Road Trip back to Romin

Minnesota

Saturday morning in Minneapolis dawned cool but fine – a good day to get back on the road again. After fuelling up with breakfast at our accommodation we caught a lift back out to the airport with the complimentary shuttle service – very handy. We found our way back through the airport and had to catch the light rail through to the rental car / car parking terminal – very handy. With rental car keys in hand we found our way to the car and out onto the Minneapolis freeway – to head south. It was getting on for 11am before we got on the road, but we were on the road again – albeit in not in Romin. Our main route south out of state was Highway’s 169 and 15 – this took us through the south side of Minneapolis and in a south westerly direction to the bottom of the state. Remembering that there has been snow across the state and most lakes looked to be all iced up, we were surprised to see the amount of harvest not yet in – corn field after corn field. Before long our vista was all about the harvest as we passed paddocks with combiners busily cutting the corn / maize, and or getting ready to move to the next paddock – taking the window of opportunity that the weather was presenting – cool, but sunny and fine (but with snow on the ground in the shadows). I can’t recall how long it took, but I think the 15 took us the best part of 2 hours to traverse down to Fairmount. If you blinked you would have missed the fact that we had soon driven out of state – the landscape from state to state just fuses together.

Iowa

Iowa’s landscape wasn’t too dissimilar to that which we had experienced trekking south out of Minnesota. Highway 15 was a quieter, secondary type road – the occasional small town appeared, but for the most part the landscape continued to be paddocks of corn – either harvested, being harvested, or to be harvested. Intermixed with the corn was a mix of Ethanol production sites, and Hog (Pig) farms. Yep, the air had that smell about it – maybe it was the still conditions, but the smell of pigs and pig farms, or maybe ethanol, or both, hung in the air most of the time we were in Iowa – not quite how you expect to recall / reflect on a state. We found a fun addition to all of this – one of the areas was obviously a large Pop Corn producing area – and promoted itself accordingly. We pushed south on the 15 – we made our way to the small town of West Bend. Carol had found this spot on the internet, and wanted to visit the local grotto.

The Shrine of the Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend Iowa is a little gem, or should I say, massive collection of gems, to behold. The Father of the church – Father Dobberstein, had taken very ill shortly before his priestly ordination. The Father sought the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary in his prayers, to heal him from the serious illness he was inflicted with. In his prayers he made a promise that he would subsequently build a shrine in honour of the Blessed Mother should his prayers be answered. Answered they were, and around the 1900’s, Father Dobberstein was assigned to the church in West Bend. For the next 10 years he started to collect rocks and precious stones from all over the world, and in 1912, he started construction of the Grotto next to the church. For the next 42 years (when he passed away), Father Dobberstein laboured away with only minimal help (a local parishioner and the future Father of the church Father Greving), supported Father Dobberstein with the construction of the grotto, in between church commitments, to erect the Grotto that stands today. Originally intending to only construct one grotto, the work overtime became more and more of a mission. People who stopped to watch, praised his unique vision and the beauty of his finished craft, especially the artistic use of precious minerals and petrification’s.

Leaving donations, this motivated Father Dobberstein to continue his work and to create in stone ‘the whole story of the fall of man and of his redemption’. Over time, 9 grottos were constructed, made from a collection of precious stones, crystals and marble, gems, minerals and petrification’s. The amazing thing is that the structures were all pretty much built by hand – the first mechanical equipment / hoist wasn’t introduced until the late 1940’s. To see it is to believe it – and then to understand how it was built is another thing. Might sound a bit corny, but this place truly is a gem. Father Dobberstein passed away in 1954, with the local parishioner and Father Greving furthering the work of Father Dobberstein after his death. The grotto is the largest man-made grotto in the world, and is sometimes referred to as the ‘eighth wonder of the world’. Its collection of gems and precious stones is the largest anywhere in one location. Unfortunately some damage has been done here and there – people have taken pieces of stone / gems, but for the most part the grotto is still intact, and open for all to visit. A large bronze statue of Father Dobberstein stands over the grotto – nice touch. West Bend itself isn’t really a landmark you would hunt out, but people in their thousands do every year to visit the peacefulness and wonder that is the Grotto of the Redemption.

Feeling fortunate for our experience here in West Bend we pushed south on Highway 15 and some other secondary roads to the junction city of Denniston. With daylight gone it was time to get off the road so we found ourselves a place to stay, and some dinner and settled in. On Sunday we rose early to get on the road and away. We had some breakfast at the hotel and had a talk to a fellow visitor (he was heading home to Minnesota) about football and the surrounding area – he put us straight on Hogs vs Pigs. The early morning air still had that familiar Iowa smell to it – maybe it’s just the time of year that it lingers more? We followed Highway 30 down till it hit Interstate 29. We were close to the Nebraska border here but followed the interstate south before leaving this open and predominantly flat state.

Nebraska

We swung west into Nebraska on Interstate 80 – the road cutting to the north of Omaha – Nebraska’s largest city. The GPS had a lock on Ashland Nebraska where we would find the SAC Airforce Museum. SAC – Strategic Air Command was established in 1946 on the back of the outcomes of WW2 and building tensions with the Soviet Union / USSR / Russia. The SAC Airforce had been based at Offlutt Airbase in Nebraska. SAC was disbanded in in the early 1990’s as the Cold War tensions eased. The museum that now resides in Ashland Nebraska recognises this era in US Military history, and the aircraft and men that served around the clock to protect the US from anticipated threats. SAC was established to provide the US nuclear force in this tense time. The museum, unlike the other airforce museums we have been visiting, is now independently run as it is no longer and active military ‘branch’ so with that, you have to pay admission. Whilst Carol parked up locally to catch up on some messages, I headed in to take in all that was on offer. After having been spoiled with all that the US Airforce museum in Dayton had on offer I didn’t expect to be surprised too much with what was on display, but there were still a few planes that were seen for the first time so another good experience.

A solid 3 hours were passed taking in what was on display – it was time to get back to Carol as we still had some miles to cover before days end. We followed the interstate west down to Lincoln – Nebraska’s capital city, and then headed south on Highway 77 – time only permitting us to experience this small south eastern corner of the state. Carol had found a place on the western side of the state called Carhenge – instead of rock pillars they have a structure of car embedded in the ground to look like Stonehenge. To get there we estimated was going to take us something like 8 hours driving – time we felt we didn’t have – pity, as would have been nice to tick both Stonehenge and Carhenge sites. The countryside of southern Nebraska wasn’t too dissimilar to the previous days – more corn fields, but most of which had been harvested. Maybe it was because was were getting down lower in the states again, but the climate in Nebraska was very pleasant – sun was shining, and no sign of the snow or frozen waterways we had in Minnesota and northern Iowa. We went through the larger city of Beatrice and soon found ourselves leaving another state.

Kansas

Interstate 77 took us our of Nebraska and into northern Kansas – sun shining, and no tornado’s to be seen. We got ourselves back onto Highway 15 and headed south down to Junction City to connect with Interstate 70. The day was by now running away from us, but we soon found the smaller town / city of Abilene and settled in for the night. Abilene’s claim to fame and one it very much clings to is that it’s the hometown of former President Dwight Eisenhauer. Abilene was full of some wonderful old stately homes – large columned structures. We had a wander up the street the evening we arrived and then on Monday morning we headed up to the Dwight Eisenhauer Visitor Centre – the Eisenhauer family home is located here and there is a museum to honour the former president – this is a popular thing – states / towns recognising presidents that had come from there – most have museums established etc. From Abilene we headed back east parallel to the interstate back to the small town of Chapman. This is where the Kansas Motorsport Museum is established – didn’t know what to expect, and what we were presented with was a smaller private collection, set up by a local racer who had a good collection of his own speedway equipment, and many trophies, pictures, cars and memento’s donated by local motorsport competitors. I had a good look around and got a few more pictures on the camera roll before we headed south again.

