USA: Heading East

We arrived in Nashville, Tennessee on Independence Day only half through planning. As it turned out, Nashville hosts one of the biggest Independence Day festivals and fireworks displays in the country with 280,000 people attending. The whole centre of the town is closed to traffic and there is live music and food stalls lining the main roads. We only witnessed a few truly awful displays of patriotism, the worst being a car full of young people that could have been out of an American college movie who screeched past bellowing “God Bless the U.S.A.” by Lee Greenwood from their convertible. All in all though, it wasn’t much more ridiculous than Australia Day.

Rotating fire boat with red, white and blue streams of water. Accompanied by the national anthem.

We were sitting calmly by the river waiting for the fireworks to begin when suddenly we all had to stand up for the national anthem. As we stood in the middle of a huge crowd of Americans with their hands on their hearts trying to conceal that fact that we didn’t know the words, a fireboat appeared on the river. It chugged along spraying jets of red, white and blue water and slowly rotating to the tune of the national anthem. It was all very patriotic.

We remained at the edge of that river for a few hours in anticipation of the famous firework display that was planned for that evening. Suddenly with thirty minutes to go, Athena had a reaction to the painkiller she had for her reoccurring epic ear infection and we had a mad scramble to find some toilets amongst a crowd of hundreds of thousands of visitors. In the end we did get to see most of the fireworks from the bus stop though! [Sorry…]

The day after we had a short time to explore more of Nashville but there wasn’t much to see and we somehow ended up in the legal district and saw about a hundred signs for bail bonds. Billboard advertisements for lawyers in the States are every where and are usually just as professional and appropriate as this one.

She doesn’t look grumpy at all!

Our next point of interest was the Blue Ridge Parkway which starts in North Carolina at the Great Smokey Mountains and travels 755km through the Appalachian mountain range to Virginia. It is famous for its scenic views and is one of Americas most popular road trip destinations.

Panorama of the smokey mountains
A lookout
The view from the lookout
Our camp spot for a night

Along the way we stopped at a place called Grandfather Mountain. It seemed like a national park but was actually privately owned and had a wildlife reserve, various hikes, homemade fudge and a bridge that sings when the wind blows through it. It also hosts one of the largest highland games or “gathering of clans” events in North America, and had huge pavilions that look like they were from a medieval tournament. The main attraction for us, was of course, the animal habitats were we could see otters, bears, eagles, and deer to name a few.

View from the summit of Grandfather Mountain

After following the winding mountain road for a couple of days and narrowly missing a destruction derby championship (!), we had to leave behind the scenic route to reach New York in time. On the way to New York we passed through Washington D.C for a day, strolled past the White House and found ourselves at a bar watching the World Cup semi-final. As we strolled back to our campervan that we had parked downtown, we began to hear car horns tooting and a trail of cars forming behind where our campervan was parked on the busy road. Apparently, in the time it had taken Germany to score seven goals against Brazil, our parking spot had turned into a clearway zone. Ripping the ticket off the windscreen we jumped into the van, relieved at least that the parking inspector had taken enough pity on us not to tow away our home and all our possessions. Or perhaps we had just beaten the tow truck to it.

Lake at a campsite in Virginia on the way to New York

We were going to skip New Jersey completely but we found out that there was another Six Flags theme park, the same chain as the one that we went to in Los Angeles. It was amazing of course, with the tallest and fastest roller coaster in North America. It was well worth the crippling back spasms that Sean got for three days afterwards. The culprit was probably the tall, blue roller coaster in the background of the photo. You began with a huge run up that blasted you forwards, plastering you back into your seat all the while shaking like a rocket about to take off before using the momentum to propel you up the outside of the giant loop and of course free falling down the other side.

Six Flags Theme Park, New Jersey

It also had a safari zone where we got to meet some more animals.

Giraffe popped his head in to say hello

After that though, we reached our final destination: New York. It might have been one of the most stressful experiences of our life trying to return the hired van though. It took us more than an hour to actually find the garage as it was unmarked and nobody was there which then made us late to return the van. A man who we thought worked for the hire company guided Sean in through a corridor with about a centimeter of gap between the van and the wall all the while traffic was backing up in the street behind us. It turned out he was actually there to hire a van and the woman who manages the New York office was late a few hours late. It would have been nice if they could actually tell us this after several calls to the office that were redirected to call centre who didn’t know what was going on and didn’t seem to know anything about the existence of this mysterious New York office. Anyway we were van-free and headed to our room in an apartment on the lower east side of Manhattan.

Not our apartment, just some apartments.
Our first coffee in New York, of course it’s in a jar!

We managed to squeeze a lot into our few days in New York. We attended a craft beer festival in Brooklyn, went to a comedy club, tried out a fancy cheese bar and even found a free music festival on the pier.

We also squeezed in a visit to the newly open September 11 memorial museum. It has been built entirely underground in what used to be the car park of the World Trade Centres, directly under where the buildings used to stand. The walls of the museum are even the foundations of the buildings. Many of the rooms were filled with warped metal scraps that used to form support beams and relics such as the firetruck below that were salvaged from the wreckage of the fallen towers. The result was a strange mix between museum and what could have been a modern art gallery.

In the World Trade Centre basement.
Firetruck pulled out from under the rubble.

The museum was huge and the collected stories, artefacts, phone recordings and media reports were extremely comprehensive. There was even a booth where New Yorkers or anyone affected could record and share their own experience of the day. We spent hours in the museum and probably only saw half of the exhibitions there.

The docks where Dinosaur Jr. were playing.

We just happened to be in New York on the weekend that Dinosaur Junior were playing at a free festival on a pier. Half of the audience could even watch the show from a boat.

Dinosaur Jr!

With only a few days there, we were sad to leave New York but had to catch our plane to Iceland.

Next post: Reykjavik and around Iceland.

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