Friday, September 26, 2008

Niagara Falls to Akron, Ohio - That's Good

Dragging ourselves out of bed this morning was tough, but not as tough as for Corinne given she was driving us up to Niagara Falls, and then she and Chris were continuing on back to Toronto. Coincidentally enough though, Monticello was right by Camp Shane, where T had been a summer camp counsellor many moons ago. We swung by to check it out, which didn't take long as T started grimacing involuntarily. We had breakfast at the Liberty Diner nearby - yet another peanut butter bagel for each for us. 

T and I managed to have a pretty good snooze along the freeway for a significant part of the 6 hour drive. I always get a little nervous going across the border as Chris & Corinne dropped us off to pick up our rental car, and they continued on to Toronto. We went for a drive around Niagara, aka Mini-Vegas. I have never seen so many wax museums in one place. 

We were going to head down to Akron, Ohio that day, but after crossing back into the US, we decided to go for a short drive to Buffalo and then back into Canada to Niagara as we were both really exhausted. We had a quick peek at the falls - they are quite incredible, as you can see the mist rising from them from quite a distance. We loaded up with snacks and found a hotel, the Comfort Inn to be precise, and hunkered down for the night. 

The next morning, we took the Maid of the Mist boat trip up to the falls. You are provided with a blue plastic poncho, giving a hint as to how misty it would really be. Here is the lovely T sporting his poncho: 

Tim of the Mist II by you.

And me trying to work out the ties:

Caroline of the Mist III by you.

We got much closer than I thought we would to the falls themselves - we could almost reach out and touch them. At times it was like being caught in a torrential downpour, or The Lost Islands, if anyone remembers that programme. I loved the theme song when I was a kid.  

We then hit the road bound for Akron, Ohio. We were heading there as Chrissie Hynde grew up there and has started a vegetarian/vegan restaurant called The Vegiterranean. Dinner was ok, although the highlight was "That's Good" by Devo playing while we ate (they are from Akron). Lunch the next day was however much better (more on that in a minute). We stayed at the Country Inn & Suites at Cuyohoga Falls that night, just down the road from Akron. 

Lunch the following day was amazing - "chicken" and roasted tomato bruschetta, grilled cheese sandwich with tomato bisque and a hotdog. We followed it up with key lime napoleon (where can you ever get that as a vegan?) and chocolate cake with vanilla buttercream frosting. I have to post a photo of that Napoleon: 

Key Lime Napoleon by you.

We then struck out for Chicago, which was a very long 6 hours drive that we took in turns. We did go through a place called Gary though, which I thought was quite funny given that is my oldest brother's name. We were staying at the Amalfi Hotel downtown, which turned out to be a great location for several reasons. More on that in the next post!

Life in the Empire State

New York started out as a bit of a fizzer. We flew in to JFK from New Orleans and went to pick up our rental car that T had laboured over finding a good deal on for hours. We were told however that it was going to be $600 more than we had been quoted. We were heading up to Monticello in upstate New York later that day for the All Tomorrows Parties festival, but decided that we would be better to get the bus there and rent a car elsewhere. I do not endorse Dollar Car Rentals one bit - they are misleading and the staff are mean!

We stashed our bags at the Port Authority after buying our bus tickets, leaving us with about four hours of quality NYC time. This meant finding some good food, as we while the website for ATP stated there would be vegan food options, we thought it might be best to fuel up while we could. We went to Hangawi, a Korean vegan restaurant on E 32nd Street. It was one of the most beautiful restaurants I have been in - the tables are set into the ground, so you sit on the floor and your legs can dangle down. T was a bit of a bull in a china shop as we came in, as he tripped over his bag a little and the lid of the pen in his pocket went flying across the room. The staff were very good natured and asked if he was ok (he was), and serenity was restored. 

Hangawi I by you.

We started with veggie dumplings, and an amazing mango pear salad. T then had the avocado stone rice bowl, which was exactly that (avocado and other veggies with rice in a hot stone bowl). I had the pick of the bunch, the organic tofu steak. It came with organic multigrain rice and a salad so fresh it was like it came from a garden out the back. T had a Korean beer, and I had an asian pear soju cocktail.  

 Hangawi II by you.

The bus trip to Monticello was relatively painless as it was only about 90 minutes. A taxi whisked us over to the Best Western Monticello where we were sharing a room with our friends Chris & Corinne from Toronto. It was great staying up for hours catching up since we hadn't seen each other for about 3 years.

ATP started the next day over at Kutshers Country Club in Monticello, which was about a five minute drive from the Best Western. The Country Club itself was a little like being in The Shining - I don't think it had been renovated since the 70's, and the patterned carpet was a little creepy. We headed straight into the bar to get a drink, and lo and behold, there was our friend Daragh from Toronto. It was like we had just seen him the day before rather than 3 years earlier. 

