Bogota is the capital of Columbia. Officially it’s a city of 8 million, but when taking into account the uncounted – the homeless, the indigenous refugees displaced by civil war, the hard-to-pin-down workers of the drug trade – the number reportedly swells to around 13 million. So with around 40% of the population not ‘officially counting’ for one reason or another, it wasn’t a surprise to find the reputation of Bogota wasn’t the tits. We had a flight out of Bogota to duck down to Lima, and chatting to the other travellers who had come from the area, the general feel of the conversations were ‘Oh mate, Bogota? Nah mate fuck Bogota. You sure you need to fly out of Bogota? Try getting into town a couple of hours before the flight man cos, y’know, it’s Bogota’. BOY, WERE WE KEEN.
We had an early flight out, so teed up a one night stay in town. After locking it all down we bumped in to a local Bogotan at our Medellin hostel who assured us there was way more going on in the Bog than our Gringo backpacking connects would know. Her name was Sarah, and she offered to chauffeur us around and help us squeeze every last nug out of our 24-hour stint on the Bog.
But in the end, in a sales technique that my old boss Tim used to extol, Bogota is a classic case of under-promise and over-deliver. When your sights are set as low as ours, any whimper of anything cool will likely get you smiling, so in that way I feel like we tackled the Colombian capital in the right way.
What people had failed to mention was the fact that Bogota is the emerging street-art capital OF THE WORLD. It’s been flourishing over the last 10 years, and has got to the point now where artists are heading there specifically to set up camp.
The main drawcard is the attitude of the authorities. Rather than hang anyone with a hoodie and a spraycan up by their short and curlies, the local popo instead help protect the artists while they’re working. The flow on effect is the artists can work casually in broad daylight, which in turn makes the art of a ridiculous quality. The building owners are happy to donate a wall, as it not only looks mint, it means they don’t have to go and fork out for a fresh lick of paint themselves.
As much a Medellin thing as a Bog thing, the custom rig trade is flourishing in metropolitan Colombia. The preference is for junk. In the front and in the trunk. SO MANY BOOTY. I never had the Spanish/balls to ask, but I imagine arse implants being like forever sitting on one of those ring shaped haemorrhoid pillows. Comfy, but disconcerting. Reportedly if you’re a 15 year old well-to-do Colombian chica with certain parents, you might expect a crisp body enhancement voucher for your welcome into womanhood. If you’re a 15 year old Colombian chica from a more blue-collar background, you might invest in $5 worth of plaster and mock up a nosepiece for yourself, and tell the girls at recess that you’ve had a little scrape off the shnoz. Shit’s just that normal. ‘SHUT UP KAREN EVERYONE KNOWS YOU’VE STILL GOT YOUR OLD NOSE’.
Our lovely mate Sarah squeezed us into a few of the cool local joints later in the evening, and we hit the hay with 3 hours ticking down before we had our flight to catch. It could be argued that we were dickheads to not invest a bit more time into the joint, but all the more reason to head back.
We’re in a guesthouse in Lima right now. There’s not been any toilet paper in the bathroom for the last day; the shower takes ten minutes to be warm enough to even dip a toe in; and we got three single beds instead of double in our room. We’re also just sorting out our ‘social media’ (what a fucking stupid term, it irritates me every time I hear it; it’s so obvious some middle-aged man in an ill-fitting suit made it up and ordered a raft of internet-savvy employees to ‘make it happen’) which is really rosy and happy and totally a travel brag. I did say to check our blog for the behind the scenes, but even our blogs are pretty positive. So now let me give you the true behind the scenes. Let me tell you all the ugly bits…
I’m no lady
This seems like an obvious statement that could be used to describe me at any point in my life. Anyone who knows me knows I’d be a Finishing School Drop-Out. But this shit is next level. It’s been over a month since I waxed my legs (and even then it was with packaged wax strips from Target as we drove along a highway, much to Mary and Kosta’s amusement).
I’m covered in bruises and scrapes because I’m as clumsy as a drunk with an inner ear infection. We’ve been quite active being adventurous and shit but combine that with my lack of balance and I’m surprised Fish hasn’t been taken in for questioning.
While we’re talking about our extreme activities and me being the furthest from Miss World, let me fill you in on something Fish nicely neglected to mention in his post: I cried like a little baby when we were canyoning. We had to abseil down a 25m cliff and this did not mesh well with my fear of heights. I cried and cried and swore and cried and I felt no sense of accomplishment when I arrived alive at the bottom. It was the furthest thing from graceful you could imagine.
