Tallahassee Lassie (and Pensacola!)

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March 13th 2016
Published: April 21st 2016
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We checked out of our Tampa motel bang on check-out time, despite being chivvied before that by the cleaners. We were doing the leisurely version, remember? Prior to America check-out time had generally been 10 am and check-in time at 2 pm. This was fine, leaving us about four hours to get to our next destination and we tried to limit our travel distance to around 200/300 miles each trip. Sometimes it was more, sometimes it was less, depending on how conveniently the overnight stopping places dropped. In the USA, however, check-out time tended to be 11 am with check-in time at 3 pm so we appreciated that extra-cup-of-coffee time and tended to make the most of it. We had two one-night stops to our next visiting place and I found it hard to do those so I made the most of every last minute in Tampa.

We set off for Tallahassee on the I-75 but detoured onto the 301 to avoid a toll road. We thought we'd programmed the satnav to take those detours but we often had doubts when we saw the signs for nearby toll roads, too late for us to take diversionary precautions. We hoped we managed to avoid most, if not all of them, but were fully prepared for a fistful of fines to be waiting for us at the end of our trip! The I-75 was a dreadful road, with lots of roadworks, three constantly busy lanes full of nose-to-tail traffic, a maximum speed of 70 mph and, surprisingly, a minimum speed of 50 mph. Many of the heavy lorries just sat in the middle lane and, unusually for me, I didn't blame them as moving from lane to lane in such dense traffic would not have been easy for them. They maintained a constant speed of 70 mph and didn't get in the way other than to spoil the view, such as it was. We moved from county to county (I didn't really understand those, or the 'parishes') and went over the S(u)wannee River as we entered Suwannee County. The river sign had the first couple of bars of the song displayed as musical notes and I thought it was a lovely idea. We switched across to the I-10 about here. Generally, I learned, Interstates with odd numbers run North to South and those with even numbers run East to West. We were to use the I-10 a lot, given our general direction of travel! The I-10 was a dual carriageway here, was much emptier than the I-75 and had much prettier scenery, wending its way through flat, green, watery, mainly agricultural land with lots of cows and some horses. Our journey was lovely. The sun shone, the skies were blue and the temperature hovered around 85 degrees - perfect. Our overnight lodgings, the Howard Johnson Express Motor Inn, was just off the I-10, at the start of Tallahassee town and we found it easily, checked in and went out to eat, it being tea-time by the time we got there due to the longer-than-expected detour we took.

We hadn't been in the USA long so it was too early to judge but we hadn't come across a whole lot of places to eat so far that weren't of the fast-food variety. Chips with everything. And, in fairness, sometimes we just wanted something quick and convenient and didn't go out of our way to seek out alternatives. So, when we asked at Reception for somewhere close-by to eat, we were pleased when she suggested Denny's, within walking distance just down the road. Now, I had heard of Denny's, usually from people with a sneer in their voice so I wasn't hopeful. But, let me tell you, after McD's and KFC, it was a treat! There were tables, menus, waitresses, a wide selection of dishes (ooooh!) and we had a wonderful meal with not a French fry or a burger in sight. I had a skillet of beef - with sausages and eggs and toast! - and Steve had a fish dish and our taste buds did not know what had hit them. And it was cheap! Bring it on ..... We returned to our room, I got warm and cosy in bed and was just snoozing off when a random housekeeper let herself into the room to 'check the air conditioning'. Blimey. Good job I was under the sheets. I put the door chain on and tried again. The following morning, Steve said that was a good move. Apparently, some motor cycle people roared into the car park to check in about midnight, and the couple next door had a huge row until about 1 am. Thankfully, I slept through it all .....