From Chapman we worked our way across to Highway 77 which run us south down to the city of El Dorado – cool name which we might have expected to have found in Texas of the mid-west. At El Dorado you hit the Interstate 35 Turnpike – the nice road comes at a small price – easy smooth motoring cost us $4.75 I think. The Turnpike runs from Topeka through to south of Wichita. Given more time I would have been very keen to have stopped and had a look at a couple of places around Wichita. Its claimed that Wichita is the aviation hub of the world with over 50% of the world’s aircraft being produced here – Boeing have a plant, as do Airbus, Cessna and Piper and a load of other aircraft producers and suppliers. Wichita seemed / looked to be all about aviation – I think Carol said there were something like 10 airfields / airports in the vicinity of Wichita – very high percentage, but understandable given the local industry. From Wichita it was pretty much a straight run south to the bottom of the state – we stopped at a Visitor Centre to get some info on Kansas and Oklahoma before we ticked off another state.

Oklahoma

Following Interstate 35 we soon came upon the ‘Welcome to Oklahoma’ signage – but no tolls / turnpike for this stretch of road. With that our landscape changed a little – gone were the crops we had been seeing – replaced by oil derricks – I thought Texas was the oil state, but turns our Oklahoma has a nice little reserve underground, and  with that the pump price at fuel stations fell as well – we saw fuel for as low at $2.03 – not quite the ‘under $2’s’ we were hoping, but the closest we had gotten to date on our travels. Interstate 35 run south right through the state of Oklahoma – approx. 240 miles top to bottom. We travelled around 100 miles on the Interstate down to the city of Guthrie where we turned west for around 15 miles to an area known as Cashion. We headed here to call on a friend we had met a few years ago when we made our first trip to Bonneville – Britt and his daughter Brittany live here and we planned to call on them to catch up. Britt has a nice place set back in a little rural subdivision – he has something like 15 acres and is a true petrol head through and through. So much so that Britt has established his own small speedway track in his own back yard – he has built up 4-5 speedway cars and him and his mates (sometimes just Britt) blatt around the track. We asked how he got on with his neighbours – sounds like they are all very understanding, supportive, and even join in from time to time. Britt’s yard and workshop are almost a museum on its own. He call’s his operation the Cashion Race team or something like that. There are projects (cars, race-cars, dragsters, trucks, carts, and even a big powerboat) everywhere – would have easily spent more time catching up on all the projects – another time maybe.

We spent a few hours with Britt catching up on things – his daughter Brittany called in to catch up as well. Brittany had just got back from the NHRA Finals in Pomona California, where she was helping out – I could have spent an age talking with her just on this aspect of things alone. Would have liked to have stayed longer if opportunity presented itself but It was after 7pm when we left Britt’s place. It seemed to take an age for us to push our way back south and into Oklahoma City to some accommodation for the night, but we did and we got settled in for the evening. On Tuesday we got up and away fairly early – we had made the call to extend our car rental by a day and make the run east all the way to Pensacola Florida to do the Naval Airforce Museum – we had some miles to cover today. We worked our way around and through Oklahoma City and were soon pointing south again on Interstate 35 for the remaining run south and out of the state. The landscape changed here and there – there was some contour, but still very vast, with plenty of oil derricks working away.

Texas

In an interesting move, the GPS routed us south in order to then go east across towards Florida – we had expected from Oklahoma City to head east through Arkansas and through to Memphis but the GPS had other ideas. Staying on Interstate 35 was taking us south above Fort Worth and Dallas. We stopped at the Visitor Centre just inside the border to stretch our legs before pushing on. Passing through Gainesville we spotted an amazing Classic Car Yard – there were thousands of cars sitting on this piece of land – a look around would have been great – blocked / backed up traffic allowed us a little look from the car as the Interstate passed alongside. North of Denton things really came to a crawl – there’d been a bad accident up ahead (so we heard on the radio later) and traffic was backed up for miles – in the 2 hours we preserved in the traffic jam, I think we covered / crawled 3 miles at best. Not knowing the roads in the area, we finally took a punt and cut off the main road looking for a secondary road that would take us east. We managed to get ourselves over to Greenville – the GPS was having to reset as we ignored her instructions. There was a load of development happening to the north of Dallas – along the road to Greenville there seemed to development after development with the cities almost linking. From Greenville we cut south on Highway 60 to join up with Interstate 20 – the GPS was happy once more with the direction we were moving.

The traffic jam had done its damage – it was mid afternoon by the time we finally got over onto Interstate 20. We had something like 150 miles to cover to clear the state – which we did shortly after 5pm. Under normal circumstances we might have been opting to call it a day but we were far from done today and needed to push on.

Louisiana

It was after 5pm and we were running out of daylight as we pulled into the Visitor Centre on the western edge of Interstate 20, just inside the Louisiana border. The Visitor Centre was closed so no maps to be had, but we refreshed and then pushed on. Interstate 20 crosses in a west to east line in the upper part of the state – a fairly straight run of almost 200 miles. We were in darkness so our views of Louisiana were very limited as you might expect but there were a couple of landmarks that we picked up on. As you cross into Louisiana on the 20 on the western side you are soon engulfed by the city of Shreveport – a big sprawling city that seemed to stretch on and on. With that the traffic was heavy and it wasn’t until we were well beyond Shreveport that the traffic eased and we had some road to ourselves. Then about two thirds the way across you go through the city of Monroe – another sizeable city with the traffic to match. We pushed on as we needed to and soon found ourselves crossing back over into Mississippi – seemed to have taken a long time to get back into the state.

Mississippi

Just across the border on Interstate 20 you have the city of Vicksburg – we needed fuel and food – the food option being something for us to have on the road so we could push on some more – we had decided to get as far as Hattiesburg around 90 mins south east of Jackson. We followed Interstate 20 for around 60 miles into Jackson – passing through Clinton on the way we had wondered if we shouldn’t have just snuck back into the RV park and parked up in Romin for the night, but agreed that this would then make for a bigger day tomorrow – we’d come this far today – let’s push on some more. South of Jackson we struggled through some road works for around 10 miles or more before we got settled into Interstate 49 for the run down to Hattiesburg. It was getting late and as you might expect, traffic on the road was lighter so that was a bonus. It was after 10pm when we found our way into Hattiesburg and found some accommodation for the evening, or what was left of it. We hit the bed and collapsed – it had been a long day – I think we covered around 650 miles today – and should have been parked up earlier had it not been for the traffic in Texas. We woke the better for some sleep early on Wednesday morning and got on the road early. Traffic out of Hattiesburg was heavier than expected but it wasn’t long before we were on Interstate 98 – a good road for the run through to Mobile Alabama.

Alabama

It was interesting – the Interstate out of Hattiesburg was a good 2 lanes each side all the way up to the Alabama border where it abruptly dropped back to a single laneway – surprising for what I assume is a main road. We came into Mobile from the north of the city – we’d been through the lower part of Mobile on our previous road trip from Houston in 2017, and looked like the skyline hadn’t changed too much. There are a couple of distinct high-rise buildings that dominant the Mobile skyline – they have open structures at the top that look a little like the top of the Eiffel Tower. In an interesting move, the 98 takes you through a tunnel that dives down and under one of the waterways that comes up into the heart of Mobile. Popping out the other side you then have the main Mobile Causeway to cross. On your left as you head across it there is the USS Alabama Battleship and Military Museum – would be keen to come back and have a proper look that one day. The Causeway is an impressive water crossing – I think it’s around 7.5 miles in length so a good span of water is crossed when you use this piece of road – which you kinda have to – it’s now Interstate 10 that we’re on, I think. The run through the bottom part of Alabama is a nice road – yep, we are back to double lanes with plenty of traffic (been double lanes since we hit the Causeway). It’s a run of around 50 miles – with the sun shining and a really nice vibe in this lower state – almost felt tropical and any thoughts that winter hits this area seemed a long way off.