I haven’t worn make-up in ages; I more often than not wear deodorant but my perfume rolls around in the bottom of my bag neglected; I’ve worn flip flops every day and I’m not sure whether that’s a tan or caked-in dirt; and I can’t remember when I last washed my hair. Basically I look like The Crack Fox from The Mighty Boosh.
I’m on my way to becoming the Michelin Woman
Long term travel means adhering to a strict budget (something I’ve never been good at and for which I’ve entirely relinquished responsibility to Fish) and one of the best ways to save money is to not eat out. What a paradox: the best part about travel is experiencing the food, but to be able to keep travelling we have to cook our own budget meals. Pasta is a staple. It’s carbs upon carbs upon Nutella. I feel like I’m a uni student again, but I’m not seeing my parents once a week for a decent meal.
We’re also on holidays and, according to The Accountant, beers don’t count in the budget and we can have as many as necessary. This doesn’t help with The Spread.
My fitness is slowly but surely decreasing, too. It was quite obvious when we went canyoning that all my radiographer’s upper body strength has disappeared in two months of unemployment. A few days ago we climbed 740 steps to the top of a big rock- I nearly died and was one email away from cancelling our Inca Trail hike. Fuck a 4 day hike, I’ll take the train thanks.
Those beers aren’t Coopers
Those unlimited beers? They’re the local version of VB. I’m going to murder a pale ale when I get home. Also, the coffee is really fucking bad. How can a region that produces coffee have such a penchant for Nescafe?!
Travelling with a Boyfriend is a whole different ballgame to travelling with your Girlfriends
Don’t get me wrong, Fish is great, I really like the kid.
But, faaark, it’s a lot harder work hanging out with a partner compared to your two best girl mates.
With the girls I could truly just enjoy the moment. With Fish, I question the rest of my life frequently: can I be with a guy who doesn’t know what pesto is? What will the rest of my life be like if we never have cheese in the fridge? There’s a lot of Radiohead in his music collection, should I just run away now?!
Yesterday our taxi driver was as useless as a chocolate teapot and we were going to be late. I cried. I’d never have done that with the girls, I’d have been laughed at mercilessly, which is obviously the appropriate reaction. A partner can’t laugh at you though, they have to reassure you and pat you gently on the back, thus travelling in a relationship makes you a weakling.
With the girls I made an effort to be fun to be around and easy to get along with. With a partner you can be yourself. This is obviously a terrible idea and the beast has been unleashed. It’s completely valid that every time my mum checks in with me she asks if Fish is still around and is always surprised when the answer is ‘yes’.
But really life isn’t that tough
It’s Sunday night and I don’t have to work tomorrow. That’s a wonderful consolation. And until my hormones calm down and my mood improves, there’s always $5 bottles of Chilean red wine.
(Title is from Ben Folds Five “Rockin’ The Suburbs”)
When travelling Colombia, you’re going to be pointed to a couple of places straight off the bat – ‘Ooh, the Caribbean Coast’ they’ll say, or ‘Oh my stars you need to check out Medellin you sexy bastard’. And too true, these places are grouse, rad, and any other 80s slang for good you can think of. But being intrepid as shit, we threw the scrunched up metaphorical map back in the metaphorical face of this advice, and headed country.
Sizzle being from a town of 300 (if a couple of buses break down on the way through) and I being a kid from a throbbing 1000 strong metropolis, the hustle and bustle of a big city or a tourist haven tends to wear us down. Thankfully, Colombia has a shit ton of options if you’re into seeing mother nature in her intimates.
EXTREME. This is all that we were told about San Gil prior to heading there. EXTREME. IT’S HARD NOT TO SHOUT IT. Nestled in the mountains of the Santander region, it’s made it’s name as the adventure capital of Colombia. There’s 40,000 people squeezed into a cute little town that is a hot mess of old world charm. Cobblestone streets, old fellas having Tuesday morning beers while getting their loafers shined, Virgin Mary statues that have needed a lick of paint since 1983, it all comes together in exactly the way you’d hope. And the slow, chilled façade works magnificently as a counterpoint to the tourist activities, which, as I mentioned, are FUCKING EXTREME.