I'd noticed Tallahassee had a Walmart and I'd read about these huge monoliths that apparently provided everything you could wish for in the grocery/household department and then some. After checking out in the morning we decided Tallahassee didn't have much in the way of attractions so we headed out to Walmart, eagerly anticipating restocking our mobile pantry. I was craving things now, things I wouldn't have necessarily bothered with at home, that hadn't really been available to us since Australia/New Zealand, where their tastes are pretty similar to ours. I wanted pastries, sausages, a plain old egg and cress sandwich, chocolate biscuits (and I don't have a sweet tooth!) and 'bland' food in general. Well, the building was indeed huge but its contents were really disappointing from our point of view. Everything was extremely spicy (think jalopino crisps, chorizo sausages!) and chocolate digestives seemed to be unheard of (cookies were the order of the day, though they came with all sorts added). Even the good old stand-by chicken (you can't get more bland than that!) had garlic (yuck!) liberally added. Plain old sandwiches (really handy if you're covering a lot of miles at lunchtimes) seemed to have paprika, chilli or 'ranch' dressing liberally added and 'finger food' seemed to be an alien concept. My tummy wouldn't know what had hit it .... Cheese was plentiful though (I can live on cheese!) and there was a very limited and uninspiring selection of TV dinners - and we thought the USA was the birthplace of the TV dinner!

Pensacola (I kept wanting to call it Pepsicola!) was our next way-point. We'd travelled over 300 miles to get to Tallahassee and this leg of our trip came in at just under 200 miles, so I felt obliged to offer to share the driving. Thankfully, the I-10 was more my sort of road, the weather was good (81 degrees) and the journey was uneventful. I chatted with the cleaning staff at a rest stop en route and asked them about the flags there. The flags were flown at every rest stop we came across, usually the national flag and the state flag, but this one had a third flag too. This was apparently a MIA/POW flag and they were all being flown at half staff because Nancy Reagan had just died (we hadn't heard the news, so didn't know) but I couldn't see the relevance of the flag - I mean she wasn't missing or imprisoned anywhere. I took a photo (I tried to take a photo of all the state flags we saw). The cleaner guy laughed and said it was better than his friend's fascination with the water towers as he had a photograph of just about every water tower he had come across. I showed him, with some delight, the previous photo I had just taken which was of a water tower! They were everywhere, proudly proclaiming the name of the town they belonged to, were all different shapes, sizes and colours and I thought they were really interesting things. Mr Cleanerguy said he would tell his friend he wasn't alone! The rest stop also had a fighter plane on a pole. I thought it was a replica but it was the real thing apparently, in recognition of a nearby fighter plane squadron. We went through to the Central Time Zone on entering Jackson County, losing an hour, but we checked in to the Quality Inn and Suites in Bay View, Pensacola about 3 pm (or 4 pm, depending which time zone you were operating in!) after driving over a reeeeaaaalllly long bridge in changing weather.

The Quality Inn was really nice - we were so impressed that we used them a couple of times more on our travels. It had lovely large clean rooms (ours was Room 216), a swimming pool, a Piano Bar (with pianist) and Laura The Bartender, who talked constantly (almost to herself at times), was a whirr of constant motion, remembered everyone's order and wrote us a list of absolute must-sees at our next destination point. She was perfect for the job. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed due to a recent change of ownership, so we were glad of those TV dinners we had in our mobile larder. We chatted to some of the other couples in the bar. Thankfully, we were back in the Land Of Being Understood, and we were sought out by these really friendly, softly spoken people who were genuinely welcoming and pleasant (I know, I sound surprised at that, don't I?!) and wanted to engage with us . One couple had lived in Surrey for a while and another had visited Lloyds of London, on business. They were keen to chat about Downton Abbey but as we hadn't watched it (they were amazed at that!) it was a topic of conversation that didn't go too far. They wondered what we had found to do in Tallahassee and weren't surprised when we said 'not a lot'. Apparently, Tallahassee doesn't have a lot going for it, apart from 'Tallahassee Lassie' (Fleetwood Mac/R Stones et al) ...

We had a proper downpour overnight (we were still tracking that hurricane hovering above our route) but we left the Quality Inn the next morning in sunshine. We drove round Pensacola and were impressed with the really big houses that overlooked the water. It seemed a pretty, wealthy place but we had insufficient time to explore it further. Too much to do in too little time!

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