A Circle Line Ferry Tour in New York

On our first full day in New York, we headed over to the Pier 83 on the west side of Manhattan Island, to take a Circle Line Ferry tour. We took the Best of NYC tour, which takes in so many of the sights you associate with New York. As there were bridge works we couldn't complete the whole circle of the island, but the horseshoe route we did take offered amazing sights of Manhattan, as well as Hoboken, Jersey City, Brooklyn, Roosevelt Island, and more.

We caught a glimpse of the USS Intrepid and the tail of Concorde at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum as we headed off on our tour.

It was such fun to spot the other traffic on the Hudson River and the East River as we sailed by. These bodies of water were huge and very busy with work boats, ferries, pleasure craft and other sailors.

As we sailed down the river the sheer scale and height of the towers of Manhattan was eye catching, to say the least!

Two of the funnest boats we spotted? The Beast, a speedboat that offered a quicker (and much bumpier!) tour of the city by boat. We also sailed by the cruise ship Arcadia, which was incredibly big - even with the backdrop of the city to contend with, this was a beast of a ship.

Loved spotting the little boats out for a weekend sail. You would have to be such a skilled sailor to set out in such busy waters!

The tour takes you very close to Liberty Island and I enjoyed getting these shots of Lady Liberty herself. On a whim we had upgraded our standard tour tickets to VIP ones, and our seats at the back of the boat offered a great vantage point from which to take photos.

We spotted a retired navy boat out for a Sunday pootle as well!

And spotting the bright orange Staten Island Ferry of course gave me this earworm.

The scale and span of the bridges was so impressive!

The UN building was very busy as they were in session - made for a very busy town while we visited. The Obamas were actually in a hotel a few blocks down Madison Avenue from our base!

Being more used to the Thames, where adverts are not permitted, the commercial efforts along the banks of the rivers were particularly striking.

If you're heading to New York, I'd really recommend a boat tour - it was such a great way to explore the areas and to really getting our bearings. At various points in our visit we got a birds-eye view of the city, but travelling around it by boat was a great way to take in all the sights and to understamd how the city worked as a whole.

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Exploring Amsterdam with Canal Cruises

One of the great treats of living in London is how close we are to such a wide variety of destinations. While I enjoy flying off to places further afield, it's also delicious to hop on a plane and in an hour or two and be somewhere completely different!

Last month Matthew and I did just that and headed over to Amsterdam for a couple of days in the Dutch capital. We'd both visited before, but this was our first time visiting together.

There are so many lovely ways to explore the city - there are great public transport links, it's hugely walkable, and there are bikes everywhere - but my favourite way to sightsee has to be from a boat on the canals that crisscross the city.

From various points around the city (we travelled with Amsterdam Canal Cruises, and embarked from just outside the Heineken Brewery, close to the Rijksmuseum) you can take a tour around the city, and you get such beautiful views of the streets, houses and attractions from the canal level.

We spotted so many sights - from beautiful churches to elegant hotels, museums to restaurants and bars. The boats move at a lovely, leisurely pace, affording you ample time to drink in your surroundings. There are also great audio commentaries available in more than a dozen languages, so you can learn a little about the history and culture of Amsterdam.

Our tour took a little over an hour and a half, and even in late autumn the light was great for seeing the sights - and snapping plenty of pictures, too!

Even though I'd been to Amsterdam before, I really feel like the canal boat tour gave me a greater understanding of the geography and history of the place. Having visited elements like the Anne Frank House previously (pictured above) it was an opportunity to see how these places wove into the wider story of Amsterdam.

One of the coolest bits of the tour had to be when we headed out towards the Ij, the huge body of water to the rear of the railway station. It's vast - I was reminded of the huge grey sweep of the Hudson, in New York. Nothing like the small city rivers of the UK I've seen (although there are some big ones!).

I'm so glad we opted to explore Amsterdam with canal boat and would recommend it to anyone visiting the city!

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One World Observatory

When we were planning our visit to New York this year, we knew we definitely wanted to pay our respects at the 9/11 memorial fountains, and to visit the viewing deck at the One World Observatory, at the very top of the One World Trade Center.

