A Young Italian Man's Journey Across America
via Hospitality Exchange
I'm leaving for New York on a hot and muggy morning in Milan. I just reached maturity and now I'm alone here, at the airport, without my family or my friends. After 8 hours of travel are the barriers to U.S. security checks. Pass by quickly, more or less, as well as the taxi to Manhattan. 45 minutes of reckless overtaking and insults to other motorists by the driver, but that's normal, they say.
I knock on the door of an apartment on the Upper West Side, I am welcomed by the whole family: mom, son and daughter. Tour of the house and am ready to take a ride on Broadway, but the time zone is felt. Every morning I wake up early, a bit 'for the desire to walk around and explore, and a bit' for the noise and light. That's right, it seems that there are no New York apartment curtains, but you soon get used to that, as well as to the background noise present in the city at all hours of the night.
The following 10 days pass quickly, visiting and exploring what the city has to offer: from Harlem, Downtown, Financial District, in addition to Red Hook in Brooklyn and Long Island City, Queens. The museums are fantastic. The food also. Times Square is far too crowded, but it seems to be the center of the world.
The people are friendly and approachable, they have no problem to start a conversation with a stranger and the tone is often friendly. New Yorkers are many, and they are always in a hurry. Take the metro at rush hour is an experience to do. Also how to stop a taxi on the street with a raised arm.
Every night I find myself talking about my day with my new family, unfortunately, they work all day and only have the opportunity to meet after dinner and find the time to give them the keys to my house in Venice. They will start their end of the exchange 12 days from now and will explore Venice for ten nights.
After ten days in NYC with a happy warm welcome from the city and the family, I take a flight to Chicago with some wonderful memories of the previous days. The Second City, or the Windy City, is located on the shore of Lake Michigan, large enough not to look like a lake, at least until you dive into the water. I am welcomed by the family that my family had hosted two years ago, during another exchange house / hospitality.
The next day is the Air Show: thousands of people along the beach to enjoy all that the Air Force and the U.S. Air Force has to offer, with lots of paratroopers and Bill Murray and Vince Vaughn.
Now it is evening and I go with the family to eat a huge bowl of ice cream and melted chocolate at 6 pm, dinner at 7 with pizza typical of Chicago, not exactly light, but this is America. The next day I pass on my excellent visiting the Art Institute, the city center, the place where the start of the legendary Route 66 and the location where The Blues Brothers movie was filmed.
I do not even have time to adapt to the rhythms of this second family that I am with: the visit to Chicago was scheduled only for the weekend, now the flight to Los Angeles is waiting for me.
The plane flies over the Grand Canyon, impressive. Shortly before landing in the city of angels I'm trying to find the famous Hollywood sign, but it is definitely too far away. I am unable to see the skyscrapers of Downtown and the huge urban expanse is the city of Los Angeles, often made of single-family homes with pool and palm trees in every street of the city.
The plane lands. I'm in California! Two hours of waiting and they are flying on a small propeller plane with 30 seats in the direction of Carlsbad, a town 50km north of San Diego. The flight takes 20 minutes, very short.
Waiting at the airport there is my new mom with her son, 15 years old, the youngest of the three. I had met the rest of the family, two older sons and their father, two days before leaving for New York, while still in Venice, when they got them to spend two weeks in Europe including Italy, Switzerland and Germany. Arrival in Carlsbad on the day after their return from the old continent. The house is huge, the pool and garden area as well.
The following days up with the 17 year old son who obviously has the car, because the system of public transport is poor. The first day we spend in San Diego, a city not on par with other major U.S. cities, but nice, and the Pacific Ocean is just a few steps away.
Life here seems like a movie: sun, ocean and surf by day and party every night. Going around with a 17 year old boy I was able to get in touch with everyday life in SoCal between short visits and parties have been to at least 15 houses all with huge swimming pools. The welcome is always warm everywhere.
The penultimate day I go on my own in Mexico, specifically in Tijuana, noisy and colorful city just across the border with the United States. Many Americans say that this is the worst city in Mexico, with a high rate of crime and poverty. I rest in the central area of the city for a few hours, lunch of tacos and margaritas, and it's time to return to the United States. The queue for the car is very long, about 4 hours, luckily I walk and rest in the queue for an hour and a half, which apparently is a record.
Past 7 days pass and sadly back to Los Angeles airport, but the sadness disappears when I read on the screen at the gate at the airport the name of my next destination: San Francisco. Arrival: 6pm, just in time for a great dinner at the home of my fourth new family. The house is very nice, typical of the city, on 3 floors with a panoramic view, it is located on the slopes of a hill at the edge of the Mission District.
The family consists of two parents and three children, she is the oldest, the other two children are boys. The youngest is 10 years.
They were in my house in Venice last year, part of a European tour for 5 weeks.
San Francisco is a beautiful city and charming, it differs from other major U.S. cities, perhaps because of all the ups and downs of the hills, perhaps because of the atmosphere, many say that it looks like a European city. The cable car, the famous tram pulled by a rope that runs under the road surface are fun and allow you to spare steep upgrades! The views within the city are beautiful, here. There is Alcatraz, the famous island / prison in the middle of the bay.
The atmosphere is fantastic, the people are more in hand and a little 'crazy, but in a good way. Explore the city on foot, except the second day when I choose to cross the Golden Gate Bridge by bike, up on top of a hill shortly after. The view from here is unforgettable. The food is good in the city, there is a restaurant every 3000 inhabitants. For the weekend I go with the whole family in their second home in Santa Cruz, a city in Monterey Bay. Here the main attraction is an amusement park along the beach, the ocean and surfing. The water is definitely much colder than in Southern California.
A little further on there is a colony of sea lions. Here I ate really well, Mom is a great cook and I will not forget easily the mega breakfast of pancakes and french toast, not as French, but American.
Back in San Francisco take my bike and reach the top of Twin Peaks to see the city's skyline at sunset while slowly cover of fog that regularly come every day to the evening. This is because the heat of the central valleys of California clashes with cold air from the Pacific Ocean. The view is wonderful, unforgettable.
30 days have passed. Sadly, I realize that I have to come back to every day life. The flight coast to coast is interesting and not too long. And take off after 3 minutes to be above the fog of San Francisco with skyscrapers making the gap between the clouds…very beautiful. Flying over the desert, the Rocky Mountains, Michigan Lake, Canada and finally Manhattan: a unique experience.
Back in Italy and embrace my own family: an emotional time, too.
UK - East Midlands
Derbyshire Peak District, 1m,
My home is a charming 3 bedroom mill workers cottage, dating back to the 1840s, nestling in the centre of a pretty village, 3 miles from the historic market town of Chesterfield, which is centrally located within the UK.
The village is on the edge of the Peak District National Park with its spectacular scenery, beautiful walks and historic houses and yet within easy reach of Sheffield, Nottingham and Manchester all of which have excellent theatres, museums and art galleries. Have a look at www.visitpeakdistrict.com
Many of our local country pubs serve good pub grub and real ales and if you want something a bit more special there are excellent gastro-pubs and fine dining restaurants within a 10 minutes drive.