Saturday, 18 July 2009

Oh Say Can You See... The Longest Post I've Written So Far

Well here we are, it's time, it's the post you've all been (very patiently) waiting for, it's the full length account of my 3 week trip to the United States Of America.

You may or may not know, that usually before any sort of event, such as sports games, the American people being the patriotic bunch they are (nothing wrong with that!) like to play their national anthem, so in tradition with honoring America I would like to do the same.

Please rise for the national anthem of the United States Of America.

That version is from the 1991 Superbowl XXV (25 for you non-Romans) and it sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it.

Formalities aside, lets get on with the trip. Onwards!

The trip was a three week adventure for my girlfriend Sam, my Mum and Dad and myself. It all began on Sunday the 7th of June, when we started the trip by flying from Manchester airport to Nashville, TN (with a change over at Philadelphia). At the airport we were greeted by scorching hot weather and also my sister (who I've definitely spoke of in my blog before). We collected our hire car, which as far as I was concerned was not the best looking, but damn was it comfy! And by typical American standards, to open the door you had to push a button and it magically opened itself for you, which I definitely wasn't complaining about. Me and Sam got in my sisters car (for fear of my dad driving on the wrong side of the road and killing us before the trip had even began) and drove to Pulaski, TN where she now resides. We spent a nice relaxing night there, and with a well earned rest, the next day we drove to Atlanta.

The whole reason for going to Atlanta was to go see the Atlanta Braves play. I'm a huge fan of North American sports, I've played basketball and hockey since I was about 15, and over the years a general interest for baseball, American football and other stupid things like NASCAR slowly crept in. Now, I'm a huge baseball fan, and thought of seeing another live game was immensely exciting (The first time I saw a baseball game was on a school trip to New York, where I saw the Yankees play the Toronto BlueJays. Being a juvenile I found the abbreviation of BJ's to be heavily amusing).

So we arrived in Atlanta at our hotel which was a few minutes walk away from the stadium. Our hotel was also right near the Olympic torch and a huge monument to commemorate the 1996 Olympic Games, which was really cool to see.

We got to the game after plenty of happy snaps en-route, and a minor detour for me to buy a Braves jersey, but eventually we found our seats. We all enjoyed the game, the atmosphere was great and everybody seemed to get into it a lot more than I expected, especially Sam, who insisted I did "The Chop" about 10,000 times over the duration of the night. Regardless of the arm ache, the game was awesome. Amazingly the game went to 15 innings, which if you don't know baseball, is like having extra time in football (soccer for you yanks) for nearly as long as the original game itself. We also found out that it was Bobby Cox's (Braves Head-Coach) 2000th career win, which is a nice milestone to witness.

The next day we flew directly from Atlanta to Las Vegas! Cue the music!

Vegas was one of the highlights of the trip, but it's probably the craziest place I've ever experienced. We stayed at the Stratosphere hotel right at the end of the strip, not the best positioning if you want to be on the strip every night, but the great thing about Las Vegas is their Monorail system, it cost us about $25 each for an unlimited 3day pass, and the nearest stop was at The Sahara hotel which was literally a few minutes walk so it didn't turn out that bad at all.

When we arrived at the hotel, we checked in and went to investigate the rooms, after sorting out who had what view from their window we went downstairs onto the casino floor to find somewhere to eat. As we made our way through the casino, we saw hundreds of people buried in a cloud of their own smoke staring intently at a slot machine, just hoping it would just explode in a flash and glory of bells and flashing lights, but unfortunately (and not surprisingly neither we nor anyone else we saw experienced this). Eventually we came to a traditional American diner called Roxy's, being hungry and also wanting to get into the spirit of the trip in general, we decided to eat there. We sat down and ordered our food, the menus were shaped like vinyl records, which I thought was cool.

We also noticed that they had their own in house DJ, playing oldies and things on "Roxy's Radio", we all thought nothing of until one of the waitresses came up from serving a table took the microphone off him and perched herself high upon one of the booth seats. To our amazement she starting singing to the song, and honestly it wasn't bad at all, I expected a lot worse. As we continued to eat we noticed a pattern where slowly one member of staff after another would come forth and sing a song, luckily we were leaving so it didn't get too tiresome, but I couldn't of stayed there all night. Good milkshakes though, oh yeah.

We decided from the beginning to visit all the hotels that were worth seeing over the three days we were in Vegas, overall my favourite was the MGM Grand, but they were all amazing in their own ways. In the MGM Grand they had a huge enclosure off the casino floor where they would bring in Lions at certain times of the day from a specialist ranch that was about 12 miles into the desert. They have about 15 lions so they rotate them so as not to keep one set traveling back and forth. It was incredible to see.

