Road Trip to the Outer Banks – NC

Robyn and Frank very kindly ran us up the road to the rental car place in Chapel Hill and with car keys in hand we said out good byes to them both but promising to keep in touch. We were going to spend the next couple of days checking out the Outer Banks area of North Carolina. We saw some info on the area when we were first in the state a few months ago and were keen to get back to this area if the opportunity arose – which we have now made happen. Picking up our car we started to head east. We had to firstly work our way ‘across the triangle’ which involved heading through Cary and then out through Raleigh – the main hub of the triangle. We primarily stuck to Highway 64 which runs east to west across North Carolina. We stopped at an area called Plymouth for a break – this was the scene of one of the state’s more significant Civil War battles (I think Plymouth was a Union held area, whom the Confederates then drove out of the area). Plymouth is also at the base of the Albemarle Sound waterway that forms the upper portion of the inner Outer Bank area – if that makes sense (it does if you follow a map). You have the Albemarle Sound to the north of the inner passages and Pamlico Sound to the south – big inner waterways that are of course fed from and into the Atlantic on the eastern coastline of North Carolina. Off these main sounds are a number of feeder channels, sounds and rivers – it’s a huge waterway and very interesting. Further east and we stopped at the little town of Columbia which is effectively the end of the 4-lane roadway heading west – dropping us back to a good 2 lane highway for the remainder of the run to the Outer Bank.

Columbia had a good Visitor Info Centre and the team there were good sharing their ideas and views on where to go and where not to go in the area. Just to the east of Columbia is the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge – when you see the area, you could understand it being good Alligator country – loads of waterways, very marshy. The surrounding area – Alligator Refuse and Tyrrell County is also supposed to be home to the US’s largest group of Black Bears, so the Wildlife team at Columbia gave us a map for a route we could take through the refuge – to look for bears, and or maybe some alligator (and area of this land to the south is military land and is used as a bombing range – presumably it is free of much wildlife and bears?). We drove slowly around this area looking for bears and co but to no avail – nothing much was spotted bar some swans (the area has a huge swan migratory every year), Kingfishers and turtles. Getting back out onto the main road (Highway 64) we crossed a very impressive bridge over onto Roanoke Island – the bridge spanning around 5 miles of the waterway – nice piece of engineering. Roanoke Island is a descent sized island on the inner waterways – long and narrow and is home to the old town of Manteo. To the north of this area – northern tip of Roanoke Island is where the British first tried to colonise the US back in the late 1500’s. A group of people from England were dropped on the island but mysteriously disappeared within a couple of years (maybe the alligators got them???) – it would be another 50 years or so before the British would try to colonise the area again.

Another nice bridge spans the waterway that divides Roanoke Island from the Outer Bank proper – have to say the US do build some good bridges – the way they span the waterways as they do has really impressed me. With the inner waters covered we were now on the Outer Banks at the town of Nags Head. Now I have to be honest and say I really didn’t expect the Outer Banks area to be very populated – I’d expected it to have a random selection of holiday batches or homes here and there. Instead this stretch of the Outer Banks that runs around 20 miles of more is just one town after another – Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and it’s just full of houses and they are all very large and very high (to try and capture views out onto the Atlantic). Dotted along the coastline you then have all the mandatory motels and accommodation options, shopping and food outlets that support the local population. It looks like for the most part the Outer Banks area if a full-on place over the summer months, but in the winter, things pull back – not that today felt much like winter, with the sun shining nicely for us. The Outer Banks is obviously home to the first powered flights at Kitty Hawk, and so I suppose I had naively factored on the area still being quite remote. Obviously there are good stretches (North and South of Nags Head) that are sparsely populated, but in this central hub, it was really surprising. A lot of the homes appear to be vacation type set ups – Book a Bach type arrangements maybe?

We were starting to run out of daylight, so turning left onto the main road on the Outer Bank – Highway 12, we headed south in the direction of Hatteras (Cape Hatteras is the sight of a famous US lighthouse – being one of the most eastern most points of this Atlantic coastline). We didn’t get anywhere near as far as Hatteras as we were left aghast at the Oregon Inlet Bridge that we crossed. Turns out it is a new bridge that opened only in Feb 2019 I think and it spans one of the main channels that feeds in and out of the Atlantic. You could see this bridge to the south when we crossed over from Roanoke Island even though it was a good 5 miles to the south – it’s such a big structure. The bridge is 2.8 miles long and rises to 90 feet above the waterline. It cost just over $250 million to build and is named the Bonner Bridge – as it runs alongside the old Herbert C Bonner Bridge that it replaces (work is still ongoing to remove most of the old bridge – some parts of it are to be left as fishing piers and the like). We were both really impressed with this piece of engineering – its amazing just what can be achieved – money permitting obviously. The bridge connects the main part of the Outer Banks with the southern Hatteras Island chain (the Outer Banks are a collection of islands either linked by bridge, such as the Bonner Bridge, or by ferry – a couple of ferries are needed to get right to the bottom of the Outer Island bank). We moved south a bit more before stopping at an area known as Pea Island where there is another wildlife refuge – we stopped just in time to catch the sun setting over the inner waters of the Outer Banks area – very nice and a great way to draw our day to a close. Another treat was the sky that was just lined / laced with vapor trials – not sure why there were so many in this area but they crossed this way and that way – quite the sight as well.

