Friday, October 30, 2015

All Hallows' Eve Interlude

The road trip continues - watch this space. But first, this year's prizes for my favourite Florida Halloween displays.

First prize, somewhere on the road from Crystal River, a manatee with attitude..

Second prize, in a front garden in Venice... only in Florida 

Third prize, in the same front garden in Venice....

Fourth prize, at CVS pharmacy in Venice. (Remember Olean's? This was worse.)

Booby prize, also at CVS pharmacy in Venice...

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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Road Trip: Catching Choo-Choos

 We were on our way to Chattanooga, Tennessee and took in some wise advice.

There in the distance was the local landmark, Lookout Mountain.

But of course our real reason for wanting to see Chattanooga was to find out, as per the famous song,  if there really was a Chattanooga Choo-Choo.  So we kept our eyes peeled for trains. Was this the one? There seemed to be lots of people waiting to board. We decided to take it anyway.

And got a lot more than we bargained for. The train - a funicular really - (well I suppose that has a song about it too) went up Lookout Mountain at  a fair clip and an extremely steep incline. It was, in fact, called "The Incline" and was allegedly the steepest in the world. Which is why they warned you about the right sort of footwear. It felt a bit like the deck of the Titanic. Though the view, if you dared look down, was spectacular.

Here, at the top, there was much to learn about the Civil War. The attack on Atlanta was apparently planned here. It's a good spot. The southernmost lump in the Appalachian Chain. On a clear day you can see six states and anyone who tries to come and get you.

It was good but it wasn't the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. We drove downtown and carried on looking. Aha - we seemed to be getting close!

Surely this couldn't be it?

And then - finally!

Here it was! According to a plaque, "It was on March 5th 1880 that the first passenger train leaving Cincinnati for Chattanooga was nicknamed the 'Chattanooga Choo-Choo' This historical occasion opened the first major link in public transportation from the north to the south".

We were not disappointed. Especially as we could actually climb into the engine and twiddle knobs and levers.

All around there were various old train carriages - we were in the former railway hotel at the railway terminus, according to another plaque, completed in 1909 and closed in 1970.   These days, you can even get married here.

(And if you should change your mind, you can just pop over the road)

It's a nice friendly place

For humans, at any rate.

As a foreigner, I found the array in the nearby souvenir emporium interesting. It reminded me that we'd passed a red pickup truck with a Confederate flag emblazoned across its whole back side and several flags flying from front gardens and the like.

But sadly it was only afterwards that a friend told us we'd missed her favourite English Tea Shoppe, right here in Chattanooga. Oh well, next time.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Road Trip: Too Late to Mind the Gap

 On again through West Virginia and some more spectacularly scenic roads.

Winding through the mountains

At one point we took a detour off the main road and suddenly we were in a narrow, winding valley of little houses, some little more than shacks, interespersed with rusty trailers, some solid brick or nice white clapboard. One had a neat little gazebo outside. A brown rocky stream ran through the middle. It must be a terrible place in a flood.  We just managed to miss two strange-looking dogs wandering in the road. It all seemed somehow self-contained and cut off from the world. Then we were back to more familiar country - a modern elementary school, signs to a conference centre and a farmers' market, a big Walmart plaza under towering rocks.  For some time we meandered along the West Virginia/Kentucky border. A sign said "Welcome to Pike County, Kentucky, Home of the Hatfield and McCoy Feud". But the place where we stopped for coffee and the most rubbery omelette I've ever eaten was still in West Virginia. (they were out of everything else we asked for, including sausages and skimmed milk. Sister-in-law tried her luck with a biscuit - like a scone on speed - swimming in gloopy white sausage gravy (sic). I didn't dare ask how it was.  A lady sitting by the door, yelled, "Don't want to be nosy but where are you ladies from?" We were noncommital but found it hard to extricate ourselves. As we exited with a smile, she was still calling out, "I don't want to be nosy..but". At times like these I feel very British. "Madam, you are being nosy." I found it very hard to understand the accents too, as they probably did mine.
Then we were in Kentucky, with more fabulous rugged gorges.  The road led straight over Pine Mountain.

With spine-tingling views from the top.

 I always find it extraordinary, even in the eastern part of America, to see so much uninhabited near-wilderness.

There was probably a reason why the road was called the Kingdom Come Parkway.  Driving under more mine-workings here.

But then a big disappointment. I'd hoped we could drive through the Cumberland Gap, of pioneer fame.

