Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Meeting a part of Atlanta history

The segregation and civil rights movements are such comparatively recent history that of course it is the case that some of the older people that we pass in the streets would have lived through those times.  We heard a woman in Alabama (we'll get there in a posting soon) say that she was a child during the bus protests, for example.  But usually you don't get to know what people have seen or done, as you just don't speak to them.

But in Atlanta we did meet someone who was a part of a significant development in racial integration.

Fire Station 6, which is just down the road from the King's old home, was opened on 31 May 1894, and stayed operational until 1991.  It was later redeveloped into a museum which has a few old artifacts including a 1927 American LaFrance Metropolitan Pumper Hose Car fire engine.

The link to Martin Luther King is nothing more than proximity, but the station does have its own little bit of civil rights history, as in 1963 this was the first Atlanta fire station to integrate black firefighters into what was previously an all white station.

The sixteen black men did not always have an easy time of it, but the station chief was behind the desgregation and ensured that any issues were dealt with .  How do I know that?  Because one of those original sixteen integrated firefighters was there at the station when we visited.

Bill Callier had been a firefighter at station 16, an all black fire station, but had volunteered to make the move to station 6.  He transferred on 21 November 1963, the day before the Kennedy assassination.  He talked briefly to us about his experience, which he described as generally very positive because of the commitment of his bosses to the integration scheme, and their willingness to act when problems arose.

It was fascinating to meet Bill and hear about such a key time in the Atlanta fire department.  He later left the fire department and moved on to the MARTA transportation system and managed the provision of transport for the Atlanta Olympics, but now that heis retired, he is back at Fire Station 6 as a volunteer guide.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Martin Luther King Junior

One of the most famous people to come from Atlanta is Dr Martin Luther King.  Son of a Baptist Minister of the same name, Michael Luther King Junior was born on 15 January 1929 in the family home, in a nice building in a relatively affluent part of the area where the black people lived.

And yes I do mean Michael.  That was the original name of both father and son.  The father changed his name to Martin, in honor of Martin Luther, when he took over the ministry of the Ebenezer Baptist Church, and his son followed suit.

Back then, slavery may have ended, but segregation was still very much in evidence.  Black people were still looked down upon by many white people.  Adults were referred to not by their name or in any other respectful way, but 'boy', 'girl', or worse still that 'N.....' word that I am not even going to write here.

The segregation was not only a determined separation of the 'colored', but also used as a way of demeaning them.  We saw a photo of a restaurant which blacks were allowed to use, but the area they had to eat in was around the back of the toilet block.  This, and much worse, was the culture that MLK (we'll call him that from now on) was born into.

We visited the house where he was born.  With the help of some of his family. It has been restored as closely as possible to how it would have been when he was a child.

We also visited the nearby MLK centre, opposite his father's Ebenezer Baptist church.  The centre has information about his life, and is where he is laid to rest.

So what of MLK?  He had a good education and like his father, became a Baptist Minister.  His first church of his own was the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.  Whether his life and the Civil Rights Campaign would have been different had he been sent somewhere else, we'll never know, but as it was, his life was about to take a very different course.

 Because Montgomery was where Rosa Parks made her stance against segregation which led to a protest that was to kickstart the Civil Right Campaign. I'll talk about her and the protest in a later posting; for now I'll stick to what it meant for MLK.

As the protest gathered pace, MLK was chosen to lead it.  He preached to the people to have them keep faith with the protest, but most importantly, he constantly pushed the need to make this a non violent campaign.

He started talking about Civil Rights in Montgomery because of this protest, but he continued way beyond that.  In 1957 he helped to establish and run the South Christian Leadership Conference  (SCLC), and in 1959 he visited India to study Ghandi's teachings, becoming further committed to the principles of non violent protest.

His campaigning took him across the USA.  Everywhere he went he called for an end to the racial discrimination and for equality.  He joined with other campaign groups to focus their efforts.  But all the while he insisted on non violent methods.  The Greensboro sit-in protests of 1960 were an excellent example of this in practice, leading to the ending of segregation in nearly thirty lunch counters.

