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.

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.

St. Louis – That time I went to beer school

Free tours at Budweiser, and retro tram tours.

Song recommendation – Louis Armstrong – What A Wonderful World

I find it hard to write about a place like St. Louis. It was actually a great place to be for a couple of days, mainly for its chilled out atmosphere, but also because it does have a few cool tourist attractions.

My Airbnb in St. Louis was great. It ended up being the whole top story of a three story house, in a “hip” neighbourhood, with a really good cafe literally next door (so close that I could get my Airbnb’s wifi in it). It was also only a short walk to the Anheuser-Busch factory (home of Budweiser), but I’ll get to that later.
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One thing that St. Louis is known for is the Gateway Arch. What I didn’t know, but what I soon learned from an informative Uber driver, was that you can actually go inside the arch. He told me that you get on a small tram that takes you to the top, and from there you get great views of the Mississippi, and of the city below.
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I didn’t know what to expect with this “tram”. I struggled to see how you would be able to use a tram to get to the top of the very large arch, but I can now confirm that it really is a thing.

It reminded me of something you might see on The Jetsons. You are in these small pods, with four other people and the “tram” cars slowly ascend, initially in a zigzag motion, till you finally make it to the viewing platform at the top.
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Moving back to the Anheuser-Busch (Budweiser) factory. I found out (also from an Uber driver) that they offered a free brewery tour, which included one free sample drink, and another free full sized drink. I took advantage of this offer, and also did the Beer school tour, where I learnt the four S’s of tasting beer: sight, swirl, smell, sip.
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The start of the tour still humors me (there were only three of us).
“So what sort of  beer do you like?” said the guide, looking at the three of us.
“Stout,” said the first guy.
“Cider,” said the second guy. Hold on a second. . . since when was cider a beer? ? ?
“I like cider. . .” I said slightly confused “but IPA’s are good too”.
I am not a huge beer drinker, so I just said the first sort of beer that popped into my head. I just wanted to sound legit. I felt so smart, until I actually had the IPA. Not. A. Fan.

Turns out they had a cider to taste too :).

I returned to my Airbnb a beer connoisseur. I spent the night trying to get Hamilton songs out of my head and then departed St. Louis for Bozeman, Yellowstone Country.

Chicago – That time I saw Hamilton, twice

This is a “short” tale about riding the thin line between making stupid decisions and taking chances.

Song Recommendation – “Wait For It” Leslie Odom Jr. Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton.

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To spoil the anticipation of what happened on leaving New York, I will tell it up front. Due to weather conditions my flight to Buffalo, to see the Niagara Falls, was cancelled. Sorry for the let down, but read on, you won’t guess what happened next :D.

The next flight wasn’t till the following day, and it didn’t arrive till the evening. I took a deep breath and channeled the Uber driver from San Antonio, the “just go with the flow” guy. It was also in that moment that I remembered a piece of advice from a song I’d heard back in the nineties, “don’t go chasing waterfalls . . .” Inspired by my literal interpretation of the song, I decided I would skip the falls and head on straight to Chicago.

You see, I had only planned one full day in Buffalo, so if I was to arrive the next evening I wouldn’t have had any time to actually see the Falls. People before me in the help desk line were having some serious Memphis meltdowns about not being able to get on their cancelled flight. It seemed they believed that if you’re super rude to the flight attendants that they will suddenly un-cancel your flight and that the weather will magically improve. I guess they had places to be, and people to see, and all that jazz.

Anyway, I used my gift of pure charm to get my flight course changed. I had the benefit of no commitments, a calm demeanor and generally just maximum chill ;). It was smooth sailing now, I was going straight to Chicago with no extra charge! Well kind of, the little quirk of my trip was that I had to spend a night in Atlanta, Georgia, and that meant I needed to find accommodation.

In a wild frenzy I jumped on Airbnb and found a place pretty close to the airport. Click, don’t think, confirm. In my defense it was pretty late notice and there weren’t many options.

A few minutes later, I decided I would read a bit more about my accommodation. Only three reviews. . . Okay, interesting. . . Sure, it will be fine. Or so I thought. . .

I soon received an email from the owner saying that someone had claimed to have been robbed outside the house earlier that day, and that I needed to be aware that it was a “gentrifying” neighbourhood. My spidey sense was tingling. Something was fishy.

