Today I’m gonna document my best experience ever which is my recent Business & Pleasure trip to the USA!.
First of all, I was really looking to visit and explore the USA, very enthusiastic to make it, but on the other hand I had some concerns such as the time difference, first entry to the USA, long flight to get there, safety concerns, driving and last but not least my first name issue!.
My journey started on Feb 22th, 2014 by having a 12-hour flight on Delta airlines from Tel Aviv to New York City, it was really exhausting, but arrived and landed in John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK) peacefully at the end of the day, at the first point of entry I was preparing a lot of supporting documents to be presented to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers, but in fact they didn’t ask to see anything just asked a couple of general questions nicely (purpose and duration of visit, type and location of the course..) and stamped my passport!.
North Carolina (Raleigh, Durham and Morrisville):
Now I’m in the USA finally! and my immediate task is to catch my next flight to Raleigh/Durham Airport (RDU)-North Carolina as I’m gonna attend a CCIE Routing & Switching Bootcamp in Research Triangle Park (RTP) by INE training provider.
I stayed in Days Inn hotel (Morrisville) , was close to the course place, clean, comfortable and the staff were very helpful, I ordered many things from Amazon to my hotel address using the Prime service(free trial) and got the following order within two days only:
I attended the two-week course, it was very informative and intensive (10-12 hours a day!), covered a lot of topics related to Routing & Switching and focused on many corner cases, the instructor (Mr. David Smith, CCIE#19125) is professional, expert, has a deep understanding of technologies that enables him to solve and figure out any related problem, not to mention his great sense of humor and cool stories which I enjoyed much!, here I’d like to take the opportunity to thank him and INE company for the great efforts!.
The class was full of students; about 27 Americans + one Mexican + one Norwegian + me!, well at first I felt alienated for sometime as I’m the only one who’s coming from Middle East (and for the 1st time in the US), but it was OK later and the environment was comfortable & I enjoyed the company of my colleagues.
During free time, I was hanging out in the evening with some friends who are working or studying in the area, visiting malls and doing some shopping, knowing that this area has no attractions or things to do for tourists!.
- Virginia & Washington D.C:
In the first weekend I was very sick; nevertheless I reserved one night in Virginia (cheaper and very close to the U.S capital) , hired a car and drove to Washington D.C which is 500 KM away!, I know it’s a bit risky to make it alone but frankly I wouldn’t waste the weekend working or relaxing at my hotel! and as usual I used Google maps on my phone to get there and come back next day with no problems.
D.C is a different story! it’s very elegant, prestigious and full of history, I stopped by the Capitol hill, White House, National Mall Park, Library of Congress and other landmarks, yeah it was very cold but enjoyed without doubt, one more thing; I liked Squirrels which can be noticed everywhere.
- Massachusetts (Boston):
After completing the class, I traveled to Boston to meet my dear friend (Ahmad Altaani) who’s working there, I stayed with him 3 days (thanks man for the great Mansaf and the hospitality!), recalled the university memories and enjoyed my time very much!, during these days we visited many places such as: the downtown, Harvard University , Prudential tower.
- New York & New Jersey (Niagara Falls, New York City, Jersey City):
Now it’s time to leave to the next station, I packed and flew to Buffalo just to visit Niagara Falls and it was worth it!, when I saw them I couldn’t hold my tear! wait I know this is weird, but I don’t know; I was amazed and it was touching for me to watch them for the first time ‘in the flesh”!, I wandered around the falls for a long time and took many pictures before leaving back to my hotel.
People say that the Canadian side is much nicer, well, I’d have loved to visit and yes I was very close, but I needed VISA to get there!, anyway the US side was fascinating for me.
I spent one night as planned, next day I drove to Buffalo Niagara Airport (BUF) to catch my flight to New York City, I checked my bag and everything went fine, I was excited at the gate, waiting to board the plane and thinking of my next adventure until we got that awkward announcement that the flight has been cancelled (as most of others) due to severe weather conditions!, I was like: hell no! I’m not staying here anymore!, you know I was interested to see the falls and had nothing else to do, so I’m done! , on that time I really felt that I’m stranded in the middle of nowhere: heavy snow storm, disruption of flights and buses, being in the far north of America!.
