8 in 9

This year my wife and I decided to take a break from a European vacation and instead take a vacation somewhere in the United States. My natural response to any vacation in the U.S. is New York City. Simply stated, I love everything about NYC, the people, the lifestyle, culture and vibrancy makes me want to spend a few years of my life in NYC. Between the fast paced city life vs a “relaxed” life in the suburbs or out in the country, I would always choose the former. That’s also one of the reason’s I’ve never taken a vacation to the Caribbeans. I just can’t see myself relaxing on the beach (I know there are a lot of excursions available). For me, vacations is all about going to a new place, learn about it’s history, it’s culture, meeting and talking to people.

So when my wife suggested that she wants to take a vacation where we wouldn’t do anything but relax and pace ourselves instead of what we had done in the past, we decided to pick a couple of cities within a driving distance from Toronto. What ended up happening was a road trip where we drove through 8 states, 2 Canadian provinces in 9 days and logged 3,031.5 kilometers on our car.

We left the morning on Saturday, September 24th and our first stop was Grove City. Of course, no trip to US is possible without a trip or two to those damned outlet malls. We (thankfully) spent a couple of hours at Grove City outlet and made our way to Pittsburgh. It was our first time there and we planned on staying a couple of nights.

I have to admit, I found Pittsburgh to be one of the most underrated cities I’ve been to in the United States. It is an incredible city and one where I would definitely go back. Our hotel was right in the heart of the city alongside the Allegheny River.

View from Mt. Washington — Pittsburgh

During our first day, we spent time walking around the city, including the market square & cultural district.We also took the Monongahela Incline, one of the two inclines in the city (the other being Duquesne Incline). It was an interesting lesson about how the inclines came to be after shortage of residential space on the flat lands forced people to move to the Mt. Washington Area and shortly thereafter, the inclines were installed as a way to move people back and forth.

The view of the city from Mt. Washington is quite pretty, somewhat similar to the view from Mount Royal in Montreal. Whether you choose to experience it during the day or night would be a matter of preference, we decided for the latter and loved it. We also found a halal restaurant nearby that served Uzbek/Russian food, Kavsar.

Second day in Pittsburgh started with a visit to the Andy Warhol museum. This was one of the most memorable moments of our entire trip. I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited a lot of art museums, but this was a unique experience. If I were to find any similarities between the Andy Warhol Museum with any other place, it would be the Salvador Dali museum. Now, I don’t pretend to understand art but in my mind, the similarities may be due to both embracing modern technology of their time to expand the boundaries of traditional art on canvas. Dali also incorporated graphic art while Warhol was a pop artist. We also got a chance to try our hands at Warhol’s silkscreen technique for re-creating images as well as his famous screen test. If you’re ever in Pittsburgh, do yourself a favor and plan a visit to the museum.

PNC Park — Pittsburgh

From the museum, we walked towards the PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. They were hosting Washington Nationals and although the game itself wasn’t too exciting, the experience at the ballpark was incredible. PNC Park is one of the main attractions in the city, it’s a perfectly sized stadium alongside the river and a beautiful Roberto Clemente bridge. During game day the traffic at the bridge stops, allowing for pedestrians to walk over the bridge en route to the stadium. The park itself is gorgeous with great atmosphere, amazing fans and excellent services. The people of Pittsburgh are very proud of it and they should be, in fact one of the first things locals would ask is, “Did you go to a Pirates game?”

Before leaving for Philly, we decided to try a diner called the De Luca’s diner in Strip district for breakfast. The place was full except one booth, when we sat there we found out that this is the exact same seat where Tom Cruise and Rosamund Pike sat during a scene in Jack Reacher — pretty cool. The food was good too.

From Pittsburgh we drove to Philadelphia. I’m told that it was a beautiful drive albeit a little dangerous due to rain and low visibility. I say that because it’s a second hand account from my wife. I do not recollect any of it as I was busy snoring on the passenger seat. We got to Philadelphia quite late and stayed put for the night.

