After a long flight, I was finally in the big city of Los Angeles. I built my bicycle back, and made my way through the never finishing blocks of single houses. I stayed at a mansion, the Anderson Estates! This amazing place had a swimming pool and included breakfast with gigantic waffles. That’s also where I met amazing people, from Ismael, the French visiting the west coast for three months (and doing the Ramadan, I was amazed by his will: He was lazy and woke up too late, so he’d wait until 21 o’clock before being allowed to eat anything. Quite tough with the 30 degrees outside), to Cassandra, an amazing, inspiring young artist. She draws mainly women, the kind of ‘mother nature’ (look it up: http://www.cassandradixonart.com/ ). Finally, I met Juls, a friend of Laura, who studies movie music in the city of Angels.
Los Angeles is also famous for Hollywood and its movie industry. I visited the park of Universal Studio, where many attractions let me speechless (the Harry Potter train is breathtaking!).
And finally, Los Angeles is a hot spot for contemporary art. I generally dislike what’s younger than 1900, but the pieces in the broad museum are absolutely stunning!
Two days were enough to reach San Diego, an American city very close to the Mexican border. I had to take a break in a camping (35 $ a night, ouch!). Fun fact, it was next to the base of Marines, and you would hear them shoot until midnight (I guess Marines are hard workers).
In San Diego I took the time for a rest. The Balboa park was a particularly nice discovery. It is full of building with Spanish architecture. It remembers you that the whole south and west US was once Spanish, then Mexican… how funny that today Donald Trump wants to build a wall against Mexico. The best place though was the old city of San Diego: Some original buildings are still standing, most are reconstructed. You really have the impression to walk through a city of the far west…
I also particularly appreciated the visit of the maritime museum, where you get to visit the interior of an original Russian submarine or a reconstructed galleon of the 18th century… Finally, the Museum of the USS Midway gives you the occasion to climb on a real aircraft carrier.
That’s it, now the real trip through the US begins, and it’s not going to be easy! I’ll have to cross mountains, deserts, and gigantic plains. Wish me good luck! I’ll need it.
San Diego-Santa Fe
I started the trip from San Diego with anxiety. I knew that the nice temperate weather would soon change for a deadly hot one. And indeed, after having crossed the mountains, I arrived to a large desert. I was confident, but several people I met on the way warned me. I was picked up in El Centro by Victor, a Mexican-american man, who helped me repairing my brakes and hosted me for two days. The sun in the region of El Centro hits hard: The thermometer reached from 9 o’clock the height of 45 to 50 degrees Celsius! These are the conditions I had to cross some hundreds of kilometers of desertic land, including a sand desert. This part was really not funny: I really thought a lot about the danger it could represent. I started driving from 4 o’clock in the morning, and still hadn’t finished my day at 11. The wind smashed me sand in the face, very soon sand would even crack between my teeth (impossible to get rid of this sand!). Nothing, but death. Since a cyclist died lately in the region, for the first time on the trip I was really scared. I decided to step aside and ask for help. A nice Mexican-american man stopped by and took me with his pickup to the next camping-ground.
These conditions lasted until reaching the plateau that starts in Flagstaff. From a height belove the sea, I reached 2000 m, and the temperatures dropped considerably, attaining 15 degrees. One thing came too: Thunderstorms, that followed me until Santa Fe. After a small stop in Flagstaff, I made my way to the Grand Canyon (it’s really sooooo big!), Monument Valley (it’s like crossing a realm of gods. The isolated ‘Mesas’ are absolutely surreal), and Puebloan sites like Mesa Verde, Aztec, Salmon house, Chaco Canyon and Bandelier.
On the way, I could experience some of the bad sides of the United states. In a cheap camping, I was already sleeping as a gay couple arrived just next to my tent, waking me up and telling me « this is our spot, we stayed here for six days already, so we do what we want. We’re going to make a fire and listen to music until late in the night. You can eighter join us or move » (cow boy attitude). They were otherwise fine, invited me to a beer. And like with many gay people, they couldn’t avoid trying to flirt with me. Which was fine, but at midnight I decided to definitively go to sleep. They woke me up again to know if they didn’t exaggerate with the flirting (they were pretty drunk), then they started to fight for no real reason. The one saying that his partner had a small dick and no life was too much for the other: He punched, kicked and strangled his lover. I asked myself what to do… step into the fight and risk anything? Nope, for sure not in the US, sorry! I went away and called the police. Guess what they asked first? Not if they have any weapons, not if I’m fine, not if there is any material damaged or person hurt… « what is their skin color? ». After 20 minutes the sheriff was here, they took the violent guy to prison for one night, the other one went to the hospital even if he looked to be anyway fine. And I could finally sleep at 2h30.
