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I used to be surprised at how dependent Americans are on their cars, but now I understand it. USA is so vast , and the cities are so spread out, that it is impossible to get by without a reliable vehicle. This is why cars and gas are so cheap, people get their driver’s license at 16, and infrastructure is so good in the States. Good roads are key to keeping this huge country connected and to enable business. No wonder why Americans love their roads and have even created legends around some of them and have raised them to the status of national symbols.
I feel lucky to have traveled the two most famous roads in the States within the same month – Highway One and Route 66. Both of them have the official status of All-American Roads, granted by the US Department of Transportation, which means that they are national scenic, cultural, historic and natural sites.
Historic Route 66, also known as The Mother Road, links Chicago to Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles through Arizona, Illinois, and New Mexico (3,945m). I travelled along Route 66 roughly between Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Lake Havasu, and Los Angeles. The best attraction on Route 66, I think, are the many roadside bars and eateries, such as Delgadillo’s Snow Cap Drive-In.
Snow Cap is a popular roadside attraction in Seligman, AZ along Route 66. Juan Delgadillo, the owner of the place, is notorious for his weird sense of humor. The front door had two doorknobs, and of course, the one I held first turned out to be a dummy. When I ordered a bottle of water, Juan Delgadillo, the man behind the counter gave me a baby bottle. Then he squirted fake ketchup on my shirt. Then he asked me if I wanted a straw for my water – and handed me a bunch of dried hay straws. I must say, I was not prepared for the pranks, but I did appreciate them!
The backyard of the Snow Cap is full of vintage automobiles with faces, hand-written signs like “Sorry, we’re open”, a wooden outdoor toilet with a TV and a hula dancing doll inside, and more random craziness. It turns out that Seligman, AZ is the prototype of Radiator Springs from Pixar’s Cars: a small town on a rather abandoned road where a great sense of humor and a few good local stars are the only way to attract tourism.
Taking a road trip along West Coast’s Highway One is one of the quintessential “Bucket List” items that all Americans have. I took that trip twice – once from San Francisco to LA, and, three weeks later, from San Diego to San Francisco.
Some of the highlights of Highway One that I saw were:
Pebble Beach – a peninsula with beautiful bays, lodges, and vista points turned into a ritzy golf resort and gated community. Here is The Lone Cypress, which most Californians will recognize in photos.
Monterey – The two must-see attractions are the Monterey Bay Aquarium (read my previous post) and the shops and restaurants at Canary Row.
Big Sur – the most stunning coastline I have ever seen in the entire world is between Monterey and San Lius Obispo! The sheer walls of the Santa Lucia Mountains vertically drop in the Pacific Ocean to create breathtaking views of the dark blue ocean, waves crashing and foaming into the jagged rocks, the narrow white strip of Highway 1 meandering on the edge of the cliffs, and the green mountain tops almost touching the blue sky. I spent almost the whole ride with my hand outside the window taking photos. You have to be prepared to snap them fast because if you are a moment too late, you could just miss the perfect shot of the Bixby Creek Bridge.
Architectural wonders – Madonna Inn and Hearst Castle (previous post), two eccentric establishments built by America’s richest people of the day.
Beautiful beaches with seals and sea otters – harbor seals around Carmel and elephant seals around San Simeon, as well as interesting human-inhabited beaches such as Muscle Beach and Venice Beach (I took lots of cool pics here).
The desert landscape of Imperial Sand Dunes and the Chocolate Mountains – I did not expect to see this, but yes, California has everything – from lush green sequoia forests and magnificent coasts to sandy deserts south of San Diego.
In conclusion, Highway One and Route 66 have definitely met and exceeded my expectations of the perfect road trips!
Other famous streets I’ve visited in the States: The Las Vegas Strip, Broadway and 5th Avenue in NYC, Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard (where I saw Katy Perry) and Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, The Freedom Trail in Boston, Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Ocean Drive in South Beach, Miami (read about my awesome spring break).
In California, I discovered a new passion for extreme sports: skydiving. Too bad we don’t get to watch more extreme sports at the London 2012 Olympic Games*, but at least we got a taste of the extreme with James Bond and Queen Elizabeth’s heroic jump with a parachute from a helicopter over the Olympic Stadium during the Opening Ceremony.
With its all-year-round perfect weather and scenic views, California is a paradise for both first time skydivers and licensed skydiving enthusiasts. The Golden State has the largest skydiving community in the States and one of the highest number of drop zones worldwide.
