In the summer of 2000, we visited the USA for the third time. I got a work assignment in Stamford, Connecticut. The assignment started on July 17 and lasted for six weeks. It was an excellent experience for career development, but it was also great fun to revisit the U.S. and see many different places in many states. Americans call it a tour of duty. I believe this illustrates pretty well what these three weeks were about.
I arrived at JFK airport on a Finnair flight from Helsinki. I was met by the limo service, which drove me to the house called Biltmore in Stamford, CT, which was my home for the next six weeks.
This time we visited Connecticut, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and New York states.
Stamford, CT, is a beautiful small town. At least we felt so. The facts show that there are more than 110 thousand inhabitants, which is not very small. It is situated in Fairfield County, Connecticut, USA.
Stamford was incorporated as a city at the end of the 19th century. Stamford has very few historic buildings. The reason might be the massive urban redevelopment campaign during the 1970s that changed the face of the downtown. Stamford has no skyscrapers, but the office buildings are modern and fancy.
There was a big shopping center between the office I worked at and the apartment house we lived in—the Stamford Town Center. Macy’s, GAP, Timberland, Limited Too, Casual Corner, Dress Barn, and many other shops are our favorites in the U.S. It is unnecessary to add that we have visited this center many times. It seems to me that there are constant discounts in shops.
We were interested in the beaches nearby as it was summer. Locals suggested Jones Beach, which was two hours away by car. It would be best if you always considered traffic jams when driving in the New York City metro area. And because of that, visiting beaches after work days was impossible. And also, the weather was rather cold, rainy, and cloudy. Locals said that this had been quite an exceptional summer.
The beaches close to Stamford are stony. We took one evening for a short trip to a nearby beach. This was not such a fascinating experience.
One evening, we went to see greyhound racing at Bridgeport Shoreline Star. We did not know what to expect from that event. It was interesting to see the dogs and the people who were betting on them.
A quick trip from Stamford to Niagara Falls
One weekend, it was possible to take Friday off when we visited Niagara Falls. From Stamford to Niagara Falls, it is 460 miles (740km). As Friday was free, we started our trip on Thursday evening. On the way, we encountered heavy rain and a thunderstorm—although it should have been daylight, it was dark because of the thunderstorm.
With the accommodation, it was like our previous experiences in the USA: decide when you want to stop, take a break in the rest area, find the coupon book, and most likely, find a decent motel for approximately 40-50USD.
The whole Friday was almost driving. We made several stops. We viewed Lake Ontario. We stopped at one factory outlet. We also visited a winery.
At around 7 PM, we arrived in Niagara Falls. We found the motel, had dinner and then decided to walk towards the falls. We were lucky and came near the falls precisely during every Friday’s fireworks. It was awesome.
Saturday surprised us with beautiful weather-absolutely no clouds. So, we spent the whole day at Niagara Falls State Park and enjoyed several attractions. Niagara Falls comprises several spectacular waterfalls. Therefore, there is a lot to see.
One thing we suggest you try is the famous Maid of the Mist. This is a 30-minute boat ride that will take you very close to the falls. I believe this is as close as you dare to get. We had blue raincoats, which were needed, as it was wet.
Another attraction we tried was the Cave of the Winds, where we experienced the thundering power of the mighty Niagara. We were surprised at how close to the falls we got by walking. But again, there is an excellent possibility of getting wet and damaging the camera. There was also a suggestion to try the cave out after sunset, we did not try, but I believe it might be quite an exciting experience.
Interesting facts about Niagara Falls:
- Niagara Falls carries 20% of the world’s freshwater, more than any other waterfall.
- The Niagara River is not a river at all; it is a straight connection between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario;
- Niagara is only 12 000 years old, making it a geological baby.
- The American “brink” is 1060 feet long and 176 feet high—one hundred fifty million gallons of water tumble over its edge each second.
- The Horseshoe Falls are 2600 feet across their brink and 167 feet high. Each second, 600,000 gallons of water fall from its brink.
