The Adventure Ends – Washington, D.C.

The end of a three month journey.

Song Recommendation – Home – Dotan

I set a goal for myself when I started this trip, that goal was to write a blog post about every place that I visited. A bit pointless, but it gave me incentive to take photos, to see more, and it allowed me to low key make the twelve people who read this a little bit jealous. I joke, the thirteen ;D.
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When I first planned this trip, I did so with a Lonely Planet in one hand, and my laptop in the other. I mostly flew between locations, and Expedia was a great way of finding the cheapest flights between cities. The End product was a double sided piece of paper that looked something like this:
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The scribbles at the bottom are from the time I accidentally missed Washington, D.C. from my plans, but don’t worry, I made it there in the end.

I only had one full day in Washington, which I used to visit/see the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural history, the White House, the Washington Monument, and the Lincoln Memorial.
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Above – The  Smithsonian National Museum of Natural history. Below – The White House.
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Above – The Washington Monument. Below – Lincoln Memorial.
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I enjoyed my short time in D.C., but I still have plenty to see if I ever go back.

Another thing I decided to do was buy a magnet from every state that I visited.
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The criteria for each magnet was: that it had to have the state name printed clearly on it (exception was the stateless Washington, D.C.), and it had to be somewhere where I stayed, and actually explored.

I technically visited a few other states: Utah, Georgia, Wyoming, and Virginia.

I compiled a few lists of some of my favourite places.

Top Five Cities (revised):
1) New York City, NY
2) New Orleans, LA
3) Nashville, TN
4) San Antonio, TX
5) San Diego, CA

Top Three Parks:
1) Yosemite National Park
2) Yellowstone National Park
3) Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Top Three Theme Parks:
1) Universal Resort Orlando
2) Disneyland California (Cars Land at California Adventure deserves a special mention)
3) Universal Hollywood

Three months went super fast.

After my full day of exploring D.C., it was over, and it was time to head back to little old New Zealand.

I flew from D.C. to Houston, and then back to Auckland. It was odd in the gate lounge hearing so many Kiwi accents.

Bizarrely, while waiting at the gate I ran into a friend from work, Abby, who happened to be in the U.S.A. and was heading back to New Zealand on the same flight.

Great catching up with you Abby!

This post marks my (likely much anticipated) exit from the blogging community.

I’m glad I took time out to have my “Eat, Pray, Love” moment ;D, and I would encourage everyone to do the same.

Thanks for joining me.

Adios,

Ben.

Gulf Shores – Hangout 2018

Great bands, great festival.

Song Recommendation – We Used to Vacation – Cold War Kids.

The Killers, Foster the People, Bleachers and my all time favourite band, the Cold War Kids.

Hangout 2018 had a really good line-up, and so I was inspired to make a detour to Gulf Shores, Alabama. The festival was literally on the beach, and it was awesome.
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I flew into Pensacola, Florida, and then made the journey across the state line, in a shuttle, to Alabama.

It was a bit weird being at a music festival alone, although everyone was pretty friendly, and it didn’t stop me from rocking out to my favourite bands.

While I was at the festival I got an email from a lady who worked for the event, who wanted me to do a short interview because I was all the way from New Zealand. I am ashamed to say that I ghosted her (new context, same meaning).
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Above – Cold War Kids. Below – The Killers.
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Above – Bleachers. Below – Foster the People.
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I had a great few days. I found a tent that sold amazing Korean noodles, which I had at least five times during the three day event, and I bought some Cold War Kids Merch (a t-shirt) that I had been wanting to get for over ten years. . .

After three days of great music it was time to depart the beautiful beaches of the Gulf Shores.

The last stop in my trip was the U.S capital, Washington, D.C.

 

Orlando – Theme parks

A brief visit to Orlando, theme park central.

Song Recommendation – Hedwig’s Theme – Harry Potter

If you grew up with Harry Potter, and you are a true fan, you would understand my need to visit Orlando.
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Orlando is the location of the Universal Orlando Resort, home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

You might be confused, as there is also a Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Hollywood (California). The main difference is that Orlando has both a Hogsmede, and also a Diagon Alley, whereas California has only a Hogsmede. Hogsmede at both the parks is relatively the same.
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The Universal Orlando Resort is two parks, with Hogsmede in one, and Diagon Alley in the other. You can go between the parks in a working Hogwarts Express (only in Orlando), as long as you have a park-to-park ticket.

I ended up buying a one day park-to-park ticket, and spent a full day visiting the Universal parks (it was plenty of time to see both parks).

The next two days I spent at Walt Disney World. Walt Disney World consists of four parks.

