I’ve skipped a couple weeks to last week – Abby has arrived and we’re in Texas. She flew into San Antonio (so did I- I flew with Southwest and there was a cracking crew they were a laugh and I actually enjoyed (!) a flight). We stayed in a really cute Airbnb and then headed out for some food – I had a burger and Abby a salad (!!!!). Guess who’s was nicer… I have got to say though I honestly have never eaten as many burgers in my LIFE as I have had in the US. I’m not even really a fan of them at home, it’s the brainwashing happening again! San Antonio has a really really cute riverwalk that tracks miles and miles of the river that runs right the way through the city. We started walking by the river for a while and then after 5 minutes realised we were MUCH too hot but had to keep going… FINALLY reached the point we were aiming for – lots of cute bridges and bars and LOADS of tourists and drank about 4 pints of water at a cute table by the river.
So next day we got a bus down to the missions a little further down the river (not due to the heat – this was actually very far!!!). San Antonio has a bunch of these missions which were set up by the Spanish to convert Native Americans into Catholics and change their name, practices, customs… It’s a bit uncomfortable, to be honest. The churches are still in great condition and a couple are even still used. We walked down the river to the second (literally learning nothing apparently…) and arrived a couple of sweaty messes. It’s very beautiful and reminded me a lot of European old churches. We bussed it back up to downtown and had a look around some more, grabbed some pizza and checked out the market. It was basically a Latino market with a singer, loads of stalls, lots of South American food and the kind of stuff for sale I’ve seen in Mexico etc.
We ended our last day in San Antonio at this very very cool bar/restaurant on the river that was basically made up of two storage containers where you order food or beer and then a couple of sheets of corrugated iron that sort of gave it a bit of a roof and some framing. There were big swings overlooking the river and picnic benches and fairy lights everywhere. It was extremely popular and the food was incredibly good. A strong end.
The next stop: Austin! I’ve been excited about going to Austin for months and months- literally everyone I’ve spoken to about has said that it’s one of their favourite cities in the world. We stayed at a hostel that was right in the centre of downtown (the main bit!). Half a block away was 6th street – totally full of bars and restaurants that at night literally all have live music in. Also a weird thing about Austin is that there are food trucks absolutely everywhere selling all types of food. We got a burger and walked over the river and then through a lovely lovely park in the sun. It was a Sunday so everyone in Austin was walking their dog and goodness me Austin has some cute dogs. Abby seems to have realised she’s big into dogs so what with the sweatiness of us both and the need to point out every single dog in the park it took a large chunk of the day to eventually arrive at Barton Springs. It’s an area where everyone can swim/hire kayaks/paddle boards so it was very busy this hot Sunday afternoon. Abby and I found refuge in a nearby restaurant that sells purple ‘Ritas’ that contain Everclear – a spirit so strong it’s banned in a bunch of states — the place has a warning saying you’re only allowed 2..! We didn’t actually have one – I think we were worried we’ll fall asleep and not make it back to actually check into our hostel.
Anyway – we actually managed it and had a rest up before checking out some of the bars nearby. There really was live music in every single one- and it was a Sunday night..! Pretty cool.
Next day we had a tour of the Capitol – Austin is the capital of Texas so we had a tour around the building – it’s red! – and could see where the senators get together. After we walked (!) up to the campus for the University of Texas. It’s so beautiful. We snuck into the stadium too to have a look and wow it was large. Obviously UT orange has got nothing on Carolina blue but it was impressive all the same. We also had a look around the Lyndon Johnson library/museum which was genuinely super interesting. I didn’t know anything about LBJ really – except from what Dad has told me from his RIDICULOUSLY long books on the man – so it was a great exhibit to actually know what he did. He did seem like a particularly scary kind of man though. There was literally a place where you could take a photo with a cardboard cut out of LBJ being all intimidating. Although we LOVED Ladybird Johnson’s office and basically everything she wore.
That evening we went to the coolest cinema I have literally ever been to. You get a seat in these really comfy chairs and there’s a menu and you can order basically anything you want and they bring it out to you. I had a very strong g&t and Abby a milkshake – but we could have had cocktails, wine, WINGS, mac & cheese, salads, a whole variety of popcorn flavours – so much stuff! Even whilst the movie is on you can write down what you want and pop it up in front of you and someone comes along and takes it. We saw Wonder Woman which I really enjoyed (maybe it was the gin) but they do other theme nights – like the night before had been a Dirty Dancing SING-A-LONG NIGHT like literally they were doing themed drinks (watermelon obv) and encouraged everyone to sing along or speak along with it… Literally amazing.
We spent the next couple of days looking around Austin – walking about in ridiculously hot sun – seeing some really cool neighbourhoods- there was one street that was just a bunch of amazing bars that all looked like someone’s house and you sit in their garden! We also went with the hostel one night to Blues on the Green. It’s a free music festival held once a month during the summer in the evening. You can bring beer and sit on the grass. There were literally thousands and thousands of people there, it was amazing.
