Tourism in the USA – my recent trip to the United States
¡Hola a todos!
Un nuevo texto en inglés hoy.
Esta vez va a ser un poco más avanzado.
El vocabulario aquí no es tan difícil, pero tampoco he adaptado mucho.
Este texto habla de mi reciente viaje a Estados Unidos – mi país de nacimiento, pero un sitio donde no paso mucho tiempo desde mudarme a España.
También tenemos listening hoy. Este texto es el capítulo #223 del podcast de Aprende Más Inglés – el mejor podcast de todo el mundo mundial para aprender inglés.
My recent trip to the USA
I recently visited the USA.
It was the first time I’d been back to my country in many years. Actually, about 17 years.
There were several reasons I didn’t go back all that time. First I had problems with my Spanish residence permit, so I couldn’t travel much. Then I was working as an English teacher and I didn’t have a lot of money for overseas travel. After that, we had a global pandemic and travel became very complicated. Then I had more problems with my residence permit. Then I had to renew my passport.
You know, the usual.
So between one thing and another, a lot of time passed.
Finally, this summer, I was out of excuses, so I bought a plane ticket and I went.
It was quite an experience – here’s the story.
Philadelphia and Baltimore
On my tour, I visited several places I’d never been before, and a few places I was already familiar with.
My first stop was Philadelphia, a city with a lot of history. Actually, it’s considered to be the birthplace of American independence: the Declaration of Independence was signed there in 1776. That event is still celebrated today, every 4th of July.
There I ate Philly Cheese Steaks and walked around downtown, and also West Philadelphia. One day I walked up the river through some forests and small towns of Pennsylvania, which was great.
Another day, I took the boat to New Jersey, and walked around there, which was really boring.
(Really, most of what I did in the US was either eating or walking around. I walked over 20,000 steps on most days, according to my FitBit. And I’m sure I ate about a million calories worth of sandwiches, french fries, and tacos.)
Next I took the train to Baltimore, which is in the state of Maryland, close to Washington DC. I didn’t know much about Baltimore, except that one of my favorite TV shows was set there. The show is called The Wire, and it’s about some of the biggest problems that the US has: drug addiction and inequality, mostly.
And walking around Baltimore, you can definitely see the inequality. There are nice neighborhoods full of expensive houses, and two blocks away, much poorer areas with lots of abandoned buildings, drug rehabilitation centers, and homeless people everywhere. It’s really a bit shocking.
Still, I enjoyed Baltimore. I visited the graves of Edgar Allan Poe, the writer, and also John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated President Lincoln. And I saw Fort McHenry, site of a famous battle with the British, which was the inspiration for the guy who wrote The Star-Spangled Banner, our national anthem.
(In my home town we don’t have a lot of historical monuments, so I like seeing that kind of thing when I travel.)
New Orleans, Louisiana
After that, it was off to New Orleans, a city I lived in for about a year, back when I was younger. Actually, I went to university there. The whole university experience didn’t work out very well for me, but I’d always liked New Orleans.
The city of New Orleans is very unique. It’s famous for the French Quarter downtown, where people party on Bourbon Street and visit famous jazz bars.
I’m sure you’ve heard New Orleans mentioned in songs like Truckin‘ by the Grateful Dead and Proud Mary by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
One day in New Orleans, I went to see my old university, but when I got there, it started raining. Soon I was in the middle of a huge flood. So, I went to a bar and had fried catfish and beer until the rain stopped. (New Orleans is also known for it’s excellent southern cuisine.)
The next day it was hot and sunny, and I walked around the French Quarter and the Bywater neighborhood. For lunch, I had barbecue beef brisket next to the Mississippi river. It was great!
Phoenix, Arizona, my home town
After a few days in New Orleans, I went to Phoenix, Arizona, to see my mom.
I grew up in the desert outside Phoenix, and was so thoroughly bored by the experience that I refused to go back for a long time.
On this visit, I found that it hadn’t changed much. It was hot, dry and very boring. Americans love going everywhere by car, and Phoenix is fully designed for cars. Everything is very spread out, so much so that it took me more than 30 minutes to walk from my mom’s house to the nearest café every morning. And this was in the middle of the city!
(One of my favorite things about living in Madrid and Barcelona is that I can walk out of the house and go to restaurants, bars, cafés and shops – they’re all within a 10 or 15 minute walk from my house.)
In any case, there’s not much to do in Phoenix. Plus, the temperature was over 40 degrees for most of the day. (This was June, and it was already very hot.) I spent some time with my mom and her dog, ate a lot of Mexican food, and caught up on a bit of reading I’d been wanting to do.
One day I went to visit some old friends who still live in the desert close to where I used to live when I was growing up. That was nice – the desert hasn’t changed at all. It’s still full of cacti, all kinds of animals, and lots of little thorny bushes.
