Further down the road found us in Sumter, South Carolina. It was one of those happy and all too rare occasions when we managed to find a hotel downtown within walking distances of some decent restaurants. In so many places, the reasonably priced hotels all congregate around the motorway exits and the only food you can walk to is McDonalds. It was a lovely warm evening and we sat out at a pavement bar called Sidebar and ate pulled pork and excellent salad and imbibed some tasty cocktails. It was only marred by some loud motorbikes revving up and showing off but even they didn't stay too long.
Sumter turned out to be full of history and interesting houses. It was named after a Revolutionary War General - yes, the same chap who gave his name to Fort Sumter, where the Civil War started.
Sadly, once again, we didn't have time to explore but decided to drop in the next morning on one of Sumter's favourite attractions.
This was Swan Lake and Iris Gardens. It was too early for irises but there were plenty of swans.
In fact it claims to be the only park in the United States that has all eight species of swan. It was still early and there was no one around. Someone was having a beauty sleep.
Hey! Who woke me up!
Cygnets abounded. On these occasions you remember what your mother told you. "Careful" I said to sister-in-law, "don't go near the ones with the babies!"
Then I spied some turtles in the water. All right, Americans grow up with them but I haven't seen that many in my life. I thought I'd get a picture.
And one of the duck chasing the turtle.....
....Big mistake. The turtle beach was next to some feeding stations. They looked very swanky. A sort of Sidebar for swans. Well one of them - possibly one of those big fat white ones you can see in the middle - must have been at the cocktails or having a bad feather day.
The next thing I knew, I was under attack. The big, fat white one went for me tooth and nail - though, fortunately swans don't have teeth, with a sustained onslaught of ferocious nipping all down the back of my legs. It was like being pinched by your worst enemy in primary school. And it went on and on. Of course it was warm and I was wearing shorts. "Ow!" I shrieked, "Get away!! Help!" Sister-in-law burst out laughing. Laughing! I ask you! I ran for it but still ended up literally black and blue.
They really should have some warning signs. They have them on Wimbledon Common - that swans can break your arm, murder your dog, etc though I don't remember them saying anything about biting. I was traumatised enough - dread to think what it would have done to a small child.
I'd like to come back to Sumter but Swan Lake can do without me.
Still in Darien, Georgia, we, as always, we looked for somewhere to have coffee and discovered Zio Carlo's, toucked away in a side street near the waterfront. It was early, everything deserted and we seemed to be the only customers. Carlo was that rare American who agreed with me that Americans put far too much cinnamon in things. He assured me his scones had no cinnamon in them at all - and he was right! An unusual pleasure to be savoured. Of course they weren't like British scones and had flavours and fillings - peaches in one, pecans in the other - but you can't have everything. The coffee was very good too. Afterwards we walked down to the waterfront, which had an interesting bit of history.
Yes, tabby again (see below) and an old cannon set among what was left of the historic houses and businesses that once lined the street.
One old building still stands, incongruous next to some swanky condos.
It seems that Darien is being discovered. The man at the museum had a theory for that. People are coming down to Florida, stopping in Darien, liking it and staying. But it still, thank goodness, has along way to go before it's Florida. Though the park has a Florida-like list of "Don'ts", digging for historic relics being one. That's only going to give people ideas.
Darien still has working shrimp boats.
Though there's also a more Florida-like marina.
The word "shrimp" in American also, incidentally takes in what the British call prawns. This can lead to some confusion.
.....to Darien, Georgia, an interesting small town on the coast. The little church is called St Cyprian's. I would have thought that would be an odd name to find in the Bible Belt South.
Turns out the little Episcopal church was built for former slaves and named for St Cyprian of Carthage, an early African martyr. The structure is built of tabby, a type of concrete made with oyster shells, which we were to see more of. I had never thought beyond tabby cats - you learn something new every day!
And here were more of the old live oaks festooned with Spanish moss, some of my favourite features of the South.
The town's tourist information centre was housed in an old jail.
Yes, complete with cells. I wonder if the bars were that pretty blue colour before it was repurposed.
The little museum was full of the unexpected. There was a surprising connection to Fanny Kemble, the 19th century British actress.
