Day One – the big trip to NYC!
Our first day was pretty much non-stop travelling. I love flying Air New Zealand, because they’re pretty much the best airline, and every time we’ve flown with them they’ve been awesome. Our 3.5 hour flight from Sydney to Auckland was great, as always, except for the fact that they messed up our meals, so only Baz got vegetarian. The attendants were super nice though, and offered us fruit, yoghurt, cheese and crackers. After waiting for a couple of hours in Auckland airport (the boys slept, I write a couple of blog posts, and Lee wrote report comments), we got our 12 hour flight to L.A. This is easily my favourite flight – I love that I get waited on, and can just sit and watch as many movies as I want. I chose Deadpool, and then 5 episodes of Gotham. Arriving in L.A., we had to get through customs (a strange process that is both automated and not) and then to the domestic terminal to catch out 6 hour flight to NYC. By the time we made it to JFK airport we were exhausted – we’d been travelling for approximately 27 hours. We spent the night at a Super 8 in Jamaica, Queens – a few miles from the airport. This hotel wasn’t the most amazing place, but the people were nice (the fixed our broken toilet at 2am!), and it served out purposes – we spent most of the night awake, thanks jetlag!
Day Two – Brooklyn and Hell’s Kitchen
The morning began with our first American breakfast of waffles, reconstituted orange juice and strong coffee. Actually, Lee and I had Vegemite on toast – I brought a tube of it with us! We then caught a cab to NYC, which despite initially being quoted $50, actually cost us $87. The driver was from Ghana, and kept telling us how much he liked Julia Gillard (‘that woman prime minister’) and tried to talk to Lee about cricket, which was really amusing. When we got to our hotel – the Skyline in Hell’s Kitchen – it was too early to check-in, so we dropped off our bags and hit the streets. We walked the five blocks to Times Square, and Lee got a T-Mobile SIM card ($70 for unlimited data for 4 weeks, plus 14GB of data for devices hotspotted). I already had in mind a few things that I wanted to do, so we started on the list – first up, Brooklyn! We initially thought about getting the Subway, but after nearly being scammed by a guy who tried to ‘help’ us purchase our tickets via the machine (and thus attempt to get $20), we opted for a cab. The cab took us straight down Broadway, and cost us just shy of $20 – the cabbie wasn’t impressed that Lee didn’t give him a tip, who knew cabbies needed tips?! The Brooklyn Flea is just under the Manhattan Bridge, and is this super cute market full of stalls selling arts and crafts and antiques – unfortunately for us it started raining about 5 minutes after we arrived, forcing the stalls to cover up in plastic. We found shelter in a pizza shop, and had our first American pizza for the trip – vegetarian with beetroot (which they call ‘beets’), and it was actually really tasty. When the weather cleared, we brushed the markets (they were jinxed now, and we were started to get tired already) and headed to the foreshore walk along the East River. It is such a pretty walk, they’ve made a cute path and some art installations, plus the view across to Lower Manhattan is awesome.
Next was the walk across the Brooklyn Bridge – it’s iconic for a reason. I couldn’t believe the walkway was all wood, it made me initially nervous, but then I got into the rhythm of checking out the skyline, and the people, and it was all good. It really is beautiful, and I highly recommend walking over it if you’re ever in NYC. Once we got to Lower Manhattan, we decided to walk and check out the World Trade Centre memorial – last time we were in Lower Manhattan, it was still being built. First we stopped off at St Peter’s church, which acted as a temporary meeting place/shrine in the days following the 9/11 attacks, and they have a rather moving exhibit inside. It was good for the boys to see the exhibit, especially Balin who is only 11 and didn’t have a strong understanding of the event. I actually found the church just as powerful a memorial as the actual ground zero memorial which is so stark, just a huge hole in the ground, with the names of the victims engraved around it. We didn’t go into the exhibition – there was a huge line, and it just felt sort of morbid going in there.
Balin had started to complain a lot about his feet – mine were hurting too – so we decided to get a cab back up to Hell’s Kitchen, which was a big mistake because the driver tried to scam us by taking us way around Manhattan, and we had to ask to get out on 42nd street, about 5 blocks and 7 streets from our hotel. Once we checked in, the boys decided to just chill, and Lee and I headed out for dinner at a Mexican restaurant, El Centro. We both ordered a drink (delicious) and fish tacos (which were insanely good) and as always we were floored by how great American service is – yes, you pay tips, but it’s worth it! After walking about 4 blocks to Wholefoods Central Park to buy beer and snacks, we made it back to our hotel completely shattered – what a huge day! Of course, we only managed to sleep until midnight, and then we were up for three hours – thanks again, jetlag!
