Roadtrip Part I

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January 9th 2011
Published: February 2nd 2011
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After a bit of a kerfuffle, we picked up the van ('Pegasus') from Washinton DC and drove to our hotel in Alexandria, Virginia (about 20 minutes away) and picked up our bags. After a quick trip to AAA to buy membership and get advice on our route we were finally on our way mid-afternoon. We knew we had to bust out a lot of the driving in the first couple of days before getting to enjoy the sights. As such, the first stop was Henderson in North Carolina where we spent the night in a motel (Red Roof Inn which was to become the staple motel of the trip) and did nothing else. The next day we got a lot of driving done and spent the night in Durham (also North Carolina). We asked a local where to eat and were directed to an all-you-can-eat buffet chain, called the Golden Carral, for dinner. There was a large amount of fried chicken and miscellaneous meats. While this was somewhat made up for by the splendours of the dessert bar, the whole experience did not inspire us overly with what small town USA had to offer.

Durham is not far from Chapel Hill, which is a lovely college town in North Carolina. We got there pretty early in the day, had a lovely brunch and spent a couple of hours touring Main Street and the campus. It was very scenic and I could have seen myself enjoying myself had I gone there for exchange. It certainly had a very cosy 'college town' feel, with many things decked out in the the university's colour- light blue (considerably more attractive than UT's burnt orange). That night we made to Charlotte in North Carolina had dinner at a place called the Tilted Kilt, which we assumed to be a Scottish themed pub with some good pub food, but turned out to be a Scottish themed hooters/ sports bar. We were pretty much the only people there that weren't 40 year old men. So once again, dinner was certainly an 'experience', though perhaps not quite the one we were looking for. The next morning though we went to an excellent old style diner for brunch. It was apparently restored from an original that used to be sold in bulk in the 1940s. There was a jukebox and great 1950s d├ęcor, and the wait staff were incredibly friendly.

Next day we drove to Columbia in South Carolina. Apart from the state capitol, there wasn't much to see there, so we continued on the Charleston, SC. Charleston was quite a pretty city (that didn't really seem like a city at all), with the main street being full of cute little shops. Emma got quite run away by a shop that seemed to be the American version of Tree of Life (we noticed the same franchise in other cities after that day), and bought a mosaic of the word 'imagine' to hang on her wall at home. This began the collection of a series of words in different places, which also included 'family' and 'love'. Overnight there was freezing rain and we woke up to reports that the bridge to get in and out of Charleston was iced over and closed (we were staying on the other side of the bridge because it was cheaper and there was a Red Roof Inn a.k.a RRI there). As such we had to change our plans to check out Charleston more thoroughly and were forced to sit out the traffic jams in Mt Pleasant Starbucks and Walmart, where we bought a
Our roadtrip ringsOur roadtrip ringsOur roadtrip rings

Steve and I bought them in Philadelphia for everyone in the roadtrip. So far 1 has been lost, and 2 broke.
board game called 'Quelf'. Quelf turned out to be the most ridiculous board game of all time, which was primarily based on getting people to look stupid with little or no reward for completing the task in terms of moving forward on the board. For example, on task was to say a rhyme about being a pirate with no arms and legs, another was to hula dance for a minute.

The next day was spent in Savannah, Georgia, which is absolutely fantastic city. Some little known facts about Savannah: it is where the bus stop that Forrest Gump sat on was set (and where they shot the scene with the feather floating around); it also home to Juliette Gordon Low, founder of Girl Scouts; had the first African American church, and is the most haunted city in the US (as determined by some university's paranormal department). We wandered by the riverside, I had a deep fried crab for dinner (which was literally just a whole crab, deep fried) and checked out the gorgeous old souther homes. The next day we went on a trolley ride around the city, which included a stop at the Pirate Inn for lunch. The Pirate Inn is apparently the setting of the beginning of the book 'Treasure Island', and I had a pretty cool local cuisine sampler in the form of a buffet. I very much enjoyed how the bar tender was dressed up like Captain Jack Sparrow and our waiter threw in little pirate phrases here and there. That night we did a ghost tour, which was relatively interesting, though it was freezing cold. The street lights kept flickering while our guide was talking, which a bit weird.