The lineup of the first day of ATP was probably the weakest for me. Highlights for me that day were:

Some psychedelia from Bardo Pond, although I wish they had played their album Dilate rather than Lapsed - oh to see Aphasia performed live.......

Thurston Moore performing Psychic Hearts, the title track of which I particularly enjoyed, in addition to his devotion to Yoko Ono displayed in "Ono Soul," and his generally goofy demeanour. 

I held high hopes for the Saturday lineup. Highlights for me included: 

Growing - I had never seen these guys before, and all I knew about them was their noise/drone type stuff. This show was quite different, as it was quite energetic and dare I say it, very danceable electronica. 

Growing II by you.

Fuck Buttons - I started out trying to untangle all the layers of noise, but once I stopped doing that, I started to appreciate their music as a whole. It was an incredibly engaging and exciting set. I finally got what T has been talking about for the last few months.

Fuck Buttons I by you.

Low - I think this was the seventh time I have seen these guys, and I this was one of their most mesmerising shows. I especially enjoyed their working of African singing into "Candy Girl" at the start of their set.

Thee Silver Mount Zion Orchestra - These guys (and of course Godspeed) are the kings of building a crescendo, and they did not disappoint in this performance. I really enjoy their DIY type ethic (again along with Godspeed and others like Arcade Fire), where everyone sings as it isn't necessarily about the best voices, but the contribution itself. 

Shellac -  I had been hotly anticipating this show all day, as I'm a big fan and I love love loved their show at The Scala in London a few years back. I found this show a little disappointing though, and I can't really put my finger on it. I think it might be a combination of discovering that Steve Albini is not a friend to women in any way whatsoever, and that it all seemed a bit gimmicky, with Todd Trainer raising his arm like Kiss to start or kick back into things. 

I'm not really sure what all the fuss was about when it comes to Lightning Bolt. Sure, they set up and play in the audience, but that is a gimmick that in my view can only take a band so far. T made an interesting observation that audiences over here (at least in our experience) are quite passive, but the LB audience seemed to be reacting in a way that they thought they should, ie, cutting loose. 

Sunday was the last day, leading up to the finale of My Bloody Valentine playing at midnight. There were a few surprises leading up to their performance: 

Spectrum - I had really disliked his show in Melbourne a few months back, but this show was with a band and was quite relentless. This was even despite the fact that Pete Kember started packing up in the middle of the last song. That is dedication to the strict time allotments!

Mercury Rev - They're back baby! I had only seen them very briefly before a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds show at the Brixton Academy in London a few years back and they were a little.......ho hum. This set was amazing though, great set list and Jonathan Donohue was suitably maniacal. 

Mogwai - The show I caught of theirs at The Corner Hotel in Melbourne a year ago was one of the best shows I had ever seen. This show was good, but I enjoyed their older stuff (Like Herod, Hunted by a Freak) much more than the stuff off their new album, The Hawk Is Howling. Still, they were very entertaining, and it was nice to hear them talk about how they were so excited to be playing with bands they had grown up listening to like Dinosaur Jr, but also seeing great new bands like Growing, Fuck Buttons and Lightning Bolt. 

Dinosaur Jr - I had been semi-looking forward to these guys, but had been wondering whether it was the nostalgia of Green Mind that had evoked excitement in me. As it turned out they played a truly blistering set, quite different to the show I saw about 12 years ago in Wellington, New Zealand. That set had been, well, one long wank. This show however was tight and energetic, mainly thanks to Lou Barlow's presence, the element that had been missing at the aforementioned show. I may be a little biased though, as we listened to One Part Lullaby a lot when we were driving around LA, mainly Santa Monica, so I have a bit of a soft spot for him. 

My Bloody Valentine - The buzz about this performance had been huge for the whole festival, particularly surrounding the level of noise they would create. I had heard and read about 45 minute versions of You Made Me Realise, and it being louder than standing next to a jet engine. First off though, MBV kept everyone waiting for about 30 minutes. I wouldn't normally mind that, but they switched off the music (a rousing crowd singalong to I Am The Walrus, and the German/English version of Heroes) for about 20 minutes before they came on. Given that when music gets switched off, you think that the show will start soon after, the audience started getting a little antsy. Everything was ok once they came on, but it certainly left me with a sour taste. The set list was great, Only Shallow, Come In Alone, Soft As Snow, When You Sleep and so on, but it was a little disappointing to see them playing to a backing track. It was especially annoying when they went out of sync once or twice, but I guess it was good that the band was able to bring it back together without stopping. The show finished with You Made Me Realise which was excellent, complete with 15 - 20 minutes of noise after which they kicked back in perfectly. Just to see their sheer stamina in keeping the noise going for this long was quite incredible.

