About Emma Young

Western Australian journalist with Fairfax Media's WAtoday, and entertainment blogger with a love for all things couch-related. Tea/wine/martinis mandatory. Aspect ratio important. Paper and electronic mediums accepted. Highbrow optional.

Em and Stu do America part 17: The Best of the US

Reading time: 4 minutes

Because everyone loves lists… especially me.

Best meals:

Em: Mrs Wilkes’ Dining Room, Savannah; Commander’s Palace, New Orleans
Stu: Central BBQ, Memphis; Gus’ Drive In, Los Angeles

 

Commander's Palace

Commander’s Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Best food overall:

Stu: “Tennessee. You’re probably going to say something stupid like New Orleans, aren’t you?”
Em: “New Orleans.”

Stu living the dream at Central BBQ, Memphis, Tennessee.

Stu living the dream at Central BBQ, Memphis, Tennessee.

Best library:

Tie between Bangor, Maine and New York Public Library

Em enjoys SECRET TINY DOORWAY at Bangor Public Library

Best coffee:

Unanimous for nowhere.

Emma disgusted by what was supposed to be a “cappuccino”. FAIL, ATLANTA.

Worst smells:

A tie between New Orleans and NYC

Blurry garbage in NYC.

Worst pollution:

LA 

The brown line of pure filth that just makes you proud to be human.

Best live music scene:

Nashville and New Orleans

Man walks his tuba in NOLA.

Best theatre:

NYC. Obviously.

Even on our last day in NYC we were trying to work out if we could justify a sixth Broadway show…

Saddest homeless population:

Tie between LA and San Francisco. No photo for this one. Just imagine tents lining the freeways and people sleeping everywhere. Not cool.

Craziest/scariest people:

LA. Again, seems best not to photograph the people who might knife you.

Best weather:

Utah in the fall. Now this I have photos of.

Me on pretty much one of the happiest days of my life in sunny Utah.

Worst weather:

Florida in the summer. Yeeech.

Me on pretty much the sweatiest day of my life in Miami.

Best bookshops Canada:

MacLeod’s Books, Vancouver, and The Bookman, Charlottetown, PEI

An awesome store.

Best bookstore USA:

Xanadu Music & Books, Memphis. This place had a really well curated collection, but it also had personality. The owner went on an awesome rant about the evils of numerous corporations, including Amazon, then introduced us to his cat Dashiell Hammett who promptly threw up on the rug.

“A fiend in feline shape, a monster of depravity.”

Best scenery:

Utah 

Best national park:

Yosemite 

State with best national parks overall:

Utah 

Best hike:

The Narrows, Zion National Park, Utah

Stu in The Narrows.

And finally, another list:

Trip highlights: top 10 adventures

1. Tour: Stephen King tour of Bangor, Maine
2. Tour: Kenny Kramer’s Seinfeld Tour, New York City
3. Tour: Atlanta Movie Tours’ The Walking Dead locations, Senoia, Georgia
4. Tour: Grand Canyon Whitewater’s 6-day Grand Canyon raft trip
5. Show: The Lion King on Broadway
6. Show: Tim Ferriss Interviews Terry Crews, LA Live Talks
7. Ride: Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Universal Studios, Orlando
8. Self-guided tour: Anne of Green Gables book locations, Prince Edward Island, Canada
9. Self-guided tour: The Goonies & Twin Peaks locations, northeast USA
10. Sight: Frederick Law Olmsted’s gardens in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Atlanta (Central Park, Prospect Park, Linear Park).

Bonus entry: every national park, particularly Utah and Zion’s The Narrows! 

 

 

 

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Em and Stu do America part 16: Legendary Los Angeles

Reading time: 10 minutes 

Downtown LA, aka DTLA

Downtown LA, aka DTLA

“Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don’t; but keep on dreamin.”

-Pretty Woman                                                                           

I know LA only through media; the sublime (Billy Wilder’s noir classic Sunset Boulevard, David Lynch’s haunting Mulholland Drive) to the ridiculous (genius 90s hit Clueless). I’m a devoted follower of James Ellroy, who wrote the searing LA Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential, White Jazz) and the LA memoir My Dark Places. There’s wild variation in these pictures, but I wanted to see it all. Even the grimiest depictions sound glamorous: Mulholland Drive. Hollywood Boulevard. Sunset Boulevard. Rodeo Drive. Santa Monica. The Valley. Venice Beach.

Iconic Santa Monica beach.

Santa Monica beach.

We allowed three weeks here to end our trip, wanting the chance to relax and explore these mythical places at leisure after barrelling down the west coast. After successive shocks to the system from snowy Washington, icy Vancouver, watery Oregon and foggy San Francisco, we cautiously got our thongs/flip-flops back out, ready to enjoy that famous California sunshine.

But you know what? We arrived tired. Too tired to give LA the same energy we threw at New York. And LA is a lot less user-friendly. It’s a massive, sprawling city. Yes, there are many cool neighbourhoods, but many dead, dirty, scary zones between, full of men who have a scary habit of lurching within inches of me when they see me, as though the zombie apocalypse actually happened while I was sleeping and I they can smell my tasty brain.

Venice Beach

Venice beach.

The parking and driving was terrifying here, so we returned our car to Enterprise and opted for public transport and walking instead. But even for committed walkers and train-catching cheapskates like ourselves, LA is HARD to get around without a car. The public transport system is perfectly fine, but the distances are just huge.

Thanks to all these factors, our LA story is partly about what we didn’t do. We didn’t drive to Palm Springs or Joshua Tree National Park. We didn’t tour Warner Bros or Universal. We didn’t do Harry Potter World Round Two. We didn’t go to Channel Islands National Park. We didn’t do Hollywood Behind the Scenes. We didn’t do a self-guided Clueless filming locations tour.

Outside TCL Chinese Theatre. Heaps of fun to look at all the stars' signatures!

Outside TCL Chinese Theatre. Heaps of fun to look at all the stars’ signatures!

We did do SOME stuff. The Walk of Fame and TCL Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Museum. We went and saw Tim Ferriss interview Terry Crews (star of Brooklyn Nine-Nine) live on stage – a major highlight for us both, since Stu is a big Terry Crews fan. We walked the Santa Monica Pier and then walked along the sand to Venice Beach. We hiked to the Hollywood sign.

