Recap to the beginning of 2017. My research stay at Stanford University neared its end and I was preparing to return home. I had decided to devote one full week to travel the U.S. before leaving for Switzerland.
It was clear that I wanted to see cities of the East Coast, i.e. New York and Boston, but it took me a while to decide on a third location in between the two oceans. Eventually, after researching and talking to friends and citizens I opted for Chicago instead of Las Vegas and Los Angeles. The idea was to spend around two days in every city and then move on. With that my route was fixed:
San Francisco → Chicago → Boston → New York → Zurich
The last days in Palo Alto were quite busy, as I was finishing my thesis, planning my trip and preparing my departure. My fellow group colleagues were so kind to write me a card and even baked a delicious cake for the occasion.
For a last time I went to San Francisco and attended the concert of One Ok Rock. In the meantime I received photos of snow-covered Switzerland.
Early on February 1st I took in the beautiful sunrise of Palo Alto before an Uber took me to the airport. After four hours in the air and moving two time zones eastbound I found myself in Chicago, the capital of Illinois.
The public transit system was easy to use and soon I was able to check in to my Airbnb apartment in a skyscraper in the “Loop” district. My host, a retired woman was kind and invited me to a drink and a chat.
Visiting Chicago at the coldest time of the year might not have been the best idea. The temperatures moved around negative five degrees (Celsius) and a strong wind from the lake send the chills through my spines.
For dinner I wanted to try the famous local dish “Deep-dish Pizza” which looks, as the name suggests, alike a savory cake. The dough is not very thick but the majority consists of tomato sauce and generous amounts of toppings. The dough was crispy and the tomatoes so savory, a taste I cannot wait to experience again. The restaurant I visited – Pizzeria Uno – offered four serving sizes, so I thought the second-smallest size would be a good amount. While the circumference is smaller than a typical pizza, I could only finish half of it. Luckily, I could take the remaining slices home with me that became a great breakfast.
The next day I continued to explore the city. On the recommendation of my host I paid the Art Museum a visit, which did not only offer a splendid and diverse selection of works but is also surrounded by a park which is a large piece of art itself. The most famous installation is the “Bean”, or Cloud Gate, how it is officially called.
To be able to see the sun set over the city and the lake I informed myself about observation decks. Just at the right time I entered the John Hancock Center and ascended to the observation deck to witness the sunset.
This place offered an extraordinary experience for the daring visitors: A sliding window that allows you to look straight down the building.
Golden Globe award-winner for Best Skyscraper Drama
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Another local specialty is just referred to as “Chicago Hot Dog”. In comparison to the N.Y. style one this variant is served in a poppy seed bun and contains more green toppings. Thanks to some research I found a cosy place called Portillo’s Hot Dogs where I could try it in an authentic environment surrounded by locals. Even though I am not a fan of hot dogs at all, I liked this one and would order it again.
Early the next morning I returned to the airport and flew to my next destination at the East Coast.
The former British-founded colony city turned university city attracted me for a long time and I am happy to have finally visited it. Boston was among my short list of university cities I wanted to live and study in, and even though it did not make the cut, I am sure I would have liked it there.
Again I rented a Airbnb apartment for two nights, this time in a high-rise apartment towering in the West Hill district. From the balcony I could see major parts of the city and Cambridge on the other side of the Charles River. The breathtaking view motivated me to begin exploring the city as fast as I could.
Since it is a walkable city I explored the city center by foot. In a few minutes I reached Boston Common Park where I signed up for a guided tour. The guide was dressed in a historical dress and took us on a trip back to the colonial times. Experiencing the history of the city in this way was a great way to understand and remember key events and persons.
After the tour I explored the harbor area and went to the Faneuil Hall Marketplace for lunch. Seafood is the food of choice here, and I went for a lobster sandwich paired with clam chowder.
In the evening I met three of my friends and study colleagues who are also pursuing their master theses at the moment at MIT. They briefly showed my their labs and what they were working on. After that we hang out in a student bar, and watched an ice-hockey match of two professional student teams. We ended the evening with Ramen at a Japanese restaurant (that was not my idea this time).
The following morning I crossed the river to Cambridge to explore the campus of MIT and, conveniently next to it, Harvard. Both universities emitted a presence of excellence and tradition. The campus of MIT was large and modern while the red brick buildings of the main campus of Harvard University lent themselves for an excellent backdrop for studying.
Next to the universities I spotted the offices of many famous companies, including those from the chemical industry. The MIT museum showcased a large variety of research topics, from robotics to mechanical sculptures.
The day after I left the city for my last destination on this journey – New York City.
The last few days I spent in the city that never sleeps. Over Thanksgiving I was lucky to find a good deal for a hotel in Manhattan as the prices are steep in the city center. Thanks to an airport shuttle bus I came in very close to my accommodation, the Roosevelt Hotel, being dropped off at Grand Central Station at 45th street.
The hotel itself is famous for housing an enormous number of guests in over a thousand rooms while retaining its classic look from the 20’s, and served as backdrop for some famous movie.
In my room I browsed through a list of events happening the current week and a Chinese New Year parade caught my interest. Soon after I found myself in the heart of China Town but the parade just seemed to have concluded. Still, many people were around and I took in the atmosphere of this lively district while munching on a steamed bun.
