Tag Archives: travel

Studying Abroad in Madrid

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As independent and courageous studying abroad can make you feel, there’s a flip side to that, in which you find your moments of childish nature coming to play. Just before your turn to order a meal in a language in which you only grasp basics, those outgrown emotions of fear, helplessness, and anxiety come to play. Of course these are feelings that are natural in growth and help push us to adulthood and help us live and learn in cultural society and significance. It might sound like gibberish, but I mean to say that our acts and moments of insecurity lead us from concerned tourists to well-lived/experienced travelers. We are a society and culture, whether we stay in those moments of fear or gravitate towards independence.

We are nurtured by the school and our host families. For the first time since I was 9, I don’t have to do my own laundry. Someone is cooking my meals every night. I don’t get a choice in what I want to eat for dinner. There is a cleaning lady every Wednesday. I don’t even wash my own dishes when I finish a meal. It’s a lifestyle of luxury and–although a little strange that I don’t get to pitch in at all– admittedly satisfying.

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Lost in Valencia with some new friends.

I’m trying to pick up on things as a culture, trying to absorb and understand or differentiate social cues. Part of me thinks that Spain isn’t really too different after all. And another part of me notes the contrasts as a little tally in my mind. I honestly feel like a childish adult, constantly looking around me to see and pick up norms. The only part of me that makes me feel like an adult is the actual loneliness (not used in a negative or bitter sense though) in taking the metro to class…

 

 

I originally had a comma after the word “class,” but I honestly came up with nothing. I’m not working here in Spain, so there’s no sense of adulthood in spending my saved money from previous hours of work in the US. Any side trips or excursions thus far have been completely planned by someone else. And yeah, I’m not necessarily doing any work myself.

I went to see Paul McCartney by myself and even then, I felt myself people watching and tip-toeing throughout the show, because my section never stood up for any songs, hardly sang along, and not to mention, the ruptured ear drum and hearing loss in one ear made singing by myself at a very large concert VERY uncomfortable.

These moments in which you feel helpless or lost though doesn’t mean that you are. I think it just means that you’re learning as long as you’re aware of your surroundings. It might sound obvious, but when you sink into a new culture–even if its one that’s not terribly different from your own*–I think those feelings of confusion and social excitement, and perhaps a tad bit of anxiety, only means that you’re doing things differently and it’s like growing up all over again. Rarely do we get those moments once you’re on your own, because you’re forced to just thrust yourself into whatever routine you need to do in your home country, even if you like that routine and lifestyle. And no matter how good at adapting you are, such as myself, I believe this struggle is bound to happen–as it should. And this isn’t to negate your home life nor to say “TRAVEL MORE TO BROADEN YOUR MINDS.” 13418907_10208325398804842_5343032056785349519_n

It’s purely observational that these fresh-minded, clean-slated, child-like ignorant moments only come in a fashion of memory and nostalgia. Unless you’re studying abroad and doing the best you can.  Typically a 23-year-old usually learns by building blocks on top of a city you/he/she have/has already created. Because you’re building on top of social norms, politics, cultural rules, routines, etc. that you’ve already come to understand and experience. Studying abroad is a new city, literally and figuratively. You have to start nearly completely fresh. Sure you might know how to communicate, plus there’s body language, and universal signs and cues in which most can dictate and decipher and get through easily.

But that first day of meeting your host parents for the next 6 weeks (or in some cases 4 months or longer) is just one of those moments where you take a breath and crawl.

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*Although I will say that the requirement to wear shoes around the house AND to only eat food in JUST the kitchen still weirds me out.

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LA: Now versus Then

 

If you couldn’t decipher my not-so pent-up aggression toward L.A., you might be too caught up in loving it so much.

Ugh, I sound like such a prick.

I’m sorry I hate L.A. so much. I don’t have to live there, I don’t know why I can’t just get over it. As much as I’m allowed to dislike the city, you’re also welcome to love it–and for some reason that bothers me. I’m not like this with any other place or thing. But maybe it’s because I wasn’t always like this with L.A., either…

Over three years ago, I used to crave the West. I was desperate to explore L.A. and all of its sunny magic. After months or years of talk, I booked my ticket during my birthday month as a ‘treat yo self’ gift. And it was such a great gift to myself!

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Joel McHale is really nice.

In my one week spent at Mely’s house in L.A., I fell in love. We took the metro system everywhere we needed, and it was cheap in comparison with NYC’s subway fares. I got to see and meet Joel McHale in the taping of The Soup. We saw Conan live. The view from the Gryffith Observatory amazed me. I loved that you could hike around there. Kodak Theater. How chill Kat Von D’s tattoo and boutique shops were. Overall how chill the whole vibe was. People were generally friendly. The shopping. There was so much to see and none of it was too touristy, even when it was a tourist attraction.

The weather that week was actually chilly, so I didn’t get to fall in love with the warm weather, but I visited my first Disney park then and there and had a blast. This was the first time I had ever been to an amusement park outside of summer. Options seemed endless.