Next stop was a fleeting visit through Houston. Not a whole lot to report- we went to a lovely cocktail bar, stayed in a lovely hostel in a great area (literally a beautiful residential neighbourhood) and found my FAVOURITE supermarket in the US. I know that doesn’t sound all that exciting but honestly, supermarkets out here are literally appalling. They either have zero fresh anything and just sell cans or snacks or they are a fancy pancy vegan paleo gluten free extreme ridiculousness market that sells ONLY organic stuff at extortionate prices – so I was fairly excited by a regular supermarket where we could buy NORMAL THINGS! – including Marmite and Ribena, that I sadly resisted. Also our trip was my first Megabus experience in a while – I had taken a Megabus from DC back to Chapel Hill a while back and it was FULLY HORRIBLE but they made it up this time, just. Although I genuinely think Greyhound is way better… they get such a bad rep!
We flew out of Houston very early (VERY EARLY) the next morning to New Orleans. Another Southwest flight, which I love. We got to New Orleans at maybe 8:30am and took a couple of long buses into the centre – we were staying in a hostel in the French Quarter. The outskirts of New Orleans looked like literally every other town in the US – lots and lots of chains and big roads and not much else. But the French Quarter is beautiful – narrow streets and lots of lovely balconies and steel railings and music literally everywhere. We got breakfast in the Music Legends Park – there was a small square with a cafe and a live band – at 10am on a Saturday morning! We spent the day looking around the French Quarter- went to the French Market which sold things like alligator on a stick and catfish to voodoo dolls, jalapeno pineapple jam, gumbo and pecan praline – a New Orleans special which tastes like really sugary fudge with a bunch of pecans in.
That evening we headed out to Bourbon St, which is this fairly gross street with lots of bars on that always smells totally rank (all day every day apparently). We tried the New Orleans special – the hurricane which is made up of rum and its totally and utterly disgusting, it’s so sweet and tastes like maraschino cherries pureed and poured over half a bottle of rum before heading across the street to the DUELING PIANO BAR which I thoroughly enjoyed – 80’s hits and classics all requested songs that the pianists JUST KNEW how to play. It was pretty cool.
At this point Abby is going to write about what she thought of New Orleans which is super exciting (not just because it means I can write less teehee). I’m going to figure out how to make her bit look different HOLD ON HERE…….
So we arrived in New Orleans at about 8am after getting up to catch the flight from Houston at 4am, it was pretty early for us. After dropping off our bags we decided to wander a little, look about, and we stumbled across this really sweet little courtyard with a cafe, bar and outdoor tables. Despite being only about 10am at this point, there was a little jazz band playing – it felt very ‘New Orleans’.
After that our day generally consisted of the same, pottering about French quarter. New Orleans is so incredibly cool. We spend hours, tiredly walking about and still managed to love it. The little streets were full of art galleries, antique shops and bits and bobs and one street was even closed off so that artists could come set up shop and play in the afternoon.
The building and the streets are gorgeous, they all looked just as they did in the films and television, just how New Orleans should – we couldn’t take enough photos of balconies and hanging ferns. In Jackson Square we stumbled upon a great Jazz band bustling, complete with Tuba – the atmosphere was incredible!
The next day we got up for our walking tour. It was very hot, very humid, vaguely unmanageable but manage we did and we even got there early. This walking tour was great, our guide told us so much fascinating history like, for example, that due to the education provided to women by nuns in the city, in the 1830s, free women of colour made up the largest class which owned their own business! Our guide called the city one of the few matriarchal places in the country at that time as this education wasn’t provided for men so only the rich few could afford that, whereas the women thrived – it all sounds very exciting. Anyway, so we pottered about some more, learning about the different developments of architecture from the French and Spanish colonisers, it was a very interesting tour.
Later on, we had a look at the Hurricane exhibit in one of the main museums. It had a big section on Katrina of course, which was incredibly interesting but also obviously very sobering, I couldn’t get over the fact that it was so recent and had such an impact. There was a large section on how the communities came together to rebuild their homes and retain their culture, very moving.
Sticking to the tourist activities we headed to Cafe du Monde later on and got some beignets – tasty but far too much icing sugar! (Katie told me off for trying to brush some off). Also pottered along the river and saw the holocaust memorial which is basically a bunch of panels with some patterns on that all look different from different angles, representing different aspects of the Holocaust I believe.
Later still we headed to Frenchmen’s Street which is famous for live bands. We settled into one place after struggling to choose for a while (too much choice New Orleans!) and watched this great band do sort of synthy funk (I’m 100% guessing here), complete with keyboard and trumpet solos. It was very enjoyable, the band leader kept finished each song saying ‘yes indeed, yes indeed’ in a proper Louisiana accent which was great – I even had a little dance and we bought their CD. Everyone who we saw performing seemed to be from New Orleans which was very cool also, supporting local artists and such.
