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VariousD.C.: No Beer with Obama

On 9 August 2009 from Lancaster, PA, USA | comments closed

Thursday morning we had the usual New York breakfast of a bagel with cream cheese before boarding the Amtrak to Washington D.C. The plan was to have a beer with Mr President in the garden of the White House, but as we lacked an official invitation from Barack and security could not be more tough, we made some photos of the White House instead.

Friday was Mall-day, and I am not referring to shopping. The National Mall is the large green space in Washington D.C. where all the 3 M’s (monuments, museums and memorials) are clustered around. We started at the East end with a tour of the Capitol, where the values of democracy are strongly conveyed. Using the underground tunnel, we walked to the Library of Congress for a brief visit (no time to read). After lunch we spend a few hours in the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, where (among others) the first Wright brothers’ flyer and Bell X-1 are exhibited. We continued along the Mall to the Washington Monument and the National World War II Memorial. At that spot I just needed to play “Brothers in War” by Dire Straits: back shivers guaranteed even with 30 degree Celcius outside temperatures. The Mall ended at the Lincoln Memorial and so did our sightseeing for the day. After dinner Laura, Wilbert and I went to Improv Comedy Club to see Ian Bagg and hear him make a lot of fun of the audience (good thing we did not get front row seats).

Saturday morning we picked up our rental minivan, a golden Toyota Sienna LE. It fits 8, so 5 adults and luggage was no problem at all. Before driving out of the city, we first visited the Jefferson Memorial and FDR Memorial, and made another stop at the Arlington Cemetery to pay our respects at the grave of the Kennedy’s. We checked into our hotel in Lancaster and went for a drive around Dutch Pennsylvania a.k.a. Amish Country. It is interesting to see how some people can maintain their old-fashioned lifestyle with horse-drawn carriages and plowing the land using horses. The homemade dinner we enjoyed there in the evening was one of the best though.

VariousSummer in New York City

On 6 August 2009 from New York City, NY, USA | comments closed

After having travelled to a decent amount of places, people kind of expect that you have been to certain cities (note: this only applies to cities, not towns, villages, national parks). New York City is one of those cities. And when the plan came up for another family vacation (the last one having been over 5 years ago), only a little persuasion was needed to put the Big Apple on the list. Unfortunately the folks back home decided that the weekend before departure was better spent at home, so I took a flight 2 days earlier to prepare the city for their arrival, and visit some places they did not show interest in.

After the usual pleasant flight with Air Berlin (“we recommend wine with dinner and cognac after dinner, no charge of course”) JFK was the starting point of my North-East USA trip. The Airtrain and metro brought me to my hotel on 47th Street (a block from the Waldorf Astoria), where a pleasant surprise awaited: I got the penthouse suite with private rooftop terrace. Quite a posh start of the trip. First thing I did was taking advantage of the beautiful evening by crossing the Brooklyn Bridge to (surprise, surprise) Brooklyn. Taking photos was obviously the goal, because there are plenty of Starbucks in Manhattan too. After some great shots of the downtown skyline I checked out Times Square for some Las Vegas-style New York. I could not think of a better start in NYC.

Sunday morning the plan was to go to Central Park, but the rain messed that up. When it cleared, I walked across the Queensborough Bridge to (surprise, surprise) Queens, but that was a total waste of time. No decent views and no decent neighbourhood on the other side of the bridge, so I took the metro to B&H – the largest camera store in NYC – to buy a wide-angle lens. Since it was pouring down rain now, I figured it would be a good thing to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I was not the only one with this line of thought. Once inside, the crowds were not that bad because of the sheer size of the museum. It would have been easy to spend more than 3 hours, if it were not for closing hours. Luckily the weather had cleared up by then, and Central Park offered some nice walks and great sunset views. In the evening I wandered throught Little Italy and Chinatown, to have some Vietnamese dinner.

After having breakfast on my rooftop terrace Monday morning, unfortunately the time came to switch to another hotel. Having done that, I went to United Nations, but decided to forego the tour, as the next available one was in 2 hours. Instead, I took the free ferry to Staten Island with great views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. I returned back to Manhattan on the same ferry. There I explored Wall Street and the surrounding downtown area, before checking out the shops on 5th Avenue. When the family arrived, I met them at the hotel and we had dinner on Times Square.

