow I have never witnessed this iconic building until this instance. There was an outdoor food market across from the building, so we got beers and a snack, and marveled at the magnificent building with the passing rush hour traffic. 

Months later, when we meet up with our cousins again, they described our tour guiding as primarily surround food. That’s an accurate description of how I travel, though I had never thought about it that way! 

Old Stomping Ground

The rest of our visit in New York was showing Xav my old stomping ground on the Upper West Side. We began at Columbus Circle, walked up Broadway all the way to the Columbia campus at 116th Street. In some strange way, so little has changed about this neighborhood. Sure, a café or a restaurant might have popped up or closed down, but many of the establishments remain. 

Lincoln Center is just as beautiful, and the subway station on 72th Street at Verdi Square, next to Trader Joe’s, still has as many pigeons. Walking around Columbia brought on all the feels. The debt that this institution gave me led me on a wild adventure to China, where I met Xav. Life is funny.

Speaking of China, we also ventured down to Chinatown to eat cheap and delicious peanut noodles at Shu Jia Fu Zhou. The vibrant energy still remains, but a little less than a decade ago. Back in the East Village, we catch a comedy show at Comedy Cellar, a very New York activity to round out our stay. 

Do The Hipster Thing in Brooklyn

Since we were staying in Brooklyn, we fully embraced the Hipster scene that included brunch at Sunshine Co., and Cheryl’s Global Soul, Sunday shopping at Park Slope Co-Op, stocked up on bamboo toothbrushes at Package Free Shop, and attended an eco-fair at Kingsland Wildflowers in Greenpoint that had kombucha on tap. We indulged in delicious Mexican food at Friducha, Italian at Barboncino, and of course, solid bagel sandwiches and cold brew coffee at Bagel Pub.

Some other favorite New York activities: Stroll on the old railway turn urban oasis at Highline. Picnic at Central Park on a sunny day. Discover Harlem; check out the National Jazz Museum and then have lunch at either Sylvia’s or Red Rooster for a little soul food (they are across from each other). Run around Riverside Park and then relax at Boat Basin Café. Take a ferry out to Governor’s Island for some peace and quiet, or venture out to Coney Island for that all-American fun-fair experience. 

One Week in Washington, D.C. 

Another severely-delayed bus ride on MegaBus took us to Washington, D.C. This particular ride brought up a serious nostalgia. On this same bus ride six years prior, I had made the fateful decision to move to China. I reflected on how much has stayed the same – same mediocre bus, same bad service, yet my life has changed significantly – debt-free, married, and living my full-time travel dream. 

The few days in the city were filled with a lot of time spent with Peace Corps friends. We spent a Saturday morning at Union Market, where the contrast between the original market and its gentrified section startled us. The juxtaposition between the dilapidated building selling produce, and hipster-filled food market selling prepared food was a rather sad representation of urban USA. 

After lunch, we enjoyed the vibrant wall murals at the nearby Metropolitan Branch Trail before spontaneously stopping into a book reading at Politics and Prose bookstore on sustainable farming. I love independent book stores, and these talks provide a soul-enriching activity to our otherwise food-filled travels. 

Playing Tourists

We couldn’t conclude our trip to the Nation’s Capitol without visiting some sites. A stroll around the National Mall and photographing with the National Toothpick, I mean Washington Monument, was a must. Visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and National Portrait Gallery to witness the Obama portraits! I also recommend the Holocaust Museum. While sobering, the museum is very well done. 

On the weekend, we headed out to Maryland to experience the Renaissance Festival that I’ve heard so much about. It’s like Disneyland, except with all the Renaissance outfits. Quite amusing indeed. A great event for either day drinking or for families. I suppose those two aren’t mutually exclusive, though I wouldn’t recommend it! 

This concludes the East Coast portion of our trip. Next up: national park hop across Utah and Arizona! 

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