CHICAGO!! A city I can add to the list for my Holiday Home Wish List.

We were both looking forward to visiting the Windy City! And neither of us were disappointed! The problem with travel blogging some of the places we’ve been I’ve discovered, is that there is just TOO MUCH to talk about to fit into one entry. For the Cliff Notes I have made a list of all that was brilliant:

#1 Supernatural Con held at the Westin in Rosemont. Rosemont is not technically IN Chicago itself but it marks the beginning of our stay here.

#2 My first ever NBA game watching the Chicago Bulls beat Sacramento Kings 93 – 87 at the United Centre.

I have a new favourite NBA player too.

Joakim Noah (son of Yannick Noah the tennis player) – he reminds me of taller, thinner Jason Momoa (Khal Drogo of Game of Thrones and also in Stargate Atlantis at Ronon Dex) and after reading a bit about him he’s definitely an interesting character.

#3 The DEEP DISH DELCIOUS PIZZA wherein ONE slice is a meal. It’s definitely more of a pie type design food.

So very, very VERY delicious. We met up with my friend Irene our first night staying in Rosemont and she took us here. I think if I lived in Chicago the deep dish would definitely be at least a once a week experience.

#4 The ARCHITECTURE. Truly this city is one of America’s hotbeds for the Architecture movers and shakers. There are some stunning buildings downtown. We took one of the bus tours and we also did The Architecture Boat tour as well – both were great but the boat one had an awesome guide who literally did not stop talking the entire tour. So very, very knowledgeable about the buildings, their histories and also a guru on general Chicago area history.

The view from the top of the Willis Tower (official name all Chicagoans still call it The Sears Tower) was fantastic and it was great fun going out on the overhang to look through the glass floor 1400 feet or 440m up in the air.

 

I don’t envy these guys their jobs and I do hope they get extra danger pay. That job is very high up!


They need more harnessing! And I’d demand a net below.


This is my favourite building and it is designed by one of two female architects with buildings in the downtown Chicago area. The Wave Building. Every single room and floor has completely unique floor plans. No two rooms are the same. It’s now a Radisson hotel.

 

 

#5 The number of places to visit for travelling Aussies.

The Museum of Science and Industry. They had a special Charles M Schulz and Peanuts exhibit going.  This place was fantastic and I was wishing that Perth’s Scitech could even be half as good as this place. So much to see and do and learn about.

Art Institute of Chicago

So that’s the main highlights. There is heaps to do in this city and we really enjoyed it. The trains were easy to get around on, city was easy to navigate by foot, food choices were abundant, the weather, despite the time of the year, was mild and the company we had was great – staying with a friend (and her husband) I had made via online interactions that started through our shared love for the TV show Smallville a few years ago now. It was great having such great sources of city knowledge to talk to and having Halloween there was also cool. As well having a fellow TV fan to talk our shows with. Did my first pumpkin carving as well as I was taking part in a Scavenger Hunt that called for it and that was a neat little experience. I could definitely get into that sort of thing as an art.

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The Roadtrip Continues…onto TENNESSEE!!

We said goodbye to Net and moved on aiming for the little town of Gatlinburg to take in the fall colours in one of their best environments – the Smoky Mountains National Park.


This photo below is one of my most favourite photos I took on the drive there.

Taken from the car just looking up through the front window in the afternoon sunlight.

This little town of Gatlinburg was a special mix of European influence and very passionately god fearing folk. There were lots of tee shirts and bed coverings and pillows all about following Christ and having Jesus as your homeboy. But they also combined usually with some pretty cool animal and breed specific merchandise and some of the Border Collie stuff wasn’t half bad. I couldn’t go past a store without checking it out but Tim was very quickly assessing the Cross stitched Jesus Loves You cushions in the windows and announcing that he’d be staying outside. They weren’t all full of religion related offerings so I was willing to go and see what was on offer.

Gatlinburg had great pancakes, custard ice cream and a very small town atmosphere to it. It’s a primo ski vacation spot too in Winter.

I think we just missed the snow, it arrived just after we left. It was our home base for checking out a couple of places including Clingmans Dome the highest peak in the Smokies. It was about a 1.5km hike at a very steep gradient. A good workout and I was determined not to stop and get my breath the whole way up and was pleased I could do it. Great view from the top as well.

We drove along the Cades Cove route as well which is a fairly long 11 mile one way loop road that circles the cove, a valley surrounded by the Smoky mountains on all sides.

Managed to take lots of photos of the colours changing.

