#NKinNA16: Part 3 – Old Friends, New Friends

After bidding farewell to our Grand Canadian friends, the coach headed back into the USA.

Our first stop after our Canadian adventure was Cleveland, Ohio, which was our first one night stop of the trip. I had been looking forward to this stop for the entire trip, solely because I got to catch up with my handsome friend Nick.

But before I got in Nick’s pants to see him, the Contiki crew went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Now, as previously mentioned in Part One, I had been to the country  music version of this, so immediately I knew I was going to compare the two.

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Despite my looooove for country music, I actually really enjoyed the rock and roll version much better. For starters, THE ACTUAL RV THAT JOHNNY CASH USED TO TOUR THE COUNTRY WAS JUST CASUALLY SITTING HERE. And there were other cool things there, I guess.

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On a serious note, though, there is so much culture and history and cool artifacts in this museum that you’d be stupid not to visit here at least once in your life. I know Cleveland may not be on top of many people’s hit lists, but you’ll have to stop here even if it’s just for the museum.

After getting settled into our accommodation, I was greeted by my friend Nick – dressed in his finest Nikki Bella attire, no less – and he showed me around Cleveland before showering me with sugar, food, and more sugar. We went back to his place to eat dinner and watch WWE’s Backlash pay-per-view, which was Smackdown Live’s first solo pay-per-view.

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A cute cuddle sesh and short drive later, and I was back in my bed after having a good chat with Kate and Big Red. The following morning, bags were to the coach to depart to Chicago, Illinois. This would be the last stop for our Contiki North by North East friends, and so I would have to re-live the pain of bidding farewell to our Contiki family just like I did with the Grand Canadians.

In between Cleveland and Chicago, we stopped by an Amish county town for lunch, and I had never felt so out of place before in my life. It didn’t help that I was wearing a very skimpy outfit… and the heavily clothed Amish looked at me as if I were the devil.

Just like I did in Boston, as soon as we arrived in Chicago, I took a bloody nap. Our included dinner was at a place called Giordano’s, which played home to some traditional deep dish Chicago pizza. Okay, so at home, I can clean up a whole cheese pizza from Pizza Hut by myself, no questions asked. So I talked up a big game when it came to this deep dish pizza. But then I actually got a slice… and two slices later, I was sooooo full.

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After dinner, we had the opportunity to go up one of the highest towers in Chicago to get the most blissful view of the Windy City ever. Include the night sky and the bright lights, and it was definitely a sight to be seen.

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The following day, Kate, Ally and I set off to do a bit of shopping and some general sightseeing around Chicago. Today also played host to the most confusing lunch I have ever had in my life – I had asked for a salad sandwich, and when I opened my burger box, I was greeted with a slice of meat. Nothing else. Just a slice of meat. After telling the workers about their slight mishap, they replaced it with bread and lettuce… I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

On a brighter note, at least I got to see the firehouse from Chicago Fire in person for the first time. Keeping the taxi driver’s meter running at this point, I literally ran out of the cab, posed, got pictures taken, and ran back into the cab about ten seconds later. So worth it.

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Dinner tonight was an optional dinner, which also included an improv comedy show. The kind fella at the restaurant offered to make me a pasta dish since the options going around weren’t meatless, which kind of makes up for the fact that their cocktails weren’t too great.

The comedy show was okay. I’m sure someone would appreciate their style of humour, but it wasn’t my personal thing. What did make the show better, though, was their skit “The First Date”, which featured the cutest, funniest and definitely most authentic fake relationship between Lochie and Esther (lucky man he is).

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Afterwards, the Contiki crew found a bar that was completely empty to spend the night, and the drinks quickly flew around as this would be our last night with our North by North East friends. I had grown very close to some leaving us in Chicago, so this was an emotional evening for me already.

The owner of the bar, who was grateful for the sudden burst of sales from all these rowdy Australians, told me that she was going to give everyone from Contiki a free shot for the business. Being the natural born leader that I am, I got up onto the bar and announced the good news to everyone. Unfortunately for me, however, the shot was tequila and I wasn’t aware of it. (For future reference, I cannot stomach tequila. Like, absolutely not.) My stomach soon realised its mistake, and I ran outside to throw up (after getting some on my hand. Yuck!) This was apparently a sight to behold, as a flock of Contikians followed me outside to watch. In between hurls, I looked over at everyone screaming “STOP LOOKING AT ME”. It was a classy moment.

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I’d rather not mention what followed the above picture being taken…

Those of us on the Grand Northern bid farewell to our North by North East friends and were soon joined by our Contiki Northern Adventure friends, who would spend the next 14 days with us. While we lost a significant number of people, we only gained seven people on the second half, so our once full coach was now almost halved.

