United States of America · 31 Days · 78 Moments · September 2016

Ian Norden

Get Busy Livin' - USA Road Trip - 2016

3 days ago

On Wednesday afternoon, I decided to hang around in Charlottesville for another night instead of driving back to DC to drop the car off. So I used the afternoon to explore the university of Virginia campus and grab a coffee in The Corner district near campus. The school was founded by Jefferson and he designed this Rotunda building. It's a library and this is the only old US university (I think) that has a library and not a church as it's main building. On Wednesday night we all went to James' farm for a BBQ and a beer. I took the gap for another quiet night before the big weekend in NYC that was most likely coming.
Lunch time and Peggy took me to Moose's. This was quite an authentic experience! The food was pretty good, but, more importantly, the place was full of some great characters for "people watching". Let's just say that no one was voting for Clinton in this restaurant...
Wednesday morning and I ran the Monticello Trail to start the day. It's a great route through the forest around Monticello - which is where Thomas Jefferson lived back in the day. After the run, Peggy and I went up and did the tour of the house and grounds. He was quite a remarkable man and has some brilliant inventions around the house - unfortunately you're not allowed to take photos on the inside. It was 31 degrees out, so it was good that we did the tour in the morning.

4 days ago

Peggy and James last visited South Africa in around 1993! So it was great to see them both again! James and his wife are often down in Norfolk with the navy (as they're both in the naval reserves) so I was lucky to catch him in town during my visits. We all went downtown for dinner at a local brewery called South Street Brewers and James and I both had the beer tasting menu. They have a young son, so we went for dinner at 6pm and were home quiet early - but it was great to have an early night for a change.
My last morning in Chapel Hill, so I went down to the planetarium. They trained almost all the NASA astronauts here on navigation when the space programme was first launched so they had some interesting exhibits in the museum, but overall it wasn't an amazing experience. I think it's set up more for school tours than for adults, but at least I checked it out. After that, it was time to hit the road to see the Cathros in Charlottesville...

5 days ago

Chapel Hill - home of The University of North Carolina. First stop was "Top of the Hill" for a beer overlooking Franklin Street (the main street where things happen). The local hotdog restaurant/bar called "Sup Dog" also have a mug night special on a Monday - bring in any mug you want and they will fill it for $3. One guy brought in a whole 2l orange juice bottle (but I think they charged him double for that). Luckily Starbucks was still open and donated me a mug - so I could have a "venti IPA" 🍻

6 days ago

After the beach, I had a 4 hour drive up to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, but drove passed this awesome lake as the sun was setting. I think it's Lake Jordan. Unfortunately, there were no places to stop and take a picture, so these are my best "drive by" shots.
Sunday morning beach day! After some waffles and eggs for breakfast 🍳 (because I hadn't had waffles yet)... ...I took a walk on the pier before heading down to the beach and noticed quite a big group of sharks in the water. It was hard to get them on camera (with them living underwater and all), but you can almost see one in the picture of the sea I've posted here. So I decided it was a better plan to skip the swimming and catch up on some reading on the land instead. The water was still quite dirty after the hurricane with a lot of debris everywhere - so it probably wasn't a good time to swim anyway.

7 days ago

Next stop was the Myrtle Beach area. TripAdvisor suggested a place called "Murrells Inlet" - which is a waterfront area of restaurants and bars on the creek. I arrived just as the hunters moon (google it) was rising - it was hard to capture properly on film, but an amazing sight! I had planned a relaxed night (after a big Friday) and was sitting quietly watching the Ohio State game in my OSU cap until these two other fans - Dani and Katie - took me under their wings. Katie must be the most passionate fan of any sport, anywhere, ever! It was her birthday too - so between that and the OSU win (in overtime), she was buying us all plenty of shots to celebrate... so much for a quiet Saturday... but possibly one of the most fun nights of my trip! It was just great to people watch everyone at this bar - the "Dead Dog Saloon". They were having their annual "witches night party", so although I don't have a photo, half the bar was full of people in full witch fancy dress! Good times!
By complete chance, I stopped for coffee in Georgetown and walked right into the annual wooden boat fair. There were some amazing wooden boats on show - from canoes to full on sail boats - most of which had been restored by the owners. The highlight of the fair was the regional leg of the national boat building championships. This was amazing and a strong contender for the most random thing I have seen on this trip. There was even a new world record while I was there - it was very exciting!! The last picture is of a boat in a bottle. This one stall had the most amazing collection of boats and other art inside bottles. I can't even begin to imagine how much patience you must have to be able to build a sail boat inside a whiskey bottle!
South Africans πŸ‡ΏπŸ‡¦ are everywhere!
A few people recommended that I check out the Angel Oak Tree. It's a 500 year old oak tree just outside Charleston. It was also right near JB's smokehouse (which was also on my list), so I stopped there for their lunch buffet first. This was probably my most authentic US diner experience to date. Words can't fully describe the food and atmosphere and fellow patrons - but it was right up there with as close to an American diner cliche as you can get. The food was pretty good too! The oak tree was like nothing I could have imagined. The size of this tree is only believable when you see it in person. A lot of the tree is propped up on support beams and there are a lot of rules about not touching the tree, but it's worth seeing if you're ever in the area. The last picture is just of my next car πŸš— I need one of those for the SA potholes I think.

