We arrived in Charleston South Carolina on 9th April after an uneventful drive from Florida that day. We had planned to take three or four days to do the trip but the RV was driving well and so was Mike so we just kept going. Charleston was our first port of call when we shipped our motorhome across from Europe in 2003. At the time we we met a couple called Mitch and Joann in a bar near Charleston and they have become great friends. On hearing that we were back in the USA Joann invited us to their Passover Sader that she was hosting at their house. It was Joann back in 2003 that had involved us in her family's Thanksgiving dinner so it seemed fitting that she should host our first Passover. As we were there a week early they very kindly took us to places that only the locals would know about. We visited a local restaurant called Vickary's twice over the same weekend. Once for lunch on Saturday and the next day for an Oyster roast and BBQ which was being held to raise money for a local boy who was ill. Vickary's is on stilts and overlooks Shem Creek. All very picturesque complete with a working fleet of shrimp boats. We also enjoyed a walk across the new bridge over the Cooper River that has been completed since our last visit with stunning views along the river to Fort Sumter where the Civil War started. I also tried a local speciality, battered fried flounder with a sweet sauce and collard greens. It tasted fine but the appearance a little daunting as the huge flat fish was a foot long and hadn't been skinned.
During the week we got on with our chores as usual. There was no evidence of any washing lines at the campsite but we decided to go ahead and get our laundry done and line dry afterwards as we like the smell of fresh aired laundry. The owner came over and told us that we could have the line out just to get the washing dry and no more and we would have to take it down as soon as we were done. We followed his instructions and were feeling a bit embarrassed by the number of people who kept stopping and staring. We couldn't work out why us hanging out our laundry should provide such a spectacle and can only assume that American modesty dictates that you don't hang your smalls out for all to see.
We had no idea how much hard work a Passover Sader would entail for Joann and Mitch but Mike and I volunteered our services with food preparation and general duties. Sader means order in Hebrew and it was very important to the ceremony that each stage followed the correct order in line with the religious readings that were allocated to us by Mitch. Each aspect of the ceremony recalled a significant event for the Jewish people in Egypt over 2000 years ago. It all sounds terribly serious and the messages conveyed did carry a lot of meaning and significance. However the Sherman family carried everything out in quite a light hearted style and achieved the balance between the religious message and a social gathering. As well as preparing several courses Joann also had to ensure that each part of the ceremony could take place in the correct order with all the items ready at each place setting. One example was the dipping of a boiled egg in saltwater. We both felt very privileged to be invited and also enjoyed catching up with Ivan, Mitch's brother, as well as meeting the rest of Joann and Mitch's family.
Whilst we were in Charleston Mike took the opportunity to get a haircut. He strolled into what he thought was a walk in barbers. It turned out to be a college and they cut his hair for the princely sum of $6.00. This must be the world's cheapest haircut. After an excellent two weeks near Joann and Mitch it was time to move on and we headed north without stopping in north Carolina and into the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee.
I researched in the Woodalls' Directory and found a great value site just off the motorway which we thought would make an ideal stopping point for the night. If we liked it we then planned to stay a bit longer and do some walking in the mountains. The park and the owners all looked rather neglected. The latter sitting around drinking the American equivalent of Special Brew on their back porch. There were fish in the swimming pool and the restrooms needed demolishing. We had thought that it would be fun to visit a local bar but when the owner said she thought it was a bit rough we decided it may be best just to drive into the nearest place with life 17 miles away in Gatlinburg. As we had an excellent meal in a locally owned steakhouse and got such a good feeling about the place we decided to relocate to Gatlinburg and stayed on an excellent campground.
The town itself was very touristy and filled with all the attractions to entice Americans there on holiday. We had a couple of days in the National Park enjoying the wonderful warm spring weather. The day we decided to walk a part of the 2000 mile Appalachian Trail was very wet though and we couldn't see any of the views we were promised along the 8.4 mile round trip.
