Globe Trotter: US#1: Los Angeles and Las Vegas’ giant fantasies

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‘Living in America, at the end of the millenium… you’re what you own’

And what I was owning, fully conscious of my luck of being one of the too-few people on Earth able to move because they longed to, was a cabin-sized suitcase, a small backpack and my passport opened to a border officer. My Mum and brother were on my side. We had left Lyon, France, two days ago, to take a plane to Germany. After our second plane was cancelled, we’ve had to go to Warsaw, Poland, to take the third one, and after hours of flights and hours of queuing up, here we were, eventually.

In Los Angeles, California, United States of America, for the first time in my life.

 

My family had decide months before to go on this trip, the first one we would do during Summer holidays. It was a dream of my brother’s to go to the US and after I studied it for a year already, I thought it was high time for me to see it with my own eyes. After years of watching American movies, having American food and hearing about the ‘American dream’, I finally had the opportunity to go at the source. We would spend two weeks on the West Coast; cross California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada; go to the Grand Canyon, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco or Monument Valley. All those, with a group of fifty other people and a guide, as for the first time ever, we’ve decided to go on an organized trip.

 

We arrived exhausted but delighted to finally be there and eager to learn. From the first few minutes I spent on the American soil, I couldn’t have a more bursting and loud memories. I remember lights, lights everywhere as if life in this town was a constant feast, the highest buildings I’ve ever seen and the largest road. As soon as we’ve gone out of the airport and met the driver who would take us to our hotel, an incident had happen that had make me realize I clearly was not in France anymore. The driver was looking for his car on an endless carpark; at some point, he pushed a button on a remote control, noticed a car whose highlights had light up, and hopefully opened the car’s door before snapping it stressfully and telling us, ‘That is not my car’. He had just make another driver, in a car exactly similar to his, freak out.

 

On the way to our hotel, this adorable former immigrant let my brother play with all possible gadgets in the car – and there were so many – while telling us his story, after I asked him where he was from since he sounded exactly like a friend of mine coming for Romania. He told he himself, Sebi, was Romanian and had come to Los Angeles to become an actor – ‘but I didn’t try hard enough, I only tried six months’. He added, joyfully, that in Los Angeles everything was about money, was fake and was a fantasy, and continued with the stories of the celebs he had seen in bars thanks to his work. It was fantastic to meet such an open-minded and extraverted person at our arrival; this trip has started the right way, and everything I discovered for the two weeks that followed made me realize how impressive a country this multi-faced land is.

 

LOS ANGELES, California

However, we only visited Los Angeles two weeks after our arrival, and after touring four different American states in an exhausting but amazingly rewarding trip. Coming back to Los Angeles was a bit sad, as it meant the end of this beautiful journey; but getting to see this town was like being thrown within a postcard, and seeing with one’s own eyes something one has known for years from photos and reputation. The first glance we took at the letters ‘Hollywood’ on the hill really felt like something; it was as if we’ve entered a story that went well beyond us. It might sound crazy; but getting to see the very place we’ve get glimpses of in movies and books, made me feel extraordinarily grateful.

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We also walked through the moving Walk of Fame, its pink and Bordeaux stars and its multiples shops selling awards ranging from ‘Best musician’ to ‘Best roommate’. We put our hands and feet on to the foot- and fingerprints of so many celebrities, Meryl Streep, Clark Gable, Tim Burton! We were laughing at ourselves, admitting this ambiguity of feeling like we were living something extraordinary, while doing the same thing as million of tourists before us who probably thought, too, ‘My foot is only half of Will Smith’s’, ‘Marilyn Monroe really had long fingers, way longer than mine’

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Eventually, we went to Venice Beach, a beautiful and crazy area that gathers both the worst  and most greasy fast-foods, the most dedicated body-builders of Los Angeles, more souvenirs shops for us to count them all, topless guys playing basketball and whose skills made my outraged brother complain that ‘Players clearly aren’t that good in France!’, and people trying all possible existing sports including swinging in a hoop or dancing with rollerblades.

 

LAS VEGAS, Nevada

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A few days ago, we’ve been to Las Vegas that, as my Mother kept repeating for weeks before, actually is ‘the town of excessiveness’. It’s not even about the gigantic sign ‘Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada’ at the entrance. It’s not, either, about the dozens of wedding chapels all over the streets; or about the Stratosphere tower, the highest tower in Las Vegas, on which people can do rides that consist into plunging into the void; or about the people literally flying above one’s head on Fremont Street yodel; or about the fact that they rebuilt an Eiffel Tower, Venice, the Coliseum, an Egyptian Pyramid… and many more, within the town.

