What’s your Favourite…?

Day 23 of the blog post a day in May and we are off on our travels with a list. Two of my favourite things.

GET home from any long trip and it will not be long before somebody asks a question that starts “what was your favourite…?”.

The most common end to that question is place or country and, to be honest, no matter how many times it has been asked, not sure have ever given a proper answer.

Always had to veer off on a tangent, explaining that favourite moments on overland trips are not so much based on places but memories or moments, where they were is not necessarily the key factor in why they were so great.

Often reel off Rwanda among my favourite African countries, but was only there for about 72 hours.

Those three days included an extraordinary hour with mountain gorillas, a harrowing if hugely worthwhile trip to the Kigali Genocide Museum (both of which are real must sees) and a bizarre afternoon at an eccentric bowling alley.

It is also a beautiful country, known as the land of a thousand hills, but can that really qualify it as one of my favourite places of all my travels?

The same applies to the remaining moments picked out as my five favourites from 10 months on the road in Africa – an afternoon with the children of Lake Bunyoni in Uganda, an evening camping the heart of an isolated village in Cote d’Ivoire, digging a truck out of a waterlogged hole in the Congo and a visit to an orphanage in Ghana.

Trans Africa – The Best and the Worst

All amazing, but enough to land on my favourite places list? Probably not. Even goats on trees is not a good enough reason to lift Morocco onto that list.

Equally, having a few gripes about a place is not necessarily enough to disqualify it – Zimbabwe made it on my best and worst countries in Africa list, such are the delights and frustrations of a remarkable nation.

So have finally tried to work on a definitive list of my favourite places, defined by the city, country or region itself being what earned that ranking rather than some fleeting moment or experience.

Also need to have spent a certain amount of time there – love loads of places having spent very little time there, often just passing through – and the one guarantee of this list is that am determined to go back there. But that’s a very long list.

Diving in to this without having settled on the definitive list – suggest will want to change it pretty much immediately and fairly certain it will include a fair amount of places in the States.

Kept it to 10 or we could be here all day – can rattle on about endless number of places absolutely love – and in no particular order.

Boston
No surprise on this one, have long had a bit of a love affair with the state capital of Massachusetts (not the one in Lincolnshire).

Feel instantly comfortable and relaxed there – my overseas destination of choice to just get away from it all and feel under no pressure to go sightseeing or charge around ticking off the must-sees.

Wandering around Boston, hanging out in a bar or catching a Red Sox game is my version of a beach holiday.

Boston for First Timers

New York
Could easily live in Boston, not sure that is the case with New York but a few days always an exciting prospect, but with the similar feeling of being on familiar – if more hectic – ground.

You cannot run out of things to do, places to see and have every intention of doing and seeing a lot more there.

Watching the Red Sox win in Yankee Stadium would be near the top of the list.

New York for First Timers

Deep South
Bit of a cheat this one, lumping together such a large and varied area but it contains a huge number of places which could easily have made it in their own right.

From the antebellum charm of Charleston – which will always have a special place in my heart – and Savannah to the music capitals of Memphis and Nashville (plus Austin, Texas, which strictly doesn’t qualify) via any number of stops in smalltown America.

And for each of those memorable major centres, there are countless smaller stops, all with the requisite southern charm and fantastic scenery – if you are going to take one road trip, try the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway twisting through the Appalachians. Or the Great River Road down the Mississippi to New Orleans.

Could go on and on.

Chilkoot Lake
Sunset over Chilkoot Lake, Haines

Alaska
The largest state of the union is one of its least accessible, but one of its most rewarding.

It is huge (it is the most northerly, westerly and easterly state, courtesy of a geographical quirk) and that size strikes you at every turn. You will travel for hours between stops and, if the weather is good in the summer, there will rarely be a poor view.

Several American national parks could have made this list – Yosemite, Yellowstone, Badlands, even the Grand Tetons which gave this blog its name – but Alaska just does it all bigger and better.

Edinburgh
You do not have to travel across the globe to find memorable cities – Edinburgh has always provided a great stop and each visit (all far too short, often far too drunk or with too much time spent working, occasionally both) leaves me wanting to go back for more.

