Spokane – September 2017

After a fun couple of days in Ellensburg it was time for me to move on. Those following the trip will know I was in Washington State visiting Maddie, Cassie and Haleigh. I was obviously excited to see all three of them but I thought it might also be wise to break up the trip with a day for myself. It was no reflection on the company, it was more a case of learning lessons from trips in the past with other people. There are pros and cons to solo travel and likewise with group travel. I’m a bit of an introvert and enjoy my own space so I saw it as an opportunity to re-energise ahead of a busy end to the trip.

Consequently I was considering where in Washington I could feasibly go for a day. Washington is such a beautiful state so I wasn’t short of choices but in the end I opted for convenience as much as anything. I was leaving Ellensburg and would soon be visiting Haleigh in Moses Lake, both of which sit on the Greyhound bus route. Another city on that route was Spokane. It essentially meant I could get from Ellensburg to Spokane and then Spokane to Moses Lake pretty effortlessly.

So after Cassie dropped me off at the bus station in Ellensburg, I was on my way to a new city in Washington. It’s a nice journey from Ellensburg to Spokane, not as picturesque as Seattle to Ellensburg but still scenic enough to enjoy. My only concern was I’d left blue skies behind in Ellensburg and as we inched closer to Spokane the sky was beginning to turn very grey!

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Driving towards a miserable Spokane!

By the time I got to Spokane it was probably around 3/4pm. The plan was to quickly go and check in to my hotel and then start exploring the city. Unfortunately I’d done little to preserve my phone life in the morning and then I spent probably too much of the bus journey taking photos of the view, by the time I reached Spokane my phone was dead.

I thought I had a good idea of where my hotel was, in relation to the bus station, but it turns out I didn’t have a bloody clue. I wandered for a bit but I’d arrived to a very wet Spokane experiencing a bit of a thunderstorm, not the best timing and I was drenched pretty quickly. With no way of locating my hotel I asked a couple of locals for some directions but with no success. I’d lucked out in Dallas a few months earlier in a similar situation but in wetter conditions it was time to abandon the “wing it” plan, instead I seeked shelter in a nearby bar!

My hope was they’d help me one way or another. Either I’d be able to charge my phone somewhere (I did) or they’d be able to offer me some directions. Allowing time for the former I grabbed a beer and took seat at one of the stools in this relatively small bar. By the time I’d finished my beer I had a better idea of where I needed to go and luckily the storm seemed to have passed.

Moving on, I went to find my hotel which ended up being pretty straight forward. More frustratingly I’d actually passed it on the bus and not noticed. There were some eye-catching murals on the side of the hotel building that I’d thought “I’d like to find those later..” and not realised that was where I was staying haha.

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Beyond the cool murals, the hotel appearance itself didn’t fill me with much confidence. It had a sketchy vibe about it and the actual reception for checking in felt about as big as a garden shed – it was tiny! The receptionist was pretty friendly though and I figured it was only for one night. Given I went in with little confidence, the room was actually nicer than I’d anticipated. It was a nice room with a decent sized (and comfy) bed.

Having chilled out in the room for a little bit I went on the search for some dinner, I had a little scour of my options on Google Maps and decided to check out this place called ’24 Taps Burgers and Brews’. It had good reviews and, upon approaching it, the side of the building was lined with some more cool pieces of street art. Spokane was setting a good first impression on the street art front. Inside was essentially a sports bar and a bit of a casual hangout, I imagine at the weekend it’d be a lot busier but on a Tuesday it was pretty quiet.

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24 Taps Burgers & Brews, Spokane

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I ordered one of the burgers on the menu and likewise one of the 24 beers available on tap. On the TV directly above me they were showing the (Seattle) Mariners game, I knew we were seeing the Mariners in a few days time so I thought I’d try and pick up a few of the complexities of baseball (it’s just hit and run isn’t it?).

It’s not really a sport that is taken seriously in England if I’m being honest, partly as it’s likened to ‘Rounders’ which is primarily associated as being a game for kids here. The upgrade to Rounders is typically Cricket which shares some fundamental rules (hit and run) but is a different sport from baseball/rounders. I tried enjoying the game on TV but wasn’t yet sold on the baseball experience (stay tuned for my live experience in Seattle!).

Partway through my meal I realised that the place actually sold ‘beer flights’ or tasting menu. I picked up a beer menu and feeling a little intrigued thought I’d try a few more West Coast beers, choosing four from the 24 (well, 23 as I’d had one already) beers on tap. I think I ended up trying two from Washington breweries and two from Oregon breweries, with the latter being equally enjoyable!

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Working my way through the 24!

I could quite happily have stayed there for the evening but during my Google search another bar had caught my eye – “Baby Bar”. It had really good reviews, was just around the corner from where I was staying and I’ll be honest and say the name caught my eye too. Baby bar? Okay, Spokane..

Anyway, off I went in search of it! It wasn’t actually that easy to find. I was wandering in its general proximity and yet there was no clear sign of it. Google Maps suggested I was in the right spot but there was nothing here. I easily found the restaurant next door which suggested I was in the right place but this Baby Bar seemingly didn’t exist.

I joked in my post on Salzburg at the absurdity of Flo suggesting we go “next door” to get in to this bar. Well would you believe it, I took the crazy Austrian’s advice here in Spokane. With no sign of this bar anywhere I thought I’d peer my head in the restaurant next door didn’t I?

You’d have been forgiven for thinking this restaurant was closed too. The sign on the door read ‘open’ but it was incredibly dark if it was open for business. Maybe that’s the mood or whatever they were going for but it wouldn’t have been a place I would have walked in for food. After peering my head in something drew me towards the dark corridor at the back of the room – almost in a possessed manner.

I didn’t even ask the staff in the restaurant for guidance. “Oh hey, is this bar here?” – No, I just floated towards the darkness. Looking back, I don’t know what I was thinking. Was I just following intuition? I don’t know but the image was essentially your classic horror story moment.

“Don’t do it Jason! Turn around..”

Watching at home you wonder how the characters find themselves in these horror-laden scenarios and yet here I was wandering down this long and dark corridor. At the very end was this mysterious door which I’m convinced just seemed to get further and further away as I walked towards it. This was it. This is how and where I was going to die, typically miles from home in a place no-one would think to look for me. I eventually reached this door in baited breath and pushed.

On the other side of this door was a cosy little bar – Baby Bar! I’d actually found it! Now you might think I’m exaggerating the story and often when it sounds absurd writing it down I end up doubting my memory. So I thought I’d google Spokane’s infamous Baby Bar and found this amusing little excerpt from The Spokesman Review

With room for five taps and 25 people, Baby Bar is incoherently cosy. Hidden away in plain sight, it also sort of feels like a secret. There are no windows. The ceiling is painted black. And there’s only one way in and out; through a single door that leads down a darkened hallway.

It was the perfect hideaway bar, it had that speakeasy kind of feel to it that if you didn’t know of its existence you’d never see it. As the review above suggests, there are no windows, only one way in and yet it had an incredible warmth to it the second you arrived. The lighting and the atmosphere just made it seem homely and instantly you could see why Baby Bar was so highly rated. I loved it!

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Baby Bar, Spokane!
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Baby Bar, Spokane

I took seat at the bar and ordered myself a beer. It had been worth the effort finding it. The barman was friendly and I knew it would be a frequent hangout for me if I was a Spokane local. After my third beer I called it a night. I was a tad drunk having already had the earlier beers and so sensibly, for once perhaps, knew it was time to head back to my hotel and sleep. I asked the barman if I could settle my tab – “$9 please..”

Wait, nine? Did I hear that right? I’ve had three beers? Am I only paying $3 a beer here? It was cheaper than I’d expected it to be. I settled my tab for the first three, tip included, but ended up ordering a fourth at the same time. “Last one..”

Halfway in to my pint I realised that was a mistake. This was just one beer too many and any more I’d be throwing up either tonight or tomorrow morning. I sensibly walked away and let it go to waste and wandered back to my hotel which luckily was only on the next street over. I think within 5 minutes of leaving Baby Bar I was asleep, crashing the second my head hit the pillow.

On the plus side, my sensibly timed departure meant I wasn’t suffering the next morning. I’d got settled in to Spokane a little later than anticipated so all I’d really done thus far was eat and drink. I was keen to see a bit of Spokane at least before catching my lunchtime bus.

I kicked off my day with a visit to the ‘Satellite Diner’. It was surprisingly busy given I visited in ‘working hours’, it must have been about 9-9:30ish on a Wednesday morning and Spokane didn’t come across as a tourist hotspot so I thought it might have been emptier. The busy-ness gave me some comfort that it’d be a good place to eat though. I pondered the menu and really fancied pancakes – plural, obviously. One of the items on the menu was a pancake.

“Singular?”

You could say that’s a bit weird, right? You could also possibly call it a sign. I ordered the ‘two pancakes’ option and as my plate was placed in front of me I realised why they sell singular pancakes. They were bloody huge! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a bigger pancake infact. I probably should have taken a photo (FYI, I’d make a terrible food blogger). The guy at a nearby table was equally amazed at its size. I gave it a good go but (I think) it bested me. I couldn’t finish it. On the plus side it was a filling start to my day and explorations.

I hadn’t really researched things to do in Spokane which inevitably meant I didn’t really find much to do with my last couple of hours, I’m sure there is more to do in Spokane but I just ended up winging it a bit. I thought I’d kick things off by wandering over to Spokane’s Riverfront park. It’s a peaceful spot, nice to walk through and is also home to a few interesting things.

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Spokane, Washington State!

Feeling a little conscious of venturing too far from the bus station I wandered back in to the downtown area, there didn’t seem to be too much of note but I popped my head in to a few shops to help kill a bit of time. Soon enough it was time to check in and catch my bus. All in all it had been a nice trip to Spokane, albeit most of the fun was spread over the evening.

It’s somewhere I’ll possibly go back to and explore a little further, I’ve since read of other people who’ve visited including fellow travel blogger Sarah who went recently and shares a few other ideas and actually makes me want to go back but it had been a good introduction to this small and charming city.

Up next? Moses Lake.

Stay tuned!

Jason

Ellensburg – Sep 2017

Following on from my last post (read me), I was finally making my way over to Washington State for the first time! It’s an incredibly beautiful state but the motivation for my trip was the company and the opportunity to finally meet Maddie, Cassie and Haleigh. I was both excited and nervous!

I kicked off my Sunday morning waking up in London. Tottenham had been playing over at Wembley on Saturday evening and it didn’t seem worthwhile going all the way back to Peterborough just to fly out of London on Sunday morning. With that said, with Tottenham playing at Wembley I decided I’d just book a hotel for the night near Wembley Stadium and I found that it’s such an inconvenient part of London to try to get to Heathrow from.

In fairness I think if you take the ‘Heathrow Express’ train you can get there quickly and quite conveniently from Wembley but I’d rather save money by taking the tube which meant going back towards Central London to then come back out again towards Heathrow. Beforehand I’d envisaged getting a bit of a lay in or a more relaxing morning but between the long tube journey and a Sunday service I’m not sure my day would have started much differently had I just gone home for the night instead. Oh well, lesson learned I suppose (Wembley’s a pain!).

