Skyline views at the Reunion Tower in Dallas

As I may have mentioned a few times, this was our first trip to the USA and coming from the UK where we don’t have too many skyscraper skylines, we were pretty excited to see it while in Dallas which is a pretty big city.

Every time I saw pictures and videos of the city there was always this one tower that stood out – it had a ball on the top that was lit up at night time.  It was called the Reunion Tower and we decided we’d love to go up there and get a great view of the city.

As we were in downtown Dallas visiting the Sixth Floor museum we decided to make the most of the time (and make sure we didn’t need too many downtown driving trips!) by adding in a trip to the tower then.  It’s really close by, probably about a 5 minute walk away?  You don’t want much more when it’s as hot as it is in Dallas!

As you go in the tower there is a shop at the bottom with a whole load of souvenirs and a penny press (very important for us – small souvenirs I don’t mind the kids getting!) and after a quick bag security check you wait for someone to take your picture against a green screen.  Normally I hate these things as I hate the pressure to get one afterwards, but they had a way to get your picture on social media for free and you got a copy emailed back to you too which I thought was kinda cool.  Maybe this is the way forward with these things, I’ll admit it’s been a while since we’ve done many touristy things!

Not long and I will definitely be the smallest!

The lift that takes you up to the top of the tower takes a grand total of 68 seconds and feels so smooth.  You get to see outside as you go and get a fab view!

Once up at the observation deck, called the GeO Deck, you can use the kiosks to share your image that was taken below.  There’s a few backgrounds to choose from, but I do like the evening shots with all the lights!  The deck is air conditioned and full of touch screens that are really accessible to all.  You can search and find out some of the history of the tower or use it to find out what you are looking at outside.   It was great for my older kids, but equally I think it would be great for little ones too.

Pretty walls inside and James downloading our picture from the kiosk

Using the interactive screens

The views were spectacular.  I could have spent forever just looking at it and trying to work out what I was seeing.  I couldn’t believe how spread out the city was and how far away the big sports stadiums at Arlington were.  There was also an outside area where you  can look through telescopes to get closer to the landscape too.  All included and no extra quarters needed!

We spent ages being silly and taking selfies – although I was always a bit worried I was going to drop my phone!  I think I need a wrist strap like my camera has ;)

Overall, it was simply stunning up there and we all loved it.  I’d highly recommend a trip to the top.  There are food options so maybe we can add that in next time!

 

Conspiracy Theories in Downtown Dallas

One of the exciting things about going to the US, for me, was to see cities full of high rises and skyscrapers.  We just don’t have that much in the UK and it seems that most cities in the US, even the ones I’ve never heard of, have a pretty fab skyline.  Now, I had heard of Dallas, which 80′s child hasn’t, so was excited to see what the city had to offer us.

As soon as we knew we were going here we knew we had to learn more about President Kennedy and his assassination which happened in downtown Dallas.  We were excited to learn about the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza which had loads of information about the events and was housed in the actual building that JFK was supposedly shot from.

Marcus is my history buff and recently he’s been learning more about what happened after WW2, including the cold war and the Vietnam war, so naturally, learning about the presidents has been in there too.  He also has a thing about conspiracy theories, as does James, so we knew that the museum would be a great one!

As always, coming from the UK with our fabulous free museums, it’s hard for us to pay out for museums especially if I don’t know if we’ll enjoy them.  Now the kids are older it’s much easier though!  The sixth floor museum was fairly expensive, costing $16 for an adult and $13 for a child (free under 5) but we’d already made the decision that we’d shell out for this one!

It was easy to find the museum and there was plenty of parking nearby.  We parked in the museum lot but there was lots around as well.  Really reasonable parking as well for being in downtown of a city – only $5.  Maybe it’s standard for US cities though!

You can buy tickets online and it mentions that they are sold in timed slots.  I wasn’t sure how long it would take us to get in to the city so I decided to just buy them in person and if we had to wait then we’d go explore for a bit.  In actual fact we were ok to just buy tickets, get our audio guides and go straight up to the museum.

Audio guides are included in the admission.  I do like having these as the kids can listen to as much or as little as they feel up to.  I wasn’t sure how much Alex would be interested, as she can be a bit hit or miss so having this meant she could be uninterested and not have me grump at her!  In actual fact I think she did enjoy it.

The museum was busy, especially at the beginning part as you are led round the exhibits and videos.  We learned about the world at the time of JFK’s presidency, the man himself, bits about the cold war and eventually we started to learn about the events of the day that he was assassinated.

