Em and Stu do America part 10: Tennessee

Biscuit Love, Nashville

Five days in Tennessee were planned on the fly, given Hurricane Irma smashing our plans, but they were certainly a gift for us, after what was really becoming a bit too long sitting around in Florida. Thanks to the outflow of Irma evacuees, the 4-hour bus ride to Nashville from Atlanta ended up taking 8 hours, so we sure were glad to hop out of that Megabus and into one big fat Nashville party.

Everywhere you look are “pedal buses” (can’t think why no one has discovered Perth would be prime market) catering to an apparently booming bachelor and bachelorette party scene. Everywhere you look, hilarity and good-natured stumbling abound.

One or more of these goes by you every 30 seconds.

One or more of these goes by you every 30 seconds, complete with whooping and singing (see video at the end).

“Is it always like this?” I asked our Uber driver as crowds eddied round the car.

“Always, baby, always,” Yolanda told me.

We happened to coincide with Wizarding World Comic-Con, AND, a live discussion with Brian O’Halloran (Dante from Kevin Smith cult classic Clerks) and Jason Mewes, Jay of ‘Jay and Silent Bob’ who shot to fame in Clerks and remain a beloved element of most Smith films since. Yep, Mewes is just as silly and lovable as his on-screen persona and, amid teasing the sign language translators with his potty mouth, told some awesome insider stories about working with Smith and the gang, including about what it was like to meet the legendary Stan Lee and what it was like to work on the Mallrats set!

Stu and I both fan-girled

Stu and I both fan-girled for Jason Mewes, AKA Jay of Jay and Silent Bob 

Snoochie-boochies aside, Nashville was all about the music. Even their bus seats are upholstered with treble clefs. We visited the Country Music Hall of Fame and scored last-minute tickets to the Grand Ole Opry, a live country music radio show that has been going for the best part of a century, and was for many decades the principal way new music spread throughout the state and beyond. We wandered the streets – there is live music in just about every bar, all day, every day – soaking in the vibe.

The vibe continued all the way to Memphis, which is also all about the music, but with a stronger focus on the blues and rock’n’roll. The excellent Rock and Soul Museum continued our crash course in modern music history, continuing the story of how such elements as slavery, the cotton picking industry, the push for civil rights and the development of independent record labels and recording studios all helped usher in new styles of music for a new era, culminating in the birth of rock’n’roll.

So much country.

They also sell shirts in Nashville that say KEEP CALM AND CARRY GUNS :/ 

Yes, we went to Graceland and were amazed to find that even Elvis’ legendary extravagance was frankly rather elegant and restrained compared to the flagrant festival of consumption we see in many American households we pass through. Looking at his way-out but gorgeous furnishings really gave a sense of Elvis the person and was unexpectedly moving.

Memphis, not to be outdone by Nashville, also has live music streaming from every pub, particularly on the legendary Beale Street. The street is now a glitzy tourist trap rather than a beating musical heart, but is still worth a walk and a bar-hop, just for the bands. But you don’t have to be on Beale Street to hear a band in Memphis – we stayed not downtown but in Midtown’s Cooper-Young, an area that reminded us a lot of Perth’s inner-ring suburbs, and this was not only a welcome feeling but an awesome place to stay just for the wealth of music and food options to choose from.

Memphis had a lovely vibe - the suburb Cooper Young felt very Perth-like.

Memphis had a lovely vibe – this suburb, Cooper Young, felt very Perth-like.

Speaking of food: Nashville is famous for its hot fried chicken, and our biggest success in town was the heavenly Biscuit Love in The Gulch – well worth the wait. For those who missed a previous StuMobservation, Americans call scones “biscuits” and in the south, traditionally eat them with fried chicken and/or a kind of white gravy laden with sausage as part of a savoury breakfast. Crazy Americans and their delicious craziness.

Example courtesy of Biscuit Love.

Example courtesy of Biscuit Love. Sausage gravy can be seen in background. 

Memphis, on the other hand, is all about the barbecue. A quick lesson: in America, barbecue is the art of slow-smoking meat, particularly pork, until it is falling apart and flavoursome, and is close to a national religion. It also varies by region. In the Carolinas and Georgia we ate “whole hog” smoked in a vinegary sauce with the fat “chopped” into the final product. In Memphis, barbecue generally means pork ribs, either “dry” (rubbed with dry spice mix pre-cooking) or “wet rub”, basted with a liquid-based sauce during cooking then doused with BBQ sauce to eat. We won’t even go into the sauces right now. In Texas, it’ll be another barbecue story altogether.

Dry rub at Central BBQ, Memphis.

Dry rub at Central BBQ, Memphis.

The best food by far was the dry rub at Central BBQ (visitors, don’t listen to all the hype about Blues City and Rendezvous – go directly to Central). Banana pudding and peach cobbler are the big names in desserts in this part of the south, as well as the pecan pie – pecans are plentiful as they are grown in the south and they feature on most dessert menus. We hadn’t managed to find a peach cobbler, yet, but indulged at length in banana pudding (Central also wins for banana pudding). In case you’re wondering, we’re tending to share meals in order to limit the damage 😉

Elvis fabric-panelled pool room!

Elvis had a fabric-panelled pool room!

Meat aside, it was really beautiful to see cities nurturing and honouring musical culture, and it certainly made going out nicer – not just all about the booze, despite what the pictures might suggest!

StuMobservations: Tennessee

  • Would come back just for the pork.
  • The pork is so tasty it doesn’t need BBQ sauce.
  • The BBQ sauce they have goes really well with pork.
  • The pork ribs just fall off the bone.
  • You can get pork crackle as a side with your pork.
  • Central BBQ has better pork than you.
  • I ordered the pork sausage instead of dessert, they chopped it up and served it in a bowl with a spoon. #Porklife
  • We did other things between porks that weren’t boaring.

 

What we’re reading
Em: Here I Am, Jonathan Safran Foer
Stu: Blood of Requiem, Daniel Arenson

What we’re listening to
Shania Twain’s Come on Over as a soundtrack for a lot of punishing squats. We learned this album was the best selling record by any female artist of all time!

What we’re watching
Twin Peaks finale… what the hell was that?! We wanted closure, David Lynch! Also, the IT movie rocked. Everyone in the cinema clapped at the end. It was a lovely moment of solidarity with the Americans. Go see it.

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Em and Stu do America part 9: Miami Beach

This is Miami. Even your bike has to look good.

This is Miami. Even your bike has to look good.

We’ve fled Florida and the Miami Beach we describe will be sadly damaged. Residents just got let back in to see their homes today. But we thought we’d do this post anyway to encourage – eventually – tourism dollars back to the area when the time comes.

We had planned eight nights in Miami and chose to stay on Miami Beach, specifically South Beach. Miami Beach is actually an island off downtown Miami and South Beach is the portion of it that the rest of the world imagines when it imagines Miami: the palm trees, Art Deco, fancy vintage cars parked on the streets, sun-bronzed people on rollerblades, neon and nightlife. We chose to stay “where the action is”, conveniently forgetting we are old farts in training who don’t appreciate “action”.