For Wednesday morning we had booked a helicopter ride, but as the weather forecast for Wednesday was not too good, we rescheduled it to Tuesday morning. Seeing the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan, the Hudson River and New Jersey from the air was amazing. Too bad the ride only lasted for 15 minutes. (Update 08-08-2009: only 5 days later a similar helicopter crashed above the Hudson :() The boat tour was a little longer with 75 minutes, and offered the closest views of Lady Liberty and the New York harbour. Then we got on the bus to drive from Midtown to Downtown Manhattan, where we checked out Wall Street and the Brooklyn Bridge, before getting back on at South Street Seaport. In the evening we did a night tour through the city.

Wednesday we walked through the Empire State Building, but got the lift to Top of the Rock at the Rockefeller Center. After a Starbucks coffee at the Trump Tower, we walked through Central Park, and joined a bus tour through Harlem. In the evening Laura, Wilbert and I went for some dinner at Union Square and watched the show Fuerza Bruta. It was easily the most unique show I have ever seen, with (amongst other things) female performers moving around in a transparent swimming pool, 20 cm above the audience! After the show we went for some drinks and live music at Cafe Wha in Greenwhich Village.

VariousMy Travel Notebook

On 15 June 2008 from Rotterdam, Netherlands | comments closed

I recently purchased myself an ultra-mobile PC from the company that created the genre. The Asus Eee PC 900 it is. I intend to use it mainly on my travels, when I do not want to carry the sizeable and heavy -albeit solid- company-issued Lenovo. The Eee PC is perfect to carry, and the small size of its keyboard can also be considered an advantage: because it is harder to type, I will actually do less of it, and spend more time watching the world go by.

In this post I would like to elaborate a bit on the software that I installed to use on the road. After all, that is one of the primary reasons to take my own notebook: the frustration of the quality and inability to install software on internet café computers. And the fact that I would spend most of the time in internet cafés simply typing or sorting out photos, activities I prefer to do from a hammock or soft sofa 😉

VariousTo the Top of Europe

On 18 May 2008 from Reuver, Netherlands | comments closed

When the rare opportunity of a 5-day weekend presents itself, I just have to cross some country borders (well, I would already do that with a 4-day 3-day weekend). The succession of Queen’s Day and Ascension Day presented such a weekend. So I hit the Autobahn and drove to Interlaken in Switzerland. Fewer towns are more beautifully located: in between two lakes and surrounded by mountains.

Since Thursday started off as a rainy day, I went to St Beatus Höhlen with some people I met at the hostel. This network of caves leads deep into the mountain. Afterwards we drove to Grindelwald to go for a hike to the Oberer Gletscher and around the Gletscherschlucht. Unfortunately I happened to have picked the time to visit the mountains when almost all the cable cars were in maintenance. Nothing unusual, as they do it every year between the skiing and hiking season. But it was making it next to impossible to do the hike I wanted to do, since there was no way to get to and from the trailheads. Therefore it was over to plan B for Friday: the very touristy train to Jungfraujoch, Europe’s highest train station, and therefore dubbed ‘the Top of Europe’.

Jungfrau Railways are not only Europe’s highest railways, but also its most expensive, so any discount was welcome. The Good-Morning Ticket did the trick, even though that meant taking the first train at 6AM. At least it was very uncrowded at the Sphinx, the futuristic observation building. Too bad it was still very cloudy early in the morning, but when the clouds disappeared the view of the Aletsch Glacier – Europe’s longest ice stream – was absolutely amazing. I would have wished to stay longer, but the Good-Morning Ticket required me to go back at noon. On the way back I got out at Lauterbrunnen, where I made a nice hike through the beautiful valley, before taking the train back to Interlaken. There I got back in my car and cruised to Luzern, where the best pizzeria served me dinner. And then it was on to the final destination of my trip: Zürich. After checking in to my hotel, I met up with Michael and we hit the town for some drinks and fun.

Saturday morning I met up with Michael again, and we went up Uetliberg Kulm for a nice view of the city. It was followed by a proper city tour, only to be interrupted by the best foods Switzerland has to offer (Mövenpick is my new favourite). We took a little afternoon rest on the grass of the city park next to the lake. In the evening we had a real Swiss dinner at Crazy Cow before looking at the not-so-impressive city lights from Polyterrasse. Obviously Saturday night was spent drinking and partying in the surprisingly hip and trendy banking capital of Switzerland.

Sunday morning’s only activities in the Swiss Confederation consisted of breakfast and filling up with cheap fuel. But this little 5-day trip definitely marked a renewed interest in the small neutral country in Central Europe. Ich will Zurück nach Zürich 😉