8 days ago

After the beach, I went down to Charleston to explore. The photos are from the waterfront pier back across to the bridge and the surrounding area. There is also a row of old houses called the "rainbow row". I think it's the longest continuous stretch of Georgian row houses in the USA (whatever that means). Reminded me a little of the Bo Kaap in Cape Town. Charleston has some great seafood - so I found an oyster special on during happy hour. They were really good! Highly recommended!! The final stop before heading home was a bar called The Griffon which was plastered with signed one dollar bills over the roof and walls - I never asked why (will have to google that). Everyone had recommend that I go out to a place called "Starz Rooftop Bar". I met two locals (Taylor and Jordan) who let me join their crew and took me on a public crawl of King Street. It was a great night out - Charleston definitely has some good night life!
On Friday morning I went down to the beach at Sullivan's island. There was still quite a bit of damage after the hurricane and the water level was so high that it covered the pathway. They beach was a great place to switch off for a while. Lots of people walking their dogs, but it seemed to stretch for miles in both directions. I must have parked a little too close to the car in front of me by mistake because when I got back to the car, I'd been written a little love letter from a local. Ha ha

9 days ago

Thursday and it was off to Mt Pleasant - just north of Charleston with quite an impressive bridge to get you there! My hostess recommended that I head to Shem Creek for a sundowner and to watch the shrimp boats come in to the creek. The dolphins follow them in and give quite a show, but I only managed to see one dolphin 🐬. I met some friendly people who let me join them for a while and then after they left a family from South Africa sat down next to me! The dad was at UPE back in the day and the Mum lived in 7th ave Walmer at one point!! So the Port Elizabeth connection on this trip continues! The coast guard also all arrived at the dock downstairs at the same time - it created quite a bit of excitement until everyone realized that they were just there for dinner 🍴 After sunset, I headed back home for a quiet one as I had been thinking of playing some golf ⛳️ early Friday morning.
The greatest candy store ever! The pictures don't do it justice. It took all of my willpower to only buy a small taster of their pecan nut, caramel chocolate creations. In hindsight, I should have stocked up for the rest of my trip!

10 days ago

Spent the rest of Wednesday walking around town. I had lunch at Clary's Cafe - which was made famous by the book "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil". It was a good old fashioned American diner - not much else to report from there. I then went down to the river front to watch some of the boats come past. It's quite impressive to watch the huge container ships come down the relatively narrow river! And there are plenty of them too. After that stop for a quick beer, I heard that the town curfew had been lifted, so I went home for a quick shower and headed back out for dinner. There was a brilliant street musician playing requests at the city market square. Savannah also lets you drink in the street with a "to go" cup. So it's a town designed for pub crawling - so I felt obligated to walk around the streets with my beer for a while 🍻
This is the Cathedral of St John the Baptist. It's a beautiful church in Savannah that's been described as the Sistine Chapel of the South. I'm not sure why they built it with such detail inside, but it's definitely worth a visit. I lit a candle inside for Dad too 😊
Some of the hurricane Matthew damage in Savannah. This is Forsyth Park - which was still mainly closed off after a lot of trees had blown over during the storm. Must have been pretty strong to uproot a tree this size!

11 October 2016

Peaches come in a can... they got put there by a man...
Not much to report for Tuesday. Said goodbye to everyone at Chateau Adams and took a slow drive down to Savannah. It was supposed to be 4 hours, but I stopped for lunch along the route at an Applebee's (which is like a poor cousin of the Spur - and I wouldn't recommend). Also stopped at an outlet mall on the way into Savannah. Thought I'd stock up on groceries for the next couple of days of Airbnb'ing to save some cash πŸ’° so I bought some microwave dinners and then got to the Airbnb to find that he didn't have a microwave πŸ™ˆ Ben (my host) was otherwise an awesome guy! He even offered me his golf clubs in case I wanted to play golf while in town!! I'd decided to save up for a round on Kiawah Island (in South Carolina) so I didn't take him up on that, but it was a great gesture! I then went to explore town and grab a non-microwaveable meal only to find out that Savannah had a 10pm curfew in place because of the power outages caused by the hurricane! So it was a quiet night in the end.

