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Day Five: Barcelona, Spain

Posted on Thursday, February 3rd, 2005

Dave!I took a quick two-hour flight on the ever-excellent GermanWings airline out of Cologne, and ended up in Barcelona. Since I had never been here before, it was going to be a new adventure for me. After taking the train into the city, I checked in to my hotel, grabbed my camera, and then headed out.

My first stop was The Cathedral, a compact yet no-less impressive church at the heart of Barcelona. Unfortunately, as with most places I've been visiting lately, the structure is completely covered in scaffolding and undergoing repairs. I was a little disappointed, but that vanished just moments after entering the grounds. It's hard to be upset when you are greeted by geese...

Barcelona Cathedral

Barcelona Cathedral

Leaving my new friends behind, I enter the building...

Barcacathedral2

Barcelona Cathedral

Barcacathedral0

...and proceed to lose my mind. The architecture is just amazing here. Eventually I manage to tear myself away so I can go eat lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe...

Barcelona HRC

Don't let the plain exterior fool you. Inside, it's all Hard Rock and very well done...

Barcelona HRC

It's still fairly early, I think I'll go wander through Old Town and see what I can find.

   

Day Two: Hard Rock Cafe Destin

Posted on Saturday, February 19th, 2005

Dave!MapQuest helpfully projected a nine-hour and three-minute drive from Memphis, Tennessee to Destin, Florida. As it ends up, I did it in just ender eight hours, and managed to pull in to the Hard Rock Cafe Destin at 3:16 for a late lunch. The cafe itself is scarily reminiscent of the cafe that used to be in Ft. Lauderdale... a crappy mall location with no history or interesting architecture. In the end, it does end up faring slightly better because Destin seems to be a relatively new resort development, but it's hardly an ideal location for a Hard Rock from a design perspective. Oh well, I hope Destin can hold out longer than its ill-fated twin in Ft. Lauderdale.

HRC Destin

The interior is rather pedestrian, but does try to cram in a lot of memorabilia into the space available. I was a bit surprised to find the restaurant completely packed at such an odd hour, which I guess is a good thing considering it's the "slow season."

HRC Destin

Like so many of these heavily-populated beach resort cities, Destin has been dramatically over-developed. The roads in and out of the area just can't handle the volume, meaning you have a non-stop traffic jam for an hour in and another hour out. I'd hate to think of how bad it gets during the height of summer vacation... perhaps that's why MapQuest adds an extra hour?

Anyway, not really a bad cafe, just nothing special.

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Day Three: Hard Rock Gatlinburg

Posted on Sunday, February 20th, 2005

Dave!Gatlinburg, as it were, is a charming little town on the entrance to the Great Smokey Mountains. The fact that it has turned into a tourist destination worthy of Disney-esque envy is beside the point. The traffic getting in and out of the area is murder. Three lanes of automobile hell guaranteed to drive you mad.

Even when DollyWood is closed for the season.

And that's a shame, because I would absolutely go! But anyway, once you finally reach Gatlinburg, you'll be treated to a cozy little Hard Rock that is one of my all-time favorites...

HRC Gatlinburg

HRC Gatlinburg

As you can see, I somehow angered the rain gods, because it was pouring the entire two hours I was in town. This is kind of a pity, because one of the reasons I wanted to return here was so I could get a better photo of the exterior (my previous trip was at night - which means that, until now, this was the only Hard Rock property I had not seen in daylight).

Oh well. My veggie burger and chocolate shake were excellent, so it was worth the seven hours out of my way to visit. At least, that's what I tell myself as I sit here in my big-ass Buick LeSabre rental car watching the rain fall so heavy on the windshield that I can't see out. It's going to be a fun 3-1/3 hour drive to Nashville!

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Day Three: Hard Rock Nashville

Posted on Sunday, February 20th, 2005

Dave!Well that was lovely. What should have been a 3-1/2 hour drive over from Gatlinburg became a 4-1/2 hour trip because the flood of rain caused not one, but three accidents on the highway connecting me to the city. It's not really a surprise because the thick cloud cover made it dark, the fog made it difficult to see, and the rain obliterated whatever was left to look at on the road.

Fortunately, I drive using "the force" so I made it safe and sound (albeit much later than planned).

The Hard Rock Cafe Nashville is a gem of a restaurant that is my favorite kind of Hard Rock property: an ingenious re-work of a historic building. In this case, Nashville's first brothel. It is a long, thin building that made fitting everything inside a bit tricky, but they managed just fine. There's even a stage for live music. In addition to the cafe proper, there is an additional building which houses a merch shop on the corner of the parking lot. This is yet another historic structure: The Silver Dollar Saloon Building. Perfecting an already perfect cafe, they painted a giant Gibson Guitar on the wall of the building behind it, which complements the guitar-shaped bar on the inside.