With his campaigning gaining pace, rather than keep a church of his own, he returned to Atlanta and joined his father at his church so that he could be freer to spend time travelling and spreading the civil rights message.

In early 1963 he was arrested and jailed for his participation in a protest in Birmingham Alabama.  Undeterred, in August of the same year he led a march on Washington.  Most people have heard of MLK's compelling speeches and this is where he delivered his most famous 'I have a dream' speech, which has become one of those often quoted phrases, even if people don't actually know any of the rest of what he said.

Of course despite his own commitment to non violence, many of his opponents had no qualms about using violence in reply.  As well as all of the brutal attacks and killings of black people generally, and of some white people who supported the campaign, MLK had threats against him personally.  His home and church were bombed on a number of occasions.

One time he was signing copies of his book in a bookstore when a woman stabbed him in the chest with a letter opener.  They told him afterwards that had he sneezed before he was patched up then it would have killed him.  He later commented that he had received a letter from a little white girl who said that she had heard about this and was very happy that he didn't sneeze.

In 1964, partly as a result of the campaigns led by MLK, but also in part a reaction to enact the wishes of the recently assassinated President Kennedy, the Civil Rights Act was passed which effectively required an end to segregation in publicly owned or run facilities.  In the same year, MLK was awarded the Nobel Prize.

Life wasn't always a bed of roses though.  In the coming years MLK faced criticism from other Afro-American leaders and he tired of the constant threats of imprisonment and personal attacks.  But he persevered.

Then in early 1968 he travelled to Memphis to support the striking sanitation workers where he delivered his 'I've Been to the Mountaintop' speech on 3 April.  This speech, which was to be his last, was almost prophetic.  It was a long speech, but I am going to include the very last section here:

"Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.  And I don't mind.  Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!  And so I'm happy, tonight.  I'm not worried about anything.  I'm not fearing any man!  Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!"
The next day, 4 April 1968, on the balcony outside his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee, MLK was shot dead.  He was 39 years old.
His funeral service in Atlanta was attended by around 1300 people, but his body was carried in a simple wooden cart pulled by mules. They used another of his speeches, the final sermon that he had given at the Ebenezer Baptist Church only a couple of months earlier on 4 February.

It talked about what he would want people to be able to say about him if he were to die now.  The main thrust being that he wanted people not to remember his Nobel Prize, or countless other awards he had received, but that he had tried to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, be on the right side on the war question and love and serve humanity.

Was he a great man?  I don't know.  There are suggestions that when he was watched by the government he was found to have been an adulterer and perhaps other failings.  But he was a good orator for an important cause and he was determined to keep violence out of his side of the campaign.  He was steadfast in his efforts despite knowing the danger that it clearly put him in.  Does that make him great?  He is certainly a hero to many black people.

What I do know is that he did great things.  Without his belief and encouragement, the Civil Rights Campaign may not have properly got off the ground for many more years.  And had he allowed his side to resort to violence, he would have given his opponents the ability to just call them thugs and criminals and undermine their efforts.  As it was, his tireless work, and perhaps his own assassination, very probably sped up the changes that did eventually happen.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Atlanta and an ex President

From Daytona we travelled by bus to Orlando and then overnight on to Atlanta, Georgia.

Nic is generally in charge of booking our travel, and he had been especially pleased with himself for the Atlanta journey as it was free; not just the usual $1 for getting in quick on the megabus, but actually completely free for both of us.  And being an overnighter, we saved on accommodation too.   I think he was right to feel pleased.

We had a reasonably inexpensive hotel booked, that turned out to be very nice. Not least because although we arrived at around 8am, some seven hours early for checkin, they not only gave us a room straight away, but they also upgraded us and let us have breakfast there too.  This was great, because while overnight buses are great for the budget, they aren't quite so good for ones sleep.  So we had a couple of hours sleep before heading out to explore.

We were in quite a nice area for a few cafes and restaurants, so we tried a few of those during our stay, but we also checked out the nearby Jimmy Carter Presidential Center.

