Sunday, 23 April 2017

Week 53 - York

As soon as you hit the A64 you know that you’ve only got one destination in mind…York. Driving into York cemented the fact we were home, in fact it felt like we’d never left all those months ago.  Our first stop was our new home for 6 months, Jim (Kyle’s dad) and Mandy’s, so it was more brews and catch ups before we finally began to unpack all of our belongings, getting used to living out of a wardrobe instead of a backpack will take some time, now we’ve got to work out where we’ve put everything.

In a week filled with catch ups we’ve spent time with little Paige, whose taken to calling Kyle, Uncle Pile, which is just too funny to correct. I’ve enjoyed the first of many meals with my Republic girls, Amber, Jade, Liz and Vick, who have been useless this last year, resulting in this being the first time they’d seen each other since I left too. My favourite thing about these girls is that catching up is always easy, they never change and we’ve actually grown together…so yes, Amber don’t worry we all still appreciate your rudeness with waitstaff, and credit where it’s due you’ve gotten a lot better this last year. I’ve visited the Nespresso gang and avoided putting on a headset to help queue bust, and instead left wth a bag full of chocolate thanks to my good friend, Cindy.

We’ve enjoyed a few drinks in the local, and a few too many at Charley and Alana’s engagement do (congrats again guys). A great evening allowed us to catch up with almost everyone and enjoy an old school disco, a proper year 8 style Christmas party, that had almost everyone busting out the macarena. A trip into town should of been cancelled at the walls, I forgot just how crowded Yorks bars could be, and now we find ourselves at that awkward age of being surrounded by people in the 16-21 bracket or the parents who can now go out again as their kids are our age and avoiding town for looking too old…safe to say my nightclub days are far behind me.

In an attempt to keep up our adventures we’ve walked Jasper through the woods and across the Knavesmire, and played tourist in York city centre. An early rise gave us the Shambles to ourselves. Like a scene from Diagon Alley (Harry Potter), the Shambles is an old cobbled street lined with shops and restaurants in old buildings that over hang with timber frames, dating back to the 14th century and one of my favourite places in this historic city. From here we ventured to York Minster, through the museum gardens and onto the city walls. A  walk I have never done in the 11 years I have lived in York, the city walls have more miles than any other city in England. Having surrounded York since the Roman times, the walls surround the city centre and offer great views of many historic buildings and the river, plus the best thing about this walk is, it’s free and open daily. Though we would recommend venturing out early to beat the crowds.

It’s been a busy week all round, on top of walks and catch ups we’ve also found time for job interviews. This means getting used to working to somebody else timings, dressing smart and for me using public transport (a massive drain on a busy York morning). But it’s also a good thing as it means we’ll hopefully get a job sooner, rather than later so we can start saving for our future and more UK weekend explorings. 

And it’s here we’ll leave you for now. I’m considering an update in a few months time, we’ll hopefully be working and enjoying the sites in Yorkshire by then. But for now we’re still adjusting to being home, so if you see us and we’re looking a little lost it’s only because were taking things in and trying not to be too overwhelmed by being home. Thank you to all for supporting us on our travels for the last year, and to family for helping us survive for now. Again it’s been a fantastic year, and we’re both looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Love Carrie xxx

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Week 52 - Blackpool, England

Blackpool for me as a child was always a favourite weekend destination. I remember pestering both parents to take me there every Saturday, whether it was just for a trip to the arcades or a day at the Pleasure Beach I wanted to be there. Now our visits to the famous seaside town take us to visit Kyle’s family. Pulling up to Kyle mums, Wendy, is always the same, she waits in the window until we pull up and comes running out to the car, only this time it was like she’d been waiting at the door…I’ve never seen her move so fast to give us a welcome back. After a catch up and a brew it was on to Kyle’s nana and grandads house, this was the first time that we’ve realised how much things can change in a year. As grandchildren you think that your grandparents are indestructible, so when illnesses come it can hit you pretty hard. Thankfully, Irene and Watty are the amazing, funny people I’ve come to know and love and aren’t letting anything get to them or change their senses of humour. Sitting with Watty, we got to learn about his gangster past back in that old London. Though he wouldn’t give us the detail Kyle and I craved we both know he was a real Peaky fucking Blinder. One day I’ll get that detail and write a book for you all to read, I’m sure he won’t mind.

Our week also contained a first, after 9 years our mums finally met. It’s a shame that a trip to the pier was ruined by the typical English weather. It’s been April showers and wind galore in good old Blackpool this Easter. Instead we had a meal and shopping trip, where dragging the mothers out of Primark was a bigger challenge than walking the wall in China. Mum also got to meet Irene and Watty, and as first meetings go I don’t think it could have gone any better…..both grandparents also censored their language for the occasion, I don’t know why, mum can swear with the best of them. 

Shopping in Blackpool was a bit of a shock, though they’ve made a real effort with the front the rest of it could really do with some work. The streets are dirty and lined with dog poo, a real shame and something that worries me for the rest of our return in the UK…is it all going to be like this? Or does Blackpool council need to up their game? Though I will say that you can’t beat good old Blackpool B&B hospitality, checking into Sunnydale hotel for the weekend we were greeted by two of the nicest owners. You know the type, the ones that always win Four in a bed. The room came complete with a hospitality tray and those little milks in cartons, and there was a dining room slash “lounge” downstairs. But my favourite part of staying in a seaside B&B is the fry up in the morning, you’re always guaranteed to be served the best British bacon, and after a year without it, this bacon was much appreciated.