Canyoning. For the uninitiated, it’s as simple as getting dropped at the top of a canyon, and by whatever means necessary, you make it to the bottom of said canyon. In our case it meant starting with a spot of caving. If you were to ask me prior to San Gil ‘What is blacker than black?’ I would have answered with ‘don’t be a fuckwit’. Now I’ve changed that answer to caving. We had the benefit of headlamps for the most part, but every now and then, while we hung with bats, the lights would go out and we’d drop into what I assume the inside of a black hole looks like. From there we returned to daylight and abseiled down a couple of sizeable cliffs, rock climbed more minor drops, and finished with cliff jumping into a rock pool at the bottom. My triple salto with pike scored well with the Colombian judge.
We also knocked over some rafting, tackling rapids ranging from levels 1 to 5. Without knowing much about the ratings system, I’d convert that on the poo-yourself scale to 1 being a pop-off at your Nan’s place and 5 being thick spread vegemite in the briefs. There was a 30 minute safety demonstration at the start that had everyone worried that there would be a pile of cadavers at the finish line, but as long as you’re in control of your faculties there isn’t too much to worry about.
Colombia has a big rock. It’s called El Penon, which, creatively, is Spanish for ‘the rock’. It’s about 220m tall and 350m long, like a junior Uluru, but the landscape around it is the duck’s nuts. It’s located outside the township of Guatape, which is a town that was built in the 60s after a man-made lake was created to run a hydro-electric dam. The town could be seen as the antithesis of San Gil in that there’s no real history to speak of, but that has allowed them to create their own super unique aesthetic. At the front of every building you’ll find three dimensional tiles with pictograms of whatever tickles the building owner’s fancy. And the colour schemes are hyper, not only on the tiles but the entire buildings. It gives the impression they’ve tried to paint the entire town using whatever free sample packs Dulux have handed out. But in a yuck good way.
But what made Guatape more than anything for us was the hostel we stayed at. Sean is an English lad who’s set up a hostel right under the rock with his Columbian missus, and it is a peach of a place. You’ve got the rock out the front, the lake out the back, and home in the middle. If not for the fact we have to go to friggin’ Peru to see some friggin’ Inca stuff, I’d have stayed forever.
Medellin. Wow. We’ve been here for five days and there’s just so much to say about it. Never have I been to a place where people’s perceptions are so divorced from reality. The end of last century was hell for Medellin but the progress that’s been made in the last 20 years and the city that it has become and the people that populate it are truly remarkable.
The free walking tour is a must for everyone who visits Medellin (pronounced Med-eh-jzin, where the ‘jz’ sound is like when that guy from Queer Eye For The Straight Guy wants to ‘jush’ someone’s hair). They take you to the downtown area where most people would tell you not to go. Best of all they explain “why your parents are freaking out that you’re here, but why there is no need to worry”.
Colombia has a very complex political history which led to ole Pablo Escobar and his cartel buddies running rampant all over Medellin which I can’t even begin to explain. The over-simplification is that there was a civil war raging between conservative and liberal guerrilla armies for the last half of the 20th century; therefore there were lots of people with guns kicking around that were more than happy to do Pablo’s dirty work in exchange for a few pesos. By the end of the 80s he pretty much had control over the whole country.
In the early 1990s Medellin was the most dangerous place in the world with nearly 7000 murders in 1991. Hernán, our tour guide, remembers catching a bus to school and seeing entire buildings which had been bombed the night before. Children would be sent off to school and the parents wouldn’t even be sure if they’d see them again. Kidnapping was par for the course – tourists were prime targets because their countries’ governments could be bribed for more money. With that kind of shit going on Colombia, and Medellin in particular, deserved the international reputation it got.
But that was in the 1990s. In the early 1990s you couldn’t go to New York without getting mugged and yet no one freaked out when Fish and I said we were going to the Big Apple. 20 years ago Brixton was less than salubrious and now it’s a trendy place for young people to party if not move to. So why does everyone still assume we’re going to get kidnapped/robbed/stabbed in Medellin? I don’t have the answer to this, but I suspect it’s got something to do with the War On Drugs – poor Colombia is blamed because they’ve got the supply, yet basic economics would tell you that it’s the demand which is the driving force. The other element is that tourism is only just starting to take off so there hasn’t been enough people going back to their home countries to tell people how beautiful, safe and friendly Colombia is.