10 October 2016

Monday evening - my last night in Atlanta - so I went down to the W for a sundowner with Cab. It was supposed to have a good view of the city - and it did (if you stood in the corner of the deck and took a photo through the plastic wind screen). But it was a good way to say goodbye to the city. Spent the rest of the night at home eating leftovers and hanging out with Ellie and Bennie - I'm going to miss these two!
Monday and we started the day with a brunch downtown at a spot that Lara had been wanting to try. It reminded me a lot of a Woodstock coffee shop actually! It was fairly close to the World of Coke, so I left the family to do their IKEA shopping and headed there instead. The Coca Cola story is quite incredible actually and I enjoyed the museum. They even have the safe where the original recipe is kept locked away - I'm not sure if this is legit or just a tourist attraction, but it did seem fairly authentic based on the security measures. The tour ends with the option to taste all of Coca Cola's worldwide products! It's a bit disappointing to see that South Africa gets "Bibo" as its local drink (and not Stoney's), but what can you do... Spent the rest of Monday just hanging around the house (and avoiding exercise).

9 October 2016

Spent Sunday morning at church with the family. It was an amazing church and a great experience! Definitely nothing like going to church back home - the choir was exactly as you'd expect at a southern church (if you have any expectations) - but, in short, they were brilliant! The homemade cookies afterward were also pretty good 😊 Lara gave us a pink slip for a boys night, so we went down to the Southern Gentlemen for a steak and some beers. It was a public holiday on the Monday, so we were expecting more people out and about, but it was surprisingly quiet. It was still a great night out though (and one I definitely felt on Monday morning!).

8 October 2016

Saturday was handyman day - and we spent a big chunk of the afternoon working on the new jungle gym. Not much else to report I'm afraid... but it was great to take it relatively easy and not feel obliged to see sights our tour around. We had an awesome steak braai at the house for dinner with another South African - Nathaniel - and his wife Anna-Marie du Toit (who was 100% American despite her name. She went by "Ann-Marie". They brought their 3 kids along - so the house was full of energy! Cab definitely hasn't lost his knack for rotating meat over coals - the food was excellent! And it was really great to have a braai again! Definitely a good Saturday πŸ‘πŸ»

7 October 2016

As our reward for looking after the little ones all morning, Cab and I played some golf in the afternoon. It was out at a course called Heritage Links - which is a parkland course (obviously). We were initially behind the world's slowest golf couple. They were so slow that the two ball between us and them gave up and became a one ball - so we adopted Dave (the landscaper from Georgia) who was good fun and a solid golfer! On the back 9 - just about the time it started raining on us - we added a 4th (Alexander). Even as a 4 ball we had to wait for the two in front of us!! But it was still great to play some golf with Cab - and play some golf at all! I would have liked to blame the rental clubs for the hammering that Cab handed me, but they were actually pretty good - unlike me on the day 😞 still a great afternoon out nonetheless!
Friday morning was Aquarium day! It was a school holiday so Cab and I took the kids to the aquarium. I might have been more excited than the two of them though! Georgia aquarium was voted the best aquarium in the USA last year - and I'd say it was up there with the best aquariums I'd been to... (which is actually a lot by now). My highlight was definitely the whale shark tank. Apparently saved these three whale sharks from Taiwan where they were going to be eaten!!! Wow 😳

6 October 2016

It was sad to say goodbye to Laura - it had been so great to have a travel companion to explore some random corners of this country and share a beer with afterward! But some of us have jobs to get back to I guess... Onwards to Mike (Cab) and Lara and their spot in Brookhaven, Atlanta. We didn't get up to too much during the day, but did stop by the mall where there is a real life cup cake ATM! (I'm not making this up!) The rest of the afternoon involved a few odds and ends. I some time spent helping Mike to build a jungle gym for the kids - there is a pic of Bennie helping out with some hammering. I also played with Duke, the chocolate lab puppy 🐢, who is just generally full of energy and adds an interesting dynamic to the house! Mike got news that he had landed a job, so we ended the night with a glass of bubbles to celebrate πŸŽ‰!! Good work Cab!!

