A Travellerspoint blog

Los Angeles

Last stop before home

sunny 24 °C

Los Angeles

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We finally made it to LA. It was only a 3 hours ride from Sequoia but we were so glad to return the car safely at the airport. Driving in LA is just a nightmare. The motorways aren't too bad, its just the roads in the city are packed making it pretty hard to switch lanes in a hurry. We dropped our luggage off at the hotel in Hollywood then returned the car. Unfortunately we got caught in peak hour traffic and the ride back from the airport was really slow and long. By the time we got back, we were exhausted and couldn't really be bothered doing anything. So we just had dinner at the hotel (3 courses for $20). The downside.. after tax and service and tips it wasn't too cheap at all. No idea what the service charge is for (yet tips weren't included)?!?!?!

Day 2

We thought we go ring shopping today. On the way to the metro, we strolled the streets of Hollywood Boulevard. It was just jammed pack with tourists and people dressed up in costumes. We checked out the Hollywood stars and the outside of the Chinese theatre then made our way to the Jewellery district by metro, since we have a 7 day pass, we might as well use it. Unfortunately Blake wasn't too keen on buying an engagement ring there as it seemed a little on the dodgy side (i.e. no marked priced on anything, think they would have just picked a price out of thin air). We decided its best to get it from a branded shop in the end - so we spent a quick 10 minutes in the district and headed to Little Tokyo for some sushi train at a place called Kula. All the plates were only $2 and they were all sorts and varieties of sushi. So good.. so yum :). We bought some food (for dinner) at the Japanese supermarket which was awesome. It had everything Japanese (food and drinks that is) that you can think of all in one store. Blake wasn't feeling too well today so he went back to the hotel to rest up, while I went shopping :). (Michelle kept saying that I looked pale and I think she talked me into feeling faint so she could keep shopping :).. but in all seriousness i was a little faint.)
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Day 3

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The public transport system in LA is similar to Perth. It has a couple of Metro/Train lines but you still need to catch a bus if you want to head somewhere not super busy. We managed to find our way to Beverly Hills no problem. First stop... Rodeo Drive. Every expensive shop you can think of is here.. Gucci, Bvlgari.. just to name a few. Clearly it is way out of our budget but it suited us fine just browsing from the outside of the shops. One shop we did pop in for a look was Cartier.. just thought we check out what was the cheapest engagement ring there (just for curiosity). Unfortunately we weren't served at all.. so we just left. I heard a lady being quoted $84k for a diamond ring so we couldn't have afforded it anyway. We didn't see any celebrities though its really hard to tell theses days. There were plenty of people with small dogs and big diamonds so we aren't too sure. There were lots of tourists though!! Even on a Sunday.

For lunch, we decided to on some yummy Italian food just off a side street in Beverly Hills. We had beef capaccio for appetisers, Blake had a tuna salad and I had a yummy grilled seafood salad. Surprisingly, the bill turned out to be cheaper than our dinner at the hotel and the food was excellent.
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After lunch, we did a bit of shopping on Beverly Drive (slightly more affordable than Rodeo Drive). Blake bought a pair of shoes (Blake has bought more shoes in America than i have!! What have i turned him into..) then we hopped back on the bus back to our end of town: Hollywood. In the evening, my (Michelle) high school friend whom i haven't seen since we left school, took us out for some Thai food. It was great catching up with her.
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Day 4

We spent the day at Universal Studios today which was only 1 metro stop from us and a free shuttle ride up the hill to the entrance. For a Monday, there were heaps of people here. Not so many little kids and babies in prams but just lots of adult tourists.. especially the asian ones :).

We started the day at the studio tour as we were told the queue gets really long later in the day. We waited a 15 minutes which is nothing really, and off we go on the tram ride around the studio sets. There was a show called Home & Family (like a lifestyle show) that was being filmed while we were on the tour which was cool. We saw the sets of the Bates Motel & War of the Worlds. Looks pretty real. We were saved by King Kong in 3D. And went through the mummy's dungeon which was cool but we felt so dizzy after. The tour went on for a good hour.
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Next stop was the waterworld show which was amazing. We went on the simpsons 3D simulator ride which we waited in line for a good 45 minutes. The Mummy ride wasn't bad- slightly anticlimactic (it was a short ride and it went backwards too). The Transformer line was a good 45 minutes but we queued up for it anyway. The ride itself was so cool.. storyline was kinda pointless, but hey it's a simulator ride, who cares about the storyline. We finished the day on the Jurassic Park ride. I (Michelle) was determined not to get wet, unlike my Disneyworld experience were i had to walk around all day in wet clothing!! I'd even sat in the middle and had Blake sit on the outer seats. Unfortunately the drop was through a waterfall.. so it was kinda impossible to not get wet. Ah well.. It was good fun though.
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Day 5

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Today is our last day in America!! We have officially been away from home for 358 DAYS!! I can't believe we managed to survive that long (24/7) with each other.

We started the day catching up with my friend Emily from Perth at Hard Rock Cafe. She just so happen to be here on holiday. Believe it or not, this is our first time at Hard Rock Cafe since we've been in America. We only had drinks and a bruschetta to share but it was great catching up/gossiping with her. We then went on a last minute retail/shoe shopping along Hollywood Boulevard. Then had a 1 hour thai massage (only $45) on the way back to our hotel. We decided to finish our last day in America with a burger and some yummy sweet potato fries!
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What a journey it has been...