Turning back north, we headed back over the Bonner Bridge and into Nags Head where we set about finding some accommodation for the night. We opted for a spot right up towards Kitty Hawk and have about 15 miles of waterfront area to cover before we found our spot for the night (I think it was called the Days Inn Wright Brothers or similar as it was in the area of the memorial – very handy). Our motel was on the beach front and the lady at the counter was telling us about the Ghost Craps you can see on the beach, so we grabbed our torches and headed out onto the beach in the dark, but to no avail – no crabs sighted by us tonight. We enjoyed a bit of an exploratory walk up the beach before heading back to our room – sand and all. We enjoyed a really good breakfast at the motel on the Thursday morning and then headed across a couple of blocks to the Wright Brothers National Memorial. No flight pilgrimage to the US would be complete without coming to the spiritual home of where it all began, so I was just so grateful that we had the opportunity to come here. The Wright Brothers National Memorial is run by the US National Parks Service, and so our NP’s membership got us into the complex for free – bonus. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the place – obviously a lot has happened in the almost 120 years since he Wright Brothers flew year – the area has obviously built up, and the landscape has changed from what I believed to be like a big flat sand dune area back at the start of the 1900’s. The Memorial outlined the history of the Wright Brothers really nicely, and they had a replicate of the 1903 Wright Flyer on display. There was some really good info to take in – really well done.

We opted for the guides talk at 11am and were entertained by the young volunteers telling of life back in the area in 1900 -1903 and the trials and tribulations of the Wright Brothers – he did a great job. The area has the Kill Devil Hills – well it’s really only one hill now, as it’s backdrop. The hills were where the Wrights first undertook glider flights to understand better how powered flight might pan out. Back in the day, summers were crazy hot and mosquito ridden – winters were calmer but cooler with it so a lot of the Wrights time in the area was from around Sept – December 1900 – 1903. There’s a replicate of their hut and hanger on display – this was where they lived and worked when in the area trying to master flying. Then you have the track that they launched from in December 1903 and there are 4 markers capturing the lengths that Wilbur and Orville Wright flew on that day – 17 December 1903. When you look at the pictures from the time, it was a pretty desolate and hostile environment but it was what they wanted as they wanted both the right wind conditions for flying, but also isolation as they refined how to fly. I think the story goes that once they completed their flights on the morning of December 17 1903, they had to walk 4 miles to get a telegraph off to their father to say they had done it. The Wright Brothers had the foresight to have someone take photos on the day – story goes that one of the local surf live savers was challenged with clicking the camera bottom at just the right time – with the realisation that to get the pictures developed would then take a couple of months from the time they were taken. Fortunately as history depicts, he got it right and captured the famous image of lift off – no pressure.

There’s a large National Memorial up on the top of Kill Devil Hill that was inaugurated in 1928 I think it was and it’s a really nice fitting tribute to this achievement. Unfortunately some rat bags had stolen one of the basks that sit at the back of the memorial – of Orville Wright. I think the Park Service lad said it had been retrieved, but it’s just such a shame to think that people can be silly enough to do such things. Reality will be in time that the memorial will end up being fenced off in order to protect it – which would be a real shame. Down below the hill is another full-sized sculpture of the Wright Flyer that we climbed onto for photo opportunities. I have to say that I came away from this area with a much greater appreciation for just what was achieved by the Wright Brothers. I’ve always been into what goes faster and looks good, goes better, but it’s really important not to lose sight of where it all began – this sandy flat spot on the Outer Banks of North Carolina – very cool. Still buzzing from the experience, we headed north to the ‘end of town’. Up above Kitty Hawk the Outer Bank stretches north for I think 60 miles of so – you have the area of Corrolla where some native horses (from the early colonisation I think) still roam. The road runs out and to get back onto mainland North Carolina you have to head all the way back down to Kitty Hawk where you can cross another big waterway bridge back onto the mainland. Alas we didn’t have time for that loop, so we headed back down to Nags Heads and over to Manteo where we drove to the north of the island to take the old bridge (another great waterway bridge – getting my quota down here) back across Croatan Sound and the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge.

We took some of the wildlife trail again around this area in search of bears, and or alligators, but really only spotted turtles – loads and loads of small turtles up on branches in the waterway sunning themselves. Rather than following the 64 back west, we dropped south and then west on Highway 264 which cut around the southern side of the refuge, with Pamlico Sound to our left / south. The 264 took us through a mix of refuge landscape and then out into farm land as we made our way back west. We made our way through some small settlements – there were waterways on the southern side feeding out into Pamlico Sound, and waterways up into rivers heading inland – a real mix of landscape for us. We passed through the town of Washington and on through to the city of Greenville just as darkness started to close in on us. We called it quits for the night in Wilson a big junction town / city which has Highway 264 crossing east to west, and Interstate 95 running north to south. We found a motel for the night and settled in having had a pretty special day and having really enjoyed our limited time out on the Outer Banks area – would love to be able to spend more time in the area as there was so much water, great bridges, history, varying landscapes and a lot of boats – on Roanoke Island there were a number of large boat building operations – something further I would have liked to have explored.

On Friday morning dawned very fresh and cold – but fine. We had to get up and on the road pretty early for the final push over to Burlington. The run was only around 100 miles but with us having to skirt around the triangle and in and around the cities of Raleigh and then Durham before we would get over to Burlington, we thought it best to get on the road earlier and give ourselves plenty of time. As it turns out it was an easy run for us and we had time to call at the Burlington Train Station to purchase tickets for the train through to Washington DC on Friday 24 January – our next stop after we complete our housesit in Burlington. I have to say I love this smaller road trips – and the bigger road trips for that matter that Carol and I have been taking. Our central location in North Carolina providing the ideal opportunity for us to go east, south, and back west as we want to – very handy. The Outer Banks was a gem – a real surprise with just how big the area was, but a true gem of an area to explore.

