Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day 20, 21 & 22 - Madeira beach

As most of you might have realized we are safely back in Sweden by now. We just couldn't find the time to maintain the blog while on the trip. However I will do my best to finish this as soon as possible starting today with Madeira beach.

After our fantastic manatee swim in crystal river we decided we wanted sun! With no set plan where to go we checked the weather forecast and decided to go just as far south so that we would avoid the bad weather. M who after 5 years on the passenger side of our road trip is an excellent map reader scouted out an area while I started driving. After consulting our travel guide book as well she directed me towards an area outside St Petersburg, a set of beaches on an island just off the west coast of Florida. We arrived after only a few hours of driving on the top part of the island. After driving south until we found an area that we liked we ended up in Madeira beach. Just so happened that we spotted a motel that M had looked up on the internet the day before, the Surfs Inn. We knew already that it was slightly over our budget but it sat right on the beach and I was sick of driving so we took it. Our room was clean with a huge fridge and fully equipped kitchen. It also had the ocean right outside our window and a pool area where we spent most of the time. The ocean was so close that we could sit in the more comfortable beach chairs by our pool and just run down for a swim in the ocean. Also this kept the sand out of our cocktails!

Our first day we spent by the pool doing absolutely nothing. A road trip can be a pretty hectic adventure so it was awesome to just stretch out by the pool with a nice cold one and take the occasional dip in the ocean whenever you got to hot. As the sun set(and man is that a beautiful thing to see on the west coast) we made it down to a local hot spot called Screwie Louie's with a huge outdoor patio. This was low season so a part from a few locals it was just us in the bar which just added to the relaxing feeling I loved so much about Madeira beach.

One of my favorite parts was that since we had the fully equipped kitchen I could finally indulge in my wet american dream of grocery shopping. The one thing that still differs the U.S from the rest of the world is the abundance of items to choose from. We cooked up a feast every day in Madeira beach and as a vegetarian I found a new love in the product tofurkey. Amazing stuff!

We had originally booked two nights in Madeira but we just loved it so much that we extended the stay with another night. The second night we met some new neighbors. Two couples from Orlando that come back to the Surfs Inn every summer. We ended up chatting the night away with these guys. One couple had lived in Key West for 15 years and really got us excited that we were going there. The other couple was a brit from liverpool and his wife whom we had met while working in Florida, so now they both lived here. Best company ever and even though separated in age we felt really at home with these guys. The south is truly a friendly and hospital place to be.

 The last two days were pretty much us hanging by the pool all day, taking a siesta and then hanging out with our neighbors all night. This was just a great relaxing time. One night we took our sun chairs down to the ocean and watched the sunset with the waves washing over our feet. It was gorgeous and we got some great photos of it. That's all from Madeira beach, next up Sanibel Island!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Day 19 - Crystal river

After checking out from our motel in Orlando we were faced with a dilemma. We really wanted to go do a manatee-swim but all the operators of manatee-tours we had spoken with said that you might see manatees or you might not see manatees. Big thunderstorms were heading towards the west coast so our plan b was to head to the east coast so at least we would get the sun. Nevertheless, after searching frantically after operators I got on the phone with Captain Mike in Crystal rivers. When I asked him if they had seen any manatees on their last tours he paused for a minute as if I said something really dumb and replied, - I see manatees 7 days a week. That was all the answer we needed and we set course for Crystal river on the Florida northwest coast. We were hit pretty bad by the storms driving up there and some parts it felt like driving into a waterfall, but victory will come to those who prevail! Finally on arriving in Crystal river we found a great best western which is a medium budget hotel that even if slightly over our budget for motel nights has all the conveniences you could wish for.

We spent the day and afternoon chilling in our room and finally got some laundry done as well.  At night we headed out to see what was in our surrounding area and was surprised to hear live music as soon as we headed out the door. Turns out we were neighbors with a restaurant that had a outdoor tiki bar next to the water. On stage in the bar was an awesome cover band, and even though I most of the times cant stand such acts these guys were really good! We had a chat with bass player Jim in the pause. He told us that now was "scallopping" season, why so many people were there to fish for scallops. And there were actually loads of people everywhere. Seemed only we were the ones there for the manatees.

