Sunday, September 30, 2012


In-N-Out is a California institution.  It is home to the best burgers in the world!!  Everything is fresh.  Nothing is ever frozen.

It started in Baldwin Park in 1948.

In-N-Out is actually a privately-owned business.  The major burger chains like McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's Carl's Jr., have been trying to buy them out for years. 

Today, the company's headquarters are in Irvine and there are more than 200 restaurants in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and Texas.

 The "official" menu at In-N-Out is pretty basic...hamburger, cheeseburger, double-double (2 patties & 2 pieces of cheese), fries, drinks.  That's it.

But it's the "secret" menu that is so popular.  Well, it's not really Top Secret because most people know about the most popular secret items.  My favorite thing at In-N-Out is the double-double "animal style".

Here's the not-so-secret menu...

Double Meat = a double hamburger
3 x 3 = burger with 3 patties and 3 pieces of cheese
4 x 4 = burger with 4 patties and 4 pieces of cheese
Grilled Cheese = the same as a cheeseburger but without the meat
Veggie Burger = a sandwich without the meat or cheese
Protein Style = there is no bun.  Your burger is wrapped in leaf lettuce
Mustard Fried = patty is coated with mustard and then fried
Animal Style = your meat is fried with mustard, and the burger has pickles, grilled onions and extra spread (similar to 1,000 island dressing)
Flying Dutchman = 2 patties with 2 pieces of cheese melted between them; no bun, lettuce or tomatoes
Chopped Chilies = yellow chilies are added to the bottom of the burger
Animal Fries
Extra toast = the toasted bun is toasted a bit longer

Fries Light = the french fries are not cooked as long
Fries Well = the french fries are cooked longer so they are crispy
Cheese Fries = cheese is melted on the french fries
Animal Fries = cheese is melted on the fries, then covered with spread and grilled onions

Root Beer Float = half vanilla shake and half root beer
Black & White Shake -  half chocolate, half vanilla milkshake
Neapolitan Shake - combination chocolate, vanilla and strawberry shake
Tea-Aid = half iced tea, half lemonade
Lemon-Up = half lemonade, half Sprite or 7-up

Friday, September 28, 2012


Costco is the the 5th largest retailer in the USA and the 7th largest in the world.  It was founded in 1983 in Kirkland, Washington.

There are now Costco locations in the USA, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.

Costco sells products in bulk and a low prices.  The retail markup is never more than 15%.  You can definitely get some great deals at Costco but I could never get out of there without spending a minimum of $100.

The $1.50 hot dogs are so good.
The thing about Costco is that if you see something you want then you need to buy it then because if you want to come back for it later you will find that it has sold out.

You have to be a member to shop here.  An individual, one-year membership is $55.

One thing that I miss about living in Europe is not having Costco.  Of course, living in Czech Republic, buying in bulk really wouldn't work here.  It's not like most people have room for 20-roll packages of paper towels.

I've dropped some money in Costco while I've been back.  Lots of clothes, plus bulk purchases of staples such as deodorant, cold medicine, and razor blades.  And to my colleagues at work - Yes, I'm bringing back some jelly beans.

Here's a really interesting video I found out on YouTube about The Costco Craze.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Irvine, California

Irvine is a suburb in Orange County.  It's about 46 miles (74 km) from Los Angeles.  The city was incorporated on December 28, 1971.

Irvine is 66 miles² (170 km²) and has a population over 220,000.  It is the 3rd largest city in Orange County, as well as, the 16th largest in California and the 96th in the USA.

It's a great place to live and to raise a family.  Which is why my sister and her family live here. 

My sister wanted to know what I wanted to do while I was here.  Aside from some shopping, grabbing some In-N-Out and perhaps going to the beach and Disneyland - not much.  I don't need to do any real touristy things.  I've had a great time so far just hanging out with my family.

Helping Emme with her car wash business
It's been really great to be Uncle Chris with my niece and nephew.  It was fun giving everyone their presents from all of my Euro travels.

Watching Krtek on YouTube
I had no idea that my nephew would get so attached to Krteček.  I heard that one of the astronauts has a Czech mother-in-law and took a Krtek toy with him on the last flight of the Endeavor space shuttle.  Maybe Krtek will hit the U.S. market soon?      
After school skateboarding

Kai & Dad making a spice cake

Monday, September 24, 2012

Diamond Valley Lake, California

Diamond Valley Lake is 4 miles (6.4 km) southwest of Hemet.  It is a man-made drinking water reservoir.  Located between Los Angeles and San Diego it is one of the largest in Southern California.  Construction began on the dams in 1995.  Water started filling the lake in 1999 and the project was completed in 2003.  It is one of the newest reservoirs in California.

