Cross Country Move Part 5

11 05 2010

Sorry for the delay between entries. Between unpacking and waiting for the internet to be activated, I just haven’t gotten a chance to write my final Cross Country Move entry.

So, we woke up early on Wednesday morning, ate breakfast, and started driving north to the Grand Canyon. We stopped for gas, where we saw our first prairie dogs. They were cute, but it didn’t take us long to realize that prairie dogs are the (destructive) squirrels of Arizona. The Grand Canyon is about an hour and a half north of Flagstaff, but after only driving for a half hour, we could already see it in the distance. We considered driving on up to the North Rim, but the drive was several hours longer, so we decided on the South Rim instead. After driving through a lot of flatland and a lot of Navajo farms and roadside stands, we started climbing the mountains into the park. We were surprised by how heavily forested it was.

Our first stop inside the park was the very first viewing area (called Desert View), and here, we got our first real look at the canyon. My grandfather told me the first time he saw it, he cried. I can see why. There is no way to describe it. Pictures and words can’t express the massive scale or the myriad of colors. It is the most spectacular thing I have ever seen, and it’s something everyone should experience at least once in their lives.

After recovering from the initial shock and taking plenty of pictures, we drove another 30 miles or so to Grand Canyon Village, where we were able to access the Rim Trail. This trail leads from the Grand Canyon Village to Hermit’s Rest, a distance of several miles. We ate some surprisingly cheap hot dogs in the village before walking a couple of miles along the trail, stopping intermittently to take pictures and just admire the view. At certain points, we could see down onto the Bright Angel Trail, which leads all the way to the Colorado River at the bottom of the canyon. This trail is famous for the donkey tours, which we were tempted to do, but resisted in the interest of conserving money. If I ever return to the canyon, I’ll definitely be prepared to go down the Bright Angel trail, either on donkey or on foot.

Exhausted from the long, hilly walk, we took the shuttle bus back to Grand Canyon village, where we had a beer in the Bright Angel Lodge. We drove back to Flagstaff and ate a quick, delicious Mexican dinner at a little hole in the wall. We got up early the next morning, where I discovered the camera was missing. I searched for at least an hour before I decided it had been left either at the Grand Canyon or the restaurant from the previous night. Disheartened, we ate breakfast and left for LA. On the road, I called everywhere I could think of in search of the camera, but to no avail. We were both heartbroken at the thought of losing all our Grand Canyon pictures, so we didn’t really do anything fun on the road to LA.

When we arrived in LA, we quickly got our keys and a tour of the building. We immediately started unloading the car so we could return the UHAUL the next day. Despite its age, the building has been very nicely refurbished and we were immediately pleased with our new loft. Over the weekend, we got some furniture from IKEA and started unpacking boxes. The best news is, in the process of unpacking, we found the camera buried at the bottom of a backpack.

As far as the apartment is concerned, we still have a few blanks to fill in, but it’s coming together nicely. The city itself is more crowded than I imagined. The sprawl goes on forever, which makes it really nice to be downtown and in walking distance to great restaurants, movie theaters, shops, and plenty of other ways to spend money. Our location in historic LA seems to be undergoing a sort of renaissance, with a lot of old buildings being purchased and fixed up. I’ll be spending a lot of time exploring and looking for things to show friends and family when they visit.

Well, I hope everyone enjoyed the road trip. Thanks for reading!

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Cross Country Move Part 4

5 05 2010

We managed to leave Amarillo by 8am. The first hour of the trip was pretty miserable for me because we kept passing stockyards and slaughterhouses. Some were raising range fed cattle, but others were disgusting, inhumane meat factories. Finally, we crossed the border into New Mexico, which had quite a few cattle ranches, but nothing as gross as what we saw in Texas. The ranchers have the right idea when it comes to raising cattle.