The deco district. A tourist trap, but such a pretty one.

The deco district. A tourist trap, but such a pretty one.

Miami Beach is expensive, and our inability to find somewhere close to South Beach within our budget led to our first negative AirBnB experience. We’ll save the hair-raising stories for home, but advise anyone needing budget accommodation in the area to search well in advance and take precautions. We would also recommend avoiding the Instant Book feature – take time to message the host first and check them out.

Miami Beach is scorching hot. Temperatures climbed above 37C by 10am. I have yearned throughout many muggy, cloudy eastern states for blue skies and white sand, a real summer holiday, but I realised that Miami, far closer to Cuba culturally than it is to the rest of Florida, is also a climate unto itself, with us arriving in the wet season, rather than summer as I understand summer.

Green lizard!

Green lizard!

Miami is exotic. Extreme humidity and frequent rainstorms allow for thick, lush vegetation, tropical flowers and palms everywhere, the smell of wet greenery thick in the air, lizards scattering at your feet; tiny ones, big ones, curly-tailed ones, bright green ones. There is a World Erotic Art Museum and gorgeous old art deco architecture everywhere, the preservation of low-rise heritage buildings throughout most of South Beach adding to the feeling that you have left the United States far behind. The famous South Beach itself is, to give credit where it’s due, the first Australian-quality beach seen so far in terms of white sand and clear water, though the water is very warm.

White sand, warm water, hot bodies.

White sand, warm water, hot bodies.

Looks are vital. The stores have big-breasted mannequins, and mannequins of little doggies to display the clothing choices for your doggy accessory. People-watching should be done in the afternoons and evenings. Before midday, empty streets are peopled by tourists, recognisable by their protective hats and clothing (residents walk around wearing as little as possible to prevent tan lines forming). We concluded locals have more in common with the lizards everywhere than they did with us – protected by their browned skins, they waited until the sun warmed their blood before hitting the streets each day.

But when they do it’s a sight to behold and they quite agree, taking so many selfies you’re as much at risk of collision on the sidewalk as you are on a street. They work out, half-naked, on full outdoor extreme gym equipment in the sun, doing one-armed pushups on baking rocks and sand. And bars and restaurants are all open virtually 24 hours, maybe to relieve the stress of looking so good. One Cuban we talked to, Jeffrey, said the women in Cuba were “needy”, explaining he meant expensive, needing a lot of investment in their hair and nails.

Where dogs are a fashion accessory.

Where dogs are a fashion accessory.

On Miami Beach we spotted lots of bare slow-cooking boobies, one skin-diver-suited man with a metal detector, one particularly gorgeous siren of a woman taking selfies with a full-on tripod and SLR setup, and of course, plenty of ‘boyfriends of Instagram’ situations, in which hapless men contort themselves trying to take the pictures their women require for social media.

One example was an older man in his 60s being instructed in photography by two girls in bikinis. Whether he knew them was unclear. Stu and I observed closely and are able to report for you the rules for looking hot in a photo (Emma models these in the gallery below):

  1. Pop butt upwards and forwards
  2. Somehow keep front knee bent?
  3. Ah! It’s by keeping feet together.
  4. Twist so boobs and butt face same direction
  5. Pout.
  6. Repeat until satisfied.
The only place I've ever seen a DD mannequin.

The only place I’ve ever seen a DD mannequin.

I also witnessed a hilarious ‘boyfriends of Instagram’ incident when I went kayaking around the Sunset Islands, four little islands in Sunset Bay off the main island. These are some of Miami Beach’s most exclusive addresses, home to the rich and famous. The immense, mostly Mediterranean-style homes are big enough to serve as hotels. Most are worth $15 million plus and one, the former home of Lenny Kravitz, sold last year for $25 million. It was a peaceful and beautiful time, me dragging my feet in the cool water, contemplating how much nicer it was to kayak past such a mansion on a Monday morning, instead of working to pay for one.

Presently I was joined by a man and woman on stand-up paddleboards. The woman gave the phone to her boyfriend to snap photos of her from behind. Geez, she looked gorgeous, slender and bronzed in a blue bikini, paddling between towering mansions, a Velcro strap around one tanned and toned ankle, blonde blow-waved hair shining as it fell past her waist.

Check out the size of the boats behind me!

Check out the size of the boats behind me!

Her boyfriend did his best to capture this moment on the phone as instructed as well as paddle to keep up with her. For my part, I tried to get my kayak as far to the edge of the canal as possible so that I wouldn’t wreck the shot.

My short kayak and I passed easily under the low bridge between two of the islands. The guy was busy checking he’d got the shot; the blonde, preoccupied, did not see the giant metre-wide pylons she was headed for and got knocked clean off the paddleboard, landing in the water with an almighty splash.

I managed not to giggle as I asked her if she was OK. I felt for her, losing that nice blow-wave, but I also knew that Miami Beach features “blow bars” where you can go and have cocktails mixed for you while people blow-dry your hair.

Super-chill Miami - the lovely bloke at South Beach Kayak skaeboards back and forth to the water with the kayaks.

The super-chill bloke at South Beach Kayak skateboards to and from the water with the kayaks.

But enough about the eye candy when there is food to be discussed. We ate and cooked as much Cuban food as possible: Cuban sandwiches (Cuban bread, ham, roast pork, cheese, pickles; Juji, it really depends on where you get them); Cuban espresso (Juji we couldn’t tell the difference between this and regular espresso).

We ate empanadas, linden flower tea, yuca fries, stuffed yuca, various meats with black beans and rice, guava pastelito (pastry), enormous avocados, tamales, cheap mangoes, street corner empanadas and plantains in all sorts of guises, sweet and savoury, including tostones.

We can recommend the Cuban and Cuban-inspired food at the Ocean Deli (cheap), Havana 1957 (mid-range), Puerto Sagua (cheap), The Cafe at Books & Books (expensive, but a great take on the Cuban sandwich, and the bookshop itself excellent) and Mas Cuba (mid-range).

Despite the use of non-regulation bread, or perhaps because of it, we found The Cafe at Books & Books was the clear winner.

Despite the use of non-regulation bread, or perhaps because of it, we found The Cafe at Books & Books was the clear winner for the Cuban sanger. That’s yuca fries in the background.

But the highlight was Moreno’s, owned by singer Jorge Moreno. It’s hard to find. You have to walk through the driveway of the Dorchester hotel and pass beneath an enormous twisty tropical tree that frames the restaurant awesomely but also shields it from the street. It outshone everything with its pastelito, its Imperial Rice – a must-have! – and its live Cuban band. A word of warning – it recently moved from its old location which has now been occupied by Mas Cuba, which has remarkably similar signage and styling to Moreno’s. We would urge visitors to ensure they seek out Moreno’s.

