Day 21 – Well hello there, Mr President!

Thursday, 16th July 2009

A day in Washington DC
Today we both had our grumpy pants on 🙁 which was a combination of the heat (about 35 degrees), the humidity (felt like 90%) and the fact that we didn’t get much sleep because 2 Swedish chicks in our room left at 2am and didn’t attempt to keep the noise down, and we had to get up at 7am to get the car back to the rental place by 8am. We headed out around 7:30am and dropped the car off with no fuss and picked up a map from the info centre. The plan for today was to hit the museums and monuments and White House.

I had been very organised and had packed us sandwiches and 4 bottles of icy-cold water for our big day. We headed to Capitol Hill first and to get inside, we were told we had to throw all of our food and drink in the bin. I don’t think so. I suggested to Hubs that we might come back tomorrow when I was “less prepared”. (That made me even grumpier actually!) So we just started walking down the “mall” and we did some celebrity spotting!

For those of you who have been living under a rock, this is  Bob Harper of The Biggest Loser fame. Even though I’ve only ever watched 1 of the Australian series’, I could still spot him! Billy-Bob’s Mum, I know you would have killed me if I didn’t get a photo with him! Jealous are we?? 🙂
We continued along and found some pretty fountains so Hubs took a few more shots.
And then we waited for the Natural History Museum to open.

Seriously. It was so stinking hot. It was a relief to go inside into the air con! We saw the Hope Diamond which was pretty outstanding and had a look around the gemstones and rocks exhibit (Dad would have been proud!!) It was very crowded with school kids so we decided to continue on. We headed towards the Washington Monument

and then went for a look at the White House. There were probably about 50 people standing around the front, and it seemed like something was happening as there were police barricades up and police officers directing traffic. And then a whole lot of people came out from the White House onto the front lawn. And then we heard the choppers…

It was so cool! And so damn LOUD!! And there were 3 OF THEM!! The other 2 were decoys or bodyguards or something.

The middle chopper, that is, the one carrying The President (allegedly) landed in front of the White House. We think we saw his foot!

See the security on the roof? And the other 2 choppers just sat in the air, watching on. There was a bit of hoo-ha and cheering from the front lawn (see all the people gathered?), then not long after (maybe 20 minutes?), the chopper took off again!

It really was quite a crazy and awesome coincidence and we were able to see the Capitol in it’s most elitist state. After the excitement we decided to head down to the reflecting pool and Lincoln Memorial.

And we also thought it would be a good time for a little nap.
We’d pretty much had enough by this stage so we headed back in to town for some air conditioning and beer. We went to one place for a beer but left cos it was rubbish, then we settled on an Irish pub which was pretty cool. Food was okay and drinks were nice, but really, it wasn’t that cheap. ($50ish USD for 2 burgers and 3 pints. Ouch!)  We then headed back to the Hostel for some air con, chats and cocktails (i.e. the rest of the vodka with lemonade!) and a good night sleep in preparation for another day of sight-seeing.

Day 20 – Mustang Sally

Wednesday, 15th July 2009 – Smoky Mountains, TN to Washington, DC. 488 miles.

This was our last day with Sally (original, I know) and it was a beautiful day for driving. We set off around 9:15am for our last leg on the road and enjoyed every beautiful minute of it. Hubs had been trying to get this shot (unbeknownst to me) for 3 weeks and he FINALLY got it on our last day!

Can you see us?? Can you?
And another “reflective” shot 🙂

We stopped for lunch at some random truck stop along the way and had delicious burgers and iced tea and then we hit the road again. We then stopped at a rest stop for one more round of photos.

Aaaaah Sally. You gave us a great ride you sexy thing, you!

We didn’t really want to be getting into Washington too late as to avoid the peak hour traffic, and this is what we witnessed coming OUT of town:

And this traffic went on for miles and miles and miles. Better them than us I gotta say! And no wonder, with these ridiculous regulations:

THAT’S their idea of HIGH OCCUPANCY?? Woah.

As we got further into town, I started getting nervous as we still had the top down and I’d heard lots of bad stories about violence in Washington D.C. (Almost as helpful as “careful of the bears”…) Hubs thought I was being ridiculous, as it was still day time (about 7pm I think??) and there were people EVERYwhere. Actually, my first impression of DC was that it was really pretty and lots of fun! Regardless, I still “made” Hubs pull over to put the top back up.

