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Published: November 22nd 2012
The United States of America
In Italy I pretty made up the decision to head back to the US. I figured that I would finish over 7 months of international travel. After all this time I had spent outside the US, I still needed to see my own country. I've been to 62 countries lifetime, but only 25 states. Last year when I quit my job I told my dad that I would fly back to PA, buy a car, and then drive cross-country with him. Then I bought a car in LA, so that put an end to that. I then told him I was going to a wedding in Nashville in April and I would again fly out, rent a car, and then drive cross-country with him. That didn't work out either because I decided to keep traveling. This time I was going to keep to my promise. I would be heading around the globe so there was no excuse whey I couldn't pick him up along the way.
I flew from Dublin to Boston and then to Washington, D.C. I was surprised the flight across the Atlantic took 7 hours but it did. I couldn't sleep. I was so excited
to get back home. Once you mentally decide when you're heading back home, nothing seems to be as interesting.
I got to the D.C. and my friend Felice picked me up at Reagan National Airport. It was great to see him. I hadn't seen him since last Christmas. We headed up to his place in Gaithersburg and I got to see his wife and 2 yr. old son. We went to California Pizza Kitchen. Afterwards we walked around a bit and headed back to their place. The next day I got put to work and helped Felice clean out the storage facility they had been storing things. Every time I go to Gaithersburg I feel like we go to that storage facility to put something in it or to take something out. This time they were checking out for good. Finally we mowed the grass. This was the most work I had done in a year!
The next day we headed down to the Smithsonian National History Museum
. They wanted to take the baby there to check it out. I lived in the D.C. metro area for 5 years after college so it brought back a lot of memories.
next day was Labor Day and we had a cookout. My friend, Gena've came over and hung out for a bit. Later that night Felice and I went to see the Bourne Legacy. So many places in that movie were places I had been on my trip. I should write spy movies now that I live in LA.
On Tuesday I headed up to Pittsburgh on the bus. The bus had Wi-Fi, but my network reception as better. On the way we stopped at Arby's - my favorite. Though I planned to start eating healthy I thought a little Arby's wouldn't hurt.
A few hours later I was in Pittsburgh
and I had some time to kill before my brother got off work. I headed to the Modern Language Department at Duquesne University
to see Dr. Lucente. I worked for Dr. Lucente in the modern language department at Duquesne and she was very instrumental on sending me to Italy and arranging for me to stay at Villa Nazareth. I met her and my friend Marco, who I saw in Rome. My brother also met us at the Starbucks we were at so it was great to see him!
My brother Joel and I headed to Mt. Lebanon where he was now living. Of course it started raining heavily as soon as we got off the T. We walked to his place and made dinner and hung out the rest of the night.
The next day I went to the storage facility I put my stuff in when I left Pittsburgh to see if there was any I wanted to take with me on my trip back to LA. I also met my friend Fr. Ray for lunch. We had a good talk about my trip and my plans and what he was up to. It's always good to see him every time I'm in Pittsburgh.
Joel and I headed up to my parent's house just outside of Oil City. I hadn't seen my parents since Christmas (apart from Skyping). I always like PA in the fall and the leaves were just starting to turn. Fall in the northwest is my favorite time of year anywhere I've been. Being in Oil City let me catch up with some friends I hadn't seen in a long time. My cousin Matt and I went golfing a few times. I
was really happy with my golf game for not having played in a year. I usually have a good round at the beginning of the year for some reason.
After spending a few days at home my dad and I had to drive to Erie, PA to pick up the rental car that we would use to travel across the country. We got a Chrysler 300
. We got a free upgrade to a luxury car. It also came with unlimited miles as well, which is what we wanted. I figured we would spend 2-3 weeks traveling in total. On the way back we stopped to see my friend Andy and his new house. He also had a new baby as well. Andy got a good deal on a house in foreclosure and was also doing a lot of remodeling. It seemed like all my friends from back home had new houses and families.
