Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Christmas journey

Okay, so the journey I'm making today may not be a new one, but it is still venturing from home. At least now that the concept of home has swung round to being Sheffield rather than Lowestoft, today's destination.

I was at the train station pretty early, even for me. Because of the weather the buses have been a bit erratic, so I thought I'd better off trying to get out early. I was cursing having such an early train, if I'd been early for a train later in the day, I'd have simply made for the Sheffield Tap and had a half of ale.

After a fairly chilly hour on platform 5, watching the comings and goings of the station it was time for the train to arrive. In the last 5 minutes the expected time displayed on the board kept flip flopping backward and forward. In the end it was only a minute or two delayed, which is easily made up on the journey.

And what a journey. Travelling by train in the aftermath of the recent cold snap is a wonderful thing. Provided the trains are running on your chosen route of course. The landscape streaming past was beautiful and White, with bold and stark skeletal trees dotted around the fields. Slowing through stations brought massive icicles hanging down from bridges and arches into focus.

Some small flurries of snow started whilst we were waiting for signals to change and let us into Peterborough. A few miles outside Peterborough though, we got stuck behind a queue of trains backed up by a broken down train at it's head. The faces of people when we started up again lit up only to become downcast again when we slowed and stopped briefly. The conductor announced that the train ahead had been moved but that we were likely to be stopping and starting because of the queue of trains ahead. Not a problem for me really, as I have all day and this is minor compared to rail chaos I have endured in the past. Maybe a little more worrying for those having to change at Ely for Stansted and flights onward.

As it happens it seems the times of the train to Lowestoft have been altered by a few minutes, allowing me to walk straight off one train and on to the next with exactly a minute to spare. So the delays did me a favour in preventing me having to stand on a chilly Norwich station for ages. Bonus.

Unfortunately their was only a light dusting of snow between Norwich and Lowestoft, making the journey not quite as pretty as it otherwise may have been. No amount of snow could ever make the giant sugar beet processing plant at Cantley pretty, however. Or not stinky for that matter!

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Folly Beach

After leaving Savannah we went directly to Charleston, South Carolina -or rather to Folly Beach at the seaside. We'd pre-booked an apartment that was back away from the beach just over the bridge to it. We were all very pleasantly surprised by the apartment which was really quite nice, although to avoid any strops Gemma and I plumped for the small twin room. This still had an en-suite, so wasn't too bad but was missing the hot tub and giant bed of the master room. The complex was called Marsh Winds which was appropriate as there was a bit of a funky smell coming from the mud-flats out the back. This was OK though - it was nice to have a bit of nature so close by and from the balcony we could hear snapping noises that I guessed were crabs.

Following Jo's pre-occupation with breakfast we went back up the road to a Piggly Wiggly supermarket for supplies before heading into Folly Beach on foot to look for Ste and Flude and Willow's place. We found them in a really smart house set back from the beach and spent the evening doing a bit of a meet and greet with their family and friends.

The following day we attempted Charleston, but I think all felt a little fatigued from stomping round Savannah, so couldn't cope with it. We lasted an hour or so before heading back into Folly Beach and out onto the beach for a swim. The ocean was pretty powerful. After swimming I got a little bored sitting on the beach but it was clear that Jen had been wanting just that -it wasn't even really sunny at this point with clouds welling up so I went for a walk with Gemma. When we met up with the guys later Andy had lost his ring which had been in my shoe. I felt pretty guilty since I'd picked the shoe up, but they managed to get back to the beach and found it. Tea that night was a giant pizza from Bert's market along with Pasta and weird garlic bread. It was quite nice just sitting in watching TV and cooking for a change.

On the morning of Flude & Willow's wedding Gemma & I decided we were going to get dropped off at the lighthouse by Andy and Jo who were heading back into Charleston to shop (urgh). Daz and Jen joined us and we had a leisurely stroll back along the beach towards the centre of Folly Beach, taking photos and marvelling at some of the houses. Along the way we saw fenced off areas for turtle nests and whilst taking a photo of a dead fish a couple informed Daz that there was a tiny turtle next to him. The couple took the turtle back out into the ocean and released it.

