Moving On Up The East

I’m going to be real honest with you guys. For the first time in my life, on our way from New Orleans to Orlando, I got homesick. I got it bad. I just lost a couple of really beautiful new friends as their part of the tour came to an end (miss you always Elise and Mariana!). I had barely had chance to speak to my family in weeks, I was stressed about finances and just felt really overwhelmed.

I started to get sick, so Panama City Beach was a blur, and our first night in Orlando I went to bed as soon as we got back from dinner and snoozed for 14 hours straight. Impressive right?

Because I did Universal last year I decided to bow out and have some well needed chill time. I ended up going to the movies to see Wonder Woman with my lovely tour running team. You guys know how I feel about DC, and after the overwhelming averageness that was Suicide Squad, this movie blew my socks off. I cried, as usual, as I watched a genre I have long loved but struggled to identify with be completely flipped on its head. No gratuitous up-skirt shots, no weak-woman-rescued-by-strong-man dynamic. It was incredible. I hope my future daughters continue to have incredible movies like this to seek inspiration from.

After that, feeling a lot better, I hit the pool with my gorgeous friends Geri and Justine for far too many tequila cans.

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After our impressive display at the pool that afternoon I had completely and utterly written myself off for night one in Miami. We got pretty, and I went to bed straight after dinner again.

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The next day I knew I well and truly needed a me day. Let me say this again for those in the back, there is absolutely nothing wrong with lying in bed with a picnic and Netflix when you’re on holiday. The idea is that it’s a holiday, so you do you gang! Sometimes a girl needs her crime shows and three naps. I also got to hear my parents voices and the gentle gurgling of my perfect nephew. Self imposed isolation worked a treat, because that night was party boat night.

Contiki hire a private boat for two hours, on which we got a sick DJ, four free drinks and a stunning view of the Miami skyline.

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I didn’t party too hard because the next day would be one of my absolute highlights… Kennedy Space Centre!

I love space. I find it completely fascinating and mind-boggling. Last year my visit to NASA Houston was one of my favourite days. This year I powered away from the group the moment we got inside so I could cover as much as possible.

First I headed straight to the hall of fame for a truly awesome presentation.

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This was followed by a tour of the whole facility and a recreation of the moon mission, over looking mission control.

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Next I made my pilgrimage to the gift shop and met an astronaut!

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Finally I watched a stunning presentation about our beautiful planet. It was an epic day.

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That night we stayed at Daytona Beach, which was so peaceful and made my heart ache for my Goldie a little.

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Our final stop in Florida was brief and magical, St Augustine.

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The town is old, stunning and has all of the appeal and charm of somewhere like the Shambles in York or Old Town San Diego. Loren and I found ourselves lost in the hand crafted jewellery shops and quirky gift stores. I also had the best fried chicken of my life. BIG CALL. This was followed by an epic family BBQ.

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After leaving Florida we had another stop that I fell in love with. Mi sonna innamorata. As usual!

I didn’t know much about Savannah, Georgia. For context, when Forrest goes to see Jenny in the cafe, it was filmed there! We saw the church, the square and even the cafe itself. Sadly the bench is chained away in the visitor’s centre.

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We spent the day eating oysters and drinking alcoholic slushies.

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That night had one of the best authentic experiences, a home cooked Southern meal with far too much to go around.

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After that it was rooftop cocktails as the sun went down, extremely competitive Trivial Pursuit and the dive-iest gay bar I’ve ever been in for bad karaoke and dollar Jell-O shots.

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The next day we had a lunch stop in Charleston. A lot of the group preferred it here, and though I loved the market and southern mansions, my heart remains with Savannah!

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We had one whirlwind night in Raleigh of which I remember a great buffet and some really pretty looking bars, but it was really just a rest stop on our way to the one and only… Washington DC!

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First on our agenda was a visit to Arlington Cemetery to pay our respects to the countless men and women lost to conflict. It’s always going to hurt, but they did it for their country. That bravery has to be honoured.

Now because I was in DC near on a year ago with another bunch of legends, I had already covered the main touristy bits. I’m not a museum person unless it’s related to a passion of mine, so I decided to dedicate the next two days to pure Leigh time.

This did mean about 70% of it was spent hungover.

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Us lucky Contiki kids get a $10 open bar at an Irish pub called Shenanigans on our second night in the nation’s capital. I remember how badly this ended last time, and honestly, this time was even worse. No details needed. I just couldn’t open my eyes until 3pm the next day. It’s the free pour, I swear! The next night wasn’t a whole lot better. Geri and I ate our weight in Japanese food before a family night at the Italian next door. I was super classy with my white wine and we boogied around the beer pong table (I’ll never get the appeal of that game, but I suppose you need hand-eye coordination, that which I do not possess).