At its maximums, the lake is 4.5 miles (7.2 km) long and 2 miles (3 km) wide.  The maximum depth is 260 feet (79 meters).  The lake has 800,000 acre feet (990,000,000 m³) of water.  Not exactly sure how much water that is but it sounds like a lot.  The reservoir provides water during drought, peak summer and emergency needs.

The reservoir project cost $1.9 billion.  Construction of the three dams was the largest earthworks project in the USA.

No physical contact with the water is allowed so there is no swimming or water skiing permitted.  However, you can go boating or fishing.  My uncle recently purchased a pontoon boat and took us out for a day on the lake.

However, every boat must be inspected before being allowed on the water.  The boat must be clean, drained and dry.  The zero tolerance policy is in place in order to protect the lake from destruction by Quagga and Zebra mussels.

We had a wonderful time out on the lake.  And afterwards, Uncle Kevin fixed us the biggest steaks I've ever seen for dinner.   

They were Flintstones big.  In Czech Republic we eat a lot of pork.  While you can get beef, it is much more expensive than pork.  And steaks in ČR are not common except in restaurants which charge big time. 

Cruising on the lake and a great steak dinner.  What an awesome day!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hemet, California

Hemet is a small city in California.  It is 315 miles (507 km) from Prescott and about 80 miles (130 km) southeast of Downtown Los Angeles.  From Prescott it's about a 5½ hour drive.  My grandparents retired here back in the early 1980s and this was the first stop back in Cali in order to visit my uncle.

Hemet was founded in 1887 and incorporated in 1910.  It's a small city with +78,600 people.  It is basically a working-class retirement town.

The biggest claim to fame that Hemet has is "The Ramona Pageant".  It started in 1923 and is California's official outdoor play.  In fact it is one of the longest running outdoor plays in the USA.  Aside from the play, Hemet also now has the new Diamond Valley Lake.

For my Euro crew, everyone knows that Tesco is the UK's largest retailer.  Is is actually the world's 3rd largest retailer.  Well, despite the fact that the U.S. market is tough for UK business, Tesco opened its first "Fresh & Easy" in Hemet back in 2007.

Fresh & Easy is modeled after Tesco Express so it is meant to compete with convenience stores.  The stores are 75% smaller than the average American supermarket.  Today, you can find +185 of these stores in California, Arizona and Nevada.

My visit to Hemet was really nice because I finally got to meet Francis.  She was a very good friend to my grandmother.  After my grandmother passed away last year, I started sending her postcards to Francis.  She is just the sweetest person.  It's nice to finally be able to put a face to a name.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012


California, the Golden State, is on the west coast of the USA.  After Alaska and Texas it is the the 3rd largest state.  With ~37.7 million people it has the country's largest population.  Eight of the country's 50 largest cities are here.  The capital is Sacramento.

Originally it had been colonized by the Spanish as part of New Spain.  Later it was part of Mexico.  After the Mexican-American War, the territory was surrendered to the USA and California became the 31st state on September 9, 1850.

California's geography is quite diverse.  The state has beaches, deserts, valleys, forests and mountains.  Mount Whitney is the highest point in the continental U.S., and it is less than 90 miles (140 km) from Death Valley which is home to the lowest point in North America.  California is the only place in the world I've lived where you can go snow skiing in the morning, go hiking in the mountains and in the evening be at a bonfire on the beach or in the desert - all in the same day!!

However, it does sit along the Pacific Ring of Fire so California is subject to tsunamis, floods, droughts, wildfires, landslides and the Santa Ana winds.  Heck!  There are even a few volcanoes.  The state gets hit with roughly 37,000 earthquakes per year.  Most of these are fairly minor.  I grew up in California and only remember maybe 4 or 5 big ones.  The biggest I recall was the Northridge quake in 1994.  The 6.7 quake killed 57 people, injured more than 8,700 and cost around $20 billion in damage.

Golden Gate Bridge
Like its geography, the state's economy is pretty diverse as well.  Los Angeles is the capital of the entertainment industry and Silicon Valley leads the IT industry.  Agriculture is also important as at least half of the country's fresh fruit comes from California.  Other important sectors of the economy are tourism, aerospace, manufacturing and education.  The state is responsible for 13% of the USA's GDP.  If California were its own country then it would be the 8th largest economy in the world.

In the USA, I consider Atlanta to be home.  But I will always be from California.  Specifically, from Southern California.  Although there is just one state, it really ought to be two.  There is a huge rivalry between Northern California and Southern California.  While I love to visit San Francisco and the Monterey Bay is great, not to mention Napa, give me the weather and SoCal's beaches any day.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Prescott, Arizona

Prescott is about 100 miles (160 km) northwest of Phoenix, Arizona.  It has a population around 42,000.  Prescott is in the high desert, at about 5,500 feet (1,700 meters), so it enjoys much cooler weather than Phoenix.

