So we were driving from Philadelphia to New York and took smaller roads in an effort to avoid expensive tolls. And at one point, I look outside the window and see this huge and incredible rock building. And I think: “This looks familiar. It looks like the University in the movie A Beautiful Mind – where did Nash study again? Right, Princeton!” And sure enough, we had randomly ended up on the Princeton University campus! Well, if we had gotten the chance to study in a place like this… We were pretty jealous as we gazed at the amazing Hogwarts like building. When we randomly spotted statues of animal heads, we juste couldn’t resist.
Okay so, from Nashville to Washington there are 666miles (1070km) – 10 hours driving. So needless to say, the trip was quite long to get there! Especially when you consider the fact that Steph did the whole thing. Yeah.. I was still feeling pretty sick so I stayed on zombie mode in the car next to him. At least I didn’t bother him much! Anyways, we spent a night in a reallllllly weird place in the middle of nowhere, with police cars cruising around and a bunch of guys waking us up in the middle of the night as they were playing football on the parking lot (and hitting the car of course.) Great.
But eventually, we did make it to Washington. After reading a couple of articles about the city, it was clear that there wasn’t much to do except for the political and historical landmarks plus a bunch of museums. So we decided to be super efficient for the afternoon. We parked right by the White House – almost feeling like we were in an episode of Homeland with all the security cars driving around. We then went ahead to take a look at the famous building – it looked smaller in real life than in the movies, that’s for sure. We did wonder how often they get the walls painted for them to stay so white… Any thoughts? Like real tourists, we took some photos – with our Crapules stuff of course! As we were taking them we couldn’t help but notice the insane level of security, I mean, snipers on the roof! We were also trying to imagine who among the crowd of tourists were actually undercover spies. It is the White House after all! We did have the impression that it looked different in our mind, so we walked to the back to see it from the other side. And that’s where we recognized the bow of the Southern façade! Unfortunately there is a huge grass area right after the gate, so we couldn’t see this side up close, but still!
Once we agreed we had enough touristy photos with Obama’s house, we decided to go the Abraham Lincoln Memorial and National Mall. For those of you with the same references as me, it’s where Captain America is jogging in the morning in Captain America 2. Anyhow, the Abe Lincoln statue was really impressive and imposing. It’s only a shame the room is packed with tourists, we struggled to get a good shot. We had a lot more fun posing in front of the National Monument obelisk. The reflection in the water is a big plus! We were really lucky that day, unlike the previous ones, it was surprisingly warm and sunny! As we were leaving to go back to the car, a huge helicopter flew above our heads and we like to think that Obama was in it. Because why not! Our Washington visit over, we continued driving up towards the long awaited stop in New York.
As you can see from the huge gap on the map between New Orleans and Nashville, this was a bit of a drive. And I am quite proud to say that I contributed to the driving! After a night stop in a random city by the highway, we arrived in what they call the Music City, in the famous state of Tennessee. A road trip does come with a few complications unfortunately and we had to stop at a garage because of a weird noise and signal the car was making. After booking a spot for the next day, we headed straight to one of the typical music night bars of the city: the Listening Room Cafe. For a first taste of the city, it was more than ideal. The room combined food, drinks and a stage with extremely talented singers for the entire night! The concept of writer’s night in Nashville brings together passionate musicians to showcase their own songs in front of new audiences. We understood why so many aspiring performers move to this city to make it in music: they get to practice and show their songs in so many potential spots! In that one night, we first saw three young musicians taking turns in songs with their guitar. We then saw a really talented singer called Sabrina. Alone on stage with her guitar, she absolutely rocked it! Then two brothers who apparently were on The Voice US season 5 put on a show. And last but not least, the band Amber’s Drive simply killed it, bringing the entire room to life! They sounded like a new version of the O’Brother soundtrack. We quickly came to the conclusion that Nashville is pretty much the equivalent of New Orleans but the country version (with cowboy hats please.) So as you can imagine, the night was lots of fun and we even had our first valet parking – how very fancy.
