On top of the world in Santa Fe

America


I felt on top of the world in Santa Fe. Literally. As in, we were so high up I struggled to get enough oxygen into my body and ended up with a cracking headache and nosebleeds. I didn’t mind though to be honest, and it didn’t take long to get used to the feeling and start enjoying the lighter mountain air. 

New Mexico is great and it almost felt like we were actually in Mexico. Everything is sunny and colourful. I loved it. 

We wandered around the old part of the city and pottered through the street stalls of Native American goods. 

Dinner was at an authentic Mexican restaurant and after half a litre of margarita, it was safe to assume I had overcome my mountain sickness. 

Caving in The Carlsbad Caverns 

America

Walking the mile into the Carlsbad Cavern is harder than it seems. Walking back was even tougher, but it was one of the trip highlights so far. 

Ordinarily you could take a lift down but it was out of order. I felt the experience was more authentic using the natural entrance anyway. 

The caverns are one of those projects nature has been working on for millions of years and the stalactites form some of the worlds most impressive structures. 

They are more than a kilometre underground and a kind of boardwalk has been constructed around the main chamber to keep people off the formations but make it easy to see them.

I powered ahead during the 6 kilometre walk just because I was enjoying the workout, but I did stop and enjoy the scenery and make jokes about the many formations that resembled body parts.

We spent just one night in Carlsbad and for dinner, I had my first ihop pancake experience. Apparently, America knows how to pancake. 

Loving the lone star state

America

Birthday partying in Austin

Ya’ll would have plenty of Texas stereotypes in your heads no doubt, but Texas is not what I expected at all. 

Our first stop was Houston. There is not a lot here, and we stayed in a hostel. It was essentially a pit stop en route to Austin. I did however manage to have a swim in the pool which was amazing. First swim of the trip.

It was a miserable day on the first day in Austin which meant w missed out on th natural springs for more swimming. Determined not to be deterred from a fun day, and to celebrate a new friend’s birthday, we did what any respectable adults would do. Bowling and pizza followed by laser tag. 

Laser tag got super competitive and despite being told not to run, crawl or make physical contact with people, I spent 20 minutes breaking each of the rules. I got super dirty when my laser stopped working and despite attempts to fix it, ended up coming last and sulking my way through the rest of the day. 

It’s hard  sullky for long though, and when the hostel announced free happy hour wine and cheese, I went back to loving life.

Austin is an awesomely weird place, and for a conservative state, it has quite the opposite feel. It has a large university student population and is full of young people. I managed to squeeze in a morning walk around the lake and was impressed at the mass of people running and enjoying the scenery. I guess it’s not what I expected to see in Texas, but I loved it. 

Texts at one stage was actually it’s own country. And at another point, Austin we considered as a spot for the nation’s capital. Consequently, they spent seven years building a fancy building that resembles the Capitol building in Washington DC.

I was lucky enough to get a tour through the impressive building, which houses the Texan senate. It was obvious from our guide, that they are very proud of this place. While I definitely do not like all the Texan laws, I do like Austin and I do love this building. 

From inside the capitol building.

A bit of craziness in New Orleans

America, Uncategorized

Alligator hunting was not the fearsome experience I had hoped for, but still loads of fun.

Like many travellers before me, I had big expectations of New Orleans. I heard so much about how quirky and fun it was to hang out there and I imagined myself decked in beads wandering the colour filled streets in the evening and alligator hunting through the day.
As we pulled up out the front of our properly lush hotel, a delightful man appeared by our group. We didn’t realise what was happening until he tried to follow us into the lifts from the hotel lobby. 
I think he was on something illegal but a few of us notified staff and hung around waiting for someone to deal with the situation. In true Aussie style, we cracked a beer and just hoped he had left.
Our first night out involved trying authentic Cajun food. Due to my seafood allergy I had to settle for chicken gumbo. Frankly I was disappointed.

 Firstly, my landlord made me a much better gumbo a few days before I left Australia. Secondly, they didn’t offer us dessert despite the fact pecan pie was clearly on the menu.
I mean can you believe the nerve? I got the impression we were considered “just tourists” so it didn’t really matter if we enjoyed the food or not.
Out on bourbon street, it was far less seedy at night. Well, either that or it was just too dark to see. The music wasn’t as good as Memphis and I felt the vibe was lacking (possibly because, as I later found out, it was a Tuesday). 
In defence of New Orleans however, both the hurricane and the hand grenade were delicious cocktails and most of the group couldn’t feel their faces by the time we got back to the hotel. 
Sensibly, I managed to palm off most of my hand grenade to others in the group.

Delicious cocktails made for a fun night and a rough morning.


We did also take a tour of a swamp to spot snakes, turtles and alligators. 

