Florida

JUPITER FLORIDA 20 YEARS AGO

Florida was the first state that I ever visited. I was 8 at the time, so of course, our main destination was Disney. I have visited Florida several times since then and now it is my home base.

One of my favorite pictures of my visits in Florida is from one of our trips in the 90's. We had flown into Miami and traveled down to Key West (threw up on a man's shoe on a glass bottom boat) and then drove through the Everglades (bitten alive by mosquitoes while trying to take pictures of a raccoon). On our trip back up to Disney, we stopped in Palm Beach. I remember loving this part of our trip. The beach was amazing and the water was clear, we got pizza in our pink hotel, and it was the nicest accommodation we had stayed in so far.

A few weeks ago, I was driving with my Dad around North Palm Beach. I noticed this pink hotel next to the beach and mentioned our trip to my dad. Turns out, it was the same hotel! It blows my mind that we had vacationed there several years ago, and now the same area is our new home. Crazy! I think we need to do one of those "Then & Now" pictures!

JUPITER FLORIDA KAYAKING BANYAN TREE

New York

I first visited New York with my family in August, 2000. I was in seventh grade and we arrived on Pride day. I did not forget that experience. Apart from Pride, visiting the World Trade Center, and shopping in Macy's, all I remember is how hot and muggy it was. Since then, my family moved over to Florida, and my sister moved to New York, I've had the opportunity to go a number of times. In 2014, I was in New York for my birthday, and I visited my sister again in the Summer with a friend.

I love New York. Love, love, love it. The experience of multiple cultures, nationalities, and the throb of the city is amazing. You feel alone but connected, all at once. There is just so much to do and see, and experience. And eat. Oh, there is just so much to eat. New York is one of my favorite cities in all of the world. 

NEW YORKER BUILDING IN NEW YORK CITY
Flat Iron Building New York City
Statue of Liberty Ellis Island New York
New York City view from Empire State Building at Sunset
New York Empire State Building Germany colors
Freedom Tower from the Empire State Lookout
New York City Freedom Tower in the Winter

Pennsylvania

A DAY IN PHILADELPHIA

Exploring Philadelphia Pennsylvannia

So on my “50 before 30” quest, I decided to take a day trip to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania from New York, in order to tick off state 17. What an amazing day it was! I knew very little about Philly or Pennsylvania for the matter, except for that they had the Liberty Bell and Philly Cheese Steak.

First time on a train in the USA New York to Philly

My first major learning curve was actually getting to Philly. I was rather anxious about this trip, as I had never traveled alone by train before. It was incredibly easy and I laugh at how nervous I was. At Penn Station you can buy a return ticket to Philly by using the New Jersey Transit and SEPTA systems (Penn Station to Trenton Transit Center on the New Jersey Transit, and Trenton Transit Center to Philadelphia 30th St station on the SEPTA system). I got a tad bit overwhelmed and confused on the Wednesday morning I was supposed to catch my train. I could NOT figure out which train track I was supposed to get on. I walked around and around the NJT area in Penn Station and could not figure it out. Eventually, I asked a member of the cleaning staff, and he kindly told me that the tracks are posted 10 minutes before the train departs…. Now that would explain why there were about 40 people hanging around in the area not doing anything!  Long story short, I got on the right train, slept into the Trenton Transit station, and hopped onto the SEPTA line to get off at 30th St Station in Philly. SUPER EASY! The train conductor was really nice too. 

I was pleased with myself for managing this part of my trip – although slightly concerned about the older gentleman I asked to confirm I got on the right train…. He proceeded to sit down next to me, and tell me all about how much money he had made (and lost) through gambling at the slot machines, and how he is the best dancer in New Jersey (truthfully I didn’t want to know what he meant by this, so I did not ask). Soon a policeman sat down in front of us, and he quickly kept quiet and got off at the next station – not without inviting me to stay at his and his mothers five-bedroom house the next time I was in NJ!

As usual on my travels, I don’t just go after the tourist traps and major landmarks. I love to get a feel for the city, and do what the locals do. Sometimes it’s not always possible to do that, especially in a limited time period. In my first trip to New York I came across “Free Tours on Foot”, a tour company that offers walking tours on a “pay what you think it deserves” system. So imagine my joy when I saw that they had tours in Philly! I decided on the “Real Philly” tour, so as to get my fix of what the real city is like. I figured I could always do the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall etc (the major landmarks) after the tour.