The next day, well, was not as fun. It started with getting the car fixed, which not only lasted a really long time but cost an arm and a leg! When it was done, I was getting sick but we decided to go for a walk around town. We went to Broadway, where most of the bars and barbecues are lined up for people to enjoy some tasty meats and live music. What really impressed us in those streets is the fact that every single bar has a live music schedule from 10am to 2am, 365 days a year! Whenever we would enter one, there would be a band or singer on stage. How incredible is it to have a city where you can be certain to find live music any time, any day? Lots of these honky tonk bars are where some celebrity country singers started their career, like the Legends Corner, Tootsies Orchid Lounge, The Stage on Broadway.
We then headed towards the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, which according to our guides was the thing to do in Nashville. After taking a look at the Walk of Fame, where we realized we knew nothing about country music, we started the visit in the museum. I suppose it is a fun museum when you have certain knowledge about country singers like Kenny Rogers and others (whose names I’ve already forgotten) – but we pretty much only knew Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton and Taylor Swift (no comment.) So the visit was not that fun for us in all honesty but we did really enjoy creeping at the stars’s cars – everything was not lost! My stomach was getting worse and worse which probably didn’t help – picture a zombie wandering through the exhibitions. Afterwards, Steph was starving so he picked Jack’s barbecue to pile up a couple of ribs and steaks.
As Steph realized that I was really not feeling good, he kindly let us stay in a hostel for the night – a night in the car on a parking lot was maybe not the best idea! So he found one quickly and I was in bed at 6pm. Obviously, he wasn’t going to do the same! So he went and made some friends in the living room and they all went out to a bar downtown. When he came back at God knows what time, the smell of beer made it clear how much fun he’d had! He then explained he had gone to a Karaoke bar with a Swiss couple, an English girl and a Nashville cowboy where beers were $1! That ought to do it. We left Nashville the next day, I was still half a zombie so Steph drove and told me travel stories he learned from the night before with the hostel crew.
We finally made it to New Orleans, one of our most anticipated stops! We arrived in the evening and went straight to the famous Cafe du Monde to finally taste their world famous beignets. Sipping on some cafe au lait and hot chocolate while devouring these delicacies was the best reward after the long drive of the day. You can’t escape covering yourself from top to bottom with their powdered sugar but it’s more than worth it! We then walked around very quickly to take peak at the famous Bourbon Street, but it was absolutely freezing that evening. Like most people, we thought we’d find warm weather in Louisiana but it turned out to be one of the coldest places! We then spent the night at the BMC (Balcony Music Club), definitely THE place to be for an evening in New Orleans. As soon as we entered, we were grateful for PG’s advice to go there. The band was Eudora Evans & Deep Soul and they were simply incredible. Beautiful jazz music through trumpets, saxophone, guitar and drums coupled with Eudora’s breathtaking voice and presence: welcome to New Orleans. This is where you realize the true musical and lively vibe of the city. Steph tried the local whiskey cocktail Sazerac and I stuck to pineapple juice, being on driving duty for the evening. After the incredible show of the first band, a second one came on, The Abney Effect – never had we seen that many musicians on one stage! We listened to their energetic jazz symphony for a little while before finally calling it a night. We spent the night on a pretty sketchy Walmart parking lot which was everything but reassuring. Waking up to a sunny and warmer day sure was a good reward.
We then spent the entire day walking around the city, getting to discover the French quarter and street vibe of beautiful New Orleans. It started with a warm coffee in one of the oldest bars in the U.S. In there, everything is wooden and seems crooked. There was even a man practising the piano for later, which was ideal as we were slowly waking up. Just like in Austin, this bar showcased pictures of all the celebrities that had been there – Tarantino sure knows his way around cool American bars! As we continued our walk, we stopped a few times to listen to the talented street musicians playing their own jazz songs and bringing the city to life. One of them even had a tap dancer! We also checked out lots of cool voodoo and skull shops as well as colourful and vintage decoration shops. Out of nowhere, we spotted an incredibly colourful store which turned out to be a hot sauce store. We got to taste all kinds of flavour and did not leave empty handed! Although the French quarter is amazing, the city is still recovering from the consequences of the terrible hurricane Katrina. Lots and lots of homeless people are unfortunately wandering around as they have lost everything.