I love how the musicians all seemed to be big music fans and would hang out and watch bands with everyone else. Here's a roundup of T's and my ATP celebrity spotting: 
  • Kevin Shields watching Thurston Moore with a guy who looked suspiciously like The Mystery Man in Lost Highway.
  • T and I asking Kevin Shields after cornering him coming out of the secure area if he planned to bring MBV to Australia and New Zealand. He said no, and seemed a little uncomfortable talking - "I'm meant to be following these guys, I'd better go." Ah well, you don't ask, you don't get!
  • Kim Gordon hanging with Debbie Googe, Colm O'Ciosoig and Kevin Shields in the secure area at the end of Thurston Moore's set.
  • Talking to Stuart from Mogwai in the queue to see Low and discussing veganism and vegetarianism. He told us that he became a vegetarian after his Mother told him pigs cry when they sense they are going to die, and he "quite likes pigs" and lives in the countryside.
  • Steve Albini dealing cards in the Executive Card Room.
  • Bob Weston cuddling his wife after their set.
  • Todd Trainer absolutely everywhere.
  • T had a nice conversation with Efrim and Jessica from Thee Silver Mount Zion Orchestra. Efrim remembered meeting T on some train tracks in Montreal years ago, having a long chat and Efrim depositing T into a taxi at the end.
  • Benjamin John Power from Fuck Buttons cradling a beer and being very nice when I told him they played a great set the day before.
  • Both members of Fuck Buttons manning their merchandise stand at various points.
  • Pete Kember aka Sonic Boom manning the MBV merchandise stand and trying to convince a guy to buy a shirt by telling him that purple was definitely his colour.
  • Barry from Mogwai walking back to his room after their set.
  • Alan Sparhawk from Low buying some peanut M&M's late at night.
  • Members of Brian Jonestown Massacre trying to decide whether to see MBV after their own  set.
We left satisfied and smiling (thanks Michael Gary Scott), and exhausted. Funny how standing around watching other people expend a lot of energy can really tire you out.

Louisiana, I louve your buildings

After our last little, ahem, mishap at the airport in Minneapolis, we got to Austin airport in plenty of time and there was no last minute trashy magazine shopping on my part. The flight was short and straight forward, although we did have to stop in Houston. Not even a hint of Hurricane Ike was about as I had feared, and we were soon on our way to New Orleans. 

Things changed once we got off the plane here. It started with me organising a shuttle to our hotel. The woman behind the counter was tooth-achingly nice, but I noticed that in every sentence, she called me "honey" or "baby". And she called everyone that. Normally I wouldn't go in for those kinds of names from a stranger, but it seemed so consistent with my preconceived ideas about Louisiana that it was kinda enjoyable. 

We were staying in the French Quarter at the Place d'Armes Hotel. It was a little scary checking in, as the woman was not being at all nice to the couple in front of us. For some reason though, she was super helpful to me, with big beaming smiles all round. It was a nice little hotel, with a swimming pool in the courtyard filled with plants and creeping vines. Best of all, it was quite, even though it was just a few blocks over from the infamous Bourbon Street

Like two bears stumbling out of a cave after hibernation (our room didn't have a window, which we knew going in, but it kind of made time stand still), we went out in search of food and architecture. I wasn't such a big fan of Canal Street and the like, but the French Quarter I love love loved. Street after narrow street of two story buildings with wrought iron balconies and hanging baskets. It was everything I had hoped for and more. 

French Quarter IV by you.

Food was also exactly what I had thought it would be: non-existent for vegans. Eventually we found a place that would adapt their two vegetarian options to be vegan - both involved deep fried eggplant and were tasty, but completely unhealthy. A peach martini helped take the edge off things for me, and T enjoyed a locally brewed beer. I was keen to continue this on to one of the many margarita bars I had seen advertised on the way into the French Quarter, but as it turned out, they were hole in the walls selling pre-mixed drinks (like slushies). I wasn't sure about that after our enormous pre-mixed cocktails in Las Vegas, so we wandered along Bourbon Street to satisfy my curiosity as to what it is all about. T wasn't so keen, as he had experienced Bourbon Street before, ie college guys on the upstairs balconies of bars yahooing at woman walking past and yelling at them to show them their breasts. If the women complied (which apparently they did in spades), the guys would throw down some cheap $1 beads as some sort of badge of honour. I'm happy to say that I did not witness this, but it goes some way to explaining why T is not exactly a fan of New Orleans in general. 

  Bourbon Street by you.

Me? I'm a fan of the architecture in the French Quarter, but I don't think I need to go back anytime soon.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

How sweet it is to be in Austin.......

More Bouldins to start the day - blueberry corncakes with agave nectar, the Slacker breakfast (scrambled tofu and all the usual suspects in a vegan breakfast) with a few more Ren tacos. We sat out in the covered over patio and enjoyed the Austin street press listening to the insects chirping.