The investigation continues. . . The three reviews were all recent, and all made by relatively new users. Okay, okay, I guess more experienced users tend to pick properties that have more ratings. I will be fine, it’s fine.

You see, I had to cancel my accommodation in Buffalo, and I thought I wasn’t going to be refunded, so I didn’t want to have to cancel again (even though this one was only like twenty something a night). Yes, I know, another red flag.

I thought my chances of being murdered that night were 40:60. When I entered the house, and the front room was bare (void of furniture), with a creepy abandoned house feel to it, I thought the odds were no longer in my favour. Will this be the room where it happens, I wondered (more sneaky Hamilton references to follow).

I think if there had been plastic sheeting on the floor I would not be typing this post right now. I definitely would’ve thrown away my shot by choosing that accommodation.

I nervously creaked my way down the hall. Why were none of the lights working? (bear with my dramatisation – the lights worked, I just couldn’t find the switch). Instead I used my phone light to guide me. I entered the hallway and approached the door on the right, the one where my room was supposed to be. I inched open the door. Squinting in the darkness I hit at the wall with my hand trying to find the switch. I was helpless.

Wait for it. . .

Then BANG! VOILA! Rays of hope and light shone down from the ceiling, and revealed a neatly made bed with a towel, toothpaste, and a little bottle of water. I was safe! I was alive!

On further inspection of the front room I found furniture piled in the corner, and that paired with a fresh paint smell reassured me that they were probably just renovating. It was actually a great Airbnb!

As a little added twist to my adventure I also had no luggage (lost in NYC, though I got it back the next day).

The next day, in Chicago, I booked a ticket for an improv show at a place called Second City. It was a comedy school where the likes of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Steve Carell started out. It was by far the best improv show I’ve seen. Even though they started out poorly, they went on to blow us all away with perfect timing, funny songs, and hilarious comedic scenes. I was more than satisfied.

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While in Chicago I bought a ticket for the Tony award winning musical Hamilton (I just added the bit in italics to make y’all jealous). My seat was four back from the front, in the Orchestra (it was mid-week so it was quite a bit cheaper than usual).

I don’t think any of the original cast are still in the New York show, so I was happy to see the show for a much more reasonable price in Chicago.

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The show is about the life of one of the American founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, and his friend turned foe Aaron Burr, the man who killed him (it’s not a spoiler, the first song/and history tell you it’s going to happen). The musical is a mix of song/rap/hip hop.

The songs are catchy as. . . f’anything. While I was in New York I started listening to the soundtrack, and continued to do so continuously for the next two weeks or so. I feel like it should come with a warning label, it’s that good.

I saw the show, it was amazing. I mean 5 out of 5 amazing! Highlights were Gregory Treco’s portrayal of Aaron Burr, Andrew Call’s hilarious King George III, and Montego Glover as the selfless sister-in-law Angelica. Though the whole cast was awesome. Like, really really good.

On the way home from the theatre it was snowing, which was cool (in bold for those who are not in tune with my pun obsession).

I went home, listened to more of the soundtrack, and hit the sack.

The next day I had a look around the city, I went to the cinema and watched “A Wrinkle in Time”. Guys, FYI – it’s definitely a children’s movie. It was a cool theatre though, with little tables, where you could order food from your seat.

I visited the Sears tower (now the Willis tower), for some great views of the city, and was super extremely tempted to see Hamilton again. I literally had my finger hovering over the buy now button for a second ticket.

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I caved the next morning and found a cheap, but a little obstructed view ticket for the Matinee performance. I checked out the “Bean”, had a speed around the art museum, and then settled in for another viewing. This time Alexander Hamilton was played by the brilliant stand-by Jimmie Jetter, who was just as good as the outstanding Miguel Cervantes.

This time I managed to get my playbook signed, and got a few photos, including this bad selfie of me and Gregory Treco (Aaron Burr), and (fangirling) with Jimmie “JJ” Jeter (Alexander Hamilton).

Seriously worth seeing. Lin-manuel Miranda is a brilliant writer.

After seeing Hamilton twice, and checking out the windy city, it was time to depart for St. Louis, a place I was simply visiting because it was a cheaper way of getting to Bozeman (Yellowstone country).

TLDR (too long did not read): I basically made a poor decision that actually worked out well, and I saw the best musical ever, twice.