Davey left us in Washington in the last episode, passing through Miami experiencing The Everglades and watching the Miami Heat play, before heading off cycling in Montreal Canada. He wrapped up in Washington DC, going through museums and memorials. It was a super whirlwind trek that took him everywhere.
Dave continues his epic tour by road tripping around the US in his stylish American Mustang. He makes pitstops in Tennessee, Nashville, Memphis and Houston while sipping moonshine, checking the scene at Beale Street, Graceland, Baton Rouge, Barton Springs pool and other spots. Our man even experiences his first Roller Derby! But there’s a lot more to this post than just those highlights.
And so without further ado..
Heading to Tennessee
This was going to be the last part of my trip and my travel journals. I was heading across the USA for forty days or so in a rental car, doing the great American Road Trip.
I picked up“the Stang” from Washington Airport and headed out the Blue Ridge parkway, one of the USA’s most renowned drives. I’d rented a car in the US a few years previously so driving on the wrong side of the road was not a new experience for me.
This firstly involved heading into Shenandoah National Park, I purchased myself a season ticket which was $80 and much better value than the other option, single entry $30 for the day pass.
The drive was spectacular, lots of sweeping mountains to drive through, a nice sunny day and a very good road. But I did have to be careful driving the Mustang as I was driving at somewhat excessive speeds around sweeping bends in the mountain forest.
That night I stopped at Asheville in North Carolina, had some quality food and then crashed out.
The town of Cherokee
The next day involved going through the Indian town of Cherokee (I didn’t see any Indians) and then headed into the Smoky Mountain National Park, this involved another spectacular drive for 55 miles, included trekking up the highest peak in the south-east of America and some really spectacular views.
After leaving the park, I went through the city of Pigeon Falls, remarkable in the fact it has hundreds of gaudy theme parks next to each other, including Dolly World (Dolly Parton) and a replica of the Titanic.
5 more hours and I reached my destination of Nashville.
Nashville was really good fun (of course it would be), I spent my time hanging out with other travellers, going out, drinking and listening to a lot of live music, all different kinds but mainly country.
My impression of country music completely changed whilst there, going from listening to it on the radio which I did not like at all, to seeing and hearing live bands on and off-Broadway, kind of sounds I never really associated with the country.
The clubs were also pretty good fun, beer was around $2.50 (PBR cheap American beer) and shots were around $5. I even had a shot of Moonshine, kind of vodka mixed with a tequila taste, very tasty and illegal.
Most of the people I met at the hostel I was staying at were musicians, some of them aspiring, some street performers and others professional looking for something to do. I felt totally out-of-place as far as that is concerned (I have no musical talent at all unless you count doing the “Running Man to Techno”); however I didn’t feel unwelcome and met some really good people.
Other highlights from my stay included the Ryman theatre, this is where country music was born, lots of old photos and posters for people that performed there, including Elvis, Johnny Cash and Rachmaninoff as a few examples. It’s still a performing theatre playing what is locally termed “Grand Ole Opry”.
Something else I did was head down to the Jack Daniels distillery which was only a few hours away. The funny thing about the location is it’s located in what is called a “Dry County”, my understanding of this being you are not allowed to actually taste the Whiskey whilst you are in the county and you need to wait until you are in the next county before opening up your bottle.
There are actually no bars in the town either, the entire area is dry.
The distillery tour was very interesting and historical, most of all very popular, there was thousands of people going through, a lot of them on Harleys, the whole experience was fascinating, I even purchased a bottle of Jack.
Sadly after 5 days or so my time drew to a close so a couple of English lads and myself decided to head down to Memphis.
It was also really good fun, despite feedback I was getting that it was very run down and kind of dangerous. The English lads and I shared on the fuel cost.
We arrived a few hours later at a rundown hotel near the centre of town which was a handy location; I crashed and then met up with the English a few hours later. Memphis is on the Mississippi, which is an amazingly beautiful river, especially at sunset.
After doing a walk along the river, it was time to head to Beale Street.
A big meal
First stop was the Blues Café, a rundown looking establishment; all the waiters were burly guys that looked like they had left prison.
I ordered a steak which was amazing and finally had my first decent meal in as long as I can remember, up till now it had been endless take outs and junk food since arriving in the US.