My dad and I had been planning our trip for a few days and were about to head out on our adventure. The first stop was Chicago. My dad's old college roommate lived "just outside" Chicago so we decided we would go visit him the first
day when we got there. "Just outside" turned out to be by the Wisconsin border. By the time we got to Chicago it was raining so traffic was a mess. We visited his roommate, Roger, and his family. Roger's wife made dinner. His uncle was there too. It was the first time I had met someone over 100 years old.
That night was checked into the Sheraton by the airport. We were pretty exhausted. The next day we headed to downtown Chicago. I had just enough Marriott points to book a night at the J.W. Marriott
right by the Sears Tower. I had a lot of friends to see in Chicago and the next 2 days were spent catching everyone I could for lunch/dinner/coffee. First was my friend Jenny with whom I worked at Deloitte. We headed to Chipotle's and ate outside and caught up on what each had been doing for the last year and about the mutual friends we had in common. Next up was Rashed. Rashed and I worked at Accenture on my first project and have been friends since. We had coffee and he caught me up on the cool stuff he had been working on
over the past few years. Rashed took us to the Chicago Art Museum
and got us in for free. I had no idea that Chicago has so many great pieces of art. That museum is a must if you go. I can't believe I worked there for 7 months and never went.
After the museum my dad and I walked through Millennium Park
and up Michigan Avenue. We met my friend Harry for dinner and then headed to the Hancock Tower for a drink and to see the city at night. Harry and I worked in Mexico for a few months and now works for an airline so he gets to fly for free everywhere he wants.
The next day we were heading to La Crosse, WI
. On the way we stopped to see another friend from Deloitte, King. We went and had tea at his apartment and caught up on old times and how things were going. I feel like I just had time for coffee with everyone I knew but life is busy so you take what you can get.
My dad's cousin, Bob, had a summer condo in La Crosse, WI and we were driving up for the night.
When we arrived Bob and his wife, Beth, took us for a ride on the Mississippi river at sunset. We also had a cookout and played this cool game where you roll dice and have to make bets on your numbers. I was pretty tired so I went to bed while my dad stayed up and caught up on old times with his cousin.
The next day we had a huge brunch and headed to the lookout point that looked over the whole area. You could see Minnesota and Iowa from the top. After that and a tour of downtown we headed to Minneapolis
to see my friends Paul and Patrick that I worked with at Deloitte. Paul met us at the hotel. When we went to the parking lot to decide who's car to take I saw he was driving a small Lotus
. It was only a two-seater and our backseat was full so we both had to drive. Paul, being from England, took us to an English bar. It was great seeing him and hanging out for a few hours. Another friend from Deloitte, Patrick, also came over and hung out with out after Paul left.
We didn't do too much in Minneapolis. However, on the way out we headed to the Mall of America
. I had always wanted to see this huge monument to American capitalism. The mall was pretty empty as it was early in the morning. However, it is absolutely huge! In the middle is a roller coaster. We walked around the whole thing and stopped in a few stores. The only bad part was that I took my iPhone out and it slipped out of my hand and hit the ground. My dad then kicked it about 10 feet on queue. I had just taken the cover off the front a few days earlier.
From the mall it was off to Rapid City and Mt. Rushmore. This was the first time I really felt like we were "out west". The land started to plain off and became more barren. It was a long ride but we finally got into Rapid City, SD. My goal was to find a hibachi bar, but we ended up settling for Mexican at 'On the Border'. The hotel was nice. We even had our own rooms. The hotel had a rooftop bar with gas-powered fireplaces.
morning we got up early and headed to Mt. Rushmore
. The monument is amazing and we got some good shots of us together and then posing as if we each were the 5th president. A funny thing that happened was that I asked a lady to take a picture of us with the monument. When I looked at the picture it was just the two of us, no monument. I said, "yeah, we kind of want to get the monument in there too." She was a little embarrassed.
After Mt. Rushmore we headed to the Crazy Horse Memorial
. This will be the largest memorial carved out of stone in the world when it is finished. They've been working on it for over 50 years and they just have the head done. Apparently the family that is doing this won't take federal money so it will take another 50 years easily. But, once it's done, it will be one of the coolest monuments ever. They have a gift shop and movie theater ready to go, just no monument yet. "Build it and they will come."
