I saw a black bear!

It was dusk, we were back in the RV after a 4 1/2 mile (7 km) hike down and up a mountain and heading home. And suddenly, in the ditch right by my window, he sat and stared at me. Less than 10 feet away. He was probably waiting to cross the road. Unfortunately David and Dane didn’t see him – David because he was concentrating on the road and was by the other window and Dane because he was facing away from it. I am still elated – having seen a real bear outside the zoo.

On our hike we saw a lot of deer, several hawks and numerous chipmonks. Oh, they are cute, so tiny and such swift movers. Even if we saw 25+ we never got a picture. The bear picture is obviously not taken by me, I’ve borrowed it from Wikipedia.

The goal of our hike was the Dark Hollow waterfall by the Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park. The Skyline Drive has been named the most beautiful stretch of road in all of America. And it truly is beautiful. We’ve stayed in the area for a couple of days, so tomorrow we’ll drive up the northern part of it, heading for Maryland.

The weather was perfect for hiking. I’m guessing it was around 24 degrees C, slightly cooler in the shade, which there was most of, the hike being in the woods. The first 2 miles was down, down, down till we reached the water. We sat by the edge of the stream and had our sandwiches. Then up, up, up for more another 2 miles. Phew, it was hard going, but since I’m convinced it’s good for me, and since it was such a beautiful trail, following the waterfall upwards, I was happy even if panting. Dane was of course jumping around like a mountain goat.

 

Larger scale pictures and a few more here.

I’m trying to read books that touch on the America we’re seing. I’ve read a couple of books by James Lee Burke. One with his Louisiana cop David Robicheaux (had read several of these years back in my crime-fiction period and been fascinated with the places he describes (Atchafalayan basin, New Orleans etc.)) and another about the civil war. I’ve just started yet another Bill Bryson book – this one about the Appalachian TrailA Walk in the Woods. David is reading The Lost Continent, also by Bryson. On a somewhat other note I’m simultaneously reading a book I stumbled over in one of the four airports I managed to visit on my way to my aunt’s funeral in Texas: Mindless Eating. Need I say more? Well, I will (you knew that, didn’t you?). It’s a book about food psychology and it’s good. In numerous studies the author and his collegues have shown that we eat according to a whole other set of parametres than we think. And that’s ALL OF US. Nut just the mindless fools out there without control of self. If we eat out of a big plate, we eat more than if we eat out of a small plate. If we drink out of a tall, slim glass, we drink less than if we drink out of a low, wide glass. If the biscuit tin is within reach, we eat more than if it’s up on the top shelf. And so on and so forth. If you’re interested in food and eating (like, if you have children…), you should at least check out the homepage.

Share

Oh, Charleston

We loved Charleston. It has a destinct European feel to it, yet obviously Southern and American. The city’s architecture is inspired by settlers from Barbados, where it was customary to have your balconies on the side of the house instead of towards the front, like the houses in e.g. New Orleans. Also you find lots of single houses here, whereas the rule elsewhere is semidetached the way you find them in England. Most houses seemed to be in mint condition. There are probably several explanations for this, one being the apparent general  prosperity of the area, another that Hurricane Hugo visited Charleston with devastating effect in 1989; suffiently many years ago so that everything that could be restored has been so, and the rest torn down. But that’s only me guessing.

See some examples of the lovely houses in downtown Charleston here:

 

Earlier I’ve mentioned how I find it difficult with 5-digit house numbers. This one is a bit to the other extreme:

 

Both signs on same house – the first one a bit watered down (no pun intended)

The city is surrounded by water – almost. Check Google Earth if you have it installed. It was a very windy day, so it was very nice along the Battery, as they call the easternmost part of the city, facing the Atlantic. The houses facing the sea are palaces more than houses.

 

We spent quite a few days in the Charleston area – or rather David and Dane did – and we drove up and down highway 17 every day. So every day we passed a furniture warehouse that was burnt to cinders with loads of flowers and things out front. Every time we talked about what might have happened there. And one day, in another location, I saw a sticker saying: Support the families of the perished firemen. We guessed that the two were probably related and Googled it.  There’s even a large article in Wikipedia about it. 9 firefighters died to save one person. We can not even begin to imagine the kind of press coverage a tragedy like this would have had at home. And we had’nt even heard about it.

