It’s past Labor Day here in the USA, so according to the cultural calendar, official summer is over (not that you could tell by the 90F/30C weather). I think the number one word I can use to describe this past month would be: chaotic. Everyday seems to fly by with a list of too many things to do and a feeling of dissatisfaction when I finally give up and get to sleep. Laziness does not seem to be included in my version of unemployment.
Yet, part of the summer whirlwind has included some appropriately chaotic small travels to distract from my non-stop list of things to do. Even though I have been to NYC, DC and Baltimore numerous times, this summer I have found ways to re-explore them in slightly new ways. About two weeks ago Jana, her husband, and two children came to visit me for 1 week for their first experience in the USA, out of Europe, and across the ocean. As you can imagine, there were many new experiences in store.
I learned several Czech words as I played host to their family for the entire week, but the main one that I heard over and over was “vynikající” or “brilliant.” While my experience in Znojmo has definitely made me more critical and skeptical of the American lifestyle, I will admit that living in America is simply easier than living in many other places due to the amount of innovation, consumer-oriented products, and access to global cultures that exists here (especially in the NYC area). Even the smallest things like being able to pay with a credit card all the time, frozen yogurt shops with pick-your-own toppings, iced coffee, or EZ Pass were deemed brilliant inventions. Other things were looked with more skepticism, such as how super-sized everything here is, the fact that a “town center” is usually just an intersection of shops, the amount of commercialism, and the constant fake cheerfulness that is projected in America.
I think one of the most shocking things for a family of Czech people in the NYC/DC areas was simply the amount of racial and ethnic diversity here. Several times the family made comments to me about the infinite shades of skin tone we could see and the fact that sometimes there was not a white person in eyesight. Coming from a town where a person of color is seen maybe a handful of times each year, this could easily be a pretty big shock. However, with diversity also comes the cultural blend that makes America so colorful. We had a great week trying ethnic food that they had really never tried before: Chinese in DC Chinatown, Mexican, Thai takeout and Indian.
My favorite memory of the week was experiencing the joy and excitement for them when seeing the ocean for the first time. While they had been to the Mediterranean, English Channel, and Black Sea, this was their first time really to swim and see the ocean. For a family that loves to swim, it was so fun to swim and navigate the unfamiliarly big waves. I too was very excited after not going to the beach for an entire year!
Although it was impossible to see everything our week was jam-packed with a totally different itinerary each day.
- Sunday: NJ hometown tour, brunch
- Monday: NYC downtown, Statue of Liberty, Wall Street, 9/11 Memorial, Brooklyn Bridge, Chinatown, Washington Square Park
- Tuesday: NYC Times Square, Bryant Park, Grand Central, 5th Avenue, Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mexican food, Mamma Mia on Broadway!
- Wednesday: NJ Pine Barrens and Cape May beach
- Thursday: DC Mall, Chinatown
- Friday: DC Capital Building tour, museums, Georgetown, Thai food dinner
- Saturday: Westchester relaxation, Minor league baseball game, Indian food
- Sunday: Brunch and airport
Whoever said short-term traveling isn’t worth it is definitely wrong! Although the hassle of getting somewhere can seem to detract from the experience, it is always worth it once you arrive. This definitely was the case for my Labor Day excursion with my friend Shannon to drop her sister off at her university in Baltimore. Our trip was only for 24 hours, however we were able to do so many things and I definitely feel like I gained a better respect for the city afterward. After we arrived we checked out the neighborhood of Fells Point, right on the harbor. We had an awesome Uber driver named Rae Ann who was very chatty and told us all the places we should go. This historic neighborhood was so cute with lots of bars, cafés, shops, and cobblestone streets. Not to mention that the view over the water was gorgeous. We had Mexican fusion food on the pier and then sat at an upstairs bar that overlooked the harbor. The following day was awesome in that I got to see my cousin, Fulbright friend, and 3 more cool parts of the city. My previously uneducated view that Baltimore is a shabby city with only one nice area is totally changed. Baltimore is a city with a lot of pride and secretly cool areas. In fact, all the “locals” I hung out with scoffed at the touristy Inner Harbor. Through all my travel experiences I have definitely learned that it’s way more fun to travel when you know locals who can show you around 🙂
With school getting into full swing and adults exiting the vacation mindset, I’m hoping things will quiet down as I form my own routine. On to the big NYC adventure as my mind continues to plan travels around the country and the globe…