Almost done

Better get writing otherwise we’ll be home and I still won’t finish. Actually this is our last night in New York so yes, will be home in a few days due to time travel.

Had a great time in Charleston and it is such a contrast with the ever so busy and crowded and interesting New York. This second visit we stayed in Brooklyn and enjoyed it – much cheaper and less hectic than Manhattan. Traveling to Manhattan was easy on the subway or ferry. We became experts at the subway – they are busy but frequent and okay.

We had a great food hall a block from where we were staying so could eat there most days and have something different – and beer, which you could buy and walk around with.

Most of our time was spent on Manhattan where we did a lot of walking …. did I say a lot of walking? Man, my feet are sore. So much shopping, so many things to see, so much dodging Europeans. Kind of funny – hard to find someone whose first language was English (or American if you like).

We did the Staten Island ferry for a look at Statue of Liberty, saw the Empire State (have been up before so didn’t bother with that), visited the WTC 9/11 memorial site (quite moving – loved the people taking happy selfies), walked the Highline (the reclaimed old above ground freight rail which is now a walking trail), saw American Gothic painting at the Whitney (this was quite good), saw bits of Central Park, visited the Museum of Natural History (interesting), and saw many of different neighborhoods – still some things to see so may have to come back. Weather was wet one day and sunny the next but okay. Only annoying thing was European tourists – everywhere. They probably said the same thing about Australian tourists (although didn’t hear too many Aussie accents).

Enjoyed the trip. Can hardly wait to get home and back to work and the football and the dogs …well one out of three (and it’s not work).

High Water Festival

Our latest trip to USA was based on attending the High Water musical festival in what turned out to be a lovely Riverfront Park in Nth Charleston. We were drawn by the hosts of the festival – Charlestonian locals Shovels and Rope – and one of our favourites – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.

We were not disappointed. Uber there and back was the mode of travel as we decided not to hire a car, even if Avis kept the sunglasses I had left behind in Charlotte NC last trip, let me know they had them, tried to ship them back which was too difficult, but managed to have them delivered to an agency a block away from where we were staying when I let them know we were coming back – now that is customer service.

The festival was a weekender but festivities started the night before as per my last post – great start to the weekend. Saturday we were up for a brunch called Pass the Peas. This was damn fine food from three of Charleston’s finest chefs. Started with some great oysters, shredded duck and egg plant starters. And cocktails. Then it was time to sit and meet some new friends and dine on courses of steak, crab cake, shrimp, beets, chicken, fish – too good. And matched wine, rounded off with Irish Coffee and chocolates. This was a great start to our weekend of libations, food and music.

Then off to the festival. Great setting, good watching spots, plenty of bars and eatery choices (although food lines were long). Friendly and everyone enjoyed themselves. Really enjoyed sets from the Old 97s, Jeff Tweedy, and Jason Isbell – although fan favorite seemed to be Brandi Carlisle. Enjoyed all this in great sunshine and cocktails of four roses bourbon and Red Bull. Getting home was a struggle with Uber but we managed to get one and because of the surge another couple jumped in and shared the ride for cash.

Next day we could grab some more rest as we did not have to be out for brunch. Another great day with sets from Shovels and Rope, Joshua Hedley, Tank and the Bangas, and Band of Horses. Less people meant we could eat without queuing for what seemed ages, and we enjoyed some beer instead of cocktails. Much easier to Uber back, ending a great weekend and one we’d love to come back for.

Music and libations

Only a short stop in Williamsburg and then a few hour flight south to Charleston SC for some music, food and libations.

Easy travel from our hotel that was nice even though it was sans hot water because of some trouble affecting the whole block. But the water was still maybe warmer than it was outside – or was it?

More importantly Jim looked up the recommendation for getting to LaGuardia – the two hours before your flight is no joke. Most of that two hours was spent getting through security. Lucky for us we were not too bad, by the time we reached the front the end of the queue was almost outside in the rain.

Pleasant flight out with Delta watching a poor 5 year old who only spoke Spanish and was on the flight by himself going home to mum. Wonder the story – poor boy but he was kept amused. He had a play on my iPad and watched some movies on someone else’s.