 

The next day we drove north along the coast. We chose to bypass the famous Myrtle Beach, finding it very commercialised and touristy. A bit further north, in North Carolina, we stopped in Wilmington. The coastline there is gloomily named Cape Fear. Nothing to remind me of Robert de Niro there, though. It was still extremely windy, so we decided to try the sea instead of the swimming pool that afternoon. Dane wasn’t too happy with that, because he’s learning to swim and you couldn’t really swim in those waves, just let yourself be thrusted here and there. However, he loved playing the lifeguard!

 

Now we’re heading inland and it’ll be a while before we see the ocean again. But we’ll see lots of lakes and rivers – and mountains. We’re headed for the Appalachian trail (part of it) and will be camping in the Shenandoah hills, Virginia.

See you there!

Share

Catching up

My aunt’s funeral was just as it should be. Her son and daughter had taken great pains to make arrangements that would have pleased my aunt and that would be pleasing to the family. The coffin was decorated with the Danish flag and red and white flowers, and they’d found a Lutheran pastor, who held a very good and balanced speech, where he touched upon both my aunt’s addiction and her recovery through AA, many years ago. He did both in a subtle but yet straightforward way.

Before I went to Texas we went for a tour on foot in the swampy forest outside Savannah, where we were camping. It was wilderness for dummies, so we weren’t exactly about to get lost. But since it wasn’t the weekend or holiday, we were by ourselves. It was hot, humid, different and fascinating.

The color and the stillness

Crabs – hundreds of them

What a tree!

We visited Savannah, but were’nt really that impressed. Much to our own surprise. The much acclaimed River Walk was extremely touristy and rather sordid. We found a really nice café and enjoyed the many lovely, shady squares. We also visited one of the houses from the 19th century. We couldn’t help snickering a little. When you come from a country where you don’t even raise an eyebrow to churches that are 800-1000 years old, it’s quite funny to experience the Americans’ awe over objects and houses that are less than 200 years old. But – the other side of that coin is, that we Europeans could learn about taking more pride in our history from the Americans.

Talking of history – the next day we visited Fort Pulaski. A fort that it took 12 years to built, but only 30 hours’ of union bombardement to conquer.

While I was away, Dane and David had a great time doing real father-son things. They went fishing, but all they caught was a poor old turtle, which they of course let go again. They saw an alligator in the lake by the camp ground, so didn’t go fishing in that lake… They wen’t canoing together and Dane climbed a twenty meter climbing wall. Probably all for the best that Mommy wasn’t around for that!

As mentioned earlier, Dane has developed a vivid interest in the second world war, battleships and fighter planes. At Patriot’s Point he got lots more input to feed that interest.

More and bigger-size pictures here.

Share

Absent

It’s been a while, I know (no Internet at campground and busy with travel arrangements). And it’ll be a while yet, for tonight I’ll head out to Texas for my aunt’s funeral.

There’s a lot to tell, because we’ve covered a lot of ground since my last real entry. Right now we’re at a lovely campground just outside Charleston, South Carolina, and David and Dane will stay here, while I’m in Texas. We’ve been through Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Georgia in the meantime.

See pictures with commentary and send us a message. We miss hearing from y’all!!!!

Share

Sad

My sweet old aunt, Godmother and namesake in Texas died last night in her sleep. We’d been looking forward to seeing her again at Thanksgiving, but now there’s a funeral…

We’ll be changing our plans, but don’t quite know to what extent yet.

We’re at a campsite outside Savannah without Internet, so I’m writing this at a Starbucks café in a Savannah suburb, while David and Dane are out fishing in the Moon River. The campsite is in a state park and beautiful. We went on walk on a nature trail in the park this morning. It was beautiful and very exotic.

More later.

By the way, friends and family: We would like to hear from you too!

Share

Some city!

Our camp offered a free shuttle bus to downtown New Orleans at 9 o’clock. The driver also took it upon himself to tell us more or less everything about every little house or ditch we passed on the half hour drive. You get the impression that these guys are paid on a words-pr-minute basis. Were they paid on basis on how much their audiences in fact understood of their ramblings, I think they might consider slowing down. Our neighbours in the bus, an elderly American couple, gave up very quickly!