They also had a tunnel going from the casino floor into their gift shop, which was made of a thick plastic (I think) where the lions would sit and you could see them from directly underneath. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly the tunnels roof was pretty scratched so photos didn't come out that well, but here's a few of the best ones.

The Luxor which is the Egyptian themed hotel, was also just as impressive, the architecture was just stunning.

And the view from inside the hotel was just as amazing, I found it crazy how they've managed to incorporate the rooms into the shape of the pyramid.

Excalibur is the medieval, dungeons and dragons themed hotel, and for those of you who know me well, you know that I'm a bit of a geek for stuff like that, so I absolutely loved it! Unfortunately all the photos on this post have been taken on my iPhone, and its range is limited so for Excalibur I didn't really get any good shots of the exterior as its surrounded by a mote and next to a massive highway. Heres a good picture of it though.

The New York New York hotel is exactly what is says on the tin, it's a hotel that looks like the New York skyline, complete with the Statue Of Liberty and a roller coaster going round the buildings, again my iPhone was unable to capture it in full glory. Check it out. At the NYNY hotel they encourage you to...


Or my personal favourite...

Unfortunately I didn't ROK my "Insert Choice Here" Off, because we had other things to do, one of the things was to go and spend a copious amount of money in the arcade whilst Sam, my sister and my dad went on the roller coaster, only to find out that you get tickets back INSTEAD of money! I felt abused, "This is F***'n Vegas!" I took one look around to realize that probably the entire under 21 population of the hotel had congregated in the same place. What a rookie. After losing a number of times on a basketball game (to everyone accept my mum, by that's only because I didn't play against her) I decided to give up my tickets and move on. I did however indulge my childish side by playing on this pointless drum machine thing, you pick a song and the pads just work as a drum machine so you can play along. I chose "Jump" by Van Halen, and lets just say, there was a small crowd gathering and they were moderately impressed by my skills. I was quite happy with my performance, I threw in a few things that weren't in the original recording, only the Van Halen aficionados among them would of known, but of coarse there were none there, just my dad, Sam, and like three American's who I think had never seen a drum kit in their lives. Regardless, It was fun.

The Bellagio was a gorgeous hotel with an amazing interior and a strange indoor garden type display. The highlight of the Bellagio and possibly of the whole trip was the fountains at the front. If you've never heard of these before you may of seen them at the end of Oceans Eleven where they've just scammed all that cash and they all stand nonchalantly around looking at the fountains. Here's a video of them, but I have to say in the flesh it was truly a life changing experience, and one that I'll never forget.

The Mirage was also a really nice hotel, not as nice in the casino's as other hotels but they had something very special that makes me rank it above most. If your familiar with Vegas hotels or you've watched The Simpsons, at some point you will of seen the two famous animal crazed performers known as Siegfried and Roy. At The Mirage they have a specialist animal reserve where u can pay about $15, and when you get inside its like a miniature zoo, I couldn't believe it. They had dolphins, leopards, and various different types of lions and tigers, it was amazing.

My dad, my sister and Sam all did the rides at the top of our hotel, and we got some great shots of the sun setting looking down over Las Vegas, it was beautiful.

After reluctantly leaving Vegas we flew back to Atlanta, this wasn't as straight forward as we would of liked because upon landing in ATL (Wadup Gangsta!) there was a huge thunder storm so literally seconds from touching down the pilot put the jets back on and we aborted the landing. We flew to Charlotte about 45 minutes away and sat on the runway for about an hour until the storm had subsided back in Atlanta, then we flew back.

After a good nights rest we began the journey to Destin, Florida. It was a long drive but when we got there it was completely worth it. After some apartment mix ups on the booking companies part, we ended up in another complex that we weren't happy with. My dad took numerous pictures to show his disgust, my sister had no plug for her sink, and when I stood on the balcony my dad couldn't see my face through the glass because it was so dirty, "Just a silhouette" he said. We spent a night there because it was late, and we were all tired, so the next day my dad (who was an absolute hero) went for several meetings in one day and eventually in the early evening called a family meeting on the balcony. He'd been negotiating all afternoon, and he managed to get the penthouse apartment in the original place we'd booked, we couldn't believe it, it was the best news. Soon after we packed our things and moved to the new place, I am not exaggerating it was the nicest place I've ever stayed in on holiday. I wouldn't even want to guess how much it would be worth, but it was amazing. The balcony looked right out to sea and every morning about 10:30 a huge flock (is that the collective noun?) of pelicans flew right past, about 10 feet from us. We also saw dolphins swimming past whilst having breakfast, that blew my mind a bit.

