Jan
4
2013

Top 10s

So a few people have asked me for my/our top 10s while on this part of the trip… so here they are…

Top 10 fast food joints (overseen and approved by Mrs Potts)

1 – Chick Fil’A (Spicy chicken burger with Pepper Jack cheese)
2 – A&W (Mama burger)
3 – McDonalds (Double Big Mac)
4 – Dairy Queen (Standard burger or any of the ice creams)
5 – Jack in the Box (Number 1 or Number 4)
6 – KFC
7 – Sonic
8 – Burger King
9 – Wendy’s
10 – Panda Express (Wouldn’t go here again even if I was 1 meal away from dying)

Top 10 favourite places

1 – Alberta (Jasper, Banff, Calgary and High River)
2 – Boston
3 – San Francisco
4 – New Orleans
5 – San Diego
6 – Texas (Austin, Lockhart)
7 – Vancouver Island
8 – Niagara on the Lake
9 – Seattle
10 – Las Vegas

Top 10 things to see

1 – Jasper/Banff national parks
2 – Alcatraz
3 – Grand Canyon
4 – Niagara Falls
5 – Graceland
6 – Monument Valley
7 – D.C. (Washington Monument, White House, Archives)
8 – New York (Empire State, Rockafella Center, Central Park)
9 – Valley of the Giants
10 – Meteor crater, Arizona

Dec
21
2012

Montreal and completing the loop

The drive from Killington up to the Canadian border only took a couple of hours and the scenery on the way was just as good as any we had seen elsewhere in the States. The snow started to get thicker and deeper the closer to the border we got and we were both hoping for an easier transition than when we entered.

The border crossing was completely different than the massive one from British Columbia to Washington. Here, there were only 4 plaza booths and only one of them was open. We were also the only car there trying to cross the border so it was a lot less hassle.

The guy on the booth was Canadian so instantly a pleasure to talk to as opposed to the other arrogant Yanks on the opposite side and after surrendering our I-94W cards we were back in Canada.

Montreal really was like mini Paris. French definitely was the main language and we didn’t hear much English during our stay.I had exhausted my French vocabulary within seconds of trying to check in but luckily the girl on reception spoke both!

We had checked into Hotel St Dennis which was right in the middle of the Latin quarter and within minutes we found ourselves among the old churches and down by the harbour.  We walked along the main street, Rue St Catherina which had lots of malls and shops all done out and ready for Christmas.

Abby was facinated by the way they got rid of the snow from the city.

Instead of spending 3 days in Montreal and then only 2 days in the Toronto airport, we decided to head for the airport hotel a day early as a massive snow storm was due to hit anytime. We were actually lucky in that we got to back to Toronto before the snow really hit but also the main drop of snow (2 foot in 24hrs) mostly stopped before it hit Toronto city. If we had left it a day later we would have struggled to make it back to Toronto at all so our gamble paid off.

After we had checked in and carted our massive amount of luggage up to our room, we headed to the airport to drop the car off in what was to be our last drive. I was gearing myself up for a big fight with them but somehow we managed to turn up at the wrong terminal so ended up dropping the car off at a completely different desk with different staff. Anyway, all I can say is next time we will give Hertz a try as National, Enterprise and Alamo are all the same company and useless! And good luck to whoever has to try and make it to the petrol station to fill that car up… It was beyond low on fuel, even by my standards!

So we arrive back in the UK on Christmas Eve for a few days before we head out to Sri Lanka, armed with backpacks for the second half of the trip!

Everyone have a great Christmas and a fantastic new year!

Love Matt & Abby

PS: For those of you that are interested, the total mileage for this part of the trip was 13180 miles.

Dec
18
2012

Skiing the ‘Beast’

With just under a week left on our Can-Am trip, we left Boston as it started to snow and made our way up to Killington, Vermont for a couple of days skiing. The journey was only supposed to take a couple of hours but due to the weather it took nearer 6. We must have seen at least 15 crashes on the way up to Vermont, ranging from a car/truck stuck in the hedge to pile ups on the opposite carriageway!

The place we were staying in was just outside Killington resort in a little village called Plymouth. As the beginning of the ski season was due to start the week later, we ended up being the only ones in the hotel. The hotel itself, Salt Ash Inn, was just having renovation work finished as half of the building was destroyed in a hurricane last year.

