So I started @endlessroaming.com site a month ago and appreciate the positive response received so far regarding my trip across the USA. I have decided to sell up and head out again in 2019 to practice what I preach, more roaming and write about some new experiences as well as publishing my recent adventures so the blog will jump around for a while. I have been to 70 countries or approximately 500 cities and will see and write about more.
My recent adventures have been well planned out with meticulous detail due to career and time constraints back home in Sydney. This time however I have none of these limitations, Ill be flying out mid-February 2019 to Borneo and beyond. I’m really looking forward to an unplanned adventure, possibly endless and will see how I go.
Life is about being happy and following your passion, mine is travel, meeting new people, laughter, pushing the comfort zone and writing about it. I also hope with the practice that my grammar, language skills and photography will improve…. one can dream. Hope to see / meet you soon wherever you are.
It was time to say goodbye to the state of Tennessee, my next destination for the following week or so was Austin Texas, to get there I decided to head south and then east which would take a few days. My first stop Baton Rouge Louisiana and then onto Houston Texas.
The drive from Memphis to Baton Rouge Louisiana distance is roughly 620km and to get there I crossed the states of Arkansas and Mississippi, unfortunately, my timetable didn’t allow me time to check out these states though I did make some observations from the road. The drive involved crossing over the Mississippi River four times, the total distance of the river is 3730km (which makes it the second longest in the USA) so I managed to drive along approximately 15% of it.
I crisscrossed part of the Lower Mississippi which involved driving over a variety of bridges, the river itself was quite busy with a lot of commercial shipping carrying mainly agricultural products of various sorts. I went through a few small towns which I would describe as being in a poor state, a lot of run-down neighbourhoods, abandoned houses and closed down businesses. I saw few people and there did not appear to be much activity in these places, there were however a lot of casino advertisements by the side of the road directing traffic to more affluent areas by the River. I looked at a few casinos paddle ships sitting on the river and appeared to be permanently moored. I decided not to take a look inside and none appeared to be busy, mind you it was during the day so maybe this would change in the evening. I had Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Proud Mary” was on the radio the and “Rolling Down the River” was an absolutely stunning drive.
After roughly an eight-hour drive, I reached my destination of Baton Rouge. Most people would probably continue onto New Orleans and I thought about it, however, I’d been there previously (and also on another trip which I’ll write about later) and decided on doing a different city for the night. Id booked into a casino which was in downtown and a reasonable price. I am not a gambler so I left after check-in and walked down to the Mississippi River to watch the sunset. I had no time to take in any tourist attractions however I did look at the USS Kidd, a floating World War 2 memorial, it was closed but made for a pleasant view.
I was hungry so headed into the downtown area, Baton Rouge has population approx. 220,000 people, so an easy downtown to walk around. There did not appear to be much going on so I headed to the first bar that appeared open and my quiet evening plans were changed immediately, I came into a courtyard area with hundreds of people dressed in running gear drinking beer. The first person I asked what was going on was an Australian which was very unexpected, I think the Aussie jogger was more surprised than I was. He happened to be living there and worked in politics, Baton Rouge is very political apparently. He introduced me to his American friends who presumed we were mates because both being Australians we had to know each other…..
Anyway, they took me out on a pub crawl to celebrate, I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t take much to celebrate anything in Baton Rouge on a midweek night. We hit up more bars, I found out the running group was a once a week get together, go for a run and then drink afterwards, kind of self-defeating but a great way to socialise. After many beers and a lot of funny conversations centring the size of Australia and who knows who, I headed back to the casino for bed.
In the morning with a steaming hangover and a big breakfast in my stomach, I was on the road again to Houston Texas via the city of Galveston. This is not the most direct route to Houston but I decided that I wanted some beach/swim time and were better than the Gulf of Mexico. I headed west and then south at the first opportunity off the interstate towards the Gulf. Upon reaching the coast I noticed a pungent sulphur smell (this was not good for the hangover) and that the sea had a reddish hew and appeared full of seaweed and not much in the way of wildlife.
