Of course we didn't buy a car just to go to the shopping mall - though
being able to do that was fantastic - we bought the car to travel around
the US or at least as much of it as we could in the time we had
available. We didn't really have a grand plan except that we'd
head up the East coast and at some point arrive to spend some time with
our friends Chris and Jackie in North Carolina. We'd first met
them aboard their yacht Shibumi in Spain, back in 2003 and then again in
Sardinia and when we were both on land trips in South America in 2008
and we'd been promising/threatening to come an visit them for years now.
Our only other plan was just to head off up the coast staying in cheap
B&Bs, hotels etc and if we could find self-catering places with
kitchens, etc so much the better. The operative word was cheap.
We loaded the car with everything we even thought we might need,
including the makings of several midnight feasts and even more
breakfast. We locked
up the boat and headed for Interstate 95.
Next stop Savannah just 80 miles up
the road, we'd spend the day there then cross the border into South
Carolina, overnight at Beaufort, then on to Charleston. Just a
quick look at these places we reasoned that as we'd probably pass through
them on our way back we could spend more time then if we wanted.
There's a similarity to these east coast, southern
cities. They were some of the first established in the US, so are older than
many places further west. They all have recognisable town centres
close to the sea - because the port was their reason for existence.
This was typically where the wealthiest families lived and the town
centres for the most part exhibit the grand Antebellum architecture which
characterises the old south.
|Charleston though is clearly the star. We were
lucky enough to be there on the 2nd Sunday, when each month they close the
main high street to vehicles and open it to pedestrians, street
performers, etc. We were also lucky enough to stay with Wenche &
Wyatt. This was our first B&B and though we didn't realise it
at the time it was to be one of the very best and also one of few which
fitted the UK/European definition of B&B. Many US B&Bs don't for
example provide breakfast (I have no idea what they think the second B
stands for) and in many you never even get to meet the owner -
everything is done by email/sms and there's a coded key safe at the
door. None of this is necessarily bad, just different.
The other thing that's different is that whereas in the UK B&B is
generally a cheaper alternative to staying in a hotel, here in the US
it's often a significantly more expensive option. And so, it was
just a few days into the trip, when we realised that burn rate was going
to be significantly higher than planned and we began investigating
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. Our next
stop was Chris and Jackie's beautiful new home in Beaufort, North Carolina.
Not to be confused with Beaufort South Carolina and of course you can't
possibly confuse them because they're pronounced differently. On
one of the tourist bus rides we took we did listen to a long explanation
of why they're pronounced differently, something to do with French v.
English pronunciation, but I think I must have nodded off at some point
and now I struggle to remember which way we pronounce it in the UK.
|We spend about a week in
Beaufort and us being there was a good excuse to take their boat
out for the weekend. Almost inevitably, it being a boat and us
having disturbed its rest, it doesn't plan to make life easy for us, so
batteries are flat and the engine won't start. Somehow it's quite
liberating to be working with Chris in his engine room because in this
case the responsibility is ultimately his. Finally the
good old Gardner springs into its accustomed low reving life and we're
off to spend a couple of days at Cape Lookout. We have a lovely
weekend enjoying their company and Jackie's cooking, as always.
|After Philly we're off to Clifton VA to meet up with Bev &
Lynn. They've lived in the US for most of their working lives and have
brought up their family there. Bev is recently retired from the World
Bank, though still consulting and Lynn, also ex World Bank has for many years
been the US face of the RSA. They live in the woods just outside the
small town of Clifton, but only an hour from DC. DC truly has a fully
functioning public transport system. We are introduced to their two cats,
two chickens and Lucy the labrador, who will be our charges for two
weeks and over the next few days we'll also meet Neil and Alex, two of their
sons who will be around for the first week or so of our stewardship. It's
actually all very comfortable, just like staying with old friends.
|| Then, the day before they're ready to depart, Lucy decides to
investigate a wasp nest and gets herself royally stung. Predictably her
head swells until she resembles a canine version of Quasimodo so she's laced
with antihistamines, not much more to be done. All should be OK, but we'll
take her to the vet if the swelling doesn't go down. You can guess the
next bit. It doesn't go down. A few days later Lucy has graduated to
the elephant man and her right eye is nearly closed. We make an
appointment with the vet for the next day and I take her out for a walk, during
which she walks into a tree branch as she can't see through her closed eye.