For just under a week we lounged on the beach, swam in the sea and just had tons of fun, we went to a water park (which was crazy expensive), and we went playing crazy golf (I won and my mum nearly killed a child). It went far too fast for my liking but I just had to put into perspective that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I was extremely lucky to have the time I already had.

After Florida we moved on to New Orleans, another crazy place, its like a constant party down there. A friend of my dads, Paul, is a local, so he picked us up and gave us a guided tour of pretty much the whole New Orleans area, which if we wouldn't have had, I don't think I would of enjoyed it as much as I did. We went out drinking and Paul took us to a famous seafood restaurant. Those of you who know me, know I'm the fussiest eater ever, so I had french fries and everyone else had a crazy amount of different things. Sam had her first Oyster, which to my surprise she enjoyed and if I remember correctly had more than one.

The next day we drove to Memphis, where we visited Graceland (The home of Elvis Presley) and also Beale St. It was a beautiful place, so rich with cultural and musical history, I felt really at home there. We also went to The Peabody hotel to watch ducks come out of a lift (elevator), across a red carpet and into a fountain in the center of the lobby. It was a surreal experience and I almost pissed my pants laughing at it.

Before arriving in Memphis itself we took a huge detour to visit "The Crossroads". If your unaware of what the significance of it is, I will enlighten you. A famous blues singer named Robert Johnson, considered to be the father of the blues, reportedly sold his soul to the devil for the mastery of the guitar at those very crossroads, and he wrote a song about it. Cream famously did a cover of it, because Eric Clapton was heavily inspired by Johnson's playing. It was a strange place, and I did feel a strange vibe around the place, like it was somehow important. I don't know if that was me saying to myself, "This is where the blues began, FACT" or it was actually the place itself, I like to think it was the latter, makes the whole selling your soul business seem cooler than before.

In the last week of the trip, we had a pretty relaxing time, we visited Birmingham, Alabama, and we also went to Lynchburg, Tennessee to do a tour of the Jack Daniels distillery. It's a free tour and if your a fan of JD then its a must see. I went for a joy ride in my sisters Dodge Neon (which has no air conditioning, so during the heatwave that was going on whilst we were there, it was very uncomfortable inside the car), Sam also drove for the first time on American roads, from a car park (where we were joy riding) to the nearby Walmart. A few days before we were due to leave for home, we drove to Nashville for a few days to do some shopping and to go on the General Jackson Showboat.

And that ladies and gents was pretty much the trip, I apologise to everyone who reads my blog for talking so long to write it, and if you have been checking regularly for posts then I really appreciate you sticking around. Also apologies to my family if I've missed anything particularly important to you out, it was a crazy trip and half of it is a blur.

8 Flights, 10 States, 9 Hotels, 2 Apartments, 1 House, 11 Suitcases, 1 Trip of a lifetime.

I'm going to leave you with pictures of things I found particularly strange or disturbing on the trip and at the end a link to Youtube to play the song of the trip.

Thanks so much for reading.

Take it EZ


This dude is officially a mentalist, search for the ad on Youtube. Also search for "Slap Chop".

4 of our traditional 2-finger KitKats in ONE PACKET!!!!

That's just wrong

A vending machine that sells, iPods, Sony PSP's, $350 Bose noise reduction headphones. Wow.

I nearly vomited every time I walked past this shop. Just NO.

Go figure

Thanks again for reading. Enjoy

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Update: Back And Forth

Hello there, this is just a small update letting anyone who is interested know whats going down. The large post regarding my trip is still under construction, I've been backwards and forwards from university to home ever since I've got back from the USA, so I havn't had chance to sit down and get it finished properly. So hopefully it will be up in the next week or two.

As I said i've been quite busy working and traveling back and forth, but in my spare time whilst at home I have been watching the Tour De France, which I can honestly say is probably my favourite sporting event of the year. This year is especially important as Lance Armstrong has made his return to the peloton.

Here is a little video Lance posted on his Twitter page, of a famous actor you should recognize, interrupting the pre race preperations. This particular nuisance is apparently a massive cycling fan and also had the honor of awarding Fabian Cancellara the yellow jersey for his 4th day in the lead. Im a big fan of his and its always good to see that not all celebreties, whether they are sports personalities or actors, arn't all up their own arses. Enjoy.

Take it EZ