Sigh, alternatively I took a Taxi to Amtrak Deview station to travel to New York City by train, it should have been 9-hour trip (which is horrible) but took 13 hours in fact, frankly the train was comfortable (Food, Power sockets, good seats..etc) but the trip was quite long and time-wasting, so after this delay I arrived Penn station (NYC) @2:00 AM, then arrived my hotel in Jamaica @3:30 after walking, taking many buses and subways! it was one of the most exhausting days I’ve ever had, not to mention my “little” fear when walked alone in the middle of New York @2:00 AM for the 1st time.
NYC was my last station, so I enjoyed every bit of it, I’ve been to Times Square and wandered Manhattan area for a long time, visited New Jersey city and many other close places, and I was always trying to forget the ugly truth that I’m leaving in few days!.
Sadly enough, my trip came to its end On March 15th, I packed my luggage and headed to JFK airport by the light train and flew back home, during the 12-hour flight -which was over the Atlantic ocean!- I was a bit concerned because of the Malaysian airline plane tragedy (MH370) which went missing and vanished recently! and its story was all over the news (hope this mystery would be solved peacefully by the time you are reading this), thankfully we landed safely and everything was just fine, but after all of this I regret one thing: the strawberries box that I bought from JFK Airport and forgot under the seat in front of me in the plane, and never tasted it!.
Before wrapping up I’d like to mention some remarks quickly:
- The united states is very diverse, you find people from all origins and races which leads to more general tolerance.
- The Constitution and law are very strong, you feel this!.
- Generally speaking, US people are very friendly, helpful and peaceful, they were very nice to me, If you need any kind of help you always find a lot of people around.
- It’s safe! at least the places that I’ve been to, no problems, no crimes, no clashes and fighting (like movies!).
- You can’t move without GPS!, personally I relied on my phone + pre-paid SIM (from SimpleMobile) to be always connected.
- I found it easy to drive there (considering the previous point), and no worries if you have a long trip; you’d find restaurants, rest rooms, Gas stations and everything you need along your way.
- You can’t live without a credit card.
- I used to use my phone for e-ticketing (Airports, trains, hotels and cars) which is more convenient for me, but the funny thing that many officers made fun of my phone due to its large size! (Galaxy Note II), for instance; one of them told me: “hand me your 32-inch TV to check it out man haha” !.
- I highly recommend to visit the states in a good weather conditions, in winter it is very cold! -unless you are visiting places such as Florida- and your plans may be affected by cancelling flights and tours.
- Beware of the tipping habit, whenever you pay your bill in most restaurants you find a blank to fill the tip value!, it’s not mandatory but every one does this.
- No need to hire a car in cities like New York and Boston as you can reach anywhere by Metro.
- If you wanna visit the states, apply for your VISA as much early as possible as it might take months to get issued!.
- If your visit is confirmed, book your itineraries (accommodation, Tickets and cars..) at least 45 days in advance to get better prices, personally I used Expedia for most reservations.
- Regarding my given name -which I was concerned about- I realized that educated people wouldn’t prejudge because of such thing, moreover no one could discriminate or annoy me because it’s totally prohibited by law!, so I had no problems in this regard, however sometimes it was more comfortable for me to go with SAM which makes sense as many visitors (from Asia, Middle east..etc) get a nickname for their real names, by the way if you are unfamiliar with “Osama”, it’s a very popular name in Arab/Islamic countries and basically its one of lion names.
Finally, It was really my best trip ever which I’d love to make again and again, and as a Muslim Arab I’d like to say something: we should do our best to bridge the GAP with the USA!, yes we have differences and each one of us has his own culture, traditions and lifestyle BUT we share a lot of things and have many common interests, USA has much to offer as well as us, we should isolate extremists on all sides, rebuild the bonds of trust and and work together for the public good!.
Osama Tamimi – Jerusalem