HRC Nashville

HRC Nashville

The above photos will completely fail to impress upon you the massive length of the building, which is an entire block long. If you study the interior photo, you will see that it goes waaayyy back... and there's a teeny tiny little table and chair there that give it some scale.

And now understand that I took this photo at the half-way point of the building... THAT'S how long it is!

Anyway, after I had an Apple Cobbler for dessert, I walked around the area to see what was gong on. Despite it being a Sunday, there was quite a lot of activity on the streets and in the bars. I really, really, don't like country music... not even a little bit... so Nashville has always been a bit hard to take (hey, that's what the city is all about!). But despite it all, it's still an incredible place, and I never mind spending time here. Unfortunately, my work takes me back to Memphis in the morning, so that will have to wait until next time.

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Day Three: Birmingham-Gatlinburg-Nashville

Posted on Sunday, February 20th, 2005

Dave!The drive up from Birmingham wasn't that bad until the rain started coming down... in a torrential flood. I know Seattle has a reputation for rain, but this was about as bad as I've ever seen it in either Seattle or Orlando. It made driving a bit difficult in spots (particularly when passing a truck), but I'm kind of used to the rain from my many drives over to Western Washington.

I've already mentioned how Nashville is an amazing city (even if you don't like country music), but here's the best part... they have one of my favorite hotels in the entire world: The Wyndham Union Station. If you've read my other travel notes, you already know that I have a fondness for unique, quirky, historical properties. This one is cream. What used to be Nashville's train station was turned into a stunning hotel in 1986...

Wyndham Union Station

Wyndham Union Station

Wyndham Union Station

"Beautiful" doesn't even begin to describe this majestic building, or even elude to the meticulous care they took in restoring it (the Tiffany stained glass ceiling could not have been easy). My room is right on the upper terrace, and is cavernous. I swear, it seems as though my ceiling is 20 feet tall! Right now, there was a wedding party below, and I am serenaded with really good music until bedtime, which is kind of a cool way to end the day.

You would think that this opulence would come at a high cost, but it doesn't. Because it's a half-mile from the downtown "scene," it is actually very reasonably priced (my internet rate was a measly $89!!). So if you ever end up in Nashville, there's really only one place to stay... the Wyndham Union Station, which I cannot recommend highly enough.

HRC Silver Dollar

P.S. And, per request, here's a photo of the previously-mentioned Hard Rock Merch Shop, formerly known as the "Silver Dollar Salloon." Like the cafe behind it, the building is very narrow. If I remember correctly, the reason it got the name is because it was decorated with silver dollars pounded in the floor (or something like that).

   

Day Four: Hard Rock Memphis

Posted on Monday, February 21st, 2005

Dave!Tennessee is blessed with three fantastic Hard Rock Cafe properties, tastefully distributed from one end of the state to the other. Memphis in particular is vintage Hard Rock. It's a classic dual-level design with massive amounts of memorabilia, perfectly positioned on historic Beale Street next to the arena.

It's well worth a visit if you happen to be in town...

HRC Memphis

HRC Memphis

And that's all she wrote for this trip.

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Tripping Day Five: Connecticut

Posted on Thursday, July 14th, 2005

Dave!Connecticut is very small. Tiny, in fact. I dare say that from Hartford, you can reach any other place in the State in under an hour. As an example, a trip to the Foxwoods casino resort area was a mere 42 minutes. This is kind of disturbing to somebody like me who is from a State that would take a full day to drive across. I'd imagine it would be even stranger to somebody from Texas.

Anyway, the reason for my trip was to visit the Hard Rock Cafe Foxwoods (#106 on my list), and that's exactly what I did. Overall, it's a nicely appointed cafe with a beautiful vaulted ceiling and nifty stone accents...

Foxwoods

Foxwoods

Sadly, I worry about the success of this cafe when I arrive at lunch-time to find it mostly empty. And when I look around at the people visiting the casino complex, I know why... the demographic is mostly elderly people. There's walkers, wheelchairs, canes, and the smell of Ben Gay at every turn. Needless to say, these are not the Hard Rock's target audience. The people running the cheap all-you-can-eat buffet, however, have a line a mile long outside of their door. Bummer. If you have your heart set on seeing this one, I wouldn't put it off.

From Foxwoods, I continued onward to the picturesque city of Mystic, Connecticut and the famous Mystic Seaport, where it was hot and muggy...