House Sitting in Durham NC

We didn’t have high expectations from our train ride from Charlotte through to Durham, but were thoroughly impressed by our experience. We rode what is known as the Piedmont train – it runs 3 times a day from Charlotte to Raleigh return and it was great. It was super comfortable, the staff on board were very friendly and helpful (with directions, maps and advise), and a bonus was it had free tea coffee and water – a really nice way to ride. The train had to stop at stations along the way every 20 – 30 mins, and so after something like 5 stops we arrived at the Durham Station around 1.15pm. Waiting for our bags we searched the station to pick out Frank from the housesit who had offered to collect us from the station. With Frank identified, and greetings exchanged and bags in hand, Frank drove us to their lovely home in outer Durham which we would be look after for the following week. Durham is a fairly large city – not that we got back into the heart of downtown Durham, but has a population of 265,000 or more – more than big enough. Frank and Robyn whose home – and pets, we would be minding for the week, live on the outer suburbs of Durham, not far from Duke University in Chapel Hill. Durham forms part of the Research Triangle – an area well known for its medical research and facilities – 3 universities feed into the area which is anchored by the cities of Durham, Raleigh and the town of Chapel Hill – area has a population of over 2 million so it’s a bit thing in North Carolina, and wider US for that matter.

Frank and Robyn’s home is part of a lovely lake front development in the South Point area I think it was known as. Robyn and Frank welcomed us into their home and introduced us to their pets Mitch and Vasco whom we would be looking after whilst they headed to Colorado to visit family for the following week. Mitch is a Kelpie cross from Tasmania and is thought to be around 12-13 years old. He’s lived a pretty charmed live I think – he was rescued by Robyn’s mum after a big fire I think it was, and lived with her for maybe 5 years until she passed and then Mitch was flown all the way to the US to take up residence with Robyn and Frank. Vasco is an18 year old parrot – parakeet I think – very colourful, but not entirely friendly, so our contact would be through the cage only (apparently he’s good with Frank, or maybe it was Robyn only – one of the two of them). We spent the remainder of our Tuesday conversing with Robyn and Frank about each other, the area, travels and opportunities – a really nice couple who made us feel very welcome in their home – the pleasure being all ours to look after things for them. That evening we went out locally for some dinner and continued our good conversations – a nice day. Robyn and Frank didn’t need to head off until around 2pm on Wednesday, so the morning was spent walking Mitch around the really nice lake track – short route is around 1 mile, or you could take the extended loop which we favoured which was around 1 ½ miles – nice and easy. The lake has some nice bird life – ducks and geese and even a couple of large Blue Herons.

In the lake itself there are some turtles which we saw a couple of times – got to watch the Snapping Turtles we’ve been told – pretty nasty when they want to be. The lake had lovely trees around it so there were loads of squirrels playing around – there’s something about them that just makes you smile when you see them. Another bonus around the lake was the little book exchange booth that had been set up – I picked up a couple of good books and dropped a couple off I’d been carrying. Robyn needed to get her nails done down at the local mall about a mile or so up the road so we went with them and picked up some supplies for the week ahead. With Robyn and Frank heading away that afternoon we just settled back and enjoyed the company of Mitch and the surroundings. The weather during the following days was a mix – sunny but cool but with periods of rain – quite a bit of rain at times as the area in front of the house became quite sodden. Our daily routine involved walking Mitch in the morning, and later in the day – big loop in the morning, and shorter loop in the afternoon. He doesn’t like the rain so we had to time things right with getting out and about with him. We passed our time reading and planning some next steps of our travels. In between we hiked back up to the shopping area to have a look around and picked up a few more things. The weekend was a hive of activity around the lake with loads of people, and dogs out walking – really good to see considering we really hadn’t seen too much walking anywhere to date on our travels.

On Monday I had a Skype interview call once I could connect with the technology – not the same experience as a face to face, but things went okay, and a follow up call is planned. On the Tuesday despite the drizzle we headed out and walked up to the shopping area again. This time we took part of what is called the American Tobacco Trial. The trial runs for almost 23 miles and links across the Research Triangle area. The track follows the abandoned train tracks set up for the American Tobacco Company in the 1970’s. The track was nicely maintained and a nice alternative to the main road up to the mall. At the shops we both got haircuts and picked up some supplies so we could cook a nice meal for Robyn and Frank’s return that evening. We hiked back up the trail getting home before the rain came to too much and got busy straightening the place up. Robyn and Frank arrived back home around 5.30pm and we had a really nice evening catching up on each other’s week and picking up on some travel conversations for good measure – good food, nice, wine, and good company – great mix. On Wednesday morning we had one last walk around the lake with Mitch with Robyn and Frank along for company and just enjoyed the surroundings and what this past week had offered us – a very nice, pleasant experience – as the housesit testimonials would attest to.

Onward to Charlotte NC

Sunday morning had us up early hoping to have a bite to eat at the motel before heading down the street. Emm, Sunday was the kitchen’s late start, so it was a very quick bite, but a bite none the less, and with that we headed off into the main street to walk up to the bus terminal – a bit less than 1.5 miles. Sunday had dawned fine (around freezing point), but it was certainly colder as we walked up the street, but the effort involved warmed us up. We arrived at the bus terminal to find it a mass of people waiting to get on buses so some queuing was involved to get our tickets – somewhat fortunately, and as we’d come to expect with Greyhound, the bus was delayed by 45 mins so as it turned out we had plenty of time. On the bus we finally started to pull off and make our way out of Atlanta – which took some time as it is a very large city (the central population of Atlanta might only be ½ a million, but wider Atlanta has a population of almost 6 million – now the scale makes sense). The bus had to make a number of scheduled stops – first up was Gainesville on the outskirts of Atlanta. After a couple of stops we finally crossed out of Georgia and back into South Carolina – our route today following Interstate 85 on a north eastly course to Charlotte.