Pigeon Forge-the next town from Gatlinburg looked like a show town and we decided to go and see 'Country Tonite' at the recommendation of our hosts at the campground. This was a real treat with Country music, Gospel, Comedy, Tap Dancing, 60s, 70's and much more. At half time and at the end of the show the performers came to the front of the stage so the audience could chat with them. The standard was very high and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. The end of the show was very patriotic and played tribute to the armed forces, and America. This made us a little uncomfortable as us Brits are unused to such unbridled enthusiasm for our country.
Whilst at a stop light in Pigeon Forge I saw a stuffed toy cat looking out of the passenger front window of a pick up truck. It then appeared to be moving like a Garfield, but then I realised it was real. I quickly handed the camera to Mike and he got a couple of great photographs. The driver/owner explained that she is a show cat who also visits care homes. Despite the outfit and the fact you don't normally see cats being driven around, she was completely at ease. She can also be seen on the internet by clicking the link below.
We could have stayed longer in Tennessee, the people were lovely, there was so much to see and do and the environment of the mountains was beautiful but we are here to explore so we decided to head north into Kentucky. All hitched up and ready to go we noticed that the suspension had failed to raise on the RV as had happened in Florida. Mike rang the break down people and again we waited all day for a tow company to get to us, hitch up and then tow us to the Freightliner depot in Knoxville about 60 miles north from where we were located. The tow truck driver was a loveable self-confessed hillbilly called Freddy. His colleague was also a stereotype, we couldn't understand a word he said and each sentence was punctuated with regular globs of brown spit from the tobacco he chewed constantly. Mike was fascinated with the bulge in his cheek where the tobacco was stored. Having towed the RV back to the depot Freddy very nearly convinced us to go back to his home town to try out the local moonshine also known as apple pie. We didn't realise moonshine still existed and intrigued as we were we decided to do the sensible thing and checked into a hotel. We went back to Freightliner at lunchtime the following day and were told there was nothing wrong with the suspension and that one of the hydraulic jacks had not been retracted correctly and it was this that had prevented the air suspension from inflating. We were completely dissatisfied with this diagnosis and felt that we had been 'fobbed off' again by Freightliner as they had failed to take us seriously in Florida.
After many phone calls and general unhelpfulness at Freightliner Mike was put onto Forest River the manufacturers of the RV and they have been extremely helpful. As we were heading north they suggested we have the factory look at it and get to the bottom of what is going wrong. We had been toying with the idea of visiting Chattanooga Tennessee, but it would now be north to Kentucky- As it was now after 3.00pm we looked on the map and saw a suitable stop off about 2 hours up the road. Mike drove out of the secure compound where the RV had been parked and did not expect to see me standing there looking very anxious instead of having the car parked in the car park ready to hitch on to the back of the motorhome. In my rush to get over to Mike I had accidentally locked myself out of the car. Not a very popular thing to have done at that stage in the day! Everything was all on display in there, laptop, spare keys, handbag, Sat Nav. Mike flagged down a security guy who went and fetched someone from the workshop who had some professional looking metal strips. He had obviously done this before. Hope surged through me-things weren't so bad after all-but they were. It was impossible for him to undo the door from the inside. Another employee came by after half an hour- a prophet of doom type who announced 'you won't get into a Toyota'. Great. After an hour our hero finally got in with a couple of coat hangers-he hooked the spare from the front dash and pulled the key through a gap he had made in the door frame using a set of pliers. What a relief. I hugged him and Mike nearly kissed him and wished he had more than the $21.00 he gave him as that was all the cash he had in his wallet. We decided not to travel anywhere that night and slept in the car park.
The next morning we took a slow drive just into Kentucky and stopped at a place called Berea (rhymes with Maria). Once unhitched we drove into the town, which turned out to be a fascinating little place, all centered around a beautiful college. It turned out that Berea college provided education for Appalachian residents who would not afford otherwise to be able to go to college. The college was funded by local donations and also had shops that sold crafts made by students. The highlight was the Berea Tavern which had been built to accommodate visitors to the town and college and relatives of the students. The tavern was staffed by students. They were employed for 15 hours a week and in return received vouchers to exchange for books in the college bookshop next door.
