Bet you are all delirious with excitement at the thought of me being home in a few days aren’t you?! Nope?
Today’s blog will take us from Myrtle Beach, Virginia, to New York – our last stop. After leaving Colonial Williamsburg we drove south east to Myrtle Beach. One of Sally’s all time favourite movies starring Bridget Fonda was set in Myrtle Beach and called ‘Shag’ (after the dance!) so she always wanted to go there. However, much like Atlantic City, its charm and image has been somewhat tarnished in recent years and wasn’t what she imagined at all. It actually reminded us a bit of Newquay. There were a couple of main streets and a highway that joined Myrtle Beach and South Myrtle which were filled with ‘All You Can Eat’ seafood or Asian buffets, huge stores advertising in massive neon signs that they sold “everything under $5.99” beach ware and other beach paraphernalia, fast food chain restaurants, night entertainment, resorts and mini/crazy golf courses by the dozen! It was really quite tacky but probably enormous fun if you are with your family or a large group of friends. There were big tower blocks of holiday apartments, adventure and water parks, shopping malls and miles of beach. Think Butlins on the beach but worse! Call me naïve but I was expecting it to look like it was set in the 50’s and was therefore hugely disappointed and we didn’t spend long looking around.
However, our next stop definitely made up for it. Next on our agenda was Charleston, South Carolina. Right on the water and impeccably beautiful, Charleston is a wonderful place to visit. With fascinating history and influences from France, England and Africa it’s stunning to walk around and has incredibly lovely locals who ooze the pride they have for their town. Charleston is full of 19th century mansions, many of which still remain within the same family line and are filled with beautiful ornate furniture and décor, many beautiful original cobbled streets, and old 1 and 2 story houses complete with traditional balconies. The whole town is protected by a law which means that no building can be torn down, only restored, so it’s literally like stepping back in time.
The day we got there was our 1 year anniversary so we decided to go out for a cheapish dinner in close-by Mount Pleasant. We found a restaurant in our Lonely Planet guide that sounded good so we gave it a try. It was quite difficult to find because it was wedged between two shrimping warehouses on the water and had no sign outside but we did find it and ventured inside to find a very strange looking place indeed. It was very simple and looked almost run down but had a wonderful southern charm to it at the same time. We were shown to a table which had fish paper instead of a table cloth and were presented with a menu each and a pen with instructions to just ring the items we wanted to order, as well as another piece of paper with a list of ‘On this day’ facts which were fascinating. Sally ordered fried shrimp and I ordered the Special Plate which came with fried shrimp, fried oysters and fried scallops and various other bits of seafood. For dessert we shared a banana pudding which again was just amazing. It was bananas, sponge, banana flavoured custardy pudding and cream. It was a great way to celebrate our anniversary and a wonderful memory.
As I’ve talked about in previous blogs, we have succumbed to the odd fast food chain meal but we’ve also experienced each regions culinary specialty. We’ve had seafood and beignets in New Orleans, fried everything in the south east states (thanks to cooking influences from Africa), pizza pie in Chicago, BBQ’s in the northwest and Mexican influenced food in New Mexico and Arizona. America is a big place and moving from state to state brings so many changes it’s hard to keep up. The weather changes, the accent changes, the scenery changes, the food changes, the time zone changes, the bleedin’ sales tax gets higher and higher and you marvel at how there can possibly be another 100 things that you want to see and do in yet another state. It really is full of surprises, incredible history and lots of self made claims of ‘the 8th Wonder of the World’!
Back to Charleston! The next morning we took a minibus tour of the town along with 8 American tourists. Our driver turned out to also be our very knowledgeable guide and our bus was thankfully air-conditioned – it as nearly 100° outside. We took a 90 minute tour of the town looking at all the old buildings and streets and then stopped at the Palmer House to take a look around inside and enjoy some refreshments. The Palmer house is owned by the Palmer family and is an original mansion right on the waterfront. We were told the story of the family, were given some homemade cookies and lemonade and allowed to take a wonder around the house which really was lovely. From the balcony we were able to see Fort Sumter and were told the story of why it was built and how it was used. After the tour we were taken back to the visitor centre, got into the car and headed down to Atlanta, Georgia.
Atlanta is a massive city with quite a few things to do, however because we were running out of money and hate big cities, we decided to just take a drive around, see some things from the outside and head on out and on to the next place. That night though we did something fun and went to Dave and Busters which is an entertainment place. It’s everything rolled into one – a restaurant with a bar, pool tables, fruit machines and other games machines, big screens TVs showing every kind of sport you can imagine and is kid friendly too. When you play certain games you get tickets that you can exchange for toys etc, like the Trocadero in London. We only stayed an hour or so but we had a drink, played Deal or No Deal on a game machine, won some tickets which we exchanged for a Dave and Busters shot glass and Sally won an Atlanta Falcons teddy bear on one of those claw machines. The next morning we drove around the city and saw the World of Coca-Cola building, the Georgia Aquarium (the biggest aquarium in the USA), the CNN Center and we popped into Sweet Auburn where the Ebenezer Baptist Church still stands where Martin Luther King and his father preached as well as the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site.
