Now that I’ve been at home for more than two months and it’s already time to attend the orientation for my Master’s in Critical Gender Studies at CEU from tomorrow, I finally decided to write this long-overdue post about my adventures after leaving Trinity. If you know me, you’ve already heard probably way too many stories about Maui, and you’ve seen dozens of pictures of me acting like a five-year-old at Universal Studios Hollywood. In this post, I’ll try to be brief and focus on the highlights so that you don’t have to read five chapters worth of “how amazing is the Grand Canyon” or “yes, I got addicted to fish tacos”.
Chapter 1 – Three weeks in paradise
As you already know from my previous blog post and the introduction to this one, after leaving Trinity I spent three weeks on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Here, I volunteered through Workaway – a website through which you can find hosts in need of some help all over the world –, mostly doing gardening five hours a day, five days a week at my host’s house in the lovely village of Kula in Upcountry Maui. Even though the work was often tiring, it was really worth it: from the house’s balcony I had a view of the Pacific while enjoying my morning coffee, and I met actual, real chameleons while working in the garden. As my host organizes weddings on the island, I could accompany her to several while I was staying with her, so I could attend actual Hawaiian beach weddings – barefoot in the sand, sunset in the background and everything else you have in mind if you read the words “Hawaiian beach wedding”. We had several other programs with my host: she took me to an exhibition opening at a gallery in the nearby village Makawao, we went to see a beautiful lavender farm together, but the highlight was of course going to the farmer’s market on Saturdays: the taste of those mangos, papayas and coconuts is something I probably won’t ever forget.
The best thing in staying in Upcountry Maui with a local host for such a long time was of course the fact that I could get to know the island and its culture much better than I could have if I simply stayed at a hotel on my own. However, while there, I obviously wanted to see all the “must see” touristy places, all the cool beaches, and some of the best hiking routes Maui has to offer. So, since public transportation is practically non-existent in this part of the world, I decided to be brave enough to rent a car. I’m still really proud of myself that I only managed to make a tiny scratch on that rental car in the 10 days I had it especially because those 10 days included me driving the Road to Hana all the way from Paia to Hamoa Beach and back in a single day. If you haven’t heard about this highway yet, do a Google search and definitely put the place on your bucket list: it’s a long road full of scary curves and one-lane bridges through the rainforest with amazing sights at every mile. I’ve seen cool waterfalls, beautiful beaches – with the highlight of the whole day being the black sand beach at Wai`anapanapa State Park –, and I couldn’t miss eating banana bread at the Halfway to Hana stand, getting fish tacos (did I mention I got addicted?) for lunch on my way back, or trying the best smoothie I ever had.
Even though driving the Road to Hana was without a doubt the highlight of my stay on Maui, I’ve seen other amazing stuff too: I’ve hiked the Waihe’e Valley Ridge Trail and been to Iao Valley, both times feeling like in a real life Jurrasic Park. I also hiked on a dormant volcano at Haleakala Crater, descending all the way down to the bottom of the crater than hiking back out. I saw so many beautiful beaches I can’t even count with Charlie Young Beach and Kamaole Beach Park being my favorites. Meanwhile, I probably took more pictures of Maui sunsets than anyone else ever, and got a serious sunburn on the very first day I went to the beach. And if all this wouldn’t be enough, when going to Ho’okipa Beach one night simply to see surfers, I saw actual, real, beautiful sea turtles climbing out of the water to spend the night in the sand, which was probably one of the best experiences I ever had in my life.
Overall, those three weeks on Maui were probably the best of my life so far – I literally spent that time in paradise, while seriously considering staying there forever to open a mango farm.
Chapter 2 – San Francisco, Sunnyvale, and redwoods
After Hawaii, I flew back to the mainland to spend some time in San Francisco, or more precisely, in Sunnyvale, California, at the heart of Silicon Valley. Here I stayed with the loveliest family where both parents are graduates of my high school. Even though I didn’t know them in person before visiting them, they were the best hosts one could wish for, especially because I got to spend time with their two wonderful daughters. Staying with this family I not only got to explore San Francisco – with a few days there before Maui as well, I had four days in total in the city –, but I went with them hiking and saw some really old redwood trees, we went to the beach at Santa Cruz, I again could further deepen my fish taco addiction, and even visited the headquarters of Yahoo.
Of course, once in the area, I had to visit all the places one has to visit when in San Francisco: I walked across the Golden Gate Bridge and took way too many pictures of it from every possible angle, I saw the sea lions sunbathing at Pier 39, I walked around at Pacific Heights and saw the houses nicknamed the “Painted Ladies”, I explored the city’s Chinatown and obviously ate some amazing noodles, I ventured into the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood where the hippie movement all started (I even saw the houses of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin), I had clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, and I climbed a ridiculous amount of steps to have an amazing view of the city on the windiest hilltop. Even though I liked the city a lot, considering all the hype that surrounds it, I honestly expected a lot more from it, but it was definitely worth a visit – especially because this way, I got to see a really cool exhibition at San Francisco MoMA: it was an exhibition of the works of one of my favorite artists ever, René Magritte.
