USA Summer 2011

Photo A Day #199 Coral Castle, Miami Florida

These road trip photos are becoming few and far between, with so much else going on here, but I promise I haven't forgotten and I'm itching to squeeze them in whenever I can. I have to admit, the main reason I wanted to drive all the way down to Miami was to visit Coral Castle. It looked like such a fascinating place, it was on the must-do list for ages! We had a great time, but far out, it was a stinking hot day, and barely a smidge of shade to be had. But we persevered and explored every nook and cranny of Coral Castle.

Coral Castle was built in the 1920's - single-handedly by Latvian immigrant Ed Leedskalnin using huge coral (actually oolite, a kind of limestone) blocks carved out of the ground where it was built. Ed would not let anyone assist him with the building process, nor would he let anyone observe his practices. He was a small man, he stood at around 5ft and weighed under 120lb, which makes his physical achievements even more staggering. He claimed to know the secrets of the pyramids and managed to build this structure alone, with blocks weighing up to 27 tonnes. Local teenagers claimed to see him levitating the blocks like hydrogen balloons, but nobody is really sure how he managed to build it.

I'm pretty sure this isn't life-sized, I'm not quite 8ft tall!
Poor Ed had been jilted by his 'Sweet Sixteen' back in Latvia and built the castle for her, in the hope that she might one day join him and they could raise their children there. He carved furniture from the oolite and had all kinds of astronomical observation points. There was even a 'naughty corner' for his future children, I'm sitting in it in this picture below :) It was almost like a confessional box so he could discipline his (theoretical) children with a stern talking to if they got out of line.

The most famous feature is the huge revolving stone door (to the right of the photo above), which rotates with the slightest push. Or it did, until engineers pulled it apart to see how it worked and couldn't put it back together properly (I'm rolling my eyes right now) It stopped functioning a few years later and they tried to fix it again. It still rotates, but nowhere near as easily as it used to. I thought I should share a photo with people in it too... You must think we only visit ghost towns, but we always take photos of places and try to avoid the people in our shots. I hate having photos of random tourists in my photos, is that weird?

Some of Ed's belongings. He had all kinds of tools and inventions that he built himself
So did Ed use supernatural powers, the secrets of the pyramids, magnetism or perpetual motion to build Coral Castle? To this day nobody knows. After our visit, I think it was sheer determination and a LOT of hard work, but it is still incredible to imagine the motivating force that created such an awesome structure. Honestly, if someone said, 'yeah, he levitated the stone', that would be easier to accept, because the hard physical labour involved in doing this boggles my mind. Poor Ed never had the family he dreamed of, his sweet sixteen did not appear and he died after a short illness in 1951.

Seeing this enormous monolith, accepting the fact that Ed moved this alone, without modern machinery makes me feel bad that I huffed and puffed trying to shift my organ a couple of inches today!
If you want to find out more about Coral Castle, you should watch this "In Search Of" episode hosted by Leonard Nimoy (!) It was the first thing I saw about Coral Castle and I was hooked! Part one is below, you can find parts two and three through the related video links.

I'm not going to lie, we played the "In Search Of" theme song as we drove into the parking lot! Loudly. With us singing along! Baaa-baa ba daaaa!!

Photo A Day #196 Florida Part 1

Hi! It's time for another road trip update. I might explain these posts again since I have a few lovely new followers and these have been far and few between lately. You can click on the "travel" tag to get all of the posts from our great road trip if you want to read back over a few. (There's an Aussie Great Ocean Road trip and a few other bits filed under 'travel' too)

Last year, C and I embarked on an East Coast adventure, first taking in Montana and then Niagara Falls. We then hired a car and traveled through NY up to Maine and all the way down to Miami, then across to New Orleans. We also visited Tucson, Arizona, so I could finally see where C grew up. It was an amazing trip and I hope you enjoy my travel photos and anecdotes, we met some lovely (and interesting) people and I can't wait for Round 2! (maybe next year?)

We needed to go to Florida for a few reasons.
1. To visit Coral Castle in Miami.
2. Disney World
3. Harry Crews

I'll get to those later. For now, I'm just going to share something I thought was a lie on tourist t-shirts and postcards, the sunsets! We get pretty amazing sunsets in Australia, but in Florida, just wow. They were pretty spectacular. I suppose it's the ONE good thing about Florida being so flat, there's a lot more sky to admire :) We witnessed every beautiful colour from flaming reds and oranges, to undersea turquoise and even peach. It was really lovely driving and gawking at the beauty of nature.

