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North America » United States » Florida » St Augustine
October 30th 2006
Published: November 25th 2006EDIT THIS ENTRY

Funny people these New Englanders!Funny people these New Englanders!Funny people these New Englanders!

Actually this is a typical Halloween scene. The decorations here are wonderful. Did any of you miss our Halloween party?
Due to several factors we didn’t spend a lot of time in New England, weather and RV park availability to name two

New England consists of the 6 Eastern States, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont and Rhode Island( tiniest US state)
They are renowned for their beauty, especially during the “Fall” ( Autumn to us Brits) because of the spectacular display of the seasonal change of leaves
People travel vast distances to see the colours. They are known as “Leaf Peepers” to the locals. There is a web site for leaf colour check which has a chart to tell you where the best colours are and when.

It is beautiful but, as 2 people from Hampshire (Old), known as the county of trees this was not a new experience. We decided the area had been aptly named. Apart from the difference in the architecture New England looked very much like Old England. OK everything is a bit bigger but replace the wooden buildings with brick houses, Hey Presto

The people we met also appeared to have retained a bit of the British approach to service! They were definitely not as helpful as the previous areas we had travelled through.
When asking a coach / car parking attendant, who would not let us saty in the coach park unless we paid the amount of a small countries GNP “is there another place where we could park?” she replied “I’ve no idea”. The town was all of 6 streets big, hardly an unknown metropolis of immense proportions.

Some time later we stopped to buy lobster. We asked the woman the prices, she just pointed at the board. We then asked the difference in the various types, she just looked at us. We decided to buy a 1 ½ lb lobster, so requested one. She then went to fish it out of the tank. “No, stop” I said “Don’t you have any cooked ones?” She just looked at us in silence, as she let the crustacean slip back into the tank…..
“Thank you but we will leave it,” we said as we left the shop, still without her uttering a word. (Full apologies offered if it turns out she is a deaf mute!!)
I guess this will get us readjusted to English service, where they have perfected the art of serving you whilst never speaking to
Breakfast at the Casino,  RV styleBreakfast at the Casino,  RV styleBreakfast at the Casino, RV style

Nice little RV spot, they even cut the grass for us.
you or looking at you once.
People had told us that it was not so RV friendly on this coast and it appeared to be true.

It is a lovely area but to see it properly you definitely require a car to get around. Also a lot of the campsites were closed / closing for the winter and it was getting chilly. We decided to head towards a place called Uncasville where we would catch up with friends of Graeme’s who were working on the Eric Clapton tour.

The concert was in the Mohegan Sun Casino. This was an excellent place for us to catch them because Casinos allow RVers to park in their car parks for free, apart from the $$$$$$ you gamble inside I guess. (Later on we found someone who had been there for 3 months!)

So this was a real bonus, easy & free parking, Starbucks available 24hrs a day and in-house entertainment to name a few of the benefits.

We found ourselves a nice spot in the car park, (we had our own lawn area) and caught up with Kerry and Robert who had been touring since last summer with the
Capitol  building, WashingtonCapitol  building, WashingtonCapitol building, Washington

Lond distance view of Capitol building.

That night we went to see the concert. It was a great bill. Robert Cray was support act and he then played later with Eric Clapton.
We had excellent seats 6 rows from the front. We settled in to enjoy the evening. Now you know from previous blogs about my luck with the mad women don’t you?
As before, the seats around us were empty…… then along came the late arriving, hair flicking, thong wearing, over tanned, not so young blond , accompanied by the obligatory wealthy looking ,older gentleman. She was a nightmare. Sitting on her female friends lap, bouncing up and down, lying sideways across the others, pulling her top up (showing off her new surgery I can only think, as the whole party appeared interested in her chest). And where did they sit……………….. NOT IN FRONT OF ME……….I almost asked to check their tickets, surely one of us must be in the wrong seat?

After the show we met Kerry and Robert for a drink. Robert said it had not been the “best” of shows, and did we want to go again tomorrow?
Graeme didn’t take too long to think about that one,
Location, locationLocation, locationLocation, location

If you are going to camp out for 24 years you might as well pick nice neighbours even if they dont listen
so next night we were back again. Interestingly, although we had enjoyed the previous nights show, this WAS much better, .I guess it’s what live music is all about.