The city began transforming in the late 1990s with the help of an iron-fisted president and a brave mayor with a very civic approach. This mayor claimed back public spaces that had become over-run with criminals, where regular residents would never dare go, and overhauled them. The central square for prostitutes, drug-dealers, and hit men was cleaned up and now hundreds of pillars are planted around which are beacons of light at night. Around the square the historic buildings have been converted into a library and cultural centre. Escalators were installed in the poorest neighbourhoods where people would normally have to walk up 300 steps to their house. A metro system was constructed – the first in all of Colombia – which includes a cable car (exactly like the ones on ski mountains) up the hill of those poor suburbs – the first commuter cable car in the world. The striking thing about all of this infrastructure is the way the residents interact with it. It is so apparent that they’ve very recently lived through hell and they take nothing for granted. The metro train is unlike any I’ve ever seen in the world because it’s 20 years old and has not even so much as a scratch on it. The people are so grateful to have that metro system they practically worship it. Every ‘park’ Fish and I visited (they use the words ‘park’ and ‘square’ interchangeably, quite often there won’t be a single green thing in a ‘park’) was filled with people enjoying it. El Poblado- the touristy area and centre of nightlife – is gorgeous and surprisingly cosmopolitan. The streets are lined with enormous leafy trees and there are bars, boutiques, restaurants and cafes for about ten blocks around the main park, Park Lleras. It’s a really hip area, like, sushi bars and succulents-in-cute-pots level of hip.
As a crowd of 30 gringos on a walking tour through the heart of the city we stuck out like dogs balls. Locals would gather around as well despite not speaking a lick of English. They were just so interested as to why we were there. And appreciative of the fact that we had bothered to come. Once an older local man who may or may not have showered in the last week stood right next to Hernán the whole time he was talking, nodding along to everything he was saying. When Hernán had finished and we were about to walk on to the next place, this local grabbed at his arm and rattled off something in Spanish. Hernan stopped and announced to us, whilst Old Mate stood grinning widely next to him, “this guy just wants me to tell you that you’re all very welcome here”.
I found it very interesting that Hernán would make us stand in very close so no locals could weasel in whenever he was about to reference something bad which had happened during Escobar’s reign. People from Medellin are very ashamed of that part of their history. Even Hernán wouldn’t say Pablo Escobar’s name and wouldn’t talk about him directly unless he was asked. There are plenty of tours you can do that are solely about the guy, but we felt uncomfortable supporting them. We heard that they weren’t very good, that they glorified him – made him out to be a Robin Hood type figure. When you’re making $50 million per day I’d imagine that you would have some spare change to give to the people in the slums. The most interesting thing I learned from people who’d done the tour was that he didn’t use banks and spent $1000 every week on rubber bands to tie up bundles of cash. And 10% of his income was written off due to being nibbled by rats.
Of course, Medellin still has its troubles and it’s not all a Utopia. The unemployment rate is about 17% and there were a lot of drunk old men passed out on the steps in the town centre. Down the left side of every church (not sure why it’s always the left side, but it is) you can find a lady (or lady-boy) to take to a nearby hotel room which you can rent by the hour, or if there are none that take your fancy you can pick up any number of hard-core porn dvds from the stalls that line the street. But as a tourist I never, ever felt unsafe. The guerrilla armies are all but dissipated and the few that are still active are in select rural areas near the Venezuelan borders.
I had such a fantastic time in Medellin and was so impressed with what it’s like now compared to how it was. I feel like it’s a personal mission to do some international PR for Colombia and tell the world how beautiful, safe and welcoming it is. It’s becoming an essential leg of the Gringo Trail – the backpackers have discovered its glory. I’m sure it won’t be too long before the rest of the travel and tourism world joins in. And Dad, stop sneering about how it’s the Drug Capital – I’ve seen more lines racked up at house parties in south west London.
So get this guys, we’re in South America. We’re almost 2 weeks down in Colombia and thus far have done Cartagena, Santa Marta, San Gil and Medellin. All of these places probably mean as blot to you as they did to me a fortnight ago. I can confirm though that they are all splendid.
Some notes on Columbia so far;
Cold Friggin’ Buses
So the temp in Colombia hasn’t dropped below about 20⁰C for us. Up on the northern coast where we spent our first week we were lucky to get anything below 30⁰C & 100% humidity overnight. PRO TIP: when it’s that hot, ask if your room has A/C prior to booking, as drowning in your own sweat makes for an embarrassing funeral.
So we had a 10 hour overnight shuttle down to San Gil, and obviously bussing around in this sort of climate I popped on a smart pair of rolled up shorts and a fresh singlet to frame the pipes. But I couldn’t help but notice as more people got on that everyone had either a wad of blankets under the arm or were wearing a hoodie and trackie dacks (replete with pit and groinal sweat). Then the bus started.