In New Mexico, I saw the desert for the first time. The landscape was beautiful, but also surreal at times. It was almost like being on another planet. At points, we could see snow-covered peaks that, judging by our atlas, had to be the Rockies far off in the distance. We saw some wildlife, including a herd of antelope and a couple of wild horses. We decided to stop in Albuquerque for lunch and (accidentally) found our way into the city’s historic district. It was a cute part of town that reminded me of a southwestern version of historic Savannah (the pretty part, not the ghetto part). We ate at a Mexican restaurant, which was deliciously spicy. I had a New Mexican Enchilada, which was a ground beef enchilada in a blue corn tortilla with red chile and a fried egg on top. We didn’t see much of the rest of the city, but were surprised by how big it was.

After lunch, we didn’t stop again until Arizona, where we discovered a creepy tourist shop called Stewart’s. The shop featured petrified wood, minerals, and fossils. There were mechanical sculptures of dinosaurs and other animals all around the outside of the building, which had to have been handcrafted. It also had a pen full of live ostriches, which visitors can feed and buy. The store itself was a manufactured building with uneven floors. Everything in it was dusty and the items for sale were just scattered around. It smelled and looked like an attic. The guy inside the shop (presumably Stewart) tried to sell us both an ostrich and an ostrich egg. He also tried to sell us everything else in the store, following us around and explaining what each item was. The way he spoke was especially creepy, but I can’t quite put my finger on why. Finally, we bought an onyx glass dinosaur and a small stone carving, worried about what might happen if we left without buying anything. Nevertheless, the two items will be nice decoration for the new apartment.

We wanted to visit the Petrified Forest National Park, but were deterred by the $10 entrance fee. We continued on to Flagstaff, checked into our hotel, and ventured into the historic district for a light dinner. The historic district was very hip and lively, likely owing to the presence of Northern Arizona University. I wish we had a bit more time to look around, but the Grand Canyon awaits. Tomorrow, we will be spending the day up there before leaving for LA on Thursday morning.

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Cross Country Move Part 3

4 05 2010

We got a reasonably early start out of Van Buren this morning and were crossing the Oklahoma state line by 9 am. We discovered we were in the Cherokee Nation and paid a mandatory visit to a tacky store selling ‘authentic’ Native American souvenirs. A few hours later, we passed through Oklahoma City and stopped to photograph a seemingly endless field of wind turbines.

The rest of Oklahoma proved uneventful. We crossed the Texas state line and visited a scenic overlook/rest area with some of the best signs EVER. The view was also nice. As we continued on, the terrain got flatter and flatter. Visibility was great…you could see forever. There wasn’t much to see, however; just a lot of cows and run down farms.

Eventually, we got to what we (and the GPS) thought was the exit for the hotel in Amarillo. After driving several miles down a road that literally seemed to lead nowhere, we decided the GPS had it wrong. Mapquest revealed our exit was actually 5 miles further west. Frustrated with the GPS and hungry, we were happy to finally find the hotel. We checked in quickly and asked for a restaurant guide from the front desk. Unfortunately, there was no good Tex Mex nearby (how does that even happen in Amarillo?), so we settled on sushi. It was delicious. Afterward, we went to the indoor pool, which also had an attached hot tub.

Tomorrow, we leave for Flagstaff, AZ. This will be the longest stretch of the trip and will take us through the rest of the Texas panhandle, New Mexico, and of course, Arizona. We’ll be spending two nights in Flagstaff so we can have a day to visit the Grand Canyon. Exciting!

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Cross Country Move Part 2

3 05 2010

Today, we left Jasper after a free continental breakfast. We were concerned about the storm system passing through the southeast, but after passing through some heavy rain near Tupelo, Mississippi, the weather was clear. The hills continued and, much to Josh’s dismay, our MPG was consistently terrible.