Austin is a great walking city. We walked from Bouldins into the city, stopping on the bridge over the Colorado River to watch the action at the dog park on the banks. It's the next best thing to having a dog of your own, watching other dogs run around and swim. There were some very adventurous dogs who would swim quite a way out to fetch balls, including one who continued to wag his tail while he was swimming - a bit like a rudder : )

And speaking of dogs, we met a nice golden labrador called Pablo at a bike shop/cafe where we stopped in to get a coffee. He was very keen to hang out and for Tim and I to throw a ball for him - not very far though as he is a distinguished older gent of a dog. I ended up telling another customer about my cat Jose in New Zealand, who is 17 years old and still going strong. 

We very fortuitously hit upon the Whole Foods Market, and were blown away by their vegan options. All the flavours of Soy Delicious and Turtle Mountain under the sun:

Vegan Goodies VII by you.

Even more fortuitously (for T), Waterloo and Cheapo records were very close by. A few hours were spent flicking through the racks and trying to figure out who was playing over the stereo. Here is T rifling through the racks at Cheapo:

Cheapo Records by you.

We then headed over to the Texas State Capitol building and relaxed in the gardens there. We made friends with a squirrel, although he got a bit over excited and ran straight at us and jumped on both our shoulders. Here he is looking a little more relaxed: 

Curious Friend by you.

And T looking plenty relaxed: 

Snoozing by you.

Feeling a little peckish again, we headed out on foot to Mr Natural, a vegetarian mexican joint and bakery out in the suburbs. It was starting to get dark at this stage, and the police continually patrolling the area made me a little nervous, but I did enjoy the many pinata shops along the way. In any event the food made up for it - it was the best vegan mexican I have ever had. T had Enchiladas, and I had Chalupas - the flavours so simple, fresh and tasty:

Mr Natural II by you.

We trekked back to the city and picked up some treats at the Whole Foods Market (papaya, blueberries, raspberries and strawberries for me, Peanut Butter Zig Zag Turtle Mountain for T) and caught a cab back to the Austin Motel. We were staying in a suite for the night, as we had originally only booked one night, and the hotel was pretty full due to people from Houston escaping Hurricane Ike. It felt quite decadent to enjoy our treats in a suite while watching some Law and Order: Special Victims Unit

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I Heart Texas

Despite arriving at Minneapolis Airport with plenty of time to spare, I still managed to make T and I miss our flight. All for a packet of oreos and a trashy magazine. Shame on me. Still, at least we were able to become intimately acquainted with the workings of the American stand by system at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport when catching our connecting flight. 

We did eventually make it to San Antonio in the early evening. The riverwalk is quite spectacular, and we enjoyed a long walk before attempting to locate some food. As you would imagine, veganism takes quite the backseat to steakhouses, ribs, wings and other animal appendage restaurants. We ended up stopping at Boudro's on the river and snacking on some cornchips and guacamole made freshly at our table, in addition to one (ok, maybe four) prickly pear margaritas. They were an incredible combination of salty and sweet, the sweet part being the prickly pear cactus juice. 

IMG_3297 by you.
The following day we tried out Green Cuisine for lunch. We had to walk through a slightly dodgy part of town to get there, and while the service was fantastic, the food wasn't quite so great. I tried the neatloaf, and T tried the tofu 'po boy sandwich. The salads had some odd orange dressing, and some gravy to go with our sampler plate didn't really taste like anything. Still, it could have just been an off day, and I enjoyed my chocolate tofu ice cream cone as we walked back to the river.

A boat ride along the canals finished up our time in San Antonio. It was like a cleaner, quieter (and much much hotter) version of Venice's canals, with bridges overhead and water-taxis blustering past. 

IMG_3473 by you.

There is a little island along one of the canals that is known as "Marriage Island", as it is a popular place to, you guessed it, get married. If we had more time in San Antonio, maybe that would have been the place.......

These romantic ideas were sharply focussed by waiting at the Greyhound Station for our bus to Austin. Thankfully it was only an hour long trip, and after dropping our things at the Austin Motel in SoCo, we headed to Bouldins Diner for a late supper. We were able to sit outside for part of the time (until the mosquitos starting feasting on us), and enjoy the warm evening air. At this point, I was thinking that Austin is a pretty cool place. How could it not be with multiple vegan food joints and the SXSW festival?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Illinois to Minnesoter

Chicago Diner. Unbelievable. I'll let the pictures speak for themselves: 

Blue corn pancakes with "bacon":

Chicago Diner I

Breakfast "Sausage" Pizza: 

Chicago Diner II

Biscuits with "Sausage" & Gravy:

Chicago Diner III

Chocolate cookie dough and chocolate peanut butter shakes: 

Vegan Shakes

All of this was in preparation for the overnight bus to Minneapolis. Let's just say it was as horrible trip as you would expect from an overnight bus journey - stopping, lights on and loud announcements made seemingly every five minutes. We arrived at 7 am in the morning, so not much was happening. We couldn't check into our hotel until 11 am, so we walked around in a sleepy daze until 12 pm when we saw Burn After Reading. I thought Brad Pitt and George Clooney were very good, but I did find the story a little empty. 