She lets out a howl and on getting home starts dripping a steady stream of blood
and fluid, all very messy, but she does seem to have fixed the swelling!
We manage to cajole the vet into bringing her appointment forward, and Lindy
spends the next 4 hours sitting outside with Lucy to prevent her
licking/scratching the wound or spraying important items of furniture.
The vet diagnoses an abscess, now self-lanced and self-drained
- there's a clever dog. There's not much more to be done other than
antibiotics, but they do provide a large plastic cone for Lucy to wear to
prevent scratching, licking, etc and also to seriously reduce the opportunity
for sniffing and snuffling pleasure. She wasn't too happy about having her
face bathed with hot water twice a day either.
|The dog on the mend we can turn our minds to spending some
time in DC. It's a great city and we try to cram in as much as we can.
We bus and walk and then bus and walk some more over a few days.
Smithsonians, Congress, Washington Monument, Lincoln Monument, George Town.
We even manage a river trip from George Town - just can't keep away from those
The finale to all of this is going to be a Sunday visit to the
Cirque du Soleil, which we've been trying to catch, in various places for years,
but always missed. We leave early so as to have time to visit Alexandria and to have a decent lunch before the
circus - we're guessing that hot dogs and popcorn will be the mainstay there.
All going to plan. We draw up to some traffic lights............. and Crash!!!! We're stunned, we look at each other. What's happened?
We haven't hit anything. It takes what seems like an age to realise that
someone has driven into the back of us.
|Of course we have absolutely no idea what the procedure is
here in the US in this situation. The young guy in the car that's hit us
is staring into the middle distance in a stunned way and doesn't look like he's
going to be much help. "I knew he was going to hit somebody" says a lady
who pulls up alongside us, "he was weaving all over the road." "What do I
do now?" I ask. "Call the police, call 911" she tells me. So I do.
I tell the lady on the phone our location (thanks to the GPS) and that nobody is
hurt. She asks for details of the vehicles. "Ours a dark grey Honda
Accord. Just a minute." I walk to the back of the other car.
"Wow, that's a dark grey Honda Accord as well." The lady on the phone
doesn't seem quite as struck by the irony as I am.
The police arrive, details are exchanged, the cars are both
(thankfully) driveable though have missing body parts. The other driver it
turns out is a military veteran (even though he doesn't look old enough) and was
rushing to get to the military hospital. He just can't stop apologising,
but finally we're on our way again, though minus a few tail lights and lots of
dented panels. Now there's not enough time to do anything other than go
straight to Cirque du Soleil, though we will be one of the first to arrive.
Lunch will in fact end up being a hot dog and popcorn after all.
The show is truly spectacular and lives up to expectations -
or at least the first half does. The second half suddenly stops half-way
through. The music stops, trapeze artists descend to the floor looking
bemused, the audience look around expectantly. An announcement tells us to
wait. After 15 minutes we're told the show will resume. That is not
true! What happens is that the entire cast comes out and takes a bow.
That's it, the show is over, no explanation, no apology, nothing. We are
not having a good day - but at least we'll get the car home before we need the
|In fact we're home in time to start booking accommodation
for the next leg of our trip. Bev & Lynn will be back tomorrow.
We'll stay a few more days after that, but then it'll be time to get back on the
road. We're heading for Nashville with a couple of stops along the way.
Find a reasonable hotel in Roanoke, try to book online, but my (Saga UK) credit
card has been compromised. Damn! Speak to the bank. Someone
has been on a shopping spree in Atlanta with a clone of my card. No
liability for me, the problem will be physically getting my hands on the new one
'cos it'll be sent to our UK address. We'll cross that bridge when we come
to it, in the meantime I book using Lindy's card. Today has not been our
The following day we're due to pick up Bev & Lynn from the
airport in the afternoon, so I'm off first thing to the auto store to try and
find bits to effect some sort of repair on the lights . I find the bulbs I
need to get the rear light working and with those and some duct tape it's not
looking too bad. I've even found red duct tape to repair the light lenses.
Flushed with success I slam the boot and walk to the drivers door - uh oh!