Anyway, eventually I was arriving at Heathrow and breezing through security. I decided I’d find somewhere to get some breakfast in the airport and found a place with pancakes on the menu which seemed the perfect way to kick off the American adventure!

Soon enough I was on the way to Seattle – that city all the way over on the West Coast of the USA – I think it’s something like 4,500 miles away. It was my longest journey since flying to Sydney four years earlier and when you look on a map they couldn’t seem further apart. You’ve got Sydney sitting down in the South East corner of the World and Seattle sitting up in the North West. With England somewhere in the middle both cities feel so far away!

Fortunately unlike Sydney, you can at least fly directly from London to Seattle so the journey didn’t seem too bad. I kept myself amused with the in-flight entertainment and landed in Washington at around 3:30pm local time I think (11:30pm UK time).

Maddie, Cassie and Haleigh were all waiting for me at Seatac airport with a surprise welcome sign to greet me. Unfortunately for them they weren’t waiting at the same section I came out of. I came out of security with no idea where they were and the airport Wi-Fi wasn’t being too co-operative so I couldn’t drop one of them a message.

Instead I figured I’d just walk for a bit and hoped I’d either see them or find a better Wi-Fi spot in the airport. It ended up being the former, I hadn’t walked too far when I spotted the three of them and started approaching them. Amusingly though they had their backs to me so they ended up getting the surprise rather than the other way around. Oops! Haha.

Having said our hello’s we quickly made our way over to the car park to get out of Seatac asap! Although I’d flown in to Seattle, we wouldn’t actually be spending any time in the city until Friday. I was spending my first couple of nights in Ellensburg with Maddie and Cassie where the pair of them lived.

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Welcome to Ellensburg sign!

Ellensburg’s a college town, a town which both Maddie and Cassie went to college in (and Haleigh did previously). It’s a couple of hours away from Seattle which sits on the West side of the mountains, with Ellensburg sitting on the East side of the mountains. Consequently that meant driving through / over the mountains to get back to Ellensburg.

Before leaving the Seattle area we made a quick stop and dropped in on Cassie’s family, Cassie had something she needed to pick up and take home so it was a nice opportunity to be introduced to some of her family before we headed back. We then picked up some pizza for the drive home and were on our way.

I think I pretty much spent the entire journey with my face glued to the window. It probably doesn’t help that I live in such a flat part of England but the mountain views just had me in complete awe. The funny thing being that due to the current climate the view was nowhere near as good as it usually is.

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Washington – April 2019

The above picture was from a spring visit this year but for this particular trip Washington was still suffering the aftermath of forest fires in the region. The day that I arrived was actually the first bit of rain they’d had in a while and it was much needed. Despite a little rain the sky was still a bit hazy, the air quality was awful and the smoke, oh my god the smoke..

Theoretically it wasn’t even that bad, this was essentially post-fire-smoke lingering in the air and yet I still found the smoke unbearable. I dread to think how bad the air quality was whilst the fires were going on.  Even with the windows of the car closed all I could taste was smoke in my mouth, my throat felt awful for a good 2-3 days after arriving in Washington.

Soon enough I’d unstuck my face from the window because we’d arrived on the other side of the mountains and we were finally in Ellensburg. Sadly Haleigh was teaching on Monday morning so couldn’t stick around to spend the evening with us.

Myself, Maddie and Cassie relaxed for a little bit but soon went out to get a couple of beers at one of Ellensburg’s bars, forgive me but I can’t remember the name of it. It was cool though and also nice to have my first Washington beer. I always enjoy trying the local beers and seeing how they compare across the globe.

We weren’t out too late which I was quite appreciative of, the eight hour time difference is a bit of a killer. I think it was about 4-5am UK time by the time I’d got myself to bed. It had been a nice start to the trip but I needed a good night’s rest to set me up for the rest of the trip.

The next morning I was up at a fairly reasonable time. I don’t know if I was the first one awake but first one downstairs at least which seemed to please the four-legged housemates, particularly the dogs. Hamilton and Olivia were both friendly and didn’t seem fazed at having me around. Olivia in particular was constantly seeking attention so I’d quickly made a new friend in her. The cats were a little less curious although did come and sit with me at various points of my stay which was nice and I managed to sneak in a few photos before they ran off.

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As suggested further up, Ellensburg is a college town and consequently not really somewhere that tourists tend to visit. Nevertheless I was personally looking forward to seeing what Ellensburg had to offer, it can be nice getting away from the big cities and seeing a different side to the US. With the sheer size of the country you quickly see how diverse it is from place to place.

Maddie wasn’t feeling particularly great so we didn’t do too much with our morning other than relax. For lunch we went out to some teriyaki chicken place. It’s not something I’ve ever really seen here so I guess isn’t as popular in the UK, by all means feel free to correct me but it was the first time I’d tried it anyway.

It was enjoyable but the portion was way too big, I think the sauce grows sickly after a while too so it’s something I could eat again but not something I could eat a lot of if that makes sense?

Following on from lunch we ventured over to the Kittitas County historical museum. It was small but worth a visit, free admission too which was a bonus! I can’t expect they get many English visitors so I made sure to sign the guestbook after having had a look around the museum. It was interesting.

We popped in to some shop afterwards and then made our way back to the house. Cassie had to work and it was a good opportunity for Maddie to get a little rest before making evening plans. I took it as a chance to catch up on the happenings back home and keep the four-legged ones company.

In the evening we went out to “the Tav” – an Ellensburg favourite which is a nice little sports bar in town. I’ve been there a couple of times now and it has had a nice atmosphere on both occasions. I’m sure it’d be a good place to go and watch a big sports game too although my visits have only ever been on a casual basis so I’m just speculating haha. We met one of Maddie’s friends again, grabbed some food and had a couple of beers before moving on to a bar called ‘Shooters’.

Shooters is essentially a gaming bar – a mixture of video and board games which cover all of the classics plus modern day favourites. It’s quite a small place but that makes it cosy too.

Again it had a friendly atmosphere, a good range of different beers to try and then you can play a variety of games depending on what you’re in the mood for. The three of us ended up playing a bit of Star Wars Monopoly before calling it a night, such is the length of Monopoly I don’t think we got near finishing it so ended without a winner haha.

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Star Wars Monopoly

We grabbed some food on the drive home which gave me another ‘first’ – my first ever churro! I’d say if you’re going to try your first churro perhaps save it for Spain rather than Washington but they were still good and it was welcome timing to try them too given I was going to be in Madrid a month later.

Cassie finished up work around the same time so we rounded off the evening eating food and chatting before heading to sleep. The next morning I chilled out a bit before Cassie kindly dropped me over at the bus station as I made my way on to my second destination of this trip.

Ellensburg had offered a fun start to my time in Washington. After so many years of friendship I’d finally got to spend some time with Maddie, Cassie had made me feel equally welcome in their home and of course I’d made a few new four-legged friends too. It was a good start to the trip but I was excited to see what was yet to come. I’d be seeing Maddie and Cassie again before heading home but for now it was time to bid farewell to Ellensburg. I boarded my bus and was heading for Spokane!

More on that next! Stay tuned!

Jason

Hamburg – May 2017

It’s no big secret that I’m quite the fan of Germany. It’s a country I’ve now been to nine times and don’t be surprised if subsequent trips follow soon. I love the people, I love the culture but first and foremost it has some wonderful places to visit.

In Köln, Berlin and München I had already been to three of Germany’s four biggest cities which left one major German city to visit: Hamburg.
It was a city I was keen to visit but I didn’t really envisage it happening as soon as 2017.

However I started looking for potential destinations for a bank holiday getaway and Hamburg jumped out at me with some reasonable flight prices given the timing. Three days in Hamburg sounded pretty tempting.

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Hamburg, Germany

Before I could enjoy Hamburg I had to escape the madness of Stansted airport. I’m not a huge fan of Stansted because it just always seems to be busy; this is largely down to it being the budget airline favourite airport.

The pros of the budget airlines definitely outweigh the cons but the busyness of this airport is certainly one of the cons.
Any time of year you visit it tends to be busy but throw in a public holiday making it a three day weekend and this particular Saturday morning was just crazy!

There isn’t much to do at Stansted so you’ll always find one of the busiest areas is the Wetherspoons bar – a bit of a reflection of the UK. With a full menu and lenient trading laws it proves to be a popular breakfast/lunchtime/dinner option accompanied with any beverage of your choice.

By this point many are in holiday-mode and a breakfast beer combination always seems to go down well amongst our drunken little nation. As I was traveling solo I found myself a little two-seater table to not take up too much room which is normally fine but on this particular morning you could see the vultures circling for any free space – vacate your seat, lose your seat!

With one free seat spare at my table a fellow solo-adventurer asked if she could join me. Of course I agreed however with an “order at the bar” policy she was soon having to disappear (although you can now order at your seat using an app on your phone).

I agreed to save her seat because I didn’t foresee any problems occurring. There was a bit of a queue at the bar and a few minutes passed with no return – “not a problem”. Five minutes go by and I’m unfazed by it.

Ten minutes pass and there’s still no sign of this woman returning. After fifteen minutes I start wondering if she’s even still in the queue, she is coming back right? I’m hoping she’s hidden in that crowd of people at the bar somewhere.

My attention starts switching to the clock, I don’t just want to abandon her possessions, nor surrender her table but how long do I wait before I have to leave to catch my flight. As each minute ticked by I become more agitated. Perhaps her manners matched my own but even with how busy it was I don’t know how it takes that long to get served – “after you!” and again and again?

Eventually at around the 20 minute mark she returned, hugely apologetic which was nice but I didn’t stick around for pleasantries and made a dash to the nearest departure screen to see what the latest on my flight was.

My eyes scanned across the screen to find Hamburg, only to see in red the words “LAST CALL”

What?! There was still a decent bit of time before my flight so why they were closing boarding so early I don’t know but immediately I headed in direction of the gates to see a sign suggesting mine was 10-15 minutes away! You’ve got to be joking!

I ran a good chunk of the way which was a great reminder as to how unfit I am, I was cursing myself most of the way for having been too polite rather than abandoning the table earlier.

“Well done, you idiot. You’ve probably missed your flight!”

I arrived at my gate out of breath to still fortunately find a small queue with a couple of guys close behind me. I say fortunately but why Ryanair send their passengers into panic mode if they’re still boarding people ten minutes later I don’t know? Thanks for that!

On the plus side it restored a little faith that I was right to wait – I made my flight and the young woman kept her table – win-win!

Anyway, as with so many Ryanair flights I arrived at my allocated seat to find someone sat in it – “can we swap?”

In all honesty I don’t usually mind but I found it baffling to then see him sat with his headphones on for the whole flight. I can understand wanting to sit with people because you want to sit with people but if you’re going to ignore eachother the whole way why insist on swapping? Baffling. Nevertheless we were soon arriving in to Hamburg and my fun could begin!

Arriving in to some places I think you just know you’re going to like it, Hamburg was one of those places. Perhaps the clear blue skies were a factor and maybe my love of Germany meant I wasn’t too objective but stepping out of the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) had me feeling optimistic about three days in Hamburg.

The perk to early morning (European) flights is that you’ll arrive in to your destination pretty early too which meant I was in Hamburg mid-morning on the Saturday. I now had the best part of two nights / three days to enjoy.

