USA – Southern States 1
Today, Charleston is on the agenda, our first true Southern beauty. On the way to the waterfront we pass Marion Square. So cool, my own place! We stroll along King Street, discover the Charleston City Market, where everything is offered by hats, sweets, dresses over South Carolina-typical sweetgrass baskets. We also taste our first real iced tea (i.e. chilled tea), which has nothing to do with our (european) ice tea. The southerners like him extremely sweet.
Battery Street is home to the beautiful old Townhouses of the Antebellum period (before the Civil War of 1861-1865), for which Charleston is famous. In general, the city has its own charm due to its architecture. From so much walking you get hungry and we are looking for a restaurant for dinner. The search is not easy with the large offer. We rely on the recommendation of a gentleman who himself has a reservation for the restaurant. The food was very good. Just when we finished the meal, the man says goodbye to Fabian and leaves. We order dessert and the waitress tells us that the man has taken over our entire bill and we only have to pay for the dessert. That almost knocks us off the stool! He just invited us! Wow… Indeed, there is, the much-vaunted southern hospitality.
We stay in a Walmart parking lot near Charleston. Our neighbour has a slightly older specimen on the vehicle, which he painted funny and decorated with Bible quotations. After talking to each other for a while about his travels and encounters with Jesus, he asks us if he can sing for us a song that he has just written. After that, he lets us move on.
Since we are in the southern states, I would like to look at one or two plantations. Preferably those on which films were made. Or at least one, with a huge avenue of ancient Virginia oaks where Spanish moss hangs like beards. Unfortunately, the plantations cost quite a lot of admission and we opt for the Drayton Hall Plantation. It is decorated in palladian style and is the oldest surviving plantation house in the USA, which is open to the public. Although it does not have an oak avenue, the property is quite beautiful, with a river, a small pond and individual old oaks covered with Spanish moss. The entrance also includes a guided tour of the house, where we learn interesting things about the founding family. Unfortunately, the fact of slavery is concealed and virtually no information is given about the slaves employed on the estate or the fields or their lives on the plantation. It is a pity that no past has taken place here.
Although tomorrow is already the first Advent, there are wonderfully pleasant temperatures and the sun is shining. Today, the second southern beauty is on the agenda. Savannah is the oldest town in Georgia and was founded by General James Oglethorpe on behalf of the British Crown and was built entirely on the rice board. The old district is lined with grids around 24 squares, small green oases in the city surrounded by beautiful Antebellum-style houses. Originally, however, these squares had more of a practical use, because they served the civic defense for training purposes.
We discover on foot the riverside River Street, where most of the restaurants and souvenir shops are located. There is much to discover and more to buy! We leave it at something sweet from one of the numerous sweet shops. The cotton trade brought the city considerable wealth in the early 19th century. The old cotton exchange, a beautiful building in Romanesque style, still stands on this street. By carriage we take a city tour and chuckle comfortably through the city, past historic buildings, some squares and also learn a bit about Savannah’s history. For example, an entire building or parts of a main road stands on a former cemetery. Only the tombstones were removed, but not the graves…! Savannah is not called America’s largest ghost town for nothing.
We agree that Savannah is a very beautiful city, sweeter and with more flair (or some something or more serenity, it’s hard to describe) than Charleston. However, it is worth visiting both cities to have the comparison.
At last… Summer, sun, sunshine! Luckily, temperatures are more pleasant in Florida in December than in summer, so we head to the Sunshine State in wonderful weather. Our goal is to drive on highway A1A to Miami until mid-month, where we will meet Fabian’s family. Highway A1A is a 530 km long Panomrama road along Florida’s east coast. Along this road there is a lot to discover.
People tell us that northern Florida is still the real, natural Florida. The density of buildings is also not quite as high as in the south. An absolute gem is the Canaveral National Seashore, truly a piece of original Florida. The area is under strict conservation and part of it is part of the Kennedy Space Center security area. We see mangrove-covered bays, pristine beaches, deep blue water and lots of animals. The most funny are the Armadillos (armadillos). On a circular trail, Black Point Wildlife Drive, we can observe waterfowl and alligators as well as the rare turtles. In the distance, we even see a launch pad from the Kennedy Space Center. The sunset at Canaveral National Seashore is stunning.
Manatees (round-tailed sea cows) are not found in the Canaveral National Seashore area at this time of year because the water is too cold, but in Blue Springs State Park. Manatees need a water temperature of at least 18.8 degrees (66 Fahrenheit) to survive as they don’t have a bacon coat (blubber) to keep them warm. The water in the State Park is crystal clear and we can see some of the cuddly animals.