It’s quite hard to describe the next 10 hours. It was almost an out of body experience – I was constantly shivering and constantly half asleep, so the trip felt as though it went for both 10 minutes and 10 days. As far as getting a celcius reading on what I was dealing with, I licked my finger and held it up to get a gauge but it turned black and fell off.
The ONLY good thing about being a bloody Gringo English speaker in Colombia – and it’s a small perk – is you get the joy of Spanglish fashion. It’s almost always in the form of a tie-dye top with sparkly English wording, near enough to grammatically correct so that Colombians can’t tell, but wrong/weird enough for us to find it funny. Some examples spelt verbatim;
YOU ARE EXPIRED
YOU CANONLY BE AS GOOD AS YOU TASTE
It’s what I imagine a Frenchy feeling like when he/she walks down the perfume aisle at David Jones.
Where Are The Hot Ones;
Prior to getting here there was ONE THING I knew about the Colombian people. They are smokin’. They’re all perfectly formed, carved from marble, Mister and Miss Universe contestants in the making. I was quite prepared to paper-bag my face on arrival so as not to offend the local Greek Gods and Goddesses.
AS IT TURNS OUT, they’re not all that flash. The fact that they win Miss World every second year is, as far as I can tell, just down to a shitload of luck. Sure, you get your sharper looking cats every now and then, but they are most certainly the exception. And I realise it’s hard for me to call out peeps on hotness when I’m no Rembrandt, but we’re being sold a lie. On the upside it makes you focus on their personality more, which I’m sure would be beautiful if I could understand a fuckin’ word they said.
SIDENOTE; You can’t get on Colombian television if you’re any shade darker than Vanilla Macchiato.
Let’s discuss the title straight up – New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down is a bloody brilliant song by LCD Soundsystem, an iconic NYC band. Also, it’s the best way to describe my time in New York due to the fact that it was impossible not to compare New York to London, and it just made me wish even more that I was living back there.
We Couchsurfed at a sharehouse in Brooklyn in an area that looked so much like Manor House (where I lived in London) – the plain brick buildings; ethnic convenience stores; middle eastern fast food. The subway system was a sub-par version of the London underground – it was hard not complain that the Underground was cleaner, more comfortable, more frequent, and far more user-friendly. Some places looked a lot like London, we would often be saying “this is like Shoreditch”, or “this is like Shepherds Bush Empire”.
We went to see The Wombats on Monday night for $18 (they were amazing, by the way) and we could’ve seen Ben Folds on Thursday for $30 but got lazy and didn’t (we had to be up at 4am for our flight to Colombia). That was what London was like.
Ok! I’ll stop whinging! Honestly, I did love it, it just made me sad that I live in a country with beautiful weather and personal space where it’s easy to drive a car.
We did a walking tour of the Financial District straight up which was a great way to learn about the history of New York. The only thing I really knew was that “old New York was once New Amsterdam” because of that really old song that They Might Be Giants covered that one time, “Istanbul was Constantinople”. Probably my favourite fact was that the word Manhattan comes from the language of the indigenous people who lived on the island when the Dutch East India Company turned up and settled it and 25% of the buildings were pubs. Manhattan comes from their word which I can’t spell which means ‘place of general inebriation’. That’s pretty funny.
We visited Grand Central Station, which of course I was likening to Victoria station, until we actually got there and it was actually really beautiful and I totally see why people go and look at it. The Chrysler building is just next to it; as well as The Rockefeller Center and The Empire State building. We went up neither of these buildings to enjoy the views of the city because we’re tight-arses.
We walked to Times Square and were overwhelmed by the amount of people and wasted electricity. I got sad about not being able to see any musical I wished whenever I pleased. God I miss London. We laughed at the ridiculous people dressed up in costumes that are supposed to look similar enough to a famous character (aka Hello Kitty or Iron Man) to get tips from tourists wanting a picture; but not so similar as to attract a lawsuit.
We visited Chelsea Market and bought a picnic which we ate as we walked the Highline (a disused railway line that’s been converted into a paved-and-gardened walkway above Chelsea and the Meat-packing district). We rode around Central Park and then returned on foot to see the bits we missed (Strawberry Fields; Belvedere Castle). Fish preferred Hyde Park but I have to admit that I was quite taken with Central Park, especially the beautiful magnolia trees.