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Hamburg’s Kunsthalle

Given its proximity to the Hauptbahnhof I kicked off my trip by visiting the Kunsthalle (Hamburg’s art museum). I’d heard good things about it and even from the outside it’s quite a stunning building. I enjoyed the museum but I anticipated being there slightly longer than I was. I was trying to ignore it and enjoy the art but my stomach had other ideas and was rumbling its way around the museum screaming “feed me!”. I obliged and cut my museum time short to find somewhere for lunch.

I found a restaurant nearby and was soon appeasing my hunger with some good pizza – that’s German, right? Okay, not the best of starts but I did accompany it with one of Germany’s better known delicacies – the beer! The warm weather made it a much needed refreshment!

Following on from lunch I had a wander through Hamburg’s famous Speicherstadt district. It’s not the prettiest on the eye, although the canals help, but this is Hamburg’s warehouse district and it attracts a lot of tourists as its a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was interesting to walk through and I could see why it’s often likened to Manchester.

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After killing a little time I went in search of my hotel to finally check in and drop my things off, however I got a little lost on route so ended up taking a rather scenic route through some park and via what felt like a motorway. In terms of actual traffic it felt abandoned but there was so much construction going on road-side. Eventually I got back on track and checked in to my hotel.

My evening was pretty uneventful, I explored the city a little bit but I was keen to get an early night. I’d looked for things to do before the trip and fellow bloggers and Instagrammers were all suggesting to attend Hamburg’s Fischmarkt (fish market) on Sunday morning. It opens early and is the must do if you’re ever in Hamburg on a Sunday!
I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about so set an early alarm and got to sleep soon after, missing out on any wild Saturday night in Hamburg.

Backtracking quickly, on the way to Stansted on Saturday morning I’d seen this stunning sunrise and it left me pondering why this was such a rarity for me? Why don’t I see more sunrises?

On Sunday morning I remembered why – I love my sleep. As my alarm started going off I questioned how desperate I was to get out of bed for the smell of fish. This Hamburg “must visit” just didn’t happen. I hit snooze thinking maybe I could set off a little later and still catch some of the market atmosphere but there’s only so many times I could hit snooze before accepting my fate and enjoying more sleep.

Hamburg is a city I’ll definitely return to and I’m telling myself I’ll catch the Fischmarkt next time but I think when I’m faced with the actual reality of getting out of bed I’ll probably take the same approach. Oops!

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Hamburg’s Rathaus

Anyway, after sabotaging my own plans and getting off to a late start I decided I’d make Hamburg’s Rathaus (town hall) the first stop of my Sunday instead. I don’t know why but town halls in Germany are always absolutely stunning.

Hamburg’s Rathaus was no exception and perhaps even my favourite I’ve seen so far. It was HUGE and definitely another of the “must visits” in Hamburg. Trying to get a photo of myself with the whole building in was a bit of a challenge but here was my best effort!

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Following on from the Rathaus I started looking for brunch options in the nearby restaurants overlooking the water and contemplated what else I should do with my day. My friend Nicole had recommended the “Minitaur Wunderland” museum and other things I’d read endorsed that recommendation further.

It’s a fascinating museum with models creating miniature sized cities, venues and locations from around the world. I think the miniature sized Hamburg sets were my favourite. From the famous Speicherstadt to Hamburg’s very own football stadium, the level of detail that goes in to such a museum is quite incredible. Some of the displays are interactive too and you see the models come to life which was really cool.

I would recommend visiting and it’s definitely one for the kids too but a consequence of that was that it was also quite busy. Maybe avoid it at the weekend if you can visit during the week instead.

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Hamburg’s SpeicherStadt, Miniatur Wunderland

Moving on, one of the other things Hamburg is also well known for is its role in the theatre industry. Hamburg hosts a number of big plays and shows and I was a little tempted to go and see one on Sunday evening. I passed a little box office to see what was on. From memory there were a couple of Disney shows on such as The Lion King and Aladdin.

I noted how much tickets were but decided I’d make a decision later in the day and come back if needs be so went off to explore a little further on foot. I didn’t really do much other than walk, passing by the odd church and eye-catching pieces of architecture. The day was quickly getting away from me so I went looking for somewhere to grab food ahead of any potential show in the evening. I was particularly on the hunt for a favourite of mine in Germany (and Austria) – schnitzel! It’s always a must! Haha.

Typically when you’re actively looking for something it seems to be impossible to find. A few months after this trip I was trying to find a pub in Edinburgh and seemed to be in the only neighbourhood in Scotland lacking a pub!  A similar fate occurred here where all I was looking for was somewhere with schnitzel on the menu and I seemed to get lost in the Portuguese district of the city with every passing restaurant bizarrely only offering Portuguese or Brazilian cuisine. Eventually I stumbled upon a place with what I was after and I washed it down with a couple of beers.

Still a little undecided on my evening plans, I was torn between trying to see a show or checking out the famous St Pauli area and Hamburg nightlife. My indecision meant, in the end, I didn’t really do either. I didn’t go see a show and by the time I’d made that decision I was on the other side of the city and didn’t fancy a journey back across town to St Pauli.

St Pauli is littered with bars and restaurants whilst also being home to Hamburg’s Reeperbahn (red light district) so is a popular evening spot whilst in Hamburg, whatever your intentions. The latter is perhaps one of the most famous red light district’s after Amsterdam’s very own. I believe it’s the second biggest in Europe but don’t quote me on that!

Nevertheless St Pauli’s nightlife will have to wait for a return visit. On the plus side I had heard from a couple of friends on Instagram about this bar that had some really great beers on tap that also had beer flights on offer which meant I could try a few different beers. I figured it’d be a good alternative spot to enjoy my evening – particularly as it was much closer to my hotel than St Pauli.

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Whilst I quite liked this particular bar itself, it was surprisingly dead. It wasn’t on a main street and perhaps missed a lot of the tourist trade and being a Sunday night perhaps wasn’t going to attract too many locals either. It did mean though that I could sit at a table outside, admire the view and finish my night with a few beers.

Monday offered me half a day more to explore Hamburg before making the trip back to London. I wanted to take a good walk along Hamburg’s port / waterfront area as this is another thing Hamburg is best known for with so many boats (of all varieties) traveling through it daily. I spent a good amount of time people-watching and boat-watching before deciding to pick up some souvenirs to take home with me.

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Hamburg’s port area

Knowing this would be my last opportunity on this trip I decided I’d have my lunch at one of my guilty pleasures when traveling – the Hard Rock Café (HRC). If I know they’re based in a city I’ll often try to visit and tick another off my list.

Of the three I’ve been to in Germany (Köln, München and Hamburg) this was probably my favourite of the three. The experience, as ever, lived up to what you expect from a HRC and it was nice to squeeze in the visit before heading home.

 

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First one of these I’ve seen!

An added bonus to lunch at the HRC was that it was within walking distance of St Pauli so I thought I’d take a little detour through the neighbourhood. I didn’t venture over to the Reeperbahn because, much like Amsterdam, I expect it has a very different vibe to it during the day. However St Pauli as a whole seemed a nice area and it’s a shame I didn’t get to spend any proper time in the area. I admired the street art and took a quick glimpse at St Pauli’s football stadium before catching the train towards the airport.

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Outside St Pauli football stadium!

Hamburg’s definitely a city I’ll go back to but I’d probably stay a little closer to St Pauli next time as although I liked my hotel, there wasn’t too much in the area and personally I’d rather something a little more lively. Both the nightlife and the fish market would have been a bit less of a trek and maybe I’d have been able to experience both, rather than missing them. Nevertheless it was a wonderful trip and another part of Germany I can say I’ve visited!

I’d fully recommend a trip yourself and given I fully intend to return, please feel free to offer recommendations! Anyway, that’s it from me.

Next up on the blog? Thessaloniki!

All the best!

Jason

Dallas – Days 3 & 4 – April 2017

After a late night the day before (catch up here) I was in no rush to get out of bed on Friday morning, despite being my last full day in the city. It looked like I probably wouldn’t be seeing Amber again on the trip, which was disappointing, but it gave me a day to do whatever I pleased.

Not that there was much I particularly wanted to do, with the exception of going up Reunion Tower I’d seen much of what I wanted to in Dallas. I figured I’d go and check out a museum or two in the city. I made my first stop of the day the Dallas Museum of Art which was about half a mile away from my hotel. It meant I got a nice little walk in the Texas sunshine on route.

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Dallas Museum of Art

Soon enough I’d arrived at the museum and made my way in. It was quickly apparent that I’d be sharing the museum with a school group so I let them determine which way I’d be going. You’re all heading off to the right? Great, it looks like I’m going left then!

FYI: kids are loud! This wasn’t exactly brand new information I’d only just come to realise but dare I say it – kids from Texas are particularly loud. I don’t know if they were extra hyped because it was a Friday and the weekend was close but it didn’t take long for the screaming and running teenagers to find me despite my best efforts to repeatedly escape them. I’m pretty sure they were duplicating along the way as they just kept popping out from nowhere.

Company aside, I quite liked the museum itself. Some of the art and exhibits were cool and it was a fun way to enjoy my morning. It’s not too big as some museums are either, you can definitely spend a decent amount of time looking around but still feel like you’ve seen most of the museum’s contents in one trip. Content that I’d seen all I wanted to, I moved on and attempted to escape the hordes of school children.

Close to the museum was Klyde Warren Park which I’d heard was a pretty nice spot within Dallas. I imagine it probably could be, however on this particular Friday morning it was ridiculously busy. It’s not the biggest park, it’s pretty small actually, and it just seemed like every patch of grass was occupied by somebody doing something. Kids running around, people doing yoga, people throwing a ball around or something. It wasn’t a spot to take a breather and relax so I didn’t really stick around for long.

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I promise it was busier than it looks!

By this point Amber had messaged me, suggesting she would be free after all and perhaps we could go to Reunion Tower in the evening along with her family. I wanted to see Amber and I wanted to visit Reunion Tower too so it was a no brainer – of course! It did somewhat change my plans though. Originally I’d figured I’d go see Reunion Tower earlier in the day and then spend my evening visiting some bars I’d had recommended to me.

With a change of plans I figured I’d wander over to those bars now and pick up some lunch at the same time. The two places I’d had recommended to me were both in the Lower Greenville area, about 3 miles away from where I currently was. I’m sure there are better means of transportation to get yourself there but I’m of the belief the best way to travel a new destination is on foot. It might seem crazy to some people perhaps but I decided to walk it.

It might have been a three mile walk but there was actually very little to catch my eye. This was as mundane as most walks come. It was nice to see more of a real side to Dallas, opposed to the touristy downtown views but I can’t say the walk had really been worthwhile. Nevertheless I managed to find the odd landmark or building that peaked my interest, took a quick photo and before I knew it I’d arrived at the bar I was particularly intrigued by – “Truck Yard”.

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Dallas’ Truck Yard! Brews, Grub, Tunes!

It was instantly apparent why this place is so highly rated. The place was quirky and full of character and somewhere I quickly adored. Outside was just a jumble of mess really. You had a little lighthouse and long benches, a stage with a guitar hanging from the roof, an old Chevrelot which doubled up as a table to sit at. It reminded me a little of Szimpla Kert in Budapest but with a bit more American feeling to it.

