Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Carolinas

After our good-byes to Kirsten and Stella in Savannah airport it was time to get back into Moho rolling mode. Time to head north and enter South Carolina. We settled into our KOA campsite in Mt. Pleasant just the other side of the river from Charleston and hit the hay early. We realized that company and especially babies can zap your energy in a wonderful way.

With a good nights sleep we were rejuvenated and ready to explore Charleston. The KOA staff gave us a good suggestion to park Moho and use the water taxi. It was a short scenic ride and saved us the hassle of traffic and parking in downtown Charleston. An added bonus was the swimming dolphins along side the water taxi.

Charles Town named for King Charles I was established in 1670. Charleston was the capital of the Carolina colony and the southernmost point of English settlement in the late 1600's. By the mid-18th century it had become the wealthiest and largest city south of Philadelphia and the centre of a successful shipping industry. Following independence from Britain Charleston became more prosperous in the plantation dominated economy. The invention of the cotton gin in 1793 revolutionized production and it quickly became South Carolina's major export. Of course, plantations relied heavily on slave labour. On December 20, 1860 South Carolina voted to secede from the Union making it the first state to do so. One of their reasons was the president's hostility to slavery. On January 9,1861 the first shots of the Civil War were fired in Charleston Harbour. By 1865, Union troops took control of the City. A short ferry ride away was Fort Sumter. www.nps.gov/fosu During the Civil War, this Fort became the focal point of tensions between North and South. The war had shattered the prosperity of the antebellum city. Freed slaves were faced with poverty and discrimination but as the city's economy slowly improved so did living conditions for all.

We strolled along the River and onto Broad Street, home to many of the banks and commercial establishments. Then we walked the full length of Meeting Street known as the Museum Mile. Again the architecture and old homes similar to Savannah and St. Augustine were present. There are over 1200 architechurally significant buildings within Charleston's historic district. Many were built in the late 1700's. Charleston has many examples of 18th century single homes. Of all three antebellum cities I liked Charleston the most.

Another city bites the dust. We were rolling..... I knew we were heading into the mountains because temperatures dropped, the humidity disappeared and two extra blankets came back out on our bed. The air had a clean, fresh, crispness. The town of Cherokee, North Carolina had a main street lined with cheap souvenir stores and a casino run for the tribal band by Harrah's.

Luckily, our campground was several miles out of town and we settled into it and took the weekend to prepare our journey across the Blue Ridge Parkway. The 469 miles spread from North Carolina to Virginia. Of course we did not want to miss anything. Before commencing our journey along the Parkway we stopped by the Great Smokey Mountain National Park Visitor Centre and Mountain Farm Museum. www.nps.gov/grsm So in closing, next blog: The Blue Ridge Parkway and our adventures.

Tybee Island and Savannah

River's End Campground and RV Park on Tybee Island, Georgia became our home for 11 days. Moho, our home on wheels got a long rest and enjoyed our family visitors; Kirsten, Jeff and Stella.

Our agenda was pretty relaxed and mostly working around Stella's eating and sleeping.

It was great that Don & I had the opportunity to catch up on the weeks we've been missing with Stella by being on the road.

In the usual Pinksen fashion we did our homework on "best eating spots" and hit the top three on Tybee Island. The remainder of great meals were prepared by Don & Jeff and included oysters, shrimp, crab and scallops bought fresh from the local fish monger.

Weather cooperated and allowed us to spend most of our time outdoors giving Stella the opportunity to nap in her new digs. There were a lot of "firsts" for our baby granddaughter: riding on an airplane, beaching it, sitting in the sand, swimming in the outdoor pool, going to a baseball game and staying with Nanna and Poppy while Mommy & Daddy had a night in Savannah.

We did take one day to walk through Savannah. The City's beautiful parks and twenty-two historic squares made it easy to explore on foot/stroller. The Bull and Abercorn street corridors took us past nine of the squares. It was quite pleasant to walk along the Savannah River and watch the many boats sailing along.

Of course we had to give Stella a little history lesson. We toured Fort Pulaski on Tybee Island. The Fort was built to guard the river approaches to Savannah. Construction began in 1829 and required $1 million, 25 million bricks, and 18 years of toil to finish. By the end of 1860, however, its armament was still not completed and it was not yet garrisoned. As it turned out, before United States troops could occupy the fort, they had to conquer it from the Confederate troops. On January 3, 1861 two weeks after South Carolina seceded from the Union and one week after Federal troops occupied Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, Georgia Gov. Joseph E. Brown ordered state militia to seize Fort Pulaski. There was lots of history to learn about but we just strolled and enjoyed the musket firing.

