Every time you go to a place you have been to before, new things happen, new experiences occur and therefore a new opinion about a place forms in your mind.
I first visited the USA on a family holiday to my grandparents place in Hilton head island in South Carolina. I was a baby, and have no recollection of the time spent there at all.
2nd time was also to South Carolina. However I was a lot older. Probably about 13 I reckon. The island is beautiful, and my grandparents beach facing apartment was stunning.
It was a great family holiday, cycle rides around the island, alligators in the middle of the roads, beach walks, sand castle makings, eating out and various other holiday type activities.
When you’re that age or younger it’s hard to appreciate where you are and what you are doing as you have no context to put your experience within. Its easy to take things for granted.
The next holiday to America was to vale Colorado to go skiing for a few weeks. This was incredible. Having skied since I was tiny in Europe, and only being used to foreign ski resorts; being in the American mountains was awesome. Everything was bigger, the slopes, the hotel, the food, the ski runs. And bonus points for everyone speaking your language.
Memory is a weird thing though. One or two of the surviving memories from that holiday were being in an outdoor hot tub when it was snowing, going up a ski lift and seeing trees full of bras (yes bras) of all different colours and sizes hanging from it. The buffet breakfast was just insane. And then of course the ski school itself; with Martin bell as our ski instructor we carved our way around the vale resort.
The next time I hit the states was in 2004 where I accompanied my then boyfriend at the time to Nashville Tennessee where he was moving to. We flew into Atlanta and then into Nashville. Once in Nashville itself we were staying with his god family who looked after us really well. We managed to get to Memphis to go watch an usher concert. We watched the Tennessee titans playing American football at the Nashville stadium. Took trips to the cinema, had bbq’s alfresco and generally got absorbed into the way of life of the family we were living with.
After Tennessee I left for Miami and Guatemala where I went to work with street children in Guatemala City for a few weeks. On my return I flew up to Chicago via miami for the first time to stay with a family that my family has known for years. They lived in the suburbs of Chicago, and my two weeks there included very tourist type ventures of the city. I did however get involved in their family goings on. I babysat for their three kids and on Halloween I took two of the kids onto a haunted pirate ship on navy pier. The kids were fine. I was petrified. Travelling alone meant that I did a lot of the experiences myself, and at the bright young age of 18, the world was my oyster, everything was foreign yet familiar in america. The sheer nerve I had to wonder around a city such as Chicago all by myself at that age baffles me even now.
In Miami I walked down to the beach at night time and met three guys. Really nice and of Mexican heritage. They offered to show me around Miami, so i jumped in their car and we cruised around the city. I would never do that now. I don’t know whether that’s because times have changed, or whether I was just incredibly naive at the time. Either way they dropped me off at my hostel just fine, and I appreciated the company and the tour. They were the nice ones if you like.
From Chicago I took a flight down to South Carolina to go stay with my grandparents there for two weeks. I remember stepping onto the flight in Chicago wrapped up in scarf, wooly hat, hoody, jacket etc and then arriving in Charlotte airport absolutely sweltering and having to take off an awful lot of clothes. I can’t say that in retrospect I was surprised by the climate change, but it gave me a massive idea of just how vast the states is as a country.
Back on Hilton head with my grandparents at aged 18 was a much more memorable an experience. And indeed a pretty special one too. We visited Charleston for a day, a beautiful city, we dined out at beautiful maritime restaurants along the coast and on Hilton head itself. I remember walking along the beach listening to the band hooberstanks song ‘the reason’ on repeat along with other bands of the time and reflecting on my life that was so present but yet so far away back in England.
I guess the saying ‘home is where your heart is’ becomes pretty apparent when you are travelling. Being with my grandparents, and then the ex boyfriend at the time whilst in Tennessee, meant that I established quite the connection to the states. I fell in love with the place, and the lifestyle of the people I visited out there.
In retrospect, the lifestyles were of the more well off. I mean, the experiences I had in that trip were very Fortunate ones. It was all pre planned and I was well looked after. The same as the other experiences I had had of America up until that point in time.
