See USA- The Amish in Tennessee

If you have ever wondered about the Amish, this is a post to read!

The Amish are a people that have always been of a fascination for me. We see limited snippets, living in England, in film or perhaps on TV, and always a stereotypical version of what I expected. I wanted to live as close to their community as possible, and learn as much from them as I could in the real world.

Fields ploughed in pleats; fat tomatoes tug heavily on limbs of living green, all tucked up tight in military parade; fields undulate into the horizon with perfect stripes into the distance. Wooden stalls packed with home-grown goods, and open spaces teeming with the well-known cogs of a close-knit community. Everyone assists: men in the back lifting crates of all things to sell—jams, candles, potatoes, watermelons; women on stands selling produce; boys in old-fashioned wagons shifting produce from place to place. An 1800s flashback of movement and simplicity.

At the stalls, the women stand passive in lengthy pastel dresses, white hats hide long hair, never cut. Men wear solid colours and straight-cut suits, and teeth in the young oft look far-gone from a dentist’s arm. Farmsteads with sheds full of scythes and sickles, and horse drawn ploughs, belonging well before our time.

 But still—they are not a ‘strict’ Amish community.

The Amish reside, amongst other places, in Tennessee, Lobelville. There is a very useful place to stay using AirBNB, with Krissie. She lives in Lobelville, in the heart of the Amish community, in a stilted cabin overlooking the beautiful and unspoiled Buffalo River. Our host was a bright personality, brimming with energy and filled with exciting views. We chilled out by the river that afternoon, sharing our beer, and talking the light to bed. Her freckles bunch about her nose as her face pleats into laughter at a joke. She is an amazing woman, full of life and energy, with many fascinating stories: a pleasure to meet.

Krissie has a duck ranch and tries to live entirely from her own land—a fairy-tale dream for many of us. When she isn’t growing crops or harvesting eggs she uses the river for recreation, and is happy to rent kayaks for you to drift down the river back to her personal jetty.

It is worth contacting her about the time you wish to stay, as there is flooding from time to time, hence her keeping ducks rather than any other creatures.

Her AirBnB accommodation is an old RV, and by her own admission is not by any means a five star accommodation. It is simple and sufficed very well. She is keen to meet new people and travellers who share their stories from anywhere. Her cabin and location is enchanting, especially being only about a fifteen-minute walk from the Amish community. Waking in the morning with the wild noises and scuffles of ducks is a beautiful way to be tempted out of dawn’s slumber. There are other more comfortable places to stay in Lobelville, but not in the heart of Amish country here. Afternote:  having been in touch with Krissie, she has mentioned taking down her AirBnB listing in favour of an enduring structure, so I do not know how long this lovely area will be available to stay in.

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The people, as you wold imagine, are simple folk. You are guaranteed to see the black cloth wagons and rustic wooden accommodation in which they live. Many do not have electricity and suffice with old-fashioned outhouses as a toilet. However, they are not a ‘strict’ Amish community, compared to some.

The clothes are very unrevealing despite the incredible summer heat. All the women wear long dresses in simple colours and plain white aprons. They wear basic caps on their heads and never cut their hair, although it was not visible as they wear it tied up. Men wear straight-cut suits or opt for the lighter shirts with braces in summer, and everyone in solid colours. No jewellery in sight.

The timber houses and barns are rudimentary; there are no modern-day amenities to be seen. I would imagine generation after generation live in the same accommodations.  Barns are ubiquitous, with spare metal wagon wheels and antiquated farming equipment—sickles and similar. Nothing electric. Unused bird houses hang from the rafters, ready to be populated. A ginger cat who had lost his tail wonders past, unknowing, but well fed.

They grow their own food, as much as possible. They sell melons, fruit, veg, jams and candles. Many are ‘serve yourself’ honesty stalls, which I felt speaks volumes about the people. The money made from superfluous produce goes towards what they cannot make themselves, but need to survive, such as rice and beans.

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I managed to speak to a number of the locals; some seemed very unwilling to converse with outsiders. I hope I did not break any rules of their community. I learned it is best to enquire first before asking questions, and most certainly before taking photos.

A girl, all in restrained blue and no older than fourteen, mans an ice cream stall. Her light blonde hair wisps about her face as it escapes from her bonnet in the resilient midday heat. “Coffee or peach”, she asks timorously, unknowing how to react to people with strange accents, I guessed. I wonder if the English rarely venture this far, if ever. She was very unwilling to participate in conversation; she answered my questions in monotone, as her eyes wondered purposefully towards the table and her task before her. She looked happier to be engaged in her work than to engage with me in conversation. She watched, with head askew, as we doused ourselves in insect repellent. I suppose they do not have such luxuries, or they learn to live without them. Do you become immune to their bites after a while, or just suffer in silence? She revealed that she was part of an eight-child family and is schooled in the Amish community, but most answers were a very reluctant, ‘umm’, ‘ah-ha’, or straight ‘no’. I didn’t wish to make her feel more uncomfortable so I said ‘thank you’ and left her to man the stall.  The ice cream was fantastic and a release from the incessant heat and humidity during the summer months.

