Archive for July, 2016
Final episode of our US camping trip, heading south along the coast.
Off to Charleston (cue for another song – and dance?), but stopped first to look round a small town called Edgefield, about 20 miles from Modoc. We’d passed through the previous day, and thought it seemed a quirky kind of place, especially with the wild turkey statues!
We treated ourselves to a motel in downtown Charleston, which was convenient for the sights. There are many beautiful historic houses, and we did a guided tour of one, the Nathanial Russell House. It was perfect timing, as the rain started as we were going in, and stopped as we came out. Later we walked down to the waterfront, and admired more of the architecture, but by then we’d almost lost the sun. We sampled a restaurant and a couple of bars which were also conveniently close to our motel!
Friday 22. Before checking out, we had time for another walk around Charleston; the white and coloured buildings look their best in the sun.
Then we were off to Edisto Island: not far as the crow flies, but about 50 miles by road. We’d never been there before, but it is the current home of Ruth and Robert Anderson, who were good friends when we lived in Greenville. Somehow we’d lost touch about 20 years ago, but last year the minister of Travelers Rest Methodist Church (see previous blog) helped us to make contact. It was great to see them again, and enjoy their hospitality. We had a lot to catch up on, so we spent much of the next two days talking!
Ruth and Robert have a beautiful house, very close to the beach, so we all went for a swim in the afternoon. In the early evening they took us to a place called Botany Bay, which used to be an old plantation. Botany Bay Beach has dead trees decorated by shells, so is very picturesque. On the way back to the car we saw the sunset.
Saturday 23. This morning we went to the Ace Basin Wildlife Refuge, and walked down a long path to the Grove plantation house, which is now being restored. It was very hot, with little shade, and lot of mosquitos! We went on to Roxbury Park, and walked round the lake there. In the afternoon we went back to the beach.
Sunday 24. After brunch, we said farewell to Ruth and Robert, and continued our journey south. First stop was the small town of Beaufort; they had a ‘Water Festival’ on, but it was almost over. Then on to Hunting Island State Park, where we spent some time on the beach, climbed the lighthouse, and had a brief stroll by the lagoon.
Monday 25. Drove down to Savannah (Georgia), and spent the day walking round the city. We’d been there twice before, long ago, but enjoyed seeing it again. The many squares, with their colonial mansions and live oaks coved in Spanish moss, are so picturesque. In Forsyth Park, there is an elaborate and beautiful fountain. We also visited the RC cathedral and the Colonial Park cemetery. And we walked along the riverfront, from the Waving Girl Monument to the Globe (WWII) monument. We looked in a couple of shops, but didn’t buy anything!
Tuesday 26. Drove about 60 miles further south to Brunswick, where we had coffee and strolled around the downtown. We spotted the Presbyterian church where we had attended services in 1982 and also 1989. Then we drove over the causeway to St Simon’s Island. First stop was the Fort Frederica National Monument. The fort was built by the British in the 18th century; only a few ruins remain, but the place is quite atmospheric. We stopped at Christchurch (nearby) to see the stained glass windows, including those depicting the John and Charles Wesley, who preached there.
In the village we saw the lighthouse (but decided not to go up) and the fishing pier. We had enormous ice creams, and went for a stroll along the beach. There are no campgrounds on St Simon’s, so we drove over to Jekyll Island, and pitched our tent there. Later in the evening we heard loud rustling noises. No bears this time – just a large raccoon come to inspect our rubbish bag!
Wednesday 27. We spent the morning on Jekyll Island. First we went for an early morning walk along Driftwood Beach – lots of dead trees, very picturesque. On the way back to the car we saw a lot of small crabs in a pond. Next we stopped at the Horton House ruins, and walked round to see the cemetery and remains of the warehouse. Then to the Jekyll Island Historic District, where we walked along the river and took photos of the posh ‘cottages’. We had coffee in the café belonging to the Jekyll Club Hotel, which gave us an opportunity to see how the other half live. Finally we enjoyed a refreshing swim on Great Dunes Beach.