I had a swim in the apartment complexes pool with Daz while the girls started their pre-wedding preening. Jen convinced Gemma to wear a floaty dress that I had advised against because of the wind on the beach, Jen herself had managed to get sunburn and had to force swollen legs into silly strappy shoes. We picked up Ste (best man) and Flude (groom) a little late because of a snafu over where they were and Folly Beach's one way system. Getting into the car Ste informed Daz and I that we were the photographers for the day -luckily for gear carrying reasons we'd sorted out a mix of lenses between us earlier. Andy had left his camera at the apartment because he didn't think he'd need it!

The wedding was right on the beach up an aisle made of shells and was fairly disorganised but also really sweet and charming. Somehow I managed to shoot some fairly decent pictures, and I'm sure Daz's will be good although I haven't yet seen them. Apparently the vows were quite lovely although I couldn't catch them as I was stood right at the back with the 70-300mm lens and the click of the shutter constantly going. After the ceremony we had more photo opportunities and got Flude and Willo to ourselves after the rest of the guests drifted off - with Ste picking up his camera and doing what he does best. He really has an uncanny ability for people shots, I guess because he is a people person. I'm more focused on dead stuff, possibly because I am dead inside?

Adding Emily meant the car was full on the way to the reception which meant I had a lovely ride in the boot. No air-con in the boot and the car having been super-heated by the beating sun and slamming around every time Andy swung the wheel. Lovely. The reception was at Bowens Island, down a track and in this crazy wooden shack thing on a jetty over the river. The shack was covered in scrawlings and later Flude produced sharpies for the guests. The DJ was ace, possibly the best wedding DJ set I've ever seen. We all hung out on the jetty watching Dolphins skip in the river as the light faded.

Back in the shack it was time for food (a lovely spicy sausage and shrimp and potato combo) and the speeches. Ste was petrified, but did really well. Pretty much everyone at the top table did a speech, alternating between funny and moving and there were quite a few sobs during them. I took up photography duties again for the first dance, grabbing Ste's camera to start as I had the wrong lens on. That out of the way I started to relax and went into random snapping mode for the rest of the night. The beer flowed, people danced and at some point we ended up in a taxi home.

We were surprisingly un-hungover after the wedding. Gemma, Andy and Jo and I made for Folly Beach for lunch. For some reason my omellete and chips came with fruit on the plate. Just another example of the oddities of food in the US. We walked on the fishing pier, watching people pull tiny sharks out of the water. We ended up on the beach with Ste and the rest of the gang. The currents on that side of the beach were nuts and I decided to get out of the water after nearly being swept out to sea by the undertow of a massive wave breaking over my head.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


We found a motel we'd earmarked on the edge of Savannah's central district pretty easily - it was reasonable for being so central, I think we got coupon book discount. From the outside it looked a bit scruffy but the rooms were quite nicely done out inside although pretty dingy from lack of sunlight getting in. The others all piled straight out but I wanted a coffee and a shower to wake myself up so Gem and I said we'd meet them later. Later wasn't very much later and surprise, surprise it was in the pub - a brew pub at that. I availed myself of their fantastic, and 7%, IPA, a hoppy floral delight.

After finishing our beers we went up the main touristy market area and found Vincent Van Go-Go where we had absolutely cracking pizza washed down with pitchers of beer from the brewpub round the corner. We had another drink in Savannah's best English pub (2007), which wasn't that great and then back to the brew pub. There was a mix in what to do next, with me wanting to go back. For me it was decided when a drunk Gemma took a throwaway comment too seriously and blew up to what could be a full blown row. Instead of arguing it in the street whilst drunk I just left them to it and went back to the motel.

So the atmosphere was a bit strained the following day between Gemma and I, but as is normal we soon sorted it out. We went off into Savannah by ourselves, early, to try and get walked around the town before it got really hot. Savannah is noted as being an exceptional walking town, a rarity in the states, as it is fairly compact, has loads of small parks dotted around and lots of historic buildings (although my house would class as historic by US standards). We started out by the river, where I indulged my pastime of reading information boards, after which we walked up into the town and took a winding route through the blocks looking at churches and graveyards. We were back at the motel for a rest by about 09:30.

