Adventures Stateside; A Texas Roadtrip. San Antonio

We arrived at our final air b n b on the outskirts of San Antonio just after 6pm.

We had a quick shower and requested an Uber- we were keen to get into the centre of town and have an evening out with no rain!

Our Uber dropped us outside the Alamo. It was all lit up and was amazing to be finally here.

We wandered down onto the famous San Antonio Riverwalk which is lined with restaurants and bars. The Riverwalk is just beautiful- similar to Venice with a fairly narrow river with picturesque bridges crossing every 100metres or so.

We opted for a steak dinner which was delicious, washed down with some Californian red wine. After dinner we set out on our mission of finding somewhere to try some Texan wine. We didn’t need to venture too far: we found some just down the walk in a German bar weirdly enough!

I tried the Becker Merlot, which actually came from the vineyard at Stonewall, which we drove past today. It was really smooth and tasty – it felt good to try some local wine!

It had been a long day so we didn’t stay out too late. We’d had a cracking day though- perhaps our favourite out here yet!

Friday

A slight lay in (8am rather than 6am!) this morning and a very excited Keith and I head into town to visit the Alamo. Entry is free but you can pay for an audio guide. We know quite a bit about the history so decided not to do this.

It was amazing to be inside the former mission. No photos were allowed inside but outside we could take all the pictures we wanted.

It was really moving in there and told the story well. There was a small museum which also housed Davy Crockett’s rifle and knife.

After our visit we headed on a walk up through downtown and up towards the the Mexican Market place. We grabbed a wonderful taco breakfast from a street trader in the market. The whole place was bright and colourful- not that we’ve ever been, but it’s exactly how I imagine Mexico to be! It was a cool place to buy some souvenirs too.

We visited the San Fernado cathedral, which is a big catholic cathedral and also has the remains of Crocket, Travis and Bowie in a casket at the front.

By now, all the Mexican smells were tantalising our tastebuds, so we decided it was time for more food – and today would be a Mexican feast. We picked a Mexican along the Riverwalk and washed down by a couple of margaritas, we sat in the sun people watching for an hour or so. The lunch was gorgeous. Seriously every meal was becoming harder to beat!

We carried on our walk along the river to the historical La Villita Arts district. They were setting up for Dia de Los Muertos (day of the dead) celebrations which were happening from tomorrow- we were sad that we were to miss it, but pleased we could see how it was shaping up to look. Dia de Los Muertos is a festival that celebrates the dead. Families set up huge colourful shrines with photos of their deceased loved ones, and then throw massive parties and picnics at the shrines. Think the film Coco.

During our walk today we’d been informed that tonight there was a special Halloween event happening along the river walk. We decided to head back to the apartment and freshen up, and come back in for the evening festivities around 6pm.

There was a mass trick or treat event from 6, with all the restaurants and bars giving out candy to the hoards of families trick or treating. We chose the Cayote bar which had a raised terrace so we could observe. We got more than we bargained for, innocent lil me didn’t realised there would be a (near) topless woman parading around ON the bar! It felt very American!

After this we walked down the river towards the historical arts district, and arrived at the river theatre just in time for the adults Halloween costume competition to be judged. Well, the costumes were just phenomenal. Honestly, it was like we were on a film set. The atmosphere was electric and we just ADORED it. ki

After the costume competition, in which these were the three winners,

there was a Halloween river parade. Absolutely sensational- it’s given us the taste of an American Parade, and we are itching to go and experience the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade now!

After the parade, there was this incredible moment when everyone just started playing with some beach balls. It was so funny and surreal and in excellent nature. Everyone was howling with laughter- I just can’t ever imagine something like this happening in UK.

We decided that we were loving the evening so much we didn’t want to come home! No not really, we just didn’t want to leave for dinner so we grabbed some Mexican street food which was available and just hung out, there was a live band on and games. We also took the opportunity to grab some people for some pics.

The whole night was just so entertaining, I really really loved it. You can see our YouTube video here

Before we headed back, we nipped to the German bar for another Texas wine each. Keith had the Shiraz and I had the merlot again.

Saturday- our last day 😢

Today was our last day! I woke up sad, Texas has captured my heart in a way I wasn’t expecting! Before our night flight home, we had to drive from San Antonio to Houston, so we made a day of it by going via San Marco for the retail outlet village where we bagged some cheap Levi’s and then onto nearby Gruene (pronounced Green). Gruene has the oldest Dance Hall in Texas. The place was heaving, but we soon realised why- there was a free music afternoon on. We had a wander round the general store, got some last minute souvenirs and had a spot of lunch. Then went into the dance hall for a beer and a last enjoy of some live music. It was a larger band this time, with a violin, steel stringed guitar, acoustic guitar, double bass and two vocalists. It was packed, there were locals and tourists, and even a group celebration for a lady’s 80th.

Everyone was dancing and enjoying themselves, the band were fab, Keith and I even had a slow waltz. See video here. We had an hour there before the 3 hour journey to Houston, and I was feeling exceptionally emotional. I put my sunglasses on so no one would notice the tears streaming down my face. I’m not sure I got away with it!

That’s not our car btw (sadly)

All too soon it was time to move on, and by 6pm we were dropping off the car at Houston Avis and checking in. The tears wouldn’t stop – I blubbed all the way through security, and then sulked all the way onto the plane.

Texas. You’ve entirely stolen our British hearts. We’ll be back! For anyone who loves food and music – Texas is your state! Please visit. I get the impression not many people do other than for work.

Until next time

Lx

Adventures Stateside; A Texas Roadtrip. Austin and Hill Country

Tuesday morning arrived and it was time to hit the road once more, waving farewell to Fort Worth. As we had changed our route, staying local ‘rather’ than the 500 mile drive to Big Bend National Park, we decided to take the ‘scenic route’ to Austin – basically leaving the interstate behind and travelling on route 281 instead.

