We are finally north of the Mason-Dixon and the landscape is starting to look like home. We’re still about 6 hours west of New York, but we are clearly back in the northeastern United States. After spending the morning on the road, we drove through the 279 tunnel and as we emerged on the other side, Pittsburgh came into full view. It was a very dramatic reveal. You could see the entire city tucked in the hills, but also the more suburban areas around and above the downtown area. I have never been to Pittsburgh before, but I liked it immediately.
Our first stop in Pittsburgh was, of course, the Andy Warhol Museum. Although I have an enormous appreciation for his contribution to art history, other than his screen printing work, I am not overly enamored with him. It was interesting to see where he came from and how he evolved as an artist. The museum was slightly underwhelming and I was really annoyed to find out they have a “No Photography” policy. I found this to be more than a bit ironic, given that Andy Warhol made his fame and fortune by taking pictures of celebrities and appropriating other people’s work.
After we checked in to our hotel — which was filled with people who were obviously in town for Sunday’s Steelers/Niners game — we walked around the Strip District in the rain and stopped at Primanti Bros. for a Pittsburgher. Yes, that sandwich with french fries on it that you’ve always heard about. It’s ridiculous.
We would have liked to spend another day in Nashville, but I needed some downtime to help kick this cold and we didn’t want to fall behind schedule. Donna did most of the driving this morning so I could rest a bit. We stopped in Kentucky at Mammoth Cave National Park, which was fun, but Carlsbad is a tough act to follow.
By dinnertime, I was already starting to feel better. We stopped in Huntington, West Virginia and ate at Black Sheep Burrito & Brews. Huntington is a small town, but it was very apparent as soon as we walked in that we picked the right place. The food and service was awesome and we really dug the vibe. A lot of my friends bust my chops about my Yelp dependency, but I take my food very seriously and there is absolutely no reason in this day and age to subject yourself to a lousy meal, especially when you’re in the middle of nowhere.
After dinner, we drove for a couple of more hours before checking in to a hotel. Tomorrow, we head to Pittsburgh.
Despite coming down with a cold, today was yet another great day in another great city. We arrived in Nashville just in time for lunch (have you noticed a pattern yet?) and had more awesome fried chicken at Hattie B’s. Afterwards, we headed over to see the Ryman Auditorium, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry. I’m not a fan of country music in general, but this place is a must-see.
After the Ryman, we walked over to Hatch Show Print and Third Man Records. Dinner tonight was at Fleet Street Pub in Printer’s Alley, followed by a walking ghost tour, which was a lot of fun. I will be doing more of these in the future. In addition to the the haunted history portion, walking tours are a great way to see a city at night from a different perspective and with the benefit of local expertise.
A trip to Memphis just wouldn’t be complete without visiting Graceland. I’m not the biggest Elvis fan in the world, but I appreciate what he contributed to rock and roll history. The house and the grounds are kept in immaculate condition, but the whole experience made us feel like cattle. They move an obscene number of people through that place every day and although the audio portion of the tour is interesting, I didn’t really like wearing an iPad around my neck the whole time.
Lunch today was at Blues City Cafe, another local joint recommended by another local cab driver. It was better than Central BBQ, but still not that great.
For the record: Texas BBQ > Memphis BBQ
We had to run a few errands this afternoon, so we didn’t manage to do any more sight seeing today. For dinner, we decided on a non-BBQ option and ate at a place called Babalu Tacos and Tapas in Overton Square. Our meals were much better than the name suggests — especially the guacamole made table side. We walked back to our hotel to try and offset some of the day’s caloric intake. Tomorrow, we are heading to Nashville.
Dinner, unfortunately, was a little disappointing. Despite asking every cab and Uber driver we met where to go for the best BBQ, Central BBQ turned out to be just okay. Maybe we’ll have better luck tomorrow.
Damn. Texas is big. Lots and lots of driving today. I never thought I’d be so happy to see Arkansas.
Another eight hours and another five hundred miles and we finally reached Little Rock, just in time for dinner. We found a great little place called Flying Fish and I had some awesome crawfish chowder, hushpuppies and a crawfish po’boy. It’s the simple things in life.
On the way out, I happened to notice a cool Jaws reference hanging on the wall. Well played, Little Rock. Well played.
Okay, I get it. Austin is pretty cool. We started the day in line at Franklin Barbecue. It’s usually about a three hour wait, but I’ve heard it can be up to five hours or longer and they run out of food every single day. We were very lucky and only had to wait for an hour an a half. They did run out of ribs before we got inside, but the brisket, sausages and sides were more than worth it. Donna actually preferred Franklin, but I am Team Salt Lick all the way.
Cattle, white pick-up trucks and oil fields. Jesus H. Christ. Are we there yet? And what is with all the fucking crickets?
Eight hours and 500 miles later, we finally made it to Austin. Before we checked in to our hotel, we stopped at The Salt Lick in Round Rock for some ribs, brisket and blackberry cobbler a la mode. Oh. My. God. BBQ heaven! This was one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life — definitely the best BBQ. Texas takes their BBQ very seriously and we have a shit ton of BBQ places on our list to try, but this place is already my favorite.
After checking in to our hotel, we headed downtown and wandered around a bit. Sixth Street was underwhelming. I really liked the food truck culture and indoor/outdoor set-ups of a lot of the bars and restaurants, but I just wasn’t feeling it today. A good friend of mine recommended Sway for an awesome Thai dinner. Tomorrow we’ll be spending the whole day in Austin and hopefully will get a better sense of what this city is all about.
Roswell was so much fun! We got a parking spot right in front of the International UFO Museum and Research Center and were the first ones in when they unlocked the doors at 9 AM. After taking WAY too many photos of the ridiculousness, we bought some souvenirs and then stopped at Alien Zone and took even more ridiculous photos. Truthfully, you only need a couple of hours in Roswell to get your alien fix, but I am so glad we stopped.
We went to Cowboy Cafe for a late breakfast before heading on to Carlsbad Caverns. I have wanted to see the caverns since I was a little kid. We did the self-guided tour, which took a little more than two hours. Seeing the caves and learning about the history of the park and how it evolved from a “one guy with a lantern” type of operation to an elevator and an underground cafeteria was really amazing.
Originally, were hoping to see the mass bat exodus that occurs nightly, but the bats’ schedule did not jive with ours. We still had a lot of driving to do before we could call it a day, so we had to pass on the bats. There is apparently a large bat colony under a bridge in Austin, so hopefully that will make up for not seeing them in Carlsbad.
Most of today was spent in the car. We stopped at the Wigwam Motel in Holbrook, AZ on Route 66 for a quick photo op before heading on to the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert. There are numerous trails and scenic viewing areas in the park, so we stopped periodically, walked around and took lots of photos. Then it was back on the highway for a lot more driving.
After our bellies were full, we got back on the road and started making our way towards Roswell. Once we got past Albuquerque, there wasn’t much to see. We drove through miles and miles of very flat ranch land and didn’t see a single building until we got to Encino, which is the most nightmarish little town I have ever laid eyes on. It was right out of a Steven King novel. Needless to say, we did not stop.
Several hours later, we finally made it to Roswell. We haven’t seen any little green men yet, but the dude at the gas station was kinda sketchy.