Saturday, June 30, 2012

Mammoth Caves

Disinfecting our shoes as we had visited other caves

Ready for the cold

Tour guide striding away

Stalagmites and stalactites

A very large, scary spider at the exit

Visions of Ireland? A monument to Jefferson Davis
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Monday, June 25, 2012

St Louis Missouri and Springfield Illinois

Once again, we are catching up on friends this time Christine from La Jolla, CA who has just moved to St Louis her old home town after living for 10 years in La Jolla; her son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren live here. One evening we went to see Christine’s 5 year old granddaughter play in a softball game and met the family.

St Louis is called after King Louis lX who was also a Saint; not too many of these - King and Saint! The city was established by the French as a trading post and is where the Missouri and the Mississippi rivers converge into one big wide and busy river with tugs pushing barges in all directions on the river. Christine was our tour guide on our first day when she drove us to Forest Park, which is 500 acres larger than New York’s Central Park; set on top of a hill overlooking the park is the Palace of Fine Arts, originally built for the 1904 World's Fair - the inside of the building is beautiful art in itself - we did a speed walk through the German art collection which is superb. A marvelous statue of St Louis IX overlooks a downhill sloping formal garden with magnificent fountains that are simply breathtaking. Afterwards Christine drove us around very nice residential area where we had lunch in a lovely neighborhood cafe.
Christine is a wonderful cook and we had two excellent home cooked dinners at her home. Hard to imagine that a week before we arrived she had no counter tops and no running water in the kitchen as she was in the process of moving in; we think she was just about in the door the week before we arrived.

The next day we went to the St Louis Arch – as it is more than twice the height of the Statue of Liberty - it is visible from miles away. Also known as the Gateway Arch or Gateway to the West - it commemorates the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and was unveiled in 1965. Made of stainless steel it shimmers in the sunlight especially early morning and at dusk. We took the journey to the top which is a capsule (5 people in each) ride up the inside of the arch (not for anyone with claustrophobia) to an enclosed observation platform; needless to say the views were magnificent with St. Louis looking very small from up there. Once again, the Arch is in a very nice park along the river that has been renovated to cater for tourism.
Shopping was how we occupied ourselves the next day, clothes shopping to be precise which is something we don't do much of at the moment due to lack of space in the RV. However, as we both needed something new in the wardrobe a-shopping we went and it was good.

Springfield IL was our next schedule destination and, while we did not intend to - we cheated by not taking the RV! Of course, we had many reasons the principal one being that there was an RV service garage right next door and we decided not to miss a good opportunity to have the RV serviced. So having made appropriate reservations, we got in the car and drove to Springfield where we booked into the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel right in the middle of town. When we arrived the day was really hot so we spent the afternoon visiting the Lincoln Library, a veritable treasure throve of Civil War memorabilia, had dinner and then explored the town. Springfield is the Capitol of Illinois and looked it; everything is so clean and well kept. The Capitol building is just like an enormous French Chateau transplanted straight from the Loire Valley.
After breakfast the next morning we walked to the Lincoln Museum our reason for going to Springfield was to learn more about the American icon that President Lincoln became. Opened in 2005 it is a 40,000sq ft. recollection of Lincoln's life from the cradle to the grave. In the entrance hall are wax figures of the Lincoln family, a great photo opportunity. Next is a replica of the White House where in a long corridor, from floor to ceiling is covered with reproductions of cartoons and comic strips depicting the range of insults, opponents derogatory remarks and insults all aimed at Lincoln. To us the press was far worse at that time than they are now.  From there we drove to his grave which is very beautiful monument. One can enter into the Mausoleum and view the marble sarcophagus where President Lincoln lies at rest. Thoroughly educational and enjoyable…well worth the trip.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mammoth Caves & Land between the Lakes, KY

Heading south from Lexington there are many Cave attractions, the most famous being Mammoth Caves which has 365 miles of cave trails under a surface area of 44 square miles of the national park - so all is very well set up; nice visitor center and shelters for people waiting for buses. We took the four and a half hour Grand Avenue tour through many different kind of caves, from very narrow passages where one needed to mind ones head, to great big caverns; there was even a cafe underground where we had our lunch. We had a lady guide (about our own age) who marched us at a quick pace for the four and a half hours. At one stage she turned off all the lights and asked us to be silent – it was amazing standing in absolute blackness listening to the sound of silence…a world without light or sound! The NPS Rangers issued many health related warnings before we set off about heart attacks, asthma and various other conditions. There were many other tours from an easy one hour tour to an eight hour caving tour.

