And beyond? Two reasons for that. Apart from the obvious - that I had to return to Australia - my girlfriend moved to Frankfort, the rather small (30,000) state capital of Kentucky, the "Bluegrass State", (Bluegrass is from the name of a type of grass that's very common here that has blue flowers). Why Frankfort? She had a job interview at Kentucky State University and was offered the job. Needless to say, the answer was "Yes!". She fell in love with the town when she went there for the interview, and it's still in the "South", which was what she wanted. Kentucky, land of hillbillies and bourbon.
Before the move we went on two big trips. The first trip was down to Charleston, South Carolina, and then onto Millidgeville, Georgia, where my girlfriend had another job interview.
Heading south we first went to Brattonsville, in York County, SC. It's a small ghost village that has been restored and had several period buildings added, including furnishings. About twenty buildings, dating to the 1700's, some original to the site, others from elsewhere in the county. There were homesteads, log cabins etc. The whole thing was laid out (with a walking trail) so as to present a progression from the first very primitive pioneer log cabins up to the grand splendour of the 19th century slave plantation mansion. Plus there were lots of sheds, barns, kitchens, slave houses, workshops etc. Quite peaceful and so far from the rest of the world that apart from the few cars in the car park, there was no way of telling if it was the 18th, 19th or 20th century.
Having lunch on the road (literally), we reached Summerville, just outside of Charleston (on the opposite side of the state) in the evening. NC prides itself on being in the "South", but stepping outside of the car's AC, you can immediately tell the difference and understand why those in the far south refer to themselves as being in the "Deep" or "True" south. Even in spring, the climate is very humid and hot. Winter here may be cooler than Sydney, but summer sure is a lot warmer. It's no surprise then that the wealthy back in the 18th and 19th centuries travelled north to escape summer.
Charleston. Historic Charleston. We spent most of two days here and could have easily spend two months seeing the sights. Charleston is not called historic for no little cause. More than 90% of the buildings there date to at least the 19th century. Even the ever-present city slum was of 100+ year old buildings.
We picked a few plantations to visit between Summerville and Charleston, but in the end only saw one (at those prices you couldn't afford to see everything!). Magnolia Plantation. Fairly typical of the area. A huge sprawling mansion, in neo-greek classical style, suitated in extensive gardens. Magnolia's gardens have been open to the public for over 130 years and are considered to be one of the finest examples of "American" style gardens, a wild, disorganised (but not unkempt) look, in contrast to the highly formalised european gardens. Toured the house, which like most other plantation houses in the South, was rebuilt after the civil war (during which it was burnt, the "yankees" were far from gentlemanly when they conquered the south). The wealthy back then certainly lived a luxurious lifestyle. The gardens were refreshingly cool and shady, with trails meandering through the trees, brightly coloured flowers everywhere, several swamp lakes, one complete with an alligator (fortunately well fed), even a family crypt with 13 generations of the Drayton family (who still own the plantation). One interesting spot was the Barbados Greenhouse, it was a good 10C cooler than outside! Had a peek at the nearby Middleton Episcopalian Church, the oldest in SC. Like mediaeval churches, it's built in the shape of a cross. Dates to the early 1700's.
Then to Charleston proper. Took a tourist bus (a trolley car) to "downtown" and spent 3-4 hours walking around, absorbing all the history. Checked out many of the reccommended buildings, but some were hard to find since everything was just so old. One peculiar building style common to Charleston was the "half-house", a traditional southern style home (2-3 stories high, with a neo-classical style porch and tall columns, ala "Gone With the Wind", which was filmed at Latta Plantation, also in Charleston), but turned sideways so the front of the house was facing the house next to it, with a cool and shady garden in between. These mini-gardens are quite exquisite and beautiful, often with fountains. The street access, which looks like a front door, actually opens onto the garden and not the house.
In addition to walking all over looking at private homes, we also walked for a while along some of the many shorefront parks (Charleston's on a peninsula, with rivers on both sides) and visited the "Exchange Building". The Exchange has served a quite varied past. At different times it was a military hedquarters, a post office, had a dungeon, a public slave market (hence the name), a customs house, a wharehouse for cotton, tea and gunpowder and more. Now it's a museum. The Exchange was built on top of the old city wall - Charleston is the only city in the US that was built with a wall.