5 October 2016

The final stop before Atlanta was my first visit to a Red Lobster! It wasn't the greatest seafood I've ever had, but it was a lot of fun to experience! I can also highly recommend the cheese and garlic biscuits!! These are some Lobster tacos in the picture - nom nom nom... Then it was on to Atlanta and a late check in to the Days Inn right near the airport (as Laura had to be dropped off in the morning).
We were close to a spot called "Sunset Rock" on "Lookout Mountain", so we thought we'd hike around the mountain until sunset and then see if this rock lived up to its name. There is a park on top of the mountain with a great little civil war museum. Apparently this rock was a key strategic outpost in the civil war that the south ultimately lost to the confederates. (That should explain the cannons in the one photo.) The photo of the motorcycle was just a guy we met who had been traveling since June - just him and his dog! Sunset rock definitely delivered! I'm not sure these photos do it justice, but it was a spectacular autumn evening to be out sitting on a rock watching the sun go down. Good job Chattanooga - I'm glad we stopped by for a visit.
The main attraction (probably for kids) is the owner's custom made nursery rhyme and fairytale collection. She had a European architect design the custom made figures for her and they are all on display in this underground cave system. And the only thing better than an underground cave of mother goose land, is mother goose land under UV lighting! This is definitely the kind of randomness that I've been searching for on this road trip!! It was awesome πŸ˜ŠπŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈπŸ‘πŸ»
On the trip from Nashville to Atlanta, we stopped just outside Chattanooga at a place called Rock City. It was originally the back garden of a wealthy couple and the wife decided to turn it into a rock garden - for tourists - because of the interesting rock formations she found. It also has a viewing point from where you can see 7 different states! It was a beautifully clear day - so we could see for miles and miles and, most likely, all 7 states from there.
This is A - how busy the roads can get at times! Not even during rush hour! And B - a rough indication of just how many many trucks πŸš›πŸšš there are on US interstates!! It's mind blowing!
Our last morning in Nashville and we had one more brunch stop on our "must visit" list. This one was called "Biscuit Love" and, as you could have guessed, almost everything comes with, or on, a biscuit. A biscuit is basically a soft scone that is made very well in the southern states. This brunch was one of the best I've had! (Much better than the day before even!) After brunch, it was back in the Charger and off to Chattanooga for some nature!

4 October 2016

After this brief pitstop we were reaching our cycling limit - so we headed back home to drop the bikes off and look for lunch (at 6pm). This was Hattie B's. We were staying in Midtown and there were plenty of bars and restaurants around - so we planned a little pub crawl before ultimately meeting up with a friend of Laura's from Baltimore (in town for business) to watch the baseball. Many more beers later we ended up in search of dinner, but the only place still open was called "Cookout". This is where I learned what hushpuppies are all about. Quite an interesting concept, but surprisingly good!
On the recommendation of someone I'd met in Chicago, we headed to Pinewood Social Cafe for lunch and a swim. It was 30 degrees out! The "social cafe" is a place to work, eat, drink and play games. It even has its own bowling alley! We spent the afternoon by the pool and played a little Bocce - which is like petanque/boulle on gravel - with a bottle of wine. It was a great lazy afternoon after our morning of cycling! After a couple of hours here, and a swim, we headed back out on the bikes in search of a good happy hour bar snack... Unfortunately, we couldn't find a good food special, but we did find $2 beers at Coyote Ugly. It's pretty much a bar chain that's based on the movie - so you can imagine what it might entail: girls dancing on bars and sliding beers as far as they can down the aisle. This is where I learnt that, when a beer is slid towards you, you're supposed to catch it (and not watch it smash onto the floor) πŸ™ˆ
Time to explore Nashville! Good to see that the London "Boris bikes" have caught on in Nashville. It was only $5 for as many 1hr cycles as you could handle in a 24 hour window. Good work Nashville! This made it very easy to get around the city from our place on 19th street. We started with a little cycle over to The Pancake Pantry for brunch. The queue was out the door - as we had expected - but the sweet potato pancakes were phenomenal!! After that we head over to the Pinewood Social Cafe on the river bank.

3 October 2016

Monday night in Nashville looked more busier than a weekend in most other cities! I can't begin to imagine how crowded it must be on a weekend, but they tell me that's it's a very different experience! Laura and I decided to start at an outdoor bar (the upstairs of Tootsie's). Each floor - of the 3 at this bar - had a live band playing really good country music. And this was the case at almost every bar down the strip. The Nashville tourist trap (on Broadway Street) is a section from 1st to 5th street jam packed with with bars, restaurants and cowboy boot shops! We went a little off this main street to find dinner at a place called Puckets. It also had a live country band playing (you're starting to get the point I think). The food in this part of the world is really tasty, but almost definitely the opposite of healthy! My diet can start tomorrow though...
Went for a quick run around town after arriving. Figured it was about time to see if I could still run! Ended up running around Centennial park - which even has a replica of the Parthenon (for reasons not quite explained). I didn't get a picture, but it looks exactly like the Parthenon would have looked back when it was in one piece. Definitely a strange attraction for deep in Tennessee!
After about 20mins on the road to Nashville, we saw a sign to the Jim Bean distillery - so thought we'd go check it out. It was actually a really good tour and I learnt a lot about bourbon and distilling! We got to bottle our own bourbon and could "sign" the wax seal (so you will see from the pictures that I went with my thumb print.). I also got the bottle engraved - and came up with an official name for my road trip in the process. The Shawshank Redemption is one of my all time favorite movies, and I really love this quote from the movie. So it seemed very appropriate πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈπŸ˜ŠπŸ‘πŸ» Jim Beam is the largest producer of Bourbon in the world - and the scale of this place shows that off well. We had a great lunch on the deck overlooking the grounds and then headed back on towards Nashville!

