Yosemite

Based upon the weather forecast we decided that the weekend would be the right time to visit Yosemite. It is very cold there (compared to here, that is), but the forecast promised two days of sunshine, so we got up early Saturday morning and drove east. The drive was four hours, mostly through rather dull country with vast suburbs and industrial complexes. But approx. an hour before reaching the park, the climb begins and the countryside is transformed. The mountains in Yosemite are up to 12.000 ft (4.000 m.), so what rises in front of you is indeed impressive! What surprised us was the snow – the park was covered, except the valley, which apparently almost never sees snow due to the very special meteorological conditions there.

We had booked a room at the famous Wawona hotel (as the even more famous Ahwahnee was fully booked and too expensive anyway) and checked in at 1 pm. We dressed for the weather – cold but beautiful – and drove into the Yosemite Valley. Even though prepared for some astounding sights, nothing can prepare you for the vastness of it all. Many of the roads are closed during winter, so two days were sufficient to see the sights of the valley, the museum, the Ansel Adams gallery and the visitors’ centre with a fine and child-friendly exhibition about the evolutionary history of Yosemite.

We have come to appreciate the park rangers very much. They are always very forthcoming, very polite and very well informed. So we usually make a point of talking to some of them, when we visit a state park. The handsome ranger (check his crisp uniform) on this picture surprised us by saying: “Oh, Denmark, that’s where Hans Christian Andersen, Carl Nielsen and Karen Blixen are from!” Wauw! Most people know about H.C. Andersen, but not a lot of Americans know of Carl Nielsen. The ranger played the clarinet it turned out, and Carl Nielsen’s 5th symphony was his favourite…

We stepped out of the car to take photo shots and make short hikes every ten minutes or so, caught the sunset and then headed back to the Wawona. Staying at that hotel was a mixed experience. The bar and lounge next to the dining room were beautifully decorated for Christmas, a log fire was burning and there were lots of people in festive spirits, even though everybody was dressed for hiking. There was a pianist playing WW II songs (Bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover, etc) and chatting with the guests and we had cocktails before dinner – all very much in sync with the spirit of the place. The dining room was also pretty and the waiters nice and attentive. The food was not memorable, but the draft was! I think you could fly a kite with the gusts that came from under the veranda door!

Dane was very tired, so we quickly went to our room. Quite a nice room with a double and a single bed and a nice bathroom. And it was sweltering in there (we’re guessing 85 degrees F (28 C)), which felt nice coming from the icy dining room and the freeze outside, but felt uncomfortable as we discovered that the heating couldn’t be turned down. OK, we opened a window and let a bit of freezing air in. But then there was the constant loud hissing of air escaping from the vent and the irregular clanging. Have any of you ever been to a place with a pre-war, cast-iron radiator central heating system? Then you’ve experienced the clanging, when the system overheats. We really tried to sleep, but it was impossible. After much swearing and cussing David got dressed and went over to the reception (you have to cross a large courtyard) to ask for another room. So in the middle of the night, we transferred – with sleeping Dane – to another room across the yard. Oh, what a difference that made! Normal temperature and absolutely no noise!

The breakfast was included and very nice. Dane had waffles with honey and hot chocolate and was MMMMM’ing a lot. Then we went ahead and saw more stunningly beautiful views and went for more lovely walks through the impressive woods. I won’t bore you with inept descriptions, but have a look at more pictures here, to get an impression.


By eight o’clock we were back home, very happy that we’d taken the trip.

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My birthday

Together with a phone call from my Mom & Dad and a sweet e-mail from Emil, Dane and David made my birthday into a lovely day of indulgence, Néné style.

It was a beautiful sunny day – don’t usually have many of those back in Denmark! – and I had yummy brunch with cards and presents. From Dane the necklace he’d made out of beads we’d bought earlier in San Francisco and a pair of Merino wool extra warm and soft socks. They came in very handy when we went to Yosemite. More about that later. And from David a book that could change my life – or maybe at least make my blog posts more pleasurable to read: Read like a writer.

We went into Mill Valley so I could indulge in one of my favourite pastimes – drinking coffee and doing stuff online. In the Depot Bookstore and café you can do both – and the bookshop, though relatively modest in size, is very well stocked. Restrained myself and bought only Vanity Fair and Atlantic Monthly

Then we drove up to Sonoma County to try out some wine tasting. The previous afternoon, in the above-mentioned café, I’d talked to a young man who’d recommended a couple of smaller places for wine tasting and a restaurant. So we went along according to his instructions and found the Family Wineries where we tasted a variety of whites, reds and dessert wines. We found most of the wines a little bit “young” tasting, but loved a red dessert wine and bought a bottle for our Christmas dinner. It will go well with the Danish Christmas dessert with the French name: Ris (rice) a l’amande.