Two young boys were driving a horse wagon nearby. I decided to apprehend them. They were far more open. They were no older than sixteen. They mentioned their job was to ‘raise food’. Their long vowels drew out sentences in an arable stereotype—it was beautifully lyrical to hear them talk as they spoke about their lives as part of the Amish community. Despite their hard work, they took just one trip a day in the evening to ‘cool off’ at the river. It is fairly certain their teeth had never seen a dentist.

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Farther down the road, we met a seller at an organic stall. The farm was enormous, fields must have spanned over a mile as we made our way towards it. She was far more willing to speak, and more open about life in the community. This might be because she was not native to the Amish life, but joined it afterwards as a desirably simple way of living. Her arms folded tight as she spoke, despite her verbal acquiescence—perhaps a sign to the community in which she lived.  She described the waterwheel as a ‘labour-saving machine’, and explained how they have no modern-day equipment such as washer. Instead, they washed clothes by hand using wringer-washers, with no motor, which could take an entire day. She did not seemed phased by the extra work this caused. Her family makes Maple Syrup from the sap of the nearby Maple trees and they keep animals. Much of the produce is shared internally around the community.

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All the women in the community aim to have their babies at home, and she is the midwife with her background in medicine, even though that was not her speciality.  Originally, her history is medical, and she serves the needs of the community in this manner. She mentioned that they have a communal vehicle, which is used for medical emergencies and travelling to family, as far as New York State. They travel locally using ‘buggies’. They are an hour away from the nearest hospital and they have, on average, fourteen babies a year in the community, but the C-section rate is far lower than the country’s average (3% rather than 25%). She felt this was due to the people being in good health, but mentioned ‘it is nice to have a hospital there if you need it’.

Generally, she mentioned, the people there have large families; she has five children, and more than 50 acres to tend to grow crops; it made me wonder the ratio of farming to schooling the children had in the community, but I felt it would be inappropriate to ask.

Interestingly, the people we met who were not part of the Amish community, all seemed to adopt a similar way of life; growing their own food, living away from the hum-drum of modern society, and home-schooling their children.

The area we were staying by the river felt very tranquil, but in the late afternoon, we heard a number of gunshots. We did not know whether this was normal, being that the gun laws in the USA are far more lax than in the United Kingdom. It was frightening not knowing which directions the shots at wildlife were being fired. Krissie, thankfully, shared our views, and was keen to stop the shooter.  Two sheriffs greeted us in Krissie’s residence to find out more information about the anonymous shooter. It was a pleasure to meet them, and they made us feel far safer. The sheriffs gave us a hug and a picture and went to deal with the person shooting wildlife. It is good to know the law is so strict in the area, and that the vicinity was well protected.

It was incredibly refreshing to see a community where everyone knows one another, and everyone has their place. I compare it to England, where, in most cases people all have their flat screen TVs and two storey brick semis—or similar— with square back gardens, filled with flowers and green grassy areas, ever so slightly overlooking next door’s sitting area. We all have food enough to feed our family, no matter what happens. People do not depend on one another as they once did, they do not need to, but that is not a reason for community to be lost. Does need drive the neighbourhood-ly bond? This bond, to me, seems part-and-parcel to human existence, and it worries me what will happen if people learn to live without this love for others around them.

All photos taken with Lumix TZ80.

 

New Orleans and Plantations

If you are going to New Orleans or the area, make sure you read this first!

New Orleans

The city that defies America in a clash of colour, music, life. It is oozing culture from every street corner. The French quarter feels truly French with its filigree balustrades and shuttered windows—this centre of the city is filled with gossamer handrails. Foliage drapes over balconies; emerald waterfalls into the street.  This city didn’t have the hugeness and exaggeration of most things ‘American’ but was more of a pinch of finely selected herbs, delicate and very nearly European. The streets feel quaint and unassuming; a territory of quaintness, with its yoghurt pot colours—a western vibe, in fluorescent. There were ladies on bicycle wagons with colourful neckerchiefs, alive in art with the numerous galleries to be found around the centre.

