Friday, March 8, 2013

Top Ten Favorites, USA and Canada


image by Ken Yuel

Louisiana
Between having grandparents in Arkansas and an aunt in Texas, my childhood summers were full of road trips.  I've seen a good deal of the southeastern quarter of my country, and of it, I think my favorite place is Louisiana.  New Orleans is great - there's no denying it while sitting at Cafe du Monde with chickory-infused coffee and beignets, nursing the previous night's hangover.  But the rest of the state is just as fascinating.  The River Road between NOLA and Baton Rogue is bursting with plantations, from movie-set ready Oak Alley to colorful, Creole Laura. Natchitoches (Nack-uh-tish), farther northwest, is another place worth visiting.  The entire state is a place unto itself, where jazz and zydeco reside side-by-side and the food is perfection.



image by Andreas Adelmann

The Southwest
One summer when I was in college, my family went beyond the usual road trips to Arkansas and Texas, and flew out west to visit my uncle in California.  Of course, it would not be a family trip without at least a few hundred miles of driving!  We spent our first night in Las Vegas, at the Luxor Hotel.  The next morning we set off for Grand Canyon National Park.  The drive took us through Utah, where we stopped for a day trip in Zion National Park.  After spending the next few days on the north rim of the canyon, we drove to Los Angeles.  While there, we saw the Hollywood Strip, Griffiths Observatory, The Getty Museum, and the Queen Mary.  My uncle couldn't understand why two teens would want to swim in the freezing Pacific rather than go to Disneyland, but swim we did.



image by Aurimas

California
My second California roadtrip was solo.  My excuse was that I wanted to visit friends and family, but really, I was a dork on a Star Trek kick who wanted to see Chris Pine in 'Farragut North'.  I started in Berkeley, where I stayed with one of my best friends.  I explored San Francisco while she and her husband worked and they showed me around Berkeley in the evenings; on Saturday, we took off for Napa for an afternoon of wine tasting.  The following morning, I caught the train to Los Angeles, where I stayed at the Hotel Palomar in Westwood.  I (sucessfully!) rented a car and did a few L.A. things I'd missed the time before - Rodeo Drive, La Brea Tar Pits, the Norton Simon, Santa Monica and Venice beaches.  After seeing the play for which I'd traveled so far, I headed down to Disneyland on my birthday (free entry!).  The last few days were spent with my uncle and aunt in Lake Elsinore, as well as a day trip down to San Diego to visit my brother.



image by Antony Spencer

The Pacific Northwest
A friend was getting married in Seattle on New Year's day, so I decided to make a trip of it.  After spending several fabulous days in the city with friends (and doing Pike Place, the Underground Tour, and the Space Needle), I headed off for the Olympic Peninsula.  The success of this trip was impeded by a) massive amounts of snow and b) the fact that my rental car was a Mustang convertible.  The first two days were pleasant, including a day trip by ferry to Victoria, BC, where I had tea at the Fairmont Empress.  My luck turned after visiting Forks, and given my firmly tongue-in-cheek love of 'Twilight', I believe a sparkly vampire curse may have been in effect. What started as a pleasant and scenic day ended with no cell phone coverage, the Mustang backwards in a snowbank, and fervent prayers that AAA would arrive in time to save me from spending the night at the motel in back of the dive bar that looked like something out of 'A&E True Crime: Serial Killer Edition'.  Overall, it was still a great - and learning - experience. 



image by Tom Kelly

Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone is awe-inspiring.  In a matter of hours, we saw bears and bison, elk grazing by Yellowstone Lake, Mammoth Hot Springs, Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone and its Lower Falls... and had smelled enough sulfur to last a lifetime.  But the really interesting part of the trip, to me, was the drive to the park on Beartooth Highway.  The road winds its way up from the relatively flat farmlands of eastern Montana into the mountains along the Wyoming border.  After a dizzying series of switchbacks, the road levels out along a scrubby, tundra-like plateau.  The landscape seems unearthly and impressed me much more than anything I'd seen of the Alps (Beartooth pass is higher, at 3,337 m).  The road closes in winter, naturally, as even in summer, several feet of snow lined the road in places.  We took a brief break and photo stop at Beartooth Pass, overlooking two glacial lakes. 



