Back from U.S. vacation

Posted on Tue 19 August 2008

It’s been nearly a week now that we came back from our 2 weeks trip to the U.S. This has been very nice, except maybe the plane being delayed for 2 to 3 hours in both directions, and one rainy day. Although a bit of rain can be fun when you’re in vacation an the weather is rather hot!

We visited Washington DC, New York and Boston. This post is about my general impressions, and I plan to post later a series of posts detailing some particular aspects of the cities or the U.S. culture that particularly caught our attention as frenchies.

Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C. Compared to the common idea that us europeans have about U.S. cities, D.C. is flat. This is because of rules that limit the height of buildings there. This city was built from the ground up to host the government and administration, and this reflects a lot in its architecture: massive buildings with greek-style columns and memorial monuments everywhere.

A must-see in Washington D.C. is the Smithsonian Institution: plenty of nice museums on the National Mall that links the White House to the Capitol. We spent a day in the natural history museum that presents a great collection of north-american animals we don’t see often here in Europe, and an amazing collection of minerals, and also visited the Air and Space museum and the American Indians museum.

Being in D.C., we also visited Vadim and his girlfriend Natalia who live near FairFax with their two cats and their ferret. The US residential suburbia is quite different from France and more generally Europe: there are no fences and you can really see what’s in people’s gardens. This probably explains why those garden seem so carefully taken care of: they are the owner’s public image. For us, it was a bit like being on Wisteria Lane :-) Vadim has a very nice house, and is currently working in his basement to add a bedroom, a home theater room, a server room (mandatory in a geek house!) and other recreational rooms. I was impressed by what he’s been up to!

New York

New York, Times SquareArriving in New York at Penn Station coming from Washington D.C. is a kind of shock, as these cities are radically different: D.C. is quiet, flat, clean, with wide streets, New York is crowded, high, quite dirty and incredibly packed. And cabs, cabs, cabs everywhere... The never-ending activity in NY is energizing, but certainly tiring on the long run unless you’ve always lived there. This is probably why new-yorkers are said to be so attached to their city.

We’ve been in most well-known tourist sites there: Empire State building (amazing view!), Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, Metropolitan Museum, MoMA, financial district, Central Park, etc, and generally walking around in lots of different parts of Manhattan. And of course there was the mandatory visit to the Apple Store on 5th avenue!

Being in NY was also the occasion to meet some ex-colleagues from Joost. Always a pleasure to hang out with!


Boston, Quincy MarketNext we took the Fungwah bus to Boston. This company connects Chinatown in NY to Chinatown in Boston, but non-asian can use it as well :-) It’s way cheaper than the train and not that much longer.

Boston is one of the oldest cities in the U.S. and its history has been partly preserved, which makes it interesting for us europeans. The Freedom Trail is a very interesting 2.5 mile walk that goes through the main historical buildings in the old town and explains the U.S. revolution. The old town center around the Quincy Market is nice and lively, with street performers entertaining the crowd.

We also visited the MIT, its museum (nice collection of walking robots) and the amazing Stata center. The New England Aquarium was exhibiting an incredible collection of jelly-fishes. 

This was the first time in the U.S. for my wife and kids, and for me the first real visit as my trips to the U.S. have always been for work or conferences, without having the time to walk around. We bumped into an impressive number of french and italian people, and to a lesser extend german people too. The cheap dollar clearly drives european tourists to the U.S.!

More pictures and comments soon...

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