The route took us through Stephenville, Hico, and Marble Falls. We decided to make a stop at Hico as it looked very historical and traditional. It ended up being a highlight of the day. The Main Street was just one street, covered in wooden fronted buildings that had stood largely unchanged in appearance since the late 1800s. The small town boasts a rumour that Billy the Kid died here in the 1950s and as such has a small and very untouristy museum.

The rest of the journey was scenic as the roads wound through the beginnings of Texas Hill Country.

We had a really really disappointing lunch at Marble Falls – we actually chose the route based on a recommendation for lunch in a traditional and long established diner. Unfortunately our meals at Bluebonnet Cafe were absolutely revolting – and put us in a bit of a bad mood for the remainder of our journey to Austin. Luckily, a warm welcome was to be had at our lovely last minute air b n b apartment situated within walking distance of all the bars and music venues in Austin so after a shower, we took a walk out to the local and had a bit of a bar hop and delicious pizza meal – we also caught some great live country music at the White Horse.

Wednesday dawned a wet and miserable day, which was a shame as it was MY BIRTHDAY! Presents and cards opened, we decided to take a walk despite the rain into the centre and explore the capitol building, which happens to be the largest state capitol building in the United States.

We took a walk down the Main Street, but was quite surprised at the lack of shops to peruse – in fact there was literally just one.There were quite a lot of historic buildings though and some really cool examples of the old Art Deco cinema fronts.

There was also a really traditional Victorian crescent with lots of mansions in which we enjoyed seeing.

All the bars were closed so no lunchtime cocktails for the birthday girl sadly – so we decided after a burger at Carolines that we’d cut our losses and go back to the accommodation to enjoy some beers there. We dried up, relaxed and then re headed out about half 4 and happily this time we found some places open, so enjoyed an evening bar hop and a fantastic meal followed by live music at Stubb’s BBQ.

When we woke up on Thursday we were relieved that the rain had stopped. Today we were once again taking the scenic route from Austin to San Antonio, via Fredericksburg. Our first stop was a quick picture stop at the Ladybird Lake, which offered a grey but lovely view of the Austin skyline.

From here we drove about an hour to Johnson City where we visited President Lyndon B Johnson’s ranch. We didn’t know much about this man, who took over from President JFK after his assassination, however we are so glad we visited his huge ranch, as we learnt lots about him, and actually it was a really interesting (and free) activity.

First we stopped off at his actual birth house within Johnson City (pics above) before carrying on 13 miles to his main adult life and family ranch. Before going round LBJ’s ranch you get to explore a living history ranch which was his neighbours farmhouse.

The tour around the ranch is self guided in your car, which gives an idea on how large it is. It also houses an air strip, with Air Force ‘one and a half’ still there to see, and the beautiful living quarters which was where many legislations were made in those years after JFK was murdered.

We also got to see his collection of presidential cars, including an amphibious vehicle and his shooting vehicle.

I think that the most interesting thing we took from our visit was that the President’s wife lived until only 11 years ago when she died. She succeeded him over 30 years, therefore it felt more real and less tourist museum-ey. If that makes sense?

From here we carried on just under 10 miles until we reached Luckenbach, a tiny hamlet with population of only 3.

It was made famous when Wayne Jennings wrote a song called Luckenbach, and is basically a wooden store/post office/saloon bar/ food hut, which has live country music on daily for free (tips). It’s utterly traditional, unspoilt, and just an all round gem of a place, that has firmly made it onto my favourite spot in USA list. Plus, I can’t think of anywhere else you’ll get interrupted by a cockerel as you’re sipping on your cold beer listening to the music. Luckenbach

We spent much longer than anticipated there as it was just so cool, and I also got serenaded with a cowboy happy birthday!

See our Luckenbach video here

Eventually though, it was time to drag ourselves away and head to the next pit stop, Fredericksburg, which has more of a German settlement.

The Main Street was charming and full of antiques and boutiques, eateries – we had a delicious homemade ice cream cookie sandwich, and also loads of wine tasting rooms and bars. If we did this tour again, I’d have chosen to stay overnight here rather than two nights in Austin.

It was after 5pm by the time we left, heading the hour and half motorway journey to our final air b n b of the trip in San Antonio. Another traditional Mexican casita awaited us.

Adventures Stateside; A Texas Roadtrip. Dallas and Fort Worth

Friday

After a pleasant 4 hour journey from Houston along Interstate no 45, we arrived at our next Air b n b, Sunshine cottage, in the affluent, leafy area of Hollywood Dallas.

Our host had made the apartment cosy and full of goodies. After a chill and a shower, we decided to stay quite local for dinner, and walked to local smokehouse restaurant, Lakewood Smokehouse. The meal was phenomenal- I had smoked rack of ribs and Keith had brisket beef. I washed mine down with a pumpkin spice cocktail and it’s was just heaven.

We embraced the walk home as we were absolutely stuffed full, and really enjoyed looking at the fall decorations dotted around the neighbourhood.

Saturday

Saturday arrived early again, our body clocks are definitely still out of sync. We made the most of the early morning though by enjoying a leisurely breakfast and catching an early bus from the end of the street to the centre of Dallas.

Today we had the most amazing day- we visited the assassination site of JFK. Dealey plaza is an eery place, and largely untouched, despite the road being used still, and a busy one at that. The grassy knoll where an alleged shooter was, is still exactly as it was that fateful day and the landscaping is identical. The only difference being that the book depository where Oswald allegedly fired from is now a museum, which we thoroughly enjoyed looking around. There were pockets of people lurking along the road, each debating with each other where that fatal shot came from based on angles and chance. It was a deeply moving visit, and one that we will remember for years to come.

Naturally after such a morning, we decided a rooftop bar would be a nice place to have our own debate on our thoughts about the assassination- little did we know the portions would be 32oz each!