Needing a few provisions we popped into Wal-mart. They sold mixer drinks but there didn't appear to be any alcohol. We have come across some strange licensing laws with different counties or even cities selling alcohol or not depending on who is on the local council. You could buy it anywhere in Gatlinburg but not Pigeon Forge 9 miles up the road, except in Pigeon Forge some individual restaurants had negotiated to be able to sell beer and wine but not spirits. I had been ID'd in a restaurant in Knoxville which was a bit of a joke. And now here we were in Berea-a completely dry town but we learned that Richmond 12 miles up the road had a special dispensation to sell alcohol. I volunteered to do the booze run while Mike stayed in and cooked supper. I needlessly worried about how I was going to find a shop. The first turn off the interstate and I saw 4 shops all advertising liquor for sale on huge boards. I parked and walked into the first one. It was a vast warehouse of cash and carry proportions. It sold booze of every type and persuasion from all over the world. I had forgotten my ID again and raised a smile from an employee when I asked if I would be served without. Yes I'd be fine as I looked over 30. Not such a silly question though in light of my recent experience. Anyway, mission accomplished I drove back with our beer and wine feeling as though I had had a trip to Sin City. That evening we researched on the Internet if there was any Civil War history in the area. There was so the following afternoon we drove up to Richmond again and went to the visitor centre hoping to borrow their auto tour that we had seen advertised. The CD wasn't available so we took their last map and set off to do the trip. The tour was on a very busy road with very few proper stopping points. The numbers on my map were marked differently from the numbers on the road so it made for a challenging afternoon. The tour bought us back to Richmond and we stopped at a bar called Woody's on the main street for a drink before heading home.
Woody's was a bar/bistro in a hotel and we had a great time sat at the bar. The barman was very amenable and treated us to an impromptu whiskey tasting. All of the Kentucky whiskeys were delicious and all above 90 proof. I got chatting to a professor of English who was sat next to me at the bar. She was there to attend a retirement party being held in the function room of the hotel. She was intrigued to hear our accents and wondered what on earth we were doing in Richmond, Kentucky. On Mike's side were a sweet couple enjoying their regular Friday night out so as usual we found out loads about the place by chatting to the locals. The restrooms were in the foyer of the hotel which had an eclectic mix of a craft shop, a pottery shop and loads of memorabilia on horse racing and the Royal Family decorating the dark pink painted walls. The plumbing in the restroom was equally eccentric but it all fitted in well along with the suits of armour and the bronze topped bar in the restaurant. We were reassured that the function would not interfere with the service or quality of the food so we decided to order. Just a wrap for me and a burger for Mike. They forgot his fries and appetiser and he got my soup by mistake. John the barman was on his own and had to cope with a Friday night crowd in the restaurant as well as a full bar. We were disappointed in our meal and Mike called the manager. She insisted that we need not pay our bill and we tipped John heavily as he had taken it all personally.
The next day we packed up again and continued north through Ohio to Indiana. The views were fabulous-we drove past Lexington, Kentucky which was like Newmarket with the gallops and paddocks full of horses. Cincinnati, Ohio which is famed for its skyline looked like a toy town as it was so perfectly proportioned. As we drove into Indiana we left the interstate- the land flattened and looked like Cambridgeshire with loads of perfectly manicured little farms. Many had Dutch barns and some towns had German names. We suspected we were in Amish country and were proved right when we stopped and looked at the visitors' brochures. We are now camping on the edge of a town called Elkhart in northern Indiana. We have read that over half of all RVs are made here and will be calling in on the factory to have the work done on our motorhome. The weather is beautiful with a slightly chilly breeze.
Last night we drove out to have a look at Elkhart. We had to wait at a railroad crossing as a 102 wagon train passed. Mike has worked out that this is just under a mile long. We spent more time waiting at the crossing than it took us to drive across the town.