Cornwall
Slightly surprised that a place not visited for years makes the list, but could not find a reason to take it off. My Dad always used to say ‘if the weather is right, you can’t do better’ and he’s not too far from the truth.

Cape Town/Western Province
Definitely topped the list of places to go back to in Africa, largely because it is simply stunning and Cape Town provides a wonderful centrepiece.

The Beautiful South

Bamako
The capital of Mali was not on our original itinerary and events in the north of the country have not exactly helped it as a travel destination. But the chaos, friendliness and sheer fun introduced us to what was to come in sub-Saharan African.

Beijing
There are people who have trouble with China and, yes, there is a lot to question. But it is a remarkable place, a history and a culture which is totally new to anyone from the west. And the best place for street food.

Namibia
Had to include one African country. Nearly went for the whole west coast or some of the wildlife hotspots of the east. But Namibia combines the best of both – amazing wildlife experiences, the sense of wilderness of West Africa and its own extraordinary natural sights. It is also a mecca for thrillseekers and overlanders, who come together after weeks or months on the road.

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New York for First Timers

Day 10 of the blog post a day in May and time to get back to the schedule. And return to handing out some travel advice. Just in case anyone needs it.

My first trip to the USA started with a week in Boston, spent four weeks on the road and rolled into New York – my first time in Manhattan was driving through the Lincoln Tunnel and trying to find the car hire garage.

Our first experience was a yellow cab ride uptown, a wander into Central Park, a dive bar (actually called Dive Bar) and a subway which carried us into the madness of Times Square as dark fell.

Thirteen years and a fair few visits since and still remember the feeling of the first day in New York – it felt, after five weeks in the States, like being in a whole new country.

So what should anyone arriving in New York for the first time know?

Not claiming to have ‘done’ New York, think only natives can come close to that and this is almost exclusively Manhattan – despite intentions on every trip to get further afield.

Guidebooks can fill in the gaps and provide exhaustive options, but this is pretty much the advice handed out when asked.

Getting There

Have arrived by car, coach (cheap and pretty comfortable over the four hours from Boston), train (expensive), boat (over the Hudson from Jersey City) and, finally, last time out by the most common arrival method for UK visitors – air.

JFK airport is about an hour away – traffic permitting – from central Manhattan. You can get the subway, but it is not ideal after a long flight and you miss that great moment when you first catch sight of the skyline appearing in the distance.

Best option – for the experience and the budget – is book a shared van or a coach. Both are about $15-20 and can be booked in advance and return.

Personally, prefer the van from the airport as it takes you to your hotel – may have to wait at the booking desk for your van, normally not too long, and hope you are not the last drop off although you do get an added tour of Manhattan – and a coach running to a schedule from near Grand Central Station to head back.

Ellis Island

Where to stay

If you want the highlights on your first trip and to be near the action, any of the numerous options around Times Square are probably the best shot.

The location is pretty much perfect for, well, just about everywhere and the sheer number of available rooms means there’s normally some pretty good deals to be found (because of the competition, New York tends to be cheaper for equivalent accommodation than other US cities such as Boston).

Not stayed there for a while, but the giant Hostelling International (Amsterdam Avenue, near W 104th Street) was comfortable, secure and a good option for first couple of visits.

The quirky Jane Hotel – near the Meatpacking District, West Village and the High Line – with small cabins and shared bathrooms was another reasonable option. If you like that sort of thing.

Getting around

Yes, take a cab ride. Yes, use the subway. But the best way to see New York is walk. And keep walking, you will stumble across something.

Suggest you work out what district you want to see, get there via subway and then take in as much as you can on foot.

Those tourists buses might be designed to grab your dollars but they can also be used to cover a fair amount of space and tick off a lot of things (my niece got one included in a City Pass covering various attractions).

Food and drink

American food does not always have the best reputation and, admittedly, it is pretty easy to eat pretty badly. Or very well, if you have the budget.

But you can also eat perfectly well for not too much.

Fuel up at breakfast in a diner and it will keep you going for much of the day and most bars will do you a perfectly good meal.

There’s always the Golden Arches, any number of local takeaways of any ethnicity and, whatever the appearances, those hot dog stands are fine if you need a quick hit.