As we had, had free parking for a few days and complimentary tickets to the shows. I decided to blow $20 (being the last of the big gamblers) on the slot machines. Also a “neighbour” told us that there were penny slots, so I dug the ever growing penny bag from the drawer and off we went.

It’s not easy this gambling business. Firstly, the machines have become very sophisticated, with many options; all I wanted to do was pull the handle. Secondly “he who hesitates” in front of a machine is trampled on by little old ladies who MUST have that machine…I lost a couple like that.
At one time, I stood up to see how Graeme was doing only to find as I went to sit back down, I was about to sit on an old lady’s lap. In that brief moment of opportunity she had slid onto my stool.

We got ourselves free drinks which are offered to you as you play and settled
GWBs current abodeGWBs current abodeGWBs current abode

from this view it actually looks quite a small building. The lawn was overrun with squirrels, you dont see them on TV do you?
for the simplest machines. It really is mind blowingly monotonous, but SO addictive. I watched the people around me and noticed they didn’t even look at the machine even when they won.
I studied the “bar” bit still trying to work out the wining combinations. Didn’t it just used to be 3 cherries in a line? The usual mad woman joined me (why is it always women? Is it always me? ) whispering to me to gamble higher amounts. Distracted I pushed the button and didn’t notice at first that I had some sort of winning combination. I watched my $12 total increase, I couldn’t work out what was the wining line but was delighted to see it hit $40, then $50, 60,70 ……….. It stopped at $147, excellent. I did another couple of turns won another $17, took the money and ran.
A grand total of $ 140 profit, free parking, 2 free concerts…… without the loony in front of me, all in all, an excellent weekend.

We had intended to visit New York, and then continue on down the coast.
There is only one RV park close to the city, which has access to the down
Luray Caves Luray Caves Luray Caves

just off the Blue Ridge parkway. This is a beautiful underground lake.
town area via a ferry, but they were booked up. Anything else was too complicated, so following the philosophy “we can’t do everything” decided to give it a miss.
The traffic is awful in this area so, to avoid it we looped around and headed straight to Washington DC. (We are getting quite American now as we considered a 200 mile detour to avoid the traffic nothing).

If you were blindfolded and dropped into the Mall in Washington you would know immediately where you were, (well, once the blindfold was taken off). The buildings are familiar from watching news reports on the TV but the thing you don’t appreciate is the scale. Some things look smaller in real life, but the open space and wide 2 mile long avenue makes this an imposing area. . The Mall leads you from the Capitol building, past many of the Smithsonian Institute museums, all built in a variety of architectural styles, to the Lincoln memorial. Along the way you can view GWB’s soon (soonish or not soon enough?) to be old residence.

There are no high rise buildings in Washington because there are regulation decreeing no structure can be taller than The Capitol building, so you can stroll along the grassy route admiring the views.

Washington is easy to get around, either on foot, tourist trolley or by tube. At the head of the main tube stations are tourist guides handing out maps and offering information. One thing we notice in nearly all US cities is generally how uncrowded they appear compared to the major cities at home.

We did all the usual stuff, looked at the White House and Senate buildings, visited several museums, walked miles, took a trip to the moon and visited the Spy Museum….. Now if you are ever here this is really good fun thing to do. As you enter you choose a “cover” personality. At various points, as you go around the exhibition, you have to answer questions re you cover story. At the end you are told if you have been successful in your assignment.

Now, I was in my element here as the place is full of useless information and facts. A couple of favourites were:
1: the residents of the UK are the most “watched” in the 1st world. Do not for one minute consider yourself a “free” citizen, as a nation we are watched constantly by more than 2,000,000+ spy cameras.

Second useless fact: if you are ever in Washington and have a take out pizza, the box is not all it appears. All old documents from the Capitol are shredded and turned into pizza boxes, so who knows what secrets you could have in your hand.

I was also fascinated to learn that, in WW2 in the Pacific region, the US Marines used Navajo speaking Native Americans as code talkers. (I bet my Dad already knows this)
The Navajo language is an unwritten language with complex syntax, tonal qualities and dialect. It is almost impossible for an adult to learn and unintelligible to anyone without extensive training and exposure.

