It’s been nearly a full year since we last set foot inside our home country. And while I can’t remember experiencing a single bout of homesickness during the past 342 days that we’ve been overseas, there are definitely things I miss about traveling in the U.S.
Walking around Hanoi’s old-town was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our nearly four month tour of Asia. The energy and vibrancy of Hanoi’s streets were intoxicating. Unfortunately, so too was its air.
As much as I loved dodging motor bikes on the city streets, inhaling large lungfuls of their exhaust wasn’t nearly as endearing. I spent pretty much the entire month of December feeling ill. That’s not something that’s ever happened to me in any of my previous 43 years. I suspect air-quality, or lack thereof, played a roll.
Either way I’m ready to get back to a place where surgical masks aren’t seen as necessary outdoor accessories.
Related to breathable air is air that you can actually see through. Everywhere we went in Asia looked as if it was covered in a grey film. The combination of pollution and humidity conspired to sap every vista of its color and every landscape of its contrast. I’m sure Asia has some beautiful scenery. It certainly looked that way in silhouette. It’d be nice to see it without the smog, though.
Take-away, or “take out” as we say in the States, is pretty much unheard of in continental Europe. In fact, I think it’s a crime. That’s at least how it felt while walking down the streets of Madrid with Big Gulp sized cups of joe. From the looks we got you’d think we were carrying the Queen’s jewels in our hands, or maybe even the King’s.
And while I understand that locals probably have work they want to avoid by lingering over meals, we have a completely different problem as tourists. European cities are so jam-packed with awesomeness that we hardly have enough time to visit all their castles, museums, cathedrals, and piazzas as it is. If we ever hope to see anything other than the inside of a café, we really need to condense some of Europe’s traditional marathon meal sessions into take-away containers. If only they’d let us.
Speaking of coffee, I’m a glutton for the stuff. It’s one of the few Americanisms I just can’t seem to shake, probably because I don’t want to. I’m also not sure why anyone on earth would want to limit themselves to a thimble-sized cup of anything, especially something so deliciously drinkable as coffee.
Growing up in the U.S. I thought putting screens on windows and doors to keep biting and otherwise irritating insects out of living spaces was the most natural thing in the world. Now I understand it is totally unusual. Moreover, it seems entirely cultural.
To be clear this has nothing to do with economics. It’s not that the places we’ve visited this past year were too poor to afford screens. And it’s not even that it’s too inconvenient to retrofit century-old buildings with them. We’ve stayed in million dollar flats in London and in newly constructed three-story U.K. townhouses. Both places came complete with every conceivable modern amenity, except window screens.
In Asia we mostly stayed in hotels and guesthouses that could afford to install air-conditioning units. Some even provided mosquito nets to hang over the beds, but I only remember one place with screened-in windows.
But that’s okay. It’s not like mosquito-borne illnesses are a problem in the tropics. Oh, wait.
I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the U.S. brews the best beers in the world by far.
I actually feel pretty comfortable out here on that perch because I’ve yet to find anywhere that has as consistently good, as widely varied, and as successfully inventive beers as does the U.S. We spent four years driving coast to coast in the States and almost everywhere we stopped we found small local brewers doing amazing things. That may have spoiled us.
The biggest surprise in this regard was the U.K. We spent nearly five months traveling through England, and while it’s a great country for sightseeing it’s a hugely disappointing one for beer. It’s not like we didn’t try. We quaffed pints in centuries-old pubs and had our fill of new-brews at modern beer festivals. I think that, maybe, we had three really good beers our entire time in Europe. And one of those was in Spain.
Snacks & Baked Goods
If there’s one thing the U.S. got right in the processed food department it’s making Goldfish crackers that taste nothing at all like actual goldfish.
The other thing we got right is brownies. And cupcakes. And baked goods in general. Finding a dessert worthy of the calories in Asia, meanwhile, is tough sledding (sorry, mango sticky rice is just not that satisfying).
After striking out repeatedly in Thailand and Laos we were so excited to find freshly baked Papparotis in Vietnam that we almost wet ourselves.
Normal Business Hours
From getting evicted with a half-filled grocery cart from a supermarket in France because the store was closing for several hours in the middle of the day, to complete no-shows in Asia, to undisclosed, randomly alternating operating hours most everywhere in between, I have to say I’m looking forward to the U.S.’s brand of customer-centric customer service. There is something to be said for a business that tells you when they’ll open and then actually shows up to do business during those hours.
I’m the fist to admit that the U.S. isn’t the most walkable place on earth. But that is largely because the country spans an entire continent; from sea to shining sea, and all that. But where we have cities we usually have sidewalks, too. And by sidewalks I’m talking about spaces reserved for pedestrians. Not areas along roadways used to park motorbikes; or as contra-traffic freeways; or spaces for open air malls; or places to clutter with any of a number of other obstructions that make walking anywhere in Asia a non-stop obstacle course; but areas along the side of the road reserved for walking. You know? Sidewalks.
Holy cow. I’m really sorry I don’t have photos for this, but I guess I just wasn’t quick enough with my camera. In truth, I wasn’t exactly thinking “I should get a photo” when seeing kids playing with plastic bags on their heads or, for that matter, when the cute little girl in the coffee shop tried to impress us by demonstrating how many coins she could put in her mouth. None of that screamed out to me “Hey, this is something you need to photograph” as much as it did “do I actually remember how to perform CPR.”
Ew. I mean seriously, Ewwww!
Lets face it, Speedos are hard for even the buffest bods to pull off. Even if you have great abs, muscular legs and the perfect tan, the only thing most of us will ever notice when you’re wearing a Speedo is man-sack. It’s not a good look.
Now if it really were fit, handsome gentlemen wearing these things I’d be willing to give the penis-pouch a pass. But that isn’t even remotely true. For some strange reason it’s mostly overweight, over-40, overly-uninhibited men that seem attracted to dainty swimwear like it’s catnip.