United States of America - The largest and richest 'melting pot' of cultures from around the world
My first trip to the USA was in 2007 and came about after my hubby was sent to Milwaukee in Wisconsin on work for a year. My second trip was in 2009 when I went as a grad student to present a research paper at a conference in Seattle in Washington. Writing this piece has helped jog my memory and relive all the moments that made both trips truly special.
The first time round, I was filled with great excitement and anticipation at the thought of visiting a country I had heard so much about. There were so many places to see and so many things to do that I knew I would need plenty of time to experience it all. So with my in-laws in tow, I set off on my great American adventure. We arrived in the USA on 17th Nov 2007. The much dreaded Chicago weather was there to greet us the minute we stepped out of the airport. It wasn’t as bad as expected though (5° C), since the fall season was underway and winter was predicted to begin only a month later. From Chicago, we drove down to Milwaukee in Wisconsin. Milwaukee, a large city situated on the shore of Lake Michigan was the place we called home while in the US. The architecture of the city gave me the impression of having a touch of European influence. The scarcity of giant metallic skyscrapers that are the hallmark of most American cities was a welcome change. During the time we were there, the lovely red and yellow fall colors added to the charm of the city. Here are some glimpses of Milwaukee.
|Milwaukee Art Museum|
|Near our apartment|
California (21st Nov - 28th Nov 2007)
Our first holiday destination in the US was California which we visited during the Thanksgiving holidays. Since we had a lot of relatives in Sunnyvale, there was no dearth of places for us to stay! The weather in California was absolutely heavenly.....there is no better word to describe it. San Francisco was one of the cities I liked most in the US. It is a picturesque and quaint city with many agreeable attributes - the weather, hills, landscape, streets, diverse neighborhoods, history and trams. A few places we visited in San Francisco were Golden Gate Bridge, Exploratorium, Crooked Street, Fisherman’s Wharf and Union Square.
|Golden Gate Bridge|
|Isn't that lovely?|
We took a few short day trips from San Francisco to Monterey County encompassing Big Sur, 17-mile drive, Pebble beach and Carmel followed by trips to Yosemite National Park and Napa Valley. All these places had three things in common; they were peaceful, quiet and offered a stunning visual treat for nature lovers.
|The Lone Cypress|
|Yosemite National Park|
|Old faithful in wine country|
Nevada (22nd Nov - 23rd Nov 2007)
While in the US, a trip to Las Vegas is a must. We rented a Toyota Sienna minivan from California and drove down to Las Vegas in Nevada. This was a long journey, one in which we traveled through a stretch of the Mojave desert on a highway dotted with numerous gas stations, fast food joints and hyper marts. Once we reached Vegas, we checked into Bally’s and almost immediately began our exploration of the city (Vegas is the city that never sleeps remember???). Walking along the ‘strip’ at night amidst the glittering lights, enjoying the dancing waters of the Bellagio fountain, watching a spectacular show (Cirque du Soleil) at the MGM grand, trying our hand at gambling without much success and checking out the pubs and shopping....there was never a dull moment! The next day we visited the Hoover dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River located at the border of Nevada and Arizona. As this trip neared its end, I couldn’t help but wish we could have spent more time in this exciting city. ‘Sin city’ was truly a one of a kind experience.
|Casino at Ballys|
|Replica Eiffel tower|
|Fountain at Bellagio|
Illinois (1st Dec - 2nd Dec 2007)
Chicago was our portal of entry into the US but having immediately driven to Milwaukee from there, we did not have the opportunity to explore the city. By the time we visited Chicago, winter had begun in full swing and there was a delicate blanket of snow covering the city. The temperature had dropped drastically and there was a light, intermittent snow shower throughout the day. We went to the Marshall Field Museum where we spent a good part of the day going through all the exhibits. The Millennium Park was next on our list and most of the time there was spent taking pictures. After that we decided to go up to the Sears Tower sky deck to get a bird’s eye view of the city. Our Chicago trip had us walking almost the entire day and this way, we came across many notable landmarks in downtown Chicago like the Merchandise Mart, Chicago River, LaSalle Street Bridge, Reid, Murdoch & Company building, Marina City, Chicago Theatre, Trump Tower (under construction), Chicago Tribune and Navy Pier. By the time we reached the Navy Pier it was quite late and the weather had started to take a turn for the worse. I can vividly remember how numb my fingers were from the freezing cold! Nevertheless, I have very fond memories of Chicago because we never get to experience weather like that living in the perpetual oven that is Singapore!
|Marshall Field Museum|
New York and New Jersey (6th Dec - 10th Dec 2007)
As the day of our New York trip was approaching, newspapers all over the US screamed “Icy storm hits the Midwest”. Fortunately for us, we had abandoned the idea of driving all the way to NY and were taking the flight instead. The first thing we did after landing in the Big Apple was rent a Chevy Uplander and head to Times Square. We couldn’t have asked for better weather in New York. It was sunny and cool with no signs of rain or snow. We took the subway to central park and spent some time taking in all the lovely sights. Next, we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art and from there to Ground Zero, Battery Park and Wall Street. We walked and walked, pushing our tired legs to the limit. As daylight was rapidly fading and the weather started getting chilly, we made Brooklyn Bridge our last stop of the day. From here, we had a spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline. After an exhausting day, we went to a relative’s house in New Jersey where we stayed for the next few days. The next leg of our New York sightseeing began with a ferry ride to Staten Island which served as a vantage point to view the Statue of Liberty. From there we went to the Rockefeller centre which was packed with holiday shoppers and visitors like us. We got a glimpse of the gigantic Christmas tree and the skating rink which was swarmed by enthusiastic skaters. The last stop of the day was the Empire State Building, a must-see place if you want a spectacular view of New York City from the observatory deck.