Don’t miss the Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island, still in northern Florida. The former plantation is operated by the National Park Service and is idyllically located by a river. It is very interesting that it is not only about the life of the plantation owners, but also about the life of slaves and the form of slavery under Spanish and American colonial rule florida. If you want to experience not only historical backgrounds about the plantation but also “narratives” from the hard everyday life of slaves, the visit to the Kingsley Plantation is absolutely recommended.
If you are in the area, you should definitely visit St. Augustine. The city was founded in 1565 and is the oldest continuously populated city of mainland America founded by Europeans. Although the city is almost a methusalem for American conditions, one cannot now expect an old town a la Italy. The old town houses look more like they were built only a few years ago, all very colourful and typical American for us Europeans. Nevertheless, some of these houses are actually over three hundred years old! There are also some impressive buildings in St. Augustine, such as Flagler College (now a university) and the Citadel Castillo de San Marcos. Beautiful in the run-up to Christmas are the Nights of Lights, on the occasion of which the whole place shines in a sea of lights. That gives some nice photos.
Car races have been held on The Beach of Daytona Beach since 1902. It was here that NASCAR (the American association for racing with production cars) was founded. At the famous Daytona International Speedway (Daytona 500 or the Rolex 24 Hours race), Fabian can refresh some memories. We take part in the 90-minute tour and see the inner area of the speedway with the garages and the media center. From the huge grandstand, which currently has 101,000 seats (with the possibility of expansion to 125,000 seats), we can marvel at the full extent of the facility. Also included is the museum, where there is a lot of beauty and interesting to see.
Mega cool is the Navy SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce. The idea is to show the public the beginnings (1943) and further development of the Navy SEALs up to the modern era, as well as the operations in which the SEALs were involved. The museum is super well done. All exhibits, with one exception, are genuine, which means that everything shown there was actually used or used in any war or military operation. The exception is the D-Day landing craft. None of them survived…
Christmas on the Florida Keys
Fabian’s family comes to visit us for two weeks. We rented a condo in Key Largo and explored southern Florida together. In addition to Little Havana in Miami, South Beach Miami is just as important as the southernmost point of the continental USA in Key West. There we take a snack at Sloppy Joe.
We are all looking forward to the Everglades, the natural highlight in southern Florida. There are countless ways to explore this huge park. We deliberately do not use an Ariboat tour, as they are not offered in the park itself and on the other hand are so loud that you can only see the animals from behind when they flee. We decide for a guided tour with a park ranger. We learn a lot about the endangered ecosystem of the Everglades. These are not a swamp! It is an extremely slow flowing river. Exciting! We also learn that crocodiles and alligators only occur here at the same time, as salt and fresh water (brackish water) come together here. We see these animals as well as birds and turtles. It is a very special experience to visit the Everglades. The park does not impress with its immense landscape. It is rather a quiet park, which shows its beauty and diversity only at second glance.
Rocket launch and Kennedy Space Center
If you visit Florida, don’t miss the Kennedy Space Center. It’s an absolute must, along with the Canaveral National Seashore and the Everglades! Also for non-tech freaks… We are very lucky to be able to observe a rocket launch. A unique experience. Cool! For the Kennedy Space Center itself, we take two days. Believe me, this time is not too short. On a bus tour over the terrain we see the huge crawlers with which the mobile launch pads with the rockets on it are driven to the respective launch sites. We also drive past the huge Assembly Hall, which is partly open. In there, NASA is building its rockets together – vertically. Yes, the building is unimaginably large. At the Apollo Visitor Center, we learn all about the Apollo missions and marvel at a real engine of an Apollo rocket. Alone in there we spend the whole afternoon. The exhibitions and information are excellent and we learn a lot.
On the second day, we take time for the Space Shuttle Atlantis, to which a whole complex is dedicated. Despite two losses (Challenger and Endeavour), it was the most successful space program. Not only have the components for the ISS been brought up, Hubble would not exist without this program. After the film, the screen goes up and… there it hangs, the space shuttle Atlantis. Wow, what a beautiful spaceship! Fabian is excited about his new favorite machine. Interactively, one learns the details of the cockpit, the loading area and the engines. The exhibitions are so exciting that we can only visit the Rocket Garden, where different types of rockets are exhibited.