Country & Western to Rock & Roll

I know I often praise the effects of sleeping tablets for assisting in long flight survival, however, I woke up so groggy when we landed in LA that I proceeded to leave my iPad tucked in the seat pocket; and I didn’t realise until I went to use it after my shower at the hotel.

Tears ensued and I missed my Contiki pre-start meeting, BUT after an hour of back and forthing between lost property and the check in gates, a rogue Swiss employee appeared and produced my dearest possession. As I writer, I type away on this thing constantly. I use it to go to sleep (Netflix downloads are my new favourite thing). It’s my babe and let’s never ever talk about that terrible 24 hours of my life ever again.

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The next morning I met my crew, or at least laid eyes on most of 54 of us. I’m still nailing names. Is that bad? Day one, Vegas bound. Sin City for the third (and forth by the end of this trip) time in two years. Magic!

This time we stayed on Fremont street, downtown at the Golden Nugget. I love this area. It’s close to the mob museum, neon museum and the dazzling light and sound show on the largest screen in the world.

 

The first evening we went from ‘just one drink’ to dancing on the podium around the VIP area and left fifteen minutes before Zedd’s DJ set because we got bored and needed fried food.

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I chilled the eff out the next day for the first time since I started this mad adventure, and that night we went to old faithful Ghost Bar. It’s a super high and super funky bar, and they may not play my music but I always seem to work with it anyway. Alcohol, hey?

Our next destination was the ever spectacular Grand Canyon.

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We stayed in different accommodation to last time which was much cosier, and Wild Western fam you may be proud to know I chose not to have wine for dinner this time. Instead, I did a bike tour around the rim! Not all the way round, that would be ridiculous, but 9kms! Not bad for someone who hasn’t touched a bike in years.

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I also ran in to my gorgeous tour leader from last year, Kiran, and met a couple of the sweeties in her crew. Man I love fellow travel people. We’re all so gainlessly friendly and it’s beautiful.

That evening we had a picnic by the ledge with views that take my breath away every time. The goon and fireball came out, as did the cheese cubes. Life was good. Life is good.

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For my first unfamiliar destination we crossed the border to Colorado, new state! It’s an interesting place, that’s for sure. Weed is pretty much legal there, not that I partake because I’m a paranoid mess on a good day, but it did make for some local characters. That night we had a delicious dinner at a brewery and I got my first sip of pale ale since I left dear Aussie land. We followed it up with bar and booth dancing and fierce beer pong at a funky bar that reminds me of Mojos (Perth kid reference). A strange American man questioned us on the street about whether we hook up with locals (not really sir) and if we would like to kiss an American (no, but thank you for the offer). I think he thought he was doing us a service as he did strop off up the street before coming back for one more attempt. Been there, done that, thanks mate.

 

It was a bright and early start for an activity I’d been dying to do since I conquered the Swiss Alps (hah) many moons ago, white water rafting! This Rapids were only grade 2/3 so super chilled compared to what I experienced last time, which made it way more fun. Excellent banter with what I can only describe as a rafting version of surf rats made my day. I don’t know how anyone can memorise that many dirty jokes. If you ever find yourself in Dorango, give it a go. What a wicked experience and the scenery was next level. Greenery and snowy mountains? Go on then.

Sorry for the lack of photos of this one, but I’ll make up for it with the next!

Which was Albuquerque, a spot I barely grazed through last year. I continued my tradition of doing things that scare the shit out of me for absolutely no reason and decided to hit up a sunrise hot air balloon ride.

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I was totally fine while we cruised low, but as soon as we got up high, I was not fine.

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Once we hit the ground, I was fine again.

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Buck’s Fizz for all!

Little did we know the next night on tour was going to be one of the best so far. We rolled in to a town called Amarillo in North Texas and had a lot of steak and a lot of fun. Big Texan was a super quirky spot and adored by my super quirky heart. There was even a mega steak challenge.

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We played bar games until the wee hours and then set off the next morning for one of my favourites, Dallas!

Quick side note, an awesome art installation to check out just outside of Amarilllo is Cadillac Ranch.

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We stayed in Fortworth, a smaller city about thirty minutes out. We had a BBQ dinner and headed to a local bar for ladies night. $1 champagne! The night ended up a little wilder than planned.

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A really heavy but incredible experience was checking out the Sixth Floor Museum the next morning. I really didn’t know much about JFK’s assassination. It was haunting to see the big cross in the road where he was killed. I highly recommend it for anyone heaving in the Dallas.

That night was big. I went to my first Rodeo.

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Now I can say ‘this isn’t my first Rodeo’.

There were parts I liked and parts I didn’t like. I love community based nights out like that, but being as far from a farm girl as can be I found the calf wrangling a little hard to stomach.

After that adventure it was off to one epic venue, Billy Bob’s, for a country concert. Apparently Chase Rice is a big deal but I can’t really get past the name. I hugged his super sexy long haired guitarist though. You can take Miss Leigh away from her bands…

 

Next we were Memphis bound. We stopped in to Little Rock, Arkansas and learned a lot about the Civil Rights movement. This was another topic I wasn’t too familiar with. I’m really loving learning about these incredible parts of American history. People really can change the world.

Now you all know how much I adore Memphis, but this stop added a whole new layer of adoration. We stayed close to Beale St and I fell in love with the area. Murals and walking distance to some of the greatest musical venues and museums in history? Yeah go on then.

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Our first night was spent at my first minor league baseball game. Go Redbirds!

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After that I got to experience BB King’s for a second time and I haven’t grooved that hard in a while. Now THAT was soul.

Graceland time!

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They have refurbished since I was last there so I was loving the new shops. A little too much some might say. Then we headed to my favourite museum of all time: Sun Studios. The guide played us hit after hit created within those walls and I got to hold Elvis’ old mic. I couldn’t breathe. It’s still a functioning recording studio today. I am so proud of modern artists for honouring what came before them and recognising the magic of Sun Studios. Maybe one day I’ll record there (hah).

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After what might be the world’s best fried chicken at Gus’ we chilled. We knew what was coming next..

New Orleans baby!

Now I’m not much of a jazz girl so I was pretty heart broken to leave Memphis and her soul. I could easily spend a week there gig hopping. On the other hand , NOLA is wild. Just like last time it was mainly a blur, but I was pretty happy I ticked off the main touristy things last time so I could dedicate these nights to the party.

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And we did.

Next stop Florida! Read about it next time…

All my loving

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