Next it was off to Cody, WY - just east of the Yellowstone National Park
. It took the rest
of the day to get there. We knew it would take a full day going through Yellowstone so we stopped there. Cody is a nice western town. The local Wal-Mart is the place to be apparently. We grabbed some subs at Subway and called it a night. Yellowstone was about an hour away and the next morning we were up early to check it out. My dad was excited because this was the first national park on the trip my dad could use his 'Senior Pass' that only cost $10 and gets you into all the national parks. For Mt. Rushmore there was no fee to enter, but you need to pay for parking.
Yellowstone is amazing. The vastness is unbelievable. The sites you see driving are like what you see in books. We headed to 'Old Faithful' and were lucky to get there about 5 minutes before it blew. There are so many geysers in Yellowstone. It was like being on another planet to be honest. I've never seen some of these colors in nature. We saw a bunch of geysers and a huge waterfall. There was a lot of wildlife too like elk water buffalo that roam
The whole day was spent in Yellowstone. Afterwards we headed to Bozeman, MT
for the night. Bozeman is a nice town too. We got in late and headed to dinner. We went to 'Ted's Montana Grill' - I thought it was fitting.
The next day it was off to see Glacier National Park
. This is by far the nicest park I've ever been to. Unfortunately, the road that cuts through the middle of the park was closed for construction so we had to go to the west entrance. Most of the trip up was hazy for some reason. But, by the time we got to the park it was clear. I would love to go back to Glacier and really explore. Apparently there are a lot of bears there too so bring your bear spray if you go.
We stayed in Kalispell, MT that night and by chance my friend Kristen from Los Angeles was visiting her sister. Such a small world. We all had breakfast and then it was off to Spokane, WA
. The drive was nice and we went though Idaho. We stopped at a Starbucks so I could say I had been to Idaho but otherwise we
drove straight through. Being in Spokane was like coming back to civilization for a day. They had a mall downtown that we went to. The navy drill team was performing so we stopped to check that out. We just walked around the park and then went to P.F. Changs for dinner. Our hotel was right by the train tracks so there were trains going by all night. So much for a good nights sleep.
Next it was off to Seattle
. I had never been there and was looking forward to checking it out finally. I booked a few nights at the Westin using points. My friend Amanda came and met us and took us to the Pike Place Market. There were tons of people out and we did some food tasting. We also went to the first Starbucks coffee shop and to a place where people stick their gum on the wall. That was a little sick. After that Amanda took us across the bay to west Seattle. It was a nice area to get a good view of the skyline. Finally we went to this amazing restaurant calls Ivars and and had seafood.
The next day my
dad and I went to the cathedral for church and then to the Cheesecake factory for lunch. We watched the Steeler game from our room and then headed to a park just north of the city. It was pretty much a relaxed day for us. The following day we went to the Space Needle and met my cousin, Bob, for lunch. The Space Needle gave a great view of Seattle, but it was a little hazy that morning. We walked from there all the way downtown for lunch with our cousin Bob. Bob is the son of my dad's cousin who we saw in Wisconsin. Bob is a lawyer and specializes in bike law. Apparently there are a lot of people in Seattle that get "doored" (as he puts it) and Bob helps them recognize that their rights have been violated - then sues the vehicle driver for pretty much everything they're worth. Bob took us to a Thai place for lunch. I think it was the first time my dad ever ate Thai but he loved it.
After Seattle we headed to Portland. It was only a few hours away so it was nice to not have to
drive all day to get there, like everywhere else we had been. Portland was a nice city. I wish we could have seen more of it. We went to Chipotle's for dinner and drove around to check it out. The next day we got up and drove east to see the Multnomah Falls
. This is one of the nicest waterfalls I have ever seen. There was a bridge at the middle of it and was picture perfect. After the falls it was off to the Oregon coastline for our drive to Crescent City, CA. The drive down the Oregon coastline is probably the nicest I've ever seen. There are great views the whole way.