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This was our last official night with the crew. This group had been so massive and wild it was definitely a challenge to connect with everyone, but I made some incredible friends who I know I’ll be seeing back home.

On our way up to NYC we made a stop in a city I will always have heavy affection for, Philadelphia.

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I mean of course I love the Rocky story but it’s setting really is wildly appealing to me. I love the brashness of the locals, the accent, the food, the whole vibe of the place is pretty magnetic. It’s real and raw; just how I like my cities. It was an awesome stop that I honestly wish we stayed in longer.

Finally we made it to the end of the Grand Southern, and I lost my two special girls (and Trent) to Toronto and Boston. I don’t do goodbyes, just see you laters.

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Thus began four nights in New York!

I definitely covered off the main things I wanted to see last time I was there, so this was going to be pure enjoyment.

Day one we met Dan, who would be taking care of us for the NY portion of our adventure. We had a pretty awesome city tour.

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The next day Rachel and I headed out for one of my best days yet… Show day!

First we saw the darkest play I have ever seen, and one of the best books ever written, 1984.

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The cast were spectacular, the stage direction flawless and I don’t think I breathed for most of the second half.

After a quick stop at Bubba Gumps to compose ourselves and cleanse our thoughts, we joined Louise and headed to see the magnificent Anastasia.

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I have been following the progression of this show ever since it was announced last year, and it was just as magical as I’d hoped. It was one of my favourite films as a kiddo, I vividly remembered singing the songs at the top of my lungs around the house. We got all the classics and more, and the sexiest villain of all time.

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I can’t recommend either of them enough!

That brought us to our final full day in the big apple, aka Leigh’s perfect day.

We had a picnic in Strawberry Fields. It’s the part of Central Park opposite The Dakota, the hotel John Lennon lived in and was murdered outside of. It’s a globally recognised garden of peace, it’s a memorial to genius and of course, has a stream of acoustic players jamming out the Beatles’ greatest hits. Heaven.

 

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The next day is also the next chapter… the beginning of the Grand Northern! Boston baby, here I come…

Tune in next time.

Harleigh Q

xo

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The Nitty Gritty and the Heart and Soul

NOLA NOLA NOLA… Where do I start?

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The weather God’s blessed us with warm nights and stormy mornings which worked out perfectly for our nocturnal selves.

I must admit Bourbon street during the day is a slightly intimidating place. I really wasn’t sure what to make of it and spent day one hauled up in bed fighting off a cold.

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Everything changed when we ventured to a little place known as Saints and Sinners.

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The Channing Tatum fans out there will know it as the bar he owns and occasionally visits. Sadly no such luck for us but we did make friends with our lovely bartenders (as per) and smashed a cocktail or three.

After that I had already picked out our next stop, one of the best blues venues on the strip, The Funky Pirate. Oh man. I was feeling that soul. We were loving our personal serenade as we gazed awestruck from the bar. We tried the world famous ‘hand grenade’ cocktails and I think there may have been acid in that secret recipe because I couldn’t eat the next day. Cheers!

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It was such a blur and I was loving the beeds getting thrown around from the balconies lining the street. Jess felt like she was in a war zone where as I felt like I was on stage. Shower me with gifts please.

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Now being the spontaneous kid I am, once the hangover subsided I dragged Jessie a few kilometres up the road in to what I would describe as the Freo to Bourbon street’s Northbridge. What an absolute kookville. I adored it.

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There were pirates, people in top hats, the coolest looking rocker chicks I have ever seen, superb moustaches and so much more with guitar cases slung over their shoulders as they made their way to their respective gigs.

We passed a few venues with young jazz bands free-styling and the packed in crowd going wild. The vibe in this area was absolutely incredible and my favourite (new favourite) street so far.

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Tattoo time! I already knew what I wanted and cause I’m tough as nails and wanted a memento from such a special place, I went for it.

I was sad to leave. I think you could spend a few weeks in New Orleans and still have a million stones left unturned. The service there is so top notch it made up for the kooks walking around with machetes (I’m not trying to put you off going or anything, I felt safer here than most places we have been!). I look forward to coming back one day for a few more wild nights and some further soul music appreciation.

Memphis

How could you possibly top New Orleans? Memphis. That’s how.

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To be completely honest I wasn’t sure what there was to do in Memphis aside from Graceland at the time of booking. That’s why I opted for only 2 nights. I’ll own it. I fucked up guys.

I have never been to a place with more heart than Memphis. Every single person we met was so kind and friendly and couldn’t do enough for us. There was that southern hospitality we’d been hearing about! We met a lovely family in the Harley shop who offered to take us in to town if we got stuck, because they didn’t want us drink driving! Clearly Aussies have a reputation. We met people in the hallway of our hotel who ended up joining us for dinner.