Another tip for tourists seeking nice bars and hangouts away from the hustle of South Beach – we found this No Nonsense Guide to Doing South Beach like a Local, invaluable.

Miami looks good, but it tastes better.

Miami looks good, but it tastes better.

The charms of Miami Beach take some time and detective work to uncover if you aren’t born to party and are on a strict budget. But once the place is back on its feet, we would encourage you to visit – it’s totally worth it.

StuMobservations: Miami Beach

  • The buildings are like an 80’s version of the future.
  • Rollerblading down Ocean Drive in shorts is acceptable if you have your own soundtrack.
  • $17US + tip for a bourbon and coke – not cool bro.
  • It’s like Bali but with black beans.
  • Do not put solids in my drink. #Mojito
  • Are selfies a hobby/sport/activity now?
  • I do not like pina colatas or getting caught in the rain.
  • Sex museums should have blank walls for time-outs/regrouping/safe eye-contact.
  • Miami Beach = 50% Eat and Drink, 25% Drink, 12.5% Eat, 12.5% Sleep.
  • Airbnb hosts ARE obligated to provide clean bedding.
  • Cuban food is now called Stuban food. (See Cuban Sandwich).
Stu with a $25 bourbon and Coke. We misread the menu. Note his forced smile.

Stu with a $25 bourbon and Coke. We misread the menu. Note his forced smile.

What we’re reading
Em: The Hostile Hospital, Lemony Snicket; French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano; The Magic World, E. Nesbit
Stu: Blood of Requiem, Daniel Arenson

What we’re listening to
A southern crash course: Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, Riders in the Sky, Elvis Presley

What we’re watching
Today we’re going to the movies to see IT! Very excited…

Em and Stu do America part 8: Special hurricane edition

This post was supposed to be about Miami Beach, but as Irma bears down on that city we thought we would write this instead.

It was pretty amazing to see all the army convoys and signage getting set up on the road north to Atlanta. A massive operation to evacuate so many people.

It was pretty amazing to see all the army convoys and signage getting set up on the road north to Atlanta. A massive operation to evacuate so many people.

We left Miami last weekend for a weeklong house-sit in historic St Augustine on Florida’s northeast coast, caring for two Scottish terriers and a vocal parrot named Dixie. But we barely got to do more than kayak on the canal looking, sadly in vain, for manatees before getting the news that a state of emergency was being declared in Florida. Our hosts told us they would be coming home to batten down the hatches and we were welcome to stay, but their advice would be to get out of Florida as soon as we could. So we celebrated Stu’s birthday on the 5th, Tuesday, with roast BBQ pork from my new Mrs Wilkes cookbook and cheesecake from the Cookbook of Juji, and got up on Wednesday to pack. But where to go? Our next booking was in St Petersburg on the Gulf Coast, home of the Dali museum. We had also booked our rental car until September 15, and the earliest we could return it to Atlanta for a refund was the 8th according to their terms. If we returned it before that we would be paying for a car we couldn’t keep, and we also couldn’t really make the drive to Atlanta in a day anyway.

Clyde and his little protege, Cassie.

Clyde and his little protege, Cassie.

Lo and behold, in comes a message from the lovely Lisa of our awesome Savannah AirBnB, offering us a place to stay for as long as they were able to stay themselves, given Irma was now looking towards that coastline too. We gratefully accepted, but Lisa and Tammy wouldn’t even take our money – and this really helped us, given we had been counting on the week of free accommodation in St Augustine to soothe the wounds expensive Miami had inflicted.

This beautiful couple insisted we were friends now, and so as friends, we left Florida then and there, rocked up with booze just in time for their pre-hurricane party at their backyard tiki bar on Wednesday evening.

The pre-hurricane party ended rather late.

The pre-hurricane party ended rather late.

Traffic had been heavy coming out of Florida, but Irma was still an abstract to us, and we slowly realised the reality of it as we sat listening to our new group of mates in Savannah discuss their plans. What would they do with their pets? Would they stay or leave? Who had a generator? What would their insurance cover or not cover if their cars, their houses got hit? Should they board up their windows? When? Now?

Meanwhile, Stu and I had no place to stay and no plan beyond that night and perhaps the next. As the night developed into debauchery I sought the help of those around me. Bethany had the strongest suggestion – if we had to leave Atlanta Friday, she said, bus to Nashville for a few nights, bus to Memphis. Then it was a hell of a trip to our next booking in New Orleans, but she flattened my idea of seven nights in Jackson Mississippi and I was happy to take her word on that.

Stu gets out before it hits.

Stu gets out before it hits.

We devoted the rest of the night dancing to old Broadway hits in the backyard. It was 2-3am before we went to bed and we awoke Thursday stupidly hungover to the news that Irma had killed people in the Carribbean and was definitely headed to Savannah. I blearily hit the internet and booked a bus for Friday to Nashville and an AirBnB that would do. Surely we could stay here another night. Tammy and Lisa as yet had no plans in place themselves with Lisa particularly occupied attempting to manage the wholesale shifting of her office, staff and company’s equipment to Atlanta, where word had it there was no accommodation left.

But an hour later we got word that an evacuation order would take effect for Savannah from Saturday morning. They would even be changing the flow of traffic on the interstate highway so all roads would lead west. Just imagine…

You can see here the signs taped on to the bowsers that just say "out of gas".

You can see here the signs taped on to the bowsers that just say “out of gas”.

Amid news of gas stations running out of gas and supermarkets water, we thought we would be idiots to wait another night and rely on getting to Atlanta on Friday. So we messaged the Atlanta host we had stayed with recently who was no longer doing AirBnB but took pity on us and smuggled us in for cash-money, unbeknownst to the snoopy neighbours. We’ll leave now (4pm) and be there by eight, we told her…

It took three gas stations before we found one with gas so we could fill the tank. The shelves were empty, the traffic insane, with traffics and breakdowns strung along the packed highway. It took us nearly seven hours to complete the trip even with no rest stops – we were just barrelling along this unfamiliar highway in the dark, sometimes at a standstill, sometimes going 112km/h – a white-knuckle trip for sure. We arrived around 11pm, apologising to our host, and fell into our bed.

You can just see the line of cars stretching out behind us in the mirror.

You can just see the line of cars stretching out behind us in the mirror.

We hope Irma will spare our hosts in Florida and our new friends in Savannah and we pray all Tammy and Lisa’s work on their beautiful home (especially the tiki bar – ha!) will be protected.

Headed to Nashville this arvo, over and out!

 

Em and Stu do America part 7: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

As lifelong fans, we are among millions of poor saps who will pay basically anything to see this beloved world brought to life for a day. The cunning folks at Universal Studios Orlando know this, and put half of it (Diagon Alley) in their main park and the other half (Hogsmeade), in adjacent theme park, Islands of Adventure. So if you want to see the lot, you gotta pay for two adults x two parks: total nearly $AUD500!

Hogwarts!

Hogwarts!