Mystic

My plan was to visit both the seaport museum complex and the aquarium. But after I had to pay $17... yes, SEVENTEEN f#@%ING DOLLARS, to get into the museum... I had no desire to dump any more of my hard-earned cash in the city. I still can't get over the fact that they charge such an outrageous amount of money to wander around old buildings and look at a couple of ships. There's no rides or shows or anything else to make it worth it. At MOST, I would have paid $7 for what little you get. If only I had known, I would have skipped this rip-off "attraction" entirely.

After the disappointment at Mystic (such a cool name for a city!), I turn north to Boston. But before you can get to Massachusetts, you have to go through Rhode Island first. And the thing about Rhode Island is that it is very small. Minute. Minuscule. Teeny. Wee. Once I hit the Rhode Island border, it was a mere 32 minutes before I had exited through Providence at the other end. Now THAT'S small. I dunno. Maybe it was more impressive back in the days when people rode in horse and buggies instead of cars blazing along at 80 miles per hour.

Movie Quotable of the Day: "Mom... do you want my green stuff?"
Day-Before Yesterday's Answer: Field of Dreams (1989) with Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones.

   

Tripping Day Five: Boston

Posted on Thursday, July 14th, 2005

Dave!My trip to Boston started out as one of my worst travel days in recent memory, but ended up being really amazing. It all started when I couldn't get into the city because of an accident on I-93 & the Freemont exit. Suddenly, my ETA of 2:30 became 3:30, then 4:00. Not fun.

Things then go from bad to worse when I finally get to Boston's Museum of Fine Arts so I can take a look at their Monet collection, only to find out that they close down half of the museum each evening. This meant that the hour I spent battling Red Sox traffic in the Fenway Park area, and the $3.50 I spent on parking was completely wasted. Now I have to go back tomorrow at 10am, which means I'll be getting a very late start to my day. Fortunately, my $13 ticket is good for another visit or else I'd really be pissed.

Things go from worse to tragic when I finally make it to The Lenox Hotel. I have been wanting to visit this classic property for ages, but it's always been booked solid when I'm in town. This time I got lucky... or did I? I'm told to use the parking garage up the street to store my rental car for the night. But it's full. So are the three others I find in the area. I end up circling the block several times without success. I finally pull up and ask what I should do since there doesn't seem to be a single parking spot in a 2-mile radius. That's when I hear "oh... you're a GUEST here? If you're a GUEST, then I'll park it for you." Great. Another half-hour WASTED. Why the f#@% would I want to park at a hotel that I wasn't going to stay at? Why wouldn't you assume somebody wanting to park at the hotel WASN'T a guest? After check-in, things are looking up, because my room is pretty classy...

The Lenox

But happiness is fleeting when I find out that the wireless Internet sucks ass, and is only marginally improved when I get a network bridge from the front desk. That's when things go from tragic to near-suicidal when I find out that my toilet is plugged up... and I'm blameless, because I didn't put anything down there. I'm beginning to regret ever having wanted to come to Boston.

Then, as if by magic, things turn around. I meet a very good friend I haven't seen in two years for a fantastic early dinner. Then we walk over to Copley Square for a FREE concert that completely blows my mind. Playing in the park is "The Shore" and "Ari Hest" - both of which I had never heard of before. Amazing, amazing stuff. I go buy CDs from both groups, because the possibility of not finding them on the iTunes Music Store is too much to bear (yup, they're both there... which means I paid $8 more than I had to for CDs I'll end up tossing in the garbage after I've ripped them). I cannot recommend these astounding musicians highly enough. "The Shore" is kind of an inspired blend of Oasis and The Verve. "Ari Hest" has lush vocals that pierce your very soul...

Ari Hest

After the best concert I've seen in quite a while, it's off to the Hard Rock for a frosty chocolate milkshake and some fries, which turns a bad day gone good into sweet perfection...

HRC Boston

Tomorrow it's sleeping in late, a visit to the museum (again), and a lot of driving so I can scratch New England off my "Map of Visited States" page. Sounds like a plan.

   

Day Four: Hong Kong Treat

Posted on Thursday, September 1st, 2005

Dave!I started my morning at 10:30am with a walk to the Star Ferry terminal so that I could make my way over to Hong Kong Island and the city center (known here as "Hong Kong Central"). The five-minute ferry ride has got to be one of the biggest bargains on earth, as it costs a mere 28¢ (2.20 HK) to cross! This would be an indication of things to come, because most all public transportation is fairly cheap.

Unfortunately, the haze that blanketed Seoul has followed me to Hong Kong, and most of the city is obstructed by it...

HK Ferry View

I quickly notice that the building which represented The Noble House in the television mini series adaptation of the greatest fiction novel of all time... James Clavell's Noble House... was waiting for me right off the terminal. I just bought yet another copy of the book (my fifth) so I can read it yet again (at least my twentieth time). It's very cool to see all the places named in my favorite book come to life!