Block by block I walked downtown until I reached Ground Zero aka the 9/11 memorial. Right next to it the afternoon sun was reflected in the glass facade of the One World Trade Center tower, the highest building of NYC and in the whole U.S. Like in Chicago I wanted to see the sun set while being on the 100th floor in 380 meters above the ground.
The view was gorgeous and it was possible to see far into all directions. Unfortunately, I experienced difficulties while making photographs so some pictures turned out blurry.
The same evening the biggest sport event of the year took place – the Super Bowl. While I am not a sports fan, let alone base ball, I wanted to experience this aspect of American culture. On the way back to the hotel I picked something to eat switched on the TV. The advertisement costs for showing clips during the numerous breaks are immense, because at least half of the country is watching them.
The next day I visited the United Nations headquarters in Eastern midtown. My visits in Geneva were interesting and this time was also a nice experience to see the organization from inside. No advance registration is necessary, but one must authenticate oneself at an office across the street before entering the premises. Inside, a large foyer housed two exhibitions and guided tours took place frequently. Technically, the U.N. headquarters are extraterritorial territory, meaning they are not subject to the law of the surrounding country. On the tour I was able to see several conference rooms of the most important organs such as the Security Council. The in 1981 awarded Nobel Price was also exhibited, along with an artistic representation of the Declaration of Human Rights.
Thereafter I formally reentered the U.S. and encountered a Japanese store that happened to do a sake tasting at this moment. To my surprise not the sake itself was the center of the promotion but the drinking glasses which were manufactured to bring out the best taste.
Since it was close by I took the time to have a look at Trump Tower in 5th avenue.
Staying with Japanese, I found a branch of the Japanese curry chain CoCo Curry in Manhattan and ordered a serving of Katsucurry (カツカレー).
A great and inexpensive way to experience the skyline is to take the ferry to Liberty Island. On the way you could see the Statue of Liberty, the skyscrapers reflecting the afternoon sun and the high rises of New Jersey.
Back from a round-course I followed the East River uptown until I reached Brooklyn Bridge, which I only wound up to cross halfway.
In the evening I started to queue for the Top of the Rock observatory, another public rooftop to gaze above New York. The Rockefeller Center is a huge building complex where you will also find an ice rink during the cold days. Thanks to a prior reservation I did not have to wait for too long. The weather was excellent but it was so crowded that it took a lot of patience to take some good pictures. The prominent building on the left is the Empire State Building.
And here we have the obligatory photo of Times Square which was busy and flashy as always.
For dinner I reserved a seat at Yakitori Totto. New York houses gourmet cuisine from all over the world and this particular dish is rarely seen outside of Japan which motivated me to try it. Each skewer costed a few dollars so I could try a large variety of meats, including intestines.
To enjoy my last day in the U.S. I made sure to book a late-night departing flight. I left my luggage at the hotel and went for a cup of coffee at Blue Bottle’s. For lunch I visited China Town again to try some delicious Dumplings at Mimi Cheng’s.
Another thing on my bucket list was the Public Library that features an impressive reading room that anybody can visit and take a break from the busy life outside.
A few weeks before leaving the Bay Area I read an article in the Times about a newly opened shop called DŌ that sells cookie dough as if it was ice cream. They modified the formula to allow customers with a sweet tooth to indulge on delicious cookie dough without fearing stomachaches. Since it sounded like an unique and tasty experience I looked up how to find the store. I walked along 5th Avenue past the Flatiron Building until Washington Square Park to find a long queue in front of the store.
While I did not expect so much interest it didn’t surprise me considering the circumstances, which must be normal for New Yorkers. After an hour in the cold I could enter the store to wait another half an hour to reach the counter. I picked two scoops of dough and leisurely made my way back to the hotel to pick up my luggage.
The airport bus was on time so I reached the Newark airport with much buffer time. Even the ridiculous security screening went fast so I found myself way too early in a small gate waiting area surrounded by some shops that were about to close. After a while it was announced that the plane was slightly delayed. Thanks to my laptop the time was not entirely wasted.
Here is a pro travel tip: Unfortunately, in contrast to the Zurich-Tokyo connection where two checked bags are included in the ticket, only one is free of charge on trans-Atlantic flights with Swiss. When I booked my ticket back in Switzerland I did not see to pay immense surcharges to check an additional bag not knowing whether I would even need one. So I took a second piece of luggage, more a bag than a suitcase, all the way through security to the gate. There I politely asked for it to be checked and loaded into the plane. This way I had less luggage to carry and worry about. Of course this only works when the bag is not as heavy as 20 kg or way to big. As it turns out, often the gate agents are not too picky about this rule, at least in my experience.
The plane was only occupied to a third – understandably since departure was on a Tuesday at 11 pm. This time the plane was a modern and spacious Airbus A330. I was lucky to have no neighbors in my row, so I could spread my luggage around. A meal was served and then the lights were turned off. This time I easily fell asleep and slept through until we were flying over Germany. Then, breakfast was served, we landed soon after, and I picked up my luggage.
After almost half a year in the U.S. it felt good to be back in Switzerland. My stay was a great experience, along with some hardships and many life lessons. Undertaking an exchange stay or living abroad for some time is something I can highly recommend. It expands your cultural horizon, lets you explore a different lifestyle, and improves your language abilities.
Thank you for reading! The next post will be over my time in Switzerland.