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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Predators

Another four nights in Nashville, this time we stayed around the corner from our first Nashville stop (Aloft) at Embassy Suites. If you’re ever looking for hotels, Embassy Suites have larger rooms (suites, i.e. a bedroom and lounge), this one had microwave and fridge but best of all they have complimentary breakfast and cooked to order omelettes (and fried eggs and waffles) plus heaps of other breakfast goodies. I enjoy breakfast in America but having complimentary can be a money and time saver (most of our hotels on the down-leg had this option). The other thing you should look for is parking as this can be quite expensive (here was a cheaper option of $18 a night to self-park).

breakfast breakfast 2
However, this time around this hotel was also very busy. It is at the Vanderbilt University end of town (about half hour walk from Broadway and other such stuff) and they were playing football that weekend, there was also ice hockey (we went), the Titans were playing (American football) and conferences and it was weekend and Nashville is mad on a weekend. But the location for this hotel is a winner, they also have a free shuttle that will take you downtown or other places and we made use of that to get to the ice hockey.

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KFC

Left Lexington, continuing along the Bourbon Trail for a shorter drive than usual to Louisville. This gave us the chance to call into Jim Beam distillery for some ockerising, well not really but the lovely lady in the on-site Fred’s Smokehouse (BBQ) said they have a lot of Australians at Jim Beam – who would have thought. Lovely premises, large collection of merchandise (which I could not resist buying at least something – pretty much what I did at all the distilleries we visited). Didn’t do the tour but I’m sure it was a good one. Something I forgot to mention in the last post was that our rental Buick (great car) got doored by some guy who was as big as four of me (and that’s big) but he was very apologetic – didn’t matter as I always fork out those extra dollars to get the rental fully insured. There’s been a dint in most of the ones I’ve picked up on our various journeys but never a problem – and no, I have never put them there, honest.

And so we ventured to Louisville and once again to the rear entrance of the hotel – why, why, why Ms TomTom? Right in downtown and a short walk to most of the action. First action was to the KFC Yum! Stadium – or at least a bar across the road for a bite to eat and a few beers and bourbon. It was college basketball night so it was pretty busy but once that started the bar crowd left us to dine. There are a few bars and others in this vicinity and Louisville is kind of divided into several main streets – we were just to the edge but everything was walkable from where we were. Not that many homeless or pan-handlers (beggars) except for one crazy who was ranting and I was quite pleased we got to the lights before he did. I did like one of Lousiville’s strategies to stop (discourage) begging is that at many of the traffic light poles there was a collection box for the poor – good idea. Couldn’t imagine this in Melbourne, they’d all be stolen.

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Bourbon

After our detour to Tennessee to catch Jason Isbell we headed north, over the border to Kentucky for a few days, split between our first stop Lexington and our second in Louisville.

Kentucky is very famous for a few things, primarily bourbon and horse racing – and KFC. Lexington was our first stop and where a lot of the bourbon and horse-racing originates. It was like one large manicured race-track. The grass and picket fences broke up the mundane freeways and buildings. We just missed one of the largest horse racing events and I could believe how busy Lexington would be. As it was, we didn’t venture greatly downtown as this trip was about the bourbon trail.

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Something more than free

We left Asheville and were originally scheduled to head north/east towards Lexington, Kentucky but due to one of our favourites – Jason Isbell – having a show at Knoxville at the Tennessee Theatre we booked these tickets in Melbourne (it was a sell-out show) and fitted in an overnighter for nothing more than to see this show.

And maybe for one other thing – Dollywood …

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Asheville

Our next destination was one of our longer drives – east to Asheville NC, via Lexington so we could have some BBQ (worth the side track). Asheville was another of those foody choice destinations. We spoke to someone earlier (someone in the Steel String bar in Corrboro – good beer) and they described Asheville as a place known for food, beer and music – and that’s a pretty good trio.

It kind of reminded us of an inner Melbourne suburb with the hipsters and arty folk with the country feel of say a Daylesford or Katoomba in the blue mountains. It was really a surprise and we enjoyed all our time here, even if we we were out of town on a bit of a hotel strip (and it must have been a hotel strip for a while as there were some classic hotels out there). I did some driving downtown but another we caught Uber – we have found this great in America – fast, cheap, friendly, clean and they know where they are going. Big thumbs up Uber.

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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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Cape Fear

Leaving Charleston and South Carolina we had a few days until our next hotel was booked over the border in Asheville, North Carolina. We had several choices of how to get there through NC and what to do in between. I thought I’d get on to the Lonely Planet forum and ask for some advice from those who live here. We were thinking about heading north up the coast to a place called Wilmington – the replies were along the lines of “why bother”, “what do you want to go there for”, “if you want so see the coast you can see that in Charleston.”

Mmmm, Wilmington didn’t sound good but we booked it anyway. After that was through what is known as the research triangle due to three universities in neighbouring cities – Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham. The advice was “these are just strip towns with nothing go direct”, “Durham is dead”, “If anywhere, stay at Chapel Hill”. We booked Chapel Hill.

The expert advisors wanted us to travel north/east from Charleston through the NC capital at Colombia – we didn’t and luckily as the weather through that area had some of the heaviest rains they have had for a while.

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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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