With the air conditioning on and windows up I continued my drive along the coast and reached Goat Island on the Bolivar Peninsula. I don’t like to say bad things about the places I visit but it was difficult to enjoy the outdoors. It was to easy to see what the area was once like with large holiday homes and resorts but some of these were boarded up and no longer appeared to be in use. With the reddish sea, seaweed, effects of oil spills and lack of wildlife it makes it a hard destination to look for positives though I am glad I did as it was confronting to see the environmental impact of oil rigs on the ocean shore. At the end of the island, I caught a ferry that connects the island with the city of Galveston itself. I drive through town quite quickly which was a shame as there were a lot of really impressive old mansions that looked interesting but no time next destination Houston. So much for some beach time and a swim.
Houston is the 4th largest city in the USA with a population of around 2.5 million. The traffic was a high-speed nightmare, very congested and traffic flowing almost bumper to bumper at around 120km per hour. There are expressways zig-zagging all over the place with traffic coming in and off turnpikes and it took a lot of concentration to make my turnoff. Thanks to my navigator I brought from home I made my accommodation, an old Victorian designed mansion in the Montrose area. I met a few backpackers and walked with them for some pizza, Montrose is a “hipster” area and full of dive bars, restaurants and art galleries.
The next morning instead of heading downtown to look at the attractions I decided on doing some clothes shopping. As indicated in a previous blog at the time the AUD dollar was equivalent to the US Dollar, this made US clothes insanely cheap in comparison to my hometown of Sydney. I looked for an antique shop, purchased an old suitcase and headed to the nearest mall. I had come to America with the minimum amount of clothes and decided now was the time to expand my wardrobe so this involved walking through a triple story shopping centre an approximately 1km across purchasing trainers, jeans, t-shirts and jackets, I am not a fashionista but don’t mind some occasional retail therapy.
I still had enough time in the afternoon for a cultural activity so when I returned to the hostel I walked to one of the galleries in the area, the Menil Collection. This is a private collection of 17,000 exhibits donated to the city of Houston on behalf of the Menil family who had passed away, as a bonus it has free entry. It covers a wide variety of art forms and periods and includes works by Picasso, Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollack, I had no idea about the collection previously but feel fortunate to have viewed it.
My shopping and cultural efforts completed for the day I headed to a few dive bars. If you don’t know Dive bars are an American colloquialism for a neighbourhood bar where local people come to meet, often the bar may be run down and usually offers cheap drinks. I went to a few bars, met some locals and then headed back to the hostel for an early night, my next destination Austin Texas
I figure as a starting point for my road trip across the USA were better than its capital city, Washington DC. I also wanted to be in a major city that was not too far from the Blue Ridge Parkway which was four hours south and to which I’ll write about in my next update. Prior to that, however, I would spend a few days in Washington to take in what the city is about, its history and identity.
I landed at Ronald Reagan International airport, I couldn’t think of anything more American than landing at an airport at an airport named after the former president. I then transferred to the Washington Metro (which is a free service) and after a short journey to Dupont Circle I headed up Washington street to my hostel. My time here was only two days so there would not be enough time to get across all the attractions, in fact, I barely touched the service, so I would focus on the Smithsonian and some of the iconic attractions
I met up with a few backpacking friends from Miami and took a subway to the Smithsonian, as indicated the service is free and a first class covering the entire city and beyond, I was most impressed with the ease and convenience to navigating the city. I had virtually no understanding of Washington apart from all the movies and tv shows Id taken in so I thought I was already prepared. My friends told me that the Smithsonian rather than one stand-alone museum is actually made up of 19 separate museums covering entirely different exhibits, all combined together to make the world largest museum. It was now evident that two days was not nearly enough time so we concentrated on what interested us, so we decided on the Natural History, American History museums and a walk through the Smithsonian gardens.
The Natural History Museum has is free entry, in fact, the whole Smithsonian is free, this museum happens to be the largest natural history exhibition in the world. It includes many dinosaurs, the Hope diamond and a detailed exhibition of human origins, realistically you could spend a day in hear alone, we were in the for a few hours. Next, the American History museum which covers the development of the USA from Colonial times to today with over 3 million items, our self-guided tour was almost as rushed as this sentence. Then it was onto the Smithsonian gardens, a large collection that covers the entire Smithsonian complex, while we ran out of time to investigate internally some of the other museums, the gardens make for a quality setting that encapsulates all the museums. After that, my friends and I went to the pub, had a few beers and then I headed off to bed early as the following day was my last.
I was up early, unfortunately, it was raining but I decided to do a self-guided walking tour regardless. I grabbed a map from the hostel, purchased an umbrella and followed my plan to see as much as possible by foot. In retrospect, it would have been a better idea to take a bus tour but I considered myself a backpacker so decided to save on the cost, knowing Washington the tours were probably free. I headed to the National Mall which includes the Smithsonian and took in the following historical landmarks which I will briefly mention –
Washington Monument– the tall obelisk building, built to commemorate George Washington and of Egyptian design I had the obligatory photo taken (see below)
Lincoln Memorial – this is of Greek design, I entered the building and there was Abraham Lincoln sitting on his chair, to me it appeared more like a throne
Three War Memorials, World War Two which is a fountain with 56 pillars and two arches, Korean Memorial 19 statues, two remembrance walls and the pool of Remembrance, and the Vietnam memorial, 75 metre of wall black shiny quartz rock inscribed with the names honouring all American soldiers involved.
I headed then to Arlington Cemetary across the Potomac river, 624 acres and established during the American Civil war, it contains the dead of past American conflicts and also includes Arlington House of Greek design and the former home of civil war general Robert E Lee. It overlooks the Potomacc river and the National Mall and contains some history of the American Civil war. I then went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier a memorial to combat soldiers who died without their remains identified. I watched the changing of the guard which happens every two hours. I then went to the grave of John F Kennedy, walked to the Capitol building of Greek-Roman design and is the home of the United States Congress. and then headed to the White House home of the president. and of Irish design. After a lot of paced walking on a rainy day, I went back to the hostel said goodbye to my friends and went to sleep.
After visiting Washington DC I gained a greater appreciation of what Americans feel about patriotism and how their national identity is a major part of who they are as a people. With such an impressive historical city highlighting the strength and love of what it is to be an American it would be difficult not to be moved by the reverence of the city. The city itself is a bussling place with a lot of determined looking people going about their business, with the tourism element I believe it’s a place that does not slowdown. Transport and free museum entry is an added bonus, I believe I could of spent weeks there and only got a glimpse ofthe place but now it was time to get going…..
I have researched the great drives in the USA and one that I thought I’d try first is the Blue Ridge Parkway, it’s roughly 800km in distance Virginia to North Carolina and links the Shenandoah and Smokey Mountain national parks. These are places I’d heard of in song, Bob Denver’s “Country Road”, but I had no real idea about the area so I was quite excited to explore and find out for myself.
In 2012 the Aussie dollar was either at parity or exceeding the US dollar, this made roaming the USA more affordable (as of 19/12/2018 its 72 cents AUD to US). Id decided what better way to road trip than in an iconic American muscle car, the Ford Mustang. Being an experienced backpacker, I know what it is to conserve my money and minimise my spending, 2-minute noodles for dinner with tomato sauce for flavouring comes to mind, however, I was on paid leave from my job and the favourable currency exchange made this extravagance affordable. I picked up the red convertible “Stang” from the airport in Washington, set up the mapping navigator which I brought from home and started my road trip towards the Parkway four hours south of Washington. Here is a tip, it’s a lot cheaper to carry around your own navigator than renting one from the car rental companies, but now I guess everyone uses Google maps..
I won’t focus much more on the car, this is a travel blog, not a car blog, but I couldn’t stop grinning from ear to ear. It was a brand-new and the fastest car I’d ever driven, the stereo system was excellent and it had surprisingly good fuel economy, particularly with my reckless accelerating, it blew my hair away.
I headed into the Shenandoah national park where I was stopped at the gate for a park entrance fee, prior to arriving in the USA I had organised a Season pass which I recommend highly, this gave me access to all the national parks for the year and was $80 which is better than the $30 park entry fee the National Parks Service (NPS) charge. I drove Skyline drive which takes approximately 3 hours, the park itself is full of waterfalls, spectacular views, forest greenery and wildlife. It was a pleasant sunny day, there was little traffic and driving conditions were optimal, the day was just as pleasing as the car.
After an eight drive I spent the evening in Asheville North Carolina, a beautiful small tourist town which is known for its beautiful location, friendly people quality eating and 20 craft breweries, this particularly had great appeal. I parked at the hotel, quickly showered and headed into town, it was mid-week so it was kind of quiet, I wen to a few of the local bars, talked to some of the bar staff and customers and sampled a lot of locals beers……
The following morning, I was up mid-morning and felt a little woozy from the “sampling”. The hotel restaurant had an all you can eat free breakfast menu, this is common in American hotels, so I took full advantage and had as much bacon, eggs, toast and biscuits with gravy as my stomach could hold, very tasty. I planned out my day, jumped in the car and was off again to Smokey Mountain national park. Unfortunately, I only had one night in Asheville which I regret but I hope to get back to one day.
I headed to the town of Cherokee, a small place and home of the Cherokee Indian, it’s an entry point to the Great Smokey Mountain national park. I walked around the centre of town, a lot of which were tourist shops merchandising traditional Indian culture and souvenirs, I purchased myself a dreamcatcher and then headed into the park. The drive was a short 90 kilometres so I decided to go on a short hike, the park is famed for its wildlife including black bears, as well as forests and views. I headed to the Clingmans Dome, the peak is the highest in the park and in the state of Tennessee, roughly 2000 metres. After an hour climb, I reached a concrete walkway which leads to a domed shape observation tower. The view was obscured by cloud so there was not much to see and it was quite cold. I headed back down and continued my drive.
My destination was Nashville Tennessee which I’ll update in my next blog, on the way through I drove through the town of Pigeon Forge which was totally unexpected. The city essentially appeared to be one huge theme park with a mix in size from putt-putt golf to the massive Dolly World oddly enough based on the life of Dolly Parton. I decided to tour one of these parks so I pulled into the carpark of the Titanic for some lunch. I finished my Taco Bell and headed into the cruise ship which I found out is half the size of the original Titanic and designed to look like the original ship. It contains 20 galleries, has 400 exhibits and is the largest Titanic museum in the world. After this surreal and somewhat bizarre two hour tour, I was back in the car and on my way to Nashville…
After the mayhem that was Miami, it was time for a more relaxing time, in total I spent a week in Canada, mostly in Montreal, a few days in Toronto and a night with friends in Ottawa. Through the wonders of television, I had a good idea what Miami would be like, this, was not the case for Montreal so it was a somewhat of a culture shock which Iwill now detail.
I am aware that the language of Quebec is French but did not know this was the preferred language in everyday use. I have a very limited French vocabulary and for the most part, people I met spoke English regardless. Being a veteran roamer, I am aware that its polite to know a few phrases in the local language and an attempt is always appreciated. I have spent time in other countries, France and Germany for example, so was used to foreign languages but I had not expected to a seemingly European experience in Canada. Travel is about new experiences and I found my timein I found my time in Montreal very rewarding.
I’d booked a hostel in the Latin Quarter on the recommendation of a friend, this is where people go to have a “genuine” experience of Montreal, at the time I was not exactly sure what this meant however the idea had appeal so this is what I did. The Latin Quarter is the artistic, atmospheric cultural hub of Montreal full of cafes, boutique stores and student bars, it is named after the Latin Quarter in Paris. The hostel manager greeted me in French and after a broken brief conversation about being Australian and “je ne parle pas François” I was booked into my room; the hostel had no common area or other backpackers to talk with so it was time to hit the street. I went to a local bookstore, purchased a small basic French language book and walked about the local area.
Downtown Montreal mostly consists of Gothic, Art Deco and modern buildings, there is a distinct French influence, there is English influence with many street names from the United Kingdom as well as Irish bars which I chose to avoid, I spent my 3 nights in the Latin Quarter. It’s a stunning downtown area, the mix of old and new buildings, graffiti and a variety of shops. Montreal was quiet, it was explained to me the following weekend would be the Grand Prix but unfortunately, I would not be around for it. After walking around the area, I had a meal in a quiet bar, drank a few beers, read my guide and headed back to the hostel.
Outside the hostel, I heard loud banging noises and the marching of what sounded like a sizeable group of people so I headed towards it. There were thousands of people tapping away on pots with wooden spoons on St Denis street where I was staying. The “Protest” was primarily made up of students protesting anti-protest (bit of a tongue-twister) laws being implemented by the government. This had been ongoing every night for months and I happened to witness a large group, people were adorned in Guy Fawkes protest masks and it appeared calm possibly because there were police everywhere, maybe this was the reason the bar had been quiet. I watched this for an hour or so and headed to bed.
The following day I rented a bicycle at one of the many stations that were located around the city. This is quite a common thing in 14/12/2018, but in 2012 I had not experienced this type of tourism before so I took full advantage of it and did a self-guided tour. Montreal is crisscrossed with bicycle lanes which made it easy to cycle around without the distraction of traffic. I cycled to Mount Royal which is located to the west of downtown Montreal. The city is named after this mountain and at the top is Mount Royal park which has historical attractions and a wonderful view of the city. I rode around for a few hours, had a nap in the park and afterwards went back downtown. The evening consisted of a few beers, a much quieter protest which allowed me to notice a large amount of homeless people in the area, some of them dressed in punk rock clothes. Montreal hasa large punk rock scene to which I would not experience.
As indicated I would not be here for the Grand Prix so I headed to where the race was located, Circuit Gilles Villeneuve which is located within Parc Jean-Drapeau on the Saint Lawrence River. The island is man-made and runs adjacent to the downtown area. I walked down to the Old Port of Montreal, an area built in the early 1600’s it includes many historical buildings from the time, After spending some time here I walked towards the park. Preparation for the race was in full swing with security guards and fencing around the circuit and semi-trailers bring in equipment, it was quite busy. The park itself has other attractions so I went to an interesting building, the Biosphere from the World Expo of 1967. I purchased a ticket and entered, the building is now used for science and environment exhibitions and was full of interesting sites. After leaving I walked the parks, headed to a bar and watched the NBA finals and then to bed. The following day I was off to Toronto via Ottawa.
My Ottawa experience is very brief, I stayed with a Canadian mate Id met years ago while roaming aroundAustralia. This involved a barbeque at his place, meeting his wife and another backpacker mate and heading to a local bar to play pool and share a few laughs…. the following morning was a rushed ride to downtown Ottawa, a quick 5-minute tour of parliament house and then on the bus to Toronto. It was excellent fun to catch up with my friends and not focus on tourism but I know as little about Ottawa now as when I went there.
Toronto’s population, if you don’t know, does speak English and is culturally very different to Montreal, my stay involved catching up with a few more Canadian mates Id met in Australia. As you probably are aware Canadians are very friendly and when Aussies and Canadians get together a lot of drinking and laughter is usually involved. I was staying at a hostel in “Little Italy”, a quirky little area full of Italian and Canadian bars, restaurants and random art. It was my second time to Toronto so I was familiar with the area.
My two days consisted of walking about the CBD area and along Lake Ontario, Toronto is a very modern city and similar in many ways to my hometown of Sydney, it’s on a large body of water and consists of many high-rise hotels, office blocks and shopping. Something unique is the Toronto path a series of interconnecting tunnels making up the worlds largest underground shopping arcade, its about30kms in mass and runs under the city, it’s easy to get lost. I also debated going to Niagara Falls but I went there in 2008 and did not choose to revisit, however…
If you haven’t been there Niagara Falls is on the border Canada and the USA. It is made up of three waterfalls, in 2008 I went on a tour under the falls which takes about 45 minutes from the Horseshoe falls platform. It involved an elevator and walking through a series of tunnels to reach under the fall. Usually you would need a raincoat as apparently it’s like walking through a storm, however when I went in February 2008 the water over the fall was frozen in place, that was an amazing site like looking at stalactites in a rock cave. As indicated however my first time was enough (for now).
My two evenings involved catching up with friends at a few local bars, Toronto bars are excellent fun ,very friendly and very much like USA bars with sociable bar staff. I said my goodbyes as the following day it a flight to Washington DC and the commencement of my roadtrip across the USA.