How are your summer plans looking? Perhaps you are fully booked and well on with procrastinatory packing? Or perhaps you have no plans and are desperately in need of some ideas? Well, if an all American road trip is what you're feeling, then keep reading because Route 66 was the kickin' Chicago to Santa Monica Pier cross-state adventure my family embarked on last summer, and I'd totally reccommend.
But rather than dragging you through a lengthy "stop-by-stop" review, this is a 'drive-thru' equivalent, summarising the good, bad and ugly experiences from when The Feingold's took on Route 66...
A good day starts with breakfast, therefore that is where we shall start this review.
Amongst the many mediocre motel 'breakfast buffets' (If you can even call them that) we stumbled across two dimes of daybreak locations, and I just couldn't chose just one winner. ..
Not strickly on Route 66 (We added San Diego- my FAVOURITE CITY- to the tail end of our adventure), Swarmi's cafe literally ticked all my breakfast boxes.
A cute and spacious interior- check!
A huge array of delicious (regular and Gluten free) options- check!
Unlimited coffee from a whole BAR of different coffee blends?! CHECK! CHECK!CHECK!
We perused the menu filled with pancakes, waffles, avo toasts, eggs etc over a session of coffee sampling. Eventually with the caffeine's help I decided on a smoothie bowl. I was expecting the usual 'breakfast-out' scrimpy 'barely there' portion of blened fruits but was soon presented a bucket-sized insta-worthy smoothie bowl that literally had me swooning. It was a bright purple cauldren of frozen acai berries, banana and other friuits alongside a generous granola crunch and coconut beepollen berry toppings! Yes, those ARE tablespoons in that picture and it was safe to say that the blueberry pancakes I ordered alongside were not going to be necessary. Any breakfast that suffienciently caffeinates and fuels for such a bargain price ($11) is worthy of this Route 66 review's recognition.
Our first Route 66 breakfast stop was Lou Mitchell's Diner. In the heart of Chicago it boasts "the worlds finest coffee" (slight exaggeration), a deliciously classic American breakfast menu AND 'free doughnut holes' and Milk Duds for all customers who desire decadence and dental decay at 8am.
I'd say aside from the food being noteably more appetising than the majority of the diners we encountered, Lou Mitchell's has the iconicity of being right at the start point for Route 66. This, alongside it's clear cultural character, some cracking eggs and cracking service left us road trippers with a breakfast experience to remember.
Also, a key breakfast tip for anywhere in the USA: their fruit salad may as well be called melon medley. If you're not melon-mad, then steer clear of the fruit cups.
...It's not just the motel breakfast buffets that were mediocre, some of the motels themselves left a lot to be desired. Most stays were only for one night, but there are some bed spring back pains and facility fails that one cannot simply ignore. We rated all our motels on route and this one pulled up as the worst.
Ashmore Inn & Suites, Amarillo, Texas
When you're tired and entrapped in personal-space-less vehicle for hours of driving, it's easy to find the smallest of annoyances to moan about. So even though Texas didn't quite hold it's own, one really memorable and worthwhile stay was in Holbrook Arizona...
Sure, it didnt score massively high on comfort, decor or facilities but how could this NOT get best accommodation?! Unlike tradtional Wigwams, these bad boys were made of concrete and were just big enough to squeeze in two double beds an ensuite bathroom and a TV in a decptive Tardis-like fashion. In total, the Wigwam motel was made up of 15 quirky bedtime quarters Wigwams surrounded by vintage Route 66 style cars to make you feel like a fully-fledged Native American who requires 21st-century staples including wifi and air-con: Wig-double-wammy!
Be warned: personal space is NOT included, don't expect to be able to stand up straight upon entrance... oh and don't be tent-ative with booking (see what I did there) because they are pretty popular and well worth the experience - truely unforgettable.