I jumped for the first time in a tandem at the Parachute Center, Lodi, CA. To tell you the truth, parking the car in front of the drop zone was the most terrifying moment of the whole experience! My pulse had almost stopped and there was not even a drop of blood in my face. My legs felt like melting cheese as I was putting on the jumpsuit, and my mouth had frozen in a crooked horrified smile as people around me were cheering for me and saying that I’ll do great. My instructor was going to be Mike, a white-haired man with over 10,000jumps.
As I was walking to the airplane, I was silently cursing Ethan who persuaded me to do it. I had already accepted my doomed fate as I was watching the airport below us become smaller and smaller. At 13,000feet (4,000 meters), my instructor tightened the straps that secured my back to him and gave me a signal to go up to the door. I remember thinking: “Whatever. Just do it!” … And we jumped.
These were the most amazing 60 seconds of my life!
Pure adrenaline rush!
If you’ve never been in freefall, you don’t know what you’re missing! The speed and sound of the air rushing past you in the first moment and the sight of the airplane flying away somewhere above you. Then the sensation of floating or even being lifted up due to the air friction and the view of the blue sky, the thin horizon, and the fields and mountains below you. Time stretches, and for those 60 seconds, you are very aware of everything you see and feel. Just take it all in!
When Mike opened the parachute and we went under canopy, my first thought was “WOW, this was awesome!” From there, I just enjoyed the relaxing flight over Lodi and then a perfectly soft landing.
Most people say that they would like to jump at least once in their lifetime. A small portion of them really do, and they love it! An even smaller portion of those love it so much that they want to do it over and over and over again!
About a month after my first tandem jump, I had already completed AFF, the Accelerated Freefall Program, at the Parachute Center, which enables me to solo jump. The program consists of seven jumps with an instructor who at first only holds you stable during the freefall, and later only watches you from a distance while you maintain a stable position and perform basic maneuvers in the air. My AFF instructor was Zak Tessier, check out his skydiving, wingsuit flying, and BASE jumping with Team Go 4 It!
Take a look at Ethan’s TheExtremeEJDe video blog on YouTube as well for more from the world of skydiving, scuba diving, and motorcycling.
When I came back to Bulgaria after my California trip, I immediately went to jump at Skydive Sofia. As the skydivers in Sofia say, “Don’t worry about the fear. Worry about the addiction.”
And although there isn’t a skydiving competition in the London 2012 Olympic Games, we all saw who arrived at the Opening Ceremony with a parachute – James Bond and Queen Elizabeth! They have already done it, and so should you!
*Unfortunately, we won’t be seeing skydiving, water ski, scuba diving, power boating, auto racing, or motorcycle racing in the Olympics any time soon because the International Olympic Body deems sports with an element of motorization to be ineligible for the Games.
By the way, the closest I’ve gotten to an Olympic gold medal is when I won three ribbons at the intramural swimming competition at Boston University. Read about it in the link.
Seals are such beautiful creatures. They are big and mighty when they argue, nudge and shove each other, but then become gentle and peaceful when napping cuddled together. They are very clumsy on the shore, but fast and graceful in the water.
During my trip, I saw elephant seals, sea lions, and common harbor seals everywhere from the beaches of Big Sur and Carmel to the harbors of Santa Cruz and San Francisco. These are some of the pictures I took.
I also went to the San Diego Zoo, which is one of the biggest zoos in the world. It’s marvelous how they have recreated the natural habitats of various animals with unique plants and environments: the pandas are in a bamboo forest, the alligators are in a swamp, the kangaroos are in an outback-like desert, the exotic birds are in a jungle. They also have many animal-themed shows and performances such as the Chinese Theatre we saw near the Asian section of the zoo. Thus, the San Diego zoo combines an animal park, a botanical garden, and an entertainment center where children and parents can observe, learn about, and interact with nature.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of the best aquariums in the world.
Monterey Bay in California holds an abundance of interesting, unique ocean animals and plants, which make the region a paradise for scuba divers and ocean explorers. At the Aquarium, I saw a bunch of interactive exhibits where biologists were feeding the otters, the deep sea fish (imagine a school of thousands of herring moving in giant tank along with hammerheads and sharks), and the inhabitants of a kelp forest. I also saw a sea horses exhibit, a jellyfish exhibit, and a playground where you could touch various creatures.
In addition to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the San Diego Zoo, I encountered several California species that I had never seen in the wild before: blue jays, a humming bird in Mount Diablo, seals, otters, two scary snakes, a herd of very friendly elk by Grand Canyon, redwoods and giant sequoias in Yosemite, and of course, the yellow California poppy. So my number one advice to travelers is: always combine sightseeing in the cities with exploring the local nature and wild life!
Three years ago when I started this blog as a sophomore at Boston University, I couldn’t even imagine how soon I would be writing this:
I graduated from college!