Then we drove on and saw several other alluring places to taste wine, but even if we didn’t drink all the wine, we’d really had enough. Maybe not alcohol-wise, but certainly taste-wise. Then we went in search of the restaurant, which proved as easy to find as everything else the young man had directed us to. Thanks to this young man for his great advice! The restaurant was in a little quaint looking town called Graton. Underwood turned out to be one of the best restaurants we’ve been to on our trip. Only the restaurant in New Orleans equaled it. It was a nice and cosy place full of people. The service was excellent, the menu varied and the food lovely.

A great finishing touch to my birthday.

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A day in the city

From our local town Tiburon there’s a boat into San Francisco. It’s not exactly cheap, but neither is parking in town. Besides, parking in town seems to be an art form, which we’re not sure that we master.

We took the boat at 8:45 am and were in town 20 minutes later. We walked through Chinatown and watched the shopkeepers busily opening their shops. In North Beach we headed straight for lovely coffee and croissants at a boulangerie just across from City Lights Booksellers, while waiting for them to open. Boring Dane to bits we spent an hour or so in there. We didn’t buy any of their staple books from the golden era. I’ve never understood Burroughs and already have two copies of On the Road by Kerouac. But we bought a few newer books, also published by City Lights. If I remember it, I’ll comment on them once I’ve read them…

After that we headed towards the Coit tower. Up, up and up we strode. And then the last bit by elevator. Interesting to see everything from up there with a map handy – that way we got a much better idea of the location of various things. Dane loves the hilly streets, climbing up and running down. We spent another hour in a bead shop (yes!!!) by the name of Yone where Dane and I picked out beads, so he can make me a lovely necklace for my birthday. The old man who owned the shop had owned it since “The summer of Love” and must have been pushing 80. His younger brother was visiting from Michigan, and he wasn’t exactly young himself, a long time retired psychologist. So far the people here have been just as nice, talkative and friendly as the people in the South. That’s a positive surprise – I guess I expected Californians to be less forthcoming than Southerners.

We didn’t do much shopping, though we really ought to, Christmas being so near. We just walked. And walked and walked and walked. But enjoyed it thoroughly. At one point however, we accidentally wondered into a part of the city (the Tenderloin) full of what looked like homeless people and gang-types. Was I glad that it wasn’t dark yet! Without a word from either of us, Dane commented: “Mommy, I don’t like it here, these people look at me like they want something from me!” Oh, but was he right! We made it to Van Ness in one piece, so much the wiser. There we took refuge in yet another bookshop, Books Inc., where we sat down to rest our weary feet and have a cup of coffee. And we bought Dane a copy of The Guinness Book of Records. I never thought I’d buy that book, because I find it quite stupid, full as it is of idiotic records, dangerous scorpion longest in mouth or longest beard on a woman… But Dane is driving us nuts with questions like What’s the name of the tallest mountain in the world? How fast does the fastest airplane fly? Where does the world’s tallest tree grow? He goes on endlessly. And though we think we’re both rather knowledgeable, we really haven’t a clue about most of these fact-type questions. So there.

The boat back home was so homely, most of the people on board knew each other – at least by sight – and knew the staff. Coming into the harbour in Tiburon, we could see that many of the boat- and yacht-owners had hung Christmas-decorations from their masts and rigs. It looked very pretty!

Yesterday we drove south through the city and along highway 1 in the opposite direction. I won’t bore you with any more beautiful views, but will tell you that we saw fat seals sunbathing on the rocks just under us, when we stopped to see a lovely old lighthouse. We also had an excellent burger at Gazo’s Grill, a very cute place with fantastic décor. Any variation over the lighthouse theme you can imagine. How about a tablecloth with lighthouse-motif?

And we bought a little Christmas tree. There was no way around it…

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Wauw, we’re in California, the 23rd state on our trip!