-We have been to over 70 cities in Europe and so many more in America.
-We have eaten some amazing food during our year long journey including three, Michelin star restaurants. We really should rename this blog: Michelle & Blake eat their way around the world!! Hahhaa..
-We have learned how to speak some Italian, Spanish, and American. Blake has realised no one in the world can understand his accent. We realise we'll never speak any French because it is just too hard.
-Michelle still looks Asian
-We do not want to see anymore churches or museums (Well Blake's keen on Museums)
-We learnt how to ski and ride a horse :)
-We swam in alligator infested waters/spring
-We went on a bobsled ride
-We rode on a dogsled ride on a frozen lake which you can't even do that back in Perth.. because our lakes just don't freeze.
-We have learnt not to book anything at the last minute.. you do not get it for cheaper!! More like double the price of everything!!
-Young travelling Australians aren't the nicest people in the world (outside their own country)! So try not to get put off if they come across as arrogant, up-themselves people, because Australians in Australia are actually really nice people.
-We got to shoot a shotgun!!
-We visited more wonders and natural beauties than we thought existed.
-You don't realise how good home is until you leave it for a year!! Ahh.. can't wait to sleep in my own bed and not have to live out of a backpack!!
And the lists goes on.. Just re-read the blog!!

Many of our friends and family have looked after us around the world which we are very thankful for. It is sad that our year long travel journey has come to an end, we have had an amazing time but its time to have a relaxing holiday in Malaysia. Travelling is hard work and some of us just need a holiday from our holiday :) :).

I know for many of you, our blog has kept you entertained at work, at home, even when feeding a baby early in the morning!! So, Thank you all for reading our blog. I am sure you have all enjoyed our trip around Europe and America just as much as we have.

THE END

xoxo Michelle & Blake

Posted by blake-michelle 22:26 Archived in USA Comments (3)

Driving around America: Part IV

Twentynine Palms to Los Angeles

sunny 35 °C

Day 30 on the road: 29 Palms

On the way here we made a quick stop at Kingman to see the Route 66 Museum. It was slightly educational and not really that exciting for us. There was a few interesting pieces of old memorabilia and in the end it was better than just stretching our legs at a service station. Between Kingman and 29 Palms it felt like we'd left civilisation. It was slow driving on the old Route 66 road for a lot of the way. We stopped at a servo to pick up a drink and 15 bikies pulled up and started celebrating their route 66 drive. They seemed a bit more excited than us but it was still pretty cool.

We rocked up at the Harmony Inn in 29 Palms where U2 had stayed and worked on their Joshua Tree album. We'd decided to go shopping the next day so we had to fit our Joshua Tree National Park visit in this afternoon. It was a token effort on our part as we pretty much drove in, found some cool Joshua Trees and scenery photos, and drove back out- a total of 15 minutes spent in the park :). We couldn't wait to get back to the hotel to sit in the pool. Michelle cooked a yummy dinner with steak and vegetables and we had dinner under the stars by the pool with a desert mountains backdrop. Perfect!

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Day 31

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We decided to dedicate today to just shopping at the Desert Hill Factory Outlet which is about an hour from 29 palms. Let just say we spent a shocking amount of money on shopping today on clothes that weren't much cheaper than we'd seen in other places (i.e. New York). Either way, we filled up our bags and it was still far cheaper than Australia! We were pretty disappointed on the drive there as we saw hundreds of Joshua Trees which were way closer than the National Park (which was the whole purpose of visiting it...). We got home and pigged out on cherries and played cards for the rest of the evening. All in all a very relaxing place.

Day 32: Death Valley

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It was a long drive to Death Valley - a good 5.5 hours, so we started driving pretty early. And by early, we mean 9am. Hehhe.. We've become really bad with our wake up times and waking up to go to work will definitely be a struggle when we get home. Death Valley has the record for the highest recorded temperature on Earth! It was only spring but it was still easily 40 °C. Our motel was in the middle of the park and it was a pretty desolate drive. We only had one night here so we checked in and headed out to see the most famous parts of Death Valley, the Sand Dunes and Badwater Basin.

The Sand Dunes were beautiful to look at but in the end it was kinda like being at the beach, minus the water. It was so bloody hot so we didn't hang out at the dunes for very long..
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Badwater Basin is a salt pan with a natural spring in it. They said that the man who discovered it said he was dissapointed that he couldn't drink it when he arrived. That must qualify for understatement of the year! Seems like the whole area is hot an mostly waterless so I'm sure he said a bit more than "I'm disappointed". We got some pretty good photos and headed back to the motel.
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We had a choice of one restaurant for dinner so we went there. Michelle had a nice piece of flat iron steak; And I had an open burger with chilli. It was pretty reasonably priced and from what I can remember dinner tasted pretty good so we lucked out there. After that it was back to the room and time for some cards and a drink before bed.
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Day 33: Yosemite

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Another long drive today. It took us nearly 7 hours to get to Yosemite. Today was also our 4 year anniversary which Blake had forgotten (as he apparently had something planned for the next day), so we had a very quiet drive to Yosemite as I (Michelle) decided played the silent treatment all the way there. Knowing it was a special occasion, we had prebooked a nice getaway at Tenaya Lodge. The place was just amazing and relaxing though not cheap. It was probably the most expensive place we have stayed at this entire trip.

Once we checked in, we spent the rest of the afternoon by the pool sipping cocktails. We finished the day with room service for dinner. And yes we had kiss and make up by the end of the day.

Day 34

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After our disastrous day yesterday, we decided to pretend today was our anniversary again. We started the morning with a yummy breakfast at the hotel, then we headed out to Yosemite National Park to check out the Giant Sequoia trees. We parked our car at the entrance of the Mariposa Grove and caught the shuttle bus into the park. Just as we were parking the car, we saw the shuttle bus coming so we ran for it and Blake forgot to turn off the car engine. He just got out of the car and started to run (he didn't even have his shoes on yet). That's the problem with a keyless car!!
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Mariposa Grove is the largest grove of giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park. When they say giant.. they are really TALL!! The grizzly giant is one of the larges sequoia trees in the world!! We walked around the grove for a while and I asked Michelle to marry me near the faithful couple trees. Hopefully we'll grow closer as we grow older just like these two. When we returned we sat around for an hour then headed down to the spa for our massage, sauna and steam bath. It was perfect, though I think we may have unde-tip our massage therapists!