Can happily while away hours in New York bars – usually sport on TV, surprisingly good array of beer, perfectly good food and somebody will talk to you when the English accent comes out.

Things to do for free

This is very much a personal list – space and preference dictate that, but if you’ve got a long weekend to see the greatest hits, this is my choice.

Central Park
  • The High Line – Adore this place. Think have walked the entire length three times but want to get back for the latest additions around the northern end at Hudson Yards. Put simply, a city park created from what was a derelict raised railway line, but so much more than that. Supposedly you can walk it in half an hour but take longer, savour it.
  • Central Park – The heart and lungs of Manhattan. There’s a reason why it is so famous and so important to New Yorkers. Wander, get lost if necessary (although not after dark), run if you are that way inclined, sit and take in a softball game.
  • Times Square – Cough up a few bucks for a drink, sit down and watch. The place, the lights, the people, the colour. But then that goes for much of the city.
  • Brooklyn Bridge – There will be a lot of people but take the time to wander over the East River. The bridge is spectacular but plays second fiddle to the views of the skyline from Brooklyn.
  • Staten Island Ferry – The ferry itself is pretty nondescript, a commuter trip to the outlying borough which is not exactly a tourist destination. But the views are pretty special, the skyline and some quite famous statue.
  • Grand Central Station – Yes, sending you to a station. Grab the short subway ride fromTimes Square and emerge from the bowels or, preferably, wander over and enter into the spectacular concourse. Look up at the ceiling, grab a bite to eat in the food court and don’t forget to take a look at the neighbouring Chrysler Building – the best looking skyscraper.
  • Coney Island – It’s a long subway ride out there and chances are you will have to spend something, but a touch of classic Americana is the perfect escape from the heat of the city.

What to pay for

You didn’t go all that way to just do the free stuff and there are endless ways to spend your dollars. These are the best from my experiences.

  • Top of the Rock – Never been up the Empire State Building, which is a spectacular sight in itself, but have headed to the summit of the Rockefeller Building. Amazing views of the city, Central Park and the Empire State (one advantage its rival cannot offer).
  • Ellis Island – You can see the Statue of Liberty for free, but pay out for a trip and you get the added bonus of the Immigration Museum at Ellis Island where endless arrivals to the land of the free first stepped foot on American soil. Made a far greater impression than Lady Liberty.
  • Ground Zero Museum – It is not always easy and you are acutely aware that you are walking through what was the scene of the horrific loss of life on 9/11. But for anyone interested in modern history, current affairs and how today’s world was shaped, it is a fascinating visit. And the memorial pools on the footprints of the Twin Towers are uniquely moving.
  • Yankee Stadium – As a Boston Red Sox fan this is heresy, but watching a game in the Bronx is a must for any baseball fan. It’s no Fenway mind.

There’s far more and feel free to leave your thoughts below, but that’s my choice of where to head on your first trip to New York. Enjoy.

  • Will update this as we go along and try to get a few more of these guides in as the month goes on and even beyond – next one just up the coast in Boston. With a far better baseball team.
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Don’t Stare At The Sun to Dynamo

HEY, how you doing? It’s been a while, what you been up to?

Hopefully, the return of this blog is rather more an encounter with someone you have been hoping to catch up with rather than bumping into someone you haven’t seen for ages and quickly remember exactly why.

Like most of those e-mails, phone calls or get-togethers you really have been meaning to do for ages, this blog was never supposed to take this long.

Yes, the plan was supposed to take a bit of a break and come back refreshed with a new look and a few fresh ideas. Just not this long.

That break was started back in January so it has lasted most of 2016 and the observant among you will notice that not that much has changed. Precisely nothing to be exact.

There has been plenty of fiddling around in the background and even a couple of abortive redesigns which were so close to making the grade. Right up to the point when something techie stalled everything or the new look which seemed so attractive one day, suddenly lost its charm at the next log in.

And having spent large chunks of the intervening 11 months involved in redesigning part or all of a couple of newspapers, believe me what looked good one day or in your mind, can look far less effective, eye-catching or user-friendly when you go back to it. For user-friendly, read it creates more work.