Not to mention I had saved up money to specifically spend in L.A.

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Santa Monica Pier ft. Malibu in the distance to the right

A few days after my return, my sister Jodi called me to wish me a Happy Birthday and asked me how I liked L.A. I told her I loved it. I thought everything was accessible and exciting and that L.A. offered so much.

“Oh! Well I’m glad to hear it..,” Jodi started. She sounded like she was lying. Here’s why. “You know, Tob,” she continued, “I actually waited to tell you this because I didn’t want to ruin your expectations or your trip or anything, but I hated L.A.” My jaw probably dropped. “No, it’s actually really good that you liked it,” she said, this time sounding more sincere. “I just thought the city was too spread out.” Mom had said the same thing before my trip, but so what? I’m used to driving most places in New Jersey. “The transportation system sucked, but maybe it’s improved since I was there.” Maybe. Or she just didn’t know it well like native LA-er, Mely. “It was just frustrating.”

3 years later, we’ve switched roles….

I find myself saying how the city is far too spread out, some neighborhoods completely inaccessible by Metro. EVERYTHING appeared to be some sort of chain or franchise. I thought back to when Mely first came to Belmar, pointing out all the “mom & pop shops.” I thought nothing of it at the time because Belmar is very local-oriented, but I found none of that LA. People ended up being more snooty–but in a passive-aggressive way.

When comparing LA to NYC in attitude, honestly, I do view L.A. to be very fake about approaching matters, while NYC just honks at you if you fucked up and you get over it. I don’t know quite how to describe it. But that Hollywood Cinema lifestyle they exaggerate in shows actually seemed to be reality!

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What a view! ft. smog. View from the Gryffith Observatory.

And it’s not like LA is the only perpetrator of thinking they’re hot shit. You’ll find that ANYWHERE. But in LA too many seemed to take on this role of environmentally-conscious, vegan hipster, while wasting hundreds of gallons of water on washing their driveways and not really knowing what they’re talking about.

Again, this can be found anywhere. But I don’t know, in LA I couldn’t escape it. I couldn’t escape the weather when every day felt like the same, sunny day, yet so much of my life felt like a waste of time. One day to feel different would have been a blessing.

Let me explain.

I had only expected to be in L.A. for a max of 7 days. I was in L.A. a whole month. I was waiting for mine and Mely’s road trip to begin and it kept getting pushed back due to our transportation issues. I tried secluding myself to Mely’s house in order to avoid spending any kind of money so I could save it for the road trip.

I felt so completely stuck and because L.A. was so spread out, I couldn’t even escape this feeling for a minute. Friends kept suggesting I take a walk around the block, but the hot sun only pissed me off more. There was nothing but houses to see in Mely’s walking radius.

I went to Santa Monica for a weekend with Ali for her Frisbee tournament and got thrown some SERIOUS Santa Monica shade. Very rude people. I couldn’t believe it.

Ali, who was working at a coffee shop at the time, constantly felt like shit because she didn’t have a “real” job. I understand that frustration, but in L.A. I noticed with more than just her, that if you’re not in some sort of impressive industry, then you’re worthless. I can’t even give you an example of when or how I saw this, but I saw this attitude a lot in L.A. People were hardly friendly anymore.

Everything seemed fake.

So clearly in just two years*, my situations and reasons were completely reversed. And it might not all be L.A.’s fault. But ever since my second time there, I have a new rule: Visit a city at least twice before you move there, because once you get the exciting tourist stuff out of the way, it might not be what you think it is.

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Western sunset on Sunset Blvd.

Three years after our LA conversation on my birthday, Jodi now lives in Venice. After living in Maine and New Hampshire for over a decade, I can understand her exhaustion and frustration with snow and winter. Her endless texts and snaps of LA weather does not make me jealous,  no matter how hard she tries. And she’s had to adjust to driving everywhere. I’m almost waiting for her to grow tired of L.A.–especially since her dog has a lot of thick fur and loves the snow. But maybe I’ll change my mind again…or maybe she will. Either way, I just think it’s funny how a city is not always what you think it is, even after visiting.

Meanwhile, I’m still completely enamored with New York City. I love its seasons. I love how accessible and compact everything is. I love the hustle. I love the diversity. Its lights. Its size. Its sights. It doesn’t have everything I love–like mountains–but I’m still searching for my perfect city. And you know what, even after potentially years of searching I have ahead of me, I might just find that NYC is just the place for me after all.

 

*If there’s any confusion: it’s been 3 years since I first visited L.A., but it WAS only 2 years when I visited the second time. I have not been back since. And my aggression has not lightened in the year I’ve spent away from LA. Sorry.

+All pictures were from my first visit in L.A. and I still like them! So not all my emotions toward LA is hatred.

 

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Days Traveled, Unraveled: Home?