Kind and incredibly generous friends have lent us their beautiful house with a stunning view of the San Francisco bay, the bridge and the city. It is situated in what is called Marin county, a lovely area north of the city, on “the other side” of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Once again we’ve been blessed with lovely weather, so we chose to spend the first days here (we have an entire month) exploring the local area. We started by walking on our feet, down to the nearest town Tiburon and around it. I think we probably looked at or into every shop… A lovely little town complete with yacht club, a number of good restaurants (or so the guidebook claims) and building styles to suit everyone. We spent an hour or so in the Whole Foods store in the next town to stock up the fridge. Then we were dead tired – had been up in the middle of the night in Texas to catch a so-called red-eye flight out of San Antonio. And there was the time difference of two hours.

Next day we drove north along the coast on famous highway 1. Phew, it’s winding! Both Dane and I got a little bit queasy to tell the truth, even if neither of us usually suffer from motion sickness. But it was well worth it – the views were stunning all the way and we finished off with a very rewarding walk along Stinson beach (our first close encounter with the Pacific) and a nice lunch including lovely grilled oysters (my favourite new food, I think). We drove around looking for the epicentre of the 1906 earthquake, which we’d heard was in the area, but there were no signs, and nobody we asked knew where it was. When we got home, we finally found a reference to it in the guidebook, so we’ll have a look at it next time we get up there.

Sunday was also spent in the neighbourhood, in two of the state parks, which I believe I’ve praised several times. First we went to the Mount Tamalpais (the locals lovingly call it Mount Tam) State Park and climbed the 2.571 ft (784 m.). No, of course we didn’t. We drove up – a road even more winding than Highway 1 (more queasiness) and only hiked the last half mile (a little less than 1 km) only to be rewarded with panoramic views of the Pacific and the bay, the city, the bridges, the redwood forests. Oh me, oh my!

The picture of us at the summit is taken by a couple of Berkeley graduates, who chatted us up. Once more we’ve come up close to some of these beautiful youths who innocently don’t know just how fortunate they are. They were sweet and gracious and chatted with us happily.

Finally we drove down, down, down to the Muir Woods National Monument. It’s the last standing redwood forest on the coast, thanks to a wealthy couple that donated the forest to the government a century ago. Once again a beautifully laid out national park providing both access to astounding natural wonders and good signs and brochures to explain it all. The redwoods stand so close and are so tall that even on a day like this with a clear blue sky, there’s not a ray of sun reaches the ground beneath them. We took the longest of the short hikes (around 4 miles (6,5 km)) and were very satisfied with ourselves afterwards.

Dane is driving us mad with Christmassy questions. Can we get a Christmas tree? Can we buy that wrapping paper? Can we buy those big red bows for the presents? Can we buy Christmas lights for the tree outside? Can we? Can we? Can we?

So far we’ve given in to the last one and bought a string of coloured lights for the tree outside the window in the living room. Dane cherishes it!

More photos here.

There’s no Internet at the house, so blogposts will be scattered.

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Culture shock

We had a culture shock the other day (December 1st). We had spent a nice afternoon in the cowboy village at Enchanted Springs. It was fun, we’d learned a lot about cowboys and indians, fed vicious looking catfish and petted several longhorns.

 

After that we had a most satisfactory meal at Chili’s and we were on our way home, when we came into Boerne (Bur-nee) and found the traffic being diverted. Everybody seemed to be parking their car and heading in the same direction, all towing kids. Ah ha, the intelligent tourists exclaimed: It must be something to do with Christmas!

And it was. A Christmas Parade. We used to think that Christmas in Denmark and the UK is over commercialized and utilized for a number of purposes that probably weren’t on Jesus’ list. But – lo and behold – we had not been to Boerne! The Danish and English cristmas is pristine in comparison.

 

In a brain-numbing mixture of love of uniforms, dress-up, marching, beauty pageants, pets, football and numerous other things, the parade made it’s way down Main Street. We were dumbfounded!

But you know what? It was also quite lovely… With all the bright lights, all the townspeople out and about, chatting and visiting and the antipicitation of the holidays, it had it’s own charm.

Generally, that is what we’ve found here in the US. The same people who are unbelievably kind, friendly and so helpful it’s embarrassing also harbour views of the world that we find appalling! The country is so beautiful and so charming and at the same time so incredibly ugly and scary. I guess that’s what makes it so attractive, compelling and fascinating!

This morning I checked the news on Danish national tv’s website. I found a disturbing news story about a Guantanamo prisoner, who’d cut his throat with his fingernails. Unfortunately for him, I guess, he survived. The official explanation from Guantanamo and Washington was that he did it to cast a bad light on the US. Yeah, that’s what it said.