There will be a new look. By the time you read this, even by the time it is posted, there may be be a new background picture. By the time you look again (hopefully not that long), it could well have changed again.

Suggest that could be what happens in the next couple of months, trying out a couple of designs and seeing what works.

So what’s happened during almost a year of blog silence? Anything interesting? Has 2016 thrown up anything worth talking about? No, thought not.

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No idea what is about to happen next…

There have been a long list of events since the blog went on a break which have had me sitting at the laptop ready to type or composing articles – rants in a fair amount of cases – on the way to and from work.

In a rough sort of order… David Bowie, Farage, Gloucester’s poor form, Trump, unexpected brilliance from Gloucester, Hereford at Wembley, Boris Johnson, Trump, Muhammad Ali, Farage, Brexit, Farage (getting the rant bit?), being told to stop complaining about Brexit (no, that’s democracy), the Olympics, Gloucester’s poor form (new season, same story), more issues with tenants, the taxman talking rather more about money owed than poetry, Trump (more rants), more out-of-the-blue brilliance from Gloucester (reliable only in their unreliability), Leonard Cohen, Farage again, any number of other dead celebrities who were part of my childhood… all nearly got the keyboard tapping away. We will get there in the coming weeks.

To say nothing of what has been going on nearer to home (including why a lack of time and, frankly, surplus energy has also been a factor for the longer than planned break), music and travel. You know, the subjects which this blog is built around.

There has not been that much in the way of travel. After spending most of 2015 observing a fascinating chunk of the world on the road (well, the dirt tracks for large chunks – if we were lucky), 2016 has been spent largely observing a mystifying world from the comfort of my sofa (now the cheap one bought out of need has been replaced by the one my latest tenants didn’t want).

SAM_0022
The right choice

There was one trip Stateside, introducing my nephew to the delights of Boston and New York – thankfully, he seems to have come down far more on the side of the Red Sox than the Yankees – but travel has mainly been confined to honing the bucket list and planning future trips. More to come on that after a new idea was planted in my brain a couple of weeks ago.

So what of music? After all, this is in the A-Z iPod Challenge section.

It’s not been a bad year, a few new discoveries and some old favourites rediscovered (The Wedding Present live in Bristol tomorrow for the second time this year after a gap of nearly three decades) and enough decent stuff in the last 12 months that a rundown of the best could form an upcoming post.

Which is all good as there has been plenty to listen to with the task of listening to the contents of my iPod from A-Z on a hiatus with the blog – it had to be really or there would have been too much to catch up on.

But when the break was still looking like a short one, there was a fairly lengthy chunk from Don’t Stare At The Sun by Richard Hawley, via Downtown Train by Tom Waits at number 2,700 and the longest track so far – all 27.37 of Driftin’ Back by Neil Young and Crazy Horse – to Dynamo by Johnny Marr, at the time track 2,799, at the end of the Ds.

Along the way were a couple of tracks which would certainly make the long list if Desert Island Discs decided a travelling production journalist was a suitable guest – Driver 8 by REM and the wonderful Dry the Rain by The Beta Band (you know, the one John Cusack tries to sell to unsuspecting punters in High Fidelity).

And there were plenty of other great tracks of varying vintages, topped off with Don’t Talk by 10,000 Maniacs, Don’t You Fall by The Be Good Tanyas (who always bring back memories of sitting on the banks of the Yukon on a lovely summer evening, inevitably being bitten by mosquitoes), The Door by Turin Brakes, Down About It by The Lemonheads, Drunken Butterfly by Sonic Youth, Duel by Propaganda and Duet by Everything Everything, with some Jam, Nirvana, Buffalo Town, Belly and Lloyd Cole thrown in for good measure.

So normal service is resumed – bar a catch-up of the A-D tracks bought in the meantime. More of that next time, once I’ve worked out how to get the photo library plug-in to work again after all this time…

 

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The Lure of the Golden Arches

“The Russian rain was falling on the golden arch… All the way from Moscow to New York”

All The Way From Moscow – Jesse Malin

ONE of the great delights about travelling is the constant chance to push yourself out of your comfort zone and savour new experiences, be that meeting people from a different background, staying in alien surroundings or sampling the local cuisine.