From there we drove west to Land between the Lakes - to those in the know - LBL.  LBL is a very long inland peninsula in North West Tennessee and South West Kentucky between the Tennessee River and Lake Kentucky.  The land is managed by the Forest Service for the Department of Agriculture. A trace (which to us means no commercial traffic) intersects in a North/South alignment, along which a revival and regrowth program of prairie grass is ongoing which supports a herd of buffalo and elk in a large enclosed area. In Nature Station there’s a wild life compound with red wolves, deer and many wild birds. We visited at feeding time which was interesting as we watched a turkey vulture run back and forth and bully a vulture by taking whatever piece of food the other vulture had. A 27 year old bald eagle and 4 owls were also housed there - at 5pm we had a parade of owls before being set free for the night in a large barn. Needless to say the owls and one osprey were perched on a handler’s gloved arm! The following day we went for a canoe trip on a Kentucky Lake that had a veritable forest of water lilies that we had to struggle through to get to open water. We were enjoying communing with nature when we heard a rumble of thunder; we quickly head for the pier to return the canoe and the half mile back to the car. Just as we were driving out of Nature Station the heaviest rain we have ever encountered started, at times our vision was no more than 10ft – we would like to have pulled over to wait the storm out, but as all the windows in the RV were open – we had to push on!
We were about 20 miles from the RV and although things were a bit wet but not soaked we dried up and thankfully dodged a disaster.

A lot of our driving is now on secondary roads so we see much more than when on the freeways – we pass through towns and see houses along these roads whereas the Interstates are lined with trees put there for noise abatement yet eliminating any view. We like these byways but sometimes our GPS puts us on roads not suitable for an RV – the GPS is clearly designed for cars.
Now that summer is here and RV Parks fill up at the weekend we have to be conscious of ensuring that we are booked into Parks at least 3 weeks ahead.

Springfield, Illinois, St Louis, Osage Beach (in the Ozarks), Branson, MO, Eureka Springs, Little Rock and Hot Springs, AR are our next destinations.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Kentucky Horse Park

Stagecoach in the Kentucky Horse Park Museum

Rural view around Lexington

Hackeys competing

Worth a Photo?

One of many sculptures around the Horse Park
An Arabian strutting his stuff

The famous race horse Cigar now retired 
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Lexington, KY

UFO or Watertower

Toms Birthday Photo (beard last month)

Adding another State # 36 

Indoor shopping mall in Lexington

Anyone for coffee - "As you like it!"

Horses similar to this in many Lexington shop windows

Someones unfinished castle outside Lexington
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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Kentucky Horse Park

Having descended from the mountains of West Virginia we entered the beautiful rolling hills of Kentucky… replete with white fences, horses everywhere, prosperous looking farms and large houses.

After diligent research Tom discovered the Kentucky Horse Park RV facility on the outskirts of Lexington where there are wonderful facilities for horses; horse boxes galore, outdoor arenas, an indoor arena, a three day eventing course, polo fields, museums and a Hall of Champions where among others we saw the famous horse Cigar – Adele had a chat with him! The RV Park itself has about 200 sites; there’s a large swimming pool, tennis courts, volleyball court and basketball court. However, the most popular game is called corn hole - for those of you who never heard of it - it comprises of two boards (two feet by four feet) tilted at an angle and one pitches a sack of corn weighing about a pound the object of which is to get it into the hole at the top of the slanted board.  Quite large groups of people get together to play - Adele tried it and realized it takes some practice.
On our first day we drove to a Shaker Village in nearby Pleasant Village 25 miles south of Lexington. We had a very interesting day, learning that the Shakers were a group of dissenting Quakers founded and led by a Manchester, England lady named Ann Lee. Having departed England they set up numerous villages throughout the Northeast of the US and spread south into Kentucky. After having joined and signed a covenant men and women (some of whom were husband and wife with children) lived separate celibate lives in large groups called “families”; there were separate hall doors to the large houses, one for men and one for women, women lived on the right, men on the left again separated by two sets of stairs. The original village had 34 building on 300 acres. In the various houses "faker Shakers" as one of the period gowned women informed us practiced the different skills of the Shakers – they were self-sufficient; furniture making (which is still popular), straw bonnets, hat boxes made from wood (now a collectors’ item) and weaving. However their biggest business was in vegetable and flowers seeds.
The Industrial revolution was the beginning of the end of the Shakers as people migrated from agriculture to factory jobs in the cities, of course the celibacy requirement did not help in attracting new recruits.  Similar to the Moravians they believed in equality of the sexes and considered honest work as a prayer.  They had no ministers or preachers - if someone was inspired to stand up and say something at Meeting they did. When they sang songs they twirled around and shook their bodies hence the name Shakers.  Some of their hymns are still sung today, "Amazing Grace" and "Dance, Dance wherever you may be" among them.  Most of us know of the Shakers from the line of furniture they designed. They had 44 miles of dry stone walls surrounding the 300 acres and Adele remarked on this to one of the women to be told it was the Irish who built the walls. As we learned in other places, once  again this Shaker Village was saved by a group of people who got together to preserve this historic place when plans were proposed to build Highway 68 by razing the village.