I then tuned in to the local radio station and heard this:
“Following the shooting on Louisianna Avenue this afternoon, the following roads have been affected….”
Hubs: “What street do I need to turn down?”
Wifey, looking at the map: “Ummmmm… Louisianna Avenue….” *gulp*

We drove right past all the commotion and I tried ever so discreetly to take these photos. And I was like “well, if they shoot me, it will be one HELL of a story! HA!” We arrived at the hostel with minimal fuss thanks to my awesome navigating (I’d come a long way since Day 1 in LA) and Hubs’ brilliant driving and general ability to stay calm.

We checked into the Capitol City Hostel which I had pre-booked (incidentally it was only one of 3 or 4 hostels in DC and the ONLY one that had beds available for both of us for the entire stay) and were very warmly greeted by the owner, Bill. The hostel boasts free peanut butter and bread and milk for all guests, which of course is a great selling point! Ahem, shame about the cleanliness. Oh well. It was only for a few days! (The comments on that link were made in 2006. I don’t think it’s been properly cleaned since!!)

We decided to just have a night in with the residents and had some pretty good chats to a few cool people. Gosh I don’t even remember what we had for dinner. Peanut butter on toast perhaps?? We had to drop off the car first thing in the morning so it wasn’t a big night. I felt like this was the start of another adventure for us without Sally, and I couldn’t wait for it to start!

Total miles travelled: 4204 miles = 6765km. WOO!

Day 19 Part 2 – Hey Boo Boo?

More adventures in the Smoky Mountains.

We were pretty knackered after our big ride but it was only about 2:30pm and we had lots more to do! We drove to the start of Grotto Falls which had been recommended by the owners of the campsite and started the short-ish walk.

I was still on the look-out for bears and I wasn’t taking ANY chances. We were told just to make sure we make lots of noise while we’re walking. And so I did.
(You can blame Hubs for the orientation! 🙂

It drove Hubs crazy, which, you know, made me want to keep doing it! And lucky I did too!

The falls were beautiful but I was still nervous so after Hubs had taken a gazillion shots, I suggested it was time to head back.

Thankfully it was all downhill on the way back so it didn’t take too long. We went in search of a nice spot to watch the sunset but we got caught in traffic and lost track of the time so we just saw glimpses of it through the trees. This was the cause of 1 traffic jam we got caught in.

This is, clearly, the worst photograph of bears EVER taken. But we were excited that we did actually get to see a bear (or 2), AND I was particularly excited that it was from the (relative) safety of our car. Then of course we had to find somewhere to eat again which proved tricky. AGAIN! We ended up just grabbing some bread and sardines and potato chips at a place down the road from the campground and got home just after 10, completely exhausted and ready for beddy-bise!

Day 19 Part 1 – Sunshine, singlets and shorts

Smoky Mountains. 11 Miles on a bike, among other things!

After an AMAZING night sleep, the owners of the campground told us we could have the cabin for the 2nd night for the price of a tent site!! WOO HOO! (We had already packed everything up but we didn’t mention that! We just unpacked everything again! SCORE!)

We set off around 9am and headed up to the highest point of the Smoky Mountains, at 6643 feet up, Clingmans Dome. It was quite a drive and as we got higher and higher we got colder and colder but we refused to pull over and put the roof up. I think we even had the heater blasting us at one stage! Shocking! 🙂

On the way up

We parked in the car park and walked the final half a mile up to the look-out. Half a mile is only about 800m but it was hard-going! We reached the top and the view was pretty special. We also passed part of the Appalacian Trail along the way. You can probably guess what Hubs has added to his “things to do before I die” list!

Some day Hubs!!

Are we at the top yet??????

Wifey and Hubs at the top of the lookout.

We then drove back down into the warmth of the morning and headed to Cades Cove. Hubs had read about hiring bikes and riding the 11mile one-way loop so we arrived and looked into it. Although I’m not really much of a bike-rider, I thought it would be a fun thing to do so we signed up. Before we headed off we bought a couple of burgers for lunch and to fuel our journey and then we set off!

