When your satnav states in “399 miles turn left” you know you are driving in America. After landing in Florida and spending some family time we picked up a car and set out on a mini-roadtrip. All this in a Mazda 3, not a Mustang despite being offered one to rent for another $300, we paid around $180 for the rental which was all inclusive (like it’s food). This I love, as long as you drive it back to the rental yard at the end of the trip that is it. Europe is so much more a pain with additions all about more insurance rather than buy a bigger and faster car.
The road trip was short, we only had two weeks in the States overall. Originally we had planned some time away in Costa Rica or Cuba but with the Zika virus rearing it’s head we decided to not risk anywhere south and head north. This is might be a over reaction but when one of you is newly pregnant every precaution is taken. So the trip was Georgia, South Carolina and back to Florida. Initially this was a coastal trip but decided to take in some mountains and country scenery. We head off on to the I75 and an 7 hour drive north to Georgia.
First stop was Madison, having been voted one of the prettiest in America. You can see why. Not to be confused with the film, The Bridges of Madison County which was filmed in Iowa. The square itself is pretty enough, reminding you of all those films featuring American small towns, Back to the Future springs to mind.
This town is for wandering, the streets surrounding the centre are some of the best examples of American manor houses in the country. Every turn brings you on a house even more grander and special than the last. It is hard doing this walk justice without you doing it yourself. The house below is just one of the examples. The lights either side of the door like many others lit up by gas light, which as dusk settles is gives a eerie feel to the town. The town itself has survived in it’s present form due to it being relatively agnostic in the civil war and as a result surviving the “burnings” on the March to the Sea by Union forces after capturing Atlanta.
The following morning we awake and head out following some of the historic scenic road trails. These roads are great and the scenery evokes thoughts of the ‘Walking Dead’, great open countryside interspersed with forests. There are lot’s of single story wooden shacks and caravans, with a few manor houses. I didn’t realise till we got back that ‘Walking Dead’ is actually filmed in Georgia which explains alot. I did discover that this Madison does have wooded covered bridges and so we set out to find one of the best. The Wooded bridge at Watson Mill is a great example, spanning 291 feet next to a small waterfall it is picturesque to say the least. After carefully driving through we head off to Helen.
Helen is a good base for exploring some of the state parks in the area and see some of the waterfalls in the state. Helen is a strange town to say the least. It is somewhere between a German town and a British seaside resort but transplanted and moved to America. Exactly. It is different and was built during the 1970’s around a old logging town which had fallen upon hard times. It is located just off the Appalachian trail which travels north in to Carolina and up towards Virginia.
There is nothing much to Helen, we tried wine at the local winery where I probably insulted them somewhat trying to find a wine i’d want to buy. Being out of season it seemed quiet and many of the family things to do were not open such as tubing down the river. Food was all American and although the roads were called Strasse. That was Germany in America done with. So with that in mind we headed out to a local waterfall Anna Ruby Falls. This is one of the most popular waterfalls mainly because of proximity to Helen and the ease of hike along well trodden and accessible trails.
We stayed overnight in Helen and next day was another big drive to Charleston. We stopped at another waterfall for a quick hike. This time we took in Tallulah Gorge. These were all flying visits so didn’t get far although this time the climb was steeper with over 1000 steps down and back up the gorge. It’s pretty spectacular all the same with a suspension bridge spanning the gorge. I think we’d both love to come back and explore the trails around this area. For now we head to the coast
We are back on the major roads but going to miss the scenic road routes round Georgia. Given the weather and the road quality it is the time you wish you’d said yes to the Mustang convertible.
Charleston was founded in 1670, making it one of America’s oldest cities. It is also one of the friendliest according to Conde Nast and a number of other publications. The old town is stunning with a waterfront market area and then pretty center and surrounding houses. It has some great places to eat, we went to the renowned Hyman’s , probably a little touristy but you kind of have to when here for one night and everywhere else requires booking. We spent most of our day wandering the old town but there is also the USS Yorktown which can be visited. As with anywhere one of the best ways to see the town and the people is a early morning run along the front at sunrise.
From Charleston it is back in to Georgia and down the coast to Savannah. We decided we were going to stop along the coast and try and see the many lighthouses that line the coast. This had been an original Pinterest idea while searching for things to do. We had good intentions that swiftly evaporated after getting caught out by a parking attendant after stopping for 5 minutes at Folly beach, I think we saw it briefly in the distance before heading off again. It is lovely coastline though with long white sandy beaches.
Savannah is much like Charleston, established in 1773 it is the oldest town in Georgia and played a significant role in the American Civil War and revolution as a strategic port. It’s dock front is still a major port but the old part is now given over to tourism and places to eat and drink. The rest of the town is built around a series of garden squares with quiet cobble streets with big old town houses. We stayed in the center in an amazing old building and one of my favourite ever hotels, Eliza Thompson House. Anywhere that serves afternoon tea and gives you evening snacks and drinks, making you feel like you are at home is worthy of my top ten for hotels in the world.
The town center can be walked and after getting a parking pass from the tourist office (this is a must!) we set off to explore. The seafront consists of big old warehouse buildings which are now all places to eat and drink with picturesque views over the river. We plonk ourselves for a afternoon drink in Tubby’s while working out what to do. As each big ship passes by a bell sounds which is cue for a 50c shot. With Em pregnant it wasn’t the place to hangout so we escape in to town.
Walking round the town is again all about the historic buildings and parks. The Mercer-Williams house was the main house from the film ‘Midnight in the Garden of Good & Evil’. We did try to find the statue in the cemetery a short drive away but was told it had been removed in 1995 and is now in the town museum.
There are so many places to eat here, it is difficult to choose although like Charleston you need to book if wanting to go anywhere with reputation. We had thought about going to Mrs Wilkes which was 100m down the road from our hotel but they start queuing an hour before it opened. It serves all South American fried food and smelt amazing but we didn’t have time to que. We ended up going somewhere completely different, probably due to too much fried food over the last few days, ending up at the Public Kitchen and Bar which was had some great craft beer.
With the town explored there is time just for one final run. This time running in the footsteps of Forest Gump where the famous bench scene was filmed and where he starts his coast to coast run from. However the bench was never there and was added for the film. It is actually a nicely tended flower bed on the edge of Chippewa Square.
So with the 5 days up we head back to Florida and Bradenton, having travelled over 1000 miles, our road trip is over. Some key things to note. America is big but driving is a big part of life and the roads as a result are brilliant and allow you to travel distances in the UK you’d go mad doing, mainly because you don’t have long traffic jams. Petrol is also cheap and cost us about $15 a time to fill up – note in most places you will have to pre-pay. With such a short amount of time you need to plan ahead. We used Pinterest to find some different things to do. It is what made us do some of the travel inland. You can follow the board below. Although we only had 5 days we saw alot. We’d love to spend more time in each place and really explore but Helen for example was somewhere we wanted to leave despite the great surrounding countryside.