A family trip around the World – Los Angeles

I was on the last leg of a Round-the-World trip with my family. Having spent the last 2 weeks touring Australia, visiting Melbourne, Port Douglas and Sydney with my parents, brother and sister-in-law, we were now catching a very long flight to the USA where, with the time difference, we were all amused to be landing at LAX two hours before we had taken off in Sydney!

An evening stroll by the beach

Exhausted and jet-lagged, we could have done without the usual long queues at LAX. Once through passport control and customs, we caught a taxi to our Santa Monica motel where we’d be staying the next 4 nights. Trying hard to stay awake that afternoon, we took at walk down to the beach then along Third Street Promenade where we called into a sports bar to grab some food. Back by the beach, the pier now lit up, we struggled to keep our eyes open so decided to head back to our rooms to relax and have an early night.

The next day, feeling refreshed and a bit more awake, we walked to a local cafe to grab bagels for breakfast.

Passing a Beverly Hills shield on the hop on/off tour bus

With the new Santa Monica metro line yet to be opened at the time and LA’s transport system appearing a bit too complicated for my parents at least to manage, we decided to use the hop on/off bus to get us around the city. Buying a 48-hour ticket, we boarded the yellow route open air bus across the road from Santa Monica Pier and sat back to enjoy the commentary as we headed towards Beverly Hills.

In Beverly Hills!

Disembarking at the Rodeo Drive stop, we wandered across the road to Beverly Hills Park, taking pictures with the large Beverly Hills sign and buying lemonade to cool us down from a stand set up by some local girl scouts. We then took a stroll down Rodeo Drive itself, window shopping but not being brave enough to actually enter any of the designer stores lining the road.

After grabbing ice cream from a local parlour, we returned to the bus stop to await the red route bus which would take us to Hollywood.

Above, passing an art installation outside LACMA, and below, spending the day in Hollywood

As we neared Hollywood and the famous Hollywood sign came into view, my family were very excited but that excitement faded slightly when we jumped off the bus at the Pantages Theatre, at the slightly run down end of Hollywood Boulevard! Despite Hollywood Boulevard’s first impression not living up to the idea they had in their head, their enthusiasm soon returned as we walked towards the Hollywood Highland Centre and they soon got into the swing of things shouting out names of celebrities as they passed their Hollywood Stars!

Back in Santa Monica

Lunch was at Mel’s Drive In, a 50s style diner where everyone was impressed by the portion sizes and then it was back to sightseeing as we took the obligatory photos on the “Oscars’ steps” at the Dolby Theatre and compared the size of our hands and feet to Hollywood stars outside the Chinese Theatre. To get back to Santa Monica, we had to catch the red route bus back to Beverly Hills then transfer back to the yellow route bus to complete the journey.

It took almost 2 hours to get back with the rush hour traffic but at least we had the commentary to keep us amused along the way.

Back in Santa Monica, we spent the evening down on the pier. Still full from our late lunch, we grabbed fast food from the pier then shared a funnel cake drowned in chocolate sauce for dessert. We ended our day taking a ride on the ferris wheel.

With nothing really planned for our second day in LA, we decided to make the most of our still valid hop on/off bus tickets and head back to Hollywood.

Back on Hollywood Boulevard

When we reached Beverly Hills, my brother and sister-in-law decided to stick around a bit to explore more while my parents and I hopped straight on to the next Hollywood bound bus. Having to listen to the bus commentary again was a bit tedious but at least it was a hassle free way to get to Hollywood Boulevard. Once there, we hopped off at the Hollywood Highland centre grabbing a mid-morning cupcake snack from one of the stands there.

Eating a huge cupcake!

Our hop on/off bus tickets came with free tickets for Madame Tussauds Wax Museum and with temperatures soaring that day, we decided to take advantage of these purely to get out of the sun and into some aircon for a bit! While I’d never pay full price to go to Madame Tussauds, it did turn out to be a fun way to spend and hour as we posed with wax statues of various celebrities.

After grabbing a sandwich from a nearby cafe, we decided to do a Star Homes Tour. With so many companies offering these tours, it’s difficult to know which one to go with and as we started to look along the boulevard, we began to be approached by the various companies each trying to get us to book with them. Playing them off against each other we managed to haggle some money off a tour leaving soon.

While I’m sceptical of whether the houses pointed out along the way on this kind of tour actually do belong to the said celebrities, it’s a great way to see the Hollywood and Beverly Hills and some of the huge mansions.

Most of the tours also make a stop along Mullholland Drive at a Hollywood overlook too and this tour was no exception.

Back on Hollywood Boulevard

Back on Hollywood Boulevard, we grabbed ice cream and met up with my brother and sister-in-law who had now also made it into Hollywood. As we sat back on the open top bus heading back to Santa Monica, they filled us in on their adventures that day – walking from Rodeo Drive up into the Hollywood Hills to see some of the mansions and the hiking from Hollywood Boulevard up towards the Hollywood sign to get a closer view!

That evening we all went for a stroll along Third Street Promenade then for dinner at the California Pizza Kitchen, planning how to spend out final full day in LA and the last full day of our entire 3-week trip.

On Santa Monica beach

Deciding to stay local for the last day of our trip, we headed to the beach the next morning. We soon found we were ill-prepared for the scorching sun on a beach with little to no shade, the sand too hot to walk on, never mind sit on for long, even with a beach towel beneath us.

We took to the ocean to cool down having fun in the waves on a body board gifted to us from some departing holiday makers no longer in need of it but after lunch, decided we couldn’t take sitting in the sun anymore and made other plans for the afternoon.

Venice Beach

My brother, sister-in-law and I decided to hire bikes and take a leisurely cycle to Venice Beach and back while my parents decided to walk there, asking me how they’d know once they’d reached their. “Oh, you’ll know!” I replied. Having been to Venice Beach on a previous trip to LA, I knew the eclectic beach city couldn’t be more different from Santa Monica.

We enjoyed our bike ride along the cycle path, stopping drinks at a beach bar half way then for ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery in Venice before cycling back again. My brother and sister-in-law both liked Venice, comparing it to the London borough of Camden “but by the sea”, and analogy also used by my parents once they’d arrived back from their stroll.

For the first time all week, we were back in Santa Monica in time to watch the sun go down so after returning to our motel for a bit to cool down and freshen up, we walked to the pier to find a spot to watch the sun set over the Santa Monica hills.

That evening, we took one final stroll along Third Street Promenade, everyone more subdued than usual as we contemplated our amazing three-week adventure coming to an end. We enjoyed one final holiday meal out together at Barney’s Beanery before strolling back to our motel.

The next day, after a pancake breakfast at Denny’s, we just about had time for a final stroll along the pier before catching a taxi back to LAX ready to fly back to the UK.

It had been an epic trip, making memories we all knew we’d be talking about for many years to come.

A family trip around the World – Sydney

Upgraded to a penthouse apartment

I was half way through a 3-week trip around the World with my parents, my brother and sister-in-law. So far, we’d spent a few days exploring Melbourne and the surrounding area before heading to the sunshine of tropical Queensland for a relaxing stay in Port Douglas, just north of Cairns. Now we were on the final part of the Australia leg of our trip, a few nights in Sydney before we flew to the USA.

We flew from Cairns Airport into Sydney late-morning, arriving mid-afternoon and got a maxi-taxi to our apartment at World Tower, situated somewhere between Museum station and Darling Harbour.