It was quite glorious weather, sunny and hot, but also a little bit windy. Cool, the natives called it. I’d say that’s because they’ve never been to Denmark… The minute you set foot in New Orleans, you realize that everything you’ve heard about how different it is from anywhere else, is quite true. Every phrase I can think of to describe it has been heard a million times before, but still, how about melting pot

We started, as we’ve been told one should, with café au lait and Beignets at Café du Monde. For a food item that is clearly mass produced in that kitchen (they serve nothing else), they tasted surprisingly good. But they are not good for you!!!

Then we spent the next many hours trawling up and down the French Quarter, mainly Royal Street. David had a haircut at a chic little hairdresser, while Dane and I had a drink at a little café, where the waitress had a little bone through her nose. And no, she didn’t look anything like a maneating pygmy. More like a punk from London. The French Quarter is very pittoresque, but doesn’t look anything like the France I know. See here for yourselves:

After having eaten a dozen very good oysters (8$!!!) and Jambalaya, we headed to another part of town, Magazine Street. Nobody apparently ever bothers with the Street or Avenue part of the street names. It’s something like if we said H.C. Ørsted, everytime we mean H.C. Ørstedsvej. Or Oxford, when we mean Oxford Street. It’s that abb(reviation) thing again.

Magazine is very, very long, like so many streets in this country. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to 5-digit house numbers! Almost all the way it is lined with detached or semi-detached houses in colonial style. Some of them so small that they look like doll houses. Either the new houses are built to look as replicas of the houses before them, or they just don’t build new houses. This house here is the only example of modern architecture we saw except for the highrises. It’s a pharmacy!

Every other house was in the style of these:

At one point we came to the fire station. A couple of firemen were sitting about in front of the impressive truck. Dane and I went over to ask politely if we could take a picture of them. And being New Orleanians, they instantly invited Dane to sit there with them. And inside the truck to see everything. And even to sound the horn once! It’s my fault the picture isn’t better – I must have been almost as awe-struck as Dane was!

There were several remarkable shops on the part of the street that we negotiated before nightfall. A lingerie shop with such a special atmosphere and a comfy sofa for the accompanying spouse with glossy magazines for men… And a combined barbershop, hairdresser, haberdashery and bar for men. Unfortunately David had just had a haircut a few hours earlier and he didn’t really need a shave… And there was the wonderful and mysterious shop that sold only flags and wind mobiles. The ancient owner told us that before Katrina, he’d hardly been able to make a living, and nobody really knew what the New Orleans flag looked like – or cared.

But after – everybody wanted the flags for their balconies. And they wanted wind mobiles for joy – something it must have been very hard for a lot of people to find in the months after the storm. It’s been two years since Katrina – and she’s visible everywhere. Some places in the form of posters about rebuilding the city and being proud of her, other places you can just see the waterline. And to the east – mile after mile of devastation. And everywhere people are still talking about it. I would, too.

While the last light faded, we watched some youngsters play basketball and football and then went to have a nice dinner. The taxidriver who was supposed to take us home, knew less about the city than we did. And his English was, eh, rudimentary. But with the help of a GPS and David’s pointing and directing we made it home to camp.

Share

What a wonderful place!

After having done our washing in a laundromat (yet another first), we drove to a new campsite in Baton Rouge where I have more family! They had long known to expect the crazy Europeans and when we announced our arrival, they were quick to invite us to dinner. And not only dinner, no, homemade Gumbo! Mmmm, that was good! And I must say – what nice family I have over here! Keep’m comin’!

The sweet and hospitable Bryan family (and us) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana

The next morning we got up and away early for our much anticipated tour of the swamp. We decided to splash out here and charter a boat rather than sharing a ride with other tourists. That turned out to be a very good idea. Searched around on the web for a while and fell completely for this guy here, who’s love for the Atchafalaya basin is unrivaled. On the way there, we didn’t get lost once and made it on schedule (more on getting lost later…). We let our RV stand on a deserted parking lot and took off in Dean’s little boat. Wauw, it was fast!