The bachelor and three graces:
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The grizzly giant:
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The Faithful couple:
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To celebrate, we decided to have dinner at the best restaurant at the lodge. I had the lobster bisque which was amazing, half a duckling; Blake had crab cakes, and very yummy steak for mains. And we shared the best flourless chocolate cake i have ever had.
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Day 35: Sequoia

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It was only a 2.5 hours drive to Sequoia, so we took our time checking out. We slept in, had breakfast and lingered around doing our laundry before hitting the road again. On the way we stopped to buy groceries and saw a 40minute foot and neck massage for $25each. We had one the day before but couldn't resist the bargain!

Our lodge was just near the entrance to Sequoia National Park in Three Rivers. We lucked out and picked a place that had a river flowing past the back of our rooms. We spent the afternoon near the river enjoying the sound and sights. There was also a massive loquat tree out the back which provided our dessert. The sound of the river put me (Blake) to sleep that night.

Day 36

We were ready for a quick visit to Sequoia National Park. It deserves more of our time but after 20days of national parks they start to look the same. We checked the driving time and it looked like an hour each way. Unfortunately there was road works in multiple places on the way in and out which must have added an hour and a half! Nice to have the extra time in the park but it would have been nicer if we weren't surrounded by cars and people standing around on the road. Anyway, we had the time, so no big drama. The paths in the Park are really well laid out and marked so we made our way around the General Sherman tree area pretty easily. We were a bit short of breath but I guess that happens at 2000m above sea level. We eventually made our way back to the lodge and spent the rest of the day relaxing near the river. This has got to be one of the most relaxing places we've stayed, though Michelle said the sound of the river just makes her want to pee...

Michelle and I standing in an old Sequoia log.
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This is the biggest tree in the world (Well actually its the largest known single stemmed tree). The base of the tree is 7.7m!!!
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This is NOT the biggest tree in the national park nor in the world.. but it is still really big or tall should i say. Look how little Blake looks at the bottom!:
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Next and final stop in America.. Los Angeles..

xoxo M&B

Posted by blake-michelle 22:01 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Driving around America: Part III

Albuquerque to Flagstaff

sunny 25 °C

Day 19 on the road in America: Albuquerque

On the way out of Amarillo, we stopped along the highway to check out the Cadillac Ranch on Route 66. This place is far more than just an bunch of cars half buried in the ground. It is ten Cadillacs from 1949 - 1963 half buried, at the same angle as the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. They are sitting in a cow paddock and its free to enter and you can spray paint them to your hearts content!
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It took us 4 hours to drive to Albuquerque with no problems. We stayed slightly outside the city on a golf course at a B&B called Inn at Paradise. It was pretty true to its name - it was peaceful, quiet and the B&B had a lovely garden with our room facing the golf course.

Our first stop was the Puelbo Museum in Albuquerque. It was quite small and had an interesting room or two but didn't have as much focus on the culture and historical way of life so we were a bit disappointed. We got a salad on the way home and sat out the back looking over the back of the golf course and gardens for the next couple of hours.

Day 20

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We started the morning with a walking tour around the old town which took just over an hour. The most interesting thing about downtown (and Albuquerque/New Mexico in general) is the Adobe houses. The buildings themselves look like a cross between a Spanish house and an a Native American Pueblo. It was only in the 19th century (I think, bad memory) that they converted a lot of the Victorian style houses in town to flat roof adobes. No matter when it was done, it feels like it's very own part of the world.

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On the way to our pretty average Mexican lunch we stumbled onto a shop called Candy Lady that makes the blue meth used on the Breaking Bad tv series. I thought about doing a Walter White but decided I should just stick with a couple of teenth bags. Lucky I did, turns out its only sugar! I'd never make money as a drug lord. I(Blake) got a haircut, bought some dinner and tried to take a ride on the Sandia Park Tramway- the longest in the world. It was closed for maintenance during the day so we returned at 5pm for the evening ride up. We took the 2.7mile (4 1/3km) tramway up to the top of Sandia Mountain. It was a good 15minute ride each way giving us great views on the way up and when we arrived. When we got their we thought we lost all motivation to take a big hike so just took a walk on one of the paths for an hour. We didn't see any Mountain Lions or Bears but saw all of the chairlifts and skiing equipment waiting for next winter. We headed back down and went back to the B&B for another evening on the porch.

The view from the top:
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Day 21: Jemez Mountain

It took us 1.5 hours to drive to Bandelier National Monument (still in New Mexico) where we bought our National park annual pass (only $80). Each park's individual entry is from $10-$25 and we have at least seven parks planned so we went for the annual. Bandelier was an area that was inhabited by the Ancestral Pueblo People. They settled in an area and tended to live in that one place for generations rather than move around from month to month. The Pueblos that settled in this area chose it because the soft volcanic tuff of the cliff faces were easily carved into small caves for shelter (well as easy as carving a hole in a cliff can be). There was also another structure built by the Tyuonyi people which was a large three story plaza. The entry to the rooms was via the roof but that was quite hard to see from the remaining structure...
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Inside their spacious cave houses (ie. Cliff dwellings, also known as talus houses):
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Once we were done at Bandelier, we drove to Jemez Mountain (kinda back-tracking) and checked into our awesome B&B in Jemez Mountain called Jemez Mountain Inn. The owners even gave us a complimentary bottle of wine for the night. How nice of them. We had dinner at the saloon across the road, not that we had a massive choice- It was the only place that was open for dinner. The inside of the saloon looked like a hunting lodge with animals on the walls and huge wooden rafters. Their special for the night is rib, so we had that and Blake also ordered a Mexican style open burger. The food wasn't the best but it was cheap and so was the beer ($3/pint!).
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Day 22

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We hiked up to Spence's Spring which was less than 1km from the car park. Along the way, we did a quick stop at Soda Dam. A quick look around and we continued on to Spence's Spring. The spring was quite busy but had enough room for the two of us to fit in. There was a couple in the spring that were all over each other. He kept saying "call me papi" and she kept asking it him to...