2 October 2016

Sunday morning was a tough one! Luckily I only had to fetch Laura from the airport on Sunday at around 2:30pm - so I managed to eventually make it out of bed and into the car. It was also only an hour from Lexington to Louisville. We arrived at our accommodation to find that we'd walked right into the middle of the annual Louisville art fair! Apparently it attracts over 300,00 visitors each year! I'm not sure I would have travelled to Louisville SPECIFICALLY for it, but it was a nice way to pass the afternoon. I got to experience my first corn dog! And also some corn in a cup. The art was from all over the country and actually very expensive. But it wouldn't have fitted in my luggage anyway... Spent the evening walking across the Ohio river on the Big 4 Bridge. They've really made it a nice waterfront a great waterfront area and there were plenty of people walking dogs and riding bikes, etc. Last stop was dinner at a traditional southern restaurant- Doc Crow's and then bed!!

1 October 2016

Dory and Frank had the most amazing wedding! There were almost 350 people there!! It made me realize that "Wedding Crashers" (the movie) is very possible in real life! The wedding was on Dory's family farm. Her dad had converted the old tobacco hanging barn into a wedding venue because, with 4 daughters, it paid for itself as a wedding venue! It was such an amazing experience to be part of an American wedding - especially one in Kentucky held in a barn! The format was a little different to what I was used to in South Africa (obviously), but it was still a huge amount of fun. There were plenty of craft beers and Kentucky bourbons consumed and, overall, I think it's safe to say that Team INSEAD represented extremely well for the rest of the class in absentia! (The MVP award goes to Dave for not making any loud public scenes πŸ˜‰)
We somehow missed the organized bus tour to the horse farms. There was a street running race going on and we don't think the bus could get to our hotel with all the road closures, but (with hindsight) this turned out to be a great result because we made up our own tour instead. Rob's wife (the PE local) was on bridesmaid duty, so Dave, Megan, Keith and I adopted him into the crew for the day... First stop was Keeneland horse track where we saw some of the local horses going through their paces. We also found a horseshoe - which gave us some good luck for the day. Our initial plan to was try and find the tour bus, but when they called us back we found out that they hadn't been to Keeneland first and that they were an hour away from us...
The final stop on our DIY tour of the area was to meet up with the tour bus at Ashford Stud farm. This is the home of American Pharaoh - one of the greatest horses in American horse racing history. For his efforts, he is now living at this stud farm where he sells his wares at $200,000 a time! We even got to see the room where the magic happens πŸŽ‰πŸŽ‰ After this stop, we decided our tour was done for the day and headed to watch some Ryder Cup over lunch. The Dodge Charger won the MVP award for the day - for both comfortably fitting in 5 adults and also getting us around Kentucky without us having to sit on a 60 seater bus with screaming children!
When you have an hour to kill in Kentucky, you should head to a bourbon distillery! We were heading towards Ashford stud farm and Woodford just happened to be right next door (thanks to our horseshoe luck). On arrival, we'd missed the full tour, but we only had about a 30min window. Fortuitously, they could offer us a 20minute tasting experience with a very knowledgeable local who spoke very fast and very southern, but I caught the gist of it. Apparently, the pure water in the area has almost no iron in it - because of the limestone deposits underground. This results in great tasting bourbon and, for similar reasons, also leads to strong, healthy horses 🐴. Which is then why most of the Kentucky derby winners are born and bred in Kentucky! Who would have thought! I always just assumed it was because they had so many many horses in the area that the odds were with them... (Some in the group already knew this fact, but for the rest of us, that was pretty interesting.)

30 September 2016

Friday started very slowly (for obvious reasons) and I was definitely not in the mood to drive 6 hours down to Lexington. It was supposed to be a leisurely drive down, but it turned into a bit of a race against time to get to Frank and Dory's pre-wedding by 9pm. It felt like the longest drive of my life! And it also decided to pour with rain most of the way. I managed to forget to watch the fuel level and almost ran out of gas! Because of this, I stopped at one of the ropiest petrol stations in the USA. I was fairly sure I was going to get mugged in the bathroom by two locals in vests and trucker caps with tattoos, mullets and mustaches. (I couldn't have scripted the cliche any better if I'd tried!) Thankfully, I avoided death and got back on the road. Made it to the cocktail party at around 9:30pm and it was so great to catch up with Frank and Dory. I also met a bridesmaid who was from SA. And, you guessed it, went to school in PE! This was becoming a little ridiculous now...

