Category Archives: traveling

Geocaching Milestones

A backpack, baseball cap, 2 pairs of shoes, and a geocache container sitting on a rock.As this whole blog has been rather in-active during the last 2 years (that’s pretty much the point where I started being active in student representation … coincidence?), there’s not been a lot of talk about anything but the role model articles. Priorities – I haz them.

So, I checked my archives. The last time I talked about geocaching was in summer 2014. That was the trip to Italy (and Slovenia), when I hit 460 founds. By the end of 2014, I had logged over 500 geocaches. Then I started setting goals … by the end of 2015, I wanted to have a log of 700 finds. It was a close call, I had a few very active days just before New Year’s Eve, but made it: log number 704 happened on December 30 in Hamburg, Germany.

The plan for 2016 is to again log about 200 geocaches within a year. As we’ve seen last year, that’s absolutely feasible. So by December 31, 2016, I want to have logged my 900.

Another thing I’m planning is to make a collection of some of the coolest caches that I found, here on this blog. This won’t be easy, because I haven’t been taking pictures everytime I went out to search, and I probably have forgotten some very nice hideouts already. But nevertheless, there will be a nice gallery starting soon!

Philly: 6 students and a cat

Something Josef and I could agree on is that our travel itinerary was not perfect. Still, our timing for Philadelphia was, because this way, Marisha was able to host us. Well, Marisha wasn’t even there for the whole time, but her flatmates were. And they took care of us the second she had left.

On our way from Washington to Philadelphia, we made a 2-hour stop in Baltimore and visited the last resting place of Edgar Allan Poe and his beloved, and also the harbour area.

Marisha’s home is not far from Campus, and it is a whole house rented out to 6 students – and a kitten. All of the humans – except one – are students, and all of them are studying something that has to do with music. There is a music therapist, an opera singer, and a lot of musicians. The one who has already finished University is Scott, who did study something that has to do with film – and now he works with a children’s TV station in Philadelphia.

Philadelphia somehow managed to conserve a rather big area of old town, with a lot of parks and well restored buildings. Also, around Independence National Historical Park, there are a lot of signs explaining the history and use of buildings. INHP consists of different museums sheltering Liberty Bell, a copy of the Declaration of Independence, a desk once owned by Ben Franklin and so on. Not far from Independence Hall, one can visit Ben Franklin’s grave, and also a part-restoration of the former President’s Residence.

DC: Staying with a NASA engineer

We did quiet some searching for couches in Washington, DC, but still didn’t manage to find a host. In the end, I posted an Open Couch Request, a rather new tool on Couchsurfing. Before it was invented, people who did not find a couch often posted their travel plans into groups. Many group administrators did not like those posts and special couch search groups were established. So, to help couchless people find couches, a special tool was installed that shows open couch requests on top of every users starting screen.

This way, we found Juan and his sister Veronica. They both were very busy on our arrival day, so we had agreed upon arriving only after 9.30 pm and had some generous breaks on the way. Amongst others, we visited Berkeley Springs, America’s first spa. It’s a cute little town where even George Washington stopped by to relish the natural thermal water at the local bath house.

Juan arrived after 11.30 pm, when we already getting ready for bed. Our conversation thus was limited to a “Hi, how was your day/journey?” and “Good night”. The next day, Veronica offered to take us with her into the city. She works at Georgetown hospital as a researcher. On the Washington DC group, we had found a guy from Boston who was looking for company to do some sightseeing, and we had agreed on meeting with him nearby the White House. Veronica dropped us off only 2 streets from there – perfect!

After meeting up with the guy from Boston, we spent 7 hours just walking from one end of the Mall to the other, paying a visit to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the Lincoln Memorial and so on. It’s just incredible how many memorials and museums there are to be seen. Later that day, after the Air and Space Museum, we met up for a drink and a snack with some other Couchsurfers who were going to a Basketball game that night. When Veronica was finished with work, she picked us up again and we drove home. Josef had promised to prepare Kaiserschmarrn, so after shopping we started cooking. Veronica did a Puerto Rican dish called “tostones”, which is basically twice fried plantains with a special seasoning. It was yummy!

On our second day in Washington, we could again use Veronica as our “bus”, and went to Georgetown with her. After having breakfast in some café there, we walked over Key Bridge to Arlington Cemetery, visited John F. and Jackie Kennedy’s memorial, Iwo Jima memorial and Arlington  House and watched the Change of the Guard at the Unknown Soldier’s memorial. Via Arlington Memorial Bridge we then went back to DC and visited the memorials we missed the day before: Martin Luther King Jr., Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Jefferson Memorial.