After South Carolina I made my way to New York for the first time. Again staying with family friends who had a lovely apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan. I saw their life there as well as doing the tourist things by myself. They took me to student theatre shows and to local food markets. And I took myself to Times Square and up the Empire State Building. On top of the Empire State Building I met cherie Blair and her daughter (of all people) they were over on October half term for a mother daughter holiday. Again this resonated the fact that really the world was becoming smaller.
And then I flew home. Between this visit to the states and the next I also went off to Australia and Asia on my gap year. So taking into account these travels; my next trip to the states in 2008, along with 2 years experience of university back in England, was going to be very different.
This time I arrived in New York via ship with my mum. After a few tourist type days in New York we went our separate ways. I went off down to Maryland to visit some friends at Towson university for a night. Then via Washington DC I went on the train to Chicago. Strangely it was warming to visit there again, even for just one day at the time (I was en route to Los Angeles) I stepped off the train for a few hours and grabbed a coffee by the river.
Of course at this point I had absolutely no idea I would be visiting Chicago again now. This concept of not knowing the future only inspires me to really look forward to it, and try to make each moment count.
Back on the overnight train to Los Angeles I met various passengers with various stories. The views as we wound our way through the American landscape were beautiful. From the mountains in Colorado to the desert lands of Texas and Arizona. By far my favourite form of travel; going on a train allows you to see where you are. And to reiterate a point earlier on in my blog, it allows you to really appreciate a journey and make your time away seem even more foreign and special.
Los Angeles for the several months I was there in 2008 had massive highs and lows. Staying with my best friend amie from uni in an apartment in west LA was awesome, but our company there was not so much. We were unexpectedly living with a Canadian woman who turned out to be a complete druggy and some of the experiences we both had there were pretty scary. We made great friends in graham and Perrin. They really looked after us. They are residents of LA and were involved with the theatre we were over there semi working alongside. Our work out there was an eye opener. We worked in a school called the ‘Delphi academy’ in Santa Monica where the kids came from extremely privileged backgrounds. Here we ran workshops and the kids did a final show at the Santa Monica theatre at the end of our trip.
LA was sprawling with no centre. It was hot all the time, and although I’m not complaining, returning from boiling heat in LA in December and back to the UK where there was snow, made me realise I really do appreciate the change in seasons.
The divide between rich and poor within the states only became really prominent for me here in LA. I guess it was the first time I had spent a substantial amount of time in the states and in one place. Everyday we’d experience a drunk homeless person on a bus, or walk by one in the street. Then we’d visit somewhere like Beverly Hills where crystal like chandeliers literally hung between boutique shops in the middle of the road.
Malibu, where Perrin lived at the time, was my favourite place. Her parents had a beautiful beachfront house, and it was set slightly away from the city which enabled headspace and pauses for reflection on the rest of the city.
Towards the end of my stay there my ex boyfriend now, and his brother and now wife came to stay. Dave and Abbie were off on an around the world trip for a year and LA was there first port of call. Kevin, came along with them and then both myself and him made our way from LA back to New York via train for two weeks, stopping off in Las Vegas and Chicago along the way.
Vegas was ridiculous. Considering the knowledge and experiences I have had of other less fortunate countries in the world; the amount of money that must be poured into that place was sickening. Never the less it was intriguing and I think we were both glad we had visited, but concluded that it was definitely just a tick in the box.
Chicago in 2008 in December was bitterly cold and snow was on the ground. We ventured up sears tower, went to shedd aquarium and the art institute and generally just wondered around the city for a few days. I looked back at some photos of this part of that trip the other day. There are one or two that include Sams building in the skyline. A bizarre thought as I am sat within that building now.
New York for our final few days before flying home was really great. I think being there with a boyfriend makes it pretty romantic. As with most cities you visit as a couple I guess.
So I guess that pretty much brings me up to date on my experiences of the states.
And now here I am in Chicago, staying with my brother who has lived here for 10 months, sat in his amazing apartment blogging about the past and the present.
Obviously if you have been reading my blog, you will know I travelled here with mum from New York in the car. Stopping off in Rhode Island, Boston and Canada to the Niagara Falls and sarnia before we arrived in Chicago over two weeks ago now.
