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.

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.

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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More beer … More beer

Sitting here in the Qantas lounge drinking a complimentary Allagash White out of Portland, Maine, and I think it is about time I tell you about the beers from the Portland we visited in Oregon.

brewvanaAs previously mentioned, Portland is known by many names one if which is Brewvana. Here’s a note from inside our lift.

I wondered how many of those 154 brewing companies I could sample the wares of over three days. Well, as it turned out, not too many. We did have to do other things in Portland as well. As earlier mentioned, Oregon is tax-free and there’s some pretty good shopping to do, even bought myself this and they shipped home to Australia for me.

But I thought I’d have to try a few beers. What I have not included in this list is the six-pack of mixed stubbies from Whole Foods – $1.99 a stubby if interested. So, I only had time for beers from six different breweries but a total of 20 different beers.

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Twenty thousand roads I went down, down, down. And they all led me straight back home to you

Gram Parsons.

What does that have to do with anything. Well, Caroline is the expert on all things musical and she tells me the story of Gram Parsons, singer songwriter, who used to venture into the Joshua Tree desert and just think (if you don’t know about this, then think of when Homer Simpson went into the desert and had the coyote talk to him). One time in 1973, Gram Parsons was staying at the Joshua Tree hotel when he passed away, suddenly, one evening. He was at the place of two of his greatest loves – the desert and hard drugs.

Anyway, some relative wanted his body back in Louisiana possibly in order to claim the inheritance. However, Gram Parsons’ manager and some friends knew that Gram’s wish was to be cremated and have his ashes scattered in the desert. So, they stole his coffin from the airport, drove out to a location in Joshua Tree – Cap Rock – and poured petrol over the coffin and lit a match. The police were on the trail and put a stop, not before some ashes got scattered. The rest was shipped back, there was no offence for stealing a body; however, they did get fined $750 for stealing the coffin.

So, part of our trip from the magnificent Palm Springs (where the rich and famous and movies stars used to holiday) was to take a drive out to the Joshua Tree National Park and desert. Not necessarily to pay homage but more to see the desert and the trees known as Joshua Trees. This was another of our tourist treks of great things to see and again well worth the visit.

We left in the morning to beat the heat, although it was only 22 it felt much hotter from the beating down sun. It’s cool because it’s on top of a mountain, down below it was over 30.

There are plenty of walks and great things to see. Kind of eerie and you could quite easily imagine why you would want to just come out and watch the stars and think of anything and listen to the voices. We went for one walk and after about five minutes there was nothing there but us and nature. It was quiet and beautiful. And hot, and I wish I’d taken some water. And we could see our car after turning each rock but maybe it was a mirage because it disappeared as quickly as we saw it.

There were also great views overlooking Palm Springs and the valley and the San Andreas Fault line. If you go to LA and are looking for something else other than Disneyland and Hollywood, take the trip out for a night or two at Palm Springs – easy freeway driving (or you can fly).

Here’s a collection of shots (we stayed at a real ‘cool’ hotel the Ace and could recommend).

The first album is of Palm Springs, which as well as being the home of the movie stars, is probably more known for its architecture; the second is the Joshua Tree National Park.

 

I feel stupid and contagious, here we are now entertain us

Nirvana.

Going back through the weeks when in Seattle we visited the EMP museum, which is near the base of the space needle. This museum is about popular culture but its main focus is music. It was one of the places we wanted to visit and is also maybe not a mainstream tourist mecca, like the space needle, which has a base made from souvenir shops and even a busking pan flute band with ponchos and CDs.

The EMP was quite enjoyable – if you have any interest in that kind of thing. As well as permanent exhibits, they rotate through exhibits. Current exhibits for our visit were all great: Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, the lure of Horror movies, icons of Science Fiction and worlds of Myths and Fantasy. Something for everyone – the music diehards or those interested in two people/band that changed music; and the horror, science fiction and fantasy nerds. And you should have seen the sic-fi and fantasy nerds – they were literally wetting themselves and some were even disputing the fact that some dagger from Lord of the Rings was the actual one.