Our second day in Charleston started off with a 2-3 hour harbour cruise. The highlight of the cruise was a visit to Fort Sumter. Fort Sumter has an important place in Charleston - and US - history. It was there that the Civil War began. The cruise was enjoyable, with it's sea-side view of the city, and the surrounding islands; but the highlight was the fort. When it was built it was an imposing 3 storey structure. At the end of the war there was virtually nothing left, just a literal pile of rubble. The site has been partially excavated, revealing the remains of the original fort. The first shot in the civil war was fired by the Confederates at Fort Sumter (then in Union hands). 60,000 shots latter the Fort surrendered and remained in southern hands until the end of the war.
Returning to Charleston on the boat, one was treated to a view which underlined the historic character of the city. The skyline of virtually any city today is distinguished by attempts by various buildings to reach the highest; soaring and slender edifices of glass and steel. Not so Charleston, here the skyline is as it was 200 years ago, the edifices that soar above the the city are still the church steeples. Charleston (and SC) is not only is historic, it also had made a lot of history. It was here that the revolt against the english began than ended in the Revolutionary War. SC was the first state to declare independence. It was also the first state to secede from the US at the start of the Civil War. Charleston was the major port city for the South.
Back to dry land and we did some more walking touring. Did the "Gateway Walk", covering gardens, an art gallery, the library, five churches and several graveyards. Most of the walk was in cool shaded areas. Looked in a few of the churches. Pretty grand. Church organs with many pipes are common in the USA, but here was church "trumpets". Horizontal organ pipes, flared at the end and sounding, well, like a mediaeval trumpet. The walk was away from the rush and bustle of the city and the crowds. It was quiet and peaceful. Going into the churches one can feel the awe-inspiring atmosphere that the builders intended. You can almost feel the presence of "something" in the church. Whether this has anything to do with God or not is another matter.
After Charleston, a five hour drive to Augusta. Mind you, one should never spend five hours driving and not seeing or doing things on the way. We took the back roads, a different kind of scenery, a different kind of atmosphere. You pass though towns and not just drive by them. A few hours out of Charleston we passed through Denmark. Naturally Norway was a few miles to the north. And north of that was the town "North".
At Blackville we stopped for a few detour side trips. Heading north we went to the Healing Spring. According to indian legend it was revered as a sacred place and the spring water had healing properties. We watched as several lots of locals collected over 20 gallons each, swearing by the stuff. Driving south we went to Barnwell, we went to a rather unusual church, built in 1856 from cypress in the mediaeval parish church style. Even has a mediaeval english baptismal font inside, as well as the obligatory organ and stained glass windows. The outside of the church is unpainted, just bare wood. Inside there's a 2nd storey at the back, the slave gallery. It's the south after all. Lots of atmosphere, but different from that at Charleston. As we were getting back into the car a cop pulls up and comes over to us - to tell us we could go in if we wanted! Another thing that is vary characteristic of the deep south is the plant "spanish moss". It's grey-green and it's everywhere, trees, houses, iron fences, grave stones, sometimes dangling down for several metres. In contrast, North Carolina is the land of the creeper, vines and creepers are everywhere.
One thing that was pretty evident on this part of the trip was that "small-town" SC is dying. The route we took was full of dead and dying towns and small communities. Only the big cities show any signs of growth. The smaller towns were full of deserted homes, slowly being sheathed by vegetation - and not just on the town outskirts either - and the downtown areas were full of empty shops, boarded up or falling down. Charleston may have been old, but at least it was alive.
Spent the night at Augusta, on the SC/Georgia border, and then headed on to Milledgeville in central Georgia the next day. Getting out of Augusta was a bit of a hassle, the town is criss-crossed with railway lines (except for the interstates) and I guess we picked a bad time to leave. Stuck to the backroads again and the scenery was pretty much the same as in southern SC, including the decaying look of most of the towns we passed through. Some were even dead, ghost towns returning to the forest. Milledgeville was bigger and healthier than most, but it too showed the signs. Suzette spent the rest of the day giving interviews and such stuff at the college and I headed for the tourist centre to find out what there was worth seeing. Quite a bit, as it turns out. Got a map of the town's historic district and spent the rest of the day walking around (about 100F!). Some really nice looking homes, churches and the like. Not surprising, the town was the state capital until the end of the civil war, so there was a lot of wealth around. Mind you, these weren't just "houses", they were grand affairs, mutli-storied, with columns and all the traditional southern airs. The roads were broard and well treed, providing lots of welcome shade.