I have to say I didn’t know much about the event itself, even though I’ve learned a little about the world in the sixties more recently, so I enjoyed reading and learning.  There was so much to learn and take in at every exhibit, more than we felt that we needed to know, but perfect for someone who is mad about this period of history.

Having the information about the day in the exact place where the shooter was located was great, you could see the vantage point and really get familiar with how it might have taken place.  They have reconstructed the window area so it’s how it was when Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK which was pretty cool.  It was also so weird to me that the fatal place was just a cross on the road and cars and people go by it every day.

The museum doesn’t skim over the fact that there were many conspiracy theories about JFK’s death and Marcus enjoyed reading all about those!  He’s convinced all is not as it seems ;)

All in all it was packed with information and a great day out.  We all thoroughly enjoyed it.  I do think we’d have struggled if the kids were much younger, especially as we don’t have much background of the story.  At ages 12 and 14 it was perfect for our guys.

I think the ‘window’ was the top right one in this shot

 

I could have jumped in that fountain!

Outside the museum you can walk round and discover the Grassy Knoll and get some different vantage points.  It was extremely hot when we were there though!  Take water ;)  Not far away is also the JFK Memorial which is also worth a look.

 

Our first impressions of the USA

We’ve always wanted to go to the USA.  Something about growing up with American tv, sitcoms, kids programmes and reality tv maybe?  Or maybe we just relate far too well with The Simpsons!

I always imagined we’d go to New York first maybe or even Florida like so many people in our country do.  A few years ago we were so close to actually going and driving Route 66 but circumstances held us back.  If you’d told me last year that our first introduction to this huge country would have been Dallas, Texas I’m not sure I’d have believed you!

Even though I could browse through a travel brochure about the wonders of the USA and know that I wanted to visit all of it, Texas wasn’t really at the forefront of my thoughts.  So why are we here?

On my business site, Untrapped Life, I started a podcast, was learning about the world of business and knew that conferences would be part of that.  As it happens, a new podcast conference was being set up and I decided, quite on a whim, that we should go.  It all made sense, we could explore a new place and we could even go and do a bit of Route 66 like we wanted to!  So that’s why we’re here in Dallas :)

The flight over the pond was fairly easy.  We flew from Manchester to Philadelphia and it was about a 6 hour flight.  It was comfy, we had nice food and great flight attendants and films on demand on the tv in front of our seats.  Fab – the time just flew by.  I’d heard a lot of scare stories about immigration, but that was really painless too.

We’re on our way!

The internal flight to Dallas wasn’t as good.  We were so tired (we’d been up since 5 am and the flight was leaving at 10pm our time), it wasn’t very comfy, no in flight entertainment and not enough food for us all to purchase (in hindsight I should have pre ordered) and it was delayed taking off.   We finally got in though and had a bit of a kerfuffle with finding our hotel for the evening, which I will gloss over since it was all my mistakes!!

Just arrived – it was HOT!

As soon as we got checked in, which was about 3am our time, so 22 hours on the road, my head hit the pillow I was gone!

James and Marcus are car nuts so they enjoyed spotting them from our window of the hotel!  Everyone says how big everything is, but I’ll be honest, it doesn’t seem so much to me right now.  I may change my mind though!  I guess I’ve seen enough american cars back home and huge supermarkets in France that I haven’t seen anything crazy yet.  Oh, wait, the flags – they are fairly big!  Oh and the drink sizes ;)

Car spotting!

Driving was always a bit of a scary prospect especially as we’re around a huge city.  James is driving now and I’ll give it a try when we get out of the city.  He’s finding it quite hard so far, the first day felt crazy, but the second was a bit better.  We’re a good team though and I navigate while he drives.

Alex was desperate to see a WalMart so since we found one fairly easily we looked in there.  Again, it didn’t seem so big as I expected.  Bigger than home, yes, but not that much so.  The size of the pizzas on offer made our mouths drop open though!  We bought twinkies and other goodies ;)

We’re staying in an AirBnb house – our first time using the site actually after months of liking the idea of it.  The place is gorgeous and we love it  - a huge tv, lovely decor and even a hammock outside.  We’ve seen some red birds flying by, no idea what they are, but it’s just incredibly lovely.

Chilling in the heat!

 

Big TV, big couch, lots of American telly!

The kids have so many ideas on what they want to do and eat, especially eating!  They want to try all the fast food and all the sweets.  For our first meal out we went to a small diner called Barbec’s that was just a 5 minute drive away, probably not even that far.  It was excellent food, good portions (not too big) and great staff.  Felt like the kind of place I’ve seen on the TV so many times as well, just a basic American restaurant.  It cost less than $30 for us all to eat which I think was a good deal!  We’re still figuring out the tipping etiquette mind you, hoping we haven’t short changed anyone so far!