Chapter 3 – Four days in a movie set
After the week spent with my amazing host family where I really felt at home, it felt quite weird to get on a dirty Greyhound bus at San José to ride for more than seven hours to get to Los Angeles, but a movie fan like me simply couldn’t leave the United States without visiting at least a few studios in Hollywood so I tried to cram as much as I could into those four days I had in that weirdo of a city. The places I simply HAD to go to were Universal Studios and Warner Brothers Studios. Reason? Mostly Harry Potter. Since Universal Studios has a gigantic theme park in Hollywood, they are the ones featuring a whole section dedicated to J.K. Rowling’s word, even though the movies were made by Warner Bros. Since I don’t want to bore the non-Potterheads reading this blog post, I’ll try to calm my inner child now. The main thing is, I spent almost 12 hourse at Universal, and most of that was spent at the village of Hogsmeade, where I could not only ride the coolest rollercoaster inside Hogwarts Castle, but I could try butterbeer, finally get my own wand eleven years after one is supposed to do that, and visit all the shops you read about in the books – while trying to resist the temptation to buy every overpriced merchandise item.
While the visit to Universal Studios also included a studio tour besides all the attractions and rides, nothing can beat the studio tour of Warner Brothers Hollywood. Here, I participated in a three-hour guided tour where they took us to such iconic places as the window Ingrid Bergman and Humphrey Bogart look out from in Casablanca, the fire escape where Tobey McGuire as Spiderman kisses his girlfriend, and we saw actual sets from my favorite shows ever, Friends and Gilmore Girls. The highlight of this visit couldn’t be anything else than when during the last exhibition visited, I could sit inside the Central Perk set of Friends, on the actual couch they used during the show. If for nothing else, it was worth it to go to LA just for that picture, but of course, it wasn’t bad to see real props from the Harry Potter movies, Oscars won by movies of the studio, or all the Batmobiles from all the Batman movies.
Obviously, a visit to Los Angeles wouldn’t be complete without walking the Hollywood Walk of Fame – which takes a lot longer than you would expect –, without checking out the Hollywood Sign on a hike, or without visiting the iconic Griffith Observatory and the Dolby Theatre where the Oscars are given out every year. On my last day, I even had time to go to Santa Monica Pier and to Venice Beach.
Even though I enjoyed my time in LA very much, the city itself is definitely not going to be my favorite.
Chapter 4 – Surviving 45 Celsius
Before heading back to the East Coast, I really wanted to cross “visiting the Grand Canyon” from my bucket list, so I headed to Las Vegas to participate in a guided tour to the South Rim of the Canyon. I usually hate guided tours like that, and this tour didn’t make me like them any better but as I didn’t want to drive all those many hundreds of miles from and back to Vegas and had limited time, this was still my best option. I don’t really have words to describe the splendor of the Grand Canyon, especially because I got to see the sunset there – but I definitely have to return for a long hike down to the Colorado River, so my bucket list just got longer with this visit.
On our way to the Canyon, the tour stopped at Seligman, Arizona for a brief visit – this little town is significant because it inspired the movie Cars, and it’s right on the historic Route 66, so I finally got to at least walk on the route, even if I have to return to drive the highway, so again, one more item added to my bucket list.
After the tour, I had a day and a half to spend in Las Vegas until my flight back to New York. This would’ve been awful, as I seriously think that Vegas is the worst place ever, and also, the official temperature was 45 Celsius, which means it was too hot to even walk 15 minutes to a grocery store, but fortunately I met a friend here, so I could spend my time actually gambling – and winning some – and wondering that places like The Venetian with its fake Doge palace, and Caesar’s Palace with its golden statues actually can exist.
Chapter 5 – Saying goodbye to the Big Apple
After spending so much time on the West Coast, it honestly felt like returning home when I arrived to New York City, even though it was the first time I stayed in Brooklyn. By the way, I immediately fell in love with Brooklyn, and spent quite a lot of time just wondering around its streets, spending my last dollars on delicious burgers, pad thais and falafels to enjoy the foods the Big Apple has to offer for one last time. As there was a Downton Abbey exhibition in the city at the time, I of course had to go there to admire the sets and beautiful costumes, and I also returned to MoMA for another visit after my last one back in last September. Overall, I said goodbye to the City and to the country with some amazing and emotional days, including a picnic with one of my best friends from Trinity at Central Park, and watching the sunset over the Manhattan skyline on my very last night.
My Kellner year then ended after seven weeks of traveling on JFK, where I met up with Juli and we boarded our flight to Europe. Now I’m sitting in my room, my walls are decorated with all the postcards I brought back from the United States and I’m preparing to start the next chapter of my life tomorrow with starting my Masters. It is so crazy to think that one year ago this time, my Trinity classes hadn’t even started yet, but I was already done with hiking four days on the Appalachian trail. I know it sounds incredibly cheesy, but I’m forever grateful for this last year: I learned a lot, I definitely changed a lot, I had an academically challenging and exciting year, I traveled to places I never imagined actually visiting – I’m looking at you, Maui and Death Valley –, and I met some amazing people I hope to see again soon. With this, thanks for everyone who has been reading about my adventures this year, I do hope you enjoyed my stories.