We’ve had several discussions about the US media with the family and with other people we’ve met here. I’m sure it’s difficult to judge the quality of your own country’s media if you don’t have anything to compare it with. But I also think that most people (not only Americans) can’t be bothered to make that comparison. Well, I can. And I searched for this news story on a number of major American news sites. I found the story on CBS, but not on CNN, Fox or ABC.  The fact that I found it on most of the major newspaper sites is good. But it’s also a fact that most Americans don’t read a newspaper (or it’s website) and therefore rely solely on the TV networks to provide them with the necessary knowledge to form an opinion.

OK. Got that off my chest…

And, by the way, tomorrow morning we fly west. To San Francisco, California. See you there!

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The grocery store

In Denmark and in the UK, we call it a supermarket. But here, where SUPER really is a matching term, they humbly call it a grocery store. Even if it’s 10 times the size of a large Danish supermarket.

We have actually been in the States for close to three months now, but we still get lost in the grocery stores. I guess if we’d stayed in one place and only went shopping in one or two different grocery stores, we’d have learnt to find our way round by now, but we’ve been to so many different ones… And even if I am beginning to see a pattern in the way they have them laid out, there are still items that I just cannot find. So everytime we go shopping, even if it’s only for dinner for one evening, it still takes an hour…

Readers of my blog(s) are familiar with my inclination towards organic food stuffs. They are not easy to come by here, but in most bigger grocery stores, you can get organic milk, butter, yoghurt, cream etc., mostly from Horizon. I haven’t seen organic meat outside Whole Foods, which I’ve written about previously. But some stores sell meat without hormones. I’ve also seen some organic fruit and veg and spices at Shaw’s (which we really liked), Kroger, HEB and Publix.

Generally though, I find that most of the choices they offer you in these huge temples of consumption are false.  For instance, I went looking for detergent. In the average grocery store I guess there are at least 30 different brands. And they all promise the same results (guess what), cost more or less the same and sport glaring, ugly packaging. I was – evidently – looking for a detergent which would promise me the least damage to the environment while getting the job done. I looked and looked, but none of them seemed to promise me anything of the sort. In the end I chose Purex – I guess deluded by the name and the relative simplicity of the packaging. However, I don’t really think it’s any better than all the other stuff…

In Whole Foods (the nearest one 25 miles away from here) you can get the whole range of Ecover, so clearly it can be had in this country, but isn’t in demand :-(

When you shop without a shopping list prepared in advance, you’re easily deluded by the choice. Like, look, you can choose between 50 different types of beverages! Ain’t that great? But when you look closer, the choice is very limited. There are the ones with sugar and the ones with sweeteners. And that’s it! At home I usually offer Dane some sort of cordial when I think he deserves something sweet. But here the only cordial-type beverages you can buy are either made from grapes, which Dane unfortunately dislikes or not from fruit at all… The type of cordial made from raspberries, strawberries or redcurrant,  that you dilute with water, which we always had at home and sometimes even made ourselves, just can’t be had here. So it’s water, milk, beverages with artificial sweeteners (which I try to avoid), chocolate milk or soda. Dane drinks a good deal of water, but isn’t too keen on milk. That leaves me with very little to choose from! In this, the land of choice!!!!

However, if you try shopping with a shopping list, for instance because you want to prepare a real meal with several courses, you find that there’s lots of stuff you just can’t get or where the choice is more than limited, even in a fairly well stocked grocery store. I wanted cardamom pods to ground myself. But they didn’t have that. And only one (non-organic) brand of ground cardamom. And vanilla: They had at least 10 different kinds of vanilla extracts and a veritable abundance of vanilla sugar. But only one kind of whole vanilla bean, which I had to have a store clerk to help me find. I don’t think she’d ever seen or smelled one. And it wasn’t a very good one either. I needed rapeseed oil. Couldn’t find that. And then there’s the weird thing about lamb. Americans don’t eat lamb. As David puts it, the founding fathers probably didn’t approve of lamb, so… The general explanation we get is that people had mutton as children and hated it. And so they are not trying lamb as grown-ups. What’s even more strange is that veal is so hard to come by. I mean, in a steak-loving country like this? All that said; some choices are real and abundant – in the good grocery stores they offer a marvellous selection of seafood. And it’s cheap too!

Don’t get me wrong, though. I love shopping here and I love walking up and down the aisles looking at all the strange products and sneaking looks into other people’s shopping carts. And if I were to live here in the US, I’d just have to settle down close to a Whole Foods store. I’d be happy then – foodwise!