The keys are in the boot! Now a number of different dynamics come into
play: We don't have a spare key. We are due to pick up Bev & Lynn in
a couple of hours. My phone is in the car so I can't call Lindy or the
house and I don't know the numbers - they're in the phone. Otherwise she
could use one of their cars to collect them and/or collect me. Back
into the auto store and one of the guys looks up a local locksmith - "Cars
opened from $25" says the advert. He'll be around half an hour. He's
actually closer to an hour, by which time I've just about memorised the entire
stock list of the auto store.
He arrives - "It'll be $160" he tells me. "But your ad says
$25"???? "Depends how complicated it is" he replies. "It's just a door, like any
other door and you're going to jack it open." I say. "It's up to you." he
shrugs "I've got a list of other appointments." Of course I really don't
have a choice do I. He's been through this a million times before and he
won't even look at my door until he's swiped my credit card - and yes I do still
have one that works. Today isn't shaping up too well either.
Airport pickup etc goes without a hitch and with everyone
safely back home I have the opportunity to get somewhere booked for a few days
in Nashville. But now Lindy's credit card has been hacked as well.
At this rate we'll run out of credit cards sometime next week. It's the
same "team" shopping in the same stores in Atlanta. We trace back through
our transactions and the only place we have both used our cards is at the
station machine to top up our Washington Metro cards - must have been there.
||We say our goodbyes and head off, destination
Nashville, but by way of Roanoke and Knoxville. Roanoke is a
pleasant enough small town with an old market square surrounded by small
shops, but not really on the tourist trail. A young business guy who stops to offer directions
when he sees us pouring over the map on our phone is mildly surprised to find
anyone is visiting Roanoke just for the sake of it. "Why Roanoke???"
He does though recommend to us the River & Rail Restaurant, which proves to be a
very good place to eat, where we will have an early dinner. It has to be
early, because by mid afternoon we've run out of anything else to do in Roanoke.
Just to spin things out we decide to drive out to see the Roanoke Star
which is, as I'm sure you all know, the world's largest freestanding illuminated
man-made star. That may well be true, but it still managed to defeat all
our efforts to find it, but by the time we gave up the restaurant was
(nearly) open so it had served its purpose. If you do ever happen to be passing through Roanoke at any time the
River and Rail Restaurant is well worth a visit.
Next night Knoxville, which is a bit similar to
Roanoke, but grittier and without even a star. On the road
the following day we spot a poster announcing "The 33rd Annual Mount
Juliet Pow Wow". It promises a cornucopia of Native American music
& culture. In Nashville there'd be plenty of cowboys and
their music so it seemed only right that we divert on the way to get a
taste of what the Indians had to offer.
Well I expect everyone has seen western movies with
large groups of Indians shuffling around wailing and drumming, often
with the film's hero or heroine tied to a stake to provide a focal
point. You always hope that maybe the real thing will be better,
but in this case unfortunately not. It will be a while before we
add any Native American music to our record collection.
|The costumes though were something else
and the amount of time and effort that must have gone into producing
them is unimaginable. Interestingly the tribes appeared to have
been infiltrated by quite a number of Pale Faces (Is that a politically
correct expression nowadays?) and even a few Black Faces (I'm pretty
sure that isn't). As for the other cultural stuff, a quick survey
of the Indian food stalls reveals that traditional Native American food
is actually burger and fries. That's an eye opener, I always
thought the Europeans brought those with them.
|And then Nashville. Well, not
actually in Nashville. The place we'll be staying in is outside the city.
It's described as only 15 minutes from Downtown Nashville, which may be true
if you happen to have access to a Harrier jump jet. It's actually pretty much out in the
boonies! It's also one of those places where we don't meet the owner, but we do
phone her to find out where the nearest local shop is located as there is no
salt in the kitchen. It's about ten miles away, actually part of a gas
station and carries less stock than we generally have aboard Samarang. But
there's nowhere else, as is evidenced by the fact that a couple of guys who look
as if they've stepped straight off the cover of a ZZ Top album have clearly made
this their social hub and are sitting outside in rocking chairs sipping beers.