After about 2 discs of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, we passed through Memphis and I saw the Mississippi River for the first time in my life. I was so impressed by it, I wanted to find a place to pull off and have a look. This turned out to be more difficult than originally anticipated. We got off on an exit that led to a dirt road. The dirt road led us through flooded fields and creepy trailer parks. Though we couldn’t safely get close to the river, we did get some excellent views of the Memphis skyline. We stopped once to take a picture, then realized we would probably get stuck in the mud if we stopped again. I took the rest of the pictures from the car window. We rumbled through mud puddles and over fallen branches, but, miraculously, the car and trailer were undamaged (albeit a little dirty). In all, it took a good 30 minutes to find our way back to the interstate. We headed back towards Memphis and discovered a small park where we got a perfect view of the mighty river. Had we been in a hurry, this would have been a frustrating experience. However, we were in no rush, so this ended up being an amusing adventure to break up the trip.

We crossed over the Arkansas border and were shocked to  see just how bad the previous night’s storm had been. We saw many houses and fields almost entirely under water. Occasionally, we would see someone trying to rescue their belongings from a small home or trailer. In spite of the flooding, however, we found Arkansas to be very pretty, and even stopped at an overlook to stretch our legs and throw the baseball around for a bit.

Finally, we arrived in Van Buren, Arkansas and checked into our newly built Holiday Inn Express. It has an indoor pool, which we will swim in as soon as I finish writing this entry. I was quite impressed with how nice the hotel was until I discovered a sign that read ‘Employee’s Only’. Really, Holiday Inn?

We went to Chili’s for dinner, where we learned that in Van Buren, restaurants must be private clubs with memberships in order to serve alcohol. This Chili’s managed to get a private club license and the waitress gave us a free ‘membership’, allowing us to have some beers.

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Cross Country Move Part 1

2 05 2010

This set of entries will cover our cross-country move from Charleston, SC to downtown Los Angeles. With everything we own crammed into a hurricane-damaged Hyundai Santa Fe and a 5′ x 8′ UHAUL trailer, we set out from Charleston at 10 AM on the morning of May 1st 2010.

I carefully planned the trip, reserving rooms at Holiday Inn Expresses at 8-hour intervals along our route, but of course, nothing goes according to plan. It turns out photos are our biggest problem. We had hardly pulled out of the apartment’s parking lot when we realized we had packed the camera’s battery charger into some unknown box. Not wanting to dig through our boxes, we instead stopped at Radio Shack and picked up a new charger. After all, what fun is a road trip blog without pictures? Unfortunately, due to the wacky internet at this particular Holiday Inn Express, I won’t be able to upload the first set of photos tonight. Hopefully, pictures will be added to this post tomorrow!

The first leg of our trip was largely uneventful. We passed through Columbia, Augusta, Atlanta, and Birmingham before arriving at our first hotel in Jasper, AL. In Augusta, we had a short pit stop at a McDonald’s, where a man was very upset about the cashier refusing to accept an expired coupon. As I was walking in the door, he shoved past me and screamed ‘I HOPE THIS PLACE BURNS DOWN!’ A rather extreme reaction to missing out on a 50 cent discount, I feel.

Apart from coupon guy’s outburst, the most surprising part of the trip was the hills. From Columbia to Jasper, we were in hill country. I frankly had always imagined the Atlanta area and Alabama as being quite flat. The prettiest places we passed through were in the general vicinity of Augusta and Talladega. In both places, wide lazy rivers flowed through rolling hills covered in beautiful forests. It was like being in a landscape painting and it reminded me of West Virginia, except with much smaller peaks.

Birmingham wasn’t terribly attractive, though I think we passed through a really bad part of it. We were happy to arrive in Jasper, where we discovered such charming establishments as Fred’s, Bill’s, Lee’s, and Pat’s. It seems that if you want to be a business owner in Jasper, the name of your business must include your first name. (That is, of course, unless you own Brangus Steakhouse.)

After checking into the hotel, we had a beer and a shower and decided on the safe route of eating at Ruby Tuesday’s. This is the only chain restaurant allowed in Jasper because it’s named after someone. Tomorrow, we will start the next leg of the trip, which will take us to Fort Smith, Arkansas. Pictures will (hopefully) be uploaded when we get there.

EDIT (5-2-10): Images are here! Yay!