The town was founded in 1864 in order to secure the area's mineral wealth for the Union forces during the Civil War.

From 1864 to 1867, and again from 1877 to 1889, Prescott was the capital city of the Arizona Territory.

Fort Whipple was originally a U.S. Cavalry base and was later the headquarters of the 1st U.S. Volunteer Cavalry known as Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders.  During WWI it was converted to a tuberculosis sanatorium.  In the 1930s the facility was transferred to the Veterans Administration and is a general medical and surgical hospital. 

In 2008, the American Planning Association recognized the Yavapai Courthouse Plaza as one of the first 10 "Great Public Places" in the USA.  The courthouse is surrounded by grass and more than 170 trees.  The layout is unique for a southwest town.  There is usually some kind of arts & crafts show or festival of some sort going on here.

In front of the courthouse is a memorial for "Bucky O'Neil" and the Rough Riders. 

Mom & Dad

Next to the courthouse is Whiskey Row which used to be a red-light district until 1956.  Who said that all Americans are prudes? 

There was the Great Fire in 1900 which destroyed almost every building on Whiskey Row.  Legend has it that the patrons of the various bars just walked across the street, drinks in hand, to the courthouse square and watched it all burn down.  The patrons of the Palace Hotel actually carried the back-bar across the street to safety.  It's huge and could not have been easy to move.

The town didn't have enough water to put out the fire so it lasted for four hours.  Afterwards, everything was rebuilt with brick and stone instead of just wood.  Fortunately, no one died or was even badly burned in the fire.
Lake Watson

The views here are great.  Most people just don't expect to see pine trees out in the desert.

Sunday, September 16, 2012


Arizona is in the southwest part of the USA.  Its borders make it the 6th largest state in the union.  Just a little smaller than Italy.  With 6.48 million people it has the country's 16th largest population.  It is also the most populated landlocked state.

Phoenix is the capital and largest city.  The Phoenix metro area has 4.2 million people.  In the winter, the population increases as many senior citizens, called "snowbirds", arrive from the northeast, and Canada, to enjoy the mild winters.

Arizona just celebrated its centennial.  It became our 48th state on February 14, 1912.  The last of the continental states.  Prior to the Mexican-American War it had been a part of Mexico.

Arizona is hot!!  The desert can be absolutely beautiful.  Especially at sunset, but still hot.  In July, it can get to 106 ºF (41 ºC).  Sometimes even hotter.  The winters aren't so bad, normally around 50 ºF (10 ºC).  Well except in the high desert where they get snow and 17 ºF (-8 ºC) is not unheard of.  You've got to love cactus and snow.

During WWII, many Japanese-Americans were put in internment camps.  Fearing a Japanese invasion of the west coast, Americans citizens of Japanese ancestry were moved to these camps.  What's interesting is that Japanese-Americans in Hawaii were never put in camps.  And no German-Americans or Italian-Americans were ever put in to camps.  Not a real proud moment in American history.

Arizona is home to several Indian reservations.  over 85,000 people speak Navajo and more than 10,000 speak Apache.

The most famous tourist attraction in the state is the Grand Canyon.  I've never seen it and I won't have time this trip.  However, next time, for sure.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

One week in Atlanta

I can't believe that I've already been back in Atlanta for a week.  Or that my trip to the USA is already 1/3rd over.  Damn!  Time is flying by.  It feels like I just got here.  I've had a great time here with Steven and Michael.  They run one heck of an inn!!

I didn't get to see everyone in Atlanta I wanted to this time so I guess I'll have to come back a little more often than once every three years.  Now it's time to get all packed up for my flight to Arizona.

Me & Sasha

I'm going to spend a few days with my parents and then we will drive on to California.  Skype is great and all but it will be nice to see and talk to my family in person.

Me & Steven's Mom
Michael & Steven
My big challenge here is my luggage.  Flying between Europe and the USA (in business class) allowed me to check in 2 suitcases.  Both of which could be 32 Kg (70 lbs).  However, now I'm flying Southwest Airlines from Georgia to Arizona and my two bags can only be 23 Kg (50 lbs) each.  I did shed some weight by giving out some of the gifts I had brought.  But I also did a bit of clothes shopping.  Time to start moving things about so that I don't get stuck with any excess baggage fees.  Once I unload all of the gifts I have in Arizona and California my suitcases will have lots of room for me to fill up back to the 32 Kg mark.  I foresee lots more clothes shopping.