My “sexy margarita” was less sexy yet more “spiky”- the sting in the tail being that it only stayed in my digestive system 15 mins max before my body ejected the whole blinking thing! Thankfully it didn’t ruin my meal- we grabbed a buffalo steak and shrimp each which was fab.

Our next Dallas tourist spot was the Reunion Tower. Despite being fairly low in comparison to other observation floors we’ve been to recently, the views out were great and the weather was behaving so we could see for miles. We really love visiting the observation tower wherever we are, there’s nothing like an arial view.

Suitably exhausted by the days sightseeing, we called it an early night, taking advantage of our lovely relaxing air b n b, we grabbed a sandwich from seven 11 and headed back.

Sunday

Today was a scheduled driving day from Dallas to Fort Worth, however as it was only a short journey and our visit to Dallas coincided with the annual State Fair of Texas – today was the last day of the month long fair – we decided it would be rude not to pay a visit.

We arrived bright and early, which worked in our favour, we got to park in the cheaper/closer car park and enjoyed a wander round with no crowds for the first couple of hours.

State Fair Park is home to the largest Ferris Wheel in the Western Hemisphere, the Texas Star, so we decided a ride on this was a must, despite the fact that I’m not a huge fan of Ferris wheels or heights!

Standing at the base of the wheel it seemed to tower hugely above us- to the point it seemed larger than the London Eye, however Wikipedia tells us that the London Eye is twice as high. Texas Star is 62 metres, which is still pretty high, as my quivering legs reminded me as we exited after a terrifying lovely ride. Luckily Keith realised that my eyes were closed for the top section so snapped lots of pictures for me to enjoy once down on the ground.

Another highlight of the day was watching the pig races. Oh America, you sure do these things well. I was almost crying with laughter at one point.

The rest of the time at the fair was spent in sensory overload. The smells of the food were incredible; and we sampled a few bits and pieces including the famous corn dog, similar to a battered sausage on a stick, and the 2018 food finalist deep fried shepherds pie and fried green beans. Sounds gross but was amazing!

We felt really lucky to be able to share a snippet of true Texan life- there were no tourists just family’s enjoying their time together. It really was wonderful.

Despite the fair being open until 11pm, we made a move around 3pm to our next destination, Fort Worth, just an hour down the road.

Our next Air B and B was a wonderful traditional Mexican Casita, located in a Mexican neighbourhood and complete with its on little porch perfect for a beer and reflection on what a great couple of days in Dallas we had had.

We opted for dinner at a restaurant recommended to us by our host, Joe T Garcias which was about 2 miles away. As it was early, we decided to walk there through the different neighbourhoods. It was interesting getting an insight into the family homes, and we even saw a traditional Halloween party going on which was cool. However there were times when we felt a little uneasy so we decided we’d stick to Uber from now on.

The restaurant was fantastic! It was largely an outdoor open patio with plenty of lights and a big pond in the centre. It was intimate, trendy and packed, yet we got seated immediately- we knew we’d picked a gem of a restaurant. There were only two items on the menu, steak or chicken fajitas or cheese enchiladas. We opted for the steak fajitas and our server encouraged us to only have one to share. Of course, we ignored him, and ended up being half of it back in a doggie bag for tomorrow! The Ford was exceptional and really great value.

Monday

Today we spent the whole day exploring the historic Fort Worth Stockyards, which is home to the cowboy and the only place in the world left doing daily cattle drives.

As soon at the taxi dropped us off, we knew we were in for a great day. The roads are cobbled and the architecture dates from the 1880s. There are saloons and steakhouses and traditional general stores. The first place we saw was Leddy’s Handmade boot store, and as I had been gifted some birthday money from Dad and Jenny for some leather boots, we made our way straight there.

Luck was on my side as the majority of boots, being handmade with fabulous quality leather, were well out of my price range, however they had a small one off sale to make room for new boots, and I immediately saw a pair included in the half price sale that I liked. My delight was sky high when we discovered they only had the one pair of that design and they were my size. After half an hour of trying them on, the deal was done, I was in love, the leather was so soft it felt like silk and I didn’t take them off all day.

After this we mooched down the street, buying some souvenirs from the tourist shops and killing time until the 1130 cattle drive.

We watched as the cowboys manoeuvred the herd of Texas Longhorn Cattle down the street and back into the stockyard.

It was a bit touristy but we enjoyed it none the less. We went for an early lunch of steak in a place recommended by the boot man which was washed down by buckets of margarita. The food has been exceptional; every single meal has been outstanding. I’d come back just to eat more Texan food.

After lunch we had a look round the historical station area and had a few beer stops in the many saloons. The area was slightly smaller than I’d imagined and you could easily do this as a day trip from Dallas, however we enjoyed the slower pace and being able to have a beer together as we didn’t have to drive.

We headed back to the accommodation around 6pm – we needed to make some adjustments to our next couple of days itinerary. Originally tomorrow we were heading to Big Bend National Park, which is right on the west of the state and about 8 hours drive. Aside from the spectacular scenery, a draw was the chance to take a boat trip into Mexico for the day, across the official border crossing at Boquillas. However, with the tension at the border with the ‘Caravan’ in the news currently, we felt a bit apprehensive about taking this trip. This along with terrible weather forecasted for Wednesday, which would be our free day to explore, made us feel a 16 hour road trip was excessive and something which we wouldn’t be able to fully enjoy and appreciate in the current weather or politic climate.

We hit our travel books, spoke to all the locals we could for their advice on where to go instead, and as a result, tomorrow we are off to Austin, the state capital.

Until next time

Lx

Adventures Stateside; A Texas Roadtrip. Houston

Ruby the VW Campervan is parked up at a Heathrow hotel for half term. We decided to take advantage of the January flight sales, bagging some cheap seats to Houston, TX, enabling us to tick off a few more items off our ever expanding bucket list.