That's me and my hire car. As you can see, I just got out with my GPS in hand. I was SO excited to see this little fellow, her name is Mimi. By this point in the journey, I was having major cat withdrawals and was getting cuddly with any old stray... Mimi was so tiny, I thought she was a kitten, but no, my cats are just enormous. She wasn't a stray either, she lived next door to our B+B. I don't think she minded the extra attention, and I got some cat cuddle quota filled :)

The next Florida post will be at Coral Castle, you're going to love it, I promise!


Photo A Day #192 Savannah, GA

My goodness, I've wanted to go to Savannah forever (since reading Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil at school, anyway) and it didn't disappoint. Well, to be honest, at first it did. The GPS was pretty confused and we drove right through town and popped out the other end with no sign of the beautiful squares or architecture I'd read about. We landed in a bad part on the outskirts of town and had to stop to reset our directions, which was a pretty tense moment.

The sign on this building says:

We finally made it to our old hotel, where we had been lucky enough to book the last room. While C was exploring the hotel, I did my usual nosy internet research about our lodging and the town. Turns out our hotel was used as a Civil War hospital and was haunted. Like every other hotel in Savannah! I read further and apparently all of the paranormal activity was restricted to our floor. Awesome. Reading on... our room # was the 'most haunted' room in the hotel and people suggested not to stay in that room. Ever. The fact that it was the last room to be booked in the hotel only made me feel more paranoid about it! I'm not a huge believer in ghosts and supernatural activity. I like to believe that there is a rational explanation for everything. I would LOVE for ghosts to be real though, what an interesting world we would be living in. I heard the sounds described online like marbles dropping on our roof and other various scratching noises. It was daytime and I assume it was birds/critters on the roof.

We decided to try some 'local' cuisine as we always do, and were recommended by the concierge to dine at Paula Deen's all-you-can-eat buffet. I'm not sure my weak Australian constitution was quite ready for Paula's Southern Cooking style! One plate each of all-you-can-eat is apparently shameful (the waitress gave us 'that' look) and I was left with a decidedly wicked indigestion! (I did eat both desserts, peach cobbler and banana pie - C's not big on dessert, more for me!) We wandered about town and found all of the lovely squares, what a breathtaking city! Just beautiful, I adore the old houses and streets oozing with history :)

We were heading to New Orleans shortly, but thought it might be more fun (and hopefully less cheesy) to do a ghost tour of Savannah. We found one that was not thrill-a-minute people (extras) jumping out from behind gravestones, but more focused on the real history and stories behind the city. (If you go to Savannah, I highly recommend the Uncensored Zombies Tour with Tobias - it has to be Tobias as the guide! It sounds cheesy but was actually interesting and informative, and not really about Zombies) Tour booked, I headed down to the hotel bar to soak up some of the atmosphere of our historic building. The bartender was from Kentucky and he was an absolute riot! He was bantering with the customers and other bar staff in such a dry, hilarious fashion, it was highly entertaining! I'd never tried a Mint Julep before, but it was essential to have one made by a Kentuckian. I was not disappointed, and I needed some Dutch Courage for our tour ;)

Tobias himself gave me the impression of a slightly weird southern preacher. I'm not sure why, but he was very clean cut but seemed a little.... strange. I'm sure this is an intentional twist on his character, and it made me kind of uneasy from the start. He took us around various sites in Savannah and explained the history and the supernatural events that had been recorded at each place. The real history is sometimes scary enough, without the ghosts! The photo of the cemetery above was in an 'orb' (read: ghosties read: reflections on your lens) hot spot. Unfortunately, no orbs on our shots. Ho hum. The shot below is of an old hospital with Civil War history as well as being home to a women's mental facility. We visited "The Amityville" horror house of Savannah, which was fascinating (and chilling). I won't spoil all of the stories, but Tobias showed us newspaper articles to back up his stories, some of which were fascinating. My favourite story was at the Mercer House, which is featured in Midnight In The Garden of Good and Evil (I highly recommend this book, and if you're not a reader (!!) the movie is also great, with Kevin Spacey playing the home owner Jim Williams, and John Cusack as the author, John Berendt) Tobias shared some background stories about the house and Jim's occult leanings, plus some scary stories not covered in the book or movie, which were fascinating.

As we completed the tour (we lost a few scaredy cats along the way), Tobias offered a drink in one of the nearby bars, but we politely declined, it was almost 2am and we had to be in Miami the next day. I settled into bed but didn't sleep at all, I'm still trying to decide if the agonizing pains in my abdomen/chest that night were from the ghost stories Tobias told us about hags possessing young girls, the Civil War ghosts 'in' our room or the Southern buffet. You decide.