After our rest we plotted a route to a market to try and get ingredients for a picnic in a large park at the top of the town. Unfortunately the market would only really see us for a picnic of melon and lettuce, so we just went to the park empty handed hoping to find somewhere to eat. We didn't manage it and with the sun reaching insanity levels we made back towards town. On the way we found the Mellow Mushroom, another pizza place, but we grabbed hoagies instead - somewhat massive sandwiches that Gemma had a right job eating. I noted with interest the $2 draft beer happy hour that would be on later.

We got back to the motel just in time to avoid a mad rainstorm, with the weather channel on TV sounding a siren and flashing up an alert. We watched it supping a coffee from the safety of our motel balcony - people hurrying through the streets with the big cars throwing up massive plumes of water as they drove through it. Some time after it subsided we got a call saying they were outside a bar in the tourist street so we went out to meet them. They were full of tales of being caught in the downpour and taken in by a Baptist Church to shelter. Daz and Jen went back and the rest of us went to the sweet shop. They were like, well, kids in a sweet shop. Gemma fortunately managed to restrain herself - she had a strange glint in her eyes for a while. Andy and Jo also went back to change so Gemma and I headed off back up to Mellow Mushroom for happy hour, getting caught in a much smaller downpour on the way. We were a bit soggy when we reached the bar and happy of some $2 beers. Daz and Jen had gone to eat somewhere a bit fancier so we were joined later on by Jo and Andy. We chatted outside to some locals who were pretty cool and provided us with some laughs.

Meeting Daz and Jen we ended up in a rock bar of some sort playing table-top Ms. Pac Man (badly). It all goes a little hazy after that.

Jekyll Island

I'd heard that the Georgia Islands were beautiful so I suggested that we stop in somewhere rather than drive straight to Savannah. We had a bit of a wait about in the morning as we had to wait for Radio Shack to open so Daz could buy a replacement camera charger for the one he'd lost a few nights previously.

We were quite quickly at Jekyll Island and made a little circuit of one side before finding a tourist info. Gemma and Jo came back to the car very excited that they'd found leaflets for a turtle sanctuary so we headed for that. Daz and Jen didn't seem keen so I was surprised that they stumped up the $6 entry fee. They only spent about 5 minutes in there. I quite enjoyed it, although the exhibits were firmly aimed at younger people it was quite engaging and the hospital section was interesting to see the range of problems that they deal with.

Following a 'meal' of leftover pork in the weirdest baguette I've ever tasted we continued on round the island in the car until we reached the fishing pier and driftwood beach. The latter was cool, although mis-named, it looked to me like the dead wood had formerly been part of the forest which had been claimed by the sea and the beach. Still lots to look at - what we think were snake skeletons, horseshoe crab shells and weird gnarly dried up tree parts sticking from the sand. I really enjoyed the walk down the beach and tried to walk back through a spooky looking forest all overbearing with the tree branches strewn with Spanish Moss. Daz came with me but between me blundering into the webs of massive spiders and Daz being attacked by biting bugs we abandoned it and got back onto the beach.

Monday, July 19, 2010


In retaliation for making stops at beaches Andy insisted on starting the day at Tallahassee Automobile Museum. Gem and I didn't fancy it so waited outside watching people setup the grounds for a large political rally. We got off onto the highway again with a fairly long drive ahead of us into Georgia. We took a quick rest stop in Lake City a small town distinguished by it's having a lake in the middle of it.

We hadn't exactly decided where to stay and their was division of opinion on whether to go for a log cabin near the East entrance to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and Wilderness Area. We weren't able to rustle up the owners of the cabins at all either on the phone or physically there, when we drove past, so the issue was decided for us.

Instead we ended up booking in to a pretty new looking motel outside of Kingsland. We paid 5 bucks extra to get suites, which was more than worth it as we had room to spread out. More so after we did some washing. I think every possible surface in our room was covered in drying pants. The pool in the motel was quite nice although I am not so sure about the extremely hot hot tub next to it.

We were up and off early back down the road to Okefenokee the next morning. We decided to do a guided boat tour first so we would learn a bit about the place and the wildlife. Thoroughly worth the money, we had about an hour and a half trip through various of the Okefenokee habitats, commentary on what we were seeing and ample opportunity for photography. I reluctantly gave my camera with the 70-300 lens on it to Gemma and used the kit lens on her D40 for a good portion of the trip. I think she got the best alligator shots too. Typical.