The Saturday weather was so different from what we have had so far. We just breathed in the warmth and sun in the park at Niagara Falls. Our legs were so tired at one point that we just laid back on the grass and sunbathed.
Then going back to Sunday, the weather changed again. It was cloudy and closer to NYC, it even started to rain, and we saw real thunderstorms. As with such weather, it was impossible to enjoy nature, so we spent a break in the outlet center in New Jersey.
A quick trip from Stamford to Washington, D.C.
On the weekend, we took a trip to Washington, D.C. We started our journey on Friday afternoon. First, we drove through NYC, which was quite busy then. But the driving was much smoother after the city, on the Interstate. We made some stops in rest areas and found accommodation in a cozy motel near Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C., welcomed us with hot weather. So far, the weather has been mostly cloudy and rainy; the sun has added a lot of value to the trip. Saturday morning in Washington, DC, is busy. We entered the city at 11 AM, but it was already challenging to find a parking spot near the center, where all the famous attractions are. But somehow, we managed.
We wanted to see the usual tourist attractions, such as the White House, the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, and Arlington Cemetery.
First, we went to the White House. The White House is the official residence and principal workplace of the President of the USA. The White House is a white-painted, neoclassical sandstone mansion located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. in Washington, D.C. The White House was a hot topic at that time due to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Hordes of tourists (Americans and foreigners) stood in line to see the Oval Room. We did not do that but just walked in the park and enjoyed the scenery. If you want to go inside, you must know when you can take a tour. But still, even walking around makes you think – is it true that you can just walk next to the house where the American President lives?
After the White House, we walked towards the Lincoln Memorial. The weather was scorching. We passed the fountains and felt that some refreshment was needed. If Forrest Gump was allowed to jump into the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln Memorial, we thought he should be allowed to cool off in one of Washington’s many fountains. This was good!
The most famous attractions are the National Mall—an open-area national park in downtown Washington, D.C., and so is the Lincoln Memorial. The Lincoln Memorial (on the extended axis of the National Mall) is a United States Presidential Memorial built for Abraham Lincoln. The building is in the form of a Greek Doric temple and contains a large seated sculpture of Lincoln and inscriptions of two well-known speeches by Lincoln. The memorial has been the site of many famous speeches, including Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered on August 28, 1963.
After that, we walked toward the Capitol. The United States Capitol serves as the home of Congress. It is on top of Capitol Hill at the east end of the National Mall. If you come at the right time, you can meet members of Congress and go inside. At any time, you can walk around in the garden.
We passed the National Gallery of Art on the way to the Capitol. We did not have time to go inside, but even the building outside made us want to visit it. So you should make time for that.
We also went to Arlington Cemetery before leaving warm Washington, D.C. Veterans from all the nation’s wars are interred in the cemetery, from the American Revolution through the military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq. The view is awe-inspiring.
On the way back from Washington, D.C., we also stopped in Philadelphia. The city was beautiful, but I think we were so fully loaded with impressions from Washington that we could not breathe in real feelings from that city. This needs another trip.
Our weekend in Washington, D.C., was perfect if you have something to claim, so you should take more time, if possible.
A quick trip from Stamford to New York City
New York City, one of the world’s greatest metropolises, is about 30 miles from Stamford, CT. By car, it takes two hours, and by train, 45 minutes. The first time we visited New York by car was Saturday, and the traffic was light. Still, it wasn’t comfortable because the parking is expensive and it is impossible to avoid traffic jams.
After we parked our car, we went into the city. This was so great – we felt the atmosphere of multicultural New York. We used the metro and drove to Times Square station. The first view of Times Square was awe-inspiring.
At Times Square, we found the Times Square Brewery to have dinner at. The steak was tasty and juicy. We also tried a famous beer sampler and had a New York Cheesecake for dessert.
After the first visit, we visited New York City several times and tried several attractions. The ones mentioned below we really enjoyed and therefore also recommend to everyone else.