Nashville is, of course, all about music and most of all country music and
that's what you get. Neither of us can claim to be great fans of country
music, but somehow it's different when you're there. Yeeha! And no trip to Nashville would be complete without a visit to
The Grand Ole Opry, which houses 4,500 paying customers. It's the
Cathedral of country music and a unique format: eight
different acts 3 times a week, from newcomers to stars of the C&W firmament, each
act does two or three numbers and it is broadcast on 650Khz AM - the longest
running live radio show in the world.
We did go with some trepidation, there was a very good chance
it would be tackily awful and indeed the early signs didn't reassure us.
The warm-up man was doing a predictable job of getting people up on stage to
embarrass themselves. But once all that stopped and the music started it
was fantastic. We're converts. Yeeha again! Off to buy some
cowboy boots in the morning. Buy two get one free the sign reads above the boot
store - what does anyone do with 3 boots we wonder??
||And after Nashville, Memphis - also all about music, and this
time we don't need convincing or converting. In Memphis it's Blues and
Soul - time to hang up those recently acquired cowboy boots . We go to Beale
street naturally and it's predictably seedy. You get the feeling that
nothing really gets going here until after dark, but we're old farts so we do it
in daylight. We select the restaurant that seems to have the best music
emanating from it. We sit on the patio in the sun, eat gumbo and listen to
the music. Just two old blues musicians. They can just do it.
Any blues, soul, rock standard you can think of, any request they just reel it
off. They're pros, you get the impression they've been just doing it like
this for 40 plus years. Oh, and there's also the tower that houses the
famous Irish Diving Goat - it does just what it says on the tin!
Memphis also has some pretty decent restaurants though they
all seem to exist in small clusters in otherwise non-descript areas, so as a visitor
you'd be hard pushed to find them. But this time we were staying somewhere where
did meet the owner and it's thanks to her that we found them. Another
unexpected highlight was Mud River Park, which contains a scale model of the
Mississippi. This isn't one of those scale models in a glass case that you
can look at for a few minutes, this is a two mile long scale model that
you can wade in, jump across and ultimately - when you reach the Gulf of Mexico
- take a boat on. The infrastructure that surrounds it is sadly neglected,
but Mud Island is definitely worth a visit. It also houses an unexpectedly
good museum, which shows just what can be achieved with a limited budget if you
have imagination and creativity. An awful lot of much bigger and wealthier
museums we visited could do a lot worse than take a visit to Mud Island.
|Last, but not least - Graceland. More trepidation on our
part - you've got to go haven't you, but................ And again, first
impressions didn't disappoint. The gift/souvenir shops, of which there are
many, are full of the most unimaginable tasteless tat. The house itself
and the tour though is actually much better than expected and a really
interesting glimpse into the life of the Man. Every visitor is provided
with an iPad which guides you through the whole thing and works extremely well.
I couldn't help thinking that the Apple account manager who closed that deal
must have had a very, very good year! On a final note, one thing that
struck both of us was that the house was a lot smaller than we expected.
OK, of course it is bigger than our house, but not as big as we expected and not tacky either.
Memphis was a turning point or perhaps an end point, we would
now slowly be heading back in the direction of Brunswick. The trouble was,
no matter how hard we studied the map, we were struggling to find places we even
vaguely wanted to visit. We'd stop in Atlanta of course, but where to
break the journey on the way. Tupelo (Elvis's birthplace) offered the
opportunity to see a car which was "very similar" to one Elvis's father had once
owned - doesn't draw you in does it? Tuscumbia boasted the largest coon
hound cemetery in the USA - Hmmm, we didn't even know that there were cemeteries
specifically for coon hounds and what sort of person would
want to visit one? Definitely not for us. We settled for
Huntsville, which didn't claim to be home to anything much, but was on the way.
We also made a brief daylight stop in Scottsboro and the largest airline lost
property in the world. It's like a giant charity shop and smells slightly
of old clothes - like a church hall jumble sale.
|Atlanta was another city where we weren't expecting to meet
the landlord, but unfortunately since he made two unexpected, unannounced and
unwelcome visits, we did. Charles's place wasn't our first choice, but we
struggled to find anything else so plumped for it. Eclectic was his
description, a jumbled mess would be ours. Too knackered to go out to eat
on the night of our arrival, and unable to bear the thought of trying to cook in
the sparsely equipped and tatty kitchen, we resorted to microwaving a few things
from the supermarket. Up to that point though we hadn't quite registered
the lack of any sort of dining table/chairs and found ourselves eating our luxury meal off
the air hockey table in the bedroom! That's right he had an air hockey
table. I was almost able to forgive everything else for that. Lindy
was less convinced.
