One of the first things I read in my bulky travel guide to the U.S.A was the suggestion the best way to see this country is by car. I think it has taken me two trips to the States to realise the truth of this statement, but sadly it has not been a possibility. Getting around the country via planes and public transport isn’t as easy as one might imagine, limiting options and potential experiences.
I also believe it has taken two trips to absorb the enormity of almost everything in this vast continent. I realise I only have a snapshot of various places and there surely must be sleepy, small towns and cosy places with close knit communities, but for a visitor from a comparatively tiny island, the size of almost everything witnessed in the U.S.A. can become almost overwhelming. I know I’ve only scratched the surface, but am assured by American friends I’ve actually visited more places than many citizens living there.
The U.K. has more Counties than the USA has States, yet the whole of our country would fit easily inside the state of Tennessee with room to spare. Population-wise England is far more cramped, but there are still wide open spaces, farmland, lush countryside and beautiful shorelines given the right weather. I can well understand why so many Americans long to visit England, not only for its history, but to witness our picturesque, little villages and comparatively tiny, quaint towns.
Contra wise, I’ve always longed to visit the USA, and now after two trips can still admit to wanting to see more. There are so many enormous States and such diversity it’s difficult to form an overall impression, but size has certainly made an impact this time round, particularly travelling around without a car. Being on foot and reliant on public transport means taking on board the differences between the US and the UK in a unique way.
Here, I can walk to a supermarket, a post-box, a bus stop or train station without giving it much thought. When someone in the US informs you a post office is a couple of blocks away, you learn a block can actually be up to a few miles in distance. Crossing a road in England can be frustrating waiting for lights to change when the distance between pavements is only a few yards. Crossings in America are far more efficient and user friendly, but it’s a little disconcerting watching the seconds count down as you trek over five lanes of freeway.
Roads in England have no more than three lanes and some of the cars, vans and trucks you’ll see on them are almost toy-like by comparison to the vehicles in America. I was quite gobsmacked to witness the arrival of these juggernauts for the festival in Nashville, though I’d have been quite happy to drown in the contents.
Our fuel is twice the price of that in the US, yet I can well understand the uproar at rising prices of gas when vehicles travel so few miles to the gallon and distances to be travelled are so vast. I gasp in awe when I hear and read of Americans spending days driving to different states. If you drove in a straight line across England for more than a few hours you’d drop off.
Then there are the buildings. Sure, we have skyscrapers, multi-storey car parks and tall blocks of flats and offices, but I estimate our tallest is only half the size of some in the USA. The highest building in my town is three storeys and you’d probably have to travel to England’s largest cities to see anything higher, but in America they seem to be everywhere, in their thousands. Trying to photograph these buildings means a permanent crick in the neck.
We stayed in hotels so huge, the views were amazing, but suffering from claustrophobia meant those trips in the lifts were a bit of a nightmare. A preferable alternative to a heart attack after taking the stairs up to the tenth floor however.
The rooms in American hotels are equivalent to apartments here. Giant televisions, massive bathrooms, plentiful seating and beds big enough to sleep a whole family seem the norm over there. Very comfortable indeed, but not too convenient for locating and poking the snorer in the middle of the night.
When I catch a train to my nearest city of Nottingham, I can visit every shop and mall quite comfortably in one afternoon. In the US I could spend a whole day and get lost several times in a Macy’s store alone. I left the shopping malls exhausted, yet frustrated knowing I’d not been able to peruse every tempting shop, despite knowing my bank balance is far too small to indulge in all the delights available.
My local airport has one runway and is considered busy if a flight leaves every fifteen minutes. We stroll in, stand in a queue to collect tickets and deposit luggage, then stand in another queue to go through security before boarding a plane, which will most likely be delayed, to some obscure European destination. US airports in my experience are so much more efficient, organised and surprisingly calm, yet the size of some I swear are bigger than the town I live in here.
Likewise, US trains appear to be far more competent, reliable and comfortable. It’s amazing how smart and proficient the ticket collectors are on these huge vehicles. I can travel on our two-carriage local train, often late or cancelled for various pathetic reasons and frequently fail to see a member of staff at all.
Admittedly, not all the plentiful and varied restaurants in the US are massive, but almost everything they serve in them is. Water isn’t offered free here in England, but the complimentary glasses there I could probably take a swim in. I’ve learned a starter is enough to fill me for hours and add unwanted inches to my waistline. How anyone can manage a starter, followed by a full meal and a dessert I really don’t know. I know there are large people on both sides of the pond who probably eat more than they should, but does that account for the staggering height of some US citizens too?
Nature has provided the USA with some spectacular and huge places to visit, like the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls and Yellowstone Park, but the manmade structures are almost equally as breathtaking when it comes to size. From the Empire State Building in New York to the selection of flavours in the massive M&M shop in Las Vegas, there seems nothing this country doesn’t do on a large scale.
One thing I do believe however is that despite all this, no one makes you feel small or unimportant as you travel around. From the humble airport cleaners to the wealthy restaurant owners, the level of politeness, helpfulness, friendliness and competence makes for a pleasant and memorable trip. It certainly appears to be a system where every cog in the workforce, no matter how small the task, results in a level of efficiency England could certainly learn a lot from.
Size matters, size matters
But not how you think.
I’m talking about your heart and what you do with it.
The more seeds you plant the more flowers will grow.
Size Matters – Natasha Bedingfield.