We have officially left the South

Because we’re now in Pennsylvania.

We spent a few days in the Shenandoah valley because it’s so incredibly beautiful there and there are lots of sights. One of the musts of the area is Thomas Jefferson’s house Monticello, which is the only American building to have made it onto Unesco’s list of World Heritage Sites (Denmark has two, Roskilde Cathedral and castle Kronborg). Thomas Jefferson was the father of the Declaration of Independence (All men are created equal…) and simultaneously he owned more than 600 slaves in his lifetime. It is just SO hard to understand that a man, who had spent a lot of time in Europe, was completely absorbed by the thoughts of the Enlightenment and who was clearly a very intelligent man, could believe that negroes were not “men“?

The house was interesting, but not overwhelmingly so. But the demonstrations of the craftmanship of the slaves was quite interesting. We got to see how they made nails, baskets out of woodshavings and carpentry. And they showed us all the lovely fruit and vegetables the slaves grew for their masters to eat. We also saw what a grown slave got to eat in one week. Beside that he was “allowed” to grow his own veg and catch his own fish in his spare time – that’s at night and on Sundays.

The next day we went and saw the Luray Caverns – prehistoric caverns with fantastic formations of stalactites and stalacmites. We laughed at the tour guide, but not where we were intended to laugh. I don’t know if this is typically American – it probably isn’t – but most of the formations were named after Disney characters!!!! He’d say something like: “See this structure here, we call it Pluto, you folks can see why, can’t you?” And everybody laughed. We found it slightly weird to name these majestic ancient structures after cartoon figures!?!

This is an optical illusion created by stalactites mirrored in a still pond

We loved the country roads in Virginia – the rolling hills, the dense woods, the roadside stalls with apples, pears, cider…

Last night we just made it into West Virginia to a huge campsite with lots and lots of people. It was the first time we’d seen that many people (and children – usually it’s mostly retired people) at a campsite. The explanation was that today is a national holiday – Presidents day. This morning we set the GPS to take us to Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, a relatively short trip. And it took us back into Virginia, then into Maryland and then, finally, into Pennsylvania. It was map-hell, I can tell you that! Well, now we’re well into a big state that takes up two pages in our map of the US.


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.