Posted by: glenswatman | May 1, 2008

200804-2-April 16-30 USA Alabama Georgia Florida

WEDNESDAY 16 APRIL – Well the cold spell
either hasn’t passed or we are chasing it, as we need the heating on again in
the morning.  Ed is at home today but
needs to study so we just have a brief chat. 
Walk back to the main road and along to the Wetumpka Welcome Centre to
gather maps and information for our visit to the adjoining city of
Montgomery.  Not to be as the centre is
very unwelcoming, completely closed down and not even a map on a board with
info.  Walking back beside the highway a
Police car spins around and drives over to us. 
He comes to offer help because in his eyes the only reason anyone would
be walking here is because they have broken down!  Explain that we are crazy English tourists who like to walk!  Ed has offered us use of the washing machine
so that’s me busy for the afternoon. 

In the evening I cook us all pasta in the motorhome then
Ed heads off to do more work on one of his college papers.



THURSDAY 17 APRIL – Stop at Wal*Mart as
they now have competitively priced gas stations by many of their stores.  We fill up at the highest price so far $3.23
(£1.61) but after doing a bit of shopping the price has gone up to $3.28.  It seems there is an increase every day at
the moment, at this rate they will be on a par with England soon.  Montgomery is the capital of Alabama State
but traffic is light as we make our way through the city to the visitor centre
housed in the old railway station by the river.  For 50c (25p) you can do a single trip on the trolley or pay $1
(50p) to hop on and off all day.  The
trolley does two circuits and we stay on for both as it has a running
commentary.  There are many impressive
government buildings, the countries “First White House” and many places of
historical significance in relation to the fight for civil rights.  Pass Martin Luther Kings home and the church
where he was minister.  Back at the
tourist office we are enjoying a free cup of coffee when one of the staff that
has befriended us comes over with a huge trail of cakes to offer us some.  Everyone here in the Deep South seems
extremely friendly and they seem to have much more time for you than many of
the northern city people.  There’s a
free lunch trolley that connects many of the restaurants but also helps us get
back to visit “The Mooseum”.  The museum
is aimed at children but we have some fun and learn that there are more
cattlemen in Alabama than in Texas. Back at the tourist office we walk under
the railway tracks to the newly developing waters edge but obviously no one
else knows about it as it is deserted. 
The “blood bus” is parked nearby and we hop aboard to offer a blood
donation.  Steve is the first to be
interviewed but we are turned down because we were born in a country that has
had mad cow disease.  That is the only
criteria and it is irrelevant that at that time we were abroad.  Anyway we get to see inside the bus that has
sit up beds on both sides being used by donors.  They give us a free T-shirt for making an offer.  Hyundai (the way it is pronounced here
sounds like Hunday) has a huge factory on the outskirts of the city and we are
booked onto the 6.30pm tour so arrive early and spend late afternoon on their
car park.  We begin with a film telling
you the Korean company began production in America including the fat that 1000
cars a day are produced here and each one takes 16 hours.  The factory was not designed for visitors so
we have to go on a golf cart train and wear safety glasses as we go right past
the workers.  We begin where they take
rolls of steel and stamp out the parts needed for the car body.  Workers are all very friendly and wave as we
go past, that’s with the exception of the hundreds of robots hard at it.  It’s staggering how much of the work is
performed mechanically and totally amazing to watch a robot insert and fit a
dashboard into a car.  The whole
experience is nothing like the noisy dirty kind of factory we were
expecting.  Retire to the local Wal*Mart
for the night but get a lot of disturbance when the car park cleaner takes
great joy in driving round in circles.