The next day I went on a 2 hour trolley tour of the town. The guide was very imformative and full of local folklore about the history and legends of the places we saw. He brought every historic site we passed alive, regaling us with tales not just of the buildings, but also of the people who lived there. Then there were the ghost stories, quite a few of the mansions are reputed to be haunted. The college was once the site of the state gaol, and it was said that the only way the inmates got out was by travelling down Liberty St to the town cemetary at the other end. The cemetary itself was typically southern, with a white section and a slave section. The former marked by grand crypts and headstones, the latter mostly unmarked graves. Those that were marked often had several links of chain denoting their role in life - born a slave or captured, died freed or still a slave and so forth. One interesting house on the tour was built by a couple of rather short stature - and they built the house to fit their size, from floor to ceiling it's about 6ft, the doorways shorter than that. Looks almost like a doll house.
The tour included a walk-in tour of two buildings. The first was the Stetson-Sanford house (yes, it's haunted), complete with original furnishings, deeded to the historical society with the death of the last resident. We also toured the Episcopal church. A typcial southern of it's vintage, although the slave gallery has been blocked up. It was pretty badly desecrated during the civil war by the Yankee troops. The roof was blown off, molasses poured into the organ pipes and horses stabled inside - you can still see the hoof marks on the floor.
After the trolley tour I then toured the old Govenor's Mansion, an impressive 3-storey stone building. In the days before the yankee troops arrived in Milledgeville during the civil war, the then governor loaded what he could on a waggon and fled. By the time the yankee's had arrived, the "good citizens" of Milledgeville had looted everything else. The building was an empty shell. It's now the home of the college president. The old State Building now houses a military academy and it's built like a castle, complete with crenelations and a moat, of all things. The moat was to stop fires, not invaders, though it didn't work too well.
That was it for Milledgeville. Next stop, Augusta. On the way we passed through Powellton. Not much there. A tiny clap-board church, a few houses, most abandoned, a few still occupied. Arriving at Augusta we walked along the "Riverwalk", a scenic, shaded walking track along the river in the downtown area. Beautiful with the light of the setting sun. There was even a Japanese garden corner, with a waterfall and meditation bench, tho' the Japanese tourist who walked by didn't look all that impressed. :)
The next day we visited the old Cotton Exchange, now done out as a (free!) museum on the history of cotton and the area. Pretty fancy looking building too. It was also the local stock exchange. Then a walking tour of the historic district, homes, churches, sundry memorials and the old Medical College. After that we visited Meadow Gardens, the oldest home in the city (1791) and home of George Walton, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. More humble than grand. Not all political figures of that time were of the wealthy upper class. Then it was off to the "Sacred Heart" church. Catholic, naturally (given the name). With the advent of suburban churches, attendence dropped and eventually it was deconsecrated and turned into a cultural centre. It's a very imposing structure and the "Great Hall" is one of the grandest I've seen. Huge and has dozens and dozens of stained glass windows, three tiers of them in fact. At the front there were three ornate "altars", tall sculptures in marble and gold-leaf wood, the central one at least 10x10ft large. Had a look at the Ezekial Alexander house (1797), done out as a museum and then headed to the Savannah Rapids Park.
The park is where the Augusta Canal is born and used to be a big tourist site in the 1920's. There's a weir (small dam) going across the wide river; above the weir the water is calm and placid, full of reflections from the trees on the shore and the clouds .. and the occasional alligator (according to the sign). Below the weir was a lengthy series of rapids. Quite a contrast. Quite pretty too. After that, it was back home.
Walked past the local swimming pool in Davidson (which was abandoned and full of green scum last time we went past, with grass growing through the cracks in the concrete) and found it "revived". Rang up to check for opening hours and found it was "members only" .. and a waiting list of a year to become a member. Guess they are pretty exclusive.
The next trip was up into the mountains of western North Carolina. How was it? Interesting, in all senses of the word. Interesting as in a lot of good things we saw, lots of good fun. Interesting also as in lots of things didn't go right with the planning. Things weren't what we expected or where we expected them to be .. most notably the waterfalls. While western NC might have 1000's of waterfalls, most of them went on holidays at the same time we did .. and somewhere else. We spent ages tramping thru the bush, hiking etc trying to find the falls. Some we did find, most we didn't. We even found some we weren't looking for. The whole trip was like that. Still, we enjoyed it. And that's the important thing.
Headed off to the mountains via the back roads so we could take the scenic route. Passed though Lincolnton. Nice old town, tho' we didn't stop. One interesting feature - the main highway running through the town branches into two and goes around the county courthouse. A rather impressive and sizable building, for such an unpopulated county. The town was surrounded by miles and miles of forest and fields. One notable difference to country SC or Georgia was that country NC shows little sign of decay, instead it's thriving. Leaving the foothills we eventually reached the mountains. First stop was Lake Lure, a pretty little lake nestled in the mountains. Beautiful views of the lake, with the mountains towering on all sides. There's even a little beach where people were frolicking in the daytime heat.