After this, we went bar hopping down Beale Street, it’s not a very and was blocked off from traffic and easy to move around.
The music in my opinion exceeded Nashville in that most places were playing either Delta Blues or Rock (loved it), this included covers of Hendrix and the Doors which I much prefer to country.
I also made a donation at one of the bars, this involved writing your name on $1 bill then taping it up to the wall behind the bar; apparently the money gets taken down some time later and donated to a charity.
I was in Memphis for two nights, the English lads headed back to Nashville after the first night. During the day, I ended up visiting Graceland, the home of Elvis, this included a tour of his huge and what I thought was actually tastefully designed mansion, kind of looked like a futuristic designed environment as seen on the TV show Buck Rogers.
While I am not a fan of Elvis Presley’s music, this is a must do tour when in Memphis. I then went to Sun Studios, what is considered to be the birth place of rock music as it’s known today, artists like Elvis, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, U2 and BB King had started out or recorded there. It was a very good tour and steeped in music history.
That night I went back to the restaurant had a few more beers and then it was time to move on again….
Austin Road Trip
I jumped in the Stang and headed to my next destination of Baton Rouge, this involved zig sagging across the Mississippi a few times, switching between the States of Mississippi, Arkansas and then Louisiana.
The drive was excellent, the Mississippi is a very wide river, and a few of the towns I drove through had paddle steamers anchored on it.
One thing I noticed is how poor a lot of the towns were, abandoned businesses, houses, rundown neighborhoods, all quite sad really. Luckily there were plenty of casinos that offered the opportunity to “turn your life around”, there is also a large of amount of churches to repent, lots of porn shops to sin and lot of firework shops to blow stuff up, America is fantastic.
After about 8 hours I reached Baton Rouge, I was staying in a casino hotel, however, I never made it into the casino to check it out, just the hotel. I decided instead to visit the local Irish bar, the customers were not particularly Irish though, the bar staff were dressed in school uniforms and the bar happened to be sponsoring a social running group, around 200 people, for the evening.
I met an Aussie couple and chatted with them for a while, and then met a local who took me on a pub crawl of the three bars in the high street of Baton Rouge over and over again where I met a lot of locals, really good fun and lots of drinks and shots, and one of the reasons I didn’t see the casino.
Don’t swim here
The next morning with a steaming hangover, I was off on the road again, not so much of a pleasant drive this time as I did not feel the best. I crossed over the state line and into Texas; my first stop was the beachside resort of Galveston as I figured I needed a swim.
Upon arriving in Galveston, I quickly changed my mind; the water was dirty brown and stunk of seaweed. I am also sure the BP oil spill a few years before hadn’t helped and I guess had destroyed the tourism in the area.
I quickly exited the town as the stinky sea air was making my hangover progressively worse, and headed to my next stop in Houston.
Houston is the 4th largest city in the USA with a population of around 4 million. Because of this the traffic was a high-speed nightmare, very congested and bumper to bumper at around 70 miles an hour, expressways zigzagging all over the place.
I eventually reached my hostel accommodation, an old Victorian looking mansion a nice area.
I went out for pizza, unfortunately, my body defeated my enthusiasm for a night out and I headed to bed early.
The final day
The next day instead of doing some sort of tour, I decided to go shopping instead.
Clothes in the US are very cheap, so I got myself a spare suitcase and started packing it with new trainers, jeans, shirts and a jacket, a nice but not necessarily the most cultural way to spend the day. Fortunately, the Aussie dollar was very strong which made US clothes that were relatively cheap by Australian standards anyway, much cheaper.
I did feel guilty however and managed to check out an art Museum, the Menil Collection, a somewhat small collection of ancient masks and some hilarious conceptual art, I was very happy I went shopping and now had a fantastic collection of checkered shirts.
That night I headed out in dogged determination, met some very cool people, had a few beers and then headed back to crash.
Houston has a good nightlife but tomorrow I was heading back to Austin again after about 3 years.
Austin was hot, I mean like around 40 degrees every day.
The previous time I was here was in the middle of winter so was not expecting this kind of temperature, mind you Nashville and Memphis had been quite warm and Austin is in the desert, so probably should have anticipated it.