We started off going through the history of guitars – the music is very much guitar orientated. This was good, especially if you have any interest in guitars. We used the iPods they give you to listen to the displays and music but gave up after a while otherwise we’d probably still be in the history of guitars hall. Great to see the old guitars. Then moved on to the two key exhibits: Nirvana (excellent) and Jimi Hendrix (maybe not as good but still great).

Then we hit nerdsville – starting off with sic-fi and what I said about some people wetting themselves was not far from the truth. These people knew everything about the weapons on display, the costumes on display, the dalek on display, anything that was on display. This moved into horror, which I am a bit more a fan of and for things like Jason’s mask from Friday 13th, or the Alien and Terminator, and clips from films where they discuss why the films were as good as they were, like the Exorcist – made me kinda want to wet myself.

Then the myths and fantasy and as I mentioned above, there was a group there that knew more about the exhibits than the museum displaying them.

This was a really interesting museum, with a good cafe and some good merchandise. Very interesting architecture as well.

Here’s a few snaps and also some of the space needle. That’s kind of interesting but we didn’t waste money going to the top as the fog would have meant nothing more than an expensive ride in a lift. If you go to Seattle, go to a club to listen to the music, go on a ferry, visit the Pike Place market, see the eye and if interested go to the EMP. However, we have rated that maybe Seattle is not high on the revisit list but we are pleased we did visit.

And still plenty posts to come …

Highway 101 – North?: Let’s Go Niners, Let’s Go

Left Monterey Saturday morning and headed north to San Francisco. This is the third trip to San Francisco so have done the touristy things before; however, I did ride the cable trolley on a different route than previously – and found more hills.

San Francisco is hilly – damn hilly. It is also quite touristy but also quite pleasant. I like San Francisco and would go back there just to do nothing (although Caroline loves the shopping). Only problem is parking – we had the car so had to pay for parking at the hotel at a mere $54 a night. And we complain about the cost of parking in Melbourne!

We stayed down near the ferry terminal, which has an excellent market area and is also accessible to the main downtown area of Union Square via shanks pony or the tram or trolley. Another Kimpton Hotel, this time the Harbor Court, which was another nice Kimpton with the wine hour and if you can be bothered, warm milk and cookies at nine. This was a good hotel, although the concierge we mainly dealt with was maybe not as good as others; however, he did warn us to take a coat to the 49ers game.

The 49ers game – that’s pretty much why we took a detour to head back north to San Francisco, just to go to a game of NFL. However, for the atmosphere alone, this is well worth the diversion. I got the tickets when in Melbourne and scored magnificent seats amongst the 49ers faithful (die-hards) seven rows from the front. The game was not great as it was very defensive but the atmosphere was electric, even if the only thing the 49ers shouted all day was Deeefence! And after the 49ers played a rather shitful offensive game (their QB had his worst performance ever) they were jeered from the ground just like Richmond after a loss.

It was also quite historical as this is the last season the 49ers will be playing at this home ground – Candlestick Park. It reminded me so much of the old Princes Park (almost a tear in the eye). No nacho hats but plenty of food options and at the ultra-huge mark-up options as in Melbourne. For those interested in nostalgia and can remember the MCG as far back as me, they also had a peanuts man who I reckon was so similar to the one from the MCG (except as an added bonus he also sold popcorn).

Our only problem for the day was getting to and from the stadium. It is a fair way out of town and the only real option is the bus. Getting there is usually a pretty good express run; however, it was also the day before Veteran’s Day (11/11) so the street was blocked for the veterans day march, which meant no buses could get through until after the march. This caused a lot of angst amongst those waiting, a group even hijacked a hotel shuttle. We waited it out – $4 return is good value on the bus and it was easy to get into the ground – bag searches like the G but also the wand. But getting home, well that had memories of leaving the old Waverley. Trying to find the end of the queue for our bus, then actually waiting for the bus. It took a long time and we were glad we brought the coats as it got effing cold out there. But anyway, we eventually made it on a bus, back downtown ready for an easy night with checkout Monday morning for a trip back down the 101 to Ventura.