Wednesday

Despite travelling down late after work on Tuesday night, our alarms were still set to an ungodly hour on Wednesday, in preparation for our 10am flight. We really enjoy airport departure lounges so always make a point of giving ourselves plenty of time in there. It was my first time flying from Terminal 5, which I adored, especially travelling there by driverless pod, it felt like something from the future.

Sadly our flight was delayed for 3.5 hours as there was a problem with the window in the flight deck. At one point it looked like it may be cancelled altogether- so by the time we got on the actual plane our emotions were all over the place but we were relieved we were finally on our way.

https://videos.files.wordpress.com/BKI5fm6T/img_1769.mov

10.5 hours later, and a pretty uncomfortable flight due to the family behind us continuously kicking our chair backs, we had touchdown and were very excited to be back in the USA. We hadn’t slept but I did get chance to catch up on the recent series of Body guard- wow.

An hour later and we had requested our Uber and were enroute to our first Air b n b of the Roadtrip. Tired but very happy to be here.

Our Air b n b was in the Montrose area of Houston, an area close to both the interstate and downtown, and an area famous for having plenty of bars etc. The road itself was a lovely quiet residential street and the apartment was a really great space, equipped with the most comfy bed we’ve ever experienced and enough gadgets to keep my very own gadget man husband occupied in our downtime. On arrival at 7pm we wasted no time in showering, hitting trip advisor and taking a walk a couple of blocks away for a bite to eat and couple of beers.

We found The Pit Room, a really casual bbq joint, which served the most phenomenal beef brisket- a state dish, we’ve read. Keith had strips of brisket with coleslaw and I had brisket tacos with mac n cheese, washed down with a local IPA for Keith and a Texan Cider for me. It was divine and suddenly all our travel related stress had vanished. Next door was their sister bar, the patio, where we enjoyed a couple of drinks and soaked the atmosphere of the local baseball time team, the Astros, playing the Boston Red Socks. Before too long though, our weary bodies began to remind us that we’d been awake almost 24 hours,so we headed back for a long comfy nights sleep.

Thursday

Travelling East to West always means we wake up extra early on our first few days – we never mind as we are always keen to get out and about exploring. Today was no different, we were awake by 0430, so after an hour NASAmanagedor so of dozing and researching eateries etc, we actually were up and out by 0615 in search of coffee. We took a walk round the neighbourhood admiring all the beautiful homes in this historic district, eventually finding The Breakfast Klub, a place I’d read loads about. Apparently it’s the place to have breakfast. We were met by super friendly staff, and huge mugs of coffee. I ordered their signature dish of waffle and wings and Keith had waffle and eggs and bacon. It was as huge, but hands down the best breakfast I’ve ever had. Arrive early though, it filled up really quickly.

From there we walked down another mile or so to Avis to pick up our rental car. The handover was smooth and by 9am we were on our way to NASA, about 20 miles south of Houston.

Words can’t describe how much I adored our visit to NASA – it was everything I hoped it would be and more. As soon as we arrived we went to take the tram tour- this is advisable as we’d read that sometimes the wait becomes so long you miss out later in the day and it is unmissable.

The tram tour takes you right around the site with 3 stops -first being the historical and famous mission control room- which was the centre of activity when both Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin famously became the first men to walk on the moon, then again with the Apollo XIII mission. The room is currently undergoing major renovation, however we got to see the original computers and equipment and also sat in the VIP viewing area. If you visit next year, you’ll see it completely set up including the flight data etc on the screens.

Next stop was the NASA training mock up centre. This was really exciting as we got to see where all the astronauts train in the mock up capsules. We saw all the capsules including Soyuz, The space shuttle, Orion- the brand new one capable of travel to Mars- along with robonauts and buggy’s that are still under development. It was so exciting, we were both in our element!

Last stop of the tram tour was the Rocket Park, where we saw Saturn V. It was huge and just mind boggling. Saturn V was the rocket that got men to the moon.

The grounds of NASA are like a uni campus- and what we didn’t realise was that it is still entirely working- so we were seeing government workers driving around doing their business, including astronauts having meetings etc. All the training facilities are still here and used daily. How exciting to be able to observe it all. Underneath the historical mission control room was the active mission control for the International Space Centre so we had to be silent when moving about in that building. How cool!

Back at the Johnson Space centre and we got started on the exhibitions, of which there were loads. The Americans really do these attractions well. Our favourite exhibits were the space shuttle and jet it piggybacked on- being able to see inside the space shuttle was so exciting. The flight-deck was beyond complicated to our untrained eyes!

We also saw the very first capsules that an American orbited in space in, the Gemini and Mercury. We got to go inside the training mock up of the Skylab, which preceded the international space centre.

We saw the last ever Apollo capsule to return from space and see actual moon rock.

And Keith had a proper nerd out when he discovered the original Star Trek Galileo shuttle prop in the cafe.

After a full day exploring NASA on the back of our jet lag, by the time we got back to our apartment we were exhausted, so we had a quick shower and took an Uber to a restaurant recommendation from our host.

La Tiempo was a lovely Mexican in Montrose and we enjoyed a fabulous meal washed down by some margaritas. The meal was fantastic but we were so tired so had an early night- went to bed dreaming of rockets and space!

A brilliant day.

Friday

Another early morning, so we made the most of it by having an early breakfast down the road and checking out early. We had a driving tour of some cool sites in Houston. It’s really sprawled out so you definitely need a car. We took a drive down Heights Boulevard, a traditional affluent neighbourhood with fabulous houses and wide streets.

From there we popped to see the water wall which was really cool and then onto the Beer Can House- yes, a house made of beer cans! It took the designer 20 years to collect enough beer cans!

Our final stop was to get some cupcakes from the only cupcake ATM- Sprinkles. The cupcakes were good and it was novel ordering them through the ATM at the back of the shop. Only in America.

High on sugar, it was time to hit the road, our next destination was calling. We are off to Dallas.