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After the best, most exciting time in Las Vegas, there was only one thing in my sight: “home.” But our next destination was Mely’s home: LA. We’d done it. Whatever you define “it” as. We saw 35+ states in two months. We made it back to LA.
I actually ended up back in Nevada just a few days later to drive Mely to a concert, which I was really ticked about, but ultimately had agreed to, so there was no room for my bitching. Although I wanted to bitch a lot. I was cranky and exhausted. I can’t emphasize that enough. Not to mention, I was getting texts from Julian every few days asking me about how I was or what I was doing. I knew he cared, I just didn’t feel like he did. Which isn’t the first person I’ve experienced this with. I was prodding him with annoying questions just trying to get him to feel something: anger, love, anything. Talking with him, while once comforting, became painful and pointless. We’d argued while Mely was at her concert and I was left alone in the shitty hotel in Las Vegas. I was begging him to tell me the truth about anything: new girlfriend, if he was out with someone, etc. He wouldn’t agree to it and kept asking why it mattered. I remember at the time being able to relate it to a Gilmore Girls episode–my best skill ever.

(See Season 4, Episode 11 “In the Clamor and the Clangor” when Luke & Lorelai are breaking the bells or just read a copy of the text here)

Luke: You know, none of this is any of your business.
Lorelai: It’s absolutely my business!
Luke: How?
Lorelai: Because! I wasted a week of my life adjusting to the idea that you had moved only to find out that you haven’t moved.
Luke: How much adjusting did you have to do? Nothing’s changed! I still see you everyday, I still cook your food, I still serve your coffee. What do you care?
Lorelai: I care.
Luke: Why?
Lorelai: Because I don’t want you to move.
Luke: Why? Why don’t you want me to move? (Lorelai stares at Luke and they are both interrupted when the Reverend walks in)

After that night, I finally decided that I had to stop talking to Julian. Being friends with him now was doing more bad than good–whereas in the beginning of our break-up, I needed him. I’m so happy he was able to still be there for me at the time. However I wanted to have one last good phone conversation with Julian before I ended it. His schedule was so busy, especially in comparison to the time zone difference in my schedule. So I told him I wanted to talk to him and we arranged that April 20 morning, we would. I had slept over Ali’s house the night before, and she wasn’t having a great night either. While I was actually looking forward to cutting myself off from Julian in hopes of freedom or severance or something, who knows, I also was very self-absorbed and couldn’t give Ali the attention she needed. So April 20 came around and I called him and told him I couldn’t talk to him anymore. He just simply asked, “why?” and I told him. I think he said he didn’t quite understand why now, but he said he’d respect my decisions or something. The goodbye was a little awkward.

15 minutes I called him back. In that 15 minutes, I had felt so shitty. I was expecting to feel liberated and relieved. Instead I just felt like I was broken up with all over again, even though this was my decision and I knew it was for the best. I hated feeling this way. I asked him how he felt about the situation–Are you upset that I’m cutting it off? What are you fucking feeling? I didn’t get anything from you in our last conversation. And his complacency and lack of answers just finished it off for me. Goodbye.

The rest of my “4/20” in California was a little weird. Mixed feelings about Julian. Trying an edible. Staying inside with Ali most of the day. It wasn’t anything cathartic nor miserable. It was a weird purgatory position and displacement of feelings.

But the next day I was going HOME. Back to New Jersey. I was too excited. To the point where it’s kind of sad. I never felt THAT strong of a connection to Belmar in terms of believing it to be the one place I’ll ever want to live. And I had lived in 3 different houses throughout Belmar, so it wasn’t anything nostalgic for me. I was oddly looking forward to having my job and that stability. I was looking forward to having my bed, despite how shitty my mattress was. I was looking forward to hanging out with my friends. But these things could also be found elsewhere–not just Belmar–so I shouldn’t have been that excited to go home. But I’m sorry to say that I was.

As I’ve stated before, I never want to give off the impression that I was unappreciative of my trip and the opportunities and experiences it has given me. It was exhausting and that alone was very consuming. Not to mention the break up, and the ONLY ONE friend traveling with me the entire time.

Now, almost a year later, I look back at my roadtrip with a complete romanticized version of it; I remember feeling shitty in certain places at certain times, but now I think I see it with rose-colored glasses. Which, I admit, is kind of weird. I crave the travel life again.

So when I actually got to the dumb, small town that I call home, I actually texted Julian. I told him I didn’t know why I felt the need to tell him that I was home, but I just wanted to tell him that really badly. I think part of me hoped it would change something in him. And I can’t remember how we ended our very brief conversation, but it was on good terms.

A month later, I was suddenly on not so good terms. I happened to discover that he had a girlfriend. I blew up on him very aggressively, saying that he lied to me that night we argued while I was in Las Vegas. He said he didn’t and that they had only just started dating. After long back-and-forth, we ended on good terms, with me joking that I wasn’t crazy. And that was the last time I ever talked to him.

