The end is upon me. I have been back in the UK now for two days. Just wanted to end this series of blogs with a few reflections.
I never thought I would go travelling again, so I feel I deserve to pat myself on my back for all that I achieved during my time away.
I travelled for many weeks completely by myself
I planned and organised the whole trip myself
I drove the entire way around New Zealand single-handed
I crossed continental US
I returned back to where I used to live in Melbourne, Australia
I caught up with lots of good friends
I felt the fear and did it anyway.
It wasn’t always easy. Far from it. I did not take well to hostel life, which made the trip more expensive. I found eating healthy vegetarian food challenging at times. I felt lonely at times. But I also had some wonderful experiences.
I delighted in the unbelievable beauty of the Coromandel Peninsula in New Zealand
I was heartened by the resilience of the earthquake-stricken people of Christchurch
I retraced my steps through beautiful Melbourne
I made Laguna Beach and Orange County my second home
I was blown away by the sights and sounds of New Orleans
I was fascinated by the museums and galleries of Washington DC.
Anyone who has been travelling will always tell you coming home is hard. And it is. But I would not have changed it for a thing. YOLO as the youngsters say…..
Here are a few of my favourite photos from my trip.
Boston is cold. So cold. So cold I had to curtail my sightseeing. I’ve not experienced a winter for about a year and so this city’s winter weather has shocked me to my core.
However I have squeezed in some sightseeing. There is a red line passing throughout the city on the pavement. It is called the ‘Freedom Trail’ and is a great way to find your way around the historical sights of the city, as it guides past everything you need to see.
History is around every corner in Boston. This is the city that had the famous tea party, where imported tea was dumped into Boston harbour, as a protest against British taxes. It is where a lot of the early rumblings against British rule began, with the end game of American independence. Paul Revere also made his famous horseback ride to the Old North Church in Boston on 18 April 1775, to alert US troops that the British were coming.
Samuel Adams, who was one of the original men to sign the Declaration of Independence, is buried here.
Boston also has one of the oldest state houses in the country, resplendent with it’s golden dome.
I also visited the Old State House. This is one of the oldest buildings in the city. It was where the state of Massachusetts was governed from in colonial times. It also where the newly signed Declaration of Independence was read out loud to the people, two weeks after it was signed in Philadelphia. The lion and unicorn on the photo below represent England (lion) and Scotland (unicorn).
Boston is maybe best visited outsider the winter months, as there is a lot to do, but when it is icy and cold, it’s difficult to stay outside for too long! However, it has been an interesting place to end my trip. Maybe I’ll return one day…
I arrived in DC a few days after a very sad moment, the inauguration of Lord Voldemort. Walking around the city, you could still see the remnants of the ceremony.
That aside, I had a really great time exploring the capital. The National Mall possibly has more museums and galleries than anywhere in the world. And nearly all of it free to see.
There are so many things to see. I went to:
The National Art Gallery
The Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum
The American Museum of Art
The American Museum of History
The Lincoln Memorial
The Washington Monument
The White House.
It is all walkable, and on the first day I did over 20,000 steps, and boy did my feet feel it! All the main sights feel so familiar, having seen them on TV so much. It all feels very impressive.
The Lincoln Memorial was particularly interesting, as I have seen lots about Lincoln’s legacy whilst travelling across the States, particularly his involvement in ending the American Civil War and his involvement in ending slavery.
The White House
As for the White House, there is so much security around it you cannot get anywhere near to it these days. Not that I wanted to be any closer to Mr T!
Flight and space travel
The Air and Space museum was great too. Interesting exhibitions on the early days of flight, including the original plane the Wright used and the Spirit of St Louis, the first plane to fly across the Atlantic. There’s also lots of great space artifacts, including space toilets!
Washington has loads of great art galleries. The National Gallery has an impressive range of art, with a new contemporary wing. I loved the Andy Warhol pictures as well as the only Leonardo Da Vinci painting in North America. I did a great volunteer led free guided tour, highly recommended.
The American Museum of History has a really broad range of artifacts, ranging from the ruby red slippers that Judy Garland wore in the Wizard of Oz to the tophat that Abraham Lincoln was wearing when he was assassinated.