We ate. Corn cheese (you heard me) and Korean BBQ in Koreatown. American treats we normally avoid: pancakes with bacon, fancy PBJs and grilled cheese sandwiches at Grand Central Market. Tacos Tumbras a Tomas and Salvadorean pupusas from Sarita’s (the setting of the first date in La La Land), also at the market. For our last night we have booked the Pacific Dining Car, as immortalised in Ellroy novels and in the movie Training Day.

An awesome moment. Just me, the open air and the smog.

An awesome moment. Just me, the open air and the smog.

And we lazed. We hid from our somewhat scary and ill-chosen neighbourhood and went on a cinematic tour. I know it sounds terrible, watching movies about LA instead of being out in it. But I swear it provoked thought. Hear me out.

We watched or re-watched Sunset Boulevard, CluelessSpeed, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, LA Story, Afternoon Delight, Training Day and, of course, Volcano, set in the streets not a 10-minute walk from where we were staying, near MacArthur Park on the edge of downtown LA.

I did find one nice spot walking distance from our place: Echo Park.

Echo Park.

It felt surreal seeing a tidal wave of lava pouring over streets we have walked now for weeks, in our local train station. I thought, people who live in LA see their homes in celluloid all the time. This is normal for them, to see their lives and landscapes, their train stations, their cafes, all represented, countless “what if” scenarios played out. I can’t help but feel there’s both advantage and disadvantage that a city can be this self-reflective.

Classic LA: beauty, with parking.

The field of racial and “whiteness” studies says that for a race to be routinely represented in mainstream art forms gives that race a kind of validation, an acknowledgement of its existence within the culture, and by association gives it power.

Transpose that idea to not a race but a city identity like “Angelinos”. They sure are getting represented, validated, afforded power in a global context by the sheer amount of representations getting pumped out into the world. So when does this become something not just empowering but navel-gazing, something that shuts them off from seeing the rest of the world and just permits them to continue their lives unchallenged by different ways of living and seeing? I thought NYC was an insular culture; surely this is too. It calls to mind recent social commentary that Facebook has an unhealthy way of feeding us all stories it knows we will like and agree with, thereby leaving our minds fat and lethargic. Is it healthy, in other words, for LA to get fed so much pure LA?

Santa Monica

Santa Monica

And is it healthy for the rest of us to get fed so much LA? Are we deficient of home nutrients? I watched these movies as a kid thinking “this is what a city looks like,” not questioning that city, its reality, its demographics, its very physical being.

It’s only now that I can see it’s a real place. Not only a blank canvas for a movie but the weirdest, most intense, most unbalanced city I have ever seen. It’s so far apart from my home, despite the thin veneer of sameness of all Western civilisation, that I feel like it’s really another planet. And yet I have I have grown up on their cultural products, not my own.

That feels a little odd to realise, and a little sad. That Perth, such a beautiful place, with an ancient Aboriginal history as well as a much shorter European history, doesn’t get represented to the world. We let Tim Winton do our heavy lifting, and I fucking love Tim Winton, but we can’t just leave it all to him.

Hehehehe.

Hehehehe.

I know we have more good writers. I know we have good independent films and many excellent musicians. Perth is bursting with creative people. But there’s no denying that Perth bleeds artists to other cities and countries where their voices are heard more easily. Sometimes people, including me, forget to encourage these voices with cold hard cash.

We pay for stories from all over the world, for meals out, for coffees, but begrudge money for local movies and festivals and music. It’s a luxury to have this access to cultural products from elsewhere, but it’s maybe a loss, too, of connection with our own place. They might not be the same brand of sexy as LA stories, but they’re ours, and I have promised myself to think a bit harder about how I spend my entertainment dollar.

A beautiful scene, apart from the rotten brown haze :/

There’s more to LA than movies, by the way. There is a vibrant food and wine scene and exciting cultural diversity and some progressive recycling and renewable energy programs. It’s just as well – I have never seen anywhere dirtier, including NYC, and while I have read pollution has loosened its grip on LA in recent decades I was horrified at the great stripe of smog we saw blanketing the horizon as we looked towards the city from Burbank Peak.

It’s a lot to get your head around, and my thoughts are increasingly drawn to home. Wonderful coffee. Starlight. Supermarkets that make sense. Farmers’ markets that make even more sense. Toenail polish. Coloured clothes. Beer and wine and water coming in real glassware. Clean, safe, quiet streets. The Swan River. Within minutes of leaving the house, beautiful, unfenced, pristine parks everywhere you turn. Grass gently yellowing in dry December heat. Parks with gas barbecues cooking, not shrimp, but simple, classic Aussie beef snaggers. See you soon, Perth!

StuMobservations: LA

  • Gus’s drive-in has the best BBQ bacon cheeseburger in all the land.
  • $20 all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ is a cook your own adventure of epic proportions.
  • Who knew: When Max Factor originally introduced makeup to the common (ie non actress) woman, wearing it represented liberation for women and they protested to be allowed to wear it.
  • Squirrel + avocado diet = gigantic squirrel.
  • Terry Crews has a remarkable message about going for what we desire most.
  • Driving in LA is scarier than driving in the snow.
  • Why have I not tried Ramen before?
  • A hike to the Hollywood sign means you can see the back of some of the letters.
  • I wanted to steal Milla’s red dress from Resident Evil #prollyworththejailtime.
  • I saw the shoes and wand that Harry, Ron and Hermione used to imprint cement then I saw the imprints in the cement.

Wooooooooooooooo

 What we’re reading
Man’s Search For Meaning, Victor E Frankl; The Course of Love, Alain de Botton; Mr Mercedes, Stephen King

 

Em and Stu do America part 15: Cascadia, home of The Goonies, Twin Peaks and The Shining

Reading time: 5 minutes

Cascadia. As magical as it sounds. This region of loosely defined boundaries, otherwise known as ‘the northwest’, has inspired generations of filmmakers with its endless vistas of mist-shrouded pine forests, its jagged, wild coastlines and the chilling remoteness of its snowcapped mountain ranges.

The drive to Twin Peaks locations: you really could not ask for more atmosphere than this.

The drive to Twin Peaks locations: you really could not ask for more atmosphere than this.

Our national parks tour was drawing to a close, time growing short and the weather dropping below freezing. But we couldn’t leave Colorado without a visit to Estes Park: home of The Stanley Hotel. This grand old hotel fired up the imagination of Stephen King when he and his wife were its only guests one night, and The Shining, one of the world’s most famous horror stories, was born.