After enjoying our ride across South Carolina we pulled into Charlotte around 4.15pm – sun shining. Our accommodation was only about a mile from the bus terminal down in the area of the university, so very handy (plus they greeted us with fresh baked chocolate chippie cookies on our arrival – nice touch). By the time we got to our room, evening was closing in on us so we settled in for an easy night. Monday dawned sunny so we were up and away early to walk up to the Amtrak train station in Charlotte to get tickets for Tuesday over to the housesit in Durham. The walk to the train station was a descent hike of a couple of miles up and through a couple of areas of Charlotte (the Uptown area is the commercial centre of Charlotte with some stunning high rise buildings and a nice vide, with the train station to the north of the city in the Noda area – a much more industrial type area with a lot of homeless people trying to keep warm). With train tickets sorted we wandered back uptown – the main streets are Tryon Street which runs north to south, and Trade Street (which the motel was off) running east to west. The Uptown area of Charlotte was very nice – stunning buildings, loads of nice sculptures, loads of different vistas to take in – very nice for a big city (population of Charlotte is almost 900,000). We went into a gallery / building lobby that had a collection of stunning glass works – very nice. Amongst The sculptures are the Sculptures at Independence Square – a series of 4 sculptures named Transportation, Future, Commerce and Industry – standing for the 4 facets of the Queen City (that’s another story – Charlotte was named after Queen Charlotte, the German born wife of King George 111 back in 1768).

Charlotte is the home of NASCAR with the NASCAR Museum / Hall of Fame taking pride of place in downtown Charlotte. I was undecided about going into it (cost and time), but things were decided for us when it turned out the museum was closed for a week for renovations – obviously not meant to be. From the Convention Centre (NASCAR backs onto this complex) we headed up to Spectrum Centre – another great ‘downtown / uptown’ facility in the heart of the city (in addition to the Spectrum Stadium, the NFL and Baseball Stadiums are all in what we would call the Uptown area – very central to the city). Spectrum is where all the concerts are held and also the local NBA Basketball team the Hornets play when at home. As chance would have it the Hornets were playing today so we picked up tickets – being budget conscious we went for the cheapest seats. With tickets in hand we wandered back to the motel to freshen up before heading back uptown to be at the stadium as it opened its doors at 6pm for a 7pm game tip off. With school having gone back today after Xmas break, we were told the game wouldn’t be busy and it wasn’t but despite that our seats placed us in the stratosphere of the Spectrum Centre – about 4 rows from the very top – a bit crazy when there were so many empty seats below us. Thank goodness for the big screen TV’s. Despite our vantage point the atmosphere was good, and whilst we didn’t entirely understand the game, we did enjoy the experience – we had some young kids sitting along from us in their supporter gear chanting ‘defence, defence’ on a regular basis.

Unfortunately the local team (Charlotte Hornets) went down to the visiting Indiana Pacers 104 – 95. The whole game – which is played over 4 12 min quarters is a bit stop start with atleast 2 timeouts per quarter, so it was getting on for 9.30pm by the time we climbed down and found our way out of the complex. We wandered back up the road stopping for a bite to eat at a roadside food caravan – which was doing some good post game trade. Attending an NBA game now ticked off, we enjoyed the night time vistas that Uptown Charlotte offers and made our way back to the motel – receiving fresh chocolate chippie cookies for our troubles – bonus. On Tuesday morning we had an easy start not having to check out until 9.30am. We arranged a taxi to get us back up to the train station – the weather closed in on us and it started raining, and would do so for most of the day. Charlotte was a real nice experience for us – both Carol and I felt good about the city, the vibe and what it offers. I was really impressed by how the sporting complexes have all been strategically located so central to the heart of the city – a good touch I think. More time to explore some more would always be a bonus, but not to be this time – we had a train to catch to Durham.


Dropping the rental car off at the downtown branch meant we only had a walk of around a mile up to the main street area and along the road to our accommodation – the Inn At Peachtrees. We’d expected to just drop our bags and head out but the lady at reception looked after us and had a room available that we could go straight into so that was a bonus. As we were walking to the accommodation the weather started to pack in, so it was out with the raincoats as we headed on out from the motel to have a look around the downtown area. Around 3 blocks down from us is the Coke Cola International Offices and associated Coke Museum. We didn’t do the museum tour but had a look around the merchandise shop – as you’d expect, they had some nice bits and pieces. The Coke Museum is in part of a larger museum hub locally – across from Coke you have the Georgia Aquarium – the largest on the eastern coast, if not the US by volume of water they display. You also have the Centre for Civil and Human Rights Museum in the area – all of which can be accessed as part of the promo Atlanta Pass if you want to pay that much (each museum was on average $17 to enter). We settled on having a walk around the area and then heading on over to Centennial Olympic Park – yes, scene of some of the cities celebrations attached to the 1996 Olympics staged in the city (interestingly when we were in Savannah there was a monument there on the waterfront celebrating it as the scene of the Olympic sailing venue in 1996). We didn’t see the fountains ‘perform’ – if was wet enough without them. We called at the local Visitor Centre and armed ourselves with some local info before setting off again in the pouring rain.

