We will be publishing a ton of updates, articles, and photographs here on the blog, as well as on our social media accounts – follow me on Twitter (@eyeandpen) and Instagram (@eyeandpen). Plus, for as often as we can, we plan to release an internet television show, which will include our antics, thoughts, experiences, and perhaps some interviews along the way – you can follow updates about our series at Neauxmad (www.Neauxmad.com).
We hope that you will find inspiration, as well as entertainment from our writings, publishings, and films! Please feel free to reach out to us, by leaving a comment below, or by writing us directly here.
“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” —Tim Cahill
When I originally planned this trip, I circled the southern Utah/Arizona region, as I knew it was some of the most unreal and amazing landscapes that I will ever see in my entire life. And for that reason, this has been at the top of my ‘must see’ destination list. It’s been amazing to experience all that I’ve been most looking forward to on my trip. While there are other stops along the routing that also share the top spot, like that of coastal California, the mountains and fjords of Washington, and the Canadian Rockies, I will never forget how spectacular Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado are.
We started day one in Tropic with a couple hours of hiking through the brutally amazing Kodachrome State Park. I really only have three things to say about Kodachrome; A. It’s amazing the effect that wind has on a landscape over millions of years. B. It’s awful the way extreme drought desecrates a landscape over time. C. Everyone should visit Kodachrome. From there, we drove a few miles down the road from Tropic to the brilliant Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce Canyon is famous for its rock formations and irregular eroding patterns, where wind and rain were rather creative. We hiked around the rim of the canyon and throughout the park for a few hours before calling it a night – but I will say that it’s a great time, but beware of tourist overload.
Late, after all of our festivities, we pulled back into the Stone Canyon Inn well after the sun had set, and so we relaxed for the rest of the night. The Stone Canyon Inn is a really great spot in town, it’s private, and their guesthouse certainly gives you the feelings of home meets luxury.
04/28– Of all of the places I’ve visited thus far, none have been as momentous as Zion National Park. If you remember the dinosaur cartoon Land Before Time, Zion is just like the remnant of that world – the way the walls tower insanely high above you, and the feeling of hiking through the valley is almost unreal. The Narrows and a few other areas that are under the lottery system were entrenched with water and muck, so we had to skip a lot of the key areas that we wanted to experience.
04/29-30– After two lovely days at the Stone Canyon Inn, we changed locations to the nearby Bryce Canyon Inn, who owns the pizza place – needless to say, we ate well. Bryce Canyon Inn is not quite an inn, it’s even more – it’s a large group of private small cabins, which resembles a comfortable hotel room inside.
These two days, we took it easy, as we had been feeling burnt out from the up and go all of the time. We slowed it down, relaxed for a couple of days, and recharged our batteries. Matt also worked on his upcoming Episode Two via Neauxmad.
05/01– After two days of respite, we began feeling antsy, so we went out for a long drive around the Escalante region. Sometimes it’s just fun to drive, and change directions at whim, where it’s just you and the open road. It may sound cliché, but it’s one of the few times that I feel truly free – at least for a little while.
05/02– Another day, another big drive – this time it was time to relocate to another region. To work out our dates and everything, as my girlfriend is coming to visit me in a few hours – which is her first time flying; crazy, right? – we had to backtrack geologically to fit in a few long drives and parks that we wanted to see. Our next destination was to stay in a Navajo B&B that’s located in the middle of the much acclaimed Monument Valley. But first, we stopped at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park – there might just be something with me and sand dunes, but I do have an affinity for them. That’s probably because I grew up in Ohio, where there’s neither mountain or desert. Monument Valley came into our view as the sun was setting, and there are few sights as impressive in the world.
05/03– We left the Teardrop Arch before noon, off on another adventure along the road. This day, our stops included Goosenecks State Park, Natural Bridge National Park, and Valley of the Gods, among the rest of the amazing views on the way. Each park is special for its own characteristics, but I have to say, following the same route of 163 to 261, and back, was one of the coolest drives yet!
Grand Canyon, Sedona, Flagstaff, Tucson, Phoenix
The landscapes have been ever changing, and unique, from Jemez Springs to Santa Fe, and Taos to the Four Corners region of New Mexico, then southern Colorado through northern Arizona and finally through southern and central Utah. I’ve found that the American West is an almost never ending paradise of varying countrysides, unique sceneries, and brilliant photo opportunities. I’ve found myself jaw-dropped, and momentarily stunned, just taking in the vast beauty of it all. No wonder so many artists have found their inspiration in the Great American West!
04/21– This was a working day, where Matt and I caught up on some of our projects. Although the day was spent mostly indoors, the views from our room and the grounds around the Mabel Dodge Luhan House provided us with just the right atmosphere for our creative flow.
04/22– After a long working day, it was time to go exploring, and we couldn’t have picked a better day to do it – the weather was fresh, crisp and warm, with gorgeous clouds, and interesting storm clouds that haunted the surrounding mountains. Our first stop of the day was at Taos Pueblo, the ancient civilization of the Pueblos, who had settled their village some 1,000 years ago. The most interesting part of Taos Pueblo isn’t the little shops or the modern people, so much as the actual building of their structures, as they were created out of adobe so long ago, and yet they still stand to this day – not without some repairs along the way, I’m sure. To be honest, very little felt authentic and real at the Taos Pueblo – it’s very money hungry, as I’ve found most Indian nations to be in America. From there, we spent most of the day at the Rio Grande Bridge and Carson National Forest – both offer great views, lovely photos ops, and a rather extreme difference in vistas.
04/23– Sadly, it was time to say good bye to Taos, but I left as a fan, knowing that I will be back again – and if for some reason the stars never connect so that I am able to return, then I will always remember it as one of my favorites. Today’s drive would take us over the Colorado border to Durango, via Pagosa Springs. The landscape changed again, and it was apparent that we were driving through the southern Rockies – an area of the world that I’ve wanted to visit for so very long! We stopped at several places along the way, pulling the car to the side of the road, where we ran off in one direction, then the other, taking photos, and filming video. The unfortunate part of visiting Durango was that it was for only three nights, because of our itinerary and routing, we would have to revisit and spend a lot more time in Colorado, toward the end of the trip. Our accommodation for this short time in Colorado was the stunning Blue Lake Ranch in Hesperus, just south of Durango – it’s a large plot of land near the Four Corners, that is more like an oasis, than the rest of the region. It’s beautiful, and expansive, with lovely cabins and cottages scattered throughout the lush, and inviting stream and lake strewn landscape.
04/24– This day, Matt and I woke up early and took off immediately to tour around the Four Corners region. We started by leaving Colorado, and heading back into New Mexico to check out the Aztec Ruins National Monument, which was really cool to experience – however, misleading, as there’s no question that the ancient people who once resided in Aztec, were local Pueblo Indians, rather than actual Aztecs. A short drive down the road took us to a peculiar rock formation known as Shiprock – where Matt and I got our hands dirty, or rather my car’s tires, and our feet, as we drove down a couple of dirty roads, until we found our way to the base of the formation. Afterwards, another little drive brought us to the Four Corners Monument – however, we didn’t go in, because Navajo Nation thought it was right to charge for such a thing. I believe little attractions like this should be free for all to experience and enjoy. They charge $5.00 per person, which isn’t too expensive, but it’s the point of the thing – plus, if you have a large family, visiting this little attraction in the desert can be a rather pricey ordeal. That’s not all though, there are quite a few other natural areas that the Navajo thought it prudent to overcharge insanely – like the Antelope Canyon region; you have to pay $28.00 per person to walk through the canyon – RIDICULOUS! The great Mesa Verde National Park was our next stop – we drove into the park for about a half hour, before stopping at the top outlook point of the park. To be honest, we didn’t plan enough time to fully see Mesa Verde, so I leave it on my list to see another day.
I was exhausted after touring so many wonders, but our day wasn’t over yet – we teamed up with an awesome local restaurant, the Ore House. The Ore House offers local, high quality meats and various creative dishes of other meats and specialties, while also being a top notch watering hole for locals and tourists alike. The bartender, however, was the star – she had an opinion and a fun fact to add to every conversation, while also making some of the best custom drinks that I’ve had throughout this entire trip. I’ve only been to a couple of bars that specialize in custom mixes, bitters, and favors – and while they each are really awesome, the Ore House has it going on! I was spoiled with a delicious steak with lobster tail, with a side of asparagus and their homestyle mac n’ cheese – it was fantastic! I haven’t eaten this well in a very long time.
04/25– Today was another ambitious day, because Matt and I had planned it that we would swing through Telluride on the way to the Uncompahgre National Forest, but Telluride sucked us up. We never ended up making it to Uncompahgre, as once we drove into Telluride, we knew that we were going to be stuck. Could there be a cooler town anywhere in the world?! Telluride offers both history and nature, as it’s set in its beautiful box canyon, surrounded by snow-capped mountains – but that’s not all, Telluride is also quite progressive and youthful, with its stance on legal Marijuana, its multitude of bars and organic restaurants. Wait, there’s actually more – Telluride is also a very happening place for events, outdoor concerts, skateboarders, BMX bikers, and so much more! Oh, crap – I forgot to mention that Telluride is very well known for its Winter and Summer sports and attractions – oh well, you will just have to visit to understand how awesome Telluride is!
04/26– Another sad leaving day came and went, as it was time to move on through Arizona and into south-central Utah. We drove passed Shiprock again, and before we knew it, we were in Arizona, surrounded by some amazing red rock formations and breathtaking landscapes. But once we came near to the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument area, the scenery had transformed from simply lovely, to absolutely epic! The views and natural wonders astounded me. It was amazing to really see that there are some amazing areas in the world that are a direct gateway to the past – for a time, we were driving at the bottom of what was a deep waterbed at one time. The rock formations and mountains that peaked around us showed obvious signs of where the water level once was, for millions of years, 100’s of years ago. Absolutely mind blowing! This trip has been offering me a lot to think about actually – as the more natural wonders that I see and experience, the more unsure I am about creation versus evolution. But that’s another subject for another time.
A whole week of wandering and experiencing the natural raw beauty of New Mexico is exactly what the doctor ordered. After beginning the first 1/3 of this trip in a lot of eastern states that I’ve already been to, which weren’t too different from my own home state, I was starting to feel rather cooped up, and uninspired. But New Mexico has freed me from the cage I found myself in.
