Well, ladies and gentlemen, here it is. The final post of The American Adventure. I write this last blog from the same place I wrote my first – a neat little hostel in LA, just off Hollywood Boulevard. It feels surreal to be less than six hours away from boarding a plane which will (hopefully) take me to Australia, just as it felt surreal that first night in the States. 

I can’t believe I’m going home. Home. Like, back to Australia!  

I crawled into bed at 4am yesterday morning after one last hoorah in my beloved American hometown of South Lake Tahoe. Had I accepted the offer of marriage proposed to me the previous night, I’d still be there, but all my suitor could give me in the way of a ring was a bottle opener, so I had to turn him down. It was painful for both of us. Anyway, I’m really freaking tired and every ounce of wit I ever had running through my veins has suddenly disappeared. But it’s not just a night of boozing that has me feeling uncreative. Guys, I’m feeling kinda emotional. 

I know in my last post I said I wouldn’t get soppy, but I feel as if I have to say a few things you’d probably never catch me saying out loud. Some thank yous and reflective-y sorta stuff. WARNING: Exit this browser now if you dislike cringing. 

I came on this adventure with very little clue about what I was doing or why I was going. I love to travel, but at the end of the day, I think I’d just run out of ideas about what to do with my life and so a working holiday seemed like a good thing to fill in the age of 24. I remember having one massive freak out before I came away, complete with hysterical crying and “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND MEEEE”s to my mother. But apart from that episode of PMS XXL, I don’t recall over thinking the fact I was going to spend a year on the other side of the world. On a weekly basis since I’ve been here, I’ve had strangers tell me I’m “brave”. I don’t understand that, because to me, coming away didn’t feel like a big deal. It was just something to do. 

Having said that, I put a lot of effort into the preparation of my working holiday. Applying for the J1 visa was a tough process. In the application, you’re required provide a complete medical history, and for me, my past struggle with quite debilitating depression raised alarm bells with my sponsor. I’m not going to beat around the bush – they were worried I might commit suicide while away. I eventually convinced them of my good health and once I had sponsorship and the visa, I could commence the job hunt. I spent hours filling in online application forms for what must have been at least 25 ski resorts across the United States of America. Heavenly was the only one who replied to me. Even though they called to do the job interview while I was in the shower, and so I did the interview dripping wet in the nude, I got the job and could finally relax.

Living in Tahoe was at the same time an awesome and awful experience. Actually, I think it was less “living in Tahoe” and more “my first few months away”. I could have been anywhere, even New York City, and I’m certain I would have gone through the same things I did in Tahoe. I got pretty down. No, I got really down. There is a saying – Where you go, there you are. It haunted me for the most part of the first three months of 2013, as it dawned on me that I could not run away from myself. I loved my job and I loved my friends. I just didn’t love me. I felt if I couldn’t be happy living life on a beautiful lake in the mountains of California, totally accepted and unconditionally loved by those around me, then where could I be happy? Because of this depression slipping back into my life, I chose to isolate myself from others, spending hours on my bedroom floor listening to Florence and the Machine instead of making the most of every fantastic opportunity that presented itself. 

We were about a month out from closing for the season when I began to worry I’d regret how I’d spent my time in Tahoe. So one day, I woke up and told myself I needed a good kick in the arse. I had a choice – continue listening to Shake It Off on repeat while I wished for the floor to open up and swallow me, as I whimpered, “Nobody loves meeee…” or get out there and be the fun Aussie girl I’d been in the first month of the season. I promised myself I’d be open to every opportunity that arose. And I was. I learnt to ski, I went to parties even if I had to work the next day, and I began to say yes to offers of a bite to eat or a casual beer after work. These sound extremely petty, but for me, at a time when I was feeling deeply introverted and highly anxious, they were small feats that pulled me out of a very dark place. I now realise this was all part of my cliched working holiday rite of passage, a term which sends shivers down my spine, though there is no other way to describe it. I was growing (not just in the clothing size department), and changing and looking at life differently. 

If I didn’t have this new outlook on life, there is no way I would have survived in New York City. In NYC, it was imperative I was completely out of my shell in order to create a life there. Even though it took me a month to really find my feet, I had a newfound sense of confidence and never for a moment doubted my ability. Eventually, I found a job and an apartment and, most importantly, I found friends. Living in New York was everything I’d hoped it would be, minus the banker boyfriend with a two-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side (plenty of time for that). Over my four months there, I felt local enough to say, “OMG, I haaaate Times Square!” yet foreign enough to get excited by one dollar pizza slices (if a tour guide ever tells you they’re no good, don’t listen. Two Bros is the bomb.) The hardest part was by far the cost of living. I went from living like a queen in Tahoe – paying $320 a month in rent and rarely spending money on anything other than food, alcohol and late night trips to the casino – to living like a pauper in New York. My rent increasing to $850 a month was just the tip of the iceberg, as the city enticed me to shop, dine, drink, go to the theatre… Even catching the Subway set me back $112 a month. I’m sure I’ve mentioned several times that, in general, the States is cheap for us Aussies, even with a weak dollar. But NYC is an exception to the rule, with prices comparable to those in Perth, and who could live in Perth earning just $9.50 an hour? I am determined to return, but I need to find a way to considerably inflate my bank balance first. I wonder where my banker boyfriend is hiding?

In between my arrival in America, my stints in Tahoe and New York, and today’s departure, there has been a lot of travel. I’ve been as far north as Seattle, south as Miami, west as San Francisco and east as Boston. In fact, over the 12 months I’ve been here, I’ve visited 25 cities in 11 states. That only leaves me with 39 states to go… No biggie! 

