California

…fra le vaste californie selve
nasce beata prole…

Giacomo Leopardi Inno ai patriarchi

Since I arrived back in Japan in August, every so often I’ve looked over my photos from my American trip, wondering if I should blog about it, being daunted by the prospect and putting off making a decision about it.  I think the photos I uploaded to my tumblr Golden to Silver give a good round-up of my trip, but before I move on to writing about Japan again, I thought I’d do a couple of posts about it with the pictures from my real camera, because it was too great of an experience not to add to my online scrapbook.

Two years after my first visit to America, I was back again thanks to the good friends I made in Japan.  K&M were in Kanazawa for two years and we spent many an evening eating and drinking together, as well as climbing a mountain from time to time.  Although California had not been high on my list of places to visit, when they invited me to their wedding and I started to do some research, I was excited for another epic American adventure.

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Which I made my students learn all about when school started back in September.

I flew into Los Angeles and the wedding was two days later; beautiful, well-planned and with excellent food and drink, as I expected.  When I first moved to Japan I did not expect to be at a wedding in LA three years later.  I did not expect to make the kind of friends who would not only invite me to their wedding, but also plan a honeymoon with me! I had booked my flights to spend three weeks in America, because I wanted to make the most out of travelling all that way, but I expected that I’d go off travelling by myself after the wedding to give them some time with all their other friends and relatives who were going to be in town, and then try not to get in their way too much when I was in LA. But they planned a whole trip with me for the week after the wedding to take a road trip around California. Not only that, but the weekend after that we took a road trip through the desert. It wasn’t their ‘official’ honeymoon, but it was definitely version 1.0.

Two days after the wedding, we took a train up to Santa Barbara to meet some other friends from our time in Japan. M used to live in Santa Barbara, and he took us to a little Mexican supermarket to get some things for breakfast the next day.

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We didn’t buy a piñata unfortunately.

One thing I loved about my trip, was how multicultural California seemed, more than any other place I’ve visited so far.  A lot of K&M’s friends had families that came from all over the place, and because the two of them are such foodies, they made sure I ate food from many different countries.

My cultural experience was biased towards Mexico, however, because M was born in Mexico and Mexican food is delicious.  It’s also a country I know very little about.  On my first day in LA, M’s mum (also called Maria) drove us around to help prepare for the wedding. Maria only spoke Spanish, M knew both Spanish and English, K could understand Spanish and I only knew English so there were many levels to our conversations!  My first dinner in California was enchiladas verdes, cooked by M, and my first breakfast was a breakfast burrito and horchata, a cinnamon rice drink, that’s my new favourite beverage.

Anyway, back to Santa Barbara.  We were picked up by their friend C, who I had met when he came to visit them in Japan, and who was moving from Texas to Santa Cruz at the time.  He graciously made room for us in his car, and we drove up the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping off at Big Sur to swim in the Pacific and hike among the redwoods.

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We saw some of Steinbeck country and went to the Steinbeck House in Salinas for lunch.  I was reading East of Eden and I picked up Travels with Charley at the gift shop there for good measure.

San Francisco was cool, literally and figuratively, yet it was the only time I got sunburned on my trip because I forgot to put on sun cream for cycling through the fog.  We ate delicious food, drank at swanky bars and even did karaoke.

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We drove up (across the Golden Gate Bridge) to Point Reyes on one of our last days.  It gets so foggy there that the lighthouse had to be built half-way down a cliff to be visible below the fog.

The fog didn’t delay our flight back to LA (although disruptions at LAX did), and that city will be the subject of my next post.  Stay tuned!

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Charting the Route

Well, I`m back in Japan so now I finally have time to process all of the America that I saw. It was an intense three weeks, but it was a wonderful experience. I still can`t believe everything that I did.

Above is a map of the major places I went on the trip. We flew to Chicago via Houston, and it was a pretty close connection after going through immigration, customs and security. One thing that struck me when we were going through the airport was that the signs were all bilingual, in English and Spanish. We spent ten days in Illinois – six days in Naperville, a commuter town outside Chicago, two days in Freeport and three days in downtown Chicago. It was good having so much time there because it allowed us to recover from our journey, do little bits like go shopping and get our hair done, and we got to see some different aspects of a Northern state – cool yet business-minded Chicago, upper-middle-class suburbia and fading towns of the Mid-West.

We had planned on this being a full-on road trip, but we hadn`t planned very well after that. So instead of renting a car to Nashville and zooming through St Louis and Memphis, we decided last minute to fly from Chicago to Nashville (via New Orleans) and rent a car there to Memphis and back. We spent one night in Memphis and had enough time to do some sight-seeing the next morning, and we spent two nights in Nashville with Liz`s aunt, though we just had one day of sight-seeing there.

Leaving Nashville felt like we were truly going to Dixie because then we headed deeper south into Alabama to meet Sister No.1 and her brood of boys. The next day we went back up to Tennessee and Knoxville to stay with the parents. We were based there for about six days though we took day trips to the Smoky Mountains and to the Biltmore Estate near Asheville, North Carolina. It was in Knoxville that I felt like I really got to experience the religion, politics and food that the South represents. It was surely an experience.

We had two days down in Atlanta with Sister No. 2 and her little girls, and although at that stage I was running out of steam, we did get to see downtown Atlanta and meet up with a friend who had just returned home from Japan. Then we started our epic journey back, flying from Atlanta to Tokyo via Washington D.C., then waiting for the nightbus to take us home to Kanazawa.