Unfortunately Michelle wasn't too keen sitting in the spring surrounded with algae so she went to the Giggling springs located next to our B&B which only cost $18/hour. She apparently had the whole place all to herself. I (Blake) went for a 3km hike up to McCauley Springs. In all my wisdom I decided to take a small shortcut off the marked track. Think I ended up on the old track and it probably saved me about 15minutes. When I got there there was nobody in any of the three pools. I decided I'd try the lowest and coolest pool as I was pretty hot from all that hiking. It was probably only 30 °C but I had a great view of the Ponderosa pine forest on the mountain opposite me. I was sitting in the spring for about 5minutes before I noticed that the small fish were biting me. I was a bit freaked for a second until I realised that they were similar to the doctor fish that eat the dead skin off your feet at day spa's. After 20 minutes here, some guy decided to hop into the spring totally naked, so i decided it was time to head back down. I met back up with Michelle at the B&B and we just chilled out for the rest of the day.

Day 23: Farmington

On the way to Farmington, we stopped over in Aztec (in New Mexico) to check out the Aztec Ruins. It took 2.5hours to get there from Farmington. Aztec ruins is an excavated Native American settlement built in the 11th and 13th centuries. It has one of the only reconstructed Kiva's around which was absolutely massive. The Kiva looked large from outside but most of the building is underground so it was absolutely massive when we went inside. We spent an hour walking around the area and then headed to Farmington, just down the road.
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Michelle grinding some Corn for dinner; Look how small the doors are!
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A quick stop at a drive thru atm, and we're on our way to Farmington to check into our motel - America's Best Value Inn. The cheapest accommodation we could find in town, which turned out to be pretty decent. After we were all settled we decided to check out The Three Rivers Brewery. The Arroyo Amber Ale and Papa Bear’s Golden Honey Ale were both excellent along with the steak and the Salmon! Definitely worth a stop if you're nearby.

Day 24

We decided to take it easy today. Road tripping takes a bit more out of us than train/bus travelling as you can fit so much more in. We just walked around the shops and had a taste of America's version of Greek food which was alright. I had a moussaka (with beef mince not lamb) and Blake had a lamb shank. After that we went to the movies to watch Pain & Gain. Not the best movie in the world but the cinema tickets were only $6each! 1/3 of Perth prices.

Day 25: Zion

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We checkout out of the motel before 10am and started our 6.5 hours drive to Zion National Park in Utah. Along the way, we saw a group of tourist at the visitors centre at the Glen Canyon Dam, so we thought we join in and check out the dam and the canyon view which is amazing. If we had extra time we would have done some boating in Lake Powell or on the Colorado River, looked like a great place to be out and about.

We continued on to Zion. We had to drive through Zion National Park to get to our motel and the view was just spectacular. We stayed at the Zion Pioneer Inn which is way better than a motel. The place is surrounded by the National Park - the view was amazing! We went out for dinner at a really average Thai restaurant and called it a night.
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Day 26: Bryce Canyon

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After breakfast, we drove 1.5 hours from Zion national park to Bryce Canyon (still in the state of Utah). We got slightly lost along the way as Mr Tom Tom didn't know where he was going. Lucky for us, Mr google on the iphone saved the day. Blake had booked a horse riding (or should i say mule ride) tour that takes us through the canyon. Even with our detour in the wrong direction, we still made it there in time.

I think Blake has officially given up taking to Americans because they just can't understand his accent. He had rang to book the tour yesterday using his surname but the guy on the phone could only understand as far as the letter D. So he tried my three letter surname with no problems. However, when we got to the lodge today, apparently the guy on the phone had heard Blake spelt it as BAHE!! Not only alphabets were a problem to understand. The guy had booked us for 3 people when in fact Blake had said for 2. Poor Blakey..

(It's lucky that my (Blake) accent isn't any stronger, I'm certainly not the most Ocker sounding bloke around!)

Anyhow, the tour took 2 hours, luckily the rain hold off while we were out and about in the canyon, only hailing down on us just as we got back to base camp. We were shown around the place by our cowboy tour guide, dressed in his whole cowboy outfit with his boots and jacket. I (Michelle) had the laziest horse (or should i say mule)- he kept sleeping along the way and i had to give him a good whip and Blake once again had a really farty horse/mule. This is only our second time on a horse, and once again it was great fun and pretty scary at times when the mules walk along the edge of the cliff!!! I just kept my eyes close and hope for the best when going up and down the edge of the cliffs!! Next time, I'd rather walk than horse ride through the canyon. Though, we would not have been able to adventure that far into the canyon if we were hiking.