As I reflect back on my experience as a Bulgarian coming to the States for university, I feel that I have accomplished some very significant achievements. I immersed myself in the American culture, conquered a few personal goals, and even managed to learn a thing or two about Marketing and Management.
This is my list of the greatest things I did while studying in America:
Soak In the American Culture
2. Went to two Red Sox games, a Celtics game, a Giants game, and a BU vs BC hockey game
3. Watched the Superbowl twice
4. Went whale watching near Cape Cod
5. Saw the Blue Angels in Florida
6. Went to several Broadway musicals in New York, The Blue Man Group and the Boston Pops Orchestra in Boston, drag queen shows in Provincetown
7. Played the slot machines in Las Vegas, Foxwoods, CT and Mohegan Sun, CT
8. Witnessed Obama’s election, learned a lot about American politics, and was there when the global financial system crashed (this is not necessarily my achievement)
9. Interacted with the US military and learned a lot about the philosophy of the enlisted, ROTC, and those who support them
10. Learned about ADHD and how common the misuse of Adderall is at universities
11. Did a pull up at Muscle Beach, LA
12. Partied all night long in Miami
13. Ate like an American: tried Twinkies, s’mores, New England clam chowder, Main lobster, Cajun cuisine and jambalayas, Tex-Mex fajitas, lots of bagels with cream cheese, San Francisco crab bisque in a sourdough bowl, (ate and shucked) oysters, hotdog at the ballpark, salt water taffy, Reese’s peanut butter cups, cranberries (even visited a cranberry bog), a ton of salad dressings, avocado on everything
14. NEVER TRIED A PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICH (I just realized that! Must fix that!)
15. Went to some of America’s most beloved chain restaurants: Hooters, Jamba Juice, In-N-Out, Bubba Gump, Hard Rock Café, Krispy Kreme, The Cheesecake Factory
16. Bought something from Abercrombie and Fitch, American Eagle, American Apparel, and Urban Outfitters
Enhance My College Career
17. Met interesting people from all over the world
18. Tailored my education to the area of business and the industry I’m interested in and landed my dream job
19. Had an internship every semester and summer
20. Picked up a third foreign language, Russian
21. Became good friends with some of my professors
22. Visited some of the world’s top universities: Harvard, MIT, Yale, Stanford, Brown, Berkeley, and Columbia U
23. Joined several student groups
24. Went to frat parties and witnessed a lot of MIT frat hazing
25. Attended a house party that got busted by the police
26. Played beer pong, cups, and gunshotting during 21st birthday celebrations
27. Used a fake international ID to get into clubs before I was 21 (very offended because I had been clubbing in Bulgaria since 16)
28. Spent spring break in Cancun with the entire US college population
29. Got my university to pay me for tutoring Writing 100 and Writing 150 students
30. Was in the top 7% of the class.. who would have thought?
Travel As Much As Possible
31. Travelled all over the East and West Coast: Niagara Falls, Walden Pond, Salem, Boston, Plymouth, Cape Cod, Provincetown, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Providence, New Haven, Pittsburgh, State College, New York, New Jersey, Miami, Orlando, Pensacola, New Orleans, Jackson MI, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Cancun, The Bahamas, Sierra Nevada, Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, Lake Havasu, San Diego, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Big Sur, Monterey, Berkeley, San Francisco, Palo Alto, San Ramon, Lodi, Napa and Sonoma Valley, Point Reyes.
32. Had a road trip on Route 66 as well as on Highway 1 (in both directions)
33. Soaked my feet both in the Atlantic and the Pacific Ocean
34. Took advantage of Boston University’s study abroad programs for a semester in London and in Madrid, where I even lived with a Spanish family.
Get In Some Thrill:
36. Overcame my fear of the deep, learned how to swim (freestyle, breaststroke, back and butterfly), and won recognitions for second and third place at a swimming competition.
37. Learned to sail a flying junior and had an amazing time sailing on the Charles every spring and fall
38. Constantly challenged myself with something new: Tried fencing, kickboxing, African dancing, belly dancing, pole dancing, snowboarding (I’m yet to perfect that!), jet ski, catamaran, windsurf, sea kayak, coasteering (jumping off rocks into the freezing sea with a wetsuit), flying a Navy flight simulator and a Cessna
39. Completed an AFF skydiving course and am currently on my 11th jump
40. Got a Massachusetts ID
41. Received a social security number
42. Filed my taxes (only twice though, should have been four times, oops)
43. Got called for Jury Duty
44. Visited the Sam Adams Brewery
45. Went to a Wal-Mart