Monday morning came and we hit Killington resort to pick up some skis and boots before heading out onto the slopes. It was still snowing when we got onto our first ski lift and had snowed about 6 inches during the night so I was eager to get up onto the fresh powder.

Abby struggled the first day as it was quite cold and as the falling snow was hitting her goggles it was instantly freezing, so she had to keep stopping every 2 minutes to clear them.

On Tuesday it was raining quite a bit which had scared most people off and meant the slopes were even quieter than yesterday. We skied until early afternoon at which point we were so wet we decided to pack it in and head back to the hotel to defrost but not berfore a nice bread bowl of chilli!

The slopes in the resort were quite varied and suited Abby as there were a lot of blue and black (no diamond) runs (these are what us Europeans class as red runs). The resort was only 40% open while we were there but there were more than enough slopes to keep us both busy and happy.

Before heading back to Toronto, we decided to visit Montreal for the last few days of our trip before heading back to the UK for Christmas and then the start of part 2!

Dec
16
2012

Boston Massachusetts?

After leaving New York we decided to avoid the issues around Newtown, Connecticut and stick on the south I-95 towards Boston, hoping we would not be blocked by any leftovers of Hurricane Sandy. To be honest, we didn’t notice any problems at all. It must have either not got up this far or had tired itself out after hammering New York and the Jersey shoreline.

Abby was under strict instructions to avoid Toll roads at all costs as we forgot to get any cash other than our $1 we still had.

We made it up to Massachusetts and into Boston without any problems and my only regrets were we didn’t spend enough time here. We really had to leave Boston on Sunday afternoon as we had pre-booked some skiing accommodation up in Vermont and due to the extra day we stayed in New York, we were squeezed.

It doesn’t matter though as we will definitely be coming back here! Boston was by far my favourite place in America. Abby’s still stands at San Francisco, which was really nice, but there was just something about Boston for me.

It felt like it could have belonged to an European country, the architecture seemed very familiar, maybe from films or again similar to that of Europe. There were obviously new buildings as well and some were really interesting looking and the contrast between the old and new just seemed to work so well here.

The city is split into two main areas with the Harbour obviously on the East side by the sea and the park area right in the middle of the city. Here you can see how well everything seems to fit together (and no, I haven't 'Photo-shopped' that building in).

Some of America’s best universities were just a stone’s throw away, Harvard, Longy and MIT (I like to think I would have at least tried to get into MIT had I been born on this side of the Atlantic).

Abby managed to find one of the only 3 Wagamamma restaurants that exist in the USA so we obviously had to eat there.

Dec
14
2012

The Big Apple

The drive from Washington D.C. up to New York only lasted a couple of hours but took us through 5 different states. Starting in Maryland (where we stayed) into Delaware, then Pennsylvania, New Jersey and finally New York State. Abby, for some reason had decided she was only capable of navigating via toll roads which was becoming a bit of a problem (and quite annoying) as none of the toll booths accept cards. We only had $30 dollars cash with us, as my new bank card is still waiting for me back at home after it got itself cloned and I’d rather turn around than get cash out via my credit card.

We had planned on actually stopping in Philadelphia for a couple of days but as we got there it was so grey, misty and dreary that we decided to give it a miss and get to Sammy’s sooner. Sammy (for those of you that have no idea who she is) is Abby’s friend from back home who has been living and working in New York for a few years.

Anyway, driving through the Bronx (where Sammy currently lives) was a bit of an experience but without too many problems we arrived around 19:00 with just $1 left in my back pocket!

We didn't do much touristy stuff in New York as Abby has been a few times before and I’ve been with a few mates a couple of years ago. We did do some more shopping and we managed to get up the Empire State building with the full Audio tour setup for only $12.50, thanks to Sammy’s boyfriend’s brother.

We were going to leave for Connecticut on Friday 14th but as we were packing, we watched the horrible breaking news from the Newtown school shooting. We had originally planned on taking the I-684 up and then I-84 across Connecticut towards Boston, which would have taken us right through Newtown while allowing us to avoid any damage by Hurricane Sandy on the south route. We decided to stay with Sammy an extra day and just had the news on for most of the day watching in disbelief.

I think it’s terrible what has happened in Newtown but America needs to take a good hard look at itself in the mirror and address its main problem which is, how bloody messed up it is!

It makes me laugh but most states won’t let you buy cigarettes if you are under 21, you are unable to buy beer from a shop after midnight, but 24 hours a day you can go and do your weekly shop and in between the bakery section and the chocolate aisle you can buy a couple of hand guns, a rifle and ammo with just a driving license. I mean come on, how stupid is that!

