New York, Niagara Falls, New Orleans and everywhere in between...July-August 2012
The Greyhound Bus
This was another trip that was carried out with very little research done beforehand. I had seen on the Greyhound website that you could get a two week ticket valid for travel anywhere within the US for about $200. It seemed like a pretty good deal so the purchase was finalised and the tickets were mine. I managed to convince Wolvo to come along, seeing as our Inter-Railing had been such a success the previous year. Although we weren't students anymore, we were still paying off overdrafts from the previous year so we were conscious of our budget.
Unfortunately, the Discovery Pass that we used for our fifteen day trip is no longer available. Now, the best way to get discountepublic transport around the states seems to be looking out for cheap flights or using the national train service, Amtrak, where you can buy a USA Rail Pass.
We flew into New York to begin our trip. We had five days or so getting to know (and falling in love with) The Big Apple. We saw shows on Broadway, took a helicopter ride, visited Ripley's, hung out on 5th Avenue, took the ferry across to Staten Island and relaxed in Central Park. New York will always be one of my favourite every places. We stayed at a fantastic hostel, which I highly recommend. It was over in Queens but very close to a subway station.
After our lovely NYC experience, we headed over to the New York Port Authority Bus Terminal to catch our first bus. We were headed to Toronto via Buffalo. The first leg would take six hours and once we were boarded, there was no going back. We looked at the map and assessed our location at every stop. This determined our next destination and so on.
The only thing that was set in stone was Niagara Falls on July 25th as we had a special pass which allowed us to do several of the activities for one price.
The journey to Buffalo was exciting. Our first Greyhound bus, across the USA, just like in the movies! We were such tourists!
We had a fairly long layover in Buffalo so we decided to find a nail salon and have a pedicure done, it was summer and therefore flipflop season!
Back on the road, we arrived in Toronto very early that next morning. The border crossing was problem-free, we only had to take our luggage off and scan it through then we had a shiny new passport stamp for the collection.
We sat in a Tim Horton's near Toronto bus station as we found a hotel online. We ended up in what seemed to be student accommodation let out to visitors for the summer. We very awkwardly shared a room with a student couple! However, it was centrally located and very reasonably priced. They also allowed us to store our luggage the next day whilst waiting for our bus to come later that night.
As soon as we had checked in we set off back to the bus station to take a bus to Niagara Falls. The journey takes around ninety minutes on the Greyhound. You need to take a local bus down to the falls themselves, or walk but it's quite a way. Eerie, the town where the bus station is, is eerie by name and eerie by nature. It seemed abandoned and that Niagara Falls couldn't possibly be just down the road. The shuttle buses down to the Falls ran fairly regularly so we didn't have to wait long.
When we got to the Falls, they of course were unbelievably impressive. I was surprised by the commercial 'Disneyland effect' in the surrounding streets. I thought that spoilt the experience a little but I was happy to focus on the natural and allow that to entertain me.
We couldn't find a bus which would take us back to the Eerie bus station so we ended up walking. It took over an hour and then it wasn't long before we were headed back towards Toronto.
When we arrived back in Toronto, we were greeted with a terrible downpour. It was proper torrential rain! Deciding that it would be silly to walk in this, we would be soaked and our things wouldn't be dry before it was time to leave, we did the unthinkable and hailed a taxi! Spending this frivilously felt so unnatural but so exciting at the same time. It was quite a big deal to have some disposable income at this stage! We celebrated by going really wild and buying cigarettes. After all, we had all this Canadian money to get rid of before we left the next night. In between the taxi and the hotel, I broke my flip flop.
The next day, the mission was a) buy new flipflops b) see Toronto c) catch Greyhound to Chicago. I can't remember if I wore broken flipflops down Dundas Street to buy new flipflops or if I went barefoot but soon, I had new flipflops and we walked all around the city. We had hoped to conquer the EdgeWalk at the CN Tower but it was too windy and therefore not operating that day. Such a disappointment but an excuse to go back that's for sure!
We left Toronto and headed for Chicago via Cleveland. We weren't expecting to stop in Cleveland so when the bus pulled over at 3am we weren't too pleased! Security at Cleveland was tight and there were sniffer dogs and bag searches. The last thing we wanted so early in the morning! We joined the line for the bus to Chicago and were given the last two seats, phew!
