The great roadtrip of May 2011

As I write this, I’m standing at the kitchen counter in our new apartment in Phoenix. Since we don’t have any furniture yet (apart from a bed and one chair from Ikea, which we take turns sitting on) I now do everything from this spot: email, Skype, eat, lean, sob quietly. My legs ache from standing around all day but the end is in sight because I think we found a nice couch at the weekend, and a possible table and chairs. Hopefully, there will be lots of sitting in my not-so-distant future.

We’ve been here a week today, and despite the distinct air of emptiness in the house, I feel settled already. I’ve met some really nice people and am more than happy to grow old here and never move house ever again for the rest of my life. Plus, the fact that the weather has been in the 30 degree range since we arrived ain’t bad either.

Our roadtrip from Oregon took nine days, and thanks to my nerdy little schedule, we made good time and were able to relax along the way. We went whale watching in Depoe Bay on the Oregon coast, camped in the Redwoods State Park in Northern California, spent three days in San Francisco, drove on the Pacific Coast Highway and stayed in Pismo Beach, Huntington Beach and Palm Springs before we crossed the state line into Arizona. We mostly stayed in Motel 6s where we could as they’re very dog-friendly, as well as being cheap and clean. Milo was a little champ through all the travelling, apart from one or two days when he didn’t eat or got sick and the tick he picked up when we camped. So gross.

Here are some pictures from the trip for your delectation. Please enjoy.

This is where Milo spent most of our days without a peep out of him. Good dog.

Depoe Bay, where we saw (bits of) a grey whale (not pictured).

We also saw some big fat sea lions (pictured).

Local royal wedding humour. Fnar fnar.

One of the zillions of little towns we drove through on the 101. Can't remember the name.


Crossing the state line into California. Hide your fruit and veggies.

Our spot in Elk Prairie Campsite. We were a bit underprepared so we won't be doing that again for some time.

In case you didn't know, redwoods are quite tall.

Dinner. Giant marshmallows (me) and wieners (Eoin).

Like I said, redwoods are big. And old.

Our first glimpse of San Francisco. Such a pretty city. Stunning views from every street.

We arrived via the foggy Golden Gate Bridge. FYI there's a surprise $6 toll on the other side.

Gorgeous houses on Alamo Square. Wantsies one, please.

Alcatraz. One of the highlights of the trip for me. The audio tour is enthralling.

The beach at Carmel-by-the-Sea. Cutest little town ever. Clint Eastwood used to be mayor here, fact fans.

We stayed two nights in Huntington Beach, which has an off-leash dog beach. Milo couldn't believe his luck.

The only picture I have of Palm Springs. 'S okay though, cos I'm defo going back.

And that’s how we got here. Travelling in America so easy, with lots to see. Hopefully we’ll get to do more very soon.

Road trippin’

Today Eoin and I went on our very first American road trip. Excitement!

I’ve been reading a blog called PostSecret for years now, and there is an exhibit running until December 12th in the University of Arizona Art Museum, which is in Tucson, about a two-hour drive away. If you’re not familiar with PostSecret, you’re missing out and you should basically remedy that sharpish. The blog was originally a project started in 2004 by a guy called Frank Warren. He gave 3,000 strangers a blank postcard each and asked them to write down a secret they’d never told anyone and send it back to him anonymously. After the original exhibition of postcards (which I think was in Washington) everyone wanted to get in on the act and the blog now has millions of readers and contributers from all over the world. Seriously, check it out. He puts up new secrets every Sunday. Some will make you laugh, some will make you shudder and the odd one will definitely make you cry.

So off we set. It was yet another blindingly beautiful day in Phoenix (shocker!) and the freeway was busy but fast-moving. We drove through miles of desert, saw some amazing cacti and basically spazzed out every time we copped anything “remarkable” like a trailer park or a sheriff’s car or a, um, train. Yes, I, in particular, am easily entertained.