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Paris Day 5

6 03 2009

Our last day in Paris, and I have to say, I was very sad to be leaving. We got up fairly early, packed up our bags, and dragged them down to the hotel luggage room. We had until about 5 to explore Paris a little bit more, so Miles, Jamie White, Chad, and I went up to Montmartre to see their open-air markets. A quick metro ride took us right to the market, which had a few interesting things, but was mostly African/Rastafarian novelties, along with hookas and various other smoking parphenelia. We browsed the market for about an hour before heading off to the large 19th century Byzantine-style cathedral, Sacre Coeur. Along the way, we stopped in a boulangerie to grab some breakfast. I had a chicken-filled pastry that tasted a lot like chicken pot pie and a Sprite.As we made our way toward Sacre Coeur, we walked through a North African part of town and spotted a little Algerian pastry shop. Unable to resist, we got some pastries, and they were THE BEST THING EVER. Continuing our trek, my knee started to act up again, and it was only with great difficulty that I dragged myself up the hill to Sacre Couer. It was worth it though…not only was the church impressive, but the view of Paris from the top of the hill was incredible, even on a hazy day. Jamie White and Chad waited outside while Miles and I walked through the church. It was big and pretty, but annoyingly, there were staff there telling us exactly where to go and what to do. By the time we were done, my knee felt a lot better (maybe it was just a cramp?), so we headed down into the famous square in Montmartre where street artists sell their paintings. We looked through the paintings for awhile, and Jamie White even bought one. Afterwards, Chad led us to a restaurant that served delicious and filling french onion soup. This, along with a giant beer, made for a perfect late lunch.

Following lunch, all we had left to do was venture down to see the windmills, and, of course, Moulin Rouge. The Moulin Rouge, as you might imagine, is overly touristy and not at all what it is supposed to be. Unfortunately, we forgot that this area also included an eroticism museum, so we didn’t get to go there. From what other people told me about it, I’m really sad that I missed it. At any rate, we all got on the metro at Moulin Rouge, and Miles and I split off from the group to go check out an ‘art deco Mosque’ listed in Miles’ guidebook.

We found the Mosque and went inside for a reasonable 2 euro fee. It was quite beautiful, with intricate tile work and a peaceful courtyard, although I couldn’t tell you what was Art Deco about it. It all just looked like Islamic art to me. We saw some people praying, which was interesting. Sadly, we couldn’t take any photos inside, and the postcards were kind of crappy. After leaving the Mosque, we stopped in an Islamic bookstore across the street, hoping they would have better postcards. They didn’t, and it was kind of awkward being English-speaking college students in a store full of the Islamic faithful. Not that they were rude or anything…it was just weird.

We left the Mosque and headed back to the hotel, where we got our bags, and after a short wait, took the public bus to the TGV station. At the station, there was more waiting. Jamie, John, and I got some sandwiches from one of the stands inside the station. Finally, we were able to get on the train. The ride home was long and a lot bumpier than the ride to Paris. I think maybe the wind was knocking us around a bit, but I can’t be sure. When we arrived in Avignon, it was colder than it was in Paris and windy.

The bus ride back to Lacoste was quiet and uneventful. I think Miles and I spent most of the time talking about anime. In Lacoste, I slowly dragged my bag up the hill. After only about 16 hours of sleep total in Paris, I was exhausted. I collapsed into bed and slept so hard that I missed my alarm and class the next morning.





Paris Day 4

5 03 2009

Okay, sorry for the delay. Good news: Finals are over and I have officially finished with my last college class ever. Unless I go to grad school or something, but that doesn’t seem likely. It’s a weird feeling, and it will only get weirder I’m sure.

But enough of that for now. Back to Paris. Saturday morning, we were allowed to sleep in a bit (until 10:30) before taking the long metro ride out to La Defense. La Defense is Paris’ ultra modern business district. As we learned from a lengthy lecture by Christine Wacta (the architecture professor), modern architects were allowed to construct buildings here with virtually no limitations, so there are structures like the Grande Arche, which is actually a massive rectangle with a hole in the middle. The area also featured two monumental sculptures, one by Picasso and one by Miro. I spent quite a lot of time with the Miro sculpture…after a hearty breakfast of McDonald’s chicken nuggets that is. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed La Defense. I especially liked the feeling of standing in this incredibly modern space and looking down the Champs Elysees toward the Arc de Triomphe. In all, this La Defense is probably the most successful and enjoyable example of modern architecture I have ever experienced in real life.