There was a Halloween masked ball on while we visited - that just seems like flirting with danger to me!

Was a Halloween masked ball on while we visited – seems like tempting fate to me…

Stanley Kubrick, however, chose the Timberline Lodge in Oregon to film at in his adaptation, one famously disliked by King (also disliked, less famously, by me). That version, which departed radically from the text of a complex and emotionally truthful novel, prompted King to write the teleplay for another version, a three-part miniseries. This version is lesser-known and hard to find (we bought it here). But it is excellent and worth tracking down, and was filmed at the Stanley, showing off its creepy beauty to full extent. So imagine how excited we were to visit!

Next on the Nerds’ Tour of Cascadia comes Twin Peaks locations! The real home of Twin Peaks is the Snoqualmie Valley in Washington state, but budget travellers should note it’s more affordable to stay in Cle Elum, about an hour’s drive out. The drive was laden with atmosphere – mists, snowy pine forests, fall colour, rain – but the downside was that fog and cloud were obscuring the Twin Peaks themselves. Not to worry – we had a bunch of locations to visit that day…

The bridge Ronette walks over, injured and traumatised, in the unforgettable opening scenes of Twin Peaks.

The bridge Ronette walks over, injured and traumatised, in the unforgettable opening scenes of Twin Peaks, episode 1.

It’s the Sheriff’s station! Now a driving school.

They keep the Twin Peaks car out the front of the driving school!

The Double R Diner, which is Twede’s Cafe IRL. Interior is virtually identical to the show, which is really cool, and en route to the restrooms is a wall full of cool filming photos and news clippings. Very worth the visit, but unfortunately Coop was being a little overgenerous in his estimation of the cherry pie. Order coffee and feast your eyes on the decor.

These were all awesome, and there are more locations you can visit as well, but the highlight was definitely Snoqualmie Falls, which features in the series’ opening credits. They are overlooked by the Salish Lodge and Spa, which in the series is the Great Northern Hotel, and in real life has a restaurant not only with this incredible view but also excellent food. Not cheap, but totally worth it; if you’re on a day trip and tossing up between lunch at Twede’s and here, choose the Lodge.

The iconic Snoqualmie Falls, with Salish Lodge visible at the top.

The iconic Snoqualmie Falls, with Salish Lodge visible at the top.

The valley was breathtaking, ablaze with fall colour, but we had to move on; we had a date with Stu’s parents in Vancouver and so we drove straight there, skipping Seattle (I know! Next time, Seattle!)

After a relaxing few days off from our breakneck pace we drove south again from Vancouver – and only later discovered there was a new Twin Peaks-themed bar in Vancouver called The Black Lodge. Damn it! In order to make it down the coast on schedule, we were, unfortunately, also obliged to blow off Portland (I know! Next time!)

Effective sightseeing requires careful preparation.

Effective sightseeing requires careful preparation.

No matter – nothing can dampen the excitement of a pilgrimage to the home of my most favouritest movie in all the world, The Goonies. For those unforgivably ignorant, Steven Spielberg’s 1985  cult classic follows the story of the Goonies – a lovable bunch of nerd kids – who search for pirate treasure in an effort to save their homes in Astoria from foreclosure. The excitement began immediately, as the bridge we drove over into Astoria is the one seen in the distance from Mikey’s house, in the opening scenes.

LOOKITS THE BRIDGE.

LOOK IT’S THE BRIDGE.

Foggy and rainy, the weather was perfect for atmosphere, the movie having reportedly been filmed in the fall to capture the kids’ sombre moods at the prospect of losing their homes. Astoria turned out unexpectedly beautiful, a misty fishing town of pretty Victorian homes snuggled into hillsides, a working fishing pier and lots of nice restaurants and little shops for tourists – the economy pretty much runs off Goonies tourism, as far as I can tell.

They don't like people snooping up close, but you can see Mikey and Brand's house up on the hill.

The owners understandably don’t like people snooping up close, but you can see Mikey and Brand’s house up on the hill.

We prepped with a screening the night before (sorry, Stu) and in the morning set off for a full day of Goonies location visits…

 

The former jail where the opening scene of The Goonies was shot, is now the Oregon Film Museum. It's ostensibly devoted to all the hundreds of films made in Oregon (including One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Stand By Me, Point Break, Free Willy, Batman Forever, The Ring, Into the Wild) but really it's an ode to all things Goonies.

The former jail where the opening scene of The Goonies was shot, is now the Oregon Film Museum. It’s ostensibly devoted to all the hundreds of films made in Oregon (including One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Stand By Me, Point Break, Free Willy, Batman Forever, The Ring, Into the Wild) but really it’s an ode to all things Goonies.

Bit excited.

Bit excited.

Inside!

Inside!

 

Lol. I had to include this.

Lol. I had to include this.

The working fishing pier from the opening credits of The Goonies, where Stef helps her dad sort crabs, and Data ends up falling into a garbage can while testing his latest invention.

The bowling alley, scene of Chunk’s first line over spilled milkshake: “Ah, shit!”

The museum where Mikey’s dad, hard at work, waves to the kids as they set off.

We also visited Mouth’s house and the store Rosalita exits in the opening credits, now a cute cafe and gift store. But the most exciting part of our tour was the next day, as we drove south out of Astoria. Thirty miles south lie Cannon Beach, where the car chase was filmed, and Ecola State Park, where the kids bike to the restaurant that marks the entrance to the underground tunnels where the rest of the movie is filmed.

“The lighthouse, the rock, and the restaurant all fit the doubloon!” We couldn’t get to the angle where Mikey shows us this, because the cliffs are unstable and roped off, but you can see the lighthouse behind me in the distance!

The drive to Indian Point, Ecola State Park, where evil Troy chucks Brand off his bike.

OMG! Look! It’s exactly matching the movie! I’m such a Goonie I actually shed a few happy tears.

I knew it would be awesome. I just never understood how beautiful it would be!

Haystack Rock. This is where the car chase was filmed.

I hated to leave Astoria. At this point I felt like I could happily live there, even though the nice checkout lady at Safeway told me it’s not unusual for it to rain for 180 days in a row. But we had to go, and I was comforted by the fact that Oregon’s entire coastline looks like this: wild, windy and majestic. I drank my fill as we drove hundreds of miles south towards California, its redwood forests and its iconic Pacific Coastal Highway.