Day Three – Midtown Comics, Central Park and Tiffany & Co
Breakfast wasn’t included in at our hotel, so we made up for that by visiting Sullivan’s Street Bakery which was just a couple of streets away. The boys and I had the most amazing doughnuts, full of yummy vanilla bean cream! Our first destination for the day was Midtown Comic in Times Square – a place we’d found on a previous trip to NYC. We spent about 40 minutes in there, immersed in the range of Marvel and DC stuff – I ended up getting an awesome Spider-Man lunchbox that I’ll keep my pens in at school, a Nosferatu Pop Vinyl, and a Marvel Universe trivia game. We walked to Bryant Park, and enjoyed sitting in the sun as we checked out our haul of goodies… and we rested our weary feet! We all decided we were hungry again, so we stopped in at a deli, grabbed some tasty stuff from the salad bar (which are freaking amazing, BTW – I wish we had them in Australia, so much variety!) and walked up 5th Avenue to Central Park. I love Central Park. Everyone I know knows that, because I tell them whenever I get a chance. We found a lovely patch of grass, and stretched out for our picnic. Perfect.
I must confess, that I have always wanted to buy a piece of jewellery from Tiffany’s & Co NYC – because like so many others, I love the Audrey Hepburn movie, and just wanted to be able to say that I had a token of being there, like she had been. Now, I’m no Holly Golightly, but I certainly can’t afford about 98% of the jewellery for sale at Tiffany’s. I did, however, find a sweet necklace with a pendant with a B engraved on it that I bought – and thanks to Lynne, the event was really special. I still haven’t opened up that little blue package, with its blue bow, and silver lettering. I’m waiting until I get home. Silly, huh?
On our walk back to the hotel we went via Trump Tower, and found a guy standing outside it (amidst the media, and cops) dressed in a penis suit, holding a sign saying ‘Photos with Trump’ – it was so awesome, that Lee and I had to get a photo. I wonder what that photo will mean in the future, after the presidential elections… I hope we can still laugh about the fact that someone like Trump was running, and be relieved that he didn’t get voted president.
That night we took the boys to El Centro (that’s how good it was the night before), and the boys enjoyed the fish tacos as much as we did! Back at the hotel the boys went for a night swim in the indoor pool on the top floor, and the lifeguard (a teenager with a whistle) turned the lights off so we could see the Manhattan skyline all bright and colourful… it was awesome. We went to bed exhausted, and a little sad that we were leaving NYC the next morning.
Day Four – Philly, Baltimore and Betsy
Our day started far too early for a bunch of very weary travellers, but we had to collect out hire car from 1st Ave at 7am, and we were staying on 10th Avenue. How did we get to Hertz? Walked, of course! Luckily there’s really nothing like walking through NYC, even early in the morning – oh, and we got to stop at Dunkin Donuts, which is always awesome. Getting the car was super easy, the lady on the desk was sweet, and despite the challenge of driving through increasingly congested NYC streets, we managed to get on our way south.
The first stop on this road trip to Washington DC was Philadelphia because Lee really loves it (we were there in 2011) and was keen to take me up the City Hall Tower. Sadly, we discovered when we got there that it was closed for maintenance. To make up for this disappointment we decided to find a vegan Philadelphia Cheesesteak which we did at this very cool little bar called The Royal Tavern. A lot of the food on the menu was either vegan or vegetarian, which isn’t very common in the States, and the atmosphere of the place was made even cooler by the addition of some punk music and a super attentive waitress. It was thanks to our waitress that we decided to stop in Fells Point, Baltimore. Despite the rain, Fells Point was really lovely – a sweet semi-colonial style harbour side town that has heaps of brew pubs, and nick knack shops. We found an awesome comic shop called Gorilla Comics, and Keenan stoked up again on Batman comics, and I got a Deadpool bobblehead Pop Vinyl.
Our final stop was easily the best of the day – Washington DC to spend the night with our awesome mate Betsy Whalen! There’s nothing better than catching up with someone in person who you speak with almost daily online – we love Betsy, and spending time with her, even for such a short time, was brilliant.
Day Five – Kingsport (haha!)
We gave Betsy an Aussie breakfast – Vegemite on toast, of which she bravely ate a small piece! In return, Betsy gave our boys a bag of presents from which they could open one per day, only if they weren’t annoying in the car. This was something her mother did when she was a child, and it’s still proving very effective with Balin. Thanks, Betsy!
This day was so uneventful, that all I can remember is eating Subway in a random small town and the woman serving me being annoyed by us asking for capsicum, not green peppers, and the fact that we stopped and bought a decent amount of fireworks. We stayed at the Super 8 in Kingsport, which was relatively clean (the room had a faint odour of cigarettes, and the bed covers were not the most attractive) and the staff were very friendly.
Day Six – Asheville, Smokey Mountain National Park, and Pigeon Forge
After a light breakfast of Vegemite on toast, and juice, we headed off towards Asheville, a small town that was recommended to us by the guy at the front desk of the Super 8. I’m really pleased we followed his advice, because Asheville is a super cute, artsy town that we all loved even though we only spent an hour checking it out. We had coffee and tea at the Double D Bus café which is an old double decker bus converted into a café – driven by a skeleton! We also loved the Before I Die I want to… chalkboard wall, where people added the one thing they wanted to do before they died – there were heaps of funny additions such as ‘take the ring to Mordor’. I feel like one day we’ll go back to Asheville.