It feels as though the outside world always associates New Orleans with the terrible tragedy of Katrina, but the people, and the city pulses with vibe and positivity—cheer, even. It is a city seeming to want to forget the bad and move on to the better.

Most of all, the area is not threatening. It is a very comfortable place to wander through. Despite staying on the outskirts of town, in what some may call a ‘questionable area’, we found the people to be very friendly, and more interested in us and what we were doing as tourists rather than causing us any trouble. The locals were excellent fun to converse with, and many had never met a person from England, which was an interesting experience for them.

It is also worth seeing the flea market in the French Quarter, and Audubon Park, which has a different vibe entirely. A Segway tour is a good way to see the city, taking you to all the major sites. Complete with training and knowledgeable guide. Summer is a bit warm for such an excursion though, unless you feel heat is not an issue. City Segway Tours is one of others to choose from.

At the waterfront can be found a softer atmosphere. A more laid back life, watching the Mississippi flow by. But this is still not devoid of culture. Listen out for the tones of the Natchez’s boat pipes, belching out tunefully from the riverside for a mile around. These are played by a pianist on the roof of the ferry. The boat itself seems to be driven by waterwheel and entirely made of wood but, as the waterwheel was running steadfastly when the boat was stationary, this may be a deceptive driving force of the vessel. Tickets can be brought from the water’s edge and you can take musical experience up and down the river. Even if you do not decide to ride, the atmosphere is enchanting.

Many people associate the city with its history in Voodoo. There is a Voodoo museum you can visit in the city. There was a lot of information which negates the classical idea of Voodoo, and although worth seeing, it was a dusty collection, and far smaller than expected.

The Mardi Gras festival, held in February, is the pinnacle of the year, although we were not lucky enough to be there during the festival itself, I understand it is a memorable and very colourful parade where the streets come alive with masked people, costumes and floats.

Plantations

Around the New Orleans area can be found a number of plantation houses. If you don’t have access to a vehicle, then there are numerous places offering excursions to visit one or more from the city. These will often pick you up from your hotel and give you a lift back afterwards.

We visited the Evergreen Plantation in Wallace, Louisiana. which is what I believed to be one of the more well-known houses, due to its use in films locations for movies such as Django Unchained and hit series such as the new Roots, although this is one of a choice in the area.

The campus of Evergreen is enchanting with its abundance of the charming moss-draped trees that can be seen lining the long driveway. They remind me of hump-backed old ladies with weather-beaten faces; the ones who speak to no one and drape too many shawls over their shoulders, struggling with twenty shopping bags. And you wonder whether they have a home to go to as they pass you by.

There are grasshoppers the size of your hands that are fairly happy to be handled if you have bug-lovers in the party, and both outhouses, slave houses and machinery that has been saved from the time when this was a working plantation house.

Best part of all was the tour guide, a local, with all the charm, character and enthusiasm that you would hope for in a place with such a colourful history. He spoke melodiously about the architecture, the history of the slaves and their jobs around the plantation, the machinery, the local area, the foliage, the families who had inhabited the house over the years, the use of the location in film and TV, and he did it all as though it was the first tour he had ever taken. He was very informed, and his talk made the trip very worthwhile, despite being so far out from the city.

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There are also numerous books and photographs lovingly labelled in the reception which detail more information to fill in the gaps between the talk. You can spend as much time perusing these as you wish, plus, if you sign the visitors’ book then your next visit is free of charge. The Plantation has seen several major stars in its time, not including those on film location, including the likes of Patrick Stewart. Interestingly, although the exterior of the house was used in a number of films, the interior wasn’t, due to its deceptive smallness, which could not be guessed from looking only from the outside.

Pictures captured using Lumix TZ80, August 2016. Apologies for the focus, it was the first time I had used the camera, and with far too much enthusiasm, I took pictures which were terrible quality. Best viewed small! Later are much improved.

 

Florida, USA

Florida: the first of 11 states we travelled through this summer.

In a nutshell—what to say?

Hmmm.

I’m going to outline our travels around Florida 2016; the first of 11 states in our travels this summer. I hope to give you a feel of each of the places we visited, being Miami, Everglades, Kennedy Space Center and a lovely pretty island called St Georges. Then a bit of advice about weather, accommodation, dangerous things and other useful stuff. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, I feel a bit of poetry is always in order!

Into the undergrowth:

Airless humidity.

Tangles of mangrove forests and thick-legged spiders.

Scampering crabs and the shy shadows of manatees.

The lurking, blank menace of an alligator’s gaze,

And logs with senses sitting stock-still on a ripple of water.

 

A wild raccoon resting in a tree,

Humbly takes food from a human hand.

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Into space:

Gasping humidity.