Now that’s a lot of Coke!

So first impressions are great.  Loving it here, loving that we can speak English and loving seeing this amazing place for the first time!

 

Goodbye Gloria

When we were looking for camper vans 2 years or so ago I knew I wanted a van I wouldn’t get attached to and something we could sell on again with no soppy feelings remaining. So I was pleased with Gloria when we found her. She hit all the practical points but also she was fairly brown and ugly and I was sure we wouldn’t grow attached to her.

She did everything that we asked of her. We wanted to reach the Mediterranean, she did it. We wanted to go from Lands End in England to John o’Groats in the North of Scotland and she did it.

Enjoying a sunset

By Stonehenge

Montignac by the river

 

German Alps!

 

Just a few flags!

Had she collapsed after our last day on the road we’d have still felt that we’d had a great buy and we’d got our moneys worth!

Even after 6 months being stored again on the drive she took us all the way to Normandy with not a hitch. She was 26 years old by then! I really couldn’t believe how lucky we’d been with her. We’re not normally that lucky with cars so it felt like such a risk to buy a cheap van for our big adventure. Obviously our bad luck with cars meant we were owed some good luck!

second chance at an adventure! Off to Normandy.

So May came and we knew we had to sell her. It was gut wrenching and some days I just wanted to work out a way of keeping her. What I really wanted was to have a house with some big driveway or some land we could store her forever on and where she could be a ‘den’ for the kids or me! Unfortunately we’re a long way from the housing ladder in the UK and this wasn’t an option. It made sense to at least try to sell her.

Ugh – what a nightmare. Ebay seemed the best place for visibility, but it also has so many time wasters there too and we spent so many days dealing with emails that were a bit weird/unintelligible or downright cheeky.

As time went on I was starting to think we’d not actually sell her before our August trip to America. All of a sudden it started getting stressy and I realised that although I loved the van, I didn’t want the hassle of trying to keep her on the road and really the way I’d rationalised buying flights to the US was because we had planned to get Gloria sold. Some days I was feeling so foolish when another weekend went by with her unsold.

Finally someone came who was just right for her. Him and his partner had ideas of a huge adventure and I know they will love the van. In the end I was relieved she’d gone andpleased she seemed to have gone to a good home!

All together!

All together!

 

We had so much fun with Gloria, so many adventures. I’m so glad we had her in that chapter of our life!

Keeping healthy on arrival in a new country

We’ve actually been incredibly lucky while on our travels so far that we’ve not had any major illnesses. James suffered with really bad hay fever while in Germany and we had the crazy tale of trying to get to see a doctor in a town where they only spoke German and Russian! Marcus also had tummy upsets but it was while we were in the UK, so proof that it can really happen anywhere.

I think it’s also a misnomer that you can only really have tummy upsets while in developing countries and I do think that any sort of change is going to potentially have an effect on your gut. We’re travelling to the USA, for the first time, in two weeks. Even though it’s not a place that I would think would be bad for us and that we’d need to take precautions I’m sure the change in water and the change in they types of food could well be challenging for us or anyone.

So what to do? Well, normally I’ll admit I would just take it all as it comes, but then generally in our travels we’ve had time to slow down if we needed to. We won’t when we go to the US, we’ll be pretty much on the go from the moment we arrive. Any illness could really impact us hugely.

Common sense prevails though. In order to keep healthy and feel fresh on arrival in a new country I’m thinking about the following:

  • plenty of sleep
  • plenty of water and fluids
  • staying out of the intense heat if applicable
  • not going crazy with too much food too soon!  (hmm remind me of that in america!)
  • keeping a well stocked first aid kit

Another thing we’re doing is also be looking at upping our good tummy bacteria too as I’ve been reading a bit about probiotics and prebiotics lately.  We try and take vitamins already, since I know we don’t eat as well as we can so this is a great extra thing to do.

We could do that by just go crazy with yoghurt drinks, but personally I don’t really like them very much.  The rest of the family do, but I’m a fussy so and so ;)  So I was pleased to find a product from Bimuno Prebiotics which is some chewy pastilles that do a similar job – I’ll be giving them a go!  Better than yucky yoghurt drinks!!

Although I don’t think you can always stop tummy upsets and health issues when you go abroad being prepared can absolutely help to minimise the risk so that’s what we’ll be doing.  Even if we’re just popping over the channel to France and not to deepest darkest India!