A stroll to Darling Harbour

We were delighted to find upon checking in that we’d upgraded to a Penthouse apartment and when we walked in to find a spacious, modern, 3-bedroom apartment with beautiful views over the city.

That afternoon, we stayed in the local area visiting the Coles supermarket in the mall beneath our apartment block and taking a stroll to the nearby Darling Harbour that evening.

Stopping at a viewpoint on our tour – Sydney skyline in the distance

The next day, we had a tour booked to the beach cities of north Sydney. Our reason for booking this tour was that it’s main stop was at Palm Beach, the filming location for long-running Aussie soap, Home and Away. Both my parents and my brother were fans of the show and after looking into it, we decided taking a small group tour would be a hassle-free way of getting there rather than attempting pubic transport involving multiple buses.

Arriving at ‘Summer Bay’, the lighthouse in the distance

We were met by our tour guide outside our apartment block and boarded the minibus along with a few other passengers then set off driving across Sydney Harbour Bridge as we headed north out of the city. Along the way to Palm Beach, we made multiple stops, first at a view point from where we could see Sydney’s skyline in the distance then at a small cove which we were told was once used for filming in the soap then it was on to ‘Summer Bay’ itself.

Above, and below Palm Beach aka Summer Bay in Home and Away

As we arrived, it was clear from the various vans and RVs parked everywhere that filming was taking place that day, making my parents very excited. We were told that the cast were usually happy to take photos with fans between filming and given tips on the best place to go to see filming take place or meet the cast then we were given a time to meet back at the van to pick up our lunch and sent off to explore.

We headed straight for the beach, strolling along the golden sands before taking photos with Summer Bay Surf Club then walked along the path behind the beach spotting a few cast members setting up to film a short scene. After watching them film, we continued along the path, bumping into a couple of the other passengers from our tour who told us they had just met a few cast member and pointing us in the direction they had come from. Sure enough, just down the path was a winnebago with cast members stood in front of it happily meeting and greeting fans. My parents recognised the actors and managed to get photos with them, making their day!

It was then time to pick up lunch from the van – chicken, salad and bread – and we set out on picnic benches all discussing who we’d managed to see so far.

Manly Beach, the last stop on our tour

After lunch, we had some more free time so we wondered down to the beach on the east side of the penninsula where ‘Alf’s Bait Shop’ and the pier is situated. We’d been told that the bait shop sometimes opened as a souvenir store but unfortunately, it was closed today. After taking photos on the jetty, we walked back to the main beach were we found more filming going on, this time on the beach. We had a bit of time left so watched them film for a while before it was time to wave ‘Summer Bay’ goodbye and return to the minibus.

The final stop on our Northern Beaches tour was at Manly Beach. Manly is just a short ferry ride from Sydney Harbour and our tour included ferry tickets so we could spend as much time as we liked at Manly Beach then catch the ferry back to Sydney after.

Above, on the boat back to Sydney, and below, back at Circular Quay

After spending some time at the beach then walking down Manly Corso for some souvenir shopping and ice cream, we caught the ferry back arriving in Sydney Harbour just as the sun started to go down. This was my parents, brother and sister-in-laws’ first glimpse of Sydney Harbour and the Opera House so we spent a bit of time wandering around Circular Quay before walking through Sydney back to our apartment early evening.

The bridge at sunset, and below, enjoying a day at Bondi Beach

It had been a long day and my parents were tired and decided to stay in that evening so the three of us decided to take another walk to Darling Harbour and along to Star Casino before returning to our apartment.

Despite it being the Australian winter, the next day was warm (for us Brits at least!) and sunny so we decided to head to the coast and the most famous of Australia’s beaches, Bondi.

Catching a bus from our apartment to Bondi Beach, we spent the day relaxing on the relatively quiet long stretch of sand and playing in the waves to cool off.

That evening, we took a stroll to Circular Quay and The Rocks area by the Harbour Beach to see the bridge and Opera House all lit up.

Skyline views from the Botanic Gardens

On our final day in the city – and in Australia – we split up with my brother and sister-in-law going shopping and exploring by themselves while my parents and I caught the Sydney Hop On/Off Bus to do some last minute sightseeing.

At Mrs Macquaries Point, and below, exploring the Botanic Gardens

Hopping off at the Botanic Gardens, we walked past colourful flower displays overlooked by the towering city skyline and then along to the sea wall to Mrs Macquaries Point to get photos with both the Harbour Bridge and Opera House in shot. Then, we walked back along the sea wall towards the Opera House, dodging the many joggers that were out in their office lunch break!

Above, driving under the Harbour Bridge on our tour of Sydney, and below more sightseeing on the hop on/off bus

Hopping back on the bus, we completed our tour of the city before walking back from Circular Quay to our apartment just in time to watch the sunset over the city.

With it being our last night in Australia, we decided to eat out rather than cook so that evening we walked to a nearby Italian restaurant and sat reminiscing about our trip so far before taking another stroll down to Darling Harbour.

Taking my family with me on a trip to Australia, sharing some of my favourite places and discovering new things with them had been a lot of fun and we were all sad to be saying goodbye to this amazing country. But our adventures weren’t quite over yet, we had one more stop to make, this time in the city of Los Angeles in the USA!

A family trip around the World – Melbourne

Having unexpectedly come into a bit of money, I decided to use it to involve my family in some of my travel adventures, offering to put it towards flights for myself, my parents, my brother and sister-in-law to visit Australia.

On Melbourne’s South Bank looking across to Flinders Street Station

Having visited myself a few times already, I was eager to take them to some of my favourite places there but also wanted to include at least one city or area I hadn’t visited before. Sitting down with them, we managed to map out a 3 week itinerary starting with a stay in Melbourne where I could meet up with a friend that lives there and we could also see family, then flying up to Cairns from where we’d travel to Port Douglas – somewhere in tropical Queensland I’d not been before – for a few days and finally heading to Sydney. We decided to make it a round-the-World trip by adding in a stopover in Los Angeles on the way back.

The trip was to take place in the UK summer holidays meaning it would actually be winter in Australia. Melbourne was likely to be the coolest stop on our trip but even there, winter temperatures were akin to a good Spring or bad summer’s day in the UK so we weren’t too worried.

Excitedly, we all met at Heathrow airport ready to check in for our flights with Qantas. The first leg of our flight was a long 13 hours to Singapore and we passed the time watching the in-flight movie and making good use of the self-serve snack bar in between the in-flight food and drink services.

At the Docklands

Once at Singapore Changi Airport, we only had a couple of hours to spare before boarding our second flight so spent our time stretching our legs wandering around what is one of the largest airports in the World.

We finally arrived in Melbourne in the early hours of the morning and, after briefly losing our parents after they went the wrong way at security (my mother apparently being told off for fussing the security dogs!) we boarded a ‘maxi taxi’ to take us all and our luggage to the apartment we had booked in the CBD.

Despite arriving early morning, we had booked the previous night so we would be able to check in at 4am and sleep for a bit but we made sure to set our alarms for a reasonable hour so we didn’t waste the day.

Artwork at Melbourne’s Docklands area

Feeling groggy from the long flight and the jetlag, we managed to drag ourselves out of bed by noon and down to the nearby Coles supermarket to buy something for breakfast and other groceries for our stay. We’d decided staying in apartments rather than hotels for the majority of our trip would be the most cost-effective way of living for 3 weeks and we could take it in turns to cook and keep things simple meal-wise, occasionally eating out as a treat. Even when we got to LA, our Santa Monica motel had in-room fridges and microwaves should we need them.

