Welcome to the final week of our 8-week trip through America, starting in Atlanta and ending in Dallas in November. I want to write this weekly blog to keep people up to date on what we've been up to and share some thoughts and reflections on America. Happy reading y'all!
Day 48 - Sunday 29 October - Austin to Fredericksburg
We left y’all last week a little exhausted in Austin after a hard week of drinking and driving. We were also starting to feel a little homesick for all things German, and so it was that we drove west towards the town of Fredericksburg, a town full of German heritage and named after Prince Frederick of Prussia, one of my favourite Prussian princes.
If y’all might remember, we met some people in San Antonio who gave us a few recommendations and one was Luckenbach, which was conveniently located on the route to Fredericksburg. A quick google showed us that this was a community with a grand total of 3 inhabitants, but with a proud German-Texan history and an old dancehall. We were sold.
We drove down desolate roads, becoming increasingly concerned that Luckenbach was a myth sold to stupid tourists, before we turned a corner and there it was: a beautiful place, seemingly stuck in time in the 1800s. And boy were we in luck! It was 9:30am and we were just in time to catch a church service in the dancehall. A cowboy church service, no less. We had seen these advertised throughout our trip but we never thought we’d be awake early enough on a Sunday to catch one.
The service was actually really nice, and the preacher was a down to earth guy, and a recovering alcoholic with many stories to tell. We got the sense that, no matter your beliefs or religion, you could take something away from what he had to say.
Feeling spiritually cleansed, we headed to the bar.
I bought a sticker.
If you want to hear a great song about Luckenbach, check it out here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evtmVZFeooA
Fredericksburg was a stones throw from Luckenbach, and we were excited to see all their German things - Marktplatz, the Kaffee Haus, the Vereins Kirche - I could go on. Unfortunately for us, it decided to pour with rain as soon as we got there. The temperature also decided to take a brief vacation and so we were left shivering and wet on the streets.
We sought shelter in a cafe and decided to work for the rest of the afternoon. Fredericksburg itself was … touristy. Personally, I felt the quaint, small-town vibe was destroyed by the huge road running through it, with a never-ending stream of day-trippers coming to look at the funny words.
We decided to try our luck at the German brewery just outside of town, and were not disappointed. Feeling slightly better, and slightly less cold, we ended up at Friedhelm’s Bavarian Inn, and we felt just a little closer to home here: dark panelled walls and ceilings, German things on the wall … and a real life German! Friedhelm himself was there, and seemed very happy to speak German to us (he moved from Germany many years ago, and so his German was beautifully interspersed with English words. There was more than a little “Arnie” to him).
We slept in a motel nearby and dreamed sweet dreams of the motherland.
Day 49 - Monday 30 October - Fredericksburg to Dallas
Warning - today does not rank as one of our more interesting days. We had only 1 goal, which was to get back to Dallas in the evening, by any means possible. Probably by driving.
I had read about a place called Hico which was on our route and was apparently an “ok small town”. We pulled in and instantly remembered a peculiar fact about small town America - everything is closed on Mondays. Everything. The place was totally deserted. But it was cute, and has a very odd claim to fame. Y’all might remember that we saw the courthouse where Billy the Kid was tried and sentenced in Mesilla, New Mexico. So we were a bit surprised to see a Billy the Kid museum here, in the Middle of Nowhere, Texas. What possible connection could Hico have with Billy the Kid?
For those of you who, like me, know diddly squat about Billy the Kid, let me give you a brief history. He was an outlaw, and died very young (21 years old, after escaping jail and being caught a few months later). Or did he?! Some guy in Hico claimed that he was, in fact, Billy the Kid and that he faked his own death. Apparently he had some stories that made it seem like he really might be Billy the Kid. On the other hand, they compared his photograph with one of Billy the Kid and ran it through a computer with 52 other people’s photograph to see how similar his was. He didn’t do great - he came 51st out of 52. He died in 1950 and is buried with a gravestone calling him “Billy the Kid”, and that’s enough to justify a small museum in the town (closed on Mondays, of course) and a Billy the Kid film festival.