After about 2 hours at La Defense, we got on the RER (a regional railway connected with the metro system) and took a 35 minute ride out to the suburb of Poissy. This was a charming suburb that I would have liked to have had a bit more time to explore. To my untrained eye, there was quite a bit of Swiss-inspired architecture, along with a cute little main street, and an impressive Gothic cathedral. Our destination in Poissy, however, was Le Corbusier’s Villa Savoye. This is probably Corbu’s most famous work, and I was actually somewhat excited to see it. It did not disappoint- the building was extremely surreal, both inside and out. The way people move through it is supposed to remniscent of the automobile, and the entire house has what the architects call a “machine aesthetic”. I don’t know much about all that, but personally, the entire experience was a lot like being in a Rene Magritte painting, with a bizarre juxtaposition of the machine and nature.  Strangely, Villa Savoye gives the inhabitant the feeling of observing nature without really experiencing it. It has large windows all the way around it, and it is raised on stilts (pilotis) so that it’s a lot like being on a viewing platform at a zoo.

After visiting Villa Savoye, we were free to leave. Jamie, Miles, Jamie White, James, Jared, and I took the RER back into Paris. Miles and James got off at the Arc de Triomphe stop, while the rest of us continued back on to the hotel. I split off from the group to grab a couple of souvenirs and do some browsing in Shakespeare and Company, the famous bookstore on the Seine. The store was crowded, but I managed to pick up a few things, eager to support one of the biggest international proponents of free press. I went back to the hotel, where I was supposed to meet up with Miles to go to dinner. Dalton and company wanted to try to do the boat dinner again, but in the interest of saving money, I decided I wanted to find an Ethiopian restaurant recommended by Miles’ guidebook. Miles, Jamie, and I hung out in the Gay Quad’s room for awhile, watching German MTV. John Wolfe, McArthur, Brooke, and Ben decided they would come along with us to try to find the Ethiopian restaurant. Jamie, meanwhile, went along with the others on the dinner cruise.

It took us awhile to find the Ethiopian restaurant, even though it was only 2 blocks from the hotel. When we finaly did find it, we discovered they were crowded, and sadly, there was no space for us. Somewhat disappointed, we explored the area, and found there were dozens of restaurants to choose from. We ended up in a moderately priced Italian restaurant where the waiter would only speak to us in French. We all did very well with our ordering in spite of the language barrier, and in all, it was a very enjoyable dinner. After dinner, Brooke, John, and I went to meet up with some of John’s friends at the Universite. We arrived at the college, where we met John’s friends Lexi and Alex, along with a few of their friends at the lounge in the American dorm. There, we drank, conversed, and played a game of Mafia. Mafia is a bit like a poor man’s Murder Mystery, and it’s a lot of fun, especially when mixed with alcohol.

After 2 rounds of Mafia, most everyone who wasn’t from the Universite needed to leave in order to catch the metro before the stations closed. Lexi and Alex agreed to come with us to the Rue Mouffetard to hit a few bars since it was close to our hotel. Rue Mouffetard was a lot fun- there were plenty of reasonably-priced bars and also plenty of public drinking. We ended up spending most of the night in one bar that offered 3 Euro shots. We had really disjointed and confusing conversations with some of the French patrons and watched music videos on the strangely-placed TV. Finally, Lexi and Alex decided to head home, which was our cue to leave as well, despite John’s protests. Unfortunately, in our inebriated state, we had some difficulty finding the hotel, and, to Brooke’s dismay, probably wandered the streets of Paris for a good hour before finding our way back. In spite of that little adventure, though, it was definitely a fun way to spend our last night in Paris.