I decided on Disney’s Animal Kingdom for the first day, given they had the relatively new area of Pandora (based on James Cameron’s Avatar). Animal Kingdom is a mix between a theme park and a zoo, and is definitely worth the visit. They even have a “Safari”, where you head off in a jeep to see animals in a semi-caged environment.
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Pandora was a bit overrated, with long wait times for its rides, and a slightly disappointing smaller-than-expected size.
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20180515_205133The following day I went to a park called Epcot, the “adult” park (just less rides and more shops), which has the World Showcase area, and Future World. Basically the park is split into different sections which are supposed to reflect different parts of the world, with sections from Canada, France, China, Italy, Germany, Japan, Mexico, the U.S.A, the UK, Morocco, and Norway.

Epcot and Animal Kingdom feel a lot different to Disneyland and California Adventure (the California parks). I suspect Magic Kingdom (another of the four Orlando parks) is more akin to Disneyland, which is exactly why I missed it in Orlando, although I think everyone should visit Disneyland or Magic Kingdom at least once for the classic “Disney” experience.
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Of all the theme parks I visited on my trip, number one would have to go to the Universal Resort in Orlando. Universal is top-notch, with better rides, better shops, less foot traffic and much shorter wait times than the Disney parks.
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Don’t worry, I’m almost done. Next I headed to Gulf Shores for the Hangout 2018 Music Festival.
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Miami – Outdoor movies & swing dancing

A land of beaches, parties, and endless summer.

Song Recommendation – The Beach Boys – Kokomo

Sorry to spoil the illusion, but I’ve already made it back to New Zealand. I got a little behind with this thing, and am just getting time to catch up on it now.
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Miami is great. A land of beaches, parties, and endless summer.

One of the first tourist activities I did in Miami was to go on a boat tour. The tour showed off some of the expensive celebrity properties, and also gave us great views of the city.
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I found a Couchsurfing event watching an outdoor movie called “Victor, Victoria” starring Julie Andrews. It was hilarious. It’s about a woman pretending to be a man impersonating a woman, definitely worth the watch.

The following day I visited Miami beach, where I listened to Kokomo while I walked down the white sand strip. It was a bit less peaceful than the beaches in New Zealand, with every couple of meters being crowded by a bunch of loungers, and umbrellas.

I forgot to take a photo here so you’re just going to have to use your imagination.

Someone at the Couchsurfing meet-up told us about a French music/swing dance event happening the next night. I went along, and attempted (and failed) to learn how to swing dance (no video attached).

My Airbnb host also ran a few tours. I went along to his Wynwood Walls tour. There we visited a few breweries, saw a lot of the great street art which decorates the area, and then later grabbed some of the fantastic food at the 1-800LUCKY Asian food hall.
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I also spent a day visiting the Everglades, which were stunning.
DSC_0011DSC_0952We even managed to spot a gator.DSC_0998My time in Florida was not over. After a few days of Miami I headed over to Orlando, the home of theme parks.

New Orleans

Seediness, art, culture, and music.

Song Recommendation – Magic Dance – David Bowie

The first thing you notice about New Orleans is the sweltering humidity, the kind where a thick layer of sweat forms almost as soon as you step outside.

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The dates I chose for my trip to New Orleans were made without any particular forethought. In an act of serendipity, it turned out that the famous Jazzfest was happening at the same time as my visit.

New Orleans is well known for its jazz scene, particularly in an area known as the French quarter.

It’s hard not to fall in love with the French quarter, it is the perfect blend of seediness, art, culture, and music. It smelt a little like garbage, but it had an unparalleled uniqueness that I had not seen in the United States.

One of those “must dos” in New Orleans is trying a beignet (pronounced Ben-yay) from a place called Cafe Du Monde. A beignet is basically a fried piece of dough that is buried in a thick layer of icing (powdered) sugar. They are strangely delicious, and I couldn’t help getting them more than once.

I spent a long time wandering around the French Quarter, on multiple days, taking in the strange artwork, the jazz bars, street performers, and the many interesting shops.

I used one of my favourite travel apps, TripAdvisor, to find a New Orleans French Quarter food tour. This forced me to try a range of interesting foods, including the classic gumbo (a type of stew, with vegetables and seafood/meat), a po’boy (a type of sandwich served in french bread), New Orleans hot sauce, and the sweet praline (a sugary pecan treat).

We started the tour at a French Quarter restaurant/bar, and walked around the district from there.