Florida

Interstate 10 runs you right out of Alabama and into the Sunshine State that is Florida. If southern Alabama had a nice vibe to it, Florida is all about the vibe – even it we were only touching this north western tip of the state this time round. From the border we have a run of around 40 miles till we are signposted to head off towards the Gulf to Pensacola. Turning off the Interstate the traffic clogs up – the road into / through Pensacola is an old single laneway – not really enough for all the traffic that appeared to be around. The journey from Interstate to the Pensacola Naval Airforce base is only a run of around 15 miles, but it felt like it took us the better part of 30 mins. That said, we did get to appreciate this lovely part of the world – the sun was shining, clear skies, and we had the sea on one side with white sand and pelicans – what more could you ask for. To get to the Pensacola Naval Aviation Museum you have to enter the Pensacola Military base – it’s okay, they let us in. A should right up the road and you pass the Pensacola Lighthouse – I think it’s claim to fame is that it is / was the highest lighthouse in Florida – maybe on the eastern side of the US? From there you are welcomed by the sight of an F-14 Tomcat on a pedestal – this must be the place. The run from Hattiesburg had taken us around 3 hours and it was now 10.30am in the morning, but the carpark was already filling up. Fortunately for us, the museum is so big, crowd or no crowd you really don’t feel hampered by being around other people – a really nice experience. Add to that the fact that for the most part you can walk around all the aircraft in the museum – how good is that.

Pensacola’s claim to fame is that it’s the home to the Blue Angel Aerobatics team – the Navy’s Aviation aerobatic team. From 1 April to mid-November each year, the Blue Angels use Pensacola as their base – and run all their training and exercises out of this field. Unfortunately for us the Angel’s last public training session had been the week prior – and they were currently in the process of moving to their winter training site in Nevada – why you need to move from Florida to Nevada for winter is beyond me, as this place doesn’t look like it knows the meaning of winter. Fortunately for us, the Pensacola field is a very busy little spot with Naval Aviators training from there – there were piston trainers, jet trainer, and multi jet trainers coming and going to wet our appetite. Then to add to things, the Blue Angels took off – how lucky were we. We might not have got to see any display, but we did see the planes up pretty close and forming into formation – a real bonus. The Naval Aviation Museum was a standout – yep, up there with the Dayton Museum. Every conceivable Naval aviation plane was on display – a couple I had only hoped to see, were displayed for my pleasure – a great day. To add to the bonus, the museum is free to visit, so Carol really enjoyed having a look around with me for the day. Did we do the museum justice, I can’t say we did – I can’t recall just how many aircraft are on display but there’s a load, and loads of info to go with all of that. A very, very well run and presented facility – we have been so impressed with these Military aviation museums – they are amazing.

It was getting on for 4.30pm and the light of day was rapidly running away from us when we finally pulled away from the museum – buzzing from all that it had presented today (the museum has a very large main hanger display, secondary hangar and then a rear static display area out back by the airfield that you can only view as part of a complimentary shuttle bus excursion. The run out of Pensacola up to the Interstate was again slow going, and there was a hinge of disappointment to be leaving this area (I said to Carol that I think I could happily come back and spend some serious time in the Pensacola area – it had made that sort of impression with me – warm, water, aircraft, boats – all those good things). With time we wound our way out of Pensacola and back onto the Interstate to retrace our path back to Hattiesburg.

The Run Home

I think by the time we got ourselves back out to the Interstate to head west to Mississippi it was around 5.30pm and the day was done – darkness was well and truly upon us. We had a good run once on the Interstate – we needed to detour off prior to Mobile for some fuel and found probably the busiest road around it seemed, but we fuelled up and got on the road again – pointing in the right direction. The run back over the Mobile Causeway at night is a nice experience – you have the lights of the city ahead of you, and the Battleship Alabama is nicely lit up as a landmark. Back under the tunnel and we worked our way back through Mobile and pointing north towards Hattiesburg. Getting back to that 2 lane Interstate which marked the Mississippi border seemed to take an age, but we got there and after around 3.5 hours found ourselves pulling into Hattiesburg again for the night.

On Thursday morning we had to face the reality of having to hand the rental car back so it was a run of around 2 hours from Hattiesburg back up to the airport at Jackson – a good run. I say a good run but we do have to note a little incident with a truck in front of us. All the traffic was moving along at 70 miles and hour or so, and we were hanging back from a big truck in front of us and just as well. A rear tire from the rig explored with amazing consequence – the noise was alarming, and there was tire debris flying left right and centre – and over us for good measure.  Hopefully not an experience we will see again any time soon. Arriving at the airport and dropping the car off, one would think there may have been some shuttle service / bus service available to get us into Jackson, emmm no. They seem to like to make things difficult for visitors to this area – no footpaths, no bus services. With some trying we managed to get one of the taxis to run us back over to the RV Park in Clinton – probably a good job for them. We had a good talk with the taxi driver – she was telling us how she lived in a hotel locally with her elderly mum an son – made us appreciate all that we have back home, as a lot of people live very differently to how we do back in NZ – the RV Trailer Park for example. We reacquainted ourselves with the team at the RV Park and then with Romin – she kicked into life first turn of the key. Parking back up where we had been previously, we unpacked, got out the deck chairs and settled back in – this was going to be home for the next week as we work out what we are going to do and how we are going to sell Romin on so as to conclude our travels here in the US.

Heading back to the US

Our wait at the bus terminal was more drawn out than expected, but finally our French driver with very limited English indicated we could board the bus to head back to London. Our first stop out of Paris was to pick up passengers at the International Airport – got to glimpse the Air France Concorde standing proudly on display. The runway appears to travel right over the main road so one moment you are heading along the road and next you have a large Airbus passing over you taxing in or out. The drive through to Calais took around hours – once we cleared customs we had to que to get on a ferry – that was an interesting process to be part of. There were literally hundreds of trucks lined up waiting their turn to board the next available ferry – looks to be 2-3 main ferry lines that span the Channel. We got underway on the 4.20pm sailing – crossing the channel we gained an hour back. Leaving Calais was pretty cool – there were ferries coming in and out – you could see a load of shipping activity out in the channel. The ferry crossing itself was around 90 mins from the time we were driven onto the boat till the time we disembarked in Dover. Darkness was creeping across the English coastline as we neared – but we were still able to see the White Cliffs of Dover up close – very cool.

The bus cleared the ferry around 5pm and we then had a trek of around 60 mins to hit the outskirts of London and then a slower 60 mins getting into the heart of London and back to the bus terminal. We made our way down to Victoria Station to get the underground and connected with the line out to Upton Park – around 15 stops later. We had a walk of around 10 mins up the road to a nice Guest House for the evening. Friday morning saw us up and our early to get out to the airport for check in. We had the whole crammed in tube ride experience again, but made our way out to the London City Airport – albeit too early for check in as it turns out – they only want you there 2 hours before check in. London City Airport is a busy little commuter airport – loads of smaller planes coming and going. The hop over to Dublin was straight forward – no cuppa and cookie which was disappointing (we were flying the Aer Lingus commuter line to then connect with main Aer Lingus service to Minneapolis). We arrived in Dublin to sunshine which was welcomed – we were anticipating some cold once we hit the US again. We had a 3-hour layover in Dublin – but also had a couple of security screens to clear – European Customs, and then US Entry Customs – Dublin is one of the few airports that does this – certainly made it easier at the other end in the US.

