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.

LAX

So all good fun must come to an end and these are the last few days of our USA 2015 vacation. We’ve had a lot of fun, new adventures, great food and drink, and ticked off a few more of the USA mainland States (still plenty more to go). And when flying back to Australia the choices of airport are limited and like everyone else, Los Angeles is generally the port of entry and egress.

Now, the first time we came to Los Angeles (many years back) we stayed a night in Santa Monica (very nice but getting bigger) and then where most travel agencies send you – Hollywood. You’d think Hollywood would be nice but it’s pretty much the pits and it put us off LA (and this is not an uncommon effect on people). Our later travels we came in via San Francisco or Dallas with a transfer only at LAX. But last trip we stayed a few days in LA with a car and away from Hollywood and really liked it. I never got around to blogging about that trip but it was good and we saw plenty and didn’t bother with Hollywood. So we decided on a few days this trip also. Again, away from Hollywood and not far from where we stayed last time – this time we were in Fairfax St straight opposite the Farmers Market and Grove Shopping Centre (upper class shopping with many films shot there – truly a nice experience). Our Hotel was probably our favourite – The Farmer’s Daughter – and we highly recommend this hotel and location. Great rooms, champagne on arrival, cookies and turn-down each night, perfect location, good restaurant (Tart) on site, friendly staff and a whiskey hour every night.

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Research Triangle

So, after a change into dry clothes, we headed north/east towards Chapel Hill through rain that at times was so heavy all we could see was rain and hopefully the tail lights of the car in front. But it didn’t last forever and after about 2.5 hours we reached our next destination Carrboro, which neighbours Chapel Hill.

We stayed at another almost new hotel in Carrboro which is kind of a bit of a trendy (??) neighbourhood adjoining Chapel Hill, which is the home of University of North Carolina – the Tarheels. UNC is most known for its basketball – Michael Jordan its most famous basket balling student (I’ll get to that later). This was a two night stay so we could have a look around, try some good food (North Carolina BBQ and anything else) and enjoy.

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Charleston – mmmmmm

Left Savannah and headed north towards Charleston. Things I remember, not too much apart from fireworks – fireworks super stores, oh the memories. Anyways, we had four nights booked in downtown Charleston, right amongst the action. And while there was some good eating in Savannah, Charleston is known for good eating. There used to be a culinary school and when that closed the local chefs got together and created an identity aside from a culinary school identity.

Because the food needs its own blog, this is it – if you want to know more about Charleston (well, not really because that’s what Wikipedia is for) but maybe see some photos and my short thoughts, then that will arrive when I get around to it. We were in Charleston a week ago as I write this so my memory fades quite quickly.

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Savannah

Checked out of the lovely Athens for our long drive south to Savannah, South Carolina. This was a lets-be-the-tourists-that-we-are stop and also a place where Caroline had checked out the local cuisine with one place already booked and another on the agenda. Can’t remember the drive as I write this, except we stopped for a stop and snacks at a place where the local sheriff was at, so it was either good, or cheap, or they have a lot of trouble – I think it was good.

Savannah is a grid town, Savannah has a lot of one-way streets, Savannah has a cobble-stoned waterfront, and break your ankle if not careful kind of paving – where Ms TomTom sent us as for some reason she prefers the back-entry to any location we are headed rather than the front door. But it was kind of interesting seeing the waterfront walk by car rather than foot as it was one hell of a steep climb to get down there – and break your ankle if not careful kind of paving.

View from the rooftop bar at CottonSail Hotel where we stayed

View from the rooftop bar at CottonSail Hotel where we stayed

We checked into our very nice Cottonsail hotel right on the river with a great river view. Only problem, at this time (or maybe at this time when we were there) we said goodbye to the great weather we have been having to some warm but wet, and I mean wet, weather.

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UGA

Driving south east from Atlanta we headed through Walking Dead territory to our next stop, Athens Georgia. Most of Walking Dead is filmed around Atlanta and as we were taking quite a few back-roads (highways but they were like back-roads) it felt and looked just like Walking Dead territory – the trees, roads, railway lines, dumped cars and walkers (well, not quite the last two). But I think Ms TomTom was concerned as for about the first ten minutes or more leaving Atlanta all we heard from her was “keep left, keep left” – okay, okay.