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Day 27: Zion National Park

Even though the weather was stormy and raining, we decided to hike the Angel's Landing trail (the least strenuous of all of the strenuous trails) in Zion National Park. This is the most beautiful park that we've seen on our trip. Its a mix of rugged mountains, rivers and semi-jungle.
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This is Angel's Landing below. If you look closely you can see people climbing the mountain to get to the top (mostly freehand with chain to hold onto in some sections). Unfortunately, we when got to the base of it, we were pretty much shitting ourselves so we decided not to go any further. We could hear the thunder and it was about to rain on us so we decided to head back down before it rained. We still hung off a bit of chain so we weren't too disappointed.
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Day 28: Flagstaff

After checking out, we drove to Page to check out the lower Antelope Canyon. We've seen postcards of it and it is truly amazing. Unfortunately, the tour itself was twice as long as it needed to be. We spent most of the time waiting for people to keep up as they were too busy taking photos!! It took us an hour and a half to walk about 200m.
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This is the entrance into the canyon.. some people may struggle to fit in. Lucky for us, our 1 meal a day diet has kept us in shape to fit through it :).
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We continued on to Flagstaff which took nearly 3 hours with a detour.

Day 29

We did a day trip to the Grand Canyon, which is only 1.5 hours drive from Flagstaff. We decided not to do any hiking since there was free shuttle buses that take you around the different view points around the canyon. We'd been pretty active the last few days so that suited us just fine.

The Grand Canyon is so much bigger than we thought. From memory it's on average 16km wide and looking down at it just seems to play tricks with our eyes. On a different note, we saw heaps of Juniper trees on the way out, so now we know where the Gin berries come from! What a brilliant tree.
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To be continued..

xoxo M&B

Posted by blake-michelle 19:49 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Driving around America: Part II

Clarksdale to Amarillo

sunny 27 °C

Day 8: Clarksdale

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We'd had a pretty relaxing time in Memphis over the past few days so we were ready to hit the road. The taxi driver that drove us to the airport was from Somalia. We didn't ask why, but he had funky legs and was using two metal poles which he'd adjust with his wrist to either brake or accelerate. I've seen people with crazy legs drive with a hand accelerator but not with this odd looking contraption. Either way, we made it to the airport safely and headed to the car rental desk. No issue picking up the car. In fact, the guy in the car bay asked us if we wanted to upgrade from a full size to a sporty Dodge Challenger. The answer was a big YES (from me, Michelle said the car was a bit ugly...).

We were into the Challenger and off to Clarksdale. We made a quick stop at the Blue and White Diner, an old place started up back in 1924! It was the classic American diner through and through. We both had a sweet tea and I had the blackened catfish with chilli cheese fries, Michelle had the pot roast. The food was pretty decent but the "classic diner" feel was fantastic.
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The new car was great! It had a 0-60mph timer function so you could time yourself from a stop. Had about 3 guys walk up in three days and tell us we were driving an American classic and that it was a work of art! Not the best car for long distance cruising (the seats and suspension are a bit stiff) but great fun for burning around.

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I hadn't told Michelle that we were staying in a shack so that was a pretty big surpriser for her! The Shack Up Inn is a yard full of old shacks from around the Mississippi river that have been relocated here. Each one seemed to have a different kind of mojo. Ours was the Cadillac Shack which had a small bar and an old TV that only played blues radio. The photos unfortunately don't do it justice. It just had SO much character! (check out the shower taps!!)
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We had dinner at the Ground zero nightclub (owned by Morgan Freeman). Listened to some blues music and made our way home in the pouring rain to our leaky shack.. Yeah we got the blues...

Day 9: Lafayette

The next day we had a massive 7 hour drive down to Lafayette to watch the Annual Louisiana beard competition. The hotel was a bit of a dive but the beard competition was pretty interesting. They had five different categories. The full beard, modified beard, lady beards, moustache and beard no moustache (including chops). We were kinda hoping that the comp was gonna be redneck heaven but we were disappointed. It was good fun but nobody there was really taking it seriously. We were dead tired after this so just crashed out ready for New Orleans.

Day 10: New Orleans

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We arrived at our swanky hotel- The Hyatt Regency in downtown New Orleans, another great bid on priceline. We wanted a hotel in the French Quarter but the best we could do on our budget was just outside. The hotel had been renovated last year so that far outweighed the extra 10 minute walk. We were starving after our drive and hadn't really eaten all day so we headed into the French quarter for some authentic creole food. We got to the restaurant- called Oliviers, as suggested by the hotel 15minutes before it opened so decided to grab a drink in the bar across the road. Strangely enough the bartender suggested that we go to the same restaurant, as well as a couple of other places in town. We headed over and got into some delicious rabbit and a seafood sampler (jumbalaya, blackened fish and crawfish). Pretty good grub but not the cheapest around.

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We followed our bartender's recommendation and headed down to Frenchmen St to listen to a bit of Music and check out the bars. Frenchman street is far less touristy and crazy than Bourbon St and we preferred it by far! On the way home, we walked through Bourbon Street- it is like the skanky version of Vegas. It really wasn't very appealing.

Day 11

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Our first plan for the day was to check out the Fisherman's Market. The market was pretty well laid out and had heaps of jewelery, souveniers and food. We passed through the jewelery and souvenier sections pretty fast and got straight into the food. It was Sunday so there was a big crawfish cookup at one of the stands which we headed straight for. I went and got the mango daquiris and Michelle sorted out the crawfish. This was the first time we had boiled crawfish like this and it was delicious. A little bit spicy but perfect to sooth our starving stomachs. We didn't quite get enough so we went back for seconds. Felt like forever though as we had to wait for the new batch. It was worth the wait though these weren't as spicy as the first lot :(.