We left Dublin at 2.15pm and settled in for an 8-hour flight to Minneapolis – arriving in the US at 4.15pm – takes some adjustment to get your head around that. It was a good flight but certainly felt like 8 hours – sometimes flights seem to pass quicker. We arrived in Minneapolis to a balmy 4 degrees – not as bad as it could have been – there was snow on the ground but it wasn’t too bad. Minneapolis Airport is pretty big and the wait to the baggage area was good after sitting idle like we had but with bags collected we just had to wait for our hotel shuttle to arrive. Our European excursion had drawn to a close – but we’d had a really good couple of weeks – more than enough to wet the appetite to know we will / would like to come back to Europe – well London and the UK, some time in the not too distant future. But for now, we have a road trip planned to get back south to Romin – and the camper lifestyle again.

France – Paris

On the Saturday morning we had to check out by 6.30am and get ourselves through to the Victoria Coach Station for our 8am bus to Paris. Saturday morning traffic wasn’t heavy so we made good time getting across London and before too long we were on the highway heading towards the English coast. We had assumed we were going to be crossing the channel on a ferry but as we needed the coast we discovered we would be crossing to France via the Chunnel or Eurotunnel – a bonus as we thought we would only have been able to do so if we had taken the high speed train. As we neared Dover and the Chunnel entrance, we had to clear a couple of customs checks – UK to let us out and French to let us in. This process ended up being a bit more drawn out as our bus-line (Eurolines) had been sloppy with the paperwork and so the UK customs made us drag all bags off and go through a full screen – with a stern message to the driver that his bus-line needed to tidy it’s act up. Once we cleared the customs process the bus was driven onto one of the Chunnel transport wagons – cars and buses all butt up to one another in the wagon. We were told to stay in the bus – if you needed the toilets you were allowed out to use the one at the front of our wagon, otherwise we just stayed seated. As it turns out the 25-mile trip (the longest underwater tunnel in the world) took us about 50 mins from start to finish – getting onto and off the wagon – so a fast process. No, you don’t get to see anything on the trip – there were windows on the wagon but once you enter the Chunnel tunnel its dark and that’s that. I picked up some facts and figures on the Eurotunnel, so if anyone wants all the detail, just message me as I’ll be happy to share the facts – but will finish by noting that the Eurotunnel is considered one of the 7 wonders of the modern world.

Before we knew it, we were disembarking in Calais and heading straight up the road towards Paris – a trip of around 260 km’s – and we were back to driving on the wrong side of the road – like the US. Crossing into France we jumped forward another hour so it was now early afternoon. The run to Paris took the better part of 3 hours as the bus had to drop passengers off at Charles de Gaulle Airport around 25 k’s out of Paris. Our trip through to Paris was quite a change from the English countryside – the A1 (pretty sure that was the main road) was all countryside – farmland with smaller villages off to the sides here and there – nice to see. We arrived at the bus terminal in Paris around 4pm and braved a couple of Paris Undergrounds to get ourselves in to the very busy Gare du Nord Station – huge and crazy busy late on a Saturday afternoon. Getting ourselves out of the station was one thing – reaching outside you are then hit by the French past time of smoking – there were smokers everywhere, and loads of guys hustling cigarettes as you walk along. We managed to find our hotel – Hotel Paris Nord just down from the station, and got ourselves checked in. We braved the conditions and headed out for a bit of a walk up the road – thinking a bite to eat was in order. That was my next surprise – how expensive Paris seems. Don’t get me wrong, London was expensive as well, but here in France we were back to using Euro and food and drink seemed very expensive to me. We had some Chinese that you paid for by the 100 gm’s – didn’t look like much on the tray but was 20 Euro which when we equate it back to NZ would have been $35 or so. To make matters worse, we headed back to the hotel thinking we would have a cuppa and call it a day but no, the hotel didn’t have or offer any facilities for us to do so, so we had to trot back over to the station and get a take away – with Starbucks charging 4.50 Euro for a cup – first place we went into was charging 5.50 Euro a cup – what’s going on. Finally found a place doing tea for 3.20 Euro and that place became our go too for the week ahead – bit frustrating though.

On Sunday, the Paris weather packed in and greeted us to cold and rain. We rugged us and hiked into the centre of town in order to see some bits along the way and to find the Tourist Office so we could book a couple of excursions. We found a café along the way and got some breakfast for 16 Euros – crusty toast and a cuppa but it was warm so not complaining. We got to the Tourist Office and agreed upon a Paris Excursion package that offered us train / bus travel for 2 days, Museum Pass for 48 hours, River Cruise, Skip the Line entry to Versailles and one of the local Hop On Off buses. In hind sight I’m not sure we managed to get true ‘bang for buck’ from our investment, as we weren’t in a position to utilise the Museum Pass to it’s potential, but this package still gave us options. With our plan in hand, we walked up passed the Louvre and got ourselves a train to the north side of Paris so we could head to the National Air and Space Museum. Being unaware of how the train system ran and the zones that apply, we took the cheap option thinking we would be okay – wrong move. We got off the train up in Le Bourget and headed for the gates only to find our tickets wouldn’t let us out.

Emm, obvious thing to do would be to get into the train office and buy another ticket but you needed a ticket to get into the station so we were somewhat stranded. We tried asking a couple of people with our pigeon English but to no avail. We were getting a bit frustrated with the situation and thinking we would just head back to Paris and call it quits when one of the ticket gates just sprang open and stayed open so we made a beeline out of there. Rest assured, we purchased new tickets to get back into Paris when we came back to the station – can’t rely on gates being faulty to get in and out but that said we did see people jumping gates and tail gating to get onto the trains without paying. Right, once we were out of the station we put our heads down and hiked up the road to the museum – bit further than I’d imagined and needless to say, we got our step count up for the day. We finally made it to the museum and headed in – museum is free to look around so should have been all straight forward – no. For some reason we found ourselves in a que of maybe 100 people going nowhere quickly – yes the museum is free, but it has a number of excursions that you have to pay for (like going onboard the Concorde) and there was only one ticket person working so it took us a very frustrating 50 mins or more to finally get the map and be allowed to enter. Carol will vouch for how frustrating I found that situation – we were missing valuable viewing time.

We finally got in to have a look around and yes, it was worth the wait – I managed to view some aircraft I hadn’t seen before with a couple of special bonus planes thrown in for good measure so I was happy. The museum is broken down by theatres similar to a number of other museums – older through to more modern, with this museum focusing almost solely on French built aircraft and rockets. There are theatres and hangars to take in and also a good static display area outside around the hangars storing the collection. The weather wasn’t flash but it wasn’t going to deter us from taking in what was here to be seen. As you would expect, a load of pictures were taken to remember this sight. With the museum due to close we made the hike back up the road to catch the train back to Paris – feet were tired after all the walking we have achieved today. A bite to eat was needed before we got back to fighting the cigarette sellers outside the train station – a good day in Paris done.

Monday’s mission was to take in what the Hop On Off bus service offers around Paris. Part of the excursion ticket included a day pass on the Foxity bus so we needed to get a couple of trains down to the station near the Eiffel Tower where the tour bus starts from. Reading French isn’t the easy thing – working out some of the train station signage wasn’t as easy as we’d expected and as a result, we managed to get ourselves misplaced so some extra walking between stations was needed to get us on the right track – to find a special tower. We came out of the station to be rewarded by the sight of the Eiffel Tower and what a sight it was. The day was cold and grey – maybe in support of the day itself – 11th November being Armistice Day – the capital was having celebrations / memorials / parades throughout the morning to remember. Part of the bus route was disrupted for the morning as a result. The Eiffel Tower was all that I had hoped it would be – looking like one enormous Meccano set. As you’d expect there were loads of people around taking in all that the Tower offers – we didn’t opt to go up the Tower, settling instead to have a good look around the base of the structure – very impressive. Getting on the bus we did a good circuit of the city taking in a number of sights from the semi comfort of the bus on a cold morning. Sights included the Place De La Concorde, the Opera House, pass / through the Louvre, along the River Seine up to Notre Dame – which unfortunately is covered up as a result of the devastating fire, up and along Champ Elysees which was a real bonus, around the Arc de Triomphe and then back around some of the historic Military buildings before lopping back around to the Eiffel Tower.

