A Travellerspoint blog

June 2009

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

storm 24 °C
View Road Tripping USA on NZBarry's travel map.

I left Williamsburg with no real plan but a fairly serious dilemma. Although the general trend of the travel is inevitably west, to get me home, a variety of paths are possible. I had a serious wish to see Charleston and Savannah, which meant heading south and along the coast, but an equally serious wish to see mountains and rivers, which meant heading south west. I spoke to people and they only made the dilemma worse. This was my last day I could keep travelling without commiting to one or the other: standing on a cross roads in the rain, my mind was made up. I'm going south west, but coming back next year, with more time and less heat.

I think most people going to North Carolina would check out its capital, Richmond, and as I drove out the old US5 from Williamsburg,
that was my plan as well. Whimsy took over: it amused me last year to visit Moscow, Idaho and now I had Petersburg, North Carolina just a few miles away.

In around 1650, this marked the western and southern boundary of English exploration. Its definitely a town that has seen better days, half of its main street was closed down, but I found it to be magical, far more engaging than Colonial Wiliamsburg. I spent a couple of hours wandering its streets,
admiring people who were starting new and fairly obscure businesses, such as the shop selling Crabtree & Evelyne stuff in this building,
or having wonderful displays in their windows

(these are dolls, not real women)
snapping pics of the courthouse, which loomed above erything

On 3 April 1865 at 4:00 in the morning, the flag was taken down from the courthouse, to mark the end of the seige of Petersburg and thus the end of the Civil War - making Petersburg a neglected big deal of a city.

I was even able to find a good coffee in a cool cafe, Maria's,
much better than that produced by the "leftie wierdoes" in Norfolk. I was stalled by these suits - they were equally charming

If it hadn't been so early in the day, I might have stayed. In fact, to hell with the earliness, if I'd seen a functioning hotel as I wandered, I'd have stayed.

Across the main road, things took a turn for the posh: all of these appeared to be private homes

I know I could make things happen faster if I was to take the Interstate, but I don't like them very much - six lane monsters that are disconnected from their surroundings - for example, you have to exit to get into a town rather than have the road take you right through - and heavily populated by chain food and lodgings outfits.

So, instead of I-75, I took the old US-1 south from Petersburg. It is quite an experience on this stretch of the road, as it has been superseded by the nearby Interstate: most of the service stations
and shops sit derelict and unused.

I noticed a couple of old style motels that were pretty sad but possibly still in use, there was grass growing on the roadway and there was no traffic. This is a road which should be honoured: it is one of the first created for the automobile, running from Florida to New York. Originally, it was apparently just some ribbins or the like attached to telegraph poles to show motorists they were on the right track! I liked the Roanoke River as I passed by
Favourite song on the radio today, in amongs all the R'n'B and R'n'R? A Country & Western number Here's a Dime, Go Call Someone Who Cares, by someone called Dewayne Bowman.

Chapel Hill is a University Town, part of the Reasearch Triangle (Durham and Raleigh are the other two points). The trusty NY Times sent out a brilliant list of things to do there, two days after I left. I was a bit tired and it was raining, so I found a Red Roof Inn, tangled with the Interstate a few times (I overshot the hotel twice), and went for the first decent looking place to eat, some sort of noodle fusion hell.

Distance travelled: 737 miles. To go: 1600.

Posted by NZBarry 00:02 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Williamsburg, VA

sunny 28 °C
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The NY Times sent me an email a while ago touting the virtues of Williamsburg. When I found I could get a room in a new Motel6 right in the centre of town for $30, the deal was done: my first destination would be Williamsburg.

I didn't get very far after dropping Katie at work, no further than the Wal-Mart at the end of town. I've only ever been in one, and I wanted to go and explore the joys of $7 jeans, see if they had any books at all (they do, but John Barth is a long way from what they sell) and generally check the place out. Somehow I emerged with a gallon of kettle fries (Really, a whole gallon. Of chips.), a doo-hickey to let me play my MP3 player through the car stereo and a $1.68 chilli bin.

The drive down the Delmarva Peninsula to its point was fairly unspectacular, but I did have to pull in and wander about Pocomoke - it was – it was hot and still

At the point, there is one of the seven engineering wonders of the world, at least it had that status when it was built in 1964, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. First there is a bridge
and then there's, well, nothing

To allow shipping to get in
the bridge is transformed into a tunnel, twice. The whole thing is 17 miles long, the longest in the world. This had me back on the mainland, near the big naval base at Norfolk Virginia. My guidebook mentioned a coffee shop there run by leftie wierdoes, so I popped in to check it out. There was a bit of a boat tied up on the way

This is the battleship Wisconsin.
After that, it was a clear run up to Williamsburg but even so it was late in the day before I got there. Williamsburg is one of the oldest settlements in the USA, and when Jamestown was burnt down, it became the colonial capital. Early in the 20th century, after having his church restored a local priest decided it would be a good idea to restore colonial Williamsburg to its 17th century glory. It has operating taverns and shops as well as various historical buildings with a replica of their original contents. Several blocks in all. Almost everything was closed by the time I got there, but wandering around made for a pleasant couple of hours.