StuMobservation: Cascadia

  • I am going to be so annoying to watch TV/movies with now. #beenthere

What we’re reading
Both of us:
Desert Solitaire, Edward Abbey; The Midnight Line and No Middle Name, Lee Child; A World Without Princes and The Last Ever After, Soman Chainani; Behind Closed Doors, A. B. Paris
Em: The Big Nowhere and White Jazz, James Ellroy; Incurable and Circle of Flight, John Marsden (Ellie chronicles, follows the Tomorrow series); They Found Him Dead, Georgette Heyer; The Diamond Age, Neal Stephenson; The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton; DIY Super for Dummies, Trish Power; A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle; Unshakeable, Tony Robbins
Stu: Tears of Requiem, Daniel Arenson

What we’re watching
Stephen King’s The Shining, The Walking Dead S8, Rick and Morty S3, Master of None S2, Aziz Ansari’s latest standup special; and movie prep for LA! Clueless, Sunset Boulevard. 

Em and Stu do America part 14: Edward Abbey’s West

The canyonlands. The slickrock desert. The red dust and the burnt cliffs and the lonely sky – all that which lies beyond the end of the roads.

Edward Abbey

Aim

Outrun winter, see 10 national parks in three weeks, focusing particularly on the ‘canyon country’ as described by iconic American writer Edward Abbey.

A new moon over southern Montana

A new moon rises at dusk over southern Montana.

 

Itinerary

Start: Las Vegas (a sort of man-made Grand Canyon of 100% neon)
California: Death Valley, Sequoia, Yosemite
Crossing Nevada on Hwy 50, “The Loneliest Road”.
Utah: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capitol Reef
Colorado: Rocky Mountain
Wyoming: Grand Teton, Yellowstone
Now too cold to camp (we drew the line when it dropped below 0C at night) so driving across Montana, Idaho and Washington and staying in crusty motels.
End: Vancouver, for a brief Moraday family reunion

The ancient sculpted landforms of Death Valley, Nevada

The sculpted landforms of Death Valley, Nevada

New team members:

Cheap-arse Walmart tent, with related camping accessories
The Grey Goose, a compact four-cylinder Chevy, our home until we go home.

Our little tent pitched on the banks of the Colorado just outside Arches national park

Our little tent pitched on the banks of the Colorado just outside Arches national park.

We did it, and had an amazing time. But man, America is a weird land of contradictions…

Even in the shoulder season, when temperatures at night weren’t far over freezing, it’s not like Australia where you casually rock up at a reasonable hour and snag yourself a campsite. While this was possible in some parks, competition for campsites and even just on the roads at America’s most beloved and famous national parks is intense. Yosemite got five million visitors last year. That’s nearly 14,000 people PER DAY. I don’t know how that is even possible. Zion got more than four million. No wonder some of the roads and campsites are getting, as the Park Service describes it, “loved to death”.

In Yosemite campgrounds are all solidly booked, seemingly months in advance. You must rely on a lottery of the cancellations, called out at 3pm. We were lucky to snag a spot for one night this way but we had planned to stay two. So the system dictated we rise at 6.30am, pack up the entire camp into the car and turn up at the office at 7.30am, waiting in line to put our names down. Then we had til 3pm to do our hiking for the day, because we had to be back at 3pm sharp to hear the lottery results. Then it’s go and set up for the second night.

Yosemite: crazy busy, but totally worth it.

Yosemite: crazy busy, but totally worth it.

At Zion, we turned up in the morning and waited in line for an hour and only just snagged a site in an “overflow” site. To stay a second night in the morning we had to pack up camp and get in “line” in our car at 5.30am. And there were plenty of people in front of us. We got confirmed for a second night by 8am, but those behind us got turned away. We then moved everything to a new site.

Every single park we visited bar one had major roadworks and we spent gobs of time sitting in our stationary car, looking out at bobcats throwing about tons of the good green Earth we came to see. While you can see American wilderness by hiking overnight into the backcountry, if you are “car camping” you are never going to get much in the way of wilderness. I was still wearing earplugs at night to block out highway noise in basically every place we camped.

Camping in the car in order to snag... a camp.

Camping out overnight in line for… a campsite?

In other words, the Americans, bless them, have somehow managed to make camping stressful!

We were conscious of being ‘part of the problem’, too, having set ourselves this task of seeing so many parks in such a short time, the only way of doing so being pounding serious pavement.

We were so conscious because of our reading of the seminal western wilderness work Desert Solitaire. Author Edward Abbey spent several years as ranger at Arches National Monument (now Park) in the 1950s and the book chronicles that time. It’s a moving, profound meditation on the nature of the desert and man’s place in it. By turns it’s also an angry, misanthropic manifesto against humanity’s apparent commitment to ruining the land at all costs, most notably by ensuring we pave big fat highways across sensitive areas to allow people to “see nature” without getting out of their cars. It should be noted Abbey’s so famous in the west the National Park Service still sells his books in the parks gift shops, despite the irony that his book is a withering condemnation of humanity in general and the Park Service in particular. I’m sure Abbey’s rolling in his grave to see his books being sold in the kind of massive visitor centres he never lived to see, but so gloomily predicted.

Pretending to be Edward Abbey.

Attempting to commune with the spirit of Abbey (despite his explicit instructions to the contrary).

With his voice ringing in our ears we did our best to feel the soul of the country he loved by getting out of our car as much as we could. We climbed to the top of Vernal Falls and beyond in Yosemite, a breathtaking hike (literally, ha!)

We climbed the challenging Primitive Trail to Double O Arch in Abbey’s beloved Arches.

See Stu rappelling down the wall?

See Stu rappelling down the wall?

Just outside the Arches boundaries we tasted the thrills of canyoneering, rappelling down 90 feet into Ephedras Grotto then into the canyon beneath Morning Glory, the world’s sixth-largest natural land bridge. The reward for such bravery was sweet: filling our flasks at a sweet-tasting spring, then hiking out next to the beautiful stream it became, all the way to our gorgeous campsite on the Colorado River. We did a three-hour horseback ride through Bryce Canyon. We climbed to Emerald Lake at Rocky Mountain, playing in the snow like children.

The blue skies of Utah over Bryce Canyon. Best viewed on horseback.

Utah sky beams blue over Bryce Canyon. Best viewed on horseback.