I still can’t get used to people asking us and the signs (as we enter buildings, museums, restaurants etc) to “please leave any knifes and firearms in the car, as they are not allowed on site”!

 

So, there is not much else to report from the Big Apple really, other than we got married at City Hall on 11th December and then went out for a bite to eat and a few too many drinks afterwards!

Dec
8
2012

Washington D.C.

So first thing I didn’t realise was that D.C. (District of Columbia) isn’t actually an official state in the USA because it is considered the capitol of the country it has no representation in congress.

We were staying just outside of D.C. in Maryland as it was so cheap compared to if we had stayed in D.C. itself. Our hotel was just a short walk from the metro station and it only took 20minutes to get into the centre of D.C.

Anyway, D.C. was an amazing place and it felt like we were actually in America unlike some of the other places we have been. I think it was because we recognised a lot of the city from all sorts of different films and we found ourselves wandering round trying to remember “what film that building was in”.

We visited most of the usual sights which you will see pictures of below, the ones I can remember are: The White House, State Capitol, The Archives, Federal Triangle, Library of Congress, FBI Headquarters, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, Einstein Memorial, Vietnam Veterans wall and probably others that I can’t remember.

I’ll add more to this blog later when I’m in a better writing mood and can actually remember what we did.

Dec
4
2012

North Carolina and Virginia

We had intended to do a few days skiing in North Carolina but alas, the weather again has been too warm and has delayed the opening of most of the resorts in this area. The current plan is to do a bit of skiing once we hit Vermont otherwise we really will be running out of time, and states!

The drive through North Carolina was beautiful and this is definitely an area I would like to come back to and spend much more time than the couple of days we gave it. Plenty of outdoor activities to take part in during the summer months and plenty of mountains for skiing in the winter (well maybe not this winter). A lovely state!

We decided to spend a few nights in a place called Asheville which is a smallish town compared to Charlotte or Greensboro. The place was great, a real feel of a small, friendly town.

We went out for a nice Indian meal one night and also got caught up in Friday night American Football in one of the local bars. They are crazy about it and I spent most of the first quarter explaining to Abby what the hell was going on. Putting all those hours of playing NFL Blitz with my brothers to good use!

As it was the first Friday in December, there was a massive pub crawl going on with about 200+ people dressed up as Christmas things (mostly Santas). We had just got in the car to drive back to the motel at this point so had to wait for them all to stagger across the road.

From North Carolina we headed further north into Virginia in the direction of the capital (or capitol as they say)! The countryside in Virginia was equally as beautiful as North Carolina’s. We drove part of the Blue Ridge Parkway after watching them do it on Top Gear years ago and the views were stunning!

We ended up spending the night in a really small village called Lovingston which couldn’t have had more than a few hundred people living in it. There was only one motel and one restaurant in the village other than McDonalds which really is everywhere in the USA and Canada! To be honest the Village Inn where we stayed was one of the better places we have stopped in so far, but we really were in the middle of nowhere!

From here we are heading up to D.C. for a few mad days of sight-seeing!

Dec
1
2012

Nashville

Nashville was similar to Memphis apart from the downtown area was in better condition and there weren’t as many homeless people about (or if there was, they were better at hiding at least). We had a walk around the place in the morning and visited the state capital and some of the other buildings worth seeing. We also went for a walk down Printer’s Alley which wasn’t really all that exciting.

We found a cool painting on the side of a building so grabbed a snap of it.

We visited yet another museum, this one was dedicated to the history of America. Some of the exhibits were a bit weird and boring but we did find some old stocks that used to be used hundreds of years ago to punish thieves. Looking back, I don’t think we were actually allowed to touch them but I put Abby in them anyway and we never got thrown out, so maybe we were?

Oh, the only really important thing to mention about Nashville was we found a cowboy boot shop that was buy 1 pair, get 2 pairs free! All the boots were around the $300-500 mark so we got our money’s worth! Also, I was the one that got the two pairs not Abby as you would expect!

Nov
30
2012

Memphis and a visit to the King

We left New Orleans and headed up through Mississippi towards Tennessee. The drive up was very scenic and we took our time and stopped for a night in Hattiesburg. We saw our first real rain for 6 weeks which was quite welcome as it saved me having to wash the car which was filthy at this point.

