I started my journey on the 29th of June from Cardiff. I took a train to London, where I spent a night in a hostel before reaching the airport to fly to Orlando. I landed without any problem, but they started when I crossed the border... The guy at the customs probably thought I was a terrorist. The reason? I was going to stay 19 days in the USA, and I only had a small (tiny) backpack. Dubious, isn't it? lol! Backpacking style, man! The bigger problems came when he discovered I travelled to Iran last year... "Why did you go there? Where did you stay? How long? Etc, etc." He unpacked all my bag (my underwear and everything in front of everyone), and bothered me for an hour. At the end he (finally) said: Welcome to the United States of America. Ouf ! (French onomatopoeia to say *relief* 😉)
I took a bus to meet my Couchsurfer host! 😀 I got to his district, but I didn't know exactly where he was living, and my phone was not working (I didn't have a smartphone at that time, I actually bought one last week haha). I managed to ask someone to lend me their phone and everything went well. I stayed at José and Adrian, an amazing gay couple from South America (J. from Puerto Rico and A. from Venezuela). I did quite a lot of Couchsurfing, but I think they were (among) the best hosts ever! 😀 We had a lot of fun, chatting in Spanglish, they told me everything about the city, they cooked for me some Latinos dishes, and I made (real) French crêpes for them! ^^
During my time in Orlando, I visited some cliché places, such as Universal CityWalk and Disney Springs (i.e., the only free parts of the parks). Nothing "exceptional" there I would say (I'm not so much into parks) but it was fun, and people were nice in general. Good weather, with some big thunderstorms.
"It's kind of fun to do the impossible." - Walt Disney
I also went to the Kennedy Space Center where I spent a whole day. It was very interesting, I learnt lots of things, and I also had the opportunity to take a picture with an astronaut! lThey were supposed to launch the SpaceX Falcon 9 in the evening, and I was a bit sad because I couldn't make it. And eventually the lunch got aborted 9 seconds before T time, so I was happy! ^^
My CS host drove me there as he is a Uber driver! 😀 You can see J. on the left and A. on the right on the picture below. I was a bit sad to leave them but I knew I had to continue my adventure!
For my third day in the States, I took a bus to Miami. But it was not exactly a bus! It was a minibus! I made it - in one piece! 😉 I stayed 4 or 5 days on Miami South Beach (THE place to be), at the Beds n' Drinks hostel. A really cool place, 5 minutes walk from the ocean. Everyone was so relaxed there. Loads of Latinos (65% of the population), so you could hear Spanish everywhere, as well as zumba music! 😀 I was going for a swim in the ocean every morning and every evening, the water 85 degrees F... what is that??? Haha 29 degrees C. Perfect. The beach was dirty though, very disappointing... 😦
I was in Miami for the 4th of July = the American national day! Quite a big thing over there! Everyone was wearing the American flag, as a tee-shirt or hat or swimming suit. In the evening, I had some free hot dogs in my hostel. Eating hot dogs is the American tradition for this day, and there is the Hot Dog Eating Contest (the champion ate 72 in 10 minutes this year... crazy! :O)! And of course I went to see the fireworks! 😀 Hundreds of people on the beach. Fireworks lasted more than 30 minutes non-stop.
I did another cliché thing while in Florida, I went to the Everglades... or the alligator park. Not that impressive actually. It became too touristic I guess.
I enjoyed a lot more Miami downtown, particularly Little Havana (which reminded me of my Cuban trip), as well as Wynwood (the design district).
I forgot to mention that I met some really cool people in my hostel! 😀 I am thinking about Goutam, from India and Denise, from Germany. We spent some nice times together, going to a few restaurants which were recommended to me by Karyn. For the story, Karyn is a lady I met at one of my CS events in Cardiff. She is originally from Miami but now lives in Paris. And she told me all the good tips for Miami! Places to go / to stay / to eat... Thank you K.! :D THE place to eat is the Crazy Mexican Taco Bar on South Beach.