Kyle was over the moon when his Uncle Stewart came to visit with his wife, Sharon, and boys Tommy and Ryan. I was buzzing too as it meant a trip to Coral Island and a few goes on the 2p machines and arcade games, and for a child thats spent half his life in Blackpool I can tell you that Kyle is pretty shit at arcade games.  A family meal with 15 of us and discussions of anal beads could only be had with this bunch, and you wouldn’t change them for the world….Blackpool might not be my favourite weekend destination anymore, but as long as this lot are there, we’ll still keep on coming.

So with most of our catch ups done its now Yorks turn and the return “home”.  We’ve got plenty of people to see, appointments to make and still many decisions to make. I don’t really know how I feel about being back in York yet, I can’t wait to see the rest of the family and catch up with my friends, but it sort of feels like this is the actual end of adventures. We’re back where we left off and shits got to get serious…..where’s my backpack? 

Love Carrie xxx

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Week 51 - Home, The Lake District.

We’ve taken 23 planes, 13 buses, 16 trains, 10 boats and owned 1 car to visit 10 countries over 12 months. We’ve taken 4,600 photos and videos, met some amazing people, become an unstoppable/inseparable duo and made some truly unforgettable memories. Many times we’ve been asked to name our favourite country, but we cant, they’ve all been good for different reasons. Take China, for the food, the technology and the fact it is the only place we visited that has very little Western influence and the only place where we depended on our ‘Point-it’ picture book, (a must have for anyone visiting China). Japan was the most unique and individual country of them all, with the friendliest, craziest people. Each corner you turned held a new experience, the gaming world of Akihabara and the waterfalls of Hakone to name a few.

Onwards to South East Asia and the busy Thailand, even in wet season its filled with tourists. Not one of my top destinations but I can appreciate why people return to the pristine islands and enjoy the flavoursome food. Cambodia is the country to make you appreciate what you have, seeing the little that people had to live on, but feeling the kindness that they were willing to share was a real eye-opener, and of course we enjoyed our wonderful experience teaching the children in Kratie with Rith and his family. For the best food in the world, Vietnam gets our vote. Eating in alleys on plastic childrens chairs with the locals for $1 were where a lot of our best meals were enjoyed, and who can forget that wonderful iced coffee? You also can’t take away from the vibrancy and beautiful beaches that this country has to offer. 

Wildlife on this adventure has been a big favourite for me, getting to see the elephant in Cambodia and of course the orangutangs in Malaysia was amazing. Malaysia itself is a great country for National Parks that allow you to get up close to animals in their natural habitat. Also one of my favourite countries for cultural diversity, seeing so many races and religions live peacefully side by side should be something that the whole world takes an example from. Beach life took over our lives in Indonesia, with Bali offering some of the most perfect (if a little crowded) beaches in the world. The Gili islands could be my new home, I’m sure if I stayed there long enough I’d be a snorkelling and surfing pro. 

Australia is an odd one for me, I liked what we saw as we got to see friends, but it didn’t win me over…maybe we need to see more? Get away from the crowds. But New Zealand on the other hand was a winner, as I once said, it’s like the gift that keeps on giving. We saw so much and did so much, from walks, beaches, rivers, mountains, bungee jumps and making a bunch of new friends, as well as catching up with old ones. We both fell in love with one of the most looked after countries in the world. America was a struggle for Kyle, especially with the food, but after California things picked up for us both. Spending time with family, exploring State Parks, the amazing music of Nashville and an unforgettable Broadway show gave our trip a fantastic ending. There’s more things we could say about every country, but we’d be here for ages and I know my ramblings have filled your feed for too long now. 

Being back and sharing stories with friends and families has made us remember small details that we’d forgotten about, and taught us to laugh at things that may have pissed us off at times, (like being stuck on a tiny, cramped mini bus in Cambodia for 7 hours). We’ve learnt a lot about the world, ourselves and each other, me especially about the world, though my geography still leaves a lot to be desired. I thought leaving Asia that I would be less materialistic, but meeting my mum and hitting a mall in America made me realise that I’m still a sucker for new shoes…I suppose some things stick as it’s what were used to, and living in the Western world we’re used to getting new things and having the latest technology. But I will make a more conscious effort to keep track of world events, donate to the right charities and organisations (starting with 3 bags of clothing for the homeless shelter) and supporting people we’ve met with their endeavours. I’m also going to try and cross the road properly, and not text and walk…small things but I’ve seen the benefit of both (especially after falling down the stairs and twisting my ankle watching a snapchat in New Zealand).

Arriving back at my mums in the Lake district to boxes of clothing, a backpack filled with washing and a years worth of mail was a real, “Oh shit, we’re home, what do we do now?” moment. Not wanting to step too far back into the real world, Kyle has decided to get rid of most of his clothes and just repacked his backpack. 

I’d forgotten how boring food shops could be, so a trip to Asda with jet lag was not only draining but a real chore (can’t wait for the first time that I’ve got to do cleaning). We also bumped into an old school friends mum who got chatting about nana, this I found a little upsetting as I don’t think it had yet hit home that she’s actually gone. Thankfully, mum took us to Nana’s house and even though I didn’t want to go at the time I’m glad that I did, as it no longer feels as though she’s there…which can only mean that she’s happy with Grandad looking after her now. 