Then it was on to St Augustine. Back into Florida! We parked near the Castillo de San Marcos at 4pm, which gave us time for a good look round before it closed at 5.15. This was our second visit, the first being at New Year 1983. We had drinks in an Irish bar nearby, then drove out to Anastasia State Park, and booked two nights at the campground. When Sandie went to the bathroom, she heard rustling in the bushes, thought it was another raccoon, but flashed her torch around and saw three armadillos scurrying for cover! No shortage of wildlife in these parts.
Thursday 28. This morning we drove to Washington Oaks State Park; we’d read about it but were rather disappointed. The formal gardens were not that exciting, especially as the ponds had been drained for maintenance. The beach (with lots of coquina outcroppings) was more interesting, and we enjoyed a stroll.
This afternoon we went back into St Augustine, stopping briefly en route to take photos of the lighthouse. We went to the Colonial Spanish Quarter – a kind of open-air museum. The tour included demonstrations of blacksmithing and firing guns. When it finally finished we had drinks in the ‘British pub’. We had time for a quick visit to the cathedral, and the San Sebastian Winery. We then went to the Lightner Museum, where they were having an open evening, which gave us a chance to look round the works of art, with free entry and cheap drinks.
Friday 29. This morning we went for a short walk along the beach, and then headed for Silver Springs – the final stop on our nostalgia tour. On our first-ever visit to Florida (from Greenville, in December 1982) we stopped there on our way to Disneyworld. The glass-bottomed boat trips in Silver Springs have been famous for many years. We discovered that it recently became part of the adjacent state park, but otherwise it was just as we remembered.
Silver Springs is close to Ocala, on the I75 (motorway) which goes south to Sarasota. So from there it was an easy drive home!
Next instalment of our camping trip – still running a bit late!
Friday 15. Back on the parkway, we continued north. At Roanoke, we did a detour in search of a supermarket, a petrol station and a coffee shop with wifi! We needed to stock up because we were going to a National Park campground which would not have these facilities.
It was another 120 miles to the end of the parkway. We stopped to do a couple of short walks, and a longer one to the Fallingwater Cascades. Finally we made it into Shenandoah National Park. This is bisected by the Skyline Drive, which is effectively a continuation of the Blue Ridge Parkway. We discovered that the Mathews Arm campground (the only one we’d been able to book) was at the northern end of the park, so we had another 80 miles to drive. On the way, three more bears crossed the road in front of the car; at the campground there were warnings about bears, so we just hoped we would not have any closer encounters!
Saturday 16. This morning we did a hike from our campground to the highest waterfall in the park. We’d been warned that the waterfall dried up in summer, and indeed it was just a trickle, but it was an interesting walk nevertheless. We walked most of the way with two American guys, discussing travel and politics – we agreed more about the former than the latter! We also saw two bears in the woods, not far from our path. On the way back (by a different route) we saw some amazing brightly coloured fungi. Back at our campsite, we had coffee, watched by a large owl in a tree opposite the tent.
This afternoon we did a short walk, and planned to do a second, but then we were hit by a thunderstorm. The rain seemed set, and we thought it would be impossible to cook, so we left the park and found a restaurant. The annoying thing was that, while we were there, the rain stopped and the sun came out!
Sunday 17. Today we headed south through the park, stopping at several overlooks for views, and to do three walks. We saw some impressive greenstone rocks, especially on the third and longest walk, where we also saw lots of mushrooms, in an amazing variety of colours and shapes!
At 5.30 we left the park, and drove a short way to the Charlottesville KOA – the kind of campground that has the facilities that national park campgrounds do not. This was a deliberate choice, as by then our phones, cameras and laptop were almost out of charge, and we had several urgent emails to write, so wifi was an essential rather than a luxury. Hot showers were needed too, and a laundry was definitely useful.
Monday 18. We’d discovered that Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s house, was not far from our campground, and decided to visit. It was nice to do something completely different for a change. We had a guided tour of the house, or at least the ground floor, which was interesting. Then we were free to look round other areas ourselves, including ‘below stairs’ (kitchen, cellars etc) and the grounds. Sandie went on a tour of Mulberry Row, where the slaves were housed; this was not really a tour at all, but a talk in three different locations, which gave a totally different perspective on what we’d seen.