The next day, we spent some time in downtown Philadelphia visiting the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Carpenter’s Hall, The Second Bank of the United States, Rocky Steps, Benjamin Franklin Parkway and University of Pennsylvania. Although we did not spend much time in the city of brotherly love, we did enjoy all these places and would recommend everyone going there at least once.

Rocky Steps — Philadelphia

Our next stop was New York City, this was our umpteenth time in New York and as I said already, it’s never enough. There’s always something new, and going back to Times Square never feels old either.

During our three days in NYC, we went to a game at the Yankees Stadium. Compared to PNC Park, Yankees Stadium is huge. You get all kinds of services from regular ball park junk food to a NYY Steak house, a Yankees museum and so on and so forth. The crowd was more electric, although it was probably because the games were more meaningful too; the Yankees were trying to make the wild card while Boston was trying to win the Division, a Yankees win meant that at least I wasn’t there to witness Boston clinch the division over my beloved Blue Jays. They would however, go on the clinch it the next day.

Yankee Stadium — Bronx, NYC

We also spent time walking in Manhattan aimlessly, visiting new areas, revisiting places we had been before. Times Square, Greenwich Village, Broadway Ave, Madison Square Garden, Lincoln Square, Century 21 store among others. We had planned on going to a pizzeria in Greenwich Village called Keste and were not disappointed. In fact it was the best pizza we had outside of Dar Poeta in Rome, another place we had planned was a small Pakistani joint in Brooklyn called BK Jani. If you’re ever in NYC, this place is a must, the burger is unlike I’ve ever had, it’s a traditional 8 ounce burger with a twist, they do not serve it with traditional condiments like ketchup and mustard, instead they use the green chutney from the Pakistani bun kababs and it was delicious. To ensure you eat the burger the way they envision, they refuse to even carry ketchup or mayo on the side. It’s a little far from Manhattan but definitely worth the trip. The Seekh Kabab were good too. We also tried the Frozen Hot Chocolate at Serendipity (the frozen hot chocolae was good, the cheesecake, not so much) and made the obligatory pilgrimage to the Halal Guys at 53rd and 6th.

From NYC we made our way to Boston while making stops in New Haven, Connecticut and Providence, Rhode Island. In New Haven we spent some time at Yale University and even though it was about 8 PM when we reached Providence and did not get an opportunity to appreciate the city properly, we’ll definitely come back and spend some extended time here. The City is absolutely beautiful, still has it’s old charm and frankly is a better, more beautiful, smaller and a more affluent version of Boston. The drive on I-95 from New Haven to Boston was probably the best driving experience I’ve ever had.

This was my second time to Boston and first time for my wife, and it’s one of the cities that never attracted me. I don’t know what it’s about Boston that I don’t like, although there are some really good spots like Freedom Trail, Faneuil Hall and the Boston Harbor. Maybe it’s just that Boston is a really big city with a small town feel (at least that’s the sense I get) and fails to do justice to either. It just doesn’t seem to have enough things to do for a big city. Anyways, we spent a couple of nights there and did enjoy our time. If you’re in Boston, do try their cannoli and a cream cheese croissant at Mike’s Pastry (recommended by my sister) onHanover St. I think they have another location but this was the one we went to. I do have to visit Boston again as I’d like to visit Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. We had initially planned on doing both but with Blue Jays fighting for their playoff lives in Boston that weekend, the tickets to the series were already sold out and Tom Brady was serving his suspension.

Finally, on our last day, we decided to drive back through New Hampshire and Vermont. We had heard a lot about the scenic nature of I-89 and it didn’t disappoint. Due to consistent rain it was still green and I’m told it looks even more beautiful during the fall season. Vermont specially was beautiful and the drive was comfortable.

We had always toyed with the idea of taking a road trip, in the grand scheme of things it wasn’t a long road trip like driving cross country but nonetheless it was quite eventful and memorable. We hope to do something similar soon. It had been a while since I last went on a road trip, in terms of mileage this was second to a trip I took with friends to Prince Edward Island over a decade ago. Hopefully this won’t be our last.

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