We then drove through the Smokey Mountain National Park which is just gorgeous. The meadow outside of the visitor centre is so pretty, and the air smelt so clean and floral… it reminded us of the Yosemite meadow. The drive itself was nice, not too windy for me (I always feel carsick, plus I hate heights so some of the driving at Yosemite, and Kings Canyon I’m not found of). We saw a turkey run across the road, and a baby deer peeping out from the trees. Whilst we didn’t have time to do any of the hikes, I still really enjoyed the drive.
On the other side of Smokey Mountain National Park was the unforgettable Pigeon Forge. There’s not really any way of accurately capturing the weirdness of this place – it’s like Vegas for families. Some things we saw that amused us: giant King Kong, upside down mansion, replica Titanic, and Mount Rushmore of Hollywood icons. We all definitely wanted to stay the night in Pigeon Forge, but we simply didn’t have time this trip – if you’re ever down this way with your kids, you should definitely head there!
We spent the night in the worst motel of the trip so far – a $70 per night place in Cookeville called the Key West Inn that smelt like a thousand ashtrays had been stomped into the carpet. There bed covers had cigarette burn holes in it, and there was a huge hole in the bathroom wall. The breakfast included was stale bread, and lumpy milk. Yucky.
Day Seven – the big hike, and the brewery
The best thing to come from Cookeville was a recommendation by our cashier at the supermarket to visit Cummins Falls. The walk to the falls was pretty hectic – we not only had to walk down a fairly steep path to get to the river, we then had to walk about a kilometre up the river to reach the waterfall, including walking across a fallen tree trunk ‘bridge’ that scared the heck out of me. Yes, I’m a wuss. The waterfall was really lovely, and it was fun watching Lee swim in the freezing cold pool at the foot of it.
Our next stop was Nashville. I’m pretty sure all Australians have heard of Nashville, whether they like country music or not, and I’m not different. I just knew that it was somewhere I should stop and see if we were going past. To be honest, it wasn’t at all what I expected – it was just a town. Nothing more exciting than that. The Belmont Mansion, which was listed on Google as worth seeing, turned out to be a bit if a failure. Perhaps it was the stormy weather that made us disinterested, but the thought of the hour-long tour was too much for us, so we opted out and drove through town until we found somewhere for lunch. What we found made us all happy – the Flying Saucer Brewery. Craft beer for Lee, tasty food for me, and free wifi for the boys. If you’re ever in Nashville, you’d be mad to miss it!
The hotel room at the Fairfield Inn and Suites by Marriot we booked for the night (via our trusty Hotels.com app) was awesome – just $100 for the night, and it was so clean, with super friendly staff, and breakfast. We slept happy that night!
Day Eight – Graceland, and MLK
We woke up fairly early, and headed down to breakfast – a tasty hot breakfast of scrambled eggs, tortillas, and biscuits (which are basically Southern scones eaten with grits – like savoury oatmeal – but I ate mine with butter and jam, haha), as usual this hotel breakfast had zero vegetables. I miss mushrooms, spinach, beans, and tomatoes. Our first stop after our 30 minute drive into Memphis was super touristy – Elvis’s Graceland. I’m not an Elvis fan, and our boys don’t even really know who he is, but I figured it would be interesting to see where he lived, and, you know, it’s pop culture history, right? As it turned out, you have to pay $10 just to park in the Graceland parking lot, and if you want to just get a photo of Graceland, you have to pay a minimum of $38 per adult to get on a bus with a bunch of other tourists to do it. We chose not to. As we left the car park, Keenan suggested we follow the buses and see if we could get a shot of Graceland, and I’m glad we did because we just needed to cross the road! There’s a place to pull up and park for a few minutes, and then get a photo of Elvis’s mansion from the street – easy!
Next stop was one that I was particularly looking forward to – the National Civil Rights Museum. I wasn’t disappointed. The museum is excellent – the exhibits are engaging, moving, and informative. Our boys really got a fantastic insight into the struggles of African American people, from the origins of slavery, through to the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King. The museum itself is situated within the Lorraine Motel, where Dr King was assassinated, with visitors able to see the exact spot where he was killed, and the place from which his killer took that fateful shot. If you’re ever in Memphis, or going through, please do stop at the museum.
We had lunch at the Memphis Flying Saucer Brewery, which was cool but not as awesome as the one in Nashville – they didn’t have the tasty pineapple cider, but they did have a delicious cider and raspberry syrup combination called Hummingbird Water. Our last stop in Memphis was a quick walk down Beale Street, which reminded us all of the French Quarter in New Orleans but with a little bit of Hollywood and Vegas added in, haha.