So why do I mention Julian so much throughout these travel posts? And more importantly, why am I bringing him up in my final post when everything is over and it doesn’t really matter or affect my homecoming? Well, one, the point of ALL of these posts was to show my daily living in diary-like entries. To mark what actually happened on my trip. But two, I think I’m realizing now:

In the beginning of my travels, even when I was stuck in LA, no matter how frazzled, or messy, or all-over-the-place I felt, no matter what state I was in or how long I was traveling, Julian was my stability. That constant communication that we had grounded me, securing me with love, and comfort of knowing I was loved, and feeling loved. And on my birthday in Orlando, I missed Jess, Bobby, and my family the most, because they were my stability and love and support on my birthday each year in my past. And after Julian broke up with me, what stability did I have? That’s why my Northeast posts are all so upsetting and sad: I was with new faces nearly each night, no matter how well I knew them or not, it wasn’t consistent. And that’s why he wasn’t talked about much in my posts after that All-American Rejects concert in Indiana. The music became my stability between them, Circa Survive, and OK Go. After that, I just got cranky and anxious to get home.

And once I was home, I was settled again. I had that stability.

And it’s not that I can’t handle the inconsistencies of travel-life. It’s not that the grass is always greener. It’s not that I need stability of jobs, bed, home, etc. It’s just that you need to have those real, solid connections. Whether with friends, music, or to the city itself, you need to actually be able to immerse yourself in the thick of it. Why the hell would  Ohio be one of my more fun states? Because I had such good friends there properly showing me the Columbus or Cleveland way. I never expected St. Louis to be so fantastic, but we explored it in ways we couldn’t have imagined without weird resources on the back burner.

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So if you’re gonna take a trip–any trip–remind yourself: quality, not quantity. So I didn’t see the transcontinental 48 states, pshh. I can guarantee you, that when I finish up my remaining states (whenever that may be): it’s gonna be done really well. It’s not necessarily that organization is key. It’s the ability for connection and immersion. Within you, and without you.

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Days Traveled, Unraveled: Nevada

After a brief drop in Bryce Canyon, we headed into the sunset toward Las Vegas. How vastly different Las Vegas would be from the rest of the cities and states. I had no idea how much of a perfect ending this would be to our roadtrip as a last stop. I wish I could tell everyone to make the same decision, but I know it would not have the same effects. It would not be the same trip. This last, lucky excursion was unique and could never be recreated. Here’s why.

Timing was just impeccable.

The night or so before Vegas, I realized I would be in Nevada around the same time as my friend Ali, since she would be there for her birthday celebration, gifted to her by her longest and best friend, Rachel. Mely’s and my original plan was to visit Vegas the following weekend since she bought a Brand New ticket for then/there months prior. But with Vegas as a stop before LA, and with the opportunity right there, I was excited to take it–and to see someone new and explore with them. Though it wasn’t Ali’s/Rachel’s/Mely’s first time in Las Vegas, it was mine. It was a scene out of the movie. I might as well have had my body out of the sunroof of a limo, with my arms outstretched in the night of the Vegas lights.

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Caution: Beware of Blue Meanies in The Mirage

My buzz about Vegas didn’t die when we arrived to our hotel, The Mirage. It was perfect for a huge Beatles fan such as Ali and myself. My Vegas-virgin eyes couldn’t believe the tall ceilings, the LARGE casinos in the lobbies, the restaurants in lobbies, the lavish expenditures. This was luxury. Especially after the trip we just went through. Although it wasn’t all–or anywhere near–tents and sleeping bags, the comfort of someone’s home is vastly different from the comfort of being a hotel guest. Not that one is worse or more or less comfortable than the other–just different.

And for me of all people? I’ve worked for two hotels and this was still blowing my mind, for some reason. I felt like I was big money–and getting the hospitality for free by staying in Ali and Rachel’s second bed in their room. The 10 or so floors up, I stared down and across The Strip’s lights from their window, with a Screwdriver in hand. Elated to be with a best-good-fucking-friend and to be drinking and partying, I was more than ready for this night.

Thanks to Ali’s superb friend-making skills, she was able to score us guest-listed spots for Skrillex at XS in the Wynn. After trying to get a little tipsy in the room, we made our way over, giving no fucks that I didn’t feel my prettiest. I still felt like a hot-shot. So the Vegas “The Hangover” stereotypes out there? Are at least true for me. This was the first time I could actually party since being broken up with a month and a half prior. I could get away from it.

And the pool behind Skrillex’s DJ stand distracted me enough. With a half inside/half outside setting, and deal on Pineapple and Rum’s, this venue told me I was going to have fun. (For those of you who don’t know, rum is my favorite).IMG_5536

While the DJ before Skrillex took forever, the beats were still good, and we were still drinkin’ and dancin’. Skrillex came on and Ali and I were in our scene. A guy started dancing behind me, and I let them. Afraid of what I’d see, I didn’t look behind me once, though he kept trying to whisper in my ear or something. Whatever, I still did my thing, enjoying my time.