This was one thing I really enjoyed seeing as it’s not something you see growing up in Perth. Autumn is more like just that thing that splits Winter and Spring. Trees have leaves. Then they don’t. There’s no watching them change through all the colours of the rainbow. There’s also no running or walking exaggeratedly through piles of them making a satisfyingly loud wooshing, crackling, generally noisy sounds as you kick through piles of them. I like Autumn leaves I’ve decided. The ones on the trees and on the ground.

The wildlife was just hanging out, checking out the visitors briefly before resuming their conversations. The crows did have a lot to say for themselves.

This guy was impressive and largely unimpressed by the bystanders snapping pics of his harem. I didn’t get out because those antlers look pretty lethal and given his expression I thought it a less than safe idea to try and predict his mood whilst on foot.

It was on then to Franklin TN.

Franklin also has that small town vibe but way less touristy, more just old, historic and filled with really nicely built houses on serious sized pieces of land. In the burbs. That was really quite refreshing to see.

We ended up going to Puckett’s Grocery Market (actually a restaurant type dining deal) twice in downtown Franklin because the food was just that good. Went there on the recommendation from Richard Speight who is a born and bred TN guy, now living in LA, but who returns home every so often and will always take visiting buddies out to this place to eat. I asked him about TN when were in Dallas for the Supernatural Con.

From Franklin we then did the long drive North to Chicago 🙂

ATLANTA!! Hurrah! Home of Coke and A Giant Aquarium Of Dubious Intent

After Tampa it was off to Atlanta Georgia to stay with my buddy Nanette. Net and I first started chatting online probably about 2009 I guess. Via our mutual love for the TV show Smallville. When I was first in the States in 2010 Net I chatted on the phone and from then on we chatted fairly regularly. I met Net for the first time this year when we met up in Rome and then we caught up again in October! We stayed at her apartment for a few nights and chilled out for a little before seeing a few sights and having a couple of very nice meals out.

We hit the shops, the Coco Cola World, the Georgia Aquarium and took a drive through the Emory and CDC neighbourhoods.

 

They have Whale Sharks here which I thought was kind of cool. Till I saw how many they had…FOUR and also how small the tank looks with them in it. I know it’s the world’s biggest aquarium and all but to be honest I don’t think anything is big enough to keep these guys captive. If you could cordon off a vast part of the ocean for them then maybe. But these massive, awe inspiring fish should not be in an aquarium. But the rest of the tank was pretty phenomenal. I think there’s definitely a place for aquariums – the educational aspect alone makes them worthwhile but there needs to be a balance with the ethical concerns versus the wow factor to bring in the money at the gates.

We had one great home cooked meal our first night at Net’s and then had a couple of super scrumptious meals out at two places in Atlanta – on the second day we headed to the Steamhouse Lounge for an evening meal. Conlan, Nanette’s boyfriend with a keen interest in the culinary, recommended this place for its lobster bisque. The lobster bisque was indeed magnificent, I’m starting to judge the ranking of our meals/food by the urge I have to seek out the recipe and replicate it at home. I would have loved to have had the recipe for this Bisque, and then made sure it was written out in triplicate for Tim to follow back home. I’m a writer not a cooker. Cheffer. Whatever that term is for someone who doesn’t make money out of it but loves to make food type meals.

For more pics of our meals here at Steamhouse Lounge check out Tim’s blog HERE.

Net, star friend that she is treated me on one of our night to a dinner out as a late birthday present called Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian Steakhouse that offers all you can eat. You have a red/green sided card you turn over if you want to get meat or want to stop. Waiters with different kinds of meat on giant skewers always walk around the dining room.
My favourites were the lamp chops but there were a number of good cuts of meat heading round the tables.

All in all a very pleasant stay in Atlanta which looks to be a city with lots to do and lots to see and some very pretty neighbourhoods and architecture.

Drive, PLAY HARD, Drive

We were on the road to my friend Nanette’s place in Atlanta, Georgia and we had two choices ahead of us once we were through the everglades – head up the West Coast or head up the East Coast of Florida. The lure of Roller Coasters was too strong. We chose East Coast because that would take us to Tampa and in Tampa is Busch Gardens one of the bigger parks in the US in terms of the number of Roller Coasters.

So I’m sure Tampa is a nice town and everything but we can only comment on the Hotel La Quinta and Busch Gardens. La Quinta was great – comfy, clean with a flat screen TV and good Wifi but Busch Gardens? Absolute FUN. Again if I lived in driving distance (and in Australia 6 – 8 hours is driving distance) I would have a season pass to one of these places. But really a love of Roller Coasters is required.