Route 66 is not all: drive, sleep, repeat. In fact, the Route's real selling point is the plethora of quirky stop-off points that do much more than give you a little time to stretch your legs. It would be impossible to pick just one best, so here's one great of SO many:
Picture this: The swealtering heat of the midday sun is glaring through the car window, your ears are filled with yet ANOTHER cover of "Route 66" featuring father Feingold's occasional outbursts of kareoke interupted only by your sketchy home-printed directions delivered from your Sahara stricken throat. You find yourself asking: Is this the end?
...when suddenly your lips stretch into a cracked and grateful smile at the sight of what can surely only be a mirage, a giant soda bottle!
Yup, in a small town called Arcadia- Oklahoma, there is one of the worlds largest collection of sodas! Shelves upon shelves the fizzy stuff and with 700 flavours to choose from, there was not a dry mouth in the house. But there's not just the usual flavours, perhaps you fancy butterscotch, lemon meringue pie, cherries ‘n mint, coffee, sweetcorn, peanutbutter & Jelly or maple bacon?! For the less brave there are also soda classics like rootbeer (ew)- what ever pops you top. What's more, the diner staff are happy to create soda floats by adding a scoop of icecream to your beverage.
So if you want freedom to stretch your legs, your portfolio of pitstops and your pallette of pop, then look out for that giant soda bottle because Pop's has you covered.
Once our physical senses could absorb no more of each awesome moment, the paparazzi equipment was retrieved in a bid to capture a more permanent image. With 7 people, 7 phones and 2 cameras there were plenty of pictures. I don't know about you but pictures of landscapes and landmarks may be beautiful but don't carry that nostalgic value or centiment. For me, holiday pictures are all about the people and moments captured within.
So inevitably, when you combine the awe-inspiring hills of the painted dessert, some cheeky handstand snchrony with my bestfriend/sister, that long 'Route 66' road perspective and a whole family argument about stopping and nearly being hit by a car, you have a worthy snap for the best picture of the holiday. (Now featured as my laptop background).
I feel a bit silly writing this one but among all the insect bites, arguments and annoying tourists I have to say this moment still rings deep in my heart of emotion as a my Route 66 low point.
On the penultimate day of the holiday, when fatigue was high, relationships had been tested and the looming plane ride back to reality was in sight, the moment happened.
I was presented with a chocolate chip muffin. Nothing special but nothing horrible- the H & M of the muffin world. I simply did not feel in the mood for it, and one snappy comment from a family member was the final straw and an outrageously toddler-style tandrum was had, with tears, raised voices and an innocent muffin caught in the cross-fire.
In the end, when the flood of emotion had mellowed and the San Diego sun had dried all the tears, I ate the muffin.
So although I regret sharing this information, I hope it can paint a clearer piture of what family holiday's truly entail.. and, sadly yes, a muffin was harmed in the making of this moment.
...oh and if you need tips on how to avoid such occurences, check out this blog post
Coolest coffee shop
Despite Chicago reminding me of a slightly dated version of NYC, it had a DAMN cool coffee spot that I just HAVE to tell you about.
Of course, before our trip, multiple google & instagram searches had lead us to compile a list of coffee houses that looked good to try, but we weren't going out of our way to seek them out. However, as fate would have it, when we were out of the hustle and bustle of the city center (lost trying to find a parking place #drama) we had found ourselves in need of a beverage and as luck would have it, one of our 'list' was right around the corner!
Sawada coffee is the first branch of the world renowned Japanese barista, Hiroshi Sawada. An unassuming old factory-like building with an urban artsy exterior gave that 'come chill with us vibe' but with a quirky 'not your every-day coffee shop' enticement.
A perfect mix of natural lighting and big tables for those who like a study spot in the top area with the thought provoking grind of the coffee machine right near by. Alongside this, a huge chill mezzanine below was lit with fairy lights, music and even a cocktail bar & barbeque to.
...And don't even get me STARTED on the drinks. Made by pleasantly knowledgeable baristas who offered sufficient friendly banter, baked goods and merchandice to go alongside your drink. But what would you choose:
..Sawada's famous 'Military latte' that combines the Japanese matcha with a hit of bitter espresso. Ingenious new levels of caffeine and creativity, plus coffee aesthetics to die for.
