This post is being written retrospectively as I did not begin recording my travel journeys until our United Kingdom and Europe trip in 2008. The story begins a long time before this trip when I had no money and no clue how I would ever realise the dream of the travel that I yearned for all my life. After settling into life in Sydney I was surprised to learn that Ian had never, in the 20 years that his sister lived in the US, visited her.
A decision was quickly made to obtain passports and book our flight to spend our first of many future trips to visit with Scott and Leonie. Abilene was to become the base of all our US trips over the next 25 years
The details of this trip are only those from memory and photos captured to look back on for this eye-opening trip that only served to double my passion for travel especially overseas to new places.
The year was 1999 and the trip was too short from 14th to 30th November, little did we know more time is always needed
Flying out – with a bonus country
When beginning to planning this trip I had no idea that the first country I would visit outside Australia would be Japan. Albeit an overnight stay and a very simple meal costing 6300 Yen ($100 AUD) (a lot of money for basic dinner for two back then. We arrived at night and taxiing for at least 20 minutes to the gate at Narita was the biggest eye-opener of the many eye-opening things on this trip, so many gates and planes in one place. We had no trouble transiting to our hotel and settled in for the night next leg wasn’t due to fly out until 3pm so we had some time to explore around Narit a little, visited a supermarket (loved it and do it everywhere I go now)and were amazed at how clean and tidy everything was, even the train station. Cigarette vendor machines on every corner and not one single butt to be found not even on train tracks
It was long enough to whet the appetite for a definite return visit. As it turned out our cheapest option for flying was via Japan Airline (JAL) with the bonus of landing directly in Dallas ( Qantas opened a direct flight many many years later). Back on our JAL flight, the excitement was building for the main part of the trip we settled in and enjoyed the flight. From memory and looking back these flights were the longest of our lives only because we didn’t know what to expect. Every flight since feels shorter and easier, not much different from a quick drive to Bourke or beyond for the weekend. In fact, feel like I get more jet-lagged doing 11-12 hours in the car and back over a couple of days than any flight.
The flight was good and the food was excellent. With this, all being new to us the wine with dinner was a surprise and the many visits by the crew with snacks and drinks all through the flight were exciting mini-events for us that would go unnoticed by any seasoned traveller. There will be never another first flight with that wide-eyed amazement at every little detail.
Arriving in country number two – USA
It was so exciting coming off the plane at Dallas Fort Worth Airport (DWF) to see Scott and Leonie waiting to collect us for the two and bit hour drive to Abilene in West Texas. Everything was so new and we had that strange feeling of being on the wrong side of the road for the first time ever. Our eyes were on sticks looking at the roads the size of the buildings and how spread out everything was.
We stopped at our very first Cracker Barrel restaurant and enjoy our first taste of the many foods that are our first go-to every time we land. Gallons of coffee with Half and Half chicken fried steak but eggs in a basket and the bacon were the biggest hit of all and are still the first thing we have when we can get to a cracker barrel. The strip bacon and eggs cooked to perfection ruined me for life on our bacon. I now only buy strip bacon even here in Australia to this day.
Those first few days were a blur of probably jet-lagged but I don’t recall being jet-lagged. I remember mornings spent around the kitchen bench drinking coffee and evenings in the sitting room relaxing after another great meal somewhere. I think the food was the one thing we both loved so much right from the get-go. With everything new even a trip to Walmart was amazing we walked and walked around just looking at everything on offer is a one-stop-shop in our eyes. Everything is bigger in Texas!!!
The simplest memories come flooding back of Scott dropping us downtown Abilene where we wandered around and sat for what seemed like an hour watch a goods train go through the station, our first train with double containers and I am sure we lost count at over 100 wagons.
Las Vegas – Wow and wow again
We decided we wanted to do one other trip somewhere out of Texas so settled on Las Vegas and Leonie was able to join us for the 3-day trip. We planned to fly out of Dallas 3 days before Thanksgiving and return on Thanksgiving eve (poor Leonie what were we thinking, clearly not of her, having to prepare Thanksgiving lunch)
Nevertheless away we went with a plane change in Denver Colorado we were soon flying over the magnificent grand canyon and landing in Las Vegas. The first of countless trip over the next 20 odd years, seems we don’t have US trip that doesn’t begin or end with few days in Vegas and don’t even gamble, food and seeing the Casino and site.
We had booked into The Treasure Island Casino and were blown away by its size and opulence, then we walked outside and really saw a Casino… Paris Paris, Bellagio, and New York New York. The Venetian was almost completed.
We set out to walk the strip from one end to the other and back again (The Treasure Island at Southern end of Strip). We certainly bit off more than we could chew and were exhausted when we got back to the hotel. Dinner and bed what the best we could manage after that. The rest of the trip passed in a bit of a blur and the main takeaway for us was ‘we would be back. The casinos and their feature attractions got more amazing with each one from the lions at MGM, the huge fish tank behind the reception area, the roller coaster on the New York New York rooftop, not to mention the dancing fountain of the Bellagio.
Thanksgiving – It’s a big deal on the annual holiday calendar
Our first thanksgiving was in the traditional style and so much fun, the food was out of this world and just kept coming, I can’t remember if the family came over but I think they did and the first NFL game was on TV. American sport was something that I got the bug for at this time and this is passion has only increased over the years.
All too soon it is over
After a sigh of relief (for the cook) and the door closed on the last of the visitors we settled in for more catch-up and family time. We explored Abilene and had the opportunity to drive to Midland Texas where Matthew was leading the marching band in a high school football game. This was another eye-opener to the sheer size of the event and the logistics that go into each one of these games every week. Rows and rows of buses to transport the players, entourage and band members were incredible, we passed bus after bus on the way home but gee the hotdogs we the best I had ever eaten. We loved everything about getting to the game and can’t wait to get to more sporting events on the next trip(s).
Our final excursion for this trip was to drive the two and half hours to Dallas Fortworth and explore Grapevine Mills (mind blown at sheer size and number of shops under one roof), Billy Bobs Bar (Biggest Bar in Texas) it has a full-size rodeo arena inside as well as five different stages that all the great country stars perform on at one time or another
Looking back on the love of the food, the feel of Texas (just like Western NSW), and the warmth of the people, they loved to talk to us just to hear our twangy accents. Writing this as future Ange I can only say that boy we had no idea how big an impact this trip would be. It was life-changing for me and the dream to travel exploded into a full-blown passion that after many many trips to the USA as not waned one iota. We hadn’t even caught the Disney bug yet!