Downtown Atlanta has a Street Car that runs a 2.5-mile loop and for $1 a ticket you can ride it for 2 hours, so we did a full loop and then a part loop around again to the Sweet Auburn Curb Market – a popular food-court area. With the holiday season, a number – maybe half, of the operators were closed, but we still found something nice and warm to partake before heading back out and onto the Street Car for the run back up to the main-street. From there it was a short walk back up to the motel where we dried off and settled in for the evening. On Friday the rain didn’t let up much at all, so we spent a good part of the day just hunkered down in our room, catching up on blog duties, and jotting down some ideas for our pending build back home. Mid-afternoon we decided we wrap up and head out and took a good walk further up town – we would consider Atlanta a big city – yep the stats suggest the population is only around ½ a million – we thought it might have been more. Maybe it’s jus that the city is quite spread out – broken up into different parts / quadrants – you have Downtown, Midtown, Uptown etc. Interestingly the local airport – Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the world’s busiest airport, and has been so for the past 21 years. Supposedly something like 107 Million passengers flew through the airport in 2018 – crazy numbers. Anyway, we walked a ways towards the Midtown area – admiring the architecture along the way. One of the standout buildings is the Bank of America Building – it stands at over 1000 feet and is in the top 10 tallest buildings in the US. On a day like today, the upper third of the building was shrouded in low cloud which gave an interesting visual experience. That said, a number of other tall Atlanta buildings were also playing with the clouds / in the clouds today. Atlanta is / has been a popular film backdrop and with the buildings and architecture of this city you can see why. Supposedly Atlanta is the backdrop for Gotham City – we didn’t see the Bat Light though.

We found ourselves a little supermarket and picked up some supplies and made our way back downtown to our accommodation – all the better for getting out and getting some fresh air. The forecast for Saturday was for improving weather, so I braved it and donned my shorts again today. We got up earlier and headed down for some breakfast ahead of the masses (the previous mornings breakfast sitting had been crazy noisy with kids and families staying in the motel). It seemed that almost as soon as we left the motel to head out that the heavens opened up again – so we had to hunker down under some verandas waiting, and hoping that the weather would lift – as per the forecast. After sheltering for maybe 30 mins the weather started to lift and we set off proper again. Carol was keen to explore the Martin Luther King Jnr memorial, so we hiked up the main street until we found the Street Car tracks and then followed them down Edgewood Ave – along past the Sweet Auburn Markets. Along the way we passed some nice pieces of sculpture – some of the big buildings have nice pieces displayed in front of them, and then there are pieces and waterfalls in and around the part areas. Unfortunately it looks like the city of Atlanta has quite a high homeless rate. We’ve passed numerous people sleeping rough on the streets the past couple of days – looks like they try and sleep during the day, and then are active / up and about at night – most likely just to keep warm at this time of the year. One of the parks down near Sweet Auburn Markets looked to be a central location for atleast 50 people living on the streets – or so it seems.

This area of downtown is the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jnr – the Sweet Auburn area of Atlanta being his home and the home of a lot of African Americans in this city. To recognise his contributions and I guess we can say, sacrifice, there is a National Historical Park named after Martin Luther King Jnr here in the downtown area – run by the National Parks Service. We had a good look around the complex – which traces the life and struggles of not just Martin Luther King Jnr, but all coloured folk across the USA. It detailed the protests, and retaliations that occurred. I have to say I didn’t want to get into all the detail on display – for me it just seems incomprehensible that such division could exist / did and does exist across this country. For me this must go down as one of the US’s darker periods in history. The complex which covers several blocks acknowledges the contributions Martin Luther King Jnr, his wife and family made in US history. Across the road from the main Visitor Centre is the King Centre which has the tombs of Martin and his wife with an external flame burning close by. Down the street, some of the original homes of the era including the house that Martin Luther King Jnr was raised in, are all restored and maintained by the Park Service.

Somewhat stunned by this experience, we headed uptown towards the Midtown area. We’d heard about the Ponce City Market and had been told it was the place to go for shops and foot so we set off on foot to reach this area. The Ponce Markets building (opened in 1926) was at one point the largest building in Atlanta at over 200,000 m’s square. It was used up until 1987 by Sears, and then around 2011, the city started renovating and restoring the building complex to form the large upmarket retail and food area that exists today. We had a bit of a wander around – the retailers were mainly high end, and there seemed to be an endless supply of food vendors to choose from. From there we took a fix on the Bank of America building which today was basking in all its glory with the cloud at bay, so we got a nice view of the top of it, and used that to get our bearings on where we needed to head to, in order to get back to the motel – which after a good hike, we did. Obviously there is a lot more we could and probably should have seen in and around the city of Atlanta, but time and money curtail that for us this time round. We were just happy to finally be out of our rain coats and enjoying some sunshine, albeit on a cooler day here in Atlanta. Sunday has us on the move again early – heading back up the road to the Greyhound Bus Terminal, for us to head further east again – this time we are off to Charlotte, so I’ll update from there.

Life without Romin

Saturday 28 December was to be our last day in Clinton Mississippi – well Mississippi full-stop. We didn’t have to have Romin dropped off till later in the day as our scheduled bus from Jackson wasn’t until almost 11pm so we wanted to drop Romin off as late as we could, but still within daylight so we could go over things with Glenda and Kenny. The morning was spent repacking bags – first time we have had to pull everything out for some 5 months. A few bits and pieces were culled, but for the most part, everything we accumulated for camper life stayed in Romin – we would just be taking our bags packed again – just like travel of old. We said farewell to Miss Germany and headed off from the camp around 3.30pm. The camper was going to Glenda and Kenny who live in Canton – a city around 40 miles north of Jackson (there’s a large Nissan plant close by which is the lifeblood of this city and a good chunk of Jackson). The day was starting to pack up as we headed off, and as if Romin was making one last stand, she wasn’t running too well today – but we pushed on regardless – we had to. We took part of the Natchez Trace Parkway – had intended to ride it all the way to the main Interstate but within about 10 miles of the Trace there was a road closure so we had to detour north on Highways 49 and 22 – the 22 taking us straight into Canton, and to our drop off point. Along the way we drove through the town of Flora and then Madison County – areas with large, very large homes, lots of gated communities, nice farmland with cattle and horses. Canton is known as the City of Light and has a large Xmas light display each Xmas – we didn’t manage to take that in, but have seen some nice light displays on our journeys, and many many houses decorated for Xmas with garden scenes – the big inflatable Xmas decorations are very popular.