The swamp, the atmosphere, the sounds defy description. But it was breathtakingly beautiful and magic. Dean was a great guide – telling us about the history of the basin, the terribly many environmental issues that are facing the basin and wetlands generally and about the plants and animals that are invading the swamp and the ones who are extinct or threathened to be extinct. He knew the name of every bird, fish and insect we saw on the way. And – contrary to popular belief – there were no mosquitoes or horse flies or other despicable creatures – only insects we saw in the 2 1/2 hours we were on the water were – dragonflies. In all shapes and forms. We didn’t see any alligators – Dean was sure he saw one at one point, but it went under when we came near it in the boat. He did show us the tracks on the river bank, though! However, I found the ancient cypresses much more fascinating than any alligator could ever be!

 

 

More pictures here

After this fantastic experience, we drove on down towards New Orleans. Pronounced New ‘Orleans much to David’s dismay. And we got so, SO lost. The GPS wouldn’t accept the address given by the campsite, but we figured we could just follow their directions which seemed pretty straightforward. Well, guess what, they were’nt, or else (which is not totally unlikely…) we just got them all wrong. Downside was that we drove around New Orleans for hours. Upside was that we got to see with our own eyes, exactly what havoc Hurricane Kathrina really caused down here. In some of the poorer neighbourhoods we drove through, more than half the houses were left, empty. We probably wouldn’t have seen any of that, if we hadn’t got lost. Besides, we made people laugh. The people sitting in front of their little rickety houses knew that we were lost and grinned at us – but in a real friendly way!

Tomorrow we’ll spend the entire day in The Big Easy.

Share

Louisiana

You notice right away that you’re in another state. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it’s evident very quickly. Don’t know whether that’s going to be the case every time we cross a state border, but this time it was. For instance the casino billboards. None of those in Texas! And the condition of the roads. The I-10, which we’ve been on virtually all day, was absolutely awful for a good many miles. We could hardly communicate inside the RV, which  rattles quite a lot even at the best of times.

We’re at a campground just outside Lafayette. It was late when we arrived, so we don’t really know what it’s like. Right now we’re planning the next few days and trying to get an idea of what this is costing us pr. day in gas and other utilities. Won’t let you in on that just yet ;-)

We’ve been half eating out, half self-catering since we came here. Allthough I just love a real American breakfast with sausages, pancakes etc., I’m so happy that we have a fair sized fridge and freezer, and that the supermarkets have such a fantastic selection of ripe and yummy fruit and veg, some of it even ready peeled and cut. Because otherwise I really don’t think I could avoid putting on weight! We discuss this every time we’re in a grocery store or in a restaurant or fastfood place. It’s almost impossible to buy things that are good for you! Take the above mentioned cut fruit in the supermarket. Half of it is sold with a bowl of caramel sauce or the like. Or the bread section – 3/4 of the bread isn’t really bread, it’s cake! Same with yoghurt – there are about 200 kinds with “fruit” (=more than 15% sugar) and 2-3 kinds of natural yoghurt – and one that’s also fat free. And in fastfood places, you’re punished if you want a bottle of water instead of a soft drink. The socalled Combos (Supersize Me!) include only huge glasses of coke, sprite or the like. Water is extra. Lots of things are sold with FAT FREE on the label. Fine, but it doesn’t say that it contains 40% sugar – and the reverse – things are sold as SUGAR FREE, and you have to read the small print to see how much fat there’s in it.

It’s a really hard job to not put on weight here! Small wonder that it’s the poor and the uneducated who (mainly) suffer from obesity and all the related illnesses – it’s almost a science to shop healthy food that’s also affordable in the big grocery stores – particularly if you can’t, won’t or are unable to cook your own food and must rely on ready-made.

If you’re new to my blog, you don’t yet know that this is one of my pet subjects. But be prepared! It won’t be the last time you’ll find a mention of this or related subjects – not only am I obsessed with what’s in the food we eat and the politics that influence it, I’m also what the Americans call a Foodie

Share

Texan hospitality

Yesterday mornings fishing trip went really well. Not that the party caught a lot of fish, but they had a great time, which, as I understand it, is the most important thing about going fishing.

The whole fishing party: David, Dan, Billy and Mark with Dane in front

Look at me, it’s a shrimp and it’s (almost) alive!

Fishing is dead easy!

See!