Using their native tongue as a foundation, the Navajo’s created a code which the Japanese were never able to break.

The invaluable role the Navajo Marines played during this time remained a secret until 1968, in case the military wanted to use the code again. Or was it perhaps, anything to do with the embarrassing fact that, for years, the Government had been active in trying to destroy the Navajo language.
Typical Charleston MansionTypical Charleston MansionTypical Charleston Mansion

There are many of these pretty pastel mansions along "The Battery" Built side on so the airy piazzas catch the prevailing breezes off the river.
Whilst these Marines were serving their country, their children in reservation schools were being punished for using their native language……
Eventually in 2001 the code talkers were recognized and awarded Congressional medals.

After a long hard day in the “field” we required nourishment. We asked one of the tourist guides if there was an Indian restaurant here, he directed us a couple of blocks down the road saying it was “the best in the city”…….. The restaurant was about 2 blocks from Capitol Hill and full of trendy looking people, we fitted in well!! . Washington is reckoned to have several hundred spies in it at anyone time, so people watching here takes on a whole new meaning . Are that couple in the corner really just enjoying an evening out? was that JUST the bill on the tray? Your imagination can run wild here, well …. mine can. Oh; the food was exceptionally good, some of the best Indian food we have ever had and all for a very reasonable price. Eating out in the UK is going to come as a big shock when we return.

A few days later and we were back on
Nathaniel Russell HouseNathaniel Russell HouseNathaniel Russell House

Example of wealthy merchants home, beautifully restored following Hurricane Hugo. Rectangle and Oval room on view.
the road again. We decided to head to the hills and travel along the Skyline Drive, part of the Appalachian Trail. This is a 2 lane road that starts in Maine, winds its way through a total of 14 States and terminates in Georgia. It covers a total of 2,175 miles and alongside the road runs a footpath which is the longest uninterrupted pathway in the US. If you want a full description read Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods” in which he describes the experiences he encounters as he attempted to walk the entire length of it.

We had been told (as per normal) “you don’t want to drive that rig along the parkway”. We thought it should be fine but to double check asked the girl in the parks entry booth, “will we fit along the route, and are there any height limits along the way?” She said there was one tunnel but we would fit and assured us that if we were happy to drive it, we would be fine. So off we went. The road was very twisty but it has a 35 -40 MPH speed limit so you can roll along taking in
 "Welcome strangers" "Welcome strangers" "Welcome strangers"

Festival of lights, James Island The 3 mile route is divided into different "lands"
all the scenery. Being so high up in the rig the view is spectacular. The weather was bright and clear, the leaves turning as many different shades of browns, reds and gold as they are usually green. Then we turned a corner to be faced with a 600ft long tunnel hewn through solid rock. A sign by the tunnel said, vehicle height restriction of 12ft. 6in. We pulled up and looked at it, and then at each other. Now, Graeme is a very good driver but even he would not be able to turn around a 39 ft rig on a 2 lane, 30 ft wide mountain (sheer rock cliff one side, sheer drop the other) road.

I said rather hopefully “she said we would fit, it must be wrong” we eyed the tunnel mouth up and decided we had to fit, after all we were only 9 inches taller and straight ahead was the only way to go! We crept forward…… centered ourselves……… easy; we were in. it was just a decoy sign.

Now a question; if you were driving a large ( normal for here) SUV / truck thing and were about to enter a tunnel and saw a large vehicle coming towards you that obviously can only fit by being in the centre of the road what would you do? I expect most people would wait a few seconds for it to emerge from the tunnel, but no… lets drive very fast towards it, beeping horn and flashing lights, and see if it can dodge sideways….. The result…. We didn’t but at the last second he did, it must have been quite scary for him, perhaps he hadn’t seen us?
Really pleased we had asked that question before we started; we emerged the other side and went on our way.

We camped overnight in a state park and next day continued along the parkway. The weather began to deteriorate and the view vanished. By the end of the day we were in a rain cloud. We stopped overnight to see if it would improve, but the next day bought more cloud and rain. We decided to stay put for the day and do some chores and see what the next 24 hrs would bring.