Again, I really enjoyed this but I have done something similar in the Daintree rainforest at home and seen crocodiles that could happily eat a human in one gulp. I also recently had a funnel web spider infestation in my house and just before I left for the trip, my brothers best mate was attacked by a shark.
So when I saw a non-venomous tree snake sleeping on a branch I wasn’t overly impressed and I definitely wasn’t concerned despite the gasps of horror from the other Americans on the boat with us.

The scariest thing was having an ice addict chase our car down the road trying to get in and wading bare foot through knee deep floods to get back to the hotel entrance. 
It poured with rain throughout the second afternoon and we stayed put in the hotel for a nap before venturing out for a wander to get coffee and beignets.
Did the sensible thing for dinner and shared a cheese platter with some red wine in a slightly off the the beaten track pub. Much more pleasant.
Night time was spent on a ghost and voodoo tour of the French quarter. Our guide was definitely a bit of a nut bag but she was great, and super knowledgeable on the history of the city. Surprise surprise, I didn’t see, hear, feel or get photos of any ghosts, but I did learn a lot about New Orleans and its debauchery. I fell a little bit more in love with it after that. With more time I would have made the trip to Frenchmens street for some proper music. I think the city was starting to grow on me and perhaps if I’d done this it would have made the New Orleans experience a little more enjoyable. Luckily the company was good and we still had fine despite the crazies and rain.

 

The best kind of blues in Memphis

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The original Sun Studios microphone which Elvis, BB King and Johny cash have all brushed their lips over.

Walking through sun studios is an experience I would recommend to anyone with even a modicum of interest in blues and country styles of music. 

It is where so many greats started their music journey.

Elvis Presley was one of the earlier artists to record and they hated him. The secretary liked him and kept pushing for him to be considered for something more, however it took more than a year for this to happen. 

It made me feel so much better that someone like Elvis started small. There is hope for me yet! 
Aside from the inspiring stories of success, it was special to stand in the recording room and imagine the nights of music that must have taken place there. 

We also made a stop at Graceland, the home of Elvis. I loved the jungle room with its shag carpet ceilings. 

 

Graceland

 
His is both an inspirational and tragic story. In some ways, I like that we will never see him as an old man. He is preserved forever in youth. He still makes hearts bleed after all this time and while I wish everyone a long life, since he didn’t get this, I’ll just keep swooning. 
Nights in Memphis are like nowhere else. Both nights we spent out on Beale Street, we found a fantastic blues band to sit and listen to. The people here are so talented and yet they play for free every night, living off tips. 
If you ever get the chance, check out Cowboy Neal the real deal guitarist. He entertained us on Tuesday night for over an hour with his next level guitar skills. I just sat at a bar, drinking cheap American beer, tapping my cowgirl boots to original songs that I had never heard in my life but we’re so easy to listen to I could have stayed forever. 

Memphis reminded me of Wollongong. Grungy, a little dodgy (there were two drive by shootings while we were there) but so much character. 

Take me back anytime. 

Boot scootin’ in Nashville

America, Music, travel


We pulled up in Nashville and not for the first time in my life, I was seduced by a pair of shoes. 

It is quintessential country everything, everywhere you look in Nashville including people’s footwear. I know immediately I needed to invest in a pair of these boots and so the search began for the perfect match. 

In a turn of events that is unprecedented for me, the first shop I walked into, I saw the ones. Perfect fit, perfect style and perfect for every night out between now and Los Angeles. 

I put those new shoes on and suddenly everything was right and off to the country music hall of fame I strolled. 

The Country Music Hall of Fame is a shrine to some of the greatest musicians to grace the stages. Elvis, Chet Atkins, Keith Urban and even Taylor Swift. 

Country music really is the dreams of working people.

Later we went to a rooftop bar for dinner and drinks. Night times in Nashville are overflowing with amazing tunes on every strip and street corner. 

We had to make the most of the country vibe as we only had one night here. 

I’m a much better dancer in cowboy boots.

“Freedom is not free”

America, Uncategorized

After a day wandering through Washington DC, it became unequivocally clear that there was plenty of truth in the quote used at the Korean War memorial, “freedom is not free”.

The capital is an incredible place. Clean, grand buildings and an auora of professionalism and sophistication at every compass point.

A lot of it however, has been made possible by extreme sacrifices. This applies to every aspect of American life. 

We wandered through the monuments and I particularly enjoyed the Lincoln memorial. The reflection pool is brilliant, though given the ovcat day there was little reflection from it. 
  

Once the monuments had been ticked off, we moved onwards to the museums. I split from the group to go to the newseum. It was the best museum I’ve ever been in. 

Partly because it was specifically interesting to me as a journalist to see the history of media and how it has developed over time, and the way things are represented in the media now.

It was eye opening in so many ways but especially how many are willing to die for their story. To get the truth into the world. 

