My Top 5 Favorite States in the USA and Places to Visit

I should preface this post by saying that I’ve physically been to every state in the US. Some states I’ve admittedly not spent too terribly much time in (namely Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Kansas, and Nebraska, all of which I was in for only a few hours), but most other states I’ve visited for at least a day. The following are my top 5 favorite states:

  1. Alaska. Alaska is a vast, beautiful state. It has a little bit of everything. There is a city–albeit a small one–in Anchorage. Then there is a vast wilderness with stretches for hundreds of miles in every direction. The people are friendly, and there’s some decent food around, too. When I went a couple summers ago, there was a bit of a heatwave, so temperatures were a cool 70-75 degrees Fahrenheit. The landscape was pristine, and there was wildlife everywhere you looked. As for places to visit in Alaska, Anchorage is a must-visit, and I say that quite literally since it’s the only major travel hub in the state. I also highly recommend driving/taking a train out to see Denali. If you’re from the East Coast or anywhere in the world with smaller mountains, then the ordinary-sized Alaskan mountains will blow you away… but Denali? My word, the thing is massive. I could see it from over 100 miles away, and that is not an exaggeration. Just go see it for yourself if you don’t believe me. I also think you should see the glaciers in Prince William Sound, which I already covered in a previous post.
  2. Nevada. Vegas, baby! But no, seriously… Nevada is beautiful. I already explained some of this in another post, but the city of Las Vegas is really just magical. I mean sure there’s gambling and lots of other sinful things, but c’mon! Neon lights in a desert with mountains in the background; who wouldn’t want to see that? Plus, if you love food, you’ll be in luck. Las Vegas has extremely good quality food from every cuisine imaginable. Some of the dining options in the casinos may seem expensive, but the portion sizes are MASSIVE. Vegas’ food is probably cheap in terms of dollars-per-serving. Vegas is also conveniently located near many great sites for nature lovers like Valley of Fire State Park and Death Valley National Park.
  3. Oregon. This may be the Portland Timbers fandom in me speaking out, but I really loved Oregon when I visited. The state is saturated with the unique culture of Cascadia. Everything is green. When you walk around Portland (an absolutely beautiful city, by the way), one of the things that stands out is all the greenery. The streets downtown are lined with towering trees. Much of the northern and coastal areas of the state, as far as I could tell, were just great big forests. However, the real gem in Oregon is Crater Lake. If you even remotely like nature, you need to go there. Just take my word for it.
  4. Georgia. Somewhat surprisingly, after visiting all of the other states in the country, I’ve come to really appreciate my own home state. Atlanta, especially, is an amazing city. Atlanta has a unique culture with a diverse blending from recent waves of immigration from Latin America and Asia as well as an influx of transplants from the Northeast and Midwest. The result? ATL is now the true cultural capital of the South, and most parts of Metro Atlanta have great, tight-knit communities within them. Elsewhere in Georgia, there are other nice places to visit, too, such as the old city of Savannah and Stone Mountain.
  5. Maine. I was somewhat hesitant to include Maine in at #5 on the list because there’s really not much to Maine other than small New England towns and the coastline with Acadia National Park, but yeah, Maine is here at #5. Acadia is really just that nice. The national park, centered on the strangely-named Mount Desert Island, boasts views of the bluest waters I’ve ever seen on the Atlantic Coast. If you’re ever in Boston or just New England in general, I’d highly suggest you pop on up to visit Acadia.

The Top 20 Places in Europe That I Want to Visit

1) Iceland. Iceland has been a very popular travel destination all-around in recent years, and I can see why. All the pictures I’ve seen of the country are simply breathtaking. Most of the country’s already-small population live within or around the capital city of Reykjavik, so the rest of the land is sparsely-occupied and filled with wondrous volcanoes and mountain scenery. I’ve never been to Europe, but Iceland will probably be the focus of my first European sightseeing trip.