As we’d expected there is just so much history here in and around this large city – another surprise was the fact that the ‘tourist loop’ takes you away from the more modern business centre / heart of the city. We took the bus around for part of another loop getting off up along the Champ Elysees – it was quite different from what I had expected with loads of very high-end stores – very flash. We went into the Renault showroom – they have a new Formula One race car on display and a load of new cars that visitors were climbing in and out of and through. We walked up to the Arc de Triomphe which was decorated with a very large French flag – the mornings Armistice parades had been up the main Champ Elysees boulevard. You go down underneath the ‘roundabout’ that circles the Arc – you can pay to climb to the top of the Arc itself and many people were doing just that. The day had improved so we walked from the Arc back up the road to have a look around the Grand and Petit Palais’s – the Grand Palais has a very impressive glass dome roof – another striking architectural feature in this city, dating back to the 1700’s. We got ourselves back to a pick up point and took another lap of the city to see some of the evening lights coming on – our timing wasn’t quite right as the lights were only just coming on, but by the time we got around to the Eiffel Tower again we got to see it in all’s it’s sparkling glory – very impressive. More train struggles later and we managed to finally get ourselves back to the hotel – it had been another big walking day despite seat time in the bus and on trains, but we got a great overview of the ‘older’ part of the city.

Tuesday was an early start to get a couple of trains to the south west of the city for us to go to the Palace of Versailles or the Chateau De Versailles. We managed to get out to the village / township of Versailles just before 9am and joined the early que to go into the Palace – I want to call it a Palace as opposed to Chateau as it really is such an impressive building / series of buildings and then the grounds are another thing again. I think the history is that Louis 14th had the Chateau enlarged to the colossus that it is today. The main theme is the ‘home’ that Louis 14th built for his wife Marie-Antoinette in the latter part of the 1600’s, and was then subsequently ‘expanded’ by Louis 16th, Napoleon the 1st, and then back to the Royal family with Louis-Philippe in the early 1800’s. The Palace takes you through the history of this palace – how it was developed and expanded and expanded some more. It then went through the turmoil of the French Revolution which saw Louis and his wife taken from the Palace, imprisoned and then ultimately beheaded. It takes you through the Napoleonic period, and then how the Palace came back to be a Royal residence and then Presidential residence. There is so much art and I guess artefacts from the era. The walls and ceilings were either painted with art and murals, or art covered the walls. The Hall of Mirrors is this long corridor consisting of 17 pairs of mirrors – striking. The Palace is set up to reflect / remember the different phases the place has been through. One area of the Palace is dedicated to Napoleon and there is a Gallery of Battles which records in paintings, all the key French battles dating back as far as you can. I think we spent 3 hours alone looking around inside and certainly not taking all the detail in.

From there we headed outside to take in some of the gardens. The Palace Gardens stretch for as far as the eye can see – there are lakes and fountains, a large Grand Canal that runs out and across through the middle, and then a whole series of themed gardens and groves – a little too much to take in on foot as we were, so they have a load of golf carts that you can hire for getting around, and a mini train runs to some key points around the gardens. We could see the weather turning and as we were heading along the Grand Canal the weather hit – heavy hail storm and then heavy rain. We weren’t prepared for it and had to find some cover to hunker down as it rolled over us. After a time the weather eased up, so wet and cold we headed back out to get to a couple of the smaller palaces on the wider sight – the Grand Trianon, and Petit Trianon Palaces – one become Napoleon’s summer palace, the other was the Palace for the Mistresses’ if I recall the story correctly. Out beyond these palaces there is an English Hamlet which we walked to, and then we started the big walk back up to the main Palace just as the weather started to look threatening again. After what had been a very big day, we left the Palace and headed back to get our couple of trains back to the hotel – no wrong turns tonight – all went well finding our way back.

Wednesday morning was another early start to get us down to the Louvre to try and beat the cue. I think we were lined up by 8.30am with a good crowd already formed ahead of the 9am opening. With security checks behind us we got into the Louvre properly. Carol had some key pieces of art that she wanted to see, so I was a bit like a lost puppy following her along. The obvious one was to find and have a good look at the Mona Lisa – being as early as we were, we were able to get in without cueing to study what is probably the most famous painting in the world. You don’t get too long to stop and stare due to the crowds, but we did get a good look at this piece of work. The museum which is in a Royal Palace dating back to the 1200’s I think it was, is huge, there is art everywhere – paintings, sculptures – all historic pieces of work – the modern art isn’t anywhere to be seen, residing in other museums around the city. I think we were told that there is something like 35,000 pieces of art in the Louvre, and if you spent 30 seconds looking at each that it would take you 3 months – day and night to get around the museum completely. I ended up leaving Carol to study things up in more detail and found myself a spot to type up some blog. The better part of 3 hours later we finally connected again – she was bubbling with all that she had seen today.

We worked our way our of the Louvre and made our way over to do a cruise up the Seine. We made our way down to the head of the island where the cruise boats run from and got onboard. The cruise takes in 30 key points up and along the Seine to the Eiffel Tower and then turns back and heads south beyond Notre Dame. The lower part of the cruise encompasses 2 islands that sit in the Seine – there’s a load of structures and history in this area alone. The cruise passes under a series of bridges – you get another great perspective from the seat of the boat. A very full hour later we tied back up and exited the boat. We got a train up the line to see the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Montmartre. The Basilica is up the hill looking down over the city – a good number of steps later we made it up and into the Basilica. The Basilica dates back to around 1870, but has it’s roots as far back as the 3rd century. The Basilica was striking and has the added bonus of looking out over the city of Paris. We took the funicular back down the hill – a short, sharp ride downhill. We walked back down some of the streets and found ourselves a good bite to eat before finding our way back to the hotel one last time.

Thursday morning saw another early start – we needed to get ourselves back to the bus terminal to head out of Paris. We tackled rush hour on the tube – we were pinched in like sardines with the early morning rush – big bags not being the best addition for us. We got ourselves to the terminal only to be kept waiting for a bus to arrive. Our time in Paris had been full on – loads of steps ranked up this week. Impressions of Paris were varied – there is so much to see around this grand city – a city of 2 halves with the older tourist area and then the business heart of the city. There’s history on show everywhere you look from Palaces to Palaces. On the downside for me were some of the people – not the friendliest of sorts – you’d ask for help or directions only to be ignored or snubbed. And then you had the cigarette sellers to deal with. But all that aside, as you’d expect, Paris really is one of those cities that you have to see once in your life time. I’d planned to bring Carol here for her birthday next year – looks like we moved the schedule forward some – happy early birthday Carol!

European Detour

London

With a good portion of Sunday to utilise before we had to get out to Minneapolis Airport we took a good walk down town into the heart of Minneapolis – I think we walked 26 blocks up the main street till we crossed over the Mississippi and then re-trekked back up the road taking in the local library and some other sights for a look. Despite the cold, the day warmed up and sun came out so not too bad at all. We headed back to the hostel to collect our bags and then got a bus downtown to the light rail that takes you out to the airport – I think it only cost us something like $2 each to do both legs so very reasonable. We boarded out Aer Lingus flight early and in what has become unexpected for us, we actually left the gate probably 15 mins early as well – that said we did then get held up on the runway waiting for clearance. Our Aer Lingus flight was okay – the flight to Dublin was around 7.5 hours and arrived a little early. The crew on the flight really gave the impression they didn’t really want to be there which was unfortunate, but hey, we had movies and were given a bite to eat so not all bad. We arrived into Dublin just after 7.30am to heavy rain. To my surprise, Dublin Airport was quite a bit bigger than I’d imagined – looks like they have a significant regional and separate international set up in place. We had to transfer here and seemed to have the biggest walk possible in the terminal, which after the flight wasn’t the worst thing to happen – good to get moving, albeit was cool. We had a layover of around 3 hours which then got pushed out before British Airways finally boarded us in the pouring rain – no covered gate and so we got quite damp waiting on the stairs trying to get inside the plane for cover.

