A Travellerspoint blog

End of the road!

Niagara Falls and New York

Our penultimate stop on The Road Trip was Niagara falls, somewhere I'd always wanted to see. We crossed over into Canada and arived late at our hotel, where we could hear the falls. Our "falls view" room was on the 11th floor with no obstructions between us and the river, so we were really excited about waking up to a spectacular view in the morning. Turns out it didn't quite work out that way...


Nature was a bit against us, and we really couldn't see much of the falls. Walking round the town we managed a few slightly better views, especially of Niagara Falls USA (there are two slightly separated sets of falls, one in each country) but the picture postcard view of the Canadian falls just wasn't happening.


We took a tour behind the falls which was a bit more successful. From here you can really feel the powr of the falls - they're seriously impressive. Shockingly after the heat we'd been experiencing in the deep south for the past few weeks it's still full on winter up here - and there's ice everywhere. That was fine by me, I've missed the stuff recently and it all added to the beauty of the place. Despite the mist, a truly spectacular place to visit.

Here's the view from behind the falls:

On leaving Niagara we just had time for a final milkshake stop before heading on to our ultimate destination, New York.
Hopping on a city tour bus we spent an afternoon taking in all the major sights. Nomatter how cliche or touristy, it's still pretty great seeing the Statue of Liberty up close, or hanging out with the bull near Wall St. There's plenty to see in this city.


The site that hit me hardest though was a bit more somber. I was in two minds about whether I wanted to see the memorial at Ground Zero, basically because I didn't really want to end up depressed for the day, but I figured some things are probably quite important to see, even if it's not pleasant. Now, I'm not really one for placing meaning on any art, and generally get quite annoyed at abstract scupltures that the artist pretends represents something, but this was an exception. I'd be hard pressed to say why (I could try if you ask me) but this memorial just seems incredibly appropriate. For me they couldn't have done anything better with this space - and the feeling of loss and emptiness here is almost palpable. Not exactly an enjoyable visit, but I'm very glad I went.


We also managed to take in a Knicks game at Madison Square Garden (the terrible game was significantly less boring thanks to the regular breaks for "Celebrity Cam" picking out stars from the crowd - the highlight being Sabrina the teenage witch...) and I had a slightly odd relapse into real life as I met up with my boss for a ridiculously good steak (thanks Alex!) but fortunately there wasn't too much work talk and we just got drunk instead.

The inescapable fact that we hadn't wanted to deal with though, was that New York was the end of the road. I'm saying bye to Jamie at this point and heading into South America next on my own. Cheers Mate - it's been awesome!
Also, we were going to have to say goodbye to the 'stang. After 4 weeks we'd clocked up over 100 hours of driving and covered over 5000 miles across 15 states, along with a quick jaunt into Canada thrown in for fun. I don't want to know how many milkshakes had been racked up, but it was somewhere North of 25. The car's been absolutely amazing, and we couldn't have had anything better for this trip. I'm genuinely a bit upset to see her go!
Now. I wonder how much it'd cost to get a car shipped over to the UK...


Posted by Matt Cocken 05:38 Archived in USA Tagged new_york niagara Comments (0)

Almost Heaven...

West Virginia, Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway, New River

Leaving Asheville our livers were telling us it was time for a couple of nights off, so after a quick milkshake we headed to West Virginia for some fun in the great outdoors. This started with a drive through the Blue Ridge Mountains, in sight of the Shenandoah River. Nice!


Our destination was an outdoorsy holiday camp sort of place that specialised in white water rafting on the New River. On arrival we had a chat with the river guides. Turns out they'd had to cancel the rafting trips as the river was too high and rapids too big in the last few days, but our trip was still just about on.

"So how big are the rapids we'll be doing?"
"With the water level what it is some of them are class 5"
"5 out of what?"

So apparently there technically are class 6 rapids as well, but it's illegal to take the public on them.

Now, this all sounded exciting, but given the blame culture and over cautios health and safety rules they have throughout the US, I figured it would actually still be a fairly tame day. I was wrong.


Our trip started out with a lovely stretch of river like this, where we were instructed on how to handle the raft and how to respond to the guide's instructions, and had it drilled into us that if we ignore him or panic at a critical time we'll all be floating down the river in our life jackets, if we avoid getting smashed onto the rocks.
Once we'd got the hang of things we headed on to the first of the rapids, which was actually surprisingly big, exciting and great fun. As we all breathed a bit of a sigh of relief at getting through unscathed we asked the guide:

"So what class was that one?"
"That, well, I guess it might be up to a class 2 with this much water".
Right. We suddenly started taking things a lot more seriously.