 

Space shuttles spanning 10 buses in length,

Stonking great exhausts and silver sided space ships,

Pieces of moon rock and meteorite and astronauts’ suits.

 

I wonder: the future.

The wonder: what is out there?

 

In the suburbs:

Rows of metal mailboxes all standing sentinel,

The dense urban musk of day-old sun-warmed garbage

Hanging morosely like five-day-old body odour.

 

Diamond-touched beaches,

Breeze-tickled palms.

Sand stretching into blue and beyond.

Oh, and did I mention the humidity?

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Those are the images I get when I think back to Florida.

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-Miami-

We stayed in South Beach (SoBe). The air was rank with gently roasted garbage and warm sewage— having lived in the mild-climate of England for most of my life, this is not something I am used to. The locals seem to barely notice the stench as they pace on by in their daily routines.

As for many of the streets, you could be in almost any city in the world—almost any—the humidity and temperature was certainly notable, but the one thing that sold it for us, the one thing that set it apart from many of the other cities in the world, were the beaches.

What fantastic beaches!

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It’s palm tree paradise, and they’re so expansive, there was always a guarantee of finding a quiet spot if you’re willing to use your legs. Muscle beach was also a great place to sit and watch for a while—although it is probably more interesting for those who are attracted to men!

We found Miami to be much of a maze of one-way streets—which can make using buses a tad troublesome if you don’t check the timetable correctly. Walking seems to be the best way to get around in SoBe, but a bus is needed to get to the main city. We used a tour company to make sure we would not miss any of the best sights of the city: Miami to the Max.

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The tour did do exactly as advertised, but I wouldn’t have said there was very much ‘max’ about it; perhaps the name is a small part misleading. The tour stopped off at a variety places in SoBe and in the main city and we were able to mark them on our satnav to explore the next day with more time. On the tour, the art deco district was of particular interest, with its graffiti streets and walkways.

We saw Little Havana where we watched locals compete at Dominos and we brought a cigar from a heavy-smelling Cuban cigar shop—and we don’t smoke—they just smelled that good! We also visited a typical Cuban-style restaurant and had a traditional lunch. We thought it was wonderful—but then we had been living on saltines, sweet corn and almonds for nearly a week, so I am probably not the best to take opinions from!

We paid for a bundle to see the Stars’ islands boat tour. It was interesting, especially if you follow the lives of stars. Not something me or my husband do so we just enjoyed the air conditioning and views. The only problem we found was the person on the loudspeaker who was very difficult to hear against the engine of the boat; we felt we missed a lot of the commentary—which if we knew more about celebrities, might have been a real disappointment. You can sit on the open top deck but we saw people coming down afterwards looking like they were going to faint from the heat. Perhaps not recommended in the summer months…

-Everglades-

For us this was a whirlwind tour. We arrived late one afternoon and left the following morning, but it is surprising just how much you can fit into such little time if you keep busy.

Once again, we decided it was best to take some of the excursions. It seems difficult to see the area otherwise—especially in such a short time. On the afternoon we arrived we jumped onto one of Captain Jack’s Airboat tours. These are speedy air raft things that make a colossal noise and as they race through the natural mangrove channels; they are exhilarating. Despite being noisy, we still managed to spot some wildlife on our tour; the captain had an uncanny wildlife-dar and slowed the boat down well before so as not to spook anything. I was pleased to spot two alligators and a wild raccoon up close. The captains carry animal feed in their pockets and have partially tamed the raccoons who are happy to come out for a tasty morsel. We managed to take a few snaps. Some advice though: hold onto your hats, use the ear defenders (unless Tinnitus is now fashionable), and don’t take non-waterproof cameras. A well-tethered GoPro or similar is the only thing I would advise. Oh and hold on tight—to anything and everything.

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There are many mangrove and grassland tours to choose from, but Captain Jack’s included entry to an animal sanctuary which we were able to view after the airboat tour. At the sanctuary they had hourly alligator shows and we had the opportunity to hold a small gator.

We had planned to go on a Ten Thousand Island Tour  the next morning, but sadly it had to be cancelled. It was supposed to take us around the thousands of tiny mangrove islands spanning out towards the sea. There was also supposed to be the possibility of seeing dolphins. Instead we joined a more intimate and nature-focussed mangrove tour on a far smaller and quieter boat from the same company.

The boat could navigate into some of the really tiny channels and the chance of seeing wildlife is far likelier than on the airboat tours. We were lucky enough to see manatees and several alligators. There were also some frighteningly large spiders, some of whom had made their stretchy home right across the channel where our boat was traversing—we made a speedy head swerve to avoid getting a spider-plastered-on-the-face job. In hindsight, this might not be the best trip for those who suffer from arachnophobia.