Into Charleston, lovely weather – 27, compared to the 6 we’d just left behind. Great hotel – Hilton Suites – in a good location, and an easy walk to Leon’s poultry and fish where we had some great oysters, soft shell crab, shrimp (aka prawns), grilled radicchio and cocktails.

Next day was a walk around. We’ve been here before so knew where we were going. Nice city with a lot of tourists but good shopping and eateries. And to finish the day, low country boil, oysters, beers and music at a night before the music festival we travelled over for. And I write this filling in time for day one of the High Water festival.

No, this is a new trip

So, I forgot to finish our last trip to USA and it is now time for another trip. This time she’s only a short one to NY and Charleston.

And here’s the first 24 hours – well, not much there because that was on two planes. Melbourne to LAX, then LAX to JFK. However, first leg was very good as we scored a points upgrade to business class. Yes, well worth the extra room for a big guy like me. Second leg was premium economy but that was still good for sleeping. And 24 hours, maybe not quite accurate if you factor in airport travel and check-ins and flights of almost 19 hours it feels like so much more.

And first day in Williamsburg, across the river from Manhattan, was cold – about 9c at the most but pleasant. We did a bit of walking the hood after a big breakfast at Jimmy’s Diner then a ferry ride to DUMBO. We walked the Williamsburg Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge and had excellent Italian at Lilia’s, followed by after dinner drinks at Brooklyn Brewery, which is across the road from our hotel. Very enjoyable day – next visit is plane to Charleston.

Easy walking around, no dramas, lots of tourists (mostly at Brooklyn Bridge and DUMBO – down under Manhattan Bridge) – and cold ears. Easy ferry, which cost $5.50 for a two way. Back in a week for more exploring and being a tourist.

Nashville Y’all

Another update … spent a week in a great airbnb in Music Row Nashville. Great location and free parking. This was our third visit to Nashville and it will not be our last. You can probably look through this blog and find earlier comments and pictures. Why do we keep going back – well, it’s my kind of town. Laid back, relaxed, great food, new things to discover, plenty of beer and all types of music – country and western (and other stuff too).

It’s pretty easy to get around, driving, uber, free bus in certain places and there is plenty to see and do. But don’t get stuck downtown where the honky tonks and people are – get out into the neighbourhoods such as East Nashville and Germantown, and make sure you visit the Vanderbilt area (walking from where we stayed), Music Row which is where all the music is made, and the Gulch which has some great places, including Lucchese boots where Jim was tempted but didn’t want to lay out about $1000 for a pair of boots – but I did get a great shirt with pearl buttons. Caroline, well she bought some more boots.

We hit the honky tonks for one night to catch a guy we have seen before – Joshua Hadley – great show. The honky tonks are great fun, cheap beer and music – and busy. Broadway is a party place where you walk the streets going from bar to bar and when a beer costs about $5 you can’t go wrong.

Also caught some music at Station Inn, which is one of THE places you should visit. It’s old and very original. Great band whose name escapes me but the fill-in guitarist for the night is blind and he was amazing.

We had some great food – three highlights: Hattie B’s hot chicken – how can chicken taste so good; Husk, which is more the fine dining and a top rated restaurant and also very good; and a new BBQ (for us at least) Martin’s and this was damn good BBQ, well worth the half hour or so in the queue.

Jim also had a few bucket lists in Nashville – cut a single at Third Man Records (Jack White’s label) and got on stage (for a photo) at the Ryman.

We also managed to catch up with a few work associates who were in Nashville for the special olympics torch run conference – this meet up also included getting into a free BBQ, drinks and music – great free night.

Nashville has not seen the last of me.

Meet me in St Louis

Easy drive from Chicago to St Louis and pulled up at our boutique hotel in the Delmar Loop area of St Louis (or University City as it is known) the Moonrise Hotel. This really was a great hotel with friendly staff, free parking out the back, a super rooftop bar, and easy walking to lots of restaurants and the park.

