New Jersey – The Garden State

US state No 2

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It would have made sense to stop off in NJ, when I was travelling from NYC to Philadelphia, back in 2007, but for some reason I didn’t. Whilst volunteering in Montana though I became friends with a women who was from New Jersey and so she invited me back to her home town of Trenton, NJ the following year.

New Jersey and its capitol Trenton aren’t really popular places to visit for extended US city breaks, at least for us Europeans, anyway. Sandwiched by its more famous neighbours New York City and Philadelphia, New Jersey is probably more well known for Newark airport, which offers low cost flights to the East coast from the U.K. Most people I know, land in NJ and hop on a train or plane onward to somewhere else. Although I personally wouldn’t be able to justify the cost of a flight to New Jersey solely to visit the 4th smallest US state on its own, there is definitely enough here to justify adding it to your itinerary if you’re in New York or Pennsylvania.

Arrivals. You can fly direct to Newark airport from many U.K. cities, it takes just under 8hrs, add a few more if you have to change along the way. If you’re travelling in from New York, you can get the¬†Long Island Rail Road¬†from JFK Airport to Penn Station and then the¬†New Jersey Transit¬†across the border, this is pretty extensive network and gives you plenty of options of places to visit. If you fancied a visit as an add on from Philadelphia perhaps, then that’s easy too, as the Amtrak train goes from 30th Street Station in Philly and gets you to Trenton in just under 30 minutes, or catch the SEPTA from Philadelphia 30th St or Jefferson Station which takes you to Trenton, from the Transit Centre there, you can hop on the NJ Transit and get pretty much where you want.

So as it’s not too complicated to get there, what should you do once you have made the effort? Well I originally visited because I had an invitation, and so my gracious hosts took me around thier home state and to some of their favourite places and I’m really glad I made the trip, and oh yeah, and the accents were amazing!

Sights. The capital is Trenton, and it is here where I was based for my stay. ¬†I was lucky enough to be staying with friends in their apartment and they had a car, so I was chauffeured around, which was a novelty for me. But as I mentioned earlier, the New Jersey Transit is really extensive, so I don’t think a car is essential here if you just fancy doing a few tourist spots. There is a lot of history in this small state, and if Revolutionary War history or US history in general is your thing, then a visit to¬†The Old Barracks¬†is a must, as it’s the last remaining British army barracks in North America. I always like to get a good history lesson if I’m new to a place and so a stop at the¬†N J State Museum¬†is the perfect way to learn about both the cultural and natural history of the region. There are loads more museums in Trenton, so depending on time and your interests, you could easily fill a day here, along with a visit to one of the many parks, shops and restaurants.

One of the stand outs from my trip to New Jersey was the food, maybe it was because I was staying with locals, so they knew exactly where to eat and drink, but I do remember it all being ginormous in portion size and delicious. The first night we got pizza, I was jet lagged and hungry, and I remember standing in line to pick up our pizza feeling like an extra in the Sopranos, as I was overwhelmed by the amazing accents and the smells of the freshly cooked pizza dough. Italians migrated to the US, mainly between 1880 & 1920 due to poverty back in Italy. Although many did return home, it is said that there are about 1.5 million Italian Americans living in New Jersey and they make up about 18% of the population, so sampling some Italian food has to be on your itinerary when visiting.

New Jersey is also home to a large but dwindling population of Irish Americans and as I visited over St Patrick’s day weekend, it was imperative that we attended a Parade in the capital. Wearing all the green I could find in my suitcase, we headed to downtown Trenton and stood along the ‘sidewalk’ watching the marching bands and the decorated floats, whilst catching sweets and beads thrown from the proud Irish Americans celebrating their heritage, before we found a pub for a pint of Guinness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“I am very happy in my new home in this friendly country and the liberal atmosphere of Princeton.” – Albert Einstein 1935

One of the most popular places to visit and very close to Trenton is the town of Princeton, home of the well known private Ivy League University. Only a short 12 mile drive from the capital, or if your relying on public transport, you can get the N J Transit which, depending on the day and schedule, takes between 20 & 55 minutes from Trenton.

As well as being famous for the University, Princeton has other historic bragging rights. Originally settled by the¬†Native Americans¬†of course, the Quakers then moved in around 1690 and set up along the Millstone River. With its location being so close to Philadelphia, it’s no surprise that two of the inhabitants of Princeton signed the Declaration of Independance, and the National Historic Monument Maybury Hill in Princeton is the home to Joseph Hewes a 3rd resident who moved to N Carolina before signing the document too.

