For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by North America. I’m not exactly sure why, but during my teenage years I developed a very pronounced attraction to the United States. And maybe more specifically to the City of Angels. This article is the first in a series of twenty. This one allows me to explain why I chose to make this trip on the West Coast.
Why travel to the USA?
The USA and the American dream
Maybe it’s due to the many TV series I watched as a child and later on. For example, I liked watching Malcolm in the Middle, Scrubs, NCIS, or even CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. Maybe it’s the coveted American dream. It leads every individual to believe that anything is possible in the New World for those who have the means. An adage that holds true in the United States more than anywhere else on the globe. For me, living in America means having the opportunity to choose who you want to be, and the means to be recognized as such.
The USA or the land of junkfood?
Beyond the clichés about junk food affecting the country, the United States has this image of the obesity epidemic. We are talking about hot dogs, burritos, pizza, French fries, pretzels, burgers, etc. We think about police officers leaning back in their Ford Crown Victoria and enjoying half a dozen doughnuts. Also, to stay with the clichés, let’s think about the traditional stuffed turkey on the fourth Thursday in November…
The USA, a world of athletes?
The United States is also the memory of September 11th. Or some major events like baseball and American soccer games (and the Super Bowl). It’s hot-rod races, numerous TV shows about everything and anything, … It’s Hollywood and the villas on Mulholland Drive, drive-ins and drive-throughs, etc.
When you think of America, it’s not hard to imagine all those people from Silicon Valley getting up at the crack of dawn and exercise. They are going for a run on the Californian beaches, jogging through the sleepy streets of the country’s biggest cities. Some other, less sporty, use the morning to read a few chapters of the latest New York Times bestseller. After, they’ll enjoy a breakfast and wait for kids to join them with a bowl of Froot Loops or Cheerios…
The USA is deep America
The country of Uncle Sam is also the deep America. Land of rednecks, ranchers, farmers and those who live from gigs to survive. They live in a country where health care is expensive, often on credit. Sometimes just to buy the latest top-of-the-range pickup and proudly park it in the driveway. They know it: it’ll drive their neighbors crazy with jealousy…
So, why travel to the USA?
The United States of America isn’t all pink, white or black. Like all countries, it has its strengths, which make us dream, but also its weaknesses, which put things into perspective. The big metropolises seem far ahead of the rest of the world. On the other hand,the country’s most remote rural areas often show disillusioned citizens. Themselves, feel left by the wayside and forgotten by their government. It’s easy to idealize a country like this, with my Francophone vision across the Atlantic. We still consider that the grass is greener across the ocean. However, you need to be aware of all the issues to get a holistic view of what’s really going on.
Now, you know why I choose to travel in the USA. In the next lines, I will explain why I choose to make this road trip on the West Coast.
Why travel on the American Coast?
James Ellroy was right
I’ve always been very interested in the State of California, and more particularly in the south of it. I’ll never forget the first time I set foot in Los Angeles. As James Ellroy so aptly put it: “L.A.: you come here on vacation, you leave on parole“. I can only agree with this quote, which seems to me to be an absolute truth.
My first time
It was August 31, 2014 at LAX International Airport. I landed after a domestic flight from Miami of over five hours. Coming from Miami, where I’d spent a week discovering the Everglades, I could see just how vast the USA was. Each state possessing its own characteristic features.
Traveling East or West?
In Florida, for example, I realized that the locals party late into the night. Residents don’t leave home until mid-morning. People like to show off how successful they are in life (nice cars are commonplace on the streets).
In California, I was (pleasantly) surprised by the ease with which people, strangers, were able to launch a small talks. A Frenchy like me is unaccustomed. Beaches are different along the Pacific. Beyond the time difference, time doesn’t seem to flow in the same way on these two American coasts. As a result, Californians are more likely to get up early and take full advantage of the mornings. They enjoy more the sunshine offered by this “Golden State” than East Coasters, as far as I know.
You’re beginning to understand why this trip was made to the West Coast, aren’t you? But let’s be a little more precise…
Let’s go back in time: several trips to North America
If I could live in North America?
In the mid-2000s, as a teenager, I was touched by the American dream. The idea germinated within me… And I finally made the decision to leave everything behind to move to North America as soon as I finished my studies. I spent a long-time gathering information and finally put together an application to immigrate to Quebec in 2012. Then I discovered the existence of Working Holidays Visa (PVT in French). In 2014, I tried my luck at obtaining a WHV, which I got in the second round. The answer came on February 15, 2014: I was the happiest man alive. The woman who would become my wife a few years later remained in France, for the moment. She planned to try her luck later and join me in Quebec.