Groceries bought and stored away, we ventured out again. We were staying not too far from Federation Square and Flinders Street station so took a walk down to the Yarra River, crossing it to Melbourne’s South Bank. From here, we jumped on to the free bus which took us out towards the Melbourne Cricket Ground and back to the South Bank then after a walk along the South Bank to the impressive Crown Casino, we caught the free city circle tram over to the up and coming Docklands area. Once there we did some early souvenir shopping at some of the outlet stores before catching the tram back to Federation Square.

It was a lazy evening in and early night once we were back to catch up on lost sleep and fully recover from the jetlag!

The next morning, we were up early to meet up with relatives who had flown down from New South Wales to see us. After a nice morning catching up, we headed our to meet our lunchtime pick up for our trip out to Phillip Island to see the little penguins.

Once on board our minibus, we were driven south towards Mornington Peninsula and made our first stop of the day at Moonlit Sanctuary. For my family, this was their first chance to see Australian wildlife up close and it was amazing to see their faces as they got up close feeding kangaroos, emus, wallabies and seeing a host of other native creatures.

After our flying visit to the wildlife park, it was back on board the minibus to continue our journey to Phillip Island. After a quick pit stop at the island’s Amazing World of Chocolate attraction to use the conveniences and visit the gift store, we drove out to The Nobbies where we strolled along the headland’s board walks enjoying pretty coastal views.

Then, as sunset approached, it was time to make our way to the beach for the main attraction – watching hundreds of little penguins make a dash from the sea, along the beach and up into the dunes! It’s an amazing experience watching the cute penguins escaping the waves and waddling along the sand, and again, having already visited Philip Island before myself, it was lovely to see my family enjoying themselves so much.

View at the Nobbies

Walking back to meet our minibus, we kept our eyes peeled and spotted a few of the penguins hiding in the dunes just off the boardwalk and stopped to silently watch them from a distance before making our way back to the car park ready to return to Melbourne.

Day 3, we headed into the CBD for breakfast at one of the local cafes before going our separate ways for a few hours.

Out and about in Melbourne’s CBD

I was meeting up with a friend who lives in one of the suburbs of Melbourne and was travelling into the city for the afternoon, meanwhile, I was sending my family off on the infamous ‘Neighbours’ tour which I had been on twice before.

My parents are huge fans of the show and while my brother and sister-in-law aren’t avid viewers, they’d both watched the show at some point in their lives and were keen to see ‘Ramsey Street’.

After a nice afternoon in the city shopping, catching up and eating lunch out, I waved goodbye to my friend and met back up with my family. They’d had a fantastic afternoon visiting the ‘Erinsburgh’ set then visiting ‘Ramsey Street’ and were keen to show off all their photos posing with the street sign.

We spent the rest of the afternoon walking back to Melbourne’s South Bank and then into Victoria Park and the botanic gardens.

That evening, after dinner back at our apartment, we walked back to the South Bank, this time to take a trip up the Eureka Tower to its Skydeck observation platform, looking down at the city lit up below us.

The next morning, we decided to use a coupon we had found in a tourist booklet to have breakfast at the Pancake Parlour. With nothing specific planned for the day, my brother and sister-in-law decided to spend it exploring Melbourne CBD and shopping while my parents and I took the tram out to St Kilda, a beachside suburb. Once there, we enjoyed the sunshine as we strolled along the front, past Luna Park’s closed amusement park and down to the pier from where there were great views of Melbourne CBD in the distance. Lunchtime approaching, we then took a walk along cafe-lined Acland Street choosing somewhere to stop for coffee and a light bite to eat.

Above, and below, at the Shrine of Remembrance

Catching the tram back towards Melbourne city, we hopped off a few stops early at the southern end of the Botanic Gardens and visited the Shrine of Remembrance, the national war memorial of the state of Victoria. Then took a leisurely walk back to the city to meet back up with everyone for dinner.

We were up at the crack of dawn the next morning for our last full day in Melbourne. Not that we’d actually be spending it in Melbourne itself. Instead, we had booked a one-day tour of Great Ocean Road.

Above, a stop at Bells Beach along Great Ocean Road, and below, more stops along the way

I’d been along Great Ocean Road on a previous trip to Melbourne but that time my friend and I had done it completely using public transport. While we’d got to see the highlights, we found it a very long day and quite stressful at times making sure we were back at bus stops in time to catch our ride to the next point and make it to our finish point in time to catch the train we had booked back again!

This trip proved to be a very long day too but I found it a lot more enjoyable with lots of little stops along the way both on Great Ocean Road itself and at interesting places just off the road. It was also nice to have a commentary from our driver and to learn something as we went along.

Our first stop along the way was at Bells Beach where we had time to enjoy beautiful views over the bay from an overlook. It was then on to see Split Point Lighthouse, famously featured in cult Australian kids show ‘Round the Twist’.

Other stops along the way included one at a Great Ocean Road marker, at various beach and seaside resorts, a walk through a rainforest and a lunch stop at Cape Otway where we climbed the lighthouse and spotted plenty of wild koalas sat high up in the eucalyptus trees lining the roads.

Then it was on to the main event – The Twelve Apostles rock formations.

Above, spotting a koala in the tree, and below, at the Twelve Apostles

Unfortunately, the mainly sunny weather we’d had in the morning had given way to wind and rain at this point but it just made the scenery look more dramatic.

Whereas we’d gone on to see ‘London Bridge’ and the Bay of Islands rock formations on my do-it-yourself Great Ocean Road trip on my last visit, this time, the next stop at Loch Ard Gorge was our last stop before we returned towards Melbourne, not arriving back until almost 10pm.

Despite the long hours sat on the minibus on the way back, it had been a really enjoyable day and we were all glad we got to take the trip.

Melbourne had made for a great place to have a few family adventures and we were now looking forward to heading north to tropical Queensland for what we hoped we be a relaxing few days in the warm sunshine!

Milan

One of the last trips I took last year before everything shut down and freedom to travel became a thing of the past, was a short city break to the Italian city of Milan. It was right on the cusp of Corona Virus getting a grip and at the time, all those things that we’ve now grown accustomed to – arriving to temperature checks and seeing many members of the public masking up on public transport etc – seemed a bit of a novelty. Milan and its neighbouring areas later became a hotspot for the virus in Italy and a week later I found myself to be the subject of a debate at work as to whether, having recently visited the area, I needed to be sent home or not! I wasn’t, if you’re wondering, but had I been sent home, it would have been worth it for what was a great short break away.

That was my third trip to Milan but only the second of which was planned in advance having once found myself stuck there for a day unable to get a train out of the city to Florence, and while it has never been my favourite Italian city to visit, it still has plenty to offer for a short break.

Closed designer stores – August in Milan

Picking when to visit Milan can have a huge effect on impressions of the city. Being a teacher, my first visit was in August during the main summer break and as part of a longer, city-hopping trip to Italy. What we didn’t realise was that in August, with the heat in the city, many of the businesses there close down as everyone takes off to the nearby Italian lakes. We had trouble finding any restaurants open other than the touristy ones in the centre and many of the designer stores had ‘closed until September’ signs in their windows. The whole city felt like a bit of a ghost town!

Walking towards Sforza Castle in Milan

On that first trip to Milan, I stayed at a small hotel on the edge of the Zona Buenos Aires area. From here, we were able to walk to all the main sites and, choosing to use the hop on/off tour bus as well, found we didn’t need to use the public transport system at all.