Before I sign off, I’d like to thank a few peeps. To my Tahoe family, for taking in an Australian girl who had no clue what she was doing working at ski resort, and making me instantly feel like part of the furniture. All of you at Heavenly and in E Housing – you guys are so special to me. To my girls in New York, especially my number one Irish New Yorker, Donna – what would I have done without you?! To my friends back in Australia – thank you for checking in on me on a weekly basis and reminding me that you hadn’t forgotten me! To everyone reading this – You haven’t fallen asleep yet? Well done! And last but not least, to my parents. Wow, what champs. I don’t even know what to say except thank you for your endless support. For spending hours on the other end of the phone listening to me whine or go on and on and on about the amazing day I had, when you’d only just woken up and hadn’t had your morning cup of tea yet. For never giving up on me and always encouraging me. And of course, for inspiring my love of travel. I love you. 

Well, that’s all folks. For now at least. Hopefully 50 years from now I’ll re-read this post and say to myself, “What was 24-year-old Hannah thinking? The American Adventure had only just begun!”

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Unfortunately, I have not been offered a hand in marriage by an American citizen over the past year and as a result, I will be departing the country in nine days. Thus, I thought I should probably begin wrapping things up. Don’t worry, it won’t be a soppy ending. I cannot, absolutely cannot stand soppy things. Honestly, if I were made to vote for a contestant on a television talent show, and I had to choose between a perfectly proportioned blonde bimbo born with a silver spoon in her mouth, and a homeless guy who lost both his legs saving a kitten from a burning house, out of principle, I’d vote for the girl. Even if she wasn’t very good. 

Since arriving in the States, I’ve commonly been asked two questions: 1. Do you drink Fosters in Australia? and 2. How does Australia differ from America? Sorry for the language, Nanna, but that first question absolutely shits me to tears. Fosters, my friends, is not ‘Australian for beer’. Fosters is owned by an English company and brewed in Texas. Fosters is such an unpopular beer in Australia, I don’t even know where you can buy it. If I were running for Prime Minister, I would win office alone on the election promise of disassociating our beautiful country with such a horrid product. The second question however, is a very good one. The first time I was asked, I really had to think about it. Today, I came up with a list of 20 differences – 10 I love and 10 that haven’t grown on me. Devising a  list of things I loved about ‘merica was easier than a drunk sorority sister, though the latter was much more difficult. Here’s what I came up with: 

TOP TEN THINGS I DISLIKE/DON’T UNDERSTAND/HAVE TROUBLE APPRECIATING IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:

10. Paper money. And pennies. 
Don’t most First World nations utilise plastic money these days? If for no other purpose than alleviating the frustration of having to hang your bills out to dry after sending them through the wash? And seriously – 1c pieces? Come on! 

9. The Imperial System. And Fahrenheit. 
I simply don’t like these because I don’t understand them. But also, Fahrenheit is so stupid. How is 32 degrees freezing? 0 is freezing. Celsius is obviously the superior measure of temperature. 

8. Not including tax in the sale price. 
Whyyy? I’ve got my $6.83 out and ready, yes, even down to the last penny, and then I’m told I actually owe $7.51, forcing me to scrounge around in my wallet for another 68c, which I don’t have, leaving me no choice but to hand over a $10 bill and being given a hideous $2.49 in change. That’s FOUR goddamn pennies!! 

7. Portion size. 
Dear Chef, Thank you for putting a whole iceberg lettuce, half a pig and nine eggs in my salad, but I am a human being, not a hippopotamus. Sincerely, The Girl with a Bottom the Size of Texas.

6. Television. More specifically, reality television. 
Jeremy Kyle, you’re British. You should have more decency than that. [YouTube ‘Jeremy Kyle Show USA’ for further clarification and loss of brain cells.] 

5. Bottle service at nightclubs. 
Basic human needs include food, water, shelter and being able to sit down in a nightclub. I shouldn’t have to pay $1,000 to do that. 

4. Coffee.
I have no problem drinking the average American cup o’ joe, but unless a Pumpkin Spice Latte is on the menu, I will never, ever order an espresso beverage in the US. To all you guys working behind one of those big fancy coffee machines: Either take an educational vacay to Italy, or give up on the espresso drinks all together. If I can’t taste the difference between my ‘latte’ and a cup of steamed milk, you shouldn’t be calling yourself a barista. 

3. Tip toeing around the fact I need to urinate. Or do that other thing. 
Hey, America! Let’s cut to the chase! Us First Worlders use a thing known as the ‘toilet’. Say it with me now – toiiii-letttt. And there ain’t no shame in asking for one when you’re out in public. I understand it’s a cultural thing to ask for the bathroom/restroom/washroom/whatever, but for us, and pretty much every other nation on the planet, it’s the toilet. So we’re not being rude or insensitive when we ask where it is, it’s just how we roll. 

2.Tipping. 
Unlike most Australian tourists, I’m not anti-tipping per say. But I do think the rules need to be made clearer. Maybe the US Government could print a little pamphlet of the tipping dos and don’ts, and flight attendants could hand them out on the plane ride over, along with the customs forms? [Also, if a manicurist of a certain race makes a customer bleed on three fingers, that customer should not be blocked from exiting the salon until she tips 20 per cent. Woman, five bucks is plenty. You made me bleed.]  

1. Men. 
Who wouldn’t want a foreign goddess like myself? American men. That’s who. Oh, except Segway Bobbie and Super Hot Indian Guy Nilay from 13th Step. Call me fussy, but I don’t think they count. 

 

TOP TEN THINGS I LOVE ABOUT THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA:

10. Legally turning right at a red traffic light. 
I’m going to do this when I go home whether it’s legal or not. Only, I’ll do it turning left. Obviously.

