Friday thought #46 The wonder of the EU

It’s a commonly discussed fact amongst Brits that ‘70% of Americans don’t even have a passport’. Whether or not this is factually correct nobody is really sure, but it’s one of those ‘facts’ that everybody seems to know, most likely because living in Europe, the thought of not owning a passport is utterly ridiculous.

2 months ago I think I would probably have agreed, how could anybody live without owning a passport? Flying is so commonplace for us Brits, and with our country being so small, to fly pretty much anywhere means to leave the country. Our passports are somewhere close by at all times. For many years I lived in France and worked in Switzerland, so crossed the border twice a day without giving it a second thought. But I must admit that spending some time travelling around the States has made me view the no passport issue in a completely different light.

The USA literally has everything you could ever need with regards to landscape, climate and sports. It has coastlines and beaches, mountains, deserts, lakes, snow and sun; meaning that every sport from skiing to surfing is possible somewhere in the States. Within Europe, if you wish to ski, you need to fly to a country which has mountains and snow, if you want a beach holiday, countries such as Spain or Greece are an obvious choice. People in Europe take it for granted that they can jump on a plane and in less than 2 hours be in a completely different climate, scenery, culture and language. But what they forget is that the entire continent of Europe could fit neatly in to the outline of the USA with an enormous amount of room to spare. The distance from one side of Montana to the other is approximately 560 miles. As a comparison, if you were to start in Milan, Italy, and drive north east for roughly the same distance, you would cross Switzerland, Lichtenstein and Germany, finally ending your journey in Prague, deep in the heart of the Czech Republic. That’s 5 European countries versus not even leaving one of America’s 50 states.

Many Europeans would consider themselves well travelled, worldly people, after all, they may visit 2 or 3 different countries each year. Yet although it would be an impossible statistic to calculate, I would be very interested to know the percentage of Europeans who have never left Europe. I’d guess the vast majority. Europe contains approximately 50 countries (debatable due to questions such as whether to class the UK as one country or 4 separate ones), the USA contains 50 states. I would hazard that most Europeans rarely leave Europe, most Americans never leave America. It’s really not that different. Europe is made up of countries, the USA of states. It’s a big expense and a long journey to leave Europe and travel to Australasia, Asia, Africa or America, so we tend to stay within the confines of the continent. This is presumably no different for Americans. If you live in Texas and want a ski holiday, why fly to France when you have Colorado just a short flight away?

Being in the States also brought it home to me just how unique the European Union is. I completely take it for granted that despite being British, I’ve lived in France for the last 9 years, worked in Switzerland for the past 4, and am about to move to Austria. No visas needed, no green cards and no need to make a special application. You can move around freely within all the countries in the EU, working and living. In no other place in the World does this happen, and we are so very fortunate that we have this available to us.

Put in perspective it becomes a lot more clear why so many Americans would choose to stay within the States. Europeans must simply count themselves lucky that they have such a diversity of cultures at their doorstep and the freedom to move around amongst them, and cut their American friends a bit of slack!

A comparison rarely considered...
A comparison rarely considered…
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Friday thought #44 Wildlife in rural America

 It’s astonishing how much wildlife there is to see in America, everywhere you look, the outdoors is simply teeming with it. And, it’s all enormous! Every creature from the large to the small was oversized, even down to the flies!

Just some of the highlights; Marmots, Wild Bison, Antelopes, Chipmunks, giant Spiders, Deer, Moose, Butterflies, Mountain Goats and Vultures.

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Friday thought #43 America’s RVs

One of the most commented on sights throughout our US road trip was not just the amount, but the sheer size of the RVs flying along every highway. I guess being British we’d notice them a lot more as we simply don’t have vehicles like that where we’re from. For starters they simply wouldn’t fit on the roads. Your average European road is firstly too narrow and secondly, far too busy! I would love to see one of these trying to fit down a narrow country lane in rural Wales! (in fact the pick up trucks alone wouldn’t fit, let alone an RV!) But not only are they enormous, I also observed that when stationary, they also extend out to all sides and angles, making them even more gigantic. And much to our delight, we also spotted many of them towing a 4×4 truck behind them.

It put our tiny tent to absolute shame on the campgrounds; I’d hazard that some of them are considerably bigger per square metre than many residential apartments, especially those found in either ski resorts or large cities. We loved watching these blast through Montana, Idaho and Utah in their thousands, but it really did leave us wondering, just how much space does an average couple need when on holiday??!

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Check out all the extra compartments!
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Public coach or single family holiday home??
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Obviously towed by the obligatory giant truck!
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Of course, we’ll need our mobile house AND a pick up truck whilst away…!

Friday thought #42 The Great Salt Lake

I have to admit before coming here I knew virtually nothing about the Great Salt Lake. I’m not sure I even knew it was in the State of Utah. But I can now happily admit that my mind has been blown by this astonishing natural feature, sitting contently in the middle of the vast land mass that is America, so very far from any kind of sea!