Until next time

Lx

2 Days in Marblehead and Salem, MA

Day 7

Wednesday arrived and it was time to wave goodbye to North Conway. It was fun place to base ourselves and it gets very busy during the ski season here. One of it’s other attractions is the shopping village on the outskirts of town, and we decided that seeing as it was pouring with rain still, we would indulge in a hour or so of mooching round the Outlet stores.

An hour later and I was dragging us out before we had to remortgage the house! Keith and I brought a couple of pairs of Levi jeans – K got the bargain of the century – £9 for a pair of Levis I think he paid! Mum and Al got a couple of Levi T Shirts. We then popped across to Tommy Hilfiger and I saw a leather jacket that I fell in love with, and at £65 rather than £150 was a bargain so I had to have that despite worrying about my luggage allowance! Mum found herself a pair of Vans.

We hit the road and carried on towards Massachusetts. Our next location was another Air B n B – this time more of a BnB basis where we had the top floor two bedrooms and the owner lived downstairs and provided breakfast. Before we could check in we had lunch in The Sail Loft in Marblehead which was a great find. We grabbed lunch and by then the rain was beginning to stop, hallelujah, so we enjoyed a little wander around the extraordinarily pretty streets of old Marblehead. The houses were wooden and oozed character, and they all had charming Fall decorations lining their steps and porches. There were some cute little stores and a seafood restaurant on the seafront that caught our eye so we made a reservation for dinner and headed towards our accommodation.

After a quick freshen up we decided to get our glad rags on – I was feeling a bit better so we poshed up and went for a corker of a seafood dinner at The Landing. On our way (I was DES!) we stopped for a drink at a historical tavern where we had a nice chat with some friendly locals, before making our way to the restaurant. Despite it’s prime location right on the seafront the prices were very reasonably priced, and we therefore ended up with a lobster dinner each. It was my first time (and Mum’s) – I have a phobia of shellfish with their antennas on (there must be a better word for that??) so much so that my girlfriends call us The Prawnettes because of it! So for me to have a lobster was a huge event – and my god it was flipping gorgeous.

Day 8

Today was non driving day as Marblehead is just on the outskirts of Salem and therefore a short UBER ride away. We started our days exploration of historic Salem by a tour of the Witches Museum which was very interesting and well presented. We all really enjoyed our visit.

After this we went to the oldest Witch House in Salem, which was fascinating and we event got to see John Proctor’s fork.

The rain was beating down again (boo) so we headed for lunch at the historical Lyceum Hall, which is where Alexander Bell made his first long distance phone call! It is now a seafood place and so we enjoyed a lovely seafood dinner. The clam chowder was gorgeous. Mum and Alec decided to take the trolley tour that afternoon, so Keith and I visited the house of the Seven Gables on our own – wow, that was so interesting. We even got to go and stand up in the gable and see some floorboards that were over 300 years old.

WE also managed to see Alison’s house from Hocus Pocus which was really cool as it’s such a great movie!

I’d read abut a gin distillery in Salem so naturally we had to visit. The walk was a little way out but eventually we found it hidden away, it had a speakeasy bar that is open certain hours, so we got to try some of the spirits in rather delicious cocktails.

There were some locals in there who couldn’t believe we had found the place – I get the impression that its off the beaten track for tourists – so glad we found it though. The gin had a very heavy green cardamom taste, but I loved it so brought a bottle to bring home. Visit Deacon Giles Distillery

We had dinner at the Howling Wolf, which despite being absolutely packed, gave us a very tasty meal at a ridiculously cheap price, before heading back to our air b and b to pack our cases up good and proper as we were heading to the airport for an internal flight tomorrow.

Until Next Time

Lx

New England in the Fall; A 2 day road trip through New Hampshire

Day 5

Monday dawned a typical Autumnal day and we were up and dressed fairly early. The car was loaded up (no mean feat seeing as we had a steep flight of stairs to navigate and HUMUNGOUS bags) As the shopkeeper open the country store, we settled our bill and hit the highway, stopping for some lovely Autumnal pictures along the way.

Our destination for today’s activity was the Mount Washington Cog Railway, the world’s first Mountain Climbing Railway. We were very lucky – the weather was PERFECT, not a cloud in the sky! We arrived early in case we got caught in traffic, so had a little shop in the gift shop and a picnic lunch whilst we waiting for our 1pm train to descend from the top.

Soon it was our turn to board, as we were lucky to be in the first of 3 carriages so we got a great view.

The Railway track was astoundingly steep in places, and the ascent took around 45 mins. You could get up and wander to the front to look out of the front window and the back window also had amazing views as we got higher.

We had just over an hour on the top of Mount Washington to explore the summit, which was about all we needed- it can reach up to 100mph winds up there, and even though the views were amazing it was flipping cold!

The return journey was in places terrifying, it was so steep! And just the brakesman at the front of each individual carriage operating the brakes. Absolutely marvellous engineering, we just loved our visit. Video highlights here.

It was about 45 mins drive to North Conway, a ski resort within the White Mountains, which would be our next base for 2 nights. We had hired another air b n b, this time we had an entire wooden house to ourselves, complete with hot tub! Happy days.

We were soon in there with a beer, before getting our glad rags on and heading for dinner. By the way, in New Hampshire they don’t measure out spirits – I ended up with a pint, yes a pint! of gin! Whooooah!

Day 6 – My Birthday!

Today was a non driving day as it was my birthday! Sadly the weather god’s hadn’t taken a note of this special day and it absolutely hammered down ALL Day. However, it wasn’t the end of the world as we had booked onto The North Conway Scenic Railwroad for a return journey through the very pretty Crawford Notch. After a pancake breakfast, we crossed the road to the train station ready for out 11am departure.

Our accommodation on the train was up in the dome – a raised area with glass roof which I’m sure in better weather would have been spectacular.