On my most recent visit, as we were visiting the city for a concert, we stayed further out of the city towards the arena in the Morivione district. As Milan has an excellent and easy to navigate metro system, this didn’t hinder our sightseeing at all as trains into the city centre were regular and quick.

The impressive Milan Duomo

The main must-see attraction in Milan, and in my opinion, worth the trip alone, is the stunning Duomo di Milano or Milan Cathedral. No matter how often I see this impressive building, the elaborate facade with its intricate carvings never fails to take my breath away. Entrance to the cathedral is by ticket only and these can be purchased online or on the day from the nearby, well-signposted ticket office.

If you have plenty of time, then buy a combo ticket allowing you entry into the church, archaeological area, museum and rooftops.

On a clear day, the views over Milan from the rooftops are pretty good and it’s interesting to be able to get a bit closer to the gargoyles and other carvings decorating the cathedral’s exterior. My visit to the rooftop last February, on a surprisingly warm and sunny day, was punctuated by hearing sharp blows on the guards’ whistles as they reminded visitors to be respectful and not treat it as a rooftop terrace to sunbathe on!

I followed my visit with a trip to the nearby Duomo Museum which houses various artefacts and original works of art from the Cathedral.

Piazza del Duomo

The busy Piazza del Duomo in front of the Cathedral is a bit of a tourist attraction in itself with crowds fighting for the best spot to get a photo of the Cathedral and paying locals for bird seed to feed the square’s famously friendly pigeons. Its also home to various touristy bars and restaurants which, while not as expensive as I was expecting, unsurprisingly don’t offer the best food you are going to find in the city. Around the square, you’ll also find a few high street stores.

Above, and below, a visit to Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

If it’s designer shopping you want then Milan is definitely the place to go. The elegant Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, said to be one of the World’s oldest shopping malls, is full of designer fashion boutiques and, even if the prices are out of your budget, its fun to window shop. The mall is home to a range of bars and restaurants too and we enjoyed a delicious pizza lunch at Sorbillo restaurant followed by gelato from Venchi!

Milan is also home to the famous opera theatre, La Scala. If you want to see a performance here, it’s best to book in advance. Guided tours of building can also be taken.

La Scala Opera House

While not the most obvious place to visit in Italy if it’s museums you’re after, Milan still has plenty to offer with many small galleries and exhibits to visit. The most famous work of art found in the city is Da Vinci’s painting, The Last Supper. Tickets are needed to view the painting and often sell out well in advance. On all my visits, I’ve left it too late to book and have yet to get a ticket to visit.

Above, and below, exploring Sforza Castle

The Sforza Castle complex is home to a variety of museums all housed inside the 15th century building. It is free to visit the castle complex itself but there is a small fee for a ticket to visit the museums, the price of which depends on which rooms and exhibits you want to explore.

One of the museums is the Museum of Pietà Rondanini Michelangelo displaying Michelangelo’s last piece of work, the Rondanini Pietà, an unfinished marble sculpture.

Arco della Pace at the entrance to Parco Sempione

Parco Sempione, with its impressive archway entrance, lies directly to the rear of Sforza Castle and is also worth a wander through if you are in the area. Other pretty parks in the city include Giardini Indro Montanelli, Milan’s pretty public gardens.

On my last visit to the city, we found ourselves in the Navigli district, an area of the city we had not visited before.

Above, and below, contrasting daylight/nighttime visits to the Navigli area

The Navigli are a system of canals. Currently, bars and restaurants line the walkways along the edge of the canals. We first visited in the evening. The area was lively but with a great atmosphere as people sat out enjoying drinks and aperitivo. After wandering round for while and stopping for a few drinks, we chose one of the many restaurants to eat at.

We returned to the Navigli district the following morning to find it just as busy with people shopping and sat out at the cafes enjoying the sunshine. It was definitely a fun place of the city to visit!

There’s still plenty of things for me to do and see in Milan and I look forward to the next time I find myself in this exciting city.

24 hours in Boston

Ending our 5-week road trip with a day in Boston, MA

After 5 weeks on the road, it was time to say goodbye to our trusty hire car. Pulling up at the Alamo terminus at Boston Logan International Airport, we scrambled to get everything we needed from the various compartments of our vehicle before making our way to catch the free shuttle from the car rental centre to the main terminals.

Swan Boats docked for the evening in Boston Public Gardens

Then we hopped on to the Silver Line bus to shuttle us into the city. With it being early evening, traffic into the city was heavy but we eventually made it to Boston’s South Station, transferring here onto the Red Line to reach our Back Bay area hotel.

All checked in and not wanting to completely waste the evening, we went for a walk finding ourselves in the Boston Common-adjacent Boston Public Gardens.

George Washington statue in Boston Public Gardens

The sun was starting to set and the sky was a beautiful red colour as we wandered through the grounds past the Swan Boats all docked for the evening and then out of the park past the George Washington statue. We then walked along Newbury Street down to Copley Place stopping to grab a drink and a snack before looping back round to our hotel.

Leaving Boston Harbour

The next day, we had a late night flight out of the city back to the UK meaning we had the full day to enjoy in the city. Having both been to Boston before – this was my third stay in the city – we’d seen a lot of the main sights before. So, wanting to do something a bit different, we had pre-booked a whale watching trip with Boston Harbor Cruises.

The Boston skyline disappearing in the distance

Getting up and out early, we made a pit stop at a Starbucks for breakfast then walked through the city past Boston Common following the Freedom Trail markers down to Boston Harbour. Arriving at the harbour area a little are than needed, we took a stroll along the waterfront until it was time to check in for our tour and board our boat.

It was a large boat and we took a seat inside by the window, staying put for the first few minutes as we left the harbour, a commentary from one of the crew members explaining to us all how the morning would run and a little about what we could see looking back at the Boston skyline.

We soon decided to make the most of the beautiful weather and head up to the open deck where we could move about more freely and enjoy the skyline views unobstructed.

Everyone trying to get a glimpse of our first whale.

As we moved further and further away from the city, our guide continued to give us information on our surroundings and we when far enough out to sea, we eventually slowed to begin our search for whales. Even without the excitement of spotting some marine life, it was the perfect weather for just cruising out at sea watching the World go by. But as it turned out, we didn’t have long to wait before our first whale spotting.

A whale in the distance

Suddenly everyone onboard seemed to be out on the top deck as we all tried to find a space to get a look at our first whale of the day! Luckily, it was the first of many sightings and we even came across a pod of whales floating at the surface as they enjoyed the sunshine before seemingly showing off to us waving their fins and splashing around!

After spending some time watching these magnificent creatures, it was time to turn around and make our way back to Boston harbour. It had been a really exciting way to spend the morning though and we were really glad we’d decided to book the activity.

With a few more hours to spare, we walked to Boston’s Hard Rock Cafe for a late lunch then followed the Freedom Trail markers back towards Boston Common stopping to look around in Quincy Market and passing Boston landmarks including Faneuil Hall and the Old State House.

Arriving back into Boston Harbour

Finally finding ourselves back at Boston Common, we enjoyed the last bit of sunshine before walking back to our hotel to collect our luggage and making our way back to Logan Airport ready to fly back to the UK.

It didn’t feel like 5 weeks had gone since we arrived in Miami.