We went to see “Cabaret” and “Kiss Me, Kate” on Broadway. The first one usually feels the most impressive, and that’s what happened. We bought the tickets from the TKTs at Times Square, as they are sold cheaper there. Cabaret was played at Studio 54. From the moment we walked through the door of Studio 54, the atmosphere changed. It indeed was the 1930s Berlin Club. Although the story was familiar, the music and singers were unforgettable. I think that was my best musical experience ever. After the break, the emcee (played by Vance Avey) chose me to come to the stage. So, I danced with him on the Broadway stage.
The Rockefeller Center is a monument to American architecture. With office space, stores, restaurants, a theater, and other entertainment facilities, as well as underground walkways, the skyscraper is a model of the commercial world. When we were there, Jeff Koons’ Puppy stood in front of the Rockefeller Center. This sculpture was like a floral giant with more than 70 thousand plants. According to its author, the puppy symbolizes “love, warmth, and happiness.” This contemporary masterpiece is a triumph of scale, color, and materials. Rockefeller Center is like a city within a city and worth seeing.
One day, after work, we went to New York City to visit the Empire State Building, the world’s tallest building from 1931 to 1972. We could see it on a working day as the Observatory was open until midnight. Even on a Tuesday evening, the landmark was very busy with tourists. When we were at the top, at the 86th-floor Observatory (located 320 meters above NYC’s bustling streets), we understood why – the view was magnificent.
Interesting facts about the Empire State Building:
- Construction was completed in one year and 45 days
- It has 6500 windows
- There are 1860 steps and 73 elevators
- It is one of the buildings that was completed below budget. The initial estimated cost (including land) was $50 million. The actual price was $41 million.
We like boat rides. So, to see more of Manhattan, we took the Manhattan Cruise. There are many tour operators. We chose the Circle Line for no particular reason. Afterward, we were delighted with the choice. This cruise showed the grandeur of New York on a two-hour city highlights tour. We truly enjoyed magnificent views of the world’s premier skyline. The ship sailed down the Hudson River, cruised around the Battery, up the East River, and under the Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Williamsburg Bridges to the United Nations and back. If you want to do the same, start from Pier 83 at 42nd Street on the Hudson River.
As New York is famous for its stock markets, we could not miss Nasdaq and NYSE. They are both open to the public, although the experience is different as they are themselves. As Nasdaq is an electronic stock market, you will see only the lights and numbers, but as they say, this is the future of the global stock market. You cannot miss the place in the heart of Manhattan, Times Square.
The New York Stock Exchange nicknamed the “Big Board,” is the largest stock exchange in the world by dollar volume and the second largest by the number of companies listed. In contrast to Nasdaq, where we saw an actual trading floor. It was interesting to see that there is one specific location on the trading floor where each listed stock trades. The NYSE is open to the public during its working hours from Monday to Friday, 9:00 AM–5:00 PM. The entrance is free.
Of course, we could not leave New York City without visiting the Statue of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty was built in New York Harbor in 1886. A gift from the people of France, the statue is currently one of America’s most endearing monuments and a symbol of freedom. We took a Circle Line boat from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan, and after a 20-minute ride, we were at Liberty Island to enjoy the breathtaking view of the New York City skyline. As the crown was closed, we climbed only to the observatory desk.
There was much more to see and do in New York City, but unfortunately, the time was limited. So, maybe some other time.
A quick trip from Stamford to Rhode Island
After talking with my boss, Mike, we decided to spend a weekend north of Stamford, CT, and hear his suggestions to visit Newport mansions. Our plans included Newport, Rhode Island, and Boston, Massachusetts. Boston is about 200 miles away, and Newport is 160 miles north by I95.
On the way, we made a stop at the historic Nautilus Ship. You will find it at exit 86 on Interstate 95. The admission was free. This submarine force museum is located at the Naval Submarine Base in New London. The USS Nautilus is, of course, decommissioned and open as a museum. At the board, we walked through the main rooms of the submarine; it was tight. We could only imagine how difficult it was to be there.
