After back-to-back trips to New York City and Phoenix, I’ve managed to find my way back to school just in time to get another column cranked out for Marion County.

I’ve done my share of traveling in my life, but perhaps the best trips I’ve ever taken are those that I just got back from.

I was able to get an early start to my spring break by flying to New York City with eight of my fellow journalism students from Pratt to attend the 2005 College Media Advisers Spring Conference. Though I had never been to New York, I had seen pictures in movies, but even the movies don’t do justice to the Big Apple.

Our trip got interesting right away. We found out through friendly conversation that the gentleman driving our shuttle van from the airport was formerly a large-animal veterinarian in Colombia.

The conversation got interesting when our adviser told the driver she had graduated from Kansas State University with a degree in agriculture. Before we knew it, we were driving through the streets of Manhattan listening to a discussion of different animal breeding procedures.

I must admit, however, that the shuttle driver was very friendly. He gave us some good suggestions, including buying tickets for that week’s $37 million PowerBall jackpot. Apparently he wanted us to have a little spending money for the trip.

During our five-night stay in New York, our group stayed at the Big Apple Hostel. The four males from Pratt shared a room with a gentleman from Germany. We were all a little intimidated when our German friend began reading a book by Joseph Stalin.

While the accommodations weren’t necessarily great, our location (45th Street just a block off of Times Square) couldn’t be beat. We were easily within walking distance of Central Park, the Empire State Building, and all of the Times Square attractions. We also had a Starbucks coffee shop and a handful of delis in our block, so hunger was never an issue.

To this day I am trying to figure out why New York City is such a tourist attraction. I thought there were way too many people and too many taxi cabs. It’s true I’m not one to like crowds much, but everybody from Pratt agreed that the Big Apple was entirely too crowded.

Less than 24 hours after I arrived in Wichita, I headed back to Mid-Continent Airport with my family for a trip to Phoenix, Ariz.

I had never been to Arizona, but Phoenix was also a place I had wanted to visit. After an NYC trip packed with hours upon hours of convention sessions and miles of walking in cold weather, I was happy to be in the warm, sunny Arizona air.

During our stay in Phoenix, I was able to take in two major league spring training baseball games. It was good to see there are still places in the United States where you can attend a professional baseball game for reasonable prices, both in terms of tickets and in terms of food.

At both games my brother and I attended, people started leaving after the seventh-inning stretch, but in my opinion, that’s where the best baseball was. Most of the teams had pulled their big-name players by the fifth inning, but when a bunch of young guns are trying to make a statement, it makes for some good baseball.

Beyond the baseball, I was also impressed by the food in Phoenix. Anybody who knows me knows that I love a good meal. Who doesn’t? I’m convinced that some of the world’s best Mexican food can be found in Phoenix.

I’m no travel agent, but if you find yourself searching for a spring break vacation destination, I would highly suggest Phoenix. True, it’s a large city, but it’s set up in a way that almost makes it feel smaller than Wichita. If you haven’t been there, I’d suggest going.

I ended my spring break with another great meal at our family’s Easter gathering just in time to go back to a life dependent upon cafeteria food at PCC.

I’ve got to say that this year’s spring break was about as good as it could be. After experiencing the biggest city in the United States, I have a completely new respect for small-town America.

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