The Old State House

Since then we’d certainly had a lot of adventures – my first ever trip to Walt Disney World, exploring Savannah, visiting Charleston and Congaree National Park in South Carolina state, learning about the history of Coca Cola in Atlanta, line dancing the night away in Nashville, encountering black bears in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, enjoying the beautiful views along Blue Ridge Parkway, segwaying in Washington DC, visiting Baltimore city, returning to New York, enjoying a sunset sail in Rhode Island, becoming a Junior Range at Acadia National Park in Maine, visiting New Hampshire’s White Mountains and learning all about ice cream production at the Ben & Jerry’s Factory Tour in Vermont to name just a few.

While I was sad to say goodbye for now, with a few more States still to tick off and plenty more to see, I knew it wouldn’t be long until I returned for another epic trip.

An East Coast road trip: NYC

Spending 3 nights in New York City

We’d been on the road in the USA for weeks travelling through Florida with visits to Miami and Disney World, on to Savannah, GA, up through the state of South Carolina to visit Charleston and Congaree National Park, on to Atlanta, GA, into Tennessee to visit Nashville and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, along North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Parkway, through Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, spent a day in Washington DC before arriving in Baltimore, MD. Now, it was off to New York City and after a stressful drive through New Jersey state, we were breathing a huge sigh of relief to finally arrive at our motel accommodation in Jersey City, just across the river from Manhattan.

It was already late afternoon and we had evening plans in the city – tickets booked for the sunset hours at Top of the Rock, one of the three observations decks to choose from in New York City.

The view of downtown Manhattan from the Top of the Rock observation deck

Now we just had to find our way to the nearest New Jersey Transit station and catch the PATH train the few stops into Manhattan. Sounded simple enough and we’d researched train times, routes to get to midtown and where to get tickets from. What we hadn’t prepared for, was rail works meaning the line we needed to get to midtown was closed. This, coupled with there being less trains because of the Sunday service timetable, put us into a bit of a panic that we wouldn’t make our Top of the Rock timeslot!

The only trains running into Manhattan were running to the World Trade Centre in downtown Manhattan which meant we’d then have to catch a subway train up to the Rockefeller Centre. Luckily, I’d spent enough time in New York over the years (this would be my 10th visit to the city) that I was pretty familiar with the transport system.

On the Top of the Rock observation deck overlooking Central Park

The platform at the New Jersey stop was extremely busy but when the train arrived, we managed to squeeze on. We were given free transfer tickets to use on the subway at the other end to make up for the inconvenience and were soon on our way on the uptown line to the Rockefeller Centre. From here, we quickly found our way to the Top of the Rock entrance just in time for our timed entry slot.

Top of the Rock has always been my favourite of the three observation decks on offer in New York. There’s more space on the viewing decks than the Empire State Building and I prefer the view, especially as you get the iconic Empire State Building in your pictures. I also prefer my observation decks to have an outdoor viewing area so you can avoid glare from windows in your photos, something the Freedom Tower’s observation deck lacks. Historically, I’d always found Top of the Rock to be the quietest of the three attractions too and had never had to fight my way into a space to take a photo.

That was until tonight anyway. Whether it was because we’d booked one of the sunset viewing slots or because it was a just a busy Sunday summer evening,I had never seen so many people up there! It made our visit a lot less relaxed than my previous visits had been and we stayed for less time than we probably would have done otherwise.

Despite the crowds, the views from the top were as amazing as ever.

After our Top of the Rock visit, the only thing on our mind was food. We had originally planned to eat before our Top of the Rock timeslot but our delays driving through New Jersey followed by the train problems getting into Manhattan meant we didn’t have time. It was late and we didn’t really want to hop on a subway to a different part of the city but Times Square was busy and everywhere we looked at either had queues or, predictably, an overpriced menu. So instead, we decided to catch the train back to New Jersey figuring we’d be able to find something once back there.

The view of Manhattan from the Statue of Liberty Pedestal

With the train delays, it took us a while to get back and once we did, we found the malls we had passed walking to the station earlier closed for the night along with the restaurants. Luckily, the McDonalds not too far from our motel was still open so we resorted to grabbing some fast food from there to satisfy us.

The next morning, the trains were back to running as normal so after breakfast, we walked to the station to head into Manhattan. Despite it being my tenth visit to the city, there is always something new to experience and I like to make sure I always do something I haven’t done before.

This time, I would be returning to Liberty Island to visit the iconic Statue of Liberty but for the first time, actually going inside the statue. Despite visiting Liberty Island twice before, I’d always had an island only ticket so not even been as far in as the pedestal which the statue stands on.

Once in downtown Manhattan, we made our way to Battery Park to catch the ferry across, enjoying the skyline views as we looked back at the city. Our tickets this time, gave us access to the crown of the statue and we knew there were a lot of steps to climb to reach this so, with some trepidation, we handed our tickets in at the entrance to the pedestal and began our climb. There was an option to take an elevator to the pedestal for anyone who didn’t want to climb the entire up but we decided to walk it taking our time and enjoying the views whilst catching our breath once we reached the lookout point.

Then, from the pedestal, we began our climb up to the crown. It was a strange feeling being inside the huge statue and being able to make out the shape of the the gown as we climbed up through the hollow structure. The stirs got narrower the further we climbed and when we finally reached the crown, the viewing deck there was extremely compact meaning we didn’t feel comfortable spending a lot of time there. After a quick chat with the park ranger who told us a bit about the statue and what we could see, we took a few photos of the view and what was visible of the structure itself and then began our descent. It was a really interesting experience getting to climb up inside the statue and if you can manage the 354 steps to the crown (or just 162 from the pedestal if you use the elevator!) then I’d definitely recommend going up there!

After our climb, we caught the ferry over to Ellis Island where the Immigration Museum stands. Having both visited the museum previous trips, we opted to stay on the ferry and continue back to Manhattan.

That afternoon, we had plans to meet up with a friend from the Trek America Northern states tour we’d done, a New York native. Our meeting point was the amazing Grand Central Station and from here we made our way to Washington Square Park, one of those places I had passed many times over the years but never actually stopped at. The small park was buzzing as groups sat around the central fountain. Walking out of the park under its large, marble arch, we made our way towards Nolita. We were in search of ice cream and our friend recommended the area’s Milk Bar, a ‘hole in the wall’ dessert shop specialising in milk flavoured products. Here, I tried their ‘cereal milk’ flavoured ice cream, supposed to taste like the milk left in the bottom of the bowl after a bowl of sugary cereal. I was a little unsure after my first taste – the smell was more of sour milk than cereal milk! – but found myself quite enjoying it by the time I took my last spoonful!!

From Nolita, we strolled west into Greenwich Village to find the ‘Friends apartment’ – the building used for the exterior, between-scene shots in the famous comedy show. Being a huge fan of the series, I’d visited before but my friend hadn’t so we thought we’d stop by while we weren’t too far away.

Downtown views from a pier along Hudson River Park

After taking a few photos with the building, we continued west along to the Hudson River Park, the pedestrianised greenway which runs north to south along the west side of Manhattan. Strolling along the walkway and along some of its piers, we paused to take photos of the views across the river and of the downtown skyline as the sun started to dip.

The sun setting over the River Hudson

In need of some proper food, we then walked in land again towards Chelsea Market. The market is known for its abundance of food stalls but with so much on offer, we couldn’t settle on anything. Deciding to see what else the area had to offer, we eventually decided to grab some typical New York pizza from a local pizzeria before heading back across the Hudson River to our New Jersey motel.

