Places I Love – Jacmel Haiti

When wandering the streets of Jacmel I ran across this beer truck… Mmm have a good weekend everyone

Roller Derby, the Alamo, a Man Falling Dead, food, music and beers, you can have it all in Austin Texas

Those that know me personally are well aware of how much I rave about Austin Texas, I have visited the city four times in total. This particular blog is about the second time I visited and Ive detailed some of the activities I got into, swimming, music, food, bar hopping, shopping and roller derby.

Austin was boiling hot when I arrived, I checked into the hostel I was staying at and immediately headed to Barton Springs located in Zilker park. Located in the downtown area and is quite popular during the Texan summer, Barton is like an oversized natural swimming pool, only more fun. The pool is approximately 3 acres in size and is a constant 20 celsius due to the underground springs that run up into it all year round. It has a minimal cost park entry fee and after a swim is a great location to lay on the grassy banks that surround the spring and take a solid nap for the afternoon. its not a bad way to spend the day in the Texan summer heat, especially with no beach alternative.

I headed back to the hostel and met with some of the backpackers there. The HI Hostel I was at was on the outskirts of town located on the Colorado River and included a jetty. If you’re not familiar with hostel travelling Id highly recommend hostels over hotels, it’s a much more sociable especially if you’re a solo traveller (which I am) and don’t mind sharing a room with strangers. The USA does not have as a comprehensive hostel network options say like Europe or Australia but the HI network is the closest to this I have found and I tend to use it when there is an opportunity to do so. The hostel had a pretty good vibe guest including a mix of Americans and global travellers Hanging out the hostel included sitting on the jetty watching sunsets, meaningful and meaningless conversations about everything over cheap “six packs” from the local convenience store.

An event I attended was the “Keep Austin Weird Festival” which is today known as “Fun Stop 5k & Fest”. As you guessed then run itself is 5km, not exactly an arduous run and whilst I have infrequently participated in half marathons, now was not the time. Attendance does not a requirement to actually run so the “Weird” element is its actually a festival with an outrageous dress theme so a lot of festival goers were dressed in gear from cross-dressing Mardi Gras types to sporting NFL gear to all over body paint, very weird. There were a lot of food stands, merchandising stalls and of course, alcohol for I assume the non-participants which I think were many including myself, it was a fun afternoon and definitely weird.

The day became stranger when I wandered off to a local sporting event, the TXRD Rollerderby at the Palmer Event Centre which happened to be on next door the festival. I walked into the centre, purchased a ticket and took my seat at the front of the arena, there was quite a large buzzing crowd of all ages, some remnants of the Austin Weird Festival and other enthusiasts, quite a diverse set of spectators and it was buzzing. There was so much excitement that to my right a few hundred metres away I spied a man that was around 200cm in height and roughly the same in weight standing still and then collapse in a single motion to the ground, he had dropped dead. This was quite an alarming event to witness but before I could get to my feet he was immediately surround by the crowd, then police, then medics and then removed, this however did not influence the event that was about to commence.

Music which I think was death metal was being played by a band and blaring out of speakers, two crowds sitting in two stands on each side of the circular arena, Id estimate the crowd at a few thousand with some members banging on bongo drums. The two teams came out first the Holy Rollers and then the Hell Raisers, each woman being individually announced and dressed in a team uniform with which I assume personal flair design also included crash helmets, knee/elbow guards and roller skates. Prior to the start of the “bout” the commentators dressed in red blazers (like Ron Burgundy) silenced the crowd, everyone stood and sang the Star Spangled Banner, game on.

The rules were a little hard to follow, essentially there are 4 quarters of 8 minutes each with the skaters blocking and hitting each whilst attempting to lap the opposition team whilst high speed skating around the ring. The game was very aggressive with the competitors getting hurt or bashed over the outer ring wall. The quarters were broken up by interludes or “jams” of pillow fighting, one on one fights, a tug of war and arm wrestling with the commentators barking out loudly over the PA system. After the match completed the crowd was invited into the ring for a customary spanking by the winning team and the teams posing with the crowd. It was hard to tell what was real and what was not but it certainly did not appear staged with some of the players coming off with blood injuries. I thorougly enjoyed the match and with my “bloodlust” satisified I headed to bed. Ps the Raisers got up 36 to 26 over the Rollers.