Atlanta itself is a big American city, which doesn't
really feature on the tourist trail, though it does have some very good
restaurants close to where we were staying. It also has museums and
galleries, but we had already seen the best. We opted for
the Botanical garden instead. What a find. It had the most amazing
collection of scarecrows and plant-based sculptures you could imagine.
Just take a look at the pictures! And at sunset there was jazz, wine &
eats all in the garden - very civilised.
||We abandon the interstate for a while and start taking back
roads, passing through towns who's names blur into one. Some pleasant
and leafy backwaters, and some just a high street and nothing much else.
As close to being nowhere as it's possible to be.
We've booked three nights in Augusta. This sounds like the sort of B&B
we'd expect back in the UK. Not just Bed & Breakfast, but all food
included says the advert. I send a mail to confirm what this means.
"I love to cook so I provide a hot breakfast, free run of the fridge and pantry
for lunch and snacks. Then dinner." says Jeffrey. And it's not expensive,
sounds almost too good to be true. True to his word, when we arrive
Jeffrey has cooked a pound cake, has coffee in the pot and is busy cutting up
steaks for the BBQ. Then he's off to the supermarket to supplement beer
supplies. Jo, his partner arrives - she's a nurse, followed by Nina -
Canadian medical student and long term guest, both charming. Jeffrey
busies himself in the kitchen, the BBQ sizzles and the rest of us migrate to the
dining table. Nothing much happens for a while, coordination does not seem
to be Jeffrey's strong point, but after a while food, now somewhat tepid, does
start making it's way to the table. Jeffery though does not. Jeffery
remains in the kitchen nursing a beer or several, before deciding (much against
Jo's better judgement) that another foray for more beer is required. We
retire with instructions that our hot grits would be ready at 0830.
Tomorrow's promised breakfast did not materialise and
neither did Jeffery. The only evidence of his continued existence
was the occasional moan of pain and muttered obscenity from some distant
quarter of the house. We help ourselves to more pound cake and
coffee and depart.
|The previous evening Jo had told us that today was the annual Callaway
Plantation Mule Day and we'd all agreed to make the trip together. That
clearly wasn't going to happen, but there not being an extensive list of
alternatives, we headed off there anyway. Callaway is a cotton
plantation and many of the original buildings have been preserved so an
interesting trip. Not only were there quite a lot of mules - it being mule
day and all - but also quite a lot of people who's accents were completely
Back at Jeffery's there is still no sign of life. We
break into our stores and dine on bread, cheese and pate in our room whilst
watching Netflix. Sunday, still no Jeffery, in fact we are never to see
him again, though Jo and Nina do surface for breakfast. We
head off to do Sunday in Augusta, which has both Greek and Spanish festivals
running on the same day. At the latter we're given free
toothpaste/toothbrush - that never happened when we were in Spain! In the
evening we didn't even consider the possibility of dinner at Jeffery's, and
drove instead to a Thai restaurant we'd found on the net which was squashed into
a virtually unlit corner of a shopping mall. It had a 1960's transport
cafe ambience, snail crawlingly slow (but very cheerful) service - and
absolutely amazingly good food! Needless to say it was packed. The
following morning there was no-one to be seen ... the pound cake was
still in the kitchen.
|Next stop Savannah. We'd finally crossed our outbound
route. Off to an excellent Italian restaurant, a half-hour walk in a deluge of
biblical proportions - squelched all the way through dinner. The following
day back on the road to Brunswick and Samarang.
We were home, after 10 weeks of travel
and 5,000 miles, but not for long.
It is now mid-October, we have 6 weeks to run on our US visas and must leave the
country. We have 2 weeks to prepare Samarang and ourselves to leave
Brunswick and sail/motorsail far enough South to be able to cross the Gulf
Stream to the Bahamas, weather permitting!