Interviewing my travel mascot, Mr Ted, at the NBC Studios

We had one more day left in the city and plenty more to pack in. First up was a trip back to the Rockefeller Centre where this time, we’d be visiting the NBC Studios. I love doing the studio tours in LA and while I knew there wasn’t a lot in the way of films and major TV shows filmed here, I’m a fan of old skool Saturday Night Live and mainly wanted to see the studio it is filmed in. The studio, and that used for Jimmy Fallon’s late night chat show, were so much smaller than they appear on TV!

Despite not being familiar with a great deal of the shows mentioned by our guide, it was still really interesting to get a look inside both of these studios as well as a news studio and various other production areas.

Off to shop at Bloomingdales

From the Rockefeller Centre, we headed uptown, popping to Bloomingdales for a bit of shopping and then Dylan’s Candy Bar for some souvenirs and snacks to keep us going on the road for the next few days! It was almost lunch time and while we knew we wanted to eat at the always entertaining but rather touristy Ella’s Stardust Diner that evening, we also really wanted to visit Serendipity, a New York restaurant that had been on my places to visit list for years but I hadn’t yet made it to!

Visiting Serendipity

What we really wanted to try was it’s frozen hot chocolate but after being seated in the quirky dining room, we noticed there was a minimum charge per person that was quite a bit higher than the cost of the frozen hot chocolate between us would have been.

We debated just leaving but really wanting to try the famous dessert, eventually found settled on a plate of fries to share and a drink to just tip is over the minimum spend once the frozen hot chocolate was added in.

It was worth it as the dessert was delicious, like a huge, extremely cold, chocolate milkshake!

After demolishing the delicious dessert, we started to work it off by walking to Central Park where we spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the sunshine.

While in the park, we made sure to tick off our favourite park highlights including some of the bronze statues, the boating pond, the lake, Bow Bridge and Bethesda Fountain.

Above, and below, dinner at Ella’s Stardust diner

After all that walking, we were soon hungry again so made our way out of the park and back towards Times Square to visit the nearby Ella’s Stardust Diner. A complete contrast to the small, cute surrounding of Serendipity earlier, Ella’s Diner is a huge, loud diner where the waitstaff are all Broadway wannabes who sing to entertain you as you eat. It’s always great fun and this time was no different.

After dinner, we walked to Times Square to take some last minute photos of the bright lights. You can;t visit New York without taking in a show so we finished our trip to the city at the theatre watching Frozen on Broadway.

Heading back to our New Jersey motel, I was sad to once again say goodbye to the bright lights and noise of the city. We’d crammed a lot in to our short visit but there was lots we hadn’t got round to. Hopefully sometime in the future I can return again. For now it was back on the road ready to visit some of the states of New England.

East coast road trip: DC to NYC

Driving through Maryland, Delaware and New Jersey

After a short visit to Washington DC, we were back on the road, northbound to the city of Baltimore in Maryland. My only experience of visiting the state of Maryland before had been a bus journey to its airport on a previous visit to DC, a cheaper alternative to flying from Washington DC’s own airports, so I was looking forward to seeing a bit more of this east coast state.

Stopping for ice cream

The majority of our road trip so far had been spent in the hot and humid southern states. So far, we’d sweltered in the state of Florida, visiting Miami and spending a few days at Walt Disney World, passed through the state of Georgia visiting the beautiful city of Savannah, drove through South Carolina state taking in the city of Charleston and Congaree National Park, continued back into Georgia state with stops including the city of Atlanta, travelled into Tennessee to revisit Nashville and stop by Great Smoky Mountains National Park and taken a long drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway and through Shenandoah National Park to admire the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Now, after a morning stop at the Arlington National Cemetery just outside of Washington DC, we were enjoying a scenic drive along the National Park Service owned Baltimore-Washington Parkway.

Baltimore

After a quick lunch (and ice cream!) stop along the way, we were soon in Baltimore checking into our motel in the Downtown/Inner Harbor area of the city. We had booked tickets for a late afternoon visit to the Washington Monument, an 178-ft tall column in the pretty Mount Vernon area of the city, dedicated to President George Washington. Deciding to walk from our motel, wandering through the immediate area around our motel was not the safest I’ve ever felt in a city and we were glad when we reached the historic Mount Vernon neighbourhood.

Reaching Mount Vernon Place where the Washington Memorial stands, we were greeted by the friendly curator who gave us a bit of history about the monument and the surrounding area, recommending some of the local museums if we had time the following day (it was already 4.30pm and they all closed for the day at 5pm).

Above, and below, views over Baltimore from the Washington Monument

We had to climb 227 steps up the narrow spiral staircase to reach the viewing platform at the top of the monument. Once at the top, we caught our breath while admiring the views over the city. Then, after returning back down the stairs to the base of the monument, we were rewarded with an ‘I climbed the monument’ sticker!

Inner Harbor

From the monument, we wandered back through the Mount Vernon neighbourhood along its mansion-lined streets and down to Baltimore’s waterfront, an area which has been, and continues to be, the focus of huge renovation and rejuvenation in Baltimore. With it being a Saturday evening, the area was bustling and there was a great atmosphere as families, couples and groups of friends took strolls along the sea front and visited the many attractions, bars and restaurants.

Above, by the waterfront in Baltimore, and below, on a dragon pedal boat

We took a walk through one of the malls for a bit of souvenir shopping then walked along the harbour. Spotting a pedalo boat hire company along the front offering a range of different boats, we couldn’t resist and even paid extra to one with a dragon head on the front of it! We spent the next half hour or so bobbing around the harbour among all the other pedalo boats enjoying the views and a bit of friendly banter with some of the other groups out on the water.

Pedal boats are hard work though and we were in need of some well-deserved fuel next so we called in one of the bars overlooking the harbour for a bite to eat. With it being a busy Saturday night, there was a long wait for a table so we opted to eat at the bar instead, watching the busy bar tenders reminding us how they deserve all their tips and more!

Heading back to our motel, we decided this evening was as good a night as any to do some long overdue laundry.

View from the pedalo

Making our way back to our room after loading the machines, we were unable to get back in! Assuming it was a key card issue, we returned to the reception to get a new key but that didn’t work either. It turned out there was an issue with the locking system to our room which was unable to be fixed that evening. The door could be opened from the inside but not from outside meaning one of us had to stay in the room the whole time.

Luckily, we were checking out the next morning and had no plans to go out into the city again that evening or the next morning but it was a bit inconvenient that only one of us could go and get the laundry from the machines once it was done so the other could then let us back into the room after and that we had to go to breakfast one at a time the next morning!

New Jersey

After that little adventure, we checked out the next morning to continue our drive towards New York City. Not wanting to drive in Manhattan, or pay the huge parking fees at the city hotels, we’d actually be staying across the Hudson River in New Jersey.

A pit stop in the state of Delaware

Our drive took us briefly through the state of Delaware. Having made a stop in Wilmington on a previous US road trip, today, apart from a quick pit stop at an Interstate rest area, we continued on until we reached New Jersey.

With it being a few days since our last stop at a roadside attraction, today, we were excited to be visiting the town of Edison, NJ, home of the World’s Largest Lightbulb!! Driving through New Jersey with its busy turnpike’s was one of the most stressful journeys of our trip so far, and possibly the most stressful drive of any of our trips, so we breathed a sigh of relief to reach our destination – Menlo Park, Edison.

Entering the state of New Jersey

The town of Edison is, of course, named after inventor Thomas Edison and the lightbulb sits atop of the Art Deco Edison Memorial Tower as reminder of his amazing legacy. A small museum was next to the tower but with it being a Sunday, was unfortunately closed when we visited but it was still a fun stop to see the huge lightbulb!