2) The Scottish Highlands. Have you ever seen the movie Skyfall? Remember those nice, grassy valleys at the end when they’re at 007’s childhood home? That’s where I want to go see. Scotland has a unique culture which sets it apart from the rest of the Anglophone world, and I think it’d be a neat place to visit. I’d also probably pop by Loch Ness and see if I can spot that elusive lake monster… I’m sure that’d give me some nostalgia from watching Scooby Doo and the Loch Ness Monster as a child.

3) Venice. For a long time this was my #1 place I wanted to visit, and really it’s more of a tie for 2nd now instead of a true 3rd. In elementary school, I remember reading The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke and being amazed by the Venetian setting. My Venetian fascination continues to this day; however, I’m worried that my expectations for Venice might be a bit high at this point. Still, I think the entire atmosphere of alleyways intermixed with bridges and canals would be magical. I’ll probably go take a boat over to see nearby Murano whenever I finally make it to Venice.

4) Dubrovnik, Croatia. I mean… have you seen it? This town looks amazing! Dubrovnik is a Croatian seaport on the Adriatic coast. It was once the capital of the Republic of Ragusa, a country which some people may recognize from the game Europa Universalis IV. The city is walled and, from the looks of it on Google Maps Street View, seems a bit more tucked-away than you’d think in spit of its high visitation rate.

5) Finland. Now admittedly, all the Nordic countries have somewhat similar sights to see, but I’m placing Finland above the others mostly due to its culture. I mean a country that likes racing, hockey, and metal music? I’m down with that. The capital city of Helsinki seems particularly interesting as a place with a diverse history and lots of attractions to visit. The rest of the country is occupied by a sprawling countryside of forests, lakes, and mountains which seem as if they’d be very relaxing.

6) London. Well, what is there to say? London has everything. There’s the British Museum with its wide array of exhibits including an extensive Egyptian collection. There’s Big Ben and the rest of the government buildings of Westminister. There’s fantastic soccer (and yes I’m going to call it soccer) to watch with the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea, West Ham United, Spurs, and my favorite European club, the somewhat lowly but lovable Queen’s Park Rangers in Shepherd’s Bush. I’m also an avid Doctor Who fan, so seeing the beautiful cityscape with The Shard and the rest of London’s iconic buildings would be of great interest to me since I’ve seen it all so many times on a screen already.

7) Monaco. I suppose it’s wrong of me to claim that I want to visit Monaco for Monaco itself, as that’s not really the case. I just want to see a Monaco Grand Prix. The Monaco Grand Prix is perhaps the most prestigious automobile race in the world, and the city-state is said to come to life more than ever during the week of the big race. Monaco also has a host of luxurious resorts and casinos which could occupy my time in the lead-up to the race.

8) Prague, Czech Republic. A city rich with culture, Prague seems like just the place to visit if on a European road trip. Its iconic Vltava River and historic buildings make it an attractive destination, and, being a history nerd, I’m sure I could find tons and tons to do in a city with such a rich history like Prague.

9) Rome + The Vatican. I suppose it’s no surprise that Rome would make the list. The city, including its enclave state of Vatican City, are of immense and lasting historic significance. I’m interested in ancient and classical history, so seeing the ruins of the Roman Republic and Roman Empire, some of whose buildings are still in remarkably good condition, would be very fascinating.

10) Malta. This might be a bit of a weirder one, so hear me out. I’m a huge history nerd, and Malta is a great place to see historic forts and learn about great historical battles. Over the thousands of years it has been inhabited, Malta has been influenced by numerous cultures and thus is a sort of melting pot of all the Mediterranean cultures from history. It is also currently home to the oldest remaining chivalric order, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a group which is directly descended from the Knights Hospitaller of the crusades and has in the past successfully defended Malta from foreign invasion.

11) Florence, Italy

12) Dublin, Ireland

13) Norway

14) Vienna, Austria

15) Bologna, Italy

16) Luxembourg

17) Svalbard

18) Zurich, Switzerland

19) Glasgow, Scotland

20) Aachen, Germany

 

Places to Visit: Anchorage, AK

Of all the cities I’ve visited, I can honestly say that Anchorage is one of my favorites. I don’t know what it’s like in the winter (a cold, dark, frozen-over hell, people in the South like to imagine), but in the summer, it’s absolutely amazing. I visited Anchorage two summers ago during the same trip where I took the pictures in this post, and I’ve missed the city ever since.

