top five places I need to visit in the US

So, I know my previous list of places I want–I mean, NEED–to visit on this earth was ambitious of me and will probably take a lifetime to achieve, I realized, as well, that though I’ve lived all over this country, there are so many cities I have yet to experience. I feel like a lot of the cities in this country, though they represent one thing in the end (america, of course), they have so much definitive culture within themselves. So, I’d like to think of this list as “the top five most cultured cities I have yet to soak in.” Here they are, in order of importance to me as yet:

5. Boston, MA: I’ve heard Boston is a slightly slower paced New York. What bothers me about New York is the business and ultra-fastness of the city. If Boston truly is a slower Manhattan, I have a feeling I’d love it. Every time I picture autumn (a season that’s lacking where I currently reside), I picture Boston. It is the epitome of fall, my favorite season.

4. Chicago, IL: I have now been trapped in Chicago Midway airport twice in one-hour layovers in the last year. I have been bursting to escape out the doors and venture into the city, but having to go back through security again was what was stopping me. This city is interesting to me because Illinois isn’t well-known for much outside of Chicago, but yet this huge city with so much meaning sits in the middle of it. I love that the entire subway system is above ground and I love that its skyline is so distinctive with that one diamond-shaped building. I’m not a fan of the midwest, but this city is still on my list. A cheaper, midwest version of Manhattan perhaps?

3. New Orleans, LA: I’ve stayed in New Orleans once on a family road trip to, you guessed it, Florida when I was a child. We stayed in the French quarter but we were only there to sleep. New Orleans culture is unlike any other in this country I believe. So many things that are only found in New Orleans exist in this tiny city in Louisiana. Yes, I may be naive in still picturing the city is how it was pre-Katrina, but I’d like to think that its history and French culture is still thriving in this city.

2. Seattle, WA: I’ve never had a desire to go to Seattle until recently. I love that it is in the west coast, of course, and call me crazy, but I love that it rains all the time. I picture the city as so lush and green because of the rain. I’d never want to live in a constantly rain-filled climate, but I’d love to see a place that isn’t overly-saturated with heat and humidity all year long. I love that the love of my life, Starbucks, was founded there. To me, Seattle is Starbucks. I love the apparent “granola” tree-hugging culture I’ve heard exists in Seattle, because part of me identifies with that way of thinking. Please, take me to Seattle!

1. SAN FRANCISCO, CA: Obviously, obviously this is my number one choice. Yes, I know I am a lover of all things California and I’m clearly beyond obsessed with this state, but truth be told: I’ve only visited southern California, never been further north than Santa Monica. I’ve heard there is so much difference between northern and southern California–and I’ve also heard that if you love San Diego, you’ll fall even more in love with San Francisco. I would love to see the Golden Gate bridge for myself, experience the trolley, the extremely steep hills, and Lombard St. I’d love to actually know why there is a third, second, and first gear in my automatic transmission. And, last but not least, I am absolutely dying to visit Napa. It is beyond paradise. (Well, besides La Jolla)

I know a lot of you may have read this before, but here’s an insight to my soul:

I’ve always hated coffee. I’ve hated the smell of it brewing every morning and afternoon in my parent’s house. I’ve hated the taste of it, from the first time I tasted some in a brownie frapp when I was in high school. I’ve hated the look of it–whether it was black or light brown with cream–always a translucent liquid. I hated the sound of the beans grinding in the grocery store or even walking passed a coffee shop. I hated the look of it running down the side of a mug or puddling on the counter. And I hated more than anything the feel of it when it would splash onto my fingers while making an IC Mocha at Panera. Ew.

But I’ve always loved Starbucks. I love the atmosphere–the music, the paintings on the walls, the furniture, the colors, and the green siren in the logo. I love the pastries–even the simplest ones. I love the hot chocolate that tastes like a liquid chocolate bar. I love the “triple filtered tap water.” I love the tea–hot, cold, iced, sweetened, unsweetened, with lemonade, green, black, or passion. (Specifically: Iced venti sweetened green tea lemonade) I love the feeling I would get sitting in a Starbucks on a winter day in DC by the fire reading the Washington Post. I love the merchandise for sale, even the coffee mugs. I love their sandwiches, the oatmeal, and the small chocolates for sale by the registers. I love the look of someone carrying an Ethos bottle of water. I love how Starbucks has the New York Times for sale all over the US. But most of all, I loved working there.