That night we checked out Pizza Luce in Lynlake. We had to wait for about 30 minutes to get a table as it was so busy, and while the pizzas were ok, Plush can still not be beaten. We stopped in at the Bryant Lake Bowl, a combination bowling alley, restaurant, bar and theatre. It was straight out of the 50's and super cool:

 Bryant Lake Bowl III by you.

And that night, we slept on a cloud (otherwise known as the bed at the Aloft Hotel):

Bed by you.

The Windy City

Chicago is a dream city - futuristic architecture, lots of vegan food and lots of great music venues. We were in town to see Carla Bozulich at The Empty Bottle, along with a number of other bands (the collective was called "Adventures in Modern Music", I think). Before the show, we stopped off at the Pick Me Up Diner - we started off with chili "cheese" fries, followed by tostadas and a veggie burger. The highlight was the chocolate-peanut butter-oreo shake. Very decadent I know, but we are embracing these opportunities when they arise. 

Pick Me Up Diner II by you.

This was followed by a rice krispy square - I haven't had one of these in an age, so how could I resist?

Pick Me Up Diner III by you.

The Empty Bottle show consisted of: 
  • Agathe Max (Lyon) - Layers of noise generated by her violin looped over each other, very sad.
  • Colourmusic  (Oklahoma) - Happy noise pop with some screaming thrown in.
  • Carla Bozulich (Los Angeles) - I can't even begin to describe this performance. It was like watching someone cut themselves in front of you. Completely and utterly compelling, plus T cried. 
  • Black Moth Super Rainbow (Pennsylvania) - Keyboard based psychedelia, although they became a bit of a one-trick pony. 
Empty Bottle by you.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Canyon of the Grand Variety

I never thought I would go so bonkers over the Grand Canyon, but today I learnt differently. T and I started by taking a helicopter ride - it was incredibly exciting when we approached the edge and then all of a sudden the ground fell away and we were flying over the vast expanse. 

IMG_2603 by you.

We followed this trip up by heading out to Monument Valley. We were lucky enough to see some deer (or elk?) on the side of the road as we were leaving the canyon. One male with huge antlers decided that he would cross the road. He looked very practiced at crossing the road as he appeared to look both ways first. 

 IMG_2712 by you.

We hadn't reserved accommodation in Monument Valley, and it got a bit desperate as we went from small town to small town and found no vacancy anywhere. Finally, we found a room in Mexican Hat at a place called the Canyonlands Motel. Our room actually belonged to the manager's daughter, but she and the manager had started renting their rooms out as the need arose some years ago. We had a great chat with the manager about travelling, her jewellery business and Monument Valley.

Monument Valley was a vivid red desert full of red rocky outcrops. It was a landscape like no other I had ever seen before. 

IMG_2780 by you.

We got back to Las Vegas that night and went for a long walk along The Strip. Las Vegas is an exhausting place given there are huge crowds wherever you go. The hotels are interesting from the outside - the Roman Empire recreated at Caesar's Palace, Venice recreated at The Venezian, you get the idea. On the inside though, they all look like the same dark, smoky rooms with row after row of slot machines and people blindly shoving coins into them like robots. All of this excess became quite hard to stomach, literally, given the dearth of vegan, vegetarian or even fresh/healthy food. It's all enormous New York steak dinners for $0.99 (offensive in itself given it is cheaper to buy an animal's life rather than spare it), all you can eat buffets and ridiculous over-sized serves of food (our cocktails from our first night in Vegas being a case in point). I started to feel a bit dirty given all this excess, and thought about what all the money spent in and on this city could do. On a positive note though, I am glad that we visited (and also that we didn't get married there!)   

Monday, September 15, 2008

Viva Las Vegas

We survived the night! No Robert Blake hiding under the bed or in the bathroom or lurking in the carpark. After a shower under a huge skylight, we saddled up and rode off to Las Vegas. We knew we were almost there quite some time before actually arriving, as after going round a bend in the desert road, the city pops up out of nowhere. It's pretty identifiable, given there is a pyramid amongst all the buildings. And to the Luxor we were headed.  

It is hard to describe the Luxor hotel - it was as huge, busy and tacky as I had expected, but the enormous line to check in and the phenomenal number of rooms made it feel a little like we were just a room number. Still, the interior statues and gigantic sphinx out the front made it a place the likes of which I have never seen before. 