Sadly in the rain, it was a bit dismal and we were all a bit rough (ahem) We had waitress service throughout the journey and despite me thinking there would be no alcohol on board, there was, and so we enjoyed a relaxing train journey and a couple of cocktails. Not a bad way to spend my birthday.

The train turned around at Crawford station, and we headed back to North Conway.

Although we enjoyed the train ride, I don’t think it was anywhere near as spectacular as some of the others we’ve done in the past. If we had to choose one we would definitely recommend the Cog Railway over the Scenic Railway. Video highlights here

Unfortunately I was full of a head cold and therefore didn’t fancy venturing too far out for my birthday meal. However there was nice place a couple of doors down from our accommodation and so we enjoyed a meal and a couple of cocktails there before a relatively early night. Not before trying the most delicious bourbon I’ve tasted. Jim Bean MAPLE bourbon. 🥃 am-aaa-zing

< strong>Highlights of New Hampshire<<<<<<<<
hington Cog Railway

The road through Crawford Notch

Jim BeamMaple Bourbon

New England in the Fall; a 2 day Roadtrip through Vermont

Day 3

Keith and I got an Uber from our Boston city apartment to the airport, leaving Mum and Alec to finish their packing and have a quick clean up of our Air BnB. We weren’t abandoning them, we just felt the process of hiring our Rental car would be quicker and easier as a twosome rather than a four – and it also saved us having to lug all our luggage back to the airport.

We hired our Medium sized SUV from Dollarcar and for 6 days with unlimited mileage it came in at around £200. The pick up process was quick and easy and we were left to our own devices to go and pick the vehicle we wanted.

We chose a lovely white Kia Sorento and half an hour later I was making my American driving debut. Initially it was terrifying given that the airport is slap bang in the middle of the city. And the driving in Boston reminded me of the driving in Delhi! OMG. But I soon got used to it- basically no rules, expect the unexpected, and Keefy was a fab co pilot. Talking of Co Pilots – Colin the Co Pilot (my iPhone Map system) worked a treat – I had downloaded the whole of America offline for £19.99 and it was brilliant.

We picked up Mum and Alec from the apartment along with all the luggage – which JUST fit in the back – wow we sure don’t travel lightly! We drove past Harvard University before picking up the Highway, where it didn’t take too long at all before we started seeing some phenomenal Autumnal colours on the roadside trees.

Around 3 hours later we were rolling into Wilmington, which is where we were picking up the Scenic Highway 100. Just before Wilmington there was the most beautiful scenic lay-by, which turned out to be one of my favourite views in Vermont.

We stopped for lunch at the Village Roost in Wilmington, before heading North on the Scenic Highway 100, which offered fabulous views as the road wound up and around various ski resorts. The villages were fairly small and remote really, and the houses just so charming – all wooden with picture perfect porches. You could just imagine kicking off your shoes, jumping in one of the comfy chairs and watching the world go by.

Not too far into our journey on the Scenic Highway, we stopped off at the Vermont Country Store in Weston. This is one of the oldest Country Stores in America and dates from the 1940s. It is huge – and here is a tip – don’t go in hungry (or do if you fancy a free lunch- so many samples available!) Wow, what a place – thank goodness we were flying in and out of America and therefore had to consider weight limits, otherwise my credit card would have had a right battering! It was filled with local meats, cheeses, chutneys, jams, maple based products, local alcoholic beverages, clothes, games, old fashioned sweets, kitchenware – oh the list goes on. We brought some maple syrup and some hot Apple Cider (none alcoholic) and made our escape. Certainly worth a visit though – what a lovely shop!

We carried on to our next Air BnB, which was near to Woodstock, with plenty of picture stops on route.

The apartment was a charming loft conversion above a country store. Another chance to buy tons of local produce!

The owner met us and was very friendly – she said they operated an honesty system, basically leaving the shop open for us overnight and if we fancied midnight munchies we could just go down and help ourselves – make a note of what we had and settle up when we leave. She would also prepare us a breakfast basket each morning and leave it at the bottom of our stairs! How cute!

Once we had got over the fact that we all had to share a room (ahem) we got our glad rags on and went for a meal. Unfortunately the downside was that there was nowhere within walking distance, however I didn’t mind driving.

Day 4

Sunday dawned cooler than what we’d been used to on the previous days but it was still clear. We were up relatively early and on the roady 9am. Today’s destination was the Northern part of Vermont. We had fun driving over the historical covered bridge opposite our accommodation – these are a common sight in Vermont and are really pretty.

We carried on just down the road to Quechee Gorge, which is billed as New England’s answer to the Grand Canyon. It’s a steep gorge with a tree lined river running at the bottom and you get a good view from both the bridge at the top and on the river level at the bottom, after a mile or so hike.

Back to the car and our next location was somewhere which I was very excited about – The Ben and Jerry’s Factory!

It was definitely an indulgence for me this stop, I adore Ben and Jerry’s! As you got out of the car, the air carried the smell of ice cream. Yum. We signed up for the next tour, which was 30 mins long and although nothing too special, it was really cool to be there and you got to see briefly where the magic happens!

Next stop was Stowe, home to the Von Trapp Family Lodge – the place which they escaped to from Austria. It’s in a really pretty area and is a ski resort from end of November. The scenery was gorgeous, although the town was more spread out than we imagined which made it hard to explore on foot.

We had a fabulous meal at Piecasso, which specialise in pizza – of course Keith HAD to have the large (just for himself!) ! Oink! It made a good picture though lol and tasted gorgeous.

Alec was nominated to try the local beer “Heady Toppy” – I’d read about it, apparently its voted the best beer in the world. Well, at 8% it must be one of the strongest! Keith really enjoyed the Von Trapp beer. Mum had a Stowe Cider which she loved. I had wait for it……. a tap water as I was in charge of Kelly the Kia.