This is the Governor's Palace, occupied at one stage by Thomas Jefferson
and the Court House

Next door is William & Mary College, second oldest University in the USA, and a collection of very handsome buildings indeed, although not the originals
They had a good bookshop, it even had several John Barth books, but not the one I want. I'll get one if it kills me!

I was quite keen to try out one of the dining establishments in Colonial Williamsburg, as they serve 17th century food, but they were mostly closed, and the offerings from the one I did find open didn't realy appeal (partly because they were $US30 for a main). So, recourse was had to one of the endless fast food places America offers.

Distance travelled: 510 miles. To go: 1800.

Posted by NZBarry 00:56 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Cambridge, Maryland a.k.a. Katie Town

sunny 25 °C
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Cambridge MD is a town of about 10,000 people on the Eastern Shore of Chesapeake Bay, across from Baltimore. I get the feeling that it is not really on the travel plans of many people tripping about the world or USA. I doubt that I would have ventured that way at all if it was not where one of my all time favourite people lives. Before getting there, I had to get myself out to Baltimore airport to acquaint myself with a new friend
When the fellow at the car rental place saw what I was going to be doing, he was all "are you sure you're going to be comfortable, that's a really small car, you might want something bigger", yet it is a 2 litre, brand new four door sedan and there is only one of me. I'm sure we'll be fine.

Navigation was very easy - out past Annapolis, across the Bay Bridge (would have loved to stop and take a picture as it looked splendid, but they don't tend to like that on freeways at the best of times, and definitely not when its going across a bridge) and, coincidentally, through Chester which is where I helped my Turkish friend to yesterday. I actually stopped there because I was feeling peckish, and the picture of a big red apple convinced me I was outside a foodstore. Not so lucky - I could get paint, my clothes cleaned or electrical supplies, but not food. Didn't actually get any until I hit Cambridge.

Our plans were not really set in concrete, so it wasn't a surprise to find Katie was not home, so went for a wander along the main street of Cambridge and out towards its pier - some nice old colonial style houses made for a pleasant walk and I found a bar down on the waterfront which served up (very slowly) a beer and quesadilla (a word I had a little trouble pronouncing, particularly when I couldn't remember which way round it is constructed). It was only after I'd ordered it that I remembered I'd had one last year, somewhere in Idaho or Montana and thought it awful. Luckily, this one was much better.

When I did catch up with Katie and Brian, they took me on a tour of the town. I think the highlight had to be Chesapeake Classics: even the possibility of such a place had never occured to me. It is a largish shop given over almost entirely to decoys, primarily ducks but also some fish, mostly for collecters rather than those who actually hunt ducks. Out the back was a decoy museum. Stupendous! Since it was second Saturday, Cambridge was putting on a show: a band was playing, beer was sold in the street (but not from a truck), pulled pork was on offer. I wouldn't say its the biggest turnout I've ever seen, but it was a nice thing to do. Like a lot of American towns, Cambridge main street has been destabilised by all the new shops starting up out on the highways and so things to get their downtown districts appreciated are important.

Chesapeake is crab country, but I can still shudder at a childhood encounter with a crab on my dinner plate: in 8 year old boy terms, it was yucky. The idea of a softshell crab which is battered, cooked and eaten whole brings back the shudders. So I didn't have crab for dinner.

On Sunday, they brought out the big guns in terms of places that appeal to me: traditional American eating establishments. Cambridge seems lucky to be blessed with several of these places. I wasn't too keen on Katie's chipped beef on biscuit, mainly because it was smothered in a milky white gravy, but was very happy with my choice. It is places like Millies, and another we would have eaten at had they not shut as we drove up, and the bakery Katie's sister has that make me think I could happily be American.

There was an information centre nearby, so we had to go over. Funny thing was, they were promoting Cambridge by quoting John Barth, who was born there, but when I asked the lady running the place if I could get any John Barth books in town, she had no idea who I was talking about. No visit to the John Barth birthplace for me then. It did set me on a quest, however. I have most of his books back home, have only ever read Lost in the Funhouse, but really wanted to read his Floating Opera when I heard it was set in Cambridge and the Bay. Cambridge doesn't really do bookshops, it seems. Katie was busy with my camera, managed to get lots of sideways shots but in one I am facing the right way up

Like my Orioles hat? Its the colour that did it for me.

