Here's a late night report from Wilmington in North Carolina (just 70 km or so north of the border to South Carolina). It's a quarter past 11 in the evening here, and we've got 27 degrees celsius outside. It's been a crazy day, but let's start with yesterday - the 4th of July and of course, independence day.
We started out the day by going around the Washington Mall area, looking at all the important stuff. Below, you can see the White House. There were a lot of restrictions imposed on account of the day. Most of the park area was accessed through security checks (though a lot nicer than in NY). This shot of the White House is taken with almost full zoom, from the fence where all the reporters usually stand when they report from Washington :) Obama spoke later on in the afternoon from the balcony, but by that time the area was completely closed off and we weren't there to glimpse him, unfortunately.
We came across a huge parade with high school bands, community representatives, Miss Maryland, floats and anything festive you can name. It seemed to go on for both miles and hours. In the end we had to drag ourselves away to go see the Lincoln and Washington monument. The latter can be seen below.
We spent a lot of the evening lounging around just outside the festival area. The plan was to get ahead of most people leaving the city after the big fireworks display that marks the end of most 4th of July celebrations. We weren't able to get a second night at our Washington hotel, so we needed to find something along the road. Anyway, we heard (but not saw, since we were directly behind the stage) Aretha Franklin perform the national anthem live. Looking around, we saw many Americans standing up and with their right hand across their chest. Scary and funny at the same time! Brainwashed since elementary school, I guess.
Because we decided to visit the train station for a last minute trip to the restrooms (by the way - American bathrooms are mostly awesome, free and clean. They can be found anywhere, in any little café or shop. It's by far one of the best things you have as a tourist) we nearly missed the fireworks we'd been waiting all day for. We ended up watching them with a bunch of hipsters from our own 'ironic generation'. That means they all really wanted to see the fireworks, but had to pretend they weren't at all interested and had to keep making fun of the patriotism surrounding them, shouting "God bless America, USA, USA" in a mocking way. All whilst gaping in awe at the fireworks, of course.
Even though we got out of the city really fast, we were stuck in queues for about an hour. At that point, we saw a sign for a motel (Economotel!) and decided to just go for it. We paid far too much (it being 4th of July and all) for a very shabby room. I saw a cockroach outside the motel and spent the night in terror of anything dark on the floor (like socks, bits of plastic, dust, things like that). The motel looked exactly like the ones you see in the movies. Two floors, parking outside. I'm sure it was the first of many more to come.
This morning we set out for the south. We immediately took a wrong turn and ended up on a 1-hour detour into some fancy gated community area. The surroundings were lovely (lush woods, billowing fields and flowing roads) but what a waste of time it was! We really wanted to get off the interstate roads, but before we'd worked out how the other roads worked properly, we'd wasted many precious hours. Americans are not fond of displaying road signs properly. Their philosophy of where they place the signs is along the lines of "If you wanted the 17 South, you should have turned back there". This caused some swearing and merry-go-round-like manouvering until we'd learned what lanes to keep in and what signs to look for.
Just as things were starting to look good (finally through Virginia, finally on the right bloody road), it started to look very, very dark. It had already been raining all day, but as soon as we crossed into North Carolina, the rain had turned into a downpour. It was worse than any rain I've ever seen in Sweden. The cars were going along at 40 km/h on the motorway. The rain was hammering the car so hard I was actually worrying about dents and broken windshields. At one point we had to stop the car on the side of the road and just wait it out. Visibility was about 5 meters and people were driving with their hazard lights on.
The rain eased up eventually, and we continued driving through the state, heavily delayed by everything that had gone wrong so far. We ran into some more bad weather later on. We'd just popped into a KFC restaurant by the road to use their bathroom (clean, free, awesome) when it started raining very heavily again. We found ourselves waiting by the door together with an American who was married to a Swedish woman! He spoke excellent Swedish and we all enjoyed this little coincidence. He was from Orlando, where we're headed next :) As soon as the rain eased off enough to run to the car in, the thunder started. We drove through an excellent thunderstorm (excellent when you're inside a car, not outside with a broken down car, like we saw along the way) which was probably nothing for the locals, but very impressive to us!
I don't want to bore you with details, but we didn't make as much (well, not as quick) progress as we'd wished today. We're roughly along the schedule of the trip, but we don't want to be driving 10-12 hours every day. This means more interstate roads and less scenic routes ahead, but we'll see how it goes tomorrow when we get a fresh start with a clear plan.
We also find ourselves in a bit of a luxury room tonight. By Swedish standards, it's SO cheap, but it's a little bit over budget. We have two beds! They only had a handicap friendly room available for us, and it's huge. Huge bathroom, huge room in general. I expect even a grossly fat wheelchairbound person could get around here. Horrible? Me? Never...
A note on the weather: we are checking weather channels in the hotels to make sure we're not going into bad weather unknowingly. We just saw on the local news that while there may be rain and some thunder, a high pressure over the Gulf of Mexico means there's zero risk of tornadoes and real storms. So no worrying! The driving is going well otherwise, and the car is lovely.
Most 'nicer' hotels seem to have free wireless connection. You can probably expect to hear from us in a couple of days from Orlando.
Special note to mum: I miss you! It's a week since we spoke now, and my weekly-phoncall-fingers are itching. You know my phone doesn't work here right? I'll probably give you a call at some point (in a couple of weeks when we're half way through the holiday or something). And we both miss the cats like crazy!
Until next time!
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5 months ago