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Thanksgiving with the family

We’re now back in Texas and today is Thanksgiving. The whole family is together and it’s very lively. I think there are twenty of us. Dane is having the time of his life with four older boys to play with. And they’re so good to him too! The turkey is cooking in the oven and dirty rice are being prepared on the stove. Desserts are pre-prepared and tucked away around the house where there’s room. The tv’s are on in every room and people are watching the traditional Thanksgiving parade.

It’s all very homely and strange at the same time – at least for us, the Danes. Dane finds it pretty funny that they call us all the Danes – he thought he was the only one!

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New Orleans revisited

When we left New Orleans in September we vowed to come back towards the end of our trip. At that time it was difficult to say whether we were crazy about the place because we’d just arrived in the South and everything was new and exotic, or if the city really was as special as we thought at the time. And after 22 states – yes, it really is that special!

We decided to try out some very touristy things, because our trusted guide book recommended it and because Dane really wanted to. So on our first day, we went on a two hour river cruise on the Steamboat Natchez. A very lovely experience that didn’t feel like a rip-off at all. The Mississippi really is mighty and sailing on her was something special. And on a steamboat. Even if that steamboat was only built in 1978. You should have heard the steampipe organ. It is WAY beyond description!

Next on the touristy agenda was a ride with a mule buggy. We were rather lucky with the driver – he was of Irish descent, but his accent was pure New Orleans – through and through. Dane claimed not to have understood one word he said. And he said a lot! And let Dane drive the mule. He (Dane, that is) was so proud and never realized that the mule knew it’s way through the French Quarter better than most. And also knew to stop at the lights! The driver told one dirty Irish joke after another – among lots of both interesting and juicy (but not necessarily true) anecdotes about New Orleans.

After that we were ready for some food and chose the much recommended Acme Oyster House. Even if it had a queue outside, we were inside in a few minutes. The food was very good – particularly the chargrilled oysters. Mmmmm. But the service. It was super quick – we’d hardly sat down before the waitress was all over us to make up our minds NOW. And the oysters were on the table in a couple of minutes. But – unfortunately – so were our main courses. Which of course meant that the main courses got cold before we could get around to them. And the noise level! Quite stressfull dining experience – in spite of the lovely food at very fair prices.

The black cab driver who took us home was a man who knew how to multi-task. He was on his cell having a very serious discussion with his wife about their finances. And he was discussing with the dispatch about his next ride. And explaining stuff to us. The radio was on too. All this besides driving… But he got us home safely and quickly.

The next day we decided to venture into town (campground is 6 miles west of downtown) by way of public transportation. That’s another first on this trip. So we went across the street to the bus stop. Very soon an elderly black man came, lugging a huge carry-all. He spoke in the dialect I’ve read that the slaves spoke. He said: “Y’all gotta ax the driver”. He was mighty friendly though. Well on board the bus we were approached by a number of more or less strange characters, both blacks and whites. But they were all extremely kind and helpful. We changed from the bus over to the newly reinstated St. Charles streetcar. That was a wonderful experience. The streetcar has only been back in action (after Katrina) for a few weeks. When we were in New Orleans last time, it wasn’t running.

We got off in the Garden District because we wanted to revisit the wonderful flag-shop we visited the last time we were there. Last time Dane got a wind spinner depicting a helicopter, but unfortunately – and the cause of much crying – he forgot it hanging from a tree in Savannah. This time we got two… And a long chat with Brad & Dellwen, the two ageing chaps who run the shop together. They certainly were characters too. Dellwen showed me what Brad had brought back with him after having left him to hike in Alaska for several weeks: A big gold ring, studded with diamonds. So sweet!

We jumped back on the streetcar and continued to the French Quarter again. We’d decided to have a proper meal for once, so had checked out the Zagat guide to restaurants. We’d chosen one and also been in there earlier to book a table. When we came back to claim it, the snotty hostess told us we couldn’t get in, because David was wearing shorts. They could have told us that the first time round, we thought! We trodded on, wondering what to do, because Dane was getting tired. On the way David had the good fortune of being shat on by a pigeon. At the time he didn’t appreciate it at all and was swearing a good deal… But just around the corner was a restaurant with a beautiful courtyard where people were dining. That was exactly what David had been longing for. Sitting outside among palm trees and having a lovely meal. They didn’t mind the shorts or the six-year-old, so we got a table in a corner by a little fountain. In Zagat we read (under the table) that this was one of New Orleans’ top restaurants, Bayona. What amazing luck! David now blessed the pigeon rather than cursed it. We had lovely food and a really, really nice evening. It was expensive for New Orleans, but not at all compared to Copenhagen or London. Just this one example: I had a glass of a wonderful late harvest with my coffee, a wine I’ve tasted before. Reason I remember it, is that it shares it’s name with my brother. It cost 5$ for a glass.