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I picked up a beer menu, ordered one of the (many) beers that sounded particularly tempting and I found myself a bench to sit at outside. Also outside were my lunch options! At the back of the ‘yard’ were a bunch of food trucks, adding a bit of substance to the name of ‘Truck Yard’. There were a few different options and I think I ended up grabbing food from at least two of them in my afternoon there.

After finishing off my lunch and my beer I contemplated what else to do with my day and came to the conclusion there probably wasn’t anything I really wanted to do. As I said in my day one post, Dallas isn’t really a touristy city. Reunion Tower was the last ‘must see’ for me and that was already scheduled in for later so I decided to stay put. There wasn’t much left of my trip before I had to go home so why not soak it up and enjoy it? It was a beautifully sunny day, I had a nice spot to sit and relax and that beer menu also looked particularly tempting for an afternoon of drinking.

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Enjoying a beer or few.

The bar was surprisingly busy for a Friday afternoon, aided by about a dozen people in their 20’s walking in who’d just finished some charity event and presumably wanted to celebrate with a beer.

So far today I’d experienced a museum full of school kids, an overly crowded park and now a collective of fellow day-drinkers. It did beg the question if anyone in Dallas is actually productive on a Friday? Is anyone in school or work or whatever?

It seemed not! After a few beers I decided I’d better head back downtown, again choosing to walk the few miles to my hotel. The walk was a good way to sober up, in addition to stopping for a snack somewhere on the way.

Back at my hotel I dropped Amber a message to see what time she wanted to meet up, I had a bit of a wait so decided I’d just chill out at my hotel and temporarily “rest my eyes”.

I was quite conscious that with a few beers in me I might fall asleep, so I sensibly set an alarm just incase I dozed off. However it did little to avoid the inevitable happening and I woke up to darkness and a combination of a number of messages and miscalls from Amber – oops!

Fortunately I was staying close to Reunion tower, within walking distance infact, so a short while later I was apologetically arriving and meeting up with Amber and the family who’d made their way in to Dallas for the evening.

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Dallas by night, mid thunderstorm!

Reunion tower offered 360 degree views overlooking Dallas. I’m quite glad it ended up being one of the last things I did in the city, even better seeing it at night and in the midst of a thunderstorm. The lights of the city and the lightning flashing over it made for great viewing.

Unfortunately my afternoon nap had somewhat scuppered / delayed our dinner plans so following on from our fun at the tower we made our way out to dinner at some place with ridiculously sized meals. The added perk to eating here was that it was family friendly and there was a little play area, a little arcade like, so it kept Amber’s little girl (Blakely) amused and we found a few things to enjoy too!

Sadly with a little one our evening had to come to an end and as did my adventure seeing Amber. Amber drove me back to my hotel where we said our goodbyes and she headed home. It had been long overdue finally meeting and I was sad it had gone by so quickly.

I’d hoped to end my evening with a few drinks with our other friend Lanie, however it didn’t really materialise and we ended up taking a rain-check. Luckily only postponing things until the morning where we squeezed in a quick breakfast date before I left Dallas. We ended up going to some place that specialised in donuts so maybe not the healthiest breakfast but an enjoyable one! Haha.

It was nice to hang out again before I left Texas and we ended up having a good chat over a donut or two. Lanie kindly offered to drop me off at the airport which was also a good opportunity to listen to the end of Hamilton and also see how the other half lived! Our little detour on the way to the airport took us through what was a rich neighbourhood of fancy houses and mansions – vastly out of our price range but fun to look at all the different houses nonetheless. I didn’t get any photos but trust me when I say, some of them were beautiful!

Sadly I had to leave eventually. It had been a lovely end to my time in Dallas but like the night before, over far too quickly.

Overall I’m not too sure how Dallas rates as a city in its own right. I don’t feel like I did that much and additionally I don’t really feel like I missed out on anything else I’d wanted to do. It was fine as a city break but not somewhere I’d ordinarily feel I needed to visit again.

All that said, I have a fondness of Dallas and certainly think back fondly on this portion of the trip. It was a fun place to go out, there was cool street art throughout the city and given it’s a big city it doesn’t really have that touristy feel to it. I’ve no doubt most of the people I encountered were locals which makes it a worthwhile place visiting in my book.

On a personal note it was undoubtedly a highlight of my 2017 and I know it’s a city / state I’ll be returning to in the future. The company made it a wonderful few days and I’m craving a return to see some of my favourite people! Thanks again to Amber, Lanie and Macie for making it such a memorable first visit to Texas.

Sadly Dallas was the last of my three stops on this particular trip. I was asked a few times on my return what my favourite place had been and you really can’t compare the three. DC, Nashville and Dallas all offered amazing memories but they’re all incredibly different cities and nothing alike – once again showcasing how diverse the USA is. I’d recommend all of them for vastly different reasons and I’m likely to go back to all three at some point.

However as far as this trip is concerned it’s done and dusted so I’ll wrap this up here. Next up on the blog? Exciting news regarding my 2020 plans!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Dallas – Day Two – April 2017

Day one hadn’t really involved much. I’d planned to get in to Dallas around lunchtime and a police stop added about an hour on to our journey, by the time I’d checked in and stuff it wasn’t worthwhile doing much else before grabbing dinner with Amber and Macie before a few drinks followed. You can read more about that here.

Anyway, the next morning allowed me a chance to get my first real glimpse of Dallas and find my bearings. From a tourist point of view there isn’t huge amounts to do in Dallas so I didn’t have any major plans for my time in the city, my visit was based around visiting friends.

One of the few things I did know about Dallas was that it was the location of the famous JFK assassination so I decided I’d start my day with something JFK related and visit the JFK memorial.

Don’t bother!

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The JFK memorial. No, seriously, this is it.

Everybody interprets art differently but I just didn’t “get it”.. It’s an eye-sore and walking up to it you wouldn’t have a clue what it’s a memorial for. The USA has some incredible memorials but this isn’t one of them and I found it a real shame. I’d gone to see the memorial and instead my eyes were drawn to a pretty building across the street. The memorial was such a disappointment!

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Am I missing something?

My plan afterwards had been to visit one of the museums which had been recommended to me – the 6th floor museum which overlooks Dealey Plaza where JFK was assassinated but I’d had enough JFK disappointment for one day and decided I’d have to have a re-think. In the end I opted to go to Dallas’ aquarium instead.

The aquarium was busy, I think there were a few school groups on a day out so I felt like I spent a chunk of my time there trying to hurdle children. It was alright but not the best aquarium I’ve been to. When I visited Atlanta a year earlier, its aquarium proclaimed itself as the best in North America and I’d have to agree Atlanta’s was better than Dallas’. It’s still a good day out for the kids though.

Following on from a bit of time at the aquarium my attention switched to lunch. For those that have followed my travels you’ll possibly know that I’m a bit of a Hard Rock Café fanatic and in close vicinity of the aquarium was Dallas’ own HRC so it seemed a good lunch spot.

Unfortunately the HRC had other ideas, they were closed to the public due to a private party! I didn’t even know you could do that! Consequently it meant I wouldn’t be adding Dallas to the list of Hard Rock Café’s I’ve been to, I suppose it gives me an additional reason to return to Dallas though!

Seeing as I wouldn’t be eating at the HRC I contemplated where else I could go and decided I’d try find somewhere close to where I’d had dinner last night as there seemed to be a few places in the area.

On route I passed one of Dallas’ weirdest points of interest. The good thing about exploring on foot is you tend to see a lot more and I was taking in all of the views when I felt like I was being watched! Something on the opposite side of the street caught my attention – a massive eye ball!

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Dallas’ eyeball

I’d only passed it by chance but had to cross the street to get a better look, you can’t get particularly close to it but it was interesting nonetheless. Swiftly moving on eventually saw me arriving in to the Dallas area known as “Deep Ellum”. I passed the bar we’d eaten at the night before which was perhaps on the outskirts of Deep Ellum because once you get in to the heart of the area what you’ll find is street art everywhere!

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Deep Ellum!

It was quite the surprise! The whole area is full of art covered walls and murals. I was in amazement at the amount of art in the area on street after street after street. It’s an area you HAVE to visit in Dallas, particularly if like myself you’ve got an interest in seeing street art when you travel. I allowed myself to get lost for what felt like ages – every time I thought I was finished admiring it I’d spot another mural on the next street along.

My favourite piece was probably the proposal. I spotted a wall with “I LOVE YOU” written in massive writing and then on the corner of the wall a sweet little message asking the girl to get married. I thought it was such a clever idea and hopefully wasn’t wasted with a rejection! If anyone knows, please tell me she said yes? Haha.

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My street art admiration had completely distracted from my original intentions which were to find food! Eventually I stumbled upon a pizza place called “Serious Pizza” and it felt a pretty apt name. This was a serious pizza! The size of the slices were huge! I ordered a slice and it was still bigger than I’d anticipated! Two hands definitely needed!
Serious pizza wasn’t just serious about its food, the local area had obviously offered some inspiration and the walls were covered with their own murals which I thought were pretty cool! My favourite being the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles inspired piece.

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Having spent my afternoon trawling the area admiring the food and the art I popped in to one of the bars in the area for a drink to kill a little time before meeting up with Amber later on. The plan for the evening was a quick trip to Oklahoma!

Something that had come up in conversation at dinner the night before had been that I’d never been to a casino! They’re not common in the UK, I’m not sure why really as you can place a bet on just about anything here. Going to a casino sounded fun but the UK wasn’t the only place with a lack of casinos, gambling laws prohibit Texas from having them so we were contemplating driving up to Oklahoma or over to Louisiana and in the end we found ourselves driving up to Durant, Oklahoma.

It wasn’t a huge drive, an hour or so perhaps. Amber and another friend, Lanie, came and met me in Dallas and then we made the drive up together. It was fun to go on a mini road-trip together and cross the state line too! The car ride included Lanie introducing us to the famous musical “Hamilton”.

I knew of it but I’d never listened to it so we spent our trip up to Oklahoma listening to the first half of it and it won me over pretty quickly. It is something I’ve listened to a LOT since coming back from Texas and I’d definitely go and see it live so thank you Lanie!

Soon we were arriving in to Durant’s big casino. I always anticipated I’d visit a casino some day but it was always more likely to be Vegas if anywhere. Vegas I expect to be wild, big, noisy, lively. This had a very different vibe to it and felt more family-focused.

It was still fun but most of the other visitors seemed of an older generation. I took out about $20 I think and that was pretty much my limit. For me it was really the equivalent of playing the 2p machines you get at seaside resorts in the UK. You put your money in until it’s gone and that was pretty much my thinking here – spend the $20 until it’s all gone.

Had I won huge I wouldn’t have complained but I pretty much stuck to the $0.01 machines so there weren’t exactly huge rewards anyway. It was a fun time and I’m glad I’ve had my first casino experience. Vegas is still very much on the list but I think the need for more casinos in the UK isn’t something that would particularly bother me.

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Choctaw casino in Durant, Oklahoma

After leaving the casino we made the slow drive back to Dallas, taking a little detour through some more rural parts of Northern Texas. Amber gave me a little tour of where she’d grown up, went to school and even the town she worked in now. It was pretty late and consequently dark but it was still cool getting to see this small part of Texas and putting an image to the places I was vaguely familiar with because of Amber.