Since we were in the area, we sampled some of products of the Jefferson winery; strolled around the pedestrianised mall in downtown Charlottesville, where we had lunch; and explored the University of Virginia campus (designed by Jefferson). What was intended to be a brief pause in our travels ended up taking nearly all day! Shenandoah was the furthest point north on our itinerary, so we now started the long journey south, but we did not get far before it was time to find another campground.
Tuesday 19. Today was mainly a driving day, as it was about 400 miles to the next place on our itinerary. However, we did have one interesting stop. We like to have coffee (preferably cappuccinos!) around 11am, and detoured into Danville, an old industrial town that has undergone partial restoration. After our coffee we walked down the Main Street, to look at a fountain and a mural illustrating a famous rail crash that took place there in 1903. Then we crossed a bridge and walked along the river.
Soon after Danville, we crossed from Virginia into North Carolina. Later in the day, just after skirting Charlotte, we crossed into South Carolina, and camped in a rather strange campground that had obviously once been part of a theme park!
Wednesday 20. We crossed South Caroline, heading for Modoc – the only place where the campground was the destination, rather than just somewhere convenient to stop. Back in 1982, someone in Greenville suggested Clark’s Hill Lake as a good place for a weekend camping trip. The lake is actually a reservoir, and there are campgrounds all around, run by the US Corps of Engineers. Our favourite was Modoc, where the campsites were strung out along a peninsula. There were few facilities – just a pit toilet on the site, and the bathhouse was a mile away – but it was so peaceful and picturesque, you had a whole bay for your individual campsite and your own private beach. We loved it, and went back several times, including a never to be forgotten night in 1989 when Claire was violently sick – not easy to clean up when it’s dark and the nearest water source is a mile away!
So we had to go back to Modoc, and found that it had much changed. More campsites have been created, so they are not so enormous, but there is still a lot of space. More facilities: water and electricity on every site! And three new bathhouses, so you were never far away from one. But still just as peaceful and picturesque, so we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon, strolling and swimming in the lake. After our barbecued veggieburgers, we sat reading for a while, but the lamp was attracting insects. So we switched it off and drank our wine by the light of the almost full moon which was shining over the lake.
The next instalment of our US camping trip. As our wifi opportunities have been limited, we are a bit out of date with the blog!
Monday 11 July. Today was to be a highlight of our nostalgia trip – we were going to visit places in Greenville, where we lived in 1982-3. We started in downtown Greenville, and were amazed by the changes that had taken place. In the 80s it was rundown and shabby – we rarely went there, except to visit the city library, with the big revolving globe in the entrance. Now it is completely different. The main street is trendy and upmarket, with lots of bars, restaurants, coffee shops etc. At the end, a roadbridge has been demolished and a new footbridge built, revealing the falls that were partly hidden before, and creating a very pleasant park. The building which used to house the library is now a children’s museum, the library is in a smart new building – but the globe is still revolving, although no longer in such a prominent position.
After a brief visit to the Haywood Mall, where we used to do some of our shopping, we went to Furman University. This is where Ian taught for a year; Sandie also did some teaching, and worked on her PhD. After such a long period of time, we did not expect to see anyone we knew there, but planned to walk around the lake, as we did almost every day when we were working there. But we had a very pleasant surprise. We’d assumed that Bob Fray, who was Ian’s exchange partner, would have retired by now, but we found that he was still working in the Math Department, and in his office on the day we visited. As we’d lost touch years ago, it was great to renew acquaintance. And we were invited by Bob to have an early dinner with him and his wife Mickey at their home – the house we lived in for a year long ago. We were impressed by the improvements they’d made, but most of all enjoyed spending time together, chatting over a meal.
We returned to our campsite about 8.30 – just as a thunderstorm broke. Luckily the campground had a place where we could take shelter, next to the laundry where we did some washing. We hoped that the storm would not last too long, but the rain went on and on. At one point it started blowing in where we were sitting, so we took refuge inside the laundry. Luckily there was a table and two chairs which we could use. The only problem was that the light was motion sensored – so one of us had to jump up every couple of minutes to ensure that it stayed on!