Needless to say, we were approached by more very special characters while waiting for a taxi outside. One guy wanted to make the DJ across the street play Puff the Magic Dragon for Dane, but of course needed a few bucks first, another guy told us not to trust the first guy. And then a biiiig SUV drove up and six black youngsters, all in white, got out, the biggest one of them with a huge snake around his neck… and true to form, our Pakistani taxidriver believed in The Jewish Conspiracy and talked all the way about politics in Pakistan, Iraq and US. Only took a break to marvel over the fact that we actually knew who Benazir Bhutto is…

New Orleans, we will be back!

More pictures and bigger versions here.

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Vote!

Warning: This post is bordering on a lecture…

Tomorrow is election day in Denmark. We’ve had the right to vote for more than 150 years and too many Danes take that right for granted. However – it seems to me that even more Americans take it for granted. So granted that they don’t even bother to vote. Here you have to register to vote – but compared to how difficult it was for a black voter to register in the deep south of the fifties for instance, it’s not that difficult. But I guess, that when you don’t read a newspaper -and I’ve heard and read several times that many Americans have a good reason not to read a paper, the reason being that they are almost illiterate – and only watch the news, or what passes for news, on the local Fox channels, then you may easily lose any interest in voting.

And that’s so, so sad. Because it’s such a core right in a Democracy – think China, Burma, Iran etc. – and I’ve heard many people say: “Oh, I can’t be bothered, they are all corrupt anyway” or “It doesn’t make any difference to me, they are just thinking of themselves, all of them”. And both statements may have more than a little truth to them. But does not voting change that? NO NO NO!

So go and do you democratic duty: Vote!

And to my Danish friends, family and readers who happen to live in Copenhagen. If you haven’t made up your mind yet, then vote for my good friend Charlotte Fischer. She’s honest, hard working and most certainly not corrupt. So there…

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A wedding anniversary in Mississippi

If, on our wedding day, anybody had suggested that we’d celebrate our 7th wedding anniversary in a provincial town in Mississippi, we’d probably have laughed at the thought. But here we are! We’d decided to splash out on some sleeping accomodation that wasn’t the RV instead of presents. And according to various guide books, Nathcez on the Mississippi river in the south-westerly part of Mississippi would be a good choice.

Natchez is a strange place – it survived the civil war without battle, because it’s commander thought it impossible to win anyway and so just flew the white flag. So the town is full of antebellum houses. It does it’s very best to attract tourists, but isn’t alltogether succesfull. Something that’s  evident from the number of empty storefronts in downtown. At the same time some businesses seem to thrive – among these unfortunately the casinos. But also the guesthouses in antebellum plantation houses seem to do well for themselves. The one we chose was inside the town, because we wanted to be able to walk to the haunted King’s Tavern for dinner and on the whole not set eyes on the RV for a short while.

We had a lovely afternoon and evening and slept fitfully in big beds in a room 3 times the size of the RV. Next on the agenda is the “Full Southern Breakfast” which is something hotels and guesthouses take great pride in here – so we’re looking forward to it! I won’t be counting calories though – surely the breakfast will hold enough of them to keep me covered for a day or two…

It’s great to be back in the south – there’s something about it which I can’t define, but really like. And I like the warm weather too! Today we’re headed for New Orleans for a repeat performance. We loved that city and want to spend another day there. After that we’re headed for Texas again to complete this part of our trip by celebrating Thanksgiving with the family. We’re very much looking forward to that.

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Graceland

We emptied the RV of all valuables and carried them on our weary backs all day. You would’ve too, had you seen the RV park and Elvis Presley Boulevard. It’s wide, worn down, ill lit and filled with fastfood places, gas stations, boarded up former fastfood places and gas stations and various businesses in degrees of dilapidation. It is hard to picture what it looked like when Elvis bought Graceland.

We queued to get in there, but not too long. There was lots to look at – fun to see all the different kinds of people who thought it worth a journey to visit Elvis’ home. White people, black people, hispanics, a variety of Europeans, Japanese. Young and old, couples and singles and large families. Amazing!