What a great tour this was! To read more about it, click here. The tour explores parks, churches, cemeteries, the first hospital in the United States, various neighborhoods of Philly and the city center. We stopped for lunch at the Italian Market, where I sampled the famous Philly Cheese Steak. Our tour guide showed us examples of the artwork on display throughout the city, the LOVE sculpture and finally the Reading Terminal Market.

Philadelphia skyline from a park
Philly Town Hall Skyline

After the tour, I made my way back to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. While walking past the Independence Hall, I noticed two older gentlemen taking a selfie with a document that said “Marriage License”. Without thinking, I turned around and offered to take their pictures for them. It was such a wonderful moment to take pictures of these newlyweds (they had literally just gotten married) in front of Independence Hall. I later found out that same-sex marriage became legal in Pennsylvania only in May 2014. It still bothers me that I live in a state (FL) that doesn’t allow for same-sex marriage. And it bothers me that we call it “same-sex marriage” and not just "marriage". It was such an awesome, incredible, emotional and inspiring moment to be part of their happiness for a few minutes. Writing this, after my entire trip to NY and Philly, it still sticks out as one of my favorite moments.

Liberty Bell in Philadelphia, Pennsylvannia, USA

After this moment, I went to see the Liberty Bell. I think in many ways the previous moment had opened my eyes to the many meanings that the Liberty Bell and the inscription

"Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the Land unto all the Inhabitants thereof" 

has for so many different people. It has been used as a symbol to fight slavery, and to fight for women's rights. Across numerous struggles around the world it is a symbol of freedom and courage. Coming from South Africa, where our fight was for equality and life free from discrimination (and continues to be), these meanings were personal to me. The fact that they had a picture with Nelson Mandela in the building was also emotional for me, especially after his recent passing. The irony was that this picture was placed next to one of the Dalai Lama. South Africa has refused the Dalai Lama entry into the country, due to its relations with China. The irony. I guess we still have a long way to go, South Africa, and the rest of the world.

Anyway! I had a wonderful day in Pennsylvania. To find out more, check out my post of the tour I took the REAL PHILLY tour by Free Tours on Foot.

THANK YOU FOR A MEMORABLE DAY PHILLY!

FOR MORE THINGS TO DO IN PHILLY, CHECK OUT THIS POST FROM TANJ AT A TRAVELOGUE IN HER LOVE LETTER TO PHILLY

Living in Louisiana

Pink Balcony in the French Quarter New Orleans

When my family moved to America, they settled in Louisiana for my father's job. I lived in Louisiana for about 9 months after I finished my undergrad in South Africa, before my home country called me back. Louisiana is definitely a unique state. Louisiana is a very friendly state and for the most part, everyone is polite, well-mannered and incredibly friendly and hospitable. They have some good food as well such as jambalaya and gumbo. I just couldn't stomach the deep-fried food on a continuous basis!

Beads for Mardis Gras on Bourbon Street, New orleans

My family lived in Baton Rouge, the state capital, about an hour from New Orleans. New Orleans is another adventure altogether, and I still love the city. It is crazy town. There is a distinct vibe and feel to the city. It's like some kind of magic. It's hard to describe what it is, but I always found this strange, magical under current whenever I visited. Maybe I'm just crazy, or maybe it's all the stories I've read and heard about of New Orleans. Whatever it is, it is definitely a city to visit. Whether you're going for Mardi Gras or the epic parties on Bourbon St (if you love live music, this is your haven), or to wander around the French Quarter, you will have a wonderful time in New Orleans.

If you have the chance, a swamp tour or a visit to Oak Alley is a must. Oak Alley Plantation is my favorite spot in Louisiana. There is an alley of oak trees that were planted there in the 18th Century, before the plantation home itself was even built. The oak tree alley runs from the house to the banks of the Mississippi river. It is absolutely stunning!

Oak Alley Plantation in Louisiana 

If there is one thing that I learned quickly in Louisiana, it was that football is not just a sport or past time. It's a religion. You always see a lot of purple and gold (Tiger colors) in Louisiana, and I think they are some of the most hardcore supporters. They are not kidding when they say they bleed purple and gold. I've met or bumped into many Tigers fans in South Africa! I had a cap that I had bought in Louisiana for a game day and  whenever I happened to wear it in a more touristy area, I would always have someone come up to me to talk Louisiana or Tigers. And yes, occasionally I have struck up a conversation with a Tigers fan in South Africa! It's a state with a blending of unique food, friendly people, and an obsession with football and music. Definitely an interesting state to visit!

