Southwest US is a place of extremes: on one hand there’s the mega cities and the all-you-can-eat menus, and on the other hand lie the vast unspoiled desert plains. On this post Verne talks about the former, and on the next post Jules will follow with the latter.
Our original itinerary included only a short stay in Los Angeles before heading out to the Pacific, but we decided to extend our stay to get to know Southwest US a little better. We had already toured the coastline previously, so we went inwards this time. In retrospect, visiting the desert in the middle of the Summer might not have been our smartest move to date, but I’ll let Jules talk about that in the next post. For now we’ll enjoy an air-conditioned ride:
Before we start, bear with me for a second while I get philosophical: I feel that the more we travel, the less we know. Case in hand: out of all of the US, we settled on visiting three states. Within those states, we visited a few cities. Within those cities, we checked out a few places. Getting to know the whole world is like trying to read all the good books ever written: it can’t be done. Fortunately, traveling shouldn’t be about collecting passport stamps, but about collecting personal experiences. At the start of this round-the-world trip we were eager to see everything, but now we’re more realistic: we plan our visits the best we can, but then sit back and enjoy what we’re experiencing instead of worrying about what we’re missing out. By the way, that also means that this blog is not something you can plan a trip with, as it only reflects the modest experiences of one pair of travelers. Instead, mix it up: read a bunch of different blogs, leverage community tools (e.g. TripAdvisor) and reach out to locals!
OK, back to the road: the first city we visited was San Diego. With a population of 1.4 million, San Diego is the eight largest city in California. We had grandiose plans of visiting a bunch of stuff there, but ended up spending most of our time on USS Midway, an aircraft carrier ship turned into a museum. Launched in March 1945, the Midway missed the Second World War by a hair and ended up, ironically, spending most of its life stationed in Japan. Everything about it is big: 296 meters long, a weight of 64.000 tonnes, 212.000 horsepower, 80 planes and a staff of 4.500 to run it. You don’t need to be a kid or a nerd (although we are both) to appreciate this visit, as the stuff on display and the passionate tours of the volunteer veterans make it worthwhile for everyone.
Next up was Las Vegas. Albeit part of Nevada, this gambling oasis in the middle of the desert was created close to the state border to attract gambling-thirsty Californians (gambling is illegal in California, except inside the Indian reservations). Las Vegas grew up to host 75 legitimate casinos. It’s main attraction is undoubtedly ‘The Strip’, which is a bit like Donald Trump’s hairdo: tacky but mesmerizing. This avenue is a procession of giant casinos trying to topple one another: Bellagio’s water fountain shows, Paris Las Vegas’ Eiffel Tower replica, Luxor’s pyramid, etc. On the sidewalks you’ll also find multiple Elvis impersonators (who knows, one of them might be the real deal) and scantily cladded show girls. We couldn’t leave this place without doing some gambling, so we went all in and plunked 7$ on the slot machines. No jackpot unfortunately, but we did win a pack of gum!
Our last stop was Los Angeles. One of the fondest memories I have of this city (I lived in California for a couple of years when I was a kid) is visiting the Hollywood studios, but unfortunately we couldn’t squeeze a visit in our tight schedule. We ended visiting something completely different, but equally awesome: the Getty Center. Perched on top of one of LA’s hills, this Foundation was set by J. Paul Getty, an oilman that donated his fortune to the divulgation of art and culture. Besides the stunning architecture of the Center itself (designed by Richard Meier), there’s an impressive array of exhibitions to choose from. Jules was amazed by the architecture of the museum and the beautiful gardens by Robert Irwin, while I spent a disproportionate amount of time starring at ‘The Vexed Man’ bust, by Messerschmidt.
On the next post Jules will fill out the blanks of what we did between these cities. Teaser: it involves two silly tourists wondering through deserts in the middle of the Summer!