It is the university and the wealth of talent that it’s prestige brings, which makes for the most interesting and eclectic mix of history and provides a fascinating day out. Four US presidents have lived here including JFK, but also noted theologians, architects & ¬†writers have lived and studied here too, not forgetting probably the most famous resident – ¬†Albert Einstein, who moved here after fleeing Germany.

There are many ways to explore Princeton University, you can just head off and wander, being mindful that some parts are restricted to students and staff, or you can book on a guided tour, the Official Website has all the details you need including a downloadable self guided walking tour map, and come October there are weekly ghosts tours too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other things on your Princeton hit list should include Albert Einsteins house which is a national historic monument and all the many independent shops, bars and restaurants along Nassau Street and Palmers Square. These include a Princeton official Merch Shop, one dedicated to Mr Einstein, as well as high end clothing stores and some great small independent coffee shops and cafes.

We finished our day out in Princeton sharing some delicious small plates and some beer tasting at Triumph Brewery right on Nassau Street, after I had purchased my official Princeton t-shirt of course.

  • Old Barracks – $8
  • New Jersey State Museum $5
  • Historical Society of Princeton guided walking tour, every Sunday $7
  • Triumph Brewery Happy Hour is Sun-Thur 10pm-Midnight

Other Garden State Spots – Liberty State Park, Cape May, Six Flags, Atlantic City, Sandy Hook.

 

New York City, Buffalo and a teeny bit of Canada

US State No1

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I have been to New York 3 times, once in spring, once in winter and once in summer, I don’t have a trip to the Big Apple in Autumn planned yet, but maybe I should pop it back on my ever growing bucket list.
My last trip to New York was in the summer of 2007, so this blog post will not be an up to date, must do list of New York sites by any means. Ask anyone though and if they haven’t been to New York City themselves, they will probably know someone who has or is going and really, you could just turn up in Times Square and figure it out as you went along. There isn’t anything that hasn’t already been said about this amazing city and it should be on everyone’s travel list.

Although I had been twice before, I used New York as the starting point when I travelled overland solo from NY to LA & onward to Hawaii. As well as being probably the cheapest place to fly from Manchester, UK to the East coast, the flight is relatively short and jet lag isn’t too demanding. As I was familiar with the city, I thought I could use a couple of days in Manhatten to chill, visit a few things I hadn’t seen previously and just get myself mentally in the headspace to take off across the country alone.

Central Park & Times Square

My first time alone in New York, I enjoyed sitting in Central Park with an ice cream and a book, just people watching and soaking up the atmosphere, without needing to race through the city getting all the tourist spots done, especially in the oppressive summer heat. I was staying in a cheap motel with a shared bathroom close to the Natural History Museum and I was able to pencil in an entire morning to roam the corridors and exhibits of the museum and it was wonderful.

A 20 minute walk across Central Park is the¬†Guggenheim,¬†¬†another space I hadn’t visited on previous trips, I really should have been before. The building is outstanding, an iconic structure with the most amazing spiral ramp inside that you slowly climb up as you view the works of art. The only other thing I really made an effort to do on this trip was to visit an outdoor market, there are loads in and around Manhatten, I was there over a weekend, so on the Sunday, I had a wander around the¬†Green Flea Market¬†and picked up a few items of clothing for the journey ahead and had some delicious inexpensive street food.

But my trip to the state of New York wasn’t over, next stop was to Penn Street Station to board the Amtrak train, and I headed about 8 hours north west to Buffalo, NY. Located on the shore of Lake Erie, this city is actually New York’s second most populous city after NYC and is a great base to use if you want to visit Niagara Falls, the amazing meeting point of 3 waterfalls, that connect the USA & Canada. I stayed at the¬†Hostel Buffalo¬†and as I check back now, it looks like it unfortunately may be closing down *signs petition* It was from here that I got the Greyhound bus to Niagara as it’s another 20 miles to the Falls. It’s a lot cheaper to stay in Buffalo than by the Falls themselves and buses run cheaply and regularly throughout the day¬†Bus Bud.