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Not pictured: side of delicious turkey bacon

IMG_5572Somehow in all my excitement and hype about Vegas, that’s all that happened that night, but it was still so much fun. We headed back to the hotel, slept up, and ate a bangin’ brunch at the restaurant downstairs called Pantry (super good, super cute, overall A+) where Rachel confirmed that the dude dancing behind me was old. Then we checked out the incredible Beatles display and store and finally put our bathing suits on.

Growing up, my mom/family and I would always stop at places that had pools, lakes, rivers, etc. A bathing suit was always necessary and thankfully I was prepared. I always pack a bathing suit any time I travel, and always somehow need to remind others to do the same, even though it’s obvious to me. But I didn’t have to remind Ali or Rachel (I don’t think Mely swims). So we headed over to the 80-degree outside weather, bright sun, and paradisaical pool. Which, anyone who knows me knows that I do not like the sun or heat, but I do like swimming, so it made it worth it after just having been in snow in the Rocky Mountains a few days prior.

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Baking in the sun for the first time since 2006 felt good on my florescent and Vitamin-D deficient skin. And that was how we ended Vegas. And that’s how Vegas topped off my trip.

Like I said, perfect for me and impeccable timing.

Just a couple of Beatlemaniacs havin' some fun 👭🍓🎹💎🔨🐙 #beatleslove #themirage #fabfour #vegas #love

A photo posted by Alice Carson (@txicmelody13) on Apr 13, 2015 at 6:20pm PDT

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Days Traveled, Unraveled: Utah

Things hadn’t changed for me since the age of 8, since apparently all I wanted to do was be like Mary-kate and Ashley Olsen and visit Salt Lake City. Mimicking their movie, “Getting There,” I was desperate to see what would be cool in Salt Lake City, despite the absence of the 2002 Winter Olympics (AKA the plot of the movie). Although Mely and I don’t have their looks, boyfriends, a convertible car, or really anything that they had, we were in fact, “Getting There,” in multiple ways; Whether it meant SLC, or near the end of the trip, or just exhausted, or what have you, ‘there’ could mean a lot of things.

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We actually didn’t know where ‘there’ was since we didn’t know where we were staying. And with only a couple of states left, our money was extremely TIGHT. We were starting to go into panic mode. We posted statuses, tweets, I asked some random quidditch team, etc. Then Mely remembered about this app that my friend Rachel’s mom had told us about when we were in Florida–Couchsurfers. It allows users to search for homes to stay at for free. The homeowners get to look at your profile and decide whether or not they’re willing to let you stay with them. There were a lot of weird, untrustworthy options, and the wait for the good homeowners to accept us back was nerve-racking.

But during our travels toward SLC, we were accepted by this hippie lady! She had told us she attended Woodstock and used to do things like this all the time, so she was more than happy to share her place with new Couchsurfers such as ourselves, and many before us. The short and tiny, frail lady had long silver hair and very tanned skin. Her apartment had only natural products (soaps, shampoos, cleaning products), including her own grown food. She picked off some plant and offered some to us, but we politely declined. When asking for a microwave for our individual Mac & Cheese cups, she explained she was anti-microwave and didn’t have one. When I considered making instant oatmeal, I realized we needed a microwave for that, too. It was kind of weird, being in a 21st century home without a microwave. You don’t realize how often you use it. Again, it was weird. But she was nice! But it was weird.

IMG_5492It was late, so we headed for bed–er, couch. The next morning we figured we’d see the actual Salt Lake itself, but man, it was hard just getting there. It was highway, upon dead-end, upon ending up somewhere else. Felt impossible, but we knew we’d see the lake while entering the Antelope Island State Park, so we bit the bullet and paid the 20 or something dollars for entry. It was mostly a beach. Which wasn’t exciting for me since I LIVE at the beach. A salt lake is impressive, but it all looked and felt the same to me, so I was underwhelmed. Their bison on the ‘shore’ or ‘beach’ was a neat sight, though. So there were ups and downs for me, personally, since I was a little ticked at the price of entrance, and all of the effort it took us to find it. Not to mention, I lived in constant edginess. And I don’t mean that in the ‘cool-hipster’ way. I mean that in the ‘so easily ticked off’ and ‘aggressive’ way. I couldn’t control it. I was ready for this trip to be over. I was enjoying what I was experiencing, but I was always tired. I was annoyed by the slightest thing Mely would do, and I wished for another friend to accompany me to break up the constant contact with Mely. I feared what it would be like for me to be in a serious relationship, living with someone in the future, but I had to keep reminding myself that Mely was literally always with me 24/7. I just needed a break from her and her Disney/LA obsessed self. There were more than a few times by now where I wished she could have driven. And seeing her on her phone while I had to drive was such a tease. I felt stupid that I wanted passenger seat time so that way I could read twitter, or text someone, or do ANYTHING ELSE than drive, but the road was my only sight. Again, I was tired.

