Holiday To AmericaJanuary 21, 2011
I recently went on a holiday to the west coast of the United States of America and it was a wonderful holiday. I was originally going to write a blog post each day of the trip, but I soon realised that it would be better to write a summary post once I got home instead. So here’s my story of my trip to America, the things I noticed, the things I did and my observations and conclusions about the country. I may jump around a bit, but that’s just how I write, I write what comes into my head next, so sorry if it’s a little hard to follow.
I started off the trip by flying direct from Brisbane to Los Angeles via VAustralia. This is an excellent airline, their in-flight entertainment system means that although the flight was 13 hours, I didn’t get bored because there was numerous movies, songs, tv shows and games to play. I ended up watching Vampires Suck, listening to good music such as Meatloaf and Kylie and just generally relaxing. We left at 12pm Brisbane time and got in at 1am, or 7am US Pacific Time.
In Los Angeles we stayed out at Anaheim, or about 10 minutes walk from Disneyland. We spent the next day driving out to Hermosa beach to see one of Dad’s old friends and then up to Venice beach. America has some very interesting differences when it comes to driving. Yes, they drive on the other side of the road compared to us, but there are several other differences too. Firstly, at the majority of intersections, a red light doesn’t always mean stop, it means stop if you’re going straight ahead or left, but if you’re turning right, then go right through. This is quite hard to get used to coming from Australia where red means stop… no matter what, especially as a pedestrian who expects all the traffic to have stopped when the walk man comes up, but then sees a car who is turning right. They’re legally supposed to give way to you, but they don’t always. They also often turn their lights to flashing red or yellow at night, which means treat this light as a stop sign or treat this light as a Yield sign respectively. Finally, the traffic is a lot more stop and start than here in Australia due to 4 way stop signs. Most suburban intersections in Australia either have no signs, a Give Way sign or a stop sign, but only on the minor road in the intersection. In America there are a lot of 4 way stop signs at intersections which means that all directions have to stop and then the car which got there first can go, followed by the next car which got there 2nd etc. I don’t know what happens when 4 cars get there at exactly the same time though lol.
So the next day I went and did the Hollywood and Universal studios tours. Hollywood is just a bunch of normal upper class suburbs with lots and lots of trees blocking out the mansions from view from the street. I get angry though when I hear that some of these celebrities have 40 houses across the world. I don’t think they need or should be allowed to own that many houses, especially when they would spend the majority of their time empty – it’s just an example of the need to spread extreme wealth more equally. The Universal studios complex is just a theme park, so not to much to write about here.
The next 2 days I spent at Disneyworld. Again it’s a theme park, so I don’t have a lot to write about this, but there was one sweet as room called Innoventions. This room was basically a home of the future style exhibit using to my shock – completely Microsoft products: Xbox 360’s, Zune HD’s, Windows 7 PCS, Windows Media Center, Microsoft Surface tables, everything except Windows Phone 7, which I imagine would be coming. We spent New Years Eve at Disneyland (which was just overcrowded) and then moved on to the next part of our trip.
We then drove up the Interstate 15 and 40 towards the Grand Canyon. This was a long drive and we never did make it to the Grand Canyon that night because once we got close to a town called Williams, there was snow everywhere. So we stayed at Williams that night under advice from the locals who said the small road up to the Grand Canyon would be dangerous at night because of possible black ice. It was -16 degrees there that night, very cold. We did make it up to the Grand Canyon the next day and we had a helicopter flight over the Canyon which is an amazing experience. We then drove to the visitors centre and looked over the edge of the Grand Canyon. What shocked me the most is that, there’s not any fencing around the edge. Just a small knee high brick wall, nothing more, which is so strange when you think of America’s “I’ll Sue You” society.
We then drove to Las Vegas. Well this is an interesting place, there are Poker Machines at the airport, at the car rental place, in the Casinos obviously, and as a child I was legally allowed to walk through all of them, as long as I didn’t try to play the machines. We visited the Coca-Cola store which was a pretty cool place and also saw “The Lion King” stage show, which was excellent! Dad was getting a bit sick here, so we decided instead of driving out to the coast and then up the coast to San Francisco that we would fly back to Los Angeles and then proceed up the coast. Well Dad fell unconscious on the plane there so we had to stay at the hospital at Marina Del Rey in Los Angeles. This treatment cost $7000, but thankfully travel insurance covered that. Dad was then fine, so we continued up the coast on US Highway 101 to San Francisco.