Then to Chimney Rock. Chimney Rock is both the National Park and also a rather unusual rock formation, a column of rock rising some 300 feet above the ground, seperated from the cliff face by chasms. Kinda reminiscent of the Three Sisters at Katoomba, although this was granite country, not sandstone. Quite a climb up to the top, but fortunately some 70 years ago they installed a lift in the adjacent mountain and put a cafe up top (not on the rock itself, that's a "National Monument"). From there it's a short walk to the top of the rock. From the Rock you can see a long way; a beautiful view of Lake Lure and the valley it lies in, as well as the mountains themselves. Unfortunately, the day we were there the Blue Ridge Mountains (better known as the Smoky Mountains) were living up to their name and everything was cloaked in a blue haze, reminisicent of the Blue Mountains back in Australia (and named for the same reason). Went to the "Opera Box", a viewing platform cut into the side of the mountain that literally gives an eagle's view of the Rock. Incidently, this was where they filmed the movie, "Last of the Mohicians". Being daring, we decided to climb down, first down a rather cramped and damp chasm to the "Pulpit", a smaller rock formation similar to the Rock. We then literally crawled down the "Needle's Eye". As the name suggests, it's a very small chasm, sometimes a tunnel, that provides a torturous path down the mountain. Most of the path is through a tunnel, dark, narrow, steep and wet. But refreshingly cool. Hint: don't take a large camera bag with you! Reaching the bottom we had a look at the "Moonshiner's Cave". It's a smallish cave, at the back of which is a waterfall. Legend has it that it was once used by a moonshiner and it has been filled with the appropiate "tools of the trade".
There's lots more to see at Chimney Rock, including several nature trails and a waterfall, but we skipped those and headed south to Polk County. Drove along the Pacolet River. Dark and swift, a continual series of rapids and small waterfalls. Climbing down the embankment revealed a dark fairyland, filled with the sounds of rushing water and birds, looking much like it probably did before the arrival of man. The road itself is very scenic: long and winding and following the river, with the occasional tiny waterfall delicately drippng down the side of the cliff. Turning off the main road we headed to Pearson's Falls. It's owned by a local "garden club"; there's a 15-20 minute walk along a most pleasant (but easy) forest trail, with ferns, a creek, wildflowers, little falls along the side and the occasional colourful bird flying past. The waterfall itself isn't all that big, just a 90ft drop and only a small volume, but boy was it pretty! Sereral tiers and well spread out. Delicate rather than majestic. And all this in a nice lush, forested glade.
After nature, history. Saluda. An old railway town. We had a walk through the episcopal church there (Church of the Transfiguration). Very catholic, even a statue of some saint/monk outside. Relatively recent (1891), it still oozed atmosphere. As we arrived the sun was shining in right through the stained glass windows, bringing the scene depicted alive with fire. Then headed to the Pisgah National Forest, saw the "Sliding Rock Falls" and then hiked for an hour or so trying to find another, unsuccessfully. Then to Brevard where we spent the night. Curiously enough, Brevard is where the assistant minister at the Davidson Methodist church was due to move to about the same time we moved to Kentucky.
Heading out of Brevard the next day we were hoping to see a whole host of falls. As it happened, we got to see a couple. Toxaway Falls starts right under the highway. As we arrived the cloud/mist was coming in, but we still got to see the falls, the mist just enhancing the view. The rock over which the falls flowed was pretty colourful too, with light and dark shades. Heading south to the NC/SC border we found Whitewater Falls. Now this was a waterfall. A big drop (two of them actually) and a pretty sizable flow of water. Then hiked along the trail to the top of the falls. Not much of a view but the hike was worth it. Heading back, the side was supposed to have several falls on either side. Even with instructions we weren't successful. And we weren't the only ones. I guess they were there .. somewhere.
Then headed north to the "Blue Ridge Parkway". A scenic "tourist" road that starts in western NC and travels along the mountain range for several hundred miles to the northern part of Virginia. The whole parkway is very scenic, twisting and curving along the mountains, and every few miles there's a lookout, providing some scenic or historic vista. Simply fantastic sightseeing. Mountains, valleys and much more. Looking out at the mountains, one see's ridges after ridges, mountain after mountain, like a military parade, merging into the blue hazy horizon; at some point the horizon meets the sky but you cant tell where. Some of the tops we made were at Devil's Courthouse, an exposed granite bluff with a sinister legend, and a cave with an even sinister tale. Then Graveyard Fields. Despite it's name there no graves. When first discovered, it was a few decades after a big storm knocked down all the trees. The valley was full of mounds that looked like graves. The forest regrew and the the view vanished. Early this century it burnt down, but alas the fire took the mounds away too, but the name stayed. Looking Glass Rock, an isolated granite monolith, baldly sticking out of the forested landscape, a landscape that's a curious mix of dark and light green trees.