The bigger rapids were genuinely terrifying. I was downright shocked that they'd take us through them with no experience and it was absolutely fantastic! Our guide was a lot more confident in our ability that I was and consistently headed for the biggest waves and roughest patches in the river. When we eventually hit the class 5ers there were standing waves towering above us. At one point even our guide lost his paddle and was in a flat panic as we headed backwards through some of the most dangerous bits. So much fun!

Here's a clip of one of the medium rapids, I think this one was a class 3. Jamie and I are clearly displaying the benefits of the strict Kings Road Cricket Club's training scheme, with our superior poise and balance.

Note how Jamie perfectly synchronises his headbutt/shouldercharge combo on the nice girl with my "paddle handle to the teeth" on her boyfriend. They weren't very impressed. Great days.

Posted by Matt Cocken 05:10 Archived in USA Tagged rafting west_virginia Comments (0)

Nashville, Asheville

Country, country, country!

From the Jazz capital of the US, we headed to the Country capital of the world, Nashville, Tenessee. I'd always wanted to see some proper, deep south country bars, and above all I wanted to see people line dancing. After 3 weeks in the 'stang listening to country radio we felt prepared, and were really excited about this place. We arrived in the city and despite a lack of hats and cowboy boots, we did our best with jeans and checked shirts and headed on into town. First stop was a bbq joint, which was amazing. Pulled pork and hot wings with beef brisket and beans. Yum. Headed back out onto the strip and saw a bar called Tequila Cowboy. Looked promising. As we were at the bar Jamie spotted the dance floor at the back.

"Matt - are they line dancing back there?"

They sure were. Real people, in a real bar, doing actual line dancing. I felt as if a life ambition had been fulfilled. What really struck me thoguh was the intricacy of the dances - we had no hope of joining in. I was amazed that people could pick it up so quickly. Still, I had a solution - I'd found a bar that was doing line dancing lessons the next evening.

Arriving at the "Wildhorse Saloon" was impressive - the place was like a giant ballroom. Here we got a few drinks and learned our first line dance steps. Brilliant.


What was really interesting though was the way line dancing works. We got talking to some locals and whilst there are line dance crews, who do their own routines, for the most part every song has it's own routine - and it's the same everywhere in the country. Nobody seems to know exactly where they come from or who makes them up, but each song has it's own line dance. It's a bit like "Saturday Night" or "The Macarena". I can teach you "Copperhead Road" or "Save a horse, ride a cowbody" when I see you.

The rest of Nashville was like a country version of a New Orleans night. Every bar has live bands, all of them exellent. Many of them belting out the classics we'd learned in the car over the last few weeks - in short, another awesome night out. I only wish I knew somewhere in the UK that does live music and nights out like this! I don't really have any pics of Nashville, just a few videos of bands that I don't really remember taking. And a couple of ones of Jamie and Me singing, that aren't going online.

After Nashville we were looking for the next place to stay that was vaguely in our Eastern direction. I'd heard people in Nashville mention a town called Asheville a few hundred miles away, and thought I'd look it up. First quote found on Google - "Asheville - the beer capital of the USA!". Decision made.
As we headed over to North Carolina we went through another small town - Pigeon Forge, home of Dollywood. I wish we had a bit more slack in the schedule as I'd have loved to look around that place more closely - it looked like Blackpool on steroids. Just ridiculous, tacky, touristy madness everywhere you looked. For about 5 miles we saw nothing but neon, rollercoasters, dogems, death slides, bars and crazy golf. Next time, I'm planning a weekend here.

Now, this trip has been a bit of a reveleation to me - and has upended another of my long held opinions. The truth is - America has really good beer! They have millions of craft beers here, and they love them. Asheville is famous for them, and the first bar we went in had 16 different ones on tap. All beers tried were delightful! I mean, they still don't have ales, and the majority of beer sold is bud or miller, but even at the baseball games they offer a few different craft beers as well. We could learn a bit from them here as well!

Posted by Matt Cocken 05:12 Archived in USA Tagged nashville asheville linedancing Comments (0)

The Big Easy

New Orleans Jazz, Soul Food and Swamps

I'd heard nothing but good things about New Orleans, so I was pretty excited as we arrived at our hotel at 2am Sunday night/Monday morning after another long drive. We thought we'd try and get a quick drink before bed and asked the receptionist if any bars would still be open. She laughed and pointed us to Bourbon St. Turns out the bars here are pretty good, and were indeed still open, as they were until we left at 6am. Heading home through a bit of a seedy bar area we were accosted by a young "dancer" outside a strip club.

"Hey, y'all wanna come in and get a dance with me honey?"
I tried to be polite:
"Erm, no thanks. Maybe tomorrow."
"But I got school tomorrow!"