Romin’s new owners are Glenda and Kenny who live just on the outskirts of Canton in a historic homestead dating back to 1829 I think it was. I think the house had seen better days and could benefit from some serious upkeep, but maybe that was beyond what Glenda was able to do? They already had a large Class A camper parked up by the house – Romin was to go alongside this and become ‘Kenny’s residence’. Glenda is a ‘cat lady’ and collector – there were maybe 15 cats in and around the house, and atleast 4 cars out in the grass growing weeds. We’re not sure why American’s seem to let things go so much, or just park something up as opposed to ‘moving it on’. The cars – which included a Mustang, Jag and Mazda MX 5 would be popular with many – yet, here they are not doing anyone any good – not sure why we have seen so much of that. Kenny wanted to take Romin for a run up the road so we do so – she didn’t run that well, but some of that was the way Kenny was driving her – you needed to know how to handle / treat Romin right. I was anxious about things, but we got back to the house, parked Romin up on the lawn, went over what was what with the camper, and collected our bags and cash for the sale – deal done. Glenda was kind enough to run us back into Jackson to the bus terminal and so we got dropped off around 6.15pm and wished them well with Romin.

As had been advice to us previously, Glenda was anxious about us ‘hanging around’ at the bus station, but we didn’t see that we had many options. Yes, it’s an area where some people live rough – seeking shelter on a cold evening in the bus terminal for as long as they can before security move them on. It seems that a number of people didn’t have much positiveness to say about downtown Jackson – that it wasn’t the place for people like us to be. People seem sceptical of one another. We had a guy in the RV Park that started talking with us when he saw us out and around the camp – him and his wife had a service called Demon Busters – we didn’t get down to the nitty gritty of what that involved, but they felt they were providing a service and this was their calling from God. Stan warned us about the people from Canton – ‘take care dropping off the camper – there are a lot of bad people in Canton’. I’m sure their might have been, but what was Stan basing that judgement on – experience??? I guess the same can be said about a lot of places – there are always going to be pockets which aren’t as nice as others, but our experience of downtown – of the bus terminal was fine. It would be fair to say of Jackson and Mississippi as a whole, that it is more of a coloured state than the likes of Northern and Western USA. I made a note that I would consider Mississippi to be more of a working class state – yes there are pockets where people are obviously doing well if that is measured by the type of car you drive, and how big your house is, but there are a lot of people in the south living a lower standard – but for the most part, people seem happy (the rich live rich, the poor just live is probably one way to sum it up). That said, a lot of people drive nice cars – maybe the price of cars in the US is so competitive that they can – there again, I think part of it could be the financing options available to purchase such items. We saw new house and land packages advertising zero dollars down – how does that work? With the car prices seeming so low, maybe that is a factor in why people just ‘park up’ the old car on the section, and set off in the newer car?

Other observations of the South – it seems that life is all about making things as easy as possible – people hop in their cars to drive 100 metres like we experienced in the RV Park, there are drive through’s for everything so that people don’t have to get out of their cars – supermarkets, bottle stores, ATM’s, chemists, and of course, fast food providers – there are just so many and too many options. A good example – where we stayed in Clinton was at a junction of Interstate 20 – within a 500-metre radius of the Interstate at this point you had something like 10 accommodation / motel options, and just as many fast food outlets. I think I made the comment that life here is an ‘instant society’ – made to be as easy as possible, but from our point of view, that looks to be detrimental. A lot of people don’t look to cook for themselves – there are so many food options, you could try them all and probably still not cover them in the space of a month. A real surprise for us – lots of people use disposable plates and cutlery for their meals – so they don’t have to wash up I guess. I’m not sure how much of that is based on trailer park living and not having the space, but I don’t think that should be a factor. Have people just got too lazy? We know it was very frustrating for us that there were basically no footpaths for us to walk on – this then discourages people from walking – which means no exercise, which then leads to people being overweight and health issues. We know that back home there has been a big push to go away from plastic bags – emm, no real signs of that here in the US – supermarkets are very generous / over generous with packaging, and the disposable plates we talked about – a lot of that is polystyrene – not too sure how that’s going to break down? My final note on excess – the caravans or rather Fifth Wheelers that adorn the RV Parks and Interstates of the US – seems that bigger is best, so most are in the 36 foot plus size bracket, which when you look at them, is huge by NZ standards, and yet these caravans are primarily only decked out for 2 people living with only the one large / very large bed, and maybe a couch of chair that will convert into a temporary bed if needed – seems like a real excess and wasted opportunity to me – rant over.