FRIDAY 18 APRIL – We take the scenic road
east and cross the bridge into GEORGIA, now on Eastern time so 5 hours behind
BST.  The main highway is not too busy
and we are amazed to find the majority of homes beside it are huge mansions with
their owns lakes in the front.  The
mansions give way to farming land predominantly peach trees.  It’s a small detour to the big American Air
Force base at Warner Robins where they have a free museum.  The brochure says to allow 3-hours and in
all honesty if you had much interest in the aircraft or the wars you could be
much more than that but skimming through everything we spend a pleasant 1 ½
hours.  Come unstuck at the first
Wal*Mart as home owners nearby have complained about the trucks using their car
park and making a noise so now no one can stay overnight.  Luckily the other on in town is happy to
accommodate us.



SATURDAY 19 APRIL – It’s raining when we
head off east but we soon outrun it. 
Again a rest area has a free dump station but unluckily for us a truck
has broken down blocking access.  Drive
through the outskirts of Savannah we are immediately taken with the city.  Huge trees line the roads and look really
pretty with the Spanish moss dangling from them.  Our host lives out on Hope Island, a suburb of the city that is
surrounded by canals.  Marjorie is very
friendly and happy for us to trim the trees so we can park on her driveway.  She has 3 bicycles so we head off to explore
the neighbourhood and the nearby marina area with lovely homes overlooking
it.  She is going out to the opera in
the evening but has been invited to a friend’s party that starts earlier.  She drives us round to Sonny’s place and he
makes us most welcome and gives us the tour of his new Air stream caravan.  Most people in America seem to introduce
themselves with their Christian and surname so we are amazed to learn that
Sonny is a Colley as that was Steve’s Mums maiden name.  Marjorie can see we are going to be fine so
heads off and leaves us in Sonny’s safe hands. 
He soon has Steve put to work coating a load of fish ready for
frying.  He is expecting over 100 guests
and has many men at work doing the cooking. 
We chat to other guests who all show the traditional Southern
Hospitality of making us feel welcome. 
When we are ready to walk back to Marjorie’s Sunny insists on getting us
a lift with other guests who are leaving and happen to live nearby.  With access to the Internet I manage to do
lots more travel research and it’s after 1am when I get to bed.



SUNDAY APRIL 20 – Marjorie gives us a
knock and invites us in for coffee.  She
has time free today to drive us into the city and walk us around.  The British designer of the city put lots of
small parks surrounded by homes and this is still the big attraction
today.  The architecture is interesting
and varied and the parks a delight, Chippewa Park are where Forest Gump told
his life story.  The waterfront has been
transformed into a pleasant pedestrian walkway and cruise ships are now calling
in here.  It’s a great city to walk
around with lots of shade from the hot sun and the only place on a different
level is the waterfront.  We stop at an
English pub for lunch but Steve is upset to find they won’t serve him a
Guinness until later.  The typical
English food is a strange mix of things like Shepherds Pie or Roast meats but
served with salad.  Decide to give it a
miss and return home to put together a snack type lunch.  Marjorie runs her own PR business and need to
prepare a speech for tomorrow so I offer to cook the evening meal so she can
get to work.  Marjorie gets a call from
friends wanting to visit in the evening so I extend the meal invitation to
them.  Dan & Jeanie have just spent
8 hours driving up from Fort Lauderdale so are happy to have dinner prepared
for them.  We set up a table and chairs
on the driveway by the front garden to eat our English roast pork dinner – with
roast potatoes and hot vegetables! 



MONDAY APRIL 21 – We get E-mail from
Claire to tell us our grandson Daniel has just won a computer in a schools
maths competition.  50 schools each
entered 2 pupils for the linked up test. 
Daniel won first price and his friend from school took second
prize.  Spend the day making the most of
the Internet to catch up on messages and do onward plans. Late afternoon a
couple of friends cycle round to visit Marjorie, Cathy and Bill have lived in
South Africa so we have a good chat about that. 