Mum has taken us on some Lake District adventures and I’ve started to realise that I probably did take this place for granted before I left. We’ve walked to the top of the Hoad Monument, an old lighthouse with great views over Ulverston and the surrounding areas. Trekked round Furness Abbey and got lost in the lanes. Driven out to Roa Island for afternoon tea, and enjoyed the views out to sea, and walked up Gummer’s How to take in the length of Lake Windermere, and tried to decide which mountain we’ll climb next….we will make our own little adventures now we’re back home. 

We’ve visited friends and family and shared our travel stories, and many have asked us how it feels to be home. We probably can’t answer that question yet, at the moment it’s like we’re still on holiday just visiting people and eating the food we’ve missed (hello, meat and tatie pies and flaming hot monster munch). So maybe try asking us in 2 more weeks, when desperately hunting for jobs and we’ve been caught in the rain a few times. For now there’s a few decisions to be made and a few faces to see, I'm just glad that we're still doing all these things together (yay to us for no fall outs) but we’ll keep you posted on what we do, do.

Love Carrie xxx

Monday, 3 April 2017

Week 50.2 - New York

I’m a nervous flyer, something that has not improved at all on this trip, so nervous in fact that my hands break out in cold sweats. So you can imagine the sheer panic I felt when the air hostess started running up the plane, smelling the air during take off, asking passengers if they smelt it too. Smelt what, you might ask…well yeah, I asked that too, whilst sitting there almost wetting my pants! The plane continued to climb and the captain made an announcement for everyone to remain in their seats, including the cabin crew, and upward we continued and the turbulence continued for ages, I’m not even exaggerating it was like an hour. We were then informed that the burning smell and panic was due to flying through burnt air caused by lightening striking seconds before our take off, to which Kyle said, “Don’t worry planes get hit by lightening all the time”. Cheers pal! We eventually landed after 98 minutes of the worst turbulence i’ve encountered ever, even the air hostesses had to remain seated for most of the flight, apparently there was strong westerly winds affecting all flights, that or the pilot was a shit driver.

I’ve always been a fan of New York, even before I came for the first time 12 years ago. The musicals, bright lights, street entertainment and skyscrapers attracted me, even from the pages of magazines or from the scenes of my then favourite TV show Friends. Heading to New York this time I was both crazy excited and a little sad, I couldn’t wait to explore but I wasn’t quite ready to arrive at our final destination. It may have been this excitement that made us get on the wrong subway train, bound for Queens instead of Manhattan, neither of us realised until we’d gone for about 20minutes. This meant that it felt like forever until we arrived at our hotel, The Watson, a newly renovated (and I use that word lightly), Holiday Inn. The Watson may be one of the more upmarket and pricy hotels that we’ve stayed in, but in my opinion it still has a ways to go to reach the $145 per night price tag…but it’s not the hotel we’ve come for. 

We have found ourselves in a great location though, less than 10 minutes from Times Square. So as soon as check in was complete I practically dragged Kyle down Broadway and straight into the crowds of tourist. Just as I remembered Times Square is bright, in your face and full of blatant advertising, the theatres are all trying to entice you in, there’s street artists fighting for attention, bus companies trying to sell you the best priced tickets and people, people everywhere. Smaller than I remembered but still as good, we walked around in the cold taking in the sights before heading into a real American diner, complete with leather booths, small tables and laminated menus to enjoy burgers and mac ’n’ cheese.

It didn’t rain on our first full day in NYC, it poured…buckets! So bad, streets flooded and the traffic jams doubled in size. This didn’t stop me dragging Kyle to the Times Square ticket office to see what offers they had on for the evening though. The lowest quote we got was for Chicago, at $95 a piece we passed for the time being…I mean it’s the end of our trip and we’ve still got to eat. On the way back to the hotel we went by the August Wilson theatre, home to one of Broadways newest musicals, Groundhog Day, which coincidently was written and composed by one of our favourite comedians, Tim Minchin. As the theatre was open we popped in to see if they had any last minute deals, even though we had been told at the box that they’d cost $110 per piece. Well screw you cheeky ticket touts, we got tickets for $38.50 each! Which just goes to show that it’s well worth going straight to the source.

So as the evening approached we got ready to go back out into the horrific waterfall defending upon New York for Kyle’s first ever musical theatre performance, and my first time in a theatre wearing waterproof trousers and walking boots (these days i’ll take warmth and comfort over fashion). The August Wilson theatre is small in comparison to those that host the likes of The Lion King and Wicked, but with only 1222 capacity it makes for a more intimate setting and means no seat, is a bad seat. As we settled down and the orchestra began to play I felt the instant rush of excitement, along with a slight concern for how Kyle was going to deal with all the musical numbers, (Past experiences with Glee have taught me that he doesn’t quite enjoy it when people spontaneously burst into song). Luckily, Groundhog Day is modern, on trend and sentimental. Based on the film of the same name, you are taken on a journey through Phil Connors’ continual time loop and his ever changing experiences. Yes, there’s songs but their funny and quick witted, melodious and sang by people with pretty amazing voices. Tim Minchins unique style shines through in each number, and when combined with the crazy affects and new stage ideas Groundhog Day made for a real great musical, one even Kyle enjoyed…he was even amazed by the way they did certain things, like the scene with the car chase when, (don’t worry I won’t ruin it for you).