New Orleans is famous for two things: music, of course, and food! You already got a pretty good introduction with the beignets – but we figured it was necessary to try a lunch specialty as well. So without hesitation we stepped in Acme, the Oyster house. Sitting at the bar, I tasted their renowned oysters – both the fresh ones and the charbroiled ones. The latter is their specialty, and consists in oysters with cheese, garlic and different herbs grilled on a barbecue. Delicious! Steph went for their seafood gumbo, but did fight his dislike for oysters to try these. Not so bad! We continued our stroll to try to find CD’s of the band we’d heard the night before, without luck, but did find some old school carriages and mansions on our way.
As our day around New Orleans was coming to an end, we knew that one day we’d have to come back for Mardi Gras – where it seems the costumes, the atmosphere and the music are absolutely incredibly unique. We’ll be back.
When we looked up the directions from Moab to Austin, Google Maps said it would take 19 hours. Okay then… The road was actually a little scary that evening because it was extremely dark, a single lane in the middle of nowhere with the speed limit of 75mph (120km/h.) We were definitely afraid of animals crossing the road so we were constantly on the lookout for movement ahead of us. We stopped to sleep at a Walmart in Albuquerque (New Mexico) and we woke up really early and really cold. There was snow on the road as we kept going and when we decided to check the temperature, we realized it was -14 degrees (7F). There had been no transition for us, we had gone straight from summer to winter in a split second!
After a day of non stop driving, we finally arrived in Austin in the evening. Too tired to do anything, it was Happy Meal and straight to sleep! Just like the kids. The next day, we went to the outlet store in the morning and instantly caught up on our lack of shopping over the past 2 months! North Face, Nike, Adidas at crazy prices, say no more! Once we were done, we were obviously starving. We first drove to the famous Franklin’s Barbecue. Obviously they were sold out. They open at 11am and are so popular that people show up at 8am to start lining up. They wait up to 4 hours in order to get to eat there. The girl who explained this to us said that the wait was part of the experience: “Some people come with camping chairs, blankets, games. It’s almost like camping!” Okay… When have we ever waited 4 hours outside in the cold to eat? Never.
We then picked a Tex-Mex location that had good reviews and where we would actually be able to eat right away! We ended up at El Rancho’s (check) in a cute hacienda like restaurant. You know the saying that everything is bigger in Texas? Well it’s true when it comes to food! We found ourselves with a huge amount of food on the table, everything looking more delicious than the other. After 3 bites I think we were already full, but the fajitas that we got to make ourselves from meat still burning on the plate were just too delicious to stop. When we were officially full (and I was half asleep on the table), we got the rest in a box to go.
It was then night time and a Friday night, so we knew we had to do what a real Texan cowboy would do to go out. We went to Broken Spoke, a family owned bar celebrating their 50th anniversary. Entering this place was like entering a new dimension: cowboys, girls wearing santiags, very very old school haircuts (the ones you wouldn’t think are even still possible to get today) and a Texan cowboy singing country music and yodeling at the same time. I was still in a bit of a food coma so I asked the old lady at the bar for a coffee, to which she replied with a stunned expression on her face: “You want coffee?! There’s the beer menu here!” In the bar, there was a cool room called the Tourist Trap, which obviously lured us in. It is a collection of photos of the owner with all the celebrities that visited this bar from Clint Eastwood to Tarantino to Robert Rodriguez to Robert Duvall. 50 years in business, 50 years of photos. We also got to see two-step dance lessons given at the back as youngsters arrived for a dance night dressed in their boots, cowboy hats and mini skirts! I even got to take a photo with the cowboy owner, please admire the diamonds on his shirt.
Maeva and the cowboy owner of Broken Spoke
It was still relatively early in the evening so we decided to move to another typical Austin location for a night out: Dirty 6th. Now, this one is a little less old fashioned and gathers all the young people of Austin into one street full of bars. We started with Buffalo Billiards to play some pool. Obviously, I lost – in my defence, Steph has practiced many times and is too mathematical to be beaten. We then randomly picked another bar for a few drinks. There was live music from a super friendly guy named Joe Vega who could play a huge list of songs upon request, right there with his guitar and microphone. Steph picked “Escape (Pina Colada)” as we’ve been listening to it a lot from our Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. It was lots of fun, especially as we got to watch a few birthday girls who had had a few too many drinks dancing in the middle.