Here’s a collection of shots from San Francisco and the football

More to Spokane than Dogs

Seems like ages ago we left Spokane and the dog conference – a few more posts to come on that, stay with me – and it’s probably good too as it’s snowing in that neck of the woods now. And you know the best part of that, I am writing this poolside in Palm Springs where it has been a magnificent day and will be just as magnificent tomorrow. Only problem, poolside beer costs more than the el-cheapo we have been having – but, who cares … Here’s a photo, which I took right now (and you should have seen the sunset change colour as I type)

Ace Hotel

Anyway, thought it was about time I gave a little more about Spokane, which is inland and the fourth largest city in the Pacific Northwest – we visited the others above it being Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland. I don’t think there is really much in Spokane apart from an international airport, skiing and obviously conferences.

There is an excellent river and walking paths and it felt pretty safe in the areas we ventured downtown. Spokane is also where the Gonzaga University is situated (famous for basketball and last season they had two Aussies on the roster). Hint, if not sure of where to go aside from the regular tourist places, go to a city where there is a large university as these towns are generally pretty well looked after.

Spokane, surprisingly (??), also had some excellent eating places. And one more thing, there are car parks everywhere a building once was (it’s not a city of high-rise or anything new – apart from the convention centre). Oh, and as well as being known for the above-mentioned, I bet you did not know that Spokane has the largest radio flyer wagon cart in the world.

Radio Flyer

 

And that’s pretty much for Spokane. Unless you are going to a conference or want to try skiing elsewhere, or maybe want to fly in from elsewhere, this is probably the closest you will ever get to Spokane.

Here are some random shots –

Back to Highway 101 … and 1:Day 7

Left Yosemite a week ago and so much has happened in between – not like the drive between Yosemite and our next stop Monterey. This was a pretty much unexciting drive mainly on the 152 with a stop for Starbucks lunch at Los Banos. Starbucks are the new Maccas on road trips – cleaner and better quality food and drinks – and a better quality of clientele. Actually Los Banos might be a kinda interesting town as we passed several liquor stores that also sold sporting goods and ammo; and several sporting goods stores that sold liquor and ammo. Anyways, pretty much a lot of the flat lands were farming – and farming just about anything you could think of it, it was like all these plains were where the USA vegetables come from. Took one picture on the drive, which has no gardening, just dry hills near the San Luis Reservoir. (No map – work it out for yourself if you want – Google Maps Fish Camp, CA to Monterey, CA)

san luis reservoir

Arrived early in Monterey, which is on the coast and we had to touch back onto the 101, and also next door to Carmel where Clint Eastwood was the mayor. This is also where Pebble Beach is (we went to drive around there but you have to pay – no wonder they are rich so we didn’t give them any more) and Cannery Row – famous from the Steinbeck novel and sardines – and now nothing but a tourist trap. They have done a good job fixing all the old sardine canneries but if only they hadn’t filled them with every tacky kinda souvenir shop you could think of. Great things such as the mirror maze and wax museum – you name it, they had it. Here’s a couple of shots – note Caroline’s face, which pretty much sums up what we thought of Cannery Row.

We stayed out of the downtown area, never got to Fisherman’s Wharf, but did enjoy the shopping centre across the road from our Comfort Inn, which was another of those old-fashioned drive-in motels that comes with complimentary neighbour noise and a buffet breakfast – range of people at this hotel but I don’t think any generally caught their breakfast – also a few overseas visitors. This area is very popular with the tourists because this is also where one of the world’s most spectacular drives starts or ends, depending on whether travelling north or south. And that’s what drew us there and why we stayed two nights. I couldn’t imagine how busy this area would be over summer.

We travelled down Highway 1 from Monterey, through the Big Spur and turned around in Cambria, which was an excellent little strip-village off the highway, and many lunch choices. This covered the best areas of the drive and there was everything. Coming from north to south is also ideal as that puts you on the beach side when driving for the best views and turnouts. But interestingly, we came back south-north and it does give you a different view, it was like a new drive. Also interesting to see how long it takes. I didn’t do an exact time but it was over four hours to reach Cambria with all our stopping and a little over two on the way back – so it depends on how much you want to stop. There also seems to be a few who appear to want to see how quickly they can do the drive, which is primarily single lane each way at about 55mph. And there are also quite a lot who have done the ultimate road-trip in hiring a convertible – and yeah, the weather was good and that would be kinda cool to do.

