Waking up on our seventh morning in the USA, I was a little worried. After checking out, we were off to pick up a car. I love the experience of driving in foreign countries, and I had every expectation that America would be a fantastic time, once we got started. It wasn’t that. No, I was apprehensive because the point we were picking up our vehicle, and therefore where I’d have to learn to drive in America, was central Manhattan.
But first – some mild disappointment.
A grand road trip in America is something I’ve always dreamed of doing. Just getting in a car and driving, visiting as many of the diverse collection of states as possible over a couple of months, which will almost certainly be a trip we do before returning to New Zealand. Central to that dream is a cool American car.
I was realistic about this trip – it was only going to be for a week or so, and because we had to accommodate six people for most of the trip our wheels certainly weren’t going to be sporty. However, when we arrived, it turned out that the car allocated for us hadn’t be returned on time, which means we had a choice – pay more and upgrade to a Cadillac Escalade (a giant SUV, I was voted down), or get a discounted alternative, which turned out to be: a Ford Transit van, passenger edition. To be fair it was quite comfortable inside and fit everyone fine, which was the main thing, but man, was it ugly. I’m getting a Mustang next time.
As it turned out, leaving New York City was surprisingly easy. A couple of turns and a little light traffic, and before we knew it we were on a freeway heading north – not at all what I was expecting for one of the busiest cities in the world. Driving on the freeway was also very simple. The lanes were very wide and the other drivers very considerate, at least compared to the last big drive we’d done back in Europe. Speeds were also limited to 55mph (about 89kph), aside from the odd exhilarating foray up to 65mph, which was great for becoming reacquainted with driving but quickly just became very boring. 89kph on a massive, four lane freeway is just ridiculously slow.
Soon after we entered into Connecticut, I took wrong turn while in search of a coffee and we ended up driving down a semi-suburban back road. This turned out to be a happy mistake, as it was a wonderful little detour, a place I could imagine living quite happily. Imagine a series of winding little lanes under a canopy of leafy trees, lined on either side by well-maintained, sprawling bungalows and cottages – it was all just so idyllic.
The journey from where we rejoined the freeway through to Newport, Rhode Island, which was to be our sightseeing stop for the day, was basically one giant forest. Thankfully Newport, once we’d arrived, more than made up for this. We almost didn’t bother going at all; the only reason it was even an option was because I just happened to have been reading a Bill Bryson book at the time, in which he mentions he went there and enjoyed it. Good thing I was though, because Newport is awesome. The middle of town is very nice, if perhaps a little quaint, and it has a lovely beach, but the main attraction has to be the old buildings up on the cliff tops.
For whatever reason, Newport was the place to be around the turn of the both century, if you happened to be one of the richest families in America. For a few years, this particular part of society competed to outdo each other in terms of size and extravagance, all while oddly continuing to refer to these titanic buildings as ‘cottages’. Possibly the greatest of them all was ‘The Breakers’, summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt. Today, the Newport Cliff Walk lets you right past them all, and this is where we went now.
Done with Newport, we headed on to Providence, where we would be spending the night. We’d been a little unconventional here, and instead of the usual hotel we had booked ourselves a little houseboat for the evening. We arrived at the marina just as the light began to fade, and after a little trouble with the gate managed to let ourselves in. The verdict on houseboats? Well, ours did have one or two quirks, but on the whole – an awesome experience. I’d thoroughly recommend it. After a nice dinner at a Mexican place by the marina, we returned to the boat and spent the evening sitting on the back of the boat, telling stories and drinking beers. By the time we all went to bed I think the water must have gotten a little rough, as we all seemed to be swaying slightly.
B and I got up early the next morning, as always, and went for a walk to see a bit of Providence. The weather was perfect, and we were particularly keen to check out Brown University, one of the Ivy League colleges, which was an easy stroll through town. Brown turned out to be amazing – nearly an equal to Cambridge and Oxford in a newer, American sort of way. I always feel a little envious of the kids who get to gain an education in these sort of places, and so it was again today.
After a quick wander around a couple of nice, comfortable campus suburbs we went back to the boat and packed up for the day. We had a few miles to cover today – on to Boston, via Salem, before heading back out to see our first NFL game!
See you there.