We detoured for the evening to Asheville. Spent several hours wandering around Biltmore Village, done out in mediaeval english style. Originally meant as the supporting village for the nearby Biltmore Estate, both have long since been swallowed up by Asheville. If you've got the time and money, Biltmore Estate is a must (we didn't). A huge renaissance style "castle" with even larger gardens. In the village we visited some of the shops and went through the episcopal cathedral, "Catherdal of All Souls". Dark and gloomy inside, but with colourful stained glass windows and an inspiring dome above.
The next day, while still in Asheville, we "hit" another church, the Basilica of St Lawrence (catholic). has the largest unsupported dome in the US. Alas it was too large to photograph inside. Indside, it was dark and gloomy. Few windows and virtually the only light from candles. Full of statues and frescos on the walls and ceiling.
Then it was back to the Blue Ridge Parkway for another day's scenic driving. First stop, Craggy Gardens, a ranger station and museum at 5,500 ft elevation. Quite a dramatic increase in elevation from Asheville. And an equally dramatic change in the climate. Asheville was a warm and humid 27C, Craggy Gardens a cool and misty 12C. As we arrived clouds were arriving and covering the nearby Craggy Pinacle. Lots of mosses and ferns and scraggly birch trees, plus lots of rhododendron's with their brigh pink flowers. Further on was Glassmine Falls, across a valley, with a 800ft drop. Then it was onto Little Switzerland for lunch. Very alpine-like. Left the Parkway there to visit the Emerald Village. Despite the name, it's an abandoned feldspar mine done up as a museum and a (salted) gem fossicking site. Went on a tour of the mine and museum. Ground feldspar is the main ingredient in "Bon Ami", in fact, that's the name of the mine. Back to the Parkway and further on checked out the NC Mineral Museum (another ranger station).
The final stop for the day (and where we left the Parkway) was Linville Falls. Lots of exhausting hiking, but we got to see the falls from two different perspectives. Sizable volume this one. The Upper Falls was only 5ft, but the lower falls first travelled down a ravine to a "small" pool, from where the water then pounded out of a hole in the cliff face down into the lake 90ft below, simple but majestic. And loud! From the same viewpoints one could also see Linville Gorge, steep walled, with the river rushing through and a riot of colours from the vegetation.
The final day for this trip started with a tour of Linville Caverns. Quite hot outside, but the caves were a cool 11C. The tour went for 2/4hr. Compared to some of the caves I've been in before it wasn't all that spectacular, still, any cave is a good cave. Quite wet inside, there was a continual rain throughout most of the tour. Entering the caves the first thing one saw was a stream running by the path which contained a school of blind trout. After that was a collection of the "obligatory" cave tour features, a bottomless pool with crystal clear faintly blue water and a faint "crust" of recrystallised limestone. Quite cramped that bit, one had to squeeze thru' a narrow passage to get there. Not for the claustrophobic! Then there were all the usual limestone features, cave coral, stalactmites and stalagmites, flowstone and so forth. Pretty small, just one main tunnel with several offshoots. I suspect there are a lot more caves around, either that or it's a very young cave system. One thing unusual about these caves is that there is a lot of colour present. Most caves I've been in have been white, with pale tints. Here the colours were strong. Greens, reds and more. Lots of dissolved minerals about I guess.
Then we headed back south, stopping at Marion for lunch. After checking out the local tourist centre we then went back into the mountains to visit Old Fort. Originally, as the name suggests, an old pioneer "anti-indian" fort and then a railway town. Visited the local museum, with it's display and original log cabins (all free!). In the centre of the town stands a giant granite arrow head, a memorial to the cherokee, who once lived in the area. Then to Andrews Geyser. Not actually a geyser (which is volcanic in origin), this was a spring-fed fountain. Once a fancy hotel on the site, which burnt down about 90 years ago. The final stop was back at Marion, the Carson House. Carson was a local identity back in the early days. Refurnished with period pieces (the family hocked everything off before donating the house to the local historical society). Lots of history there, political that is. The house, alas, has seen better days. The foundations at the back are collapsing so there's a distinct slope to the floor at the back. Not that it's unsafe.