On the way home we checked out some of the street performers and soaked up a little bit of sun. We followed that up with a nice dip in the pool and a little nap in the deck chairs at the hotel.
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Day 12

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Today we were running late. We'd booked a tour of the St Louis Cemetery but it seemed like everything we did after waking up took twice as long as it should have. Turns out we were only 10minutes late and the guide hadn't finished his introduction so we were safe. The tour took us through parts of the french quarter where he told us all the different ways that fathers in the past used to keep men away from their daughters. There were some mean spikes that were on the balcony supports that looked like pretty deadly hooks. Supposedly they were there to strip a man of his manhood if he slid up or down the pole. Sounds like a cool story, not sure how much truth there was in it. The houses in the french quarter looked a bit backward to us. All of the front doors and patios are out the back of the house and the street side of the house has plain old doors and nowhere to stand. Most people wanted to spend time sitting in their nice backyards rather than on the smelly streets. Makes sense I guess.

The tour then took us through the cemetery where we saw the graves of some famous New Orleanians. We saw the grave of the guy who first thought to granulise sugar. It was always sold as a molasses prior to this. Imagine life without this guy! There was also a New Orleanian gentleman named Lionel Batiste who thought it rude to sit at his own funeral and decided to have himself propped up for the whole ceremony. What a champ, think I'll copy that for my funeral one day! The cemetery itself was a lot different that what we see back home. Each family has a tomb that sits above ground (as its not a great idea to bury someone in a swamp) which they use kind of like an oven. When someone dies they put that person in what I like to call the "baking" section and leave them for a year. After a year in this hot brick oven there isn't much left but bones and ashes. They then slide the rest down another section inside the tomb with the oven ready for the next family member that dies. I've simplified the whole system but it sounds like its a hell of a lot better than burying a loved one only to have them float up during the next storm or flood (which did happen).

Granulated sugar man's tomb - what a champ!
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The "oven" tomb. Three centre oven sections with space down the side for 40 or 70 family members ashes!
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Once the tour was over, we decided to head back to the Fisherman's market for more crawfish- it is so addictive. Unfortunately, being a Monday- there was none today, must have sold out over the weekend. So we settled with some plain boiled crawfish at a cafe nearby- still pretty yummy though.

We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting by the poolside chilling out.

Day 13: Houston

We picked up our rental car from New Orleans airport and we were off again.. on the road. We initially had a Cadillac XTS - Blake was so excited because he was hoping they had a Cadillac at the airport, but when we drove it out, we were told the someone had booked it for the afternoon. The other premium car they had was a Chrsyler 200 convertible which we couldn't fit out luggages in, so they got us a Chrysler 300.

It took us nearly 6 hours to get to Houston. It would have been faster if there wasn't an accident on the I-10.

We caught up with Amy (Blake's friend from uni who is working in Houston) for dinner at Taste of Texas and a drink at a bar just around the corner. The gave us bandana's as it was our first meal in Texas. We hadn't had a big steak in weeks so we were really keen for this! We got to our hotel at 11.30 and got our room cards from the after hours safes. Luckily there was still someone working as neither of our cards worked. After that it took us all of about 5 minutes to get to sleep.
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Day 14

We had planned on checking out the museum quarter this morning but neither of us really had the museum vibe going on. We decided to check out a couple of the more weird Houston sites. The orange show monument was built by one man between 1956 and 1979. They must have had some good drugs in Houston back then. The place is filled with mechanical models of paddle steamers and cannons but they weren't running when we were there. In fact, on the way out we realised that the place was actually closed and we just happened to sneak right in the main gate. So we saved $2! Yay!
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After this we went to the beer can house which is pretty impressive. Back in 1968 the owner decided it would be a great idea to cover his house and yard with beer cans. Not sure how long it took but there's meant to be around 50,000 beer cans on the property. Drinking them must have been a full time job. This place was closed too so we just took some happy snaps and headed to the Galleria for some retail therapy and a cheap lunch.
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We had a bit of a stroll around the shops but basically everything was too expensive for us so we went for lunch. Halfway through lunch Michelle noticed a guy on the floor above dancing for seemingly no reason. The best bit of it was that he was doing all the girly moves that you see on film clips. After a good 20 minutes laughing at him we decided to do a "walk by" to check out his skills up close. Turns out he was playing some dance game on the Kinect, but must have only chosen the female dancers? Each to their own I guess...

After a quick rest in the room we headed out to meet Amy at Top Golf. Its a multi story driving range that serves up food and drink while you're in your bay. There are a couple of choices of games to play there too. Each ball is tracked so the game knows where you hit it and how to score you. Pretty addictive! We're life members now.
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After a quick dinner at Topgolf, we went out to the Wild West bar which is a cowboy hat, plaid shirt, polka dancing bar. Real cheap drinks and a Mirrorball in the shape of a saddle. What a crazy place! From the looks of the photos our camera must have been drunk. You'll just have to use your imagination.

Day 15

We really couldn't be bothered today. We we stayed in only leaving the hotel in the evening to catch up with Amy. She took us to a place for called Brazil cafe for dinner. Blake had some chicken tamales, and i had a yummy duck salad :). After, Amy took us out to meet her 'happy hour' friends. Not really happy hour drinks, but friends who meet up to socialise after work. One of Amy's friends so happen to be a mate of Blake's from uni who is also an engineer, working in Houston. What a small world. It seems like Houston is the place for Australian engineers. We finished the night back at Amy's apartment, while Blake and Amy chatted about engineering stuff for like a whole 2 hours.. i tried my best to keep my eyes open till Blake was ready to go.

Day 16: San Angelo

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After failing to find our tv remote, we checked out of our hotel (without telling them about it.. hopefully they don't charge us for it) and drove to Lockhart for lunch at a place called Black's BBQ. Amy and her friends spoke highly of this place and we were pretty keen on some texan bbq beef rib!! We ordered a giant beef rib and some moist beef brisket with creme corn, potato salad and beans. It was the best BBQ meat we've had. The beef brisket was so tender ; The rib was a little bit salty and a little bit smoky, it was just so good!! Absolutely MUST try it if passing through.