It was a pretty tough ride at times, particularly as we were riding the 2 DODGIEST BIKES IN THE WORLD!!!! Here they are looking all innocent and useable. Mine kept changing gears randomly, particularly going up hill. Aaargh!

The view really was gorgeous, especially going down hill!

Look at me multi-tasking! (Sorry about giving you the finger!!)

Hubs (as usual) took some lovely shots.

Apparently there was a bear spotted at one stage but we didn’t see it. Just a few deer.

It was hard-going sometimes sharing the road with all the cars and not very nice getting a lungful of fumes, but I’m glad we took up the challenge. It took us about 3 hours all up and about 6 bottles of water. Here we are, happy and exhausted:

And this was the BEST. ICE CREAM. EVER!!! Sooooooo goooooooood……

To be continued in Part 2…

Day 18 – The Long and Winding Road

Monday, 13th July 2009 – Tuscaloosa, AL to Gatlinburg, TN. 424 miles.

I’m so glad I wrote down today’s journey as we went, as there’s no WAY I would have remembered the route that we had taken! Before we left the dodgy Motel 6, Hubs was looking at our huge book of maps of the USA from Walmart, and thought it might be nice to take the scenic route up through the Smoky Mountains. Heck yeah baby! I had booked us in to Smoky Bear Campgrounds for the night and I had mentioned we might not arrive til 8pm or so, so we had the whole day ahead of us. Except that we lost another hour crossing a time zone, but we left at 10:30am local time and changed time zones not long after.

We stopped in at Chatanooga for some supplies (mainly a 2L bottle of Smirnoff Blueberry for a measley $25USD) and left around 3:45pm. We still had a fair way to go at this stage, but with 4 or 5 hours of daylight left, we didn’t think much of it. The scenic drive was TOTALLY worth it. We went through Cherokee National Park which was gorgeous, then along the Cherohala Scenic Skyway. It was a very bendy road so we could only travel about 30-40mph. This proved interesting later on!

(Hubs and his naked shots!!) It’s hard to believe that all of those photos were taken within a few hours. The scenery kept changing!

As I mentioned, the roads were full of twists and turns…

Our drive took us through the Foothills Pathway which was quite secluded and really beautiful. We caught a gorgeous sunset as well!

As the daylight was slowly fading, I kept thinking “we must NEARLY be there”, and I must admit, once 8pm rolled around and we still seemed to have a little way to go, I started to get a little anxious. After all the times people had said “You’re going to the Smoky Mountains? Well, be careful of the bears!!” I really wasn’t at ease. I didn’t want to be setting up at tent in the dark with the possibility of bears poking around. Hubs was doing his best to calm me down, reminding me that there were OTHER people who said that there was really nothing to worry about, and that he wasn’t worried in the slightest.

We finally got to Gatlinburg around 9:15pm and I thought we must be really close! But the campground was on the other side of the town (the town was absolutely buzzing by the way!) so we kept driving… and driving… and I kept getting more and more anxious… and finally we arrived, at 10pm, and it was very very dark. I asked Hubs if we could ask if they had a cabin and he gave me the go-ahead. I went to the office and they actually offered us the only cabin left – the Baby Bear cabin. We said we’d take it for 1 night and then set up our tent for the 2nd night. And I asked them:

“Do we need to be wary of bears?”
to which they responded:
“Well, we’ve been running this place for 6 years and have never seen a bear in this area.”


Hubs: “Seeeeeee???? I TOLD you so!!!” Yeah, fair call.

So after quite a stressful day (brought on myself, mind you) we had some vodka and snacks for dinner and had a great night sleep, not thinking about bears at all…

Day 17 Part 2 – “We don’t sell alcohol on a Sundee.”

Wifey: “Ahem. Say what now?”
Walmart check-out chick: “Aaaahm sawry Ma’am, but it’s a Sundee. We don’t sell aylcahaaal on a Sundee.”
Wifey: (thinking to herself “deeeeep breaths. Caaaaalm down. She’s probably just joking”) “Are you serious?”
Walmart check-out chick: “Yes Ma’am.”