It was an easy drive downtown, which we did one day to catch a ride to the top of the St Louis arch. To get to the top you ride in these tiny pods – about 4 minutes ride up and 3 to get down. Reminded me of an alien pod. But the view up the top was really good, even if it was a little overcast. You have to do a bit of stretching to see out the windows as they are not large but there was plenty of viewing space and time as only so many can catch the train (8 pods at a time) every ten minutes. In a while this will be a nice spot as at the moment they are doing a few works – maybe have to catch it again another day.

Also in St Louis Jim was off to a conference with the International Association of Canine Professionals. Very good conference with some great speakers. Very friendly – for people and dogs. No special blogs on this but I will no doubt attend another year. Also picked up some great videos and other equipment – dog training is an expensive business/hobby – and Hank is still a rat-bag so he’ll be made to watch the videos.

We had a great meal at a new restaurant and highly rated Mexican – Nixta. The food here was truly exceptional. Only thing that spoilt the evening the food came out too quick.

Something that really could have spoilt that evening if we did not have an excellent Uber driver were some protests that started after a police officer was acquitted of murdering a black driver after a chase. The roads we needed to travel were blocked but she got onto Facebook and with a bit of local knowledge guided us through the back streets (which we would never have achieved) and to our restaurant door.

The protests continued and even came out to the area where we were staying – didn’t see any problems apart from a a bit of yelling at a service station and graffiti on the footpath – one shop had a few avoid this store because they are racists painted outside – not sure what the problem was there; and there were a few ‘black lives matter – blue lives murder’ chalked onto the footpath. But really, if it wasn’t for that and the very high police presence you probably wouldn’t have known when we were out – but we also didn’t stay out late either.

A good burger and St Louis specialty – toasted ravioli (deep fried ravioli – at Blueberry Hill, which was a great spot with good meals, cold beer, music and even a darts room – can’t go wrong there. Chuck Berry used to play there quite a bit and his statue is across the road. We also had some pretty good BBQ at Salt & Smoke.

St Louis is on Route 66 and if travelling that way you should stop and explore the neighbourhoods. We didn’t get as much exploring done due to Jim at the conference (which is why we were there in the first place and this was about 20 minutes from where we were staying) and the protests. A few people said they were disruptive even to the extent that U2 cancelled a concert because the police and security could not guarantee a presence.

Good stop and more exploring next time and make sure you grab something from Ted Drewe’s frozen custard.

Goodbye Chicago – on to St Louis

Finally moved on from Chicago – well a week ago, and drove on to St Louis where I attended a dog trainers conference with International Association of Canine Professionals. More about St Louis but I better finish up with a Chicago summary and a few more pictures.

Really nice city to visit and easy to get around as it is a grid with a river and lakes. Saw no trouble but plenty of shopping and things to do. We made the visit up to the 103rd floor of the tallest building in the world – the Willis Tower – great views although Jim was not a fan of standing on nothing.

We stayed in a good area close to great food and shopping. Everyone was friendly and helpful and food was pretty good too. Chicago is an airport hub so if you travel to the States and you are wondering what else to do apart from New York and the West Coast, then go that little bit inland to Chicago. Our only issues were dumb-ass taxi drivers from the airport that don’t know how to or don’t want to use credit card (take cash if catching a taxi), and unfortunately our car was not ready but not really their fault at Avis as people were taking the cars to get home from the hurricanes (there was a lot of sport in town our weekend and people needed to get home).

Loved our trip to Wrigley Field and we went for a walk to an area where there is reclaimed railroad now known as the 606 walk – there’s a few pictures from that area. Subway was very simple, fast and not crowded. Our trip to the theatre to see Hamilton was a great night, and a definite highlight (although not planned to be as long as it was) was a tour and several beers at Lagunita Brewery – we have now visited both their breweries. Some photos of that trip included.

 

Jim’s shopping highlight was at North Face where you can buy a jacket for less than $200 that costs almost $500 in Australia (I checked) – even with exchange rate it’s still a bargain.

