Thursday, December 22, 2011

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year

As we write we’re back in Los Gatos staying with our friends Maky and Mark and having a wonderful time with our grandsons Cian and Caleb who just turned 5 and 3 respectively; and catching up with neighbors and friends. Of course, Adele is having a ball meeting up with her vast network of friends from Bridge, Mah Jong, the British Group etc., etc.

For those of you, who are “Followers” of our Blog you know where we’ve been so far; to follow our odyssey around the US over the next 14 months or so, please view our Blog  you can also sign up as a Follower.
Christmas Day we will celebrate with Kilian, Melissa (who is in great good health after her battle with cancer), Cian and Caleb; Tony & Stella and Cearull & Leslie. Then as has become tradition, we will depart on December 26th for the UK where we will celebrate all over again with Jennifer, Karl, Hannah, Molly and Ciaran.

Adele & Tom the RamblingRovers wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Saint Augustine

Saint Augustine boasts of being the oldest permanent European settlement on the North American Continent.
Ponce de Leon claimed Florida for Spain in 1513, between then and 1563 the Spanish sent many expeditions to explore their new colony
In 1564 Fort Caroline was the first French colony in the present day United States. Established in what is now Jacksonville, FL, under the leadership of Rene Goulaine de Laudonniere it was intended as a refuge for the Huguenots. It lasted for just one year before being obliterated by the Spanish after the French had sent boats to attack the Spanish in St Augustine. They were caught in a storm and the attack failed; the Spanish then marched north and slaughtered all the French and called the place “Matanzas” Spanish for “slaughter”.
Once again it was pure luck we hit Saint Augustine on the first weekend in December - this is “the weekend” to visit Saint Augustine, we arrived Friday afternoon. The Holiday celebrations officially start Saturday morning with a Christmas Parade at 10am; we set the alarm to make sure we would not miss it - life can become very relaxed on road. Being the road warriors we now are, we checked where we could park in town on the internet and learned that we could park for 24 hours in the Civic Centre car park for $10. This proved a great decision as we were right in the center of everything and later in the day when it became chilly we returned to the car for jackets and continued our enjoyment.
The Christmas Parade was very good, there were: School Bands, Cheerleaders, Beauty Queens, an Elvis impersonator (singing Merry Christmas), Cinderella (in her crystal coach), religious themed Crib Scenes, The Grinch, Gymnasts, Kick Boxers, a Colonial British Army with their maiden followers in 17th century costumes, a Pirate Ship with a banner “How the Pirates Stole Christmas” - every so often the pirates would fire the canon at the back of the ship, finally on a fire tender - Santa Claus. It was an excellent parade for such a small town.
We then literally walked across the road to Castillo de San Marcos whose history begins on the edge of the known world.  A bastion of the largest empire ever created, the Castillo was built between 1672 and 1695 to protect and defend Spain’s claims in the New World and Spanish Galleons returning with gold, silver, sugar, tobacco, chocolate and pearls from the Privateers (Pirates with a license from other kingdoms). The Castillo was built of coquina a rock/shell natural substance which is so resilient that it withstood cannonballs. Though later caught in the whirlwinds of colonial warfare and intrigue, it was never defeated in battle.  Its scarred walls still stand witness to over 330 years of history and culture.