This is why it was the ONLY activity in a week in Orlando. It was no hardship to lay low and eat in, though, blessed with the second of three planned resort stays amid a sea of AirBnB. We rolled into town and aside from a Grand Canyon training hike, parked our arses poolside for six days.

And on the seventh day, God gave us Harry Potter.

OMG! We are at Harry Potter World! And it is ALREADY VERY HOT!!!!

OMG! We are at Harry Potter World! And it is ALREADY VERY HOT!

We started bang on opening time on the Hogsmeade side with the premier ride “Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey”, reached through Hogwarts Castle. A half-hour wait in a line threading through the castle was made awesome by the atmosphere inside, complete with moving portraits on the walls, and holographic appearances specially filmed for the purpose with the movie actors, so they would pop up from time to time in the corridors and talk to you.

This ride was the highlight of the day, showcasing mind-boggling modern theme park tech – indoor rollercoasters combined with elaborate 3D simulations and real interior puppetry and special effects, including fog, fire and water, a completely immersive experience. The ride, in which you escape Dementors, play Quidditch and fly with dragons across the castle ramparts, was both scary and exhilarating – not really one for a child, unless you count the inner one.

Excitement level: rising uncontrollably.

Excitement level: rising uncontrollably.

We then waited perhaps 15 minutes to catch the Hogwarts Express, a real train and an experience in itself, to Diagon Alley at Universal Studios – a five-minute ride. On the other side, you go through a “London” street complete with Ministry of Magic phone box, Knight Bus with actor playing Stan Shunpike, and full-size facade of 12 Grimmauld Place. We stepped through the magical hole-in-the-wall to Diagon Alley, which centres around a beautiful full-scale Gringotts Wizarding Bank. It even has life-sized animatronic goblins intimidating you as you walk through the entrance hall in line for the ride “Escape from Gringotts”, a line that takes 45 minutes even soon after opening time and from the size of the waiting pens the lines clearly grow until they are hours long. These pens have to be kept in specially made yards behind the main tourist attractions as there is no space in the Alley itself.

You can totally imagine you are Hermione, impersonating Bellatrix, about to be sprung by this guy.

Intimidating. You can totally imagine you are Hermione, impersonating Bellatrix, about to be sprung by this guy.

The Gringotts ride, a simulation of Harry and the gang’s journey through the vaults on a rail cart then their escape aboard a dragon, is also very good in the manner previously described but should probably be done before the Forbidden Journey as, with expectations now sky-high, we found it shorter and less astounding.

We didn’t do the Dragon Challenge coaster as it catered more for children, but wandered Diagon Alley which has all the shops from the books and more. You can go to Ollivander’s and buy a wand, which can be used to activate extra little touches in the window displays throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. We skipped the line and the expense and just watched other people do it.

The dragon atop Gringott's. Go to the end to see the video of it breathing fire!

The dragon atop Gringott’s. Go to the end to see the video of it breathing fire!

You can look in the window at Flourish & Blott’s, go to the magical creatures store, buy crap, get fitted for a robe at Madam Malkin’s, buy more crap, and even visit spooky Knockturn Alley with a Borgin & Burke’s, where you can buy darker-style crap.

We heroically resisted buying crap, but did do lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, a perfect replica where you can get eye-wateringly priced English pub grub as well as Butterbeer and pumpkin juice. While the food was ordinary the decor was spot on, the pumpkin juice delicious (a kind of spiced fruit juice, presence of pumpkin debatable) and Butterbeer, though sadly non-alcoholic, also unbelievably good. Then to Florean Fortescue’s Ice-cream Parlour for dessert, a flagrant money-grab with little atmosphere.

Inside Knockturn Alley

Inside Knockturn Alley

Heavy with sugar we ran through the Simpsons street at Universal, which includes a life-size Moe’s Tavern where you can get Duffs and Flaming Moes. We did the Simpsons ride through Krustyland, me trying not to hurl. All the rides are of the type described, with 3D simulations making you feel as though you are travelling very fast and far, much more sickening and overwhelming than an outdoor rollercoaster.

After a sweltering 45-minute wait we reached Platform Nine ¾ to get the Hogwarts Express, an experience that changes on the return journey (with Dementors!) back to Hogsmeade. Here we wandered through more shops selling crap, including Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes joke shop, and Honeydukes, which was beautifully done, and hard to resist! We poked our heads inside the Three Broomsticks, another perfect replica pub, a similar deal food-wise to the Leaky Cauldron, and entered the Hog’s Head, a darker pub where we obviously had to try firewhisky, a kind of spiced sweet whiskey brewed in Savannah specifically for the purpose of bringing the books to life in this park. Tasty, but pricey!

All aboard the Hogwarts Express... eventually. In the meantimre, look at Hedwig in her cage!

All aboard the Hogwarts Express… eventually. In the meantimre, look at Hedwig in her cage!

Exhausted and dripping, we exited Islands of Adventure by way of the Jurassic Park ride and Amazing Spiderman rides, both super fun, and by another 100 souvenir shops, further testing our resolve. We were utterly shattered, but all the money and waiting and sweat was totally worth it! And can you believe we didn’t buy ANYTHING? Our Money Mustaches grew long and luxurious that day my friends.

StuMobservations: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter

  • Wands that activate various 10-second attractions can be experienced by following someone else’s kid around. Saved 50 bucks.
  • Still should have brought my wand though.
  • Ride simulators have come a long way.
  • Finally saw a fire breathing dragon! #lifegoalachieved
  • The Flaming Moe is non-alcoholic and doesn’t even contain cough syrup.
  • Providing in-queue entertainment is genius and should become industry standard.
  • You can view post-ride photo and have a laugh without buying it.
  • Matching family holiday T-shirts are not lame.
  • Putting cinnamon in everything does not make it ‘magical’.
  • Couldn’t decide on what to buy and came away with nothing.
  • The wait times displayed at each ride entrance are inaccurate.
  • Seeing a little girl point her wand at her brother and shout ‘Incendium’ is amazing.

What we’re reading 
Em: The Ersatz Elevator and The Vile Village, Lemony Snicket; The Apprentice, Tess Gerritsen; Rich Habits, Poor Habits, by Michael Yardney
Stu: The Long Walk, Stephen King; Eric and Moving Pictures, Terry Pratchett;

What we’re listening to
Cuban singer Jorge Moreno, who sings a lot about going to Texas and Mexico and how girls should just accept it when he doesn’t call, cause that’s just the way he is, baby. This is in preparation for visiting his Cuban restaurant in Miami Beach.

What we’re watching 
Game of Thrones finale… holy moly!
Miniseries of Stephen King’s The Stand (super good and classic eighties, with Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald)

Em and Stu do America part 6: The Southeast

The view: great when you own it.

After so many big cities a house-sit at Lake Norman, in the small college town of Davidson, North Carolina, was just right: luxury townhouse, adorable dog, breathtaking view. Americans seem to lack Australians’ feeling everyone has equal rights to waterfronts, and fragmented public access sucks for a sweaty traveller trying to walk around rich areas.