We spent yesterday afternoon checking out the downtown area (which is always really hard to find in American cities?!?) of Galveston. Some quite fun shops with silly souvenirs and a lovely little café, where a psychiatry student gave us a quick rundown of the pros and cons of an Iphone. Won’t trouble you with that, though, lots of pros have done that already on blogs and elsewhere.

When we arrived at Dan and René’s beautiful house, the very important local college football match was on on the wide screen television. Without really knowing it, Dane was already a fan of one of the teams. Dan tried to teach Dane the game in half an hour. I’m afraid most of it was lost on Dane, but he was happy when “his” team won!

The sign Dan is making means “Texas Longhorns”!

Renée had cooked us a lovely meal of breaded, deepfried tilapia, boiled shrimps and a variety of yummy sidedishes. We enjoyed the sunset from the balcony and then took a ride in Dan’s little golf cart down to the beach for a nightly walk.

Then everyone was tired and we rode home to the campground in our RV. And I drove – for the first time. And David didn’t shout at me – not once!

Thanks to Dan and Renée  for showing us the best of Texas!

More pictures from this lovely day (and other days) can be seen here.

Share

Doing good, Houston!

This is a not very good picture from the old control room at Space Center Houston. It’s just one of those historic places, which gives you that special thrill when you think about what happened there, or rather what the people in that room witnessed at first hand.

Right now I’m alone in the RV while Dane and David are out fishing with some really nice people we met at dinner last night. It is downright unbelieable how nice and forthcoming Texans are! We had lovely seafood (oysters and crab) at The Captain’s Table just across the road from our RV camp, which sits directly on the beach. I trotted down the beach this morning just as the sun was coming up. Despite a strong wind, it would have been too hot just an hour later, but at that time it was perfect. Absolutely lovely!

Yesterday was one of those days where everything just seems to be right. We left the campsite in good time and headed for Nasa space center south of Houston

(first time we didn’t make a single wrong turn!), where we spent most of the day. It was a great experience for all three of us, even if Dane at one point expressed his disapointment because he hadn’t seen any rocket launch or landing… We must follow the next launch on TV, when it takes place in October.

Mock-up of space shuttle for astronaut practice. It really is very big, Dane thought it had room for millions of astronauts and was quite astounded when I told him that usually only 7 people get to fly it.

With Dane in front of Space Center tram after having seen the above mentioned control center.

The trip down to Galveston also went without any problems and we reached the site in fine time and set up camp in five minutes flat. (You attach yourself (or rather, the RV) to electricity, water and sewer and you’re all set). Then we went directly into the ocean. The waves were moderate, but very big for Dane. Also seing the mullets flying around almost within touching distance was a fantastic experience for him.

This afternoon we’ll drive into downtown Galveston and have a look at the sights. And then it’s off to dinner (hopefully the fish they’ve just caught this morning) with our nice new Texan friends, who’s house we just cannot wait to see irl (in real life). While in the US, must abb(reviate)…

Share

Driving the RV

is what we’ve been doing today. Or David has, more precisely. We’re now at a very posh campsite 40 miles north of Houston, and Dane and David are already sleeping. We drove 200 miles (app. 300 km.) and that took us about 4 hours including a stop along the way for a sandwich. This is where the benefits of travelling in an RV really kick in. You park the vehicle, turn on the generator and then turn off the engine. Everything inside runs smoothly and you can use the toilet, make sandwiches and do your hair or whatever – in a nice cool environment in spite of the 90 degrees outside.

Tomorrow we’re heading for the NASA space center and then on to the beaches at Galveston. The weather has cleared and the weatherman promises sun over the weekend. It was a good friend of mine who reminded me of the space center – it had completely slipped my mind. I would have been quite sorry if we’d missed that – it’s just Dane’s cup of tea. Actually, he’s already got a little copy of the space shuttle!

Share

Period farm & pacific war…

Today we went up to Johnson City, named after Lyndon B. Johnson whose place of birth it is. There you can go on a guided tour (in airconditioned tour bus) and see every little scrap of evidence documenting the aforementioned LBJ’s life. We chose not to do that, as it would probably have bored both Dane and us to death. But on the grounds is also a little farm built by some of the original German settlers in the area. Everything in the place is as it would have looked in 1915. And the people who work there wear period clothes. It was in fact much better than it sounds. It was very laid back, there was not a coke in sight and you couldn’t buy any souvenirs whatsoever. Dane got to go into the hen house and see if he could find some eggs.