A day on the tourist trail took us to some of New Yorks most famous sites including Radio City Music Hall, watching the ice skaters at Rockefeller Centre, walking down 5th Avenue and to one of the most beautiful churches we’ve seen, St.Patricks Cathedral. Opened in 1879 using money contributed by locals and immigrants, St.Patricks Cathedral was created to affirm the ascendance of religious freedom and tolerance. The cathedral itself is huge, with ornate wooden doors, brightly coloured stained glass windows, marble statues and pillars with golden beams and wooden benches. Everyone is welcome at the cathedral and the homeless even take refuge inside to keep warm in the winter months, including one friendly chap we saw today. Of course we lit another candle for Nana whilst inside, and made our donations for the maintenance of the church, she’d be proud of that.

Grand Central Terminal is the setting for many a romantic movie and number one on Kyles tourist trail. In what remains the busiest train station in the country tourists flock to stand on the marble stair cases, gazing at the cherubs on the green ceiling or watching the people rush by and we were no different, getting caught up with the crowds before walking over to the Public Library. Another building decked out with marble (New York must be worth a bob or two), the Public Library is like a set from Harry Potter with domed doorways, rows of books and huge windows it’s a beautiful place to walk around, but I really feel for the people trying to study in there.

We went in, but not up, the Empire State building before heading back through Times Square, after a quick trip to Macy’s, to Central Park. The most visited urban park in America, Central Park is a hive of activity from local dog walkers, to tourists, vendors and street acts, there is always something going on in the park. We walked under the famous bridge in Home Alone, before heading to the river and taking in a performance from a local singing group, followed by an acrobatics show and a hot dog. I could of spent all day dog watching but after 4 hours out in the cold I was starting to lose all feeling in my toes. And I mean it was really cold, so cold in fact that all the snow that had been recently shovelled was still sat in a neat, white pile. 

A quick train ride took us down to the 9/11 Memorial. A tribute now marks the World Trade Centre site in the shape of two “pools” with the names of every person who died inscribed in bronze on the plaques around the pools. Many people visit the site to pay their respects to the people who lost their lives and the Memorial Plaza offers a peaceful place to do so.

Walking around the path and along the Hudson River to the Statue of Liberty took us to the worlds largest queue for the ferry out for a better view. The sun was shining so this meant that every man and his dog had now come out to take the trip. The boats dock every 20 minutes, leaving a 3 hour wait at the back of the line, combining this with the fact that people were packed on like sardines we decided to give it a miss, and just viewed the statue from the shore. From ground level to the tip of the torch the Statue of Liberty stands at 305 feet, but from where we standing it certainly felt taller. We were both left wishing that we had booked the trip onto the National Park for a trip to the crown, but you need to do this at least 2 months in advance…there’s always next time I suppose.

Walking the complete path took us to the bottom of the Brooklyn Bridge, which of course Kyle wanted to walk over. These plans changed a little before we were half way across, it was crazy busy! There were people in the bike lines, bikes in the people lanes, people walking backwards, vain people stopping for constant selfies and someone attempting to film a music video…I was not feeling it, pushing my way through the crowds, especially when everyone was sweaty as they’d dressed for winter and it was surprisingly warm. Instead, we thought it would be a good idea to walk back to Times Square. Stopping at Union Square broke the walk up a little bit, here we watched a protest against fur, walked through the street market and ate an ice cream with all the other tourists, I know an ice cream, it was actually warm enough for an ice cream. Anyway, 2 hours and 20 shops later we made it to Times Square, no we didn’t buy anything but we had a good look. 

Ellen’s Stardust Diner was one of my fondest New York memories, and it turned out that Sunday is a good day to beat the queues, as we were seated within 5 minutes. Ellen’s is a 50’s themed diner, offering live music from the waitstaff who sing all the latest broadway numbers with a few golden oldies and pop songs thrown in too. The purpose of the singing staff is for them to get picked up by talent scouts and cast in the latest Broadway shows, something which does happen often as they’ve lost 20 staff to the stage so far this year. Kyle hated it! I think it was too much “show” for him, with the guys and girls climbing between the tables and belting out songs from Frozen, it was all too much….I don’t think it was as good as I remembered it either, but definitely worth the experience, just don't order a main meal there.

So we’ve just had our last walk around this city I’m still in love with (it’s yet to win Kyle over). We took in the sites along the Highline Park path, an old railway line converted into a park, headed back up to Times Square, and watched people fall over on the ice at Rockefeller centre. Neither of us are quite ready to end our adventures, a brief trip home to say hello would do us nicely, but who knows what the future will bring. But for now friends, family and England we’ll see ya’ll tomorrow. 

Love Carrie xxx

p.s I suspect a sentimental post will follow.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Week 50.1 - Chicago

Last time we got the MegaBus it was a bit of a disaster, (you remember the time San Fran to L.A), but this time it was surprisingly better, even if the journey was 9 hours long. We were picked up on time from an actual bus station instead of waiting at the side of a random road and actually set off a couple of minutes early once the driver was happy that everyone had arrived. The change of drivers went quickly and smoothly, all passenger pick ups and drop offs were done within 10 minutes and we only took a 20 minute break for lunch, plus the loo was kept exceptionally clean on board. The only issue I had was the change in weather with each state we passed through, from Tennessee to Kentucky then Indiana it just seemed to get colder, until we reached a freezing cold Illinois. 