We started heading back towards our digs along the Scenic Route 100, but this time North to South. We managed a stop at a local distillery to pick up some Bourbon with Maple and some small batch gin. Both of which are gorgeous! We also stopped at the Cider Mill where we had some fresh apple juice, hot cider and I tried the cider donuts, which were good.

We opted for a chill that night as we had been non stop since arriving. It was nice to catch our breaths for an evening – the boys fell asleep by 9 and Mum and I caught up on Strictly.

Vermont Highlights

  • Wilmington
  • Quechee Gorge
  • Ben and Jerrys Factory
  • Vermont Country Store
  • Stowe- esp Piecassimo Pizza and Von Trapp Beer/Stowe Cider

48 hours in Boston, MA

Day 1

We had arrived late (well 8pm – but 1am English time) so after arriving at our Air B n’ B around 9pm we hit the sacks, and therefore woke up very early on Day 1.

Not wanting to waste a second, we showered and were out by 7am having breakfast at Dunkin Donuts, which was near enough next door to our 2 bed flat.

Our Air BnB was located on the outskirts of Charlestown, about 10 mins cab from the airport and about 10 mins taxi to the centre of Downtown Boston. We like the idea of AirBnB as because we are used to motor homing, we really just needed a base, with a shower, bed and coffee making facilities.

Day 1 started with us exploring the Freedom Trail – which is a 2.5 marked trail through the centre of Boston taking in the most famous and historical sites the city has to offer. Before we booked Boston, I had no idea about what a historical city it was.

boston-nps-map

Our plan was to take in half of the freedom trail on day one and half on day two. We began at the Visitor centre on Boston Common so took a Tube from our accommodation to Park Street Station.

We walked through the common admiring the golden leaves and soon found ourselves at the State House.

We followed it though the city centre stopping at the old Burial Ground and the Old State House which is where the Declaration of Independence was read (pictures above).

We popped into Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market – two of the oldest markets in Boston – Faneuil Hall was great to shop for souvenirs and Quincy was a food lovers heaver. Crammed full of food stalls from every cuisine you can imagine, but a recurring theme was seafood of course due to our seaside lication, and lobster and clam chowder featured heavily – as it’s a popular dish here in New England.

Mouth’s set to drooling we popped to the waterside grabbing a beer each at Boston Harbor Cruises ‘The Landing’ – harbor-side bar, before making our way to Quincy Market to pick up a picnic lunch.

I opted for the Lobster Ravioli and boy was it good – Keith went for a Lobster roll, Mum a mac n cheese pie and Alec, a Hot Dog.

After lunch we went back on ourselves back through Boston Common and up Beacon Hill – we stopped for a quick beer in the famous Cheers Bar – slightly disappointing inside, but a must anyway, before exploring the trendy and insanely pretty Beacon Hill district.

All the houses around here had gorgeous fall decorations on their doorsteps and Acorn Street was worth a stop for a picture with its charming cobbled hill.

We went for another wander around Boston Common before requesting an Uber to take us back to our apartment for a freshen up and change for dinner. That was a mistake – traffic in Boston is horrible most of the time. Avoid taxis during peak hours – we called ours at 4pm and it took us over an hour to get 3.5 miles. If we hadn’t have been so tired we could have walked – but the T rail is very good and cheap so if I were there again that’s what I’d do.

Day 1 was our lobster meal night. After many recommendations from Twitter etc, we had pre booked a table at Legal Seafoods in Seaport region. Alec had never had Lobster and it was his dream to eat it in Boston, one of the reasons behind our trip. We had a cocktail on the roof terrace before we made our way to our table by the window – Keith and Alec had the full lobster experience, whilst Mum and I had other lobster alternatives. The meal was fantastic, as was the service and I would wholly recommend this place to try Lobster, our server held Keith and Alec’s had throughout the “cracking the lobster” procedure and actually the meal was very good value -each lobster was under £30 each!

Day 2

Darned Jet lag – we were awake early again, so got up and dressed and went for breakfast at Dunkin Donuts once more. Today was part 2 of the Freedom trail, along with a look around the Naval yard, USS Constitution, the Italian North End and we even squeezed in a boat trip too!

We took our T line train to Haymarket station where we picked up the Freedom trail and followed it all the way around the very charming North End – the “Little Italy” section of town. It’s a lovely place to browse around, perusing menus for later on, taking pictures of the many buildings decorated in lead, and smelling the wonderful aromas of coffee and other Italian delights. The buildings are charming and it was lovely looking around.

Before too long though it was time to head back to Long Wharf for our 10.30am Historical Harbour Cruise. What we didn’t realise when we booked it, was that today was the day the USS Constitution was making it’s first sailing in over 2 years because of restoration works that have taken place. Also – when it’s not being restored, it only sails once a year – so we were beyond thrilled to learn that not only was it sailing but it had just left it’s shipyard and was about to sail RIGHT PAST US! Wow! It truly was the most wonderful sight.

The Harbour Cruise worked as a hop on, hop off, which was perfect as we got to hop off at the Navy Yard, where the USS Constitution usually is based – despite it not being there we could still look around the USS Cassin Young, and also pick up the ending of the Freedom Trail, which led us through the absolutely stunning area of Charlestown and up to Bunker Hill Monument.

We climbed the 492 steps up Bunker Hill Monument and we rewarded with views of the USS Constitution making it’s way back to the yard.

We opted to go for a sandwich lunch at one of the oldest taverns in Boston, which handily was right by the Bunker Hill monument, The Warren Tavern. It served delicious food – mum and I loved our clam chowder, whilst the boys had humungous burgers. The local Downeast Pumpkin cider was one of the best ciders I’ve tasted.

After lunch we walked back to the Navy Yard where we were in time to see the USS Constitution back in dock – what a majestic ship she is. Our Harbour Cruise picked us up at 2pm and we made our way back to Long Wharf.