Our first stop on the second half of tour was Madison, Wisconsin. On the way to Madison, we had a Miller Lite Brewery Tour (which I guess kind of makes up for the brewery tour we missed in Toronto). I’m not a fan of beer, or tours of beer, so I didn’t particularly enjoy this stop, but to each their own I guess. We did get a cute group picture from here though, so that’s a plus.

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That night in Madison, after having probably the greatest mac and cheese I’ve ever tasted in my 23 years of life, the crew went up to play trivia. I’m normally a huge fan of trivia, but the fatigue from the night before had caught up to us, and this game of trivia was neverending. By the end of it, my team was throwing the competition away, answering legitimate trivia questions with things like “Blinky Bill” and “Ariana Grande”.

 

After our time in Madison was done, we then went onto Sioux Falls, South Dakota. There was a random stop off at the Spam Museum along the way… yes, you read that correctly. The Spam Museum. As in a museum dedicated to spam… my facial expression in this picture says it all.

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Sioux Falls, in my sweet and humble opinion, was kind of underwhelming, but I guess after seeing the beauty that is Niagara, any kind of waterfall would be. There was a pop-up Victoria’s Secret shoot there though… I mean, it was just me, but still.

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While dinner wasn’t included here, our kind and oh so charming tour manager Phil organised a big dinner for us at Outback Steakhouse, we could get a totally authentic completely Americanised-attempt at Australian culture. I live right near an Outback Steakhouse. I knew what to expect. Following dinner, the crew opted to have a quiet night with drinks by the pool, and heading off to bed early.

Bags were to the coach and, with our first national park stop along the way, we were off to Keystone, South Dakota. Being told to dress appropriate for walking, hiking and other such fitness-requiring-exercises, I put on the most appropro thing I had… a mismatched-but-still-matchy tracksuit from Victoria’s Secret. Soz guys.

Badlands National Park was a sight to behold, and it was probably my favourite national park on the entire trip bar Yellowstone National Park, but more on that later. If you’re not going to take my word for it, look at this breathtaking picture… and then look at the scenery behind me.

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You might not have heard of Keystone, and that’s fine. People will stay there because it’s close to Mount Rushmore, where we were headed to the following day. After having an included buffet-style dinner at the restaurant next door to the hotel, a group of us gathered together to play the most deadly-yet-healthy game of Roxanne ever. The rules were simply: listen to Roxanne by the Police, squat every time he says “Roxanne”, and drink every time he says “put on the red light”. I was intoxicated veeeeery quickly.

The crew headed on over to a bar a short walk away for some drinks, pool, foozball and karaoke. Having been dubbed the official Nicki Minaj of the tour, I had to keep my reputation alive and performed my best version of Starships. I don’t know that song as well as Anaconda, so it wasn’t as iconic. But still. Rocked it like a mofo.

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The following day, the gang were off to see four guys heads carved in stone on a mountain. At the beginning, Mount Rushmore is quite breathtaking… but that will only last for about 15 minutes. And then you realise you’re just staring at four guys heads carved in stone on a mountain, and you’re wondering how long you’re meant to stand in awe before walking off. At least the scenic route I took with James and Mike was kinda okay?

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Not to be outdone by dem white folk, the native Americans are in the process of making their own version of Mount Rushmore, called “Crazy Horse”. Obviously, it’s still under construction, and I don’t want to seem like that negative person, but I don’t think it’ll ever be done. It has a nice backstory to it, I guess, and I adore anything to do with native American history and culture.

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At some point after seeing Crazy Horse, I also whooped Big Red’s ass in a game of checkers. No tea no shade.

The dinner we had this night was probably the most noteworthy dinner of the tour, and not for good reason. So a group of us – Amy, Amber, JJ, Analiese and I – went to a place called “Pie for the People” in Keystone, and it was the most bizarre experience I’ve ever had. For starters, the waitress asked if we wanted a slice of pizza or a full one, to which Amber replies “Do you only have pizza here?”, and the waitress says “No”, as if she didn’t know why Amber would think that. She finally gave us the menus, and Amber decided she wanted dessert. The waitress didn’t know what desserts they had, and told Amber to go find out for herself. But she couldn’t, because the guy who was in charge of dessert was also the delivery man, and he was currently out on a job. So, basically, Amber couldn’t get dessert until he came back. The food wasn’t too crash hot either, and in the wise words of Amber, “compared to Snow White’s apple, it’s not too bad”. I think, in total, we scared off eight other Contikians from eating here, because it was the worst dining experience I’ve ever had.

We had another quiet night drinking by the pool and having chats with our fellow Contikians before heading off to bed.

This ends part three of my #NKinNA16 adventures. We said goodbye to some of our friends who left us in Chicago (I miss your deliciousness, Eliza), but said hello to new friends who joined us in Chicago.

Stay tuned for more Grand Northern shenanigans, including my adventure through Yellowstone Park in Harley Quinn tights and a Fearless Nikki t-shirt.

– by Noah La’ulu

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