We continued on our drive to San Angelo which took another 2 hours to get to. We'd booked into a B&B with a room in the old chicken feed silo. Fortunately they'd done some renovations since that time and the place was immaculate (also not a chicken in sight). It was pretty wierd going to sleep in a round room, woke up having strange nightmares about laying eggs and being chased by foxes. Not sure what any of that is supposed to mean... The room was in an artist complex which we didn't really get a lot of time to explore. Looked quite interesting though.
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Day 17: Amarillo

We checked out of the hotel early and headed to an event in town at Fort Concho called Frontier Day. As per usual we just managed to fluke this so we were pretty happy. This place had an old telephone museum and a very nice (but hard of hearing) 90year old lady showed us how she used to operate the telephone switchboard back in the 40's. We then took a look at some of the local Native American tribe's tools and were told a bit about how they used to live and work with the soldiers at the fort. The best thing of all was to watch an old gatling gun and a cannon fire on the parade ground. The gatling gun was one of the handle cranked ones which was brilliant. The one legged ex-army guy was telling us that the cannon was far more versatile (could shoot solid shot, buckshot and fused bombs) and just as heavy to carry so the gatling gun was pretty unpopular...

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We once again hit the road and it took a good 4 hours to drive to Amarillo which wasn't as bad as we'd thought. We checked ourselves into our hotel at the Holiday Inn, then headed out for a nice big streak at the Big Texan. We were both really hungry as we hadn't eaten lunch so the steak went down a treat. They also have their own brewery there so got to try a couple of beers. Unfortunately we weren't hungry enough to attempt their 72oz (2kg) steak challenge. If you finish it, you get it for free!! Hahaha.. Yah.. no way. We were hoping someone will give the challenge ago, so we could watch. Luckily for us, some Aussie dude was game enough for the challenge. He started just as we finished our meal, so we didn't stick around to find out if he finished it, but we went down to cheer him on and gave him a pat on the back!! Told him to do it for Stralya.
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This aussie is attempting to eat 72oz (that is 2 kgs) of steak in 1 hour:
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Day 18

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Our first national park since Wakulla springs. Just a little bit different... Palo Duro is the second largest canyon in the United States and its not far out from Amarillo- only a 30 minutes drive. We decided to do the 6 mile (10km) round trip to the lighthouse formation. We intended to get there nice and early but made it just in time for the hottest part of the day. Go us! Most of the walk was easy but just before the lighthouse you have to climb up out of the canyon which was pretty slippery at some points. Absolutely beautiful views up top. We walked/climbed/slid back down the slope without any broken bones and made it back to the car in about 3 1/2hours. We got back to the car, cranked up the A/C and headed off.
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Next stop was Cowboy Gelato, time for an cool reward! Cowboy Gelato is on 6th Street, Amarillo which is part of the old Route 66. We tried to look into a couple of the antique shops but most things were closed on Sunday. We finished our day with a nice piece of steak and some BBQ ribs for Michelle. It sure did went down a treat!!

To be continued..

xoxo B&M

Posted by blake-michelle 21:15 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Driving around America: Part I

Orlando to Memphis

sunny 28 °C

Day 1: Orlando to Crawfordville

We started driving at 10am and it took us just over 5 hours to get to Apalachicola (still in Florida, not sure how to pronounce it...) where 90% of Florida's oysters come from. Along the way we stopped over at the petrol station for some lunch but we couldn't find anything besides fried chicken, fried nuggets and anything that does not start with the word FRIED!! So we decided to just munch on some corn crackers we had in the car and continue on to Apalachicola which is supposedly the last place in the US where wild oysters are still harvested by tongs from small boats. Old school oysters :). When we got there, we were really hungry!! We ate at a place called Boss Oysters- they had a dozen styles of cooking oysters (we tried 3 of them); had some soft shell crab and key lime pie for dessert. These are the biggest oysters I've (Blake) eaten and pretty close to my favourite. They had a pretty mellow taste and they were so big that each one took two bites!
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We saw some State prisoners working along the side of the road. What a great idea!! We should do that in Australia. But I wonder how many of them have planned their escape... so easy to run while out of the prison!!

Day 2: Wakulla Springs

We drove to the Wakulla Springs which is only a 30 minutes drive from our hotel. It is one of the world's largest and deepest freshwater springs flowing out at 54,220L/second with the deepest section over 50m deep. WOW. We were going to go on the next river boat ride but it had a primary school group on board, so we decided to take a later one. In the mean time we took a walk on a trail leading through the national park. We both got bitten by a couple of mozzies but nothing to cry about. The crazy thing was that the lodge didn't sell any insect repellent. Pretty surprised since its in the middle of a swamp!

We walked back to the river dock and jumped on board the next boat. The boats cruise up and down the river all day so our guide knew exactly where to find turtles, manatees and GATORS! The manatees were huge and look quite different to anything we've seen before. It was pretty cool to be less than 2m away from one swimming in the wild. There were quite a few turtles and plenty of alligators to look at too.

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After seeing so many alligators on our (nice and cheap) $8 cruise we decided it would be a great idea to take a swim in the springs with them. There is a diving platform near the spring with the water below at least 5m deep. We had some fun jumping in out and around and there wasn't a gator in sight. The tower doesn't look very high, but looking down from the top- it was so scary (for Michelle, not tough guy Blake)!! It took Michelle a bit of convincing to jump off it!! The worst thing is, there is nothing separating the swimming area in the springs and the waters in which you can see gators swimming around!!