Now I can't say that I knew a great deal about Jimmy Carter other than he was president and he was involved in some peace negotiations.  And to be honest, I wasn't really sure that I was very interested in knowing any more than that.

But in fact I was glad we went.  It was really quite interesting, and I found a new respect for Mr Carter.  The son of a peanut farmer in Plains Georgia, James Earl Carter was born on 1 October 1924 and grew up with his white parents and black farm staff and their children.  His father, despite treating his workers well, was a supporter of the racial segregation of the time, whilst his mother favoured ending it.

Carter followed his mother's lead.  Having left his naval career to go back to help his family run the peanut farming business, he was drawn to leave that and go into politics when the governor at the time was seeking to retain segregation in schools.  And throughout his political career he worked to achieve better racial integration.

Whilst the symbol of his presidential campaign may have been the peanut, his promises were about bringing about change and being honest with the people.  Feelings are, of course mixed about whether this is something he achieved.

In his presidency, which was 1977-81, he made some improvement to the country's terrible economic position, brought in a national energy policy, worked towards environmental and human rights changes, including employing record numbers of women, black and Hispanic people to government posts.  But critics will say that most of these things had little effective impact.

He appeared to be a 'man of the people', the first to do walkabouts again following the increased security after the assassination of President Kennedy, and carrying his own bags.  But then it is said by some that he was ignorant to his staff and that the bag he carried was often empty, with the real weight being taken by others.
He did achieve a ratification of the Panama Canal Treaties and finalised a nuclear arms limitation treaty with the Soviet Union.  And he is probably best known for his work on resolving conflicts, in particular obtaining the Camp David peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. His work on negotiating peaceful resolutions is the one area that everyone seems to agree he did well.

And that work did not end with his presidency.  Together with his wife, he established the Carter Center, dedicated to preventing and resolving conflicts and improving health throughout the world.  The centre gives an excellent insight into their work.

Nobel Peace Prize
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for "his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development", and has received countless other accolades for his commitment and dedication to these aims.

So opinion about Carter seems to be very mixed. He may or may not have been a great president, but he and his wife certainly have devoted a huge part of their lives to improving the lives of others, and that surely has to be worthy of a bit of respect.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Daytona Speedway Rolex 24 hour race

Our reason for coming to Daytona was to make a trip to its famous speedway track.

Our timing coincided nicely with the Rolex 24 hour race, which is actually quite well priced, especially compared to the more popular Daytona 500, so that is what we came to see.

Our ticket covered the Saturday and Sunday that the race was run on.  Unfortunately we had  misunderstood the race information and thought that you could only stay during the night if you were actually camping there; we only realised that was wrong after we got there, by which time it was too late to have appropriate stuff with us.  But still, I think we saw enough of the race on both days.

The race is not that well attended, so we could easily take advantage of the various things going on, whilst still being able to then go and get a good seat in the grandstands.

We had got there well in advance of the race start, so we had the chance to walk around the paddock and see the cars being prepared.  We were surprised at the access that we had.  We could walk right up to the entrance to each garage and as the car was often outside, we could be right next to the car.

The technicians were happy to answer any questions and let you take photos too.  Whilst this was great to get a good look at what was happening, we were a bit unsure about how safe all this really was when the guys came out in all of their flame proof gear and helmets to put some fuels into the car right next to us.  We decided to take a step back at that point, just in case. After all, our regular readers will know that we don't have the best track record with fire!

There were a couple of demo races before the main event, including one from the Formula V class, the single seater Volkswagen, fifty years after they first raced here.
There is supposedly a carnival of rides and stalls in the infield, but to be honest the stalls were only really any good for real racing fans, and the couple of rides that they had just didn't cut it!  But we got a couple of free Chevrolet t-shirts.
Nic then sorted out his lunch for today by trying out the fifteen entrants in the chilli cook off.  It was only a very small sample of each but as he doesn't generally eat much chilli it was enough.

As the time for the race neared, we decided not to bother with milling around the pit lane as the cars and drivers had their final preparations, but went straight over to the grandstand.