And I hate complaining about an amazing roadtrip that so many friends contributed to, but I needed those friends in these places. I had a new sight nearly every day, and this trip was supposed to break the static ‘stuck’ feeling back home. And it did. But the road and Mely’s presence became the new ‘stuck’ feeling. So I would try to tame myself the best I could, but there was nothing either of us could do about it except move on.

IMG_5504So we went to the famous Temple Square–land of the Mormons. You can’t see the inside of the temple unless you’re getting married, but you can tour outside of it. With beautiful gardens and friendly people, I wondered to myself what the Mormons actually believed in? Heads up: It’s God. They also believe in a prophet, either outside of or in addition to Jesus, I can’t remember. Inside the other buildings in the square, some recruiting Mormons told us that this prophet had traveled to Salt Lake City and rallied up some followers and that’s why SLC is so Mormon heavy.

IMG_5499No kidding. Mormonism exists EVERYWHERE in Salt Lake City–and in Utah itself. I can’t describe how it’s everywhere, but just trust me when I say that it is. I just had no idea. After the Mormon lesson, we walked across the street to this mall. A simple mall that had the same stores as anywhere, but it was something to do. They had a free trolley running through, but we weren’t sure we wanted to take it. As we waited at a crosswalk, we noticed teams running about all over the town on the lovely day. Some people wearing costumes, others wearing matching shirts. Some wearing tutus or tiaras. There were A LOT of people.

IMG_5500A lady came up to us and asked us if we could do anything to help them. We were very confused until they explained the city-wide scavenger hunt. Going down their list, we were able to help them out as we were out-of-staters! Too close to CA, they already had a California license on their list, but NJ was one they were not running into at all. We posed with the team of excited ladies for a picture, and continued on. In my typical hangry fashion, we ate next, knowing that Mely would get ripped a new one any second if I didn’t eat soon. Thankfully the food court was right there.

We browsed a little bit more, but went back to the apartment. The lady (whose name I cannot remember) was surprised by our early arrival, but we headed back out on my insistence to see the ice skating rink where the Olympians practiced. I made Mely ice skate uncomfortably. She told me she wouldn’t enjoy it and I basically barked at her to just have fun.

But I learned that you can’t make someone have fun. I told her to just open herself up and be able to laugh at yourself, because no one cares that you cant skate (except maybe those people who were spinning and doing tricks like it was nothing). But that didn’t work. Half of my aggression about this was due to my friends back home who hated ice skating just because they weren’t good at it. I hated that theory. Especially since I am no good at ice skating either!

So I did a few more rounds while Mely did, like, 2, and finally headed out. Since our time at the rink was brief, we tried finding cool, downtown things to do, but it was mostly bars. And some areas got dark fast. So we went back to the apartment again and relaxed.

SLC was pretty, but I don’t know if I feel a desire to go back. Maybe it was my mood and I’d have to try again.  Either way, we were one step closer to home.

Next morning, we ate Cracker Barrel–something I had promised Mely since the beginning of the roadtrip. We enjoyed our breakfast and Mely enjoyed her additional maple syrup bottles.Her pride in the small maple syrup bottles was soon crushed–literally–since she left it atop the car as we moved forward to Bryce Canyon.

Bryce was and wasn’t a lot like the Grand Canyon. Both extensive in size, seemingly endless, and same color pallet, but Bryce had tall pointy mounds, rather than one giant hole. It was definitely interesting. Similar to the Grand Canyon, it is hard to describe or capture, and you just need to see for yourself. Plus, I’ve gone on long enough.

We considered hitting up both Bryce and Zion, but there wasn’t enough time, for we had a fun night in Las Vegas, Nevada ahead of us.

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Days Traveled, Unraveled: Colorado

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Wildlife in Rocky Mountain National Park (we got even closer)

Colorado was a long-awaited state for me, not only because it meant that I was closer to finishing this trip, but because I would get to see a long-time family friend, Alex. Outside of my immediate family, my extended family isn’t very big in numbers. And I even feel like my immediate family was too big, too busy, and too stretched out in ages, grades, sports, activities, over the country (sometimes world) to even have many family friends. We each had our own friends, but it was nearly impossible to have friends that 1. Knew each of my family member’s names 2. See them consistently enough. All of my oldest sister’s friends tell me the last time they saw me was when I was in a stroller. All of my friends didn’t even know I had many or any siblings other than Garth, because they were that much older than me. And any of my parents’ friends just weren’t really that close, except for select few. And Alex was one of those few.

Sure I hadn’t seen her in years, and our time together is always few and far between each other, but her mom and my mom had been friends since the 7th grade, so there was no doubt about reaching out to her, despite how crazy different we were.

