There I was, ready to embark on an epic journey through the USA, starting with the District of Columbia,
Who would have thought it has already been 19 years since my creative journey to the States. It was my first self-organized trip to the land known to me only from TV and geography classes at school. Now, I have had the opportunity to RE-discover America, my, ambitious, enquiring, yet naive way. So enthusiastically charged to reach places of cultural, political and historical importance.
During such intense travel where you have just 12h to explore one place, people you meet must have made an enormous impact on you to be remembered after so many years. I would put it down to the subject matter of the conversation I had. The more thought-provoking and engaging the deeper it got stuck in my memory.
The great journey began on a fine September day 1999. Last millennium it was. I set off to Washington D.C. t,he capital of U.S.A. The District of Columbia, named after the Christopher Columbus, 15th century Italian explorer who initiated lasting European exploration of Americas.
My visit centred round historical buildings but there was much more to see. With only one day to explore the capital, I focused my attention on the National Mall. Let’s pay a visit to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, shall we? Here I was in the White House walking down the hall, blue room, etc. I had the privilege of being in one of the most powerful houses in the world. I brought with me preconceived image of the WH should look like, mainly from the literature and TV movies. The tourist section was just that, glamorous, official and tidy. What was going on behind closed doors we will never know. Impressed I was and complete with knowledge about the residence and workplace of American Presidents since John Adams in 1800.
Strict security rules applied regarding photos and videos but still manage to snap a shot of the outside and inside. Unfortunately, a number of photos were lost throughout time but those we were recovered help me keep the memories fresh. I agree it is all relative and what capture the attention of one traveler can easily be ignored and forgotten by the other. To me, as a student it was an invaluable experience which change the perception of how media portray official residences.
THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Also the Capitol and Washington Monument fall in the same category. Fascinating experience to enjoy a picnic at the footsteps of the meeting place of the United States Congress, the legislature of the U.S. federal government, and chat with the locals.
Time was of the essence, there were still places to go, people to see. On such intense trip time management and budgeting is crucial. Resting time on the bus to be able with full awareness and concentration to grasp the beauty of each place in their own right. The safe deposition of my baggage during daily exploration was sorted conveniently with the access to huge lockers located at most bus or train stations. For just 2 dollars you could store your belongings safely for 24h. How handy. After long and exhausting, yet enthralling day, I would retire to my seat on any bus I wished to embark thanks to the great 21 day BusPass. Only to wake up in another city, often a hundreds of miles away. Next Stop Chicago!
This time I ensured a decent bed and a proper meal await me in the evening. The motel I stayed in offered a spa and swimming pool, too. That’s exactly what I needed to recuperate. Loaded with energy and excitement I went out to explore the city. Tall glass buildings, lovely weather and
interesting people, including the two young girls who happily would take photos of themselves using my camera. They were not shy in their campaign of self promotion. While tucking in a sandwich at the foot of Sears Tower I remember some Japanese bloke asking for directions. Nice guy with an mysterious nick name Jaw. We exchanged tips on what was worth visiting and avoiding.
When I thought of Chicago theme, crime movies and biggest American Polonia came to mind.
Obviously there was more to it. Strolling down the streets of Chicago I saw among those business buildings there was a group of Jamaican musicians playing live music on a provisional stage, right in the centre of the “Wall Street”. I could see all those business people in expensive suits enjoying their lunch with a pint of beer in one hand and some papers in the other. The clash of two cultures. Power and Freedom.
The sunset is nigh I had better make a move to the motel to collect my possessions and hop on the bus going to the Plains. Hello Nebraska, Iowa Colorado I am coming. An overnight bus will transport me comfortably to the places hundreds of miles away. What’s next? Denver, Colorado.
Chicago, officially the City of Chicago is situated in the Midwest, on Lake Michigan in the state of Illinois.
The sunset is nigh I had better make a move to the motel to collect my possessions and hop on the bus going to the Plains. Hello Nebraska, Iowa Colorado I am coming. An overnight bus will transport me comfortably to the places hundreds of miles away.