04/14– Our first accommodation in the Albuquerque area was the brilliant Adobe Garden Bed and Breakfast, which offers its patrons a private and relaxing stay in the city. The unique aspect of the Adobe Garden B&B is its structural build, as it was built from the ground up with thick adobe dirt walls – plus, the owners are some of the nicest, most genuine, and authentic people we’ve met along this trip. I was sad to say good bye. For most of the first day in ABQ, we toured around the city, stopping at various sections of town to walk around, like that of Sandia Peak’s lowlands, and of course, old town, midtown, uptown – we did all of the town’s, you see – haha. I really enjoyed Albuquerque, as it’s not like most large towns, it’s spread out, with few tall buildings, but it’s loaded with character! One of the more interesting (at least, for me) stops was a few of the filming locations for the hit television show Breaking Bad – I’m a fan, so it was sort of exciting to experience! That night, we stopped by the highly-acclaimed Tucanos Brazilian Grill restaurant, which was our first experience of trying the various foods they offered – like the delicious and tender, and NEVER-ENDING skewers of meats. Oh dear, it was bad – in a fantastic way!
04/15– One of my all-time important Bucket List items is to fly in a hot air balloon, and what better place (besides Cappadocia, Turkey) than ABQ to give it a go? We awoke early in the morning, as the sun was beginning to peak above the mountains, and set off to our take off spot. Within minutes of arriving, the World Balloon crew had multiple balloons stretched out along the ground, where they fanned air into the balloon, while firing their burners. Then, about ten minutes later, Matt and I found ourselves floating through the air, as soft and gentle as a feather tends to flit through the soft breeze. The views were spectacular, and the entire experience was one for the memory stores. We took most of the day off, taking care of some work.
04/16– Our next accommodation was just outside of town, on the other side of the mountains, in Cedar Crest. We stayed this night and the night before at the locally-renowned Elaine’s B&B, which is set part way up the side of the mountain. It’s a lovely cabin getaway, owned and operated by one of the nicest, and most accommodating hosts I’ve ever met. We went on quite the adventure this day, taking my poor car – who decidingly despises driving up steep hills – up to the Sandia Crest. The winding road to the peak was like that of a bent coat hanger, wound back and forth, done in the hopes of creating a spring or something. It was pretty ridiculous – at least, for my car – there was no way to get up without smelling your engine, and no way down without smelling your breaks. But other than the dicey drive upwards, the views and the hiking around the peak were breathtaking at its worst – as you can see from above, it’s rather photogenic as well.
We also released the first episode of Neauxmad films, which is based from this road trip – check it out at: www.Neauxmad.com.
04/17– Finally the time came for us to say goodbye to ABQ and the surrounding mountains, as we had planned to head to Santa Fe today. When starting out, Matt and I didn’t really expect this day to be the best entire day of the trip! We visited the amazing Tinker Town museum and ghost town near Cedar Crest, which is a man’s life work, of carvings, paintings, and gatherings – well worth the visit, actually, go ahead and google it right now. Shortly down the road, we came to the famous gypsy artist camp town of Madrid – which has been featured in several movies, like that of Wild Hogs. This was one of the cooler experiences in New Mexico – the town was nearly empty, but 90% of the galleries and little shops were open for business. The entire town, the people, and the products that are offered in Madrid makes it one of the coolest hippie/gypsy stops in America!
Cerrillos came to follow, which is a neat little town that looks as though it’s still set back in the gold rush days. Santa Fe was a short drive from there. I’ve only heard good things about Santa Fe, and after spending a couple of days wandering around it, experiencing the people, the culture, the shops and galleries, and the food, I can say that I’m quite the fan now! The architecture in Santa Fe alone is really cool to experience, but there’s definitely a unique vibe going on in the town, and I know that I would be okay with sticking around for a while longer – but unfortunately, as always, it’s time to move forward, since there’s just so much to see.
04/18– We decided that our next accommodation should be out in the mountains a bit, or a whole lot. We found a little roadside inn located in Jemez Springs, which is incidentally about as out-in-the-country as you can get! The views were fantastic all of the way to The Laughing Lizard Inn – it went from snow-tipped mountains rising all around us, to an elevated view where the tops of nearby plateaus revealed themselves, to the beautiful Bandelier National Monument. On our way to our inn, we stopped by the park, where we hiked for several hours, which ended up being one of the best times thus far in New Mexico – there were no other people, and Matt and I were able to hike around, climb a bit, and take a lot of great photos of the sun setting in the valley.
04/19– This day was much less eventful since Matt and I decided to wander around Santa Fe a bit, taking care of some errands, before our big night of Flamenco at El Farol. El Farol is a restaurant, bar, and theater, which specializes in pretty damn authentic Flamenco performances. I had the Filet Mignon with three of their recommended tapas – the food was enjoyable, the service was nice, and the show was really great – I loved the performer’s passion and technical excellence most.
The first month and a half of this trip has been marvelous, with way more ups than downs, which is always nice, but something has been missing for me. I lust for nature, and when I’m traveling from city to city, or am in areas of the world that don’t offer a significant amount of beautiful and intriguing landscapes, then I feel uninspired, dull, drab, and without imagination.
04/07– Transitioning back into our normal bed and breakfasts routine, we left the Westin early midday, arriving a mile away at the gorgeous Eva’s Escape at the Gardenia. The B&B is a set in a historic Greek revival home, dubbed after a rather fascinating woman named Eva Mae Green Williams, who once ran the inn. It was a really comfortable and personal change, compared to that of the Westin. I simply don’t enjoy staying at most hotels or hostels anymore – I love the intimate experience of staying at a family owned accommodation, as it’s usually quaint, unique, welcoming, compassionate, and private. After settling into our room at the Gardenia, Matt setup his mobile office and began pulling a nearly all-nighter on his upcoming video, which should be online within the next week or so – look out for that. While Matt worked, I lollygagged around with my new camera in the local neighborhood of King William Historic District. The whole area was loaded with handsome mansions and cute cottages.
04/08– One of the most unique aspects about San Antonio is its River Walk – I can’t count how many times people told me that ‘I HAD to see it!’ and so we did. We walked north from the King William Historic District, around the main loop, and back again, but not before accidentally going the wrong way, without notice – we found ourselves about a mile or so north of the loop, which is opposite of where we came from. I really enjoyed the River Walk – it was peaceful and relaxing, and nearly private (except for the main loop, of course). Following our walk, Matt and I hopped in the car and went off touring for the day, as we do. The first stop was The Alamo – while The Alamo is the most visited attraction in Texas, it wasn’t horribly overrun by tourists, but it was still morning, so maybe that helped. Either way, The Alamo was definitely a cool experience. Besides my love for nature, experiencing the real places of history is a big part of this trip. Another blast from the past was the Mission San Jose, which was our second stop. The Mission San Jose was the first American mission that I’ve visited, so in that it’s special, but in reality as well, this particular mission is unique for its structure and architecture, as well as for the church, the grounds, and the overall history.
04/09– Our next accommodation in San Antonio, Texas was O’Caseys Bed and Breakfast, which is a transitioning establishment, as a new set of owners have since taken over in the past few years. The B&B was once a very Irish-themed place, with loads of stuffed animals, leprechauns, and other similarly themed decors. However, the new inn keepers are slowly revamping every part of the lodgings, the decor, and is improving the overall experience – great place to stay! Today was another planned work day, with a break in between for a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse. When Matt and I are back home in Ohio, we typically will see a movie once every week or so, but that hasn’t been the case throughout the road trip so far, but we decided it was time to change that. The Alamo Drafthouse is a movie theater, that offers its customers a restaurant experience, with a full-service bar. We watched the new Wes Anderson film, ‘The Great Budapest Hotel’ – the movie was rather indie, but very entertaining, and really well done. Plus, the whole theater experience was grand, we had a great time.
04/10– After spending about two weeks touring Texas, I can say that I’m a fan of Texas, the people, the culture, and the cities, I could even see myself living somewhere in the area of Austin and San Antonio – but to be honest, I’m very glad that the first leg of the trip is over, and that Matt and I are now exploring the great Wild West of America!
When originally planning this trip, and looking into the subsequent drives, the big 9-10 hour drive from San Antonio to Ruidoso, New Mexico was one that Matt and I knew would be a sort of rough experience. And while the drive was long and tiring, with seemingly endless flat landscapes, the drive wasn’t so bad. I was able to catch up on a lot of projects that needed polishing, so time flew by, or so it seemed. The landscape definitely started to take shape once we got into New Mexico, it went from flat and somewhat desert rural to rocky and yellow, with various hills and mountains popping up from out of the ground. I instantly felt a sort of relief, mixed with an inspirational excitement – I felt free again.
04/11– Ruidoso, New Mexico is a pretty great area to visit, as it’s so close to the Lincoln National Forest, but it’s also central to a lot of other beautiful getaway areas – oh, and it’s probably important to note that Ruidoso is well known for its skiing and sunny, Summer holiday opportunities. Matt and I stayed at the Apache Village Cabins, which is a little community of privately inhabited cabins that guests may rent out at a pretty affordable rate. They’re a bit out-dated, but seeing as how there’s so much to do in the central New Mexico area, Apache Village’s cabins do the trick.
After our long drive the day before, we went to bed rather early, of course, but the next morning, we were back at it. We drove about an hour and a half south to the amazing White Sands Monument, before heading back north to Ruidoso via the gorgeous Lincoln National Forest. This was the best drive of our entire trip so far – the landscape coming south from Ruidoso to White Sands was interesting and ever-changing. I could even see the White Sands’ bright white sheen, just below the mountain ridge, from over 50-miles away – everything is just so big out West! I missed the world-renowned Sahara desert when I was in Morocco last year, so getting a chance to run around these peculiar white sand dunes was high on my ‘must see’ list! Matt and I ran around, filming, and taking photos (as you can see in the photos below) for a couple of hours – until we felt that there was no way to fit more (accidental) sand in our boots and pockets, let alone how much was stuck to our skin. We may be finding sand in random places for weeks to come. We shook off what sand we could, and set off towards our cabin via Routes 82 to 244 to 70. Instantly, the drive blew my mind, because to enter the National Forest from the town of Alamogordo, you must climb the height of the mountains on the highway. It’s a stunning view once you’re up there (as you can see in the photos below). The rest of the drive was a bit less-eventful, but it certainly didn’t lack in comeliness!
04/12– We left early in the morning from Ruidoso, backtracking southeast to Carlsbad, New Mexico – the home of some of the coolest visitable caves around. Although, I would much rather do a private adventure in Carlsbad’s other cave system, the Lechuguilla Cave, but it’s much too hard to traverse, and much too private, still to this day. Sadly, I’ll just have to watch the Planet Earth series on constant rerun, until it’s open to the public – if that ever happens within my lifetime. From Ruidoso, we had to go through Roswell, the infamous town where (supposedly) a UFO crashed in 1947. I was told, whilst researching about this trip, that Roswell was a waste of time, and I can say that I officially agree. While there could have been any number blowups of tourism, with rides, attractions, theaters, and exaggerated lore, that never happened, despite the countless attempts over the decades.