IMG_6324.JPGGoing to Las Vegas is like entering a new world, one that never sleeps, a fantasy based on lights and colors and money. We stayed open-mouthed in front of the endless casinos’ flashing machines, occupied by players whom we could see but who could apparently see nothing but the game they were losing their souls or gaining their life with. As we were lucky enough to tour the town by night, we could go in all the town’s most extraordinary hotels. From outside already, they looked fascinating and it was about the one that would be the most incredible sub-real. In two hours of touring the town, we went through many countries and atmospheres without even living Nevada. We saw the Excalibur, my favorite-looking by far, built to look like a Middle-Age castle; the Luxor, with its full-size sphinge and its pyramid whose beam caresses the evening’s Vegas; the  Caesar Palace with its marble stairs, Coliseum and Roman statues; the Bellagio, with its hundreds of flowers building patterns within the hall; the Venetian, that reproduced Venise’s canals and where it is possible to do gondola rides. Gondola rides, in a hotel! And what impressed with the most, is that not only did they dig canals in their hotel, they also did it on the second floor.

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But I think that the one hotel I liked the most was the Paris Las Vegas, that features an Eiffel Tower and a Montgolfière, but also a beautiful casino with the names of the Parisian metro stations. This place was wonderfully poetic, as a midsummer night’s dream, and I loved the fact that this was the idea Americans had of my country.

Nevertheless, I think that the best memories I’ll keep from Las Vegas will be about food, and more specifically, about a very famous restaurant called Umami Burgers. I am not a huge fan of burgers usually, and not eating meat clearly does not help; but we were unanimous: those were the best burgers we’ve ever had. I personally tried the semi-cooked tuna, ginger and wasabi one, and it was amongst the purest and most delicate scents I’ve ever had. So, if you ever go to Las Vegas and have 15€ to spend, do not play them in a Casino, go have a burger at Umami!

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This is the first article of a probably very long series, for me to write about all the marvels I witnessed in the US. At least three other articles are to be expected, on respectively, the Natural wonders (Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon…); what I discovered of the American culture; and San Francisco! Keep reading 🙂

Globe Trotter: Advice From a Traveler Who Lost Her Luggage More Than Once

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‘Ma’am, the plane left five minutes ago. You must go to the counter to know what to do.’

That’s how I learnt I would be stuck in Frankfurt for at least a day, on my way to the United States.

 

Throwback.

 

Last Summer, I went to the United States for the very first time in my life. My family had decide to book an organized trip to make the most out of the ten days we would have there. First there was a flight from Paris to Frankfurt, then from there to Los Angeles – flying with a company which for its own reputation will remain anonymous ( was cheaper). So we got up at 4 am on that Tuesday morning, took a plane from Paris, and arrived in Frankfurt to know that the airport was fully blocked because of a security incident. We were parked for five hours in an airport hall, and our plane took off without even calling out for passengers, leaving many people behind

 

We safely arrived to Los Angeles a day later, after more than ten hours of queuing for tickets in two days. However, the situation was solved quickly enough for us to be able to laugh about it a month after. It also made me think over the hardships that a traveler can meet, even though they remain very light when considered through the realm of the luck we already have to travel, freely and without constraints. I however noticed that in the four long trips I have been lucky enough to experience, only one went perfectly well (with no lost suitcase or blocked airport). Indeed, our suitcase was lost for five days when we went to the Seychelles island, our plane was cancelled when we went to New Zealand, leaving us stuck in Australia, but at least we could do some tourism in Sydney whereas queuing up in Frankfurt’s airport doesn’t offer much of an entertainment. I thus came up with these advice, for people who love to travel as much as I do, and will still love to travel no matter the number of lost suitcases, blocked airports or cancelled planes…

 

  1. Always take the vital minimum in the cabin with you

The day after we were told we couldn’t take the right plane to Los Angeles, all people stuck in Frankfurt were divided between a handful of different planes to finally reach the US. Some of them went through Manchester, Paris, or even – as was our case – Warsaw. At all moments of the process, we were told our suitcases would leave in exactly the same plane as the passenger and that we would get them back as soon as we’d arrive in Los Angeles. That sounded too good to be true; to me, that was impossible; either the suitcases would have left in the plane we should have taken, or they would stay in Frankfurt. Turned out – to my disappointment – that I was right, and all families that had suitcases checked-in didn’t get them back for at least a week.

My family was the only one that had decide to keep everything with us in the cabin – which means we didn’t have much, as the weight and size are limited, but as least we had some. We were able to share some first-necessity goods with the others; toothpaste, tampons, medicines… From now on, we’ll always travel with at least some clothes and necessary items in the cabin with us!

