We’ve decided to stay in the States for a little while, so we bought a van that we can take on road trips. Buying the van turned out to be a hideously convoluted and nightmarish process, but we got there in the end – thank goodness! Her name is Rhonda Burgundy and she’s a delightfully ugly Chevy.
We were seriously excited to go on our first road trip away in her, after spending a substantial amount of cash at the local Wal-Mart and Home Depot (Shaun was in heaven) to kit her out for living in. We decided to head to the Jersey Shore and then back through New York City for Shaun’s birthday.
On our way to New Jersey, Kathy (our GPS voice) led us straight through downtown Manhattan – I’m not sure she understood the meaning of the ‘quickest route’ setting, as going right past the Empire State Building on 34th Street slowed our trip by about an hour, and we had to pay a $7.50 toll to go through the Midtown Tunnel. Whoops!
The drive from Jersey City to Asbury Park, the northernmost town on the Jersey Shore, was pretty dull – just miles and miles of expressways and more tolls. Asbury Park (the town – as we had been informed by my brother Patrick – where Bruce Springsteen started his career) was pretty quiet, as would be expected for a cold windy Thursday I guess. It looks like the downtown is undergoing a bit of revitalisation which is good to see, and we had a yummy lunch at a cafe called Toast.
Going further down the Shore, we passed through miles and miles of large beachfront homes, many of which had been completely obliterated by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. There was an huge amount of building work going on, with lots of houses being raised on stilts and many more just left abandoned.
A number of the towns along the coast have boardwalks and amusement piers, which would be really cool in the summer – unfortunately they were mostly closed as we are still in the low season.
We stopped for the night in Atlantic City, a sort of Las Vegas-by-the-sea. It was pretty weird to see huge casinos right beside the beach, and it was a bit of a letdown that none of the casinos were themed like the ones in Vegas. Still, we won the money back that we spent in the pokies, so no major loss! We stayed at a quirky place called The Chelsea Pub & Inn, which cost a mere $47 for a lovely room, and included breakfast and real bunnies hopping around (the real Easter Bunny, perhaps? It is that time of year after all).
The following day we drove the rest of the way down the Shore, through the city of Wildwood which had a massive pier and 2 mile long boardwalk. There was even a tram going along the boardwalk so that you didn’t have to walk! Unfortunately, most of the attractions were closed, so we moved on to Cape May.
Cape May, at the southern tip of New Jersey, was the highlight of our Shore experience by far. It’s a quaint little town that is full of gingerbread-style houses beside a great beach. We loved wandering around the streets and through the pedestrian-only town centre, and ate at a pancake house right out of the 50’s (the Easter Bunny was there too). We also visited an old lighthouse and a microbrewery.
We drove back up to NYC where we spent the rest of Easter weekend, and stopped at a free zoo on the way which was really cool. I love zoos! And free ones are even better. There were lots of amazing animals, and Smokey the Bear was there too.
New York was incredible, as it was the first time. That city definitely does not disappoint! It took ages to decipher all the crazy signs which told us no parking, no standing, no waiting, street cleaning, fire hydrants, etc. etc. and actually find a park that we could stay in for longer than ten minutes – we don’t recommended driving into Manhattan, especially not on a busy Easter Saturday afternoon! But with us being on a budget we had decided to freedom camp in the city, so we were lucky enough to finally find a park near Union Square. Sleeping in the van was fun, if not a bit noisy with sirens all the time! And it was decidedly cheaper than a hotel, with a total cost of $12 in parking (luckily parking is free on Sundays!).
We made a point of seeing sights that we had missed out on last time, so we ticked off Grand Central Station, the Flatiron Building, the New York Public Library, Little Italy, Chinatown, and Williamsburg. On Shaun’s birthday I made a treasure hunt with clues that took us all over the city which was heaps of fun! We also bought cheap last minute tickets to Avenue Q, which was a hilarious Broadway show with muppets as the characters.
We had some incredible eats too. I’d read about the famed Smorgasburg food market in DUMBO on Sundays, so we caught the subway there and were not disappointed. We sampled delectable hickory-salted fries with malt ale aioli, a brisket burger, and a malt shake – all were delicious. We also visited the insanely busy Katz’s Deli on the Lower East Side, a Jewish sandwich place that serves (you guessed it!) sandwiches. We were overwhelmed by the price ($22) for our Reuben sandwich, but my goodness it was amazing.
We also stumbled across Eataly next to the Flatiron Building, which is like an Italian supermarket crossed with ten different restaurants (pizza, pasta, fish, meat, gelateria, beer garden…) – amazeballs. We didn’t eat there as it was packed out on Saturday night, but we returned for a fantastic coffee the next morning (the best coffee we’ve had since leaving New Zealand!).
The famed Shake Shack in Madison Square Park also caught our eye, and we returned there on Monday (and lined up for half an hour) for delicious burgers and shakes. It was well worth the wait!
Also worth an honourable mention is the fast food chain Chipotle – makers of delicious Mexican food. And it’s so cheap too! And takeaway meals from Whole Foods – perfect for travellers on a budget.
It was a great road trip, and it was so much fun to go back to NYC again. 700 miles down, many more to go!