Another hour and a half on the road brought us to the entrance of Carlsbad Caverns National Park, and within minutes we were 754 feet below the surface, inside of the Big Room of the cavern. There’s about a 1-3/4 mile walk inside of the cave, which provides you with wonderful views of what a proper cave should look like. When driving around the USA, I feel like you see cave signs all over, big and small, yet seeing as how I’ve been to several sizable and world-renowned caves, and I would definitely recommend Carlsbad to anyone interested in a fun cave-hopping experience!
What’s next– Various parks, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Taos, Abiquiu region (New Mexico).
The past week has been a very pleasant one. We stayed at three of the coolest places so far on the trip, and while a lot of the accommodations that we have had the chance to stay will always be lovingly in my heart, I have to say that we’ve had a great week as far as that goes. Matt and I toured Houston and spent a couple of days off at a brilliant spa resort in Austin, TX. Continue reading to find out more…
03/30– A four hour drive brought us from central Louisiana to Houston. The first order of business was to roam around town a bit, before we searched out our accommodation, which was in Spring, TX, just north of Houston. We found some nice blocks in Midtown that had the usual boutique shops and fancy restaurants, so we toured the area for a bit. Afterwards, we decided to head north for the night – our accommodation was the gorgeous Oak Tree Manor. The Oak Tree Manor is typically booked for weddings, but we had some lucky timing that allowed us to take over the entire house. The grounds of the facility are packed with various buildings and other houses, as well as several amenities. They even had a basketball court, and to be honest, Matt and I spent the evening just relaxing and playing a few games. Sometimes you just need some fun sport to relieve the stresses of constant travel.
03/31– Day two at the Oak Tree Manor was less eventful, because we decided to work on some of our ongoing projects. I wrote and edited photos, and Matt edited his video – which should be online within the next week. So, look out for that on Neauxmad: www.Neauxmad.com! But we did play some more basketball, so there is that!
04/01– I found Houston to a comfortable city, however, it’s quite flat, and unexciting in a more natural regard. We experienced downtown Houston more on this day, touring the Downtown Aquarium and the Houston-famous Waterwall Park (of many names). Lately, I’ve been feeling that my diet has got to change – I’ve been eating on a budget – for Matt, as it’s necessary for him to watch his budget – and it’s just not working for me. I honestly am not sure that my inadequate belly appreciated the awful grub, but now things are getting back on track. I’ve decided to try a mostly raw, organic diet of fruit, veggies, yogurt, nuts, juices, and teas – wish me luck!
04/02– We stayed a couple of nights at the La Maison in Midtown, a modern new bed and breakfast, with an ideal location. It’s set in between downtown and a lot of the other areas, where there are few escapes away from the city, in the city. The owners treated us very well – great place to go! Also, they have their own in-house chef, who cooks up one heck of a storm! For most of the day, we took care of some errands, and wandered around aimlessly – my favorite kind of travel… Well, the wandering, not so much the errands. Once the sun set, we sat down for a great dinner at Max’s Wine Dive on Washington Avenue – the atmosphere was a bit divey (which is great, if you like dive bars – I sure do!), and the food was pretty damn tasty!
04/03– Austin, Texas, a city of which I have always wanted to experience, became our next destination. Lately, I’ve had it on my mind to completely switch my camera system, so I decided to procure my dream camera once I got in town. I chose the Sony Alpha a7R Mirrorless camera, and now that I’ve had a few days to play with it, I have to say that this purchase may have been the best choice I’ve made in years! New photos with my new system are coming soon.
We were invited for two nights at the Lake Austin Spa Resort, where they offer all-inclusive and unlimited meals and activities – like yoga, cycling, zumba, pilates, workshops, and other varied classes and subjects. They specialize in being an organic health resort, a relaxation spa, as well as a meditation and discovery vacation spot. Additionally, they offer their patrons almost countless wellness and healing treatments. The grounds are handsome, with various basically-private areas that are well-suited for quiet meditations, work outs, or for some straightforward alone time. I realize that spa resorts like this are typically intended for women, but we definitely enjoyed ourselves!
04/04– Our second day at the Lake Austin Spa Resort was really great. My bed was as comfortable as I could ask for, so I slept like a baby! As soon as I woke up, I went for a swim in the Olympic size pool – nothing feels quite as good! I spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon, splitting time between boating in the lake, melting in the sauna, nearly drowning with relaxation in the hot tub, and swimming in the pools. I enjoyed delicious and healthy meals my entire time at Lake Austin Spa Resort – they had just unrolled their new Spring menu, and I can say that pretty much everything is to die for. I signed up for one of their spa treatments as well, the Tour of Texas 110-minute massage therapy session. Let me just say that I had NO idea that ‘massage therapy’ meant massage AND therapy, as my session with the talented masseuse Kimberly was pretty intensive. The massage was top notch and extremely peaceful, but it was the ability to open up and talk easily with a trained professional about my various thoughts and upcoming life choices that I had been pondering, that really set this experience apart from the others that I’ve had in the past.
04/05– It had been a couple of days that we were in Austin, but we had yet to actually seeing Austin, so we did just that. I really liked Austin – the mantra of Austin says it best: ‘Keep Austin weird!’ I liked that most of the shops, galleries, and restaurants all had some quirky spin on their look and feel, and even a lot of their products and services – however, the worst part was the FREAKING traffic! I realize that Saturday in a city is expected to be busy, but oh my, it didn’t matter if we were in a neighborhood or driving down a main drag – there was a ridiculous amount of traffic at all times, throughout the day. We toured the bar district of 6th Street, the popular Congress Avenue area, and anything else that caught our attention. Admittedly, we only spent about six hours dawdling all over Austin – because we had trouble finding additional accommodation on such a busy weekend in the city – so we moved forward our next destination (hint… San Antonio), and needed to drive south before the day became too late.
A week without daily updates was purely magic for my stress level, and even though road tripping around the USA is an amazing experience, doing it while you’re stressed makes you enjoy the better things less than you ought. I appreciate everyone’s support and understand through this transition – I’m sure it wasn’t easy to keep up with everyday! Besides, it was likely quite boring to read each day, I know I struggled with coming up with things to talk about at times – haha. Anyway, we’re moving into a new gear with my (hopefully) weekly updates, so let’s get started with the first of many more to come…
03/24– On our second day in Memphis, we did the touristy thing and toured Elvis Presley’s Graceland. I found it to be interesting, of course, but it wasn’t as lavish and over the top as most wealthy/famous people do now-a-days. I mean, for one of the most sold musicians in history, I thought it would be quite a bit more ridiculous, but it was Tennessee in the 1950’s. I found Elvis’ edgy design style to be pretty interesting – for example, he made his living room area into a jungle scene. Afterwards, Matt and I swung by the hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated – it’s now the National Civil Rights Museum, and unfortunately for us, the Lorraine Hotel section was closed for renovations. It was enough to just stand in front of the hotel where Mr. King was killed – chilling experience. From there, we toured the infamous Beale Street scene, before heading back to our hotel. We really enjoyed our stay at the Peabody Memphis – it was classic, full of class, and just an overall lovely stay.
03/25– I would have been okay with staying another couple of days in Memphis, but we had already setup our accommodations and attractions in ‘The Big Easy.’ So, before entering Mississippi, we thought it would be fun to cross the river to at least be able to say we visited Arkansas along the road trip. We crossed over and had an early lunch in West Memphis first. Our next stop wasn’t until we pulled into the woody parking area of William Faulkner’s house, Rowan Oak, in Oxford, Mississippi. I know I’ve stated several times that I hate museum tours and touristy things like that, even though I obviously must visit quite a few of those types of attractions on my travels, but I actually really enjoy seeing my favorite author’s and other renowned writer’s homes. To see and touch and feel and smell exactly what they had experienced while writing their famous works of art is amazing to me. The further I travel in life, and around this world, the more I feel that I’m destined to be an author. Perhaps I’ll be famous some day, and once I die, my house (that will probably be in the middle of nowhere) may then be flooded with visitors who will to see where I worked.
From there, we rejoined Highway 55 and ended up pulling into New Orleans, just in time to see the sun set.
03/26– New Orleans is one of the places that has topped my ‘must see’ list for a long time now, so while planning the routing of the trip, I made sure there would be plenty of time to experience all that is NOLA. We left our accommodation before lunch, and it didn’t see our return until 6 PM that night. We walked from the Garden District, through the Warehouse District, until we came to the famous French Quarter. We had to skip the Quarter at first, as we were running late for our Steamboat Natchez Riverboat cruise. The experience was a fun one for the most part, as the riverboat offered lunch and live jazz, along with a lively bar to keep you entertained. We then tackled the French Quarter, walking up and down every street, hopping from interesting galleries to unique shops, as well as briefly checking out all of the various bars and restaurants – oh, and how could I forget to mention the voodoo shops? They were… Interesting – to say the least. I’m sure that I’ll eventually write more about them.
03/27– Day three of our time in New Orleans brought us to the touristy stuff that we’re pretty much always setup with in each place that we visit. We visited the Audubon Zoo and the Aquarium of the Americas, before some rather feisty thunderstorms took over the city. The zoo was alright, to be blunt – I don’t know if I was dissatisfied because I’ve always grown up near the great Columbus Zoo and Aquarium in my hometown of Columbus, Ohio, or if it just wasn’t that great. The worst part, for me, was that all of the animals looked dazed, drugged, and super depressed – it was more like a tour showcasing that Man is the cruelest animal of all. The Aquarium of the Americas, which sits along the boardwalk of the Mississippi River, was a better experience – although, if I were to rank the top 10 aquariums in the country, it wouldn’t be listed.
03/28– As much as I would have liked to stay another few days in New Orleans, it was time for us to check out some more of the delta and the countryside. But before we said our goodbyes, we stopped by the famous Mardi Gras World, which is one of the warehouses that houses some of the most amazing parade float artists that I’ve ever seen. The Mardi Gras World tour was especially neat, as their warehouse is absolutely stuffed with old floats, and artist studios who were actually there sculpting and painting the floats – very cool to see! The thunderstorms hit a high note while we were in our tour, and it left us soaked after the quick jog to our car in the parking lot. We had one last stop planned, but it looked for a while as though the rain would force us to cancel – but we waited out the rain, and during a brief break in the precipitation, we walked around the flooded St. Louis Cemetery. THIS is the type of place that I like to go – it provides me with interesting and challenging thoughts, as well as real life experience, with a twist of photographic opportunity. Now, that’s fun, as far as I’m concerned!
03/29– We stayed near the small town of New Iberia, Louisiana, and while it wasn’t super out there in the boondocks, it was a nice central place to setup our home base for a couple of days. The rain stopped as we went farther west, and we were left with a couple of beautiful days.