Tucson, I was told, is your quintessential American college town. Like, if the college wasn’t there the place wouldn’t really exist. It’s very pretty: lots of cafes with people sitting outside enjoying the sunshine and what have you. Everyone walks around wearing their U of A T-shirts and there is Wildcats paraphernalia EVERYWHERE. American students are serious about school spirit and supporting their college football team. It’s equal parts adorable and OTT, if you ask me.

I loved the exhibit, which as you can tell from the stunning photo above, was basically God-themed. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside which means that I was only able to snap one while doing my best Sneakahontas impression. Out of the 300 odd postcards there, I chose the one that I think best sums up my thoughts on the subject. The quality is poor but you have to understand I was engaging in a highly illegal activity at the time. Forgive me, please.

After PostSecret we headed downtown to Johnny Rocket’s (Eddie‘s Stateside cousin?) where I had, without doubt, the most amazing malt that was ever created. Divine. Then we hit the road again, this time heading for Pima Air and Space Museum.

Pima was…cool. There were planes. Like, hundreds of them. My favourites were the Air Force One used by JFK and the one called City of Dublin. Don’t question my criteria.

After wandering around for a good hour, and the obligatory pitstop at the gift shop, it was time to return to the homestead. A fun day.

The curious incident of the walker in the daytime

Hi I’m Sarah and I walk places.

For most Europeans, this is quite normal. In Dublin, I lived in Stoneybatter, a 30 minute stroll from my former workplace. Again, normal. I walked to and from work every day unless it was raining, I had to carry anything bigger than a can of tomatoes or I’d had one glass of wine. Then I caught the bus.

Here in Arizona, walking’s for weirdos. This morning I awoke to yet another endless blue sky and I decided to take a walk to Whole Foods, a fancy schmancy supermarket that stocks mostly healthy stuff, which is about four blocks from my apartment. (Side note: I’m not talking girly Manhattan blocks here,  blocks in Arizona are pretty huge.) I estimated it would take me about 20 minutes or so. Grand, I thought, and lashed on the factor 30.

As expected, I was the only person pounding the pavements. After about 10 minutes of what I would call a brisk walk (an amble, to anyone else) I heard a shout. I stopped and looked around. Some dude (dudes drive trucks) had pulled in and was calling me over. Now, I’m not and idiot, so I didn’t race towards him. I did cock my ear though, and heard him ask me how much further I had to walk. I shrugged, turned on my heel and kept going.

Jesus Christ Americans are lazy, I thought to myself as I crossed a street the size of the M50. They complain about the problem of obesity, and the fact that every second person here has diabetes, and yet anyone who tries to be slightly less sedentary than a couch potato is basically open to ridicule on the streets! Ridiculous, I sniggered, and kept going.

After my smash and grab around Whole Foods (Vicki is right, it’s truly amazing, if a little on the pricy side) I started back towards the homestead. I had to stop at the pharmacy just at the end of my road for batteries (I could have picked up a bottle of whiskey, some DVDS and a box of cigars while I was there, such is the nature of American drug stores, but I didn’t) and as I was leaving the carpark I heard yet another shout. And so I stopped and turned around, yet again.

What are the chances, another dude in another truck! From what I could gather, this guy wanted to know my name, but I kept walking. The first time it happened, I thought it was kind of funny. Now I’m not so sure, and it makes me feel a little vulnerable. The suburb we’re living in is lovely but for all I know it could be the sex offender capital of Arizona. I don’t think anything bad could happen in broad, retina-splitting daylight at 11.30am on a Friday morning, but what do I know? Enough that I certainly won’t be walking anywhere alone after dark, that’s for sure.

So I think it’s time I hopped on the automobile bandwagon. I have driving school on Sunday. Wish me luck!

 

The Arizona State Fair

State fairs are big news in America. The one here in Arizona runs from October 15th to November 7th and I really wanted to check it out. The Script, Snoop Dogg and Selena Gomez (amongst others) all played at it in the past few weeks, and I like fairground rides as much as the next person who’s terrified of fairground rides. I confess: the main reason I wanted to go was to experience the food. As I’ve shamelessly admitted here before, I love  junk and was keen to see just what these people were willing to deep fry and jam on a stick. I was not disappointed.