Most memorably of all, we did a six-hour round trip hike through The Narrows at Utah’s incredibly beautiful Zion National Park. This required hiring full gear – canyoneering boots, dry pants, wooden poles – as the hike is through the cold (6C), swiftly moving Virgin River at the bottom of Zion Canyon. It’s at times up to your mid-thigh and can sweep you off your feet if you make one misstep. This was an incredibly special hike, a unique experience.

Breathtaking lake hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Breathtaking lake hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

This whole time was a treasure for us, though it wasn’t easy. We were dealing with abrupt climate changes, freezing nights, difficult hikes, long drives and pulling the tent up and down nearly every day. But the teamwork required brought us closer together, and the mind-boggling beauty that unfolded before us each day brought continual delight. We spent whole hours in the car idiotically repeating “Wow!” and “Oh, wow!”

The Narrows, a challenging hike upstream through the Virgin River at the bottom of Zion Canyon.

Us in The Narrows, upstream along the Virgin River at the bottom of Zion Canyon.

Our joy in these places, and that of all our fellow American hikers and campers, led us to conclude that despite our differences, inside we all yearn for the sense of transcendence and connection these places give us. We can only hope and pray the US government can find a sustainable way to manage the massive (and growing) demand. And that the wider world, in designing and infilling its cities, remembers this thirst for nature that remains universal and unquenched inside the human heart.

UTAH ROCKS!

UTAH ROCKS! Em at Delicate Arch.

StuMobservations: Camping

  • 3 days of Vegas and we rent a car, buy sleeping bags and a tent, load up on supplies and flee back out to nature.
  • 10 National Parks makes for a lot of good camping.
  • Walking upstream with dry pants and poles is heaps fun.
  • Walking to the top of a waterfall is heaps fun.
  • Walking through massive trees is heaps fun.
  • Walking around rock formations is heaps fun.
  • Walking up and around mountains is heaps fun.
  • Walking through snow is heaps wet/fun.
  • Rappelling down canyons is heaps fun.
  • Riding horses through canyons is heaps fun.
  • Driving in a snowstorm is scary/fun.
  • S’mores by campfire are incredible.
  • Utah Rocks!
  • 100% of National Parks are ‘under construction’.
  • That point where $5US for a shower sounds reasonable.

Recommended campsites and suppliers*

Furnace Creek, Death Valley NP
Tehachapi Mountain SP
Potwisha campground, Sequoia NP
Lower Pines, Yosemite NP
KOA campground, Cedar City, Utah
South campground, Zion NP
Ruby’s campground, just outside Bryce Canyon
Granstaff campground, just outside Arches – the winner for sheer beauty
Union Reservoir, Longmont, Colorado

Moab Adventure Center (canyoneering outside Arches)
Canyon Trail Rides (Bryce Canyon)
Zion Adventure Company (Narrows outfitters)
Enterprise car rental (the only place that allowed a two-month solid car rental, a cheap one-way drop off fee and for us to be able to drive all over the US and Canada. Suffice to say this was a VERY difficult thing to find).

*We paid full price for all these, so consider the recommendation unbiased!

Em and Stu Do America Part 13: The Bright Angel Trail (in pictures)

The only way out was up, and long before we reached the Grand Canyon we were receiving warning emails.

“You will be hiking Bright Angel Trail from the river to South Rim, a distance of about 8 miles with a 1340m gain in elevation … typically takes a prepared hiker 6-8 hours (or more). Pack light. Do practice hikes. This is a long hike and ALL UPHILL. Don’t forget, Arizona is a desert and the temperatures can be extremely hot.”

Another email told us we should be doing 50 squats and 50 lunges nonstop daily in the lead up.

We do dummy practice hikes fully loaded with a week’s worth of canyon gear. We hike in boots, on a stairmaster when the land is flat, through hilly suburbs when there is no trail (or even footpath). We hike in hot weather. We do 50-lunge-and-50-squat routines in tiny AirBnBs. We do them again the next day. And the next. For weeks. We are prepared. Congratulate self on glutes of steel.

I forgot to do practice hike with: clothes half-wet from rapids, dirty from a week’s camping, suspected broken toe after overenthusiastic jump off boat, and with giant rash covering face from week of washing with sandy river icewater. Doesnmatter! Glutes of steel! (Pic by fellow hiker Pat Fielding)

Pride vanishes within two miles. I gasp and struggle as Stu leaps up trail like mountain goat. As I force legs forward I feel him tug on my pack. “What the fuck are you doing,” I turn and snarl like an alley cat. He has broken my rhythm, the only thing between me and madness. He holds up the camera, apologetically. I nod. I am broken. Stu is photographer now. Look for hikers circled!

Guides Erica, Chelsea and J-Mo are also hiking up halfway to meet our replacement tourists descending to join lower half tour. Unlike us, clad in Heavy Packs, Serious Boots, Long Sleeves, Sunscreen and Fear, clutching 2L water each, they are all in their flip-flops. The women vanish up the trail and reappear, coming down, what feels like instantly. I tell myself they didn’t really go up half way; impossibly fast even for these gazelles. We farewell with hugs and promises to return.

Stu’s view of the switchbacks we are negotiating. J-Mo the guide now accompanies us. He stays a tactful distance behind me. Then he hands us over to our new guide, Mike, who is curled cosily in a shady hollow in the rock. We hug J-Mo goodbye, feeling a little separation anxiety.

Same switchbacks, from further up. Mike provides welcome distraction with stories of his job as trail guide. Mike is nine feet tall. Possibly slight exaggeration. He lopes up the track with easy grace, fast. Way faster than I would be going given the choice. He says he does this trail several times a week! Every step is torture. Mike is forcing me faster than I want to go. Begin to hate Mike.

Mike tells us to make sure we speak up if we need to stop or slow down. Obviously I am too proud.

Same switchbacks from even further up. Irrational hatred of Mike spreads to include myself. Thought you were fit? You should have tried harder! Forced Stu into even more practice hikes. Gone on your own, if he didn’t need them. You should have been born with a different body shape. Glutes of steel? HA! GLUTES OF MUSH! You are good for nothing! This trail will never end! YOU’LL DIE DOWN HERE, FATTY!

Mike chills at second rest stop. Don’t be deceived by my smile. I have just been fed a candy bar.

Hundreds of people every year attempt the hike unprepared and must be rescued by rangers. One such rescue is in progress as we reach the second rest house.