The next morning, we passed by in front of Franklin’s to see if people were really THAT motivated for barbecues. And it turns out they are! It was early on a Saturday morning, it was raining, it was cold and a huge huge line was just waiting outside the restaurant… O-kay. We went to Spider House Cafe instead for a warm drink in a warm and cozy coffee shop. With an eclectic decor, a hipster setting and lots of vintage furniture, the place is perfect for good coffee and good conversation. You can never get enough of artsy and kind of weird places with a unique charm like this one!
It was a long long drive from Monument Valley to Moab and a big detour on our road. But we had heard only great things about Arches National Park so we figured it was worth the drive. On our way we stopped at a cute coffee shop in a town in the middle of nowhere to enjoy come cappuccino and chai latte before taking the road again.
In the evening, we arrived in Moab, the town where the National Park is located. We tried to find a campground but the first two we visited were closed for the season. Luckily the last one wasn’t, although it seemed like it. Slick Rock Campground had no office during the winter season, just an envelope based on the honour system: leave your money in it and that’s it. That wouldn’t work everywhere! Happy to have somewhere to cook, we made another one of our delicious chilis con carne. We then headed back to find the laundry mat as it was becoming necessary. We enjoyed the wifi there along with all the hippies and travellers of the city!
After a pretty chilly night, we were thrilled to discover hot and free showers in the campground – it doesn’t happen that often around here. And after a warm Starbucks, we knew we were going to have a pretty good day! We even discover a new kind of trail mix, with nothing but different sorts of peanuts, called Peanut Lover. Well, we ate the whole thing in one day (650g, yes it’s a lot)!
We drove to the Arches National Park and after the Park Ranger warned us against the upcoming snow (what?!) we drove up the road in the gigantic park. The area covers indeed 76,359 acres (30,901 ha) and contains over 2000 sandstone arches. Obviously, we had to pick what we would do! So we drove all the way to the end of the road to hike the Double O trail. As soon as we stepped out of the car, we knew things were going to be rough. The wind was blowing like crazy and it was freezing! We put our coats and hiking shoes on and headed hastily towards the trail, trying to warm up as we walked. The hike was really nice, especially because once we reached the Landscape Arch, it turned into primitive trail which meant: no beaten path, less people, more climbing on rocks, more fun! We walked among the rocks in an amazing scenery and finally reached the double O arch, which was definitely worth the effort. We couldn’t even resist climbing all the way to walk at the very top of the arch for the best aerial experience of the park!
Afterwards, we drove to watch the famous Delicate Arch and watched it from the viewpoint, too cold at this point to attempt another 3 hour hike. We then went to see the Window Arches and followed the trail to see the North Window and South Window side by side. We also peaked at the Double Arch and Turret Arch.
We were definitely not disappointed to have made it all this way for the arches, because this incredible orange landscape of rocks was really the best way to finish our national parks tour.
We arrived in the Monument Valley area at night time, only perceiving dark shapes in the horizon. We picked the closest campground in Gouldings in order to catch Monument Valley at sunrise. Waking up at 6 was really hard. As we drove out of Gouldings, Steph suddenly screamed and pulled at the side of the road by a trailer that read “Breakfast Burritos”. Of course! Honestly, it was probably the BEST breakfast of the trip: a HUGE burrito of thick tortilla filled with a potato omelet, two eggs and bacon. Plus spicy sauce for the crazy ones (=Steph.)
We then arrived at the visitor centre of Monument Valley and accepted the fee of $20 to drive through the monuments. After all, we weren’t going to be here everyday! We took the dirt road that loops around the famous rock formations immersing ourselves in the Western feeling of the park. Driving through the orange colours of the desert under a warm sun completely immersed us in the Western environment. But something was missing. As soon as we spotted horses by the side of the road, we knew what it was. If we were going to play our own John Wayne movie, we had to gallop through the valley! We therefore agreed to go on a little horse riding tour with one of the locals. It was so much fun to move through the valley on horses and even though it had been a while since we’d done it, Steph and I picked it up quickly! Plus, he got the white horse named Mustang, it helped a lot. He would gallop in front and yell “Yihaaaa!” Our guide was also very nice, though his thing was to gallop sideways and lose his hat every time – we would find out later why.