We weren’t organised enough (a recurring theme) to have bought tickets to any theatre shows but I’d heard about getting last minute lottery tickets. I really wanted to take Fish to see The Book Of Mormon, a musical written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the writers of South Park. I saw it when it opened in London and I can’t stress how much I loved it and it is also boy-appropriate (not that musicals should be for women only, but when you date a guy from Jamestown you have to be sensitive to some old-fashioned ideas). It’s so popular that it sells out way in advance and tickets are sooooooo expensive. So we lined up at 4pm for the lottery and standing room seats. There were already about ten people in front of us. The line grew and grew and at 4:30 a chap from the box office came out with little cards to write your name on and enter the lottery. 6 lucky people would have their names drawn out and from there could buy two tickets for $32. The seats are 12 special seats reserved in the front row just for lottery winners. Other people in the front row pay $300 to be there.
There was a crowd of about 100 people by the time the lottery was drawn at 5pm. There was so much anticipation, it was like a reverse Reaping from the Hunger Games. The guy who pulled the names out created a bit of theatre about it so it was fun in itself seeing how it worked (because they never do this lottery business in London!). We were no Charlie Buckets, we didn’t win the Golden Tickets. But we had our place in the standing room line. So when the lucky bastards who won the lottery had bought their tickets, they opened up the ticket office for the first 25ish people to buy standing room tickets. We got them for $27.
By this time it was 6pm, we’d been on our feet all day and were about to stand for another three hours to watch this show. We scarpered to the nearest pub for a pint and a burger (bless the Irish heritage of North-East America, we’d been hard pressed to find a pub up til now) before getting back to the theatre for the start of the show at 7. I was nervous that I’d built it up too much for Fish (and the other people whom we’d befriended in the ticket line). Thankfully, he was impressed and there were some legit LOLs coming from him. If you thought Team America World Police was funny, Book Of Mormon is next level. And more inappropriate. What made it even better was that the standing places were actually up against the railing at the back of the stalls (the stage-level seats, for those not in the know of theatre lingo). We were resting just behind the people who’d paid over $200 for their tickets.
When the show was over we were having a chat to the people who’d been next to us in line earlier – a bunch of Aussie doctors from Melbourne and a gay couple from Clapham, one of whom played in the house band at Venn Street Records in Clapham Common (a great bar in south-west London). When they’d been walking back to their hotel to get changed before the show, the Aussies had bumped into a ticket seller on the streets who’d sold them cheap ($30) tickets to a late-night comedy show at Jerry Seinfeld’s comedy club where Tina Fey was appearing that night. I do love Tina Fey. If anyone is a fan of 30 Rock I urge you to watch The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt – Tina Fey’s new show which is freakin’ hilarious and I got addicted to it on Mary and Kosta’s Netflix. We were so tired and the show wasn’t on til 11pm but it was TINA FEY. Fish The Accountant even said that the budget could allow it. So we walked to the venue to see if we could get tickets. The dude on the door said that it wasn’t sold out so if we just came back at 10:30 we’d be fine. Awesome! We got a pint, came back at 10:30, managed to get tickets for $20, and then realised that the venue was tiiiiiiiiiny and immediately we became suspicious (would’ve been great if we’d become suspicious an hour earlier). How naïve we were. There were 4 stand-ups of varying quality (they would’ve been great if it was an amateur comedy night at Rhino Room; not when you’re expecting Tina Fey) and about 90 disgruntled punters which dwindled rapidly once they all dawned that no famous comedian was coming out. Turns out the ticket sellers on the street say any comedian’s name and it’s up to the purchaser to be savvy enough to know that that’s bollocks. And our Melbournian Doctors weren’t and we didn’t twig until too late. To add insult to injury there was a two drink MINIMUM and the cheapest drink was about $9. It was funny reading the TripAdvisor reviews of Broadway Comedy Club after that.
We spent a day in Brooklyn as well, following recommendations from Danny and Alisha who used to live there. Prospect Park was pretty cool – apparently if Central Park is New York’s front yard then Prospect Park is its’ backyard. There were more pretty flowering magnolias. We had awesome banh mi for lunch from a legit Vietnamese café (if there’s one thing we’ve been missing more than a chicken parmi it’s a dog roll). We walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, saw the Statue of Liberty in the distance, then cruised on to Williamsburg (much like Shoreditch – commercially hipster. If you want your cutting-edge Dalston-level hipster you have to go all the way east to Bushwick). I couldn’t resist flicking through some vintage shops so I released Fish for half an hour so I could browse and dream of more luggage space without feeling guilty watching him play on his phone while sitting on The Boyfriend Chair. When we reunited the little sweetheart led me to a park and produced a bottle of wine and plastic cups for us to enjoy in the late afternoon sunshine. Just to make it really feel like London. Sometimes there’s a little flicker of romance that gives me hope that my choice of partner isn’t totally Freudian. In the evening we hit up a couple of bars in Williamsburg that’d been recommended. Best of all was Anaconda Lounge which gave you a free pizza with every drink you purchased. That’s a travellers dream if ever I’ve heard one! We ate 6 pizzas and their matching pints while watching the Brooklyn Nets NBA playoff game (cos we’re hard out basketball fans now, haven’t you heard?).