9. Bottomless brunches. 
So, you’re telling me every Saturday and Sunday, in almost any city in America, I’ll be able to find a restaurant offering eggs benedict and two hours of unlimited mimosas for a measly 15 bucks? Can I pop over to the US just for the weekend? 

8. Travelling by bus. And air.  
Apparently you have to have character to work in the travel biz. I’ve had a bus driver tell me he was drunk, one announce at a stop, “We’ll be here for 10 minutes, so you can get off and put cancer in your lungs or whatever it is you gotta do,” and another, “We’ll be here 15 minutes. Long enough to get yourself a two-piece [of fried chicken], but please, order it to go.”  On a recent flight, the pilot came into the main cabin to speak to passengers about flying conditions. That was the same flight I sat next to a chihuahua and the flight attendant looked like Hooker Barbie. 

7. Television commercials. 
It’s worth losing brain cells watching all that reality TV, just to catch the ads. Most commonly, advertisements are for prescription medication and legal services. Ads for prescription meds range from anti-depressants to, my personal favourite, AndroGel, a product developed to increase testosterone levels in men. It is rarely the commercial itself which is funny, but the legal disclaimer listing the side effects that follows. For AndroGel, a voiceover informs the viewer, amongst other things, Stop using AndroGel 1.62% and call your healthcare provider right away if you see any signs and symptoms of puberty in a child, or changes in body hair or increased acne in a woman, that may have occurred through accidental exposure to AndroGel 1.62%.” and “In large doses, AndroGel 1.62% may lower your sperm count.” Fortunately, the commercials get worse. It’s brilliant. Law firms advertise for new clients by asking, “Have you suffered vaginal mesh complications?” or (and I kid you not, this is true) “Have you taken Yaz or Yasmin and had a heart attack, stroke, or even died?” I wonder how many calls that law firm has received from beyond the grave?

6. Buying alcohol at the supermarket. And gas station. And pharmacy. 
Well, they do say whiskey is the best cure for the common cold. 

5. Dollar bills. 
This is where US currency makes ‘cents’ (dad joooke). Dollar bills keep one’s wallet light, all the while  making it appear more abundant than it actually is. 

4. Animals.
I’m rarely occasionally always asked about the three S’s – sharks, snakes and spiders. I rarely occasionally always respond in my best Crocodile Hunter voice, “Crikey, it’s a dangerous place! Mate, wildlife kills more Australians every year than heart disease and cancer – put together.” But in all reality, America has just as many cool and creepy creatures of its own! Bears, coyotes, mountain lions, alligators, alligator snapping turtles, more bears, rattle snakes… Did I mention bears? [I went to the San Diego Zoo yesterday, so animals are fresh on the brain.]

3. Food. 
I could harp on about how much I love Taco Bell but I’d rather dedicate a few words to acknowledging how ambitious American cuisine is. Who else but the Yanks would dare produce a chocolate chip cheese ball, a peanut butter hamburger, or bacon flavoured soda?  In no other country would anybody think it’s okay to purchase a box of frozen ‘pancakes and sausage on a stick’. Or consider fried chicken and waffles to be a complimentary pairing. Or agree to mass manufacture beef jerky chocolate. They have machines at the cinema to pump extra butter onto your popcorn, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are available in cereal form, and biscuits (ahem, scones) are served with gravy. Burger King has just released their french fry cheeseburger (for only a dollar, might I add)! Really, anything goes! It’s deliciously delightful and disgusting, all at once!

2. Supermarkets. 

I could write a 3,000 word essay on the magnificence of American supermarkets in my sleep. It pains me to think that I have to return to shopping at Woolies or Coles or, god forbid, IGA. I’ve become accustomed to walking into a supermarket to find a hot bar, and a salad bar, and often even a sushi bar. To being able to choose organic without breaking the bank, and being able to buy my wine and chips and salsa in one transaction. How civilised! I freaking love American supermarkets. I’d marry Trader Joe’s if I could. And then have an affair with Whole Foods. Oh, Whole Foods! You’re so… Sexy!

1. The people. 

It’d be pretty harsh if I was all, “Omagerrrd, obvs my number one fave thing in America is like, Forever 21!!!!!!!” (though I did consider it). No, no, of course it is the people. They’re such a polite bunch. All 300 mil of them. It’s as if they’re trained in school to say, “You’re welcome!” in response to a thank you. And they’re so very eloquent, using much less slang than us Aussies. But most of all, they totally rock because they’re so darned friendly. The rudest people I’ve come across on this trip were by far the Australian couple who made it out to be my fault that it hadn’t snowed. I still dream about the day I meet them again and give them a good beating piece of my mind…

Once I’d had my fill of Texas BBQ from one of the many, many food trucks in Austin, it was time to move on. On Monday, I landed in Phoenix, Arizona, a city in the middle of a desert. Coming from Australia, which is pretty much just one big ass sand pit surrounded by water, you wouldn’t think my pickle would be overly tickled by a trip into the desert. However, Arizona’s desert is the exact cartoon stereotype of one. And when I say the stereotype of one, I mean there are cacti. Lots and lots of those big, tall saguaro cacti. It’s very cool.

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Cool as a cucumber cactus.