I have since discovered that it is 75 miles long and 28 miles wide, the biggest lake in the United States that isn’t part of the Great Lakes range further north. I was confused as to how a body of water this far from the sea could be an actual salt lake, so being the curious English tourists we are, we asked someone! The lake has no outlet other than evaporation, and is fed by 4 major rivers which tumble down to it from the mountains. Just like rivers flowing in to the sea, these carry huge amounts of rocks and minerals containing salt, which remains in the lake when the water evaporates. Due to the sheer quantity of salt arriving in this lake, and the fact that it is so much smaller than the sea, the salinity is vastly higher than that of the sea, 7 X to be precise.

We had to test this out, so after a bit of research we headed for Antelope Island, the biggest of the lake’s 10 islands, for a couple of nights. Utterly stunning would be one of the many ways to describe it here and would still not come close to doing it justice. To access the island you drive across a long, purpose built causeway, with the salt flats rolling away on either side. We came across various tourists pottering round at the visitors’ centre, but predictably enough, as soon as we left to explore the rest of the island we were pretty much on our own. The Bridger Bay campground had arguably one of the best views of any I’ve ever stayed on, and provided 2 of the most relaxing days I’ve ever had; a feeling I very much cherish. There’s something rather magical about swinging in your hammock, reading a book in the sunshine, with wildlife and the gentle lapping of the lake as the only sounds.

So, back to the Salt Lake. For starters the temperature of the water was 28 degrees, not much like the sea in any way (and certainly not in the UK!) It was shallow for a long time so one has to wade out quite a distance to get above knee deep, but yes indeed, once you immerse yourself and take your feet off the bottom you do in fact float in any position you wish to try! It’s difficult to describe, but it’s one father weirdest feelings I’ve ever had. You just float! Imagine sitting in a pool on a lilo, happily floating around, but there’s no lilo. I feel like it is what astronauts must feel like. You can simply barrel roll round and round without even a hint of sinking. You can happily swim along using just your arms, legs just floating out behind you. We couldn’t get enough. Plus, if you scrub your skin whilst in the water, once you’re out and blasted clean with cold water, you feel like you’re skin’s been born again. People pay a lot of money for exfoliating skin treatments that make you feel like that!

I can’t recommend it enough, it’s one of the most unusual and most enjoyable experiences I’ve ever had. During our time on this island we’ve also had the opportunity to see close up; bison, antelopes, wild deer, eagles and wild hare. Hard to knock. Antelope Island will be tough to leave behind, but we’ll be back, I’m sure of it!

Wild Antelope on the island named after them
Wild Antelope on the island named after them
Wild bison, what cool animals!
A wild bison, what cool animals!
Not a bad camp spot, as they go
Not a bad camp spot, as they go. Salt Lake in the background
The Salt Lake itself, no-one around but us...
The Salt Lake itself, no-one around but us…

Friday thought #41 Incredible Utah

We hadn’t planned to come this far south on our road trip of the States. Time constraints and commitments in Missoula meant we had intended to go as far as Yellowstone National Park and then loop back up towards Montana. However, when we woke up in Driggs, in the Teton National Park, we were met with dreary, miserable grey rain. To our dismay we checked the weather forecast and discovered that the rain was set to stay over the Tetons and our pocket of Wyoming for the next week. What to do, what to do…?

After much deliberation and calendar checking we decided to head south, to Salt Lake City. We weren’t sure if it was a wise move, it was a long way off track and would add around 700 miles to our trip but considering fuel is practically free here (compared to Europe!) and Salt Lake is somewhere we’d always wanted to see, how bad a decision could it be??

And what a brilliant decision it turned out to be!

The sun has shone from the minute we arrived and yesterday we hiked up on of the biggest peaks in the area; Deseret Peak. Over 10,000 ft high and an 8 mile round trip, no mean feat in 33 degree heat! The hike itself is beautiful, and we were even lucky enough to spot a doe trotting along the meadow en route! At the summit you are treated to an unbelievable 360 panorama of the Salt Lake and the Salt flats (where the land speed record was set). In one direction is Utah and over the other mountain range lies Nevada. The scenery is simply stunning and the lake is so vast it’s very hard to believe you’re not looking at the sea.

More to come on the Salt Lake itself. What a diverse country this is, and we’ve only seen a tiny fraction. I think I could spend forever travelling round America. If only work, life, time and money didn’t get in the way…!

Here are some of the photos from the top.

View across the salt flats of Salt Lake
View across the salt flats of Salt Lake
Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City
Amazing Utah
Amazing Utah
It seemed fitting to drink a Utah beer at the top, overlooking the famous Great Salt Lake
It seemed fitting to drink a beer at the top, overlooking the famous Great Salt Lake!

Friday thought #40 Baseball in Montana!

I’m on holiday in the States at the minute with very little access to the internet, but I had to jump on and include one of the highlights of our road trip so far – a Baseball game! Being Brits we have no idea of the rules of baseball, let alone having ever seen a game live, so whilst in Montana it was a must to go and catch the Missoula Ospreys playing at home. We picked up the rules fairly quickly (with the help of some fans behind us!) and had a fantastic evening soaking up the atmosphere of a true American sport. What a great night. So far we’ve travelled from Alberta, Canada, through Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. This country is awesome! Much more to come!

Before the sun went down
Before the sun went down
Twilight baseball
Twilight baseball
So cool!
So cool!