Our flight to London City Airport – down in the Docklands area took a bit over an hour and thankfully we arrived in London to drier conditions. Once we got our bearings, we purchased Oyster Cards for regional transport and got the train into Banks Station and managed to transfer ourselves onto the Central Line up to the Notting Hill Station. We were staying in a Hotel in Notting Hill and as we walked up the street it was quite reminiscent of the movie of the same name – minus Hugh and Julia. We got ourselves checked in and headed back out to the Metro – Metro, Underground, Tube – you know what I mean. We took a train up to Trafalgar Square so we could get to the Tourist Centre to arrange a couple of excursions booked. I think we hit the square at around 4pm and we just managed to get the last light for the day for a couple of pics – by the time we came out of the Tourist Office evening was closing in on us. We got the train back up to Notting Hill and headed up Portobello Road which was supposed to have a load of good eateries but we seemed to walk and walk before we found a corner pub for some English Fish and Chip – mushy peas included as a side. We headed back to the hotel – pretty sure we passed the book store from the Notting Hill movie along the way.

On Tuesday we got the train down to Victoria Station and then walked up to the Victoria Coach terminal so we could book some options for getting to Paris – we looked online at options and had wanted to do a train through the Channel but was pretty expensive, so a coach trip would be in order for us. We picked up tickets for a better price that expected and then got a couple of trains out to Colindale in the north of the city to visit the Royal Air Force Museum. A short walk up the road and a Spitfire and Hurricane from WW2 stand proudly on plinths to welcome you to the museum. The museum was spread over 6 hangars (3 of which were combined) – each hangar represented / presented a different theatre of Royal Airforce machinery and action. The museum was very good – got to see a number of planes I hadn’t seen before (British fighters and bombers), and as we were leaving we got talking to one of the guides and turned out he had moved from Christchurch to London post the quakes around 7 years ago – what a cool place he had to work. With a load of photos on my tablet and phone, we headed back up to the station and got ourselves back via a couple of trains to Notting Hill.

One of the bonuses around London that I was quite taken with was the free morning and evening newspapers that give out at the underground stations – a good read albeit a little commercial, but not complaining. Tuesday was Guy Fawkes Day and whilst we could hear displays going on around us (from as early as 6pm as it really is dark by 4.30pm), we only heard and didn’t see any. We had some hotel room dramas with the window that derailed our evening a little and required the manager to come out and repair the window. The hotel owner appeared to blame a lot on health and safety requirements – you can’t open the windows, you mustn’t tamper with this and that etc – his insurance premiums were his greatest concern I think.  Window fixed we were able to get back to the room and relax again. On Wednesday we were up and away early – 6.45am train round to Victoria and then the walk up to the Coach Terminal for us to connect with our one-day excursion to Stonehenge and Windsor Castle. One bonus of the early start was picking up some hot sausage rolls and a cuppa tea at the station to start our day.

We took a guided tour with Evan Evans for the day – leaving at 8am we had to battle the morning traffic to get onto the motorway to get us out past Heathrow and into the area where Windsor Castle is. Winter hours were in place so the castle doesn’t open until 9.45am so the idea was to get to the que early so we had a bit of a walk from the coach through the area around Windsor and then a wait of around 30 mins before the gates opened. We had 1.5 hours of free time to guide our way through the castle but this really wasn’t enough and we ended up rushing some areas just to get through. There was loads to take in – there’s the castle itself – the architecture etc, the furnishings inside the castle, the history of the area and then the grounds as well. Alas the Queen and her corgis were not to be seen today (they have a flag system – depending on what flag is flying on what castle denotes where the Queen is). Took a bit of a run to get back to the bus in time and we were off again – heading next to Stonehenge. As we arrived the weather packed up – it was cold out in the open and rain threatened. You get transported by buses up to the paddock area where the formations are and then the bus runs you back down to the Info Centre and museum. The formations themselves were very good – really makes you stop and think about the area and what life must have been like back at the time of the erection of the rock formation. Again, how they were able to erect the stones – not just the uprights but the top lintel rocks beggar’s belief.

From Stonehenge we drove through the Cotswolds to the city of Bath – was really nice to see some farm land and pasture along the way after what had felt like total urbanisation in and around London. At Bath, you had the option to tour the historic baths or have free time around the city – we opted for the free time option and had a bit of a look around before making a beeline for the fish n chip shop – we were cold and hungry so we filled up on fish n chips with a side of curry sauce – hit the spot and then some. To ease our full belly’s, we took a good walk up and round the river – some really nice bridges in the city and great historic buildings so was really nice. It was nearly 5pm when the bus left Bath and was getting on for 8pm before we got back into London and were dropped at near the underground. We got ourselves back to Notting Hill and collapsed after what had been a long but enjoyable day. On Thursday we set aside the day to do the local Hop On Off Bus. There are a couple of routes available as well as a ferry ride up the Thames so we crammed it all in taking in loads of sights. It’s not a criticism but there is so much history to take in, in and around London – you need to have time to take it all in and appreciate it all. We walked London Bridge, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, and all that the landscape has to offer locally.

We know we weren’t able to take it all in – as noted, more time is needed to appreciate what is on offer, but you’d want the weather to be good (it was cold getting around London), and you need to understand you will always be around tourist it seems – there are loads of us out there trying to take in the same things. We ended out day by finding our way over to Harrods – despite riding the bus off and on all day, we still managed to get our step count up for the day. Harrods was an experience – lovely store, amazing products available, but it all comes at a cost. Besides the expected fashion and cosmetics, there is a large fresh food court where you can get meats, fish, veges and fruit. They have a big cheese area and then you have the baked goods and decorated cakes and sweets – all very impressive. On Friday we got ourselves down the road early so we could join the free walking tour that the Hop On team provide. Our guide got us down to St James Palace to see the guard getting ready to march up to Buckingham Palace for the ‘changing of the guard’ – we timed it well as this happens every 2nd day at around 10.30am for guard change over at 11am (Henry the 8th had St James built for Ann Berlin, but he’d had her put to death before the Palace was completed – such was the way back then). We walked with the guards (who had a mounted Police escort) up to the Palace barracks to see the other guards coming out. We didn’t spend a load of time around Buckingham Palace – we were told that the crowds start to form from around 7.30am to get vantage spots for the event. We were very happy with what we had seen / experienced. I didn’t pick up on too many facts but I think I heard right that the Palace has 775 rooms, something over 150 bathrooms I believe, and 2 people are employed full time to wind all the clocks in the Palace and keep them running.

From the Palace we got a bus over to the South Bank area and had a wander up through this area – taking in the Borough Markets and getting a good close up of the Shard Building – biggest in London I believe. We carried on up the bank with the weather getting cooler and headed into the Tate Modern Art Museum. This is a big complex and I have to admit that a lot of the art, installations etc were lost on me. I need to get a better appreciation for what some artist call art – not too much of what was on display made sense to me. From the Tate we got ourselves over to the Natural History Museum and had a good look around there – another place that more time is needed to be able to truly take in all that is on offer. Outside the museum they have set up a skating rink and by the time we came out it was dark and the rink was full of people enjoying themselves. We hiked to an underground and got a train back to Notting Hill for a quick bite to eat. Our time in London was drawing to a close but we have to both say we really enjoyed our experience – I had been a little daunted by what I perceived the scale of London to be, but although it was busy, it was never crazy or unmanageable. Appreciate we are supposedly in the tourism off season but there are still loads of people about. People for the most part were helpful and friendly. Everyone seems pretty active – walking the underground to get trains seems to be the norm. I spotted more nice cars in 5 days than I had in 3 months in the US – Lambo’s, Rolls Royce, Ferrari and more. The Underground was / is a good way of getting around – easy to navigate, so yep, a good experience and somewhere we know we could come back to and spend some more time.

