Beginning of September is always special. It’s not only the end of summer, but it’s my birthday too. Don’t get me wrong, I like summer, generally because working is much more fun and the days are longer [with amazing evenings and breath-taking sunrises], but I prefer cooler days to those full of heat. As it turns out, September is when I usually go to the seaside, which is my favourite landscape, then I celebrate growing wiser [I try] and then I get ready for the new academic year. It feels creative, as it’s usually full of friends, fresh starts and lovely weather.
I must say however that this year’s September has been an interesting mix of completely opposite emotions. I faced some difficulties in accepting I am going to turn 30 this year [until the day I actually turned 30, when I realised it’s all great] and I struggle with work related issues as I am going through a transition and am trying to adjust the realities to my expectations [I sometimes feel my title should be Queen of High-Demand, Anca M], while I can’t go through an entire day without searching various hashtags on Instagram connected to our experience in USA.
I miss walking down the streets in Manhattan. I can’t stop thinking of how great it would be to live in Seattle. I believe I would not get tired of driving to Lake Crescent to camp and specialise in SUP. But, the most painful of it all, I miss spending time with my friend Sonia and her family.
I will always have the summer of 2019 remembered as my first visit of the USA. However, school is starting in 10 days and I need to get more focused on my work, less nostalgic about the past and more thrilled by the future as this academic year is about to start soon. As I mentioned before, it’s all about transitions, uncertainty, doubt, stress and new beginnings [to end it on a positive note, I am an optimist after all]. All the fun stuff.
So, in order to get closure, I decided to write a final piece on what was good and what wasn’t so nice in our trip. It was mostly nice stuff, so I will start with three dislikes and continue with the things we liked and loved during our trip. Here we go!
What we disliked:
- Too much Starbucks: We love coffee. We drink a lot of it. Like more than 2 cups a day. And in the States, while the quantity sold was alright, lots of businesses we entered were “proudly” working with Starbucks. So, we started by going to Starbucks on purpose, in order to try it out [and enjoyed it as long as it was our decision]. But then, we wanted to diversify and couldn’t because the only store we found in a national park sold Starbucks, the coffee at the breakfast in the NY hotel was Starbucks and the one sold at the bookstore nearby sold Starbucks as well. It got to the point that on our way back, in the London airport, where we had a five hours downtime, we specifically searched the place for any other type of coffee. I really didn’t see this coming. Also, I haven’t entered a Starbucks in Romania since we’re back and it’s more than a month, which is quite unusual for me [I used to go there to work between work and gym, but then I started going to the library instead; so have my visits to the coffee place reduced]. The sorrows of the privileged, what can I say?!
- Public transportation or the lack thereof: Now, I can be labelled “hater” for this one because the main reason of this point is that I don’t drive. I love aspects related to the need for a car [see point 4 in the list below], but it needed quite some planning to be able to use public transportation. We were lucky when visiting Seattle, because there is a lot of commute from the suburbs to the city. However, the busses were bound to the working hours so we had to plan accordingly. The services were good and the fare right [about 2.75/person]. But we would have not been able to visit all the places we did without our friends. So, truly grateful for the fact that they made time to show us a great time.
- The Aquarium in Seattle: This is on the list because I need a third item. Is not that we disliked it, but it wasn’t what I expected. We visited the one in Lisbon in 2017 and we loved it. We were assuming this one would be better. But it wasn’t. It felt a bit too crowded and I couldn’t see the Octopus very well [which is the main attraction] and most of the fish were small. There are birds and seals and super beautiful fish. It pays to visit it. Especially as the Aquarium presents scuba divers who interact with the public while feeding and checking on the animals. It’s a nice place, we just expected it to be bigger. At some point we wondered whether we’ve visited it all. I think we did.
Now that I listed things I disliked aka were fine I just wish they were different, let’s go to those items we liked in their entirety:
- Nature: I fell in love with Washington state. It’s so green and there are so many lakes. It’s perfect for people who love to be outdoors, to hike, to do water-sports (the options are many). I saw SUP for the first time and I am in love with it. I must try it next summer. We went camping and played at the Ocean and it was perfect. I admire how much nature is valued in this state and how communities are integrated into it. You know, I had the idea that the Americans are more focused on industry and building cities and individualism, but I guess I got proved wrong, at least in this state. There is so much more than that. It felt restorative.
- Super nice people: Again, nicer in King county when compared to Manhattan, but still. We felt so comfortable all the time. We got discounts, great advice and friendly smiles when helloed. And it happened in every business; even on the streets, in Sammamish. I felt welcomed. Not to mention the experience at the airport, where we had the nicest customs policeman ever. He smiled while asking us questions and then he gave us tips on how to best visit the Statue of Liberty when in New York. Ok, I felt at home.
- Healthy food: Now, we were expecting much more fast-food and full-of-sugar food choices. But in the supermarket, there were more healthy choices than in most supermarkets in Bucharest. Of course, many sweets and big portions, but there were healthy choices available, some at what I consider affordable prices. There are exceptions to it, as I should not forget though that I hadn’t paid attention and bought 3 apples at the low low price of 7 dollars in NY; they were bio. But there are fruits and vegetables and all sort of almonds and bars at affordable prices. Because that’s the thing with healthy food: one doesn’t need much to feel full and it takes longer until one gets hungry.
- Space, so much space: This is why I envy Americans and why I am also glad for not living there at the same time. The distances are insane. The country is so big and because the density is lower than in other places, people have quite spacious houses, parks, stores. Again, not necessarily true for New York, where the density is high, but in Washington state it was lovely like this. The up side of this is that one feels more at peace, because there aren’t so many crammed objects in one place “screaming” at you. On the down side, the distances between places are quite significant and one needs a car to move around in a comfortable manner.
- Diversity: we liked to be surrounded by so many different people. It made us feel emerged in culture. Especially in New York, the streets were flooded with tourists and locals hanging out, smiling and being outside. New York is so international with it’s interesting cultural blend. Probably we’ve mostly observed it when choosing food from the street carts and when reading the names of the businesses [this reading was mostly seeing, especially in the south eastern part of Manhattan, as we couldn’t understand the signs].
What we loved
But most of all, we loved spending quality time with my friends. Now, for the boyfriend the stakes were different, given that he is super flexible and friendly and he didn’t really get the chance to know the family when we all lived in Bucharest. But for me it was the first time in six years when I spent more than a week with one of my best friends and her lovely family. Not only I got to play with the baby boy [he’s a toddler, really], talked to Răzvan [I super enjoyed our talk at the lake in the afternoon, keeping our feet on the shore, while the baby boy was pouring water from his beach toys on the sand], but I got to watch Sonia fully grown. Married to the love of her life. Mothering an exquisite boy. Moving her career further. It’s such a privilege to be hosted in the homes of families and to observe the plain daily life [Is it more clear now why I got after a PhD in Sociology?]. Overall, I was lifted by the generosity of my friends and their presence and friendship, while saddened by knowing it will take more years until [if ever] we’ll be able to do this again. I felt it all at the same time when we said our goodbyes in front on the Airport in Seattle.
It took a lot of sacrifices to make this trip happen. It feels like an understatement to say that this was one of my greatest experiences ever, as it most certainly felt extremely special. All in all, I’ve rarely been more convinced in my life that I made the right decision for myself.
And with this I accept the past is gone and stay more present preparing for the months to come.
I hope you enjoyed the Saga of my USA trip. Also, I hope you find the strength to make your dreams come true. The journey may be long and rough, but it’s most certainly worth the effort. Make the day count!