Bethany’s 2015 Travel Awards

2014 was a more dramatic year for me of traveling around Europe while I lived in London, but I did a decent amount of traveling again in 2015. It was mostly domestic and in the Midwest, because I cannot stop traveling and checking out new places while trying to conserve on the travel expenses for my trip to Australia in 2016. It’s worked reasonably well to keep me busy and happy. All but a few of these were within a 5-hour drive of my abode near Indianapolis, perfect for a weekend or long weekend of exploring.

New places:

  • Louisville, KY
  • Nashville, TN
  • Cleveland, OH
  • Minneapolis, MN
  • Ann Arbor, MI
  • Marshall, MI
  • Milwaukee, WI
  • Toronto, ON
  • Chattahoochee Hills, GA
  • Indiana:
    • Madison
    • New Harmony
    • Parke County
    • Turkey Run State Park

Returned to and explored more:

  • Detroit, MI
  • Chicago, IL (several times)
  • New York, NY
  • Shipshewana, IN
  • Pokagon State Park, IN

Favorite new things in a familiar-to-me city

Chicago food tour and architecture cruise. My dad lives near Chicago, and the last few years I’ve been discovering a new appreciation for this city and checking out places I’ve never been. This year, I toured the city for a couple days with my friend Steph, who was visiting from England, and we did two things I loved. The first was a food tour, and Chicago has amazing food and unique neighborhoods I hadn’t seen before, so I LOVED that. The second was an architecture river cruise. I learned a whole lot about architecture I didn’t know before, only some of which I’ve retained, but I did gain a new appreciation for the uniqueness of the city’s buildings.

9/11 Memorial and Museum. I also was able to go on a brief work trip to New York City, which I’ve spent a few days in before, but this time went to the 9/11 Memorial and Museum and was blown away by it. The museum is thorough and immerses you in all the details of what happened that happened that day. I ended up spending most of a day there and still didn’t quite get to see everything!

Favorite new-to-me town in my state:

Madison. Indiana has a lot of small, historical towns, and I visited (and re-visited) several of them this year. They all have an interesting tidbit to offer, but I think I was most struck by the lovely little town of Madison, on the southern border of Indiana not far from Louisville, KY. My cousin Emily and I took a day trip there in March, when there’s not a whole lot going on, but we walked around a neighborhood with a lot of historic houses, ate some homestyle midwestern food, checked out the flooded river, and did some shopping in the adorable shops on the main street. It’s just a charming tiny town in the corner of the state for a nice day out.

Most surprising cities to me:

Nashville, TN and Louisville, KY. Up until recently, I had a pretty strong bias against the South. I probably still do a little bit, but after having visited Louisville and Nashville, I’m past a lot of that.

Even a couple of years ago, when someone recommended Nashville as a place to visit, I balked at the idea, because I associate the city with country music and the Grand Ole Opry, both of which make me cringe. However, after people kept suggesting it, I did some research, and there’s quite a lot to the city besides the country music scene. It’s a music city of all genres, has fantastic food, and is very bike-friendly. So I drove the 4.5 hours from Indy to Nashville (surprisingly shorter than I had realized) and spent a long weekend there, eating, taking a bike tour, and exploring a couple of historic former plantations. Even the drive though Tennessee and Kentucky is full of beautiful, rolling, tree-covered hills!

Louisville was another surprising city that won me over, as well as my cousin Emily who went with me. It’s actually a college town, surprisingly liberal and artsy. I had some of the best vegan wings ever there! It’s also just over 2 hours from Indianapolis. I don’t know why the American South had seemed so far away before!

Most surprising to everyone else:

Detroit. This is the city that, whenever I say positive things about it, I tend to get some shock from others. It’s true, it is rough and not at all the same booming city it was 40 years ago, but it’s recovering, and there are a lot of cool things to see and do.

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View of the Detroit River and Windsor, Ontario, Canada, from inside the GM Renaissance Center.

The first time I went to Detroit, I ended up getting rescued from a malfunctioning jet ski by the Coast Guard and was harassed more than usual by some aggressive homeless people, but neither of those things happened this time (and I don’t hold them against the city at all!) This time, we did a walking tour of downtown, ate some great food, checked out the African American History Museum (possibly the best in the country). My mom especially loved the Motown museum, as did I. The city has a clear identity and soul, which is what really makes me love a place.

Favorite new activity:

Kayaking. I went on a weekend camping trip with a few friends to Turkey Run State Park and tried kayaking for the first time. I loved it! It got a little crazy when it thunderstormed and we had to stop in the middle of our kayaking cruise down Sugar Creek, but overall it was a fun trip down a fairly calm river, and I’d love to do it again with that same kind of stable kayak.