By the time they dropped me off at my hotel it was pretty late, silly o clock in the morning so I made my way up to my room and we said our goodbyes. It left me with just one full day left to enjoy in Dallas. Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason

Dallas – Day One – April 2017

If you read my last post (here) you’ll know that reaching Dallas was quite an ordeal but I was finally here! I was in Texas, probably five years too late but I’d actually made it. It felt a bit surreal. I didn’t really know much about Dallas in truth but I was here to finally see a friend (Amber) of many many years!

I arrived in Dallas with a dead phone after 15 hours on a bus so arriving at my hotel was firstly an opportunity to charge my phone but secondly to just enjoy a little bit of comfort. I’d done nothing but ‘relax’ and sit on a bus for hours but it felt nice to be away from that environment and in a comfy hotel room. Eventually my phone was back on and I was keen to see Amber as soon as possible.

I hadn’t really seen anything of Dallas yet but we arranged to meet for dinner at a nearby part of town, along with Amber’s friend Macie. This was a three-city-trip spanning Washington DC, Nashville and Dallas. One of the first impressions I made of DC was that the architecture in the city is stunning, my first taste of Nashville was hearing music absolutely everywhere! In contrast on my walk to our meeting point my first impression of Dallas was one of confusion – “why are there so many damn roadworks?” I don’t know what was happening in the city but they were everywhere and a bit of an inconvenience walking around too haha. Dallas was not off to the greatest of starts!

Anyway, I arrived at this little bar before Amber and Macie and couldn’t help but notice on the front door there was a sign reading something along the lines of “no guns permitted”. It astounded me! Did this need clarifying? Is America that gun crazy that you have to clarify that you’re a gun-free bar?

Maybe it’s the crazy European in me but would this put people off eating or drinking here? “I can’t take my gun to dinner? Forget it!”

Why would you need a gun with you? If that had read “guns welcome” instead would people legitimately have felt safer going in?
Don’t like your service? Shoot the waitress! Someone accidentally knocks your drink over? Blow their brains out! Maybe it’s just me but walking in to a bar full of guns (particularly adding alcohol in to the mix) would have me on edge if anything.

Anyway moving on from my own bemusement, Amber and Macie had soon arrived to join me and in we went (without guns obviously). I don’t really know how to explain the feel of the bar, it felt a little run down but in a charming way? I really liked the character of the place and I guess it felt a little more me – I’m not one for high-end cocktail bars haha.

Having browsed the menu I decided I was going to get a burger but wasn’t prepared for the judgment of all of Texas (slight exaggeration) that was coming my way.

“How would you like your burger?
“Well done please”
“You’re not from around here are you?”

Amber and Macie sat opposite me were both amused. My welcome to Texas had been a prolonged drug and gun search and yet I’d somehow committed a bigger Texan crime here!
“Well done?!!! In Texas? Time to rethink that no guns policy!”

I’d only been in Dallas five minutes and I’d already offended the locals. Dinner was good though and it was so nice to finally be spending time and chatting in person after such a long friendship.

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Barcadia – Beers and arcade games, what more could you want?

After dinner we moved on to a nearby bar called Barcadia – a bar with the added bonus of a number of arcade games you could play. They had a bunch of the ‘classics’ which proved to be fun along with some drinks. Unfortunately it was only the two of us drinking, Macie was sadly the designated driver for the evening but “kindly” suggested that me and Amber do a “pickleback shot”. – whatever the hell that was!

Up for a drink and a little intrigued I went up to the bar, ordered myself a beer and then two pickleback shots. The pickleback came accompanied with one of the following. There were three choices, I can’t remember exactly what the choices were but it would have been one of the following four: Tequila, Sambuca, Vodka and Whiskey.

I have the feeling Amber decided on whiskey. I say whiskey because I was dreading it and I don’t think I would have with the other options! Whiskey usually results in me being sick immediately so I was expecting the worst but given how rare this opportunity was to enjoy the company I figured I’d drink whatever.

We’ll go under the premise it was whiskey. Irrespective of the choice, I still didn’t really know what a “pickleback” shot was, nor how you took it as she poured two drinks – the other being pickle juice. Was it like a Jagerbomb? Whiskey and pickle juice in one? Do you drink it seperately? What’s the deal?

I enquired with the barmaid who advised that you take the shot of whiskey and then follow it up with the pickle juice to “take the taste of the whiskey away”. It doesn’t sound too bad, right?
I don’t think pickle juice is all that common in England so it wasn’t something I’d ever had before – I don’t know what the consensus is across the pond but I hear the word juice and I’m expecting something nice! Something kids would drink, you know?

We get back to our table and I get ready. I’ve got one hand on the whiskey, one hand on the pickle juice. I’d already braced myself for the sickening taste of the whiskey so I had a firm grip on both glasses ready to wash down the taste with the pickle juice as quickly as possible. “Go!”

I downed the whiskey (or whatever it was) – “bleurgh”. It was everything I expected it would be– awful! Fear not though, here comes the pickle juice to save the day!

“BLEURGH. What the fuck is that?” I nearly gagged. My reaction had Amber and Macie in hysterics – I’d responded worse to the demon juice than I had the whiskey. There’s a reason pickle juice is not commonly consumed in England – it’s bloody awful!

Want to do a pickleback shot in Texas? Down the pickle juice and then have yourself a whiskey to take the taste away! I’m so glad I’d ordered a beer at the same time just so I had something to rid myself of the taste of the pickle juice. That pickleback shot still haunts me! Perhaps it’s karma for all of the times I’ve inflicted Jagerbombs upon people?

All that said, for some reason Amber loved them and kept going back for more. I stuck to the beer from that point on rather than attempt any other crazy concoctions of shots. After a few more pleasantly tasting drinks we decided we’d move on to our next bar –  which just so happened to be home to a mechanical bull!

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When in Texas..

 

This bar had a few more people there but still wasn’t overly busy, probably because it was a Wednesday night. We ended up having a couple of beers and then attention focused to the bull – “when in Texas..”

I’d needed the few beers to get to a point where I was comfortable of making a fool of myself. I don’t think it went terribly, not that I stayed on for majorly long but it felt like an alright first attempt. It’s probably something I’d do again but maybe with a little focus on trying to enjoy it more, I think you get so wrapped up in concentrating on trying to stay on that you don’t enjoy it fully. Maybe that just comes with practice though.

We didn’t stay much longer after that. Amber was a little drunk and the pair of them still had a bit of a drive home so we called it a night. It’s a shame Macie hadn’t been able to have a few drinks with us but overall it had been a fun first night in Dallas.
Macie kindly dropped me back at my hotel before they headed home. On the drive I couldn’t help but admire night-time Dallas, much prettier on the eyes when lit up with the lights of the city.

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Me and (half of) Amber! Blame the photographer! Haha

It was a fun first evening in the city and we managed to get a couple of photos to mark the occasion, although hopefully next time in Texas we get some better ones and some with Amber’s whole face! Haha.

Anyway, early impressions were that I was going to enjoy my time in Dallas. Stay tuned to read all about the rest of my trip!

Jason

Welcome to the USA – Texas style!

Following on from Washington DC and Nashville, the third and final stop of my mini US tour (Apr 2017) was Dallas. If you’ve been with me on this journey from the beginning you’ll possibly remember that my motivation for this entire trip was to visit some friends,

With a friendship dating back well over 10 years, my first trip to Texas had been long overdue. I’d hoped to visit sooner but sometimes things don’t quite go to plan. Nevertheless it was finally happening and I was so excited! All I had to do was get there from Nashville.. I decided I’d take an overnight bus!

This was my first time traveling on a Greyhound bus and this story probably begs the question why it wasn’t my last. I thought an overnight bus journey was a fantastic idea. It was going to be a long journey (14-15 ish hours) whatever time I traveled so why not travel in “dead time” as I like to think of it. Why waste daytime hours traveling when you can do it in hours you’ll be sleeping, right?

A fool-proof plan so I thought – I was wrong! My bus left Nashville late on Tuesday evening and at around 2-3am I was being woken up and thrown off a bus in Memphis. “We need to clean the bus!”

Now? You couldn’t have done this in Nashville at a somewhat more reasonable time? Can’t you just clean around me? I want to sleep!

I remember little of Nashville’s bus station, and you can read why here, but Memphis’ I remember as clear as day. For one it was pretty small so a lap of the station didn’t take very long. Secondly, given I was a little drunk and sleepy I didn’t dare make use of the available seating in the station. I knew if I sat down I’d be waking up hours later stranded in Memphis – I had to ensure I stayed awake!

Following a 30-45 minute break we were finally allowed back on the bus and I fell asleep pretty instantly. My next memory was waking up in Little Rock to the most beautiful sunset! It felt like it anyway, the reality is it probably wasn’t but when you spend 13-14 hours on a bus you probably tend to exaggerate the highlights a little.

I admired it beautifully and swooned over Little Rock. Wait.. Little Rock? We’re in Arkansas! We’re no longer in Tennessee and we’re in a new state, that little bit closer to Texas! Feeling excited I made sure to stay awake from that point on and admired the sun rising up over the US.

Soon enough we’d arrived at our first stop in Texas, a scheduled 15 minute stop to allow us enough time to use the facilities and stock up on snacks. However before the first person could even get as far as stepping off the bus they were turned around and returned to their seats by two officers who climbed on board.

“Welcome to Texas! Time for a gun and drug search!”

Perhaps it’s something about the Southern states in the US but the whole “welcome to the USA” could do with a little work, some of you long-time readers will recall I had a similarly “warm welcome” on my trip to Atlanta. If you missed that you can read it here!

Anyway, back to Texas. I can’t recall what they actually said, I’ve probably put it friendlier than it actually was but nevertheless I was still more relaxed than most. As you’ve probably established by now I’m pretty laid back but additionally I knew I had nothing to worry about. Just co-operate and you’ll be gone!

One by one the officers rummaged through each passengers belongings before dismissing them from the bus. By the time my turn came I was fully prepared for them to look through what they needed to but what I perceived to be helpfulness went unnoticed. It didn’t stop a patronising bunch of questions anyway.

I don’t know if it’s just because we were inching that bit closer to Mexico but having seemingly answered all their questions correctly and having found nothing in my possession I was disposed of like vermin. I’m not sure there was a proper signal that suggested I could go, just a grunt and a look of bemusement at what I was still doing here.

“Oh, I’m free to go? Your communication skills are excellent by the way!”

I gathered my things together and picked up everything I didn’t want to leave behind on the bus and then committed the crime of the century. I thought I’d check my pockets to ensure I had everything I needed and then got smacked with the full force of this officer’s shitty attitude.

“WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING!!?”

“I..”

“Don’t put your hands in your pockets!”

“What? Why don’t you get stuffed!”

Alright, so maybe I skipped saying that last part but it certainly crossed my mind, worded a little stronger than that too. Why give me such shitty attitude over something so trivial and literally just after searching my body and my possessions? What exactly do you think are in my pockets that you don’t know about?

Despite having a million thoughts running through my head, I wasn’t sure any of them would actually be appreciated so I settled for smugly keeping them to myself (“Ha, I told him.. in my head at least..”) and getting off of the bus.