The Pacific Northwest, finally.
Portland, Oregon is where my dad lives. I’d heard some good things about Portland. People have been saying that it’s “very European” for a city in the US. Well, I guess compared to most places in the US it’s sort of European – but compared to any European city I’ve been to, it’s not impressive at all.
It is, however, culturally influential. A lot of hipster trends that are all over the US now were popular in Portland years ago: craft beer, gourmet coffee, and extreme political correctness are all Portland traditions going back to the early 2000s or even before.
Near Portland is the city of Salem, where I went to visit an old friend from university. We went to a vineyard and a very nice beach with her daughter, and I got to see a bit of the Pacific Northwest. It was all pretty nice and foresty, and the weather was good while I was there.
Still, Portland is not Paris, and that is a hill I will gladly die on.
And then, Las Vegas…
Las Vegas was a nightmare.
I know some people like it, but for me it was just a tacky and expensive place that didn’t interest me much at all. But I was able to see an aunt and a cousin who live there. We had dinner in a restaurant in Chinatown, which has a lot of businesses owned by people from China and Vietnam.
Other than that, I can’t say I was impressed by Vegas. If I were into gambling or night life I guess it would be more interesting, but honestly… I think gambling is stupid, and I prefer to be in bed by 10:30 PM if I can. I thought about using some slot machines, or going to a strip club. But really, who cares?
In the end, the best part about Vegas was the octopus taco I had at a place called Bajamar Seafood. Once again, eating a lot is most of what I did out there.
But the strange sensation I had in the US – and especially in Vegas – is the same that a lot of people in Spain have told me about: that visiting the US feels sort of like stepping into a movie or a TV show. You’ve seen all this stuff a million times on screen. Seeing it in person, finally, is a bit disorienting.
And more so for me, because it is my home country.
My last stop was in Houston, Texas.
I’d been to Texas before, but not to Houston.
The state of Texas is huge – it’s actually bigger than Spain, although the population is smaller. Houston is another city that’s fully designed for people driving cars, and there’s not much tourism at all. There are a few museums, and a large aquarium.
I went to a place called Rothko Chapel, which is a sort of small church which contains several paintings by the famous artist Mark Rothko. The paintings are basically just dark grey rectangles. You can check out Rothko’s art online… it’s pretty underwhelming.
I was expecting Houston to be full of people in cowboy hats carrying guns. That’s just the image the media gave me of a lot of places in Texas. I suspect that’s because most of the media companies are based in LA and New York, and the people working in those companies don’t know what they’re talking about. In fact, I didn’t see anyone (except the police) carrying guns.
In Houston I celebrated the 4th of July, drinking Modelo beer (from Mexico) and watching the fireworks near the river. I felt like a good American.
After that, it was back to Philadelphia, where I had to catch my flight to Spain. After another 8-hour flight across the Atlantic, the plane descended over Montserrat, here in Catalonia, and I was happy to be back in Spain – my other home country.
In conclusion, or something similar…
In a lot of ways, the US hadn’t changed at all since I was last there – it’s still the same country, but much more expensive. (With inflation at 10%, people are talking about the rising prices all the time.)
Apart from the prices, though, I enjoyed the experience a lot, and I’d be happy to go back soon.
There are few things I’d like to mention before we finish up here.
A lot of European people are worried about going to the US because they think it’s unsafe. And I guess, statistically, there are places that are more dangerous than what you’d find in Europe. But you’re probably not going to visit those places if you’re a tourist just passing through. Generally I felt very safe everywhere – even in the “more dangerous” neighborhoods. Once again, the media exaggerates a lot.
But honestly, I was a bit worried before going because of the idea I was getting from the news and social media that the US is a country with a lot of conflict. I heard we had non-stop violence, an endless conflict about politics, and even a “culture war”.
In fact, I didn’t see much of that. People were generally very polite and friendly. And so diverse! The number of different kinds of people who can all consider themselves to be American is one of the US’ greatest strengths. We call it the melting pot: we’ve had so much immigration for so long that an “American” can look like absolutely anything.
(Whenever someone here in Spain tells me that I “don’t really look like someone from Arizona”, I just laugh, because people from Arizona look like a lot of things – and Arizona isn’t even very diverse, compared to some other places in the US.)
Anyway, I’d highly recommend visiting the US if you can. It’s quite an experience!
Until next time,
P.S. Since I’ve been back in Barcelona, everyone is complaining about the temperature at 29 degrees C. When I point out that in Phoenix, it’s already 35 degrees when you wake up in the morning, with a high of 45 later on, they say “But Phoenix is a dry heat… here it’s much much worse, because of the small amount of humidity.” Let me assure you, my friends, that it is not worse in Barcelona. 45 degrees is bad. Go spend 20 years in Arizona and then get back to me. Okay? Thanks, bye.