But, seemingly wherever you go in the world, as soon as you hit any built-up area there is an option to feast on the familiar.

No longer does grabbing a quick bite to eat in Beijing have to mean nipping down one of the hutongs and wolfing down a delicious, stupidly cheap and ridiculously fast snack from a vendor who has never heard of health and safety (although it is to be heartily recommended).

Now there’s the option of tucking into something familiar. You can actually give directions around Tiananmen Square using McDonald’s and KFC as landmarks.

To eat in one of these homogenised outlets is sniffed at by the travel snob and responsibletravel.com listed it as one of the 15 bad habits travellers should give up for Lent.

Is turning your back on the native food and retreating to the familiar flavours on offer in your favourite fast food joint really travelling? Is it merely a long-distance version of the stereotypical Brit abroad demanding a breakfast fry-up, chips with everything and HP sauce as he soaks up lager and sun for two weeks in the Med?

Or is it perfectly acceptable, at least in small doses? After all, if the idea is to eat where the locals do, who do you think that is queuing up for a Big Mac? This is, when they can’t be bothered to cook, where the locals eat, just as we do back home. Otherwise the global chains would not be here.

And sometimes it is good to take a break from travelling when it is all you are doing 24 hours a day for weeks or months on end.

After an initial reluctance to retreat so completely into the familiar, my view is pretty much relaxed – as long as it is not overdone, but merely an occasional break from more complex meals.

Not that my attitude was always so relaxed and fair-minded.

The first time the ‘To Maccy D or Not Maccy D?’ dilemma came up was on a brief backpacking trip around France.

A week of sleeping on trains, in hostels and on platforms, cycling around the beautiful Lake Annecy, finding out my travelling companion could not swim at the precise moment a ferry looked set to plough into our pedalo and dealing with his sunstroke was highlighted by one of the worst fouls seen on a football field (which broke the post, squashed my duty-free cigarettes and left the young German on the receiving end being helped away, sobbing).

We ended up in the northern coastal town of Caen (having swapped our initial, wrongly-purchased train tickets to the southern coastal resort of Cannes) with little money left and time to kill before our ferry.

My desire to eat native (and save dwindling resources) produced the idea of some cheese, maybe a bit of ham, and a baguette before a stroll around the old town. My friend opted for the stroll, but only until he found a McDonald’s and piled all his remaining cash into the biggest collection of meat and special sauce in buns he could afford.

The difference of gastronomic opinion ended in conflict when his request to share my remaining bread and cheese on the ferry was refused – a division which grew on a long, cold, hungry night on a Portsmouth platform after we missed the last train home.

Good intentions have meant most trips have started with a desire to steer clear of the Golden Arches of the American Embassy, but they have never lasted too long, particularly after a few beers.

On the road from London to New York, that meant post beer Big Macs in Warsaw (where the staff spoke better English than the ones you find back home), just off Red Square in Moscow (strangely satisfying after visiting Lenin’s Mausoleum and with four days of dried food lying in wait on the Trans-Siberian) and on the final day in China. There’s only so many Chinese feasts you can take before craving normality.

And I’ve been kicked out of two McDonald’s.

Neither were entirely my fault. After all, if they were closed, why were the doors still open?

The one in Nashville was an attempt to quash a post-drink hunger (something the Americans don’t really cater for, Dunkin Donuts just doesn’t cut it). For some reason, the staff lined up behind the counter and actually took my order three times before a security guard appeared and escorted me out, leaving me to the vagaries of a motel vending machine for that evening’s meal.

Times Square, New York was a bit different, mainly as it wasn’t part of a search for food. The lights were on, doors were open and staff were inside. It looked open. Even at 5am.

The search for an open toilet ended in the back room of a neighbourhood deli still open and housing a meeting of figures from central casting who watched (and probably listened through the narrow door) my progress in silence. Thought it best to buy a pizza slice on the way out.