Bus Trip North

As noted, our ‘preferred’ mode of transport to get us up to Minneapolis was a long bus ride. We boarded the bus in down-town Jackson and pulled out just before 3pm Friday afternoon. The first leg would be the straight run back up the main Interstate to Memphis – took us around 3.5 hours to pull into the station on the southern side of the city. We had a planned wait of around 1 hour which transpired into the obligatory ‘delay’ and it was almost 8.30pm before we finally got moving again. Whilst it was obviously very dark outside our run north basically retraced the path we had taken to come south – we ran west across the Mississippi into Arkansas and then run north on through Missouri on Interstates 55 and 57. Hitting Illinois, we had a long run ahead of us to get up to Chicago and then west from there. The bus stopped every 2-3 hours – middle of the night included. I roused from a rough snooze around 4.45am to find us hitting the outskirts of Chicago – big city. Even though it was still very dark, the skyline of Chicago materialised and it looked quite impressive – even at night / early morning. Our bus driver struggled with her bearings a little and missed the turn into the station and had to rely on one of the passengers for directions into the station. We were due in around 5.30am but it was 6am before we pulled up and it was a case of off one bus and straight onto the next for the final run through to Minneapolis.

Getting back on another bus – sore bum and all, we pushed on again in the last of the dark – the run across / through Chicago was around 2 hours plus – big city. We worked our way north to Milwaukee and found a dusting of snow on the ground to support the fact that it was cold out. We were only supposed to stop in Milwaukee (the city looks nice – not nearly as big as Chicago, but we did note a load of homeless living in tents under the freeway bridges – a sad situation) for a little over 30 mins, but just as we were set to move off the bus broke down and we found ourselves ‘enjoying’ the Milwaukee bus terminal for another hour / hour and a half. Finally back on the road, we pushed north west through Wisconsin and finally saw the ‘welcome to Minnesota’ sign – not far to go now. An interesting observation besides the snow – that the further north we pushed, the less there was – not sure how that worked, but by the Minnesota state border there was no snow – that’s not to say it was cold – the phone said it was 1 degree outside. The landscape was all pasture – fields of corn / maize which hadn’t yet been harvested and with the weather the way it was it didn’t look that feasible that they would be able to get it harvested and off the ground. Our second to last stop was the city of St Paul – I think Minneapolis and St Paul are known as the Twin City’s as they are effectively joined at the hip. Finally after a little over 26 hours we finally pulled into the central bus terminal in Minnesota – it was good to get up and be moving freely again.

We got some directions and bearings to get downtown a little to the hostel we were staying at. Bit of a walk and then a short bus ride and we got ourselves to our location – an old hostel which looked like it really needed some good TLC. We got ourselves in and then went for a bit of a walk locally – the area we were in had a load of eateries and bars – the main street lined in trees had fairy lights strung through them so a nice touch. We liked some of the buildings / older but restored, and the homes were a nice mix as well. We got to talking to a couple of people in the hostel and settled in for the evening. Sunday was about getting ourselves back downtown and out to the airport – time for another leg of our journey. Hopefully along the way we will see a bit more of this city – the concern currently is, what will the temperature be in another 2 weeks’ time when we return – if it’s 1 degree now (and supposedly feels more like -3 outside) what will the weather do from here (the news suggested that we are well below average for this time of year so hopefully some warmth comes back through. Will update you from London.

Mississippi

I say Mississippi but in order to get to Mississippi we did have to make a run through the bottom end of Tennessee – through Memphis to be precise. As noted, Memphis is one of those cities that crosses states – Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi. Sticking to the Interstate our run south to the Mississippi border was straight forward and the 25 odd miles we had to run were soon passed and we saw the sign welcoming us to the state of Mississippi. You enter through the suburb of Southhaven – we’d planned on staying at an RV Park locally but when contacting them for a spot, they and another couple of local RV Parks advised they were full – maybe the ‘snowbirds’ had come south. As a result we would have to move further south to get a spot. For tonight we were content to run around 50 miles into the state – we made ourselves comfortable in the Walmart carpark in Batesville for the night – the rain still pouring down.  On Saturday morning the weather started to clear and we made our run south towards Jackson – we’d secured a space at an RV Park at Clinton – west of Jackson the state capital of Mississippi. We had a run of around 150 miles – it took Romin a bit to settle down this morning – all the more reason to get her parked up for the time being. We had a pretty good run south but did come upon an accident on the Interstate so everything ground to a halt for maybe 30 mins before we started to inch forward – couple of vehicles had come together in the greasy conditions.

Reaching Jackson we cut west on the I20 to the suburb / outer town of Clinton and got ourselves parked and settled into the Springridge RV Park – this would be home for us the rest of the coming week, and Romin would be calling this home for atleast the next month. We spent Sunday just relaxing into RV Park life – both Carol and I got a book finished over the course of the weekend. Whilst the park was fine, its location wasn’t the best for us – Clinton didn’t offer us any viable transport options to get in and out of the city, limiting us to trying to walk around locally. Main issue for us is the fact that there are no footpaths and we had the Interstate / Highway to cross – emm, not ideal, but through the course of the week we zig zagged back and forth from the camp across into the local services Clinton offered – loads of fast food outlets – all with drive throughs, along with the necessary auto shop and supermarket. On Monday we hiked over to the shopping area and approached the rental car company for a quote for a vehicle to get us north to Minneapolis, but that turned out to be totally in practical with a $400 relocation fee attached to the quote. Tuesday was spent trying to re-caulk the windows on Romin – some previous heavy rain had generated a couple of leaks, so I took advantage of a fine day to get around most of the windows – not the flashiest job but hopefully it would do the trick, and forecast indicated it was going to be tested that evening.

And tested it was – around 2am we got warnings on our mobiles of Flash Floods in the area – and soon after the warning siren went off. The rain was very heavy for around 3 hours – but on the plus side – no leaks so caulking looked to have worked. Fortunately Wednesday dawned dry and the day improved as it went on – was quite a muggy day. We took the opportunity to hike over the interstate as we had been, and went and explored the Old Town of Clinton and grounds of the Mississippi College – was good to be around some nice buildings, grounds and trees – yep, the RV Park is fairly bland – a mix of RV’s and trailers in the central area and then a load of trailer homes on the wider complex – I think Carol heard you could buy a unit for around $45K? The Old Town area was quite refreshing for us and they actually had some sidewalks which were a welcome change. That eventing we had another weather warning issued – more flash floods expected up until 11am and again, fortunately the caulking held up well for us but I did find one new leak, so Thursday was a trip over for some more caulking. Following the bad weather the temperature plummeted – we woke to a frost and the temperature only got up towards 10 degrees today – just warm enough for me to get the caulking done. Thursday was Halloween and we’d expected some visitors to the RV that night, and were prepared with chocolate bars, but none came a calling – chocolate bars for the pending trip ahead.

Friday was all about prepping Romin for going into storage for the next 3 weeks, and getting ourselves ready to head north. The options to get to Minneapolis were flying, train, rental car of bus – bus won out based on the budget – in what felt like a case of dejavu from our Europe and South America travel expenses and choices, we were booked for a 25-hour bus ride. We got Romin parked up, our bags packed and got a taxi to collect us from the park and run us into Jackson to the central bus terminal. Our taxi driver was a talker and decided to take what seemed to be the scenic route into Jackson – downside was the fee increased, but on the positive we got to see some more of the city. We passed the Colosseum – I think it’s the city AP showground and arena. The taxi driver was explaining that some of the older buildings in the central city were being restored as apartment living – and was proving popular. The bus terminal finally materialised and we got ourselves checked in and readied for the bus ride ahead – that update is to come.