To give me more time each day to write and to enjoy my travels, I've decided to change this daily log to a more sporadic schedule, which will likely be weekly from here on out. It's really difficult to keep up with a daily log, where I must publish my finished photographs, as well as keep up with everything else that running a blog entails, while also trying to travel each day... It's simply too much for me at this point, to be honest with you. So, from today and onward, I will be publishing a bit at random, with an aim of at least publishing an update from the road every week. I hope you understand, and will continue following my travels and avidly read Eye & Pen. Cheers!
Matt and I left the Smith Lake region of Alabama in the morning and by lunch time, we were in Memphis, TN for the first time. We immediately checked out the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, which was a pretty neat experience, as it's loaded with a lot of interesting history tidbits, fascinating and little-known stories, and a solid collection of Soul music memorabilia. I think visiting Stax is a must see in Memphis, especially if you love the old Soul classics, but I was a little disappointed that most of the museum is just a read-along. Perhaps, I'm biased, because we visited the amazing Sun Studio museum afterwards, and it was much more authentic feeling and a lot more intimate. As a guest of Sun Studio, the tour guide made sure that everyone was having a good time, and was quite impressed with the stories and the items available in the cases. The best part about the tour was that our tour guide, Jayne White, was as passionate as can be – it was evident on her face and how she spoke that she loved the music, and she loved everything about her job. In that aspect, I found that the Sun Studio tour was one of the top highlights of the entire trip thus far – no joke!
Following our tours, we decided to call it a night, so we proceeded downtown to our hotel, the Peabody Memphis Hotel. Upon walking in, a big celebration was going on; the lobby was packed, and a man wearing some interesting attire was shouting about ducks. And then it dawned on me, I forgot about the story of the ducks, where the employees found ducks in their lobby, because a guest had left them, sort of as an awkward joke, from what I understand. Then waking up the next day, the guests thought everyone would be upset, but everyone thought it was awesome, and ever since then, the ducks come down to the lobby in the morning and leave again at night. It's a pretty cool story – I like the fact that they kept up the tradition ever since. We dropped our bags off in our room, changed clothes, and hopped on the elevator to the lower level, where the pool and gym are located. A good swim and some relaxation time in a hot tub does the body good!
This has been my first time in Alabama, and I can say that from my brief experience here, by driving through various towns, and from touring Birmingham today, that Alabama just isn't a favorite of mine. The country lifestyle, and the southern differences are fascinating, and the history is important and intriguing, but other than that, I think I've had my fill. Matt and I left our lake house prior to noon, and within an hour or so, we found ourselves in downtown Birmingham. We drove aimlessly, turning here and there, depending on what we saw, and to be honest, we found some rather depressed and dilapidated areas, as well as some hopeful up-and-coming districts. We found a great book shop near the theater – the owner suggested for us to walk around 2nd Avenue North for the shops. One of the more interesting historic stops we made was at the infamous 16th Street Baptist Church – it's a sobering feeling when you find yourself standing on the ground that so much of our history as a nation and a world was formed. After that, we started toward a shop we wanted to check out on Lorna Road; we ended up being stuck for more an hour in a long traffic jam, which was near Montgomery Highway South and Route 65. A few hours of wandering around Birmingham gave us our fill, so we set off back toward our accommodation in Crane Hill, where I took most of the night off, and Matt began editing his video – hopefully we'll have the first episode out soon!
We left Atlanta, setting off for Rock City, GA/TN – a historic village tourist attraction, which features the Enchanted Trail to the peak of Rock City, as well as Ruby Falls, among other outdoorsy attractions. Rock City, like North Carolina's Chimney Rock, offers the visitor a short hike up to a high lookout point, with views ranging up to miles, depending on the day's visibility. The Enchanted Trail that takes you up to the lookout is pretty neat – it's obviously built for children, because each various section of the path is dedicated to a certain fairytale story, where they have a scene build up as you walk. My favorite was the crystal cavern walk – I'd explain exactly what that is, but I wouldn't do it justice, so you will just have to go and check it out yourself. I enjoyed Chimney Rock more, as a photographer, but Rock City is still an interesting little stop.
Following the Rock City Enchanted Trail, we drove a few miles around the mountain to find ourselves standing in front of a nearly-100 year old makeshift castle, built in the early 1900's for... Guess? PURE tourism. ;-) Why not, eh? Well, years ago, this venturous bloke began drilling into the mountain, aiming to install an elevator, to carry tourists to the top of the lookout point. BUT as he got lower and lower, he stopped drilling, realizing that he had hit an open pocket of air. Know what happened next? One of the coolest discoveries happened to him – he began crawling through a small tunnel that lead for about another mile, but as he progressed, he heard what sounded like rushing or falling water. He ended up finding the righteous underground waterfall that you see below you. It would be unbelievably cool to be the first human to find the Ruby Falls! By the way, the man who discovered the falls named them after his wife – think he was in some sort of trouble? hehe. Anyway, the cave tour leading up to the waterfall finale was pretty cool, but the waterfall was the star of the show.
From there, we sort of backtracked further west, heading to Crane Hill, Alabama, which is about an hour north of Birmingham. Our accommodation for two nights is the Smith Lake Bed and Breakfast – it's perched on a hill that drops right into the beautiful Smith Lake (pictured below). Talk about one of the coolest places to stay. If only the water was nice and warm yet, then we would probably just spend the entire day boating or something. Paradise living doesn't have to happen in the tropics, just saying.
Another day, another touristy experience. While I am stoked that I've been able to experience so many cool attractions and fun touristy places, I have to be honest – I'm over it. After you've experienced one too many museums, amusement parks, or tourist traps, it really wears on you. Once you've visited a few of each, you've pretty much seen them all. My soul has been yearning for peace, and slow travel, and wilderness. I was never happier than when I was hiking in the Alps in Switzerland, or when I was roaming the Isle of Skye, and never quite as happy as I was when I was road tripping around Iceland. There's just something about the wilderness, and there's just something powerful about mountains. Being from Ohio, most folks haven't even heard of mountains, probably. Anyway, my point is that I CAN NOT wait to get out West – I just want to roam around the desert, and randomly stop the car on the side of the road, and then take off on foot in some random direction. Not to mention the beautiful scenes and wild experiences awaiting me in California, Washington, Wyoming, and Canada. UGH, I'm getting itchy feet, while traveling – that's a pretty strange feeling.
BUT that day is not today. We spent the day wandering about Atlanta. Since we took the day off yesterday, we had to catch up a bit, by seeing some of Atlanta's most famed attractions. Yes, more attractions. We stopped over at the Georgia Aquarium first, then walked across the lawn to the World of Coca-Cola. The aquarium was definitely one of the more impressive aquariums that I've ever been to, except for all of the children that were running-a-muck – it was pure chaos for a while. I particularly loved being able to sit and watch the Beluga whales – really cool! The World of Coca-Cola was rather a strange experience – you enter and you must sit through an introduction speaker, while you wait for the theater to empty from the previous group being in there. You're constantly surrounded by old memorabilia, and Coca-Cola advertisements. Once the silly video – which made little sense to me – was finished, you were released to roam around the museum of Coke (which is basically what it is). Once inside, you can see the vault, where they keep the 'secret' formula, and you can learn a lot more about the history of the beverage, among several other themed wings of the building. But once you get inside, you can have free reign at hundreds of drinks from all around the world – some are quite good and others are just too brutal to drink more than a sip of.
Afterwards, we found ourselves just outside of town at the Stone Mountain Park. Basically, it's a large, somewhat smooth rock made of Granite, that had burst out of the ground at some point in Earth's history. We drove around the entire park, snagging a couple of decent images, before making our way to the Skylift – instead of being like most skylifts that I've been on, where you're in a small cabin or bench, it was a rather large cabin that's lifted one at a time. The Skylift cabin could hold probably 40-50+ people, so in that regard, it was unique. It took us up to the peak of the mountain at a slow, but smooth pace. At the top, you could see downtown Atlanta, as well as for miles in any direction.
By the way, you will notice these daily updates to be getting a bit shorter from here on out, because keeping up with my normal posting and writing schedule, editing photos, replying to emails, working with my partners, and keeping up with social media is just too much for one man to handle – while ALSO trying to travel, organically. It's becoming an impossible feat. I know that I don't want to stop my daily log for the road trip, but I can't write 500+ words everyday, as well as keep up with everything else. So, I've decided to go ahead and calm the jets on my long detailed explanations about the attractions and various things we do, and simply update my general thoughts and feelings, with some various stories and interesting happenings that we come across along the road. Long explanations about great attractions, accommodations, and must see places will be published in separate features. Bare with me here. =)
With another day of rest on order, we awoke with ease. We showered and had breakfast, before doing whatever we felt like doing – because all of our major plans and stops in Atlanta were all setup for the next day. As I finished the last bite of my cereal, my phone dinged, alerting me of a new email. The first and only reply from Gallery 63 – the auction house featured on the TV show Auction Kings – stated that Paul (the owner and TV show host) would be in the store today, but only for a few minutes, in about an hour and a half. SO much for our planned time out, right? Haha. No, really, it was a good experience. We walked around the auction house, checking out all of the new goodies and odds and ends that were to be auctioned off this upcoming Sunday. We met Cindy, who is also from the show, best known for being Paul's electric and goofy sidekick, who offered the viewing audience some comedic value.
On our way to Gallery 63, Matt and I were discussing how a lot (if not most) TV shows and reality shows are pretty much all prewritten, planned, and directed. We hoped that Gallery 63 would be as authentic as possible, and to our pleasant surprise, the gallery, the people, the owner, and the items that are up for auction were all real, and everything seemed to be pretty legit. It was nice talking with Cindy and Paul for a brief minute, and all in all, I can say that I am still a fan of their new show. If you're a fan of the show, or are interested in learning more about Auction Kings, look out for an upcoming post on the blog here – I'll also be announcing some Gallery 63 television news!
Afterwards, we went off in search of some grub for lunch. We toured some of the Decatur area – where our accommodation is located – before settling on a local family restaurant. We originally planned to stop by the Decatur Farmer's Market that runs every Wednesday, but unfortunately for us, we weren't informed of the hours – it ran from 3-6 PM, and we arrived a few hours too early. The rest of the night was a blur of working on the computer, writing for ya'll, and watching a movie on the TV at our accommodation.
I realize this post and yesterday's post was rather uneventful, but those type's of days are needed for us to keep our strength up... Don't you fear, tomorrow's post will be much more entertaining!