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Oooo… Ahhh…

While the city itself is abundant with things to see and do, I was keen to escape the urban jungle and venture into whatever the American version of the outback is. I booked a day trip to a town called Sedona, a couple of hours north of Phoenix, with a tour company that drive you around in a bright pink Mercedes mini-van. [Sorry to interrupt, but as I write this in Starbucks, a woman is using my phone, because she left hers at home, to call her mother. She’s trying to explain to her mum, who is obviously going deaf, how to find a contact on her cell. “Okay, Mom, now press the up key. No, no, the UP key. NO, MOM, THE UP KEY. Got it? Okay, good. NO, I SAID THE UP KEY.”] Anyway, continuing on. My fellow tour participants were two Texan couples in their seventies and a middle-aged fellow from Missouri who insisted showing everyone in the vehicle a picture of his “kitty cat”. On the drive out of Phoenix, we stopped at Montezuma Castle, built by native Americans in 700 AD, and a big rock in the shape of a bell (thoughtfully named ‘Bell Rock’), before continuing on to Sedona. It was here I’d signed up to do a 4WD Jeep tour. I’d researched the various Jeep tours available. The oldies from Texas obviously had not. I chose what sounded like the most extreme. Coincidentally, so did they.

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The pink van and Bell Rock.

I knew what I was in for. When booking my tour, the lady on the phone asked, “Are you pregnant?” which hinted that I was in for a bumpy ride. (And the answer to that question is no, by the way.) However, I’m assuming she didn’t ask the elders the same question, so they were completely clueless. The five of us piled in the Jeep, the oldies in the back and me up front next to our driver, John, and hit the road. Within about 12 seconds of being on the dirt track, the complaints began. “Ooo, it’s a little bumpy back here,” one of them remarked as we drove over a rock barely the size of an anthill. “Can you make it any smoother?” another asked. Halfway into our two hour ride, John pulled up on top of a rock with an amazing view. We climbed out and took some photos, and when it came time to get back in, I offered up the front seat, as John had mentioned it was much smoother. I think the oldies thought they were being polite by each mumbling a reply along the lines of, “No, it’s okay, you have the front,” without realising that what I was really trying to say to them was, “I’ve paid $80 for this and I’d kinda like to have the best experience possible, so please let me sit in the back because A) it’s more fun and B) it’ll stop at least one of you complaining!”

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Meh.

As we commenced the second half of the tour, me still riding in the front and the oldies still groaning in the back, John exclaimed, “Alright, this is where we get started with the 4WD’ing part!”
“I thought we were already 4WD’ing!!” the Choir of Complaints bellowed from the back. To be honest, I kinda thought the same thing, but as we found ourselves driving vertically down a rock, practically facing the ground that lay a very long five metres in front of us, I realised the fun had only just begun. I’d love to write about what echoed from the back of that Jeep in the following 60 minutes, but there just aren’t enough words in the dictionary to do the hilarity justice.

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I have the time of my life while the oldies cling on for dear life.

To their shock, we arrived safely back on bitumen an hour later. It goes without saying, the oldies slept the entire drive back from Sedona to Phoenix.

After an awesome day in the desert on Wednesday, I woke up high on life Thursday morning. That bubble was quickly burst when I remembered I had to find a 7Eleven to pay for my Greyhound ticket for my trip to San Diego the following day. Thursday turned into one of those days when you question why you would choose to travel to unfamiliar places when you could just stay home and live a relatively monotonous, yet, in turn, comfortable life. This is how it played out –

11.30am: Board bus bound for 7Eleven.
11.50am: Arrive at 7Eleven. Attempt to pay for ticket but find that my voucher is expired. Try to book another bus ticket on my phone but it’s too much trouble. Decide to go to the Greyhound station to sort it out.
12.00pm: Wait for the bus that’ll take me to the Greyhound station, which is only two miles away.
12.15pm: Bus that says ‘Out of service’ pulls up but the driver says to get on anyway.
12.20pm: Driver tells me, and the three other passengers on board, that she has to go back to a bus stop to pick up passengers who were on a bus that broke down.
12.25pm: Bus driver tries to take a short cut but gets lost and ends up on the freeway.
12.55pm: Finally arrive to pick up the passengers from the broken down bus. About 20 people board.
1.05pm: Everyone is told to get off to the bus and wait for the next bus.
1.10pm: Next bus arrives, everyone boards and the bus sets off.
1.40pm: Arrive at the Greyhound station. Join the ticket line.
1.50pm: Get to the front of the line and am told buying a ticket at the station will cost me $91. If I buy it online, it will only cost $46.
1.51pm: Attempt to buy the ticket on my phone again, which this time works, but the website won’t accept my credit card and I can’t pay for it in person at the station, so I have to go back to 7Eleven.
2.00pm: Get on the bus bound for 7Eleven.
2.15pm: Arrive at 7Eleven. Hand over my card to pay for the ticket but am told I can only pay in cash. I’m $4 short. Buy gum, pay for it with my card, get $4 cash out. Pay for bus ticket. Receive bus ticket. HOORAY!

There was a point, around the 1.40pm mark, when I thought it might be quicker and easier to walk the 350 miles from Phoenix to San Diego. Nevertheless, I made it, and am now kicking back in San Diego, which of course in German means, ‘A whale’s vagina’.
[That’s an Anchorman joke, Mum, because I know you’re going to call me to ask what San Diego has to do with a whale’s lady bits.]

Today I spent almost four hours in front of my laptop, trying to write a blog. I was having immense trouble coming up with something, which I initially put down to being hungry. So, I walked to 7/11 and bought Pop Tarts. Back at the hostel, I found myself full of sugar but void of any creativity, which I then put down to my surroundings. The radio was blasting inside, so I went outside and sat on the grass by a lake. Though completely calm and quiet, that still didn’t help my situation, so I just sat there, staring at my hairy toes feeling lazy and unable. Then it struck me. The reason I couldn’t come up with the words I needed to move the blinking cursor across the blank page was not because I couldn’t think of anything to write, but in fact the opposite. In the past seven days, I’ve had so many funny, frustrating and fantastic experiences, I didn’t know how to express my stories eloquently. I still don’t, so I won’t. The fabulous thing about having my very own blog is being able to write whatever I want, however I want. So, here is my week… In dot points.