29 September 2016

The Macquarie event was in the garden terrace of the Loews hotel where luckily the rain stayed away. It was great to suit up again and network with some of the Chicago finance world. A group of guys went from the cocktail party to a sushi restaurant in River North called Roka Akor. My "Thursday festival of eating" continued here where we had some amazing Japanese food and awesome red wine. (I keep saying to myself that my diet starts tomorrow. But tomorrow never seems to arrive.) From dinner we ended up a a nightclub down the road with some bottles for the table. (FYI: It is incredibly easy to make friends at a nightclub when you order a magnum of Champagne.) We were chatting to some people and one of the girls mentioned that she'd recently been dating a South African. Who, it turns out, was from PE and in my class at school! (It was Johan de Bruyn - who I haven't seen since the last reunion.) The rest of the evening got a little hazy from here, but it was a great night out!
Originally, I was going to head down to Lexington on Thursday, but Macquarie invited me to their annual client cocktail party so I decided to stay in Chicago for one more night. The one thing I hadn't done was eat at Au Cheval - rumoured to serve the best burger in the world!! I thought I'd get there as they opened, but I arrived just after 11 to realize that my wallet was still on the desk in Keith's apartment. Obviously it then decided to rain on the walk back home. Hard. I eventually got back to the restaurant a little wet and frustrated and hit the lunch time rush queue. Luckily it only took about an hour to get served and it was well worth it! It's lucky I didn't eat here earlier on my trip - because I would've had lunch there every day! Definitely one of the best burgers I've had. (And if you've seen me recently, you could tell that I've been eating quite a few burgers.) Spent the afternoon walking it off - including a visit up the John Hancock building for the view.

28 September 2016

I joined Dave, Keith's and their work colleagues for a quick dinner and then a Temper Trap concert. I was surprised to actually recognize a few of their songs! They have a similar sound to Muse (which is one of my favourite bands) - so it was a great experience! Also, it was in a tiny old theatre - so we were all pretty close to the action. A very different concept to going to a giant stadium for a concert. The one thing that Americans get to see a lot of is different bands on tours across the country who play at these smaller venues. I'm jealous.
The Field Museum is huge! Apparently only 1% of what they have in the underground stores is actually on display - which is pretty mind blowing to think about! Their big draw card is that they have Sue, the most complete T-Rex skeleton ever found. I must be honest, the big museums around the world that I've been to are pretty similar, but there were a couple of unique and interesting areas at this one. For one, they had a very cool DNA lab (where people actually work day jobs behind glass screens for you to watch) so I learnt something new about DNA. Then I felt obliged to take some pictures of two American icons πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ πŸ¦ƒ
Because of the rain, I spent the morning at Merchandise Mart. It's the building in the first photo from my architecture tour post and the second largest building in the USA (after the pentagon)! It even used to have its own zip code! It is full of showrooms for home decor and other trades, but had this very cool breakout area with checkers and chess tables for people to play. Then it was time for a quick jog through the rain to meet Dave and Keith for lunch at Monk's pub. It was a great lunch spot - and apparently highly rated for lunch in the city. Special mention to Mum for providing me with the very useful waterproof backpack cover! Lifesaver! It's just a pity I'm not more waterproof though β˜”οΈοΈ
It's currently raining β˜”οΈ booooo! A good day for the museum I reckon... update to follow

27 September 2016

Last stop: Architecture Tour on the river. I'd taken the river taxi from the aquarium to get back to Navy Pier - with some great panoramic shots of the city. The architecture tour itself was very good. I didn't realize how much diversity there was in the city in terms of design! After that, it was time to reward myself for all the walking and I went to the locally famous Lou Malnati's for a deep dish pizza. It was delicious in terms of pizzas, but it's definitely not something I could eat everyday if I want my jeans to keep fitting. (Especially considering the amount of craft beer in this country.) The night ended at Joe's Pub where beers were $2 for a pitcher (see jean fitting point above)! Some locals were out for a friend's bday party and they let me join them. The Uber driver was something else! He was telling me how Obama was not American and how he had told him so when he had met him! He was also on the IOC once (and a black belt) for Taekwondo. So I wasn't arguing...
After a long walk - because the bus failed to arrive - I made it to the aquarium. I do love aquariums! This wasn't quite the 7 story epic building that they have in Osaka, but apparently it was the first salt water aquarium in the world (I stand corrected tho). They have a "stingray touch" experience - which was brilliant. The rays are quite squishy to touch. (Hard to describe with any other word.) They also had a beluga whale pool - which was fascinating because two of the whales decided to play right in front of me - including squirting water at each other. Not sure this photo quite captures it, but I have a great shot on my other camera. They had a special exhibit on amphibious creatures. This is one big ass frog! It even decided to eat a locust while I walked past - and I have that on video for anyone interested. It was brilliant to see! The yellow little frog is one of those super highly poisonous ones that can kill you if you look at it too long...
I decided to go full tourist today (Tuesday). First stop was a walk down towards Willis Tower and it's skydeck. It used to be (more famously perhaps) called the Sears tower, but Willis bought the naming rights apparently. It was 103 floors up and the lift only took 60seconds. 1353ft high. It's the second tallest building in the USA since they rebuilt the world trade centre tower, but it's definitely tall enough! The highlight was standing out on a perspex ledge right over the city and river. Not something you get to do everyday! There are a couple of ledges to choose from, so I joined the line with the least heavyset people (just to be extra cautious)...

