Friday, October 31, 2014

A Surfing Witch

 Wins this year's Howling Turkey Award for best Halloween display. It was in the car park in Venice, Florida.

The old Buick woodie car was sweet too, even if it was advertising an estate agents.. Of course they've missed a trick here (ha ha) since Americans don't talk about "estate" cars. They call them "wagons". And come to think about it, they usually call estate agents 'realtors", something I can never pronounce.

Second prize to a very realistic giant spider with glowing orange eyes. This one in Ponte Vedra near Jacksonville, on Florida's north-east coast. It quite made me jump.

But I liked this bat banner too, especially their expressions.

I have to say that Halloween displays look funny in Florida, with all its sunshine and light and palm trees. A bit like pumpkins and Christmas, they seem to belong further north.

More on the road trip coming up shortly...

Thursday, October 30, 2014

City of Bears

  I had a better title but someone else thought of it.

This is New Bern, North Carolina, a city, true to its name, no doubt because of its name,  overrun with all things ursine. the point of tedium.

This I think a rather American syndrome. Choose your tradition and hang on to it like grim death.
Hence we have scare bears.

And of course a dancing bear.

Though the town evidently has some rebels.


And I'm not sure where he fits in

Still, it's a pretty, historic place, with a fine Episcopal church.

Some quaint corners.

Unique claims to fame

And a beautiful view from our hotel.

We had in fact visited a couple of years ago and stayed at a different place where the view was less good. We overlooked a small green which turned out to be a rest area (in the American sense) for boaters' dogs. One after the other made use of the facilities until it wasn't a joke any more.  Among the reasons I wanted to come back: to  taste again the shrimp and grits which sister-in-law had had last time in a restaurant in town. I had sampled a bit and ever since had fantasised about a dish of it all to myself.  Trouble was, we couldn't remember which restaurant it was.
"It's that one on the corner".
"No it wasn't on a corner."
"Yes it was."
"Wait a minute, I recognise the lamps."
Anyway, we found it and the shrimp and grits didn't disappoint. In fact I leapt on them so enthusiastically that I didn't have time to take a photo, for which fact you're probably grateful.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

To the....

 I'm thinking of a more original word than "ridiculous"..

And not coming up with one... The eagle (s) are made of wood.

 (The flower is real, though)

 I think. The sign, at a place in Virginia called

Says "Chainsaw Art" but I always thought that meant those crude carved bears and such.  Still, art it's meant to be. We were the only visitors.

Probably for years.

But just think what a fortune they'd make if they packed it all up and flogged it in Whitechapel. It would end up in the Tate Modern.  Maybe I'm on to something there.

 Meanwhile an interesting sign on the door at a nearby garage.

Time to empty your pockets.

Monday, October 27, 2014

From the Sublime....

In the exquisite shape of Thomas Jefferson's Rotunda for the University of Virginia at Charlottesville, based on the Pantheon in Rome. Again a quickly-snatched photo and they were doing some works on it, which didn't help. American university campuses are like small, hectic cities with draconian parking laws and traffic systems understood only by their denizens. This had a hospital "campus" too. The world over, the worst sort of places for finding your way around.

Jefferson, the Third President, as proved by his instructions for his gravestone, was prouder of designing the University of Virginia than anything else he did, apart from the Declaration of Independence. The rest of it is impressive too - what we saw of it.
  It's not a paradise. Sadly we had popped into a local Starbucks and seen a "Missing Person" poster for the British-born student, Hannah Graham, then still missing and since found dead. I couldn't help thinking how many of these posters they must issue in America - you see them everywhere, particularly in motorway rest areas. It was all on an official, clinical-looking form, with sections for different personal details, clothes and so on. Poor girl and poor family. May she rest in peace.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

South Through Virginia

 We found a diner for breakfast, called "Apple Valley". The place was deserted when we walked in, apart from the delightful waitress, who, in her typically American manner, was extremely solicitous. In fact she would be a front runner in the Most Solicitous waitress award, which I'm thinking of instituting.. As we were eating and having exhausted her "How is everything?" repertoire, including, "Are the tea and coffee all right?" mentioned that she would be cleaning the table next to us with Clorox wipes. "Please let me know if it bothers you".  We were happy to see someone else walk in. She deserved more customers.