Shortly after that we moved to Frankfort, Kentucky. Loaded everything up in a Ryder van and drove all the way (took most of the day to get there). Went back into the mountains of NC, passed through the "Smoky Mountains National Park", then Knoxville, Tennessee. Lovely mountain scenery, that part of the trip - everything cloaked in a light blue haze. Virtually all of the trip through Tennessee was mountainous and there was some pretty spectacular sights as we went past: lush valleys, line after line of mountains merging into the blue horizon. Just north of Knoxville was the town of Powell and in the same area was "Dollywood", a theme park owned by Dolly Parton. Then onto Kentucky, passing by some very mis-placed towns - London, Pittsburg etc. Some really wierd names too - Preachersville, Science Hill and Egypt, just some of them. Finally to Frankfort.
In a new town, a new state .. which means more sightseeing. Spent a day touring the historic downtown district of Frankfort. Dates back to the late 1700's and is cradled in a bend of the Kentucky River. We spent a few hours walking around, looking at the buildings and then toured a few. Lots of houses dating from between c.1790-1850, plus churches and public buildings. Crossing the river in downtown is the old bridge, known locally as the "Singing Bridge" and indeed, it does seem to sing as cars go over it. Then headed to the Brown Estate, a whole city block owned by the one family, who built two mansions on it in the 1800's. They were politicians and lawyers, so I guess they could afford it. The two houses have the original furniture. A very knowledgable old chap gave us a hour plus tour. Lots of history in the house and the family. An early member was the first non-military type to bring the smallpox vaccine into the US and european nobility and US presidents (three at one time) rubbed shoulders here. As one can imagine from such a setting, it's all pretty elaborate.
After lunch we went to the Old State Capitol. An interesting thing was it's long history of fires. The current building is the third, the previous two both burnt down; and during the 100 or so years it was the capitol there was a continual series of fires taking their toll on other buildings. It's no surprise the armory burnt down, but the privy too?! Certainly there must've been talk of a jinx on the site. Unlike other public buildings around the US, this one wasn't built in the roman style. Instead, the front is a replica of the Greek "Temple of Mannore", with a dome added on top. Had it's share of political "fires" as well, with a governor being assassinated there the day he was elected. Went through a museum display on the history of the building and then upstairs to tour both houses of parliment. The senate was noticably more luxurious, with horse-hair seats, personal desks etc; in contrast the representatives had to make do with cane chairs and shared their desks! Inside the central dome is an amazing self-supporting spiral staircase made out of local marble, above which is a well-lit dome.
On the way home, we stopped off at the town cemertery to see the grave of Daniel Boone and his wife. They died in Missouri and 25 years later they were moved to Frankfort. The gravesite also gives a pretty impressive view of Frankfort. In one direction lies the old downtown, in the other, on another bend of the river, the new State Capitol.
Cool summer days here in Kentucky are not all that common, so when one came along it was time for another day trip. Travelled some of the roads and saw some of the sights of the "Elkhorn Creek Corridor". A lot of history and a lot of beautiful scenery along this creek system. The 65-70 mile route we took took us along creeks and rivers, one lane country lanes, winding through the hillsides and the farmland, historic towns, cattle farms, horse farms, tobacco farms and more. After a scenic country drive we arrived at Switzer, a tiny hamlet, home to the Switzer Covered Bridge, one of the last in the state. Alas, a recent huge flood had washed it away. All that's left, the foundations and remains strewn on the creek bank. More scenic country driving brought us to Stamping Ground. Unusual name for a town, couldn't see any origin for it, but the place dates to 1790. Then to Great Crossing and one of the many weirs on the Elkhorn creeks and Ward Hall, an old southern-style mansion dating to 1850. Finally to Georgetown, most of which is a historic area. Georgetown (1790) is just packed full of 19th century buildings, from stores on the main street to the sizable collection of churches and the many grand looking houses, most in the "southern" style, that is, grand looking with lots of columns and a greek-looking porch. The County Courthouse and Town Hall are impressive additions to the Main St scenery. Heading back out of Georgetown after a couple of hours, we visited "Royal Spring", discovered in 1774 and the water supply for the city - presumably the reason the city was built there.
Heading south we arrived at Zion Hill, just a 1913 flour mill, church and a farm house. Stopped there to look at the mill and the weir. Signs of a pretty high flood here as well. Going west we passed through Midway, which is indeed mid-way between Frankfort and Lexington, and is an old railway town. The railway runs up the middle of Main St. The final stop was at the Forks of Elkhorn, home to the Midway Dam (actually a weir), the most spectacular on the Elkhorns and the Jim Bean Distillery (no tours given, alas). Overall I'd say the highlights of this trip was the scenery along the narrow back roads and the historic buildings of Georgetown.