image by Anna Gorin

Prince Edward Island and Maine
About fifteen years ago, my parents sort of became Canada-philes.  They would take a new trip up to the Maritimes about every summer, checking out Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and finally, Newfoundland.  They ended up buying land on bucolic little PEI, known around the world as the setting for 'Anne of Green Gables'.  The island is also known for its fishing and farming - lobster, mussels, oysters, and potatoes are in abundance. While the island is fun to explore, the drive up the east coast is always a treat as well.  Maine's lighthouses, coastal villages, and Acadia National Park are all worth a trip of their own.  Campobello, FDR's summer home on the border, is a fun (and free) stop.


Washington D.C.
I have New York friends who have been to D.C. and hated it.  I think they just misunderstand it - hiking from one monument to another in the blazing heat and humidity is no fun.  But D.C. deserves more of a chance than some high school field trip.  Don't get me wrong - the free museums of the Smithsonian are some of the best our country has to offer.  The monuments are definitely worth seeing - the Lincoln and Vietnam Memorials in particular.  The traffic patterns are ridiculous, but the layout of the city is easy to grasp and the metro is clean and efficient. If you want to break away from the typical tourist stuff, Georgetown and H Street are great places to start.  Between the embassies, the historically black community, recent immigrant populations, and so many government and NGO jobs, D.C. has a diverse population and an international style that few other places can pull off.



image by Joshua Yospyn

Puerto Rico
I feel like most American youth experience the Caribbean for the first time in one of two ways - on a cruise, or with their church youth group.  I was one of the latter.  There was no AC in the church where we stayed, only the open-air windows which let in lizards, and more importantly, every mosquito known to man.  Given the camaraderie inspired by these conditions, we had a great time.  While a lot of the kids only spoke Spanish, we became really good friends over the course of our two-week stay.  In our time off, we went to the beach, visited vibrant old San Juan, and took a death-defying drive on a pimped-out school bus up to El Yunque Rainforest, where we played in a waterfall. 



image by Pierre Laurin

Québec City
My parents and I spent one very snowy spring break in Québec City.  None of us speak French, which made for some occasional hilarity, as did the 40" of snow Mother Nature had decided to dump on the province a few days earlier.  Despite our initial horror, it turned out to be the perfect time to visit, as the snow turned the city into a sort of story-book winter wonderland.  From the grand Château Frontenac to the city walls (Québec is the only walled city in the Americas north of Mexico) to the quaint little streets of old town, everything was picture perfect.  We also enjoyed the food - poutine for lunch, maple sugar candy for a snack, a more modern take on cuisine québécoise at Le Patriarche for dinner one night, with a more traditional version at Restaurant Aux Anciens Canadiens the next.  To finish off the trip, we stopped at the only ice hotel in the Americas, the Hôtel de Glace, to snap a few pictures.



image by Carl TerHaar

Michigan
A little over two weeks in the car with one's parents may sound like a recipe for disaster, but I loved our family road trip to Michigan.  We spent most of the time exploring the Upper Peninsula, from kitchsy-cute Mackinac Island to remote Isle Royale.  We hit all four of Michigan's national parks and fifteen lighthouses, including a stay at one.  The summer weather was gorgeously clear and cool (though downright freezing at the locks at Sault Ste Marie).  We wrapped up our journey back on the mitten, where we visited Traverse City's cherry festival, the wineries on Old Mission Peninsula, and dramatically beautiful Sleeping Bear Dunes Nat' Park.


New York City
This feels like a bit of a cheat, as I currently live in Brooklyn.  But really - when people visit America, NYC is typically toward the top of the "to-see" list and for good reason.  (I started listing the reasons, but honestly, you already know them.)  I'm still exploring the city myself, after six-ish years total in Brooklyn.  This spring, I want to visit Chelsea Market and the High Line.  I want to get a burger from Shake Shack (the lines are ridiculous, so I've never eaten there, despite working just down the street for over a year).  I want to do a DUMBO day in which I get macarons from Almondine, chocolate from Jacques Torres, and take a whirl on Jane's Carousel.  New York really is the best city on earth, in part, because it's a million different cities. You could spend a lifetime here and still not see or do everything.