Living in Quebec, Canada
On January 11, 2015, I left my native country and settled in Montreal… Only to return to the Old Continent three months later ! Indeed, my partner had become pregnant a few days before my departure. We both found out, on January 25 for her at the hospital after a head trauma and a routine check-up, and on January 26 for me via Skype 6,000 kilometers further west in my little room on the Plateau Mont-Royal.
… or not!
My American dream had certainly taken a turn for the worse. Although, I was about to realize another goal in my life: starting a family! “Surprise” fatherhood didn’t prevent us from expatriating, but conditions were no longer as favorable as they had been before this unexpected discovery. The risks inherent in such a situation didn’t allow us to project ourselves serenely into such a project, important as it was, but ultimately less important than the new life that was opening up to us.
Vacations in Canada
I haven’t forgotten my first love, however, and I managed to convince Sarah, my partner, to leave our four-month-old baby behind to spend ten days in Montreal in February 2016. We had a great time in the former “Nouvelle France”. While the “Belle Province” was very appealing to me, my last stay in the USA had already been in 2014. As a result, I was quickly tempted to return to Los Angeles, a city I’m particularly fond of.
A road trip on the West Coast was definitely in my DNA!
Why a trip on the West Coast, in 2019?
At the beginning of 2018, after a discussion with Sarah, we decided to take a trip to celebrate our thirtieth anniversary and mark the occasion! Here in Beaujolais, we attach particular importance to the passage of each decade, which we call conscripts. The opportunity was just too good, and the chance to set foot on American soil again, this time with just the two of us, quickly outweighed all other plans.
A trip on the West Coast… because of the sun
After Quebec during the winter of 2015-2016, where we were able to take full advantage of the Canadian snow and cold, and following the arrival of our second child – yet another girl!- we decided to spend a week together in Greece. It was on the island of Rhodes, and the purpose was to enjoy the summer heat in May 2018. We both really appreciate the warm, dry climate offered by this destination. So, the main criterion for our next project – this one in the West – was definitely validated: the Sun! Sarah and I quickly agreed on the location for our trip: California.
We wanted to see several places. So, the idea of a West Coast road trip was beginning to take shape in our minds.
A trip on the West Coast… because San Francisco and Los Angeles
I’d already spent two weeks in the Golden State in 2014, as well as Sarah, and we’d even had breakfast together at Olsen’s Danish Village Bakery & Coffeeshop in Solvang, north of Santa Barbara, as I headed up Pacific Coast Highway towards San Francisco and she headed down to Los Angeles after a three-month road-trip in South America. While Sarah had developed a fondness for San Francisco, I had fallen in love with Southern California and was determined to pass through Los Angeles on this new journey.
We both wanted to see new landscapes, but also return to the cities we had enjoyed on our first trip. With no surprise, it was SF for Sarah, LA for me. After many days of searching for an itinerary, we decided to take a road-trip from Frisco to the City of Angels. We also scheduled a few stops in the national parks. But we didn’t count on a last-minute surprise that would find its place during our stay…
Who we are?
But, wait a moment. I’m about to tell you why we decided to go on this trip, and you’re probably asking yourself the following question: Who are these thirty-something French couples embarking on an American road-trip, leaving their two children on the Old Continent to have a good time with Uncle Sam? At this point, I think it’s important to tell you a little more about us, where we come from and how events led us on this journey, which I intend to describe in the articles to come.
Sarah and I met in high school in 2004, fifteen years before the events recounted here, when we were both studying. It took a decade for our story to develop into the relationship we know today, and there’s a lot more to tell, but that’s not the purpose of this series. Instead, I’d like to tell you a little more about each of our personalities.
Sarah, the explorer in need of trip (on the West Coast or elsewhere)
Of Swiss origin and having spent her childhood in Montpellier, Sarah is above all a woman with an insatiable thirst for travel. During her business school studies, she lived in Buenos Aires, Argentina and Sydney, Australia. Sarah isn’t nearly as keen on the USA as I am, and yet it’s a destination she enjoys. She’s a little interested in the culture of the places she visits, a lot in the gastronomic discoveries and above all in the landscapes, hikes and national parks to see and explore.
After three months’ experience traveling the length and breadth of South America, it’s safe to say that long walks don’t scare her, and this is particularly true when it comes to hiking in the wilderness. As for me, I’ve already revealed much of the relationship I’ve developed with North America in the preceding lines.