But when you find yourself on the other side of the fence, exclusive waves lapping at your back steps, all seems well! And after gazing at this view with our adorable charge, Ollie, at our heels for a week we hired a Chevy to take us on to Atlanta, Georgia.

It's my blog and I'll add lyrics from obscure musicals if I want to.

It’s my blog and I’ll add lyrics from obscure musicals if I want to.

“Why Atlanta?” Ollie the dog’s mum and dad politely asked, and they weren’t the only head-scratchers. I’ll explain. To me, Atlanta was the setting of one of my favourite musicals, Jason Robert Brown’s Parade, which made me want to see the “old red hills of Georgia”. Note to self: walking up hills is harder than listening to songs about them.

Atlanta homes 5.5 million people. A lack of natural boundaries allowed massive urban sprawl (sound familiar?) and the city isn’t particularly attractive or pedestrian-friendly.

Downtown Atlanta

Downtown Atlanta

Lucky then we stayed within coo-ee of Olmsted Linear Park designed by the celebrated landscape architect who created NYC’s Central and Prospect Parks. The heritage homes alongside were jaw-dropping and the whole area, Olmsted’s vision of “the ideal suburb”, was another world to hot, grubby downtown.

Here we found the peace we never quite achieved in Central Park

Here we found the peace we never quite achieved in Central Park

While “embracing” civil rights is probably glossing, Atlanta was the only state that didn’t get too het up about the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The city self-proclaimed “too busy to hate”, eventually Atlanta led the south by supporting the achievements and messages of Martin Luther King, who grew up and preached there in the same church as his father and grandfather.

Atlanta now honours this history with the King Memorial and Center for Nonviolent Social Change, both by this church, and also the Center for Civil and Human Rights, a museum covering both the 1960s movement as well as global human rights situations today. Sobering, with terribly sad histories of the casualties of the fight for rights in the USA, but ultimately inspiring.

In memory of four little girls killed in an attack on a church during the fight for civil rights.

“They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism…” In memory of four little girls killed in attack on a church.

Now I’ve bored the casual reader with how worthy we are I can admit that we were really here because ZOMBIES. All who gave up on AMC’s The Walking Dead in Season 2 should rue the day. Stu and I have been steadfastly committed for eight years – longer than our relationship!

Atlanta, “Hollywood of the South,” is now one of the world’s biggest screen production locations, eclipsing both LA and NYC. The business now rakes in about $9.5 billion annually for the city, I hear, which offers generous tax incentives for studios to film there and hence has new ones opening all the time, such as Pinewood – maker of Harry Potter, James Bond and cash cow Marvel.

Way exciting moment for Team StuMy.

Here, in the first episode that screened in 2000, Rick – working out an apocalypse has happened while his back was turned – rides along the empty highway into Atlanta (right), observing the road out beside him, a parking lot of abandoned vehicles after everyone tried to get out of the city.

Movie tourism is burgeoning but we had eyes only for TWD, journeying downtown on a sizzling day to Jackson Street bridge. We had no CGI (or horse) to recreate the spine-chilling scene, but thought we did well to get this approximation.

And the real jackpot was Atlanta Movie Tours’ bus tour of Senoia, an hour’s drive south. The town is home to TWD studio and now many cast and crew. Apparently Norman Reedus, who Stu and I know as Stealth Mode but otherwise known as TWD’s heart-throb, has had to move four different times, because fans keep finding him.

The safest place to hide during zombie apocalypse is behind Stealth Mode. We took this shot in the house that was used for Morgan's apartment in Season 1.

The safest place to hide during zombie apocalypse is behind Stealth Mode. We took this shot in the house that was used for Morgan’s apartment in Season 1.

Most of the show since season 2 has been shot in and around Senoia ((Woodbury, Alexandria, the prison, the woods, the railway to Terminus, etc…) and the tiny town now supports numerous different TWD tours, with apparently insatiable tourist demand and endless sites to visit.

According to our guide Stephanie, a local mum whose awesome job for the past four years has been as zombie extra on set, TWD and related tourism supercharged the economy. A main street with a handful of shops has become a spick-and-span town, housing 50-plus businesses, with a big new shopping village opening now. Real estate is booming and you feel the love everywhere – just about every shop has a sign out the front telling you zombies are welcome.

Another freaking cool TWD setting.

Another freaking cool TWD setting.

We had huge fun getting insider info on the show, actors, makeup, sets and so on. And Katie Lou’s diner in Senoia, where we landed afterwards, offered the best example we’d yet had of the South’s signature dishes: slow-smoked barbecue meats. And oh, the cornbread! The Brunswick Stew!

Since we’re now talking Georgia food, I should skip to Savannah, where we spent several days hanging out with the coolest AirBnB hosts we’ve met, Lisa and Tammy, who installed a tiki bar in their backyard and party there with friends and guests alike.

Wait, first, just another bit of TWC. Look! The zombie-proof fence (Alexandria) is still set up in the town. People actually live inside there, including a family who has nothing to do with the show. Apparently they have to sign non disclosure contracts.

Wait, first, just another bit of TWC. Look! The zombie-proof fence (Alexandria) is still set up in the town. People actually live inside there, including a family who has nothing to do with the show. Apparently they have to sign non disclosure contracts.

Driving into Savannah was its own experience, mid-rainstorm, an endless avenue of enormous live oak trees draped in Spanish moss, stepping from the car into a steam-bath. Stu described it best: like driving into Jumanji.

The otherworldly feel continued downtown with historic buildings including Pirates’ House, whose past as a pirate magnet was made famous in Treasure Island – its author Robert Louis Stevenson actually took his last breath in an upstairs bedroom there.

Savannah's Forsyth Park

Savannah’s Forsyth Park as seen on a Stu-led walking tour.

Such buildings face on to 22 stately public squares, far more open space than any modern government would allow as developers circle such areas like sharks. One is where Forrest Gump sat, telling his life story.

Right, the food. Mrs Wilkes’ Dining Room was reluctantly opened by said matron at her boardinghouse in the 1940s when her cooking became so famous people started beating down the door. Since her death in the 1970s it’s been run by her grandson, who could not bear to let the legend go. Little has changed. There is no sign outside, so you find the right street then look for the line of people. You wait, sweating, half an hour or more. When finally admitted to the dining room (the first lot traditionally says grace after a dinner-bell clangs) you are seated with a bunch of strangers around a big table and given a tumbler of sweet iced tea.

Typical public square in Savannah

Typical public square in Savannah

This is minimally awkward as immediately an avalanche of dishes hits and it is all you can do to pass it around and get some of everything. No one is there for small talk. We ate fried chicken, two different corn breads, meat loaf, heavenly sweet potato soufflé, “red rice” with sausage, dill pickled cucumbers, squash casserole, barbecue pork, rutabanga, buttered cabbage, beans, creamy potato mash, and many more delicious things I cannot remember or identify.