For me, cities are about five main things: the sights, the people, the food, the sports, and the skyline. Anchorage has it all. Well, okay… Anchorage’s only professional sports team is the Alaska Aces of the ECHL (also the league of the Atlanta Gladiators ~ Go Glads!), so they are somewhat lacking in that department. However, the rest of the boxes can be checked off easily.

Anchorage is a beautiful city surrounded by the towering slopes of nearby mountains and the blue-gray waters of Cook Inlet. I’ve seen mountains all over the United States, but Alaskan mountains are just something different. I think it’s because they’re so prominent whereas “tall” mountains elsewhere in the country tend to be perched on ground that’s already elevated. In Alaska, the mountains rise out of the earth and appear to be utterly enormous to anyone at sea level.

The people in Alaska are extremely friendly. I’m not sure if that’s just because they put on happy faces for tourists in the summer or because they’re jovial people, but I can’t recall any rude interactions during the entire week I was there. However, I must say that people need to learn how cart corrals work; I saw more stray carts in the parking lot of the Anchorage Walmart than I have seen anywhere else in the country.

As for food, I’ll just give the obvious choice: Moose’s Tooth pizza. Just go. If you ask the people at whichever hotel you stay at where to go for good food, that’s probably where they’ll direct you. Now admittedly, I hadn’t heard of it before I visited, so I wasn’t uber-hyped or anything for their pizza. I thought it was very good, but if I’d seen in a “Top Ten Pizzas in America” list like I did some months after my visit, I probably would have been disappointed… so maybe I’m hyping it up too much for you right now? I’m sorry. You should still go. It’s also worth mentioning that I ate at the Anchorage Hard Rock Cafe since eating at Hard Rock Cafe is one of my urban rituals. Anchorage has a small Hard Rock, but it’s still the same good food and good music you’ll be familiar with.

Anyways, this post is getting kind of long for a not-gallery. I’ll probably post a follow-up in the future detailing individual things to do in and around Anchorage.

(Photocredit to Mark Van Dyke at http://www.markvandyke.net/ under the license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/legalcode )

Why I Love Las Vegas: The View of the Mountains from The Palazzo

Vegas Mountainline2Vegas Mountainline

They call the place Sin City, but that doesn’t mean the views can’t be divine. I’m a big fan of cities surrounded by mountains, and the Las Vegas mountainline is one of the best I have ever seen. Most people seem too enthralled by the neon lights and the slot machines to really take a proper look around while in Vegas. The neon lights, the Luxor’s skybeam, and the towering Stratosphere are Vegas’ icons every night; I just wish people would take more time to find a window and look out during the day.

[The pictures were taken by me a few years ago. The view is from The Palazzo, looking west.]

Places to Visit: Tallulah Gorge State Park, GA

Tallulah Gorge State Park encloses much of Tallulah Gorge, a 2-mile long ravine in northeast Georgia. The park is notable for its breathtaking views of what I believe is the most spectacular canyon in the state of Georgia (yes, I have seen Providence Canyon. I like Tallulah better). As one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Georgia, Tallulah Gorge has a lot to offer. Down in the gorge, the naming pattern continues with the Tallulah River cutting a path through the Earth among a lush landscape of north Georgia trees.

Tallulah Falls is a set of waterfalls on the Tallulah River within the gorge. I didn’t get a particularly spectacular view, if I recall correctly, because I opted to just walk around the canyon’s rim trails rather than walking down the many steps to the canyon floor, but if you do aspire to get that perfect photograph or simply wish to see the river up close, there is a trail leading down into the gorge.

When I visited Tallulah Gorge State Park, I strung it together with a few other various north Georgia sites. I’d recommend visiting Helen, Georgia, while you’re up in the area (just for the novelty of the place), hiking around the nearby mountains, or travelling to some of the nearby lakes (Lake Rabun is really close). It helps if you have a nice, sunny spring or summer day when you visit; I imagine Tallulah gets quite a bit drearier in the wintertime. Just make sure you pack your camera!