We smarted down a lunch of crappy Walmart sarnies before jumping in the car and heading off to check out some of the walks. There is a preserved homestead from the family who held out against selling up to the federal government that we went to first. The homestead itself was pretty interesting with lots of insights into what it must have been like to live in those parts before modernisation and roads. In a word, tough, but they had some fairly ingenious touches to make stuff easier. The volunteer guide there was a proper character and we'd had a bit of a banjo recital out of him by the end of it.

Back on into the nature we took a boardwalk. I rather stomped off ahead with Andy as the rest of the bunch were like a horde of elephants tromping along, not so conducive to seeing wildlife. Big spiders, lizards, dragonflies and another alligator all obliged by staying still enough for me to pop some shots off. At the end of the boardwalk was a raised viewing platform that offered a great view out over the swamp. Unfortunately the birds weren't as lens-friendly as the other critters and stayed over the other side of the water. I did spot egrets and ibis, but they were too far away to even bother trying to photograph.

The heat was getting to everyone a bit so we were glad to get back in the car for the air-con. Back at the visitors centre we hired kayaks for the afternoon and laden down with water bottles headed back out onto the canal. As Jo had never canoes or kayaked before I decided I would jump in with her and Gemma would go with Andy. Jo was a bit worried about being able to paddle properly but I went through the basics with her and we were soon motoring along. We were a bit confused by the instructions left to us by the hire people conflicting with the signage so missed the spot we were to turn off the canal into the canoe only natural channel. Even out on the canal the going was quite tough in the heat and I made an executive decision that we wouldn't take the long route. We managed to find the section that they had recommended to use and went down it the wrong way. The water levels in this section, which narrowed massively were quite low and I kept getting pulling bits of mud and weed up and depositing them on myself. I'd worn a white top too - not good. In trying to clear the paddle I managed to pass right by a big turtle out on a bank that Gemma and Andy got right up close to. We took the channel back to the canal that we had originally missed and the paddling immediately got better and invigorated us somewhat. The alligators still made regular appearances prompting me to stop the kayak and shout their direction out. I think Jo was getting a bit like, "okay, whatever, alligator", by that point but not me. I always feel insanely blessed by close encounters with wildlife like that. Being at eye-level to the alligators has only increased my desire to do a big canoeing trek, especially if setup with dry-bags for cameras.

Back on dry land I changed into the dry clothes that I had sensibly brought with me, although no-one else was as filthy and wet as me. I also e away with a bit of a catalogue of injuries; a big bit of skin ripped from near my thumb and the beginnings of a horrendous bruise on my back.

All feeling happily tired and with various sun, paddling and insect wounds, we limped back to Kingsland and got ourselves cleaned up before going for food. Our choice ended up being Sonny's BBQ Pit, where we ate a phenomenally large amount of meat between us. I could have probably done without sides - although my baked sweet potato was nice, the beans were far too sweet. We all almost fell over laughing when the waitress asked if we wanted dessert.

Pensacola to...Tallahassee

We left Pensacola without a firm destination in mind but knowing that we would take the coast road rather than the main interstate with the idea of stopping off along the way. Pensacola beach was the first place we drove through and Jen's shout of, "should we stop here", was immediately shot down by everyone else in the car. The place was ram packed with cars and people and charmless hotels, I for one was looking for more out of the way things.

Our first stop was someway along the road where we jumped out at a beach of beautiful white sand and had a quick walk. There were only a few other people around and some parked up diggers which I assume were part of the oil clean-up effort. We didn't stay long there, just enough time to marvel how hot it had become. There were people just sat around on chairs - there is no way I could manage that in that heat (I recall Andy saying the car was clocking it at 36c).

Somewhere further down the coast we stopped for lunch at a small town of which the name escapes me before continuing to Grayton Beach state park. Again it was beautiful white sand, this time with quite a few people. Everyone barring me and Andy rushed into the sea where in the shallows was a massive school of bait fish. Andy's strange aversion to sand kicked in even quicker than usual and he left for a fag. When we re-grouped we took a forest trail to try and see some wildlife. There were plenty of insects, a lizard or two and Andy and I saw a brilliant red Cardinal and what we think was a Blue Jay. It was this kind of walk that I had been waiting for, the natural world being my favourite thing about the US.