As the pre race announcements were made, and the national anthem sung - rather badly in my opinion - an bird flew overhead.  I make no pretence at being an expert in birds, but it did look a bit like a bald eagle to me.  I rather cynically think that perhaps they have a trained one just to add a sense of national feeling to the moment!
The race is an endurance race where teams of drivers race a car continually for 24 hours.  There are three categories of cars taking part, the Daytona Prototypes, the GT Tourers and for the first time this year, the GX.

We found the race quite confusing as, without being able to hear a commentary (the was one but you can't hear it over the noise of the cars) it was hard to keep track of who was where in the race, especially as not knowing the look of the cars, you couldn't easily catch the numbers as they went past.
In the evening we went along to the wine and cheese tasting that was on offer. For the relatively small price of $10 for twelve samples, we could taste the various wines on offer.  Some of the samples we're sample sized, but others were more like a small glassful.

Most of the wines weren't that great, but we found some good ones and used up the extra tickets that we were given by a few people on those.  The event also gave us the chance to meet a few people and we had a good chat with a couple of guys.
After the tasting we headed back to the grandstand to watch a bit of the night time racing and the fireworks display, before heading back to the house for the night.
The next morning we were glad we had not stayed overnight as it had been cold and foggy, with the significant chunks off race behind the safety car.  We got back in time for the race to get back up to speed in the sunshine.
The race was won by the Chip Ganassi owned Prototype, driven by Juan Pablo Montoya at the finish, along with team mates Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas and Charlie Kimball.  The first Tourer was the Alex Job Racing Audi R8, coming in in ninth position.

We were a bit disappointed that one of the few things that you can't get a decent view of from the grandstands is the podium, and they don't have a big screen that you can view it on either.  It seems to me rather a shame that you see all of that racing, and then most people can't see the presentation at all.

So did we enjoy it?  Yes and no.  We enjoyed the fact of going to a speedway race as a new experience, and the overall event was fun.

Montoya wins
In terms of the racing itself though, there is a limit to the number of times you really want to watch cars going around a track, especially when you can't easily follow where they all are.  Having a radio commentary would definitely have improved the experience.

The frequency of the safety car coming out didn't help, although it did mean that no one ever pulled out an insurmountable lead, which did give us a fun few closing laps, with a number of lead changes up to the chequered flag.
And whilst we enjoyed seeing the odd bump and collision, we were pleased that we didn't have an incident like the one a couple of weeks later, when a car hit the rails between the track and the grandstands, sending a tyre and other bits of chassis flying in amongst the spectators.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Daytona Beach

From Miami we took an overnight bus to Daytona.  We were a bit concerned about this before we even got on, when the driver said that she couldn't see someone's ticket in the low light as here eyes were bad.  Not really what you want to hear from your driver on a night trip!

But we made it safely there.  And this was to be our first go at couchsurfing, where some kind stranger lets you stay in their home for free.  More about that in a future posting.

Our host Georgy was excellent and happy to let us arrive at the early hour that our bus got in.  So we soon settled in to our latest temporary home, with Georgy, his very friendly little dog Sophie, and his somewhat disinterested Iguana.

Daytona Beach was small, but pleasant to walk around.  It is of course a place famed for its Speedway and Bike Week, so attracts many motorists and even more bikers.  We counted numerous bike shops, some with some bikes and trikes that even I have to admit looked pretty good.

We also popped into the Museum store of Bruce Rossmeyer's Daytona Harley Davidson.  This was the start of Rossmeyer's Harley Davidson empire, from which he became one of the biggest dealers and went on to own possibly the world's biggest Harley store a short distance away.  (And no Dad, we didn't make a special trip out there.)

Rossmeyer appears to be something of a legend amongst bikers, especially here.  We were told that he was a major force behind Bike Week in Daytona.  Well possibly, in that when he set up in 1994, he was involved in bringing it to Daytona Beach from its previous venue; but then it had been going since 1937, and of course he also made sure that many events are held at his newer Destination Daytona site too.

In any case, he died in 2009, whilst riding his bike to the Sturgis rally.  As is common in the States, he wasn't wearing a crash helmet.