The moment we arrived in Colorado, mountains appeared in the distance. It reminded Mely and I of when we desperately searched for a hotel near the Four Corners, and the closest one we could find was 40 miles out in Colorado. In the dark of that 40 miles, Mely looked to her right and noted how exceptionally dark it was in her window…until she realized it was the silhouette of mountains in pitch black. When we left Colorado that morning, we actually got to see the beautiful mountains. And that’s something that Colorado has better than any continental state in America. It’s gorgeous and proud.

Though the drive took a while, we still got to Alex’s apartment before she did. So her boyfriend let us in. We had never met. It was awkward. Not to mention, anybody could tell the large differences between our general interests. Here Mely and I were, clad in black, “alternative(?)” clothing, typically listening to indie, rock, and a dash of hardcore edge music. Here. In this apartment decked with hookahs, rapper posters, graffiti-printed cups, and other knick knacks that would never exist in Mely’s or my taste. So we kinda just hung back quietly to ourselves in the corner of their dining area, while he did his thing, too.

Alex came back, and she was very excited to catch up. We exchanged stories of our lives, and it turned out the last time Alex came to New Jersey, Mely was there too. They had briefly met, though Alex and I didn’t remember at all, but Mely only faintly did. It’s just really strange to me how it all connected to each other, somehow. Even though it’s clear why, it still is just funny to me for some reason. We asked Alex what Mely and I should do the next morning and she told us of Rocky Mountain National Park. Great! And here I sat, thinking that this girl and I had nothing in common, when really we both enjoyed hiking/camping. Neither of us did it a lot, but it’s what we grew up on. And although I was very involved with my music-loving, laptop-hugging, 21st century life, and she her very own seemingly rebellious life, we both could easily be extremely laid back hippies in a way. (Not just because we like camping/hiking, but we know what it’s like to rough it out, and can very easily manage without much of a care). You’d never be able to peg us for that, but it’s really neat that this was our bond.

IMG_5442So the next morning, Mely and I made our way. Like any National Park, it was gorgeous with sights and wildlife. We did very short, beginner trails around a little lake called Sprague Lake. I sat on a bench and took a good minute for myself just staring at the lake, the mountains, and the sky. The air was fresh. It felt good. It was brisk, but not too cold. Sounds corny, but nature always sounds like transcendental-hippie crap in writing until you do it yourself. Or at least in my experience.IMG_5451

 

We traveled up the mountains to find plenty of snow. We followed what we thought was a trail–and still was–but only just since the path and the nature didn’t differ much due to all the snow. The “trail” was more compacted and worn, but still feet high in snow. Mely and I danced around the ice as we walked with much needed walking sticks (branches that other nearby naturists had happily shared with us) .01 miles probably, to the lake. Which was also covered in snow. Had it not been for the inch of sign left (AKA uncovered by snow), and for the wide open space with no trees, we would have had no idea that a frozen lake sat beneath us. Happy snowmen greeted hikers from the lake, so naturally we took photos with our new nature buddy.

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We traveled further up the mountain where I found a very tall rock to sightsee some other mountains. I had Mely take my picture because it seemed impressive. But probably what impressed me most, apart from how high up I fearlessly was, was that alone: I was fearless. The fresh air loved my face, and the short climb up felt like real, solid work. Cathartic in a way. Rock climbing is a lot more brain activity than you would think, It’s a real mind game. And it felt good to practice best/easiest ways up and down with my head and my body. So it was me and nature, and the happy near-end of the trip, and the memories of rock climbing at Mohonk in New York with Alex, and the powerful, although lonely, fearless me.

I think a lot of people picture road tripping as an exploration of land, but also discovery of self. So much time with your own thoughts and with close ones can be very expansive, but in my case, I had a lot of other trips like that. This day with Rocky Mountain National Park made me realize that for a break–road tripping your own country isn’t always the best. You can (doesn’t mean you will) find yourself feeling just as stuck in your own head, no matter how many other distractions and new sights surround you. Road tripping is more than just gorgeous sights and exploration and culture. It’s work. And me climbing that rock–even though it took 2 minutes–was work. Me driving 10,000+ miles was just as much exhausting as it was work, but the exhaust took away from the pride. It’s like when you make something on your own; there’s a lot of pride in that. And I somehow found a lot of pride in some dumb rock (no Lion King reference/pun intended).

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Before we knew it, we were losing daylight. It was still the beginning of April, and though no other land beneath the high altitudes of the mountains didn’t have snow, we still were basically in Winter modes. Which is half of what made Nevada so much damn fun. But that is for another blog.

We headed back early since Alex didn’t live terribly close to RMNP. And we enjoyed some Buffalo Wild Wings in her town. We only slept one more night before we prepped for an early trip out. But what’s Colorado without Denver? I guess I mostly have a sense of that answer, since I hardly visited Denver…except for some claimed best authentic Native American fry bread place called Tocabe. The dessert fry bread, drizzled with honey and powdered sugar was a good breakfast for me before we headed out for Salt Lake City, Utah.