Happy Halloween, a little early, but it gives you time to book tickets for the midnight zombie tour with Tobias if you're anywhere near Savannah!


Photo A Day #188 Charleston, SC

It's been such a busy time around here lately, you'd almost think my road trip was over with! As in, the one we took in the USA (not the Great Ocean Road drive I've been posting about too - how confusing). Anyway, it's not over yet, it's just heating up! I loved Charleston, the architecture, the Spanish Moss (I LOVE the Spanish Moss!), this city is vibrant and creative, I can tell! Can I talk more about the Spanish Moss? It's just so... magical...

We walked around town, which I think is always the best way to see a place. But we were also officially in 'the South' and this is the first place I really noticed that heat the South is famous for. I'm pretty much melted in the picture below, taken by a canon in The Battery.

I love the homes in this city, just oozing with character and draped in beautiful trees and flowers. this one even has a row of beautiful Sunflowers by the pavement. A-DOR-A-BLE.

I can't go past a good Art Deco themed building either, they are my weakness! Well, actually, perhaps after our hot sticky walk, the frozen yoghurt shop was my weakness. C snapped these pictures of me, while I was building my yoghurt empire-in-a-cup. I had no idea he was taking the photos and was caught in an unguarded moment grinning at the condiments. It's pretty embarrassing, but hilarious that I was so happy about the yoghurt, so I thought I'd share it with you :) You can tell I have no idea what the American 'crunchy' things are, but I'm pretty pleased by the fudge sauce.

The Great American Road-Trip, to be continued...


Photo A Day #180 Marshall NC Part 2

Well, we are slowly meandering our way through the South! If you missed part one of Marshall NC, you can catch up here. As a matter of fact, if you want to follow our entire road trip, you can click on the 'travel' tag over on the right and work your way through from Montana, where we began :) Today I'm really excited to share this post written by my fiance, C. He's a fun storyteller and a great writer, I hope you enjoy his words!

I woke by opening my eyes. I'd been lying awake for sometime listening to the house heave and creak as the other occupants and various animals began to stir. I dressed and went downstairs. Tony, Ruth's fella, had just pulled in in the pickup and the dogs did two victory laps of the house to celebrate their walk, coming home and how great it is just being alive and being a dog.

Tony works in construction but work was pretty scarce of late. Scarce for everyone. We talked about how shit-awful difficult it is digging post holes when there is lime in the soil. It's like digging in concrete and either has to be soaked in water, dynamited, or set upon by a dumb kid with a wedge-pointed bar, a post-hole digger, a deficit of time on his hands and typical adolescent rage - which was 

the experience I drew upon to hold up my end of the conversation.

Kitty joined us and Ruth brought out some "Everything Bagels" that were "bagels with a bit of everything in 'em." She's a sweet lady, served our breakfast on gilt-edged plates painted with local birds, and the family silver-ware.

When I was finished I administered some affection to the noggin of one of the cats swaggering around on the porch. Crouched down as I was I looked up to see Ruth smiling. She said "That's Dot. He has feline aids." I didn't hold it against the poor guy, but I sure wished he would have let me know before I ate an Everything Bagel he'd seasoned with his Dot hairs.

Inside Ruth showed us her African violets and "precious things". Said: "You should photograph these" with a shy hesitation that seemed to say "these mean a great deal to me. I hope you like them too." I don't know much about knick-knacks, that's Kitty's forte, but I told her how fantastic they were and dutifully photographed them with much enthusiasm.

After photographing a portrait of Ruth drawn by Liberace, I heard the screen door snap and a heavy syncopated thumping move towards us on the boards; muted briefly by the balding Persian rugs. It was one of the boarders. A smiling block of a woman in an over-sized football shirt, blue running shorts and flip flops. She began to speak mid-sentence like she was tuning in and turning up the volume of a conversation that was already going on in her head.

"...trip out to the woods. Laid out under the stars; rocky out-cropping and marigolds growing there. The plish of water. Some people came. Watched 'em dive off the rocks. We had a good spot. Gotta get there before the herd - know-whadamean? - the herd. Mm-hmm. Yapping dogs and SUVs." She'd squeeze her eyes shut, nod and stamp a foot after each short sentence. And I was immediately endeared to her. I could not shake the image of Sweetums from the Muppet Show as she spoke; and the realization that with all the animals and characters, honky-tonk piano in the foyer and creaking boards we'd landed on our very own real life version of a Jim Henson show.

Thanks C for writing down our wonderful adventure in Marshall! I hope you enjoyed it, Kitty & Buckers!