...I couldn't resist the green and brown blend of Japanese/USA perfection but given the summer Chicago heat I got mine over ice and it certainly got me standing to attention. I was sold as a new recruit to the Sawada coffee army. YES SIR!
From dodgy diners to dinners to die for, our restaurant selection was varied and each was rated on food, service, decor and overall quality. Although I was pleasantly surprised by traditional route noshings like the Missouri Hick BBQ, there were two restaurants that scored the highest and as they fit the bill so well we went back for more....
Not typical road trip grub but karma Sushi (Flagstaff, AZ) proved that although there may be plenty more fish in the sea, not all fish are created equal.
The interiors had a classy nightclub bar vibe with good music, freindly staff and a GREAT menu filled with all things from Califonia rolls to ramen. Each roll a work of art, each bowl a boom of flavours. If you don't like Japanese then aybe steer clear but on both occasions Karma Sushi exceeeded our greatest fishes...I mean wishes.
Truely "Fresh. Beautiful. Delicious."
Go on, roll your eyes, we did too when we first saw the famous chain restaurant. But did you know that The Cheesecake factory produces more than just cheesecakes? The menu selection is HUGE, the cheesecakes are HUGE and every HUGE portion is delivered with huge flavour and hugely overly-enthusiastic staff who probably remain so perky due to the end-of-shift cheesecake sesh they no-doubt indulge in.
MY advice would be:
In Hidalgo county, New Mexico, sits a rock. Not just any rock, but a 7487 ft high peak named pyramid rock. My proudest moment of the holiday (aside from surviving 3 weeks with my family) involves our endeavour to climb it. If there are 3 things I love it's heat, adventure and rigorous exercise, so trekking the trail up didn't make me proud of myself so much, It made me most proud of my dad. Despite the heat and his sore feet, he embarked on this hike all the way to the top. And boy oh boy the view at the top was literally so spectactular. So well done Daddy, you made me proud and I'm glad you perservered to join Mummy, myself and Gabi at the summit rather than remaining half way up with the moaning and groaning children (Saskia and Solomon) who decided watching Youtube videos was a much more fullfilling activity.
Some moments are funny, others are exciting and many are average. At risk of sounding like a rather cheesy Disney character describing the moment they first laid eyes on Prince Charming, some moments can only be described as truely magical. Here are my two Magical Route 66 moments.
Very rarely are there views that leave you stunned but the moment we disembarked our vehicle in the heat of the Painted Desert sun, an eerie spectacular was laid on us in the form of the Blue Mesa. We were no longer on a family holiday in a world riddled with greed, unrest and trivial noise. We were in silence on a planet far from the earth we know. This picture only really grasps a little of the awesome spectackle in front of us. I still don't quite believe such a place like this exists.
The Firefly moment
We were strolling home to our Wagon Wheel Motel in the dusk of a Cuban summer evening, the Missouri heat giving us that fuzzy tiredness that hazes your judgement and a gentle silence surrounding the atmosphere. Then something sparks my attention. Among the trees and the grass between the white wooden houses next to us, lots of little lights began to dance. An immediate entrancement overcame me as I watched what I had never thought I'd see, FIREFLIES!
...Of course Owl City's Fireflies was soon equated into the sensory experience and my childhood self -who spent a my holiday villa pool time rescuing drowning insects when I was 8- returned and gazed, engulfed by this excitingly magical moment.
Are we nearly there yet? I hear you chant childishly from the back seat. YES. And if you made it this far I'm both flattered and impressed.
So this blog was supposed to be a pit-stop tour, picking out some pretty awesome yet realistic moments form our Route 66 adventures. It may have taken longer than it might have taken you to grab a Sonic Shake. But I hope you've gained more than just some fast food, but some fast facts for any far-out Route 66 or American Road-trippin' adventures that you take for yourself.
So remember kids:
Make yourself proud, don't cry over spilt muffins, save room for dessert, and always wear a seatbelt.
Take a sip from the cup of my mind, and let the thoughts brew...