Tuesday 12. We started this morning with a visit to the Methodist church at Travelers Rest, which we had attended while in Greenville. When we visited briefly in 1989, we found that they had built a new, bigger church beside the old one where we had worshipped; this time, we found that they had built a Family Life Center as well, creating an enormous (by UK standards) church campus. We were welcomed by the current minister and church secretary, who gave us keys to the old church to help us reminisce.
After leaving Travelers Rest we detoured 11 miles to visit Campbell’s Covered Bridge. We’d seen signs to this close to our campground, but could not remember visiting it before. Not surprising, because we discovered that the bridge has only recently become a county park, open to the public.
And then we were off to Gatlinburg, which involves driving through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We stopped at the Newfound Gap (on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee) to admire the view. Entering Gatlinburg is really going from the sublime to the ridiculous. We visited the town a few times in the 80s, and judged it tacky, but in a fairly upmarket way – and we really liked it! Now we found that it was much more tacky, and less upmarket, but nevertheless fascinating, in a strange kind of way.
From our previous visit, we remembered that ‘frozen chocolate covered bananas’ were a Gatlinburg speciality. We saw no evidence of them this time: we did see a shop advertising frozen custard, but even that had shut. We found the Pancake Pantry, which serves an enormous range of huge pancakes, and we remembered having lunch there with our friend Robin in 1983. We were hoping to sample its delights for dinner, but sadly found it had closed at 4pm.
One thing we did not remember from way back was a big store selling about a dozen varieties of ‘moonshine’. It was fun to sample then all, while listening to the salesman’s spiel. At least Sandie thought so – Ian gave up after the first sip.
We went up the Space Needle, a high tower which gives views of the town and surrounding area. Our tickets entitled us to two trips, so we went up at night and again in daylight.
Wednesday 13. After our second trip up the Space Needle, we headed back across the Great Smoky Mountains. This time we detoured to Clingman’s Dome, the second highest mountain east of the Mississippi. Twice before we’d walked up to the observation tower, but seen very little because of the clouds. This time we had better luck – there were clouds, but they were moving, and we were able to get some good views.
From the Smokies we turned on to the Blue Ridge Parkway. This road runs through the foothills of the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. We followed part of the parkway on our journey from Washington to Greenville in 1982. It is a beautiful road (lorries not allowed, max speed 45mph) and lots of possible stops on the way for walks and places of historic interest. This time we planned to drive the whole parkway, but had forgotten how long it is – 459 miles! We could easily have spent a week doing it, but had a campsite reserved at Shenandoah, so we were not able to make as many stops as we might have liked. At one point a bear lolloped across the road in front of us! We hoped there would be none at our campground that night, but luckily the only animal we saw there was a deer.
Thursday 14. Our campground was at Crabtree Falls, so we walked to the falls before setting off. We saw still-blooming rhododendrons on the way, and several interesting fungi. About 20 miles further on, we stopped at Linville Falls and walked to some overlooks. On to the Brinegar Cabin, and later to Mabry Mill – both giving insights into the way of life of the settlers in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
We left the parkway to find a campground, but did not have to go too far. Although it was still hot during the day, the evenings were relatively cool, compared with Florida and Georgia. A sure sign that we were up in the mountains!
Monday July 4th was of course American Independence Day. We spent most of the day preparing for our camping trip, but in the evening we went down to the Bayfront to see the firework display. There were crowds of people, which meant long queues to get drinks or use the toilets. But the fireworks were spectacular.
Our camping trip had been planned a long while back. It was intended to be a nostalgia trip, revisiting places that were familiar from the year we spent in South Carolina (1982-3). A secondary purpose was to visit Shenandoah National Park, about the only national park which we had not previously seen. So our itinerary was to take us north from Florida in a loop around Georgia and the Carolinas, with bits of Tennessee and Virginia thrown in. Here’s how the first part worked out.
Tuesday 5 July. We spent most of the day driving – about 270 miles, although we were still in Florida when we camped at the Suwannee River State Park (cue for a song, or maybe two). After putting up the tent we went to explore the park on foot. We enjoyed a late afternoon/early evening walk. The scenery was unusual and picturesque; the cypress knees in and near the water were bigger than any we’d ever seen, and some had grown into weird and dramatic shapes – they reminded us of the pinnacles in Cappadocia!