I plod sadly behind Mike, watching his feather. It’s so people don’t lose him on the trail. Rather wished he would lose me. But I am grudgingly realising he isn’t setting this pace just because he is evil; left to myself I’d be going so slowly we’d probably have to sleep here.

The second rest house has become too far away to see with the naked eye, but a zoom in on paint just reveals it (circled).

You get the idea. It’s a long way since the resthouse.

The sweat is also covering my face, making my rashy face sting painfully. Hooray for hiking!

That red circle shows you more people insane enough to do this trail.

Dizzying new perspective on layers of rock we’ve observed so minutely over the past week.

Change mind about Mike. Mike is only thing getting me up hill. Love Mike. Stockholm syndrome?

A nice moment: my first sighting of a juniper tree in the USA, special to me since reading Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. It’s also a sign that the vegetation profile’s changing with the elevation.

Another sign of changing elevation: dirt changes colour from pink to white!

Back to suffering. Me resting with fellow hikers Rich and Chuck. I think Chuck and I are about equal on the pain scale, despite Chuck being 73. I console (further humiliate?) self with fact that Chuck is also marathon runner. We can’t all be marathon runners, I repeat silently, like mantra.

Stu: “Hey Emma, let me take a photo of you in this nice doorway thingo!”
Em: “I’ll kill you in your sleep.”

We are just about there. We have taken 6.5 hours; gloriously average. Nearing trailhead, Mike (new best friend, understands me better than anyone else, love Mike) stops at my request to make sure I can understand exactly where in this vista we came from. Answer: very far away, Frodo.

Oh God. Oh God, we are on the rim. We have done it. We stagger to a halt for Mike to record the moment. We gaze, wild-eyed and disheveled, at the hundreds of tourists who came only to snap a photo from the rim. My self-esteem, destroyed utterly just hours ago, returns in glad, smug rush. Mike gently points us in direction of the bar and melts away.

But first one more photo: it’s rubbish, because we had to fight tourists to get to the edge to take it and we lacked the energy after a week of seeing no-one. I include it because of the sweetness of the moment it represents: a moment I stood on the rim and permitted myself a few solitary tears; tears of pride that I got up there without chucking a (public) wobbly, or collapsing. But also tears of humble gratitude that I got to experience, so intimately, one of the most beautiful and special places on Earth. And I got to experience it with Stu.

 

Em and Stu Do America Part 12: The Grand Canyon

On a side-hike up the canyon

On a side-hike up the canyon

Erica sends the raft backwards into the rapid; our lean, bronzed tour guide with the easy smile vanishes, the sudden animal ferocity of her stance like a whippet braced to face a lion. She throws her whole body against the rolling water, planting a thonged foot on the steel cross-hatch for leverage, whole leg shaking wildly with the strain, hauling back on the oars, head flipping to watch all sides at once as the raft spins, brown plaits whipping, teeth bared in a grimace.

All we can do is hang on and get out the way, bums perched on the forward edge of the cross-hatch, avoiding the planted foot and the hands that punch the hefty wooden oars forward and back a full metre or more each stroke. Our torsos are pressed nearly flat against the walls of icy water that slam over us as Erica heaves us into safety.

Erica in a more relaxed moment on a side hike!

Erica in a more relaxed moment on a side hike!

We poke our heads up, drenched and exhilarated as she guides the raft into calmer territory. White water transforms to a roiling emerald green, thick like churned jelly, bubbles rising through it like it’s just come off the boil. Erica re-emerges as a grinning human, pulling the boat around so we can watch the others come through, one by one. Each is a tense wait followed by high-fives, triumph, each ‘boatman’ yelling from raft to raft to debrief each other on the choices each made under pressure.

Hard to get pics of rapids because the camera had to go away usually! But this is a little "riffle".

Hard to get pics of rapids because the camera had to go away usually! But this is a little “riffle”.

Erica has spent 20 years negotiating the rapids of the Colorado River that runs through the Canyon, and come safely through Hance Rapid, one of the river’s most technically challenging, countless times. But the crew knows better than to underestimate it. Before the ‘run’, they ‘parked’ the rafts at a sandy lip and hiked up the cliff to discuss how it looked today, the order they would go in, approaches they might take. They advised Rachel, who was crewing the supply boat and who would run Hance for the first time. Her jaw set with tension, she quietly accepted all the hints her colleagues gave her and – of course – ran it beautifully.

Bill scouts Hance Rapid with his crew

Bill scouts Hance – not the river’s largest rapid, but one of its most technical – with his crew.

Not all the rapids are high drama, but each is a thrill-ride, not to mention a glacial head-to-foot drenching. And much of the trip is spent gliding quietly through a calm river so clear you can see a leaf float by ten feet down. Below us it is deep green, but ahead it has infinite colours as the sun and rocks change overhead. The Colorado is mint green at dawn, silver as the rising sun touches it, pink and red as it reflects the two-billion odd years of Earth’s story rising on either side of it. It turns purple as the reds mix with the reflected blue Arizona sky and gleams gold at sundown. At night it turns black and roars.

The colours of the Colorado.

The colours of the Colorado.

Above it unfolds a geological history lesson I just don’t think I would have grasped had I looked down from above on just one day. The canyon has stood in its present form for roughly six million years. Each day as we move through it, the walls get higher as a new layer of rock appears, each unique in appearance and origin. The guides are full of knowledge about the landscapes that these rocks rising above us once represented. They know just as much about the present-day ecology, the impact the controversial Glen Canyon Dam has had on the place and its native species. They identify for us the bighorn ewes and rams, desert spiny lizards, does and bucks, scorpions that glow under UV light. Once we even see a beaver, fur glistening with water. And birds! It is migrating season and condors, wrens, ospreys, Canada geese and more soar overhead.

The camps we pull up at each afternoon are pristine, respected so utterly that not so much as a peanut or rubber band drops on to the fine sand without being carefully scooped up and locked in the trash to be packed out at the end of the trip. It is carefully managed so that only so many people are permitted to be on it at once, meaning that of the annual six million people who visit the Canyon annually, only about 23,000 of these raft down the river.

Our group on a side hike.

Our group on a side hike.

Our six days is a half-length trip, Upper Canyon only – from the start at Lees Ferry, near Glen Canyon Dam, downstream for 88 river miles where we will emerge to hike up and out via Bright Angel Trail. The rest of the bunch will go onwards. They are mostly Americans from all over the states, mostly around late middle age, a fit and outdoorsy bunch, all very friendly and bursting with enthusiasm for the trip. There is one other international couple, a Swedish pair around our age who are also on extended travels. We all get close very quickly. There is something about squatting to pee in the river in front of each other that erases boundaries with lightning efficiency.