We initially were going to invest in the jump the queue type passes at $15 each but the girl at the window was most helpful by letting us know that since it wasn’t peak season and the lines to get in were not huge that we should see if we needed them first before purchasing. And if we did we could get them inside. Great advice that she didn’t have to give us and saved us $30 we did every ride as many times as we liked and I don’t think we queued for more than 10 minutes at any point during the day. This really was one of the best days to go to the park.

I’ll admit I thought they could have put a little more effort into the name of this ride. I have a thing against poaching and this name certainly, however unintentionally, made allusions to the practice. And it was a GREAT ride. Actually I would say the smoothest, longest ride I’ve been on. It’s all about speed and length and it goes for over 3 minutes and we did it at least twice. This coaster really did feel like it was letting you fly and I loved it. I think I would have called it The Cheetah TerraFlight or something, anything that let you feel like you got a chance to experience the speed and motion of a Cheetah in full speed mode moving across the land.

You can see it here:

We rode a number of Roller Coasters:

Montu


We were the first couple on the Montu with one other couple that morning. The ride had looked closed but we rocked up just as they opened. I think I felt a little nervous then….I didn’t want to develop a stupid superstition or anything but there was just something about being the very first rides on this coaster that day that unnerved me a little. Didn’t stop me though! Still did it and loved it! Good solid, value for money coaster. Not as speccy as Sheikra or as smooth as Cheetah but still good fun.

Gwazi

The Gwazi is a an old wooden roller coaster which I’m sure back in the day was AMAZING. And to be honest it still impressed me with the length and turns. But it was so freaking loud and has no shock absorbers whatsoever. Rickety and bumpy and HARD! Glad we did it so I know now I can live without the nostalgic feelings.

Kumba

 

Sheikra

We both really loved this one. Tim in particular. Pretty sure we rode it at least 3 times. It’s addictive in such a good way. Made me wonder whether there are health benefits connected to jolting your heart with spikes of adrenaline like that. I’m sure there must be. Those health nuts are always telling you – get those heart rates up!! Hmmmm. Now that I think about it – if you’re having too much fun and not feeling any pain it might not work that way. Needs further research on my part anyway. It has a huge 90 degree vertical drop, and a second almost 90 degree drop. The twist: on the first drop the ride suspends the vehicle so the first row stares down the drop for a few seconds! Then it just falls down!!!


This was a great day! Loved it all…and got to try my very first funnel cake.

This was delicious. Got through about half of it. It was so deliciously good I know how greasy phenomenally bad it was for me. But I put it in perspective. One funnel cake in 38 years cannot be bad for you. Everything in moderation as they say. Hmmm this is probably more like Certain things as a once off experience thing. So long as they don’t bring funnel cakes to the Perth Royal Show I’ll be just fine.

Onto the next stop…Atlanta, Georgia!!

 

 

KeyWest – the southern most point of the United States of America

I really liked KeyWest – to me it felt like an even more laid back New Orleans but with heaps more water and a lot less vehicles and a very tropical island like feel to it. It’s what Rottnest Island would be with a much more Bahamian type influence, more famous visitors, more bars, more shops and pedal cabs. We stayed at The Inn at KeyWest. Right on the water…and the pool was very nice too.

It was nice to get to share it with the locals. This fella here had a crush on a particularly striking girl lizard who’d also scuttled out to catch some rays.

KeyWest was more of a let’s just chill out, hang, see a few things if we feel like but laze by the pool drinking pretty drinks with umbrellas in them most of the time kind of stop. It definitely has the influence of it’s Bahamian ethnicity and the touch of Cuban influence as all as strong season tourist presence in the hospitality jobs with people of every nationality serving you. Many clearly just there to escape the cold winters of their home regions to soak up the rays and good weather whilst earning some money. We had a couple of nice meals downtown and enjoyed our strolls through the Historic downtown area.

We took in Ernest Hemingway’s House and found out more about his connections with the area.I really should get around to reading his books some day. The movies they made were great! He went through a few women in his lifetime I must say and he certainly had the look of what one could politely term as an irascible fellow combined with that air of ‘I’m an artist and a free spirit, I shall not be shackled by the moral norms society seeks to push on me!’. Or at least that was the aura I felt the house, it’s belongings and the tidbits I read about him gave me an impression of. He was a serious cat lover though and whilst at heart I am a dog person first and foremost anyone who can feel such a deep and abiding affection for their furry family members has my full support. Although the multi cat memorial was a little left of centre I must admit.

We also got out for a snorkel tour which was great but not the best wind wise for visibility. But it was a pleasant way to while away a few hours. Plus I like being on a gigantic catamaran and pretending it’s mine and that I’ve just invited a bunch of people to enjoy a trip out on the open sea whilst a crew of four plus a Captain see to our every need. It’s good to have healthy fantasies like that I feel.