Another day was spent vaguely following Stacy’s Perfect Day In New York suggestion (we had to split it because it involved the Highline and Chelsea Markets which we did a different day) through SoHo; Nolita and Greenwich. New York has this funny but logical way of naming areas by abbreviating a description of their location. Nolita is North Of Little Italy. SoHo is South Of Houston. Tribeca is Triangle Below Canal. Dumbo is District Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass. We had to miss out on Balthazar’s restaurant which was recommended by Stacy, Katy and Misha, because, you guessed it, we’re tight-arses. We got take-out (because we’re in American so it’s not take-away) thai for dinner and had an early night before our 8am flight to Colombia.
All-in-all I liked New York. It was hard to scratch the surface in just 4 days, but I liked what I saw. Considering I’m not welcome to live in the UK anymore I’d definitely consider moving to New York for a stint. I feel like it’d be one of those cities that the more you know of it the more you love it. Just like London.
From New Orleans to Memphis we rolled. Memphis, where freaking Elvis and Johnny Cash both got their starts. The place must be a bustling metropolis with streets of gold where everyone’s got a chance to make it BIG.
Describe it in a 10 word sentence: You can’t polish a turd. But Elvis lived there once
Recommend something to see please: So the town itself is a bit out of luck. If Memphis were a racehorse, the curtain would have been around it a while ago. Thankfully something that they have managed to keep a hold of is a professional sports team. And you are now reading the words of a fully-fledged Memphis Grizzlies Superfan. I got my first taste of American sports and I was not short-changed. Apart from the fact that this mob of basketballers kept on interrupting the sideline entertainment. Rude. Anyways we won and left with free Grizz hand towels that presumably were compensation for the fact we were dropping $14AU per beer.
Tell us one thing that happened there: We stayed at a Holiday Inn in the CBD of Memphis, and just across the road was a lovely gilded building that had a constant stream of retirees flowing in and out of it. We wandered over and learnt it was the Peabody Hotel, the most famous hotel in Memphis don’t you know. And ‘OH BOY’ they said, ‘You come over here at 11am tomorrow and you’re in for a TREAT’. Well that sounded exciting, so next morning we did just that. We walked into the foyer to see a crowd of a few hundred people listening to a fella in a suit giving a bit of a town-crier style talk. He explained he was the DUCK MASTER, and he was about to drop some shit on us that would blow our fuckin’ faces off. He jumped in the foyer lift and went up. About 2 minutes later, to the sound of angels singing and an 80 piece orchestra, the lift doors open and 5 ducks come walking out, down a red carpet, and jump in the fountain in the middle of the lobby. Then just sat there. WOOOO.
Star Rating: 2 ½. It could have been worse but we found out that the tallest building in town – a 30-odd storey old art deco hotel – was on the market for $1.2 mil, so I’m now seeing the whole joint as an investment opportunity.
Describe it in a 10 word sentence: There’s nothing good about country music, can you please stop
Recommend something to see please: Thankfully, there’s a bit more to Nashville than people singing about their pickup trucks. Being the cool cat that you’re all very aware I am, you won’t be surprised to know I was on the lookout for the hip part of town. We found it out East at a place called 5 points – an intersection of 5 roads that had a whole heap of cool little bars and shops. The beers were many and varied, and the waitstaff all said ‘y’all’ about every third word, which is scientifically proven to be the most welcoming word in the English language. But only in a Southern accent.
Tell us one thing that happened there: In Nashville there’s a theatre called the Ryman. Up until the mid-70s it hosted The Grand Ole Oprey, which is a country music concert held once a week since forever that is simulcast on radio. Apparently it’s a fair old institution in the US so we joined a group and got a backstage tour. So the fella guiding the tour was in his 20s and pretty jolly, and every name that he shot at us went straight over my head (bar Johnny Cash). But it became fairly apparent fairly quickly that the young man was about 8 jackets deep in the closet. Nashville being what I’d term Southern-progressive, I’m sure he wouldn’t have been run out of town for enjoying the lads, but he was certainly trying his best to dial down his femininity. With hilarious results. Every now and then he’d just come out (not literally) with the gayest arrangement of words possible, and we just had to glance at each other and try not to laugh. It was a lot like trying to hold in the giggles at church. Cathoes REPRESENT.