Things did not improve so we decided to abandon this route, unfortunately causing us to miss “Dollywood” and head
Old Slave Mart Old Slave Mart Old Slave Mart

Charleston is the place where 3/4 of all slaves entering the United States first set their feet upon American soil. Thats approx 1/2 million people.
off to the South Carolina coast.
One of the great advantages of this life is, if you don’t like where you are, move. If you are fed up with cold and want a different season, drive for 6 hours and put on that T shirt. Seen too much city? move to the countryside. Hills or ocean? It’s your choice today.
So that morning we left a wet, drippy, misty autumn day and by evening were sat out in a warm summers evening in Charleston enjoying a cold beer.

We were now on the last leg of our trip; it was to take us along the coastline of South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.
I loved this area, The huge oaks draped with Spanish moss, the elegant Antebellum houses, nestling in amongst lush tropical foliage, wet lands that ebb and flow with the tides making it rich with abundant birdlife and a long wild rolling Atlantic ocean coastline.

We had for some time been trying to ignore the rapid passing of the months but knew we had to start organizing things towards coming home. We could no longer spend all the time enjoying ourselves, so, rather than rushing down the coast we decided to limit our stops to Charleston, SC and Savannah, GA.

This area made an important contribution to America’s history.
It was in this area the first Europeans settled, and it can boast of having the oldest continually occupied city in the country.
In Charleston, the first decisive victory in the War of Independence was achieved and also from here, the first shots of the civil war were fired.
This area was also pivitol to the success? (If that’s the correct word) and development of the slave trade

From first sight I loved Charleston. It is the first US city to enact a historical preservation movement for its buildings, so they are beautifully maintained and preserved. This gives you a real flavour of Southern lifestyle

Charleston was born in 1670 when a group of English colonists landed and started a settlement, naming it Charles Towne in honor of Charles II .
On return from exile Charles, in gratitude to a group of loyalists, named 8 Lord Protectors and gave to them all the territory now occupied by North & South Carolina and Georgia. (A mere total of 172.575 sq miles,)

As the colonists struggled
OK ; Steamed oysters....OK ; Steamed oysters....OK ; Steamed oysters....

Where do I begin. We started with a tray full.
to develop the swampy settlement they were plagued by disease and hunger. The Protectors showed little interest in their newly acquired land and following their failure in 1720 to protect the town from Spanish attack the colonists revolted and the area reverted back to The Crown.

Eventually, once they discovered the temperate climate was suitable for the production of rice, cotton and indigo the area thrived and by the mid-1700’s Charleston was a prosperous colonial city.
The high demand and skills required for the production of these crops also fueled another lucrative trade, the slave trade.

The wealth and success continued until the devastating effects of the civil war. This left the shelled and burned city a virtual ghost town. Also, the freeing of the slaves meant they could no longer afford to maintain the labour intensive plantations which soon fell into decay and disrepair.
Following years of neglect, after the 2nd WW the city eventually began to thrive again until it became the quintessentially southern city it is today.

We put on our tourist hats to explore the City. A walking tour has become almost mandatory, you learn so much and the guides are really entertaining. So; should we do the Pirate and Buccaneers, this could be interesting, after all Blackbeard held the entire city hostage in exchange for the mercury
he required to treat his men.(medical fact) Or Ghosts and Legends. Civil war or Slavery & Freedom. See what difficult decisions we have to make.

We chose Slavery and Freedom,
As you travel around you soon realise the South still feels a little bitter about losing the war. Our Guide was not from the area. so we asked him why he chose to take this tour, he replied that he was requested to do so as he was one of the few here who realised the war was over!

I always thought that Africans were “snatched” at random, but soon learned that slave traders actually “shopped” for slaves with the specific agricultural skills required.
The slaves came chiefly from West and West Central Africa rather than from the entire continent. The area with which the slavers had dealings nevertheless involved 5,000 miles of coastline starting at the River Senegal and stretching south to Cape Negro
There was no one African language which all slaves could understand, each group had its own vernacular
Five star restaurant!Five star restaurant!Five star restaurant!