Back to the bus station – we got our tickets, and parked up with some others waiting for the bus and got educated on the American Football game that was playing (Saturday is College Football, and this weekend was the semi-finals of the competition – the Rose bowl competition I think it was???). Team from South Carolina and Ohio were contesting this game. The guys watching with us were heading to Atlanta on the 7pm bus, but were told it had broken down. Around 10.30pm we got word that the 10.50pm bus we were waiting on had also broken down (all the Atlanta buses originate from Dallas Texas). I always had this impression that Greyhound prided itself on its reliability and efficiency, but I’m not sure if its because bus travel is decreasing year on year, but the Greyhound service seemed to be lacking – seriously. The buses are old, well worn, and as a result, reliability looks to be becoming an issue. The news for us was that our scheduled bus wasn’t now expected into Jackson until maybe 4am in the morning, so with some effort, I got our tickets changed to the 7pm bus that still hadn’t arrived into Jackson – surely it would arrive before our now late bus? Around 12.30am the 7pm bus finally arrived, and after a lengthy refuelling stop, we finally boarded the bus (very tired), and left Jackson around 1.45am – well and truly late.

As is always the case with bus trips like this, the bus has to stop every 2-3 hours – driver reviver, passenger revivers etc. I had managed to doze off but snapped awake as we came into the Mississippi city of Meridian (the bus was following Interstate 20 directly across – the I20 having started in western Texas and runs to the East Coast). From Meridian (which looked like a nice city – cleaning, more progressive maybe that Jackson) the I20 heads north and out of Mississippi. We stopped in Birmingham Alabama around 5.45am to ‘revive’. Again, Birmingham looked like a nice city – some nice touches to it, but still some people living rough in and around the bus terminal area. The thinking was we would loop back through Birmingham once we picked up the rental car as they were a couple of motor-sport places I was keen to explore locally. Back on the bus for the last push, I nodded off for a time and awoke as we were nearing Atlanta. Along the way we gained an hour – instead of us arriving at 7.30am as planned, it was now 10am, but atleast we had made it. We hiked up the road for a mile or more into the heart of the city to find the Budget depot to collect a car. The plan was to collect a small ‘compact’ sized car, but they didn’t have any so they gave us a new Mustang Convertible – yes, most guys would dream of that, but a couple of things – did we want to be driving such a vehicle on the roads, plus it wasn’t convertible weather. All that said, we crammed our bags in, and headed off out of the city. For some reason – maybe Holiday traffic, the roads south of Atlanta were crazy busy and it was very stop start for a maybe 40 miles. We were heading south to get to the aircraft museum near Robins AFB.

Around 60 miles south of Atlanta the traffic backed up on us again and so we stopped as needed, but unfortunately the guy following us didn’t and he rammed up the back of us – not what we needed. The impact knocked us forward into the next car – that driver got out and had a look and waved it off – but I couldn’t wave off the impact to the back of the car. The driver of the other car got our very apologetic – he’d been distracted by his 2 young daughters in the back and failed to see the traffic stopped in front. Fortunately no one was injured – just nerves frayed. I managed to contact the rental car company after some effort, and they asked that I call the Police as a Police report of the road accident would be needed. The other driver accepted full liability, but the whole process of waiting for the Police and then getting the report taken probably took almost an hour and a half. Budget asked us to return the car to Atlanta Airport so we could be reissued another vehicle. With the nerves still on edge, we headed back towards the airport – with traffic now heavy heading back into Atlanta. Then the rain came in – very heavy. We finally got ourselves back and dropped the car off. No replacement Mustang for us – a little Ford Festiva awaited – probably what we should have had in the first place. So once again we headed out onto Interstate 75 and retraced our steps south and away from Atlanta – traffic still heavy. Today’s disruptions put pay to getting to the museum, and as it was it was around 6pm by the time we reached the nearby town of Warner Robins. We found a place to stay, got ourselves some food, and tried to switch off from the events of the day.

Monday dawned brighter weather wise so we headed down to the local Visitor Centre for some advice ahead of visiting the Museum of Aviation at the Robins AFB – Georgia. The Airbase is one of only 3 in the US which serves as a Logistics hub – I think it had around 3500 military personnel and over 20000 civilians based here. The Airbase services a lot military hardware and transports good around the country and the world from this base. The museum itself is set on 50 acres in the corner of the airbase. The museum was very good – no real surprises in so far as what was displayed – it was just displayed nicely and had a lot of information to go with it. The museum consists of 4 main hangars with static displays, and then there is a nice air park outside with a couple of dozen large aircraft displayed. With the sun shining it was nice to get out and around this area – yep, plenty of photos taken again today. Added bonus, the museum is free to enter, and works on donations. We spent around 5.5 hours looking around in total before pushing off from the museum. With the disruptions and delays of the previous day we made the call toe bypass the Alabama options and head east instead to Savannah and to explore that area. We opted for secondary roads as our route east following Highway 280 for a good chuck of time before finally linking up with Interstate 16 for the final run into Savannah. It was by this time around 6.30pm and Savannah was busy – well the old part of town here the shops and restaurants are and the tourist info site we were trying to get to.

Parking in downtown Savannah is a bit of a naff – the town is locked up with metered / paid parking, so unable to locate the Tourist Centre, we scrambled to pull over somewhere an explore our accommodation options. Savannah sits as you might expect on the banks of the Savannah River which flows out directly into the Atlantic. The river is still a very busy water way with large commercial carriers plying the waterway north and inland with their goods. On the opposite side of the Savannah River you have South Carolina – the river divides South Carolina and Georgia. Looking at our options we decided it would be nice to stay out by the beach – Savannah’s beach area is called Tybee Beach – a really nice beachside town situated at the outlet / inlet of the Savannah River and Atlantic Coast. Tybee Beach is around 20 miles further east of Savannah, so we trekked out there, found our accommodation, and subsequently headed out for a nice bite to eat at the Stingray Diner – very nice food. Tuesday – New Year’s Eve dawned nice and sunny, so we headed back into Savannah, found a Visitor Centre and got ourselves parked for a few hours. From there we set off on foot to explore the city – well the Historic Area / Old Savannah. It was really nice. The main touristy area is a mile by a mile so easy to cover on foot. We headed into town and found ourselves a bank and finally managed to cash a couple of the cheques we had been carrying around with us for some weeks – 2 cashed, 1 to go. With extra dollars in our pocket we headed down to the Waterfront area – very nice and stepped in history. The river was a main cotton trading area and the buildings around the waterfront area were cotton warehouses. The area has been nicely preserved and is now full of eateries, and novelty stores – lolly shops, art galleries, cigar shops, nut shops etc.