  • Flew from Tampa, Florida to New Orleans, Louisiana. I sat next to a chihuahua on the plane, was served by a flight attendant who looked like a 60-year-old Barbie Doll in hot pink stripper heels, and flew over the Everglades.

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    I can pretty much tell people I’ve been to the Everglades, right?

  • Was driven to my accommodation by a tough-looking black guy who told me how he had once “urinated” himself at The Mortuary, a local haunted house attraction.
  • Stayed in a hostel which I absolutely hated because they were “out of fresh towels” every day I was there, forcing me to use my miniature travel towel to dry myself after showering in the shower with no shower head. On a more positive note, I met two girls in my dorm whom I loved: Leah, a Floridian with such amazing animal tattoos on her legs, as we strolled around New Orleans, people would ask for photos; and Jess, a Londoner who has been everywhere but Timbuktu. Actually, she’s probably been there too.
  • Walked down the disgustingly dirty and smelly Bourbon Street, with mandatory frozen daiquiri in hand, on the way to a small bar covered in dollar bills, where the barmaid was about 70 and smoking a cigarette while pouring beers. The collective age of the three-piece blues band playing would have been at least 200.

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    A quick photo with Leah and a horse’s bum before getting the hell off Bourbon Street.

  • Tried a peanut butter and bacon burger (keyword ‘tried’, not ‘ordered’) in a dark and dingy dive bar. I hate to say it, but it was actually tasty.
  • Wandered through the French Quarter sipping on a vodka mudslide / wandered through the Garden District sipping on a beer. If you think that because I lived on the border of Nevada for five months, the novelty of legal street drinking wouldn’t have an effect on me, think again.

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    No, I didn’t ask the creepy girl in the back to smile.

  • Went to a hot sauce store that offered samples of a product so spicy, you had to sign a waiver before you could sample it.
  • Ate ‘America’s best fried chicken’ at Willie Mae’s Scotch House, a home-turned-restaurant in a more … umm … run down part of town. We arrived only a few minutes after it opened for the day and snagged the last available table. By the time we emerged an hour later, filled with fried chicken, mac n cheese and corn bread, a line to get in had formed outside.
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    Mm mmm. Willie Mae’s friiied chicken.

  • Visited a cemetery full of tombs, one of which appeared open. It took a lot of courage for us girls just to walk by the open tomb and were far too chicken to look inside.

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    The tomb on the left? Yeah, it’s open.

  • Ate a Poor Boy sandwich (or a Po’Boy as they’re more commonly known) at the Parkway Tavern, where they originated in 1929. Po’Boys are now served across the country, but particularly in the South. President Obama ate at the tavern in 2010 and while he ordered a fried shrimp Po’Boy, I had the original – roast beef and gravy, ‘dressed’ (meaning it comes with lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayo).

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    The Po’Boy (a glorified beef and gravy roll). The guy on the right paid for our meal which was really random but also (obviously) really nice.

  • Had a drink by candlelight in the country’s oldest bar, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, built in 1722.
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    Oooooooo [spooky ghost sounds]…

  • Said goodbye to Leah and took an $11.50 bus ride to Houston, Texas (a six-hour journey) where I met up again with Jess at the #2 Hostelling International hostel in the world. It was a big, beautiful revamped home on a tree-lined street.

    HI Houston

    HI Houston.

  • Enjoyed $2 frozen margaritas with Jess and our newfound friend, Singaporean singer/songwriter Natalie, at El Real, a Mexican restaurant that had once been a movie theatre.  We got chatting to a middle-aged man at the next table and as we left, he followed us out to the parking lot and beckoned us over to his car. We approached hesitantly, but his intentions were far from sinister. He’d noticed the NYPD shirt I was wearing and, being a fire fighter, wanted to give us Houston Fire Department tees!

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    El Real? With $2 margaritas it’s more like Un Real!

  • Ordered a $3 local pint in a hipster house-turned-bar littered with fairy lights and was given free hookah (shisha), just for being foreign.
  • Shopped-til-I-dropped in a mall so big, it had an Olympic-sized ice-skating rink in the middle of the food court. The security guards also rode Segways, which, yeah, I thought was AWESOME.

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    Just your average food court.

  • Dined at Underbelly, a very trendy farm-to-table restaurant where Jess, Natalie and I shared braised goat and dumplings, had a complimentary dish sent to our table by the chef, and finished the meal with caramel popcorn pot de creme, served with fried salted pretzels and house-made vanilla ice-cream.

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    Wining and dining.

  • Drove to NASA, where we spent nearly six hours. The highlight of my day was seeing the original Mission Control, from where the first moon landing was orchestrated, and the area where astronauts train for their missions. I arrived at NASA giving zero stuffs about space travel and left a total NASA nerd. I’ve since watched two documentaries on the International Space Station…

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    I love how incredibly awkward this photo is of me with a rocket.

  • Took at $6 bus to Austin, Texas, where my hostel sits by a lake. The beautiful location is the only reason I’ll forgive the hostel for having communal showers.

There you have it, folks! My week in dot points. Re-reading that, it’s no wonder I’m a little tired. I think I can forgive myself for spending the entire day lazying around, writing and catching up on The Michael J Fox Show. [Which, by the way, I saw being filmed in Central Park just before I left New York. Just in case you were wondering. Which you probably weren’t. Okay bye.]