MegaBus were up to their old tricks in Chicago, dropping us on a street corner 15 minutes from the central loop. I didn’t moan too much about the walk to the train station, having got rid of most of my stuff (thanks mum) my backpack is finally loads lighter and a lot easier to carry, so this walk was one of the most pleasant we’ve ever had whilst carrying our stuff….it’s only taken us a year to not argue when the bags are on. It was eerily quiet Downtown on a Sunday evening and we were worried that the trains weren’t running, but a kind lady at the station helped us with our tickets and ushered us on board the brown line. Panic set in once we were on board when Kyle couldn’t find our stop on the map or work out which way the train was going. After he made us jump off at the next stop we quickly learnt that we were on the right train, it just does a loop before continuing on, this good effort from Kyle meant a 20 minute wait for the next train to come along, this made me really hangry. 

We soon made it to our hotel, Fieldhouse Jones, a century old converted dairy house. This building was empty for almost a decade until it was purchased by the hotel owner, and it now represents a modern hotel decorated with old sports memorabilia along with some of the buildings original features. As our room has a window with views of the city loop train line, I feel like we have been housed in a true American apartment. After a quick check-in we were finally able to eat, a massive Gyro delivered by Uber eats…I know, I’m worried that we’re taking this America thing too far to. 

Stepping outside on our first day in Chicago we were immediately struck by how cold it was, a total shock to the system after 11 months of being mostly warm. It was actually fucking freezing, we wrapped up in layer upon layer and even contemplated buying wooly hats and wonder it was so quiet the night before, everyone is avoiding frost bite. We soon warmed up once we got walking along the river walk, the many, many skyscrapers acted as a great wind block. Taking us along the deep blue Chicago river the walk offered great views of the city skyline, even if we couldn’t see the tops of most of the buildings due to the fog, this city still felt tall and huge in comparison to Nashville and El Paso. Leaving behind the modern buildings, we crossed the river and found ourselves at the top of the Magnificent Mile, a street lined with designers stores and expensive restaurants, such as Micheal Jordans steakhouse. But it wasn’t the shops we’d crossed for, it was the British/French styled architecture of the Tribune Tower and surrounding buildings that had caught our eye, that and the huge statue of Abraham Lincoln. The Tribune Tower was built in 1972 and consists of 36 floors, housing the Chicago Tribune, Tribune Media and Tronc, Inc, this gothic building reminds me of an old English church..well a really tall one anyway. 

My favourite building is the Carbide and Carbon building. Now home to the Hard Rock Hotel, this building stands out thanks to the black granite and terracotta facade that covers it, making it look like a green bottle with a gold lid on top, you can spot it from miles away. Next stop was the Chicago theatre, we were too late for the inner tour, but the outside of the building was so bright with it’s flashing lights it was reminiscent of a theatre from New Yorks broadway, as was the Oriental theatre around the corner.  All that walking had got us feeling pretty hungry so we headed to a local restaurant, Big & Little’s. Featured on the U.S’s version of an Ainsley Harriett restaurant show this diner is famous for being on Diners, drive-ins and dives, looking like a bit of a dive but offering amazing tacos, salads and burgers, this little find has to be one of the cheapest places to eat in the whole of America. Our food and drinks cost us little more than $15 and Kyle couldn’t move afterwards.

The plan was to visit the John Hancock building and take a trip to the top of the tower for views over the city, and once again Kyle was adamant that he knew which way to go. About 1 hour 30 minutes and 4 miles of walking it was clear that he actually had no clue where we were, or where we were supposed to be going, especially when the Hancock tower was only 1km from our hotel. Instead we ended up walking around the loop about 10 times, but we did find a nice church to light a candle in for Nana. St.Peters sits in the centre of the loop but surprisingly stands out amongst all the skyscrapers, inside is decorated in wood and marble with pristine white statues and a fountain of holy water, I think that my nana would of really liked this one. We also found the Willis tower, a 1450 foot high skyscraper offering a skydeck and 360 degree views of Chicago…but with the fog still sitting low and a $18 per person entry fee, we thought better of going in. 

A walk through Millennium Park took us to one of the busiest attractions in the whole of Chicago, The Cloud Gate. A public sculpture by Indian born, British artist, Anish Kapoor, the Cloud Gate is the centrepiece of the plaza in the park. Weighing in at 110 tons, this sculpture is made of highly polished stainless steel and reflects the skyline of Chicago and on a clear day, the clouds above. Our final destination was 3,300 foot long Navy Pier on the shoreline of Lake Michigan. Offering fair ground rides, cruises, food and souvineers, the Navy Pier was opened to the public in 1916 after originally being built for freights and outdoor recreation. Originally named Municipal Pier, the name was changed in 1927 to Navy Pier to honour the canal veterans who served in the First World War. It was a bloody cold walk along that pier, but it was lovely to look after the bright blue lake, you could even see the beaches along the shoreline…shame it wasn’t warm enough to visit them, maybe next time hey? 

We didn’t actually find the Hancock building until the next day when we stepped outside of our hotel and looked left, and there it was, right where I said it would be. I’ll let Kyle blame the fog for that one. We’d arranged to go on a tour of Lincoln Park to learn more about the area and Chicagos mob history with a company called, Free Tours by Foot, and met our guide Hillary at Julia Porter park. She showed us many blues clubs and buildings that used to be speak easys back in the days of the prohibition when the distribution and sale of alcohol was illegal. We learnt about the battles between the North and South mobs and the Saint Valentines Day massacre….famous as this was when Al Capone forced George “Bugs” Moran to go into hiding when 7 of his men were killed, including his best fighters and document keeper. This also led to the people of Chicago making an appeal to the government to stop the mob related crimes in Chicago.