The next day we set off to the WWII Museum which is boasted best in New Orleans and 4th best in the country! It was a very impressive museum to be fair to them, the time flew by. Alongside all the in-depth exhibits which were particularly interesting as from a US perspective so not one we were so used to, they gave us each an interactive card which was our ‘dogtag’. With that we were linked up the story of one particular person and through the exhibits we could check in on machines to see where they were and what they were up to at the time – we could even keep the cards and look back on the website when we got home! Whole new level of museum if you ask me.
After that we pottered on to the Garden District which was basically founded I think by rich Europeans coming over after French Quarter was taken over by Americans after the independence. The Garden District has some of the most incredible houses I’ve ever seen, all verandas and balconies and such – entirely gorgeous.
Overall, I absolutely LOVED New Orleans. I think this may be because, in a sort of European way, it’s set up (at least in the Centre) so that everything’s near each other with just small streets between, unlike the usual massively spread out cities I’d seen in Texas. The atmosphere is so great, you can hear different live music about every 10 metres. Despite being a proper party city with people carrying about huge plastic cups and bowls of cocktails from about 11am, and smelling *questionable* to say the least in some areas, it wasn’t rowdy and unpleasant, it was really lovely to walk around. I think I’m a bit obsessed, I won’t lie to you, and this is even without being old enough to do the classic Saturday night drinking on Bourbon Street!
MEMPHIS! After another 4 hour train journey – less relaxing this time BUT we did discover there are FOOT RESTS you can pull up so it was intensely comfortable (I think we were just more bored) – we arrived into our penultimate city. The hostel we’re staying at is a church, sort of. It’s run by the church and we’re in the building next to it. But it seems really great so far – they leave out pancake mix for you to make your own pancakes in the morning and that’s a big win from me.
Today Abby and I explored Memphis. We went on a sweaty bus ride – it’s really not that hot but it’s still so humid, I was wearing jeans and unexpectedly warm… Our first stop was Sun Studio – the studio where Elvis was first recorded by Sam Phillips. It’s only about 3 rooms but they do tours and our tour guide was great- super informative and funny. I didn’t know a whole lot about Sun Studio or Elvis for that matter so it was really interesting. It’s also the place that Johnny Cash recorded for the first time and where Jerry Lee Lewis recorded Great Balls of Fire (which then Abby and I had stuck in our head for the rest of the day). They even had one microphone left which Elvis had used – one of the old school silver ones – it doesn’t work anymore though sadly, although the recording studio itself is still in use.
Before a quick Cuban lunch we popped into the Peabody Hotel. So back in March the Final Four for the basketball was held in Memphis and there was a video we all saw of Roy Williams, the head basketball coach at UNC, herding some ducks down a red carpet. It was pretty random at the time but apparently it’s almost a century-long tradition at the Peabody Hotel after a couple of ducks were taken from the hunt and put in the fountain in the middle of the hotel. Nowadays at 11am and 5pm the ducks are still marched down a red carpet… and they live in the water fountain during the day and go home to a nearby farm at night. It’s incredibly random. Anyway…
After lunch we walked down a (very quiet) Main St towards the National Civil Rights Museum. The museum is in the actual building that once was the Lorraine motel, where Martin Luther King Jr was killed. There were fascinating photos capturing the civil rights movements in the 60’s and then lots of amazing exhibits documenting African American history – from slavery to the Civil War, to Martin Luther King Jr to the African influences in American culture today. It was very sad but incredibly interesting – especially as they have set up the motel room where MLK stayed so it looks exactly how it looked when he died. It makes you realise just how recent all of this was – segregation was only ruled as unconstitutional in 1953 – but segregation continued across the south for a couple of decades after that.
As we left the museum the tropical storm arrived. I had my trusty UNC raincoat – Abby got wet. Teehee. We headed to the Bass Pro Pyramid, an utterly RIDICULOUS place – it’s basically a shopping centre for outdoors-y stuff, so, guns, fishing stuff, hunting stuff, clothing, BOATS. But the whole place has been turned into this weird themed place – there are stuffed animals everywhere and ponds and weird fake trees just about everywhere you look. Fake trees! You can even get in the weird neon lift and see the view from the top of the pyramid (we didn’t – it was really grim rain at this point!). We headed back to our hostel & went for some incredibly tasty pizza and watched a bit of the NBA draft – which I really didn’t understand at the beginning but now I have some strong thoughts on the Sacramento team.
Anyway! This has been INCREDIBLY long, congratulations for making it until the end. I only have a week left in the US now. It’ll be lovely to get home but I’m going to miss it an awful lot.
Lots of love!
Katie (& Abby!) xxx