There’s a large old paddle steamer – the Georgia Queen, which in its day would have plied the river up and down with people and cargo. Now it runs a tourist service up and down the river, but to my disappointment, it didn’t look like the paddle is used anymore – all just decorative. We took the small local ferry boat across the river to Hutchinson Island and then up the river to a couple of stops, before getting back to where we started. Just up the river you have the main bridge that links Georgia with South Carolina – a very steady stream of traffic running back and forth. As we were coming back into Savannah I noted a very large container ship heading out – in port at the moment were a couple of large ore carriers – ships still being very active in the area. Along the waterfront there are a series of nice sculptures dedicated to various local history, events and icons. One of the more prominent is called the Waving Girl – recognising a young woman who use to stand by the river daily waving the ships goodbye from the area. Along the waterfront there were a number of lolly shops the local treat is called praline, and the shops tended to have nice samples for you to try – very nice. We then found a nut shop and again, there were main nice samples to try – both savoury and sweet nut combinations. Who needed to have lunch. From the waterfront area we headed back into town and up to the Colonial Park Cemetery – I think it dated from the 1700’s. From there we made our way to Forsyth Park which has a nice fountain as its centre piece. Along the way you pass some marvellous old homes – real period pieces from the 1800’s – most are very nicely maintained. Spanish Moss hangs from many of the large trees which shelter the streets and homes.

We made our way back to the Tourist Offices and back to the car. Across the road from the Tourist Centre there is a recreation of a American Independence battle site – the British look to have established Savannah as their own in the 1700’s and then in the late 1700’s there were battles in the city between the British and the French and US who had teamed up to try and repel the British, but to no avail – the British were to hold strong in Savannah for a few more years yet. Finding our way out of town we headed back towards Tybee Island. About 5 miles before the island there is Fort Pulaski – an historic Civil War fortification and National Monument. You can normally drive over onto the island (Cockspur Island) but with it being holiday’s they had closed the road off early today, so we have to satisfy ourselves with a bit of a walk towards the island. Heading back into Tybee, we stopped at the famous Tybee Beach Lighthouse – the first structure erected in Georgia around 1730 and also the tallest for many years at around 90 feet. The lighthouse has been burned down a couple of times (Civil War causality) but stands as it is today dating from the mid 1800’s. In front of the lighthouse is the Brumby Barricades – this part of coastline was important during the Civil War for bombarding opposing ships and forces trying to come up the Savannah. We got back to our accommodation (which for New Year’s Eve was double the normal rate – a factor we hadn’t counted on) but we were looking forward to the fireworks on the beach at midnight, so hunkered down until just before midnight when we went and joined the masses out on the beach. At the stroke of midnight we were rewarded with a solid 10-minute firework display. The night was mild and clear – with boats and ships lighting the waterfront area as the sky was lit up – very nice and a great way to see in the new year.

To add to the New Year experience, we climbed out of bed at 7am on New Year’s Day to get down to the waterfront to see the sunrise at 7.25am – another really special experience and a nice way to start the new year off. There was already a load of people on the beach with the same thing in mind – a special experience seeing the first sun rising off the Atlantic. Tybee Beach was a hive of activity as they have their annual polar plunge at midday on New Year’s Day and so town was busy with people here to do that. We packed up at the motel and headed out to the pier area where they were getting busy for the plunge – the sun was shining, but there was a cooler breeze today – it would be freeze, but not freezing I think – that said I only dipped my hands in the water this time. The area around Tybee is very nice – very beachy – with many of the homes / apartments being let out for accommodation. The beach is also home to the Loggerhead Sea Turtle – they come up on the back in March I think it was to lay there eggs which then hatch around May / June – unfortunately only around 1 in 3000 baby turtles survive the 30 years at sea before they would then come back to the beach to lay eggs. In addition to the turtles, there is also some good birdlife around in the area – saw some of my favourite pelicans, and there were egrets and eagles and the like. All too soon it was time to push on off from this nice area – we felt refreshed for our time near the sea – very nice.

We headed back into and across Savannah and carried on north on secondary roads like Highway 21 and 24. We headed north towards Augusta but cut below and around the city heading west again. The roads were nice and quiet, and the scenery was great – the landscape varies from cotton fields, to pine plantations, to Xmas tree plantations to nut plantations – and then some farm land thrown in for good measure – nice variety. There were nice little towns here and then along the way but nicely spaced out. At Wrens we headed north on Highway 80 up to the old town of Thomson which is to the west of Augusta but still a popular spot to stay when the golf masters is on in Augusta in March. We found a nice (and very affordable) room for the night and settled in. On Thursday morning we had to make the final run back to Augusta. Thomson is right on the junction with Interstate 20 so we simply needed to get onto it and point the car west for around 130 miles to Atlanta. The closer we got to Atlanta the heavier the traffic got but we still had a really good run – Carol wasn’t too stressed by the traffic, and we had the rental car fuelled up and dropped off in plenty of time. With that, this part of our road trip is over – we now have a few days in Atlanta to experience, before heading further east. The weather forecast isn’t the best, but hopefully things will improve for us to get out and about locally.