26 September 2016

Monday morning and it was a lot cooler than it's been since I've arrived in the USA. Was a nice change! I walked around town a bit in the morning - up and down Michigan Avenue again - and window shopped until I got to the istore (see what I did there πŸ˜‰). Picked up an iPhone 7 while there - so my blogging app now opens almost 5 times faster! Unfortunately I still type at the same speed... but at least now I won't have constant space issues with all the photos I've been taking and my battery can last more than half a day! I also found the official start of Route 66! So I can say that I was on it while in the USA πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈπŸš— I will say that this city is packed! I'm not sure if it's tourists or trust fund babies, but there are people in the streets, coffee shops, parks, etc at all times! It does create a great energy. I do love this place.
Decided it was time for some culture, so I spent the afternoon at the Art Institute of Chicago. Apparently it has been voted best museum in the world before! And I now know why - it was both incredibly big and incredibly impressive! I had two hours there and could have spent 2 weeks! Luckily I managed to fit in most of the famous stuff - with a couple of photos attached. There have been some brilliant artists through time and I have huge respect for their talents. Words can't do these photos justice - you'll have to just come here yourself to see.

25 September 2016

After finally making it out of bed on Sunday, I walked down towards the lake. Being a big Groupon user back home (and addicted to buying things that I don't need - just because they're on sale)! I thought I'd see if Groupon had any travel specials. They had a discount on for Segway tours of the city - so I bought it and they fortuitously had had a cancellation for that very afternoon. So off I went... Firstly, riding a Segway is brilliant! I'm going to need to do that again! The tour was very informative and gave me a good feel for the city. Definitely recommended! The pics are of Buckingham fountain, Soldier Field (the football stadium) and the skyline. After the Segway tour, Keith and I headed out to watch the Bears game at a pub with some of his friends. It wasn't a great result for the Bears, but I always enjoy the real American experience of watching football with the lads! It definitely wasn't a late night (as Saturday night was still being felt a little bit).

24 September 2016

Arrived into Chicago at around 6pm and spent the first half an hour looking for a reasonably priced parking garage. They wanted to charge me $30 per day in Keith's building!! Seriously!?! That's more than the car rental cost! But I did some research and found a parking lot nearby that was only $7 per day. Much better! Keith was at a concert when I arrived, so I headed out on my own to a bar called Happy Camper on Wells street. It was awesome! I met a couple at the bar who had been to many of the places I'd been - so we shared some great travel stories over a couple of beers. Keith then arrived and there were many many more 🍻... (Sunday morning hangover wasn't the most fun feeling 😳, but definitely worth it!)
Quick pitstop at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Museum on my way from Columbus to Chicago today. There was even someone's Corvette in the parking lot - to set the race scene from the get go! I thought about doing a lap in a 2 seater race car around the track, but R7,000 seemed a little steep...

23 September 2016

Friday night in Columbus! We went down to the German Village and started off at a nice spot for their happy hour (I forget the name). We had a couple of tapas and then moved on to a very cool popular spot (still in the German Village area). As you can see, beers 🍻 are served in jars. Mindy had finished her exam, so she was able to join us finally! I think the week of eating, drinking and working(!) had caught up with Fet and me, so we didn't go on too late.
Spent the day working in Fetty's Street Food truck - what an awesome experience! I was in charge of Asian Pita assembly and first reserve chicken curry bunny chow maker. Newfound respect for the food truck industry and how they handle multi tasking and time pressure! It was pretty hot in there too - but luckily, I could stand the heat πŸ˜‰

22 September 2016

Spent the evening at Bodega's in the short north. They have some awesome happy hour specials and the nachos were also pretty amazing! Eric, pictured, was our designated driver, but then had to leave. Fet and I ended up at a pub called "16 Bit" where all the arcade games are free! There was everything from pacman to mortal kombat! I have never been so excited!! I felt a little old when one girl asked me "what's street fighter and mortal kombat". At least she knew who Pacman was I guess... Caught a fairly dodgy uber ride home. Our driver was Congolese and very chatty and I'm pretty sure he'd hotboxed the car earlier in the evening - based on a few things, but definitely because of the smell...
Did a little campus tour today - including a stop at the bookstore to pick up a souvenir. Then met up with one of Fet's friends, Eric, and we grabbed a quick beer at World of Beer. Disappointed that they only had one African beer in the whole bar - Tusker from Kenya - but luckily I'm not here to drink beers I can buy back home anyway 🍻😊
This is me trying to blend in at the Starbucks on the Ohio State University campus. I think they bought it 😊
Popped into the food truck hub for an awesome lunch prepared by Fet. This is where food trucks go to get washed and sleep. There were many more there! Such an awesome energy!