As we got back to the ranch, he and his friend asked if we could give them a ride as we had to go to the visitor centre to the ATM to be able to pay them for the ride. We explained that we only had 2 seats in front as it was a bed behind. But they were done with their day of work as it was veterans day and they were going to have to leave anyway. So they both got in the front next to Steph (picture two big guys on the passenger’s seat) while I sat on the bed at the back. Now this was a pretty insane couple of minutes to the visitor centre, and when we realized both were completely drunk! They would ask: “So where are you from?” and a minute later ask it again. I was at the back and they kept on moving, I was wondering what the hell they were doing. In all honesty I was a little worried! As we stepped out of the car at the visitor centre, Steph told me they were trying to “discreetly” pass each other a huge bottle of beer. Riiiiight. After Steph had to drive to Gouldings and back to an ATM since both of the ones at the Visitor Centre were out of service (wtf?), he payed them while they attempted to negotiate between themselves who would get what percentage. After a good laugh about it, we went back down the dirt road to take some touristy pictures of the three famous monuments before heading out.
Monument Valley was definitely one of the top stops on our trip, both for the amazing views as for the crazy experience. And to finish it beautifully, as we drove on the scenic road with the skyline of the rock formations at the back, we stopped to longboard down the empty and incredible road. PERFECT!
We drove to Grand Canyon at night time in order to be ready to visit early in the morning. The road was completely empty except for deers… So in an unlit road at night, we were carefully scrutinizing the road to check for animals crossing the way. Even in the dark, the canyon revealed itself by the side of the road, thanks to a strong moonlight. As we reached the first viewpoint, we stepped out and almost flew away with the crazy wind! Still, Steph braved the elements to find the tripod and take a night shot of the canyon under the stars.
We found a great campground in the forest and allowed ourselves to have a well deserved good night’s sleep with no alarm clock! In the morning, after struggling to make breakfast with such wind – picture glasses and bread spreads flying away – we passed by a deer on our way out. We might get used to this! We then chose the bus loop we’d go for. Yes, we were surprised to learn that we couldn’t simply drive or walk wherever we wanted. We had to park and then take the free shuttle towards different viewpoints. A bit of a disappointment to learn that after November 28th all roads would open and people wouldn’t need to take the bus. So close! We did the red loop, the Hermit’s Rest route. We stopped a the first viewpoint and walked towards the next few while contemplating the depth and size of the canyon, fighting the wind and getting some fun shots! The entire loop made it clearer and clearer just how gigantic and imposing the famous Grand Canyon is.
Oddly enough, we hadn’t even planned on making a stop there. But after hearing a bunch of people mention Horseshoe Bend that morning at Antelope Canyon, we thought we ought to go take a look! And thank god we did!
The best word to describe it? IMPRESSIVE! We walked for a mile to discover the gigantic rock in the middle of the canyon surrounded by a halo of turquoise water. All the more impressive was just the steepness of the cliffs we stood on. Nature once again reminded us how little we are and capturing the scene from such heights and posing so close to the edge was a little stressful… But absolutely thrilling!
After a night spent in Page, we drove bright and early to Antelope Canyon, ready for a day full of adventures! We arrived at the Upper Canyon only to find out that it cost $8 for the park entrance but then we had to pay another $40 per person for a guided tour. Our faces clearly read “WTF?!” as the woman in the booth told us that. It turned out you can’t go to Antelope Canyon without going with a guide, end of story. So much for travelling cheaply…
Hoping to find better prices, we headed to the Lower Canyon and opted for Ken’s tour – $28 per person (including park entry) – hoping it was really worth it.
Fortunately, it was more than worth it and is officially one of the coolest things we’ve done on our trip! What is really amazing is that the surface is completely flat and you can’t see anything until you spot steep ladders going underground. We went down in a small group to find ourselves 5 meters deep into the canyon. Unlike other canyons, this one is a tunnel of perfect waves of sand offering an incredible display of red, brown and beige colours, with beams of light passing through at times. It is created by water and then moulded into a smooth and dizzying zigzag of curves and narrow passages by the force of the wind. It honestly made us feel as if we’d entered another dimension.
As we visited the canyon, we got to chat with our super friendly guide and learn more about it and why it is only accessible via guided tours. It turns out the entire canyon is maintained by the people who organize the tours: they set up the ladders, clean up the water when it floods and add sand to create the path for people to walk on at the bottom. Otherwise there would only be a breach (faille check) and you would be walking with a foot on each side.