Come next morning we struggled a little to get up at six but were soon in the car on the way to the marina by Kings Bay. When we got on the boat the rain hit pretty bad, but it was quite cosy sitting in your wetsuit with a hot cup of coffee and hearing the rain against the roof. As we came out to the snorkeling area the weather brightened up and when we got in the water for the first time the rain had stopped all together. The manatee population in kings bay consists of about 50 - 60 habitats that remain all year, with another 200 or so that go out in the ocean during summer and return in the winter. At first in the water you are told to float on the surface in a "dead mans pose" so that the manatee comes to you instead of you trying to chase after it. The rain had made the water a bit cloudy so visibility wasn't the greatest. So it was quite scary at first when out of nowhere a big shadow approaches you. However as soon as you calm down they are AMAZING! Like some kind of prehistoric creature that drifts pass you in the water. If you are lucky enough, and we were,  they will take an interest in you and come up right next to you. If you pet them some of them rolls over and wants you to scratch their bellies. They are almost like dogs. We absolutely loved doing this and we will most def come back to do it again. The pictures didn't come out to well but we have some amazing video that I'll upload as soon as I have better internet connection. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Day 17 & 18 - Orlando

After saying our farewells to Georgia we finally crossed the border to Florida. The main purpose of this trip was to get at least two weeks of that sweet Florida sun. Last year we did the west coast and how amazing that ever was we felt we needed more sun. So here we were. We stopped at the welcome center and as soon as we left the comfort of our air conditioned car the heat hit us full on blast! Perfect. As a tourist the one reason to come to Orlando is it's many amusement parks. Our mid was set on Universal Studios Islands Of Adventure. Since we only had one day we went all in and got the unlimited express pass to the park. It means that you get to stand in a shorter line for each ride. It was expensive but soooo worth it. By accident we stood in the wrong line at first and it takes forever to get to the ride. We just passed the whole line and waited no more then 5 minutes a ride. If you can afford it, do it!

I cant really retell the day cause when you are in one of these parks you just get carried away. What I can tell you is that we did every ride at least twice and I've never had so much fun in my life! The hulk roller coaster that we did 4 times is the most amazing terrible experience I have ever done! I even dislocated a rib in the ride but it was worth it.  The new Harry Potter world was also so much fun. The Dragon challenge was almost as horrifying as the Hulk and the Hogwarts ride was really really cool. We probably screamed more than anyone. A thunderstorm passed by mid day and left us soaking wet but after hiding in a pub for awhile and buying dry clothes in a souvenir shop we hit the rides one more time. If you have to pick one park in Orlando. Pick this!

Day 16 & 17 - Savannah

For the first time since the Jersey shores we were  finally at the ocean again. Before driving towards Savannah we decided to take a quick stop at Folly beach outside Charleston. The beach was gorgeous with almost chalk white sand and old wooden wave breakers. This far south the tourist season is in the winter because of the heat so we had the beach almost all to ourselves. The sun was scorching so after an hour and a half we decided it was enough sun for now. You don't wanna mess up the tan this early!

We arrived in Savannah early afternoon and immediately you are struck by it's beauty. 18th century houses surrounded by trees covered with spanish moss. Spanish moss is neither spanish or a moss but whatever it is it  makes a great party beard. I was however warned the day after this photo was taken not to touch it if you see it lying around. Apparently tiny red bugs live in it and they like to bite whoever picks it up. I was lucky this time. Another great feature in Savannah is that you are allowed to buy beer in the pubs in plastic glasses and walk around with them. We bought ourselves a nice cold one and walked around in the historic district and down on river street. This city is truly one of Americas most beautiful! A word I cant seem to use enough when it comes to the old south.

We only had the one night so after enjoying the nightlife in Savannah for awhile we called it an early night and went back to our luxurious stay at the Four points by Sheraton. We ordered breakfast to the room so we could get an early start the next day. We took a horse carriage tour of the old district and it was amazing! The old district is built up around small parks in a square grid that were originally designed to make the town easy to defend in war. The point being if the alarm went off each citizen would meet up in their designated park and defend it. As the years passed by the squares were ornamented with trees and statues and today the add to the splendor of the historic district.