This is Grand Canyon Whitewater’s final trip for the season and we have lucked out. The weather, often extreme in the Canyon, is now a perfect Fall. Nights are a breezy 10 Celsius. Brilliant blue days reach 30-35. Owner Bill is on the trip himself and has invited pretty much his whole staff along for the ride, resulting in a luxurious number of guides for us all – every day Stu and I have a different guide, usually all to ourselves, and regret only that we couldn’t make it on to everyone’s boat in our six days on the water.

The boatmen get ready in the morning. Watching them repack the boats is like watching an intricately choreographed dance!

The boatmen get ready in the morning. Watching them repack the boats is like watching an intricately choreographed dance!

The boatmen are happy and relaxed, anticipating winters working on their side businesses or travelling. They all love the job, but it’s undeniably a difficult one, done in an often harsh environment and hard on the body. A 15-minute go at the oars that I was allowed in calm water made me realise rafting is not a craft for the faint-hearted.

Meeting them all and hearing their stories was one of the highlights of the trip. They are not just committed environmental advocates. Many have river research backgrounds. Erica is a fine artist, exhibiting regularly. Chelsea, LA-bred, has a background in ballet, acting and music. Brian, with more river trips under his belt than perhaps anyone in history, appeared in Into the Wild and The River Wild (both awesome movies… we have already re-watched The River Wild). Brian shares a vast ecological knowledge from his research background and also owns a ski outfitters’. J-Mo (StuMo’s American equivalent who reminds us strongly of Luke) has built 17 houses in his home town of Flagstaff. Walt is a music expert and owns a Spanish-language and outdoor adventure school in his home, Costa Rica.

Brian!

Brian!

The bunch share decades of experience of the Canyon waters and are prone to throwing concerts of an evening, singing Western classics and new local music, accompanying themselves with guitars, a mandolin and bongo drum – and, of course, a pair of spoons. Sometimes Brian will give us a natural history lecture; other times, a guest will stand up and sing a song or read a poem. We dance on the sand at night under a ripening moon in the shadow of rock walls more vast than we could ever have imagined. It is all touched by magic.

The coldest swim I've ever had in my life...

The coldest swim I’ve ever had…

On the final night the moon rises full, and we dance a conga line around Brian’s ingenious homemade ‘campfire’. Stu and I don’t really want to leave. All that is luring us out of the Canyon is the promise of more starry skies ahead in the West’s most renowned national parks – Yosemite, Sequoia, Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches and the Rocky Mountains. We look ahead to these places with renewed vigour, and a renewed sense of all that can be possible in life.

But first, we must hike up and out via the Bright Angel Trail. And that is another story.

StuMobservations: Grand Canyon

  • Roadrunners are real.
  • Scorpions glow in black light.
  • Mice are jerks.
  • Beavers actually make little dams. Did not seem angry tho.
  • No bugs = no tent = sleeping under the stars.
  • Dilution is the solution to pollution.
  • Jar + lid with hole + paper towel + lighter fluid = camp fire.
  • Camp toilets are now called “Groovers”.
  • Every morning should start with the cry “HOT COFFEE!”
  • What did Stu get out of the Grand Canyon? Sand.
  • We have to come back for the second half. Who’s in?

Em and Stu Do America part 11: New Orleans

It sure is.

It sure is.

Stu and I fall into the iconic French Quarter entirely unprepared for its notorious Bourbon Street: sheer overwhelm edged with a sense of barely controlled danger and Kuta-esque hilarity.

Street drinking is not just allowed but encouraged. Each corner has its own stench. Music pounds. Neon glows at night, glares in the deserted daylight. Revellers and drunks, locals and tourists, surge and stumble. They can walk the street or sidewalk, Bourbon Street being closed to cars, but construction everywhere forces them into each other’s paths. Cars on the cross streets waiting to cross Bourbon wait listlessly to inch through gaps in the crowds. Potholes are filled with murky maybe-water.

Realities collide!

Realities collide!

Stu and I soon re-employ the warning system developed in New York: code word “MUDDLE” a warning to leap on or off the curb over a muddy puddle of what could be water, but might just as easily not be. Bouncers yell drink specials from doorways.

Drinks of choice are a world away from the traditional Vieux Carre found inside the jazz clubs, and most notably include the Big Ass Beer (comes in own novelty 1L bottle); Hand Grenade (green mystery fluid served in plastic grenade); Hurricane (red mystery fluid); Fishbowl (red mystery fluid in giant fishbowl, later seen slung round neck of drag queen keeping her tips in it); and the ever-classic $1 jello shot.

Only in NOLA are even the mannequins falling-down drunk

Only in NOLA are even the mannequins falling-down drunk

Street performance abounds, but we learn not to linger and watch because they will demand payment. Tiny children bang drum-sets made from sticks and upturned buckets with prodigious skill. We learn not to stop and listen to anything everyone says because they will manage to get money out of you through a breathtaking mixture of opportunism, charm and aggression. Tall, scary teenage boys with muscles and hard eyes stand silently with snakes around their necks. Real snakes. Big ones. Wizened old blokes stand around with big colourful parrots. We are pretty sure it’s another moneyspinner, so we don’t ask questions. We just laugh, enjoy the ride and try to keep our feet and clothes dry – we are invariably on our way to a restaurant.

We have largely stayed out of fancy eateries in the USA, finding early on that generally the style of food is international and prices (once you add tips, taxes, exchange rate) are too high to be worth it, given the similar styles and class of dining available in Perth. This is why we have concentrated on the more iconic, regional and less costly American dishes.

Every day is Mardis Gras

Every day is Mardis Gras

But it’s always been the plan to let ourselves go in NOLA. It’s home to Arnaud’s, Commander’s Palace and Galatoire’s, Creole institutions. It’s my birthday week. It’s

Restaurant Week, when such places offer price-fixed menus that will let be high rollers for a week. We visit Goodwill. Stu gets a slinky black suit and I get a slinky black dress. We walk out $15 later and ready to get classy for the first time in months.

We’ve got a long list of cuisines and dishes to try, thanks to NOLA’s eclectic cultural history:

Not bad for a $7 suit.