From Edison, we continued our drive towards our motel on the outskirts of New York City.

The Edison Monument in New Jersey

Just when we thought our drive couldn’t get any more stressful, we hit roadworks and were redirected. Not quite understanding the diversion signs, we ended up taking a few wrong turns before finally finding ourselves back on the right track only to then find out our motel was right on the edge of the entrance to the infamous Holland Tunnel which joins New Jersey to Manhattan and we had to edge our way across numerous lanes of queuing traffic in time to exit into the hotel car park or end up in the tunnel heading to Manhattan!

Somehow we made it across into the lane we needed in time and found our way into the hotel grounds. Glad to have finally reached our destination, we checked in to our motel for the next 3 nights and got ready to head into New York City for the evening.

New York had always been a favourite city of mine and I was excited to return and see what adventures the next few days would bring!

An East Coast Road Trip to Washington DC

I was about half way through a self-planned 5 week US road trip. Starting in Florida with a few days in Miami followed by a trip to Walt Disney World, we had since visited Savannah GA, South Carolina state, Atlanta GA, Nashville and Great Smoky Mountains National Park, both in Tennessee, before heading into North Carolina to drive Blue Ridge Parkway and Virginia to visit Shenandoah National Park.

Going to the zoo

After a long day cruising along the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah, we were now heading east to Washington DC for 2 nights in the capital city. It would not be my first visit to DC. It had actually been the second US city I’d ever visited after a few trips to New York in my early days of travelling. That time, I had spent 5 days there fitting in as much sight seeing as possible and I had returned for a 2-night visit as part of my coast to coast Southern States tour with Trek America, filling in some of the gaps by visiting a few museums and monuments that I’d not made it to before.

This time, it was more of a ‘revisiting a favourite city’ type trip where we hoped to return to some city highlights and explore a bit further.

Leaving Shenandoah late afternoon meant we arrived in DC just as the main brunt of rush hour traffic started to ease but it was still busy and navigating our way from the interstate into Arlington where our motel was located, was a pretty nerve-wracking experience! As night was falling, we settled into our room and went for a pizza dinner at a local restaurant before calling it a night.

At the National Museum of American History

The next morning, we were up early to walk to Rosslyn metro station, catching the subway across the Potomac into Washington DC and along to the first stop of the day, Washington Zoo. I had visited the zoo here before on my first trip to the city but my travel buddy hadn’t and wanted to see one of the pandas having never seen one in the flesh before. As one of the Smithsonian-run attractions in the city, entrance to the zoo is free meaning we didn’t feel like we had to spend a lot of time there getting our money’s worth. The plan was to get there, find a panda and leave!

Of course, we ended up staying there a bit longer than planned as we got distracted by some of the other animals on our way to the panda enclosure and then by the gift store after. We also spent a lot more time than planned watching the pandas as they played with plastic crates in their indoor areas or just lolled around looking cute!

Back in the centre of the city by the Mall, we walked to the White House to take photos and then to the National Monument. Normally, we would have applied for the free tickets to go up to the viewing platform at the top but on this visit, the monument was closed for repairs.

Two new Junior Ranger badges to add to the collection!

Instead, we walked along the Mall towards some of the many museums. Across my visits to the city, I have visited many of the Smithsonian Museums including the Air and Space Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Natural History Museum but my favourite is the National Museum of American History with its popular culture displays which, in the past, have included the Ruby Slippers from The Wizard of Oz film and various muppet characters.

While I was disappointed to find the Ruby Slippers weren’t currently on display, we still found plenty to keep us interested for a while.

Next, we walked back to the White House Visitor Centre which contains exhibits about, and artefacts from, the White House itself. Here, we requested Junior Ranger booklets from one of the park rangers and spent some time exploring and filling our booklets in before returning our booklets to earn not just one, but two Junior Ranger badges!!

On a segway adventure

We had booked a segway tour of the monuments for the evening so, realising it was getting late, we decided to head in the direction of the meeting point for our tour and to look for somewhere nearby to have dinner. We caught the subway up towards the Dupont Circle area. Struggling to really find any suitable restaurants, we settled for a gourmet burger diner. Finding ourselves ahead of schedule, we then walked down to the Lincoln Memorial.

We assumed we would pass this again later as part of our tour but thought it would be good to take photos while it was daylight as it would be dark by the time we returned.

Back at the White House

We then returned to the segway company headquarters in time to check in for our evening tour. After checking in and filling out the various forms, we had a quick practise session on our segways. We had both ridden segways previously on a visit to Portland, Oregon and then in the city of Minneapolis on previous trips and this time, we felt like old pros settling into it straight away.

The Capitol Building

The tour was good fun and a really great way of seeing some of the city’s many monuments and memorials in a relatively short time. As I’d found out on previous visits to the city, from the National Monument the Lincoln Memorial – or in the other direction to the Capitol Building – is a LOT further than it looks but whizzing along on our segways, we were there in no time!

We began the tour with a stop at the White House for photos outside just as the sun started to set then continued along the mall past some of the museums and monuments and along to the Capitol Building.

Above, back at the Lincoln Memorial, and below, some of the sights on our segway tour

Heading back to the National Monument, we then passed the World War II Memorial before finishing off back at the Lincoln Memorial. While we had been to most of the places we stopped at before, it was nice to see the buildings, monuments and memorials all lit up at night and our guide had plenty of interesting facts and stories to keep us entertained along the way.

Our tour over, we walked back to the nearest subway station to catch the metro back across to Virginia state and walked back to our motel.

The next morning, after checking out of our motel, we drove the short distance to Arlington National Cemetery, paying our respects at the many military graves there as well as visiting the grave of President John F. Kennedy and watching the ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Then, after our short but busy visit to the city, it was time to say goodbye as we began our drive into Maryland to visit the city of Baltimore.

Returning to Nashville, TN

I was on a self-planned road trip, driving mainly up the East coast of the USA, and after stops in Miami, Orlando, Savannah and Charleston, we had started to venture in land, visiting the city of Atlanta, Georgia and were now heading for a 2-night stop in Nashville, Tennessee.

Entering the state of Tennessee

I’d been a fan of Nashville ever since our brief stop in Nashville on my coast to coast Trek America Southern States tour. That time, a winter storm had delayed our arrival in the city giving us just a couple of hours to explore before line dancing the night away.

My second visit, also part of a Trek America tour, this time of the Deep South, had given me a bit more time in the city – enough to briefly stop by the famous Blue Bird Cafe, visit Nashville’s Farmer’s Market and spend the afternoon at the Country Music Hall of Fame before our night out on Broadway but one night was again not long enough and there were still things I wanted to do and see there.

Leaving our overnight motel in Alabama state, we crossed the border into the state of Tennessee and drove towards our first stop of the day in the city of Lynchburg, home of the Jack Daniels Distillery.

Above, and below, touring the distillery

The distillery offers various tours all offering slightly different extras depending on how much time you have to spend, how much you want to pay and how much you like Jack Daniels!!

We opted for the most basic option, a guided tour which took about an hour. The tour talked through the history of the drink and the factory and gave us an insight into the distillery process.

After our tour, we walked the short distance to Lynchburg Square, having dinner at one of the diners before continuing our journey to Nashville.

Our stay in the city happened to fall on a busy event weekend meaning many of the city hotels were sold out or out of our price range.

Above, and below, a fun night out at the Wild Horse Saloon in Nashville

We had been forced to split our stay across 2 hotels, spending our first night at the Clarion, just outside of the main city but with a free regular shuttle service offered to Broadway and back. After arriving late afternoon, we got ready for a night out before catching the shuttle into the city and heading straight to our favourite Nashville venue, The Wild Horse Saloon.