But, as the nice man working in the Visitor Centre (who happened to be English and originally from Northampton) told us, we were 19 years too late. A tunnel was built to replace the old road through the Gap, which has reverted to a pioneer-style path. You can still walk though it but sadly it was getting late and we needed to press on.

Another time, maybe, which is what we always say.

Coming up:  Yer actual Choo Choo!

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Road Trip: On a Haunted Island

  We drove on through more spectacular scenery - even the industrial bits beautiful in their own way, reminding me of English views from the old Great North Road. 

 There were quaint iron bridges spanning rocky mountain rivers, roads called Black Dog Hollow, a sign to the unpromising  "Dry Tavern" .  We drove along the banks of the great Ohio, wide and stately. Now we were in West Virginia and looking for somewhere to stay the night. This turned out to be Parkersburg, where the Ohio and the Little Kanawha rivers meet and which boasts what was once the longest railway bridge in the world. We went for a stroll to try and get to the river but it was banked up and hard to see for the roads and railway tracks. We did go past the Oil and Gas Museum

Some elegant churches

And the odd hostelry

The first hotel we'd seen was inauspicious, surrounded by the shopping plazas and fast food joints that crowd the outskirts of American towns, so we'd fortunately headed for the historic district and  Blennerhassett Island. There was, I gleaned from squinting at my phone, a historic hotel there.

Which didn't disappoint with a nice terrace to eat dinner, overlooking the old courthouse, warm enough to eat outside with the help of some heaters. We had a great meal with roast potatoes American style - roastED potatoes they call them - not like good old big British ones with the gooey crunch on the outside but still delicious, marinaded in chipotle and lime. The pudding was possibly one of the best I'd ever tasted - pannacotta with caramel popcorn. Caramel popcorn being one of my fetishes, it was encouraging to see it served in a respectable way.

In a nice global village vignette, our waiter was a West Virginian who'd been to Liverpool - while sister-in-law engaged him in an avid discussion of American football and the fortunes of the New England Patriots, I found a kindred spirit at the next table, in the shape of a friendly Dutchman and quizzed him on the mindset of Louis Van Gaal. He couldn't fathom him out any more than I could. he said the Dutch had deserved to get knocked out of the Euros. We commiserated about how dead and empty many American downtown districts are, compared to those in Europe.
Incidentally, we should have brought a four-footed friend.

The next morning we did a quick spin around the "historic district" (a phenomenon now seemingly boasted by practically every town in America more than ten years old, though this one was older than most.) Wrought iron arches led into it and the roads were paved in brick.

But sandwiched between busy roads, railways and industry grown up around them, the houses seemed a little sad. I wonder who would choose to live in them and renovate them now?  The ones below looked as if they belonged in a south London inner suburb. Where was the bus stop?

Now apparently Blennerhassett Island has a reconstructed mansion, which we didn't have time to see, the original one having burned down. Harman Blennerhassett, born in Hampshire,  was the big cheese here in the early 19th century and had an interesting life which involved intrigue, imprisonment and, oh yes, incest.  The ghost of his wife, who also happened to be his niece, is said to haunt the place, according to some stories, looking for  her child's grave. All very Victorian and yes, Americans like to use that expression too.

Coming up: An unwelcome tunnel

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Road Trip: Through Golden Pennsylvania

The October road trip down to Florida with sister-in-law started on a foggy morning, a frosting on the grass and the scarlet-and-gold leaves peering through the mist until the sun gradually broke through. This was a typical road....

With the typical fellow-traveller you don't want to get stuck behind...

In a little place called Lucinda, the pretty St Joseph's Church...

With an autumnal graveyard

A nice lunch spot in Fredericktown by the unpronounceable Monongahela River.

Not so much colour in these hills - we were already further south.

A man walked by with a tiny yorkie and I checked out the tiny library. The librarian mentioned it had been a coal-mining town but no more. The story of many places in this part of the world and it's likely to get  bleaker for them in the future.

Though we were to see plenty of mine-workings on our route and endless coal trains slowly rumbling by. Somehow they didn't scar the beautiful scenery but seemed a part of it.

Those fish get everywhere.

As do the omnipresent warning signs.

I wouldn't dream of it...         Coming up: A night on a haunted island

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Road Trip Titbits

Coming up ......

A scary ride

A legendary train

An all-American castle

A historic bridge

And... not where it seems

The road trip will commence shortly.....