After a revitalising milkshake the next morning we went for a proper look around. The city's really cool and just oozes character, with old european architecture, steamer boats still running on the river, and some incredibly elaborate cemetaries.


We took a swamp tour to see some 'gators, but the biggest surprise wasjust how beautiful the swamps are! I really hadn't expected this - "swamp" doesn't really bring forth images of Eagles flying overhead, Ospreys nesting, 'gators, Giant Blue Herons and Egrets everywhere and really stunning waterways. Definitely worth a trip.


New Orleans is known as the Jazz capital of the US, so that night we headed out onto Frenchmen St. for the live music. We'd been told to go there by several people, and even though I'm not really a fan of jazz, we'd been told not to worry - we'd love New Orleans jazz, so we thought we'd give it a try.
They weren't wrong. Every bar, nomatter how small, has live jazz, and we didn't see one band that wasn't fantastic. There was none of the pretentious nonsense that I'd come to associate with jazz - with performers trying to do the most technically challenging things possible - this was just people having as much fun and making the best music they could.
You can't really get it from a phone video, but here's a taste of "Rebirth".

So good! I think this was one of the best nights out of my life, and I'm going to be searching out some CD's by some New Orleans residents when I get back. Throw in some amazing soul food - spicy deep fried catfish and oysters were probably the highlight, and you've got an amazing city. Definitely recommend visiting it to anybody!

Posted by Matt Cocken 04:11 Archived in USA Tagged swamp jazz new_orleans Comments (0)

Good, clean, all American fun!

Baseball, Rodeo and Guns.

Turns out our Giants caps are more than just sweet looking sun-blocking accessories for us on this trip - they're also good for starting up conversations. At one of the vinyards at Napa some guy had started talking to us with a "Hey! Go Giants! How do you think the team's looking this year?"

A bit of embarrassed explaining followed as we told him we were English, about our trip and that we'd just bought the caps as we were in San Fran, and had never seen a baseball game.
"Well then; you should head to Arizona on the way past and catch some Spring Training!"
Turns out all the US baseball teams head to either Arizona or Florida every spring for a warm up league before the season proper begins - due to the nice weather in those states! The Giants have their own Spring Training stadium in Phoenix, and it turned out we could head there without much of a detour, and they were playing on the day we were driving past. Seemed rude not to, so we booked into a motel and got ourselves tickets to a couple of games. Friday night at the baseball was interesting. Well, not really very interesting. What we thought was a fairly slow game resulted in a 6-4 win for the giants (Go Giants!) but there wasn't that much happening really, in the 9 innings they have.


You can't really tell what the pitcher is doing at a live game, so most balls look the same. There was plenty of beer though and some hotdogs so all was good. After the game though came the real highlight of the day. First up we were told we could get a free ride in a golf cart to wherever we wanted - the drivers just worked for tips. This sounded awesome, and when our cart driver turned out to be one of the hottest girls I've ever seen, wearing stockings and suspenders (guess it all helps with the tips) we were even more impressed. She took us to the bars of Scottsdale and it was there that Phoenix really left it's impression on us. Obviously I'm very happily in a relationship so I don't care about these sorts of things, but if you're a guy and single, just find a way to move to Phoenix. Just go. Turns out our golf cart driver was decidedly below par in that town, and there were stunning girls absolutely everywhere- I've never seen anything like it. The nightlife was fantastic, and we hit our first proper country bar - which was amazing! Cowboy hats and rhinestone clad denim shorts everywhere, without a hint of irony, and the band were fantastic. This country music is really growing on me!

The following day didn't start amazingly, with a hangover from hell, but we put a brave face on, had a reviving dip in the pool and a quick milkshake and headed to our second baseball game, a clash between locals Arizona Diamondbacks and the Cleveland Indians. Well, it turns out that our previous Friday night game that we thought was pretty slow was actually an action packed run fest. This game had 7 hits in the first 8 innings. That's right - in 16 innings between them, the teams HIT THE BALL 7 times. Not 7 home runs, not even 7 runs. They just managed to hit the ball 7 times. That's in about 2 hours. Only 1 of those hits resulted in a run. How the hell can Americans like this game??? I can only assume it's some kind of collective national masochism. The 9th inning however was manic, with no less than 4 hits in about 45 minutes, resulting in a 2-1 victory for Arizona. Man it was boring, and I'm a massive cricket fan.

After our afternoon of baseball we set off for the exciting part of the day - the overnight slog accross the country. We'd tried to work out a more interesting route but whichever way we looked at it there was one nasty part of the trip. Texas. Basically, we had 1500 miles between Phoenix and New Orleans, with nowhere we really wanted to see in between. We had to break things up, so what can you do in Texas? That's right, Rodeo. We found one that was going on in San Antonio, but that still left us 1000 miles to cover, and rather than spend 2 days in traffic and stop in motels along the way, we decided to take it in turns to sleep and smash it overnight.