We had dinner at Paymons Mediterranean Cafe & Lounge, which served up huge platters of vegan falafel, tabouli, baba ganoush, hummus, dolmades and pita bread. I also had a few Babylon Spice cocktails - coconut milk, mango juice and ginger infused rum. They knocked my socks off, so after a quick spin down The Strip, T went in search of some more cocktails within the hotel so we could both enjoy them without him having to drive. He located them at The Mandalay Bay hotel next door and brought them back to our room:

Cocktails by you.

Yowzers! 1.5 litres of strawberry daquiri and fruit punch each. And punch they did!

The next day we decided to take a trip out to the Hoover Dam near the border of Nevada and Arizona. We ate at the Red Velvet Cafe the way out of town and were at the dam within the hour. The highlight for me was a government sanctioned sculpture of two winged figures, complete with a scale map of the planets and stars, to assist aliens in finding their way when they finally make it to earth: 

 Looking Up by you.

Dinner was at Long Life Veg, which was a Chinese restaurant serving mock meat dishes. I tried the sesame "chicken", and T gave the "beef" stir fry a go. It was pretty good, but marred a little by the fact that we had to wait a long time for our order to be taken. A family that came in left due to this delay (and we had been close to leaving also). 

And then came the true gamble - T and I went on the rollercoaster at the New York New York hotel. This hotel consists of a number of replicas of iconic New York buildings, which the roller coaster twists its' way around. It was T's first time on a rollercoaster, and while he was a little apprehensive, he came through it like a trooper. It was an intense ride with multiple loops, corkscrews and other concerning arrangements. And with that we bid goodnight to Las Vegas. 

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Lost Highway

Today we were Death Valley bound. We fueled up before leaving at Herbivore in Berkeley - this particular branch (there are three in the Bay Area) is located in a beautiful green art deco building with a light and airy interior. Everything on the menu was vegan, which lead to a protracted series of negotiations as to what we should each order (and share). We settled on: 

Pesto Tofu Scramble (for T):

Tofu Scramble by you.

Fruit Pancakes (for me):

Fruit Pancakes by you.

Wow! They were some of the fluffiest, tastiest and lightest pancakes I have ever had. T's scramble had just the right amount of pesto, and the sides of potatoes, tempeh bacon and sourdough bread were just fantastic. 

We got some vegan donuts to take away (glazed and chocolate!), dragged ourselves away from Herbivore's extensive menu, and began the long (8 hour) drive to Death Valley Junction. The changes in landscape along the way were phenomenal. It began with the lush Yosemite National Park (which we will spend more time at at the end of our trip when we get to San Francisco proper). This led into the Eastern Sierra, where we had a break at Lake Mono. It is a surreal landscape, kind of like the Dead Sea. White sandstone type structures grow out of and around the water looking like semi washed away sandcastles. 

The Sierra Nevada desert and even more so Death Valley are eerie places.  We drove through Death Valley in the dark for the most part. This made me feel like we were in a horror movie that would see us breaking down, and some terrible creature hunt us down and smoke us. This was compounded by listening to Circular Sounds by Kelley Stoltz, as it is like music from a diner in the 50's (I consider this a great thing). We would occasionally put our arms out the window as the temperature display in the car got up to 104 F outside. At around 10 pm!

Seeing the Amargosa Hotel glowing white in the distance was a beacon in the middle of all the darkness. This hotel was used quite extensively in the filming of Lost Highway, a film that really creeped me out when it was released in 1997.

Amargosa Hotel by you.

I was particularly creeped out by The Mystery Man, played by Robert Blake:

The Amargosa was used in scenes involving The Mystery Man, so when we rolled up near midnight, I was quite terrified. This was particularly when T kept saying he saw Robert Blake checking in, in the carpark, getting a drink, going into his room - you get the picture. We both managed to sleep quite peacefully despite all the self-inflicted torment : )

The Bay Area, Minus San Francisco (for now)

We started the day with an early lunch at Andy Nguyen’s in Sacramento, a Vietnamese veg restaurant. We started with Cold Rolls:

Cold Rolls by you.

Followed by Lemongrass “Chicken”

Lemongrass "Chicken" by you.

And Mongolian “Beef”:

Mongolian "Beef" by you.

A look at some record stores yielded some good results:
  • The Jewels by Einsturzende Neubauten, which was a member-only release (although now it appears to be on sale to the general public, including ex-members like us!)
  • A music loving cat who enjoys sleeping on the counter (or in boxes of CDs) 
After a quick drink at the Tower Café, we went over to change some traveller’s cheques at the Bank of America. The whole bank virtually came to a standstill around our transaction – the customer services manager escorted us to a teller and assured us we would be able to change our cheques there. A teller (not the one who was changing the cheques) listened to us talk and then asked where we were from and that she loved our accents. Other tellers (and customers) had pricked up their ears by now, and then the female teller asked us if we thought they (Americans) had accents. The majority of the staff started laughing at this question, and our own teller made a gesture that she was a little crazy. It was all good-natured, and even she was laughing at her own question. As we left, the staff all gave us a big wave and wished us safe travels.