The tour was very interesting and our guide very knowledgeable, but we were disappointed that we ended up having to pay extra for this tour—we felt they probably should have swapped this tour for the cancelled one and not charged the extra $10 as it was their fault we couldn’t go on the booked-tour we had been hoping for.

We stayed in a very nice motel called Everglades City Motel. It was spacious, clean and offered free use of Wi-Fi and bicycles. One of the guests said he had been going there for twenty years and he felt this was the best motel in the Everglades area—but I couldn’t vouch personally for the accuracy of this as we didn’t stay anywhere else.

The people there were very friendly—we met several, one of whom offered to take us out on his personal boat with beers the next day and go fishing around the ten thousand islands. This is something we would have loved to do (especially as our tour there was cancelled) but our itinerary was too packed—on these rare occasions some flexibility when travelling is very handy.

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The motel advertised ‘free use of bikes’ however we soon found this wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. We had planned two hours in the evening to cycle a short route around the area but once we saw the bikes we had to significantly lower our expectations; we barely made it around the next corner. All of them were rusting through or had no breaks (or both). None had working gears and the wheels wouldn’t turn on some of them. We tried to borrow the two best but couldn’t manage to get farther than several hundred yards before they packed in and were utterly unridable.

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-Space Coast-

We stayed in a place called Coco which we chose due to its proximity to Kennedy Space Station and price (locations closer to the station were dramatically more expensive). We had a wonderful time staying in a room of a house belonging to a local—we loved using AriBnB for this reason—what a way to meet the locals (and their many pets)! We also wanted to see what life was really like in suburban America (as we see on the television in England)—and we got to live there with a local and were fed so much cake we thought we could never face confectionary again. A lovely lady.

In Coco there was also a planetarium close-by which we felt suited the tenor of our visit well. This would be a great place to take a family—especially because of all the interactive exhibits to play with before the show. I also understand there is a really nice beach close by, but we didn’t have time to check it out.

Kennedy Space Centre is well worth a trip if you have the slightest interest in space and exploration or if you have a young family. There is easily a day’s worth of activities on just the basic ticket, but you can also pay a little more to do some really exciting things such as have lunch with an astronaut. Tickets can be bought well in advance and I would recommend this because the ticket queues were quite long, and you will want to make the most of the whole day (rather than waiting unnecessarily in queues).

Most outstanding activities during the day were the imax shows, the fake launch, the Atlantis, the bus tour and the rockets on show outside (where we took many fantastic piccies).

I left convinced I should have directed my degree towards the sciences and become an astronaut! I was revaluating all my life choices. Is there any chance they need librarians in space to categorise space-y stuff? I doubt it. Doh.

-St. George’s Island-

St Georges was supposed to be a fairly random stop between long driving days—a nothing special kind of stop—a night to collapse for respite before continuing travels the following day—kind of stop. It ended up being far more than that for both of us.

My husband and I are always looking out for potential places to move to that are warm and cultured. Almost every place we have travelled to hasn’t made the cut for one reason or another (Switzerland came the closest but we decided it was too expensive). St. Georges was different. We both felt we could have lived here. There is something tranquil about the vibe of the place, something special.

We stayed in AirBnB property ‘Bay View Room#1, St. George Island’ with John. I would thoroughly recommend staying there if it is still listed and available. John, (the owner) is a very likeable man who has an extremely quirky property; it has little carousel sitting areas, a pretty blue trim and the self-named staircase-of-completely-safe-but-uber-scary-doomy-doom. He keeps lots of charming parrots (who frequently find themselves on your shoulder), plus has a hundred and one stories to tell—we would have just loved to stay longer and spend more time with him. He’s the sort of person who would be great to share some beers with on a winter’s night up on the widow’s walk. Room was nice with lovely view. There is a large living space shared with a maximum of three other couples but bathroom and bed is private. Place was very unique and (we felt) rammed with charm.

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It is a short walk to the better-than-beautiful beach which seemed to be very quiet and private, and we had a strong suspicion from people-watching that it is mostly used by locals. It was a relief to have some respite from the tourist scene.

Now to pad it all out a bit if you have the reading time…

Weather

 Hot and humid but not unbearable. Of course I can only speak for the summer months when we were there (July/ August). We were forecast rain and storms every day, but actually found that rain showers tended to be intermittent: short and hard with swift return to the sun. These showers cool everything down for a short time but equally leave everything uncomfortably humid afterwards. Sun is strong; I suggest a sun brolly if you tend to burn easily, and lots of sun cream, of course.