The following day I drove down to the Alamo in San Antonio, about an hour away, with two backpackers Id met in Nashville. The battle of the Alamo was during the Texan war of Independence from Mexico in 1836 where approximately 200 Americans attempted to hold out during a siege from the Mexican army numbering thousands… well, America lost but won their independence later that year. The museum tour describes the history of the Alamo war and the compound made up for a church, barracks and halls, it was quite interesting and resonates with Americans, but maybe not so much with Australians. After that, we headed down to the San Antonio river walk, popped into a restaurant, ate some very tasty Texan ribs and then it was back to Austin.

On the way back we stopped at a western goods store, Sheplers. If you’re a hipster type which I consider myself to be then Shelplers shopping is heaven, it’s a large football field sized store that carries thousands of lines of products, jeans, belts, hats, boots and most importantly checkered shirts. It’s a fine line going from hipster to cowboy so I purchased a belt, jeans and checkered shirts but passed on getting a cowboy hat. Shopping in Austin also involves heading to vintage stores of which there are many to grab some unique fashion items. I purchased some very fashionable seconds t-shirts (this is debatable), put them into the boot of the car and headed back to the hostel.

I believe the food, music and nightlife are what tourists come to Austin, it’s my primary reason anyway. Austin has nine areas for entertainment, my favourites being Rainey Street which is made up of old houses converted into bars with live music, Red River which is where the live music scene is most prominent and Sixth street, the main street drag that closes down for the crowd over the weekend. All the bars feature live music, are very friendly and have a great vibe. There is something for everyone from college students from the University of Texas up to the road, to musical lovers, foodies and Aussie backpackers.

There are a wide variety of food trucks scattered around the downtown area, most of these are caravans that have been converted into mini kitchens that sell a wide variety of food, particularly meat. Mexican, Tex Mex, Texan barbeque, Southern and Cajun among others are available. Its doubtful that the food for sale would qualify as a vegan delight but if you enjoy beef, chicken or pork based products Austin is heaven and I believe the food trucks often out rate some of the local restaurants and all for a most reasonable price.

After five nights of music, pigging out at food trucks and sitting on rooftop bars on Sixth street watching the crowd walk by below I decided it was time to move onto my next destination, Denver with a few pit stops on the way. As you can tell I love Austin and would recommend it to anyone, but to keep my blog short Ill talk about other events such as the Austin City Limits Festival, the Grafitti Park and other impressions in a future blog but for now its back on the road roaming north…

Enjoying a Few Beers in Nashville and Memphis Tennessee

I spent a week in Tennessee, 5 nights in Nashville and two more in Memphis, my time mostly consisted of live music, southern fried chicken, beer and a few local tourist attractions.

Id booked into a hostel on the outskirts of Nashville, most of the backpackers I met there were musicians and from around the world, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, North Americans and a few Aussies. People were sat around in circles outdoors playing instruments and having a few singalongs, it felt family like and was warm and friendly. I headed to the local store, purchased a six pack of beer and joined in the conversation and listened, I can’t play an instrument so those that cant participate listen. At about 9pm the hostel staff shut up the office and announced it was time to head downtown for music, beer and food in no particular order.

The town centre is quite a large area made up of mostly bars, restaurants and retail shops. The two areas I spent my evening time in were Broadway and Printers Alley. Printers Alley is the historical nightlife centre of Nashville and is named after the printing businesses that used to be located there in the at the turn of 20th century. The short alley had some saloon bars and used to showcase artists like Waylon Jennings, the Supremes and Jimmy Hendrix. The hostel staff took us there to see some free live music consisting of blues, rock and country, the beers were really cheap and the bars not very crowded, a few of the hostel staff performed live, it was an enjoyable introduction to the city.

After a few hours it was time to be unleashed onto Lower Broadway, the much-famed musical street of Nashville. Lower Broadway is made up of several Honky Tonk bars which play live and various styles of country music. These are the bars that the likes of Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson started out at, each bar playing constant live music from 10am to 3am all year round and for the most part with no cover charge and most importantly cheap alcohol depending on your preference. There are hundreds if not thousands of people walking up and down Broadway every night staring at the neon lights and wandering into whichever bar appeals.