Stopping outside the old Biography theatre we learnt about John Dillinger, Public Enemy number 1. Hailed as a hero by the public, Dillinger stole from banks and helped the poor, escaping prison twice, he later had plastic surgery and got a new identity to avoid further capture. He was later found and shot dead in an alley next the theatre where fans and crowds of women soaked their skirts and handkerchiefs in his blood, something to remember him by, and a little creepy in my opinion.

The Cider house in Chicago is known for being one of the few buildings that survived the great Chicago fire of 1871. The story has it that Officer Bellinger who owned the house at the time wet down the house and fought the fire with barrels of water, before using cider to fight off the fire. His wife later said the cider part wasn’t true, but you can still visit this building today on your way to Lincoln Park, and Lincoln Park zoo. Though I don’t agree with zoos and we passed on the visit, you may like to know that this zoo is one of the only free zoos in the world. We also visited Oz Park which is, as you can probably guess, filled with statues of your Oz favourites including the Tin man and the Lion. Named in 1976 Oz Park is in honour of Lyman Frank Baum, the author of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz who settled in Chicago in 1891 a few miles of West of the now park.

Though it’s been bloody freezing and I’ve not been able to feel my hands or nose 80% of the time, Chicago has been a great city. Surprisingly peaceful, this city combines old European charm with modern skyscrapers and has plenty of parks and suburbs to enjoy…I think next time though I’ll come in summer. 

So next stop is our last stop, New York City. On one hand I have been desperate to get there to see if it is as good as I remember, but on the other I haven’t wanted this time to come as it marks the end of our journey…but lets not think about that for now and roll on the Big Apple.

Love Carrie xxx

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Week 49.2 - Nashville, Tennessee

I’m not the best at saying goodbye, but seen as it was only a see you later for mum, Jo and David there were no tears outside the airport this time…yay me! The first part of our journey took us from San Antonio to Atlanta, and hats off to Delta airlines for providing one of the better short distance flights we’ve had on this trip. Even if we were 10 minutes late departing and the flight was packed, it was still a pleasant journey and came complete with complimentary drinks and snacks…I’m now a firm believer that all airlines should at least provide water no matter how long or short the flight. What somebody could of pre-warned us about though, (mum), was the size of Atlanta airport. Knowing we only had a 40 minute layover time we knew it would be a mad dash for the next flight anyway, but when you take the 10 minutes off for the delay, and a further 10 minutes thanks to being seated at the back of the plane and having to wait for everyone to take their 8 items of luggage out of the overhead lockers, we were left with 20 minutes to get from section B to section D. Now if you haven’t been to Atlanta airport its fucking huge, think Manchester and quadruple it, it’s so big infact that they even have a train to take you around the different sections. Did we know about the train? No. Did we accidentally stumble across it? Thankfully, yes. This meant we made it with 10 minutes to spare and were soon on our way to Nashville, another Delta flight that took little more than 30 minutes, we probably could of walked it.

We got our first taste of country music as soon as we hit the bag check at Nashville airport where a live band had set up at one of the airport bars, combining this with the Gibson guitars and other musical artefacts around the airport we knew we’d made the right decision adding Tennessee to our visit list. Our taxi dropped us on hip East Nashville, where everyone’s painfully on trend and ridiculously friendly…we immediately clicked with our Air B&B hosts, Justin and Lyndi, and fell in love with their beautiful home and humongous dog, Bo. We didn’t get to see much on our first day with a late arrival, but Kyle was over the moon with his ramen from the local Japanese restaurant and I enjoyed exploring our neighbourhood, especially when we saw the Christmas trees decorated with CD’s and LP’s.

No trip to Nashville is complete with a trip to the Country Music Hall of Fame. We were greeted by the sweetest older gentleman who gave us a map of the building and directed us to the ticket booth. We opted for the audio tour, which we later gave up on, there was too much to take in and we wanted to explore at our own pace…but I would advise the audio tour for those who are very passionate about Country. By far one of the best museums we have visited on our travels, the Music Hall of Fame takes you on a journey from the early beginnings of Country music to the modern day stars of the genre. We got to see Elvis’ guitar, learn about the pairing of Dylan and Cash, view Dolly Parton’s tiny outfits, gaze adoringly at Taylor Swifts crystal covered guitar and reminisce over the days of Shania Twain when we saw her leopard print outfit. I was shocked to learn that Kyle was such a fan of Country and struggled to get him moving out of the audios booth, it’s the longest he’s spent, willingly, in any museum…ever! The building itself is spectacular, with dark ceilings and low lights to give you the feeling of being on stage, these rooms lead to the final gallery, a domed room with bronze placards of honoured artists and the words, “Will the circle be unbroken” lining the walls. 

From here we took a walk through the Nashville garden and along the walk of fame honouring the Nashville music legends, and looking like you would expect…L.A take note, you could learn a thing or two from these guys. We walked by the stunning Symphony Centre and on to the John Seigenthaler pedestrian bridge taking us over the Cumberland river, at 960m this is one of the longest pedestrian bridges in the world and offers great views of the city, especially the famous “Batman” building. Kyle was eager to visit the Johnny Cash museum but when we got there it was packed, plus he didn’t want to part with a further $40 for entry so we just had a browse around the gift shop instead.