Maybe there are times when the familiar fast-food joints are a welcome destination…

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Guitars, Pontiacs, Hillbilly Music etc etc

Original posted in London to New York blog, Cardiff, September 23, 2010

IT is, with some regret, that this entry begins with some sad news. Not quite a death, more the very serious, soon to be upgraded to terminal, state of health of some constant companions throughout the journey.

Yes, it is with great sadness that this article has to reveal the rapidly deteriorating health of the pair of shoes which have carried me around the world.

Until they finally fall apart completely, they will still be worn – unless it is raining, when the water pours through the increasing leaks through the worn-through soles and disintegrating sides. They are, quite literally, on their last legs.

My feet became a bone (or collection of bones) of contention on the trip, but their perilous state through the mosquito-nibbled, infected in-growing toenail, blister-ridden days of North America cannot be blamed on the shoes.

Not even the less than pleasant smell can… oh hang on, maybe that one was down to the shoes. Or my socks. Or me.

Whatever, we went through a lot together since that joyous day we met in the Go Outdoors shoe department in early March.

Sad to report, the relationship was not totally monogamous. There were other shoes.

There were occasional flirtations with a brand new pair of ‘smart’ shoes bought simply for wearing on the boat and spent most of the journey rammed into the bottom of my rucksack.

A pair of sandals captured more of my attention, but we had a messy, painful break-up in a welter of cheese, recriminations and blisters after an unscheduled walk back to camp in New Ulm.

There was even, oh the shame, brief liaisons with Phil’s ‘jangles’. But that was purely because his were always easy to find at the front of the bus and were the only other ones that fitted me.

But, despite those dalliances,those size 12 grey and black Regatta Isotex shoes stayed loyal and carried me through the town squares of Europe, the less than salubrious back streets of St Petersburg, the wilderness of Mongolia, Beijing’s Forbidden City, the sun-drenched city walls of Xi’an, the ice and snow of Hengshau Hanging Temple, the decks and basketball court of the Diamond Princess, the sodden streets of Vladivostock, the trails of North America’s National Parks and the streets of its big cities. And into a few bars.

For the final five weeks of my trip, the right shoe spent endless hours on the accelerator pedal of a little white Pontiac, clocking up 6,000 miles in a five-week trip which rattled through some of the big cities, musical hotspots, small towns and scenic drives of the eastern half of the United States.

Not going to bore you with the full inside tale of every stop, but after two weeks of goodbyes in New York, Boston and back again my route took me, sweltering the entire way, to (deep breath):

Washington DC, where the temperature gauge hit 106 and at least six bottles of water were consumed walking up and down the National Mall; Front Royal, Virginia. which is merely the front door to The Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway, between them more than 550 miles of twisting, sloping tarmac draped along the ridge of the Appalachian Mountains and providing the most fun you can have in a car with a top speed limit of 45mph; Greenville, South Carolina, scene of a quite spectacular thunderstorm; the extremely big Clemson University Stadium (known as Death Valley); the extremely cool college town of Athens, Georgia, and the extremely hot Pensacola Beach, Florida, thankfully with an extremely welcome, and welcoming, beach bar just yards from both the water and my room.

From there it was back through Alabama, flying through Mobile, Birmingham and Montgomery, while stopping at the US Space and Rocket Center (sic) at Huntsville (Rocket City, USA – home to Space Camp) and over the Tennessee border to the town of Shelbyville. They were in the middle of celebrating their 200th anniversary and while there were plenty of vintage cars and a chilli cook-off to savour, there was no sign of a lemon tree. Or any bars within walking distance of the motel.

That carried me to a 10-day reunion with Nick which saw us play football for England against Ireland in a hostel match alongside the Parthenon in Nashville (where we did OK for the oldest players on view) before savouring the music, Sun Studios, Rock n Soul Museum, a Barry John lookalike and Minor League baseball in Memphis and racing through Mississippi to New Orleans.

And let’s stop the whirlwind tour just to catch our breath, mainly because New Orleans deserves more than being dismissed that quickly and you really can’t sum up this  city in just one paragraph.

Admittedly, our three-night stay was not packed full of sightseeing. Partly because the thought of paying more than $40 to be bussed out to see the areas left desolate by Hurricane Katrina just seemed a bit wrong and partly due to the weather which kept me in the very friendly, very comfortable hostel for most of Sunday.