Graceland is really quite modest in size, but the decor is absolutely wonderful. It’s so seventies that your toes curl. Personnally I liked the bar in the basement best – and Lisa Marie, his airplane.

Corner of bar room and detail from bathroom on plane.

Enough said about that – we got a great magnet for our collection and some super cool postcards and then went on into Memphis. What a lovely city that is! People of all colours and ages were extraordinarily friendly, even the hustlers on Beale Street were friendly! We had great lunch right there on touristy but still very bluesy Beale Street and then went to the Civil Rights Museum, which is inside the hotel where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was shot in 1968. It was a good museum holding loads of information that was new to us, but is was a hard one for Dane because there was very little interactivity and a lot of reading to do. However, the best bit was the remake of the bus, where the famous Rosa Parks stood up to the white bus driver and two policemen in Alabama in 1955. Standing inside the bus I translated and explained the whole story to Dane, and that made a big impression on him. What made the biggest impression on me was to actually stand there outside the hotel room and the balcony where Dr. King was shot. Sometimes history works best that way – see it, feel it!

We had a look inside the lobby of the famous Peabody hotel and then had dinner in the Flying Fish in downtown Memphis. I had a large Margarita, large enough for David to share, so when we’d finished that, we’d had it and took a taxi back to the tacky RV site. But that didn’t matter, because we were tired and happy after a nice day in a very friendly place.

There are more pictures and a few side stories on Flickr.

This morning we got up early and drove south through most of Mississippi. That was sad and dreary and bleak. We drove on a road, marked on the map as scenic. I just don’t get it! We’re driving in the Mississippi delta so everything is flat flat flat. But not close enough to see the mighty Missy. And there is such poverty – right in your face. And poverty is never pictoresque, it’s always ugly. So we were happy to cross the Mississippi into Arkansas where we quickly found our nice RV park. It’s just the kind of place, which I’ve mentioned earlier that David and I like. Big shady Pecan (pronounced Pe’can) trees, no fancy trimmings, a lovely lake and room between the campers. And friendly people. Dane was lucky again to find a really sweet boy to play with, so it has been a very pleasurable afternoon and evening. And it’s nice and warm outside!

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We have officially re-entered the South

as we are now in Memphis, Tennessee. More about that tomorrow, when we’ve actually seen something other than this, the bleakest of campsites.

Yesterday morning David got up very early again – despite the freezing cold.

Inspired by the catch the night before, he litterally flew out of the RV and down to the river (Ohio River, Indiana) where he started pulling out fish. It was quite the reverse of the previous week. When Dane woke up, he quickly joined David to catch some fish of his own.

We drove further along the Ohio into Illinois and then into Kentucky. I’d made a “slight” miscalculation reading the map – not noticing that the crossing of the Ohio I’d chosen was actually not a bridge, but a ferry! We debated a little whether we dared chance it and go for the ferry – not having any idea how wide the river was going to be at that point, what kind of ferry it was, if it would let RVs on board, how often it sailed. And sunset was approaching fast, with another 30 miles to drive on the other side of the river – or 60 if we couldn’t get on board. We decided to chance it – and – if we weren’t lucky once more!

And so – besides having saved around 30 miles’ driving, we had this quite fantastic experience of being ferried across the river on this little pram together with 3-4 other vehicles (=pick-up trucks), that clearly made this journey every day! Check out that sunset! More pictures here. Furthermore it was free!

And speaking of luck, check the weather forecast for Memphis!

On today’s journey I was the one with a song in my head. And it’s not by Elvis. It’s probably one of my 20 favourite songs. Paul Simon’s Graceland.

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The mother road

 

Yesterday and today we’ve been travelling the Mother Road – Route 66. To be perfectly honest, it doesn’t distinguish itself a whole lot compared to so many other roads we’ve travelled. But the part we’ve been on (along the Ohio River in Indiana) is both hilly, forested and curvy, so fun to travel. Yesterday afternoon we found a cute little campsite (more like a parking lot with electric hook-ups, gas station and trucker restaurant). Again we had an undisturbed view of the river and again David went fishing. And this time he got lucky – that’s after a week of complete draught, not a fish in sight for many days. In the dark and cold evening he caught a beautiful walleye.

That sure made his day!

We had dinner at the above mentioned restaurant. We were the only customers – alone with the two sweet waitresses and a huge tv. We watched some CNN to catch up with world news, but didn’t really figure out whether anything really important has happened out there.