Memphis for us wasn’t much different from any other city we had been to. The downtown area was in need of restoration, the people were friendly but there were quite a lot of beggars and homeless around. We had a drive around some of the residential areas when going from place to place just so we could see what it was like to live around there. The houses are generally much bigger than ours in the UK and spread out along tree lined roads, very nice.

We went to have a look at the Peabody Hotel which is home to the famous ducks. If you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about (or believe me) you can Google it, but basically this hotel is home to 5 ducks. Each morning at 11am, the ducks are marched from their room down the hallway (along their red carpet) and to the main fountain in the middle of the reception area. They play and swim in the fountain all day and then at 5pm are marched back to their room. This march along the red carpet is orchestrated by the Peabody Duck Master (yes this is an actual position held at the hotel). Also the hotel restaurants do not serve duck on any of their menus out of respect.

So we couldn’t go to Memphis without a visit to Graceland, the home of Elvis. The morning we decided to go and visit the house it was rather cold but we were really lucky as the place was empty. There must have only been a handful of other people there at the same time so we pretty much had the house and grounds to ourselves to walk around.

I didn’t know much about Elvis other than the obvious details. He had a great house which included a cracking basement, a full size squash court (or racquetball court as they call it over here) also a nice bar and a pool table although he never drank, which I didn’t know. I didn’t realise just how much of a druggy he was as well but I suppose that’s what most of the musicians were doing at that time so why not him.

The amount of awards and number 1 records he had was unbelievable and just looking at the things he had in his house and in his garage, it was obvious he had more money than he knew what to do with. There was a whole room in the tour that was dedicated to all the charities and people he gave money to. He did donate a vast amount of money which was amazing to see and the amounts back in the 60’s and 70’s were enormous.

The two major things I didn’t know was Elvis had a twin brother who died during birth. Also I didn’t know that he wasn’t buried at Graceland originally and it was his dad that moved his grave from the local cemetery due to people trying to dig him up.

We went round his garage and saw all his cars, some of which are probably worth 10’s of millions if they were to ever sell. The pink Cadillac being the obvious one which was the first one he bought and still had when he died! Abby has band me making this blog just about cars, so more car pics upon request.

Also wandering round his planes was another example of having too much money as he had all the seat buckles made from solid gold. We watched a video of his plane being moved from the local airport to Graceland as they had to close all the roads. Apart from having to cut 20 foot off each wing and then re-attaching them later on, they had two guys sitting on top of the plane during the move to help lift the traffic lights up over the tail.

While in Memphis we went to a great BBQ place called Corky’s! They specialise in pork ribs and we can see why the place was packed! A massive smoke barn behind the restaurant is where they do all the smoking and the food was fantastic! It was so good we actually went back on our last night in Memphis throught their drive-thru no less!

Nov
26
2012

Louisiana

Heading east from Houston brought us to Louisiana and the first thing we noticed was how swampy it was. I for one hadn’t realised how much of the place was wetlands, it was like the Everglades. The main interstate through Louisiana is I-10 and a good portion of it is raised out of the water. The longest stretch we clocked was 15 miles and we could see all sorts of cool looking air boats zipping in and out of the swamps below us.

The weather was still rather warm (mid 20’s) and we headed to Baton Rouge for the day. We stayed just outside the state capital but went into a really nice Thai restaurant as Abby had the Thai craving again!

The next day we hit New Orleans (the Big Easy) and in particular the French Quarter. New Orleans was amazing, full of character and crazy but cool people. The Caribbean-colonial architecture and the spectacular gardens were well worth a visit. It’s also good to see that there is nearly no evidence of hurricane Katrina apart from inside the museum. The markets are an amazing place to wander round as well. You can get anything you want and if we hadn't already eaten we would have tried the aligator on a stick. Abby stopped me buying a real aligator head so I had to settle for the photo below.

We went around the Louisiana State Museum which has an exhibit dedicated to before and after Hurricane Katrina. Listening to some of the stories from survivors and local heroes was unbelievable. It’s difficult to believe so many people died and so much damage was caused by wind (something you can’t even see)! Inside the museum there was also an exhibit of some of the costumes from the Mardi Gras festival which was quite cool to see.

We spent some time around Jackson square watching some breakdancing group in the street entertaining people. They were pretty good and had a hell of a crowd at the end of their display. It must be amazing to be here during the Mardi Gras festival as everyone is so into their music and carnival culture.

 

New Orleans or N'awlins (to the locals) is definately a place to visit!

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