  1. Find other travelers

As soon as we learnt our plane had taken off without us, my family and I started running to The Company’s counter to see what to do. After a long race through Frankfurt still partially blocked airport, we found the place – wasn’t that difficult, there already were 200 people queuing up. We would spend six hours in front of this counter; the company hadn’t brought enough people to help. Finally, it turned out the counter could not give new plane tickets but only an accommodation for the night.

Nevertheless, after asking all people we could see, we managed to find other travelers who should also have been in the plane to Los Angeles. We gathered altogether and spent those six hours talking, getting to know each other, the situation making us closer than we would have been without this. We called ourselves the Frankfurt’s Shipwrecked Squad and stayed together the whole time. The next day, one of the Squad figured out which line to choose, so that we could leave Frankfurt. When we eventually arrived to the United States, our trip was even better, as all Frankfurt’s Castaways felt like a large group of friends that had gone through an adventure together.

 

  1. Carefully divide your belongings in case you lose a suitcase

Four years ago, my parents decided to take my brother and I on a trip to an earthly paradise, the Seychelles Islands, where they’ve had their honeymoon. As soon as we arrived, after a long flight that left me delighted – I had just discover we were given food and could watch movies in a plane, which made my 13-years-old-self overjoyed -, I was caught by the Seychelles’ unique atmosphere. The air was so hot I could literally feel it, there were palm trees everywhere and the airport looked like kind of an exotic treehouse. However, nothing perfect is made to last; after two long hours of waiting for our suitcases under the warmth, we found out one of them hadn’t arrived. We were told it had most probably been put into another plane, which means that by the time it would take to find out where it was and to bring it back, we would have to wait at least three days. It finally arrived five days later.

It eventually turned out that we’d been lucky enough to lose the least useful suitcase, but half of our clothes, swimsuits, solar creams and those highly necessary items had been left out. If you have two suitcases,divide everything between them – clothes, pads, everything. We never know.

 

  1. Always keep a small backpack with you during the flight

When one decides to keep all their belonging in the cabin, one ends up with a ten kilos-luggage to carry by hand and to put on the shelf above their seat. Then, one quickly understands that there’s nothing as annoying, in a plane, as someone trying to get their luggage from this shelf during the flight. As a 1,60m dwarf that does not even weigh 50kg, I could picture what would happen if I tried. I’d have to climb on the next passenger’s seat, which would probably coincide with turbulence ensuring that my suitcase would fall on someone’s head, as would I.

That might have been a bit too dramatic. Nevertheless, I couldn’t have been happier I had chosen to bring a small backpack with me, to put under the seat in front of me. I first thought I couldn’t fit more than a book and a box of tissue, but this small backpack with black and white elephant patterns turned out being more useful than even I could have imagined. It made me think of my roommate – who happens to be the Honduran Keeper! – and never travels without her tiny little backpack, that already went to France, Italy, Spain, Guatemala and so many different countries. That became the ultimate goal for my backpack, too.

 

  1. Take every hardship as an opportunity

In 2015, my family and I went to New Zealand, to follow the steps of the movie The Lord of the Rings. I’ll remember this trip as one of the happiest moments in my life – now that I think about it, most of the ‘happiest moments in my life’ are related to traveling. However, after we arrived in Sydney, we were confronted to an unexpected hardship. There was wind that day; and the company that should have taken us from Australia to New Zealand had its reputation to maintain; it never had any accident, and was determined to not take any risk. Our flight was cancelled and we were stuck for a whole day in Sydney.

We were terribly sad. We had less than ten days to spend in Kiwiland and one of them was being withdrawn from us; moreover, a Lord of the Rings tour was planned for this day and that was what we’ve been the most looking forward to.

But finally, that was literally the best thing that happened to our trip. My Mother and I were able to visit Sydney during a few hours; we went to the Opera – which made me understand I still had to improve my English-speaking skills, as I spent ten minutes asking a stewart for a soup while he was laughing his heart out and probably wondering why this Frenchie was asking for a soap – and saw the Harbour Bridge. Even better; the tour guide accepted to work on Christmas day, two days later, for us to still be able to do this Lord of the Rings Tour, and we spent an unbelievably awesome couple of hours with him. Bob turned out to be the best guide we could have had and made us feel like we were involved in the movie. Without our flight being cancelled, and without the Kiwis being amongst the most pragmatic, helpful and generous people I’ve ever met, that would have never been possible.

 

Finally, all those advice can be summed up into one: always believe that things happen for a reason, and that we can make the best out of anything. If our flight to New Zealand hadn’t been cancelled, we wouldn’t have seen Sydney and meet Bob the Awesome Tour Guide. If Frankfurt’s airport and That Company’s jobs hadn’t been awfully done, such a solidarity would have never been triggered between Frankfurt’s Castaways, and so one. Keep smiling, and keep traveling!