That was probably the longest uninterrupted bus travel to my next destination. I remember mountains, plateaus, plains, passes and wide roads. The coach drivers, for some strange reason, have always picked the inns with McDonalds and Wendy’s diners nearby. At that time it worked form me pretty well. I ensured my diet is balanced but you could not deny the positive side of a massive 5 dollar meal of Big Mac, large portion of French fries and 0.7l Coke. That kept me for almost all day. Somewhere in Iowa it was. Another stopover and 30min rest. All of a sudden, I heard a commotion in the front of the bus. Two youngsters were elbowing their way to the back. An elderly lady raised her criticism and the rest shared her opinion. The two got aggregated and picked on me for all their life failures, I presume. Believe it or not, they had threatened to kill me at their earliest convenience. Their threats were never put into action. As a matter of fact, we later dine at the same table in Wendey’s. To preoccupied to plan my next leg of the trip to worry about the fatal consequences that encounter of the fifth kind.
We approached the city of Denver in Colorado State. One day to explore. The Mint Museum, Federal Reserve Bank visited and a few monuments photographed. Highlights of the Money Museum include a display of $30 million in cash, displays of historical U.S. currency, various interactive exhibits and a station where you can design your own money. Visitors to the Money Museum also receive a bag of actual U.S. dollar bills that has been shredded by the bank because it is no longer fit for circulation. I rounded up the day with a nice meal from a local diner. I forgot the name though.
The sunset is nigh I had better make a move to the motel to collect my possessions and hop on the bus going to the Plains. Hello Nebraska, Iowa, Utah and Colorado, I am coming. An overnight bus will transport me comfortably to the places hundreds of miles away.
Known for its landscape of cornfields and rolling fields, Iowa is the Midwestern U.S. state located between Missouri and Mississippi rivers, with the capital, Des Moines.
Denver, the capital of Colorado, is an American metropolis dating to the Old West era. It has many nationally recognized museums, including the Denver Art Museum, the second largest Performing Arts Center in the nation after Lincoln Center in New York City and bustling neighborhoods such as LoDo, filled with art galleries, restaurants, bars and clubs.
Okey, here I was in the city of lights, Las Vegas, but no photo has been saved from this magical place. I however remember the glamor, flash lights, limousines, expensive attire, awfully wealthy visitors to the huge casinos, hotels, restaurants. I didn’t get dragged in to one of those roulette houses, would that be my scrappy trousers, T-shirt and trainers that gave away my financial status? Las Vegas a city built in desert draw in people from all over the world.
Las Vegas, located in Mojave Desert, is the most populated city in the state of Nevada. It is famously known for its vibrant nightlife and casinos.
Another night bus. Again sleeping while sitting but with something to anticipate. Next stop was no other city but Los Angeles. A meeting place for me and my German friend, Christian. Excited as I was, before setting off to Beverly Hills, I needed to secure accommodation for a night. That was one of the finest motels I had the pleasure to stay at. For just 31 dollars a night I had at my disposal the following: small apartment with massive lounge, big TV, bigger mirrors, one bedroom with king size bed, bathroom with a shower and bath, mini bar.
Once I had unpacked my luggage I went out to enjoy an indoor swimming pool with a huge fountain, Jacuzzi and another mini bar. Unfortunately, I was so exhausted I was not able to enjoy these luxuries and after a quick drink by the pool bar I went back to my room to rest for tomorrow.
The following day Christian and his American family picked me up from the motel and we drove up somewhere in the outskirts of L.A. I cannot recall the name of the town, roughly 30 miles from Hollywood. The plan had already been sketched. We drove up to Seattle to see our friend Alexandra and together do some sightseeing. The road trip proved to be a fantastic experience. Our means of transport was a classic metallic black Chevrolet Camaro made in late 80s. It is such a pity that I did not manage to shoot a single photo of this remarkable piece of machine.
Anyway, we were ready to go. Oil and fuel checked, rucksacks packed, cameras filled. After several hours of driving we reached San Francisco. One, if not the most favourite city in USA. This place definitely has a unique atmosphere with its history and culture, but not only that. I wished I had devoted more time to this city, or preferably stayed there much longer immersing into local life. For now, we had two days to explore. The bay area, steep hills, Alcatraz Island and Chinatown is what I remember vividly.
Known for its Mediterranean climate, ethnic diversity and sprawling metropolis, Los Angeles, nicknamed the City of Angels, is the largest and most populous city in California.