From beaching to hanging out at the pool to history lessons we found time to do the best thing of all - shop. Kirsten & Nanna had the most fun of all checking out the many bargains in children's clothing. Stella is totally outfitted for this summer and a good start to her fall wardrobe.

But it was time to say our good-byes. However, only 4 more weeks before we cross back to Canada!

Monday, May 24, 2010


It was now time to move away from the coast and commence our journey inland. Our choice, Ochlockonee River State Park provided a peaceful atmosphere with only thirty campsites nestled in the shady wooded forest. It was also a great place to host our neighbours Diane and Glenn as they were making their way north to home after a month in the sunny south. We ate, drank, ran, biked and shared our stories. Though our quarters were small it was still fun to camp out and relax together. The weekend flew by and they were anxious to get motoring. We on the other hand still had six weeks to get to the US/Canadian border. Lots more to see and do.

Our wheels took us next to the St. Augustine area. Again this proved to be a very touristy site but we settled just outside at Anastasia State Park and made day trips. Our first stop in the City was the Tourist Information Centre where an elderly volunteer lady provided us with more information than we would use but helpful tips on where to go and not to go. Moving very slow because of the heat we headed toward Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. www.nps.gov/casa The Castillo (castle) was initially built by the Spanish in 1672 to protect their empire in America. The construction is unique with it's diamond shaped projections at each corner of the fort. This design eliminated blind spots for the guards and increased the firepower by allowing multiple cannons to fire on the same target. This fortress has served six different flags, survived hurricanes, withstood bombardments but appeared very much like it's final completion in 1756.

We meandered along St.George Street with its original houses and newer replicas. It was very similar to a walk along St. Jacob's Main Street or Niagara on the Lake. One interesting site was St. Photios National Greek Orthodox Shrine. It gave an explanation of the early Greek immigrants to the United States.

We continued along our walking tour and viewed Ponce de Leon Hotel - now Flagler College. This was a very prestigious hotel built between 1885-1887

by Henry Flagler. Mr. Flagler was a busy man back in the 1880's when he constructed a sister hotel to the Ponce de Leon. This hotel named the Alcazar is now the home of City Hall. Before leaving St. Augustine we stopped at the San Sabastian Winery to tour and sample some Floridian wines. Wines are produced with the native Florida Muscadine grapes. They proved to be a little sweeter than our palattes were used to.

The next stop Tybee Island in Georgia to prepare for the visit of family.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mississippi_Alabama_Florida Panhandle

After the craziness that is New Orleans we left to drive across the North Gulf Coast through Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle. Our first stop was Davis Bayou State Park, Mississippi (part of Gulf Islands National Seashore) which turned out to be a perfect spot to spend three days. The park sustained extensive damage from Hurricane Katrina but like everything else along this coastline life is returning back but repairs are progressing slowly. It was an ideal location to bike and run. On our long run along the beach front
we witnessed vacant lots where only the exterior staircase remained and the houses gone! On the last day the heavy rains of the tornadoes just north of us allowed us to hibernate and not feel guilty. Between the rain storms we did manage to bike into Ocean Springs (15 minutes away) to buy some supplies and luckily a gentleman was selling fresh crawfish from a massive boiling pot. We purchased a couple of pounds and came back to the Moho to feast on our treat.

Gulf State Park in Alabama with over 460 sites was the next stop. Our paved campsite backed onto Middle Lake and proved to be another great spot to exercise and enjoy the warm temperatures. We biked to the beach one day but winds proved a little too uncomfortable to lie and read. So instead we biked around the City of Orange Beach. The extensive developed paved trails through the Park were great for biking/running. On one ride we actually saw an alligator beside the trail.

Finally Florida! Temperatures were getting warmer so we decided to take a break and play tourist while enjoying some needed air conditioning. TheNational Museum of Naval Aviation was a nice reprieve. www.navalaviationmuseum.org

The site was definitely worthwhile for the aviation enthusiast but non buffs like ourselves also saw and learned a lot about air travel in the war time periods. The WWI exhibit included such planes as the Sopwith Camel Fighter, the plane used by both Snoopy and the Red Baron. It made us wonder how a flimsy craft could cover the distance and increased our respect for WWI aviators. More astounding were the early aircraft carriers and the short distance the planes had to land while at sea. We travelled through time all the way to examples of jets used in Desert Storm and the Blue Angels, an American equivalent to our Canadian Snowbirds.