There was also a good section on African American history. I was glad to see that as I had tried unsuccessfully to visit the new African American museum. One exhibit was particularly moving, the original lunch counter from the Greensboro sit-in. I has learnt about this at the Civil Rights museum in Memphis. It was a non violent protest by young people, protesting against segregation, and it was actions like these which started to turned the public opinion against this form of civil rights abuse.
I have really enjoyed visiting DC. Next (and final stop) – Boston.
Nashville has been squarely put on the map lately by the successful TV show of the same name, all about the country music industry that’s based here. Though of course, Nashville has been famous around the world for much longer as the home of country music.
Nashville is the state capital of Tennessee. The impressive state capitol building is here, as well as lots of other grand buildings such as the Tennessee Supreme Court.
James Robertson is seen as the father of Nashville, having founded it in 1779. Another big figure around these parts is Andrew Jackson. He is a massive hero in the south, his name is everywhere, on various street names, parks, squares and there are even two cities names after him, in Mississippi and in Tennessee. Jackson was a military general in the Civil War. He was also the seventh President of the USA.
Even though I’m not a huge country music fan I visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and museum and I’m glad I did as it was great.
Country music developed as a fusion of British folk music brought to the States by early settlers and the music of black America. I spent about three hours in the museum and saw loads of interesting artefacts including Dolly Parton’s original lyrics to ‘Jolene’ and Elvis’ gold piano. You get to watch lots of clips of some great musical performances, and there was a particularly interesting exhibition about Bob Dylan’s experiences in Nashville, including when he recorded his album ‘Blonde on Blonde’.
Memphis, in the words of Marc Cohen in the song he made famous (Walking in Memphis), is the home of the delta blues. And Elvis.
Rock n’ Roll, soul and the blues
Music made this city and is a big part of why so many tourists come here. ‘Beale Street’ is the main place to hear the blues, as well as soul too. It seems pretty commercialised these days, and a lot more white than it was from what I have read. In the ‘Rock & Soul’ Museum, I learnt all about the history of the blues, soul and rock & roll and how Beale Street was a largely black community. In the days of segregation, black people bought and ran businesses here, and also played the music they loved. This music originated in the fields, where their ancestors had worked as slaves.
So much of what I have seen and heard in the south has been influenced by slavery.
The blues were essentialy created by W.C. Handy, a black musician from Alabama. He wrote and recorded what’s acknowledged to be the first blues record, ‘Memphis Blues’. Lots of other artists began their careers here, for example Al Green and of course Elvis.
The influence of Elvis is everywhere. Rock & Roll music, which he personified, was essentially black music that white people took and popularised. I’d never really thought before how much of Elvis’ music is influenced by black culture.
The Rock and Soul museum is really interesting, definitely worth a visit. You watch a film all about the blues and soul, and then they give you a self guided tour to go round the museum, it also allows you play lots of great songs too. Interesting exhibits too on Stax records and the prejudice that black musicians faced/face.
National Civil Rights Museum and Martin Luther King
One of the most interesting and moving experiences I have had on my trip was visiting the National Civil Rights Museum. Housed in the Lorraine Motel where Dr King was assassinated on 4 April 1968, the museum is a fantastic testament to the struggles that black people have undergone in the US.
The museum highlights various pivotal moments in African American history, included events in Selma, Birmingham and Memphis. Standing in the room where Dr King was killed was a profoundly moving experience. Another particularly emotional exhibit allows you to feel how the young people of the south might have felt when they staged a non-violent sit-in in cafes across the south, to protect against segregation. You can also sit on a replica bus of the one that Rosa Parks sat on, when she refused to give up her seat to a white person. Bearing in mind how recent this history is, it is somewhat difficult to believe this all happened.
I visited the museum on the day of the Trump inauguration. It felt very ironic and symbolic too, considering the things he has said about ethnic minorities. I hope America does not take a step backwards with regards to civil rights, including LGBT rights.
A quote I have always loved from Dr King is ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere‘.
Of course, like every other city I have visited, Memphis has a great art gallery, the Brooks Art Museum. Bit of a journey out of town to visit but well worth it. One artist I discovered is a local Tennessee artist called Carroll Cloar. Born in 1913, he made his name painting surreal images of the southern landscapes and the people who lived there. A couple of his paintings are below.