Chinatown in San Francisco was the most authentic Chinese town. It had magic to it. You felt like being teleported to real China. I think I got myself I little statue of Buddha or something, and definitely Chinese take away. We didn’t manage to secure the ticket to Alcatraz but the view was intriguing enough, and we had seen the Rock movie. That had to suffice. It was just a touch of this beautiful city, its architecture, people, terrain. The most enthralling 48h in S.F.
Known for its iconic Golden Gate Bridge, majestic victorian houses, San Francisco is surrounded by the Pacific and S.F. Bay.
Further up the West Coast we were welcome by to city of Portland in Oregon State. Again as we arrived in the evening we only took the stroll down the streets, visited Chinese gardens and went back to chill with a beer by the pool of our motel. The next morning we met up with some locals for a vintage car show. Magnificent beasts were these cars. 13 feet long and two doors, these machines often served as somebody’s mobile home. Pink Cadillac springs to mind.
Situated on the Columbia an Willamette rivers, Portland is Oregon’s largest city with its beautifully snowy Mount Hood and iconic Washington Park.
We are getting closer to our final destination, Seattle in Washington State. Weather conditions were not too favourable but it did not affect our mood. All of us were anticipating a great time. Well, I was getting excited with every minute. After reaching the top of Needle Tower and enjoying the foggy weather which ultimately limited the view of the city we proceeded to the Lake View Cemetery to pay tribute to some notables, namely William Grose – second black citizen of Seattle, and of course, Bruce and Brandon Lee.
It all depends on priorities. For any Bruce Lee fan, it was a place of worship. For me at the time, it was. As a avid fan of martial arts, visiting the resting place of Bruce and Brandon Lee, the tragically died martial artists, the visit had special meaning and almost religious dimension. I had only known them from the silver screen, and now had the opportunity to personally pay tribute and respect for their, dedication, determination and contribution to promoting a healthy lifestyle ad philosophy of the martial arts… without a fight.
Tombstones of the father and son were beautifully decorated with iconic words engraved. One would argue whether these two made a history or contributed significantly to the society. The fact is that their achievements impactex on many people’s lives. The success on the screen translated into change in the attitude of thousands of young peole in those times. Many took to the karate clubs, sports centres and healthy food outlets. Bruce Lee’s motto to success was focus on the process and on the end result.
Whatever you do in your life, whatever dream you pursue, do not be too concerned whether you succeed or lose, just enjoy the chase and learn from mistakes. The end result will soon come. The tribute had been paid, flowers laid down. Time to leave. Before departing, we managed to drop by to Olympia, the capital. Emotional trip came to an end. Everyone had a great time. Farewell bid. We were ready to return home. Back to Los Angeles for more fun.
The state of Washington sits in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States of America. The capital is Olimpia and the largest city is Seattle.
As for the famous Hollywood part of the L.A., I had the opportunity to participate in a TV show with a homely name – Hollywood Square. A talk show with me, my German companion Christian, and one American family in the audience, and such celebrities as Antonio Banderas, Woopie Goldberg, Melanie Griffith, producer Robert Wagne, and two more, which names I struggle to remember. To be honest, I don’t remember much of what was going on. Most of it was staged, applause on request, and dancing competition of some sorts. It was fun, though. I even managed to fetch one of those freebies, T-shirts. It was in Los Angeles, and my traveling companion was a guy from Germany, whom I had met while doing Camp USA, at Family Resort. Tickets were arranged by that American family whom Christian was staying with.
We were comfortably sat in the front rows and awaited the movie stars to appear. Believe or not, I found the show too rehearsed and distant. I didn’t know what got into me, but I went for the dancing competition for the audience. There were four participants, me and…three girls. As crazy as it sounds, I knew I stood no chance of winning, or probably taking seriously. At that time, I just felt it was the right thing to do to spice up my trip with something ridiculously stupid. Only later did I realise the magnitude of confusion my performance caused to my companions.
Entering California State by car was fantastic experience in itself. At the state border we were greeted by an officer with big black sun glasses handing in a map and wishing us a safe journey and a pleasant stay.