Continuing our travels we entered another unique tourist area; Seaside. It was comparable to entering a "perfect world". Yes, it was perfect because it was actually the movie set for Jim Carey's movie "The Truman Show". White picket fences lined the streets and finely groomed landscaped gardens. Retro Air Stream trailers were the local ice cream and chip wagons. But fantasy land soon ended as we travelled further down the road to Panama City or better known as the "Redneck Riviera". Of course we hit it during a biker event which added to the ambiance. We pushed on to find Mexico Beach which

gave us a more tranquil picnic opportunity. We both agreed that our travels along this coast gave us a different impression of the State of Florida.

Again it was an opportunity to sample seafood. A short stop at Joe Patti's proved a great experience. It was the biggest seafood supermarket that either of us had ever shopped at. There were many different fresh fish on ice than we'd ever seen. We settled on the Royal Red shrimp and Chef Don's culinary skills made them as good as any restaurant along the Panhandle coast.

We were definitely on a State/National Park roll. Our love of the outdoors was evident again when we arrived at St. Joseph Peninsula State Park in Florida. We were overwhelmed by the number of birds and wildlife that visited our campsite.

Commencing with the Red Headed Woodpecker that was just outside the Moho bedroom window to the deer that visited our campsite at lunchtime and finally the armadillo that skirted the bushes around sunset. The Park was quiet and ideal to

catch more of that laid-back feeling.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Southeast Asia Top Ten + One Favourites -Part 3

9. Temples at Angkor Wat

The Angkor Wat site is massive with a mesmerizing number of Temples. How this all could be built 800-900 years ago and then "lost" for centuries is astounding.

10. Thong Nai Pan Noi Beach on Koh Phanang

This remote small village and beach was our favourite stay on the southern Thai islands. From our beach hut to the tiny restaurants in the village it was totally relaxing.

11. Koh Lanta

We ate at many beach restaurants but those on Koh Lanta best exemplified simple Thai cuisine eaten in a laid back atmosphere. Koh Lanta is also a great island to tour independently by motorbike while learning about the devastation caused by the tsunami.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Southeast Asia Top Ten + One Favourites -Part 2

5. Motor bike tour from Hue, Vietnam

We took a motorbike tour through small villages and through rice paddies.We toured a small rice production museum with an elderly woman as our guide and lunched on vegetarian Vietnamese food at a monastry.

6. Tailors in Hoi An

Hoi An is famous for it's tailors - over 200 and many shoe makers. We worked with Mr. Xe and his staff and besides the fun experience we ended up with some custom made garments and shoes which we shipped home. Besides from this Hoi An is a beautiful Unesco Heritage town.

7. Tunnels outside Saigon

While in Vietnam you cannot escape reminders of the Vietnam/American War. The most memorable for us was our visit to the Cu Chi tunnels. Three storeys deep and 200 km. long, these tunnels were used by the Viet Cong to help defeat the Americans outside of Saigon.

8. Killing Fields

It was amazing to us that while the Khymer Rouge slaughter of millions of Cambodians was occurring in the late 1970's back home in Canada we were leading our normal lives and oblivious to it. Our visit to the Killing Fields included the school converted to a jail and the Fields themselves.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Southeast Asia Top Ten + One Favourites -Part 1

We are finally getting around to publishing some notes in our blog from our trip to Southeast Asia from January 5th to March 1st, 2010. We travelled for 29 days with Intrepid on a small group tour from Bangkok to Northern Thailand on the Mekong River into Laos, down the length of Vietnam and back across Cambodia to Bangkok. We spent the rest of our time visiting the islands of Koh Phangan, Koh Lanta, Koh Phi Phi and Phuket.

What follows is our top 10 + 1 list of experiences in chronologic order:

1. Slow boat down Mekong River

We spent two days travelling on the Mekong River from the northern Thai-Laos border to Luang Prabang. Simplicity of life on the River was evident by a family of gold pandling peasants and school age porters.

2. Elephant ride Luang Prabang

Luang Prabang had great food and a wonderful night market but our highlight here was definitely the elephant excursion.

3. Loatian people, homestay in Laos

The Loatian people always had wonderful smiles and were placid. We stayed in a remote village which we reached by going down river in a boat made from old American B-52 fuel cylinders.

4. Boat Halong Bay

Our night on Halong Bay, a Unesco site, included private onboard cabins, gourmet food, caves and kayaking.