We arrived at the Washington Inn in Oakland in the late afternoon. Oakland gets a bit of a bit rap, but I thought it was quite lovely. There were lots of brew-pubs and cafes around where we were staying, and lots of people out and about enjoying the warm weather. We fortuitously found a vegan pizza place, Plaza Pizza, to grab some dinner en route to Nine Inch Nails and Deerhunter. We ordered the “Chicken” Florentine and the “Meatzer” (and one slice of margerita just to try it out!) It was good – their fake meats on the Meatzer were very tasty – but it’s hard to compare with Plush back in Melbourne. Ben, you are still number one in our book!

We arrived at the Oracle Arena at about 8.10 pm, thinking that we would still be early for Deerhunter, given that the doors had only opened at 7.30 pm. We got in there toot suite, only to be told by the guy next to us that Deerhunter had already played. T saw my face crumple, but I managed to keep it together for a few minutes as the guy said that they had only played for about 20 minutes. This certainly coloured my view of the NIN show - the setlist was a bit flat in parts and it did feel a little slick, but it was fun watching Trent Reznor perform dressed exactly like Michael Scott in The Office when he goes to the cocktail party (tight red shirt) : )

When we got back to the hotel, we checked our email, and to our surprise there was an email from Carla Bozulich. Nels Cline had told us by email a few days before that Carla wasn't going to be playing The Empty Bottle show in Chicago. Carla had emailed us though to tell us that she would now be playing the show and hoped to see us there. We were both a bit shocked to see the email from her, but completely and utterly thrilled that we would indeed get to see her. More on that later.......

Friday, September 12, 2008

Goodbye LA, Hello Sacramento

Continuing on with the theme of seeking out celeb houses, we started our day with locating Trent Reznor’s in Beverly Hills. Both T and I were quite nervous to even be on the same street, knowing that he recorded With Teeth, Year Zero, Ghosts and The Slip in the studio at this house. As it turned out, we only lingered for a second, as a crowd of workmen had gathered on the driveway. 

Lunch was a return visit to Native Foods in Westwood, where we both re-enjoyed the amazing "chicken" burger. Tim also sampled the Philly "Steak" Sandwich, which was good, but can't hold a candle to the former. 

"Chicken" Burger

"Chicken" Burger by you.

Philly "Steak" Sandwich: 

Philly "Steak" Sandwich by you.

A leisurely drive around Silver Lake (we were told by lots of people to go out there as there are lots of vegan places there) followed. Silver Lake is also the home of Beck, Lou Barlow from Sebadoh and the Folk Implosion, Brett McKenzie from Flight of the Concords - Brettie! and previously Elliot Smith. It was a nice area, and definitely felt more relaxed than the more central parts of LA. 

It was then time to visit Downtown, starting with the Walt Disney Concert Hall:

Rose Silver II by you.

Next up, the Bradbury Building (used as Deckard’s apartment in Bladerunner) and Union Station. We then took the metro back to the Concert Hall and headed for Santa Barbara. Dinner was at Sojourners, which we had both been told by a couple of vegans in LA was a vegan place, but unfortunately it turned out to be an organic place that had just a couple of vegan options. For some reason, the majority of these options finished at 10 pm (we arrived just after 10 pm), but we were still able to have the stuffed pasta shells and nutmeat burger.  No photos I’m afraid, as I was so hungry I completely forgot to even take my camera to the restaurant. 

The next day was time to head up to Sacramento. It was a little frustrating at first, as we had gone to Santa Barbara the night before to get a head start on the long drive north. It turned out we had to drive almost all the way back to LA before heading north to Sacramento. We arrived at our hotel, the Delta King, in the early evening. The Delta King is a retired paddle steamer that has been converted into a hotel. Here is the entrance: 

Delta King by you.

After an enormous dinner at the Amarin Thai Restaurant (Thai tofu salad, satay tofu skewers, garlic tofu and a very tasty yellow veg curry), it was time to see Lucinda Williams who was playing at the Crest Theatre, the reason for our trip to Sacramento. The ushers were very excited to see us – “so you’re the ones from Australia, you sure did come a long way for this!!” She had already started playing, but we saw the majority of the show. It was amazing to be so close to her. I think she got a bit of a fright when she was talking about how John Macain might have some ideas on housing, and the crowd cheered, clearly in his favour. She then had to say “y’all know I was being sarcastic right?” Well, T and I did.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Still in Los Angeles.......