Sunset in Baton Rouge Louisiana 

New Jersey

New York City Skyline from New Jersey Hoboken 

In July of 2014, I officially checked off New Jersey on my list. State number 16. Previously, I thought I had been to New Jersey, but I was misled! You see, when I was little, the year 2000, I traveled to the US with my family. We did the whole Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island shebang and it was awesome. Fast forward to 2013, sitting in Georgia, discussing our travels, a random stranger at a bar let me know that I had in fact been to New Jersey! Purely because I had been to visit Lady Liberty, and she was in NJ territory so there you go! 

My travel companion in Georgia later informed me that this was a highly contentious issue, and in fact, New York thought it belong to them. He soon explained that Miss Liberty belongs to no state, and is federally owned. I had to Google and Wikipedia what this meant, as I was a very naive South African at the point, and after visiting DC, I was disappointed to find out that that meant I could not add Washington D.C or NJ as a state! So of course, I had to make it official, and check off NJ.

Little did I know how inefficient I am at navigating public transport. I could not find the PATH trains. I looked alllll over 32nd St for a good 45 minutes and could not figure out where I was going wrong. I even went into Victoria's Secret for ten minutes to take my mind of my colossal inability to navigate public transport systems. I texted my mom my failures and she, being all trip advisor savvy with her Ipad mini, informed me that while the PATH station is called 32nd, it is actually 33rd (or was it vice versa?). I set off again, and then spent another 10 minutes looking around like a lost soul. I eventually found the entrance hiding behind the Broadway Bites outdoors eating area. YAY! SUCCESS AT LAST! (Thank you Mom!)

Apart from my failures to negotiate public transport, I had a great day! I watched delivery men leave Carlos' Bakery (I was not hanging around outside like a stalker, they happened to drive out back while I was passing by), I ate dodgy Thai food at a well reviewed Thai restaurant and I wondered a mile or so up the main street, looking in all the boutiques (Dear Jane is a great one by the way - I'm disappointed I didn't actually buy anything).

One of the best things about Hoboken, in my opinion, is the view of New York. It is breathtaking! If you are looking for amazing pictures of the entire skyline, Hoboken is definitely one of the best places to go to. I'm no New Yorker, and I don't profess to know THE best places ever for a great picture, but I think Hoboken definitely is a great spot to try. They have a lovely park along the waterfront as you get off the station as well. It is beautiful! Grab some ice cream and sit in the park and soak up the sun if you are there in summer! It was amazing.

THANK YOU NEW JERSEY!

Mississippi

Welcome to Mississippi Road Sign

Did you see the sign?

MISSISSIPPI!

As a South African, why this word has so "S"s in it is beyond me! In South Africa they do not teach Mrs S, Mrs I.. So I always have to spell check this state!

I have traveled through the state a few times. Once with my then boyfriend on our way from Baton Rouge, LA to Destin, FL, and a couple of times from Jupiter, FL to Baton Rouge, LA, the most recent of which was to see my sister graduate from LSU. So other than a really awful looking picture of me at an IHOP, I have no pictures of Mississippi!

Tennessee

Graceland Home of Elvis Presley Memphis 

In December of 2010, my family and I road tripped to Tennessee with my grandmother in tow. Why? To visit Graceland of course! My nan is a big Elvis fan, and because we were living in Louisiana at the time, Memphis was only a hop, skip and a jump for us! It was a pretty fun experience to go with my Grandmother and family. We toured around Graceland which was interesting - to compare what was considered modern and top of the line for the rich and famous in the 50s and today's rich and famous homes was fascinating. So much has changed! If you visit Memphis, I would recommend going through Graceland, it is a lot of fun!  

ALABAMA

So previously, this post was a very boring "HEY look at the Welcome to Alabama State road sign, and don't mind the bug smear across the windscreen". Now I can say, I have well and truly been to Alabama, a couple of times, thanks to my partner in crime, Will or, The Traveling Ninja, who provides the witty (sometimes sarcastic) comments in our EAT THE WORLD challenges. The TN is an Alabama born and bred boy, roll-tide all the way kinda guy. My first trip to Alabama was actually to watch my first SEC football game against Ole Miss (we lost - their only one of the season, where we went on to win the Championship - what are the odds!).