But bikes aside, Daytona had quite a nice waterfront, with a few good places to eat and drink.  There was an Irish pub that was recommended to us by a guy in the garage, which had a great selection of beers both in the pub itself and in the attached shop.  We decided to buy a few that we could take back to the house and share with our host.

These went down pretty well with Georgy when we had them with the meal that he cooked for us one evening.

Overall we thought Daytona was a good town for a short visit, and if you time it right, there are quite a few little events during the year, apart from the races.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Art Deco in Miami

Not being people to spend time on beaches, the main attraction of Miami for us was the abundance of art deco buildings along the South Beach area.  And we had been pleased to find that we could coincide our stay with the annual Art Deco Weekend.

When we worked out the bus systems and got our two buses into SoBe, we certainly saw a lot of great art deco architecture.  Some of it was the classic white style that you often see along beach fronts in the UK, which I have to  admit to being my own preferred type, while some had gone for more colour.

Art Deco gets its name from the 1925 Paris Exhibition of 'Arts Decoratifs', which focused on displays of modern art of the period.  As this was one of the biggest viewings of these new styles, the abbreviated name of the fair was adopted as an easy description of this post WW1 modern style.

Some of the art deco style uses a lot of Egyptian inspired imagery and colouring.  This came out of the rise in popularity of all things egyptian following the 1922 discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb.

There is a lot of this more ornate style here in Miami, as well as the simpler, more common influence of the pyramid in the stepped levels of building structure and decorative lines.

So we enjoyed looking at the buildings.

We didn't do the Art Deco tour though, preferring instead to do the 'underworld' tour, which promised stories of crime and mafia that happened in these parts.

Sadly the tour was a bit disappointing.  For a city that was - and possibly still is - so steeped in mafia connections, it was a bit thin on underworld stuff.
He did tell us that the decorative lines and arrows built into the flooring of some hotels probably pointed to the direction of the prohibition era speakeasies.

He also said that when the speakeasy got a tip off that they were about to be raided by the police, they would take most of their stuff to the Wolfsonian, which at that time was a storage company, to hide it until after the raid was over and they could get back to business.
Aside from those two points, and showing us the spot where Versace was shot, the only things we got were film and TV references, such as the fact that the neon work inside Club Deuc, the oldest pub in Miami, was brought in when they filmed some of Miami Vice there.

He did repeatedly tell us that everyone was corrupt during those mafia days, which was probably rather unnecessary for a group on an underground tour.  But if you were in the market for an expensive property, he did tell us that the house that Al Capone retired to in Miami is up for sale.
And unfortunately the market was a bit of a let down too.  As markets go, it wasn't bad.  There were some nice antiquey bits, some jewellery, and lots of other things, but it wasn't really art deco.
We had expected that there would be a lot of art deco related stuff here.  Obviously not all original, but we had thought we would see some good reproduction bits and other things that were clearly inspired by the art deco period.  There was a little bit of this, but not much.  The vast majority was what you would expect to find at any flea market.
We went along to the Art Deco Welcome Centre to see the 'bounty of Art Deco furniture' and saw about ten pieces.  Though admittedly one was a rather large and elaborate light which I though was pretty amazing.  Still, not much of a bounty, more of a smattering.
The parade of vintage cars was interesting to a point.  There were some nice old classics.  But even then, they were stretching the idea of vintage.  It was bad enough that they included cars from the eighties, but some of the cars being driven must have been from within the last ten years; I think a couple towards the end were just showing off their latest acquisition!
We had hoped for a bit of canine amusement with the Arf Deco parade of dressed up dogs, but they were a bit thin on the ground and very few really dressed for the occasion.
So overall we weren't especially impressed with the Art Deco Weekend.  A bit like Miami as a whole really.  It was alright, there was some stuff to see and do, but it wasn't as good as we'd expected and we not really sure what all the fuss is about.  Perhaps it really is just all about the beach here.

But hey, we had a couple of huge cocktails at a bargain happy hour price, so we were contented enough!