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A hot tip from our sales lady led us to a brilliant (and free) Elvis tribute show where Jess and I saw our very first greaser boy. He looked like he had walked out of the Outsiders. Safe to say our eyes were momentarily diverted from gyrating Elvis.

We had spent the day learning all about our King. Graceland was up there with NASA for me on my unmissables list. I was so much more emotional that I expected. I teared up walking through his halls and glimpsing in to his life. Taking a moment to step back and look around the room, I was in awe of sharing this experiences with so many other fans. His music danced around each room and the hall of records blew my mind. What an absolute God of music.

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That night after our show we ventured to a little place called Beale Street. The home of blues. We started at BB Kings Club after a few laps of the pedestrian area. All sorts of different kinds of music poured from each venue. We invested in a pair of light up bunny ears each and a street beer before opting to enter Silky O’Sullivan’s. Accused of being an Irish bar it still felt more like an outdoor rock and roll venue. They also had goats. They live there. I don’t know.

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Of course we are standing at the bar when we run in to the lovely driver from our last Contiki, Jeff, and end up infiltrating his accompanying group. Stories were swapped, buckets were drank, and somehow we ended up at our third Coyote Ugly of the trip. I always swear it won’t happen again and it always does. Needless to say I was not getting on that bar in my beautiful pinup dress. Especially not surrounded by the incredible locals who can actually dance.

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Speaking of which, pre street beer we decided to have a dig in the record store as we were loving their sweet sounds and I was on the hunt for my 645th snow globe. A lovely older gentleman complimented us on the way in and we ended up having a wee boogie in the aisles to some soul. It’s shit like that that reminds me why I love to travel so much. I even got compliments from a group of local chicks on my moves. Damn Daniel. Maybe there’s some rhythm in me after all.

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Before calling it a night we stumbled out on the the street to find a huge group of people doing what I believe to be the Cupid Shuffle (we have since learnt and nailed this on multiple occasion by the way) It was 2am, music was blaring. They were free, happy and loving it. What a sight. It took my breath away.

The next morning I woke up sad and sore and on the verge of tears because I could have stayed a month. What an absolutely magical place. I completely understand why Elvis loved it so much. It went above and beyond my expectations and apart from San Diego, this is the first place I absolutely cannot wait to come back to.

Nashville

Arriving rather late on a Saturday night with a Memphis hangover was not the best start, and when plunged directly in to the absolute madness that was Broadway on a weekend we realised very quickly: Nashville was not what we expected.

Not going to lie, country music did spill on to the streets from the scores of live music venues, but the masses of Hen and Stag parties also pouring out of them was quite the surprise. It reminded me of an American style Whitley Bay.

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Its a real pretty city but the greatest part of all: The Johnny Cash Museum.

Jessie and I developed a love for the legend while living in Brisbane. Our favourite local band West Texas Crude would croon his greatest hits and ah, we fell.

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His love story with June Carter is my absolute favourite.

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It was wonderful to learn about such a beautiful hearted man.

After my usual kooking around we took our several uber drivers’ recommendations and headed out to Gaylord Oprey Resort. It’s the largest hotel in America (not attached to a casino) and oh, she’s a sight!

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If I could pick her up and move her out of Nashville she’d be an incredible honeymoon destination. Pure tranquility.

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Caught a ride home with old mate. Jess paid him generously.

(Sorry family 😂😉)

Overall Nashville wasn’t one of my stand outs but it did give a great vibe as the Hollywood of Country music. I’m sure if you like that sort of thing it’d be right up your alley!

Atlanta

It was one of those days where google maps said four hours and we didn’t get there until 9.30pm.

Our first stop was the post office to send home about ten snow globes and the wild amount of clothes we have accumulated (side note: this is not a cost effective way to be. I’ll never learn). Of course the line was huge and we got the new guy. Two and a half hours later we hit the road for the final leg of our road trip: Nashville to Atlanta via Alabama.

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I am so glad we took the little detour in to Alabama. It’s without a doubt the prettiest place we’ve been. We drove past huge white houses on acres of land, up and down hills with views in to valleys… It’s green as green can be! I see why Forrest loves it so much. It’s like a dream.

Two years ago I had the pleasure of meeting the beautiful Ally on my first ever solo adventure. It was a Topdeck tour from Brisbane to Sydney. We bonded and spent the eve of my 23rd birthday stumbling around darling harbour and have kept up with each other through the miracle of social media.

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She has the most gorgeous home just outside Atlanta and upon arrival took us on a tour of the city. Local guides are the greatest! We had a beverage at a lovely bar with views of the skyline and though it was short and sweet, we had a wonderful time. Thank you again Ally for being a perfect host and beautiful soul.