Places to Visit: Prince William Sound, AK

Alaska is the biggest state in the United States, so it naturally has a great wealth of natural wonders. In 2015, I visited Alaska for the first time. I’d never been that for north before. I’d never seen a glacier before, up close and personal. I’d never seen so many mountains that made the “mountains” back home in Georgia look like little heaps of dirt. I’d never seen whales or seals floating on ice or great bird-covered cliffsides.

Luckily, Prince William Sound offered everything. I took a day cruise from Whittier (a very nice town, I might make another post about it in the future) and from there we began our tour of the sound. One thing about Prince William Sound: it’s enormous. On the map it already looks to be of decent size, but you’ve gotta remember that Alaska is gargantuan. Also the boat was slow… so this cruise took up most of the day.

The tour started by just chugging on by some assorted small glaciers, but eventually we got around the area of the big glaciers, the “College Glaciers”. The glaciers around there were simply stunning.Some of the glaciers seemed to be immensely tall, perhaps 150 feet. Littered around the base of the glaciers are massive icebergs, evidence of the chunks that fall off the ice sheets in a process called “calving”. As the icebergs break up and melt into more manageable sizes, they are sometimes occupied by seals which use them as personal flotation devices.

Prince William Sound is also a notable location for whale-watching. When I was there, I did manage to see a single whale, but I’ve heard that there are usually quite a few more than that. The wildlife that stands out the most in my memory, though, are the seagulls. So many seagulls. At one point, I could look out the ship and the entire cliff was coated with white — both seagulls and their post-meal belongings. It was a scene that would have been right at home in some bird-related horror movie.

Anyways, if you’re ever in Alaska or on a cruise of the Pacific Northwestern coast, make sure you get to visit Prince William Sound! As long as the skies are clear and you’re not paying too terribly much, it should be well worth your time.

 

 

Places to Visit: Bear Lake, UT-ID

Over the course of the last month or so, I had the opportunity to visit the Pacific Northwest for the first time, and on my way out of SLC heading northwards, I passed by this desert gem.

Bear Lake is truly breathtaking. When I read prior to visiting that the lake has been dubbed the “Caribbean of the Rockies”, I was admittedly quite a bit skeptical about the lake’s supposed deep turquoise color. The surrounding land got progressively greener leading up to the lake. There was an overlook some miles from the lake (where I took the featured picture) where I got my first real glimpse through the hilltops, and lo’ and behold! It actually is turquoise. On a picturesque day with clear blue skies and a glowing horizon, the lake is a calming reminder that there is beauty in nature, something people raised in urban environments sometimes seem to forget.

Mind you, I didn’t go fishing or anything like that, so my description of Bear Lake can really only be limited to “it was pretty and turquoise”, but the area surrounding the lake had a lot to offer, too. Garden City, for instance, is the town midway down the lake’s western shore. For a town out in the countryside away from any highways or cities of substantial size, it teemed with life. Every diner seemed to be packed with customers, and I was pleased to see that all the businesses in town appeared to be locally owned and not subject to getting out-competed by Walmart or McDonald’s (this coming from a McDonald’s stockholder who thinks their food is gross — ice cream is good, though).

I also noted one interesting trend among houses on the Utahan shore of Bear Lake: an astoundingly large percentage of houses had basketball hoops. Normally I wouldn’t think much of seeing lots of basketball hoops, but we’re talking about a solid 60-70% of houses that had basketball hoops. I even saw one business that had a basketball hoop in its parking lot. The houses in hillside subdivisions, the sprawling lakefront lots, the small but quaint mobile homes… basketball hoops, everywhere. This isn’t really any reason to visit Bear Lake at all, but I did wonder for the rest of the day if there might be some correlation between the number of residences in Utah with basketball hoops and the success achieved by NCAA basketball teams from Utah (Utah, Utah State, BYU). It’s something to consider, anyways.