There was a 17th century British Army encampment set up on the Town Square where they drilled and answered questions, we discovered that one third of the British Army in America in the 17th century were German soldiers on loan from different Princes. This was a business deal; the Prince received a large payment, plus bonus while the soldiers were paid by the British Army.
After lunch we meandered up St George Street a pedestrian only street which is very pleasant, quite narrow and with many old Spanish buildings. Town people in period costumes walk about adding to the atmosphere as that evening an enactment of “the British are coming” is being held. In the center of town there are 3 beautiful building, all were originally hotels built by a man an oil tycoon (partner of Rockefeller in Standard Oil) called Flagler. He visited San Augustine and decided to develop the little town, built his hotels, bought the railroad and arranged for stops on its way south in Florida; this is why San Augustine is such a tourist attraction today. All three hotels surrounded a square that had a formal garden with a fountain in the center. Only one of the hotels functions as a hotel today. The most beautiful building inside or out is Flagler College - a University - the foyer and dining hall are magnificent, adorned with Tiffany glass ceilings and windows and beautifully carved staircases and pillars. 
At 7.30pm we made our way for the Plaza de la Constitucion where Government House is situated and from where the parade was scheduled to start. As we sat on the wall of St. Augustine Basilica we noticed that most people had a lighted candle or lamp in their hands and were informed that the British arrested anyone out after dark that did not have a candle or lamp; we decided to take our chances on not being noticed in the huge crowd of onlookers.  On the dot of eight the festivities started with a speech by the “British Governor” from the balcony of government house, not a word could be heard! On command the soldiers; British in their red and blue coats, Scottish in kilts and Germans in tall brass mitred hats marched down and then back up St George Street to the accompaniment of music played on tin whistles and drums. All followed by civilians dressed in 17th century costumes who, in turn were followed by a motley crowd of 21st century Americans.
This was a fun stop, even without all the fun we experienced this is a lovely, walkable town with lots to see and do.

Friday, December 9, 2011


1 Kevin Barry was an Irish hero
2 Dockside shops
3 Bob's your Uncle, Fanny's your Aunt and 6 to 4 the field
4 Horse and Carriage tour
5 "Gothic" Temple Mikve Israel 
6 The house where "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" was filmed
7 The Cafe where we had afternnon tea
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Tuesday, December 6, 2011


Since we started thinking and planning this odyssey of ours Savannah was prominent among the places we wished to visit. The very fact that we made reservations to return for St Patrick’s Day 2012 before leaving should convey a sense that Savannah was everything, and more than we thought it would be.

Founded on February 12th, 1733 by General James Edward Oglethorpe who carefully planned the city's streets by using a grid pattern with 24 park-like squares, Savannah is a beautiful town whose houses and public buildings are all beautifully restored; many are originals. Oglethorpe was granted a Charter by King George the Second as he wanted a buffer between the Spanish in Florida and the already established English Colony in South Carolina. Interestingly, although one of the Charters main purposes was “to serve as a place where debtors in prison could go to start anew”, nevertheless it prohibited slavery, lawyers, Catholics and hard liquor. We won’t speculate on the prohibition on lawyers and hard liquor; the fear with Catholics was that they would be more loyal to Catholic Spain.      

On our first day we took an excellent trolley tour and purchased a walking tour guidebook that provided greater information about the buildings, monuments etc. at each stop (there were 15 stops). As we had no idea when to hop off we stayed on until almost the end. We got off the trolley at stop #12, had lunch and then walked in reverse along the tour route; taking ample time in all the parks, each of which is not just beautiful, but has its own history. Every park commemorates an event or honors people like Oglethorpe or John Wesley and to our amazement a square is named for an Irish Orator and Patriot Robert Emmet who was hanged for treason by the British for leading an uprising in Dublin in 1803. Emmet Park has a big Celtic cross which was hand carved in County Roscommon, Ireland; this park is central to the St Patrick Day festivities each year. Thanks to a very active group of ladies 22 of the original 24 parks still remain to be enjoyed by locals and visitors.

Some of the highlights of our 2 day walking tour are: Hamilton-Turner House on Lafayette Square where part of the movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil “was filmed, also on Lafayette Square is the house where Juliette Low held the first meeting of the American girl guides (scouts) after she had returned from England where she had meet Sir Robert Baden-Powell the founder of the scouts and guides and been inspired by him to do the same in the United States.  

We also saw the square where Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump sat on a bench waiting for his bus holding his suitcase and box of chocolates; the bench it is now in one of the museums. 

Savannah was also the home of Flannery O’Connor an author we must read up on - she grew up near St John’s Catholic Cathedral.  There are many, many churches of different Christian persuasions in the town; one First African Baptist Church was built by slaves in 1777; each night after working in the fields all day the congregation would walk into Savannah to work on building the church and make its pews, altar and pulpit. Savannah also has the only Gothic-style architecture Synagogue in America Mickve Israel which was built in 1876 in pure neo-Gothic style, reflecting the fashionable architecture of the Victorian era.