21 September 2016

Beard watch - the first and last update. Unfortunately, the itchiness of growing a beard with ridiculously curly hair overcame me today - so I've reset all my hipster points back to zero and shaved it off. Will have to go check-shirt shopping tomorrow to try boost them back up...
So I made it to Damian (Fet) and Mindy's house just as the sun was setting last night. They have an awesome spot in upper Arlington, just north of the city and I have my own room. Mindy has to study for an exam until Friday, so Fet and I went out for a beer and burger to stay out of her way. They are having beer and burger week in Ohio - so there are specials on almost everywhere. Fet, being the foodie expert, chose us a great spot! We then ended up at a bar closer to the university (see previous picture post). Fet was driving, so he'd only had one beer, but he also likes to straddle both lanes when driving home at night. Apparently he once hit the curb with his food truck and ripped up his tyre - which is then also what he had to tell the police after they pulled us over for being in two lanes. I'd by lying if I said it wasn't a little entertaining to watch Fet do the police sobriety test in the car park! Safe to say that he passed with flying colours and nothing else happened.
Random photo of the day - a deer overlooking Scioto River... interesting concept...
DK - the Donut Kitchen. Serves a great breakfast, but their donuts are indescribably fresh and good! I think I'm going to start looking like a donut soon...

20 September 2016

Beers in The Ohio State country with Fet!
Sitting in Morgantown, West Virginia for a quick lunch. Not much to take a photo of here - just a regular river that I'm sitting next to while eating. This is the home of West Virginia University and I drove past the stadium on my way into town. Currently I'm halfway to Columbus, so although it's 4:15pm, this is lunch. Left a bit later than planned this morning, but I managed to sort out a US SIM card and swap the car - so it was productive. The most notable attraction seen on the drive today must be the full scale replica of Noah's Ark being built on the side of the highway in west Maryland! Otherwise, I'm not really stopping to see attractions today, I'm just trying to get to Columbus to see Fet (who I'm staying with) before happy hour ends 🍻
Ok, so I decided that being able to sleep in the back of the car is overrated, so I changed the SUV for a Dodge Charger. So much more fun to drive! But also much safer than the SUV as it has bluetooth hands free for the phone. So it had to be done really πŸ‘πŸ»πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈπŸš—
This is the most random thing I saw today - in Alexandria, VA. Not much to explain here - it's a fake horse in an old truck. Obviously!?

19 September 2016

Landed in a wet DC and spent over 2 hours getting through queues at customs and the car rental. I decided it was time for a YOLO (you only life once) moment and upgraded the car to a mid size SUV - instead of the compact car I'd booked. Turns out that the car rental company then upgraded me again "for free" to a full size SUV! The value seeker in me decided to stick with it - although it's definitely far too big for what I need! But I felt it was very American to drive a black Dodge SUV πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡Έ On the plus side, I can now sleep in the car if I'm ever stuck for accommodation! On the down side, parallel parking on the wrong side of the road has just become impossible... Drove myself to my cousin, Julie Lane, who lives with her fiancΓ©, Joe, just south of DC. I'd never met Joe, but their TV is the size of a double bed, so I knew we would get on very well! We had a great dinner catching up before it was time for bed - I am very tired after that trip!
Flight QR707 to DC.
Day 1: Flight #2: My proprietary jet lag avoidance strategy finally allowed for some much needed sleep on this leg of the trip. I don't think I fully appreciated just how badly I needed some rest because there's "tired from staying up all night" and then there's "so tired that you wake up with the man next to you sleeping on your shoulder with his daughter on his lap, only to wonder just how long he's been there". Either way, other than the air-hostess thinking we might be one big happy family traveling together, the rest of the flight was fairly uneventful.

19 September 2016

Day 1: 6am landing at Doha airport. The plan to stay awake all night, in order to be on US time as soon as possible was successful, but made much harder by being sleep deprived already after the bachelors party on Saturday. Needless to say, I am very very excited to sleep on this next leg! Hopefully the plan comes together and jet lag is minimal - only time will tell! In what must be one of my all time top "small world stories" - in the giant maze that is the Doha Airport, I walked straight into a friend traveling with his family from Sydney to London! Even more ironically, Ben is a friend from INSEAD days and part of my road trip includes the wedding of another former classmate! If you haven't been to this airport, you may not fully appreciate the small chance of this happening. (If you're using the hub that is PE International Airport as your frame of reference, you're very far off.)