Well whaddyaknow? Alabama doesn’t sell alcohol on a Sunday. Usually this would be fine. Well, not fine, but not so bad. But I gotta say, the proceeding events would have been SO much more bearable if that chick has sold me that damn bottle of Rose’. (I’ve also gotta say that this is really long, and may or may not be worth the effort in the end!!)

We got back to Motel 6 with our carrot and celery sticks, dip, and chicken tenders we’d bought for dinner. We had booked a room with a microwave and a fridge, and had paid extra for it. We had also paid for wireless internet. We had also paid for, you know, TOWELS. None of these were in the room. Oh well, I thought, after I put a load of washing on, I’ll go and ask for my money back for the fridge and microwave, and ask about the internet, and collect some towels.

So off I go down to the laundry. There were 2 washing machines and 2 dryers so I choose a washing machine and put a load on, and someone else came in to use the other machine. We had a wee chat to the girl using the other machine (Hubs had popped down) and she was younger than us (maybe 22?) and was living at the Motel, cos apparently it was better than living at home. It sounded like she had had a bit of a rough life.

After that I popped to the office and there were 4 people lined up to speak to the duty manager, who would have only been about 25 as well. One guy (about the same age) came in and she said “the usual?” and he nodded and they didn’t have to speak another word. She booked his room, knowing exactly what he wanted, for 1 night. Weird. Then 2 other people were there looking for towels so I piped up as well. But then I had to wait in line to get my money back for the lack of fridge (and internet) so it took about 20 minutes all up.

Anyway, once the load of washing was done, it was about 9:30pm on a Sunday night by this stage remember, and I had been refused a bottle of wine WHILE ON HOLIDAY, I loaded the clothes into one of the dryers and put in my 6 quarters. And this is what showed on the display:


Hmmmm…. that’s no good. It was also showing that I had only put in $1, instead of the $1.50 I’d actually fed in. So I tried to press the coin return button. Nothing. Hmmmm…. annoying. I tried to re-set, which got rid of the ERROR message, but no money came out. So I went back upstairs, grumbling, and got some more quarters. I tried again, but EXACTLY the same thing happened. GRRRRRRRRR. I took a deep breath, cos, my life really isn’t THAT hard, and went back to reception, only to find another 4 or 5 people either checking in or complaining about various crappy things to do with their rooms.

Finally it was my turn. I told them my problem and was given this response:

Reception: “I’m sorry, that’s an independent company. You’ll have to give them a call and they’ll come and look at the machine and refund any money that might be in there. I can’t give you your money back”
Wifey: “Can I please have the service number?”
Reception: “Ummmmmmm… I’ll need to call my supervisor.”
Wifey: “I can wait.”
Reception, dialling and waiting: “She’s not answering. Can I call you in your room and give you the number?”
Wifey: “Fine.”

It would have been around 10:30pm by this stage. At 10:45pm I hadn’t heard anything so I went down.

Reception: “Oh yeah, sorry, here’s the number…..”
Wifey: “Thanks.”

So I rang them and surprise surprise their customer service centre was only open 9am til 5pm Monday to Friday. But I could leave my name and number and machine details and they would call me back asap. Super. No, really. That’s great! I have a pile of wet washing, no dryer and no line. AND I possibly could have used the other dryer but the other girl was using it and seemed to have 4 loads of washing. (It’s not her fault though. Not once in this whole “experience” did I begrudge her.)

So I go down to reception and explain what happened.
Reception: “Oh, I wish I could help but it’s a separate business.”
Wifey: “Fine. Thanks. Good night.”

I decided to cut my losses and just try and hang the washing up in our room (a smoky non-smoking room) and dry them off in the other dryer the next morning which is exactly what I did. And you wanna know something hilarious? The reasons we chose Motel 6 was that it was cheap (and nasty), the lady at reception was nice (until something went wrong) and it had laundry facilities!!!

NEVER STAY IN MOTEL 6!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

NOTE: Just writing this now, I am aware of 2 things:
1. I have an easy life so when little things go wrong it’s very obvious.
2. I’m reminded of this Jimeoin joke:

“So I was in a hotel lobby and I wanted a pack of cigarettes so I put my money in the vending machine but no cigarettes came out, so I went to the Manager and told him what happened and he said “It’s got nothing to do with me.” And I asked what he meant and he said “It’s got nothing to do with me – that’s a freelance company. You’ll have to write a letter to them and they’ll either give you your money back or a packet of cigarettes, whatever you prefer, but it’s got nothing to do with me.” So I grabbed one of me mates and he got on one side, I got on the other and we started walking out with it and the Manager said “What are you boys playin’ at?” And I said “It’s got nothing to do with you!”