One by one passengers followed but a couple of guys were escorted off. I don’t know whether they’d actually found something in their possession or whether they just couldn’t bite their tongue if faced with the same “friendly” attitude.

Unfortunately the delays added a good hour on to our journey, all I wanted to do was get to Dallas. Eventually one of the guys came back, some young black guy who proudly proclaimed “Daddy’s back!” as he stepped on to the bus.

It was a well-received return on board including by myself, I loved the cockiness of it having been in no doubt he was probably panicking only a few minutes earlier. I guess if he had anything he was let off with a slap on the wrist.

I don’t know what happened with the other guy, perhaps he slipped back on and I didn’t notice but there was little concern from anyone else about his whereabouts and we were off! It’s surprising what a gun and drug search can do for the mood of the place.

Everyone had perked up a bit and the previously-quiet bus was now full of chatter, including my neighbour who’d brightened up a bit. Everyone was pleased to be on the way again and I suppose it provided a good story to tell at a later date. A warm welcome to Texas and further example of the famous Southern Hospitality. They don’t warn you about the interrogations and searches!

Fortunately it was an otherwise uneventful journey from there. My only other gripe with the journey was that the power outlets didn’t seem to work on board. I’d done nothing to preserve my battery life on my phone in Nashville on the presumption I could charge it overnight but none of the outlets seemed to be working so all of the passengers found themselves in the same predicament of not being able to charge our electronics.

Now ordinarily it wouldn’t be a problem but my own cockiness / confidence has risen quite significantly. I went to Sydney as a newbie traveller a few years earlier and didn’t have a clue what I was doing so I was ridiculously prepared. I knew journeys, locations, street names, adjacent street names and on and on and on. I knew Sydney better than the locals having not even been there! Alright, I’m exaggerating but you get the point. I was prepared for every eventuality and had an endless supply of paperwork (and copies) should anything go wrong.

Four years later why would you bother with any of that? I’ve travelled plenty and you don’t need to go to all of that effort. Contacts are on my phone, maps on my phone, accommodation details on my phone and consequently I arrived in to Dallas with a dead phone.

I’d made it to Dallas but now where do I go? I don’t know where I am, I don’t know how to get to my hotel, I don’t even know what hotel I’m staying at – what was the name of it again?

I figured I’d just wing it. Dallas is tiny right? I was obviously going to just stumble upon where I wanted to be. Let me add I’d remembered one small detail, I was staying on Commerce Street, I had no idea which hotel but I figured if all else failed I’d get a taxi to Commerce Street and charge my phone at an establishment somewhere to save me.

However I wasn’t in any rush so plan A was just to see where I ended up – perhaps I’d even find somewhere for lunch that I could also charge my phone at.

So I stepped out of the bus station and had a decision to make – left or right? I opted to go right but I only got as far as the street corner and something changed my mind. Travelers instincts or intuition maybe but right just didn’t feel right to me so I turned around. Left it is!

I walked in the opposite direction to the next street corner. Where am I anyway? I looked up and would you believe it, there was a sign reading ‘COMMERCE STREET’. Unbelievable! The one street in the entire city I had to find and it was there in front of me!

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Left or right out of the station?

Now I know what you’re possibly thinking, it wasn’t coincidental. For instance Dallas’ bus station is downtown and I’d chosen to stay downtown, perhaps I’d picked this particular hotel as it was this close to the bus station. It certainly sounds like something I would do so I couldn’t rule it out but I don’t remember doing this and certainly at the time it wasn’t something I’d expected. It may have been pre-meditated but it was forgotten about by the time I’d reached Dallas.

Even with that stroke of luck in mind, I could easily have gone right instead of left! It might have been justice too and a lesson learned. I should have had to face the embarrassment of walking miles, getting ridiculously lost and then having some taxi driver mock me as we drove past the bus station on route back to my hotel.

However the reality was all I’d achieved was boosting my ego further! I’m a genius! I don’t need tonnes of paperwork, instead of biting me in the ass I’d ended up exactly where I wanted to be anyway.

Admittedly I still didn’t know what the name of the hotel was, nor which way up or down Commerce Street my hotel was. From memory I was stood at 1100 Commerce Street and I knew I was staying at 1900. I turned right and the next sign I came to was 1200 which was again a stroke of luck and before I knew it I’d arrived at my hotel problem-free.

I was met with a friendly receptionist, checked in and then collapsed in my room. I was finally in Dallas! Stay tuned for the rest of my first day next time on the blog!

Jason

Nashville – Part Two – April 2017

Hey everyone! It has been a little while since my last post so I thought I’d kick this post off with a little explanation as to why. Haleigh’s visit to England was the biggest reason why in all honesty, she was here for two weeks and obviously we wanted to maximise our time together around work. We spent a couple of days in Paris and did some other cool stuff. Additionally I turned 31 yesterday so another Wednesday passed me by without posting in honour of birthday things.

Speaking of which, I typically try and post once a week and Wednesday has generally been my day of the week I try and get a post out. I intend to change that going forward so welcome to the first of what will hopefully be a weekly Thursday evening post. I’m not particularly busy during the week but obviously things crop up from time to time. However Thursday is a day I’ll typically have free every week. Nobody has Thursday plans do they? (HA! If you know, you know.)

Anyway, last time out on the blog I talked about part one of my trip to Nashville so let’s get on with part two shall we?

Nashville had very quickly won me over on day one, you can read more about that here, but there was still the best part of a day left in the city for me to enjoy before my overnight bus journey to Dallas.

I’d had four nights in the US and three of those had been spent sleeping in a hostel in DC so it was hard to pull myself out of bed in the morning, I’d enjoyed my first night in a hotel and it had been particularly comfortable. Eventually I got up, freshened up and went to check out via a little detour. I hadn’t had time to use it but one of the selling points for the hotel was a guitar-shaped swimming pool and I had to swing by to get a photo before departing. Very fitting for music city!

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Having checked out of the hotel I made my way back over the “deadly” bridge from the night before and in to downtown Nashville. I had a few ideas on what I could do in the city but the first thing that really caught my eye was a sign for the Johnny Cash museum, I was a little intrigued so walked down towards it but just before I got there I stumbled upon the ‘Sun Diner’. I wasn’t seeking breakfast but all of a sudden it seemed really appealing so I popped in.

Inside was this pretty diner. I don’t know if it had any connection to Tennessee’s famous Sun Record Company but given the name and the long wall of portraits and memorabilia it seemed plausible. If there is no connection, it certainly seems to have been inspired by Tennessee’s musical history. The food was good too! I ordered some pancakes and along with a cosy atmosphere it’s certainly a breakfast spot I’d recommend.

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Sun Diner, Nashville

Given the Johnny Cash museum was only next door you think I might have made this my next stop following on from breakfast but oddly by the time I’d finished I didn’t really fancy it. I continued exploring and soon came across Nashville’s Hall of Fame walk. It’s essentially Nashville’s Hollywood equivalent with the floor covered in stars representing musical legends such as Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Cash and more.

Moving on, one thing that had repeatedly been recommended to me was Nashville’s country hall of fame museum. I really wanted to see what all of the fuss was about so made this my next stop. With minimal exceptions, country music isn’t something we’re typically exposed to in the UK and consequently wasn’t a genre I’d really grown up with so I wasn’t sure I’d enjoy this museum too much.

It didn’t get off to the best of starts with the first exhibit being dedicated to ‘Alabama’. My first thought was actually that it was a cool concept. So this room would be dedicated to the state of Alabama, perhaps Tennessee another and who knows what other country-loving states they’d exhibit. However I’d completely misunderstood, this wasn’t a room dedicated to the state of Alabama, it was dedicated to the “world famous” band called Alabama.

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Alabama! The band, not the state!

Oh of course! That amazing, incredibly well known, highly successful band called.. wait, who? Alabama? Well known? Highly successful? I’ve never heard of these guys!

Admittedly I don’t pretend to be some musical guru, history will prove I’m a terrible pub-quiz teammate when it comes to music rounds but throw me a bone here. I’d gone in to this museum worried that I knew nothing about country music and this first exhibit pretty much smacked that theory right in my face. I was now worried the museum was going to be a complete bust.

Don’t get me wrong, the Alabama exhibit was actually quite interesting and informative. I went out of there feeling like I knew the band a little better and the exhibit was well presented too. Ultimately though it meant nothing to me and was probably one for the Alabama fans.

Fortunately things picked up from there and I LOVED the rest of the museum. I quickly appreciated how much influence country music had had on the world and some of the great legends and musical icons that the genre had given us. The museum delved in to a number of household names. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan, Taylor Swift and on and on and on.

It’s an incredible museum, one of the most enjoyable I’ve been to infact. It was presented really nice, not overly crowded, really interesting and there were plenty of interactive pieces too. Be it memorabilia or access to unreleased clips I just seemed to find myself immersed in to the world of country. I spent far longer exploring the museum than I’d anticipated and probably could have enjoyed it for longer too. However I was conscious that there was still more of Nashville for me to see.

It was around 1 by the time I came out I think so my morning had flown by. Unfortunately by the time I exited the museum, rain had appeared. I stepped out in to the street and there was a light drizzle so I decided to duck in to one of the first bars I encountered to get out of the rain. I figured I could have a quick drink whilst waiting for the rain to pass and catch a bit of the set from the band setting up on the stage in the corner.

I finished off my beer but the band hadn’t started yet so I gave them the benefit of the doubt and ordered a second, I wanted to hear a couple of songs at the very least! The band eventually kicked things off and were quite good, the old couple that had been sat next to me at the bar got up to dance which was just adorable.

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Legends Corner, Nashville

By beer number three the heavens had opened, there was a fully blown thunder-storm which combined with the near-perfect setting gave me zero desire to head back out in to the street. Others looked on (and filmed on their phones) in amazement at how badly it was coming down. Every few minutes some poor drenched soul would come flying through the door seeking shelter. Until things calmed down I had no intention of going anywhere and continued to enjoy the music, friendly atmosphere and an attentive barmaid who kept the beer flowing.

Beer four was quickly followed by beer number five and oh would you look at the time – it’s drunk-o-clock! This was NOT how things were supposed to go. I was catching a 14 hour ish bus to Dallas that night and my big plan to ensure I slept easy was to spend my evening bar-hopping and having a few beers. Beer makes me sleep easy so it was a fool-proof plan to get sleep on an overnight bus.

However my morning and afternoon was reserved for exploring Nashville, this damn thunderstorm had scuppered my afternoon plans. Instead of exploring Nashville all I’d achieved was a ‘rehearsal’ to the evening plans. I realised I was going to have to grab some food which unfortunately wasn’t a possibility where I was, sadly I was going to have to brave the miserable Nashville weather.

My intention was to walk down to the Hard Rock Café at the end of Broadway, I’m a fan of HRC’s anyway but where better to visit one than in music city? Sadly I quickly abandoned that plan, I didn’t fancy the extra two hundred yards down the street and jumped in to a restaurant a little closer. In hindsight it was probably a bad decision and I should have powered on to the HRC. I didn’t really enjoy my choice.

The food was fine but it wasn’t a “here for the night” place so with a fuller stomach I moved on. I had been recommended a couple of bars and wanted to see at least one of them before leaving Nashville so made my way over to the famous and highly rated BB Kings.