We got into Crescent City and found the hotel I had booked online. This was probably the worst place we stayed in the whole trip. Luckily it was only for a night. That morning we got up and headed to see the Redwood
trees. WOW - those trees are HUGE. Some are over 300 feet tall (The Washington Monument is 555 ft. tall). Just simply amazing. We drove through a nice section and took a walk. I was even able to skype with my mom and
give her a tour of the trees. The day was spent driving around and taking walks and checking out 'The Giants', as they are called. We also went through the area where they filmed 'Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi
'. I think I heard some ewoks
After touring some of the biggest trees in the world (one of which I drove our car through), we headed to Napa, CA
. Napa is one of my favorite places in California. The land reminds me of Tuscany in Italy. There are wineries everywhere. My dad and I planned to visit 2 of his cousins that live in northern California - Barb and Patty. We met at a winery and took a tour and then went wine tasting a few more. It was great to meet up with them and I know my dad was happy to see them since it had been years since they had seen each other.
After Napa we headed down to San Francisco
. San Francisco is probably my favorite US city. It's just so unique compared to everywhere else. Sometimes it's raining on one side of the city and then sunny on the other side. We stayed at the Palace and I
have to say it's probably the nicest hotel I stayed at on the whole trip. It at least rivaled the Venetian in Macau. We did the touristy things like go to the Fisherman’s Warf and Coit Tower. I felt bad because the fog just laid over the bay and you could only see the tips of the Golden Gate Bridge
. We did a lot of walking in San Francisco. I had some friends there so we had to meet up with them. My friend Marissa (the same one from my blogs of Myanmar and China) was now living in San Francisco not far from Haight and Ashbury so we went over there for a bit. After that it was off to the Oakland Coliseum to see the A's play. I liked the A's growing up. I would like to go to all the MLB ballparks in the US and I needed to check the Coliseum.
I was able to meet up with a few other friends in San Francisco. Ryan (from the Balkans blog) was living in Alamo and came into the city to visit and go to dinner. Traveling with Ryan was awesome and we were able to hit
a few places in the former Yugoslavia together. It was good to see him and catch up. Lastly I saw my friend Chris. Unfortunately, we were only able to grab coffee one morning. He and his wife have been house hunting and they were quite busy that weekend. Chris and I worked in Orange County on a project a few years back and have kept in touch ever since.
After San Francisco it was off to Los Angeles
. It was a perfect day in San Francisco and we decided to go see the Golden Gate Bridge since there was no fog. It turned out to be a perfect view. It would have been a shame to come all that way and not be able to see it. When we came into San Francisco we came across the Golden Gate bridge but it was completely fogged out. Every other time it was in viewing distance it was foggy. This time we got it!
The drive to LA was good, apart for some serious traffic at the beginning. We went down the 101, which is a nice drive because you have mountains on both sides to view. LA was going through
Carmageddon II and I knew there would be serious traffic. We decided to take the Pacific Coast Highway for the last part. My apprehension was growing as we approached. It had been over 8 months now that I had been away. We got in and unloaded the car and then headed to the rental agency to turn the Chrysler 300 in. It was a great car to have on this trip.
The next few days were basically just relaxing in LA. We went to the Getty Villa
and met up with some friends. For a surprise I booked 2 tickets for The Tonight Show
with Jay Leno. I remember growing up watching Johnny Carson and Jay Leno used to do the show on Friday night. We always watched him growing up so I thought it would be cool to see it live. Carol Burnett was the guest.
Next it was off to Las Vegas
. Vegas was a great place to end as it is the most "Americanized" city I've ever seen. We stayed at the Luxor
and walked around. This was my dad's first time to Vegas since 69'. It's changed quite a bit.
Since we aren't big gamblers we decided
to head to Grand Canyon
. We were able to go to the west rim and check it out. I went out on the skywalk
, but my dad just watched. The Grand Canyon is amazing and we got some good views. On the way back we stopped at the Hoover Dam at night.
This was originally going to be the last stop on my trip. I've been back in Los Angeles for a little over a month reacquainting myself to American life. However the travel bug has got me again.
Next stop - Australia!!!
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