This was an interesting drive away from the main freeways and through some interesting towns, none more so than one place where we had to slow as the car in front was herding a cow running alongside – not sure if this is how they always take their cow for a walk or whatever, but it was effective. And Athens was a real interesting place, in fact for an overnighter we enjoyed the little time we had. Continue reading

Things go better with …

After another complimentary bowl of fruit loops at our hotel in Birmingham, it was time to hit the roads, travelling East to another State – Georgia. Destination – Atlanta, the home of coca-cola. Nothing of note for this drive, apart from the quite heavy traffic and close your eyes and hope you’re in the correct lane driving.

Atlanta is big, Atlanta has roads like a bowl of spilt spag-bog, Atlanta has traffic like Melbourne (doesn’t go anywhere) and it amazes me how they managed to get people to and from their Olympic Games. Luckily our hotel was not far from where we entered and in a pretty good street for restaurants, etc. Right across the road from the famous Fox theatre where a lot of top musicians play or have played. We never got to have a look inside but it was very nice looking and booked out for a wedding the weekend we there. Would no doubt be a good spot for a wedding, pity some of the guests were staying at out hotel – The Hotel Indigo, because they were a pain.

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Birmingham, Alabama

Leaving Nashville in the mid-morning for a casual drive south down the highway (one of the very many) to Birmingham, “Sweet Home” Alabama (which is on the big sign when you cross the border so not just something from me). Good fun getting used to opening the correct door but maybe not as much fun as remembering to drive on the right side of the road. This is actually not as hard as one may consider and it only becomes tricky when turning but doesn’t take long to pick up (also the fourth time I’ve driven over here).

BBBBQBBBBQ ribsBirmingham was only two and a bit hours away so we decided to call in for some BBQ on the way – as you do. We made a detour to Decatur and called in for some lunch at Big Bob Gibson’s. Not bad either, although most BBQ is pretty good (except I kind of got a bit crook that day, must have been the coleslaw or potato salad – not the ribs).

The Chief helping out

The Chief helping out

Made Birmingham easily and our room was ready for check-in. Birmingham was a rich source of iron ore and important during the early years of industrialisation and railroads. It later became a bit of a boom city and was coined the ‘Magic City’. More importantly, Birmingham was an important city in gaining attention for civil rights in America and worldwide attention. If you have any interest at all in civil rights, then you should visit Birmingham.

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Nashville in October

An early morning trip from our downtown Dallas Hotel to the airport. Dallas airport is big – you gotta know which terminal to get dropped at. We wanted terminal E, unfortunately an Australian E sounds too much like an American A – or an American A means a few more dollars when all along it was American E. Learning experience, taxis and airports = money. This extra few minutes also added to what we thought would be ample time at the airport to “why don’t you have more people checking bags”. Our we would have time to grab some breakfast at the airport ended up being no time for nothing. The flight out of Dallas was fine with AA, except as we are not their frequent flyers we get whatever seat allocation is left which means I was close to the front and Caroline was in the last row. Not too much of a problem except we again had no time for nothing at our interchange at Charlotte and our terminal being nowhere near the one we landed at. Again a very nice flight this time on American Eagle.

Landed at the very peaceful, laid back, relaxed Nashville and yes, went for the taxi + airport, which was actually very good. We were staying in the Vanderbilt area, which is about half an hour walk from what Nashville is renown for – honky tonk bars and country music. We’d done Nashville before so didn’t need to hit the bars – we could stay up our end of town, which is the university end of town so plenty of bars of its own. Our hotel was the Aloft which is a hipster kind of place and very nice – that nice the maid did not even take our tip. But the barmaid did add a couple of beers to our tab which I’d already paid cash for – she was very apologetic and the jack daniels pour made up for it.

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Goodbye Fort Worth – Hello Austin

About a week back as I type this we left Fort Worth and picked up a rental to take us down the highway to Austin. No surprises there really as we have ventured to Austin previously and really enjoy it. But before we got to Austin we had to drive on by to visit a bucket list – the Salt Lick BBQ. This place always rates highly as far as Texas BBQ goes and this visit we made it a priority (well, it was quite easy with a car as we could cruise on past Austin, visit the Salt Lick for a BBQ feast, then back to Austin.

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