We arrived into Chicago and it was a bright and sunny morning. Feeling a little tight we didn't want to pay for the storage of our bags so we opted to carry them for the day. That was a bad choice as they were so heavy. Nonetheless, we still enjoyed seeing the sights. Lake Michigan was beautiful with the blue sky and the skyscraper background. The Bean was even more amazing in real life than I've seen in pictures. We spent a good hour people watching in the park enjoying the backdrop. We even sat on the grass and listened to an orchestra practising a performance for later that night. We decided to head up to the top of the Willis Tower to the Skydeck. It was fairly reasonably priced at less than $20. There were some fantastic views of the city and there was even a glass ledge that you could stand on, if you're brave enough!
All in all, despite carrying our heavy bags all day, Chicago was a lot of fun and thoroughly enjoyable. The next stop was miles away in New Orleans.
The next leg of our journey took us through Tennessee into Memphis, Tennessee and the infamous Baton Rouge. This was the most horrendous leg of our journey. There were so many changes and so many strange people who we came across.
An example of the characters we met on the bus:
Middle aged woman: Hello girls, you need some work? I can get you hooked up when you get to New Orleans. Candy, she's got lots of girls with lots of work.
We politely decline.
Man in his early thirties: Hey girls, I've got an idea for an app, you wanna hear my business proposal? I'm trying to patent it. I came up with it in jail and I've just been released and trying to sort myself out. It's where you can read text messages in your own handwriting...
We politely decline.
Somewhere in Tennessee state we venture out of the bus station to look at the river. Feeling rather intimidated, we soon hurry back into the station to wait for our next connection. New Orleans feels so far away! Next stop, Memphis and we order Subway.
Hours later, we're back on the road and the penultimate stop is Baton Rouge. Here, Wolvo is accosted in the smoking area by a chap with gold teeth who bashes her in the stomach and asks for cigarettes. She throws him the packet and retreats inside like a scared puppy! I think there's genuinely no other response!
Finally, our New Orleans bus pulls up and we jump at the chance to board. For the first time in three days, we will have a shower and a bed! We are on our way to civilisation!
We arrive in New Orleans and it is HOT! Sweaty hot. Almost uncomfortably hot! But nonetheless, we have a hostel which means we can have a shower and we have a bed. It's evening when we arrive and the hostel have a shuttle service from the bus station. Once checked in, we think about socialising and then decide to sleep instead. We are exhausted and are probably only going to be here for a day or two.
The next day we are up early to go exploring. In all honesty, we spend most of the day in and out of cafes becuase it was so hot! We did however make it to the French Quarter, the waterfront and we listened to some street musicians.
New Orleans is beautiful and if we could have stayed longer, we absolutely would have!
Next stop, Miami. We need some beach time!
The hostel were very kind to keep our bags all day and then let us use their showers. It was totally necessary as the thought of ANOTHER overnight bus in the sweaty, smelly state we were in was out of the question. They even took us to the bus station- even if our driver was new and had no idea where to go! We were entertained!
It's early evening when we arrive in Miami. We've booked what we hope will be a lovely hostel right on Miami beach. Perfect for a couple of days relaxing on the sand and swimming in the waves. The only problem is I have no bikini so before we do anything tomorrow morning, we need to go shopping! Great!
We arrive at the hostel and it's certainly not amazing but it's not horrible either. One good thing is that no one else is booked to join us in the room so for the price, it was definitely worthwhile.
The following day we wake up and go bikini shopping. We eventually find a small bikini which will just about cover the necessaries- off to the beach we go. Did anyone get suncream? No. Is there anyone else on the beach? No. Should we consider these two factors? Perhaps.
Basically, we were some of the only people on Miami's South Beach all day... we should have figured that it was too hot for the locals, instead we enjoyed the privacy. Little did we know that later that night we'd find ourselves completely and utterly sunburnt. So much for staying for a few days. Even the thought of carrying our backpacks made my shoulders sting with agony!
The next day, dying with horrendous sunburn, we head back to the bus station, which no locals seemed to know the location of, in the hope of making it to Atlanta, Georgia.
We end up racing against crazy traffic in a taxi- another terrible expenditure- but we were in no state to carry our backpacks! We arrive at the bus station to be told that there is no space on the bus we would like to travel in. Instead, we will have to wait about six hours for another one.
I don't know if you've ever been to Miami bus station but it's tiny! There were no cafe facilities or anything so we sat and played cards. Eventually, a driver came to see us and said that he could take us a little further along the way but there would still be a wait at the next station. We took him up on the offer and ended up in Orlando.