Bity Things

Yes. Nothing but a minor inconvenience for some, but happen to be my premier nemesis. I swell up like a weather balloon and look like I have caught some blotchy lake lurgy—not a sure-fire way to do the cool look! Two months later and I still had marks from the ones in Everglades.

There is also one other reason you have to be careful—mozzies can carry nasty stuff. Yup, someone I know fell ill and suffered hallucinations from a mozzie bite. They were very sick.

I have travelled to Laos and Thailand and Vietnam and Cambodia and lots of other places with mozzies but I have never known them as tenacious as the ones in Everglades; they will do anything to get to their red nectar. The Everglades beasties bite though clothes, they don’t give a flying whatsit how much insect repellent you are wearing or how strong it is; they just grit their fangs and bear it. They are the vampires of the sky. My ankles were so swollen after that night that I couldn’t put my shoes on properly. Beware! There is only one way to avoid the worst of them: stay indoors after sunset. They are not too bad at all during the day but appear in their masses after dark. Just DON’T venture out. It’s not worth it! Stay indoors after dark.

Other things that bite are spiders and snakes, including the dreaded black widow. There are lots of them in the more remote places, but you are pretty safe in the cities. Be careful walking through long grass and anywhere off paths. It is very true that if you avoid them then they will most often avoid you.

Another thing that gives a really good bite are alligators, and yes, they are abundant in some places in Florida, but we never felt threatened by them because we never got too close. It’s the same rule again; don’t get near them and they won’t get near you. I’m also pretty sure they don’t go for anything that‘s not in the water, so stay well clear of the water’s edge and keep all hands and feet inside boats at all times.

Last thing that we came across (and luckily weren’t touched by) is poison ivy. As they say, “Leaves of three leave it be…” Although it doesn’t bite, it can leave a nasty rash and some people can have a dangerous reaction to it. At least I’ve never seen a poison ivy that can chase after you—that would make one hell of a YouTube vid though.

Food

Food is always an inconvenience for us. I often wish all bodily functions would cease during travelling. It would make life an awful lot easier. I am the antonym of a gourmet; I find eating an inconvenience when on the road. I aim to find the cheapest and least time consuming way of fulfilling my nutritional needs and then move on. I have been known to snack on a whole cucumber, chomping into it like one would an apple, so I am not the best person to ask about food unless you are similarly minded.

Cities are generally not the place to achieve this food efficiency. In South Beach where we were staying there were no large supermarkets; they were all small and selling poor quality produce at extortionate prices. If you have a car it would easily be cheaper to drive out to shop if you are looking to stay at least a few days and can stock up a little.

Lidl type stores seemed to be the best on price. Walmart was very cheap for junk food, but veg and fruit is expensive. Shockingly, we found it most expensive to eat healthily; you could buy eight large pieces of fried chicken for the price of one small bag of cherries. Interestingly, we also found people in the country were fatter than people in the cities even though eating healthily is so much more expensive. When we first arrived in Florida we purchased a cheap pan and one ring stove. This meant we could cook our own meals which saved us some money. Eggs were good value everywhere so we ended up with a very yolk-y diet for a while. We hardly ate out.

The people

The least friendly we had met of our travels, but I only say that because people didn’t go out of their way to meet us. People weren’t as interested unless there was money involved; in Florida there is huge tourism—people come from all around the world to be there—so I didn’t find this surprising; they must have met a million English people in their working lives and each one is pretty much like the last, I guess. In comparison, most other places in America people seemed really keen to meet us and get to know about our lives in comparison to their own, as we were theirs.

Travel

Buses around Miami itself didn’t seem too bad: they were on time, comfortable and clean. There is no subway that we could find, presumably because the land is so marshy. Taxies, as always, are expensive (for cheapskates like us anyway!). The rest of the time we had a car which is the transport method I would recommend, even in Miami. We didn’t use the public transport in Florida after we picked up the car so I couldn’t comment on the other places we visited—didn’t see a single bus in Everglades though.

Accommodation

Hotels seemed really expensive to us, many over $200 per night. Even hostels didn’t look that much better if you didn’t want a dorm room. We’re not willing to pay too much when we would only be in the room to put our heads on a pillow. If you look around there are some much cheaper Airbnb places. Some have some nice perks, for example, ours in Miami had a saltwater pool.

Hang on, that’s the first of 11 states we visited. (Although oddly enough we never noticed when we were travelling through two of them!). Guess I will catch you up on the rest of our travels another day.

Photography taken with Lumix TZ80 and GO Pro Hero 4 (fish-eye lens).

More than happy to answer any questions.

 

Travel USA- Florida to New York

We’re road tripping from England to the USA this summer: Florida to New York (with a bit of Deep South thrown in for good measure).