Check more photos here.

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Rising Sun

I like it. Most of the time the Americans seem very unoriginal when they name their towns. We must have passed at least a dozen Madisons, Columbus’, Fredericksburgs, Hoovers and Lebanons. We’re wondering a little bit about the Lebanons. Why is that name so popular? But Rising Sun, isn’t that just lovely? We also passed a town called Satan’s Kingdom (Vermont) – I don’t really believe in Hell or Satan or any of that, but still wouldn’t like to live there! And try to picture this: I arrive at an isolated spot by a beautiful lake in the mountains and say: Oh, it’s lovely here, I’ll settle with my family and I’ll call it Satan’s Kingdom???

By the way, early on in our travels I believe I wrote that my American family lives out in the sticks in the Texas hill country. I take that back. Where they live it’s litterally urban compared to rural Vermont or rural Ohio!

Today’s campsite is lovely. It’s right on the Ohio River (which forms the state line between Indiana and Kentucky) and David is thrilled to bits. The people here are very nice and friendly – they haven’t had any real Europeans (as opposed to Americans with a German grandmother) before, so we are a real novelty, totally exotic!

We just drove past Seagram’s Distillery, a huge factory complex which let out an awful smell and had stood there since 1857. That made us wish for G&T’s, but would you believe it? In Indiana they won’t sell you alcohol on a Sunday! Must be because we’re now in the bible belt, all though I don’t seem to remember any such restrictions in the Carolinas. Anyway – we’ll stick to the beer we already had in the RV and hold our gin-craving till tomorrow.

Dane is also very happy today. In the camper next door is a little boy from Tennessee, who’s just as thirsty after a playmate as Dane is. So they are playing away – it’ll be hard to get them to bed, but luckily they can play again tomorrow.

Huge barges sail by all the time. This river isn’t just for fishing and fun!

We’ve had an ongoing thing on our trip. David seems to have a hidden repertoire of old pop songs with references to American states, towns or rivers. And he drives along and sings happily. For those of you who know him well enough to have heard him sing, feel free to imagine.

The first time he burst out in song was when we were headed for Galveston. And today he remembered Olivia Newton-John with The Banks of the Ohio. This clip is just so funny!

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Amish country

Today we drove half way through Ohio. That was a pretty uneventful affair – the countryside is not terribly interesting. When we came to the Amish country which is the area northeast of Columbus, all that changed. That part of Ohio is more hilly – you know, “the good old rolling hills”, and full of old fashioned farms. Big fields with scattered cows and sheep. And then we began to see the first people in strange clothes, people pushing old fashioned lawn mowers and of course the buggies.

A buggy in the rearview mirror. Imagine being overtaken by one? That’s what happened to us – but must admit: we were parked in a lay by.

We went to the town of Walnut Creek where there was a big antique market/flea market. It was such a mix – heaps of corny old souvenirs (I just love souvenirs from the 50ties), porcelain, glassware, old toys, quilts, books and ancient tools. And loads of trivial knick-knack. And every item (and that is EVERY item) was carefully marked with stall number, description of the item and the price. At the exit two Amish women meticulously noted everything down and put little sales slips into pidgeon holes for each stall holder. And rang up the sale on a modern and absolutely electric cash register… We escaped without buying anything, all though I’d set my sights on a Niagara Falls nailclipper at 3$…

The local “Real Amish cooking” restarant had a long line outside and was packed to the brim, so we left town with just our obligatory magnet* and a few postcards. The next town, Berlin, is known as “the heart of the Amish country”. But honestly, that must be the tourist heart. It was absolutely awful – full of touristy shops with Amish-this and Amish-that and not an Amish in sight anywhere, only busloads of tourists. We drove through it without stopping.

 

 

Tonight’s campsite is far away from everything. We truly wonder how they attract people to this place, even if it’s very pretty and nice. But it must be the closeness to the Amish and the extreme peace and quiet that does it. Or maybe it’s something with religion. At the camping office they had a quote from the scriptures in a very prominent place and our neighbours here are a mormon family.

Normally, campsites are a little bit too close to the action (action = Interstate highways).

* We decided early on that we wanted a souvenir from each state or attraction we’d visited. And the choice fell on fridge magnets – inexpensive, small and possible to pack in a suitcase. We have got some pretty cool ones, I can tell you. When we find a new home, it just has to have a very large fridge, so that there’s room for all our magnets.

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