To escape the crowd, I wandered into an appealing bar where line dancing was being taught to the inebriated customers so I enthusiastically joined in, I think I got the hang of it though everyone was wearing cowboy boots except for myself in trainers so I decided I would need my own boots which I sorted the next day. The staff in all the bars were friendly, bar food was excellent (if you like fried or barbeque) and the music fsensational. I was not a fan of country music before heading to Nashville but certainly was afterwards. The people in the bars were mainly American tourists from all over the country, also come locals and occasional backpackers, the music, alcohol and dancing make for a very friendly environment, I enjoyed my five nights immensely and all the evenings blurred into one.

I managed to do some daytime tours in spite of the late night drinking and dancing. This included touring the Ryman Auditorium, known as the birthplace of country and bluegrass music. The tour included the history of the building originally built for gospel music, it then became the home for the Grand Old Opry, a touring country radio show that originated out of Nashville and featured many artists including Johnny Cash, it is also where Evils Presley made a name for itself, the venue is active and often sells out. I went to the Country Music Hall of Fame, a new building and the largest collection of memorabilia devoted to you guessed it, country music. It contains instruments, gold records, cars, recording booths, posters etc and is quite sizeable. Finally, I went to the Parthenon, a life-size replica of the original one in Greece and built in 1897 to celebrate something called the “Tennessee Centennial Exposition” and contains works of American artists and a replica of the Athena Parthenos statue.

Before leaving for Memphis I decided to tour the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg, a 1.5-hour drive south of Nashville. When I arrived, the car park was almost full and there were thousands of people walking in and out of the museum attached to the distillery. I purchased a walking tour that went for a few hours and had to wait an hour before my tour started so I went to the gift shop. I found out there that the town of Lynchburg is in the county of Moore and that it’s a “Dry County”, this means that its illegal to purchase alcohol including Jack Daniels in the county of Moore but fortunately the gift shop had a dispensation. I could purchase a bottle only there I but I could not drink it until I left the county, this law went back to 1910 under prohibition and had not been changed, think Al Capone. The tour itself was really interesting, describing the history of the whiskey, taking us to the spring in a cave where the water comes from which is used in the process of distilling the whiskey and then showing us the process itself.

The following day a few friends from the hostel ride shared with me down to Memphis where I stayed for a few nights. We checked into a hotel near the centre of town walked to the Mississippi River to watch the sunset, with lots of birdlife it was quite spectacular. The streets were comparatively quiet compared to the mayhem that as Nashville, it was almost a relief to be in a city that was less crowded. We headed to Beale street, if Nashville is the capital of country music then Beale street is blues. The set up is quite similar to what is on Broadway in Nashville, lots of bars playing live music. We stopped at the Blues Cafe had ourselves a huge American sized steak, potatoes and gravy, a few beers and then headed over to BB King’s bar and listened to live music, the bar was kind of quiet so we did a little pub crawl from the top to the bottom of Beale street which is a short walk, we listened to more blues and then headed back to the hotel, I said goodbye to my mates, planned out my following day and went to sleep.

Memphis’s most famous tourist attraction is Elvis Presley’s Graceland, the home of Elvis and a park devoted to everything that is Elvis. This is a hugely popular attraction, so much so that you can not even park at the location, you are encouraged to take a bus that comes from Graceland which then transports you to the location. Upon arrival, you are given a group of tickets to view all the attractions including museums and attractions including Elvis’s private jet and of course merchandise. Near the end of the day I was taken on a guided tour of the Graceland mansion itself, walking through some of the rooms, viewing the retro 70s furniture that adorned the place as well as a room where his gold records are on display, it was a seemingly endless wall of gold. After exiting I entered the Meditation Garden where Elvis’s grave is located, it is all quite the spectacle. I got back onto my tour bus and on the way back was dropped off at Sun Studios a much smaller but no less significant iconic building. Sun Studios is regarded as the birthplace of “Rock’n’Roll” music and is where Elvis, Johnny Cash, BB King and Roy Orbison recorded albums. The tour included the studio itself and detailed the history of music.

I headed back down to Beale street for some more soul food and beers and reflected on my time in Tennessee, my experience there was so much fun. I had some notion prior to arriving regarding music coming from the area but had not been aware of how many different types of music had come from one state. participate in enough tours to assuage my guilt from all the drinking and dancing Id patripiated in and I hoped to be back through there one day (actually I have been back to Nashville two more times) but now was time to head back on the road down towards Baton Rouge Louisiana….