America

Sounds of the Deep South, Part One: Nashville

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I’ve often heard the Deep South described as a ‘musical landscape’, so when I chose to go on a tour of his region I knew I was heading out on a musical journey. Being a music lover (and a bit of a food lover too) I was looking forward to experiencing what the Deep South had to offer! And I have to say it delighted me in every way!

Nashville, Tennessee

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I began my journey in style in ‘Music City’, Nashville. This place is just brimming with musical talent. It’s on the streets, in the Honky-Tonks on Broadway, in the parks and even up on the bridge! Whatever your musical taste if you look hard enough you could probably find it here, or you could just embrace country music, it’s infectious! Nashville comes to life in the evenings, I spent my first night on Broadway dipping in and out of various venues, catching some great bands and singers, my favourite spots were ‘Tootsies’ and ‘The Second Fiddle’, which had a friendly atmosphere, down to earth vibe and great music.

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To get into my country groove, you might like to listen to my Nashville soundtrack here…

Honestly I wasn’t a huge country music fan when I left the UK but by day two in Nashville I was converted. I started my day at the amazing Johnny Cash museum, getting to know this American icon. Its a great collection of Cash memorabilia and personal items charting his life. There were music booths and films along with letters, scripts, lyrics and his guitars. It was a very honest and personal exhibit, and I felt I came away knowing the ‘Man in black’ a little better and loving his music even more!

At lunchtime I was trying on over-priced cowboy boots on Broadway. By mid-afternoon I was working my way through the Country Music Hall of Fame and by nightfall I was in my seat at the Grand Ole Opry, rocking out to some great country talent both young and old.

A night at the Opry

Often called “The Show that Made Country Music Famous” the Grand Ole Opry is an American icon in itself, a weekly country music show, broadcast live on the radio and famously known as one of the longest running radio broadcasts in history. It seemed a must do in Nashville, even though (as I might have mentioned before) I was not a huge country music fan, it wasn’t top of my list… but I’m so glad I went!

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Although it’s dedicated to country music, the Opry embraces a mix of musical genres from country to bluegrass, folk and gospel, there is something for everyone. I love live music and I always feel when you try something new, you can often be surprised at what you find and what you like!

And that’s exactly what happened that night at the Opry, I found a band called Needtobreathe. The final band of the night, which so far had been quite sedate (sitting in pews it does feel a bit like a church) suddenly became a One Direction concert with the band taking the stage and the girls in the row next to me going wild! A cross between country, bluegrass and Christian rock, they had a refreshing sound, a youthful vibe and their songs stayed with me on my travels in the Deep South….

More photos from Music City

Look out for Sounds of the Deep South Part Two: Next up Memphis!
Coming soon…

Costa Rica – Walking in Paradise

I enjoy walking, I’m not a hardcore hiker (not yet!) but just thought it would really be the best way to experience a place like Costa Rica. So I booked myself on to an 8 day walking tour to explore this beautiful country! Here are some of my most memorable and rewarding hikes from my trip, which I hope will inspire anyone who wants to get out there and explore this wonderful country.

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Irazu Volcano National Park to the town of Pocayas

Thrown in at the deep end on the first day we were dropped at the summit of the mighty Irazu Volcano or “El Coloso” (The Colossus) the highest active volcano in Costa Rica.  The view of the Central Valley are best earlier in the day, so I would recommend visiting in the morning and hiking down.

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So we hiked 15km down to the town of Pocayas. We left the cool climate of the dusty crater at 3,432m and made our way through the misty, fertile fields that flank the slopes of the volcano.

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I’ve heard the slopes of Irazu often described as a ‘salad bowl’ and they totally are, everything grows here! We passed through fields of onions, cabbages, carrots and potatoes forming beautful patterns in the countryside.

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Our route was windy and steep and although the path was often firm the incline took its toll on my legs, by three-quarters of the way down they were turning to jelly! Fields turned to small villages and then to the relief of my legs the pretty little town of Pocayas!

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We spent a little time exploring the town with its traditional family run stores before a well-earned lunch and a rest for my legs! This is where I had my first Casado, a traditional Costa Rican dish of rice, black beans and fried plantain accompanied by a salad and usually a meat of your choice or fish.

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After a fresh pineapple juice from a local fruit stall, we left the town replenished and headed back to San José.

“Hike to the Emerald Crater”
Cerro Chato Volcano hike in Arenal National Park

The most enjoyable hike for me, was actually the one I found the most challenging. We hiked to the crater on Cerro Chatto (1,140m) which is a dormant sister volcano to the Arenal volcano, its hollow crater is now filled with an emerald lagoon of water.

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We began our hike from the Arenal Observatory Lodge hiking up the western slope through the dense rainforest up to the crater. The hike was muddy and steep at times and I really had to take it at my own pace. I often found I had to use my hands as well as my feet to get a good grip on the slippery and tangled surfaces of the forest.

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Our guides were amazing though and kept me going. When we got to the top, it was quite misty so we couldn’t see the crater very clearly at all, but I was just so happy to have made it to the top! Hiking around the crater was just as challenging but quite fun, as the terrain was soft, muddy and quite swamp-like in places, so one false step and you were ankle deep in mud.

The downhill was just as challenging as the uphill but by then as a group we were in high spirits! It was about a 5 hour hike in total, I was exhausted by the end but felt so proud of myself!

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That evening we treated ourselves and our legs to a well-earned visit to a natural volcanic hot springs, Eco Termales in the nearby town of La Fortuna, the perfect end to an amazing day!

“Walking in Paradise”
Hike to waterfalls in Rincón de la Vieja

I didn’t know quite what to expect this day but was pretty excited when our guides suggested we bring a packed lunch and our swimwear! This was a lovely days hike through lush forests, crossing hanging bridges, babbling streams, encountering some beautiful wildlife, plants and  two different species of monkeys. I had found my hiking legs now, walking with confidence I could enjoy and take in the beauty of my surroundings.

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Our reward today was a beautiful secluded waterfall, where we spent a few hours swimming, relaxing and eating our picnic lunch. This was one of my happiest memories of Costa Rica, it was like our own little paradise, we only encountered four other people during the whole hike and pretty much had the waterfalls to ourselves for a few hours.

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“Las Pailas Trail”
The Mud pots of Rincón de la Vieja

Later the same day, feeling rejuvenated from our swim and picnic, we took a shorter circular hike through “Las Pailas” or mud pots of Rincón de la Vieja, still an active volcano, since it has had some small eruptions around its crater as recently as 2011, its no longer possible. In complete contrast to the morning’s lush rainforest and inviting waters, we were now in a dry, volatile landscape, even the vegetation seemed hostile.

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We found ourselves walking through the volcanic elements. I’ll never forget the steam and sulphur fumes rising up from the ground, the frothing mud pots, the bubbling brown waters and of course the smell! This volcano was alive!

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Costa Rica has so much to offer, that I don’t feel I can cover it all in just one post! It’s bio-diversity and natural beauty make it a wildlife lover and photographers dream, its varied landscapes and climates make it a great hiking and adventure destination too.

So look out for future posts on my adventures in this amazing country!

Pura Vida!