Wednesday 6. This morning we walked the remaining trails in Suwannee River, then paid a brief visit to the nearby Madison Blue Springs State Park: small, but the scenery was beautiful.
We crossed the border into Georgia and stopped at the Welcome Center to pick up information. Flicking through a booklet over coffee, we spotted a picture of the Providence Canyon State Park, aka ‘Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon’. The blurb said that it would particularly interest hiker and photographers, and we thought ‘That’s us!’.
Unfortunately, during the long drive there, the sun disappeared and the rain started. We decided to continue, and after a while the rain stopped. When we finally reached Providence Canyon, there was more rain, but it was very light, so it did not stop us exploring the park. The coloured rock formations (white, pink, orange, red) were truly amazing – a kind of miniature Bryce Canyon, which we had not expected to find in Georgia! But the colours would have looked even better in sunshine, so we spent the night nearby in the hope of better luck in the morning. We decided to risk camping, but as there was only rough camping at Providence, we went a few miles further to the Florence Marina State Park. Luckily there was no more rain!
Thursday 7. After a brief look at the Florence Marina reservoir, we returned to Province Canyon. The weather had improved, but there was still lots of cloud, so we did not get the bright blue sky which would have formed the perfect background to the rocks. But there was some sun, so we took plenty of photos. We walked along the rim and down to the canyon floor. There are nine linked canyons, and we explored all the ones we had not walked through the day before.
Our next stop was Atlanta, and here we were not camping, but staying at the home of our friend Alice. We were welcomed with wine and nibbles, and later had a delicious meal – and of course lots of chat!
Friday 8. Allice lives several miles north of Atlanta centre, so we drove back part of the way and then took the Metro. When we lived in Greenville, Atlanta was our nearest big city, so we visited several times. But the two places we went to today were new to us – so much for the nostalgia trip! In the morning we went to the Botanical Gardens, where there was an exhibition of blown glass installations by Chihuly; in the afternoon to the Human and Civil Rights Center, which is devoted to the work of Martin Luther King and other people who have fought for the rights of minority groups.
Saturday 9. After accompanying Alice to her local farmers’ market, we said our farewells and headed up to Lake Lanier, just north of Atlanta. The lake is very jagged, so has a long shoreline, and there are many campgrounds, marinas and ‘day use’ parks all round the lake. We visited several, enjoyed strolling and taking photos. Sandie even had a brief dip in the water. We ended up at the Don Carter State Park (on the northernmost ‘finger’ of the lake), and there we camped for the night.
Sunday 10. After doing a couple of trails round the lake in Don Carter, we moved on to the Tallulah Gorge State Park. We walked along the north rim of the gorge, stopping at overlooks for views of waterfalls. Next stop was Toccoa Falls, which we visited more than once ‘back in the day’, as it was a pleasant stop between Atlanta and Greenville. Another waterfall, but this one is viewed from below.
We crossed the border into South Carolina, and camped at a KOA campground just north of Travelers Rest – our old stamping ground. Following our custom, we put up the tent, and then had a drink while our airbed was being pumped up. Next task would be cooking dinner (Ian) and making up the bed (Sandie). But there was a sudden violent thunderstorm, so we took refuge in the ‘pavilion’, where there were covered picnic tables. The thunderstorm eventually abated, but the rain continued, with no sign of a pause. So Ian collected our food and cooking equipment, and we had dinner under cover. It could have been much worse!
We flew back to the UK on Wednesday 15th June. But we were only in Wycombe for two days before packing our bags again, collecting a rental car, and heading for Gloucestershire.
A weekend chez Claire
We looked after Charlie and Oscar while Claire was on a work trip. On Saturday we took them to Avebury, a place we visited several times when we lived in Swindon. Charlie was interested when we explained that there was a whole village within the circle of massive standing stones. We viewed them from both sides of the ditch, and the boys enjoyed running down the steep bank on one side, and up the other. On the way back to Bussage we paid a brief visit to West Kennet Long Barrow.
