Thomas Jefferson Memorial, Washington DC, USA

USA - Across the Pond - Eastern United States

Author: Sue Rogers
Date: 1st September 1999

Touring the Eastern Seaboard With Chris

An early circular tour of part of New England and the Eastern United States. by car, starting in Boston and finishing in New York.

Boston, Massachusetts

First, Boston, the capital and most populous city of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts (to give the state its full name). It’s one of the oldest settlements in the United States, founded on the Shawmut Peninsula in 1630, by Puritan settlers, from the English town of the same name. Boston draws tourists because of its history, education and because it was the setting for the TV series Cheers.

Historical Boston

Boston was the scene of several key events of the American Revolution, such as the Boston Massacre. This took place in front of what is now known as the Old State House, today dwarfed by skyscrapers.. In the early days it was where the court and administrators met. A mob accumulated. The army grew unsettled. There was a scuffle and five people were killed. Not quite a massacre but nevertheless, not very nice.

There was also the Battle of Bunker Hill and the siege of Boston. Not to mention the Boston Tea Party, which kicked it all off. This was when the residents threw tea into the sea in protest against the taxes being levied on them by the British. The small wooden Paul Revere House commemorates the owner’s ride to alert the colonial forces that the British forces were coming.

Education in Boston

Boston boasts 35 colleges or more, depending on who you believe. The most well known is Harvard, in Cambridge (of course) on the outskirts of town.

Tourist Boston

The Faneuil Hall Marketplace draws the most visitors. There are three indoor and outdoor dining areas and a huge dining area. There are actually two Cheers bars in Boston. There’s a replica inside the Faneuil Hall which is named after the TV series, with a replica of the TV. There’s also the Bull & Finch Pub on Beacon Street, which was the original inspiration for the TV show.

South to Plymouth, Cape Cod (an intriguingly odd shaped peninsula) and the replica Mayflower. Time also for some whale watching, before heading north on the coastal US1 road. You can tell we are in New England, Boston, Plymouth, Portland, Warwick, Falmouth, Portsmouth, Dover, Rochester and so on. There’s not on but two Manchesters, off to the west a little and we drive through Manchester-by-the-Sea, of film fame.

Maine

Then we’re in Maine. Portland, Belfast, Bangor and Bar Harbor for Acadia National Park. This is one of the few occasions in the USA when it’s been difficult to find somewhere to sleep. The roads are heaving and the motels fully booked. This is clearly where the whole of America vacations in August. We have to settle for a dubiously clean chalet with sagging curtains,  in a very over priced and tumbledown establishment. Perhaps the tourists come for the lobsters. They’re cheap and good. Though it’s obligatory to wear a plastic apron, whilst you wield your crackers and try not splatter the table.

Given the traffic, I’m not surprised to hear that Acadia is one of the top 10 most-visited national parks in the United States. It’s a coastal park and wetlands, which encompasses portions of two large islands and 16 smaller outlying islands. Glorious rocky headlands and the highest mountains along the Atlantic coast (the biggest one is Mount Cadillac). There’s also a historic carriage road system.

Mount Washington, New Hampshire

Through the White Mountains to Mount Washington. At just under 2,000 metres, Mount Washington, in the White Mountain National Forest, is the highest peak in the North-eastern United States. It’s also a very prominent one -shooting up into the sky. But it’s most notorious for its erratic weather. The observatory uptop held the world record for highest measured windspeed (231 mph) until 1996. Mount Washington still holds the record for highest measured wind speed not associated with a tornado or tropical cyclone. The summit is a bleak and eerie place, even in summer. And it’s too misty to see much.

The sensible way to ascend is via the Mount Washington Cog Railway. But we were hard up and drove there -up the Mount Washington Auto Road. It’s a terrifying ride, with sheer drops and no guard rails. They even award you a certificate - Master of the Mountain - to celebrate your achievement.

Ski Resorts of Vermont

Killington and Stowe - the most renowned ski resorts of the east. The typical white clapboard houses and witch hat steepled churches of New England.

Niagara Falls, New York State

Further west to Niagara and the Falls. Niagara Falls is actually a group of three waterfalls at the southern end of Niagara Gorge. Here, the Niagara River, drains from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. The falls span the border between the province of Ontario in Canada and the state of New York in the USA. The largest of the three is Horseshoe Falls, also known as the Canadian Falls, which properly straddles the international border of the two countries. The other two, smaller American Falls and Bridal Veil Falls lie totally within the USA.