We had found a VERY cheap room for the night in a hostel on the outskirts of Dallas. We had excellent experiences in the hostels in Chicago and New Orleans, so thought we’d try our luck one more time. I think we can honestly say we have never stayed in a weirder place. Nothing was really clean, and the bedroom felt like a prison cell. I was advised to park my car up a little driveway and then advised to move it because “strange people tend to hang out there at night”. On the plus side, the internet was fast.
Want to know if we survived the night? Keep reading!
Day 50 - Tuesday 31 October - Dallas
We awoke early and did a quick inventory. All body parts still in tact? Affirmative. All of our possessions still here? Yes sir. Hank, our beloved Hyundai Santa Fe, still on the street and unspoiled? By some miracle, absolutely.
Today was an emotional day. Sure, Nicki was arriving later, but the thing that really brought a tear to the eye was when we realised this would be our last ever American laundry day. We would never again hear the jingling of quarters from the change machine, never again buy overpriced single-use detergent, and never again try to figure out the best way to spend 27 minutes waiting for our washing. This particular time, we decided to commemorate the solemn occasion by going to the local dive bar for a beer. Here’s to you, coin laundry.
We had heard good things about the film “Killers of the Flower Moon” and decided to check it out, particularly because its about the Osage Tribe of Native Americans, and we were heading close to their reservation in Oklahoma in a few days. We decided for a lunchtime showing at a cinema with table service and treated ourselves to beer and whisky before settling in for a 3 hour film marathon. It was a great movie, if a little long, and I give it a solid **** review. The best thing by far was the experience of having a boozy lunch in a cinema on a Tuesday afternoon.
We still had a few hours to kill before picking Nicki up from the airport, and we knew just how to kill them - with guns! Many months ago, when we were trying to plan some highlights of the trip, Ralf and I found the “Texas Gun Experience” and thought - yep, that goes straight on the list. And now here we were, slightly nervous, sheepishly asking if we can shoot a gun on the range despite having never held one before. Sure! No problem! Just watch this short video about how not to shoot other people and you’re good to go! Despite feeling confident we weren’t going to shoot anyone, we decided to ask for a beginner lesson. We also chose our gun carefully - we could have had anything from a hand gun to a semi automatic rifle, which seemed totally irresponsible. Feeling patriotic, we chose the Austrian-made Glock as our weapon of choice.
After learning how we should hold, load, shoot and unload the gun, it was time for us to get a-shooting! I’m not gonna lie - I was nervous as hell. The shooting range was full of people (and literal children) shooting everything from hand guns to full blown sniper rifles. The noise was deafening. I went first. I stood as I was told, loaded the magazine with real-life bullets, and squeezed the trigger.
It was quite a feeling, and an absolute adrenalin rush. I understand why some people like doing this. We had some targets we could aim for and, as I became more confident that I wasn’t going to accidentally kill anybody, I unleashed my inner James Bond and tried to get a few headshots, with mixed success. I don’t think I will be joining His Majesty’s secret service any time soon.
We left the Texas Gun Experience feeling, somewhat worryingly, quite exhilarated. Dallas airport is but a bullet’s throw away from the Texas Gun Experience, and yet we still managed to get quite lost. Nevertheless, we made it just in time to pick up Nicki from her 22 hour marathon journey from Vienna, Austria.
Nicki arrived slightly weary but nevertheless in high spirits, and also in desperate need of some spirits. Ralf and I made sure we gave her a true American experience from the word “go” and made straight for Whataburger, one of our favourite fast food chains here.
From there, it was time for a beer at a dive bar (Ralf insisted on PBR, a beer for which he has developed a somewhat fanatical addiction). Nicki was clearly overwhelmed, and understandably so. She’d finally made it to the land of the free, and I was curious how she would adapt.
Day 51 - Wednesday 1 November - Fort Worth and Dallas
For Nicki’s first full day in America, we decided to ease her in gently. We started with a relaxing walk around downtown Fort Worth, which we found surprisingly pretty. A particular highlight was the water gardens, where you can stand in the middle of a pool whilst water rushes down towards you. Nicki also got her first taste of American Starbucks, which was a proud moment.
Dallas and Fort Worth feel almost like the same city because, when travelling between them, you never really feel like you leave a city and they seamlessly blend from one into the other. The only way you know you’ve moved from one to the other is by the skyline, and Dallas’ skyline is very impressive, I have to say.