On Sunday there was a special session at Charlie’s football club. He took part in a penalty shoot-out competition, and then all of the members were given trophies. After a quick lunch and change of uniform, Charlie was off to a Beavers’ Fun Day – it was a busy day for him!
The referendum campaign
After returning to Wycombe, we spent most of the next three days campaigning for Britain to REMAIN in the EU. We put lots of leaflets through doors; in the process Sandie got bitten by a dog and had to go to hospital! On Thursday we spent all day handing out leaflets to people in the street and at the railway station. Sadly, it was all in vain, as a narrow majority across the UK voted to LEAVE. Like many thousands of others, we are appalled at this result, and at the negative impact it is already having on our nation, with much worse to come.
Back in Sarasota
On Sunday 26th June we flew to Florida once again. It was great to be back on Sarasota. Florida is of course very hot in summer, but the sun and the warmth made a pleasant change from the rather miserable weather we’d had in the UK. We enjoyed being back in shorts and sandals, and eating on the lanai!
The main item in our luggage this time was Ian’s collection of chess sets. He has seven, but gave up collecting long ago because of lack of space. The sets have been packed away for the past eight years, because we’ve had nowhere to display them, but there is plenty of room in the condo. So one by one they were unpacked, washed and then set out in our display cabinet.
The pool at Central Park is particularly inviting at this time of year. Sandie enjoys being able to walk in without even the initial shiver, although Ian complains that the water is really too warm! To be honest, we’ve not swum very much on our first few visits, as we usually spend most of the time there talking to friends (often while standing shoulder deep in the pool). The referendum disaster has been a constant topic of conversation; everyone we’ve met, it seems, wants to know our views, and what we think will happen now (answer: who knows?).
The great car hunt
Our first four days were devoted to searching for a car – we’d been thinking that buying a cheap one and leaving it at the condo might make more financial sense than renting each time we come over. We looked at lots of cars, and test drove several, but rejected most of them – too big, too small, too expensive, too old, etc. We’d begun to think it would be better to continue renting, which does have advantages; but then we discovered how rental prices had shot up, probably due to post-referendum exchange rates. So back to buying, and we settled for a dark red Focus estate (nine years old, but low mileage and excellent condition), now christened RufUS the Red. We spent most of Friday filling in mountains of paperwork, relating to car, number plate (in the US this goes with the owner, not with the car) and insurance. But finally it was sorted, and Ian was able to drive Rufus home.
Fourth of July weekend
Our rental car was due to be returned to Sarasota airport on Sunday – which meant we had two cars for the weekend, but ironically the places we wanted to go were mainly within walking distance. On Friday evening we walked down to the bayfront, as is our normal custom, but this time we did a detour up Main Street as there was a display of speedboats taking part in the annual races. We were amazed by the crowds – it’s not usually so busy off-season – but apparently people come from miles around to watch the races.
On Saturday morning we decided to return the rental car, as it was the most convenient time for doing so. After handing it in at the airport, we took the bus into the centre of town. The bus station is very close to the farmers’ market, which we enjoy visiting on Saturday mornings. We had our morning coffee on a converted open-topped double-decker bus which serves as a coffee shop – drinks made and sold downstairs, seats with small tables and sun umbrellas upstairs.
We’d bought tickets for a play at the Florida Studio Theatre (one of the few Sarasota theatres we’d not previously visited) on Saturday evening. We intended to eat there, but at the last minute we were invited to an informal early evening barbecue at the Central Park pool. It was good to meet more friends and neighbours. The play we saw was Relativity (about Einstein, as you might guess) and was interesting, although it did consist mainly of two people shouting at each other!
Sunday morning dawned cloudy, but still hot, so we decided to go to the beach. Our favourite beaches are on Anna Maria Island, but we’d been there one evening when our car search took us very close. So this time we went to Siesta Beach, just south of Sarasota. We arrived early, which was just as well, because the large car park there was already almost full. There were crowds of people on the beach or in the sea. We enjoyed a swim, a stroll and our morning coffee, but then the clouds blackened and a wind blew up, so we quit before the rain started!