On another day we took a walk in downtown Lexington which has some nice old buildings, especially an old indoor shopping area and Mary Todd Lincoln’s House. To complete our day we went to the movies in a lovely old, beautifully renovated cinema in the center of town and enjoyed The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel a very funny movie aimed at our age group featuring among others Judi Dench and Maggie Smith. Go see it. We both just finished a good book on the life of Lilly Langtry “Because I loved Him” by Noel B Garson which gives a great insight into Victorian/Edwardian England and the US.
On the recommendation of the Visitors Center we took a drive along Harrodsburg Road to view Keeneland Racecourse and some immaculately manicured famous horse ranches where many Kentucky Derby winners were bred.

Bluegrass Kentucky is most definitely a beautiful State.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Fancy Gap, Virginia

After having driven from coastal sand bars, through swampland and agricultural land to the mountains we left North Carolina and arrived back in the Blue Ridge Mountains staying in a little place called Fancy Gap, VA. And…what a change? We had been in the Blue Ridge Mountains last November when the weather was so foggy that we had to get off the Blue Ridge Parkway after 20 miles of slow dangerous driving; we were very happy to be back at this time of the year. The weather was beautiful - it is a great time to visit - the hills really do look blue in the distance, the new grass is a fresh green/blue color, the leaves on the trees are several shades of green and there are lots and lots of wild flowers everywhere; it all looked so pretty.

Once more we were lucky, as on our first day we went to the Blue Ridge Music Center to a Blue Grass Music Festival – mostly for school age children aged 8 to 18. The Music Center is set in a natural amphitheater with the mountains around as the backdrop; this is in a lovely setting. There’s a covered stage, bring your own seating is in the tall grass on the side of a hill. First up was a little fellow called Carson aged 8, a very talented musician on the fiddle, he was accompanied by his father on guitar and another adult on bass; check him out on his web site www.Fiddling  Carson introduced all the music and sang a couple of numbers - we were amazed at this very talented little fella.
Following acts were: 4 girls who had just graduated from High school, also excellent with a second CD due to be released soon; a family – father, sons and a daughter who were great and four very good dancers. We had a lovely day full of traditional music which we thoroughly enjoyed as the music and dance is similar to our native Irish; just like Ireland we heard songs that told stories - most of the songs seemed to be about lost love or broken hearts. And, you know what they say of the Irish “All their wars are merry and all their songs are sad!”

The next day we turned North on the Blue Ridge Parkway to visit Mabry Mill (originally built and operated by Ed and Lizzie Mabry in the late 19th century) now visited by over 3 million people annually – the Mill Wheel is one of the most photographed places in Virginia. In their original home a lady was carding wool, while another was spinning it and making balls of wool. Ed’s Forge was built of wood except for the fire place, as you can guess sparks set the forge on fire quite often; not to worry with the abundance of trees in the area it took little time to build the next forge. Mabry Mill is a combination timber, grist and woodworking mill (band saws, lathes etc.) the water for which is channeled from the many nearby streams (remember this is at the top of the mountain) into a small canal and then over the large mill wheel. It was fascinating to see how people managed before electricity and how clever and inventive they were.

Memorial Day we drove to Hillsville a relatively big town in the hills where they were holding an enormous Flea Market - as we have little room for chotskies we decided to go for a walk along the river bank which was very pretty, we crisscrossed the river many times.

Our next destination was Huntington near Charleston, West Virginia; as we had a steep climb up to Fancy Gap (3000ft) we were hoping that we had no higher to go – no such luck, there were lots more mountains to come. This was an interesting trip – first off we had another flat tire (caused by valve extensions coming loose),  then on the road we went through an absolute deluge which lasted for 40 minutes or more, followed by an hour long traffic backup (a semi had overturned) we traveled ONE MILE in an hour! The people of West Virginia have a saying “if West Virginia was ironed out flat it would be bigger than Texas” we’re inclined to believe it having driven up and down mountains all day.
Learning from our Memorial Day panic of having no reservations we spent the next day planning our journey as far as Little Rock, AR which we should reach on July 6th.

Old Salem, NC

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