Now comes the story you have been waiting for. During this tour I was approached by a woman in her late forties (at least). It was her birthday, you could tell this by the sash she was wearing, which had Happy birthday painted on it in a glittery text. Pinned to the top of the sash was a wad of cash (apparently getting people to pin cash to your frock/clothes is something you do on your birthday in the U.S.A).

Our woman, lets call her Roxy, was slightly intoxicated. Within seconds of engaging in conversation, and finding out that I was on a food tour, and was from New Zealand, she asked for some of the beef brisket that we had just been served.

I gave her one of the spare forks, and she took some from my plate. Sure, whatever.
“Are you with your grandparents?” she said loudly, pointing to an older couple on the tour, who were probably only in their fifties.
“Uh, no” I said, embarrassed for my fellow tour participants. I looked around the tour group, hoping to catch the eye of someone who would save me.
One of Roxy’s friends came up behind her.
Roxy turned and they started a loud conversation.
“He’s from New Zealand,” said Roxy.
“He’s cute” said her friend (I’m owning this). They continued their conversation for a few minutes.
I picked at my brisket, still awkwardly trying to make eye contact with someone else on the tour.

Roxy stopped talking to her friend and turned back to me, “you should ditch these boring folks, and come ‘off-roading’ with us,” she said motioning back to her friend.
I noticed movement from the corner of my eye.
The tour guide approached with a huge grin on his face.
“Time to move,” he said ushering me out of the restaurant/bar.

When we got outside he started laughing.
“I see you made some new friends,” he said.
I shook my head in embarrassment.

I heard some laughs from around the group. I then had to endure some hilarious cracks from the rest of the group while we walked on to the next spot.

As an act of positive reinforcement I made sure to tip the tour guide well once the tour finished, thanking him for saving me.

I spent the next day checking out Jazzfest. It was busy, but fun. The music was great. I spent time in the blues tent, the gospel tent, and then at the main stage for some jazz, and then later for a performance by Aerosmith (not jazz, I know).

Another day I went to the botanical gardens, again seeking out the elusive hummingbird. Again I was unsuccessful. There was an area in the gardens with plants specifically placed to attract the birds. I can confirm that the plants did not work.

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After almost two hours I had not spotted a bird, let alone a Hummingbird. I think the only success of the day was accidentally photo-bombing someones wedding pictures.

I missed going on a Louisiana swamp tour, but I was off to Miami next, so the Everglades would do.

After a few days of food, jazz, and the seediness of New Orleans I was ready to hit up Florida. It was time to head to Miami Beach.

I’m still trying to figure out what “off-roading” is.

Las Vegas – Benny and the Jets

The Vegas life. . . well. . . kind of.

Song Recommendation – Elton John – Benny and the Jets
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I only had two full days in Vegas, which left no time for gambling, drinking, and all those other fun things people get up to in the “City of Sin”. I’m sorry to disappoint y’all.
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I was surprised coming into the city, that even the airport was full of slot machines.

I stayed in the Wyndham Grand Desert, a “Mediterranean-style, mega resort” (as per their website). It sounds a lot fancier than it actually was, but it was the first semblance to a hotel I’d experienced since I had started my trip.

My first day in the city I went exploring, walked through a few smoke filled casinos, checked out some shops, and generally just had a look around.
DSC_0823When I was in one of the casinos I stumbled upon a woman giving out free tickets for test audiences for potential future TV shows.
20180501_144806I decided to give it a try. During this test audience I was given a dial, which I turned up if I liked what I was seeing, and turned down if I did not. I was the only one in this “test audience”. I had been given great responsibility.

A Spiderman quote came to mind “with great power comes great responsibility”.

Based on the quality and content of the show I tested, I had the dial turned down for the majority of the time. It was terrible. I saved you all.

That first evening I took a trip to Caesars palace to watch Elton John in concert. It was great, not as good as Billy Joel, but it was still decent. His performance of the Circle of Life was undoubtedly the highlight of the show.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to see Elton John for free with a good friend, but because I was starting work a few days later I did something regretful and passed up the offer.

I thus became determined to redeem myself by seeing Elton. I mean he is getting older and I didn’t want to miss seeing such a great performer live.

The next day I did a tour to visit the Grand Canyon (the West Rim), and the Hoover dam.
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The Grand Canyon was one of those places that I felt I had to see while I was in the U.S.A, but it was one place that I was not really that excited to go to.
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Anyway it turned out exceeding my expectations, and actually being a really awesome experience. Would recommend :).

For a desert, Vegas wasn’t actually that hot, in fact it rained during most of my stay, and even hailed when I was out at the Grand Canyon.