The rest of the day, we just went to the beach away over on the East coast, in Delaware, at Reheboth Beach. First stop - every bookstore in sight in the hunt for John Barth books. No joy. Then it was time to settle into some seriously good beer at the Dogfish Head brewery pub - some of his beers are a bit extreme and gimmicky for me, but he makes a fine IPA, so fine I bundled a 24 into the car. I liked Reheboth Beach a lot - Katie had said it was kind of white trash, but it wasn't noticeably so (or I'm too white trash myself to know). It seemed very friendly, lacking in the kind of louts and drunks and drunken louts you run into at a lot of English beaches. The beach itself run for miles.

We were more interested in the ice cream, the popcorn, the salt water taffy, the t-shirts, the burgers, the rather nice gentlemen's clothing shop and, finally, the funfair.
These cars got up to an incredible speed
This was a squeal machine - all the kids would scream as it came down
although I was amused when a more mature lady got on - all she could do was laugh their head off. Katie and Brian were intent on going on this alarming whirligig thing, that I just couldn't cope with so I amused myself by trying to get their photo every time they came around: missed every time, except when the machine was stopped

Somehow it was after 10:00 before we got back, so after a quick cook up of some franks on the barbie, it was sleep time: early start Monday for us all. After going to the bakery and having rather good coffee twice and a fantastic donut twist thing, it was time to drop Katie at work and head off on my adventure.

Distance Travelled: 80 miles (the wrong way). Distance to go: nearly 2000.

Posted by NZBarry 20:23 Archived in USA Comments (1)


sunny 25 °C
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When catching buses, I have become quite accustomed to just turning up and jumping on. Its what people do, right? Not when you’re taking the Greyhound. They make quite a performance out of catching a bus, at least out of Philadelphia. Even when you buy a ticket online, you have to be in the station a full hour before scheduled departure. There is nothing as simple as printing the ticket off the internet or giving the driver a booking reference. Instead, you have to tussle with the machine dispensing tickets, which tells you that it can’t read your credit card, then that there is no ticket associated with that card or any other that you might care to present. So you queue for the one person working the counter, watching in bemusement as three other staff come out, not to help her but to help people figure out how to get their tickets out of the machine. It takes 40 minutes of your hour to get to the head of the queue. Only then does a second person come to provide counter service.

Ticket finally in hand, you queue again, this time for the bus. It is a long queue, and people are counting the number ahead of them and asking “how many does that bus carry?” Because Greyhound just keeps selling tickets without regard to the number of seats on the bus: if it is full, you catch the next one. SIX HOURS later. So, the back of the queue becomes somewhat indeterminate, as those who are simultaneously late, nervous and pushy manage to find themselves in front of people waiting ten minutes.

One last flourish attends this performance: the man with the wand. It looks like a fat black spatula, with green and red lights. It is waved over everyone’s luggage, the lights flashing as if they are on a Christmas tree, not a machine to ensure we can safely travel Greyhound without being maced, knifed or drugged (these were the three things the man with the wand seemed worried about). It beeps frantically, like an alarm clock on speed. The man with the wand is evidently a better man than I, as I could detect no pattern to the sound and light show, and went away suspecting that that was all it was, a show.

Once on the bus, everything is fine. The driver, a self-sacrificing sort of gentleman warns us not to go near the luggage compartment as the cables holding the doors up tend to snap, and they’re heavy doors. “If anyone is going to die today, it is better that it be me, rather than one of you. So don’t mess with the luggage compartment”.

As you come into Baltimore, its industrial heritage is evident: no shops, motels etc, just some factories, piles of materials, and lots of cranes. Even the Greyhound station is out in an industrial area, next to a factory with a big chimney.

Again, I didn't have much of a plan, other than to wander around and see what can be seen. One reason for choosing Baltimore was The Wire, but I don't think I'd want to go to the places you see there. There are warnings not to go into certain areas of this city.

Walking out from the hostel, I had this feeling I was in a good place, a bit of a wreck of a city but I was glad to be there and, unlike Philly, there are two good coffee shops within a block of the hostel. What I didn't find were the big brand shops I've come to expect in American cities. I was impressed by the city library and Walter art gallery, not because they were particularly special but because they were both started with private money. Mr Walter had to have this building
to house his private collection. Inside, things are a little eccentric:

The Inner Harbour is where its at in Baltimore if you're a tourist, so I went and inspected the marine life:

Yep, that's a submarine. I've never even seen one let alone had the chance to go inside. You start in the aft torpedo room
which has been set up as an extremely cramped backpackers!
Moving forward
There are four of these, each producing 1600 horsepower.

Backpacker operators could learn something from submarines - this space has 36 beds: DSCF1671.jpg
The dining area is cosy
They call this a stateroom! I grew up reading about Captain's staterooms but never imagined they'd be like this:
The Officers' rooms are identical, except there are three bunks. And then it is the forward torpedo room,
and its all over.