In all honesty I just didn’t feel it. I’m not saying you shouldn’t visit but personally I just felt completely out of place! Admittedly the numerous beers earlier probably hadn’t helped and made me a little more paranoid because I just felt like EVERYONE was staring at me. All I wanted to do was finish my beer as quickly as possible and get out of there!

Alas my next problem. I ordered the local IPA on the menu and my waitress returned to tell me that it was unfortunately unavailable and asked what I’d like instead. I didn’t have a clue so asked for a recommendation – “the Bearwalker” – alright, sure, let’s do that!

Back comes my waitress a little later and sits down a black beer in front of me. This is my IPA (Indian PALE ale) replacement? I’d been hoping for a like-for-like recommendation. Do I complain? I mean technically it is what I ordered, I just didn’t know what I was ordering.

I’d like to give her the benefit of the doubt and hope it was an honest mistake. It’s possible her beer knowledge was limited but it’s also possible she was completely trolling me and purposely found the darkest beer on the menu to serve me (seriously, paranoid much?).

Anyway, of course being English I stuck with the undesirable beer rather than send it back and opting for something different. I do drink dark beers occasionally but it’s by no means my go-to beer. I find them less enjoyable, they’re usually a higher-percentage so get me drunker and consequently they take me longer to drink. Ordinarily it wouldn’t be a problem but unfortunately I did quickly feel out of place and I now found myself in a place I didn’t want to be at, with a beer I didn’t want to be drinking and sadly drinking it at the world’s slowest pace.

I was already drunk and this beer was probably the one that tipped me over the edge. The sensible thing to do would have been to have just left the beer but it wasn’t the cheapest place and I was reluctant to pay near $10 for a beer I wasn’t going to finish.

On the plus side it did kill some time and the music playing was enjoyable too. Looking back I think it was my position (literally and mentally) that probably spoilt my visit. I was already drunk before the “bearwalker” so might have enjoyed BB Kings a bit more had I been sober.

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Additionally for some reason they sat me down in the restaurant so I was amongst other diners enjoying their food and chatting away. It didn’t feel like a bar or a club to me, it felt very much like you should be here for food and the music is a bonus. Whereas all I really wanted was to enjoy the blues music and have a drink, perhaps if I’d sat at the bar area I would have felt a bit more relaxed and enjoyed it more so I’m willing to give it a second chance next time but on this occasion I didn’t stick around for a second beer.

“Wise decision Jason..”

Hold off on the praise because although I moved on, I stupidly returned to one of the bars from the night before and squeezed in one more beer before bidding farewell to Nashville. I certainly didn’t need that last beer but I suppose the only alternative was (water, food, fresh air, NOT another beer) to wait around for ages at the bus station.

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George Jones bar – I liked this place a lot!

Things are a little hazy from there. I remember leaving the bar and trawling through the wet streets and puddles of Nashville en route to the bus station but my memories of Nashville bus station are minimal. I’m surprised I even found it given how drunk I was, let alone ensuring I got on the right bus (“Welcome to Canada!”).

My next clear memory was getting woken up and thrown off the bus in Memphis at 2am so they could “clean the bus”. Thanks Greyhound, you couldn’t have done this at 10pm in Nashville at a more reasonable hour?

Unlike Nashville, Memphis’ bus station I remember clear as day. I spent 45 minutes pacing this little room and you quickly appreciate every little detail, I didn’t dare sit down as I wasn’t sure I’d stay awake and I didn’t particularly fancy waking up in the morning and finding myself stranded in Memphis.

After what seemed like an eternity we were allowed back on to the bus. I must have dozed off almost instantly because the next thing I remember was waking up to this beautiful sunrise in Little Rock, Arkansas! It wouldn’t be long before I’d be in Texas. More on that to come!

Stay tuned!

Jason

Nashville – Day One – April 2017

Those of you following the story from the beginning will know this was a three-city trip and that I’d kicked it off in Washington DC. You can recap on that here but it was time to move on. DC had really set the standard for this trip, it surprised me a lot and had really exceeded my expectations and I was hopeful that Nashville would follow a similar trajectory.

First things first though, I had to get there! I’d bitterly got myself to bed at a reasonable time, sacrificing a night out in DC, which ensured I was up early for a morning flight. Morning flights are typically a no-no for me where possible. I don’t mind as much when it comes to beginning the holiday early and getting to my destination in the morning but there’s always that risk of flying hungover and feeling terrible (I’m looking at you Lisbon / Newcastle).

Fortunately I’d avoided that dilemma here and I was up early to pack the last of my bits, get ready and perhaps have a last look around DC before making my way to the airport. I finished freshening up, squeezed the last of my things in to my bag and as I zipped it up, my zip came flying off! My bag was now uncloseable (is that even a word?)

“Ahhh! Panic!!”

Alright, alright so most of you will know I’m not really the panic type. I’m ridiculously laid back and knew I had some time before I had to leave but regardless, I still had a problem that needed resolving and quick! I suppose there’s a lesson to be learnt here. Something along the lines of “pack the night before Jason” or some other crazy advice but much like my hangover situation I’m going to lay the blame at another pesky morning flight – never book a morning flight!

I was short on time and didn’t even know where to begin looking. I hadn’t spent my time in DC shopping, I didn’t have a clue what was local to find a replacement. The hostel staff weren’t particularly helpful either so I just set off and hoped for the best. About 50 yards later I realised how ridiculous it was to even contemplate walking around with a half-open bag and in the end I just hedged my bets and flagged down a taxi.

To the airport! Why waste my time in DC? I didn’t have a clue where to start looking and I was 90% certain there’d be somewhere at the airport I could buy a replacement. In all honesty I don’t quite understand why because who hasn’t got their luggage sorted by the time they’re arriving at the airport?

“Idiots like you Jason!”

Touche but still, it’s a bit of a risky business model isn’t it? I’d estimate most passengers flying already have sufficient luggage opposed to uncloseable (I’m making it a word!) bags with them. Nevertheless my gamble had paid off and soon enough I was repacking my things in to an extortionately priced brand new suitcase. It ate in to a large chunk of my emergency money but that’s what it’s there for I suppose, problem solved.

Now I could relax, now I could focus on Nashville. I happily waved my bag goodbye at the bag-drop-off area and about 30 seconds later I realised what I’d done. Admittedly there wasn’t a huge selection of suitable bags at the airport but my “any bag will do” approach to shopping had somewhat backfired. I’d bought it, packed it and checked it in but.. what did it actually look like?

Was it blue? Or maybe black, or grey? What was the brand? Any distinguishable features? No?

“Panic again!!”

Yeah, that still didn’t happen. It wasn’t really my problem was it? My only concern was that I was hungry and really wanted some breakfast and a cup of tea. The luggage situation was future Jason’s problem, let him worry about that in Nashville. So feeling care-free I went and found myself some breakfast and was soon boarding my flight.

The plane was probably the smallest I’ve flown on, I reckon only around 100 passengers with pairs of seats on either side of the plane. It was cosy I suppose, perhaps even a little too cosy. My neighbour was some young woman who’d come well prepared with lunch, laptop and notebooks to work on. With that in mind she’d re-position herself dependent on her activity. Time to snack? Stow the laptop away. Time to work? Table tray down, laptop open.

The flight was going swimmingly and then I felt something brush up against my arm. Now, I swear this happened but every time I try and look back at it logically I begin to doubt my memory. Am I remembering this right? I mean, it doesn’t sound like your typical airplane etiquette or dare I saw the type of boundaries you’d expect with a stranger but nevertheless this is still my recollection.

So, I felt something brush my arm and as I looked to my right there was her leg. I can understand you’re in a confined space and perhaps your arms brush or your legs brush or oops, I’m really sorry and I knocked you but arm to leg contact? It felt weird, to me at any rate. She however didn’t flinch which just puzzled me more. She was perfectly content sat as she was rather than having her feet planted firmly on the floor.

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Photo by mododeolhar on Pexels.com

The above is obviously a stock photo found online but essentially similarly positioned sat down with her feet up on the airplane seat.

Is this normal? Is this how Americans flirt? I mean, of course I’m flattered but I’d be good with a traditional in-the-sky beverage if you want to get to know eachother better or even a hello would do. What’s going on? None of those thoughts exited my mouth of course, I just sat there in a confused state, maintaining stereotypical British politeness and refrained from apologising for having my arm in a completely natural position.

In her defence (“what!?) it was only for a minute or two before her feet were back on the floor of the plane and social etiquette had been restored. Perhaps she’d just been uncomfortable sat in one position for so long but most people tend to go and stretch their legs by having a wander on the plane. Anyway, the rest of the flight I’m pleased to say was unmemorable and we’d soon landed. Me and leg-lady went our separate ways and I was finally in Nashville!

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Nashville happens here!

I passed on through the airport, down to baggage claim and then I remembered what past-Jason had done. I went down to baggage claim and was worried it was going to be a nightmare. Fortunately there was only one flight’s worth of baggage on our allocated carousel, likewise it seemed most passengers hadn’t actually checked in a bag so there was only around a dozen bags at best whirling around but I still couldn’t tell you which mine was.

One by one they disappeared and inevitably one single bag was left on the carousel – I guess I’ll have that one then.

Don’t worry! It was actually mine, I did check the contents before I left the airport. Ordinarily I’d have probably just jumped in a taxi in to Nashville but it had already been an expensive morning. Far more than I’d budgeted for so I took the cheap option and went and found a bus I could catch.

Soon enough I’d arrived in downtown Nashville, I was in “music city” and it was instantly apparent. The second I’d stepped off the bus I could hear music, I think the music was coming out of some museum we’d stopped at but still, it was a great first impression of Nashville. The second sign that I was going to like Nashville only took a matter of minutes as some beer-bike-thing went pedalling past me. It looked like fun and Nashville already appeared to be a city that I was really going to like.

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Pedal Tavern – looked like fun!

I made my way across the river and checked in to my hotel. Within a few minutes I’d had a text from my friend Sam who was waiting outside. Sam, her husband (Scott) and their daughter (Ariel) had driven up from Alabama for the day to come and meet me.

I was hoping to get to Nashville earlier but I think it was around 2ish by the time we met up. We’d planned to go to the Parthenon, a replica of the famous sight in Athens. It’s not something you’d typically expect to find in a city such as Nashville but we were keen to check it out. It turns out it’s actually closed on a Monday, which was somewhat unfortunate given it was a Monday. However we still decided to go, ultimately the main attraction was the exterior anyway and just seeing the building. We didn’t really have to explore it too much further.

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Greece or Nashville?

We drove over to Nashville’s Centennial Park. It’s a beautiful setting for such a landmark and was pretty peaceful when we got there – probably because it was a Monday. It was quite cool to see up close though, walk around the park and get a few photos along the way.

It began raining which seemed a good time to call it a day and move on. We contemplated what to do next but there wasn’t too many options really. Given the weather we didn’t really want to be doing anything outdoors, it was late afternoon so didn’t really seem worthwhile checking out one of Nashville’s museums and we had a little’un with us too which meant we couldn’t really go pop in to one of Nashville’s many bars and watch some music either.

In the end we decided we’d grab a late lunch / early dinner which was a lovely chance to chat and catch up over pizza. It was undoubtedly a highlight of my time in Nashville and we even managed to get an obligatory photo from the day which was nice.