Nicolas, the West Coast road trip enthusiast
Unlike Sarah, I did most of my studies as a work-study student in order to become financially independent as quickly as possible, so I didn’t have the opportunity to go and live abroad during this pivotal period in my life. So, the opportunity to do a WHV in North America made double sense.
On a day-to-day basis, apart from my role as a family man and my job as a project management consultant, I like to spend my time tinkering with my old Ford Mustang – an American car, obviously! – and reading, particularly biographies of successful American personalities and also novels of intrigue. When I travel, I especially enjoy getting around on foot – and yes, even in Los Angeles, which is so well known for its distances that are often only accessible by car – and hiking when the opportunity arises, while taking photos to immortalize the most memorable moments.
In January 2019, I decided to drastically reduce my meat consumption. I adopt a flexitarian diet for health, ecological and animal protection reasons. That’s another subject I won’t cover in this series of articles, but good to know for the next parts. For the occasion, however, I put this practice on hold for May, in order to take full advantage of burgers and bacon when the opportunity arose. I did try a few vegetarian dishes, on several occasions, but without much success.
Travel Tale: our road trip on the West Coast
After my first significant trip to the USA in 2014, it took me three years before diving back into my various travel photographs to browse and geo-locate them thanks to a website specializing in image sharing. For this series of articles, it’s much the same. While I like to remember every anniversary of a trip to North America what I had done the year before during a stay in the land of Uncle Sam – or the Maple Leaf – I waited two years before opening a word application and recording all my memories of those few days spent in trip on the West Coast.
This activity was greatly facilitated by the habit I had developed, many years ago, of writing short summaries of each day spent on the road. So, I decided to write these articles to condense my California road-trip stories into twenty or so chapters and share with you my passion for America, my love of national parks, my thirst for adventure and a few pictures of a region just waiting to be discovered.
Who are these articles for, after all?
While my “travelogues” are usually intended for my family and close friends and might even serve as a time capsule when I want to read my memories in a few years’ time, I’ve chosen to compile all of them with additional details, in order to share this appetite for the United States with as many people as possible. As Lee Iacocca, former president of Ford and then Chrysler, and considered to be the father of the Mustang, once said, “when you put your ideas on paper, you have to look at the details“. That’s exactly what I’m aiming to do by embarking on such a writing project: relive my travel memories, feel the emotions that drove me on the spot, revisit the American streets, beaches and roads as I discovered them back then.
What I write includes…
As you can imagine, these articles are designed for those who want to project themselves into the American West for a few hours, imagining themselves listening to the silence in Death Valley, enjoying the cool morning breeze on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, hiking among the deer in Sequoia National Park, marveling at the breathtaking scenery of Yosemite National Park, driving along the legendary Route 66, listening to the slot machines in the many casinos of Las Vegas, or strolling between the skyscrapers of San Francisco and Los Angeles. This is a tale of adventure on the West Coast by a French couple who love the great outdoors, focusing almost exclusively on the Golden State.
… and what you won’t find in these lines
Over the next few articles, I’ll be sharing our itinerary, which enabled us to take full advantage of California in just two weeks. You’ll also find information on the national parks we visited, namely Yosemite, Sequoia, and Death Valley; I’ll also report on our cultural and gastronomic discoveries in the cities of San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. However, this series is by no means a tourist guide to efficient travel in the USA (excellent websites, blogs and widely-known books already exist and fulfill this role to perfection). Nor is it a compendium of reviews of Californian hotels and restaurants (in fact, we mostly went through AirBnBs, and again, there are specialized sites for this precise purpose).
So, if you’re expecting to find a complete and detailed presentation of the cities and national parks of the American West, I invite you to close this tab and consult Wikipedia and the many other web pages that are just right for this purpose. Similarly, I won’t be writing about Yellowstone, Canyon lands, Antelopes Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Grand Teton or Grand Canyon, as we’ve concentrated on the three Californian parks of Sequoia, Yosemite and Death Valley that we were lucky enough to visit.
We’re off for a road trip on the West Coast!
Now, you know why we made this road trip on the West Coast. In the next article, I’ll explain how we organized ourselves.
I’ll also share our itinerary, which allowed us to take full advantage of California in just two weeks. You’ll also find information on the national parks we visited, namely Yosemite, Sequoia, and Death Valley; I’ll also tell you about our cultural and gastronomic discoveries in the cities of San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles.