Disneyland – Part 1

It’s our last morning in LA before we head on down to Anaheim to meet up with the olds.  Our transfer won’t be here until 11am to pick us up so we enjoy a little sleep in followed by a breakfast at “K24” aka “Kitchen24”, a café/restaurant that’s open 24 hours.  How we did not know this until the last day, I don’t know!  Everything on the menu looks delicious but in the end the decision was simple…. 2 x Eggs Benedict!!  With bacon, breakfast potatoes and avocado as well and all washed down with a fruit smoothie.  This café also has a menu of specialty cupcakes, a different one for each day of the week.  But alas, today’s delight had just come out of the oven and not ready for dressing, so we settled for 2 red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese frosting.  As it would turn out, 3 days later, the frosting would be the majority of this little delight that I would consume.

Our transfer arrives and we pack up our green and purple suitcases into the back of the bus.  The trip should take us about an hour to get out of LA and down into Anaheim and more importantly, checked into our hotel a short walk down from Disneyland!!!  Once we arrive at our hotel, we are surprised with a $100 hotel credit to use in any of the restaurants throughout the hotel and room service.  We drop our bags off in the room, freshen up and get ready to high tail it up to Disneyland to meet the olds.  At this point in time it’s almost 1 pm and it turns out that Mum and Dad have been in the park already since 8am.

We finally meet each other inside the main gates of Disneyland and the two of them are so excited to see us.  The most amazing thing about this place, “The Happiest Place on Earth”, is that no matter how old you are (referencing adults in this sentence) when you’re inside the gates of Disneyland, you’re automatically 10 again.  All of a sudden both mum and dad begin detailing the adventures that they have had so far today, including the rides that they’ve been on (some of which turns out are only meant for actual children to ride).  But that doesn’t stop my 10 year old at heart parents from giggling all throughout the short selfy video of the two of them on the “Zephurr” ride which went a little too fast for them (if you could see the video you would be wetting yourself right about now).

But the first purchase for the day would have to be 2 bottles of water to get us going.  It’s around 30-35 degrees out and in the middle of the day.  The next 9 hours (yes until 11pm when the park closes) are spent darting to and from the rides, the attractions and the shows being run from all over the park.  First ride for the day, well for at least the part when Lise and I arrive on the scene, is the Star Wars ride.  The wait in line beginning outside of the ride wasn’t too bad and a short half an hour later we were inside and in line waiting to board our space ship.  Our “space ship” is about 6 rows long with around 8 seats in each row (there are 4 of these that run at the same time so getting through the crowds lining up makes it a less painful wait).  So the olds have already been on this ride once earlier today and it turns out that it’s Dad’s favourite so far.  The ride begins and I hear mum say “this one is different to the one we saw”, of the 3D movie component of the ride which makes us appear as though we are flying through all the landscapes of the Star Wars movies.  Throughout this ride, for the parts that catch you unaware, they make you scream with fright but almost at the same time you find yourself laughing hysterically at the fact that you, a person of adult age, is still scared the same way you were when you were a 10 year old.  Lucky I’m a girl cause I sure scream like one!!!  Hilarious, so hilarious in fact that we went on this ride (all 4 of us) another 3 times that same day!

The rest of the day and well into the night, at least the three of us (Dad, Lise and I) trekked all around the park with mum in tow and went on any ride that we could.  Have I told you how much fun this day was with the four of us, already!!!  We also took a few rounds on the tea cup ride, first Lise and I, then Lise and Dad in one and Mum and I in another, then in true family form….. we all get in the same one.  Sorry, make that the 5 of us…..  Even Pig Crackers joined us in the fun.  I never knew how my knees tasted until that day!!! Hahaha

About 3.30pm we find our spot which would give us the best vantage point to see the parade.  Lise and I head off in search of the magical place where the choc dipped wafer basket full of choc mint ice cream, whipped cream and chocolate sauce delight comes from….  We follow the creamy scent of fresh home-made ice cream to the land of the café.  A wonderful place where everyone leaves with a smile on their face… And a hand full of ice creamy goodness to devour before the sun melts it all away.  By the time we get back to Mum and Dad the parade is almost ready to start.  Although the parade only lasts around 20 minutes, I was taken right back to my childhood years and I remember how much Disney was a part of our lives growing up.  I don’t even know what to compare it against in today’s world.  I almost had to fight back the tears (good tears).  This place surely knows how to make you feel 10 again.

One last story from our first day in Disneyland (before Lise and I head over to California Adventure tomorrow), that I just must share with you all.  As I mentioned before, Dad, Lise and I tackled most of the rides this afternoon/night.  Another favourite of Dad’s seems to be the gold mine train ride, because we go on this one 3 times (twice in a row even) while Mum is the official photo taker as we zoom past her screaming and with our hands in the air.  Then it’s off to the log ride kind of ride over in Critter Country.  This ride finishes off with a huge drop from a great height and down into a pool of water which of course creates a huge splash up each side of our “log” drenching us in the process.  The ride itself was ok and was still fun but the most hilarious part of this ride and the part that would have both Lise, Mum and I in fits of laughter afterwards for a good 5 minutes, would have to be viewing the photo that got taken as we begin our descent down the last fall, and seeing Dad’s face as the flash and camera go off to capture our magic moment.  OMG, I can’t even begin to describe his facial expression but it’s one that our family will have in our memory for a very long time.  And if at all we forget the exact way that his eyes are clenched shut and the fright over his face…… we have it in print and as a digital file!!!!!!!!!!!!


Lovin’ LA

After a lengthy delay the flight out of Nashville finally arrives in LA.  It’s around 9pm when I make it out of baggage claim and arrange my own transfer to the hotel in West Hollywood.  This has normally taken around half an hour to organise and drop off but at around midnight I finally arrive at my hotel.  But I did go down “Melrose Place”, the actual street along the way (not like the tv show at all).

It’s chilly in the lobby of the hotel, in the area which my transfer driver advises me that it’s the gay and lesbian area of LA.  The next morning I would realise this, with all the rainbow coloured flags all down the centre of “Santa Monica Blvd” – West Hollywood.  Neither of which phases me in the slightest but I thought it odd that it be pointed out.  I arrive in my…. Sorry “Our” room as my lil sis is due to arrive in less than 8 hours time and then it will be “our” room.  My days of travelling this lonely road will soon be over!!!!  Although I have had a fantastic time on my own, I can’t wait for Lise to join me in the last couple of weeks of the adventure.

The alarm goes off, I get myself together and head down to the valet and organise a cab to the airport.  “Any bags???” the cabbie says….. To which I reply “No, just me”.  The first time in my adventure so far!  I feel like I live here an my family is coming to visit me!  So exciting!!  So I’m heading to the airport with anticipation to meet my little sister.  The countdown has taken so long but now it’s finally here.  After a few trips back and forth to a number of terminals (from the “Un-helpful desks” of the airport information staff, I finally see a very familiar face sitting on a chair at the TBIT with her bright purple bags.  A sense of regret comes over me knowing that I wasn’t in the right place for when she came into the terminal, and had to sit down and wait for me to find her (I know what that feels like).  But I’m so excited that my little sister has arrived safely and that I can wrap my arms around her for real and welcome her to LA and to the start of our adventure together.

I’m ready to get out of the terminal and hail us a cab to take us back to the hotel.  Then I hear a little “Yeah, we can’t go yet”, from Lise.  I’m at first a little worried, she appears to have all her luggage so I’m not sure what she’s talking about.  Then she says “Mum and Dad are flying in too!”  What tha……!!!

So it turns out that my mum and dad have also followed Lisa to USA to join us for part of our holiday and to have a bit of a holiday themselves.  I’m a little tired still from the late check in of last night, but I did not expect this.  So instead of going to the cab line, we head to the terminal where the olds arrive at, to meet them.  Again after some “un-helpful” airport information staff, we all end up in the same place to meet each other….. In person…… I’m still a little confused but I can see my sister, my mum and my dad all in front of me and it all appears to be real now!!!  How even more exciting!!!!

After a short sharing of hugs and kisses between all the four of us, Lisa and I head one way and Mum and Dad check in with their airport transfer.  So Lisa and I take the 20 mile trip back to the hotel so she can freshen up ready for our first day in LA.   The hotel concierge helps us with maps and the main points of interest that we should take in during our visit in their fine city.  We head on foot down to La Cieniga Blvd which takes us to the Beverley Centre.  A small shopping centre where we find some lunch but more importantly our stop for the “Hop On Hop Off” bus tour.

The first day is mainly spent on the bus cruising up on the top level of the double decker, through the streets of LA.  Hollywood, Beverley Hills and Santa Monica Beach to be exact.  The 2 loops that we ride on show us most of the sites (which we will find out later in the week during our Grand LA Tour).  Then we end up getting off the bus on Hollywood Blvd in front of the Pallace Theatre.  A short walk and a few blocks up from the Chinese Theatre, or so we thought.  This is at least our first real look at the Hollywood walk of fame.  We stroll rather quickly the few blocks (plus a few more blocks) up to the Chinese Theatre but see along the way the Hollywood stars for “Wanye King” (I sh*t you not!!!), “John Howard” and “Bob Hawke”, plus a few of famous stars that we all know and love (Dean Martin has 2 stars!!).  Our night ends up with dinner at the Hard Rock Café.  Burger and Fries for Lise and Ribs and Onion Rings for me.  I’ve grown a liking to the Onion Rings here!  By the end of the night here in LA, it’s been almost 34 hours since Lise had some sleep….. I think the little cherub is now due for some serious shut eye.

The next day arrives and we’re off to Universal Studios.  At this point I have no idea that today is going to be one of the best days of my entire trip so far!  With a “Front of Line” pass around our necks we enter the big gates and set off to tackle the back lot rides first.  To get there we head to the back of the upper lot and down 4 sets of escalators.  Yes four individual ones that are at least at a 90 degree angle down/up.  When we reach the bottom of the last escalator we are greeted by “Jurassic Park”, “The Mummy” and the “Transformers” ride.  All of which we ride without the need to use our Front of Line passes.  The Transformers is the best and we end up riding that one again as soon as we’ve done the other two.  Not before we meet “Bumble Bee” and “Optimus Prime” first.  This is the first time we are both taken back to our childhood memories, and we’re loving it!!!

So it turns out that for two gals who straighten their hair, to do the Jurassic Park ride 2nd in the morning probably was not the brightest ideas.  But it doesn’t matter because we had a ball and we ended up getting drenched from almost head to toe on this ride.  So doing this one again!!!!

There is so much more to tell about our fun and laughs throughout this day, that this post would be another 8 pages long.  But I can’t leave out the experience we had at the “House of Horrors”.  Not only was this walking maze scary enough with the freaky characters jumping out from in front, to the side and from behind us throughout the maze, but the most hilarious moment was when the group of Asian girls in front of us were so freaked out and scared out of their wits in front of us, that at one stage they even drove Lise and I back about 10 metres through the maze because a freaky monster jumped out in front of them and they were obviously trying to get away from “it”.  Lise and I just laughed hysterically (after initially being freaked out ourselves).  By the time we got out of the house, we were both laughing so hard we had tears streaming down our faces.  This one sh*ts on the one at the Ekka and local places back home!!!

The next day we have our LA Grand Tour (which included a trip down memory lane with “Pretty Woman” as we stroll leisurely down Rodeo Drive to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel) and Stars Homes which will pretty much take up most of the day.  The grand tour was great and the tour guide was fantastic, then our stars home guide kept telling us about the homes but kept forgetting to tell us which side of the street to look at.  We got some fantastic photos of big gates (all different coloured and made of different materials).  But my favourite would have to be Gwen Stafani’s house.  What a view she must have!!!

After we get back to our hotel we get straight onto our next adventure via the “Metro Rapid”.  LA’s answer to public transport.  When we arrive at Santa Monica Pier it’s a little cold!!!  The sun is setting so we have some good photos but the pier isn’t too long so it doesn’t take us long to walk to the end of it.  Time for dinner and it’s fish and chips at one of the local restaurants (delicious by the way).  With a cocktail each we’re soon warmed up and ready to take the number 4 bus back to our hotel at just after 10 pm.  A huge day so it doesn’t take us long to get to sleep.  Tomorrow we have a late check-out and head via our transfer to Anaheim, not before some breakfast (eggs benny) from K24 next door to our hotel.  Disneyland….. Here we come!!!!!

Nashville in a nut shell

With a little hiatus between posts, finally here’s a taste of my Nashville antics over the five days on the Music City Row.

Arriving in Nashville has been the easiest so far, the transfer from the hotel was there waiting for me.  I checked in and my room has another king sized bed with a balcony over the parking lot.  I have no idea where the hotel is in relation to the main drag and when I find out that it’s about a $20 cab fare to get into town.  The flashes of the sun gleaming off the cars going past on the freeway should have been the give-away (another view from my balcony).

So my first day ends up being a day of rest.  First up, its lunch down in the “Verandah Bar” in the hotel with a Black and Blue cheeseburger, sweet potato fries and a Pepsi (a never ending glass of Pepsi it seems) with “Barb” the bar tender.  We had a good chat about my travel so far (as I was pretty much the only person around the bar for a good hour).  After my late lunch with Barb I headed back up to my room for the rest of the day/night.

The next morning I’m ready to tackle the city, even if it is via the city tour booked for the first half of the day.  At least this tour gets me into town where we cruise around the main sights of the city including the Rhyman Auditorium (the old “Grand Ole Opry”) and finishing off at the Music Hall of Fame.  By this time it’s around lunch and I’m left in town to explore on my own.  The sun is shining brightly, the roses in the city gardens are in full bloom and the many boots and hats shops are waiting my arrival.

Every second shop seems to be selling original cowboy boots and Stetsons.  My first stop on my mission to find the perfect pair of boots finds me at “Boots n Hats”.  The owner helps me out with finding the right size and goes through all the different fits, heels, styles and leather types.  He’s a huge help and I pretty much have the place and their attention all by myself.   I leave much better prepared to hit up the rest of the 40 stores with what seems to be over 100 different styles to choose from.

With the sun still shining brightly and my watch telling me its 6pm, my first night begins at the “Honkytonk Bar” in the middle of downtown “Broadway Street”.  The band is pumping and I know most of their songs.  My first drink of choice is “Corona, with lime”….. what I end up with though is a “Coors Light”.  I speak English, not quite sure how that one got lost in translation.  Anyway, this ended up being my first full beer that I’ve had in my lifetime…. I’m pretty sure it is anyway.  It’s so hot outside it actually wasn’t too bad.  Then my eyes scan the bar ads for the drinks they serve and lock on the “Lime-a-rita”.  A premix combination of Bud Lime (beer) and Tequila with a splash of lemon squash I’m sure.  They were delicious and yes I did end up having many more of them.  It also turns out that I’m not very good at hailing a cab so a lovely local helped me out with that one.  So the first day is done and dusted.

Day two ends up being an afternoon of shopping for the elusive perfect pair of boots again.  I end up going through all the stores again and find myself back in the first one that I visited yesterday.  After another half an hour I walk out with an impressive large bag with my very own pair of official Nashville cowboy boots and I love them.  Now all I have to do is get them home…..  Oh and I also book another couple of tours to do for the remainder of my time here and find myself at the Honkytonk bar again with my new friend the Lime-a-rita.

The next day I head down to the local US Postal Service office.  It’s time to send a few things home to help keep my bags under 50 lbs, including my new boots.  So a short 2 hours later I’m done, I don’t ever want to go through that experience again anytime soon.  With 3 minutes to spare I’m back at the hotel where my tour driver is waiting for me (he is 10 minutes early too).  I race up to my room to pick up my camera bag and high tail it back down to the driver where I make it onwards to my lunch time cruise on the General Jackson up and down the river.

I didn’t have too many expectations of this tour and hadn’t heard too much about it beforehand but it ended up being great.  We were in the first sitting for lunch, a buffet of cold and hot food with a choice of about 5 desserts to finish off.  When we first walked into the dining room every table was already set with glasses of what appeared to be beer.  The first thing I thought of was why would they assume that everyone would want a beer?????  Turns out it was iced tea, of course it was!!  After lunch while we were still seated, the entertainment began with a great band doing part covers from all the country and rock and roll greats.  One of the guys was blind and could do impersonations, he was amazing.  So after lunch we all were ushered out of the dining room and up to the upper decks to meet the band if we wanted to.  I head up one more flight to the back deck where the bar was open and the small stage was setup for another 2 man band to entertain us for the rest of the cruise.  It was such a perfect afternoon especially after the morning at the USPS.  With a few Smirnoff Ice cold ones down, we end up back at the dock and waiting for the bus to take us back to the hotels.  Throughout the afternoon’s activities I meet and chat with a lovely couple from Canada (Linda and Bob) who had driven their RV all the way down to Nashville, with their little dog along for the road.

Back at the hotel now and it’s a quick stop to drop off my big bags and head back into town for another night of live music and hopefully my new favourite drink.  My favourite watering hole now seems to be the Honkytonk.  After a few drinks it’s probably time for some food otherwise I’m going to fall off this chair (and I’m wearing a dress)…..  As another drink arrives in front of me another young lady comes over to say hello.  I had noticed earlier as we seemed to be both sitting at the bar by ourselves and I was waiting for her friend(s) to join her.  Turns out that she was there by herself also and we started to chat.  Miss “Kelley” from Nashville was about to make my night a whole lot more fun and lively.

So this is where our pub crawl begins….. Turns out Kelley had just moved to Nashville from working abroad but she did know a few good and tragic places for us to visit throughout the night.  So the next 6 hour are spent hopping from one bar the next, from one dance floor with a bachelor party to another with a bunch of college guys having one last party before going back to “uni”.  My new drink of choice turns out to be Apple Cider, much better than the ciders that I’ve had at home.  By this time another friend of Kelley’s has met up with us at one of the bars.  More dancing was had and th night just kept getting better.  At what turned out to be our last pub, the attack of the munchies finds us as well as another one of Kelley’s friends.  So the four of us order up a storm and graze while we thrash out a few games of pool.  By the time the bar staff were cleaning and packing up to close, we each went our separate ways and again the locals hailed a cab for me.  By this time it’s 3am on a Saturday morning and we all arrange to meet up again for breakfast/brunch that morning.

Unfortunately I completely missed both breakfast and brunch as the first time I woke and looked at the clock it was just before midday.  I just don’t recover as well as I used to.  But Kelley very kindly picks me up from the hotel that afternoon and we head to a local Tomato festival.   “It’s very small” she tells me…. There were so many people there with local streets closed and full with stalls selling everything from tomato related items, art, jewellery, food & drinks and even the cafés along the streets were overflowing with patrons.  There were people taking shelter on the shady front lawns of the residents of the streets.  It was great and felt just like home.  After the festival we head through the burbs and find somewhere for a late lunch (a very late lunch by then).  Mexican….. Chicken burrito…. Huge glass of Pepsi….. Perfect hangover food!  The meal was huge, yet again, that’s just how they do things here in the states.  After an unexpected yet great afternoon, my wonderful new friend dropped me back to the hotel, for tonight is my date with Keith!

For those of you who I now have your attention…… yes my date tonight is with Mr Keith Urban…. At the Grand Ole Opry, along with a few more acts who are playing in this wonderful theatre.  So to take you back to my first real day in Nashville when I was on my city tour, our tour guide was talking about one of the things that is a “must do” here in Nashville.  That is to go and see a sitting of the performers at the Grand Ole Opry.  This was on my list of things to do anyway but I had not yet booked a ticket.  Then he continues to tell us that this Saturday night, Keith Urban is playing.  My ears pricked up (and I was the only Aussie on the tour) and my plans were locked in.  Tickets for Saturday night it is!!!  It was as easy as walking up to the tour kiosk, asking for a ticket to Saturday night’s show and $38 later, I had a date with Keith Urban!!!

Anyway, back to the present time of Saturday night….. there is another couple waiting at my hotel for the shuttle to come pick us up for the show.  We arrive at the Opry at little early so the driver takes us around the residential streets and shows us some celebrity houses to fill in the time.  I know I should have written the down at the time but I can’t remember who they were now.  It’s almost show time so I stock up on a cool beverage and some popcorn (as this seems to be popular choice for most) and we head into the theatre.  The first act comes on stage and all of us in our row are packed in like sardines.  I literally have my shoulders and arms squashed in front of my upper body and I must look very special trying to feed popcorn into my mouth.  Turns out that there’s one too many people in our row.  By now it’s starting to get real hot and stuffy (two things together that don’t go well for me!).  With the big guy next to me falling asleep through the performances and the three ladies next me complaining about the extra person in our row, I manage to squeeze out of gap that is seat number C 10 and head up to the nearest usher to see if I can find another seat.

I had a pretty good seat to start with which was so close to the right side of the stage so I was hoping to get something just as good.  As it turns out I needn’t have worried.  My new seat, or seats should I say were 100 times better than my original.  After a few minutes of the lovely elderly lady usher going to confer with what seemed to be the head usher (another even elderly lady), I was shown to my new seat.  Row L, seat 5…. In the dead centre of the theatre, eye level to the stage and with about 3 spare seats to my left and right.  I pretty much had the whole bench to myself and I was right in front of the action.  I felt like royalty!!!  And hopefully the people back in row C weren’t so cramped anymore!  As all the artists have their 10 minutes on stage (only about 2 songs each), I soon notice a wave of fans moving up from their seats from all around the theatre, and swarm to the front of the stage.  This, my friends was the signal that we would not have to wait too much longer for Keith.  They were like moths to a flame!  Being such a huge star that he is, Keith got to sing 4 songs on stage.  Nothing like his full concerts that we have to wait for 2nd, 3rd and sometimes 4th concerts to be announced back at home (or travel to another city to get tickets), but still it took me to come half way across the globe and into another country in order to witness his talent live for the first time ever.  And it was definitely worth it!!!!  I just wish that all my die hard Keith Urban fan friends from home could have filled the 6 empty seats in my row, to share it with me!  And my big bag of popcorn!!!

After such a climax to mark almost the end of my time here in Nashville, my last official day was spent much like my first.  First some lunch (same again as the first day, it was that delicious!!) and more good conversation with Barb, followed by a few hours to kill out in the hotel gardens under the shade of the cherry blossom trees.  Before too long I was back at the airport and checked in for my flight to LA.  Oh and there’s only 1 more sleep now until Lisa joins me on the last few legs of my trip.  So excited now!!!

My homage to the King!

I’m normally a “Hard Headed Woman” but today as I check into the “Heartbreak Hotel”, I may change into “The Devil in Disguise”.  With my “Blue Suede Shoes” on and my “Good Luck Charm” I wonder if I will come across “A Big Hunk O Love” or will I be “Lonesome Tonight”?

I wonder if there’ll be someone to “Love Me Tender” without giving me the “Moody Blues” or a “Suspicious Mind”.  He’ll hopefully see “The Wonder of You” (aka “Me”).  But if it turns out that we’ve “Lost that Loving Feeling” and it gets to be “Too Much”, I’m sure that I won’t be chanting “There Goes My Everything”, but then again I don’t have a “Wooden Heart”.

I know the dancefloor will be “All Shook Up” by my fabulous moves, but will I find some “Burning Love” because heaven knows “I can’t help falling in Love”.  Maybe I’ll meet a “Houndog” but hopefully NOT from “The Ghetto”, otherwise it’s “Return to Sender” for him.  He’ll say “It’s Now or Never”, to which I’ll reply “Don’t be Cruel”, “Don’t”… and leave me “Crying in the Chapel”.

“One Night” I’ll do it “My Way” and groove to the “Jailhouse Rock”.  “That’s Alright” but I wish “My Lil Sister” was here already here as she’s “Always On My Mind” since this adventure began.  But once she’s here we’ll “Never Walk Alone”.

Thank you, thank you very much…………

Elvistown… aka Memphis, Tennessee

It’s a balmy summer’s night here in Memphis, Tennessee. Nice and comfortable and perfect weather for a walk around the neighbourhood. It reminds me of the Roma days when the family would go for a walk after dinner and we’d all have our choice of home brand half choc dipped ice creams (strawberry, chocolate or caramel) for dessert along the way. Except I’m in a foreign place surrounded by closed businesses so I head back to my room after spending another night (and my last night here) down on Beale Street, home of Jazz and Blues in Memphis. This is the first time since Vegas where I’m up to date with my blogs as to where I’m currently at.

I’m going to start this one with today’s events even though I arrived yesterday from New Orleans. Up nice an early at around 8:30am to get ready for the day and for breakfast to kick start my day. If you’re wondering, that is early for me after all I am on holidays! I have grown very fond of these toasted bagels with cream cheese, so after breakfast I mosey on over to the Graceland’s ticket booth which happens to be right next door to my hotel, the “Heartbreak Hotel” (seems appropriate). All this time since I arrived yesterday I’ve been staying right across the road from “Graceland” and I didn’t even realise it. The buildings filled with Elvis Memorabilia shops and museum exhibits across the road from Graceland (right in front of my hotel) is like a little mini Elvis city.

I arrive nice and early as past experience at tourist sites has taught me this is the best time to beat the crowds. By this time it’s around 10:00am and by the time I leave this place at the end of my adventures it will be around 3:00pm. I feel like royalty getting my VIP Entourage – Front of the line tour pass from the ticket agent. I soon have my headset and audio tour guide placed around my neck and I hop on the courtesy bus which will take me not 50 meters across the road and up the driveway into Graceland itself. Us VIP’s get dropped off around the back of the house and we head on around to the front of the main house. These grounds are just beautiful and the home movies that we’re about to see that are running throughout the inside of the house, make you appreciate how wonderful and fairy tale like it must have been to be a kid growing up here on the property. Especially scooting around on your own ski runner through the snow in the middle of winter, up and down the hills throughout the 13 acres of land around the property (what appeared to be very happy days for the family).

We begin our tour of the downstairs part of the main house (the second story is kept private for the family). Through the living and dining rooms, the kitchen, the pool room and finally the jungle room, which had a custom made indoor waterfall. The tour then goes outside into a few more other buildings (I’ll let the photos tell these stories) and with the running commentary from the audio headset, I start to get an overwhelming feeling of where I am and the life that one very special family had lived here in the same place. I can’t help but shed a tear or few when I go through the building that has all of his lifetime achievement awards, actual suits that he did his last performances in and the movie of his last concert that he ever did playing on the big tv screens throughout the room. This room is packed, no one is saying anything, all attentively glued to the screens and in awe of all the framed platinum and gold records that line the very tall walls within this room. I wish I was around when this extremely talented man was in his prime.

I’m outside and around the back of the house and the swing set that Lisa Marie had when she was a little girl is still there, just like the one that we used to have when we were little. There are horses in their paddocks and the grass is perfectly manicured and vibrant green with the white fences framing the separate areas around the grounds. The pool area is just like you would remember from the movies made back in the 70’s and 80’s with the retro cast iron pool chairs, table and lounges placed around the kidney shaped pool. It’s hot today and I’m very tempted to jump in! I wonder how long it would take for someone to come running and escort me out of not only the pool but the grounds I’m sure, VIP or no VIP!!!! At the end of the pool area is the Meditation garden. This area is very crowded and then I realise what the attraction is. This is where Elvis, along with his twin brother, mother and father all call their resting place. Their headstones are over 6 foot long and there are flowers, teddy bears, wreaths and signs from devoted fans. There are more tributes arriving every day at the moment given that next week will be the 35th anniversary of the King’s passing.

What a place to end the audio tour at, again a little tear is shed. It’s back to our VIP area where we are ushered into another room (VIP’s only) where all of Lisa Marie’s childhood items and memories are on display. What a special room and looking at all the photos and home movies of her and her dad, you get a glimpse of how much this little girl meant to him. To finish off our tour on the grounds, we’re back on our bus and begin our tour around the back of the grounds. This includes the barn where the horses are kept, the other buildings where his family and friends would stay if the main house was full, the workshops where all the maintenance was done and the secret driveway at the far side of the fence line that he used to use to avoid all the fans and media if he needed to. There is also a few pieces of old and rusted machinery that was used on the property before Elvis bought it. Apparently he never threw anything away. After our final part of the tour, it’s back down the main driveway and across the road back to “Elvis City” for more attractions, exhibits and museums to make my way through.

After a maze of buildings that contain everything and anything relating to the King, I take some time out.  It’s nice and warm outside but there’s a line of cast iron garden benches that line the driveway where the buses come through for the pickups/drop offs.  All the benches are sheltered by big trees planted behind them.  So I sit here and rest up for a while.  This is a perfect spot to people watch and there’s a great view of Graceland and it’s massive front lawns across the road.  Then a couple walk past eating a waffle ice cream cone.  Five minutes I arrive back at my bench, under the shady tree, with my Pecan Praline and Vanilla Ice Cream Waffle cone.  Delicious!!!

After about 45 minutes of enjoying the scenery, I head on back through the little Elvis city and through the gates to my hotel.  I have a short wait until the shuttle takes me back down Beale Street for another night of jazz, blues and bbq – southern style.  I have to also mention that tonights shuttle driver’s name is “Dallas”, Dallas from Memphis.  He gave a running commentary of the city and stories along the way and even took us the scenic route into town.  A little extra that changes a good holiday into a great one!

Now to get back to yesterday, when I actually arrived in Memphis.  I’m quite used to the formalities of travelling via air.  So it’s another routine landing, long stroll to the baggage claim and outside to the Hotel Shuttle pick up area just outside the terminal entrance.  The voucher that I have that tells me that the driver will there waiting for me once my flight lands was not quite accurate.  After almost an hour wait and still no hotel shuttle, I give them a call to find out that one was never going to come pick us up.  Yes, we did need to call once our flight landed.  I mention “us” and “we” in these last 2 sentences.

This is where I introduce Mike the “Millionaire”.  Oh don’t get too excited, those of you who are thinking that I’ve “met” a guy that happens to be a millionaire.  Mike with his son is on holidays after winning a million pounds on an instant scratchie card.  Apparently there were only 4 winning million pound tickets made and he just happened to buy one of them for a measely 10 pounds.  Good investment hey.   So it turns out that they’re from Leicestershire in the UK and since he won it big back in November of last year, he has made investments in a holiday to Australia back in Easter, a new home (for him and his son), “Gold” membership in Holiday Time Share (which pretty much gives him free holidays every year for the rest of his life – all around the world… NICE!!!) and a new Mercedes car.  He did tell me the model but I kinda could tell he was showing off a little on that one.  But he seemed proud of it so good for him.

He sounded like he was using his new fortune for sensible items and not blowing it all in the first year.  He’s also going back to work when they finish their USA holiday at the end of the month and he’s even got gigs doing promotional things for the lottery and other companies.  In the hour we had waiting for the shuttle, finding out all about their travels made it go pretty quickly.  By the time the shuttle arrives, theres 5 of us waiting to go to the same hotel, with all of us being told by our travel agents that the shuttle will be waiting for us at the airport.  The agents fault??? or perhaps the hotels me thinks!!!

In a back to front way, that pretty much wraps up my 2 night stay in Memphis.  A beautiful place but it turns out that 2 nights was a perfect amount of time to stay.  Next stop… Nashville, TN.

New Orleans – (aka) Nuorlans, NOrlans, Naulins…

Waiting at the La Guardia airport just out of NYC, I’m praying that my luggage and more importantly its contents, survives the 2 flights that it must endure today.  I have a connecting flight today for the first time, all my flight so far have been direct (apart from first arriving in LAX/Las Vegas).  In possession of my 2 boarding passes, my first flight is into Dallas Fort Worth Airport.  I’m only there for about an hour and I don’t leave the airport so it probably means that I can’t claim to have been to Dallas, Texas.  The connection to my next flight into New Orleans goes without any dramas and I am very pleased to see my big green Kermit suitcase come around the bend of the carousel No.6, although now it’s getting some character to it looking like it’s been through a few airport terminals in its time (not that it’s a dirty ho or anything).  Best thing buying a set of luggage that stands out from the rest and it’s the colour of my favourite Muppet to boot!

As we land in Louis Armstrong International Airport, New Orleans, it’s very apparent that from what I’ve seen so far, the airports in the US are all classed as International with their domestic flight going in and out of the same airport.  Are they all the same everywhere in the US??  Anyway, the airport transfer takes me to the Hyatt French Quarter where I will call home for the next 3 nights.  It’s around 7:30pm when I get into my room and it’s fully equipped with a mini lounge area too.  You can’t change the outside and facade of any of the buildings in the French Quarter, in order to keep the original look of the place from back in the day (being heritage listed and all).  But that doesn’t stop the establishments from renovating the insides and this hotel knows how to renovate.  The room is beautiful and feels very chic.

My first night is spent at the Bourbon House just down from the hotel and on the famous “Bourbon Street”.  For starters I’ll have the BBQ Bourbon Shrimp (that’s prawns to us Aussies).  Absolutely delicious and it comes with a little cake like looking corn bread.  First time I’ve had corn bread, I feel very American now!  So then comes the main course or “Entrée” as they call it here (with entrée being “Appetisers”) and it’s huge!  Veal with crab meat served on top of garlic mash with asparagus.  There’s two large pieces of veal with crab meat on the top one and about an inch of garlic mash underneath.  I wish I could fit it all in but alas I was even struggling to get through my cocktail.  Drinks are a lot stronger over here.  It’s great that they don’t really care too much for using a measuring utensil when pouring any of the spirits.  Not so good when you get to the bottom of the glass and get hit with what tastes like pure alcohol, but you put on your big girl pants and suck it up!!  I crawl into another comfy bed and get some rest before my trip out to the “Oak Alley Plantation” tomorrow.

I have some time before my tour starts at midday so I look up the nearest UPS store to see if I could send some items back home.  I was thinking that this was going to cost me a bit but I wasn’t prepared to pay $227 to send my $60 tripod (I’m not really using it and should have left it at home) with a few other items I’ve collected along the way and it was going to take 14 to 20 days to deliver.  Plus to send a shirt to Erin in London was going to cost $142.  So I guess I’m going to the US Postal Service instead in my next cities where it’s going to take 6-10 days with a cost ¼ of the price compared to UPS.  It turns out to be a very non-productive morning.

But it’s just before midday and I make my way through the French Quarter down to the lighthouse to get my tour tickets (also for my Swamp and Bayou tour tomorrow).  It’s hot and very muggy right now (around 91% humidity).  Cass, I can see you squirming right now!!!  So it’s quickly onto the bus for me and into the nice air conditioning.  The bus is about two thirds full and our tour guide is also our driver.  Although I can’t remember his name, he is very unforgettable.  If you could imagine an elderly man that is a combination of an African American Preacher man speaking to his congregation on a bright, sunny Sunday morning church sermon and a late night radio host speaking with a low, smooth and southern style delivery of every historical fact along the way.  Close your eyes and put the two together, it might make it easier to picture.  He was great though and made reference to “Southern Hospitality” as much as he could (in the smooth, low radio host like voice).  Before we knew it, we were at our destination.

The “Oak Alley” plantation home and it’s estate is perfect, just like in the post cards and movies that you may have seen (I’m thinking of “Sweet Home Alabama”… just not in Alabama).  We are taken on a tour of the main house and begin the journey through the stories of all the owners and residents who have called this place their home.  The staff that work at the plantation now (for the tourism industry) are dressed in period costumes and they look great.  Our tour guide is a very soft spoken, gentle lady who takes us room by room, giving us continuous stories and history of what took place in each room.  Most plantation homes (the main houses) have 3 bedrooms only with other rooms used for entertaining.  The dining room has a huge long table all ready for feeding the guests that they are hosting for.  As we move through the house I can’t help but feel that I was born in the wrong era.  I would have loved to live in this house back in the day!  Of course without the slavery and civil war that went on back then, not to mention the fact that women were perceived to be unable to live without the presence of a man in the house.

The perfectly manicured lawns and flourishing gardens look like something out of a magazine.  Then there’s the alley of old Oak trees that line the path leading from the street straight up to the door of the main house.  How fabulous it would have been to be a little kid growing up on a property like this (again, without the slavery, civil war and all….).  These plantation homes can have over another 20 more dwellings on their grounds aside from the main house.  I’ll let the photos tell the story of these.  With sounds of thunder, the smell of rain in the air and the dark clouds starting to roll in, it’s time to scoff down my pecan, praline and vanilla ice cream waffle cone (your mouth is watering right now, correct!?!) and head off in the direction of safe ground…. Our tour Bus! (It was about 5 minutes before we were due to leave anyway).

It rains pretty much most of the way back to New Orleans but it appears that all the storms have already passed through the city and it’s now just that little bit less humid!  We hit really bad traffic on the way back so we’re about an hour late getting back to where we began the afternoon.  After experiencing the early shenanigans of Bourbon Street the day before, I head back to the hotel and have dinner there for the night.  It turns out that I was not prepared for the nightlife of NO.  But once you take one walk down then back up Bourbon St you quickly get accustomed to the sights and sometimes frights of the colourful scenery!  It’s definitely in your face stuff.  All I can think of is how much fun this would be if I was here with one of the gals, safety in numbers!  I’m not quite brave enough to get in the middle of all this by myself.  Sorry for those who are disappointed in reading about this part of my travels.  I’m just going to have to come back with reinforcements next time!!  Although this place is a little scary by myself, it would be a destination I would come back to again.  Just not by myself.

The next day is “Swamp Tour Day”!!!!!  Ever since “Swamp People” came into my life, I’ve wanted to come see this crazy sh*t for myself!  So I’m back at the lighthouse again and board another bus that takes us down, deep into Bayou country.  We arrive at Jean Laffite Swamp Tours and soon enough we’re on the boat ready to set off down the bayou.  Along for the ride is a full tour coach of one family.  Yes it’s a family reunion group with over 50 family members all with the same bright purple screen printed t-shirts.  From the dominant males in the group, the mothers, sisters, brothers, aunties, uncles and I’m sure cousins, to the young ones… every age group seems to be covered.  Just before we head off our first little gaitor comes to say hello right beside our boat.  I’ve never seen so many people shuffle to one side of the boat with their cameras out ready to snap (me being one of these).

Our tour guide and boat captain “Jamie” gets us going as we make our way away from civilisation and deep into the swamp.  Ok, so I may be a little bit dramatic on the description with that one but it’s a nice cruise either way.  Jamie is full of bad jokes about what we should all do if we fall out of the boat, if the boat starts to sink, if you drop something over the side of the boat, if something falls into the boat and if the boat does start to sink as long as you’re faster than the slowest person on the boat, you’re going to be ok!!!  Plus his joke with the punch line of “Reptile Dysfunction”.  You can guess what the joke may have been.  He’s funny though and he sounds just like the guys out of Swamp People.  I’m loving it!  About half way through the cruise Jamie passes around a turtle shell (think BIG!!!, I’ll post a photo too) and the head of a 12 foot gaitor (you may have already seen this one with Pig Crackers on Facebook).  Then the best part of the tour, he hands around a baby live gaitor (with jaw taped).  I’m a little worried at this point, not for myself or the others on this tour, but for the baby gaitor itself!  This family is LOUD!!!  And there’s quite a few young kids who are super uber excited about holding this little reptile.  I get my turn to hold the little fella and one of my fellow tour goers takes a photo for me.

Oh yeah, we have been seeing gaitors in the water up and down this tour while all this other stuff has been going on.  As well as Turtles, birds and other wildlife we see along the way, only a small few of us get to see a snake swimming across the top of the water and up to the swamp bank.  I have lots of great photos.  One lady says to me “did you get a photo of that turtle….” to which I replied “Yes, 8 of them”.  Ahhh the digital world has made us all a little OCD.  Although we didn’t get to see “Big Joe” on this tour, Jamie reminds us that this tour is not like Disneyland (where all the characters come out and parade around on queue) but the gaitors that we have seen are union workers…… (insert American joke here).

The tour is over before we know it and when it comes down to it, I think I’ve been on better crocodile tours back home but this one was still good and the fact that I feel like the bayous from Swamp People are our next door neighbours, makes this one feel super exciting.

Back in NO now and all this swamp touring has made me hungry.  I find a place where the air con is blowing and the beverages are chilled.  I’m ushered upstairs to the bar that overlooks the harbour and the street that runs along the sea side.  I pull up onto a stool at the bar and am greeted by the bar tender “Lucas”.  He’s a little cute and it turns out that my timing was perfect.  Not 5 minutes earlier the bar was full and he was the only bar tender working upstairs.  So he begins to get me a Vodka and OJ while I peruse the menu for some belated lunch.  I must admit that my mind was almost made up before I walked into the place.  They had a selection of already made meals on the side walk (purely for display purposes), but it worked cause the Beef Sliders got me into the place.  They were delicious too!!  As I’m chowing down on my 2nd slider, cute bar tender lets me know he’s just going outside for his break and that he’d be back soon.  At this time there are 2 more bar tenders working upstairs which I’m sure would be more than capable of tending to my beverage needs in his absence.  It’s then that I realise that I’ve just been given that famous “Southern Hospitality!!!” I love it!!!  Not wanting to look like an alcoholic at 2 pm in the afternoon, I just have the one drink and finish my beef sliders.  After some more conversation with cute bar tender, I’m on my merry way again to wander the streets and take in some more sights and scenery that I am yet to explore so far.

Lots of jazz bands just playing randomly in the street, most of them started playing when they were in their teens.  Now in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and above, these guys are amazing.  You could sit there and watch them day.  But alas the day is coming to an end (the sunny part of it anyway) so before the wicked night life comes out to play I make my way back to the hotel.  With every intention of being a little braver tonight, I do plan on coming back out to get amongst it all.  There seems to be a lot more people out tonight (being a Saturday?).  That’s pretty much where my good intentions end.  By the time I packed up my bags again and wrote about 8 days of blog in one hit, it was time for bed.  Tomorrow, Memphis here I come!!!

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington D.C.

My last official day in NYC is spent in Washington DC.  A short little 5 hours drive down the highway to the Nations Capital.  It’s going to be a very long day but I’m sure it’ll be worth it.  The day begins at around 5:30am when the sun is also just starting to wake up for the day.  All the hotel staff are busy out front of their respective employers hosing down the pavements ready for the new day.  By this time it’s around 6:15am as I make my way from 7th Ave and E 51st Street (my hotel, I’m getting the hang of the street directions) to Park Ave and W 42nd Street (aka Grand Central Station).  Well it’s not really GCS, the meeting place is on the street outside just up from the station.  As it turns out this will be the closest that I will come to GCS, no more time left to go in and explore further.  The tour guide hollars out to all the English and Spanish speaking tourists partaking in the day’s activities.  At this point in time I’d like to introduce Erickson (Eric No. 3).

We’re on our way out of the city and heading on down to Washington.  Everything Eric says is in English first followed by Spanish 2nd.  The spanish version always seems to be an additional 15 seconds longer to say – think of how much time in their lives they would be saving if they all spoke english instead!  Anyway, we have 2 drivers as this day is planned to be quite a long one.  We make a stop at a Roadhouse where I find an Aunty Annie’s store.  OMG I’ve never eaten a sweeter, scrum-didly-umptious 6 little mouth bite sized pieces of goodness for a very long time.  Ok I didn’t all 6 at once, but I nailed three over a span of about 30 minutes.  And today is the very first time I’ve had Starbucks since I arrived here in the US.  Tried as long as I could not to succombe to what appears to be the biggest chain in America.   But now I’ve had 2 coffees from them in a space of about 3 hours.  Off again for about another 2.5 hours, with my remaining 3 little pieces of goodness.

It was pouring rain when we left NYC this morning so it was a good day to get out of the city, and it appears that the plan has paid off as when we arrive in Washington, the sun is out, not a cloud in the sky and it’s as hot as hell – you could see that I was in heaven with this weather.  Our first stop is at the Lincoln Memorial with the huge statue of Mr Abraham Lincoln himself.  Luckily he was too big for everyone to climb up onto so the pictures are nice and tourist free!  A lovely lady took my pic with the man himself, then I took the other 150 photos from that location (gotta love the digital age!).  The Korean memorial was also at this site so I wandered down and took a moment out of the heat, underneath the flourishing trees at the pond of the memorial.  There were heaps of wreaths here from all different nations, but I could not find one from Australia – why did we not send one??

We’re back on the bus and off to our next location….. 1600 Pennsylvania Ave….. “Mornos with the President!!!”.  Well it was supposed to be, but his assistance called saying that something else came up, something about national security….. Anyway, what could I do, it’s the president.

Another photo opportunity for me in front of the Whitehouse and we’re off again to our next location – Capitol Hill (at least I think that’s where we went).  Aside from all the other sites and attractions, this one actually is as big as it looks.  Beautifully kept gardens and not a soul in sight, apart from the 2 security guards giving a speaking to, to a family of 5 who were obviously in an area that they shouldn’t have been.  Once again back on the bus on our way to Madame Tusaude’s,  where all the Presidents of the USA have been immortalised in wax… and makeup and lipo, nips, tucks and their finest of garments on for show.  This part of the tour was a little unexpected but given where we are, it’s very fitting to have a visit here.

Next stop is the Museum of ????, not quite sure where we stopped but it was a museum, with lots of Aviation stuff inside.  Not that I saw much of it as I busily confirming airport transfers and the like for my next leg.  And yes I should have done all of this yesterday but there’s just not enough hours in the day when you’re living the life of a tourist.  But I still did spend a lovely time outside under the shade of an old tree with my water a group of Asian students who were head first into their boxed lunches pulling out all sorts of what appeared to be yummy goodies, with the token packet of “crisps”.  What would a boxed lunch be without them!  I did manage to get back into the Museum for a quick look around and a rest room stop before we had to be back on the bus.  As far as attractions goes, this was our last one for the day in Washington DC.  So with everything ticked off the list, the long journey back to NYC begins.  It was at this point that I put pen to paper, my travels around San Fran to upload later onto my blog (well actually into a word document on my laptop – I am a digital girl in a digital world!).

It’s just after 9:00pm when we get back to Time Square and I’m relieved that the bus is going to make a stop here so that I don’t have to walk back from GCS.  After leaving my gratuities with Eric No.3, I hurry back to the hotel to dump my backpack, change into shorts and again enter the madness that is “Broadway” Ave with a new group of my 500 closest friends.  I actually can believe that there are so many people still out and about in this city at this time of night, with no sight of disbursement to their respective abodes for the night anytime soon.  I have 2 more things to tick off my list of things to do here in NYC before I head to Dallas Fort Worth then onto New Orleans, in the morning.  I can’t tell you what they are because that will ruin the surprise for some of my followers.  But I did accomplish both tasks and I love that the shops appear to never close!!!  I’m now back in my hotel room and it’s around 11:00pm when I attempt to tackle packing my suitcases.  Given what I have just purchased, I am very impressed on how it has all fit and I cross my fingers that it all makes it in one piece through the travels ahead of us tomorrow.  Even though this city doesn’t seem to sleep, it is time for me to bust out some zzz’s, for my very last night in NYC.  Oh how I have loved being here and I know that I’ve not even touched on a third of the details of my adventures.