He found some and took them into the kitchen, where they were separating the cream from the milk. And where they baked the eggshells and fed them back to the chickens, so that they got all the good calcium and would lay eggs with strong shells. When it comes to recycling we could learn a lot from a place like that. Absolutely nothing goes to waste!

Then we went on to Fredericksburg, a quaint little touristy place with an awful lot of traffic. We had a solid if not very interesting lunch and then off to what Dane found was the best museum he’d ever been to. Hold on to your chairs: The one and only museum for the Pacific war (Americans have museums for everything – really, everything. Try to do an Internet search on museum + xxxxx (whaever you can think of) + USA. You’ll find something, I guarantee it!).

Well, it was in fact a very good an educational museum, detailing the progression of the war in the Pacific. Really, we Europeans have never focused that much on the enormous loss of human life the Americans suffered out there. Dane asked a million questions as always and would constantly want to know whether this or that aircraft or this or that uniform had belonged to one of the good or the bad ones… at least it’s easier to go along with the good/bad thing when it’s the 2nd World War you’re discussing. It’s a good deal worse in Iraq or wherever else there’s a war going on at present.

Dane happily mounted the canon once he was certain that it had belonged to the good guys…

Our plan was to head out for Galveston (on the Mexican Gulf) tomorrow, but a tropical storm has just hit the area with considerable flooding and a lot of rain, so we’ll pass on that one. Instead we’re heading towards the coast south of Galveston and stay there until the rain stops. We’re prettly excited about finally taking off in our motorized home!

Share

A lovely night without the aircondition

There’s much to be said for the RV. But the aircon makes an awful lot of noise and it bothers both David and myself. Dane sleeps happily no matter what. We have to turn it off at night to sleep, but it gets awfully hot and stuffy after a few hours. Yesterday, however, a coldfront came to Texas and has grace us with lovely cool weather. Cool being 28 at day and 21 at night. I could even trot around the campsite this morning without problems, it was so lovely and cool. The locals tell us that it’s the first coldfront in four months!

Yesterday was spent with the family. My other cousin Mickey and her husband Ken has arrived from Floriday with my aunt/Godmother Néné (90 years and in a wheelchair) to settle here in the hill country not far from Bruce and Nancy. This is the first time in many many years, that brother and sister are in the same state. We had a lovely family get-together at Bruce’s house, which has the most lovely patio (deck, the Americans call it) in four levels. I have absolutely no idea why I didn’t think to bring out the camera at this rare gathering, but I guess I can only blame one person for that… The extended family (including us) will be together for Thanksgiving, so I’ll just have to remember to bring out the camera then!

Share

San Antonio

Today we were really going to treat Dane to something special, so we took the relatively long drive down to San Antonio to the worlds largest Sea World. But, eh, it was closed… So much for Internet research!

Instead we went to downtown San Antonio to see the Alamo and take a boat trip on the river. We started with some much deserved lunch and then we went on the half hour boatride on San Antonio River. It was quite a nice ride with pretty views. The guide was very funny – at least he thought so himself.

And so – the Alamo!

You can’t see it until you’re right in front of it – it doesn’t seem like much, dwarfed as it is among many new and tall buildings. But it was an experience never the less. The Americans are so proud of the courageous soldiers, who were defeated here. It is a good place to come and feel the positive sides of American patriotism. We bought a few silly souvenirs and decided to call it a day – half wasted because of the closed Sea World. It is now quite clear that almost all summer-related entertainment ends at Labour Day. We came to the US one day later… Anyway, we didn’t come here to rush from one theme park to the next, but we really would have loved to see the worlds largest Seaworld with a real killer whale!

RV and gorgeous Cadillac

Dane and Daddy at breakfast just outside RV

Dining area in RV

Kitchenette

Dane on bunk bed playing his gameboy. Moments later he fell down – he is so preoccupied and wriggles around so much when he’s playing, that he doesn’t pay attention. Auch.

Previous posts about our road trip in the US (only a couple) can be found here.

Share