So, the highlights on the trip was the absolutely magnificent view of the ocean, how close you get from the top of the cliffs, the amazement of driving through a forest at the Big Sur and then more great ocean – only a stone’s throw from Australia across the Pacific. But we also saw stacks of sea lions (now would be the time to go back to the Sea Lion caves) and a beach where the elephant seals come in before winter, and a gopher, and some fantastic houses on the edge of the cliffs, and sea eagles. And yes, it was well worth the drive. This and Yosemite were two of the things we wanted to see and do and have not been disappointed. And yes, the Great Ocean Road has nothing on this road-trip. Here’s a few pictures but it is really the views, sounds, smells in our heads that you can never put in a picture.

Backtrack – Keep Portland Weird

Seems like weeks ago when we were in Portland, which was where we started our driving trip, so I thought I better post some snaps and other such ramblings.

Portland was a pretty good place, easy to walk around, bike friendly (not that we went for that), good food, plenty of weirdos (some real weirdos, others on their way to the next G20), skateboards a plenty, a few beggars (some homeless, others very doubtful), trams, full of craft beers, not much hustle and bustle, pretty laid back (make that very laid back), polite, traffic but not like California traffic, food trucks, and best of all – tax free shopping. There are only four States that do not add tax to food, drink, shopping, etc. one of these is Oregon. The prices of the goods do not rise to compensate so it is a bargain place for buying and eating and drinking – woo-hoo!

The Vintage PlazaWe stayed at a nice hotel downtown – the Vintage Plaza, which is another Kimpton Hotel with the hosted wine hour – and because Portland is known as Brewvana there was also beer on tap – woo-hoo! Something some may find strange, nearly all USA hotels are pet friendly so here at the Kimpton they were most welcome with their own drink bowls during wine hour.

This was the one place where Caroline had mapped out several eating locations and we were not disappointed, eating at some really great places and also some snacks at some really great places, such as Voodoo Doughnuts. This place is a Portland legendary doughnut shop where people queue out the front to buy a doughnut – although many buy many and even many more. I liked the fat kid and his Mom in front of us who was going through the revolving glass display cabinet (we are talking multiple doughnuts here, not just your stock-standards) and I’ll have one of those and one of those and one of those and … you know the story. Then came Jim’s turn, but you can only eat so many doughnuts before feeling sickly ill so we went for a small selection – two of the classics the voodoo doughnut and the maple log and bacon. I tell you, maple syrup and bacon are a match made in heaven – maple icing and bacon and doughnut are what they eat in heaven.

maple bacon Voodoo doughnut

 

 

 

 

 

Portland is also known as Bridgetown. There is a river through the city (the Willamette River) – a bit like Melbourne. But at least in Portland they have more than one bridge. The city is also quite old – or it has that appearance – and the bits we were in seemed very safe. Although the old town where the doughnuts were may be a bit dodgy at times because that’s where all the missions for the homeless were. they also have a great garden along the river and running/walking tracks. Here’s a few shots of Portland –

Did I mention that Portland is the home of the food truck? These are just making a good start in Melbourne but in Portland they are everywhere; however, I don’t know if they classify as a truck because many in the downtown  area are permanent fixtures in a parking lot rather than a truck that can drive from place to place. The other interesting thing with the food trucks is that there is no seating, like you might find in Austin, but there is a park or somewhere to sit in the close proximity. So, as well as eating some fine dining we also had to make room for a food truck. I went for the BBQ and Caroline went for something healthy. There is so much variety that you could have something different every day and not have the same thing for a few months. For instance, in the location we went to there are 52 trucks.

I said Portland was bike friendly – they have had number plates (for cars) dedicated to bikes. And there are bike racks and bike lanes, and like many of the cities, bike racks on the front of the buses.

bikes bikes2

 

With the food trucks and fine dining we also went to a great place for breakfast – The Original.  In fact, we went there twice because first time round Jim went for the stock-standard and Caroline had some interesting polenta cakes and honey-maple bacon –

carolines Jims

But what drew us back was not just the good food but Jim saw the Elvis Sighting on the menu and couldn’t resist – french toast, bananas, roasted peanuts and bacon – mmmmm Elvis

And just because I have uploaded them, here are a few more random shots from Portland. More catch-up when I get around to it. Off to San Francisco for the NFL tomorrow (Saturday).