At Galatoire’s. Not bad for a $7 suit.

Creole and Cajun (jambalaya, andouille, gumbo soup); the po’boy sandwich; the Italian Muffaletta sandwich invented here (filled with mortadella, salami, mozzarella, provolone, and a special olive ‘salad’ of olives, cauliflower and carrot, all in an oil that soaks deliciously into the big round soft Italian sesame loaf, cut into quadrants for easier guzzling).

And that’s not counting the sweets; we have to try beignets (deep-fried choux pasty covered in powdered sugar); bread pudding, the local dessert of choice; pralines, king cake, snoballs, mile high pie…

The Muffaletta at Central Grocery. Note how the oil that the vegies have been marinating in sinks into the bread.

The Muffaletta at Central Grocery. Note how the oil that the vegies have been marinating in sinks into the bread.

We also have a list of musicians to hear provided by a journalism contact of mine – pianist David Boeddinghaus we were lucky enough to see twice, once at the Bombay Club then again aboard the Steamboat Natchez, where he played with the fantastic trumpet player Duke Heitger, who had also been recommended. We didn’t manage to track down pianist Tom McDermott, but we made up for it with a dinner at the Palm Court Jazz Café, where the band sang me happy birthday!

Bloody Mary at the Commander's Palace jazz brunch.

Bloody Mary at the Commander’s Palace jazz brunch.

I’ve put a list of the winners food-wise at the bottom for the curious but overall the most spectacular meal was at Creole classic Commander’s Palace. The jazz brunch – where the band wandered in to each dining room and took requests – was was followed by a walk through the garden district: a far cry from the chaos and poverty of the French Quarter. A self-guided walking tour took us past some jaw-dropping homes, including the homes of Sandra Bullock and, drumroll, John Goodman! His house had double coolness, being previously owned by NIN frontman Trent Reznor.

Anne Rice's house, according to Free Tours by Foot.

Anne Rice’s house, according to Free Tours by Foot.

We also saw Anne Rice’s house, which looked just like you would want expect the author of Interview with a Vampire’s house to look. We ended with a walk through Lafayette Cemetery, crumbling and beautiful, evoking the spooky scenes from Bram Stoker’s original Dracula in which terrified men wait by the tombstones at night for the vampire to emerge.

Lafayette Cemetery

Lafayette Cemetery

On a sunnier note, we spent a day on the bayous, kayaking with Canoe and Trail Adventures swamp tours. An unexpected bonus in getting there was driving for nearly half an hour across the world’s longest bridge, across Lake Pontchartrain.

The vast and shallow Lake Pontchartrain is actually an estuary

The vast and shallow Lake Pontchartrain is actually an estuary. Feels like driving across the sea.

Our passionate local guide told us all about the ecosystem of swamps, bayous and estuaries, and the roles these wetlands – or rather the loss of them – played in the scale of devastation Katrina wrought in 2005. The wetlands are disappearing in Louisiana at a rate of a FOOTBALL FIELD EVERY 90 MINUTES, which sounds unbelievable but was confirmed by a visit to the Katrina museum. The museum featured apocalyptic footage of the floods surging round roofs of the citizens, and told the harrowing stories of overwhelmed and unprepared authorities herding 12,000 of the city’s least fortunate citizens into the Superdome. Here they lived for days on end, surrounded by their own excrement, in the suffocating heat, in the darkness, listening to the sounds of the roof disintegrating around them.

On the swamp!

Sign in back left reads “DEAD SLOW”, hehe. Front left you can see an osprey nest in tree.

And the worst part? Scientists had been warning for a long time that the risk of flooding was high and that the loss of the natural wetland buffer zones would mean the flooding would be catastrophic. And people wonder why I bang on about wetlands disappearing into subdivisions in Perth. We lack respect and understanding for the subtle roles ecosystems play in keeping our planet hospitable. Happily, New Orleans seems to have somewhat learned from its experiences, and there are wetland recovery efforts underway, but of course it will take billions and meanwhile the money is in the hands of politicians.

Anyway, back to dumb tourist mode: paddling behind our guide, we see two alligators! One a head, the other one a slinking tail! And then a turtle! Turtle gets all shy and belly flops ungracefully back into the water when we say hi.

Em does a momentary book nerd with statue of Ignatius Reilly, the main character from the Pulitzer Prizewinning New Orleans novel A Confederacy of Dunces

Nerding out with Ignatius Reilly, hero of Pulitzer-winning NOLA novel A Confederacy of Dunces

We love New Orleans, our most intense experience of America since New York City. Its cracked and crooked streets and paths are marked by flood lines and devastating evidence of rampant homelessness, but they are also full of beauty and colour and life, and above all music. Tubas wander the streets, taking their humans for walks. Jazz spills from restaurants, houses, bars, cars. We arrived wondering why people wanted to go back and rebuild after Katrina; but we leave understanding. There’s just nowhere else like it.

A week’s not enough, but we’ve got a date with Austin, Texas, and then… with the grandest of all canyons!

Stumobservations: New Orleans

  • The first night in any new place is spent finding somewhere to eat.
  • Rest of the week is spent discussing where we should have eaten on first night.
  • Light American beer has the same alcohol content as full strength Aussie beer.
  • Blood and Sand cocktail tastes exactly like its name: like you’ve tripped at the beach and smashed your face in the sand.
  • Do not put inedibles in my food. #Gumbo
  • Hand Grenades and Hurricanes are reminiscent of unrefined rocket fuel concoctions from early-days drinking.
  • Birthday drinks are even classier when consumed on a working carousel bar.
  • Birthdays last 36 hours when there is a 12-hour time difference.
  • 50 squats and 50 lunges are horrible. #Canyonprep
Beignets. Enough said.

Beignets. Enough said.

Winners food-wise:

  • Po-boys: Killer Po-Boys at Erin Rose – famous Parkway Po’Boys didn’t compare. 
  • Beignets: Café du Monde. It’s legendary for a reason. Bonus points for cafe au lait, the closest I have come to a flat white in a long, long time. We share a single portion, but get all giggly and high on sugar anyway.
  • Muffaletta: Sorry, Frank’s, but Central Deli and Grocery won this fight.
  • Best gumbo: Galatoire’s
  • Best bread pudding: Palm Court
  • Best meal overall: Commander’s Palace (Creole)
  • Highly commended Creole: Dooky Chase’s and The Gumbo Shop