After Savannah, it was onto Orlando, Florida, and as such... Disneyworld!! Although I was kind of rooting for Universal Studios (they have a Harry Potter World there and I had already been to a Disneyworld in Hong Kong) it was undeniably a magical day, and there was some pretty cool stuff there. For example, the dancing ghosts in the haunted house were amazing! I have no idea how they did it, the holograms were totally 3D from all angles. Also, the Carousel of Progress was pretty fun, if only for kitsch value. Unfortunately Splash Mountain was closed, because that was the main image I remembered from all the ads for Disneyworld Florida that used to come on before all Disney videos when I was a kid. But there were still quite a lot of cool rides- one where you could swivel around as you went and try to shoot targets for points, some roller coaster-y sort of things. Of course, we also got pictures with Mickey, Minnie and a bunch of Disney princesses (despite the lines). That said, the lines were much shorter than I expected, I think because we went on such a cold day. We also got our faces painted (except for Jono who was 'too mature' for that sort of thing). Obviously not many adults get that done because I noticed as the midday parade went past, a couple of the people in the parade were looking at us, some laughed, my favourite looked at me then pointed at the Aladdin float, then pointed at me (I was painted as the Genie from Aladdin). One of the dancers winked at Emma. It was all pretty hilarious. The night parade was also pretty good, very 'electric' (i.e. lots of neon and fairy lights). The fireworks, however, were out of this world. They even had a light-up Tinkerbell fly to the Disney castle as the fireworks started. Very cool.

Also cool was that on our way out, Emma needed to mail a letter so we set the GPS to the nearest post office. This post office happened to be located in Celebration, the town that Disney built. It don't know why, but I had heard of this place before. What I had heard about it was that nobody wanted to live there because there very strict regulations on what colours you could paint your house- essentially the whole town was pastel colours, by force.

We had arrived just before Disneyworld started and left after the fireworks, so understandably we all got a very good night's sleep. The next day we headed to Miami. We were staying in International Traveller Hostel (or something like that), which was voted number 1 hostel in the US. I disagree. I'm pretty sure the only reason they got that rating was because they ask everyone to go rate them as you check out, and send an email to back it up. That said, it would have been a pretty fun place to stay if I was into house music clubbing. The weekend we arrived just happened to be art deco weekend. So basically along the beach strip (where pretty much every building is art deco style) there was some random parades (with cheerleaders, marching bands and 'Miss Miami'), and market stalls both days. As we had just come form near freezing weather to warm mid-20s we obviously spent pretty much that whole first day wandering around and going to the beach.

The next day we bummed around in the morning, then decided at around 1pm to drive the Key West, the southern most point of the continental US. It was only once we got in the car did the GPS inform us that Key West was a 4 hour drive each way. We tried settling for just seeing the other keys on the way, but they were all a bit boring and unspectacular and seeing the sunset at Key West is supposed to be a must-do. We made it to see the tail end of the sunset. It was pretty beautiful, but not particularly more spectacular than any other seaside sunset. There were a few market stalls around which we browsed, then headed to dinner. I had some pretty mediocre fish, which made me vow not to have any fish again until I got to Australia (I kept being disappointed whenever I ordered it in the US).

So we got home around 1.30am. I had to get up around 4am the next morning to catch a cruise the Bahamas I had booked to sort out visa requirements o leaving the country. Unfortunately I also had to wake up poor Emma who had gotten a speeding fine the night before, because I was unable to drive (expired license). I got to the port, and within 10 minutes was ringing Emma to come pick me up- I had been denied passage because apparently immigration does not have the authority to change visas if you are going by sea (or something weird like that). Steve was set to go home that day, so I joined the group going to the airport with a little backpack with some spare clothes and toiletries- I was going to Mexico. So basically, my day consisted of a stressful attempt at check in (the airport registered me buying, but not paying for the ticket to Cancun on the internet because I did it so close to the flight time and ended up having to cancel the first ticket and buy a new one), getting to Cancun airport, walking out of the arrivals gate and into departures. I got back to Miami around 7pm. So by then, Steve had left us and the roadtrip group was down to 4. The next morning it was time to leave Miami and start to explore the deep south...


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