I did have a vague idea of seeing the Baltimore and Ohio Railway Museum, biggest in the country apparently, but the submarine distracted me so long I didn't see any point trying to see the Museum.

I went back to the hostel to much love. In the morning, I'd been hanging about, eating pancakes and doing a bit of work, when the hostel manager brought in a damsel in distress. She'd flown in from Turkey the day before, had very little English, and had some work lined up in a McDonalds out in the boonies. The manager was looking for someone to put her on the train to the inner boonies, where someone would collect her. Since it was time to go anyway, I thought what the hell. Somehow this was a big deal to the manager, so when I got back, she was all "I love you so much...". Speaking of the hostel, it had a touch of elegance I don't normally get in hostels
For my last eveing, I walked up what was the main drag, and is now called historic Charles Street - it seems largely residential, but with a few grand hotels, cafes, bars, clothing shops, a University, a train station etc strung out along its length. It made for a pleasant walk, and about halfway along, there is Brewer's Art - a brew pub I'd been told about. Just as well, as I'd probably never have ventured underneath, where there's a cool bar, a proper underground place with limited light, hordes of people, loud music and good beer.

Distance travelled: 200 miles. To go: roughly 1900.

Posted by NZBarry 09:12 Archived in USA Comments (2)


semi-overcast 18 °C
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The flight over on Aer Lingus was pretty average, just as my researches had led me to expect. There was an unfortunate juxtaposition of myself between a number of babies: one would cry and that would set off a chain reaction, culminating in me wishing that airlines made special provision for parents travelling with infants. At my most aggravated, I would have been happy to see that take the form of having the wee darlings sit on the wings, but when I calmed down, a more reasonable solution came to mind – an area could be made separate and made into a quasi nursery, with cots for the tots.

The captain seemed to like telling long lingering tales about our arrival time – with the lack of headwind we’d be half an hour early into JFK but then he had quite a list of reasons why that time might get cut down. As it happens, we arrived dead on time. I had not made arrangements for onward travel, as I’d heard horror stories about how long it would take to get out of JFK. After collecting my bag, I was outside in two minutes! Outside, there were a couple of women touting for business for the buses into town: I was impressed that someone had the nerve to approach one to borrow her cellphone to call someone about a ride. Even more impressed to see the phone was actually lent.

I had a succession of commuter trains to catch,
first into New York’s Penn Station, then out to Trenton New Jersey and on to Philadelphia. It took hours and is not to be recommended. A more organised traveller to Philadelphia might have flown to Newark and saved a lot of time and hassle. An even more organised one would have flown to Philadelphia direct. But when I booked, I really had no idea where I’d go and so JFK seemed like a convenient option.

Although the temperature was less than 20 degrees, it was so humid that by the time I hit the hostel, I was asked if it was raining outside. It took a couple of pints of Samuel Adams to recover, then the hunt for my first dinner in the USA (since last year, that is) was on: America does food well and I wanted something nice. Unfortunately the place I picked sounded good, a roast beef palace, if you like, and the beef was nice but the microwave was a wee bit over-used.

I only had one full day in Philly, with no real plan except a feeling I should check out the Independence Mall - not actually about shopping but history. Philly has it in spades, thanks to a couple of bits of paper signed here a while back - the Declaration of Independence to name one, in this building

and it was the centre of US government for a few years. I took a good look at the display set up in the information centre as to what was on offer, and didn't feel any need to do anything but wander around the precinct for a while. Here is all that is left of the house occupied by Jefferson when he was President - the blue lines, not the handsome buildings to the rear
Horse drawn carriages are available by the dozen

Eating became important, so it was time to go to Reading Market, something I read about in the Guardian.
I was a bit bamboozled by all the choice and by the time I snacked on a couple of donuts and had a cinnamon sugar pretzel, in no need of lunch anyway.

My wandering walk took me past the magnificent City Hall
Ben Franklin was nearby, doing his thing an keeping an eye on what's going on

I had a sort of plan, in that I wanted to check out the main Art Gallery. Unfortunately, I had failed to find out where it is, so after a long walk along Philadelphia's version of the Champs Elysees, past the library
I finally got there about an hour before closing time. Since it is so large
and the entry fee a little steep, I took a shot looking back into town
and headed off in what turned out to be the direction of the railway station, where I enjoyed the classic lines of the interior.
Even more than that, I enjoyed the food to be found in the station - a marvellous chicken bisque given life by the addition of green chillies, jalapenoes, garlic and coriander then, in another stall, juicy and very filling ribs - getting four might have been a little greedy!

After the low rise buildings of Ireland and even the UK, I enjoyed wandering inner city Philly, as the tall buildings really evoke a big city feel. Not sure that I feel any pull to return any time soon, however, although I did miss out seeing what is reputed to be its most interesting street, South Street.

Distance travelled: 110 miles. To go: roughly 2000.

Posted by NZBarry 09:29 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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