It was a lovely evening (around 80 degrees) but the place wasn’t too jammers. After paying our $10 admission fee we were handed two things: a map of the venue and a list of where to find “your favourite foods.” In hindsight, that list was surplus to requirements. Apart from a couple of ferris wheels, a few scary looking rides and the obligatory win-a-stuffed-toy games, the place was wall to wall food stalls. They sold everything I wanted to see and more. From corn dogs (according to Eoin they taste like a sausage wrapped in a fairy cake. Amazing combo, IMO) to chocolate covered pickles, there is nothing people at state fairs will not batter and sell you. I was impressed. Unforch we’d just had lunch so I only had room for a delicious churro and some amazing handcut fries. Words cannot really do  these snacks justice so I’ll let my (badly taken) pics tell the story. Just click to see them bigger. Enjoy!

 

Arizona: my first impressions

I’m here! I’m here!

After a slightly dramatic experience at US immigration in Dublin airport (I’ll recount it at a later date. Just know: there was crying) I eventually landed at Phoenix Sky Harbor International airport just as the sun was setting on Monday. A very pretty sight, although considering it was only 5.35pm I though it was a little early for that carry on. Eoin surprised me at baggage claim (yeah, they’ll let just anyone in there) and we hopped in his little silver car and pointed it towards the new gaff, which was about 20 minutes away.

Driving in America is dead exciting. Well, passenging is. I will never be brave enough to drive here. Every road, even the little ones, has three lanes each side. And there are cars and ridiculously tall trucks everywhere. It was all very thrilling, a bit like going on a rollercoaster. A rollercoaster that’s on the wrong side of the tracks.

After checking out the house (it’s actually really nice, I was mean to call it caravanesque) I went off to wash all that recycled air out of my hair while Eoin ordered us some Mexican food for collection (or take out, as they call it over here, the madsers). I wanted shrimp enchiladas and he went for beef chimichangas. We also got a side of nachos since it was such a momentous occasion. Then we went off to get it, via a quick pit stop at a vending machine to pick up a DVD. When we got back to the house and unloaded all the grub there was a slightly stunned silence. Now, I was expecting the portions to be big over here but the amount of food we had was CRAY CRAY. The nachos came in a massive tray; a Christmas turkey could have comfortably swung a cat in it. And our meals were also HUGE. Plus, they gave us three paper bags of nachos and SIX dips. In fairness, we made it an impressive dent in it but it definitely made me aware of how much extra lard I’ll be eating while I’m here.

After my first proper sleep in two and a half weeks, I was raring to go this morning. Eoin had the day off so we hit up Bank of America so I could open an account. All you need to know is that my ATM card has Hello Kitty on it. Brilliant. The lovely bank lady (Rochelle, was her name, and she chewed gum the entire 40 minutes we were there) was very polite and funny, she actually asked us did we hear “about that thing that happened on September 11th a few years ago.” We said it sounded a bit familiar alright, and she replied, kinda surprised, that she wasn’t sure whether anyone outside the US cared about it. Gas!

Still sniggering at poor Rochelle’s expense, we hit up Ikea and bought some stuff for the house (shower curtain, can opener, bin – apartments here come with nothing) so it already feels like home for me.

So far, I love Arizona. It seems a bit like a holiday at the moment, and I expect that might change, but I get a real kick out of Americans. Here are some things I’ve observed about Chandler so far:

  • It’s bloody hot here. Today felt like a gorgeous August day in Italy or Spain, but it’s November. Summer is going to be terrifying.
  • There are fast food restaurants on every street corner, and about half are  Mexican. I’ve been here less than 24 hours and I’ve already seen at least one (two or three, more likely) of the following: McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Baja Fresh, Del Taco, Olive Garden, Red Lobster, In ‘N’ Out, Applebee’s, Arby’s, IHOP, Outback, Dominos and heaps more.
  • Shops, restaurants, dentists, doctors: they all look the same. Pale terracotta buildings with red neon signs. Weird.
  • People drive everywhere. I’ve seen about six people walking around all day, and two of them were just getting off a bus.
  • Looking at really tall palm trees against a bright blue sky makes me happy.
  • When you’re in Ikea you could be anywhere in the world. If I ever feel homesick I’m gonna go there and pretend I’m in Ballymun.
  • My local radio station 104.7 KISS FM loves Nicki Minaj as much as I do. Yay!