Another experience in the style? I stayed a little too long at the camping ground of Cortez, near Mesa Verde. The janitor passed by at 11h10 and told us (a dutch couple and me) to move, even if we had already packed our tents and were just finishing eating . At 12h06 I was standing next to the restrooms and finishing writing an email. He came again and told me in a violent tone « you are still here? Checkout is 11, now you move » -…but I was just writing a message -I don’t care, you move, now! » in a tone like he would next pull out a gun…
I honestly find otherwise scary how many people find it normal that their army goes around the world, meaning that they spread out freedom and are anyway the nation chosen by God. But let’s face it: Most Americans I met were actually pretty helpful. Like this retired marine between El Centro and Blythe – California, who enjoyed talking about his life, or this lesbian couple in Bloomfield – New Mexico, that let me sleep on her camping space for free and cooked me amazing food. Or these Navajo people who stopped their car on the side of the road to give me a soda, fruits and cereal bars and were so happy to see me.
The United States impress me in the first place for their absolutely stunning nature. Never I felt it so powerful: I suffered from the hottest temperatures and shook my body in fear to be struck by lighting in the middle of flatlands. I was amazed to such a variety of birds, or to see so many animals survive in extremely desertic lands, like the coyotes, snakes, chipmunks or many birds too. But the United States are so much more: An incredible variety of people, who have all different and varied stories and traditions. The food, well… until now I have a shared opinion. Let’s say it like this: As much as I can, I look for good Mexican restaurants. I ate at some extremely bad small restaurants (for example: Overcooked overly fried chicken, uncooked beans and black grilled potato…yummy) and it’s scary how many fast-foods you find everywhere, not even talking of how many more sodas you find in stores than just water, but it’s also not too difficult to find good food: Cities have many affordable and good places, and shopping malls with high standards or organic food are way more common than I thought. I could now make my way to Santa Fe, the old Spanish capital city in the North.
I finally reached Santa Fe and was again struck by luck in my misery. My gears broke again in the middle of a volcano region with nobody around – Thanks Tout Terrain!!! – but before reaching Santa Fe, I was invited by a woman in her mid 50s to stay at her ranch. I helped her out for feeding chickens, ducks and a turkey or doing small jobs, and in return I received free accommodation. Thanks to her I got to meet amazing local people, including the president of an archaeological group. Together we visited a place filled with Anazasi graffiti or Pecos, an abandoned Native American city with a church built by Spanish missionaries.
After spending more than one week in Santa Fe, I stated that I should take the train to reach Chicago (The line from Los Angeles stops in Lamy, around 30 km further East). The landscape of the Great Plains seemed too boring to me, I had enough of these constant thunderstorms, and I had to move on before the winter would come. The most important of all of course, was that my bicycle didn’t work anymore (single speed riding is not so fun, I can tell you).
After a train ride of around 30 hours, I finally arrived to Chicago, the so called windy city. And indeed, the gigantic lake seems to catch winds and it’s constantly blowing. But it’s not so much of a problem, since you never have to walk outside and the public transports are good, for the first time in the US! I’m impressed by the many buses and the very efficient metro-train service. What I like in Chicago too is that you find restaurants and shops at every corner, which makes it way more convenient than in the Californian cities. For once people are more diverse: You find more black people than anywhere in the central US, and many blocks remember you of the various nations who immigrated here (Greeks, Ukrainians, etc.).
The museums are extremely well furnished: The exhibitions about Native Americans are the best I saw, and the nature museum presents amazing dinosaurs. The frame too is charming: Most of the museums are situation inside big parks, that give a stunning view on the Chicagoan skyline. Finally, the food too is not too bad, and I enjoy trying the famous dish pizza.