Then it was south by the Blue Ridge Mountains and the fabled and fought-over Shenandoah Valley, fields of black cows and the surreal sight of two of them nearly submerged in a pond, relishing a wallow in the bovine equivalent of a jacuzzi. There were pristine farms, many of them swanky equestrian places. From one neatly fenced field two dun (Americans call them buckskin) horses eyed us inquiringly. A village called Flint Hill looked so very English. A sign said "Horse and Hound". Maybe it was a pub or a restaurant. Probably not the magazine.

And here's yet another quaint place where we didn't have time to stop, just a second to take a quick photo at the crossroads.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Winchester - But Where's the Cathedral?

 Into Virginia next, the tidy, scenic and very English state.

Want history?

You've got history. Note: not "Olde Towne". Virginia has class.

Winchester, where, alas, we should have stayed much longer and explored, had a railway station (passed too quickly to take a photo) and more pretty houses.

And Old(e) English touches.

Plus some Old(e) English sense of the absurd.

Not sure how this is meant to sell the ice cream. Beleaguered Londoners wouldn't be amused. A bit near the knuckle for them.

In a much fought-over territory, here is the impressively-monikered Confederate general Jubal Earley, along with someone called "Handley", who,  I am guessing, is Judge John Handley, for whom the local high school is named.  I assume Winchester has these arty apples like our local western New York town, Olean, has squirrels and London once had cows. It is, apparently, a famous apple-growing area.

Plenty of grandeur still remains. Here is the library, also named after the ubiquitous Judge Handley.

 Plus a pedestrian precinct (they call it a "Walking Mall" - new one on me)  for strolling.

And eating. Yet more eating - yikes.

At Violino's, the grappa was smooth and the Ossobucco just a mite tough, though the sauce, saffron rice and bone marrow were divine.

It's not only the apples that are arty. Spot the fake prawn, (Shrimp to the Americans but you couldn't possibly call this a shrimp.)

Four kinds of ravioli and a pear. Sounds like a corny song title.

And plenty to see while we were walking off our meal.

 Wish we could have lingered and browsed.

There was even some history in the hotel car park.

But no cathedral to be seen.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Lewisburg: History and a Long Lunch

  In fact this charming picture palace was in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where, after a gorgeous drive through golden hills and past rocky mountain streams,  we were looking for a quick lunch.

Lewisburg is a pretty olde worlde place and home to a noted (American sisters-in-law tell me) Liberal Arts College, Bucknell. Before I came to America, no, I lie, before I read Donna Tartt's The Secret History, I had never heard of Liberal Arts colleges. In Britain, you'd have images of Nick Clegg and earnest people in beards and sandals with socks. I suspect that the latter may not be the style at Bucknell.

So back to our quick lunch... as is my wont, I had consulted my friends at Tripadvisor, peering at my low-end smartphone and cursing when I couldn't read the small print. The best resto in Lewisburg was apparently Elizabeth's Bistro. Here it is.

I had trouble scrolling down further, so Elizabeth's is where we went. Opposite the old cinema, it must be a wonderful place for a long, gossipy lunch with old schoolfriends you haven't seen for twenty-five years. A quick sandwich stop it is not. It's the sort of joint that has the chef and sous-chef's names on the menu. The girl greeting us was ominously friendly and I wondered afterwards if she wasn't softening us up while they humanely slaughtered the organic chickens and went out to pick the portabella mushrooms. The waiter came by and asked if we had any food allergies. (I felt like saying, "Yes, to waiting for it".) But they take pride in what they do and the food was good. I understand from the Tripadvisor reviews that the Bistro, a nice old town house, fills up to the rafters when the students' well-heeled parents are in town. We said our goodbyes as soon as we decently could and then we were off on the open road again, in search of more history and harbouring warm feelings for Messrs McDonalds et al. They didn't get rich for nothing.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Coming Up: The Road Trip Continues:

With apologies for the delay, due to internet connection going on strike...
Now, how about this for a nice old picture house?

Find out where it is shortly. Watch this space.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Road Trip Time Again

Sisters-in-law (two of them this time!) and I are off on another road trip down to Florida.

Driving down through the Pennsylvania forests, through Shinglehouse and Coudersport and Haneyville and lands beyond...

The sun was peering through the mist

And the views stretched into a hazy infinity

Rolling thickly-forested hills with not a house in sight

This part of Pennsylvania is wild and wooded and largely unmanicured.

I looked in vain for bears. Until at last...

I saw one. Outside this little place full of old-fashioned joke toys and tables neatly set.

We looked around while the owner stirred her gravy in the kitchen, making us wish it was lunchtime.