I love the United States! There, I’ve said it. I may not like its foreign policy and I probably couldn’t see myself ever living there but as a travel destination, it’s very hard to beat. My first experience of the US was way back in 1976 when the country was celebrating its bicentennial year and I traveled all the way to Portland, Oregon to visit my American cousins. It was a month-long trip which also took in Vancouver and Powell River in British Columbia, Canada and Chicago, Illinois. It was like walking around in a movie set and I loved every adventure-filled minute of it. The trip represented a number of ‘firsts’ for me:
- My first time firing a gun!
- My first time driving an automatic car
- My first time flying in a single-engine plane (piloted by my cousin’s husband who flew himself to work each day!)
- My first time flying in a sea-plane (from Vancouver to Powell River)
- My first time seeing bears in the wild
- My first time in a skyscraper (Sears Tower in Chicago)
The trip made a big impression on an impressionable 21-year-old and my love affair with North America has remained undiminished over the past forty or so years and probably as many trips. I was last in the States three years ago when I visited Hawaii and I’ll be back again next month when I attend a conference in Philadelphia (my first time there) and that’s one of the great things about the US — its size and diversity.
I have always found the States to be a bit of a paradox — on the one hand, it all looks and feels so familiar to us because we’ve all grown up with so many American programmes on tv and in the movies and yet, in other respects, it also feels so foreign, despite the fact that there is practically no language barrier (OK; we understand them better than they understand us!). You’ll therefore be pleased to hear the good news that Aer Lingus are launching two new routes to North America in 2019. Minneapolis and Montreal will be served by direct services next year and Westjet have recently announced a new direct service to Calgary — home of the famous Calgary Stampede (the largest rodeo show in the world) and gateway to the Rockies which start just 60 or so miles west of the city.
If you haven’t already been, let me tell you that both Americans and Canadians are amongst the world’s most hospitable people and would give the Irish a run for our money any day of the week. North America in general and the States in particular, is a consumer’s paradise where you can literally shop until you drop. Just one example: a pair of Timberland deck shoes that retail around €130 here can sometimes be had for as little as $25 in a sale stateside. Car hire is relatively cheap, especially in states like Florida and California and the interstate highway system is a joy to navigate.
Many years ago, when multi-coupon visit USA fares were all the rage (they were designed to encourage people to travel as much as possible within the States), I booked an itinerary with Northwest Orient airlines so that I could visit just three cities — Portland Oregon, San Francisco and Miami but because of the hub and spoke network that Northwest operated at that time (we’re talking early 80’s) each flight had to be routed via Minneapolis, so even though I must have transferred through that airport at least three or four times, I never actually got to visit the twin cities (St. Paul lies across the river) so perhaps I’ll take the opportunity to finally see the place when Aer Lingus inaugurates the new service. Indeed, the only abiding memory that I have of the airport is the wonderful collection of kit cars that they had on display there at the time.
Calgary, as I say, is gateway to the Rockies and places like Banff and Lake Louise so surely a bucket list item! The last time I visited Calgary was about four years ago when I finally got to undertake one of my bucket list items — a drive across the Rockies to Vancouver. Trust me, the scenery is fabulous and just like you’ve seen in all those movies!
Like Minneapolis, Montreal is a city I’ve never been to but, by all accounts, it’s a beautiful city with the added advantage that you can practice your school-class French over there, knowing that if you end up struggling, everyone around you can take you out of your misery and converse with you in English.
Of course, these are not the only westbound destinations you should consider in 2018/2019. You’ve also got St. John’s, Newfoundland; Halifax, Nova Scotia; Toronto, Ontario and all those other iconic cities in the US: New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Orlando etc.
As for the exhortation that doubles as the title for this week’s Blog — it is attributed to American author and newspaper editor Horace Greeley, concerning America’s westward expansion. Others claim it was first said by John Soule in 1851 in an editorial in the Terre Haute Express.