At just over 50 metres they’re not hugely tall, but they have an impressive flow rate, with more than six million cubic feet of water cresting the falls every minute. The flow is controlled - this is not just a tourist attraction, it’s a valuable source of hydroelectric power.

There are two Niagara Falls cities, one in Canada and one in the U.S.A. The American one is exceptionally touristy, with observation points, booths and sale stalls all-round the falls. There’s even an aquarium. Full of sea creatures you won’t find in the wild around here. It’s still a great,, if wet experience (you can hire oil skins) to watch the cascading waters and take the boat trip The Maid of the Mist out into the maelstrom here.

Pennsylvania

South through Corning, of glass company fame. Their most famous line is Pyrex and there's a glass museum. Plenty of Amish settlements and glimpses of families out with their horse and cart.

Gettysburg is a very long stop. It's famous for being the site of the decisive battle in the American Civil war and for Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, which followed several months later. This is regarded as one of the greatest and most influential American speeches, as Lincoln described the US as a nation "conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal". There's a memorial at the site of the Address in the Gettysburg National Cemetery. The battlefield museum has an informative diorama (I quite like battle tactics) and far too many guns in cabinets.

Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Mountains Parkway, Virginia

South from the Shenandoah Park and the Skyline Drive, which teeters along the mountain tops to join the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway. The Blue Ridge Parkway is another gorgeous All-American Road. It's America's longest linear park and runs for 469 miles. It's slow going as its a popular run, and it would take about 12 hours to do the whole length without stopping. So we're not going to, and wheel around, back towards Washington.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

A slight detour to another Civil War related attraction. This time it's to Harpers Ferry. Harpers Ferry is the easternmost town in West Virginia and during the Civil War was the northernmost point of Confederate-controlled territory - "the best strategic point in the whole South". Harpers Ferry changed hands eight times between 1861 and 1865. It was also where the Confederates kept their arsenal and is famous for abolitionist John Brown's raid - he wanted to initiate a slave revolt in the Southern states by taking over the weapons.  It has been called the dress rehearsal for, or Tragic Prelude to, the Civil War.

The national park there incorporates  a living museum, with reconstructed streets, shops and bars (root beer if you’re lucky) and civil war re-enactments. And there's a song to sing...

Washington, DC, Capital of the United States

East again, over the Potomac River to Washington DC. This, of course, is the capital of the United States. The city was named for George Washington, and the federal district is named after Columbia, a female personification of the nation. Washington is expensive and busy. It's home to international organisations and 177 embassies, not to mention the tourists. And there's plenty to see:

  • The White House (from a distance, but you can book to go in, if you're organised)
  • Other federal buildings. the Capitol Building, the Pentagon
  • Various memorials alongside the river in The National Mall. This runs from between the Lincoln Memorial on the west and the United States Capitol grounds to the east, with the needle of the Washington Monument, dividing the area slightly west of its midpoint.
  • Arlington Cemetery and the eternal flame burning by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. There's even a Changing of the Guard here, though it's not quite the same as Buckingham Palace.
  • The Smithsonian Institute and it's many museums - the early planes and the space capsules are the best bits

Philadelphia

Across Chesapeake Bay, and Maryland. Amazingly good crab cakes. Over a sliver of dinky Delaware and looping north to Philadelphia in Pennsylvania again. Philadelphia is a 1993 legal drama starring Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington or Pennsylvania’s largest city. It's notable for its name, which means City of Brotherly Love and it's history. Philadelphia was founded by English Quaker, William Penn, in 1682, to serve as capital of the Pennsylvania Colony.

It played a pivotal role in the American Revolution as a meeting place for the Founding Fathers of the United States, who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 here. Other key events during the Revolutionary War included the First Continental Congress, the preservation of the Liberty Bell (a new bell had to be cast after the first one cracked), the Battle of Germantown, and the Siege of Fort Mifflin. Philadelphia was the nation's largest city until it was overtaken by New York City in 1790. It was also one of the nation's capitals during the revolution, serving as temporary U.S. capital, while Washington, D.C. was under construction. The Declaration of Independence is on display at the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall and the cracked bell still resides. Apparently the other must-see is the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, immortalized by Sylvester Stallone’s triumphant run in the film "Rocky."

Driving through industrial New Jersey, to end in New York City .

Read more about the U.S.A. here.

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