It was my heart’s desire since I was 15. My dreams were shattered when I found out the law in Florida was 16 or 17 year olds could not work at Starbucks. So I settled for working at what I thought was the next best thing–a free standing Panera next to a Starbucks. That job lasted way longer than I thought–five years was not the plan. Then my dream came true–six years later, my heart’s desire was fulfilled. I even answered the ‘why do you want to work here’ question on the application, ”It’s been my heart’s desire since I was 15.” (Although, with no surprise, the ’what do you like most about coffee’ question was the most difficult to answer) I was the first person hired at my Starbucks in almost a year. 20 to 25 applications received each day and I just happened to turn mine in at the second the interim manager was standing out front. I felt like I could be myself there. It brought me back to life. I was used to a stale, stressful, emotionally unhealthy work environment and Starbucks was just the opposite.

And the question still wrestles in my head, why was I downsized along with half of my co-workers just four months after being hired?

And now, looking back on the short time I spent there, I realize that I would work there for free. It was that great.

My passion and love for Starbucks still exists–perhaps it’s even stronger now that I’ve worked there and still gone with my ‘California mentality’ about being open to trying new things. And you probably wouldn’t believe it, but yesterday I walked into a Starbucks and ordered a grande coffee. And I drank it all.

-Written in fall 2008 for my nonfiction workshop class at UCF

top five places i need to visit in the world

I never appreciated travel until I recently discovered my love and fascination with culture. There is so much to be seen and experienced in this world, and I can only hope that God keeps me on this earth long enough for me to immerse myself into new places and cultures outside of the United States before I die. I have a deep fascination with languages, translations, and communication between people of different countries and backgrounds. (If I had the time and the money to do so, I’d love to learn many languages and be completely fluent) So, with that being said, the top five places I want to visit in this world are as follows, in order of “importance” or, desire:

1. London, UK: I’ve been dying to visit London for years. I know it has a rainy and dreary climate, but to me, that’s part of the London culture. I’d love to ride in the eye, see a real red telephone booth, and observe the guards with the furry hats. And, this is one of the only places where I can speak English and be fully understood…well, almost. 🙂

2. Athens, Greece: The language I am dying to learn is Greek. Everything about Greece is so intriguing to me. I always loved studying Greek history–whether that was ancient Greek mythology or the history of Greece in general. I love that the ancient Greeks started the Olympics. So much history is in Greece–all of those buildings turned into now-monuments that are still standing after thousands of years. I’ve never been somewhere in the world where such a huge part of history took place, especially so many years ago. Love it–cannot wait to visit.

3. Paris, France: Obviously, the city of lights is in everyone’s top places to visit in the world. Personally, I’d love to visit France as whole, but really–how many other cities are well-known to the non-French? Umm…zero. The movie in France at EPCOT is beyond anything I’ve ever seen; if that doesn’t make someone want to go France, I don’t know what will. Yes, I’ve heard people are rude, Paris is dirty, blah blah, but I’d love to at least experience all of that for myself, and of course see the Eiffel Tower myself.

4. Bangkok, Thailand: Call me crazy, but all things Thai fascinate me. Middle Eastern culture is one thing that I am constantly pondering as I have found just how different it is from our Westernized, North American culture. It’s the Manhattan, the Shanghai, the London of Thailand–the center of everything in its country. Its canals and boats are well-known, with the water that they drink, bathe in, and cook with all from the same river. (That information is from a favorite movie of mine, Brokedown Palace) I would also love to learn the language of Thai, even though it may be one of the hardest for English-speakers like myself to learn.

5. Dubai, UAE: I’ve known for years that Dubai was basically the wealthiest city in the world, but to me it always appeared a city that doesn’t get as much as attention as it deserves, perhaps. (Or maybe that’s just my distorted perception) I didn’t realize how much Dubai had to offer until I saw an episode of The Amazing Race this last fall where they spent an entire episode in Dubai, first running through the 120 degree desert in search of water inside vases and then to SkiDubai–an indoor ski slope that is 28 degrees inside, year around. The SkiDubai resort is unlike any other structure I’ve ever seen; it is ridiculous looking, can be seen from the freeway miles away, and is a weird concept–but I guess it shows just how much money the Arabs have to spend on a structure such as that. (Not to mention how much it costs to spend a day there) Arabic is another language I’ve been eager to learn as well; their characters are nothing like English, Spanish, or even any Asian culture. Ahhh, Dubai, I might have to move you to number 3.