 

A bird’s eye view

On Monday we finally received our list of apartment choices in Phoenix. Good times. They’re all pretty much the same: small but perfectly formed. I can’t put my finger on exactly what it is, but American apartments just look different to Irish ones. For example, most gaffs over here will have wooden floors in the living areas. They’re hard-wearing, and easy to clean and maintain. Well can someone please tell the Americans this? All the places we were offered have carpet everywhere except the kitchen and bathroom. Oh hi, dust mites, I can’t wait to introduce you to my asthma-riddled lungs! But I’m only nit picking. The apartments are lovely (in an American way) with everything we could possible need as well the thing I’ve been most excited about – a pool! In fact, the complex we’ll hopefully be living in has two pools as well as a 24-hour gym and clubhouse. Awesome!

After the complex and apartment being nice, my main concern was that it’s close to shops and stuff, which it is. Within walking distance (5-10 minutes) there’s a Circle K supermarket, Whole Foods and loads of restaurants (yes! Fast food!). And about 30 minutes away there’s the massive Chandler Fashion Centre, which I think will be my second home.

Oh no, the satellites have found our new pad

Why I’m excited about emigrating

As scary as moving country is, it’s also the most exhilarating decision I’ve ever made. I started working straight after college (lucky, I know) and apart from one amazing, eye-opening summer in Barcelona, I’ve never lived anywhere but Ireland. While all my friends were off on J1s or backpacking in Asia, I was sitting in rainy Dublin typing furiously, trying not to miss them too much. Don’t get me wrong, I have no regrets about getting a head start on my career, but travelling is something everyone my age does so I’m relieved that my time has finally come. The following reasons (some serious, most so ridiculous I should be embarrassed to even mention them) are why I’m so psyched to be moving to America.

  1. I get to quit my job. Yes, I’ve loved it for five years, but I’m also chomping at the bit for a change.
  2. Arizona sounds amazing. As I’ve previously mentioned, it’s hot, everyone has pools, the neighbouring states are brilliant and I’m looking forward to trying out a new, and very different, lifestyle. One that involves drive in movies and swimming, preferably.
  3. The telly. American TV, with its ridiculous local news shows, brand new sitcoms, terrifying ads and infinite number of channels is one of the reasons I went back to Vegas a second time. I’m not even joking about that.
  4. Getting down with the lingo. I’m gonna fill up on arugula, cilantro and zucchini while riding the elevator to my condo. You get the idea.
  5. Have I mentioned the weather and the fact it NEVER rains in Arizona?
  6. Travelling at weekends. We’ve decided that the only way to really make the most of this move is to see and do everything. I’ll consider myself a failure if I don’t get my picture taken with the world’s biggest ball of string before the three years are out. I really will.
  7. The fast food outlets. The scary reality is that I’ve already Googled the addresses of In N Out, Taco Bell, IHOP, Krispy Kreme and so many more delicious, fatty and terrifyingly cheap restaurants. Please don’t judge me.
  8. Meeting American people. As tourists in Dublin they wreck my head with their lumbering around and constant bellowing in Temple Bar, and in Vegas they’re always drunk, so I’m excited about meeting, getting to know and hopefully making friends with some Yanks, as my nana would so affectionately call them.
  9. The supermarkets and pharmacies. Target, Walmart, Walgreens – they’re so big, with so many aisles and so many quick fix solutions. I want loyalty cards for them all.

Of course, for every reason I’m excited to move there are two that could tempt me to stay. Still, musn’t let fear stand in my way, eh?