This town like most had it fair share of fires yet escaped the fate of other towns during the American Civil War. Sherman’s march to the sea included the taking of Savannah however, rather than putting it to the torch Sherman sent a telegram to President Lincoln on the 22nd of December saying “Mr. President…I beg to present you as a Christmas Gift the city of Savannah”.

The old docks remain where many of the old buildings are adorned with still visible names and advertisements from the 18th and 19th centuries; these have now been transformed into shops, restaurants and hotels. There’s a nice paved walk along the river and towering over this area on the site of the  old cotton exchange is the gold domed Town hall. Savannah was a major exporter of cotton but the boll weevil destroyed the cotton crop and devastated Savannahs economy for many years.

On our second day we shopped, visited a few museums and had afternoon tea in the Gryphon Tea Rooms located in a turn of the 20th century old Pharmacy that was lovingly restored by the Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). The interior is much the same as it used to be; the walls were lined with narrow shelving and part of the lower wall had little wooden drawers with “oint” “sup” and “asp” written on them, the top of the walls had a continuous row of stained glass windows depicting the pestle and mortar, our waitresses (an art student) told us that the windows opened into the offices upstairs allowing the owner to survey and control his domain.

We're looking forward to returning for St Patrick's Day.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Milledgeville, Georgia

Thanksgiving Day we decided to drive east along 1-20 from Atlanta in order to head south along 441 (the Antebellum trail) on our way to Savannah. This trip required an intermediate stop and with the luck of the Irish we picked Milledgeville – inspired! However, in driving along there was not a plantation house to be seen. We pulled into the RV Park which had a pool and a hot tub; things were looking better. The next challenge was where to go for Thanksgiving Dinner – we opted for Ruby Tuesday’s and had very nice seafood platters followed by tiramisu for dessert. So…we will be looking forward to our Turkey dinner at Christmas.

Historic Milledgeville, which was the Capitol of Georgia from 1801-1868 was our destination the next morning and what a lovely surprise this town turned out to be. We picked up a “walking tour” town map from the information center which presented an immediate challenge which way was North, South, East and West on these maps. As #1 was the information office, off we headed for the rest of the tour - each place of interest was numbered, had a little history of the house/building and a line drawing enabling us to know that we were looking at the correct place - this was a great help. On our walk we passed the Old State House, a Gothic building, which now houses the Georgia Military College; this is a most unusual building in a large park. Up and down we walked passing Churches, houses, shops and the Old Governor’s Mansion, we even walked through the graveyard.

As we walked down a residential road we said “hello” to a man who was going into one of the featured houses and he invited us in. This was one of his houses and has been for sale for the past 4 years - he lives elsewhere in the town now. The interior was beautifully decorated and furnished, we remarked on this and he told us his wife is an interior decorator. One notable feature was that the hall is wide, as are the stairs and landing; is this because the ladies dresses were so long and wide in the late 18th early 19th centuries?
He told us that he was a retired psychologist from the State Lunatic Asylum which is near town; this had a patient population of over 10,000 at one time, now there are close to 1,000; makes one wonder if this is the result of cutbacks in the healthcare system. After having taken our leave from this gentleman we noticed that many of the houses on this particular road had “for sale” signs out front.   

Milledgeville is also home to Georgia College and State University which takes up a very large area in the center of town. Built of red brick in the Neo-classical style it is very elegant and is laid out in a lovely parkland setting; one of its features is the Flannery O’Connor Room. This was a very warm day so we frequently sought the shade of the many trees that lined the roads.

We stayed two days in this area and then headed down 441, by-passing Dublin 70 miles to the west of Savannah, and onto I-16 making our way to Savannah.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Asheville NC

1 London bus coffe Shop
2 How much is the doggie in the window ?
3 Office building
4 A restaurant front
5 A view of the valley covered in clouds from our RV Park
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Thursday, December 1, 2011

Asheville, NC and Marietta, GA

On our next journey from Natural Bridge to Asheville, North Carolina we did not gamble on the weather and so opted not to take the Blue Ridge mountain trail, instead we drove down 1-81. Asheville which is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains is definitely a hippy kind-of town, a real gem of a place.