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Absolutely breathtaking, the sites and sounds of this majestic natural wonder, it can be viewed from both sides of the border. The American side is actually a State Park, so as well as visiting the Falls, there are lots of hiking trails and gardens to explore along with shops, cafes & restaurants too. It was very easy to cross the border into Canada as the two countries are joined by the Rainbow Bridge,  as trivial as it looks, it is an actual bonefide border crossing, so have your documentation ready & be prepared to pay a small fee of $.50 each way if you are walking or biking.

Canadian Passport Stamp!

 

I stayed about an hour or so on the Canadian side, grabbed some lunch and visited the¬†Skylon Tower¬†for amazing views from up high, before paying my $.50 to re-enter the US. (I don’t feel I can cross Canada off my list or count it as a country Ive visited as it’s such a big country and I barely ventured quarter of a mile across the border, so I plan to return!)

To get a real sense of the enormity of the Falls, I wanted to get closer, so despite it being a sunny day, a poncho was still required, as I bought tickets for Cave of the Winds and Maid of the Mist. Cave of the Winds consists of a series of wooden walkways that take you down the rocky waterside and only a few feet away from the gushing torrents, prepare to get wet, windy and metaphorically but not literally blown away. No time to dry off, I then boarded the famous Maid of the Mist for the boat tour, that takes you right up to the white raging water and full of the spray of the overflowing rivers, it was fun, wet and truly memorable. A full day is definitely needed, and I’m so glad I made the effort to get there. After drying off and a good nights sleep, I boarded the train to back to NYC & then onward to Pennsylvania.

Aboard the Maid of the Mist

 

Museum of Natural History РOpen daily  (closed just Thanksgiving & Christmas Day)

Guggenheim – closed on Thursdays (pay what you wish on Saturdays 5.45-7.45)

Maid of the MistРAppears to be closed for tours between Nov & April, and the Cave of the Winds  is closed for restoration every November, so I would always suggest checking the websites before a visit.

Dont Miss Р Statue of Liberty, Central Park, Empire State Building, Times Square, High Line, Ellis Island.

Lancashire Lass – Preston

I was born in Lancashire 42 years ago, so it seems appropriate to start my travels across the UK here. If we are getting technical, I no longer live in Lancashire, I now live in Merseyside, prior to that I was in Greater Manchester and hopefully soon, I will be returning to Greater Manchester (that’s a whole other blog post!).  But prior to 1974 (before I was born I might add) Lancashire covered a much larger area in the North West and actually included, Salford and Liverpool where I have since lived. When I started to draw up the number of counties I needed to visit though, I’m using the current list with the amended boundary changes, so that would mean including visiting cities that don’t seem to be linked to a specific county anymore like Bristol and making a separate visit to the Isle of White which is no longer part of Hampshire. But anyway, back to Lancashire. .

I visit Lancashire pretty much weekly, but I wanted to dedicate a day to exploring it ‘Consciously’. Dad was still in hospital at the time, so after we had checked up on him, mum and I headed to the town where I was born – Preston and what seemed a good place to start, the museum of Lancashire for the history bit. 


I am quite a fan of a local history museum, especially if I’m on a city break somewhere, as it’s a great place to gem up on the history and traditions of the place you’re exploring in a short space of time.  Although I have just checked the website of the Lancashire Museums and it seems this particular museum is now closed except for school trips, which is a shame. 

Mum and myself then headed out of the city centre, down London Road and over towards Hoghton, to a place we had driven past many times over the years, but had never explored before; Hoghton Tower. We chose Hoghton Tower not just because it was somewhere we had never ventured before, but also because of the recommended views across Lancashire and the rather impressive guest list of this Grade I listed building, which has included over the years, William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and King James I, who I’ll come back to in a minute.

Mum had booked us on a private tour of the building, which took around around 2 hours & cost ¬£8 each. This fortified hill top Manor House still retains a real sense of history and I especially enjoyed the banquet hall, the dolls houses and exploring the dark and musty cellars.  Our tour guide was extremely knowledgeable, friendly and had a real sense of pride at showing us around, but I don’t think you can just turn up for a tour though, you always have to book in advance. There is also a large garden and a tea room that serves a very popular afternoon tea. We didn’t have an afternoon tea during this visit, but have since returned  and it was indeed delicious. There seems to be a busy calendar of events too, from farmers markets to outdoor plays and I believe this can have an impact of your visit regarding parking etc, so I would always recommend ringing or checking online before you visit.

