On Wednesday 18th June we loaded the car with all our newly purchased (or borrowed) camping gear, and headed west. The main aim of our trip was to see more of the fantastic scenery in Arizona and Utah. But those states are a long way from Florida (at least 2,000 miles!), so we had to make some stops along the way. In particular, there were two cities we wished to visit.
The first day was mainly driving. From Sarasota you have to go north before you can go west. There are some beautiful beaches on the Florida Panhandle. We camped that night at St Joseph’s Peninsula, and next morning we went for a long stroll along the pure white sands, pausing for a swim before walking back. On the way we saw fish jumping, crabs scuttling, and some turtle nests, not to mention a couple of deer in the dunes behind the beach. But we saw very few people – for miles the beach was almost deserted.
Florida is a big state, so we spent two days in it before crossing into Alabama. That day we crossed three state borders, as Alabama and Mississippi are both narrow at the southern end. When you enter a new state, there is usually a Welcome Center where you can get maps, information and often free coffee. We did well that day, especially at the Mississippi Welcome Center. There we had free cookies as well as coffee, and Sandie could not resist joining a group of senior citizens who were giving a line dancing display.
During our brief time in Mississippi we left the interstate (motorway) for a drive along the coast. We stopped in Biloxi, and walked out on the wooden pier. We called at the Visitor Centre opposite, and this time it was Ian’s turn to enjoy the free samples of seafood delicacies which were on offer.
Shortly after crossing into Louisiana, we reached New Orleans. We had visited the city once before, back in 1983; in fact much of our current journey has been reminiscent of a trip we did then, towards the end of our exchange year based in South Carolina. (The difference, of course, is that in 1983 we had two small boys with us, and were travelling in a Chevy van which had no air conditioning.)
We have decided to revisit New Orleans next February, for Mardi Gras, as a side trip from Florida. So there was no need to spend a lot of time there on this trip. But as we were passing anyway, we decided to make an overnight stop and meet up with Vicki, whom we had contacted via our home exchange website. She owns a condo close to the French Quarter, and we have the opportunity to rent it for a few days.
We met up at the condo to discuss details over a glass (or two) of wine. Then Vicki showed us round the area, and helped us find a nearby hotel. Later we walked down the lively Frenchmen Street (music playing in almost every bar) for drinks, and then into Decatur Street for dinner.
The other city we were keen to revisit was San Antonio, Texas. It is about 550 miles west of New Orleans, so we could not do the whole journey in one day. Florida is big, but Texas is huge! Mile markers along interstates tell you how far it is to the next state border. When we crossed into Texas, the mile markers started at 878! At the Welcome Center we were able to do a short boardwalk over the Blue Elbow Swamp. The trees and plants were interesting, and we spotted an alligator lurking in the water.
San Antonio has changed completely since we were there 31 years ago. It has become bigger, more touristy, and frankly (in some parts) quite tacky. There is now a Sea World, Ripley’s, a giant tower etc etc. However, there are still two main attractions that make San Antonio unique. One is the Alamo, where Davy Crocket & co died trying to defend Texas against the Mexican army. It of course has not changed since 1983, but the queue to look inside the so-called ‘shrine’ has become much longer!
The other attraction that we were keen to revisit was called (in 1983) the Paseo del Rio, but the name has since been anglicized and it is now called the Riverwalk. As the name suggests, you can walk along the river which runs below the city – there are steps leading down to it at regular intervals. The main part of the Riverwalk is lined with bars, cafés and restaurants, and it is fun to enjoy a drink or a meal while sitting by the river and watching the tour boats doing their endless circuits.
The Alamo is only one of five missions in the area that were established by the Spanish in the 18th century. Before leaving San Antonio we briefly visited the remains (or restorations) of the other four. And then it was time to head further west!