Venturing out once before dark that day, to make the less than 10-minute walk to the local Wal-Mart for supplies and to solve an emergency underwear situation, nobody has been so glad to get inside an air-conditioned building.

It was not just unbelievably hot, but it was remarkably heavy and steamy – the muggy air a hangover of Hurricane Bonnie, which was downgraded first to Tropical Storm Bonnie and then, kid you not, to Tropical Disorganised Collection of Showers and Thunderstorms Bonnie, which had dumped what seemed a pretty organised collection of showers on me in quite violent fashion on the run (yes, it was that bad) from the Charles Street Streetcar back to the hostel the night before.

But, of course, we did get out and about around the French Quarter.

Both of us were surprised at quite how tawdry Bourbon Street was with strip clubs promising live sex shows (we didn’t go in) intermingled with the countless collection of bars (we did go in) offering live music and a bewildering array of drinks offers with which to enjoy it all, most of which a waitress in The Famous Door poured down my neck from a series of test tubes.

Hangover notwithstanding, going back in the daylight was equally as eye-opening. Wandering off Bourbon Street and around the side streets of the French Quarter gives an insight into a fascinating, vibrant, unique piece of Americana at odds with much of the rest of the city, let alone the rest of the country. Definitely one to go back to.

While Nick headed back east on a Greyhound, the Pontiac was pointed across Lake Pontchartrain, through Louisiana and into Texas, stopping for a couple of nights in Austin – another extremely cool college town boasting a university stadium which dwarves anything in this country, a bewildering selection of bars with live music and friendly locals with which to enjoy it all – and onto baking Dallas, where they really should clean up that white cross on the road next to a grassy knoll. It is clearly visible from the sixth floor window of the neighbouring (ex-)book depository.

From there it was time to start heading back east, through Arkansas, which saw the start the ever-changing collection of bracelets and bangles hanging from my right wrist in the cute, biker-ridden town of Hot Springs and wandering in Clinton’s steps in Little Rock before haring back through Tennessee, into Kentucky.

Finding Elizabethtown virtually shut on a Sunday – and sadly bereft of Kirsten Dunst – it was north through Louisville, via a visit to the Louisville Slugger baseball bat factory, and shot up to Cleveland and the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame Museum, which while still a fascinating few hours of anyone’s time, hasn’t really been freshened up from my last visit four years ago.

The final few days took me across Upstate New York, via the excellent Baseball Hall of Fame in leafy Cooperstown, roads shared with horse-drawn Amish carriages and down the Hudson Valley to New York and one final weekend with Phoebe, which ended – almost inevitably – sometime around 4am in Greenwich Village.

And that, a host of small town stops apart, is the abridged tale of the five-week trip – bar a few key points and tips which will be addressed in the next couple of entries.

Well, actually no – that’s not quite it.

It appears my right shoe is refusing to go quietly after spending so long wedged down on the accelerator pedal. It opted to end the trip in style, judging by the post which arrived this morning (via two redirections) with a Tulsa postmark, addressed to Cardiff, England.

It was with a mixture of confusion (never been to Tulsa and have never met anyone from Tulsa) and annoyance (the rent cheque from my tenants redirected with it a week ago has still not turned up) that opening it the Alamo car hire logo popped up at the top of the letter.

It was almost binned as the standard ‘thank you for your custom’ letter it appeared to be, until the dollar signs lower down caught my eye.

For the last 50 or so miles, after the only major missed turn of the entire trip, was some sort of felony.

Instead of merging from the New York State Thruway onto the New Jersey Turnpike and enjoying a simple run down the Interstate to the Lincoln Tunnel and into Lower Manhattan, I ended up paying $10 to cross the River Hudson on the Tappan Zee Bridge, got lost in Yonkers and sat in a nose-to-trail traffic jam through the Bronx for more than an hour with a horizontal petrol gauge.

That was not news, but it also appears missing that turn meant not going through the right toll and a fine (with Alamo’s $10 admin fee) of $24.16. That’s about £16.

It all raises one simple question: How do you miss an entire toll booth the width of an Interstate?

 

 
 
 
 
 
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