Running South – Illinois,Missouri, Arkansas

Illinois

With us running out of day, we crossed the Wabash River and found ourselves crossing into Illinois – known as the Land of Lincoln. We picked our path south on Highways 1 and 45 through to Harrisburg. From there we cut west to Marion – a city of 17,000 plus on Highway 13. An interesting observation pretty much as soon as we entered the state was the number of what appeared to be oil derricks pumping away in the paddocks – there were loads of paddocks and therefore more derricks than we’d anticipated. As we’d seen passing through lower Indiana, Illinois was a hive of harvest activity. With darkness well and truly upon us, we pulled south onto Interstate 57 and made a run for the nearest rest area – some 25 miles south – we’d run around 300 miles this afternoon from the RV Park in Greenfield so a solid run for us. We got on the road early on Friday morning in order to try and get going before the traffic built up too much on the Interstate, and because we had some states to cross today. The day started off grey and overcast, but there was darkness on the horizon. Our time in the state would be short this morning and within and hour we came upon the mighty Mississippi River and yes, another state border crossing – goodbye Illinois.

Missouri

Crossing the Mississippi on Interstate 51 we travelled west an intercepted Interstate 55. Crossing the river, we found ourselves in ‘cotton country’ – paddock upon paddock of cotton. As we drove south besides the landscape changing to fluffy fields for us, we found the weather change to the opposite – heavy clouds and then heavy rain. Our time in the state would be short – we needed to keep running whilst we could – whilst Romin was hanging in there. We only got to experience around 65 miles of the lower section of state and again all too soon we were across and out of the state – no rivers to cross this time around.

Arkansas

The landscape from Interstate 55 didn’t vary from the thick fields and bales of cotton (Arkansas is one of the nations largest cotton producers) with the weather getting worse / heavier rain. We stopped just across the state at a Visitor Centre and have a good talk to the team there on the state and what he had to offer. ‘Celebrities’ to come from the state include Johnny Cash, Glen Campbell and Bill Clinton was Governor here before his time in the White House. Aware of keeping Romin running whilst we could we pushed back on the Interstate – the 55 would take us around 75 miles through to the Tennessee border and Memphis. Interspersed with fields of cotton we also found fields of rice – apparently the state’s No 1 crop, followed by egg production, and cotton coming in No 3. The rain got heavier the closer we got to the border. Memphis is another of those cities that seems to span state borders – we would cross through West Memphis, but Memphis also spans south into Mississippi. In the meantime we had another river to cross – here comes the Mississippi again – goodbye Arkansas.

Indiana

Pushing on with Interstate 65 we move north into Indiana. Louisville seemed to be one of those border cities that sprawl across into neighbouring states – it spans across the Ohio river with ‘suburbs’ so we had some built-up area to move through. We pulled into a rest spot about 20 miles into the state and had a rest up before resuming back on the interstate – it wasn’t too manic. We pulled into the junction town of Taylorville where there was a large outlet mall. We parked up at the Cracker Barrell for the evening and had a wander around the shops and then refuelled and recharged – and posted, over at the local Starbucks. Having parked up at the Cracker Barrell it was only fair that we catch a bite to eat there before settling in for the evening. Monday morning had a nice sunrise but it was all too brief and before we knew it we had steady rain. Pulling out of Taylorville we called at the local RV yard for some advice on what might be going on with Romin. The RV shop was little help to us but directed us to the Ford dealer in Shelbyville so we pushed on. We stuck to some secondary back roads and before we knew it we were right in the thick of a really heavy thunder and lightning storm – it was right on top of us. We saw lightning hit a power pole nearby causing a splash of sparks. Visibility was very poor – we contemplated pulling off the road and trying to ride it out but pushed on as best we could – fortunately traffic on the roads was being sensible giving each other space. We pulled into Shelbyville and called at the Ford outlet and got a bit of direction from them, but they were way too busy to be able to look at things for us.

We motored on – with the weather slowly improving – the thunder and lightning behind us. We made our way to an RV park we had selected in Greenfield – this would be our base for the next few days. Our friend Dale up in Montana had put us in contact with a good friend of his from Montana, Jeff Sholty who spends a lot of his time in Indiana looking after his elderly mum. We made contact with Jeff and had high hopes that he would be able to work with us to see some of the sights around Indianapolis over the next few days. We got ourselves settled in at the RV park for the balance of the day. On Tuesday, not having had any joy linking in with Jeff, we decided to push on with our own plans and made our way into Greenfield catching a lift from Dave at the camp (the town was around 5 miles from the camp). We made the call to get a rental car for a couple of days so we could get out to see some of the sights we had in mind, and with car sorted we made the run into Indianapolis on Interstate 70 so we could go and have a look at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. The museum had a great display and both Carol and I had a great time taking it all in. Having spent a few hours looking around inside we had a bit of a look around outside but I’d have to say it’s just not the same – we’d like to be on site on the day of a race – besides the Indy car races on the track, NASCAR also run on the track. The track can hold something like 350,000 – I think I read that the Indy 500 is the largest one-day sporting event in the world. The atmosphere on race day must be amazing. Getting through Indianapolis’s late day traffic wasn’t as crazy as I’d expected, and we had a pretty good run back out to the RV park.

On Wednesday morning we had an early start in order for us to make the run over to Dayton, Ohio for the day. We were as close as we were going to get to Dayton from where we were staying in Indiana so made good sense. The run east across Indiana was literally a straight forward run on Interstate 70 – a run of around 130 miles to get us from Greenfield through to the other side of Dayton, Ohio. Why Dayton – well it’s the home of the US Airforce National Museum and truly a bucket list location for me. The run to Dayton took us the best part of 2 hours – being in a rental car certainly made for some easier, and faster travelling. The museum has been on the bucket list for a very long time as the museum houses my other favourite aeroplane – the XB-70 Bomber – I was very excited to see it. The museum is spread over 5 hangers and as I had anticipated would be the case, one day simply isn’t enough time to take in all that is on offer – well atleast not for someone like me – an aviation buff since I was a young fella. We were in the museum by 9.30am and didn’t leave the museum complex until around 5.30pm.

The museum has 5 ‘theatres’ full of aircraft – you start with WW1 and then move across to the WW2 theatres. From there you head into the Korean and Vietnam theatre before pushing out to the Cold War theatre – now I was getting excited. Between the final 2 hangars there’s a Rocket atrium and then the last hangar is the one I was looking forward most to – the Experimental Aircraft theatre – and there taking centre stage, for me anyway, was the XB-70 Bomber. I won’t bore you with details but this plane ticks so many boxes for me – form, style, power and performance and above all of that, the futuristic design of it. Needless to say I spent a lot of my day in that last theatre and before leaving at the end of the day, had to head back out there for one final look. Might be sometime before I’m able to come back via these ways. Very excited by the day – besides the XB-70 I was chuffed to find a whole load of unexpected other aviation treasures on display today – I’m thinking my must-see list is now pretty much ticked off – well, for now anyway.  Getting back out of Dayton we made our way over to Interstate 70 to make the trek back west to the RV Park. We were making good progress until the dreaded ‘road works ahead’ sign popped up – a 10-mile crawl later we finally inched our way through the jam and were in clear traffic again – finally. The traffic backed us up for around 40 mins so it was dark by the time we made it back to the RV Park, but we made it.

On Thursday morning I made the trek back into Greenfield to drop the rental car off and then we prepped to head off in the camper again. With Romin running rough we made it back over to Shelbyville and then headed west on Highway 44 to intercept Interstate 69. The landscape back out in the open of the Interstate was full of harvest activity intermixed with rolling hills. The harvest activity was corn and soya being harvested – combiners kicking up dust. The run south on the Interstate was good – not too many trucks roaring by so we enjoyed a good run before branching west on the 64 to the border – another river to cross and we would be in another state. Coming up to the border we noted a big coal mine – obviously there is coal ‘in them their hills’. Time for us to leave Indiana behind.