You'll have to forgive my rather short posts at the moment but we just don't have the time. This trip is just way to amazing in every way. I try to make up for it with pictures as you know they say more than a thousand words. After seeing both Charleston and Savannah I can only add that we are falling deeply in love with the south!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Day 15 & 16 - Charleston

We arrived in Charleston on the sunday afternoon crossing the impressive Arthur Ravenel Jr bridge, which is the longest cable stayed bridge in the world. Finally we felt like being in the heart of the old south. You might notice there's quite a gap between Washington D.C and Charleston however I'm gonna have to stick to the highlights of this trip to have a chance to bring the block back up to date. The town where the civil war was started with the attack on Ft. Sumter by the Confederate army has kept so many of it's older buildings that you sometimes feel like your taking a step right on to the pages of history. It's hot, it's slow and it is beautiful. 

We were staying at the Notso hostel which as it's name states is not so much a hostel. I cant really describe it but it's kind of part hostel, part hotel, part social experiment. It's hippie-ish in the good way, fresh and clean with lovely helpful staff. They offer bikes for loan, an offer we didn't pick up on since everything was walkable. A lot of times we've realized through out out trips, what an American decribe as an hour long walk will take us about twenty minutes. It's just one of those cultural differences i guess.
First night out we headed to a couple of dive bars. The recovery room and AC's if i remember it right. Because of the upcoming independence days the bars were packed with an unusual amount of tourists, still I got a great vibe from The Charleston nightlife. Relaxed and friendly would be the keywords and something made us constantly comparing it to Portland, Oregon. Just not as trendy.

The following day was independence day. Our third time celebrating it in the states. And what better place to celebrate then in these historic settings. We spent the day strolling around in historic charleston just taking in all the wonderful architecture and colonial style buildings. 

Later that night we headed down to the fireworks at waterfront park. It was a great atmosphere and none of that over the top patriotism you sometimes see. Families and friends gathered all around to watch the amazing display. Maybe not the most spectacular fireworks I've witnessed but it was perfect just the way it was.

The night ended at D'allesandros Pizza. A pizza slash dive bar where once again the bartender tried to give us free drinks. After taking a tequila with him we legged it before he got the chance to give us more.  So far we are loving the south!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Day 11, 12 & 13 - Washington D.C

Amish land was a blast,  even so we were psyched for our next stopped of the trip. The grand daddy, the big kahuna founded by the number one guy himself. The city I'm talking about is of course Washington D.C, founded and named after the very first president of the United States, president George Washington!

I might have told you so earlier but I'll tell you again. All our travels have turned me into a americanophile with an huge appetite for American history and nowhere will you find such an abundance of it as in D.C.

We arrived in D.C in the afternoon in the early afternoon and was immediately met up by the owner of Kalorama guest house(this place will get it's own entry in the future with contact information, for now google!), Jack who was standing on the porch. I cannot give this man justice in any way but this is just about the nicest man on this earth. Within a few minutes he had parked our car for us and checked us in, he then told us to grab some of the complimentary wine(!?) while he had to go bake cookies for us! We sat down on the beautiful front patio and was soon joined by a man from New Zeeland who had business with some senators and within a few minutes we were talking politics. This is something I recommend people not to do while traveling in general but in one of the centers of world politics it just comes naturally.

After chilling awhile on our very own balcony we hit town. After randomly walking down streets for about half an hour we tried the first promising bar we saw. The place was called the Big Hunt and this would be our favorite spot on the rest of the stay. A downstairs bar with an variety of beer on draft, an upstairs bar with a tiki-theme and and finally a great outdoor patio in the back. On of the best dive bars I've come across for sure.

We only had one full day for sightseeing so we made sure we made the most out of it. We started out with the white house and finally got that must have photo you see in the top of my entry. Then we strolled down constitution avenue and man was it a sight! An architecture that loans from greece and rome but with a modern touch worthy of a young republic in need of it's own symbols of power. For me the highlight was the national archives where we got to see the 3 most important documents in American history. The declaration of independence, the constitution and the bill of rights. One of them in particular, the declaration of independence had an huge impact on the rest of the world, with the famous words of Thomas Jefferson, "All men are created equal". Powerful words from a controversial man who himself owned slaves, later we visited the monument of the man who helped end slavery, president Abraham Lincoln. I can't or wont go into details of all monuments and places we visited that day but I think anyone who gets the chance should come see this.