The toll has been paid, for the grueling long drives, and the fast paced touring. Now that we're past the first stretch – where we had to travel a bit faster than we would have liked, to visit a friend of ours in St. Petersburg, FL – we're taking some much needed respite. We left St. Petersburg, FL at 6 AM, and found ourselves in Atlanta, GA, a little over seven hours later. We literally went straight from the highway to our accommodation, where we took the rest of the night off. I realize this is rather anticlimactic, and boring to read, BUT rest is absolutely necessary, when you're traveling non-stop for such a long period of time. Look on the bright side, you can now catch up on any one of my numerous daily posts below...
Our accommodation in Atlanta is only 15-minutes away from downtown, it's set in a lovely little neighborhood, which we found has sheltered us from the bustling city lifestyle. We stayed at The Cottage in Decatur, which is a nice retreat that sets you up location-wise for most of Atlanta's treasured attractions, and even downtown is an easy drive. The Cottage is a small B&B, which offers an entire house extension unit for their guests. Definitely a cool and relaxing place to stay, and it's run by a sweet lady who can't care more about your comfort and your experience here – The Cottage in Decatur is a win.
We spent some of the night driving north, as to save us some driving time the next day. We awoke outside of the local Walgreens, cleaning ourselves up in the bathroom, before we found ourselves back on the road again. The road is where we reside, it is the beginning and the ending for this journey of a lifetime.
It took us about four hours to reach Cape Coral from Marathon in the Keys – we didn't stop for any attractions or anything, because we had plans to meet up with Matt's cousin, who he hasn't seen in almost ten years. We met at his cousin's house, where we had lunch and talked over old times, past memories, and funny happenings that they both missed, by being out of each other's lives for so long. It was a nice time – I'm glad Matt was able to reconnect in such a positive fashion.
From there, we hightailed it to St. Petersburg, where one of my best buddies moved after our group disbanded – which happened when I went to Europe last year. It was about a two hour drive to his house, which is right by the marina. He's the guy I flew down to see in December, after I got back from Europe. We arrived at about 7PM, but seeing as how he had to go to work early the next morning, we took it easy for the night – we just watched a movie and had a couple of beers.
Tomorrow is going to be another lackluster day, because we have a seven hour trek to Atlanta, Georgia. Be sure to follow both the blog and my Twitter feed here, as I often update live about what I'm up to at the time.
We slept in our car. Yeah, that happened. It was a sad day in the 2014 USA road trip. Well, not really, I'm just being a bit dramatic now... We found a quiet neighborhood street in Key West to stop the car and crash. I actually slept decently well, but the worst part is not being able to shower. Especially when you're in the tropics, a sweaty day without a shower can be rather bothering. It's either we stay in our car or we skip the Keys, and I definitely didn't want to do that. We drove to the local McDonald's to snag their wifi for a bit, before dropping by the Hemingway House. But of course, I was in Key West, I HAD to see Ernest's house, right? He is a huge literary (and traveler) influence – and yes, I am a big fan of his work. Before visiting the house, I already knew quite a bit about Ernest Hemingway, but I absolutely learned a lot as well. For example, I had no idea about his fondness for cats, the rows with his wife (like that of the two pools), or that he never returned to see the house again, after divorcing Pauline Pfeiffer before just up and leaving with Martha Gellhorn for Cuba. There's just something about seeing and feeling the place where your ultimate artistic influence created most of their most renowned works.
From there, we walked around town, wandering about aimless, as we do best. We found several shops and unique boutiques along the way, and we stopped by a couple of beautiful galleries. If only I could have one of my own someday, eh? Eh, comrades? Anyway, moving on... One of the coolest things we stopped to do was a brief tour through the Key West Shipwreck Treasures Museum. Now, that's a fun little place to stop for a quick tour to learn about shipwrecks, pirates, and treasure recovery. Plus, you get to actually touch some of their awesome treasure! I enjoyed the reenactment of Asa Tift the most though. Once you enter the museum after about a five to ten minute introduction, an actor walks you through the beginning of the tour, telling your stories and cracking a few jokes here and there. We toured a few shops after our tour, and I grabbed a priceless piece of pirate silver – which fondly enough seems to be plastic... Hm.
We spent the evening hours beachside at the Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. While most of the Florida Keys aren't loaded with beautiful white sand beaches, there are a few gems out and about that you can find. While Fort Zachary Taylor is among one of the more popular beaches, you have to pay to enter, so it sort of weeds out the obscenely high-numbered masses a bit. The beach had a lot of shells and quite a bit of seaweed washed up on it, but overall, it was a lovely place to relax. The sun was beating down on top of us, but the semi-heavy winds made everything feel right as rain. Matt found himself burnt afterwards, but thankfully for me, I was just in Aruba last month, so needless to say, I'm tanning nicely for a Caucasian white Ohio boy.
A savage desire, you say?
Matt and I woke up early... again. We drove around Palm Beach Island for a brief while, finding it a rather nice place to visit, actually. The weather, the sunrise, and the amble space by the water speaks directly to my inner-lustful-photographer alternative persona – see shot below on '03/14'. Afterwards, we set off for an hour and a half drive down to Coopertown, FL (with a population of 0008) – which I'm pretty sure isn't considered a real town. Coopertown is the famous launching point for the original airboat tours of the wild and endangered Everglades. We arrived just in time to watch the Coopertown Airboats short animal show, which lasted about 20-minutes – but then right after the show had finished, we were ready to board our boat. I've always known about the Everglades, but being there is a totally different experience. At first, you get a little nervous, adjusting to the feeling of the boat, and the sound of the engine fan. But you have no idea what to really expect, and you're running through various ideas and morbid twists of what all could happen to you along this current venture... Could a gator jump up and snag me out of the boat?
The captain of the boat sat tall on his perch, high above every tour-goer. He held a stick which let him control the direction that the boat goes, and he applied pressure with his foot, upon a small metal pedal, which would feed gas to the engine. To begin, we proceeded slowly through the waterways of the Everglades. The first part of the routing had trees and various growth that reached above our heads, so it was difficult to see very far, and impossible to snag a solid photograph in the thicket of the vegetation. Within a few minutes, however, we reached a clearing of water, with a bunch of low water plants – the landscape looked like a flooded prairie. The captain decided it was time to have some fun, so he opened up the engine, nearly flooding it with gas, and then he did something with his steering rod that made the boat drift dramatically over the landscape. It was like we were floating atop a cloud, ever so smoothly and gracefully. My nervousness vanished, and a savage desire to do nothing but high speed adventure sports took over me. I wanted to go faster, and I wanted to see how long we could stay in one single drift sequence. Anyway, I'll digress... It was some time before we ran into a lot of wildlife – and I'm choosing to skip over the fact that there are some righteously massive and disgusting bugs out there in the wild Everglades regions. No thank you, sir! We came across several wild alligators – they each had several differences in their appearance, but all in all, they were very docile, typically just hiding in the shade, to escape the piercing rays of the hot Florida sun. It was a great experience, and I can't wait to go back to do a longer tour again!
We finished up around 2 PM, so without wasting any time, we set back out on the road again. This time, our destination was Key West, where we have found it the hardest to find reasonable accommodation. The biggest problem isn't that the island is too small, with a limited amount of choices available – the issue is timing, as March 15-17 is one of the busiest weekends of the year for the Florida Keys! Mix together spring break and the fact that it's St. Patty's Day, and you have a recipe for mayhem. We couldn't find accommodations that were interested in teaming up with us, nor within our price range, so we decided to rough it for a couple of nights, by sleeping and staying in our car. It's not the most comfortable or ideal way to spend the night, but I can handle a little discomfort from time to time.
Our day started off with another early morning, and a trip to Walt Disney's World Speedway on the grounds of Disney World Orlando, where you will find the Richard Petty Driving Experience. At the Petty Experience, you can choose several different routes with your visit and experience – they offer NASCAR ride-alongs, rookie driving classes, and full-blown race experiences of 30 to 50+ laps. Our experience was the Rookie Experience, which offers you a quick 30 to 45-minute class on how to safely drive your car, as well as a real-honest-to-God NASCAR driving experience. We suited up, before sitting through our class lecture and video training course; afterwards, we were out on the track. The first few people went, keeping just a few cars on the track at a time, but then it was Matt's turn, and he raced around, completing his 8 laps in solid timing. I was the last to get my chance behind the wheel, and all I can say is that this was one hell of an experience. The initial take off typically starts off a bit rough, as you're getting used to the car and how touchy all of the pedals are. But the most terrifying thing about this experience is once you're up to full speed (or the speed that the ride-along instructor will allow), you have to proceed into the corners at a furious pace. If you were driving a normal everyday vehicle and wanted to try that, you would flip or spinout easily. But a real NASCAR car can handle a corner as if it was on rails. After your second lap, you've surely got the hang of it, and after that, the entire experience fly's right by, and before you know it, you're feet are back on solid ground.
I grew up watching Jim Carrey unleash his world of madness on the world throughout his career in the 90's and early 2000's, and of course I'm a fan of his work – there are few people who are as funny, and as talented. Anyway, he was a major icon for me when I was growing up, and no matter how immature some of his earlier films may be, I will someday die a lifelong fan! One of my favorite movies of Carrey's madness was 'Cable Guy' and to be honest, there's no more iconic scene in that movie (besides, perhaps the final scene atop the giant satellite dish) than the intense fighting scene at Medieval Times! So, when I realized that Orlando (or Kissimmee) had the original Medieval Times: Dinner & Tournament, I knew that I HAD to check it out! So, we did just that! We teamed up with Medieval Times for a night at the round table – we took photos with the king, and had a private tour of the entire attraction, as well as the seriously impressive village that the Medieval Times folks built only at the Kissimmee location. The Medieval Times village is literally jam-packed with 10's of millions of dollars worth of authentic memorabilia, furniture, weapons, tools, and everyday items from nearly 1,000 years ago – which I was told was brought over directly from Spain. The show itself was, of course, entertaining as hell, with an interesting theatrical script about a tournament and an evil foe who came to join all of the fun and hoopla. The food was delicious too – the chicken was fresh and cooked to perfection; the meat just fell off of the bone. While I would have welcomed another insane duel between Jim Carrey and Matthew Broderick, I had a great time for my first dinner theater visit!
Afterwards, we set off to our accommodation – the not-so-fun part is that we had to make up some driving time for the night, so we setup to stay the night in Palm Beach. We stayed the night at the Palm Beach Historic Inn, which is set in the heart of the 16-mile barrier of Palm Beach Island. The Inn is stunning, of course, but the area around the inn offers you a wonderful glimpse into historic architectures and ways of life. While Palm Beach may be a pricier region of Florida to visit, it also gives the visitor a unique view and experience, because everything here feels a certain way. Even when we arrived after midnight, the moon had alit the entire city block, and there was just a sort of tinge, or mood set over the place – and for that, I was able to just walk the streets for a bit, and relax within the place itself. Palm Beach Island is a lovely place to experience.