TUESDAY APRIL 22 – Marjorie heads out to
do a bit of work but leaves the house open for us.  Steve is suddenly inspired to hose down the roof of the motorhome
and treat the rubber then continues to give the whole van a wash.  Marjorie returns around lunchtime, she is
keen to have me put some of our travel tips onto “you tube” so has brought a
video camera to do short film clips of me. 
Can’t see it being a best viewer but who knows?  She is working this afternoon at Ronald
MacDonald House and invites me along. Whilst Marjorie is trying to secure the
PR contract I get a tour of the centre. 
Now I always thought these homes were a kind of palliative care centre
for young children and their families but that is not so.  These homes are built near to hospitals to
provide accommodation for the families of a child who is in sick.  This is often a premature baby or one who
has had a serious accident.  Private
rooms are available at a suggested donation of $10 (£5) night and there is a
large common sitting room, TV lounge, dining area, laundry and kitchen. Local
businesses donate food and people who live in the town often come in to cook
meals.  There are 2 full time paid staff
and everyone else is a volunteer. 
Fundraising is very important and from the canned drinks machine they
ask everyone to put the ring pulls in a box. 
They fill two boxes a week and raised $35,000 (£17.500) this way
last.  Very admirable but that’s an
awful lot of fizzy drinks that have been consumed.  Marjorie’s friend Michael works at the hospital and we join him
for coffee afterwards.  In the evening I
am in the house exchanging computer info with Marjorie when we are amazed spot
3 small deer in the garden.



WEDNESDAY 23 APRIL – Marjorie offers us
the use of her car and we gratefully accept. 
She set us up with her TomTom GPS system to get us to Fort Pulaski and
Tybee Island.    It works quite well but
seems very strange not really knowing where you are.  Our parks pass saves us the $3 (£1.50) admission to the restored
Fort Pulaski.  It’s a very good example
of an early fort and the movie explains the battles fought from there.  You can walk around the fort on both levels
and rooms have been set up with replica furniture etc.  Tybee Island seems to be a low-key tourist
resort.  To get to the beaches you have
to walk over the protected sand dunes on one of the many bridges but it’s not
really a beach day anyway.  Get back to
Marjorie’s and decide we will treat ourselves to a GPS system from Wal*Mart
knowing we can get a refund if we don’t like it.  TomTom One is on sale at $149 = tax  (£80) and this is the kind of price we were waiting for them to
come down to. In the evening Marjorie has organised a bit of a leaving party
for us and sent out for pizza.  It’s an
interesting group, Michael used to live in Sweden and today has been doing jury
service.  He was on the same case as
Bill, of Bill and Cathy the cyclist who lived in South Africa.  Ryan is a new potential client for Marjorie
and returned from England today and hopes to set up a polo club in
Savannah.  Ron “Hollywood” is the local
tour guide specialising in film tours, foodie ones and also ghost trips in the
evenings.  A fun way to spend our last
night in Savannah.



THURSDAY 24 APRIL – Marjorie left at 4am
to try to get a stand by flight to visit a relative in Austin, she doesn’t
return so we assume she got on.  We head
off with our GPS in place but don’t even get off the drive before we realise we
have no signal.  It seems that it takes
a few minutes to tune in when you first start off!  We are soon on our way but I find it quite distracting, other
drivers are even more distracted by modern electronics as one lady is using her
laptop on her knee whilst driving!  Pick
up the main interstate but it’s not a fun journey with noisy lorries whizzing
past and little to see.  Cross the river
into FLORIDA where there is an excellent visitor centre.  You are welcomed with a choice of local
orange or grapefruit juice and then you can select from hundreds of brochures organised
into different regions.  We are here
until late August so I leave with a huge pile. 
We have Couchsurfing hosts lined up in Jacksonville and TomTom leads us
directly to their home.  There’s no one
in but Wolf soon arrives back in his VW campervan.  He used to live in Germany but is now married to an American lady
and this is his base although he does spend much of the year travelling in the
campervan or his boat.  His back garden
is naturally landscaped and leads down to one of the creeks that lead into the
main channel so it’s a great place to live. 
Joan arrives home from her 6 months of the year job and we settle down
to a meal and lots of travel chat. 