That afternoon we drove for 7 hours back west into Tennessee to Memphis, just to visit Graceland. I’m an Elvis fan so really enjoyed the whole experience. We arrived first thing the next morning thank god because by the time we left around lunchtime the queues were massive. We paid for our tickets, hopped on the mini bus that took us from the visitor center to the house and put on our tour headsets. When we got to the front door of the home we were told why it was called Graceland and then told to press 1 to start our tour. Just in case you are wondering, it’s called Graceland because the man who built the house, built it for his wife who was called Grace and so called it Graceland and when Elvis bought it he thought the reason was so lovely he kept the name. So once we were inside the house we saw his music room/living room, his parents’ bedroom, the dining room and the kitchen. We also saw the stairs that led upstairs but because it was his private sanctuary, Priscilla decided not to let people see it. The kitchen was awesome and still has the original appliances from the 50’s in there and everything in a horrid yellowy beige colour. We also got to see downstairs which was where Elvis hung out with his friends and entourage playing pool and drinking (he had 3 bars in his house!) and watching TV. In his TV room he had 3 TV’s in there! After the house we got to see where his brother, who was also his agent, worked, his racket ball court which is now turned into part of the museum and 3 other huge areas which kept old performing clothes, family pictures, all his awards and platinum records and the clothes both he and Priscilla wore when they got married. There were also TV screens everywhere showing TV shows he appeared on, movies he was in and monologues by people talking about Elvis and their experiences of him. In complete contrast to what I thought it would be like, it was wonderful. It didn’t feel like a shrine but more of a celebration of how great he was. They had tons on show but it never felt too much or indulgent, and you really felt you knew him by the time you left.
Of course the most emotional part is seeing his grave which is buried in the grounds, along with his mother, father, grandmother and a memorial stone for his twin brother who is actually buried in Tupelo, where they were born. After this we were also allowed to see the insides of the 2 airplanes he owned. The big one, called Lisa Marie, is a proper 737 but looks more like Air Force One inside. It had a living room where everyone hung out apparently with leather seats and gold plated seatbelts, a dining room with a huge oval table in where Lisa Marie apparently blew out the candles on her 9th birthday cake, a bedroom with a double bed, 2 bathrooms and a little room with a pull out bed! The smaller plane was like the private jet that Simon Cowell flies around in but with bright yellow leather seats – very 60’s! All in all a great morning.
The next day after heading back east we visited the Jack Daniels Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. I’m not a huge Jack Daniels fan but seeing as the tour was free we thought we’d pop by for a look. The tour itself was really good seeing as it was free and even came with a glass of lemonade at the end (not whiskey unfortunately). After the tour we popped into the town and bought a couple of souvenirs, not booze this time because it’s illegal to sell alcohol in that county believe it or not, and then drove more east to a town called Sweetwater.
Sweetwater houses the famous Lost Sea, the only lake buried within a cave in the USA. After waiting just 20 minutes or so for the next tour to begin we were led into a yellow tunnel taking us down to the cave and told to sit on a bench. While on this bench the tour guide asked where we were from and other pleasantries then asked if anyone had any questions. Sally being a little nervous about caves asked “Is it safe in there?” to which I got an answer “yes”. Keep in mind that I had spent an hour during the drive trying to convince Sally that it was all safe, so after the tour guides comment, “Great” she though. Then he asked if anyone else had any questions. The lady to my left, who had just heard Sally ask if it was safe down there so should have got the hint that she was slightly nervous asked “What’s the most interesting thing that has happened during a tour?”. The guide said “nothing that I can think of” which made Sally feel happier to which the lady to my left answered “cos we were told that a while back one time during a tour the power went down and the whole tour had to stay down there all night in the cold and dark”. Thanks for that lady, she managed to undo all my good work in 10 seconds!!! Sally nearly fainted and fell off the bench and just as she was about to start making her way back up the tunnel to safety, I took hold of her arm, gave her a look and we started following our guide. As I’m sure you already know, she was fine. The cave was huge, our tour guide, even though being only 19, was very good and very funny and we ended up enjoying the tour. It wasn’t a patch on Carlsbad Cavern in New Mexico but had a lot of history and we even got to take a little boat ride on the lake right at the bottom of the cave. It was quite a walk back uphill to the top but totally worth it. And oh, I had to stop Sally quite a few times from trying to push that lovely lady with the terrifying story into various deep holes!
The rest of the week hasn’t been that interesting as we’ve just been driving, stopping for meals and finding motels for the night. We’ve also been trying to repack and try to get all our stuff into the 4 bags that we started with. Well, after all the things we bought and accumulated over the last 7 months as well as all our clothes, it’s been quite a struggle and we’ve even had to buy a new huge bag which still isn’t enough. So at the moment we have 7 bags between us! Not sure we’ll get away with all that on our flight home so we’ll have to try and condense even more before Tuesday.
So on Friday we took an overnight train from Miami to New York. We had our own private sleeper cabin which was quite small but really cute and we have 2 beds (like bunk beds) and even a toilet in a space no wider or longer than most people’s baths! We left at 8:40 in the morning having just made the train because of a time zone issue, had breakfast (all our meals are included in our ticket) and arrived at Penn station in New York on Saturday morning at 11:30, but more about this in my next blog.
So bye for now.