Tampa, Florida was never a place I’d dreamed of going yet somehow, it ended up on my itinerary. Basically, I needed a stop between St. Augustine and New Orleans, and Tampa was it. Of the people I told I was going there, 90 per cent screwed up their faces to convey a look of utter disgust, before spitting out, “Why?” The other 10 per cent had never heard of the place, hence their lack of judgement. 

After nearly six hours on the bus, and nearly six hours of desperately needing to pee, I made it to the toilet. Oh, and I made it to Tampa. It was already dark by the time the Greyhound got in so I jumped in a cab and headed for Gram’s Place, the only hostel in the city. I was aware the hostel was in a (to quote a review on TripAdvisor) “working class neighbourhood” a short drive from downtown, but when the driver pulled up in front of a house adjacent to a cemetery that spanned three blocks, I wondered how a neighbourhood could be working class if most of the neighbours were unable to work, due to their being dead. The exterior of the house was covered with cobwebs, and I couldn’t decipher whether they were real or Halloween decorations until I pulled open the front gate and a tacky, automated crack of thunder sounded. Personally, I feel it’s quite unnecessary to decorate one’s house for Halloween, if one’s house is across the road from a big-ass graveyard. 

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Gram’s Place.

The interior of the hostel was much less creepy. Gram’s is a music-themed hostel, which has nothing on a pirate-themed hostel but is still pretty cool. The owner half-heartedly welcomed me and showed me to the Country Room, the walls of which were covered in record covers and posters of the likes of Patsy Cline and Roy Orbison. I had the room to myself that first evening, though the second and third nights I wasn’t so lucky. A slightly overweight lady joined me in the Country Room, warning me that she was a sleep talker, or rather, sleep yeller. “I dream that I’m shouting at people at work,” she told me. “The last time I was here, I nearly gave the poor girl I was sharing with a heart attack!”
What she failed to warn me about, was her chronic snoring. She didn’t end up yelling in her sleep, though I’m certain if she had it would have sounded like soft, elegant music in comparison to the sounds that escaped from her sinuses. You’d have had better luck having a conversation in whispers at a One Direction concert than trying to talk over the top of her trumpeting. It was that bad. As she snorted in and whistled out continuously from about midnight to 9am, I plotted her death and how I’d get rid of the body, which I decided wouldn’t be too hard being 20 feet away from a cemetery. Then I began to worry – She obviously has a serious case of sleep apnea, what if she stops breathing for such a prolonged period she loses consciousness? What if she needs medical attention? I don’t have my First Aid Certificate! As far as I’m concerned, DR ABC is man with his PhD in the alphabet! 

Fortunately, it did not come to this. And also fortunately, Tampa is the kind of place you don’t feel guilty if you have a little sleep-in, because there really isn’t an awful lot to do. While in town, I toured a WWII battleship, rode an old streetcar and visited Ybor City, a grimy, supposedly historic suburb home to a couple of cool vintage shops and a lot of interesting characters. I also took a Segway tour, which turned out to be – and this a going to be a big call – one of the most fun things I’ve done all year. 

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Hand selfie aboard WWII ship, American Victory.

I called the tour company on my first day in Tampa about joining a tour that afternoon, however a cruise ship was in so it was fully booked. As a result, I booked a tour for 1.30pm the next day. As I hadn’t been able to get a spot the previous day, I was sure there’d be other people on my tour. I was wrong. It was just me and my twentysomething Segway guide, Bobbie. With his red hair, pale skin and freckles, Bobbie was the exact opposite of how you’d expect a lifelong Floridian to look. As I shook his hand and introduced myself, I wondered if we’d actually be Segwaying outside, under the scorching sun, or keeping it inside the warehouse for his safety. After a quick tutorial on how to ride the most dorky mode of transport on the market, we were off. 

Bobbie took me around the sights of Tampa (there aren’t many) and then up a 10-storey car park, just to ride the Segway down again. Cruising down 10-storeys of ramps at 13-miles an hour was very, very fun, even if I did have to cross my fingers that my insurance would cover me if I got hit by a car. We also played a lil bit of Segway frisbee, and despite having poor hand-eye coordination, I turned out to be quite skilled at the game. Can I put that on my resume? Anyway, as I said, Segwaying is super dorky. People stare and snigger and make comments, which is fine on the street, but when Bobbie took me onto the campus of the University of Tampa, an expensive, private college where students drive around in Mercedes and lounge by the pool when they’re not in class, I suddenly felt very insecure. It was embarrassing to say the least, especially when he took me “cross country”, across the dirt and grass. It’s hard to look cool and composed when you’re hanging on for dear life as your body jiggles all over the place. 

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So incredibly high on life.

One-and-a-half hours later, Bobbie and I were back at the warehouse. “So…” he awkwardly said, and I knew what was coming next. “What are you doing on your last night in Tampa?” I broke out in a cold sweat, which was actually quite refreshing after nearly two hours in the sun. 
“Ummm, I have an early flight tomorrow so I need to get back to the hostel and pack,” I told him. I didn’t. My flight wasn’t until 1.30pm, but the whole afternoon had already felt like a date and I was happy to leave it there. 
“Oh… Okay…” Bobbie replied. People, it was painful. More painful than sitting on a Greyhound bus for six hours and needing to pee. “There’s a microbrewery a couple of blocks away… Or I know this cafe that does amazing Cuban sandwiches… But you have an early flight…” His voice began to drift off by the end of the sentence, so I was unsure as to whether he was still talking to me or mumbling to himself. I could practically hear his inner voice screaming, “Bobbie! You’re a ranga who rides Segways for a living! Chicks don’t dig that! Dude, get a haircut and get a real job!”* 
In the meantime, he was swiping my debit card on a fancy gadget plugged in to his iPad, but it wasn’t working. He swiped it over and over again, but told me it wasn’t charging, so he took down my details and said he’d pass them onto his boss to sort it out later. With that, I tipped him, thanked him and beat retreat. 