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And so we napped (because our sleeping pattern is well and truly stuffed) and awoke at 5am for our airport run. We played all our day songs and hummed along sombrely. We didn’t want to give our baby back and grumbled about how we could have just driven to Orlando. Damn one way fees.

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We covered an incredible amount of ground and the Great American Roadtrip really should be on your list if you’re keen on the states. By driving we saw every kind of scenery and met all kinds of people. It’s been an absolute blast.

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Orlando

Welcome to the theme park capital of the world!

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I had one mission and one mission only: Harry Potter World. I got superbly lucky that the beautiful Contiki tour leader Charity who I met in Memphis also happened to be a massive Potter nerd as did a few of the other girls, including my darling Perth chicka Ashleigh. I had myself a posse of geeks.

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We arrived bright and early and with hearts pounding entered the second most magical place I have ever been (for me, the Studio Tour in London just pipped it at the post). With Slytherin head girl badge and head band attached I was ready and repping. First on the agenda was a secret meeting at Grimmauld Place before butter beer and Cornish pasties, naturally.

 

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I got emotional in Gringotts and caught the actual mf HOGWARTS EXPRESS.

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Guys. I can’t. This was the ultimate for me and almost made up for my lack of letter at eleven years old.

The only way I could process all that excitement was a solo bevvie at Moe’s. I grabbed a Duff with Barney and we had a great time!

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I I really didn’t think my day could get any better. How could that be possible? Then I read the list of character photo opportunities and there he was. My ogre. My Shrek.

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Life. Complete. And it’s not ogre.

I found a deluxe edition of the Killing Joke and the latest Harley Quinn graphic novel.

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I finished the day with pool side beverages with my gorgeous and very welcoming new friends. Best day of my life.

So far.

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Also, Jess went to Gatorland and sat on an alligator. So there’s that.

Bahamas

Our darling angel Cloë managed a last minute booking on the same cruise as us and thus three days of drunken fun began. I’ve never been so full or heavily cocktailed in my life. Drinks packages are the best thing since sliced bread. As are double courses when you can’t choose. I ate for a small African village.

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Well lubricated and post Jess’s superb safety demonstration (snappers may have caught that excellence) we headed out to our first stop, Cococay.

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It’s essentially a tiny paradise reserved just for us. The Bahamas are just as spectacular as google images promises.

Not to mention the locals are so kind and friendly!

Now as far as cruising goes for anyone who is unfamiliar or unsure, it’s the best. We went with Royal Carribbean who are a brilliant 4* company who blew me away at every turn. From the level of service to the quality of food, the nightly activities to the layout of the ship – it was perfection. Three nights felt like far too short, but I don’t think we could keep up with the party life to be honest.

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on our last shore trip we arrived in Nassau and cocktail in tow, boogied with the locals. We now know two of the dances!

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We love our Cloë very much so when discussion turned to post cruise planning a little chat about the possibility of heading down the coast ended with us amending our Miami accommodation to make way for one night in Key West.

Key West

That turned out to be the greatest decision of all time.

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As a travel agent I’m forever aware of the risks of leaving things until last minute, but taking the opportunity for a spontaneous roadie to the most special place I’ve ever been panned out perfectly.

My jaw fell open as we crossed the many bridges to reach the southern-most island but it wasn’t until we drove the coast road to old town that I really realised what we had stumbled upon.
The sunset over the crystal clear ocean was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. The buildings hold the beauty of NOLA’s but the streets have the calm quaintness that she’s starting to lose. The bars in their vast numbers are welcoming and intriguing. The seafood wafts through the air and palms lay in your path as you wander. Then we saw the ghost tour tram.

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Cloë and I jumped at the opportunity to be freaked out and learn about the history of this breathtaking place. It didn’t disappoint.
We heard stories of civil war tragedies, grave robbing, pirate activity and even that of a haunted toy known as Robert the Doll. He’s lovely. I didn’t take photos because I was too scared to ask his permission and risk offending him. Last thing I need is never ending bad luck with three weeks of travel to go!

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We topped off the night with a warm and wonderful walk home. Guys, I know I say this a lot, but this place is it. It’s my favourite. It tops the Amalfi Coast and Great Ocean Road. If you love history, heat, islands and clear waters look no further. I wished more than anything we could have stayed longer. I want to get married here. I want my honeymoon here!

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You’ll be in my heart special island!

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Miami

Still recovering from our binge on life while cruising, we rolled on to Miami at 8pm just in time to see a killer sunset and not much else.

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It’s safe to say I’ve already mentally planned my return to Key West and a big Caribbean cruise. Perhaps I’ll do that after Brisbane, Melbourne, Thailand, Bali and the month alone in Japan.

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Now we are in Boston. The temps are closer to home’s current situation and I can already see the locals are much more my type… I’m sure you’ll hear all about it 😉

Ti voglio bene

xo