Afterwards we were downtown and I decided to get a tatt there:

It was only henna 😉 But it came up great after a few hours.

One day I’ll get a real one, but it’s design will be a little more complicated than this!

After a few days relaxing it was time to head back up through the Everglades to Tampa. We had decided that we needed to try Busch Gardens out – a theme park with quite a number of thrilling rides and roller coasters to try out. Busch Gardens Tampa will have to wait for the next blog entry though!

Miami…on the look out for Dexter Morgan – a very unusual serial killer.

Onwards!! We drove on down the Florida everglades and headed into Miami. We were spending a couple nights in this town – nothing special in mind for us to see and do, but just to soak up the ambiance and to see if we could spot any well known filming spots for one of our favourite shows – Dexter. We stayed in a funky hotel called The New Yorker. I liked it’s style.

Down the road from us was the Seven Seas motel with the outdoor pool used for the Ice Truck Killer victim scenes in Dexter, Michael C Hall just makes me think of Miami now.

I liked Miami – it’s style and architecture is very Art Deco with bold curving lines and I liked the very retro feel of some of the buildings. It is indeed very sunny and warm and I can imagine the heat would be tedious after a long time.

We enjoyed a Brazilian BBQ meal here on the bay and wandered the streets of downtown. It was a great way to spend a pleasant few days, very relaxing. Oh and Dexter? Turns out he was on hiatus for a while. Taking a break from the serial killing business. But really this is definitely a series everyone should give a try – but make sure you start from Season 1. It’s very compelling, if only all our politicians had such a strong moral code to adhere to.

Universal Studios – Orlando Florida.

This place is responsible for my new found passion in life. Sadly it’s a passion that is going to be only rarely indulged. Unless of course my home town of Perth decides to build a multimillion dollar roller coaster theme park anytime soon. Looks like I’ll just have to come up with more reasons to get back to America 😉

We hit the parks early and on the first day got through the Universal Studios Florida and the Islands of Adventure on the second day hitting the City Walk area late in the day on the first day.

The rides in the first park were VERY VERY cool. This was my first ever category 5 roller coaster and after I was absolutely petrified to within an inch of my life I decided this was one of the most exhilarating experience ever and I simply must do it again.

Here’s a video of it here:

We also lined up for one of our most favourite animated movie rides ever – Despicable Me and Gru’s House!

This ride was great fun and we enjoyed every second of it – helps if you are a fan of the movie but even if you’re not it’s worth a look. Oh and if you haven’t watched Despicable Me  what are you waiting for???? It’s pretty damn clever humour and I had to buy a tee shirt that says the following:

I’m thinking of wearing it to school the first day back for the kids 2013. Tell them if they play their cards right I’ll get a black sharpie and cross out the words laugh and giggle.

We did a bunch of things in this first park – the Twister experience and the Disaster attraction – all not bad but they were not ROLLER COASTERS. Back on the Rip Ride Rock It!

After that we headed over to the ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE (imagine that title being spoken in a loud, booming voice with extra emphasis on every letter). This is where The HULK ride is.  IT IS FANTASTICO!! Didn’t quite leave me as petrified as Rip Ride Rock It but it was still a little hair raising. Have a front seat view 🙂

Of course we had to do this one twice as well. And this here is what I call the Chicken shit Point of View and I don’t mean that in any demeaning way whatsoever.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – the highlights:

Best 3D simulation ride I have ever been on, Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey – we did it twice – well worth lining up for this one. Also we rode the Dragon Challenge roller coaster twice – which was great fun but no Rip Ride Rock It 😉 The frozen Butter beer was pretty tasty too…went into the Honeydukes SweetShop and was very entertained by the 10 year old kid walking up to a shop assistant and demanding to know “how dare they charge 10 bucks for one chocolate frog because it’s not as if it actually is magic like the ones in the books!” It was kind of true though. Everything was pretty pricey in that candy store. So much so I didn’t even buy one sweet thing! I did enjoy looking. The line for Ollivander’s and Zonko’s was too busy so we skipped those. It was pretty warm this day as well.

So yes LOTS to see and do in these parks, great fun and not bad queue wise. If I lived in Florida you could not keep me away from a season pass. I’d be visiting at least once a month. Timing it for when the least amount of people are there. It truly does feel like a thinly disguised gigantic kid’s amusement park – they all said “It’s FOR THE CHILDREN!” but really the biggest group getting the most out of these places? THE ADULTS. Well at least this adult anyway. Adult. You know I still don’t think that term applies to me at all. Just feels all wrong.