Ha ha ha ha ha ha. (That one was for YOU Durdlin!!)

Day 17 – I drove my Chevy to the Levy

Sunday, 12th July 2009 – Cruising around N’Awluns (that’s how the locals pronounce it) and then from N’Awluns, LA to Tuscaloosa, AL. 306 miles.

We started our day by packing up and saying goodbye to Lamonthe House. It was okay but I wouldn’t rush back to stay there. This was the courtyard outside our room and the pool in the background:

Our friend Four who we know from Newman College but who is originally from Alabama came and picked us up and took us out to lunch. Four is just full of knowlegdge about, well, most things, and having lived in New Orleans for a few years, he was able to give us a great tour of the town. He took us through some very swanky neighbourhoods, past the round church (so the devil can’t corner you), and out to a landmark New Orleans Eatery:

It was so cool!

And the food was SO GOOD. Not crazy big servings which was good. Just cheap and really delicious. We had to wait in line for half an hour or so to get in there, but it was totally worth the wait!

After lunch, Four took us for a drive around the Ninth Ward and other Katrina-affected areas. It was pretty sad but I was actually really impressed with all the work that had been done in the last few years. Nothing like what I was expecting after the things I’d heard. I won’t go into too much detail, but things are looking up for the city, and it’s previous occupants are slowly moving back and starting again.

One of the levies

An abandoned house with markings on it

The temporary trailers supplied by the government for people to live in while they rebuild. Some of them are still there.

A lot of the cars that were abandoned/wrecked during the floods. There were hundreds of them.

So yeah, still a lot to be done, but New Orleans is still thriving and is a great place to visit! We were really fortunate to have Four show us around, as it gave us a real insight to the city, the people, and the history. Thanks Four!

We hit the road for Alabama around 3pm, but mostly had the roof up as it was looking pretty bleak. Lucky too, as we got caught in a torrential downpour!

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced rain like that! We had to pull over cos we just couldn’t see in front of us. Funnily enough, a few miles ahead, the road was dry!! So weird! We didn’t really know where we were staying that night – we thought we’d play it by ear. We rocked up at Tuscaloosa and thought it was as good a place as any so, for some unknown stupid reason, we chose the Motel 6 just off the highway. There were a few hotels in the vicinity and we did actually go in to them and check them out, but Motel 6 was the only one with a laundry and, well, I had to do the washing that night. So we booked in. Whyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy????? It was so rubbish. Do you want to hear about it?? DO YOU??

Well this post is too long so I’m going to do a part 2…

Day 16 – Beer on Bourbon St

Saturday, 11th July 2009 – New Orleans.

Happy Bastille Day! Being in the French Quarter and all, we were confronted with seas of red and white and heavy drinking early in the day! It was very festive indeed! We headed down to the markets for a look around and picked up a few cute souvenirs. There used to be a lot of fresh fruit and veg but those stalls haven’t returned since Katrina, so it was mainly just touristy stuff.

We also went for another little look around town. This is the St Louis Cathedral.

And the French Quarter at it’s cutest!

We walked around town for a little while but it really was quite busy so we decided to go for a drive and try and have a look at where Katrina hit. A little morbid? Maybe, but I was really interested, as, thus far, we hadn’t really seen any evidence of it. But we knew we were in the “wrong part of town.” This proved to be futile as we really had no idea where to go, so we gave up and drove back to the hotel, dropped the car off, and went searching for lunch.

It was another gorgeous hot day so we opted for a seat outside, looking over Bourbon St. We stuffed ourselves with delicious ice-cold beers and yummy seafood.

We were substantially stuffed and content after another late-lunch so we went back to Lamonthe House, had a wee nap and then hit the pool for the afternoon.