Not knowing where we were headed, we hadn't sorted out a place to stay so tried at a couple of the coastal towns along the way. It being a weekend we weren't able to find any with vacancies except one which looked a bit shady. We took the decision to drive inland a bit pointing toward Tallahassee and to look for motels along the way. This took us up a very straight and boring road through Apalachicola National Forest as the light slipped away.

It had been dark for some time when we got to Tallahassee and started pulling into malls off the highway. Several had no vacancies but we managed to find a cheapish one that did and booked into that. Sitting outside our rooms having a beer we got chatting to a Mexican roofer who tried to explain his woes to us in broken English.

On the oil spill

We started to see evidence of the Deepwater Horizon spill when we arrived in Mobile, Alabama. The lady at the tourist info place we visited reckoned accommodation was scarce and prices had gone up because of clean-up operations. It's supposition but there were people with serious looking equipment in their pickups staying at the same motel as us. Driving along some of the roads that bordered water - the gulf especially we could see boom laid out and clean-up crews and machinery on beaches. They must have being doing their jobs right as we didn't see any actual fouling of the beaches we visited.

In Pensacola a guy came over and chatted to us at the motel. He was there working on cleaning beaches. I didn't really catch what he was saying because I was sitting a little further away and reading the paper. From what I overheard though he was saying that himself and a lot of other people have work now because of the spill. This contrasts sharply with the articles in the newspapers which have focused mainly on the loss of income for people like fishermen and the inadequacy of BP's payment process. It should be noted that at least one of the articles were fairly balanced, praising BP for modifying contracts in the favour of fishermen now working for them in the cleaning efforts. Although obviously it would be better if it hadn't happened at all.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


We made a bit of a false start leaving New Orleans as no-one was really watching the directions. We ended up driving through an area with quite a few flattened lots, which I guess are remnants from Katrina. A quick turnaround put us back on the I-10 and out onto the massive bridgeway across Lake Pontchatrain.

The miles rolled by quite quickly as we traced our way back to Mobile and then onward along toward Pensacola. All in it was a four state day - Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. We booked into the Days Inn on the edge of downtown Pensacola. It was getting on by the time we got sorted so we jumped back in the car in search of lunch. This we found in the form of nice sandwiches at Hub Stacey's. It was nice to find something not quite so large as we had been eating for lunch.

The temperature was, in a word, baking, as we drove along the scenic highway to Bay Bluffs Park where we had a walk along a wooden boardwalk. I really enjoyed being out amongst the trees listening to the cicada chirp and spying odd insects and spiders. Daz was cursing having left his macro lens back at the hotel. I switched to the 70-300 and managed a couple of okay shots.

Back at the hotel we hit the pool and lounged around for an hour or two as the sun went down. I read the paper while Gemma and Daz chatted to a worker cleaning the oil spill (more of which in a separate missive). The day ended with a trip to McDonalds and channel hopping on the hotel cable.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Onward to New Orleans

Still not having beaten the jet lag I woke up about 1 AM and then had a weird half sleep until the morning. So I got up firmly on the wrong side of the bed. Gemma had a little practice with the car with the idea of driving us to New Orleans but that was abandoned quite quickly when Andy got out of the car ashen faced.

We filled up with fuel before leaving Mobile which in itself was an exercise in confusion just trying to get the pump going. But we were soon pushing on down I-10 and into the rain. It only took us a couple of hours to get to New Orleans and we easily found the hotel that we pre-booked via the iPod before leaving. Gemma, Andy and Jo had spent some time the previous evening looking for suitable hotels and had settled on the idea of staying right in the French Quarter. The Hotel St. Pierre looked a good bet being one of the lower priced options and a couple of blocks from Bourbon Street. The listing also boasted limited free parking which seems to be as rare as rocking horse poo in the centre.

We arrived too early for check-in so dropped off the car and had a wander and a beer and some food. After we checked in Andy got in a huff about their room because the bed was small and the toilet attached to the wall badly. Instead of going and asking about it at reception he flew into what was by now becoming a characteristic rage and stormed off. To be honest if he had just calmly said he had a problem then I would have swapped our room with him - ours being a really nice king room.