After ten years of travelling the globe at every opportunity, I felt it was time to share my experiences and some of the things we have learnt along the way.

The summer Holiday

2 weeks, 3 days, 21 hours, 56 minutes and 38 seconds to go; the travels crawl closer.

Working in a school means I am privileged to take time during the long breaks to soak up the splendours of the world. When the winter frosts subside and the winter months slip away, I feel it inch closer. When the daffodils rise in spring and the blue bells paint the fields blue, I know it steps closer. When we exchange scarves for sun cream and when the sun lights the world until 2 hours to midnight, then I know it is imminent.

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My colleagues decide to spend their holiday time in different fashions—some people travel to one sunny place with a pool and sunbeds and all inclusive everything. They roll from side to side like a grilled sausage turning various shades of maroon and finally returning brown. Some people lounge around their houses all day, every day, and remain very white indeed. They spend all their energy growing—sideways.

 

Me, I live for the holidays, it’s the time I can spread my wings, stretch my legs, and T.R.A.VE.L. It is the most important thing to me bar my husband, family and good friends. It is the sober ecstasy of living. Me, my husband, a rucksack filled with the small necessities and I am absolutely in my element.

It is the adult’s version of the night before Christmas—but the anticipation never outweighs the moment, and the memories are cast in amber. This yummy little fizz of exhilaration is very predictable this way; if I wait too long I will burst like grape too full of nectar.

Let me introduce you to our travels this summer:

For our July/ August 2016 adventure we are visiting the USA again. Our last USA trip was a road trip with a  camper through 7 states in Western USA to see Vegas, LA, Yellowstone and canyon country. This year we are staying more to the south and East and are doing it using AirBnB. This is roughly our route (thanks Google maps):

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Where are we staying?

Over the month that we are travelling, we’ll be staying in some pretty quirky places including a tree house in the middle of the Smokies, an old RV in the middle of Amish country, someone’s garage, and a tiny ‘chalet’ that looks suspiciously like a garden shed!

AirBnB has been a very positive experience so far; planning has been easy, with most hosts replying within 24 hours and providing us with plenty of information. I can’t wait to meet them and put a person to our conversations.

What will take the mileage?beetle-155267_1280

We are looking to hire a small car—something Focus-sized. Last time in America we hired a gas-guzzling camper and fuel was expensive, not to mention having to fill up several times with every journey. Despite this, the camper was ideal for the last trip because we were able to kip in some pretty epic places in Canyonlands and thereabouts. We also chose a quirky company who spray-painted their vans with vibrant designs called Escape Campervans; this worked as a great ice-breaker with people. This time we are seeing more cities so a camper isn’t ideal, plus it was six times the price and campsites still had to be paid for despite having living accommodation on wheels. Another thing the camper did not have is air conditioning. It was sweatily missed.

So, how much does a small car set you back? If you are doing our journey, then we found ours for just over £400 for 30 days with Alamo.

You are probably wondering how we found it so cheaply? Firstly, check EVERY car rental and secondly, check a few variations of your route; we found travelling south to north was half the price of travelling north to south. Presumably this is because everyone wants to start cooler and gradually get warmer, so cars travelling the other way are cheaper because you are saving them the bother of getting the cars back to point A.

How are we packing?

Backpack is the preferred choice. Why? Because they are easy to carry between places where suitcases are awkward and cumbersome. They also have the added advantage of segregated storage so it is easier to find the little things that always get lost in the vast expanse of suitcase-dom. Only disadvantage; they often have to be checked in to over-sized baggage which is a separate kiosk in the airport and I always worry they might get lost—has not happened yet!

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Rookies’ first lesson—if there are two or more of you, make sure you pack a few essentials into another person’s bag. These essentials should be enough to last you a few days, making sure you include any important meds. Why? Sometimes, just sometimes, a bag will get lost in transit. If you are unfortunate enough and this happens to you then at least you will have some panties to tide you by until they can send your luggage to you.

What do we pack?

This depends very much on what you are doing. I have about six different packing lists depending where in the world I am travelling and what I am doing. For America a few essentials, as far as I am concerned, include good old English tea and powdered milk (because it’s impossible to find a good brew over there and creamer is not the same as milk). A copy of all paperwork electronically on a  phone or cloud, plus a paper copy in each person’s backpack. Paperwork is one of the most important parts of the trip, without it you won’t get far. On the note of paperwork, English travelers will need to purchase an ESTA to travel to the states, which are fairy easy to obtain and I recall costing about £14.