After a good swim we were starving so we tried to get into the restaurant at the lodge. It had already closed so we headed back toward our hotel and stopped off at Poseys and enjoyed some great seafood. The place looked like a bit of a dive but the food was great! Michelle had some steamed prawns, boiled oysters and grilled crab cakes. I had blackened fish which is a grilled fish with a spice rub on it.
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On the way home we found our first Walmart. This was pretty exciting for us as we haven't seen one in the 6 weeks we've been here... We bought some cheap clothes and dinner and our day was done.

Day 3

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Our first stop was Sopchoppy, which just so happened to be the 13th Annual Worm Grunting Festival. The first thing we said was "I've never heard a worm grunt before". We found out that worm grunting is a serious business after talking to some local grunters (I think that's the title). Basically worm grunting is done by sticking a wooden stake in the ground and grinding the top with a piece of metal. The rubbing creates a vibration which drives the worms to the surface. Michelle and I had a go at grunting but had no luck in the designated worm grunting area but I'm guessing that area was picked clean. I (Blake) bought a knife made from deer bone and petrified wood which looks great but probably won't get through customs with me :(.. Worth a chance though.

With our worm grunting careers in tatters we hit the road. Next stop Mobile, Alabama. On the way we passed through Freeport and had some more seafood. Michelle's snow crab was awesome but my fish was just ok. I wasn't expecting it to be fried... Guess it was pretty good for fried fish but we've had so much fatty fried foods in the US that its starting to put us off. We also tried gator tail. It tasted like chicken, unfortunately it was fried too. Michelle seems to be quite lucky in ordering seafood. Hers always seem to turn out better (probably because she makes sure she doesn't end up with a plate of fried food!)
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We were going to stop off at the beach in Destin (which is supposedly really beautiful) but we'd already stuck our toes in the sand in Freeport so we kept on moving.
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Day 4

We've planned our road trip pretty tight, not allowing much time for bad weather or other issues. Unfortunately today was raining all day. We were on the way to the airboat ride/gator farm (in the driving rain) when the radio station cut off to a tornado/hurricane warning for the area we were driving to. We ended up driving past the gator farm, straight to The Shed, a classic Mississippi BBQ joint in a shed (believe it or not). The bbq was tasty but the building itself was awesome. It looks like some bloke has gone around town and grabbed all of the old junk from peoples yards and put it around his shed. Nothing gross, just interesting things like parts of rocking horses, signs and christmas lights.
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We were stuffed by the time we left but decided to continue on to our last stop, the Loxley strawberry festival. Unfortunately it was closed for bad weather. On the bright side we bought a huge strawberry cheesecake for $4 which was delicious! We took it home and I (Blake) pigged out and Michelle just watched...

Day 5: Memphis

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We checked out of the hotel and headed straight to the Gator ranch which we missed yesterday. It is a alligator farm on a swamp. I (Michelle) wasn't keen on the alligators but the airboat ride was awesome. We missed the gator boys (from the TV show) by 30minutes! Would have been our first celebreties in the US...
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We drove just over 6 hours to Memphis, returning the car at the airport. It was a very long drive but we made it. We took a taxi to our hotel the Crowne Plaza (another 4 star hotel bargain we bid for on Priceline), then got dropped off in town by the hotel's complimentary shuttle. We had dinner at a burger joint called Huey's- recommended by the hotel. The burger wasn't exactly the best, but it was tasty. Blake struggled to get through his super giant onion rings!! We also tried fried pickles- which were surprisingly good.
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Here.. Michelle.. have some onion rings..
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Day 6

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We started the day with a tour of Sun studios. This is where the birthplace of Rock N Rock. Both Elvis Presley & Johnny Cash started their careers here. It is only a tiny studio, but it is the history that we were interested in. The tour guide named quite a few more famous singers like Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison.. and played their songs.. but its way passed Michelle's generation. She had no idea who they were. I was just lucky I'd heard them a bit growing up. I'm a spittin' image of the King, don't you think?

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This Million Dollar Quartet: These guys (Jerry Lee, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash & Elvis Presley) were all jamming in the studio on day in 1956!!
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Once we were done we took the free shuttle bus to Graceland- Elvis's home. We bought a platinum ticket which entitled us to visit his mansion, the airplanes and a few other exhibits which weren't really too exciting. His mansion however is quite impressive. We were given an audio guide to take us around the house.

The Presley Mansion:
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Elvis's grave alongside his family:
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Inside the Lisa Marie plane that belongs to Elvis:
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On the way home we decided to stop at the Peabody Hotel in downtown Memphis to watch their resident ducks march back up to their room at 5pm. Everyday at this hotel, they roll out the red carpet for the ducks to march down into the fountain in the middle of the hotel and back up to their 'room'- i.e.. courtyard above the hotel, at 5pm. The ducks are led by the duck master (its a person not a duck).
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We finished the night hanging out on Beale Street. This is the hub of the black community in the south. Every night club, pub/bar lit up at night with live music at every corner of the street. We had dinner at BB-King and enjoyed some live music while filling our bellies with some 'beer chilli'- basically a chilli con carne; And some memphis style (dry) ribs. After that we popped into another bar to hear some Jonny Cash.
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Day 7

Today was a lazy day. We took the trolley around the riverfront which was a bit of a let down as the view was rubbish. We stopped in at the Flying Fish restaurant for some seafood (can't handle too many nights of ribs in a row) which is a seafood restaurant that looks like a cross between a fishing shack and a 60's diner. I had the grilled catfish plate and Michelle had a pound of snow crabs. Really good considering how cheap this place was.
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And she defeated the crabs.. finally!!
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Next stop Clarksdale Mississippi, the home of the blues.

Posted by blake-michelle 20:43 Archived in USA Comments (2)

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