My first impressions of New Orleans weren't amazing. To be fair that is first impressions, and I am more than willing to have my mind changed. Bourbon Street and the French Quarter look like the overpriced tourist trap that I normally try and stay as far away from as possible. This is something that was reinforced when, obviously looking like easy marks the hustlers homed in on us. Daz, sensibly or not, just refused to pay after getting hit up by some scam or other but Andy handed over 20 bucks.

The mood, which was already at some kind of record low, had soured even more so I decided to get away from it and headed back to the hotel out of the way. Daz and Jen came back to freshen up so I went back out with them. Trying to find the other three was a fairly difficult because of crappy phones and a certain level of confusion. We did eventually find them in a bar watching jazz somewhat the worse for wear. After a couple of beers we left to have a stroll down Bourbon street, Gemma, Jo and Andy heading back to bars on the edge of the French Quarter. Bourbon street is pretty awful at night, music blaring out of every bar and people hawking for strip shows at every turn.

When we got up in the morning I decided that I was going to do our own thing, wanting to get away from the stresses of the previous day. We went up to St. Louis cemetery number 1 as it was not too far from our hotel. This is a fairly small block filled with above-ground tombs in various states of repair. I especially found the tombs with small offerings interesting, things like small toys, strings of beads and make-up adorning some of them. Daz and Jen were already up there so we carried on with them, getting a street car over to the Garden District. This area is how I'd always pictured New Orleans, informed by descriptions of it in things like Ann Rice's books. Some of the houses in this area are simply stunning.

After a brief shopping stop on Magazine street for the girls and coffee for me we took a street car back into town. We left Daz and Jen on Canal street, had a pretty rubbish lunch in the food court of the mall by the aquarium and a stroll down to the French Market. I can't imagine why anyone would want a dried alligator head but there were plenty for sale.

Back at the hotel we availed ourselves of the pool before lazily readying ourselves to go out for the evening. We'd ummed and ahhhhed about where to go for dinner that evening but settled on the Gumbo Shop on St. Peters street. We got a lovely seat in the patio area and both my crawfish étouffée and Gemma's jambalaya were good. Gemma found hers a bit spicy so picked out most of the meat and shrimp leaving me to demolish the rice.

We were in a a pirate bar(!?) later when Jo and Andy caught up with us and the four of us grabbed a beer and took a leisurely stroll down Bourbon street and back to the hotel.

Friday, July 09, 2010


With the aim of getting the maximum time possible in New Orleans we decided to break the journey in Mobile. We quickly realised when we got there that there wasn't much chance of doing anything significant as most places were closed following the 4th July celebrations. We had a chat to the very nice ladies at Fort Conde, essentially a tourist information and small museum. They were fairly down on our chances of doing much interesting but did point us at a few things.

We went for lunch at a place Jo's guidebook described as doing killer sandwiches. They weren't kidding, certainly in my case. All feeling somewhat lethargic we booked into and travelled to a Comfort Inn a short way up the highway. We all agreed to have a chilled day and try and recover some of our energy, which is what we did. The others went in the pool - during which time it tipped it down. I just hung out watching daft stuff on BET and then films. If I thought the ad breaks were annoying in films on British TV...

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


Jet lag beat me, seeing me have a restless night culminating in me being wide awake at four a.m. I think most of the others had a pretty similar experience. I sent some e-mails and planned the route to Montgomery on the motel wifi. It really is pretty cool being able to travel with such a little device and do this kind of stuff. It's something that I've had a vision of in my head whilst on our longer travels in the past, but which has really come of age now.

I had another bit of a roam around in the sunshine while the others ate breakfast at the ihop. Unfortunately the tourist information in Morrow was closed, not unsurprisingly really, it being Sunday. I had hoped to fill the glovebox with maps and things.

We set off toward Montgomery, pretty much immediately missing our turn off because Gemma and Andy were dicking around with the stereo settings. We didn't go too far out of the way though, and needed to stop to put air in one of the tires though. Buying water and getting change for the air, Daz got asked whether he was Australian!

I sat daydreaming out of the window and watching the trees go by as we cruised down the interstate. I saw quite a few birds of prey, I'm wondering whether they were eagles based on their very large wingspans.