If you're a 90's kid, then Universal Studios was your bread and butter for entertainment. Everything they did over the years has pretty much been phenomenal, and if you grew up during Universal's heyday, then walking through their park in Orlando is like a dream come true. We went through Universal Studios today, and besides the massive amount of people, hoarding up the lines of the attractions, the park was awesome! Everything was done up, featured at its best – there were little to no areas that didn't impress the hell out of me. This park offered what I wanted from Disney; a place that felt like another world around me. Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter was probably the best part of the day for me. Besides the million-plus park-goers trying to do the same, it was a pleasant experience. I grew up reading all of the Harry Potter books – I've even went as far as to reread the entire series a dozen times (yes, that's right – a dozen!). To walk around the life-like world of your childhood fantasy world is like no other. The butter beer tasted like I thought butter beer ought to, and each of the buildings and stores looked really cool. I just wish I could walk through a recreation of Hogsmead and Hogwarts alone, as if I were really there; with witches and wizards roaming about, taking care of their daily business – but who doesn't want an experience like that. It's simple – the crowd kills the experience – that is all, the end.
Besides Harry Potter, I really enjoyed the Toon Lagoon area of the Islands of Adventure park, as well as the various movie rides that Universal offered. I went to Universal when I was very young, but I still remember a couple of the rides – but the sad thing is that only one of them is still there, the E.T. ride. The Harry Potter ride in the Hogwarts Castle and the Transformers rides were pretty righteous though! After a long day at Universal Studios, we decided to call it a night. Three straight days of going through amusement and attraction parks has really done a number on us. Our feet are sore and spotted with blisters, our bodies ache, and our tolerance for large touristy crowds has greatly diminished. We stayed the night at the new in-home, private accommodation of Sunny Daze Getaway – it's located just down the road from Universal Studios. Sunny Daze Getaway is run by a lovely youthful woman by the name of Amy. She basically separated her sizable ground-floor house into two large sections. The accommodation side is bright and comfortable – I definitely slept like a baby. If you're ever in Orlando, and want a cozy place to stay, just away from all the hoopla, be sure to look up Sunny Daze Getaway.
For some people in the world, if all they do in America is visit Disney World, they're as happy as can be. For a while, when I was a child, I could dream of nothing better. I was lucky enough to visit Disney once when I was quite young (age four or five), but to be honest, I really don't remember all that much. So, when I found out that we were invited to Disney World for the day, I was insanely excited, almost silly, really... Considering the fact that the entire park was built for kids to enjoy themselves, with plenty of watering holes available for the parents to get sloshed as well. But that's neither here nor there. We visited Disney's Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and the Epcot theme park.
Overall, I enjoyed Disney World, but I have to be honest – I wasn't mind-blown over the experience, at all, and what's worse is that I almost detested the whole meaning of Disney. While Disney has made some great films – which have become mostly all become classics – and they've created and cultivated some of the most recognizable and influential (at least, for children anyway) characters and stories of all time. The experience can be magical for kids, but I think that since they try their damnedest to pack people into the park, the lines and the crowds surely hurt the magic for us adults. The main thing that I have an issue with is the fact that Disney World is basically just a big mall that charges $15 USD to park your car, then $99 USD for each day that you wish to visit (with some deals typically being offered, of course) and to walk around and see each of their shops, paid attraction booths, and their seemingly-endless amount of restaurants. If you want to see a specific themed attraction, you can't do it without entering a shop, or eating at one of their themed restaurants – and mind you, the prices are well inflated too. I believed that the park would be as if I was in another world – and while some parts are like that, most of the park is just a giant store, split into bits and pieces... So, for me, I was glad that I went, and I'm happy in the fact that I at least was able to visit Disney again, so that I can actually remember it better this time around; but I probably won't visit back again, at least not without my own kids. I do believe that Disney World is something magical for children, but the point here is that it's pretty rough on the parent(s) to be able to afford to provide the 'full experience.'
We woke up early again, watching the sun rise from the second floor of our accommodation, before packing up and heading out, back on the road again. Our first stop of the day was the Alligator Farm in St. Augustine – at very first, we thought it was one of those attractions where the host sticks his head in the gator's mouth, along with doing other random risky tasks. But we found out after a quick moment that the Alligator Farm has focused more on a preservation and zoological approach. It was a nice time walking around, and learning about all of the different reptiles and creatures that they feature and take care of there. The walk around self-tour took us about an hour, which left us arriving in plenty of time for our next stop, the Kennedy Space Center, which was about two hours south of where we were in St. Augustine.
Space is and probably will always be a barely understood, but exceedingly magical realm of possibility, and by being able to tour where space flight had originated, thrived, and evolved from is an amazing experience, in itself. For Matt and I, space – and the ability to space travel – is definitely a majestic experience. I can't think of anything more that I wish I could do – roaming space and seeing other planets and systems, with the prospect of photographing some of the most beautiful and unseen areas of the Universe simply sounds amazing! The Kennedy Space Center offered a good amount of varied attractions, theaters, and crowd-participation events – but the best experience I had was when I watched the IMAX Hubble 3D film. The film was definitely 3D, but maybe it wasn't done to its perfection, but it had a lot of mesmerizing views, which basically explained how insignificantly (and somewhat, pathetically) small we all are. Lessons like that can teach you many things, some of which are rather sad, but you can also be humbled greatly from it – for example, the next time that you freak out over a small problem or issue, picture how ridiculous small that problem is – even getting to the point of realization; that in a few years, you likely won't even remember whatever the issue was; is an important skill to have. Besides the IMAX shows, they also offered the Shuttle Launch Experience, the Astronaut Encounter, and the Exploration Space: Explorers Wanted attractions, which ranged from meet and greets to museums, as well as some rides and other things, like the Rocket Garden and the Hall of Fame. It didn't absolutely blow my mind, like I was hoping it would – but it was a good experience overall.
Once the Space Center closed, we set off toward our accommodation, keen on us having some relaxed time – because we have been moving too fast the last few days! We went grocery shopping before arriving to our accommodation in Mount Dora, so we treated ourselves to some pizza and real fruit smoothies. Our accommodation in Mount Dora, FL is the Mount Dora Historic Inn, which is just outside of Orlando – it's a nice, and relaxed spot to setup headquarters. Tomorrow, we're off to Disney World!
While planning this road trip, I was told over and over again, just how great Savannah, Georgia is... Yesterday was both of our first time's visiting the coastal city, and we came away from the experience rather impressed. I loved the character and history that Savannah still radiates, and I love all of the boutique shops and the city square's. Not many American cities have as much mystique and history, yet also be a thriving and creative place, like that of Savannah. We walked around for hours and hours, roaming the parks, reading the historic memoirs, and exploring all sorts of interesting shops and galleries. We checked out the River St. Riverfront area first, being good ol' tourists, taking photos in front of the steamboat and roaming in and out of various boutique shops. There were many touristy shops and attraction booking desks, but overall, Savannah still seemed authentic to me – I loved every bit of my time there. After the Riverfront, we checked out the popular City Marketplace area, where we toured several impressive galleries and other creative storefronts. From there, we hobbled down Broughton Street, stopping at various shops again, but this time we found ourselves in a local Honey Bee emporium – they walked us through the entire process, as well as through their entire line of products – and I can say that their honey was the shit! Be sure to check out Savannah Bee Company – sending mad props their way! Afterwards, we stopped at the famous Leopold's Ice Cream shoppe, which has been in business in Savannah since 1919. You guessed it – their ice cream was absolutely awesome. I tried their Blueberry flavor, and it was a rather delectable treat.
We stopped a few times along the coast, at various cities and beaches – but our favorite part of the day, besides walking around Savannah, was the chance to tour around St. Augustine. We found a parking place near downtown, and began by walking down the boardwalk routes. One of the coolest stops on our trip so far was when we stopped at the Wolf's Museum of Mystery on Charlotte Street. The museum duels as a store, selling almost every piece of its collection – from priceless oddities to strange vintage memorabilia. Wolf's Museum of Mystery has almost everything you can imagine, from real elephant feet to gruesome horror flick recreations, as well as a vintage vampire killing kit and a particularly interesting antique iron lung. There are also pieces from Mr. Wolf's personal collection, like that of his personal correspondence to the infamous criminal mastermind Charles Manson. The museum has just been featured as the set for an upcoming horror film – so be sure to look out for that later this year. We had the chance to sit down with the owner Mr. Wolf, who was a really great guy – he shared his obvious passion for the creative arts and the intriguing dark mysteries and oddities of our world. I will be sure to revisit soon in the near future, and I hope for next time's sake that we have more time to chat. What a great experience that was! I definitely suggest that if you find yourself in St. Augustine, FL, that you check this place out before going to the typical Ripley's attraction right down the road.
Continuing around the downtown district of St. Augustine brought us to the oldest fort in continental America, the Castillo De San Marcos. The sun was setting and the weather was fabulous, so we skipped out on touring the inside of the fort, and decided to hang around the boardwalk park around the fort. Matt and I sat, watching the sun set over the land, before venturing to our new accommodation. At this point in the trip, we've made some headway by traveling down the coast at a relatively fast rate, but it wasn't super easy. There's simply TOO much to see in the United States – from here on out, we will begin to start slowing down, where we will be traveling much more organically; staying where we are for as long or as short as we wish to. Living in Ohio, your quickest beach-vacation spot is typically in North or South Carolina, with most people traveling to Florida for their winter respite – so, we've been around the Carolinas and in Florida quite a few times before. It was good to progress through the beginning of our routing, because of all of the places we plan on seeing throughout this trip, Arizona, California, Washington, and Canada are at the top of our list. So, spending as much time in those areas is a top priority. We stayed the night in St. Augustine Beach, FL at the House of Sea and Sun Bed & Breakfast. It sits high on the mainland area beyond the beach, with wonderful views of the Atlantic Ocean and the small rolling sand dunes that lead down to the water. Plus, you can wake up and watch the sunrise from the second floor of the building, which is always a lovely perk.
We woke up just in time for breakfast at the lovely Mansfield Plantation in Georgetown, SC – which was delicious, of course! Afterwards, we quickly packed our bags and set off on the road again. We backtracked north a bit to tour the Brookgreen Gardens plantation area, before aiming south for Charleston. The gardens were nice to visit, but I'm sure they're even more impressive in the Summer or Autumn times. The gardens were filled with some of the best sculpture work I've seen since touring France and Italy. On our way through Georgetown, we stopped to explore the historic downtown areas, before making our way to the famous Boone Hill Plantation. I'm not really sure why this one is more famous than the countless others in this area of the country, but it's surely beautiful, with its long, sweeping drive, covered by the long reach of the thick and rugged trees which line the drive. When you mix in the size, history and beauty of the plantation, it's obvious to see why this is a favorite. (More photos coming soon.)