|Empire State Building|
Washington D.C (11th Dec 2007)
Washington D. C is a short drive away from New Jersey. Armed with a picnic basket full of goodies, we were all set to explore the capital district of the US. As with most of the other trips, we were lucky have blissful weather on this trip. Our first stop was the Washington Monument. We went all the way to the top where we could see the White House, Lincoln Memorial, World War II Memorial, the umpteen museums and Capitol Hill. I was eager to see the White House up-close so that is where we went first. After spending considerable time taking pictures, we discovered that it was the backside of the White House that we were viewing! Next we walked over to the World War II Memorial and from there to the Lincoln Memorial. A short cab ride later we were at the Smithsonian National Museum of Air and Space. We ended our day with a visit to the National Museum of Natural History.
|The White House|
|World War II Memorial|
|Natural History Museum|
Florida (19th Dec - 26th Dec 2007)We decided to spend Christmas in Florida. The main reason was to escape the icy cold in the Midwest! We were receiving hurricane alerts and continual reports of deteriorating weather which I must admit was a bit frightening.
Once we reached Florida, a Chevy Uplander came to our service again. The airport we landed in Florida was Fort Myers. From there, our destination, Port Charlotte, was a 1 hour drive away. We were staying with relatives in Port Charlotte. A few places we visited while we were there were the Port Charlotte beach, Siesta Key beach in Sarasota and Sanibel Island.
A trip to Florida is of course incomplete without a visit to Orlando so that is exactly what we did. We stayed at a lovely holiday home while in Orlando. The highlights of our Orlando trip was Walt Disney world (Epcot), Universal studios and Kennedy space centre (NASA).
We weren’t able to go to Miami, but looking at the bright side, that could be another reason to visit in the future :)
|Walt Disney World|
Back to Wisconsin (27th Dec - 12th Jan 2008)
We welcomed the new year in Milwaukee along with our wedding anniversary a few days later. The Milwaukee that was adorned with the cheery colors of fall when we first arrived, was transformed into a winter wonderland by then. On this high note, we ended our two month US holiday.....a holiday spent with loved ones and filled with excitement, thrill, suspense, adventure, unexpected twists and unlimited fun!
|Milwaukee in winter|
Seattle (10th June – 15th June 2009)
This was my second visit to the US and a conference-related trip. To be completely honest with you, when I first heard that the conference I would be attending in the US was in Seattle, I was a tad disappointed. I thought to myself, "Seattle? Really???!" But only later I realized how wrong I was. Seattle is a sprawling city surrounded by scintillating natural beauty (Cascade Mountains to the east and Olympic Mountains to the west). There are a lot of things that you can see and do while visiting this city. The timing of my visit was perfect....there were clear skies and pleasant weather throughout. What I found most intriguing was that it wouldn’t get dark even until 9 pm! Seattle is known for its coffee and being a coffee lover I had to sample all the different varieties of coffee that I could lay my hands on. During the free time I had, some of the places I visited in Seattle were the Seattle Public Library, Waterfront, Alki Beach Park and Space Needle.
|Coffee shop at my hotel|
|Seattle Public Library|
Although all these places were wonderful, the highlight of my visit to Seattle was the day-trip to Mount Rainier. It is something I will never ever forget. I booked the tour with Gray Line so even though I didn’t have company, there were plenty of other people traveling with me. Our tour guide was a pleasant chatty local who used to fondly refer to our bus as Nelly! Mount Rainier is the highest mountain in Washington and the Cascade Range, known for its glaciers. Once I got to the top of the mountain, I was thrilled to see the abundance of snow and ice. I got to admire the many natural wonders, including crashing waterfalls, diverse plant life and the snow-capped summit of Mount Rainier. Here are some pictures I took.
|Nature at its best|
The last day in Seattle, I met up with some friends and drove down to the Alki beach park where we sat by the pier eating ice-cream and gazing at the Seattle skyline. We could see the Space needle in the distance. I was lucky that the banquet dinner of the conference I was attending was scheduled to take place at the revolving restaurant atop the Space needle so I got to experience the view from the tower while enjoying a fabulous dinner at the same time!
|Alki beach park|
|View from Space Needle|
My second trip to the US also ended on a high just like the first one. I will miss my favorite haunts like Macys, Kohl’s, JC Penney, Sears, The Cheesecake factory, Chipotle, P. F. Chang’s, Cinnabon and so many more! I still have so many places to see and things to experience that I will be scouting for an opportunity to visit again.
Uncle Sam....I will be back!