Like the decor? We go to all the best places. You pay $20 and can eat as many shovel fulls of oysters as you wish and no washing up Rick Stein enjoyed the oysters and also filmed here
or native language. This resulted in them developing a patios language which in this area is called Gullah, and you can still hear spoken today.

By the late 1700’s so many slaves had arrived in Charleston it had become a densely populated, mostly black city. Because of this Charleston eventually contained one of the largest “Free Black” populations, we learned about their lives. Some had bought their freedom, some born free, others granted it on upon their Masters death. A lot of women were freed in this way and also often left money in the Masters will. This created the interesting situation where, in a period where women were commonly chattels of their husbands, these women became a financially independent group running their own lives and businesses. The free population were usually the craftsmen and merchants of the town who became an important but separate strata of Charleston society.
You might imagine that the freed Blacks would feel differently about slavery but no, often as they tried to emulate the successful whites they also became slave owners.

We wandered through the pretty shady streets, our Guide spinning captivating tales about the buildings and the families that had
Modest Plantation houseModest Plantation houseModest Plantation house

Many larger plantations are now golf courses. This one was a rice plantation, the seeds originally bought from Madagascer. The rice became known as Carolina Gold.
lived in them. Pointing out the tiny details you would normally miss and which make these tours so worth while.

Charleston’s architecture is dominated by two types of house. The Plantation owners Town Houses and the single house
The Town houses all vary in style but the layout of the buildings are the same. They have one square, one rectangular and one oval room on each floor. It was here the Plantation owners did their entertaining and displayed their wealth.
The single house is a narrow one room wide, two room deep structure with the gabled end, rather than the front facing the street. They are painted in pretty pastel colours and usually have a veranda with wrought iron railings and a small garden. As you walk around the city you get enticing glimpses into these lovely private worlds.

After all this information we needed to “sit a spell” and recover Whilst in the bar we got chatting to a man who said “you must try Bowen Island restaurant, it is a completely unique experience and if you like steamed oysters it is not to be missed”. Not being sure if we liked steamed oysters or not, but never ones to miss an opportunity to try something different we took the directions and decided to go. I won’t say much more, just look at the pictures (Yvonne, eat your heart out). I am sure you can only agree.

We had the best of both worlds here because we stayed in James Island’s National Park which supplied a shuttle bus into town. So we had lovely country side to relax in and easy access to town.
We were also lucky enough to be in the park on the one night they tested their famous Christmas “Festival of Lights” display. It is a 3 mile route of wonderful illuminations, which one man spends all year designing. As we cycled round the park there was quite a party atmosphere as people saw them for the first time.

Having thoroughly enjoyed Charleston we set off to Savannah, stopping along the way to visit one of the smaller plantations

Enjoying the peace and beauty of the plantations today it is difficult to imagine the hardships endured there. The work on the rice plantations was the hardest. Slaves were expected to clear 1.200 sq feet of land a day and hand thresh 600 sheaves of rice in incredible heat & humidity. Disease was rife and mortality and illness rates were incredibly high.

Along with the history of the house the guide gave us the benefit of his colourful philosophy of life. It’s probably a good job there was no psychiatrist on the tour. It was the one tour I have ever been on where they encouraged you to pick up and “play” with all the display items, although that could have been his interpretation of guiding!
Following our brief stop here it was onwards to Savannah

We liked Savannah; it had a different “feel” to it than Charleston.
If Charleston was a mature woman then Savannah would be her adolescent sister.
Charleston feels sedate, calm and complete. Savannah is vibrant and trendy and still under renovation One of America’s largest art colleges resides here and you can see its influences throughout the town.

Also, in contrast to Charleston Savannah had quite different beginnings.
It was founded in 1733 by James Oglethorpe as a social experiment. He thought he would create a haven where the British working poor and social misfits could carve out a living cultivating the agricultural products desired by the Crown, without the use of slave labour ( forward thinker or foolish optimist ?) So the first group of a 100 settlers set to work,

Oglethorpe thought he had found the perfect location. Imagine, you think you have found the ideal place for your dream community project, fertile soils, flat farming land, warm weather, rainfall, trees, grass, and then… along comes summer with 110 degrees of heat, humidity hurricanes, tornadoes, mosquitoes and disease….. The first person to die was the Doctor; it was down hill from there.