By this time we had worked up an appetite and with a roast dinner in mind, (well it was a Sunday) we only needed to cross the road to The Sirloin Pub, which has its own connection to the tower. Rumour has it, that when King James I stayed at the tower on his way down to London, he enjoyed one of the banquets there so much, he ended up knighting the loin of beef, Sir Loin, and so the term for this cut of beef was named.

The pub across the road, plays homage to this and serves a very well made sirloin roast dinner, among many other local dishes like hot pot, we sat by the roaring open fire and tickled the pub dogs, before heading back home. 

Museum of Lancashire – no longer open to the public

Hoghton Tower – booking essential for tours and afternoon teas

Sirloin Pub – Open daily

Other Preston spots – Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Avenham Park, Brockholes Wetland & the British Commercial Vehicle Museum.

Expect I’ll be posting more about Lancashire in the future, as writing this blog has given me a taste to explore my home county some more.

Consciously Exploring Every County.

When my dad became ill with early onset dementia and it became clear he wouldn’t be returning home, that he would be spending his remaining time in the care of a nursing home, it was understandably upsetting and stressful. But travelling is my big love, I love nothing more than packing a small bag and stepping onto a plane or train for the unknown, ready to experience whatever new sights, smells, tastes are thrown at me and emerge myself in a new way of life for few days or weeks, or as in my big trip in 2006, a few months.  

Me and Dad many years ago
With the instability of dads illness, it became apparent very quickly that my priority needed to be close to home, or at least I needed to be able to get home quickly if there were any problems. I am an only child you see, so there is just me and mum, and as is the nature of dementia, dad can no longer make decisions about his care and needs 24hr nursing support. So my dreams of visiting some of the more far flung places had to be put on hold. I didn’t feel safe or comfortable with the idea of travelling across Russia or exploring India by train, knowing that things were so unpredictable at home, and I wouldn’t be able to get back quickly if a crisis came up. But I still had a burning wanderlust and travelling is my passion, so I needed to find a way to replicate that, but also be able to get home quickly if needed.

That is when I decided that I would visit every county in the UK. I have visited many in the past, explored some extensively, or passed through others on the way to somewhere else. Once I had made the decision, my friend Weene (she will probably come up quite a lot in this blog, as she is involved in many of my adventures especially here at home) renamed my project ‘Emma Consciously Explores the Counties’. This was because Gywneth Paltrow and Chris Martin had just announced they were ‘consciously uncoupling’ so it was all over the media, and I wanted to make a point of consciously exploring each UK county individually. To educate myself about the history of each region, try some of the local food and visit some of the tourist spots, basically set about each county as if I was in Europe on a city break. 

So I did . . . and I still am doing, so I will document my progress here and its why my own country will have a big section devoted entirely to itself. I used to be snobby about holidaying locally, I was all about the far off locations and the new passport stamps and visa’s, but things change, life changes, and sometimes in ways you don’t want it too, so you can struggle and resist, or go with it and adapt, so after a bit of a struggle, I adapted, and it turns out I quite like the UK after all. 

My First Ever Trip Abroad

I believe my first ever trip abroad was to Portugal, in the Algarve region when I was around 5 years old? I have pictures to prove it, honest, but that’s about it. It’s only since I decided that I wanted to write up all my travels as blog, primarily as a nice keepsake for me, but also to keep me focussed on making the switch to travelling more extensively in the future, that I realised, although I have visited Portugal, I don’t really have any memory of it.

I definitely want to reach my goal of visiting 100 countries, but I want memories of each country. I want to stay overnight, to meet the locals, learn at least a couple of polite phrases ‘Ola’, ‘Por Favor’, and ‘Obrigado’ are good places to start and most definitely sample the local food, beer and learn some of the history.  

There are many different guides online as to what counts as visiting a country, the Travellers Century Club has a very extensive list of countries and other territories that they include, and they allow you to tick off a country even if you have just had a plane fuel stop or port of call. They include Turkey twice for example, (the European side and the Asian side), The Isle of Man is down as a separate territory, the Balearic Islands is listed on its own, (although I would just include that under Spain) and Alaska is separate from the US too. So if I went with this list, I would be closer to 50 countries than the 43 that I am currently at.

But its not just about ticking off a list of countries for me, its all about the experiences and the journeys along the way. So with that in mind, although I have definitely ticked off Portugal, starting this blog has made me realise that I could do with visiting it again, and so its just popped back on my hit list, maybe Porto or Lisbon to begin with? . . . . I best get practising my Portuguese.