Star Rating: 3. I do realise that a fair few people DO like country tunes, so obviously their score would be higher. Add ½ a point for every Lee Kernaghan album you own.
Oh shit, the blog! Good lord we’re behind. I didn’t realise that holidaying was such a full time job. We’re not even getting paid for this.
So following on from Coachella we flew straight to Austin because we were starting our SOUTHERN ROAD TRIP. Cos what would a trip to the US be without haulin’ ass down route 66 in a drop-top Cadillac. Except in our case we were doing interstate 10 in a Hyundai. Just like in the films.
So the plan was simple (because we didn’t organise a thing), Austin-New Orleans-Memphis-Nashville over 10 days. Mary and Kosta joined us in Austin 3 days after we arrived, which we had spent with couchsurfing host AJ, a Grade-A chunk of lad who is officially the wisest 22 year old either of us have ever met. We collected a few times over the next week and a half so to save both your and my time, I’m going to dot point this shit.
Describe it in a 10 word sentence: A cooler version of Adelaide in March with more variety.
Recommend something to see please: Food trucks have become a real institution in Austin over the years and the area that they congregate – SOCO – is a super cool joint. The city’s unofficial slogan in ‘Keep Austin Weird’, and this is the area that most lives up to the tagline. Made even more so by the hot rod convention going on the weekend we were there. Also Rainey street is a party street that the locals go to, and it’s just a series of converted houses. It felt like we were skipping from house party to house party the whole night. Mint.
Tell us one thing that happened there: We went to Untapped beer festival 15 minutes out of town while we were there. It had over 200 breweries offering tastings of their entire ranges – for a fiver you could buy a tasting card for 12x 60ml cups and you just wandered round filling yours up. It maybe had 5000 punters attending and there were live bands to keep you occupied. We noticed though that the beer tents were starting to pack up about 3 hours before the scheduled finish. Just before the headliners started there were maybe 20% of the original tents still serving. Mary and Kosta were on their way to pick us up by this point so we were relieved that we weren’t missing out on anything. As we were walking out the front to meet them though thunder and lightning came from nowhere, and a gentle breeze turned into a gale. We ran the last 500m to the car and jumped in just before it started drizzling. As we got in we noticed an F150 with about 12 lads in the tray heading off too (apparently legal in Texas?). When we got 200m down the street the rain came pelting down. I’ve never seen anything like it. We were going about 15kph, but could only see about 5m in front of us so we still felt like we would crash and die. This went on for about 15 minutes until we waited it out at a servo and drove back to town in “normal” heavy rain. God knows what happened to the festival-goers and stalls that were still at the grounds, or the lads in the back of the ute for that matter.
Star Rating: 4 ½
Describe it in a 10 word sentence: A sweaty, wild, musical joint with history out the arse.
Recommend something to see please: New Orleans is famous for Bourbon street – the party street that everyone goes to for their cheap beers and loose times. Which is fine – if you’re in the mood for a grimy Saturday night, brilliant. The only problem is it STINKS. Just sitting water everywhere that you know isn’t just water. You also have the hustling side of things which comes with that sort of place. So instead, there’s Frenchmen’s street. It has awesome live blues and jazz in every bar, and less of the piss-where-you-please clientele.
Tell us one thing that happened there: We were wandering around the rich part of the French Quarter one night looking at the unreal architecture and old white couples on horse and cart tours when we spotted a mint old house on the corner of a couple of main streets. The curtains were open so we peered inside and it was CRISP. It looked as though there was a plantation owner still around who hadn’t touched a thing since 1850, just kept it tidy. We couldn’t decide whether in was a museum or an art gallery until we walked around the other side of the house and a man was standing in the doorway. ‘So do you run this place?’ I asked. ‘I own it’ He said, ‘wanna take a look?’. So we followed him in, and it turned out that this was his holiday house. Chip was a semi-retired 60 year old lawyer from a few towns over with an accent that made you felt like you were swimming in chocolate. He told us on good authority that he had the highest ceilings in Old New Orleans, and his ensuite was once an entire house. We took a couple of happy snaps of us faking the high life before things got a bit rapey and we high-tailed it out. No Chip, I don’t want your special home-brew lemonade.