The Blue Ridge Mountains are truly blue; a beautiful blue haze is settled on them all the time. Asheville is famous for its many art deco buildings, with shops like Woolworth’s,  locally owned department stores and cafeterias still with their art deco exteriors but inside they house little shops and boutiques. “The Grove” is a beautiful shopping center whose outside is lined with shops, cafes and restaurants while inside is ascetically tasteful, including five beautiful wood surrounded telephone kiosks lining a wall. Very much a local treasure is the independent, free spirited, old bookstore and coffee shop “Malaprop’s” right in the center of town; it was good to see how busy an independent bookstore can be. A 1.7 mile self-guided walking tour around town features about 30 sculptures portraying the history of Asheville. Thomas Wolfe wrote a semiautobiographical novel “Look Homeward Angel” which was set in his mother’s boarding house and was banned in Asheville for a year. Adele has downloaded it onto her Kindle and started reading it last night to learn why it was banned.

Asheville also boasts the Biltmore Mansion and boy is it expensive to visit - $69 a person, having already visited several mansions in Newport, RI we felt that it was a rip off and instead visited another Asheville landmark “The Grove Park Inn”.  This was renovated recently; the outside is made of large granite boulders in a lovely ginger color, with red clay roof tiles and beautiful views over the town.

Adele was so disappointed that the doors of St. Lawrence’s Basilica were locked on Saturday and could not see the interior that she headed there for Mass on Sunday morning (hope you survive this bit of news Barbara) the Basilica has a very large dome and is beautifully decorated throughout. Sunday afternoon we drove up into the Blue Ridge Mountains and visited the Craft Center which had an array of amazing crafts on display. Once every year a very big Art Fair is held there.

PBS frequently has interesting programs on local history, a local celebrity or a topic of local interest from which we are learning a lot. Our TV is a HDTV and as most RV Parks provide cable we are well catered for. Sadly the Wi-Fi signal is not always reliable, with the park(s) antennae at an elevation of about 15 feet; we are looking into purchasing a signal extender/booster – suggestions most welcome. Another communication problem is that cell phone signal coverage is definitely not national, we have come across many dead spots so sometimes we have cell signal and sometimes we don’t.

From Asheville we transited through South Carolina (no we’re not counting this as a visit and will return in the spring) to Marietta, GA a suburb of Atlanta, where Peg and Norm longtime friends whom we had not seen for about 8 years live. We had a lovely reunion visit with them the Monday before Thanksgiving; we knew that they were flying to Dallas early Wednesday to spend Thanksgiving with one of their sons and family. One thing we agreed on was that we, all four, are looking so well! We have kept in touch through Christmas letters every year but it’s so much better to see our friends in person. 

On Tuesday we went to Stone Mountain State Park with the intention of taking the Swiss Gondola Summit Sky ride which whisks visitors to the top. As luck, or lack thereof, would have it Tom took a right turn instead of a left and we ended up at the foot of a mile and a half hike up the back of the mountain and as we needed a good hike off we went. About halfway up we realized that we were indeed hiking up a mountain. The day was hot and there were lots of people of all ages hiking up and down, obviously a very popular hike. And…well worth the effort as the views from the top (360 degrees) are spectacular, we could literally see for miles. On our return to base camp we drove around to the front of the rock where the large Confederate Memorial Carving of Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on horseback are carved into the mountain.  We discovered that one Gutzon Borglum was commissioned to sculpt this monument and having carved Robert E .Lee’s head and shoulders had a disagreement with the Commissioners and was fired. Shortly afterwards he received the commission to create what is now known as the Shrine of Democracy in the Black Hills of South Dakota where he carved the faces of Presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln on Mount Rushmore. 

The next man to take up the job at Stone Mountain decided to obliterate Borglum’s work and started the now smaller carving. Money was scarce in the South and the two World Wars passed before it was finished. To complete an excellent day with lots of walking we visited the Antebellum Plantation, where numerous buildings portraying different socio-economic backgrounds are on display with period furnishings from that era.