Strolling along Broadway, Nashville

Here, we had dinner while enjoying the live country music then line-danced the night away, not leaving until the early hours. As the hotel shuttle was no longer running by the time we left the venue, we had to get an Uber back to the hotel but we managed to find some wifi and order one without too many problems.

The Ryman Auditorium

The next morning, we checked out of the Clarion ready to move to our second hotel near the Grand Old Opry, but first, we planned to spend a bit more time in the city and after catching the shuttle back in, we took a walk along the John Seigenthaler Pedestrian Bridge, enjoying the views over the Cumberland River and the city.

Then, we strolled along Broadway before taking a self-guided tour of the Ryman Auditorium, a famous country music venue.

While my knowledge of country music is basic at best, it is a genre I’ve become a lot more familiar with the more I’ve travelled in the USA and as I’d recently watched the Nashville TV show, it was interesting to look around one of the venues frequently mentioned featured in the show.

Arriving at the Grand Ole Opry

After our tour, we had a bit of time to spare before the next shuttle back to our hotel left so we decided to pay a fleeting visit back to the Wild Horse Saloon as it was open for line-dancing all afternoon and free to enter.

We went straight to the floor to line dance to a couple of songs one last time then left to get back to our hotel and pick up our luggage, driving out towards the Grand Ole Opry for our second night in the city.

Above, in the auditorium at the Grand Ole Opry, and below, touring the famous country music venue

We had a tour of the iconic country music venue booked for that afternoon so after checking in to our motel, we took a stroll across to the grounds. Situated on a large entertainment complex with a mall, cinema, restaurants and a huge nearby luxury hotel, it took a while to find where we needed to be to check in for our tour. After exchanging our confirmation emails for timed entry tickets, we took photos in the ground while we waited for our group to be called and were then taken through the backstage corridors and rooms of the theatre before walking out into the auditorium where the weekly Grand Ole Opry Show takes place.

Despite being just a casual country music fan and not even recognising the names of some of the many artists mentioned along the way, the tour was still interesting and I was glad to finally tick it off my Nashville ‘to do’ list!

After our tour, we wandered back to our motel, later walking to the nearby Cracker Barrel for dinner.

It had been another fun trip to Nashville. The city has a great atmosphere about it and I always leave wanting more. But the next morning it was time to move on once again as we got back on the road to our next stop in Tennessee state, Gatlinburg for a trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park!

Visiting Atlanta, Georgia

A Mystic Falls sign from the Vampire Diaries show, and below, memorabilia from filming in the Covington Visitor Centre

Despite our original plan to take a road trip along the East coast of the USA from Florida to Maine, we had made the decision to venture inland slightly for some of our trip starting with a drive West towards the city of Atlanta. We had so far driven through Florida for stops in Miami and at Walt Disney World, through Georgia to visit the city of Savannah and were now in South Carolina having just visited Charleston and Congaree National Park. Now, we’d be retuning to the state of Georgia for our next adventure.

Leaving our Orangeburg SC roadside motel early morning, we began our drive West, crossing the border back into Georgia about 90 minutes later. Only stopping for gas and snacks, it took just over 3 hours to reach our first destination of the day, the city of Covington.

“Elena Gilbert’s house” from The Vampire Diaries

Having recently binge-watched all 8 seasons of the TV show The Vampire Diaries, this stop was a late request to be added to the itinerary by me as the city doubles as the town of Mystic Falls in the show. The show was shot all around the surrounding area and it is possible to take guided tours of some of the filming sites but unfortunately these only ran on certain days of the week and didn’t fit with our schedule.

So I made do with a stop in the main town square, its clock tower instantly recognisable from the show and the Mystic Grill restaurant keeping its name to draw in tourists. We headed straight to the Tourist Information Office where we picked up free maps outlining some of the nearby filming locations from The Vampire Diaries and also some other films and shows shot in the area. Outside, stands the Mystic Falls welcome sign from the show and there was a display of some costumes and memorabilia from the show inside.

The Vampire Stalkers Gift Store selling themed merchandise and wooden – stakes for anybody worried about running into real life vampires – was fun to walk around and we walked down to see “Elena’s house” on a residential street just outside of the main square. Since the Mystic Grill‘s menu was a bit out of our price range, we then sat on a bench in the square to eat the snacks we had brought with us before continuing on to the nearby city of Atlanta.

Above, and below, a Vampire themed gift store

The Vampire Diaries is not the only show or movie shot in or around Atlanta. Georgia has a thriving entertainment industry with almost as many film studios as Hollywood and with it being cheaper to film there, its a location used more and more often. There are a few companies offering guided tours of filming locations from the city of Atlanta, The Walking Dead location tours being particularly popular, and if I’d had more time or was travelling by myself or with someone else who watched some of these shows, I’d have definitely spent some time and money either searching out some more of these locations or taking some of these tours.

Instead, we arrived in Atlanta mid-afternoon and after checking into our city hotel, went straight out to explore.

While we found downtown area of the city to be rather generic and not particularly inviting or safe-feeling, the greener areas around the Olympic Park and World of Coca Cola were a bit more welcoming.

In Atlanta, Georgia

We had tickets booked for World of Coca Cola the next day but decided to visit the gift store now to save time the next day. The huge store sold every Coca Cola-themed product imaginable and was fun to explore.

Above, and below, riding the Skyview Ferris Wheel

We then walked through Centennial Olympic Park with its large open green spaces, many sculptures and Olympic-themed Fountain of Rings before taking a ride of the nearby Skyview Ferris Wheel. The ride gave us great views over the city along with a commentary on what we could see and some of the history of the city.

We then walked back towards the Peachtree Centre area visiting the mall before having dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe there.

Visiting World of Coca Cola

The next morning, we checked out of our hotel after breakfast and walked back to the World of Coca Cola to take our pre-booked tour. The museum took us around various rooms explaining the history of Coca Cola.

Along the way we got to see the vault that holds the drink’s secret formula, meet the Coca Cola Polar Bear, sample different versions of the product from around the World and see memorabilia and old advertising from the brand.

On a giant chair in the middle of nowhere Georgia

Then, it was back on the road. We’d be spending the next night in a roadside motel in a corner of Alabama we were passing through but we still had a couple of more stops along the road in Georgia to make along the way!

First up, another silly roadside attraction in the form of a giant chair stood in a field in the middle of nowhere. Pulling up on the side of the road, we took photos of the chair before clambering up to sit on it.

Then our main stop of the day, Babyland General Hospital,home of the Cabbage Patch Kids. My travel buddy was a big fan of the brand of dolls and couldn’t contain her excitement as we pulled up to the large white building.

Goodbye Georgia, hello Alabama!

Inside, was a huge store full of Cabbage Patch Kids dolls and merchandise but also a doll hospital for any Cabbage Patch Dolls that needed a bit of restoring and a Cabbage Patch are under a Magic Crystal Tree where you can see Cabbage Patch Dolls being ‘born’ in a rather surreal ceremony! I found the whole thing a bit bizarre but my friend loved it so a great place to go if you are a fan and in the area!

A quick stop at a nearby Dairy Queen for lunch and ice cream and it was time to leave Georgia behind as we crossed the state line into Alabama, pulling over to grab quick photos with a famous ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ state welcome sign. Next up, a welcome return to Nashville, Tennessee!