Next, we wandered through Charleston a bit, but we didn't do much in the main city limits, because today was another major travel day – even though the distance wasn't quite as much as the day before. We toured the Magnolia Plantation and Audobon Swamp Garden, which was also lovely – the green-layered swamps were definitely a highlight. Afterwards, we hightailed it over to the highly-recommended Folly Beach for some much needed walks along the sand. I'm sure we'll be sick and tired of beaches after we drive all of the way around the coasts of Florida, but there's just something relaxing about a beach. A beach always reminds me of vacationing, and taking it easy for a time. Following the beach, we set straight off for Savannah – I've heard some really great things about Savannah. Unfortunately, I can't confirm anything until the next day here, as we arrived well after the sun set for the evening. Our accommodation in Savannah is a lavish one, to say the least – we're staying the night at the Presidents' Quarters Inn: Bed and Breakfast, which is nestled in the historic district of the town. The building and (at least) our room is immaculate, with beautiful paintings, furniture, and top-notch amenities. Surely, there are few better places to stay in Savannah than the Presidents' Quarters Inn.
We originally had the first part of our routing planned around seeing a buddy of ours in St. Petersburg, FL, but he had to cancel, as he's trying to buy a house, and needs to spend his weekends focusing on that. But to make that happen, we had to plan a couple of busy days, where we were mostly driving. We planned some stops here and there, but mostly, we pushed through to make it to our destination before it was too late. These kinds of days aren't my favorite, but they're necessary at times – plus, I've already been in the Carolinas several times before, so I'm not upset that we didn't spend a lot of time in places like Charlotte or Myrtle Beach.
To catch up on a day missed – from when we originally started planning this trip – and to be sure we were in Florida in time, we drove from Asheville to Charlotte, with a stop to Chimney Rock along the way. Stopping at Chimney Rock was a great idea, as it's a place we've never been, and all of the weather up until this point of the trip had been chilly, with either freezing rain or snow flurries. So, Chimney Rock was our first hiking experience of the trip. Unfortunately, though, Chimney Rock was closed for a month previous, and we luckily stopped by on its first day open for the new season – which means, there were certain routes, and trails that were blocked off and closed for the time being. But from our experience at Chimney Rock, I can say that it's a must see, due to its fun hiking opportunities and its lovely views. We then drove through most of Charlotte, without really finding anywhere worth stopping with such a tight schedule in place. From there we drove to the coast, stopping at a few interesting places along the main areas of the very touristy Myrtle Beach region. We stopped a couple of times, walking around random places that looked interesting – but in the end, we shortly set off; back on the road again. This time we decided it was best to make it to our accommodation before midnight. It was a boring, grueling day, but that's all part of the journey, eh?
As we left Myrtle Beach and began getting closer to Georgetown, South Carolina, we found that the tourist attractions and all of the bright neon lights had faded, and we were left with a beautiful bright night. The moon was half full, but blazingly bright – it illuminated most of the grounds around our accommodation. A moon that bright isn't something that I'm real used to seeing, let alone, am I even remotely used to seeing the beautiful collection of vibrant stars that were overhead. We're staying one night at the Mansfield Plantation Bed and Breakfast in Georgetown, SC. We drove up the drive at night, which ranged a couple of miles in length – there was nothing around, only trees and forest, cleared plenty wide enough for the two lane dirt path to take us from the road to the house, as comfortably as a dirt road can. As the house approached us from the distance, it was difficult to see, with only the light on the porch distinguishing the house from the moon-tinted landscape. Our B&B is a wonderfully preserved antebellum rice plantation, dating back to 1718. It's absolutely stunning, with its long and rugged tree line, that lines the drive – it really feels like I'm walking through history here, as I walk the grounds around the house.
This Friday was a relaxed day, as we started slow, but quickly the day became more and more interesting. We roamed around the downtown areas of Asheville that we missed the night before, due to the snow, and I can say that I LOVE Asheville. Maybe it's the inner-hipster within me, but all of the quaint shops, boutiques, and earth-conscious shopping available in Asheville is really exciting, actually. I could have spent the entire day walking from shop to shop, talking with the shop owners, and perusing all of the intriguing items and oddities. Afterwards, we hightailed it to the famous Biltmore Estate, just outside of town. It took quite a while to drive up to the house, and to circle back around it after our tour – the grounds are massive, spacious, and beautiful – the Biltmore is a symbol of ridiculous lavishness; it's a serious breach in equality, but nevertheless, it is a beautiful piece of art, inside and out. While walking through the house, I became exceedingly aware of two things...
- I realized that the Vanderbilt family was so insanely wealthy that they just had to do something with it, rather than stare at the digit column of their bank statement.
- I almost felt as though the entire facility was built with the intention in mind of becoming a museum one day. It's difficult to picture living everyday life at a place like the Biltmore. It's gorgeous, and spacious, and luxurious, but it's just too damn big.
The rest of the night was spent doing what Matt and I would have probably done if we were back home in Columbus; we watched a movie at a local theater, followed by pizza. You really can't end a nice day, much of a better way. ;-)
We woke up early, repacked the car, and said our goodbyes to our lovely cabin on the mountain. Our first stop was only about 15-minutes away in Pigeon Forge – the night before, we stopped to check out the Titanic Museum, but it was closed – so, we stopped in the morning and toured the entire facility. I've been to the touring Titanic exhibit that went through my hometown of Columbus, Ohio a few years back, I've been to a couple of various ones in other places around the world as well, like where the Titanic was built in Belfast, Northern Ireland. All of them are typically pretty fantastic, and at the very least, quite interesting. While I think the most detailed museum, where you should (and will) spend the most time at is the original birthplace in Belfast, this museum was a close second. It was large and details, with an almost never-ending supply of artifacts and interesting tidbits of information. At the beginning of the tour, you're given a boarding pass with a real passenger's name written upon it and a quick blurb about their life or what they did upon the ship (if they were a crew member or not). Unfortunately, my character died at the end, but he was the 1st Class crewman, who helped some of the most famous people (at the time) to their safety. Matt's character lived, as he was one of the wealthiest people of the age, with a wife who was a famous fashion designer. *Shrugs – figures, eh?
Afterwards, we took a few random routes in the Smokey's and found ourselves on a few scenic routes, like the famous Cades Cove route. It was beautiful, by all means, but since it's still (technically) Winter in Tennessee, the scene was rather drab and dreary – all of the trees were stripped, and the ground seemed brown, shriveled, and dead. The other annoying thing was that there was a ridiculous amount of other tourists driving around the same one-way route, around the valley – so, traffic crawled at a glacier's pace. I've published a few photos below, but there will be several more coming soon on "My latest Travel Photography" album.
From there we decided it was time to venture through the mountains, rather, and across state lines. A couple of hours later, we made it to Asheville, which was quite a bit colder, unfortunately. Snow flurries and the wind began to pick up, so our first rendezvous and tour around the downtown area was rather short-lived. We stopped at the highly-recommended Barley's Taproom and Pizzeria on Biltmore Avenue, and I can say that the pizza is pretty awesome there! We rushed back to our car and settled in for an early night at our accommodation. We're staying a couple of nights at the absolutely gorgeous and historic 1899 Wright Inn & Carriage House. It looks like a pristine doll house enlarged for optimum comfort. The real jewel is the inside of the house, where lavished decorations, antique furniture sets, and seemingly valuable paintings are littered everywhere, in a majestic and perfectly-planned way. Every place we've stayed at so far on this trip has been beyond my wildest dreams – either each accommodation is loaded with amenities, steeped with historic importance, or is either beautiful or is chock-full of character. We feel truly blessed. =)
Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee are among some of the most touristy, built-up areas in the country, and even though they're jam-packed with random attractions, thrilling rides, and oddity-filled museums, there can be some good fun had here. Matt and I walked down the streets of quaint little Gatlinburg, set a bit in the hills of the Smokey Mountains, stopping here and there at various stores and attractions. We spent a few hours roaming around the town, taking tours, and riding rides, and it was a good time, but after a while, you've pretty much had your fill – unless you're a preteen, hyped up on sugar, with pixie sticks and gum balls syphoning through your veins. Here's a list of all of the attractions we checked out yesterday, and I've gone ahead and taken the liberty to rate each at the best out of ten...
- Ripley's Believe It or Not! Odditorium – 8/10
- Ripley's Haunted Adventure – 3/10
- Ripley's Guinness World Records Museum – 7/10
- Hollywood Wax Museum – 8/10
- Hollywood's Castle of Chaos – 3/10
- Hollywood's Hannah's Maze of Mirrors – 4/10
- Jurassic Jungle Boat Ride – 2/10
- Hollywood Star Cars Museum – 7/10
- Gatlinburg Space Needle – 5/10
As you can see there were some of the attractions that we did that were rather less than savory. The reason being that some of the attractions have such low ratings is because they were either built badly, very unbelievable, or were simply a waste of time. I always go into something with an open mind, but damn, some of them were just bad – and others were pretty awesome! Now, you probably glanced through that list with a bit of amazement, that we did all of that in one day – but truth is, we totally did, but I can definitely say that I passed out as soon as we reached our cabin!
Matt and I woke up, finished our work, and set out for Knoxville. Neither of us have ever been to Knoxville, but as we ascended upon the historic district and Market Square area, we were pleasantly surprised. Immediately, I (specifically) loved the atmosphere, the historic character, and the people we met, as everyone was super nice and accommodating. We walked around for a few hours in the cold, and even though downtown was pretty empty, it was still a nice experience – hopefully I will be able to return again someday, to see Knoxville in the summer, or perhaps for a UT game. ;-)
Afterwards, we set off toward Seviersville, where our log cabin was located. On our drive, we passed through Pigeon Forge, which is the extremely touristy strip as you enter the face of the Smokey's, or if you're on your way to the famous Gatlinburg – which we will be checking out the next day. I've been to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg four times previous, with church groups and youth center retreats when I was younger, but even though it won't be brand new, I'm rather excited to experience it all over again.
The funniest part about our day – well, it was funny afterwards – was once we retrieved our keys from the Great Cabins in the Smokies office and set off for our cabin, which ended up being pretty high up the mountains. My car barely made it to the cabin, actually – it was just putting along, struggling to make way. We arrived to the cabin, but seeing as how night had set, we couldn't really see anything, but it was obvious that the cabin provided by Great Cabins in the Smokies was freaking awesome. It's two stories tall, set atop the highest peak visible, with all of the amenities you could wish for. The cabin was complete with two massive master bedrooms with jacuzzis, two common areas with entertainment systems, a nice and comfortable kitchen, and a hot tub on the wrap around deck. It's a beautiful log cabin home, built for vacationers, so we felt extremely blessed to be able to spend a couple of nights here.