The next stop was already in Newport, RI. Rhode Island is the smallest state by land area in the United States. We parked our car in the harbor of Newport. Newport has coastlines on the west, south, and east, making it a maritime city. Its docks teem with commercial fishing boats, power, and sailing pleasure crafts. Newport is known as the sailing capital of the United States.
Newport is a very scenic city; we visited it mainly because it is the home of several mansions dating back to the Gilded Age. During the mid-18th century, Newport was at the height of its prosperity as a colonial seaport. Great merchants became patrons of the arts, leaving a legacy of fine Georgian architecture and furniture in Newport’s houses. We got the brochure from the Visitors Center. There was a map in this brochure guiding you to the famous mansions.
The weather was sunny and warm, just perfect for wandering around. When walking on the streets of Newport, you feel the richness in the air. There was also the possibility of riding a trolley to the historic properties. All the mansions are worth seeing and visiting in Newport, but we liked Chateau-sur-Mer, the Elms, and the Breakers.
After the tour of the mansions, we decided to drive toward Boston. We planned to find a motel near Boston and explore the city the next day. Our experience in America with finding a motel has been very successful — the only question has been whether the room will be for $40 or $50. This night was, unfortunately, different. It seemed to us that there were fewer motels than usual in the Boston area. Also, on Saturday night, we did not find any vacant rooms. We found some options to take the hotel room for $150, but we did not think this was a reasonable price just for sleeping seven hours. At 10 PM, it was dark, and we were pretty tired already, so we gave up. As the weather forecast promised rain for the next day, we decided to drive back to Stamford and go to Liberty Island on Sunday.
Traveling around in Connecticut
We were in Stamford, CT, for six weeks due to work. We had free evenings and weekends, so we took advantage of the opportunity to explore New England. Connecticut is a state in the New England region. In terms of per capita income, it is the wealthiest state in the United States. Connecticut is bordered by the Long Island Sound, New York State, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. The state capital is Hartford; other major cities besides Stamford include New Haven, New London, Norwich, Waterbury, Danbury, and Bridgeport.
One weekend, we made a trip to Hartford. It is located on the Connecticut River, near the state’s center. There was a fair going on near the river, and we also found some coffee shops open. In general, I would say the city was quite empty and quiet. We did not find much to do here. Hartford and its environs are “the land of steady habits.” According to Wikipedia, the region has a relatively low population of adults between 18 and 25.
As I played basketball during secondary school and we liked basketball, it was a must to visit the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA. The game was invented here in Springfield in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith. The three-level museum recognizes basketball worldwide at every level, professional and amateur. The museum was fascinating to me, and I believe it should be for every basketball lover to understand and know the history of basketball. Also, there was a good gift shop to take the souvenirs home to the children to promote sports.
Bridgeport is a lovely town worth visiting for an evening walk in the harbor. Bridgeport’s early years were related to fishing and farming, much like other towns in New England. The city’s location on the deep Black Rock Harbor fostered a boom in shipbuilding and whaling in the mid-19th century. But unfortunately, it is not a fishing village anymore; it is pretty industrialized.
We liked Mystic Seaport. It is a fun family destination, full of tall ships and a re-created 19th-century seafaring village. It is also a living history museum that preserves and celebrates America’s maritime heritage. Mystic Seaport has many rare and historic boats you can climb aboard. We did not have children with us, but it would have been an excellent experience for them. There are even several boats you can take a ride on or pilot yourself.
Connecticut has several good shopping opportunities (as in most of the USA). We found Clinton Crossing Premium Outlets near New Haven, Conn. This factory outlet is like a charming New England-style village and includes about 70 different shops. Another outlet center we visited was the Tanger Outlet Center in Westbrook. We like to shop in factory outlets because here the prices of well-known quality brands are about 50% less than in regular shops. There are also rest areas and food corners, so everybody feels comfortable, even if they are already tired from shopping.