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.

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.

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.

Nashville – That time I left my number on a receipt

A visit to Music City.

Song recommendation – Anyone Who Knows What Love Is – Irma Thomas

I’ll tell y’all a secret. I don’t actually like country music. All that talk about pick up trucks (always driving stick), listening to the radio, or hanging out with your down to earth girl (also referred to as baby) is exhausting.

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That doesn’t mean I didn’t like Nashville. In fact, it has made number three of my top five destinations to visit in the USA.

Ranked thus far:

  1. TBA 😉
  2. San Diego
  3. Nashville
  4. San Antonio
  5. Flagstaff

Why is that?

It seemed like something is always happening in Nashville. Do you want to see a live performance? Well, just head on down to the nearest bar/listening room.

I said I didn’t like country music though… So why would I go to Nashville?

Even though it’s not my favorite genre, I do find it quite tolerable, and I want the full USA experience, so of course I couldn’t miss out on music city.

So to fully immerse myself in Nashville I booked a ticket to see a show at the Grand Ole Opry. The Grand Ole Opry is a famous country music stage which has housed many famous acts over the years.

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Line-up:
Bill Anderson
Steven Curtis Chapman (one I actually knew of)
Jeannie Seely (who co-wrote “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is” with Randy Newman)
Craig Morgan
Riders In The Sky (performers of “Woody’s roundup” from Toy Story 2)
Dailey & Vincent
Trace Adkins

My favorite – forgive the American spelling, it’s giving me red lines – performance of the night was when Jeannie Seely sang the song “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is”. She wrote the original song, the one that is featured on an episode of Black Mirror, and also the trailer for one of the Jurassic World movies, and it is amazing.

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The whole show was fantastic. I loved the classic radio announcer introductions to each act, most of which included a sneaky advert for farm raised chicken. Classic Nashville.

One day in Nashville I went for lunch at a place called the Listening Room. As the name suggests, it was a listening room… Although it must have been a slow day, as for a while I was the only person in the restaurant. Which was a bit awkward, as there was a live performance happening. Given the intimate setting I thought I’d hit it off pretty well with one of the waitresses, so I left my number on the receipt (the coward move :p)…

Yeah, I’m never doing that again. If you were wondering, I’m still waiting for that call.

My other goal in Nashville was to visit a little place called the Bluebird Cafe. The cafe is featured prominently in the show Nashville, or so I was told. It was also the place where Taylor Swift, was ‘discovered’.

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Seats are notoriously difficult to get, the online tickets sell out usually within minutes. So I headed down to wait in line three hours prior to the show, and luckily (I would’ve been super pissed if I hadn’t got a seat) managed to get in (I was twelfth in line). I doubt the twenty or so people behind me made it though.

The Line-up for that show:
Dave Turnbull
Mitch Rossell
Bryan Kennedy
and another guy who was the ‘special guest’ who I did not know, and whose name I cannot remember.

It was a tight squeeze in the old Bluebird. I was sitting with my back to the ‘In The Round’ performance, where all the artists sit in a circle and take turns playing songs. I was so close that had to move my chair because it was almost hitting one of the guys guitars (see hat behind me).

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I left my last day in Nashville for some exploring. I visited the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum, checked out Nashville’s ‘Broadway’, and I also avoided leaving my number on receipts.

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Fun fact, Nashville has a full scale replica, though it is concrete, of the Greek Parthenon.

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Next came the big apple, New York City.

San Antonio – Something a bit different

I don’t want to put San Antonio down, but in truth I had a literal crap experience.

My trip to San Antonio started with a splash. I stood outside the airport using my phone to compare prices for an Uber versus a Lyft. But something wasn’t right. I felt a growl in my gut.

Hmm that’s weird,” I thought to myself.

I carried on my quest for a ride, well for a few seconds I did.

“Oh sh*t!” A feeling of urgency washed over me.

It was then that a stream of ‘crap’ began to plague my trip. It wasn’t till I left San Antonio, a few days later, that it all ended. Don’t worry, I made a mad dash back to the airport bathroom, making the latrine just in time!

On the bright side San Antonio was awesome.

I was greeted with a very chatty Italian driver, who when I asked what I should do in San Antonio aptly told me that I should “just go with the flow”. Little did he know that the flow was intermittently coming whether I wanted it to or not.

I did a wee tour of the San Antonio river walk, watched a movie about the battle of the Alamo, and then visited the Alamo itself.

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For y’all who don’t know what the battle of the Alamo is, well basically it was the battle that led to Texas becoming independent from Mexico.
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I can’t deny the pun in this photo. Pooh in San Antonio.

When I wasn’t feeling so bad I visited the Ripley’s believe it or not museum. Yes I know, I’m a public health nightmare.

While I was there I noticed this sign.
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Maori Indians..? I wondered if I should correct them. If I missed a history lesson someone please call me out.

 

 

Poor planning meant I missed seeing my all time favorite band the Cold War Kids for free at the March Madness festival (they were playing the day after I left). Though in truth I probably wasn’t up for it.

I wish I could’ve stayed in San Antonio for a few more days, but unfortunately Dallas was calling.