One of the most famous things that ever happened in Dallas was the assassination of JFK, and there is a memorial at the plaza where he was shot in his car which we wanted to check out. For me, it is always a little weird to be in places where famous things like that happened. When you stand in exactly the same place as something you’ve seen in movies and on TV, it’s hard for that not to feel a little surreal. I got that feeling again here.
Downtown Dallas wasn’t really our cup of Starbucks so, after some frantic googling, I decided to lead us to the art district called Deep Ellum, and that was an inspired decision, even if I do say so myself. This district is full of cool street art, vintage shops and bars: Nicki was in heaven. We had some excellent Mexican food (unlimited tortilla chips once again), and went to some of the cooler looking bars. It was the World Series (a baseball tournament involving American teams, hence “World” Series) so a lot of the bars were showing this rather than live music, which was a tad disappointing. Speaking of live music, one of the famous legends of Deep Ellum involves Kurt Cobain being thrown out of one of the venues for basically causing a riot and assaulting a security guard with his guitar.
For those of you planning to attend our next gig - you’ve been warned!
Day 52 - Thursday 2 November - Fort Worth
I have to say, after all the travelling of the previous week, I was quite enjoying staying in the same hotel for a few days. We even had a little gym in our hotel so we could move our aching bodies. Running in America is particularly challenging where most of the roads have no pavement (“sidewalk”) so you have to literally drive to a park to run in circles mindlessly for a while before driving home again. The alternative is to risk being chased by dogs down the road, which happened to Ralf more than once. He even once encountered an armadillo. Treadmill running is depressingly boring, but here, it feels like freedom.
Today was a day we had actually been looking forward to a long time: the Stockyards of Fort Worth. This place feels like going back in time 100 years, when Fort Worth was one of the biggest sheep and cattle markets in America.
First order of business: some Texas BBQ. We all ordered the brisket from the BBQ pit, and as usual, my eyes were bigger than my stomach so I also ordered sides of mac n cheese plus a potato salad. At this point, we were unaware that the next few days would consist almost entirely of brisket, so we gleefully consumed our own bodyweight in beef.
I got a sticker.
The Stockyards proudly claims to be the only place in the world which has a “cattle drive” twice a day, where horse mounted cowboys drive the cattle along the streets for no discernible reason apart from a good photo opportunity for tourists, which we gladly took!
The evening took us to a special place: Billy Bob’s, the world’s largest honky tonk. For those of you who have never had the good fortune to visit a honky tonk, it is basically a place where you can drink and dance to country/rock n roll music, usually with a live band. Billy Bobs takes this to the next level. There is an actual live rodeo inside, and 2 huge dance floors (although only one was open this particular Thursday).
I think it is fair to say that we were all surprised that so many people were dancing together, particularly young people (under 21’s were branded with an X on their hand). And they were annoyingly good. Ralf and I managed a dance or two, and Nicki and I tried and failed to learn the two-step from a professional dancing couple. Seeing so many people dancing together felt like another step back in time, and I have to say, I wish there was a little more of this in Europe.
I got a sticker.
Today was also an important day for me personally: it marked the debut of my freshly purchased cowboy boots! “Breaking in your boots” tends to take a little time but, armed with blister plasters, I was not afraid and I felt incredible with my outfit completed with the cowboy hat I bought at the Texas Motor Speedway. I am certain wearing these boots improved both my height and dancing ability by at least 10%. For those of you in Vienna, you can look forward to me proudly walking the streets when I’m back.
Blister-free and exhausted from spinning Ralf around and around, we two-stepped our way home and prepared ourselves for the next leg of the journey - Oklahoma, and visiting my cousin and his family.
Day 53 - Friday 3 November - Fort Worth to Stillwater, Oklahoma
A few years ago, I visited my cousin in Stillwater, Oklahoma and I flew on one of the 2 flights per day that land at Stillwater, both from Dallas. This time, we were going by road rather than air, a mere 4 hour drive. Nothing our car, Hank, and his self-driving capabilities, couldn’t handle. We didn’t inform Nicki that Hank can basically drive himself, and you can imagine her shock when we both began arm wrestling on the interstate.
Before we fled Texas, it was time for us to take Nicki to our spiritual home. Yep, you guessed it - the one, the only … Buc-ees! This particularly Buc-ees can rightfully claim to be our “home” Buc-ees as we used to walk there during the music festival we went to at the Texas Motor Speedway, and it is always nice to come home.