HK Noble House

After a quick bus ride to the base of The Peak, I take a tram to the top that has been operating in the city for over 100 years...

HK Peak Tram

The ride is pleasant, but frightfully steep in parts. The most amazing thing about it is seeing how very tall buildings and numerous roads have all been built into the hill-side. The density of people here has got to be the most concentrated I have ever seen, and it's a wonder that Hong Kong can support itself at all. The view from the top is incredible, even though the haze is so thick I can barely see Kowloon on the other side of the harbor...

HK Peak View

The shopping complex at the top houses a Hard Rock Merchandise Shop but, sadly, no cafe...

HK Peak Hard Rock

I'm getting thirsty at this point, so I drop by McDonalds at the Galleria. They are featuring a special promotion for "Summer Corn Cup" so I decide to have a quick meal, and get some French Fries and a Red Bean Paste Pie (which is deep-fat fried as The Ronald McDonald intended it to be, instead of the baked pie that tastes like crap we have back in the USA). The corn is okay, but doesn't come close to the deliciously famous Quincy Corn from back home. I wish our McDonalds sold McCorn...

HK McCorn

I then take a quick taxi ride down to Queen's Road where I walk to the longest outdoor escalator in the world. It's a quick and painless way to reach the housing and shopping in the Mid-Levels of The Peak. I dump off on Hollywood Road so I can go to Man Mo Temple and get my fortune told. Like so many buildings here, the temple is undergoing repairs...

HK Mo Man Temple

Fortunately, my "Master Fortune Teller" spoke English, so that made things a little easier...

HK Fortune Teller

For $2.50 ($20 HK), you could get a quick 1-minute fortune. For $13 ($100 HK), you could get a full fortune and have a question answered. I decided to spend the big money, and asked "Will I live long enough to visit Hong Kong again in this life?" After shaking some coins, consulting some charts, and writing down a lot of Chinese characters, Master Fortune Teller told me that he sees I have some health problems (no doubt, I seem to be falling apart!), but they are all controllable and so I will live to visit Hong Kong again. In fact, he sees me returning to the city as early as October of next year! He further explains that I will fall in love with Hong Kong, and the memories will call me back. This certainly seems feasible to me, so I hand over the $100 HK and buy some crappy souvenirs.

From there, it's back to the Star Ferry so I can have a late lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, which is Kowloon-side...

HK Hard Rock

It's a good property, with a nicely appointed merch shop on the first floor and a restaurant spread out over the second. Memorabilia is somewhat sparse, which is quite strange, because they certainly have the room for it. They also have a stage for live music, which should be standard at ALL Hard Rocks.

As I leave, I notice two things... 1) There's a Donna Karan next door, which I am afraid to enter, because I love DK clothing and would probably buy out the store. 2) There's a Pret A Manger across the street, so now I know where I'll be going for breakfast tomorrow morning! Is it too much to hope that they have roasted tomato sandwiches on their morning menu?

I was planning on ending the afternoon at the Hong Kong Museum of Art, but they are closed Thursdays so I am out of luck. Instead I decide to head back to my hotel so I can blog my day, and read a few chapters of Noble House before heading out to the Temple Street Night Market this evening.

All in all, a pretty good first day in Hong Kong, and it's not even over!

   

Day Six: Beijing Hard Rock Cafe

Posted on Wednesday, September 28th, 2005

Dave!Unlike the Shanghai Hard Rock, which has been flagged as "opening soon" for a year after "closing to move," the Hard Rock Cafe Beijing was open for business. It was actually worth the insanely-long 2 hour drive it took to get there. Of course, considering the distance from my hotel was only 10 miles, perhaps not.

Anyway, the HRC Beijing is a surprisingly large dual-level property that's permanently affixed to the front of the Landmark Hotel in the Chaoyang District of Eastern Beijing. As far as properties go, it's actually quite impressive.

Hard Rock Beijing

The following two shots were taken opposite, giving you an idea of how big the main floor is. When you add the space afforded by the upstairs level, there's quite a lot of room available for seating...

Hard Rock Beijing

Hard Rock Beijing

The foosball tables were a nice touch, and something I had never seen at a Hard Rock before...

Hard Rock Beijing

I loved me the "Comrade Bear" but didn't have room in my suitcase to get one...

Hard Rock Beijing

It's even prettier at night...

Hard Rock Beijing

Service was impeccable, and my Veggie Burger was great (though spicier than I'm used to). After a very long day, I'm glad to know that I can count of the Hard Rock to make me feel at home once again... even when half-way around the world.

   

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