From Coast to Shining Coast
Tuesday, June 26 2012
Michelle See-Tho takes us through her travels from city to city in her last month in America.
I am writing this in my bedroom in freezing, wet Melbourne. You’d be surprised at the lack of free wifi in hotels in the US. That’s right—semester has ended and I’m back Down Under.
So I believe I owe you quite a few updates.
Firstly, let’s cover the end of semester. It was honestly one of the hardest things I’ve ever experienced. I never thought I’d make such close friends so quickly. Some of the people I met on exchange are now my best friends and to think that they live in all sorts of corners of the globe is difficult. As my British friend Sam said, “Isn’t it strange to think that the group of us will never be in the same room like this ever again?”
After the exchange ended, my sister came to visit me and we spent a month bussing up and down the East Coast, then the West Coast.
I’d spent so much time in Philly I already knew the city close to perfectly, but we spent a couple of days hanging out there. I took her to a bunch of restaurants (Philly is renowned for its variety of restaurants, most of which are BYO), and to the infamous Smokey Joe’s on a Wednesday night for fifty cent drinks.
We only spent a day in DC, hitting up all the major sights: Capitol Hill, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, and, of course, the White House. I kind of wish we’d gotten a little more time to check out some of the museums, but it was still a pretty fun day.
There is nothing that compares to actually being in the presence of Niagara Falls. Unfortunately, my Visa wouldn’t allow me to go to Canada (and apparently they’re better from across the border), but we saw them from the New York state side, which was still amazing. There’s this thing called the Maid of the Mist Boat Ride, where a boat takes visitors right up to the waterfalls. They give you these plastic disposable ponchos, which prove to be extremely useful when the boat gets to the edge of the falls.
Like DC, Boston is a city rich with American history—it’s the home of the Boston Tea Party, as well as the setting for much early Puritan colonisation (as well as the home of the first Dunkin’ Donuts, HOMG!!). I found it surprisingly quiet and slower-paced than the previous cities, something that’s only further emphasised by its cobbled streets and lack of traffic everywhere. We visited Harvard University, which is an extremely beautiful campus, and then went to the Quincey Market, which sells almost anything your stomach could desire. But, as the city is best known for its seafood, it’s not a bad idea to grab something with crayfish in it. I had a mac and cheese lobster pie, which was really good, but very filling. We also tried some “famous” clam chowder, which was both creamy and fishy, without wanting to make it sound disgusting.
That night we ate more lobster at a Chinese restaurant—it was, as my Lonely Planet guide promised, fresh and delicious.
New York City
I’d claimed that NYC was my favourite city in the world the first time I visited, with a few exchange friends on a random weekend in early February, but being able to stay there for a week was amazing.
I’d already done quite a few of the touristy things, but I was happy to do them again with my sister. You can buy these City Passes for about $90, which allow you free or discounted entry into most of the main attractions: the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Top of the Rock, the Met, MoMA, and the Guggenheim. We also visited Times Square, Central Park, Grand Central Station, and saw Mary Poppins on Broadway for half price!
On May 22nd, we flew out of JFK to LAX, to conquer the West Coast.
Vegas is a crazy city. Americans themselves are torn about it: they either love it or hate it. I must admit, I’d probably be in the latter camp, but it does have some pretty cool aspects to it, such as endless buffets and being able to drink in the street legally. But, as I’m sure most of you have already guessed, it’s essentially everything that’s wrong with the United States all piled into a single strip of land somewhere in the middle of the desert: up until now I’d wondered why everyone said America was the fattest country in the world—turns out Las Vegas is where all the morbidly obese people congregate. There are pastiche-y copies of famous landmarks (such as the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower) all crammed together, and people distribute flyers for hookers to parents holding their kids’ hands. Basically, it’s All You Can Eat, Drink, and Gamble, everywhere you go. It was definitely fascinating to go there.
Similarly to Niagara Falls, there is very little that compares to seeing this in nature. It was fairly smokey on the day we went there, which gave the rocks in the distance the illusion of being false images, but being able to walk on the rocks on our side was amazing.
Los Angeles + Hollywood
LA is an extremely different city to NYC, the city it is so often compared to. Our first two days were spent theme-parking: Disneyland and Universal Studios!
I really loved both the theme parks, because, as overpriced and commercialised as they are, they’re a part of every kid’s upbringing, aren’t they? We never actually went to theme parks as a kid, so it was like re-living childhood. We ran from Fantasyland to ToonTown, going on all the rides we possibly could, and then, in the late afternoon, positioning ourselves on the kerb of the imitation street with a box of popcorn Mickey Mouse-decorated to watch the daily parade. The parade mostly consists of high school marching bands, followed by floats with all the Disney Princesses, as well as motorised characters from movies like The Lion King and The Little Mermaid (the animals, that is).
Universal Studios, comparatively, aimed to impress with its many 3D-oriented rides. The Simpsons rollercoaster-simulating ride in particular was surprisingly good—both comically entertaining and almost as scary as a real rollercoaster. It features a storyline in which Sideshow Bob decides to hijack a rollercoaster, and takes us along for the ride.
For the other three days in LA, we were staying downtown, so we checked out Chinatown, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Walt Disney Concert Hall. We also visited a market a couple of blocks away which served amazing traditional Mexican food. AND it was right across the road from Tom’s favourite spot in (500) Days of Summer!!
It was an amazing journey, and I can now say that I’ve been to some of the most amazing cities in the world. Travelling post-exchange, no matter where you go, also helps get your mind off the depression of the end of exchange. I can’t stress enough how fast it flies by, and how much you’ll wish you could have stayed longer than your Visa allows. I’ve only been at home for a few days now, but I’m expecting counter-culture shock to set in soon, and probably a much more intense form of post-exchange depression. But it’s been one amazing semester. I wish I’d had more time to document, but it will stick with me forever nonetheless.