A bit sad (again!) to leave Miami - particularly for the beach - but also excited about going to my next stop = NOLA. I flew from Fort Lauderdale to New Orleans, where my CS host, Alvin, picked me up. By the way... he is a limo driver!
On my first day, I walked around the Mississippi and the French quarter. I discovered a very lively city, with musicians everywhere, and some kind of a French culture. Very nice atmosphere and houses. Later on, I discovered that my host's neighbour had 4 kittens! 😀 So I spent ages talking to them... they didn't seem to understand French lol.
For dinner, we had some delicious Creole food in a local restaurant. In the evening, we went to the Tipitina's, a famous club in NOLA, for quite an impressive show. I forgot to mention that Al knows all the musicians in the city, so I had my picture with all the celebrities! 😉
On my second day, Al fixed a bike for me to travel around. No better way to wander in the city! I went to a park, to a rich area with big houses, and to the Mardi Gras world. This museum is pretty nice, you can learn everything about how Mardi Gras is celebrated in NOLA; and it's quite a big stuff over there.
In the evening, we went to loads of live music, it was quite awesome. I made a short video about it, but cannot find it on my laptop... It's online on Facebook, if you wanna see it, just ask me!
Oh! I forgot to tell an amazing story which happened my first morning in New Orleans! I went to Waffle House for breakfast. A black couple sat next to me, and we somehow started to chat. When I finished my food and was about to pay, they told me: "leave the check, it's on us"! We didn't even exchange our first names! Really nice people! They made my day! 😀
As I introduced previously, my main reason to go to the US was for a conference. Indeed, my paper "Quality assessment of ultrasound video for medical tele-assistance had been accepted for a presentation at the MIPS (Medical Image Perception Society) meeting in Houston.
I took the Megabus from NOLA to Houston. 7ish hours drive for only $6! I got there under a crazy crazy rain, I was completely soaked, even with my plastic poncho lol. But I made it to my luxury hostel, the Morty Rich hostel. Probably the best hostel I've ever been to in my life! Really nice staff, beautiful decoration, terrasse with swimming pool... 😀
I didn't visit much in Houston as I was pretty busy with the conference, but I can tell you that there is nothing to see and nothing to do there!!! Empty and dead streets. Very dodgy people. Guns. I found a few nice places though (well, one haha). The Julia Ideson Library.
I had very good times at the meeting, talking with Australian people I met 2 years ago in Belgium, and meeting new people, such as Koos, a really nice Dutch cat lover. We enjoyed my "private swimming pool" and he even cooked a nice dinner for me! 😉
On the last day, I went to the Art Car museum with 3 people I met at MIPS. It is a free museum with weird cars and insane people! We had fun.
I ended my Texan trip in Austin. Once again, I took the Megabus to get there. Next to me was a guy I met at the conference, so the trip went quickly! Daniel, my CS host, was nice enough to pick me up at the bus station - my first ride in a Jeep. We had a lot of fun, even if he was always laughing about me 😉 and I also enjoyed the private swimming pool.
Austin is completely different than Houston, i would definitely recommend the capital: a lively city with a lot of music and food trucks. On my first day, I went to the Barton Springs, a big outdoor pool, and then walked all the way back the city and to my host - without Google maps haha. Quite a long way under the Texan heat, but I appreciated the view on the Colorado River.
On the second day, I enjoyed downtown Austin, i.e the Capitol, where I had a free guided visit, and the graffiti park, a fun place to hang out.
I had my last swim before heading to the airport... but somehow it was not exactly quite the end of my adventure! 😉 Indeed, my flight from Austin to Frankfurt got delayed because of the thunderstorms. I therefore missed my connection in Paris... But managed to catch another flight. I spent the night in Paris with Antoine, another Couchsurfer, coming from Vietnam. He took me to a very good Vietnamese restaurant in the Latin district, and we ended the day by a mindfulness meditation in his flat! 😀 Why did I stay in Paris and didn't head back home? Because I had to apply for my Chinese visa! But this is another story...
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