Our final tourist trip of the day was the Ryman, the Mother Church of Country Music. A stunning venue that I was keen to visit after learning that they filmed scenes for Nashville, the tv series, inside. Though there was no filming taking place when we visited there were still plenty of people buying their Team Luke and Team Deacon t-shirts. After miles of walking and lots of sightseeing it was time to experience some of the famous music on the strip. Our bar of choice was the Second Fiddle, we enjoyed many Bud’s and lots of whiskey whilst listening to an awesome band called, The Scallywags. Fronted by Kristine Speilmann, The Scallywags play upbeat, melodic and interesting songs of their own creation, combined with any requested covers performed in their own style and I would highly suggest catching one of their gigs when in Nashville, you can find them on Twitter for more information…it was a great afternoon, but I soon learnt that I’d had one too many when I paid $20 to crawl across a bar for a shot in Coyote Ugly…it was not a highlight of my trip and one I would not recommend for anyone else, unless you’re one of those girls on a beer bike singing your way round downtown. 

I was feeling really sorry for myself the next morning, hangovers have long become a thing of the past and I’m happy to put them back there after a night on the whisky. To wake ourselves up we went on an 8 hour walk around the districts of Nashville, starting at the Farmers Market for banana and Nutella crepes…mine did not go down well. Next we walked through the Bicentennial Capitol Mall state park which has timelines of Tennessee events, showing the evolution of the state, memorials for World War 2 and memorials for some of Nashvilles greatest music stars. This walk led us to Germantown, a stunning, but expensive looking district, whilst we also saw the baseball stadium complete with giant guitar used for keeping score. Next we walked along the river and across Downtown to the Gulch, another fancy side of town with restaurants far too expensive for our taste so instead we found ourselves in The Pie Wagon. Serving pie, chicken and catfish, this buffet style diner has been open since 1922 and all the fixtures, fittings and sweet staff look as though they have been there since that very first day…still it did the job and kept us fit for our stroll around Music Rowe.

Music Row is home to all the businesses relating to country music, gospel music and contemporary christian music, such as BMI, Sony records and the famous Studio B that saw the production of many singles from artists like Dolly Parton and Elvis Presley. There’s also many larger than life guitars and statues along the streets representing instruments used by famous musicians and bands. To end our hangover day we treat ourselves to a meal at a real American Diner. Family run and one of the first businesses to be owned by a woman in Nashville, the Pied Piper offers a music themed menu, with Onion rings of fire, Fleetwood Mac ’N’ cheese and Soup! there it is, being a few of the options. We had a lovely, if a little to large, meal at a table decorated with old records, with spectacular art work and posters of many, many musicians lining the walls…it certainly made me feel better. 
Opryland resort can only be classed as a NashVegas style hotel, with 1000’s of room surrounding a man made river, waterfalls, plants and trees, with scatterings of restaurants and shops mixed in. I personally don’t think i could stay here, it’s not to my taste, and I think after a whisky or 2 you would really struggle to make your way back to your room. But the hotel was not why we’d ventured to Opryland, we’d been lucky enough to get tickets to a live show at the Opry thanks to the kind people at the visitor centre who advised it was only $10 more for a show rather than a tour. So as we settled into our seats way up in the rafters (believe people when they tell you, no seat is a bad seat at the Opry) we got ready and excited for the show to begin. It was like being taken back in time, as the show is broadcast live on radio and TV it has to include adverts of course, but these aren’t your prerecorded adverts, no some man with a voice from the 20’s broadcasts these adverts live throughout the show, and makes a joke of it each time…sometimes even stealing the show. An Opry performance is broken up into 4 half hour segments, each having its own compare, with my favourite of the night being Jeannie Seely. An honest comedian with a mass of songs of her own, she touched on topics few may not agree with and certainly got the audience ready for the music. With great performances from Carrie Underwood and the Opry Square Dancers, the night was stolen for me by Brandi Carlile and Sundance Head, the winner of the voice who was making his Opry debut, Sundance…with such passion and some of the best live vocals i’ve heard in my life was hands down the best act of the night!

It’s a bold statement but Nashville has been one of my favourite places on our travels, from the laid back vibe to the friendly people and the great music on tap…it certainly has got a lot going for it. A holiday destination I would recommend to anyone, theres something for all ages and I’m pretty sure you won’t be left disappointed. For now it’s time to bid farewell and board the MegaBus bound for Chicago, a trip thats advertised as 9 hours…I reckon we’ll be there in 12.

Love Carrie xxx

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Week 49.1 - San Antonio and a mini Texas road trip

The journey from El Paso to San Antonio took a little over 8 hours, but frequent rest stops, naps and seat hopping made for a quick and painless journey…and probably spoilt us a bit too much, especially when we have another long arse bus journey coming up soon. The drive to San Antonio was similar to the one we had to Ruidoso in the respect that the desert soon gave way to lush greenery, only here there’s huge trees and flowers and people really need to cut their grass! After a quick check in at our Air B&B, a lovely house which we have all to ourselves, we headed Downtown for a stroll along the riverwalk. A network of paths and bridges along and over the San Antonio river, the riverwalk is one story below the streets and is lined with restaurants, bars and shops. A main tourist attraction, the walkways were crowded with people when we arrived and each diner had a really long wait…except for the “British pub” where we found ourselves eating. Kyle was happy as he managed to get a pint of Guinness, and we were both equally impressed with the fish and chips, the closest we’ve had to home since we left, though it did leave Kyle wanting a real portion from Blackpool seafront.