Just a piece of advice to everybody who is planning on visiting Washington in the next weeks (or months): the Washington Memorial is closed, so you can’t go up to get a view of the city. If you want to get the view, go to the old US Post Office Building on Pennsilvania Avenue. You can go up the bell tower and the view is great 🙂

Interlude: the Falls and Pittsburgh

So after not much more than 36 hours, we sai “Good-Bye to Stefanie and got back on the road. Just before she had helped us to find a couch for Pittsburgh: there is this girl, Laurie, who will be staying with Stefanie in some weeks’ time. She seemed to be a nice girl, so Stefanie asked if she could host us. When she said Yes, Josef sent her a message with our profiles to fix the deal. And it worked out, as you will soon see!

But first things first. As the Niagara Falls are on the way to Pittsburgh, we of course stopped by there. We were being very touristy – walking along the falls, taking dozens of pictures. We even met some people giving Free Hugs, who were pretty surprised by our reaction to them 🙂

As it was Family’s Day in Ontario (a holiday recently invented as there are no other holidays in between Christmas and Easter), and President’s Day in the U.S., there were some hundred people lining the railings along the Falls. After some food and coffee, we got back to our car and crossed the border right at the Falls. The customs guy asked us a lot of questions, but was rather nice (though I don’t understand why it should be a problem of us entering the US at a different location than leaving them).

Several hours and potty breaks later, we arrived in Pittsburgh. We still had to wait about an hour for Laurie, as she had a late class that evening. This hour we spent with walking around the Campus and her neighborhood.

Sightseeing in Pittsburgh was limited to a rather short walk through the inner city and old parts. After more than a week of sightseeing, I was pretty done for already and was looking forward to not having to see anything 😉  Also, we still had a rather long drive to Washington DC before us, and we had received a nice tip from another Couchsurfer who had nearly hosted us instead of Laurie.

Two Cats and a Subcrawl

After the – kind of obligatory – odyssey through the neighborhoods and  motorway exits, we made it to Stefanie and her cats Milow and Misterio. To honor our stay in Toronto, she organized a Pubcrawl through some of the lowest bars of the city – pretty awesome! We met several other Couchsurfers from the area, had a great time and some (too many) drinks, and even witnessed a fistfight, only minutes after entering the first bar.

As bars close at 2 am, and the subway only works until 1.30 am, we were home around 1.50 am after the Subcrawl. In this case, “we” consisted of me, Josef, Stefanie and 2 other Couchsurfers who more or less last-minute asked Stefanie for a place to stay.

The next morning, we waited a bit for Stefanie to get up before leaving the apartment. She had promised to cook some beer battered waffles – and they were great 🙂

Toronto in short: we saw the harbour, some of the old city parts, the CN Tower (whoa, great view!!) and China Town, where we had great lunch.

Of course, also the cats were a sight for themselves and we spent several hours playing and cuddling with them.

Montreal: First Snow!!

As I mentioned in the last sentences of the post about Boston, my phone decided not to guide us to Annick’s doorsteps, and I had to make do with the maps it had saved while creating the route.

When we finally arrived, I was already pretty tired. Annick had prepared some food and great ideas for the days we were going to spend in Montreal. She and Josef were making plans for the next hours while I was slowly drifting way … Shortly after 10 pm I finally made it into my sleeping bag.

The first day, we visited several viewing points. This was not well planned, as the weather was way nicer the next days: over 0°C, sunshine and nearly no wind. The first day: overcast, cold, windy, and even some snow.

Montreal in short: Little Italy, Chinatown, Vieux Montreal, the “underground” Montreal aka “Reso”, a little brewery/restaurant at the Quartier Latin and several beer tastings at Annicks place.

Boston: two trails and a lot of fish.

So it’s a sunny though not too warm Sunday morning and we’re having breakfast in Boston, one of the oldest cities in the USA. Its city center is really interesting, as it consists of a lot of rather old buildings, next to modern ones, has a bunch of small parks, and most of the streets are old cow paths – so there aren’t as many right angles as e.g. in New York City.

Finding our way from one historic spot to the next was incredibly easy: The Freedom Trail, directing tourists from sight to sight, is a red line, sometimes made of brick stones, sometimes painted on the sidewalk. So all one has to do is keep their eyes open and follow its lead for about 5 kilometres. In theory, this could be done within 1 hour,  but then again we had to stop every once in a while to warm up in souvenir shops and cafes, and of course had to take a ton of pictures.

The end of the trail is on the other side of Charles River, where we visited the Charlestown Navy Yard and of course Bunker Hill. Josef did walk up the 294 steps and had an awesome view of the city. I was too lazy, and also we were already a bit late for meeting my cousin … but YES, I regret not going up those stairs – Josef’s pictures are great 🙁

Both Jason and his room mate had to work late, so we had to kill some time after the late lunch with my cousin. We decided to go see the area around the Aquarium and check if we could still take a ferry towards Jason’s place. The last ferry had already left, so that plan did not work out, but I’m still not sure if it was a good plan at all. The distances on the ferry/bus/subway plan looked a bit strange.