The foyer at Lamonthe:

You may notice, and be surprised/disappointed that I haven’t mentioned any Jazz as yet. Well, there was always music playing in the streets or you could hear it blaring out of the bars, but we never actually went to a venue to sit and listen. Weird, I know, but we were just in such a relaxed state that we let life take us wherever it pleased, and I don’t think our bodies were used to eating and drinking so much in the afternoon so we were just pooped by about 6pm! It was a really relaxing time for us though, and we LOVE New Orleans!

Day 15 – Woah that’s good squishy!

Friday, 10th July 2009 – Chillin’ in New Orleans

We started the day with a continental brekky at the “hotel” and prepared ourselves for a very hot and humid day out. We set off on foot for the New Orleans Museum of Art for a photography show they had there; The Art of Caring: A Look at Life through Photography. It was a lovely warm day and most of the way we were in some type of shade.

We also found a community garden along the way and decided to play a game of chess. (Well, pretended to for the sake of some fun photos!)

The photography exhibition was very impressive and although it was nice to get out of the 38 degree heat, the 18 degree temperature inside became a bit too much towards the end. We were there for a couple of hours (there were hundreds of amazing photos) and then we headed back in to town for more exploring. It really was very hot and humid so when we came across a little corner shop that sold ice creams and squishies, we simply HAD to partake! (Apologies for the portrait orientation!)

We chose a delicious strawberry flavour and my gosh you should have seen how much syrup they put in! It really hit the spot!

Once we got into town, our objective was to find a barber to give Hubs a straight shave. It didn’t take us long to find one, and even though I was very nervous, the barber mentioned that he did these every day, so that put me at ease somewhat.

Here’s Hubs before:


And after!

Isn’t he sexy!? It really was very super-smooth and it took an extra couple of days for it to grow back! Very nice indeed!

It started pouring down rain while Hubs was having his shave

so we found a little art studio to look around in, then we went to a pokey little bar called the Chart Room for $1.50 beers and a great atmosphere. Once the rain stopped we headed out to find somewhere to eat and took a recommendation to go to the Napoleon House. I thought the service was very good, and after our very yummy Pinot Noir, bruschetta, and Po’boys, we rolled on home for a swim, a nap, and another night in. Those big meals and wine/beer on a hot afternoon were a killer!

Day 14 – Southern hospitality

Thursday, 9th July 2009 – Jackson, MS to New Orleans, LA. About 200 miles.

Another cruisey day of driving today and not too many photos to show for it I’m afraid. We were very impressed by the beautifully manicured highways on Louisianna though!

We took the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway – the longest bridge in the world at 23.8 miles – over to New Orleans and got a great view of the city skyline, including the Louisiana Superdome.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with New Orleans, as we had had quite a few people telling us that it was still in really bad shape since Hurricane Katrina, but what greeted us was a friendly city with lovely people, great food and a slowly rebuilding economy. But more about that later.

I had booked a place to stay in New Orleans on line, and we arrived around 1pm to a luke-warm welcome. This is where we stayed:

The Lamonthe House is a guest house on Esplanade Ave, New Orleans. It really was quite sweet but the customer service was very poor and on the first night we had a shower with the world’s worst shower head (seriously SO bad) and then we broke the bed (we were just sitting on it! I SWEAR!) and it seemed a great inconvenience to them that it was 8pm and they had to move us. Anyway, the 2nd room they gave us was a bit bigger, but the shower was as bad, if not worse than the first! But we weren’t there to sit around doing nothing, so before all that happened we went out to a late lunch at The Praline Connection and shared a mixed plate of fried chicken, jambalaya, red beans and rice, ribs, corn bread, greens, and butter bread. It was a very hot and humid day (like summer in Queensland!) so we also had a couple of local ice-cold beers. The serving was rather large, and we ended up taking the butter bread home for dessert later. It started raining on the way back to the guest house, so we decided to have a little nap.

And when we woke up we took a little dip in the pool! (with the waterproof camera!)

We didn’t feel like eating again so we just went for a walk up along the water, down Canal st, and then completed the loop down a bit of Bourbon st and a bit of Decatur St.

It was a lovely night for a walk and we were still feeling full from our meal at 3pm so we just went home and finished off the butter bread with a couple of drinks and enjoyed each other’s company. This was the start of a lot of walking, swimming and eating!