I’d been craving pancakes since we arrived in America, so Jo and David took us for breakfast at a german pancake haus in San Antonio. Had I known how big my two blueberry pancakes were going to be, I think I would of put in for a kids order. Still they satisfied a craving and prepared me for the days adventure, so whilst the adults went off for shopping and lunch we headed back Downtown and towards the Alamo. The Alamo became a symbol of heroic resistance to oppression and a struggle for independence which was won late in 1836 by Texas after a battle led by James Bowie and William Travis against Mexican invaders. Bowie, Travis and their 200 men managed to defend the Alamo for 13 days (though some say it was only 20 minutes) before the invaders finally over powered them. Today you can walk around the Alamo and grounds, taking in the story with an Audio tour or reading the stories on the walls…but do get there early as it gets way crowded in the afternoon, as we painfully found out.

Onwards walking took us across Alamo square towards the Majestic theatre, which after seeing pictures of I really wanted to get inside…unluckily it was closed and access can only be gained when going to watch a show. Instead we walked further to Historic Market Square, a Mexican shopping area with over 100 shops selling hand crafted items and clothing along with extra, extra large margaritas. We passed on the alcohol as our next stop was the Cathedral of San Fernando, a large, gothic looking building and the mother church of the Archdiocese. As a service was in order we took a quick peak at the large alcoves and golden artwork before paying our respects and moving on.

The path to the Tower of the Americas is lined with trees, cheeky squirrels, sculptures and water features leading to large waterfalls surrounding the tower itself. The Tower of the Americas is a 750ft tall building featuring a very over priced restaurant, 4D cinema, gift shops, coffee shop and an observation deck. It was obviously the observation deck that we’d come for, so after paying our $25 we got in the lift and faced the 3 minute journey upward. It took forever, and yes the view was great but I couldn’t fully enjoy it until we were stationary. Once on the deck you have two options, stay inside and look through the windows, like a wimp, or head outside and walk round getting windswept but only have one pane of glass to look through instead of two…we obviously had to go for option two. The views were spectacular, offering a 360 degree landscape view. We could see downtown, the sports fields, the airport and further into the distance, allowing for spectacular views of a beautiful city.

We went back to the riverwalk for lunch and stumbled upon a quieter section than the previous evening, besides the boats filled with tourists that pass by every so often. It was here that we found the Arneson River Theatre. Built in 1939 performances vary from dance to music to opera, with the audience sitting on concrete seats on the side of the river, whilst the performance takes place on the opposite side. It was a real shame we didn’t get to see a show, but the river and surroundings are very well maintained and it makes for a nice, cooling stroll walking along the banks…i don’t know if i mentioned it but San Antonio is fucking hot, like sweaty, humid Asia hot.

The parents picked us up later in the evening for tea at the most authentic Mexican in San Antonio, as recommended by Jo’s friend, Diana. Well Jaslisco’s cibolo didn’t disappoint, a real hidden gem outside of the city complete with plastic chairs, old tables and a family hosting…they even had pictures on the walls depicting the menu, it suited me and Kyle to a T. Everyone enjoyed their meals, and the puffy tacos went down a treat, even if none of us could work out how they’d made them. David says I should take back what I wrote about nothing being free in America. Now I would love to, especially after enjoying my free cone from Dairy Queen and I’ll admit it did finish off my tea very nicely, but I just need more proof if you’d care to offer more free ice cream I’ll be available for a while in Nashville, Chicago or New York.

What better way is there to spend a hot, sunny day than relaxing by a river? A 45 minute car journey took us into San Marcos, here we enjoyed a walk along the river at the wildlife reserve. Home to turtles, fish and coral, this river boasts crystal clear warm waters that can be observed from the path, glass bottom boat, kayak or paddle board tour..Kyle was keen to paddle board, but with it being Spring these tours were unavailable, so instead we spent a day further down stream swimming, or in Kyles case floating down the natural slide and getting carried away by the current. Whilst he was off down river I made friends with some real Texas Hillbillys, with a real Southern drawl…it was a nice change me getting excited over someones accent, instead of having someone scream “Oh my god you’re English” at me.

Being only 30 minutes from Austin it would of been rude not to take a drive downtown. Along the way we passed a town called Kyle, much to the excitement of mum, and a quick stop was made to take a picture of our Kyle stood next to the signpost for the city of Kyle. Austin is huge, filled with skyscrapers and a city skyline with of various heights, but in amongst this business like city sits 6th street, home to the South by Southwest music festival. Lined with bars that are home to all sorts of live music, street art and tattoo shops, 6th street was really up our street, and a must return to destination so that we can fully appreciate it when everywhere is open…even if we will be spoilt for choice.

Our final evening meal with the family was a favourite Vietnamese Pho, a good last meal before months of salad to work off all this “America weight”. Next stop is the airport and a 2 plane flight to Nashville, I’m glad it’s only a see you soon for mum, but I’ll be sad to say goodbye to Jo and David…even if it won’t be long, now I’ve experienced El Paso I’ll be sure to be back again, especially when Mum buys her house here, hey mum?

Love Carrie xxx