The next day we left with Jason, as Harvard and MIT were on our agenda that day. There are guided tours of the campuses, done by the students. We did not manage to get one at Harvard, but the one at MIT really was nice. They give inside information on dorms, on interesting classes and degrees one can get, and also they have great stories on the pranks (or hacks, as they call it) that are played on the University on a regular basis.

One of the great things about Couchsurfing is that your hosts can tell you where and what to eat – so for lunch, Josef had a lobster roll and tried an oyster. I’m not that into Seafood and I’ve already tried to eat oysters – but they won the staring duel, I had some Clam Chowda (which was really yummy!).

After lunch, we paid a visit to the old parts of the town again, and also to the MAAH. Linking together some important places of Afro-American History, one can follow the Black Heritage trail through the MAAH’s area. In the early evening, we met with Jason to get the keys to the appartment, as the guys again had to work late. Back home, I did some reading and Josef did some sleeping. Then we finally made it to the Pub around the corner, where we also met a cousin of Roger’s, and had a great time.

Going from Boston to Montreal by car takes about 6 hours; after half of the way, we stopped at some random little town to have lunch and get water for the rest of the journey. Just outside Montreal, we stopped again for coffee (in order not to arrive too early) and went into the evening rush hour head over heels.

Funny as it is, my phone thought it would be cool to delete the rest of the directions for Annick’s place in Montreal, so I had to do the navigating with only the map data buffered on the phone.

Austrian motorway junctions are NOTHING compared to those in North America, believe me … o.0

And here are some snapshots from Boston:

One GeoCache intended – two found.

So after picking up our car, we had a rendezvous in Providence: Eric, who had surfed my couch in Summer 2012, after hearing that I was coming to Boston, had suggested Pizza and Geocaching. The pizza was really good (awesome decoration, too), the first geocache was discovered quickly, and as a reward we had frozen yogurt afterwards.

Another hour driving (and some more detours after taking a wrong exit in NYC already) took us to Dorchester, Boston. We stayed with Jason, who is 23 and is working on his PhD in Nuclear Sciences at the MIT. We had planned to go to the Pub around the corner, but ended up having drinks at home.

The next day in the morning, our first stop was Boston Common, to find the Visitor Information Center. On the way, we walked by the Soldiers and Sailors Monument – and found an unexpected geocache: Josef saw the hideout, said “I bet there’s a cache!”, reached in, and got it out. Awesome!

New York: Manhattan by foot.

The flight was great, getting to Manhattan was also pretty easy. Only my suitcase got into my way more often than not – lesson learned, next time it’s the backpack for sure.

For the first night, there was already a party planned: Couchsurfing New York’s weekly meeting, featuring the birthday party of two members. People were asked to dress up 80ies-themed, and some costumes were really great 🙂

The next day we went to Central Park … Just like that, we walked all the way from 103rd street down to Central Park Zoo. Of course we took a break in between; we had a snack in a Cafe that is located in a church(!). Also, we visited the shop at the Guggenheim Museum (I got a book on graveyards around New York there 🙂 ).

Thanks to some awesome recommendations from Chris, my former work colleague, we had a huge list of food to choose from for lunch. We decided to have the roastbeef sandwich from Little Italy – something we for sure did not regret. The rest of the list is still somewhere around, for my next trip 😉

Later we walked over to Brooklyn (yes, all the way from Little Italy via the Bridge). After that, we went to High Line Park – all in all this were about 12 km that day, so I had good reason to fall asleep on the couch at 9 pm 😉

The next day, we had breakfast at the mexican restaurant downstairs, packed our stuff, said good-bye to Nicky and the other surfers and went to pick up our car at the airport.

The lady at the rental company tried to make us change from a normal car to a SUV, as the weather was “so  bad”. In fact, the further north we got, the sunnier it was. True story.

And now for some pictures!

Coming up: Poutine, Chowda, Smoked Meat and lots more.

3 cats, about a dozen different types of beer, poutine, chowda, smoked meat, hot dogs, pastrami, tostones, Kaiserschmarrn and of course a red Ford Focus – that’s what came along during my 17 days in North America.

17 days, in which we spent about 1800 miles on the roads of 8 states in the US and Canada (New York, Maine, Massachussetts, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Quebec, Ontario and also a bit of Virginia, as far as I remember).

17 days, in which I severly annoyed my travel companion with remarks about his accent.

17 days, in which we stayed in 7 households, with 15 different people and all in all 3 cats.

17 days full of great impressions and lots of awesome memories: a pubcrawl, pubfood, great views of great cities, a CD release concert,  crossing the US border, the Falls …

Be prepared, it has begun …