Still, it was really good fun, there were a lot of people at the hostel, much more than my previous stay. I spent a few nights out in the town at many of the relentless bars playing either live or recorded music and eating Tex-Mex, Texan BBQ, Cajun etc. I also spent a few nights drinking at the hostel, meeting internationals and American tourists.
I took in some “amazing” sunsets, did other activities I’d failed to do here previously.
Barton Springs Pool
Activities included the Barton Springs Pool, the best swim hole in all of Texas, a must do in the boiling heat. It’s a natural spring in the form of a river, part of it had been converted into a swimming type pool around 400m long and 50m wide, very popular amongst the locals, it also had seaweed like plantation at the bottom you could run your toes through.
The water was also freezing cold, again a nice diversion from the heat.
Another activity was the 10th anniversary of the “Keep Austin Weird” festival, weird in that it was a festival that started at 2 pm and then culminated in a 5km fun run after drinking (weird). It also charged $20 bucks which was a complete rip off as not too many were at the festival, though it started to pack out as it was edging closer to the run.
There was a variety of acts including crowd participation bongo drums (weird) and various types of dancers.
Bored by about 6:30 I and a few others decided to go and attend the TXRD Roller Girls at the stadium next door, this was the best $15 bucks I’d spent in a while. The circuit had two stands each end held I’d guess around 1000 people, each end camera crews and a pair of commentators. It was the Holy Rollers vs. Hell Raisers; it also included a death metal band to add to the atmosphere.
Prior to the game they attempted to explain the rules, however I was distracted by a guy that collapsed, around 100 metres from me, dropped dead on the spot (never seen that before), despite attempted CPR and then electric shock once the paramedics arrived, he didn’t recover and was moved from the stadium, this death didn’t stop the show.
The game ran for four quarters involving skaters battering the crap out of each other to score points. Other parts of the game included arm wrestling for points, pillow fights (more like smashing into each other at high-speed) and tug of war. I also managed to sneak up into the VIP area at the side of the arena and sat there for the match with ring side seat.
At the end, the crowd were allowed onto the arena for the customary volunteer spanking by the players. The score was Raisers 36 Rollers 26. As a spectacle, I enjoyed this much more than the basketball a few weeks earlier.
After it finished I headed back to the hostel for a late sunset and some beers……
Fresh the next morning I ended up heading down to the Alamo in San Antonio with the two English lads I had met in Nashville a week before. The drive was around an hour or so and we arrived to check out the old Alamo fort. I can honestly say that this was pretty dull, didn’t really learn much more about the Alamo apart from what you can look up in Wikipedia or watching a movie, birth place of Texas.
There was only three buildings to view (and a very nice garden), the Church, the wall and the gift shop come museum. We weren’t allowed to take photos for some absurd reason (despite a lot of the exhibits being copies) and the whole thing didn’t take longer than half an hour to view.
After that, we headed down to the River Walk, a rather spectacular canal that runs through the centre of town.
Got some Texan ribs, headed to a cowboy shop to buy some clothes and then back to the hostel.
The evening involved dragging couches out of the hostel, a projector and screen and watching a movie outdoors which was pretty cool. Later one of the hostel guests that turned up happened to be a country music singer.
We listened to him for a while on the wharf behind the hostel, downed a few Lone Star beers watching the sunset and then a group of us went out that evening, cruising from bar to bar until they shut at 2 pm.
More drinks back at the hostel and then another lazy sleep in.
The following day involved chilling out at the hostel (a very lazy day) watching videos and eating pizza with my English mates and others I had met there, then a quiet night; I said my goodbyes to people at the hostel as I was now heading very far north and the quieter part of the trip and fewer backpackers.
I was up early in the morning for my 8-hour drive to Amarillo…
The Travel Bug
The Travel Bug is a collaboration project that goes through Dave’s travel journals around the world. This series started a while back and finished right here in Washington. We’ll be back soon in Amarillo!
He just completed another world trip and will be sharing his tall travel tales shortly.
PC likes getting the job done by day and writes, designs and codes during his spare time. He also enjoys having a drink with Dave and hearing his tall travel tales.
We hope to entertain you with these stories.