Then it was down to the last few days. Needless to say it was a very emotional time (still is for that matter). I'll skip the personal stuff and stick with the sightseeing. Went and checked out the New State Capitol (as distinct from the old, built 1910). Apart from the ubiquitious dome on top that virtually all state capitols (a capitol is the seat of the state government), the same kind of thing you see on the White House, this one was, from inside and out, very much like a Greek temple. Complete with columns out the front and that triangular thingy (cant recall the name offhand) above the doorway covered with three dimensional carvings. Inside it was really amazing. The whole central portion of the building, for about four storeys, was hollow and filled with columns, staircases and the like, all made out of marble and a pale coloured granite, complete with statues. It really did look like the inside of a greek temple, least what I'd imagine one to look like. One would not be all that surprised to come across a priestly procession coming out of a side door or a group of philosophers, dressed in togas, calmly discussing life, the universe and everything in it - and beyond. It had that kind of atmosphere. Then there were the stained glass windows, not quite greek, but they did fit in quite nicely. had a look in at the Lt Governor's office, the Senate, State Reception Room and the Supreme Court. Pretty luxurious affairs - one can see where all the tax dollrs have gone! Outside is a floral clock, the face of which is sculptured with flowers and coloured stones. Pretty large too. But don't set your watch by it.
The next day we toured the Governor's Mansion (1914) and the Old Governor's Mansion. The Newer first. Pretty fancy place, it was modelled on Marie Antonett's chalet in France. Tour started in the Ballroom, with it's handblown mirrors (the ones where things get a bit distorted). Standing between two mirrors, you can see a near infinite number of reflections of the chandeleirs and yourself. Saw the reception room, full of antiques, the State Dining Room, full of expensive looking silverware, two big chinese urns in the corridor were a gift from a chinese emperor, past several other rooms and ending up in the Wicker Room, where all the furniture is made of whicker and coloured green. Interesting contrast to the rest of the floor. The Old Gov's Mansion is about 100 years older and is nowhere near as fancy, in either architecture or contents (the Lt Gov lives there now). Still, an enjoyable tour of the house and grounds. While the newer residence may be fancier, this one has more atmosphere and a lot more interesting history. And, yes, it too had its share of fires.
My last full day was planned to have a visit to a nearby Burbon distillery (a historic site as well). Alas when we arrived it was closed all week for upgrades. Not to be put off we went on a tour of the Vest-Lindsey house (c.1800), full of period and reproduction furnishings. Nothing fancy, but far from humble. home of several famous local identies, including the chap who was claimed to have coined the phrase "mans best friend" to describe a dog during a court trial. Then to the Kentucky Military Museum (not near the top of the list for either of us, but it was free). Sited in the old State Arsenal, which yes, also burnt down several times. Frankfort seems to have a resident pyromaniac ghost. Contained the military history from the birth of the state, plus a large collection of weapons of war, both old and new. General Hume, of Frankfort, was the guy who invented MASH - not the TV series, the real thing. Final stop was the Berry Hill mansion (1900), built by a very rich distillery magnate. The ground floor is open for sightseeing. The library is wonderful, full of big comfy leather chairs and lots of old leatherbound books. A bookworms paradise! The centrepiece, however, was the music room. No piano's here. Mr Hill was an organ buff, so he had a room built that would do an organ justice and a pipe organ installed. Very elaborate wood carvings all over the room, took two years by a team of european carvers to complete just the carvings - and a lot of money. The high vaulted ceiling (two storey's high), the large windows, the carvings and the organ ... feels just like a church, not the kind of thing you'd expect in a private home. Oh, Mr hill couldn't play the organ, he had a music teacher on his staff to teach him that. never heard if he was successful or not.
Flew out from Cincinatti to Chicago. No hassles there. But my flight to San Francisco was cancelled due to mechanic troubles. They eventually found a replacement plane, which took off 2.5 hours late. Thanks to a speedy pilot and a hold on the Sydney flight, I (and 25 others!) were able to *just* make the final connection. The last leg was crowded, but pretty uneventful. A 30.5 hour flight, with lay-overs.
And that brings to an end my visit to the US. Since I've returned, there's one question virtually everyone has asked: What did I think of "America" (Canadians *hate* that word).