She was married to an American for a while, in the 1830s, a chap called Butler (any relation to Rhett?) whose family owned some plantations near Darien, with all that that entailed. When Fanny finally got to visit them, she was shocked by the conditions in which the slaves were kept. Like a lot of modern actresses she became an activist, had some full and frank conversations with hubby, who was also having a few bits on the side and got shot of him, possibly a wise move.
Another museum artefact was this vintage soda fountain.
Interestingly, a century or so before Fanny's bad experience, the citizens of Darien had petitioned the British colonial governor against slavery. Their reasons weren't all honourable - for one thing they thought hanging onto the slaves and guarding them would be too expensive - but they're proud of it all the same.
And here was a Nativa-Gloo (their words). It was for sale, 200 dollars or best offer. Unfortunately sister-in-law's car was too full already.
Nearby was Fort King George, where the Brits first tried to establish a garrison in 1721, Unfortunately the guide in the gift shop told us all the soldiers died of disease before ever seeing action. Perhaps the local flying citizenry had something to do with it.
Though the gift shop was doing well out of the British connection. (Is that Basil Brush? Remember him?)
Unfortunately we didn't have time to do a tour of the fort but hope to be back. That's the trouble with road trips - you're always having to get on the road again.
Our first stop was St Augustine, Florida, the oldest town, allegedly, in the United States.
Yes, contrary to popular opinion, the first Thanksgiving was actually here, in 1565. Except that the intrepid colonists were Catholics and spoke Spanish. History favoured the Pilgrim Fathers, some 60 years later and up north in Massachusetts. They spoke English so they're the ones most people learn about. At least they were the ones we learned about when I was at school in Britain. They did make for a good story though.
St Augustine's fort of Castillo de San Marcos..
..came a little later, in the 17th century. It was attacked by the English (not technically British for another 5 years) in 1702. They were repulsed. Not such a good story.
I'd been to St Augustine before and found the old parts fascinating but saturated with tourists. Just like the Cotswolds. I did have my first taste of key lime pie there, though and it's still the best one I've ever had.
This time sister-in-law and I were after a different kind of refreshment.
St Augustine has a distillery and you can do the tour. It's a co-operative, using local ingredients like sugar cane and citrus and based in an old ice plant. I liked the instructions on the packing boxes.
Sensible for people with bad backs. Don't try shifting those barrels though.
Our guide mixed up samples of various cocktails
Using their own whisky, gin and vodka and special mixes.
First you need to crush your ice
And copper is the best thing to drink it out of to make sure it stays nice and cold.
And then it was tasting time!
Sadly the downside of visiting a distillery on a road trip is that one of you has to drive.
Dateline: Cattaraugus County, western New York State
Apologies for such a long absence, due to travels and a bad cold. But let's get on with it and before I tell you more about the road trip, here's a taste of spring in western New York. It seems a long time since I've been here but the lake at the top of the lane is still there.
Somebody, though, has been through a traumatic experience.
I do hope the disfigurement is only temporary.
Meanwhile we have had rain, rain and more rain. The garden is a squelchy swamp. It must have been a very hard winter. The deer have eaten all the rhododendrons, the bits of the sumac tree the lightning didn't get fell down in a storm, but a few daffodils (yes, British friends, daffodils in mid-May!) are hanging in there.
And the tulips, if you don't look too closely at the dandelions around them, (it seems to be a sensational spring for dandelions - I'd love to know what they're on..)
As sister-in-law and I headed out of Venice (stopping at Black Gold, our favourite coffee place first) we had the usual springtime accompaniment of snowbirds going north. On they ploughed in great hordes up Interstates 75 and 95, with their caravans and cars and canoes, all tenuously held together.
I realised how much I was going to miss the flat country and felt some trepidation about heading to where winter was probably still in progress and spring barely a hint in the woods. "We're expecting two inches on Saturday" said hubby, who was flying north before me. And he didn't mean rain. But there was always the prospect of new little towns and artisan coffee shops and the challenge of avoiding the chain restaurants. Our first stop claimed to be the oldest city in the United States. More on that shortly. The blog has further travels to fit in in the next few days but watch this space.