FRIDAY 25 APRIL – Wolf and Joan are
heading over to the west coast next week to pick up a new catamaran they have
just bought.  Joan has gone to work by
the time we get up and Wolf has lots of jobs to do so we are free to make our
own plan.  First I phone Mum who is due
to go into hospital for a hip replacement operation.  Unfortunately I only get the answer phone so she must have
already left but she has sent me a text to tell me she missed my call yesterday
as she was at the hairdressers getting herself made up in case there were any
toy boys in the hospital!  At the end of
the road we catch the bus into the city, $1 (50p), ask the driver for the stop
nearest the Tourist Office but learn that there isn’t one so opt for the
library.  Unfortunately the library can
offer us little help but luckily we emerge onto Hemming Plaza where there is a
tourist information stand.  Their
brochure enables us to form a plan and we catch the skyway, 50c (25p), through
the city and over to the opposite back of the St Johns River. We alight and
walk to the riverfront free Maritime Museum, all of a 10-minute stop for
us!  After walking back over the bridge
we explore the waterfront area then hop on one of the 3 free trolleys to do the
circuit.  In all honesty we can see why
there is no Tourist Information Office her because in our opinion there is
little of interest.  Bus it back then
spend the afternoon planning.  Florida
is motorhome unfriendly, from what we can understand loads of RV’s from Quebec
come down here in the winter and abuse the overnight parking at Wal*Mart and
places like it by trying to stay for days on end and setting up camp.  Consequently loads of by laws have been
passed meaning you can’t even park your own RV in your drive in certain
counties.  In the evening Joan and Wolf
join us for a pasta dinner in the motorhome.



SATURDAY 26 APRIL – I speak to Netty on
the phone and learn that Mum’s operation went well and she is now back on the
ward.  Wolf & Joan drop us at the
nearby shopping centre where we make our first visit to Win Dixie supermarket.  They have ribs on special offer and Steve
cannot resist a pack with 2 huge racks for $14 (£7).  They should be good on the BBQ shared with Joan & Wolf.  In the afternoon we borrow a couple of
kayaks to explore the creeks.  With the
rudders it’s much easier to steer.  We
enjoy meandering along the creek but soon back off from the main river when we
realise how choppy it is when the speedboats zip past.  End up having a late evening meal of the
ribs with jacket potatoes and sweet corn.



SUNDAY 27 APRIL – Begin the day by joining
Wolf & Joan for a cooked breakfast. 
They still have lots of jobs to do preparing for their sailing trip so
we leave them to it.  Our afternoon
kayak is up stream.  I’m ahead but turn
around to find no sign of Steve, I back paddle and find him attempting to get
back into the kayak.  Apparently he saw
a fishing lure tangled in the reeds, stretched out to get it and fell in.  Going up stream the creek gets much narrow,
shallower but clearer.  We know there
are alligators around so feel quite vulnerable at our low level.  Many a time we back off from logs, tree
stumps and mud banks thinking we have seen one. 



MONDAY 28 APRIL – We’re heading off
tomorrow so try to finalise our tour plan to take in the odd know free camping
and failing that the cheapest of the campgrounds as some of them here are over
$50 (£25) night.  In the afternoon we
get the forecasted heavy rainstorm and it’s too wet to sit out for dinner.  Joan has cooked a delicious shrimp dish and
as soon as we’ve eaten we move to the computer to look at their photos.  Their recent travels have taken them to
Costa Rica and last year a European trip to Latvia, Ukraine and Turkey.  They have a great mixture of photos and we
really enjoy seeing them and are not surprised to find the time slip by until
we call it a day just after 11pm. 