Against all odds Oglethorpe persevered. He laid out his town in wards, centred around a public square. His visionary plan continued to be used as the blue print for the present day town. Today 21 of the original 24 squares survive, bordered by handsome town houses and churches, making it a lovely place to walk around as every few minutes you come across another shady, pretty square to investigate or rest in.

Savannah escaped much of the destruction of the civil war thanks to the actions of Gen Harde. His Confederate soldiers put up strong resistance against the Unionist army but
Puzzled  look, Can this be right?Puzzled  look, Can this be right?Puzzled look, Can this be right?

Union solders camped here whiled away the time by altering the headstone details. Here the Father died age 11, the son was 12!.who thinks graffiti is new?
when he realized all was lost he withdrew his troops in the hope of saving this beautiful city from destruction.

Gen Sherman obviously appreciated this action because when he entered the city on Christmas day 1864 he left it intact and then offered it to President Lincoln as a present.

Twentieth century town planners almost managed to destroy what Sherman had spared as they began to tear down the historic buildings in order to reshape the city skyline. However a dedicated group of women outwitted them when they began to purchase the buildings themselves, attached a “restoration covenant” to them and then sold them on to other private parties.

The RV Parks here were too far out of town to be practical for us to use.
I love the somewhat confused silence on the other end of the phone when we ring to ask if there is any public transport or bike paths to town as we don’t have a tow car (more commonly known as a TOAD in this life)
So in contrast to the lovely rural location in Charleston, here we overnighted in Wal - Mart and parked in the Visitors Information center during the
Scary spider. Scary spider. Scary spider.

There were loads of these spiders as we walked through the plantation's trees. I walked under all the webs but Graeme is a bit taller!
day. ($8 for 48hrs and no one appeared to mind we took up 5 spaces.) This gave us a perfect situation from which to see the town.

Although the city survived the civil war many people didn’t. Buildings here are built upon layers of human remains. Human bones have a tendency to pop up all over the place. Some have been reburied in the cemeteries and squares but, it turns out they all got a bit mixed up. Consequently quite often the name on the headstone has turned out not to be the name of the occupant or in one case even of the same sex!

Savannah claims to be the most haunted city in America, (uhm, better not tell Charleston that) and as we didn’t have far to go home we decided to take the night time ghost walk. It might have been spooky if it wasn’t for all the other groups. There were ghost hearses cruising the street, ghost horse carriages, ghost buses and ghost walkers. Rather strangely dressed people lurked on every corner, the streets were busier then in the daytime, it was like rush hour you wouldn’t spot a ghost if it was next to you. It was also quite cold and as our host ghost was rather lightly dressed a warming stop in Starbucks got included along the way, which rather broke the spell.

Time was moving on and we had arranged to meet up with Karen and Malcolm. We had chosen St Augustine, Florida to meet. This is THE oldest continually occupied town in The USA. It is still very Spanish in style and we had been told it was a nice place to stay.
We considered this as the last stop before we really had to get organized for home. Rules have changed a bit since we left the UK and Graeme has had to do a lot of new research re the import situation so we thought it might be a nice place to settle and get to work.

So, next and final USA blog to follow soon, containing the details of the last of our US adventures and hopefully, our homecoming details.
Just in case we don’t see some of you this side of the New Year I thought I would share this recipe with you. You might find it useful to get the party going!

We were told the Chatham Artillery invented this drink to toast their success in the War of Independence. After only a glass or two they forgot and toasted the King.
Looking at the ingredients I can’t imagine why!

Chatham Artillery Punch
1 ½ gallons Catawba wine
½ gallon rum
1 quart gin
1 qt brandy
½ pt Benedictine
2 qts maraschino cherries
1 ½ qt rye whisky
1 ½ gallons strong tea
2 ½ pounds brown sugar
1 ½ qts orange juice
1 ½ qts lemon juice

Mix all ingredients and then bury for 48 hrs.
Dig up, add one case of champagne, stir and serve.
You can try this in the local bars… and you wonder why this blog has taken so long.
Happy New Year. (What year!)


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