Nawlins (apparently that’s how it’s spelt) is a vibrant, fascinating and unique place. I spent three days in ‘the Big Easy’ and loved it. Most recently known for the devastation and death caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it seems to me that the people and the city have bounced back amazingly.
Anyone who has read my blog has probably noticed I love visiting art galleries. New Orleans has a great art gallery in the city park called the New Orleans Museum of Art. There is a also a large sculpture gallery attached. Here are a few of my favourite pieces.
The French Quarter & the Garden District
The French Quarter is the most popular place to visit in the city. It certainly feels like you could be in Paris, it has some beautiful architecture. There are lots of jazz bands playing on the various street corners, it’s a great place to hangout and watch the world go by.
The Garden District is in the west of the city and was built by new settlers who wanted to create a new English speaking area of the city. The homes are huge, antebellum style mansions, streets and streets of them, really interesting strolling around for an hour or so. It also houses the Lafayette cemetery. The fascinating tombs are all built overground because of the constant threat of flooding.
Martin Luther King Day Parade
Every third Monday in January marks the annual MLK day. I was lucky enough to be in New Orleans for it, and they mark the occasion with a huge parade – and by huge I mean over 90 minutes of parade! Mainly consisting of marching bands and dancers, it was fantastic to watch.
I finally left California this week and headed east to see the real America. The America of Republicans, cowboys and all you can eat buffets. Yes, I’m in Texas y’all!
My first stop was Austin. I had heard it bucked the trend of Texan cities, being liberal, cycle friendly, vegetarian and has a live music scene. It didn’t disappoint. One of the highlights was a huge outdoor spring fed outdoor pool. It was weird swimming amongst salamanders, rocks and plants but cool too. The pool is massive, it must be over 200 foot long. It is called Barton Springs and is highly recommended on a hot day.
A history of Texas
Another highlight is the Bullock Texas State Museum, where you can learn all about the history of this huge state. I found out that Texas was originally called Tejas, when it was part of Mexico.
The Mexican republic was created in 1821 when ‘New Spain’ broke away from Spanish rule. The Mexican republic had a ‘recruitment drive’ to populate the republic. Over the next few years, lots of new people moved to the area, mainly those of European descent. However, over the years a wedge was driven between those of Spanish descent and the Anglo population.
The state subsequently declared independence from Mexico and the Republic of Texas was born. Then Texas became part of the USA in 1845 and the USA became involved in the US/Mexican war over Mexican interests in the area, which the USA won.
Texas joining the USA was controversial, as it was a slave state and the northern states did not want another slave state joining the federation, as it gave greater weight to the idea that slavery would remain. Subsequently this led to the American civil war. I saw in the museum a ‘receipt’ for a slave woman who had been bought, which was shocking to see.
I also saw one of the early stars and stripes flags. In the early days there were no real guidelines as to how the flag could be represented, and you can see from the photo above the stripes are different and the stars could’ve added in any way.
Next stop, San Antonio, location of ‘The Alamo’.
San Antonio’s biggest attraction is The Alamo. The infamous battle of The Alamo in 1836, which saw the death of the famous Davy Crockett, happened in an old Spanish Mission from the 1770s. The entire army defending The Alamo were killed by the Mexican army. The Alamo has since become a totem for Texan liberty and freedom.
San Antonio has some great architecture. During the late 1920s-1930s, due to the depression, a large public works programme happened across the city, leaving San Antonio with a legacy of some great art deco style buildings. It also has some earlier Victorian era buildings.
San Antonio has a really great art gallery, and I spent about two hours there. You can walk there from Downtown along the river. The gallery has impressive collections of Egyptian art as well as some really interesting art from south east Asia. A few of my highlights are below.
Last stop on the Texas leg was Houston. Just for one night which is enough! Houston is huge. It’s the 4th largest US city. It’s pretty scary in parts too. I went trolling off looking for a vegan restaurant and landed in the middle of mugging central. Pretty sure most tourists don’t venture where I went!! Houston has a serious homeless problem it’s very sad.
The restaurant was great though had a great vegan salad & green juice. Maybe not worth dying for though haha!