Nicki walked in and was instantly bitten by the Buc-ee, succumbing immediately to Buc-ee fever. She spent at least 30 minutes trying on all the merchandise before settling on a lilac Buc-ee t-shirt. Both Ralf and I stood by and observed, like proud parents.
As we cruised north and left Texas, the landscape slowly changed to the red dirt that Oklahoma is famous for. Stillwater itself is a town focussed around its university, Oklahoma State University, which is where Steph (my cousin’s wife) works as a professor. Oklahoma sometimes gets a reputation for being a “flyover” state with not much there to see or do, but we were intent on proving them wrong, or at least making it a “drive-thru” state instead.
Arriving at my cousin’s place was particularly exciting for me for a number of reasons. The last time I was here, they were in the process of totally renovating the house they’d bought and it was a construction site. Now, it is a beautiful home and ready for the next piece of excitement: 4 months ago, they welcomed baby Oscar into the world, and I couldn’t wait to meet him and ensure that my cousin was teaching him proper English.
We all spent the evening together, catching up on the last year or so since we’d seen each other, and Oscar was clearly shocked to see so many beautiful faces at the same time. On a personal level, it was wonderful for me to meet the newest member of my family. My cousin is an excellent cook, and he proudly showed us the meat he was preparing for our Sunday roast dinner: 12lbs of brisket! We couldn’t wait.
Steph’s family very kindly let us stay in the apartment they are renting in Stillwater, and I was grateful to see that it was located next to Boomer Lake (insert millennial joke here). This meant that we could go for a non-treadmill jog without fear of dogs or coyotes. Our only foe would be the Canada geese, and I fancied my chances against them.
We were staying in Stillwater until Monday so we settled in and rested up before another big day of driving.
Day 54 - Saturday 4 November - Stillwater to Tahlequah (and back again)
It is hard to talk about Oklahoma without talking about Native Americans (or First Americans, as I later learned). Oklahoma is the land to which many thousands of First Americans were forcibly removed, moving along the infamous “Trail of Tears” which I have mentioned a few times in this blog.
You may remember that, all the way back in week 1, Ralf and I visited the capital of the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina. For those Cherokee that settled in Oklahoma, they made Tahlequah their capital, and we were curious to see the city and I wondered if there would be any similarities between the two places.
Whilst Cherokee, North Carolina had the feel of a tourist trap, the Main Street lined with stands selling trinkets and operated by Cherokee forced to conform to a stereotype for tourists, Tahlequah had none of that. It was simply a working city that happened to house the governmental seat of the Cherokee and which also had the National Cherokee Museum in the former capital building. Compared to the museum in Cherokee, which was fine but nothing to write home about, this museum was excellent.
I bought a sticker.
On the way back to Stillwater, we stopped in Tulsa.
Ralf’s legendary researching skills had come up with an absolute gem: Cains’ ballroom, a famous music venue built in the early 1920s and where today, of all days, they were having a folk and rock n roll night, complete with a chilli cook off!
For those of you unaware what a chilli cook off is, just like we were, let me explain: around 10 local restaurants were invited to come and present their chilli con carne, and participants could have as much of each one as they wanted. At the end, you can vote for your favourite and the winner gets … well, I suppose some kind of recognition.
We ran around the place like kids in a meaty candy shop, trying as many different chillis as we could whilst also being strategic about how to stuff our faces with as much chilli as possible. Our plan: keep carbs to a minimum, no nachos or rice or unnecessary add ons - just pure chilli. Bizarrely, we all aligned on our favourite one: the brisket and cactus chilli by Rosa. We clearly hadn’t quite had enough brisket yet.
The bands were all excellent and we remarked that something like this would be good fun back home - let’s see if we can do a fried pickle cook off in Vienna.
I bought a sticker.
After a metric tonne of chilli, I will not describe our night’s sleep.
Day 54 - Sunday 5 November - Stillwater
Today was mostly about one thing: brisket. But 12lbs of brisket takes a while to cook, so we had some time to kill. My cousin took us around Stillwater to show us the sights, the sounds and the debris after a heavy day of tailgating the day before due to the American football game between the two local universities.
