Travelling Around The USA With Contiki (Pt. 2)

DAY 8 (Albuquerque):
Albuquerque is often referred to as the hot air balloon capital of the world, so there was no way we were missing out on this opportunity. We woke up at the crack of dawn and made our way to the perfect spot to lift off. I knew we were in safe hands when we were introduced to the staff of Rainbow Ryders, including our pilot, Merlin. I never realised how incredible an experience it would be until we were up in the air, enjoying the breathtaking views of the Rio Grande Valley and majestic Sandia Mountains. I am still speechless just thinking about it! All up, it was a 3.5 hour experience and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Once again, despite the hefty price of $180, it was worth each and every cent. To make things even better, we had a celebratory drink and snacks following the flight. We even got our own personalised certificate!

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DAY 9 (Santa Fe/Amarillo):
We then headed for our stop for the day – Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico. This beautiful little city is known for its Pueblo-style architecture and rich history. For a couple of hours, we explored the city and immersed ourselves in its superb culture. For lunch, we stopped by the “world’s best fajitas”. It happened to be a quaint food stall and ended up being delicious (… albeit spicy!)

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On the way to Amarillo Texas, we had a surprise stop off at a unique cadillac ranch. It’s a public art installation and sculpture which encourages visitors to ‘tag’ it. Yes, we got to graffiti the cars!

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We then arrived at our stereotypically-Texan hotel! We had some time to get ready before embarking for dinner at The Big Texan Steak Ranch. This steak house is known for its 72oz (2kgs) steak challenge. In 60 minutes, entrants are required to demolish a shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, butter roll, and of course the 72oz steak. Two of my fellow Contiki buddies participated in the challenge, and it certainly was an interesting watch, to say the least. Unfortunately, both participants couldn’t keep their meals down. After our relatively smaller (… and normal!) meal, we headed to the dance floor and learnt to line dance.

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DAY 10 (Fort Worth):
When we arrived at Fort Worth, we stopped off at the Stockyards and had a little look around. It was like something you’d see on television!

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Later that night, we visited Pete’s Dueling Piano Bar. Each night, four entertainers take the stage in two person rotations to perform hits from every era imaginable on two baby grand pianos. In addition, all four players join on stage multiple times throughout the evening to bring partygoers songs filled with more instruments and more liveliness!

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DAY 11 (Fort Worth/Dallas):
That morning we ventured for Dallas to visit the JFK Sixth Floor Museum. This was definitely one of the highlights of my trip. This permanent exhibit is a guided audio tour, which you can do at your own pace. If you visit Dallas, you simply cannot miss this incredible exhibit! Following our visit to Dallas, we travelled to Arlington for our guided tour of Cowboys Stadium (AT&T Stadium), which serves as the home of the Dallas Cowboys of the National Football League (NFL). I am not a football fan whatsoever, but visiting this landmark was a must. We even got to spend time on the green!

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As if this day couldn’t get any better, it certainly did! We went to our very first American baseball game! We travelled to Globe Life Park and watched the Texas Rangers play the Houston Astros (go the Rangers!) It was such an incredible night! While I didn’t completely understand the game, the atmosphere of the stadium was electric!

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DAY 12 (Little Rock/Memphis):
Before I start reminiscing, I just wanted to admit that Memphis was one of my favourite places on this trip. In all honesty, it’s a place I probably wouldn’t have chosen to go to, but now, I cannot wait to return! On our journey to Memphis, we stopped at Little Rock’s Civil Rights Museum. The museum’s focus is on the Little Rock Nine – a group of nine African American students enrolled in Little Rock. This was another highlight of my trip and I do wish we had more time to explore it.

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We then arrived in Memphis and headed off to FedExForum to watch a basketball match – the Memphis Grizzlies vs. the San Antonio Spurs (go Grizz!) Once again, the atmosphere was absolutely insane! At the same time, my family were watching the game on Foxtel back home! How amazing! Although our team didn’t win, it was an amazing game!

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DAY 13 (Memphis):
Memphis got even better today as we made our way to Graceland. Yes, Graceland as in Elvis‘ home! Each visitor is given an iPad which includes an audio tour with accompanying images. Not only do you get to wander the grounds of the King’s home, but you get to explore the various rooms of his house, excluding his bedroom which is kept private. I could’ve spent the entire day here. The rich history behind the site is awe-inspiring. Elvis, his mother, father and grandmother are also buried on the grounds alongside an eternal flame dedicated to the star’s legacy.

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We also visited the Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The Motel has since been converted to a National Civil Rights Museum. Outside the museum, we met Jacqueline Smith; an intelligent and well-spoken protestor who has been protesting in that exact spot for 28 years. Smith had lived at the Motel since 1973 while working there as a housekeeper. When the motel was closed in 1988, Smith had to be forcibly evicted by sheriff’s deputies. The neighborhood at the time around the Lorraine Motel was a lower-income, predominantly black area. She believes that Dr. King would have objected to having $27 million spent on a building for him, and to evicting motel residents.

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We then visited Sun Studios; the birthplace of rock and roll. You may know this recording studio as the legendary place where Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Johnny Cash began their successful careers.

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A few of us then headed down to the Peabody Hotel to watch the famous Peabody Memphis Duck March. The Peabody is probably best known for this custom dating back to the 1930s.

Each day at 11 a.m., a parade of five mallard ducks, led by a “duckmaster,” makes its way from the roof of the hotel down to the lobby. There, a red carpet is rolled out from the elevator and John Philip Sousa’s King Cotton March begins to play. The ducks march into the fountain of the Peabody’s Grand Lobby where they casually swim throughout the day as people relax nearby at lobby bar.

At 5 p.m., the ceremony is reversed when the ducks return to their rooftop home – this is what we saw!

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* All images are my own and cannot be reproduced. 

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