There was one sightseeing trip that none of us could resist, although I think it was Julian’s idea to begin with. How could I not have noticed that we were within an hour’s drive of the Kennedy Space Centre? A grand day out. You pay to get in these days (I understand it used to be free) but being used to the cost of London tourist destinations, I reckon you get a lot for your money. A bus takes you about from place to place, there are movies, exhibitions, explanations, dramatised reconstructions, a bit of moon rock to fondle; but mostly there is the sheer brain-numbing scale of everything. The entire Saturn 5, a pukka shuttle. Oh and brilliantly whimsical gifts. Whoever put the place together has a sense of humour, there is even a Moon Rock Cafe. Ben now has a pair of astronaut’s oven mitts. I have a nightshirt advising that I Need My Space. And a NASA insulated travel cup that opens in slow-mo. I have a tendency to be sniffy about the US, but if there’s one place that reminds you what these people do do well, this is it. Go if you ever get the chance.
Suddenly it was time to head back and we had the maps out again. The plan was to take a little longer on the return trip, smell the roses a bit, nose about some other bits of the US and generally get home less exhausted. Randy had seen a film set in Savannah, Georgia and wanted to see if it was as lovely a town as it looked. I had spotted a ‘Skyline Drive’ along the Blue Ridge Mountains and wanted to check it out, so we planned our stops accordingly. Night one in Savannah, then if we arrived early enough we’d have the evening and the following morning for sightseeing there. Night two, back in Richmond, Virginia, which we knew was half-way home. It was also close enough to the mountains for a daylight drive along the ridge the following morning. Night three, somewhere in Pennsylvania, which was just about half-way from Richmond to home and we had the journey covered in four days. Easy. We made a pact that if Randy was prepared to drive the Florida bit, I’d do West Virginia, then packed a mass of souvenirs, waved regretful goodbyes and headed north.
Hugging and waving and promising to return, we left Cherry and Ron amid many gags about lost Swedes, and speculations about being back within half an hour when we got lost in Kissimee. Then we were actually back in their drive within five minutes, having discovered that Randy had left All The Maps on their kitchen counter.
Leaving for the second time we headed, relatively uneventfully out of Florida and into Georgia, arriving in Savannah as the sun was going down. The weather was glorious. Warm but not hot, less humid than Florida. We collected up a pile of brochures from the hotel lobby, walked along the river and found a brilliant pub in which to sample the local fare and make plans for the morning. Fried green tomatoes and locally caught fish, boats of all sizes, real cobbled streets and pukka elderly buildings. Arts and crafts shops that have things made by local artists and craftspeople, and which are open until late at night; handicrafts are the local rock and roll. I could live in Savannah.
We reckoned that the quickest way to see it all sufficiently well to decide if a return visit was required would be the ‘hop on and off’ trolley tour. Touristy, yes, but practical in the circumstances, ie, got to leave by lunchtime. The lady who drove our first trolley (we only hopped once) was a hoot. She clearly relished her role, loved her home town and wanted us to love it too. Savannah is laid out around a series of leafy squares, each dedicated to someone. They all have a statue or a fountain or monument of some sort in the middle and are landscaped to perfection. We trolleyed from square to square, hearing about the people, the history, and the movies that had been made in various buildings. Yes, I know all cities have such tours, I’ve been on several in various parts of the world. Perhaps it depends what mood you’re in, or maybe you need to like the city anyway, but I was charmed and delighted by everything. Even the accent of the second trolley driver, who tried manfully to continue the folklore and whimsical tales, but was as comprehensible as Stanley Unwin on a bad day. ‘I think he’s from Alabama’ whispered Randy, as though that explained it all. ‘I’m only getting about one word in twenty’ I whispered back. People around us nodded and grinned. The trolley full of bemused half-smiles continued its way, from the squares district back to the river front. Fortunately I had read the tale of how the streets became cobbled the previous evening somewhere, and my head gradually switched in to the strange speech patterns once I knew what he was trying to tell us. He became more like Stanley Unwin than ever. Ballast, from the ships from England, by the way. They chucked it out onto the streets when loading with goods to take back, so the locals paved with it.