Another part of our visit was down at Navy Pier – go there because you should, do anything there if you feel like it – we just went for the walk. And talking about walking I do like that you don’t need to press the traffic light, they work automatically for pedestrians, who didn’t seem to care much anyway about waiting for the walk. No pictures of this one but the quick way they fix roads was amazing, there was an intersection just up from our hotel that required some work, like I’m talking major re-pavement. Was everything blocked, reduced lanes, low speed limit, take months to do – no, traffic kept going by someone just moving a couple of watches hats around to block a lane as needed and work was done in three days. I’d like to see that in Melbourne.

And after picking up our car we were off – just remember which door to get in and to stay on the right, and indicators are on the left stem. A nice Kia Optima which so far has been very good – filled it once – $30.

Take me out to the Ballgame

Have now left Chicago and settling in at St Louis for a dog trainers conference – and beer and BBQ and beer. Will post some more pics of Chicago and maybe some stories but for this one we had a sporting choice of either a Chicago Bears game (that’s NFL football) or a Chicago Cubs game at Wrigley Field. Whilst an invitation to tailgating at Soldier Field (that’s where hey play the football) sounded good and was tempting, the opportunity to see the current world series champions at the most famous baseball stadium – built in 1917 and rarely touched since – won us over.

Easy train ride, grabbed some tickets at the gate and not from a scalper – lucky it was not a sell-out (just) – and soaked up the atmosphere … and yes, there was atmosphere. A bit like grand final day here and this was the third game of the three game series against the Milwaukee Brewers (of which we saw maybe three fans out of about 40,000).

We were up the top but still great viewing and a great view across the pitch and an outside beer and hot dog patio that had good city views. And yes, it was old but still kind of comfortable. Great game and you got to know the crowd favourites and the drug cheat from the Brewers who was always booed. Had to have the hot dog and beer – no nacho hats. A really fun day (although it got quite cold in the shade) and the first time I’d seen baseball live – not cheap but that’s because you are paying for the stadium and team – you can watch the other Chicago team, the White Sox for a hell of a lot less – but why?

The Cubs lost (they also lost the series) but who cared – apart from the 40,000 cubs fans, the three Brewers fans, and me and Caroline.

Just some old buildings

One of the special things about Chicago is that it is a bit of an architect’s dream location. There are so many styles and innovations, such as how to avoid buildings falling down in string winds and how to build a sky-scaper above the railway line. There are also some great condominiums and apartments and if you want to knock something down to build along the river, then you have to build a river walk for the people.

There are many different tours along the river, we took the one that is associated with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. We were not disappointed and nor did we have to wear a cardboard hat that other cruises gave their passengers. I would put this down as a should do if you ever visit the windy city (which it hasn’t really been, except for a few pockets as we came in for landing).

But one of the best parts of this tour, I didn’t have to walk – just sit, look, listen and drink a beer. Cheers!

A looooong day

Finally head hit pillow after about a nearly 30 hour day. Flight over on Qantas was good – can’t fault the premium economy and seats that are made for me. Smooth entry into LA – self-check the same as Melbourne and appears quicker. Then we had to exit and re-check as for whatever Flight Centre couldn’t on-check our luggage so that also cost us $25 a bag – no wonder no-one wants to check luggage. Some poor guy trying to get to the security check-in probably wished he did check-in as he got taken away for arguing. Oh, yeah some other dude got taken away at entry for whatever reason – bet he enjoyed his flight just to get sent back home.

Few more hours of sitting around charging phone at LAX – the Admirals Club was closed for renovation but we coped. And then checked our carry-on for free as overhead space fills with everyone who avoids the $25. Down the back, which is fine – buy food and Bud which was actually quite a nice ham and cheese sandwich and so pleased this was only about 4 hours because my donkey had had enough.

Big airport, long walk for luggage, back to taxi. Funny dude who had no shit of an idea where he was going. Didn’t believe us when he passed the hotel. And I’m sick of American taxis that won’t or can’t take credit card. Remember that one guys – happened last trip too but at least I had cash just for that purpose. For such a forward country you’d think card would be okay – unless you want your tip when you go home of a night.

Nice hotel, dinner at some other hotel Sabre. Was good, first of the different beer of the day. Then bed.