We organised two days out to L.A. One was centred round Hollywood area with Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, Chinese Theatre and Walk of Fame in mind. It happened to be the premiere day for Double Jeopardy movie. So celebrities, fans and touts offering tickets to various TV shows were aplenty. Considering that L.A. owns hundreds if not thousands of actors waiting for the breakthrough. These were taxi drivers, waitresses, shop assistants, cleaners, etc. All with a hope to become a movie star of some sort. Ironically, their struggle to fame were often depicted in the movies, as if to give extra inspiration. We decided to be part of it by visiting Universal Studios and take a closer look in the movie making process. What we see as a finished project in the cinema, sitting comfortably with a Coke and popcorn, we often do not realise the amount of hard work put into each movie production.
Every time a different movie theme awaited visitors. We had our own Water World with Kevin Costner. The tour included behind the scene element of special effect creation. Learning how the earthquakes, floods, volcano eruptions, hurricanes, fires are made, we shifted our perception. We realised the amount of specialists involved in the process was enormous. With Water World scenery I felt like a child to never want to go back to the real life. Adventure after adventure. It was an extraordinary experience for 35 dollars. I think I also purchased some souvenirs, probably some trinkets.
Universal Studios was a fabulous place for any family, just like Disneyland. Kids were overjoyed. So was I, exclaiming – wow, that was awesome!
That was it. I have set foot on US West Coast. Sadly, it was time to part our company. Christian were soon to return home to his native Germany and I was heading to the South. The next stop was Dallas, Texas.
That was it. I have set foot on US West Coast. Sadly, it was time to part our company. Christian were soon to return home to his native Germany and I was heading to the South. The next stop was Dallas, Texas.
Well I knew what I wanted to see, or rather, what I want to participate in. The priority was to learn as much as possible about the assassination of President Kennedy. The famous library which supposedly the fatal shots were fired from by Lee Harvey Oswald and the entire route of the journey President made on that that November day had to be scrutinised. Not to mention, the interviews with local people what they think about this tragic event.
I arrived there in the evening, checked into the hotel and went to a local McDolnalds for a meal. I remember it well, because I happened to have been a witness to a intense exchange of opinions between a MacDonalds’ customer and an assistant about the quality of the burger just served. The discussion turned into a brawl and the manger had to be called for. He had defused the situation as quickly. It is worth mentioning that she who initiated the brawl was a white woman and the manager was of Afro American origin. I found myself in the crossfire, and ended up being served by the very same manager. The meal was very tasty and cost me mere $4.
The next day I followed the route of the late President Kennedy’s. What an experience! However, many details escaped my memory, but the photos always refresh my memory. A visit to the book store, memorial by the road with the famous yellow cross mark on it to immortalise the tragedy. If I remember correctly, a local newspaper seller pointed to the hideout were the imaginary second shooter had its spot. Just behind the wooden fence. The photos show exactly where. His hypothetical course of events was intriguing.
Dallas is a city that will probably be associated with this single event. At least to me. What really happened, we’ll find out probably in 50 years. Loaded with another dose of knowledge about the history of the United States, full of excitement, I chilled out with a few other tourists I had met there. Next stop – Atlanta, Georgia – the World of Coca Cola.
Dallas, located in North Texas, is prominent for its historical importance as a center for the oil and cotton industries.
Loaded with another dose of knowledge about the history of the United States, full of excitement, I chilled out with a few other tourists I had met there. Next stop – Atlanta, Georgia – the World of Coca Cola.
I started with the Centennial Olympic Park to cool off my emotions only to proceed to the Coca Cola museum where the production process of the world’s most recognisable drink is displayed. I’m not a huge fan of this drink and only have had it occasionally, but the story behind this mysterious recipe was tempting. Tasting different flavours of Coca Cola was worth the admission fee. Once I had quenched my thirst, I was prepared for another chunk of US history. The Martin Luther King Jr Center for Non Violent Social Change did just that. His immortal speech – I have a dream has resonated throughout decades. Situated on 449 Auburn Avenue, the place offered the emotional exhibition, a gallery and more.
What was equally fascinating was the fact that on that day I seemd to have been the only white man in the District. A Caucasian in light grey tracksuit and a white T- shirt I certainly stood out from the crowd. Nonetheless, the black locals were friendly and willing to chat. I remember that I asked them for directions to the place which brought a smile on their proud faces. Emotional experience, learning the dark side of racial segregation in the 60s and the Martin Luther King Jr struggle. A true legend.