Before we visited the site, we happened upon O'Hara's, an Irish bar a stone's throw from the site of the original World Trade Center towers. This pub became a real hub for first responders in the days, weeks and months after 9/11, and the walls are festooned with badges from police, firemen, paramedics, coastguards and other first responders from around the world who had made the journey there to pay their respects to their fallen comrades. We spent a couple of hours sipping beer and chatting with the barstaff, as well as leafing through the albums they kept, charting the events and aftermath of the awful attacks on September 11th, 2001. I'm so glad we got to spend a little time in the unique gem of a spot.

After our time at O'Hara's we headed over to the north and south tower memorials. These fountains are placed where the foundations for the fallen towers had been. This was incredibly moving - even in the midst of a busy city like New York, the spot had a solemn serenity. I don't think anyone who can recall 9/11 will ever forget seeing those events unfold, and it was heartbreaking to be in a space where so many had lost their lives. I was grateful for the chance to go and pay my respects.

Once we had spent a little while at the memorial, we walked the small distance to the One World Trade Center, to take the lift up to the Observatory. The lift takes just 60 seconds to speed you up to the 100th floor, which is quite the feat of engineering.

Even though it was a fairly overcast day, we still got to enjoy some amazing views of the city and its surroundings.

Everywhere you looked there was another concrete-and-steel marvel to gape over!

The details on some of the buildings and bridges were really something to behold from this unique viewpoint.

Even hailing from a city like London, I've never visited a place as vertical and modern as New York!

Being so high up you truly got a sense of the scale and sweep of the city.

After a good hour or so of looking out at the amazing views, we took the elevator back down to street level, and I captured the shot below, which I think gives a good sense of just how tall this building is!

I loved the view of the city I got from the One World Observatory and would really recommend a visit to anyone travelling to New York.

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Amtrak: NYC to Boston

When deciding on how to travel from New York to Boston on our latest USA trip, we had several options. We could fly, drive, take a bus, or take the train. As neither of us had taken a train in the US before, we decided to opt for the latter. The train from NYC to Boston is fairly swift (around 4 hours) and we booked onto first class for a little extra space too.

We were excited to experience train travel in another country and I was especially looking forward to seeing Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts as we whizzed by - the train line wends its way north along the coastline and I was excited to see the Atlantic from a new vantage point.

We journeyed down to Penn Station with our suitcases and perched in the lounge to await our train. The station is absolutely vast, with escalators and corridors going every which way! I was really grateful we had a porter to help us find our train and carriage as otherwise who knows what journey we may have ended up on.

Our travel day was clear and warm, with beautiful skies. It was lovely to look back at the city as we left the five boroughs behind and made our way onwards. The seats were comfortable and the air conditioning welcome, and we soon got comfy and read our books and played a little Uno as we travelled through the industrial belt just outside of New York City proper.

Lunch was either a light meal (curry or a sandwich), a late breakfast platter, or cheese. I enjoyed nibbling on some cheese as we barreled through the countryside - ever the turophile!

The views as we traveled along the Connecticut and Rhode Island coasts were absolutely stunning. Blue skies and sparkling ocean stretched out for as far as the eye could see. Posses of sailboats and charming houses punctuated the scenery.

The pictures don't truly do it justice (we were moving at a fair clip, hence the blur, and shooting through windows is always tricky), but it was so lovely to see a part of the world we would have missed entirely had we flown.

I was especially charmed to speed through Mystic, Connecticut - setting of one of my favourite chick flicks ever, the eighties delight that is Mystic Pizza

Our journey went brilliantly...until we reached Providence, Rhode Island. There, problems on the line meant our entire train had to disembark, and wait for a half hour before boarding the municipal train (think London Overground) on the Boston. Rather a shock to the system with big suitcases, and at least two hours added to the journey, but luckily we'd planned in time for any delays so it didn't disrupt us beyond a mild inconvenience. And hey, I can cross another state visited off the list!

I liked the comfort of the Amtrak train and the views were a huge highlight, but the issues and delays would definitely be in my mind were we ever to consider booking again. There are far fewer lines in the East US than here in the UK or in Europe, so when there's an issue, everything seems to fall apart a little.
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I'm Claire, a thirty-something teacher, writer and blogger living in London.