When I checked my email later that day, I had an email from my bank regarding ‘suspicious debit card activity’. Turns out, Bobbie had charged me. Six times. Which caused Bank of America to put a hold on my card. Thanks, Bobbie. 

 

*NOTE: This is what Bobbie was thinking. Not me. I like Prince Harry, and he’s a ranga. And riding Segways for a living? Well, I don’t think it gets much cooler than that. 

 

 

The moment I arrived at the Pirate Haus Inn, I knew I was in for a real treat. THIS PROPERTY PROTECTED BY PIRATES, read a sign on the front door, which opened onto a set of steep stairs, upon which the lyrics of Yo Ho A Pirate’s Life For Me were embedded. “You checking in?” a fellow in his sixties asked me as I took a breather at ‘Drink up me hearties, yo ho!’. His grey hair was tied in a short pony tale at the nape of his neck, and a small gold hoop earring shone to the right of his cheery face. On his khaki t-shirt was a skull and crossbones, above which said ‘The Pirate Haus Inn’, and underneath, ‘Treasury Street, St. Augustine, Florida’.

Stairs

Ironically, the terms and conditions of the Pirate Haus Inn stated any guest found intoxicated would be evicted from the premises.

Pirate Haus Email

An email received prior to checking in. I was so glad to find a place that would finally accept my Gold Doubloons!

St. Augustine, Florida, is the oldest city in America and quite possibly the most pirate-obsessed, too. Not only is it home to a pirate-themed hostel, but a replica pirate ship and a pirate and treasure museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of pirate artefacts. The museum wasn’t exactly the best $13 I’ve ever spent, however I did see one of only two remaining original Jolly Roger flags and the only surviving real pirate’s treasure chest in the world. The universe, even. I also learned a few interesting facts I can whip out next time I’m trying to impress someone. Like, did you know that Blackbeard had 14 wives, lived in North Carolina and added gunpowder to his rum? Impressed? I thought so.

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Being the gory lovin’ girl I am, I particularly enjoyed this wax figure having his eye gouged out.

Once I’d done the pirate museum, visited the original Ripley’s Believe it or Not! and taken a hop-on hop-off Red Train tour (I was the only one aboard for nearly the entire loop, yet the driver/guide still spoke to me like he was carrying a full load), there wasn’t much else to do in St. Augustine. Nevertheless, I couldn’t have been happier in my decision to stay three nights there, because this meant three nights in the Pirate Haus!

Red Train

Riding around on the Red Train by yourself is somewhat embarrassing. Even more embarrassing, you’re given a train-shaped whistle to wear around your neck while on board.

The Pirate Haus was covered wall to wall in pirate paraphernalia and occasionally music that inspires one to swashbuckle would drift down the hall. Each morning, Dennis, the pirate with the pony, would serve up pancakes in the kitchen. He was uber creative, decorating the pancakes with designs like flowers and treasure maps. On my final morning in the hostel, I was their only guest and was given extra special pancakes – one that read ‘G’day Mate’, one of a shrimp on the head of a Barbie doll (boom tshhh) and one of a coolabah tree. No, Mother, I did not eat them all, despite Dennis and his fellow pirate pals (employees) attempting to force feed me. “You won’t grow up big and strong!” he told me.
“Thanks, Dennis, but I think I’m big enough already,” I replied.

Pirate Pancakes

Dennis ensured I had a hearrrrty breakfast everyday.

As delicious as the pancakes were, they were not the only culinary delight I indulged in whilst in St. Augustine. I found a popcorn shop with 100 flavours of popcorn, ranging from the sublime (maple pecan) to the ridiculous (cucumber), and a store selling wines made from a variety of fruits and vegetables, again ranging from the sublime (coconut) to the ridiculous (tomato). This same store also offered a product for making wine smoothies… I retreated very quickly, before I could hand my credit card over and shout, “I want it all!”

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Popcorn paradise!

But by far, the most pleasurable thing to pass my lips was neither popcorn, nor wine. It was a taco. Inside a burrito. Look, I know what you’re thinking. Especially you, Mum. But seriously, guys, if you walk into a Mexican cafe and you can’t decide between ordering tacos or a burrito and then you see the UFO on the menu, you order it. It’s like the Pert 2-in-1 of Mexican dishes. Why buy shampoo and conditioner when you can purchase one product that will cater to both your needs?

Taco Burrito

The UFO – A taco inside a burrito.

Just as I was feeling like a local in St. Augustine, and becoming a part of the furniture at the Pirate Haus, it was time for me to walk the plank leave. As I peeled myself off the sofa, where I’d spent several hours watching Top Gear next to a life-sized pirate statue, Dennis told me I’d be sorely missed. “Arrrrrgh, fair winds!” I replied. “Until we sail again, Cap’n.”

And with that, this wench set sail for her next port of call – Tampa, Florida.

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I do enjoy sharing a bit o’ Top Gear with the odd pirate or two.

Forget Hannah Montana (Miley Cyrus is trying to). This weekend was all about Hannah Savannah, or rather, Hannah in Savannah.

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It’s almost my name in lights.