Of other places of interest can add a visit to the headquarters of CNN, and accommodation in a luxury hotel, just a few hundred yards away. I remember that I had a photo somewhere with a can of Budweiser. After a day of sightseeing, beer in front of the TV was a real pleasure.
The sunset is nigh I had better make a move to the motel to collect my possessions and hop on the bus going to the Plains. Hello Nebraska, Iowa, Utah and Colorado, here I come. An overnight bus will transport me comfortably to the places hundreds of miles away.
That was probably the longest uninterrupted bus travel to my next destination. I remember mountains, plateaus, plains, passes and wide roads. The coach drivers, for some strange reason, have always picked the inns with McDonalds and Wendy’s diners nearby.
At that time it worked form me pretty well. I ensured my diet is balanced but you could not deny the positive side of a massive 5 dollar meal of Big Mac, large portion of French fries and 0.7l Coke. That kept me for almost all day. Somewhere in Iowa it was. Another stopover and 30min rest. All of a sudden, I heard a commotion in the front of the bus.
Two youngsters were elbowing their way to the back. An elderly lady raised her criticism and the rest shared her opinion. The two got aggregated and picked on me for all their life failures, I presume. Believe it or not, they had threatened to kill me at their earliest convenience. Their threats were never put into action. As a matter of fact, we later dine at the same table in Wendey’s. To preoccupied to plan my next leg of the trip to worry about the fatal consequences that encounter of the fifth kind. What’s next? Denver, Colorado!
Atlanta is the capital of Georgia, the southern state of U.S. It is attracted by its rich history from the Civil War and Civil Rights movement but also by classic views of magnolias and plantations.
The southern states of America have a lot of beautiful places to offer, such as New Orleans, the birthplace of Jazz. Unfortunately, time was limited and I had to shot off to catch a Greyhound bus to Miami, my next destination. A long and tiring journey was filled with astounding views from the window. This time I was not admiring the beauty of nature.
I was witnessing the true poverty of the Miami suburbs. Dilapidated properties with ragged clothed children sitting aimlessly on the porches. Eventually, we reached the Miami bus station, quite close to the bay area, with memory serves me right. From rugs to riches in just 20 minute walk.
Nearby there was a marina with one of the most luxury yacht one could find. What a contrast! It was scorching weather. Humidity was almost unbearable. I had a nice place book at the motel. Big room with a shower. 30 minute’s rest, change of clothes and there I was, ready for another portion of American life. Unfortunately, it only took 5 minute for my T-shirt to become sweaty. No time for whinging though.
There was a fine American Police Hall of Fame and Museum to be visited. The museum displayed the attitude towards a crime and punishment. You could for a moment try to walk in death row inmates’ shoes but getting close and personal with the killing machines. The electric chair, gas chamber, guillotine, cells, all at your disposal, so to speak. Additionally, you could learn a bit or two about the crime scene investigation. Definitely, not for heart fainted but still highly recommended.
Miami, the city in South Florida, is located between the Everglades to the West and Biscayne Bay to the East. Miami is a center in the art, culture, commerce, media, entertainment and international trade.
t’s almost the end of my journey. The Big Apple moment is nigh. Again, wonderful Greyhound transported me without any major interruption to the city of New York. It was truly the icing on the cake.
Before I go into details about my NY affair, let me add one surreal episode to my story. When still in Vermont I had met a girl from NY on live chat. I think I mistook her for somebody else and although initially reluctant we somehow developed our acquaintance to the point of exchanging emails. She was a Romanian girl currently living in New York, doing some work experience in a law firm, or something. I did not think much of it until I got an email exactly as I was on my last leg of US journey. Yes, we met in town and took to each other. The relationship had not developed further but we have remained good friends since.
Who would have thought that people appear in your life unexpectedly. It is said that N.Y. has so many lonely people, struggling with their career, trying to better their lives, and here we have accidental email that could turn some one’s life in two shakes of the lamb’s tail. So unintendedly. Okey, enough of this melodrama. Let’s go through all places of my NY exploration. We had famous Time Square, the now non-existing World Trade Center, Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, to name just a few.