This will be a quick post, as I know I'm behind, but have just arrived in Las Vegas, so I'm keen to get out there and see what is going on. 

Following on from my last post, our third day in LA started with brunch at the 101 Coffee Shop in Hollywood. I had read about their "No Huevos Rancheros", a vegan brunch dish consisting of scrambled tofu, soy chorizo, corn, black beans, avocado, peppers and tortillas. We also indulged in some onion rings, which were tasty, but it was a little hard to stomach the amount of oil involved. What did I expect from onion rings though?!

Onion Rings by you.

No Huevos Rancheros by you.
While it is good that there is a vegan option at a diner like this (which is open until 3 am), but my suggestion would be that the soyrizo in the NHR be served in circular type slices rather than being ground up (if that is possible). It seemed to blend too much into the black beans, and indeed, I had trouble even finding it to start with. 

Then it was time to hit the main Hollywood sights. In T's view, this meant Amoeba Music. We spent about 2 hours there, and found albums/EPs that have long been out of print or just impossible to find anywhere else. Here is a list of what we found (and purchased): 

I'm Gonna Stop Killing - Carla Bozulich
Dear Companion - Meg Baird
Asa Breed - Matthew Dear
Tiny Mirrors - Sandro Perri
The Verve EP (now out of print for about 10 years - I had coveted a friend's copy since about 1998)
Yes, I'm a Witch - Yoko Ono
The Seldom Seen Kid - Elbow
Lie in Light - Cloudland Canyon
6 Peace EP - Schneider TM (Finally after years of searching it appeared in front of me for $5.99)
Life on a String - Laurie Anderson
Andre Sider Af Sonic Youth - Sonic Youth, Mats Gustafsson & Merzbow
Circular Sounds - Kelley Stoltz
Sandro Perri Plays Polmo Popo
Young Team - Mogwai (Deluxe Version)
From a Basement on the Hill - Elliott Smith

After dragging ourselves out of there with our stash (ok, it was mainly me dragging T out of there), T showed me a metro station on Hollywood Boulevard that he had seen many years ago: the walls are lined with thousands of old film reels. We trawled over stars on the sidewalk on our way to the theatres -  namely the Kodak and Grauman's Chinese. I don't mean to sound jaded, but the Kodak seemed to be part of a big shopping mall and quite far removed from the glitz of the Academy Awards. There was however a nice view of the Hollywood Sign, with the obligatory swarms of people crowding the viewing platform.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre required a little more time to explore, with all the hand and foot prints etched in concrete out the front. Some highlights for me included John Woo, the cast of Star Wars, Doris Day and Jack Nicholson. T tried to fill Jack's shoes, and I tried to get my hands into Doris' tiny prints. 

It was then time for some true celeb hunting, or should I say celeb house hunting - for us this meant the houses of David Lynch and Trent Reznor. Some internet research had turned up the addresses, as well as some locations for Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway, so with our trusty travel companion TomTom, we headed for the Hollywood Hills. We located David's house, which is well known to be the Beverly Johnson house. The two houses next door are also owned by David, the last one being Fred and Renee's house in Lost Highway ie the creepiest house I have ever seen committed to film. It was eerie standing outside as it was so quiet. Someone then appeared out of the middle house, talking loudly on a phone and asking "What is his schedule like for tomorrow?" David's schedule perhaps? 

We then located the octagonal body double house and the corral from Mulholland Drive. It was getting quite dark by this stage, and the corral was lit by a single lightbulb as in the film. Creepareno. 

T had managed to find out about a vegan japanese restaurant called Shojin in the downtown area, so we made a beeline there to shake off our creeped out-ness. We ordered the Crispy Tempeh Salad, Seitan Katsu Curry and Seitan & Broccoli. The salad was amazing - crispy barbecued tempeh and a gorgeous miso dressing over the salad leaves. The curry and seitan/broccoli combo weren't really to my taste, but T hoovered them up. The service here was wonderful, and our waiter Ken and I exchanged some shaky (on my part) pleasantries in Japanese before we headed off. 

More on our last day in LA tomorrow.......

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

More Los Angeles

Another great day in LA. We spent most of it driving around, and came across lots of great stuff like: 

  • Experiencing the best vegan chicken burger and vegan cheesecake in the entire universe at Native Foods in Westwood
  • Driving around Beverly Hills looking all at the amazing houses
  • Watching the sun set over LA from a lookout on Mulholland Drive
Evening LA by you.
Tomorrow is Hollywood day, as well as David Lynch film location spotting day. 

Monday, September 1, 2008

Hello Los Angeles

After a long sleepless flight (I just couldn't!) we arrived yesterday in Los Angeles. By way of a brief summary, so far we have: 
Tomorrow we are going to try and get to San Diego and check out the home turf of the Black Heart Procession. And go to Santa Monica Pier.