After a very exhausting bus-ride, I had a bad surprise in Washington: One of my luggage pieces was missing! The staff of Greyhound was absolutely useless and even rude. First the responsible just…ignored me! After reclaiming and discussing a long time, I got the advice to come back after some days. What I did, and I was told then that they hadn’t even started any researches. I had to fill in a form, but actually needed to ride 10 km up north to get the paper (!!!). I finally started the procedure in New York, after dozens of useless calls… Greyhound is definitively the worst company I’ve ever experienced so far and would strongly advice you to prefer taking the train (or a car), if you decide to visit the USA.
Beside being upset because of the luggage, I didn’t really enjoy Washington: It has everything I hate about America. Too big streets, no shops (unless you drive one hour with a car outside the center), bad food (unless you grab deep into your wallet)… The very positive aspect are some tourist attractions (White House, Capitol, several war monuments, Lincoln Monument,…) and in particular the Smithsonian museums (every kind of museum about nature, native American history, art, etc.; originally started by a rich mecene).
I appreciated being in New York as it is such a mythical place: It represented the American dream for so many migrants and still one of the biggest symbols of the USA. I really loved the mixity the open mind, the gigantic buildings and the high level art you can find there. Even though you might think everything is big, it stays a very human city. Convenience shops are all around, so are cheap restaurants.
It appeared that my friend Kristin, who I met first in Uzbekistan, was here at the same time. She offered me a visit of the old city and we had a few drinks remembering Central Asia. I also met Anne, the American archaeologist I knew from Serbia.
Central park is seen in every series – that’s a great green place in the middle of all these skyscrapers. Fun fact: It’s a place know for its radioactivity (due to the granite ground). I still wonder if the fact that my GPS doesn’t work at all (jumping of 20-50 m every second for the first time of the trip) is due to this…
My big highlight in NY stays the Metropolitan Museum. I’ve dreamtmany time of seeing it, here I am. I finally have to spend two days inside to have a good overview (even though running through some galleries). I’m stunned by the quality of certain objects (roman portraits of gold powder inside of glass, best quality Etruscan bronzes, cycladic statuettes, etc. etc. etc.).
I heard many positive reviews about Boston, but my feelings about this city were shared. Maybe it’s a problem of having first settled down to a hostel of poor quality. It was in a popular neighborhood north of Boston in a very old, cheap building. After having made my bed in the afternoon, I found another guy sleeping in it at 22 o’clock. He told me he slept here the night before and he wouldn’t move, so I had to change my bed… I guess it screwed my mood. Anyway, after this unfortunate event I found a way better hostel in the city center.
I still don’t know if I like Boston. The old city is well preserved and gives you an impression of going back for centuries, but today it’s obviously only a touristic attraction and is strongly cut from Downtown through a big highway. Museums in Boston though are absolutely amazing: They display very tastefully chosen objects, from the most curious antic Greek figures showing everyday life to the best American furniture of the 19th century. Boston is on top of that the siege of two of the best schools in the world, the MIT and Harvard.
Montreal used to be the economic capital of Canada, and you can still feel it. The big skyscrapers and the bustle mark the landscape. I chose my hostel right next to the old city next to the river of the Saint Laurent, thinking it would be the best place. And I was totally wrong: It now turned to a very expensive place with fancy restaurants, the student block is further north in the middle of the new city.
Being in Montreal made me feel a little like being already back to Europe. Not only the food had many influences, but also you could feel it in the lifestyle of people. I noticed also a little detail that annoyed me: There are constantly road works and it blocks everything – and often you don’t even see workers at the place. I felt like in western Switzerland or France…
I had the impression that the tourist attractions are limited, but I enjoyed learning about the history. Pointe-à-Caillère displays rests of the first settlements. The first settlers were mostly church people and most of them died of attacks of Native Americans. Their persistence though helped fixing an important trade post for the selling of beaver furs.
I dreamt of being in Quebec since a long time, and Quebec city crystallized this realization. I didn’t know in the first place how charming the city was, and rightfully many couples chose it as tourist destination. The city is still shaped by its 17th century origin and every corner tells a piece of French colonization history and dealing with the English rival.
I’m extremely lucky to have had a full day visit by Alex, a PhD in History. I rarely saw anybody knowing so many details of a town, and he made me a list of every person having lived in each house… I knew Alex from the uncle of a good friend, Yves. I could stay at his countryside house, next to Quebec city, which was originally the hunter camp of a millionaire family’s mansion. After enjoying the fresh Canadian air, I made my way back to Montreal and got ready to fly to Paris.