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Kayaking with my friends Alex, Corinna, and Ben

Favorite overall thing:

Niagara Falls. Emily and I did a trip to Toronto, Canada, the only time I left the country this year. While we were there, we just had to see Niagara Falls, only an hour and a half drive from the city. I try to not have my hopes too high for things this famous – I mean, I’ve seen a fair amount of big waterfalls. But the thing is, photos and videos, no matter how well shot, simply do not do Niagara Falls justice. It blew us away. Kind of literally. The boat tour where you get up close and personal with the falls, and pretty wet, is definitely recommended. We both want to go back again – it was incredible in the autumn, but next time maybe even in the winter in all its snowy and icy glory!

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Why I feel more American in Britain

I’m sure you’ve had the experience of going somewhere and feeling the differences between yourself and the natives more keenly, realizing you’re more different than you previously thought. Whether it’s language, race, religion, politics, clothes, whatever. There are even differences within the US, from city to city, state to state. Well, that’s how I feel when I go to the UK, and I haven’t even spent that much time there yet. As many people do, I’ve spent a lot of my growing-up years trying to fit in, whether consciously or not, sometimes with more success than others. Wondering if I’d fit in better somewhere else.

I’ve often said I feel like I belong in Europe, or Canada, or somewhere else liberal, but that’s only while I’m in Indiana that I think that. I’m not the patriotic type. I said the pledge of allegiance in school and I watch parades and fireworks on Independence Day like anyone else, but I’m not of the belief that the USA is better than all other countries. Everywhere has it’s pros and cons. Everywhere has good and bad people. No one’s religion is “more right” than anyone else’s. And that is one big thing that makes me stick out around here. I don’t have the usual “God Bless America” license plate, because I think God should bless Canada and Morocco and Ecuador too.

In London, I feel much more like an American. Aside from the language differences I’ve been writing about, there are definite cultural differences. Despite its cultural inclusiveness, most of the people I came into contact with were British, and they have a certain way of doing things.

These are the main things I think would separate me from fitting in with the Brits.

1. I’m more casual

I’d wear jeans and a t-shirt or hoodie every day if it were left up to me. But in Britain, when you go to work, the guys wear suits, and the ladies wear jackets, skirts, and heels. You won’t see the stereotypical big, weird hats like Kate and the Queen wear, but dress is just more formal.

That butterfly hat is actually kind of fun with the dress.

My company’s office in Indiana is mostly casual when we’re not meeting clients, but in the UK it’s “smart” (I’ve taken this to mean business casual or slightly more formal) every day except Friday, and no one ever seems to wear khakis. I figure I can get away with walking around the city in flats instead of heels and rarely wearing a skirt because I’m American. No one has berated me yet.

2. I’m less polite

This actually goes along with the formality theme. I often say “please”, “thank you”, and “excuse me,” and even the occasional “bless you,” but beyond that it’s not natural for me to be extra polite. I swear I don’t try to be rude, but I’m pretty sure I come off that way sometimes in the UK.

In our UK office, whenever someone leaves to get a drink from the “tea point”, they will ask if anyone else would like something to drink while they are there. Invariably, someone always wants coffee or some milk for their tea. But I’d rather get up myself and get my own drinks, so I’d rarely offer or ask. I like the break anyway. It just made me feel rude. But really, sometimes having manners like that just seems like a waste of time to me. Yep, there’s my Americanness again…

3. It’s dangerous for me to cross the road.

Ever since I started crossing roads, I was taught to look left, right, then left again before crossing the road. Always look in the direction a car could be coming from first. Right? Well, my brain is not so great at suddenly changing this direction. I am not even going to attempt to drive there.

Not as easy as you might think.

They write “look right” on every street for anyone who isn’t from one of the handful of countries with their strange road layout, but it doesn’t help me much. After several attempts at crossing the road and nearly getting hit, I decided I should just stick to the crosswalks and wait until the little man turns green. Much safer that way.

4. My accent

I almost didn’t include this one because it’s so obvious, but it’s true. I’ve heard a lot of people from Indiana say they “don’t have an accent”, but everyone has an accent! It’s just that most of Indiana has what I would call a standard Midwestern American accent (officially called a North Midland dialect), which is very similar to what most people in movies and on the news have, so it’s “normal” to us. But in the UK, I most certainly have an accent and I’m immediately pegged as an American. Annoying, but hey, what can you do – I really don’t want to go so far as to try to speak in a British accent on a regular basis. While it might be fun, it seems almost offensive.

Here’s an interesting article about different terms for the same things throughout the US. Did you know that in part of Wisconsin they call a drinking/water fountain a “bubbler”? I want to start calling it that.

So, I may never be just like the natives wherever I live, but I’m okay with that. It just makes other people more interesting.