Impressions. I guess the saying that people are the same everywhere is pretty much true, at least going from Australia to the US. There are differences, but the people are not much different. I guess the biggest difference is the basic underlying philosophy of the two societies. The US was founded on the pioneer spirit, people seeking and expecting freedom. Australia, on the other hand, was a convict settlement. Personal freedom, individuality and "rights" are much more important over there. In Australia the government is seen as the expected source of things like welfare, services like police and the like, while in the US it is seen more as a tolerated "tool". Yet paradoxically, Australians have much more contempt and cynicism for governments and politicians. This may all sound a bit abstract, but it underlies some pretty noticable differences. While in Australia, people look to the authorities (police etc) to protect them, in the US the responsibility is seen as lying more with the individual - hence the large proportion of guns, from pistols to military hardware. It also explains why in the US emergency services and police (among other things) are organised and funded by the local community and not the state. That's both a plus, they are "local" and understand local needs, but also a minus, if the local community is poor, there are fewer police etc. A catch-22 situation. This explains the existence of large slum areas in virtually all US cities, a phenomenom that is almost unknown in Australia. An Australian "slum" would be a middle-class suburb in the US. In Australia welfare is considered a right, be it unemployment welfare or the pension. In the US it's viewed as a privilege. Even the conservative "Liberal" party's views on welfare would be considered socialist in the US. This difference in "philosophy" is probably one of the hardest differences to understand and come to terms with, since they are so opposite.
Accents? In the US the "Southerners" have a reputation for having strong accents, yet strangely enough, I had no trouble understanding the Southern accent. It was the northern ones that gave me trouble. This surprises american's I've mentioned it to, but it's fairly simple - like the Aussie accent, the southern US accent merges words together, drops syllables and the like. A lot of times southerner's couldn't even pick up my accent and thought I was a local (and, no, no one back here has accused me of picking up an american accent). The only times I was unable to understand someone it was either with a northern accent, or a "black" accent. Americans of africian origin really have a totally seperate culture, they mostly live together, have their own dialect of english ("Ebonics"), traditions and so forth. Speakng of the black people, despite Pauline Hanson, the US is considerably more racist that Australia, and this can be seen in all facets of society. Employment, politics, recreation and religion. Most denominations have "black" churches and white, in fact each denomination is really two. There's the white United Methodist's and the black AME's. I heard one disgraceful tale on TV of a church with a policy of delaying any black wanting to enter while the wardens quietly shepherded everyone out the back door. And that's in the 1990's. It's not all one way either, the "blacks" can be just as racist to non-blacks as the whites can. A popular black religious leader is currently expousing views on the Jews that would make the Nazi's happy. One does not have to be white to be a racist.
Prices. As one would expect with two different countries, some things are cheaper there, some here. Petrol (gas) is less than a third the price in Australia. You can fill up a small car with just $5 or $6. Meat and ice-cream is cheaper in Australia, clothing more expensive, especially designer labels. Alcohol, cigarettes, books and CD's are almost twice as expensive here in Oz. All comes down to local supply and demand .. and taxes.
That's the people, what about the country? Australia is often described as a land of great contasts, and indeed it is, with tropical rainforests and bone-dry deserts, cold mountains and broiling hot lowlands. But America too is a land of great contrasts. The biggest I guess would be the seasons. In Australia there's not all that much difference in the seasons. Winter is a little bit dryer, and about 10C cooler (unless you are in the far north where it's the same temperature, just wet and dry). Summer where I live averages around 30C, although the summer that just passed was one of the warmest on record and averaged 35C. Over much of the US, a typical summer's day may be about 25-30C, considerably warmer in the south, 30-45C for the "Southerners". yet winter is a lot colder. Apart from Florida where it's warm all year 'round, winters are bitterly cold, snow is common. In the northern half of the country the snow can remain all winter, sometimes dozens of feet. Daily temperatures can struggle to get above freezing. Even in the South a night-time temperature of -20C is not unheard of. Yet, the winter of 96/97 was one of the warmest on record in the South-East and, at the same time, one of the coldest on records over much of the rest of the country. A land of unpredictable extremes. While the US has it's deserts, by and large it is a lot wetter than Oz, both in terms of humidity but also rain. that means things are a lot greener. Even compared to the relatively well watered eastern coast of Australia. And not the dry looking brown-green of Australian trees, this is a lush, rich and deep green. I expected the winter cold, but the sheer green-ness of the country caught me by surprise.
Well that's just a few of my impressions, I'd double the length of this newsletter if I tried to put them all down.
Davidson, NC; Frankfort, KY and Sydney, Australia,
Return to The travel page
Return to my home home page