So, you're probably wondering what the 'funny' part of our day was? Well, we arrived to the cabin, with a lock code for the door, but once we opened the door, the alarm flipped out. The company forgot to turn off the alarm, and they didn't give us any codes to turn it off. Twenty minutes of chaos then ensued – we called every phone number available, which was blocked by an after hours voicemail system, ADT kept us on hold the entire time, and then the local police came up the drive, asking us questions, before trying his hand at the security system as well. The alarms blared for the entire twenty minute period, nearly making your ears bleed, before the owner of the company joined the party. He apologized for the mistake, thanked the cop, and set off again. It was nice to meet him, even if it were for just a moment, under slightly stressful circumstances. Overall though, we're extremely happy with our cabin.
Now that it's morning, I was able to see that we're so high up that we're above the cloud line!
Today was the first day that our schedule and plans allowed us a chance to sleep in, and when you mix in the fact that the crazy rain from the day before froze overnight – first turning into snow and then freezing into ice everywhere, making the region look like a beautiful winter wonderland – we thought taking it easy was the best thing to do. We relaxed a bit, catching up on some of our work and writing projects, before venturing back into Nashville. Matt had never been to Nashville before, but I have been a few times, so seeing the touristy areas dedicated to the famous country music scene of Nashville wasn't a big deal for me, but we did it anyway, because it was just something he needed to experience. Nashville is definitely a cool city, but it's definitely smaller than Columbus, with less (or at least I think so) to do overall. There really isn't a whole lot to do during the day, on a Monday, during the winter, so we met up with a friend and burned away the time just hanging out until it was best that we head back to our accommodation for the night.
But we did do one pretty neat thing around the Broadway/Riverfront district of Nashville – we hopped from one store to the next, seeing all of the historic memorabilia, cowboy boots and hats that were for sale, and the various musician tributes/museums. We originally were trying to escape the cold after a bit, but hopping from storefront to storefront was a really fun way to experience the style and etiquette of 'Country' in America. The highlight was when we stopped by the Johnny Cash museum. Johnny Cash is heralded as the hometown boy of Nashville, but the truth is that hundreds, maybe thousands of musicians have gotten their start here, and it should really be dedicated and well-known for many more reasons than Mr. Cash, but seeing his museum was a nice experience – they even had a lot of his clothes, instruments, and memorabilia that have become synonymous with the name and the brand of Johnny Cash. The coolest object for me was his famous sunburst orange acoustic guitar, that we took everywhere, and played every concert with for over 10-years. Very cool!
We woke up around 8 AM at the Serenity Hill B&B near Mammoth Cave, KY, and our friendly inn keepers had a wonderful 3-course breakfast waiting for us. It was top notch – a great way to start the day! We left soon after breakfast, ready to wander our way through some of the 'World's Longest Cave System'. The moment we packed our bags and were ready to pack the car and go, the clouds unleashed a massive downpour that didn't end until it turned into snow that night.
Going through Mammoth Cave was one of the coolest experiences so far, and by all means, we haven't seen much, but I think it will always remain as one of the top experiences we have throughout this road trip. We took the 'New Entrance' tour of the caves – it lasted about two hours in total. Our guide was a passionate and knowledgeable man with a righteous beard, and he accepted all of our questions, no matter if it was a bit silly or farfetched. We learned quite a bit from him, so that was a real highlight of the tour. We hopped on a bus from the visitor's center building, driving for about 15-minutes further into the park, until we came to our destination – from there, we walked down some steps that took us to a concrete slab that covered the spot of where the caverns once opened up to the world, due to a large sink hole. It was pretty humorous actually, as you enter the cave through a regular looking, locking metal door which was set into part of the hill.
Entering the cave, you must immediately ascend down about 100-feet or so of steps, until you start going down winding shafts and slot canyons. There were many places that if you weren't paying attention, you would knock yourself out on the low-hanging rocks. They labeled the routing of the tour as 'strenuous,' but in reality, as long as you're in barely decent shape, and perhaps not obscenely obese, the trek wasn't difficult at all. Just make sure that you have some nice shoes that will help you grip the stone paths, as some of the areas are a bit slippery, especially when there's a lot of rain coming down outside.
The tour took us through several large open passage ways, enough to park a few semis in, before taking us to some of the crown jewel areas of this particular tour. The guide told us this was nothing, that we would have to go on this other tour routing to see the real good stuff, but I still thought it was interesting to see. I know that I once visited these caves before, when I used to camp and take weekend trips with my mother back in the day. This was Matt's first time to the caves, and he seemed to enjoy himself. (Apologies that there aren't more photos, but it was quite dark down there, and there was no flash or tripods allowed.)
Following our tour, we stopped at a nearby local diner, called the Porky Pig Diner, and we had one of the most fantastic meals thus far – they served their food in a buffet style, but it was some of the best home-style cooking I've had in my entire life. I simply sunk myself in a booth and skipped past the point of where I was pleasantly full, until I got to the point that I decided I hated myself for how much I ate – haha. South from there took us to Nashville, where we took the night off from the chilling winds and flooding rains, by hanging with one of our best friends of nearly 15-years. We had some good times – sometimes it's just nice to relax a bit from constant life on the road!
It was difficult for us to find a place that wasn't already booked up in Nashville itself, so we had to travel a ways outside of town, which actually ended up being a blessing in disguise. We stayed the night at the Armour's Red Boiling Springs Hotel in Red Boiling Springs, TN. The hotel bursts with character and history, with its antique (20+) rooms and walls decked with historic photographs, paintings, and historic memorabilia. Every aspect of the house and the rooms is fully dressed and designed around a particular subject, whether it's Americana, Presidential suites, love and romance, or simply a designer's whim. Either way, this is one of the best hotel/bed and breakfast's that I've stayed at – plus, it's run by some of the nicest, most accommodating, and lovely folks that we've met so far.
We left early from Portsmouth, heading toward the Natural Bridge in Slade, Kentucky, but the problem was, which we didn't know, that the lifts were closed for the season (go figure!), and the hike to the top was over a mile, which would normally be really great, but unfortunately, since we have plans to meet up with a friend in St. Petersburg, Florida in about two weeks, we had to overpack our day. We saw what we could of the bridge, but essentially, we had to turn back and book it to Lexington, where we had reservations set to tour the Alltech's Lexington Brewing & Distilling company. One of my favorite American brews is the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale from Alltech's, and boy, oh boy, does it taste even better when it's as fresh as can be. Little did I know that they also brew several other beers, like the delicious Bourbon Barrel Stout – which we had the chance to sample while on our tour. They also distill their own whiskies, and liqueur – they are pretty tasty too.
The tour ended later than we had planned on, and seeing as how it was a Saturday and the distillery hours at our next two stops were shortened for the weekend, we decided that we had to choose one or the other, and we ended up choosing to rush to Maker's Mark Distillery in Loretto, rather than hang near Lexington for the Woodford Distillery – but mark my words, I will be back to visit Woodford's, as it's one of my favorite bourbons. I'm sad that we had to miss our reservation there – apologies guys! Maker's Mark was always the standard for me – it was really good, fair priced, but seemed to me as though it was likely the love-baby of a major corporate alcohol conglomerate. Arriving to Loretto meant you had to get off the highway a bit, and drive on several winding roads that took you farther into the country. Just outside of the small town was a road that dead-ended at the Maker's Mark Distillery. It was small, quaint, and obviously an aged place. The buildings were old, and black, with red shutters, and the distillery was setup around an old river, with the buildings setup like a small university campus. Each building was labeled for what job was done inside of it. There were quality assurance offices, a bottling plant, quality barrel and ingredient control buildings, as well as several antique barns filled to the brim with aging caskets. The scene was spectacular, and the one word that kept coming to my mind was that this place was nothing, if it wasn't as 'authentic' as could be. I have a much greater respect now, learning first hand how their bourbon is made, and for how real the process is still for the Maker's folks. So does Matt, because he never had bourbon before, let alone he had never tried Maker's before – I think he may be hooked now – Uh oh. I want to also give a shout out and huge thank you to our personal guide – he was knowledgable, real, down-to-earth, and an absolute joy to speak with. Before leaving the facilities, we were given our own un-waxed bottles of the good stuff, and we were asked to dip our own bottles in the famous red wax, which was a real treat to experience!
Afterwards, we jumped back in the car and drove about a half an hour away to the acclaimed Bourbon capitol city of Bardstown. We walked around the tiny downtown center of the town before stopping for dinner at the traditional Old Talbott Tavern. The home cooking was top notch – I'll be sure to come back again! To add to our already long day, we had an hour and a half drive to our accommodation, which is right next to the world renowned Mammoth Cave. Our night was beyond comfortable, because we stayed at the Serenity Hill Bed & Breakfast. The owners recently moved from Alaska to take over the B&B, which I definitely found fascinating. We got to talking a bit, and we found out that they're brand new owners, getting ready to start their first season as inn owners. The house was large with plenty of space, complete with a country-style porch, perched atop a beautiful hill which overlooked the valley areas around us.
...And just like that, the trip planning ceased and the road became our present day and immediate future, culminating as Matt and I watched the farewell from Ohio signs. Day one of the road trip was relaxed, but still yielded grand results. We crossed over the river from Cincinnati to Newport, KY first, driving a mile or so to where we ended up parking inside of the underground riverwalk area lots. The famed Newport Aquarium was the first attraction of our trip – I had been once before, but Matt was pleasantly surprised. It's probably not the biggest or most impressive aquarium in the world, but it was definitely built with fun in mind, and with a lot of TLC. My favorite part was videographing the curious alligators and creeping sharks, as well as the slinking octopus, and the other, stranger and more endangered species.
Afterwards, we stopped at the amazing and massive Party Source store for an interesting stroll of rooms upon rooms and rows upon rows of liquors, beers, and kegs. Down the street, we stopped for a liter stein filled to the top with delicious German beer – the Hofbrauhaus Newport wasn't as lively as the first time I had visited years ago, as it was booming with customers then, who were being served by beautiful woman dressed in the traditional Dirndl outfits, serenaded by a performer who knew the ins and the outs of his accordion, and all the while, the pints were flowing heavily, seeming to never end. After our pints, we took a road trip through Cincinnati, finding ourselves in some not-so-grand areas of town. We were aiming to tour the local market, and we were hoping to find some nice places for some organic, from the farm foods, but instead, we found some of the more depressed areas of the city. The sun was beginning to set by the time we decided to get back on the road toward a friend's house in Portsmouth, Ohio.