Then, a berry pudding and a banana pudding were served. You will all be convinced of how good these were by one astonishing fact: Stu not only finished his berry pudding, but snatched the banana one from under my nose and devoured that too.

Pirate building. Piratical!

All for $22USD a head. Needless to say, I bought the cookbook. It’s being posted home for Juji to practice with until we return, demanding fried dishes. I should also mention that we have now discovered hushpuppies (balls of sweet dough deep fried) and grits, a wheat dish that should really be eaten for breakfast but because they are Americans, they put cheese on it.

On to Florida, with tightening waistbands.

StuMobservations Part 7: The SouthEast

  • The ideal number of US to AU power converters is 3.
  • 22 Garden Squares is about 12 more than necessary.
  • 100% of Mrs. Wilkes food consumed is StuMo approved, even the desserts.
  • Iced tea is stupid. Give me a second option.
  • Savannah is cool with open alcohol in the streets.
  • Stubbie holders are called koozies.
  • Pet sits need the option of keeping the pet upon completion.
  • ½ pound pulled pork, ½ pound beef brisket, two serves fries speaks to my heart.
  • If you order a sandwich they replace two-thirds of your meat with a bread roll.
  • Order rum, not beer, at a pirate house.
  • A walker (zombie extra) gets a $50 pay bump when they get killed.
  • There is only one set prop tank in Georgia, they just paint it different colours.
  • Popcorn container refills are $1.
  • Office chairs and small round tables make great cinema seating.
  • “We are having salad for dinner, what else does it need?” “Beer and potato chips”.
  • Put bourbon in your vanilla shake.

What we’re reading
Em: The Book Thief, Marcus Zuzak; The School of Good and Evil, Soman Chaibani; Man Size in Marble, E. Nesbit; The Miserable Mill, The Austere Academy and The Ersatz Elevator, Lemony Snicket; In the Quiet, Eliza Henry Jones; Swing Time, Zadie Smith; Kill your Mortgage by Hannah McQueen (facts are good too).
Stu: Rage, by Richard Bachman

What we’re listening to
The Farseekers, read by Isobelle Carmody
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, read by Jim Dale

What we’re watching
We saw The Dark Tower movie! In a cute weird little movie theatre in Davidson – cabaret-style seating but with office chairs. Rather weak made-up plot only vaguely resembling anything from the books. But a fun couple hours if you don’t get hung up.
Trailers! The Walking Dead season 8, IT, Ready Player One
TV show: Adam Ruins Everything. Like ABC’s The Checkout, for minimalist nerds.

 

Em and Stu do America part 5: Philadelphia and Washington, DC

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Outside The White House. Lucky for us all that Jed Bartlett will forever be President. 

A whirlwind trip through Philadelphia and Washington, DC, gave us a piddling one day in each city but you will be thankful to know that true to form I managed a long post.

It is also worth noting our first sight in Philly was a Black Lives Matter protest – the second such protest we have seen, the first being in downtown Brooklyn. Both were in response to police shootings of young black men.

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Philly: historic, dignified, but snazzy. This is the waterfront on a Monday night! 

We moved on to see a Philadelphia that is historic and beautiful, navigable and a friendly size after NYC. We gazed through a window at the famous Liberty Bell, shamelessly opting not to wait in line to gaze at it in the flesh.

Highlights – all recommended by Charlie – were the Mutter medical museum where we saw slides of Einstein’s brain! Removed without his family’s foreknowledge in an unauthorised autopsy. Now there’s cheek, helping yourself to Einstein’s brain. Apparently the brain didn’t degenerate as he aged to the extent most people’s do, and several parts of it were much heavier than the lobes of his dumber peers.

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Eastern State Penitentiary

Next up was Eastern State Penitentiary, a spooky ruin with a chapel-like feel. The audio tour was narrated by Steve Buscemi! This was were well-meaning forefathers pioneered the idea that constant isolation and surveillance might inspire real penitence and reformation in prisoners. This isolation and surveillance was achieved with the notorious spoked wheel design where a guard in the centre could see down all the corridors just by twirling in his chair.

The place was famous globally, but not everyone thought it was a good idea. Charles Dickens, on his famous American tour that inspired American Notes, was horrified and sure it would send people insane. Whether it did or not, eventually America proved so spectacularly good at incarcerating people, ending up a world leader (Australia ranks surprisingly much better) the one storey wheel design wasn’t economically viable, requiring too much space, and it was this, really, that led to its downfall.

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The winning cheesesteak. (Lynette: we shared it!)

But enough about culture, what about the Philly cheesesteak, you ask? We learned this glorious foodstuff should be ordered in a very specific way, and it should be bought from Carmen’s at the fabulous Reading Terminal Market, not the more famous Pat’s (unless you are drunk and desperate).

DC we felt rather sadder about than we would have two years ago. It’s all, so, well, Trumpy and that was partly why we didn’t bother with the exhaustive application to tour the White House. We kept our spirits up for the day by keeping up the mutual pretense that it was actually Jed Bartlett from The West Wing who was really POTUS.

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Everyone’s feeling the Lincoln magic

Later we learned that that day, August 3, was actually Martin Sheen’s birthday – spooky.

Regardless, it wasn’t going to be possible to do DC justice in a day, so we didn’t try. We just gawked past the White House, waved to Bartlett (it IS him in there), then spent some time feeling insignificant at the Lincoln Memorial. We stopped by the Vietnam Memorial too in a nod to Stu’s dad’s service, a black marble slash in the ground that contrasts starkly to the tidal wave of white marble that is the National Mall.

The major stop was the Holocaust Memorial Museum, where we spent nearly five hours and still felt we skimmed it. We thought the 9/11 museum in NYC was hard; this was the worst. But we learned a lot and perhaps comprehended more than high school study can make you. Nothing makes it real like walking through a mountain of greyed shoes taken from Jewish people killed at a concentration camp in Poland, a country my grandmother fled on foot to escape the German invasion.

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The Vietnam Memorial.

 

Or walking through a freight car in which Jews were packed into like cattle to the abattoir and driven to their deaths – if they didn’t die on the journey. Or the videos taken by liberating troops at the camps – some of which needed to be hid behind walls so children wouldn’t see – of front-end loaders pushing mounds of emaciated, naked corpses into pits.

Or the elaborate scale model, stretching across a whole room, of the gas chamber system at Auschwitz showing how they killed up to a thousand people a day by channeling them in under the guise of giving them delousing showers. This produced so many corpses they overwhelmed the custom built crematoria and had to be burnt in pits.

This was the “final solution” to the problem of where to put the Jews when other countries had failed to step up and take the flow of refugees while there was still time to save them. Including Australia, which essentially said it “didn’t have a race problem and didn’t want to import one”.

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Lightening the mood with a photo of a squirrel. 

Later that same day we heard the embarrassing news about Trump’s phone call regarding refugees with Malcolm Turnbull. As I write this we have just heard the news that a young asylum seeker has killed himself on Manus Island. Seems like Australia still wants to distance itself from the world’s problems.

