East USA

United States East coast has some unmissable cities that you must visit. Let’s start with some historical ones and finish by the most famous.

Washington

Better known as D.C (for District of Columbia, and not to mistake with the Washington state on the West coast), Washington is the federal capital of the United States. It means there you can find most the federal government buildings. The most famous is the White House, which looks quite small in reality compared to how it’s shown in many movies. Or maybe it’s just because I saw it only in the long distance from the garden gates. One the other federal government building is the Capitol, and I had the chance to visit it. I was quite surprised when the guide told my group, that, in fact, it’s almost an empty building under the cupola. Actually, when it was built between 1793 and 1812, the USA had not yet 50 states, which means now, there’s not enough place to host all the parliament, so outbuildings had to be built later.

There are several important buildings and monuments along Pennsylvania Avenue, which links the White House to the Capitol, and you might have seen in some movies, such as the FBI head office, the departments of justice and the treasury, the National Art Gallery, the University George Washington. Nearby, on the National Mall between Madison and Jefferson drive, there are very interesting museums, such as the national museum of American History or the National Air and Space Museum. They are definitely not boring museums, very well presented, especially if you’re visiting it with kids or teenagers.

Washington is also known for all its memorials, located close to the Washington monument, that giant obelisk. You probably know the Lincoln Memorial, with the statue of 16th President of the USA, who was assassinated. There are also some memorials dedicated to some of the wars the USA were involved, such as the World War II and Korea War. In my opinion, the most impressive one is the Vietnam War memorial, because it’s original and the artist had a great idea to represent it: it’s a black reflecting wall carved in the ground, with all the names of the soldiers. It represents a scar in the American¬†ground.

I really enjoyed that city, because it’s flat, with no skyscraper like in many North-American cities, and it’s green, with a lot of trees, so a pleasant city to visit.

Philadelphia

I visited Philadelphia, because it’s on the road, between Washington and New-York. The main reason to visit this city is Independence Hall, where was signed the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776, and where was adopted the American Constitution. Nearby, there’s “Liberty Bell”, a symbol of American Independence. Philadelphia was also an interesting stop, just because taxes were lower in Pennsylvania State, which is a good excuse to do some shopping.

New-York

What can I say about the Big Apple when everything has already been written about it? If I had to pick a word to describe it, for I’ld choose “Big”. That’s true, everything is big in that city: the buildings, the streets, the cars, the people, even food. You must visit New-York at least once in your life. Personally, I felt like if I was in a TV series or in a movie, as I recognized many places: the Flat Iron, the National Library, Wall Street, the Rockefeller¬†Center, and its Christmas tree the Brooklyn Bridges, etc. Like the White House, the Statue of Liberty seems smaller in real life than on TV; but the cruise to get to Ellis Island, really worth it, has it gives a great view to Manhattan. You have to feel the atmosphere on Time Square, with the smoke escaping from the sewer plates, between the yellow cabs. You can’t resist eating a hotdog on Broadway and shopping on the 5th Avenue. You must get to the top of the Empire State Building at sunset, to enjoy the city enlighting.

I can’t talk to you about the new tallest building of the city, the One World trade center, because when I visited the city, it wasn’t built yet. In that time, they were just finishing to extract what remains of Ground Zero. I kept a sad memory of this place because it was just a big hole in the ground, with pictures and explanation about the September 11th attacks. There was a woman crying, and asking God why He let that happened. I could still feel the horror of that day.

I think my favorite place was Central Park. Honestly, I don’t see my self living in New-York, where the horizon is always blocked by buildings which are so tall you feel oppressed. So it can explain why I enjoyed so much this big green island in the heart of the city, with its lakes, its squirrels, etc.

Of course, they are so many places to go, to visit in New-York, that I can’t tell you all, so I’ll just recommend you the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) which might one of the best in the USA.

Just one last thing: the subway. It’s probably one of the most complicated systems I ever met. Sometimes it doesn’t stop at all stations, and some lines stop earlier than others. Disturbing.

April 2006 – Teens camp – 1 week

West USA

A road trip is the best way to discover the Far West and its famous national parks. Ready to be a poor lonesome cowboy? Let’s cross Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada…

Arizona: Grand Canyon State

The Grand Canyon is the must-see. There are two great ways to discover it. For the first one, you’ll have to wake up early, in order to see the sun rises above the canyon. The show is really worth. The other way to enjoy it is to get down the Colorado River on a canoe. With that experience will understand how deep is the canyon.

The other place to see in Arizona is definitely Monument Valley. In fact, it’s in Arizona and Utah, close to the “four corners” (the crossing point between these two states, plus New Mexico and Colorado). Don’t just take a picture of its three most famous mesas, take a ride inside the park, with a Navajo guide it will be better. Navajos are the native people. They named most of the mesas you will see, such as the Three Sisters (they look like a W) or the Dragon, and they left some petroglyphs, which most famous is “Cocopelly”.

There are some other sites to visit in that state. Petrified Forest is interesting as its particularity is these enormous rocks which were tree trunks, million years ago, when dinosaurs were still alive and ate their leaves. Lake Powell is a great place to enjoy nautical sports such as jet-ski. It’s an artificial lake thanks to Glen Canyon Dam, which is so high that it can be vertiginous.

Colorado: the Pioneers state

Mesa Verde National is famous because of its Anasazi monuments. The United States has few pre-Columbian monuments, that’s why this palace is important, especially because it’s a troglodyte. The other specificity of this canyon compared to others is its flora. It’s really well named because it’s the greenest canyon.

Durango really looks like a pioneer city, but its main attraction, except Ralph Lauren shop, is its steam train.

Utah: the Centennial state

Why the Centennial? Just because it joined the Union in 1876, 100 years after the USA independence. If its known because of the Winter Olympics Game in Salt Lake City (2002) or because its the Mormons state, trust me it’s as beautiful as Arizona. They are two great sites to visit. Start with Arches National Park, where water curved wonderful sculptures. The most impressive one is the Delicate Arche. Then go to Bryce Canyon national park, maybe the most incredible canyon of the USA. It’s called the Silent City because it looks like orange buildings separated by little canyons as streets, with no one, like an abandoned town.

Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas

You can’t go to Nevada without visiting the city of games and sins, even if you don’t want to gamble. I was a teenager, so I wasn’t allowed even to sit, as I was forbidden to play. But the casinos are amazing places, their decorations are incredible. I don’t know which was my favorite one. I remember I was impressed by how the Paris Paris truly looks like Paris city. The Venetian, the Ceasar Palace, and the Luxor are also very well made, especially from the outside. New-York New-York is funny because of its roller coaster, and of course, you can’t miss the fountains show at the Bellagio. The best way to discover it is to walk along the strip, start at sunset and spend the night along with it. Don’t miss as well Fairmont, where you must see its roof show. And, last but not least, you should go to the Stratosphere and do the attractions at its summit. Vertigo guaranteed.

Some tips to add… Everything seems bigger in USA, roads, cars, distances. Never forget that prices are without taxes, it’s always a surprise to discover at the cashier how much you’ll pay. The thunder on Monument Valley picture shows the reality: usually, days are hot and sunny, and evenings are rainy with thunder. But camping remains a good option to make your trip cheaper.

August 2005 – Teens Camp – 3 weeks