From here we walked the mile down to the Boston Tea Party Museum and got booked onto the next tour. Whilst this wasn’t my cup of tea (scuse the pun!) – Keith loved it. It was a proper all out American presentation of the history of the Tea Party Massaceur and was very interactive – i.e. the actors all gave us a role to play. There were a couple of moments inside the museum which were pretty impressive (technology based and I won’t spoil it) and also you got to see one of the original tea crates which was  pretty cool.

We made our way back to the apartment for a quick change before heading back into downtown for a couple of local beers in two more historical taverns – The Green Dragon and The Bell in Hand, before wandering into the North End for a delicious Italian meal at  Quattro.

Itinerary Details

Day 1

AM: Freedom Trail  from Visitor Centre Boston Common to Visitor Centre Fencuil Hall.

Lunch: Beer at The Landing (Boston Harbor Cruises) and Lunch at Quincy Market

PM: Beacon Hill District especially taking in Cheers Bar, Acorn Street and Chestnut Street.

Evening: Pre dinner cocktail on the roof terrace then seafood dinner at Legal Harbourside (Floor 1) 

Day 2

AM: 9.00am  Pick up Freedom Trail at Haymarket Station then do the North End Section up to Copps Hill Burying Ground.

10:30 Pre booked Harbour Cruise   $22.99 pp (Hop on Hop Off)

11:00 Disembark Harbour Cruise at Navy Yard, look around then continue up to Bunker Hill on the rear end of the Freedom Trail.

Lunch: Warren Taven – one of the oldest tavern’s in Boston

2pm: Take the Harbor Cruise back to Long Wharf and walk to the Boston Tea Party museum 

Evening: Couple of beers at Green Dragon Tavern and The Bell In Hand – both historical taverns then an Italian meal in the North End – we went to Quattro and it was delicious.

ACCOMODATION

Air B n B – 2 Bed apartment by Sullivan Square transport hub. Total for 3 nights for 4 people – £ 411

Next Up: (Coming Soon)

2 Day Roadtrip in Vermont

2 Day Roadtrip in New Hampshire

24 Hours in Salem, MA

24 Hours at Niagra Falls

New England in the Fall – a 10 day road -trip taking in New England’s Autumn Foliage

Last week was half term and Keith and I (along with my mum and stepdad) packed our bags and hopped across the Pond to the USA – taking advantage of a rather great Virgin Atlantic “January Sale”. Keith and I took a couple of days out of school (something which we rarely do, but are lucky enough to be able to if we wish, due to our self employed status) No trip to New England would be complete without seeing the stunning Autumn colours – so travelling a couple of days early enhanced our chances of seeing the peak foliage.

After months of planning – I was ready to take charge – I’d adopted the position of  Tour Manager and Chauffer and after a rather good and exceptionally good value National Express coach journey from Thetford to London we were all checked in, and ready for our evening flight to Boston MA.

You can read all about our adventures Stateside using the links below.

48 Hours in Boston

A Two day roadtrip through Vermont

A two day road trip through New Hampshire

Two Days in Marblehead and Salem, MA

24 Hours in Niagara Falls, Canada side 🇨🇦

American adventures on Amtrak- Part 10 travelling on the Amtrak “Coast Starlight” from LA to San Fransisco then onto Yosemite National Park and back home.

It was our last trip on the Amtrak trains, and one we had been looking forward to, as we knew some of it hugged the dramatic coastline of the West Coast of America, The Pacific Ocean! We couldn’t believe that we had made it to the west coast, over 3000 miles from New York where we had started, and over 5000 miles away from London!

It was a long journey lasting over 11 hours, but we spent some time in the observation lounge watching the ever changing coastline- we even saw a school of dolphins swimming just off the shore.

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Lunch and Dinner was taken on the train, and we disembarked around 21:30 at Oaklands, just outside of San Fransisco.

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We were up early the next day as we were off on a guided coach tour of San Fransisco, which was fabulous, it took in all the sights, including the famous Lombard Street (a very steep and windy picturesque road), The Palace of Arts, The Golden Gate Bridge and even a fine view of the city from Twin Peaks. Our guide was really knowledgable and we thoroughly enjoyed the morning. We were dropped off at Fishermans Wharf, a lively area by the sea at lunch time, and along with our friends, Steve and Arlene, we popped for a swift beer followed by some local crab for lunch. It was a lovely spot, and we even saw the famous San Fransisco sea lions.

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Later that afternoon we visited the infamous Alcatraz. We had booked our tickets well in advance, and a good job too, as it was totally sold out for the time we were there. It was an incredible trip- what an interesting place to visit. The old prison has been left as it was when it was in use- the cells are all available to view and the audio tour was fascinating, telling tales of prisoners who had been held at Alcatraz and also those who escaped.

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That evening we joined Steve and Arlene on a trip into Chinatown for dinner. We travelled on the famous San Fransisco “Cable Cars”- interesting, as we all thought they were going to be up high in the air, but in fact they are little wooden boxes that travel on the middle of the road- more like trams come to think about it. They are fascinating to ride on, even a little scary actually, they whiz up and down the hills and the braking system is nothing other than a wooden block that traps under the wheel!! Also, the health and safety regs obviously aren’t a priority over there as there was nothing to prevent you hanging out of the side as the carriage was hurtling up or down the hill!

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Next day was a free day, and our last free day in San Fransisco. We were up fairly early and got the metro bus down to Golden Gate park. We enjoyed a visit to The Japanese Tea Gardens, then had a pleasant walk through the park, and onto Haight Steet, famous in its day for the “hippy” part of town. In fact, back in The Summer of Love, this was where the hippy subculture began. Nowadays, traces of these hippy days are still evident, the street hosts independent stores, restaurants, book stores, smoke shops, and even a naked man with nothing other than a sock on his you know what! We enjoyed a nice Thai meal before carrying on. This section of town was home to some of our favourite bits of architecture in the whole city. Beautiful wooden townhouses, with turrets and bags of style.