This is where things went wrong! Wolvo headed off to the bathroom whilst I tried to secure a reservation for our onward journey to Atlanta. Then it was my turn to go to the bathroom and before we knew it the bus was here and it was time to board again. Atlanta here we come!
It was early morning when we arrived into Atlanta bus station. We had grand plans for the day to visit the sights of Martin Luther King and rest our shoulders because of the still painful sunburn.
We went outside for a cigarette where we met another shady character. He asked us if we were waiting for a bus and if we wanted to go across the road with him he could have his way before the lift reached the top of the building. He was even willing to pay us for the pleasure.
We politely declined!
Then we went to the ticket counter to sort out the bus journey for later that evening when disaster struck. I suddenly realised I had no ticket on my person. I would like to say that was my biggest concern when I realised that my passport was also missing!!! Oh dear oh dear.
This is when we met Annie. The bus station manager who was just finishing her night shift when she heard of our woes. Immediately she contacted the Orlando bus station and we were able to breathe a sigh of relief as the passport and ticket were happily sitting in Orlando. Annie arranged for them to be sent on the next bus to Atlanta that would be arriving at approximately 3pm. Phew. Problem over... or so we thought.
Now that Annie had helped us out of this pickle, she also offered to take us on a tour of Atlanta. She was truly lovely, showed us Martin Luther King's childhood house and even attended a tour with us. She then took us to the memorial site of MLK and even to the church where he had preached. Obviously exhausted after a hard night's work, Annie then left us with instructions of how to get to Stone Mountain where we could enjoy the rest of our day.
We went to Stone Mountain and took a cable car up to the top where we had lovely views of the surrounding area. Feeling quite pleased with outselves, we decided to return to the bus station as my documents should have now arrived and our bus to Washington was leaving shortly.
Having arrived at the bus station, it turns out that my ticket had also arrived. However, my passport had not. Insert panic here!! Saying that, knowing that we were on our way to Washington DC I figured that panicking wouldn't be particularly helpful. So we laughed and then called the British Embassy to inform them of our upcoming arrival.
Once again, we were on an overnight bus to Washington DC. Now though, it wasn't for sightseeing it was on a mission to get me a new passport!
We arrived fairly early in the morning and headed straight to the White House for a quick photograph. Then it was back to the mission at hand. The British Embassy had given me instructions of what I needed to do and what I needed to bring with me. I had to bring various hard copy documents with me, something which I could use to verify my identity. We spent a couple of hours walking around trying to find a shop which would print the documents. Finally, we found somewhere and the next thing required was passport photographs. Fortunately, CVS pharmacies had the facilities so it was straight in to take a photograph according to the strict regulations.
With all that done, the only thing left was to get to the British Embassy. At this point, funds were running low and somehow the decision was made not to take a bus, but to spend the next three hours, at least, walking down Embassy Row. We happened to join Embassy Row pretty much right in the middle and instead of turning right, we turned left. Note to self, work on map reading skills.
We walked past the Embassy of Guatemala, Morocco and Jamaica. When we got to the Embassy of Australia we thought that something wasn't right. I was also not feeling great so popped into see our Commonwealth neighbours to throw up... not sure what brought that on!
We crossed the road and went back on ourselves up the other side of the street. We walked past the Embassy of Trinidad and Tobego, Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Romania, Madagascar, Italy, South Korea, India, Brazil, South Africa until finally we saw the beauty of the Union Jack swaying in the wind. We must have walked at least five miles and part was uphill! We were determined.
After clearing security, we met Patrick who told me to fill in some forms and pay a whopping $250. He could have given me an emergency travel document which would have allowed me to leave the USA and arrive in the UK but I was only passing through London en route to Cairo so it was easier to part with the cash. The shiny credit card made another appearance! Thankfully, it was still allowing spending to occur. Phew!
All that said and done, we waved Patrick farewell and then it was time to hop on a bus to Philadephia as Wolvo was flying out of JFK the next day.
I stayed in NYC for an extra ten days, strolled over to Connecticut for some shopping, camping and river tubing, received my passport from DHL and then flew back to the UK myself.
All in all, the Greyhound was an exciting experience full of interesting (sometimes strange) people. We covered a lot of American soil for a very small fee. I don't think I'd do it again, next time I'll fly!!