Arriving in Montgomery we stopped briefly at a Best Buy store to buy mobile phones. $20 each with $30 of calling credit wasn't bad. I had a bit of a job getting the thing setup with google voice as the mobile site doesn't allow the setup of new numbers. I wrangled with it for a while and eventually managed to get everything sorted.

It being the 4th July we had pre-booked our hotel before leaving the UK. A Hampton Inn right in the centre of town. It was very nice and Gemma and I struck lucky with our room which was massive. They say, "Only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun", so that is what we did. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and Montgomery seemed deserted as we walked round, the locals obviously sensible enough to stay in air conditioned comfort. Lunch was another belly stretching affair, chopped pork sandwiches all round and pitchers of ale at Dreamland BBQ. Insanely tasty barbecue sauce.

The Capitol building was a pretty impressive thing. Lots of statuary relating to the confederate side of the American civil war. We had a slow amble round the grounds before the baking heat worked up a thirst in us. Fortunately the Montgomery Brewing Company was a few blocks away and happy to provide a few pints of ale to slake it. Or for those that chose soft drinks endless refills until they had to ask for a pause before they swelled up.

As we left the town was getting busy with people arriving for the Biscuit's baseball game as well as the concert and fireworks for the 4th of July celebrations. Daz and I took a wander through the massing people whilst the others freshened up back at the hotel. The band had started on-stage by the time we got back down to the riverfront.

There was a lot of renditions of the national anthem mixed amongst the party tunes, with the whole crowd rising hand on heart. I was struck by just how earnest the people here are. And whether I agree with it or not, they certainly truly believe that they are the land of the free and the home of the brave. It would be easy to dismiss it and take the piss but I'm not going to because the people we spoke to seem very warm and genuine.

I guess the only downside of the party in the park was the selection of beer being limited to American lagers like Miller and Budweiser and the price of them, but that was more than offset by the atmosphere. The fireworks were cool, but I didn't manage to get any good photos unfortunately. The finale was especially impressive.

Monday, July 05, 2010

The truck/Morrow

We had pre-booked and pre-paid for the largest car we could book with Virgin Holiday's. We all knew that we were going to struggle with luggage space, which is why I'd taken the smallest bag possible. Everyone else had a somewhat larger case though. To that end the guy at the desk tried to sell us an upgrade to a larger vehicle than the minivan we had booked. Thinking of the cost they decided not to upgrade (I was looking after the bags at this point, not being a driver). When we got down to the garage though we realised what a struggle the luggage was going to be in the minivan class. I reckon with a seat dropped and maybe camera/ day bags on laps we could have just about managed. Andy rather lost it and flew into a bit of a strop of the "I told you so variety".

I told Gemma to run back and stick the upgrade on our card just to get us into a larger vehicle. One of the hire place employees came over and spoke to them about upgrading. Gemma asked about cost and was told that there would be no charge, we were doing him a favour as he wanted to keep the minivans back. Bonus - it pays to talk to the guys in the parking garage obviously.

So we ended up with a huge truck, a Suburban. It's got more than enough room for all the luggage in the back, and, I think room for 8 people. It really is super-huge. We all piled in and with Andy muttering, "On the right", to himself we set off.

Finding the general location of the Red Roof Inn on Morrow was fairly easy. Finding the entrance road not so. We ended up doing quite a bit of driving backwards and forwards because the directions I'd written out were rendered a bit useless because of roadworks and quite small signage pointing out the access road. The frustrating thing being that we kept driving past the big sign for the Red Roof. When I say big, I probably mean massive! We got there in the end though, checked in and had showers.

Jo was trying to have a sleep so the rest of us had a bit of a poke around. The motel is in a typical American off the highway sort of place, so not too conducive to walking, so we didn't make it too far.

Jo surfaced so we went for some food at the Cracker Barrel just up the road. I think the others were quite impressed by there first experience of American service, and also the gut-busting portions of food that we had. On top of the multiple aircraft feedings it was a bit of a struggle. Still I managed to polish off a plate of chicken in gravy and rice, and drank about a gallon of iced tea.