Journalists during 9/11 were among the only people in New York not fleeing the city. Instead they were running towards danger. 

Overseas, journalists congrats the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Iran are being killed for no valid reason. Some have been taken hostage for two years before being beheaded by Isis. 

Others wrote something a government didn’t like and were killed for it. 

It really put Australian media into perspective. 

these are the faces of journalists who have e been killed on the job. There are hundreds, and space to add more.

  

Unfortunately the capitol is being done up so there is scaffolding all the way around the dome.

 

It was definitely sunny in Philadelphia 

America, travel

Our trek across the USA has begun and our first stop today was Philadelphia. Home of the Liberty Bell, which symbolised the beginning of democracy in America. 

While politically an exciting moment, for a lot of people it was a symbol of slavery and lost identities.  

It is easy to forget a bloodied past when the present is so prosperous. Not to mention the women’s Liberty Bell, which is said to have symbolised a completion of democracy when women wee finally included in voting and political life. 

It would have been amazing to spend more time wandering through the museum here but we only had limited time to push on to Washington.

Of course, the other highlight of Philadelphia is the rocky steps where naturally I created a movie star moment with the rocky theme song spinning round my head. 

Rocky and I are both winners here.

For lunch we stopped at this dodgy looking diner that apparently has the best Philly cheese steaks in the country. Kristy and I shared an enormous steak sandwich and look, it was pretty good. 

Washington was our final stop this evening but all I have to report so far is that the beer was average. 

The Liberty Bell from the side not cracked. The Ameicans actually cracked it before installation was even complete.

As we drove out of New York, I definitely looked back

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Here I sat fror an entire morning, devouring the New York Times from cover to cover. #lifegoals

There was something we needed to do before we left New York. Visit the original Magnolia Bakery in the West Village. Up to 69th we trekked in search of the ultimate American baked goods. 

After spending 10 minutes feeling overwhelmed by cake, I selected a lemon slice to go, took it to Central Park and read the New York Times from cover to cover. This took me until lunchtime. It was a perfect New York moment and a fabulous way to finish the week. 

Actually the New York Times is such a great paper. It is so internationally focussed and the articles are long enough to go into depth about big picture issues. This is the kind of content I miss living in a small town sometimes. People don’t care so much about Chinese scandals and my articles are never long enough to go into an in depth analysis. Even if they were, our stats say people hardly ever read past the first few lines of our stories. On a sunny patch of grass in Central Park, I gave writers the courtesy of reading their work in full and took the time to care about things happening in the world that were in no way related to me or anything I do. 

We blundered our way to New Jersey later in the afternoon to start the next leg of our trip. Luckily our driver took pity on us because a it turns out, the Hilton airport hotel is not within walking distance from the airport at all. 

It is a bloody nice hotel though. Luxurious enough I could probably holiday here without leaving the room. I dare say it will be the last of the luxuries for a while. We even had dinner at the restaurant and didn’t share a meal… 

Tomorrow we will make our way to Washington DC, and so begins our trek to the other side of America. 

Everyday I’m hustlin’ and I’ve had enough

America, travel

It was a revolution today. See, the thing I miss most about home whenever I travel, is my weekend coffees. On Saturdays and Sunday’s I walk down to my favourite coffee shop, usually with mum and dad if I’m in Kiama, and we sip coffee and talk about our weeks. 

We order a croissant with jam and if a motorbike goes past too loudly we grumble about it. Here, the coffee is terrible and to get one you need to fight the rest of New York in Starbucks for a coffee that tastes remotely like coffee should.

Feeling fed up with the sheer volume of other bodies in close proximity to mine, and remembering the sanctuary of Brooklyn, it was at my request we went back there.  Mostly just for a coffee.  

We sat on a sidewalk and had iced lattes and a piece of cake. The coffee was still bad, but I could hear what Kristy was saying and no one hustled me. I do not enjoy being hustled. 

It was the kind of morning I would have if I lived there. Less tourists, more familiarity.

 

Over the bridge and far away from the crowds of Manhattan.

 
Weary of walking, we took the subway back to Wall Street, posed for a photo holding the Bull’s balls, then walked uptown a little for a last chinatown lunch. We figured as we head south, the opportunity for light and healthy food may be limited so we took advantage of the vegetable options, though it fell short of yesterday’s deliciousness. 

  
Heading uptown for the afternoon, we stopped by the Cooper Hewitt Museum. If you are ever in New York, please come to this place. It is all interactive and in this exhibition you can design stuff by breaking everything down into its most basic elemental form. I designed a wallpaper and a bunch cool furniture. Disney Pixar uses the same concept and they have a display that walks people through the construction of their characters. 

Simplistic creativity is not the impossibility people think it is!

For dinner we finally did the New York slice. Predictably, it tasted like pizza.