To move on, after the museum we were obviously totalled, so ended our tour with a stroll past Capitol Hill and an indulgence in DC’s signature food: the half-smoke, a hot dog with a half-pork, half-beef snag and creative toppings. Unfortunately no photo. It vanished too quickly.

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Fancy futuristic traino in DC. 

DC, like NYC, was larger than life, another “centre of the universe” spot. But as we board the bus to a lake in North Carolina, I am ready to leave the centre – in fact, we’re excited about getting back to the middle of nowhere!

StuMobservations Part 6: Philadelphia, DC

  • Philly Cheese Steaks left StuMo craving salad.
  • It IS always sunny in Philadelphia.
  • Some shops have power points in the floor for charging personal devices.
  • In Pennsylvania, a foreign DL is insufficient ID to buy booze. Must show passport.
  • Medical museums are depressing.
  • So are Penitentiaries.
  • So are Holocaust museums.
  • So are Vietnam War memorials.
  • We have a lot to be mindful of and thankful for.
  • Washington subway is cleaner and friendlier than New York subway.
  • If you butterfly a sausage and fold it back on itself, it stays in the bun.
  • Do Presidents watch The West Wing for tips? If not, they should.
  • Everything is bigger in America.
  • *Blasphemy Warning* Bacon and cheese on your fries is a big mistake I’ve made twice now.

 

Gallery: click first image then scroll through for slideshow

What we’re reading
Em: A Tangled Web, L.M. Montgomery; Everything that Remains, Joshua Fields Millburn
StuMo: The School of Good and Evil, Soman Chainani

What we’re listening to
Music: Gurrumul, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (RIP)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire read by Jim Dale

What we’re watching
Docos! In Defense of Food, Michael Pollan, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer’s Journey

Em and Stu do America part 4: New York City (warning… epic post)

StuMo’s Guide to Broadway

  • Book of Mormon justifies our entire trip to the states.
  • 1984 replaces important literature with offensive noise, felonious lighting and graphic torture scenes. People walked out.
  • Marvin’s Room like a high-school play but with famous people. (to clarify: I did like it and would recommend)
  • Aladdin: If you have to change the lyrics to one of the songs because you cut a main character (Abu), you are doing it wrong. The Genie had to take breaks mid song, even pausing mid line to catch his breath. Jasmine was utterly woeful.  My year 7 graduation version of A whole new world was more on point. “Hold your breath it gets better” = bad advice, because it most certainly did not.
  • Lion King was everything and more. Dance fighting with animals! When Zazu sang Let it Go instead of It’s a small world I died. Such an unforgettable way to spend our last day in NY.

But to go back a month in time…

We left PEI and drove six hours through an ever-denser grey abyss of fog and cloud that swamped the Canadian horizon, a Twin Peaks-esque tableau as surreal as it was beautiful.

It was a long haul, though (“LANE!!!”) and we were ready to surrender to a bus driver after returning the Chevy to Bangor. Another fabulously kind local, Pat from Rent-a-Wreck, gave us a lift to the station.

Hello NYC: a dancer makes the most of a stunning Brooklyn Bridge backdrop for her rehearsal.

Hello NYC: a dancer makes the most of a stunning Brooklyn Bridge backdrop for her rehearsal.

The cloud continued through Augusta, Portland and Boston, then the rain began. But despite the weather the day seemed brighter in the USA. In fact it seemed to me, as I stared from my front-row seat through the windows, an oddly glorious greyness, tinged with gold. The sort of light that made you feel something grand and mysterious was imminent, the perfect light to herald our entry into NYC – a month I’ve waited my whole life for.

It was then I realised I’d been gazing through the bus driver’s special barrier window which was sepia-tinted and through the rest of the windows was a prosaic, sullen grey. Ha! No matter – nothing could dim the excitement inside.

We arrived ready to party and luckily NYC was more than happy to accommodate with a rooftop celebration on the Fourth of July.

We arrived ready to party and luckily NYC was more than happy to accommodate with a rooftop celebration on the Fourth of July.

It’s not literature that brought us to NYC, I’m sorry to say, but good old television. Friends, Seinfeld and Sex and the City have been our cultural bread and butter since hitting puberty, and before you open your mouth, Stu’s knowledge of SATC is even more comprehensive than mine.

Not to mention the movies – the classics, the crap and everything in between. All of it stamps in your memory the sights of Coney Island. Empire State Building. Central Park. Broadway. Fifth Avenue. Times Square. Greenwich Village. They’re not just emblematic of a country, a state or a city, though they are all this – they are also our neighbourhood, just around the mental corner. To people born and raised on the box, these places are larger than life and on shows like Seinfeld and SATC especially, they’re not settings so much as characters, as inseparable from the content as the actors.

Yep. Central Park looks just like this. Stu spotted this classic "boyfriends of Instagram scene"; girl preening, guy on double duty as oarsman and photographer.

Yep. Central Park looks just like this. Stu spotted this classic “boyfriends of Instagram scene”; girl preening, guy on double duty as oarsman and photographer.

As I have grown older I have become more aware of the odd paradox represented by the allure of a hyperreal land I have never visited. NYC is venerated as the centre of the universe, the common wisdom is that it’s mecca for anyone who wants to be at the top of their profession, be that arts, finance, or anything, or just live in the most exciting place on earth. After so many years of hungering for a Manhattan apartment of my own I had to ask myself, Carrie-style: is it real at all?

This is why we gave ourselves a month: to get the apartment (Brooklyn, though), pretend hard to be locals, and find out.

The answer is of course it’s real. It’s, ye gods, a bigger, hotter, louder, pricier, denser, sadder, funnier, dirtier, stinkier real than the scrubbed, noise-controlled screen versions can truly render (just try to capture the utter surreal madness of Times Square with a point-and-shoot).

Thanks for the parties guys! How's this for a spot to watch the fireworks?

Thanks for the parties guys! How’s this for a spot to watch the fireworks?

We caught up with locals – my old friend Paul and his partner Stephanie, relatively recent Australian expats, treated us to penthouse parties on the Fourth of July; a newer friend Joe, from Brooklyn (Dom and Jess’ best man) took us out to dinner. They all tell me for the time being at least they would not live anywhere else, despite the expense, the long work hours, the high-impact lifestyle.

It’s easy to understand when every day you walk past icons – Liberty, the WTC, the Empire State Building, NBC, Radio City, the MET, the almost supernaturally beautiful Central Park, why New Yorkers would feel like they’re at the centre of the universe and love it.

Lady Liberty: up close, she is colossal, powerful and moving.

Lady Liberty: up close, she is colossal, powerful and moving.

It is also easy to understand why it could make native New Yorkers somewhat insular, give the impression that they’re living in their own little world, that nowhere else is quite real. We observed this and ran it by our friends, and came to the conclusion: of course NYC-dwellers are living in their own little world. It’s complete, it’s self-sufficient. They don’t need to consider what it would be like anywhere else, because they have everything they need. Not to mention all the stuff they don’t need, evidenced by the confronting mountains of rubbish that are part and parcel of this life as much as the glamour.