Ah, my old friend the i10. One road, one thousand miles!

Ah, my old friend the i10. One road, one thousand miles!

That was one hell of a night's drive, but thanks to plenty of caffeine and Jamie's healthy disregard of any kind of speed limit we arrived bright and early in San Antonio, with time for lunch and some relaxing before the rodeo that night.

OK, Rodeos. They're hilarious!
The night started with about 3 songs sung to the flag of Texas as it was paraded around the arena, another 2 sung to the Flag of the USA, and several prayers. This was followed by a load of guys being thrown violently off bulls. Brilliant! The bull riding was followed by some lasooing contests and some barrel riding, before the night's highlight was announced.
"All you youngsters out there better be ready, it's mutt'n bustin' time!"
Mutton Busting is the funniest thing I have ever, ever seen. With us not having a clue what to expect the announcer introduced 6 year old Tommy, from Dallas. Then a gate opens, and a kid on the back of a sheep is revealed. Someone then belts the sheep on the backside, it panics and races into the arena, with the kid (with no saddle or rope or anything) clinging on for dear life! I couldn't believe it as 5 year old Daisy, then 3 year old Billie were introduced! Kids were flying everywhere. Genius.

That blur in the middle of the pic is a kid on a sheep!

That blur in the middle of the pic is a kid on a sheep!

After a good old hoedown after the event with the guys and gals two stepping till midnight, we got a taxi back to the motel. Tired as we were, after realising we were from the UK the driver was intent on explaining to us the merits of gun ownership. I tried to be diplomatic, and we had an "interesting" chat. Towards the end of this we got:

"So really? You guys don't own guns over there? At all? Hey - do you wanna play with one of mine?"

After making doubly sure there were no euphemisms involved we said, yes, yes we did. Turns out the guy had been sat on a loaded pistol the whole time and handed it over. As an afterthought he took it back and removed the clip. Texans are crazy!


So the next day me and Jamie looked up a shooting range and headed over there. Pretty unbelievable. No ID needed, no deposit. Just pick a gun, get some ammo and go and shoot some targets. Pretty scary stuff, but also pretty good fun. After a bit of a friendly contest it turns out you don't really want to mess with me or Jamie as we're both kind of bad asses. If we happen to be in Texas and have a gun.


Posted by Matt Cocken 22:00 Archived in USA Tagged baseball texas rodeo guns phoenix Comments (0)

Utah Rocks!

Zion Park, Monument Valley and Grand Canyon

After the hedonism of Vegas it was time for the anti-hedonist Utah. After a quick detour to see the Hoover Dam and a quick milkshake stop we headed North to witness the deserts and rock formations of Zion park and Monument Valley. The scenery through here is ridiculous, which was handy as we needed something to keep us interested as we gradually lost the signal of all our favourite country radio stations. Eventually there was only one station receivable - and it was God FM, playing only praise music and preaching the importance of evangelism. Coincidence??? Makes you wonder...
Anyway - the drive through Zion was breathtaking. Here's what it was like.


I thought that would be the highlight of the day, until we hit Monument Valley. We took a 4x4 tour round the dirt tracks as off roading is not really what the 'stang was designed for (after assuring her it wasn't her fault and we'd be back soon, and that we'd be thinking of her the whole time).
What a place. Our official Navajo guide wasn't that much use and just enjoyed telling us what the rocks kind of looked like. This was a bit tedious, until he showed us the dragon...


It actually does look like a dragon.
Anyway, this has got to be the most spectacular place I've been, and I think these might be my favourite views ever.


Leaving Monument Valley with a big smile, and after a quick milkshake stop, the God FM talk-show host brilliantly let us and the world know the solution to the worrying problem of the increase in date-rape at US college fraternities - simply stop sending your daughters to college. Genius.
Next was the Grand Canyon. I wasn't sure what to expect here, and I was a bit worried that the GC would be a bit overhyped and dissapointing. I needn't have worried - it really is quite grand. The scale of the place is pretty awe inspiring and it definitely should be seen. I'm sure you've seen photos of it before but here's my favourite one anyway.


The last 2 days since Vegas had been breathtaking, probably the best views I've ever seen, and I'm so glad we came here. But I had to agree with Jamie as he said leaving the GC:
"I've probably had enough of rocks for a while now."

Posted by Matt Cocken 02:45 Archived in USA Tagged grand_canyon utah monument_valley Comments (0)

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