I always like to have independent cooking facilities so we have a one ring travel hob and kettle we take with us and we buy pots and pans there to save space. These items are slightly heavier and bulky but if you travel light then it isn’t a problem. The stodgy American burgers and things don’t digest so well with me so at least I have the freedom to whip up something else. You may ask why when we are renting apartments – because many of the apartments class ‘cooking facilities’ as a microwave and a small fridge; check the small print.

Sewing kit and string—you wouldn’t believe the uses.

Head torches are also great because they leave your hands free—just be careful not to blind your partner by looking them in the eyes!

Cool bag and mini freezer blocks are essential if travelling long days without a fridge and you want to keep some refrigerated items.

For all trips where the climate is warm I take antihistamines; these stop me blowing up like a puffer fish whenever I get bitten. I also take a small pipette bottle of virgin olive oil to soften ear wax applied every night for a week before flight; it only takes one bad flight to realise why that is essential.

Medicines can become easily mixed up, especially if you have quite a few for a long trip. To remedy this I use zip-up freezer bags. Each one I label according to their contents; too much in or out (anti-sickness, diarrhoea, constipation meds), travel meds (including disposable toothbrush for long flights and travel sickness meds and face wipes, making sure everything is below the ml limit for commercial flights) etc.You can see how that goes…

My best advice is to pack light and wash more when it comes to clothes. Washing can be done pretty easily in most places and doesn’t take too long. Always leave at least enough space to take some memorabilia home, or take old clothes that you don’t mind dumping to replace with new ones (this also doubles up as memorabilia).

So where exactly did you say you were going?

Miami

As I say, this is our second trip to the USA; at the end of it we will have ticked off 16 states. We have a flight from Manchester, England to New York return (returns are always cheaper, sometimes even if you don’t need the return leg). Then we are taking a plane from NY to Florida, Miami. We are staying on South Beach; what looks to be the beachy peninsula from Miami. It is a little way to the main city, but we have always preferred a bit less of the city anyway. We are renting a typical Miami apartment for two days. Highlights include jet skiing around the mansions of the Miami islands, tandem cycling around the city and a boat tour.

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Everglades

We drive to Everlades where we squeeze a lot into 24 hours including a mangrove tour and a 10,000 island tour. I am also hoping there will be time to rent a bike and cycle some of the local boardwalks, as our motel  (no AirBnBs in the area) has a free cycle service. We will also drop in on a gator reserve and take a few snaps (hopefully not receive them!)

Kennedy Space Center

We will then take off to the Kennedy space center where we have found a charming man nearby who we can join watching the rockets launch from his back porch. We have also pre-booked (recommended) a day trip to the center itself to get completely spaced out.

Deep south

From here we travel west, a long way west, to the deep south. We will adventure by segway soaking up the mood in the city of New Orleans. Following this we turn north to Memphis ; former home of the king of rock and roll, I believe, where we are a staying with another wonderful person near the city center who has a beautifully quirky residence with themed rooms.

Amish Country (Tennessee)

We then head onward to the Smoky Mountains, casually heading north Washington-wise. There’s a brief stop in Amish country where we’ve hired an old RV on a river; we’ll hike and fish and kayak and explore our wilderness-y roots after visiting the Amish markets and learning about their way of life.

Smoky Mountains

 Once in the Smokies we will see the Dixie Stampede dinner show in Pigeon Forge and feed some goats—who are said to reside on a roof! We will visit a ghost town and climb the highest point in the Smokies: Clingmans Dome. In the evening we’ll kick back in a tree house and watch the starry firmament unravel and catch it all on our new GoPro. On our way out of the Smokies is when we will be staying in the ‘Chalet’ which is clearly a garden shed. Needs must and all that, none of this five star absurdity for us British folk; we like to pee in in wilderness and sleep under the stars—well, at least two of us will put up with it for a good time.

Washington and New York City

We head to Washington and the Capitol for a whirlwind tour guided by yours truly before spinning up to the city that never sleeps where we have a private tour to peak at the off-limits exhibits in the Natural History Museum (which was very kindly organised by a friend enthusiast and collector- thank you Andy!). Of course, we will see all the tourist sites and are staying in a room smaller than a ferry cabin because everywhere is very expensive.

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Not our usual style as there are so many cities involved. I am an English country lass after all and cities always make me feel claustrophobic, but you can’t see a country without seeing its cities—it is all part and parcel.

50 hours driving, over 3000 miles, and I think I counted 9 states. Apologies America, here come the English! 🙂

Only 2 weeks, 3 days, 20 hours, 30 minutes and 48 seconds to go… closer again!

(Many thanks to www.pixabay.com for the images- I will put up some of my own after I have them!)