I am now halfway through my travels here in the states, and with the above in mind I think I can conclusively express that what makes a place, and what makes an experience, and equally what makes the best memories are the people you spend the times with.
Sharing is indeed caring. Bonds grow stronger, you develop in learning about the people you are with. Especially if you have known them in a different environment back in the UK. Funnily enough even the worst experiences with friends at your side can result in the longevity of that relationship and the continuing way you will stay part of each others lives.
I still love the states. I’ve loved being part of events here, like watching the hawks games (ice hockey – Chicago are in the Stanley cup final against the Boston bruins) and the Chicago cubs game yesterday was great. I was reminded of when I last saw them play back in 2004 whilst I was sat watching.
I guess for me it’s been a bizarre experience being here and emerging myself in someone else’s life for a few weeks. I have loved every second, don’t get me wrong. But that fearless naivity and sense of adventure that one carries in their late teens and early 20’s has definitely deteriorated somewhat in the last few years. I would imagine that this is because I got extremely comfortable at home in my last job, and without really realising it. Up until the end of university everything was still a learning process. Travel, meeting people, establishing friends. Everything was new, or a mixture of old and new for so many years that travelling when you are younger is most definitely easier.
Sam and I have had several conversations about being a ‘creature of habit’ whilst I’ve been out here. Sam has decided that he doesn’t think that he is a creature of comfort/habit. One of his arguments for this is that he claims he has only had 2 cups of tea out here in Chicago since he arrived last September. Compared to the probably hundreds he used to have in the UK. It’s a really interesting concept the whole ‘comfort zone’ philosophy. I would say it has taken me a while to feel completely comfortable here. Don’t get me wrong, every experience, and every person I have met so far have been great. But the realisation that this is most definitely Sams life out here didn’t take too long to materialise. I don’t think that I am necessarily a creature of comfort. I mean in certain contexts I absolutely love meeting new people and going to new places. But I guess I am now realising the integration of these new experiences from my previous form of existence is appreciated more when it is gradual, and indeed when I can do it in my own time.
Where the whole creature comforts does fit in now in particular is that I am most definitely appreciative of a comfortable bed, darkness and relative silence when I sleep. None of which I have here. Haha. And yet our ability to adapt to new environments as humans and create new worlds in which to reside are things that have undoubtedly developed and moulded us as a species throughout our time on this planet.
As much as I love the city life, I think I can safely say I enjoy visiting it more. The countryside and nature inspires me and seems more natural to me than the city life.
Chicago is an epic city. The sprawling mass of skyscrapers and other beautifully designed architectures is inspiring in a different way. Not just because of the accomplishment but also because of the potential and possibilities in going further as a species and progressing on to bigger and better things. The way the infrastructure has formed around the Chicago river and onto the lake is in its own way very beautiful. The endless amount of construction and seemingly never ending labour that goes into the up keep of the cities parks and streets make you feel like anything is possible if we can all put our minds to it.
I guess in conclusion, being here in Chicago and the states in general has made me pause and reflect on my past experiences and adventures here and allow me to really embrace what is yet to come. It has reignited a sense of adventure that I knew was never lost, but has been on the back burner for quite sometime. Like most new environments and situations it takes a while to establish a sense of self within that context. I have been so adamant that I am not travelling to ‘find myself’ but in reality we are each continuing to ‘find ourselves’ every single day. Increasingly I am becoming aware that knowing yourself is a formation and indeed a combination of longevity in one particular geographical point. Surrounding yourself with what you know and being part of a community and a routine leads you to the assurence that you know yourself, and in turn it can predict a relative future. Travelling around the world and seeing new things and meeting new people upsets this assurance I think. But equally it is a building block of your life. It creates more puzzle pieces that can fit together in your mind that will result in the overall rounded self perception of your life and yourself. Basically every day is a school day, and throwing yourself into new situations and environments is what I think enables growth and development of character and indeed confidence within oneself. And it is this that I know I have been lacking for a while. Every experience is a good one, but some are more eventful and successful in implementing self growth and future aspirations than others.