Tuesday, November 21, 2017

US trip part two: Northern California & Southern Oregon

From San Francisco we slowly made our way up north. We had an ultimate reunion with our friend Kyle after not seeing each other for a year and a half. He came to pick us up and even agreed to take a detour on our way to Sacramento so that we could drive over the Golden Gate Bridge! Little did I know how much hotter the weather would get as we drove further away from the ocean... it got up to 40C during our time in Sacramento and Redding, which is, safe to say, the hottest weather I've experienced in my life! But if it means sipping mimosas in the pool all day, I think there are worse fates. Kyle also made it his mission to introduce me to the wonders of Costco - a massive grocery store where you can buy everything in bulk. You never know when you might suddenly need 10 jars of peanut butter... Even though I knew that everything in the US is bigger, I was still amazed every single time. Like for example there was a megachurch near Kyle's house. From the outside it looked like a mall and it had huge billboards on the highway inviting people to join?!

The hot weather, drought and sadly also people doing stupid things meant that we had to change our plans multiple times due to wildfires everywhere in the area. Our original plan was to go to the coast right away and see the Redwoods, but in the end we had to head straight over towards Oregon. First we took the Greyhound to Redding, where Jeanette and Brian picked us up for the next leg of the journey. Taking the bus in the US is apparently a very dangerous activity and the Greyhound has somehow aquired the worst reputation, which is why our decision to take the bus caused a lot of panic in the family, lol. Thankfully we survived the 4 hours on the bus without getting stabbed or anything like that... If you can, however, take the train instead, do it - Amtrak was honestly SO NICE, but I'll write more about it next time.

In Redding I went to my first real diner - just like in the movies. I wish I had practiced ordering breakfast beforehand, though... you have to communicate your wishes regarding what type of bread you want, how you'd like your eggs, what you want as a side and if you want anything to drink besides water in what felt like three and a half seconds tops?! Most breakfast foods would qualify as a home-style dinner in Europe (except in the UK where they also eat sausages and beans for breakfast), especially the fried potatoes in all forms. I was pleasantly surprised when I thought that my waffle was served with a scoop of ice cream. Thank god Matt warned me before I was about to eat that spoonful of butter... :D

From there we drove up towards Oregon, stopping here and there to check our pretty nature stuff like the Sacramento river headwaters near Mount Shasta. Collected some water and saw a lot of hippies doing the same. It was also cool to see a part of the Pacific Crest Trail, since I read/watched "Wild" not too long ago. I'm still planning on hiking a part of it one day!

We spent our first night in Oregon in Ashland and met up with another friend who grew up there and now also studies in Germany. I really liked the town - everything seemed so peaceful, more authentic and relaxed. Matt thinks that the people there are more rude than in other places but I actually liked the way everyone was in Ashland - polite but not overly (fake) friendly like we experienced in some other places. The cold-hearted northerner in me got to relax for a moment, haha. There was also a weird moment at our motel when I thought there was some sort of sand in the bottom of the pool. Turned out it was ashes from the wildfires forming such a big pile...

Our "main destination" for this part of the trip was Klamath Falls, where Matt's mom and some other family members live. It's a pretty small town, but the coolest part of it is that it's also not too far from pretty nature stuff. Oregon's most famous, of course, is the Crater Lake, which we went to see on my birthday. It's a massive volcano crater that has turned into a lake. It was the bluest thing I've ever seen! When we got up there, it was a little smoky, but not too bad. But after about an hour of walking around, we weren't even able to see the island in the middle of it as a thick cloud of smoke just kept rolling in... I'm so glad we got there when there was still something to see. Afterwards we picked up a huge ice cream cake from Dairy Queen (they even spelled my name correctly on it!!!) for my birthday, which we then ate for three consecutive days with the entire family. :D

Last but not least (actually my favourite part of this part of the trip), we also went camping at Fish Lake and exploring around Lake of the Woods. Fish Lake was cool (especially with the view on Mount McLaughlin when we were kayaking around), but Lake of the Woods was one of my favourite places during the whole month! It's just so pretty and peaceful, even though it's pretty much surrounded by people's summer houses and campsites. We also went to an event with live music by the water and attempted to make s'mores out of peeps, which everyone thought was hilarious. Speaking of camping, it's definately something else in the US. Especially in small towns, literally everyone has a fifth wheel camper in their yard - bonus points if it's bigger than your neighbour's. When you park them, most of them can be expanded to the sides so that you have a bedroom, bathroom, living room and a kitchen corner in it. It was insane one night when there was a beautiful sunset across the lake from our campsite and the family next to us were all sitting in their camper watching football on their flat screen TV. :D

I divided the posts up by the amount of pictures so I didn't think this one would be so long... But I think it'll be nice for me to read all this in the future and remember all my first impressions like that. It's funny, because every time people ask how the trip was, I can't even think where to begin or how to answer this shortly. But now I feel like I could keep writing here forever and still not be able to share all the adventures and emotions anyway.

Friday, November 3, 2017

US trip part one: San Francisco

Wow, long time no see. SO much has happened in the meantime. Not only did I find out for sure that I was accepted for the Master's programme that I hoped for (so much that I didn't even apply anywhere else), but by now, I already have the first couple of weeks of classes behind me. I am studying politics and public administration at the University of Konstanz - the place I did my Erasmus, fell in love with the city but not only and found home. Good thing the university rocks, right?

Anyway, I actually wanted to slowly start posting about our US trip this September. I will be posting this stuff as fast as I can, but considering how busy I've been with everything ever since we got back a few weeks ago, this will still probably take months, so gather patience.

Even though our priority was to visit Matt's family in Oregon, we decided to treat ourselves with San Francisco at the beginning of the trip as a birthday present to one another. I was so excited to go to the US for the first time ever, but now I feel like the whole trip was just one new thing after another. Obviously, I've lived abroad, but I've never actually continuously travelled for a month like that. Since we were also moving between places every three days on average, it was also quite overwhelming, but totally worth it. Like all Europeans, I think, i felt like I was in an average Hollywood movie for the first few days, haha.

San Francisco is absolutely crazy! We stayed in a weird hotel near the Civic Centre on Market Street - the absolute culture shock to a terribly jet-lagged me. We literally saw hundreds of homeless people, some pantsless looking for a vein to shoot in the street and so on. We might have just been unlucky with our location, though. The areas by the ocean and the bay were a totally different story. Some were pretty touristy, like the Fisherman's Wharf area. Then again, seeing sealions was pretty awesome, so I can't blame the people. My favourite was the trail going east from Fort Point with a view on the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz and a big chunk of the city. It was crazy foggy (like every day in San Fran...), so there weren't too many people strolling around. San Francisco was also my first time seeing the Ocean! I think this has caused some confusion, though, since Americans also call most seas "the ocean". Obviously, since I grew up on an island, I've seen open water before. :D Anyway, I was still pretty excited to be able to look into the distance and think that on the other side of the water is Japan?! Another cool place to go is the Grandview Park with the tiled steps going up there. We also loved hanging out on Pier 7 in the evenings, which is totally quiet unlike the touristy piers. Oh, and you can try free chocolate samples if you walk through the Ghiradelli factory. :D

If you're up for it, San Francisco is pretty good for walking around - but you have to be prepared for the hills! Other than that, there are like 5 (?) different public transport systems with separate ticket systems. We managed to mess up once, but I guess now we have a $5 reimbursement check waiting for us next time we go over, lol.