And yes, if I ever start a Josie and the Pussycats style band, I will be sure to name it after Elton John’s song Benny and the Jets.

I left Vegas later that night for the Jazz capital of the United States, New Orleans.

Bozeman – Yellowstone Country

A visit to Jellystone (Yellowstone) National Park :).

Song Recommendation – S. Carey – Yellowstone or Colors of the Wind
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Just over two years ago I bought a National Geographic magazine. Of all the magazines on offer I chose the NatGeo solely because it had a cool cover. Printed in bold letters on the front was the word of the week, “Yellowstone”.

Who said ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’?

Please tell me, I legitimately don’t know.

Jump forward eighteen months. I was bored. I harnessed that boredom and binge watched the Netflix “Yellowstone” documentary, and it was epic.

Another Yellowstone documentary followed. I was hooked.

It wasn’t till later that I decided to make this U.S.A trip. I decided early on that  Yellowstone was a must see.

I did my research, found the right flights, psyched myself up, and then finally the day had arrived.

I flew into a place called Bozeman, Montana. Every year Yellowstone gets a huge amount of snow, which blankets buries parts of the park, making some places inaccessible.

As it was spring and some snow had not yet melted, parts of the park were still closed. That meant the most logical way to get into the park was via the North entrance/and the newly opened West entrance. Bozeman was the closest airport to these. I was joined again by my friend Jon.

There were some issues with my travel insurance not covering driving. This meant Jon became the designated driver for trip, and I became the designated DJ. I of course included Pocahontas’ Colors of the Wind, American Pie, and many other classic American hits :).

I recommend renting a car to visit Yellowstone, as most of the tour companies charge ridiculous rates, and a rental car ends up being much cheaper.

Once we were in the park I fished something out of my bag, something that had been there for over two months.
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Yes, I took that NatGeo with me :).

I found this awesome blog, by a photographer who takes a lot of photos in the park (and who also gave me some advice on what to see in the park). You should definitely check it out: https://endlessloopphotography.com/

We spent three days touring the park, and managed to see most animals, bar one, moose.

There were literally tons of Bison.
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Elk
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Goats
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Bighorn sheep
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We took a day off and went to the Montana Grizzly Encounter, where we got to see some captive bears.20180428_142754
We bought bear spray before we entered the park on the first day (it’s basically pepper spray for bears), thankfully it was not needed. We did managed to see one wild bear, although it was from quite a distance.
DSC_0477It was a great time of year to see the park, with smaller crowds, and plenty of animals out.

We spent forever (it felt like an eternity) waiting for a geyser Old Faithful to erupt. Thankfully it was faithful, and eventually erupted (yes, even I cringed writing that).
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Old Faithful Geyser (above). There was plenty of geothermic activity throughout the park. Grand Prismatic Spring (below).
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Mammoth Hot Springs (above).DSC_0639
Whenever we saw a small crowd we would rock over and see what was happening. Many folks would have serious gear with telescopes and giant camera lenses. I would often go over and they would let me have a go with their telescopes, then I would try and find the same spot with my camera, but sometimes it was so far away I could only get a blur.

These are Mountain goats, I swear, a lady with a telescope found them for us. It was super far away, hence the poor quality (also note Mountain goats are different to the regular goats above – google them).
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I also learnt that the locals called coyotes kai-oats, instead of the usual kai-oat-tee that I was used to. We were lucky to run into one on the way back from Old Faithful.
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Bozeman can boast that its service industry is on point. All the waiters, and waitresses (servers) were super nice. The food in Bozeman was fantastic too. It would have to be some of the best I’ve had in the U.S.A.

There was one instance where they forgot our order. A server came around, apologized and offered us something from the cabinet for free. I had been eyeing up the cabinet while waiting, and had already noticed that it all looked fantastic.

I know you’re supposed to do that polite thing where you refuse once or twice, say it’s fine, and then eventually cave and say you’ll take the free stuff, but in this instance I didn’t wait. Almost before she had finished speaking I was at the front of the cafe picking out something.

One night we went to see a comedian perform. We had driven past an advertisement a few times, and figured we may as well give it a go.
“Just so you’re aware this is a high school seniors project,” said the woman behind the desk.
We turned to each other and shrugged.

It didn’t say it was a high school student on the sign. . . What the heck, it was Bozeman, there was nothing else to do at night.

Even though the comedian was only a high school student, he was actually a pretty funny guy, although I did feel a bit creepy being at a high school show.

After our few days of exploring the park, our visit soon came to an end.
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With Jellystone 🙂 explored, it was time to head to the City of Sin, Las Vegas.