TUESDAY 29 APRIL – We head out to join the
A1A coast road at Jacksonville Beach. 
It’s still a little inland so we head right down to the beach road for
glimpses of the ocean between homes. 
Porte Vedre Blvd is amazing with some of the biggest mansions we have
ever seen.  One side of the road they
are backing onto the Ocean and the other side onto a lake and golf course.  South of the city the dunes block our view
and all the car parks charge $3 (£1.50) regardless how long you want to
stay.  Arrive in St Augustine and stop
for tourist information.  The first and
second one we visit are actually trying to sell tours but at least we get a map
to enable us to find the RV and bus parking. 
St Augustine is a really attractive old town and pedestrianised George
Street is a delight to walk down.  Pass
the oldest wooden schoolhouse in America, a Spanish village and a Greek Chapel.  At the southern end we detour to see the 3
original Henry Flagler hotels, all still in use but one is now a college.  With the Spanish originally settling here
there is a lot of their architecture and it’s all very attractive.  Make use of our parks pass to get in to San
Marcos Fort (saving $6 each) where the nicest part for us is the view from the
battlements.  Head south to the Flying J
truck stop where we can park overnight. 
We phone our nearby host Patsy to say where we are and within an hour
she and her husband Dan arrive.  They
are a similar age to us, Dan a Filipino and Patsy a southern girl.  There is no place for us to park where they
live so they suggest they drive us back to their home for the evening.  En route we call in at Cracker Barrel, these
are home-style restaurants with a shop attached and we’ve heard they let RV’s
stay overnight in the car park.  We
speak to the manager who says it’s OK to stay but to arrive after 9pm and leave
by 8am so this will be good for tomorrow night.  Between them Dan & Patsy have 6 children so when they were
all at home their 6 bedroom, 4 bathroom home was pretty full. Now most have
left and they even have a spare room for visitors.  They have 3 cats, 1 dog and a couple of snakes but luckily we
don’t get introduced to the latter. 
Patsy is an Elvis fan so Steve enjoys looking at her memorabilia and we
laugh at her recent birthday present of an animated Elvis bus that sings.  We make a plan to visit tomorrow and they
even give us a house key and set up the TV so Steve can watch his football in
the afternoon. 



WEDNESDAY 30 APRIL – Use the free dump
station before heading back to the barrier island to pick up the A1A.  Matansas Fort is a little different as it is
on an island and the National Parks offer free admission and ferry across.  There’s a nature walk through the forest
then we board the boat for the short trip across.  This Fort was the advanced warning for San Marcos as it protected
it from any boats entering the channel. 
A guide dressed in soldiers uniform gives an interesting talk then
leaves us to roam around the small building. 
Back on the road it’s a very pleasant journey with lots of ocean
views.  Unfortunately most of the access
is now private homes or lots that have been sold and we miss the only car
park.  Approaching Flagler Beach we find
that all the roadside parking forbids RV’s. 
Down a side street we find a public car park then walk along the
waterfront boardwalk but opt not to pay the fee to go on the pier.  “No” notices abound and although it’s a
pleasant place it seems very restrictive. 
We rely on the GPS to get us to Patsy |& Ben’s place and it works
well other than telling us arrived when we are only half way down their
street.  We let ourselves in and Steve
settles down to watch Chelsea play Liverpool in the Champions league semi final
and I latch onto the Internet.  Their
son Michael is first to arrive home followed shortly by his brother Chris.  Both are still at school but have evening jobs
so don’t stay long.  Steve is sad that
Liverpool lose the match but at least now our son David doesn’t have to figure
out how to get to Moscow for the final! 
Ben & Patsy return and we have long chats.  Patsy takes me with her to go and get some groceries and detours
via an area know as “The Town Center”. 
It is to be a new development but at the moment there are roads, street
lamps, lakes with fountains in full operation and nothing else.  A small board depicts where a theatre is
going to be located but there is no sign of building work at all.  Return home for a traditional hot dog and
hamburger BBQ.  End up staying the night
parked on their drive, as they will chance not getting a ticket for parking
their cars on the verge overnight.



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