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Sam and Scott kindly treated me to lunch, it was unexpected but much appreciated (thank you again!) and met with a promise I’d return the gesture next time we get an opportunity to meet up. Sadly time was ticking away and with a little’un to worry about they had to make the drive back to Alabama. With the rain pouring they dropped me back at my hotel and we said our goodbyes.

I relaxed for a bit in my room and struggled with the idea that at some point I’d have to move again. I’d spent three nights in DC sharing a hostel dorm with three other people. Now I had privacy and a large comfortable bed – it was incredibly tempting to just have stayed there for the evening.

However I knew my time in Nashville was short and this was my only proper chance at a night out in “Music City”. Fortunately it seemed like the rain had stopped so I made my way back over the bridge and in to downtown Nashville with a clear plan – bar-hopping!

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The bright lights of Broadway, Nashville

Nashville is a dream night out. I’d heard a lot of good things prior to my visit and Nashville’s nightlife doesn’t disappoint. Broadway in particular is just an endless number of bars, most if not all of which offering some sort of live music to watch. Don’t like a bar? Move on to the one next door, or two doors down, or you get the point..

If it sounded good I was going in for at least a beer before moving on. The first place I walked in to was called the George Jones, it seems to double up as a museum during the day but upstairs was a nice bar. At the back of the bar was a female country singer which set a nice mood in the room. I think there was a rooftop bar too but given the drizzle I didn’t bother checking it out. It was a nice place, one I could have quite happily stayed at for much longer but after two beers I made a move. On to the next!

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The George Jones, Nashville

As suggested above, I didn’t have to walk too far before finding the next couple of bars I liked the look and sound of. One had a really nice atmosphere with some artist singing a mixture of his own songs whilst taking requests from the room. I can’t remember the name of it but I had a couple of beers there before moving on and picking up a CD on the way out.

I wasn’t typically someone that would listen to country music before this trip (Nashville has changed me!) but it’s nice supporting local artists where you can so I figured I’d pick up a little souvenir of my night. It was actually a bit of a disappointment hearing it when I got home, I enjoyed his live performance a lot more but perhaps that’s just because I had a few beers down me by that point.

A couple of bars, little more music and few more beers later I decided to call it a night. I could have stayed out a bit later but I’d had fun, was the right level of tipsy and was also conscious that I had to cross over a bridge on the way back to my hotel.

Fun fact but I have an irrational fear of bridges. I don’t know if fear is the right word but I certainly don’t like them. Don’t ask me why because I’ve got no idea. I don’t know what I think’s going to happen. I suddenly forget how to walk, lose my balance, stumble and go head first over the bridge? 100% plausible right?

I can’t explain it, certainly not logically and worse yet – it’s not even an every-time type fear which would at least make it somewhat rational. Some bridges I’m perfectly fine on – Brooklyn Bridge for instance I didn’t have a concern in the world about falling on to the oncoming traffic below.

Back to Nashville: irrational fear or not, to put myself most at ease I walked on the opposite side of the path as far from the bridge edge as possible and right by the road. Seemingly happier to be right next to the vehicles whizzing past me. Sure, I might get hit by a truck but at least I won’t fall in the river!

Well you’ll be pleased to hear my bridge walk was a success. I have a 100% success rate in fact, who’d have thought? I made it safely back to my hotel, ordered some room service as reward for surviving my “near-death” experience and then crashed in to the comfortable bed I’d been so looking forward to sleeping in. It was the perfect end to a memorable first day in Nashville.

Stay tuned for day two!

Jason

Washington DC, part two (Apr 2017)

Day one in DC had been long. I woke up around 4:30 am on Saturday morning before rolling in to bed at around 2am on Sunday morning. You can read more about that here but needless to say I was in no rush to get out of bed early on Sunday and slept in a little bit.

I wasn’t asleep majorly late but likewise there was no need for me to be up at the crack of dawn either. After freshening up a bit I decided to go on the hunt for breakfast which proved to be somewhat of a struggle. Admittedly I hadn’t done any prior research for breakfast spots so I’d left it to fate for a place to jump out at me in passing but nevertheless, my walk seemingly didn’t take me by any appealing breakfast spots.

Getting hungrier by the minute I soon passed a place which had a few outside tables but it looked a little posher than I’d ordinarily eat at. Perhaps it’s just because I’d been walking for so long and didn’t fancy taking another half an hour to find somewhere but I decided I’d give it a try. The weather in DC was particularly warm, even early in the day so I opted to get out of the morning sun and looked for a table inside.

It was quickly apparent that it was every bit as posh as it looked from the outside and I quickly felt out of place, dressed rather casually in shorts and a t-shirt. Nevertheless the staff were friendly and although a little more expensive than I’d intended when I set out, I was on holiday and why not treat yourself occasionally? It was a good breakfast and a good way to kick off the day.

After finishing off my breakfast I realised I wasn’t too far from Chinatown so I ended up strolling through the area very briefly, it’s pretty small in comparison to other Chinatown’s I’ve been to but it’s still nice to walk through.

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Chinatown, Washington DC

Quickly moving on I walked in the general direction of DC’s Capitol building. It was the one thing I was particularly keen to see today. There was plenty of cool architecture along the way, DC is a bit of a dream city on that front. I was happily snapping away and then across the street I’d see another cool building, then another around the corner and on and on and on.

Despite continually losing my way and getting distracted by something new catching my eye I eventually wound up in front of the Capitol building. It’s safe to say this is the standout landmark of the city and dare I say would be the standout landmark in most cities. Forget the White House, it’s the Capitol building people should be flying to DC to admire.

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The Capitol, Washington DC

It’s a lot bigger than I’d realised and it just blew me away. In front of it is a massive field and it’d make for the perfect picnic spot! I could have visited for longer, I did contemplate looking in to whether they do tours but thought better of it and went back to exploring. It’s certainly something I’d do next time I’m in DC though.

Close to the Capitol building is DC’s botanical gardens. I’ve visited a few in the US (and elsewhere) which usually have some sort of admission price but like many of DC’s attractions, this was free to enter. Perhaps for this reason I didn’t think it was as good as others I’ve been to. It was a nice respite from the DC heat but I didn’t spend much time there at all. Brooklyn’s and Atlanta’s botanical gardens were both better as far as the US is concerned.

Heading back outside, opposite the Capitol building is DC’s famous ‘National Mall’. For those not familiar with it, this isn’t a ‘mall’ of any kind. It’s essentially a long strip that  leads from the Lincoln memorial, past the reflection pool and up to the Capitol building. It’s a popular spot for protests and marches descending on DC and was perhaps most famously the setting for that “I have a dream” speech from Martin Luther King Jr.

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Security car along the National Mall

I walked from the Capitol Building along the National Mall, it’s a pretty area and would make for a good photoshoot setting if that takes your fancy. Whilst a solo photoshoot had no interest for me, I did end up taking a number of photos as I walked along.

Feeling a bit peckish, I decided to go grab a late lunch and conveniently not too far away was DC’s Hard Rock Café. I’m always keen to add a visit to my collection so I popped in, making this my third HRC that I’ve been to in the US. Typically when traveling solo you’re encouraged to eat at the bar, which doesn’t really bother me and usually means you’re eating pretty quickly.

I took a seat at the bar and the staff were typically friendly and encouraged me to look around whilst I waited. One of the standout pieces of memorabilia, if you can call it that, was a national flag on the wall which was made out of guitars which I thought was pretty cool!

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Guitar inspired national flag

Having satisfied my need for food I got back to exploring and wandered back towards the Washington monument and then on to the World War two memorial which I really liked. I think the US in particular is a country which recognises the services of their veterans and those that have served the country so you tend to find a lot of their memorials are impressive.

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The World War two memorial was undoubtedly my favourite. It’s eye-catching and along huge pillars lists every state within the US, plus other US territories which presumably went to war alongside them. DC has a number of impressive memorials but if you were to just visit one I think this should be it.

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World War 2 Memorial with the Washington Monument

I continued to wander, aimlessly really as I wasn’t too interested in visiting the museums on this trip. Many of them are free and they’d certainly be something I’d look to do next time but I was pretty certain there would be a next time.

DC had surprised me and was a city I really liked. I think it’s certainly underrated and deserves a little more hype about it, particularly when you consider it’s the capital. It’s a city I’ll definitely be going back to and with weather between 20-30c I wanted to enjoy being outdoors, the museums could wait for another trip and a rainy day.

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Another stunning building I just happened to pass. 

With time ticking away I decided I should slowly make my way back towards my hostel with one final landmark to get a proper glimpse at. I’d seen it in passing but had made a conscious decision to come back to it at some point. If there’s anything you have to see in DC it’s surely the White House and I knew irrespective of whatever else I did in DC that I’d make some time to see the White House – as it was I’d left it for last.

It wasn’t planned like that and you think it might be fitting that’s the last landmark to see in DC but actually, that might have been a poor decision. As I said above, DC was a city that really surprised me. I didn’t expect to like it quite as much as I did. I’d spent close to 48 hours admiring all aspects of the city, the architecture in particular is jaw-dropping. After having had my breath taken away on so many occasions I looked across at the White House and couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed.

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The White House

That’s it? I knew just around the corner was this stunning building, I’d seen it the day before and it stopped me in my tracks. I couldn’t even tell you what the purpose of the building was but that’s just DC. Even your bog-standard houses were dripping in character and beauty so the White House just felt a little insignificant.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice enough building. I’d say it’s nicer than the house I live in for sure but did it blow me away? Not at all. I’d already seen about 50 nicer buildings in DC alone.

“Who lives there then?”
“Arguably the most powerful person on the planet.”
“Oh..”

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A picture of me 500 miles away from the White House

I just didn’t get that Buckingham Palace wow factor from it. If you weren’t familiar with the White House (“Where have you been?”) you wouldn’t automatically assume there is someone of prominence or importance living there. The only giveaway might be that there’s about a 20 mile (I’m exaggerating..) perimeter from the fence to the White House.

It probably isn’t actually as far away as it feels but I think because it doesn’t have that grand scale you do end up feeling quite far from it. Again using Buckingham Palace as a comparison, I’d estimate you’re closer from fence to front door of that magnificent landmark than you are the White House.

Despite my general disappointment, it’s still something you’ve got to see when in DC isn’t it? Content I’d got a few photos I made a slow walk back towards my hostel. I was staying in the Adams Morgan neighbourhood and it surprised me that even on a Sunday night there was that buzz in the air. I could understand it the night before, it was a Saturday and you also had the Washington Capitals (Ice Hockey) playing which added to the atmosphere in the city but a Sunday? DC may be all politics by day (it’s not) but by night they definitely know how to enjoy themselves.

All I wanted to do was hop in to one of the many lively bars I passed but I’d been sick the day before so still wasn’t feeling 100% myself. Additionally I had an early morning flight so thought better of it, grabbed some food and bitterly had a relatively early and relaxed night. With three nights in DC I’m gutted I didn’t really get to enjoy the nightlife fully (the late night gig on Saturday was some consolation) but I told myself I’d make up for it next time.

Had it been the last night of my trip perhaps I’d have tempted myself out to some bar and faced the consequences in the morning. However I wasn’t flying home tomorrow morning, I was flying down to Nashville. Stay tuned for more on that!

Jason