San Francisco was my favourite place on the whole trip. It didn’t have the glitz and glamour of Los Angeles, but it was calmer and had more class and style. It also was very close to Silicon Valley down near San Jose. If you lived in San Francisco and you walked around, you’d certainly be quite fit, because it’s an extremely hilly city, with the building style more like that in the UK where houses are all connected together and backyards are non existent. The first day we were in San Francisco we drove down to look around Silicon Valley. This was an amazing place. It’s so cool to see where companies like Google, Apple, Skype, HP and Intel have their headquarters. You unfortunately can’t go into most of those companies’ buildings, but just seeing them from the outside is cool. Intel have a great Museum/Shop which I visited and could have spent more time at, but time constraints meant I couldn’t. I also wanted to visit The Computer History Museum but sadly that was closed for renovations. The rest of the week in San Francisco was spent checking out the city, riding the cablecars and streetcars and the BART and MUNI public transport systems. I visited a Best Buy and they seriously have cheaper prices than Australia for nearly every piece of electronic equipment.
On the day before I went home, I got to drive to Petaluma and meet the one and only Leo Laporte in the TWiT Cottage (TWiT stands for This Week in Tech). TWiT is responsible for some of the best technology podcasts available on the internet and soon moving to an Internet enabled TV near you. This is one of the many things I wished to check off to have done before it’s not possible to anymore, so it’s great I got the opportunity. The TWiT team are very friendly and Leo Laporte is the legend I thought he’d be.
The next day we flew home back to Brisbane and flying in over Moreton Bay I witnessed the aftermath of the Brisbane Floods, with all the debris in the bay. The Queensland floods actually made big news in America, which is a real surprise, considering their media mainly focuses on internal affairs. Everyone who found out we were from Queensland immediately asked if our house was going to be ok with the floods and we thankfully were able to tell them that it was. So now it’s probably time to mention my thoughts on the country. In many ways, it felt a bit backwards compared to the way we do things in Australia, which surprised me. Here are a few examples:
- Money – They still use paper money which all looks exactly the same and is easily tear-able. Here in Australia we used polymer plastic bank notes with different colours and sizes for each denomination. Showing Australian money to Americans amazed them and many said they wished they had our money. Coins were also weird, especially the one cent coins, which are essentially useless and just build up in your pockets. Also the coins don’t get bigger for each denomination (the 5 cent coin is bigger than the 1c and 10c coin) and most coins don’t have a big number on them telling you how much they’re worth. It just makes things harder. Australia definitely has better money than the US.
- Tax Exclusive Prices – The other major issue I had was paying for items using cash. In Australia, the price tag on the item is exactly what you will pay at the cash register (except for rounding, you have to round to the closest 5 cents, but that’s easy enough), but in the US, the price on the tag is not what you will pay at the register because it doesn’t include tax. Here in Australia it is illegal to advertise the tax exclusive price, all prices must be tax inclusive. It would make things a LOT easier in the US if they introduced that, because paying for items over there is a bit of a guess if you want to pay just using small change.
- Tipping – Tipping is simply a way to make up for employers not paying their staff enough. We don’t have to tip in Australia because we actually pay our staff a larger wage that they don’t need to ask for more. It means prices are more expensive for services, but you end up equalling that anyway once you add the tip on.
- Homelessness – There’s a lot more homeless people who are visible on the street in the US, which made me sad :(. I simply don’t see that around Brisbane. You see them occasionally, but not on every street corner and that’s because we have a well established welfare program here. For the sake of all those homeless people, America needs one too.
- Guns – I swear the attitude on guns stems back from the independence and civil wars. In these moderns days, it’s just not necessary in my opinion for every citizen to carry around loaded firearms. There aren’t any enemy forces to need to protect yourself from and if nobody had weapons in public then you also wouldn’t need guns to protect yourself from other guns. The stats of the rate of gun sales increasing 16% in Arizona after the Arizona shootings just shows that a serious change of attitude surrounding guns is probably needed. That’s my view anyway, I know a lot of you will disagree, I can understand that.
So that’s basically it. I will mention that I had a great time in America, the people were very friendly, the technology was modern (yay for Free Wifi), there was lots and lots to see and it was an enjoyable experience I hope to have again, possibly in the form of a Uni Exchange in a few years!