The university campus is gorgeous, with classic red brick buildings and pristine grounds. Downtown is also very cute, and we visited a local antique store and brand new cafe/bar/barber shop/mens clothing store called “Everyman” which is clearly trying to be everything to every man.
I got a sticker.
And before we knew it, it was time for the main event. As mentioned, my cousin is an excellent cook and is world renowned amongst his friends and family particularly for his Sunday roast dinners. I found it staggeringly impressive that my cousin was able to prepare and cook such a meal whilst also being the father to a newborn child. That was until Steph told me that, the day after arriving home from the hospital with baby Oscar, my cousin cooked a full Sunday roast. That is heroic.
Fresh home cooking is something that we haven’t had a lot of on this trip, so I devoured the Sunday roast as if it was my last. And with that, it was time to say goodbye to Oscar and Steph, and head back home to prepare for what would be our last full day in America.
Day 55 - Monday 6 November - Stillwater to Dallas
After bidding my cousin adieu in the morning, we just had to make it back to Dallas in preparation for our flights the next day. But we had some time and, surprise surprise, a few plans.
My cousin had recommended that we stop at a town on the way called Guthrie, and it was a spectacular place with fascinating architecture and an equally fascinating history.
Guthrie was one of the towns that grew rapidly as part of the land run and, for a while, was the capital of Oklahoma. However, it wasn’t the capital for long enough for it to finish its capital building - so the Scottish masons bought it and it is now a massive masonic lodge.
I found this particular picture fascinating as it shows how towns of the day tried to sell themselves to prospective settlers. I was particularly impressed that a town of 10,000 had 5 newspapers.
We left Guthrie wondering whether we had found the most beautiful small town of our trip. Next stop: Oklahoma City and, more specifically, the Museum of the First Americans. Somebody, somewhere on my trip had recommended this museum, and I can’t for the life of me remember who it was. But it was marked on my map, and by jove, we were going to make it there. And all I can say is: thank you, mysterious person!
The museum is essentially brand new, and focusses on the history of the 39 First American tribes that live in Oklahoma. The building itself is gorgeous, and includes a mound that you can climb and get some amazing views of the city and countryside.
Of course, much of the museum is focussed on the struggles of the First Americans through the centuries, but it was also great to see how resilient their culture is and how they were able to rebuild their societies multiple times in the face of destruction by the government and settlers. To anybody in the area - go to this museum!
I bought a sticker.
On our way up to Stillwater from Dallas, we drove through Denton, a small town that was recommended to me on a website and seemed quite pretty. We decided to stop there for a final drink of the trip rather than head into Fort Worth. This turned out to be an excellent decision: we ended up in an awesome bar with a bar tender who can only be described as pure entertainment. We all enjoyed a good beer and got nostalgic about all the adventures we’d had on our 8 week journey.
As we drove on to Dallas, I thought this was to be the end of the story. But wait! Just a few miles outside of Denton, we saw the sign that had provided us hope, refreshments, merchandise and clean toilets all the way along our journey. Appearing over the horizon was the beaver we all know and love, and with sheer delight, we realised we had one last Buc-ees before we reached Dallas.
With more than a tear in our eye, we walked through the store, hugging every cuddly beaver we could find, buying even more brisket and wondering whether moving here to work at Buc-ees was a realistic commitment we could make. Unfortunately their manager was “unavailable” to interview us.
All good things come to an end, and we had finally reached it. Pulling into our hotel, I knew it was the end of the road. No more highway. No more interstate. No more fast food. No more motels. No more Buc-ees.
We arrived at Dallas airport very early in the morning as changed people. Mostly fatter, but also better at shooting guns. We had been on the trip of a lifetime, and Atlanta seemed a lifetime ago. I will not get too nostalgic here, I’ll save that for the next post.
But for now: thank y’all so much for also being part of this journey and reading my ramblings over the past 8 weeks. Writing this blog was basically meant as a way for me to remember everything we experienced and I have had so much fun writing it. It took far longer than I imagined to write it, and I am grateful for everybody who shared it, liked it, commented and sent me hate mail.
Hang tight for the final blog post, which will include our final statistics, ranking our favourite states, our high and low-lights and much more, probably.
Until then, lots of love and thanks y’all.
I have some stickers.