My 36 hours in Savannah, Georgia, got off to a bad start. Upon stepping off the Greyhound, I realised that somewhere between Orangeburn, a small town in which I’d had to change busses, and my arrival in Savannah, my one and only tube of Vegemite had dropped out of the side pocket of my backpack. Initially, I was a little miffed at myself for being so careless with such a precious resource, but as the minutes passed, I began to panic. Vegemite is my crack. If I go longer than a couple of days without spreading it thinly across a toasted onion bagel, I begin to get withdrawals – headaches, dizziness and a fear of being un-Australian. If you’re not from Australia, Vegemite is that infamous black gooey yeast extract Men At Work placed on the world stage in their song, Land Down Under (I said, “Do you speak my language?” / He just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich!). It’s very popular in Oz, and the Constitution actually states that every household in the country must have at least one jar in the pantry at any given time (The Federal Vegemite Police do conduct spot checks, so this is taken very seriously). However, outside of Australia, the stuff is like the pygmy three-toed sloth – rare.  It’s unlikely I’ll be able to get my hands on any of the golden stuff between now and stepping foot on Aussie soil in a month’s time. Help. Me.

Vegemite

It hurts to look at this image, as I am still grieving for my Vegemite.

Still coming to terms with my loss, I collected my suitcase from the side of the bus and exited the terminal. I had booked a room in a young gentleman’s house for two nights through Airbnb. Bryan, my host, had told me that I could walk to his place from the Greyhound station, “…depending on your luggage situation.” After chucking it into Maps on my iPhone and seeing his house was in fact only 1.5 miles away, I decided to ignore his luggage warning and travel by foot. Oh, brother. What a terrible, terrible idea that turned out to be, for two reasons. Problemo Uno: Savannah is old. Like really old. And as a result, all its sidewalks are old, too. Dragging 50lbs over cobblestones, around overgrown bushes and through sand just isn’t fun. Savannah is also hot, which leads me to problem number two: Dragging 50lbs over cobblestones, around overgrown bushes and through sand, in 30C degree heat. Hello, Sweaty Betty, it’s nice to see you again!

When I eventually made it to Bryan’s, he wasn’t home, which I was actually glad about, as it gave me time to rest on the front porch and compose myself before we met. On the porch of the house next to me sat an old black lady in a rocking chair. Every third or forth car to drive passed would honk their horn and wave hello from out of the window, and most pedestrians walking by greeted her by name. After nearly an hour of watching this, Bryan, a bearded new age hippy slash architect in his early thirties, turned up on his bike. I was a little nervous about staying in some random guy’s house, but the room was lovely and Bryan was anything but a creeper so it all turned out just dandy.

Savannah, in particular its historic district, is a very beautiful town. On my first night, I was walking through Forsyth Park on my way back to Bryan’s. It was dusk. The sky was a dark blue, not quite black, and as the street lamps lit up, eerie shadows of Spanish moss hanging from willow trees were cast upon the streets. A chorus of crickets followed me with their song as I walked, headed toward a large, white fountain in the centre of my path. “This is so romantic,” I thought to myself, right at the moment – LITERALLY right at the moment – a guy about 50 feet away from me gets down on one knee and proposes to his girlfriend. “Urghhh, this is a little too romantic.”

Romantic Savannah

And caaan you feeel the looove toniiight…

The next morning, the nausea from the night before had settled and I had an appetite for soul food. A few blocks from Bryan’s, I found Narobia’s Grits and Gravy, a hole in the wall breakfast cafe with seemingly not a lot going for it. However, Yelp! assured me the food was good and so I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best as I stepped inside. What Yelp! did not need to assure me of was its authenticity. Being the only white person inside, I knew whatever I ordered off the menu would be, well, authentic. Not in the mood for stewed fish or fried chicken smothered in gravy for breakfast, I went for the next best thing – turkey sausage with scrambled eggs, grits and a biscuit.

What the Yanks call a biscuit, the Aussies call a scone. There is no difference in the food itself, except at home we’d serve them with jam and cream aside a cup of tea. They would be suitable to serve to Her Majesty The Queen, should she pop in for afternoon tea one day. Here, they’re usually served as an accompaniment to fried chicken or on their own, smothered in gravy. There ain’t nothin’ classy ’bout a biscuit.

It was an interesting meal, particularly the grits, which had this time been blanketed by melted butter. I could feel the oil oozing from out of my pores after just one mouthful, but not wanted to be culturally insensitive, endeavoured to plough through the entire plate. Three-quarters of a serving of grits and one biscuit with grape jelly later, I conceded defeat. It was all I could do to keep me from turning into a giant grease ball with a booty the size of Botswana.

Grits

Greasy, greasy grits.

I left the cafe with the urge to run a marathon, but having donated my sneakers to charity back in New York, I settled for a gentle stroll through the park and down to the river. As I walked waddled, I began to notice a lot of dogs – in particular dachshunds –  out and about. The closer I became to the river, the more sausage dogs appeared, until I found myself smack bang in the middle of the Savannah Riverfront 2013 Oktoberfest Wiener Dog Races. Ya huh. Wiener Dog Races.

In comparison to yabby racing (a yabby is a miniature freshwater lobster found in Australia), which I was lucky enough to witness at the Grass Patch Yabby Classic of 2009, dachshund racing seems relatively sane. I mean, they race greyhounds, right? So why not race four-legged hot dogs? Some 145 dogs raced that day, of which I only had the patience to watch about 20. It was very cute but also very tedious, because, of the 10 dachshunds in each race, only three or so would actually make it to the finish line. The rest would decide it was much more fun to stiff each other’s butts or pee on a patch of grass in the middle of the ‘race track’.

Weiner Race

“Eyes on the prize, Frank. Eyes on the prize.”

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Ready, set, go!

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Weeeeee!