But they all need to get out of the city from time to time, the natives I meet tell me. Whether it be to the Hamptons, upstate NYC or further, they build down time into their lives.

Central Park provides some gorgeous moments of downtime.

Central Park provides some gorgeous moments of downtime.

We did our best to do NYC justice in a month of touring combined with hard book editing –editing of my first novel is now complete and regardless of what happens now I am proud. I had the experience of finishing the macro edits in the New York Public Library’s Rose Reading Room, which I’ll never forget.

I’m also proud of how much we managed to do in a month. We walked as many of the neighbourhoods of Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens as possible, ticked off the big tourist boxes and also did community stuff like farmers’ markets, local theatre, a doggy fashion show. We saw the stuffing out of Broadway. We devoted hours to art galleries and devoured food, glorious food. We quickly abandoned the mid-to-fancy range – there, Perth holds its own – so we concentrated on “only in New York”… bagels, pastrami, corned beef, babkas (yes! Found cinnamon babka!), pizza, international street foods, hot dogs, diner comfort food, cheesecakes, Seinfeld’s Soup Nazi. The only thing we failed to find was a good pretzel. It’s probably a good thing we leave, before I eat anything else.

A Black Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn Heights.

A Black Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn Heights.

And I don’t know about Stu, but I’m excited about a return to nature. As stunning as Central Park and Prospect Park are, they’re not the nature I know, but a tamed, designed version, despite the “wild” zones – the Ramble in CP and the Ravine in PP. Nowhere do you escape the deafening drone of helicopters, the incessant scream of ambulances, the murmur of twenty million airconditioners running continuously to cool the throbbing heat of this city. It’s so exciting, so stimulating, and yet my heart longs for wildness, for real silence.

NYC is full of incredible beauty and also ugliness, each more intense than I’ve ever encountered. A land of extremes that prompts reflection, but gives you scant time for it. I might be sorry to leave if this were the end of the trip, and I have had mad urges to go and see two plays on the same day, just to fit more in, but we are only excited about the adventures still to come and perhaps finding that reflection time as we travel slowly through North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida.

But first: two days each in Philadelphia and Washington, here we come!

Central Park's Bethesda Terrace

Central Park’s Bethesda Terrace

StuMobervations part 5: NYC

  • Beer is not sold at bottle-o’s. It is sold at supermarkets with groceries.
  • You can’t pee quietly in an American toilet, the bowl is so full. Average flush = 6 gallons (22.7 litres)
  • Just because it is devoid of all nutrition does not mean it is not food
  • A sweat mop is an essential item.
  • Australia needs the “everything bagel” as a standard lunch option.
  • Never buy a pretzel from a street cart. Look great, but taste like salty cardboard.
  • Maps just give you something to look at while you argue about where you are.
  • Doggy fashion shows are as awesome as you think.
  • I now understand Mitch Hedberg’s – “Would you like anything else with the pastrami sandwich?” “Yeah, a loaf of bread and some other people!”
  • I saw Starry Night!
  • Junior’s cheesecake is better than your cheesecake.
  • Coney Island = Sideshow alley plus horrible beach. P.S. not an island.
  • It is illegal to take your dog on the subway unless it’s in a bag.
  • Times Square should be avoided.
  • Real Kramer Tour means now need to rewatch all of Seinfeld. We got soup!
  • East Village Pub Crawl is the best idea. BYO local guide.
  • Need a book? People leave them on their front porches, or “stoops”, for free.
  • Freegans are people who eat out of garbage cans by choice.
  • Talk to people on the subway if you want, just don’t smile at them. That’s weird.

For the exceptionally committed readers (hi mum) this is exactly what we did… have only named outstanding eateries

Week 1
Stonewall Inn, Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village Walk tour, Tick Tock diner, Brooklyn’s Park Slope walking tour including Prospect Park, farmer’s market, New York Public Library, Fourth of July party day, Fourth of July hangover day, Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island immigration museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Empire State Building, Central Park walking tour part I, Al-di-La restaurant, Peppino’s Pizza part I.

The MET

The MET

Week 2
Downtown Brooklyn walking tour, Bagel Hole, Shake Shack (thanks Juji), Whitney Museum of American Art, 9/11 Museum and Memorial, Hudson Riverpark, Museum of Natural History, Bricolage restaurant, Guggenheim, Broadway 1984 (average), Junior’s cheesecake, Brooklyn’s annual doggy fashion show, Peppino’s pizza part II.

The memorial incredibly beautiful and sobering, the museum a raw and confronting exhibition. A must do.

The memorial incredibly beautiful and sobering, the museum a raw and confronting exhibition. A must do.

Week 3
High Line walking tour, Strand Bookstore, Katz’s Deli (of pastrami sandwich and When Harry Met Sally faked orgasm fame), Eileen’s special cheesecake, Brooklyn Bridge walk, Prospect Park part II, Times Square, Broadway Marvin’s Room (excellent)Magnolia Bakery of SATC and red velvet cupcake fame, Central Park walking tour part II (Strawberry Fields and the Dakota Building, Ghostbusters sights, Plaza Hotel); Broadway Aladdin (average), the Museum of Modern Art, dinner at Junior’s, NY Public Library part II, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert in Brooklyn (excellent).

Subway terminal seen from The High Line

Subway terminal seen from The High Line

Week 4
Coney Island, lots of book editing, Kenka Japanese in East Village with Joe (the end of the mashup video below is Emma failing at the fairy floss machine there), Broadway Book of Mormon (excellent), Ess-a-Bagel, Jim Henson exhibition at Queens’ Museum of the Moving Image, Queens food tour consisting of slice pizza and shawarma, kayaking by the Brooklyn Bridge, Museum of Modern Art part II, epic East Village pub crawl with Paul and Stephanie, ate terrible pretzel off street cart when hungover, regretted this, Kramer’s Seinfeld Tour (yes, Kramer was based on Larry David’s actual neighbour, who cashed in and now does an amazing behind the scenes of Seinfeld tour); Broadway The Lion King, Prospect Park part III.
Last hurrah: back to Peppino’s Pizza for a third time, for what the staff there now know as the “drunk Australian special”.

Spiderman takes a moment to call his folks on Coney Island, a place as grungy and weird as we could have hoped for.

Spiderman clocks off to call his folks on Coney Island, as grungy and weird a place as we hoped.

What we’re reading
Em: On Writing, Stephen King; Wet Magic, E. Nesbit; Mating in Captivity, Esther Perel
StuMo: The Stand, Stephen King

What we’re listening to
Music: The Gospel Album, Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (RIP)
Aladdin and Little Mermaid soundtracks by Alan Menken
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 
read by Jim Dale

What we’re watching
Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Excellent 1962 horror movie. Well worth it. 
Game of Thrones 
(hurrah!)