 

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Days Traveled, Unraveled: Arkansas and Oklahoma

After a couple of surprisingly exciting days in Missouri, there was only one reach of hope nearby: some quidditch kids in Arkansas. Without them, we probably would have spent our next few days lost and extra-broke, or in Louisiana yet again out of desperation in need of a place to stay.

Thankfully I’m good at making internet friends, because the year prior, this kid from an Arkansas quidditch team posted on Syracuse’s quidditch team’s Facebook saying we were really nice at the World Cup and wanted to befriend us. Although I had not been in school that semester, I messaged him back saying that I wasn’t in school nor at the World Cup, but if he ever found himself in New Jersey, I could always help him out, and that I’d still like to be Facebook friends. So when I messaged him in desperation of shelter, I was relieved to hear he and his girlfriend say yes.

This was the only drive apart from Mississppi where I needed to pull over and sleep. Maybe Missouri had me riled up too much. Maybe I was just still anxious and tired from everything going on in my life. Or maybe that drive to Arkansas was boring and long. But towards the end of the drive with a sunset to our left of the winding valley roads, Arkansas proved to be a little prettier than I expected a hick-state to be.

And even without having any friendship history apart from the occasional facebook status read, Justin and Mandi served us greatly with casual Southern hospitality. If they were bothered by us freeloaders for a couple of nights, I will never know it, because they were friendly and warm and had pets for Mely and I to focus on and talk about. Not to mention we all had a love of Harry Potter. It always pleases me most to see fictional or distant worlds coming together in a loving way. And that’s what Arkansas represented to us.

They bought us a pizza and soda, we watched some TV, and fell asleep. We planned on using our next day to do some Arkansas touristy explorin’, even if it were some goofy town like Belmar, NJ, but even the Arkansans didn’t have any recommendations. Again, Mely and I realized that even the locals in these Midwestern states didn’t have anything to show.

They admitted there was nothing to do in the hick states, but rent was cheap. Living was cheaper than any other state we’d seen, but it was clear why. I tried deciphering if I would ever move out to the middle of nowhere, just for cheaper living; I would not. But I gave them props. And it’s probably one of the main reasons they joined quidditch to begin with!

So with no plans or attractions for Arkansas, we decided to have ourselves another rest day. The laziness in me was consuming. I couldn’t figure out if it was depression or laziness since these are my worst attributes, but hardly recognizable until it’s too late. Justin and Mandi still had much to do and they carried on with their lives while Mely and I tried figuring out how to go about our next few days. We didn’t even have a place to stay after Arkansas, but Justin said he’d try to help us out with some of his Stillwater, OK quidditch friends–just no guarantees.

I did have a “friend” in Stillwater that I “met” online through The All-American Rejects, but she was not getting back to me at all. Under the assumption she did not want to house us, I eventually dropped it–though it would have been cool. So instead, Justin’s friend Amy offered us an extra room at her place. Thank goodness!

So early the next morning, we said our goodbyes to our new Arkansan friends, and headed west for a new Oklahoman friend. It might be surprising to a lot that Stillwater, OK was already a city I had visited, purely to visit the hometown of The All-American Rejects. Their first DVD, Too Bad For Hell, featured them breaking into their old high school, a trip to Sonic, and home visits. So when 14-year-old me got the chance to drive through Oklahoma, I asked my mom to find the high school and a Sonic.

But this time, Mely and I weren’t there to relive some band’s memories. Apparently, we were there to eat at an Olive Garden, since it had been a topic of “fancy meal” discussion so often on our road trip. To eat at this Olive Garden was to treat ourselves–we had made it this far on our road trip and almost finished. It was feeling long, now. Being so close to LA just gave us a new goal. Just finish. Just a few more states. We knew we had a week or so left. Mely had a concert on April 17 in Vegas and then home. It might have been my day in Arkansas when I bought my plane ticket home from LA for the 21st.

So after our filling meal of Olive Garden, Amy still wasn’t ready for us. Mely and I got some work done at a Panera since the entirety of Stillwater seemed to be packed into a tiny Starbucks location. And eventually we made it Amy’s. Amy had actually been originally from New Jersey. And really liked Sailor Moon like Mely. And she had a cat for us to play with. So we were immediately comfortable even though we knew less about her than we did Justin and Mandi. Amy had an extra room for us, so we spent the night inside watching Sailor Moon and eating Olive Garden leftovers.

Next thing we knew, we were just one day closer to home. And this is how we began to see the remainder of our roadtrip: a countdown. Just like how I used to count down before the road trip. And although we were both excited to find a stable place, we were also surprised the end was near. It had gone just as slow as it had gone fast. Which I know makes no sense, but traveling can be a weird time-warp, especially when changing time zones.

Though we kept talking about our road trip’s end, the last week was probably the most dragged out. And I wasn’t getting homesick, I was just getting sick of being on the road with ONE person at all times. Though we had new sights every day, and as exhausting as it was to constantly be on the move, I needed a change of scene with a change of buddy now. I was getting snippier and anxious.

But we still had Colorado next.

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