From the bus station I took a taxi to the nearest YMCA hostel. Unfortunately but predictably there were no vacancies. I could not find anything under 100 dollars per night. The budget was tight and the last thing I wanted was saying goodbye to the banknotes saved for entrance tickets and food. So desperate was I that in my madness I even considered sleep under the bridge. The weather was favourable. Just kidding. I was excitingly enthusiastic. It always pays off. A persistent search for accommodation resulted in victory. For 30 dollars I secured myself a small room within Time Square area. However, it was not all glory. The room windows faced the walls of another building obstructing the view totally. There were laud noises in the hallway, screaming and shouting was not uncommon. Despite of this drawback I still managed to get the vitals. Clean and comfy bed, deposit box with a lock, a hot running water with shower. The only concern of mine was time, now running out at worrying speed. Four days and so much of the NY city to embrace. Quick estimate of my finances showed I could afford access to most of important historic and cultural sites.
Too many years have gone by to be able to remember the sequence of all visited places. What was worth being remembered stuck with me and was immortalised on photos.
Let’s start from the Statue of Liberty and Ell is Island. Always fascinated was I with the idea behind the location. The photos were taken with a traditional Olympus camera and were repeatedly recovered and scanned. The quality leaves a lot to be desired.
A visit to the crown of the statue was one of remarkable ones. To be honest, I vaguely remember how I got there. I know that tourist boats operated there. It was not so crowded at that time. The views from the head of this iconic figure will remain with me forever. At the bottom of the Statue of Liberty the following is written “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door” by Emma Lazarus (1849-1887). It was in the opening speech when the Statue was opened.
The size and height of many historic buildings, such as the now non-existent WTC, or the Empire State Building took another dimension. As I stood at the entrance to the WTCs they look so dramatically gigantic, the view was breath taking. In contrast, from the Statue of Liberty grounds they were barely visible among other skyscrapers. The distance plays its part, but after all, what we see in advertising folders is never a true image. Still impressive!
Regarding the tragic WTC towers, similar feeling permeated me when standing on the rooftop. The Statue of Liberty was somehow lost, so small, surrounded by land masses. I consider myself lucky if I may say so, that I have been there, just two years before the attack. I do not remember how I got there, though, probably a lift, but I was prepared to climb up the stairs if necessary. If I remember correctly on the ground floor there was a gallery, depicting the history and development of these famous office buildings.
Of course, I did not fail to visit American Museum of Immigration on Ellis Island. I remember that there was a lecture conducted for tourists, regarding the history and development. Years of post-war mass emigration to the USA is long gone. But it seems that in those days people were truly seeking a “better life”, the new life – free from persecution and poverty. The first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island was Annie Moore, a 15-year-old girl from Cork, Ireland, who arrived on the ship Nevada on January 1, 1892. She and her two brothers were coming to America to meet their parents, who had moved to New York two years prior. She received a greeting from officials and a $10 gold piece. It was the largest sum of money she had ever owned. The last person to pass through Ellis Island was a Norwegian merchant seaman by the name of Arne Peterssen in 1954.
I also paid a visit the Empire State Building, and United Nations Headquarters. Both buildings are important historically and politically. In my conception of Empire State Building, it always reminded of the great ape climbing to the top in the 1933 cult King Kong movie. UN Headquarters seemed to have always associated with a place where the General Assembly undertook important decisions, regarding maintain long lasting peace in the world. Although these visits made an huge impression on me, my views has not changed significantly. Surely, there must have been some naivety, but also a sense of security to it. We live in a world of great power and influence and even bigger money. If you would like peace and prevent atrocities from repeating, it should be sufficient to show companionship and recognition for another human being. Important things have small beginnings, I would say, let’s start in our own backyard.
There are many places that I’ve not had the privilege to see in America. However, this virgin trip opened my eyes to the world around me and become the travel bug to explore more and more. Ignorance causes fear and fear causes hatred. Only by exploring different cultures can we be more tolerant and open-minded, and as a result, make more informed decisions about the best course of action. To be continued…
New York City has its origins to a trading post founded by colonists from the Dutch Republic in 1624 in Lower Manhattan; the post was named New Amsterdam in 1626. The five boroughs the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan, Brooklyn and Staten Island became one city in 1898.