After over 24 hours awake and wobbling slightly from all the food and, in my case, the weird rocking dizziness left over from being on the plane, we all headed to our respective rooms.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

On our way

I had to set an early out of office on my e-mail at work to let me wind down the number of jobs I had to do. Gradually I cleared the decks though and the end of Friday eventually appeared and let me get off home. Jen and Daz picked us up and we set off for Bury to spend the night with Jen's parents.

After a very nice picky tea, Jen's dad twisted myself and Daz's arms and took us out for a couple of pints at a microbrewery in the locality. If I'm honest it wasn't much of an arm twist that convinced us, although, also being honest we probably shouldn't have been drinking ale as it played havoc with both our guts the next morning.

An early start was made even earlier by a text message from Andy waking us up. I am still pondering how to repay him for that one. I am sure I will think of something. Jen's dad took us to the airport where we had a reasonably uneventful check-in and boarding, other than me being selected for a body scan going through security and then a pat down at boarding. That isn't overly uncommon though, I think I just have a suspicious looking face or something.

I normally find plane journeys uncomfortable, dull and boring. Delta 065 being no exception. The lack of seat back entertainment systems didn't help, although having the ipod touch was a boon. Jo didn't feel too good throughout the flight, which was unfortunate. The guy next to me was fairly comical and kept nodding off and doing that head-fall-forward, head-snap-back thing.

On arrival at Atlanta things took a turn for the confusing. The information given out on the plane, via the in-flight magazine and video was that despite having filled in an online ESTA form the green waiver form would still be required. Signs at the airport seemed to confirm this but neither the plane or the airport had forms available. After baggage claim we had to re-check our baggage and go through the whole security theatre of taking our shoes off, random body scanning - which I avoided, and luggage X-ray. Then had to take a train to another baggage claim area for more waiting about staring at a carousel. I am still utterly confused as to what purpose that whole thing served.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Upcoming US trip

Gem and I are getting our boots on again, just on a mini-trip this time. We're off to the South of the USA for a friends wedding, taking in a bit of a road trip beforehand. This time we're travelling with another two couples, which is really a new one for us. I'm looking forward to it, though with a little bit of trepidation. When we've spent time travelling with others it's often-times been quite difficult for me. I tend to be the 'right, let's just do it' type, rather than the canvassing everyone's opinion type. There have been times previously that I've been in groups that have spent 45 minutes trying to decide whether to go into a coffee shop or not. However, the people we are going with are good friends, so I'm sure it'll be fine.

So very roughly the plan is to fly into Atlanta, head to New Orleans and then from there up across the top of Florida and to Charleston for the wedding.

Friday, March 19, 2010

North Yorkshire

For my recent birthday, Gemma hired a car with the idea of going somewhere, possibly Bletchley Park. In the end I decided not to go there, but rather have a drive up into North Yorkshire. We set off reasonably early in the morning after a head-shaving disaster was narrowly averted. Fairly quickly we were off the main roads and heading toward Whitby, through the stunning North York Moors National Park.

At Whitby we swung down the coast toward Robin Hood's Bay, a little gem of a village that winds down the cliff to the beach below. We had a very chilled day poking about on the beach looking in pools, looking for fossils by the cliff and then walking along the clifftop. When we drove into Whitby we were struck by the contrast and quite appalled at the number of people there. We only stayed long enough to get some cash out and then jumped in the car and drove to our ultimate destination, the Fox and Hounds at Ainthorpe. We'd booked a room there the night before, so rolled up late afternoon, checked in and enjoyed a pint.

After a bit of a rest in the room -chilling out at the seaside is an exhausting business, we went back down into the bar and settled in for the evening. And a nice evening it was. Well kept ales and a very lovely meal made me rather happy.

We'd worked out on the previous evening that Andy and Jo were only about 20 miles away so we set off on the Sunday morning to meet them. Unfortunately for their patience but fortunately for us we went the wrong way down the road. This led us on a very circuitous and winding route up and down hills and down tiny roads past tiny farms and villages. Eventually we managed to orient ourselves, with rather more luck than judgement and reached the place we were meeting them. We drove out to a couple of pubs, one of which we had lunch in, somehow managing to squeeze in amongst the Mother's Day diners.

So overall a very nice and chilled out weekend. Thank you Gemma.