TRAVEL REPORT USA 2004

On this trip, we are travelling from New York to Miami Beach in fifteen days. It was our second visit to the US, and again we would like to take you there, together with all the memories that remained of this holiday. Initially, it was our intention to do a trip throughout Canada, from coast to coast. But when we wanted to confirm this trip, the travel agency told us that it was completely sold out. That’s the result of the bad economy and the fact, that people are having a hard time because of it. The expensive and exclusive trips through Canada are sold out first…. A thought, that I can’t get out of my head. Anyway, within a few days we had to come up with a good alternative for this rather disappointing news. We had already done a trip through the US from coast to coast a couple of years ago and have seen so many beautiful places, that a different trip through the US seemed like a good option. Then we found this trip, that went from New York to Miami Beach. It brought us through several musical cities, such as Memphis (blues), Nashville (country, Elvis) to New Orleans (jazz, dixie), and then down to Florida. Since we are both great music fans, it looked like the perfect trip to us. I don’t want to reveal any of our experiences already in the beginning of this report, but I must admit that our first US trip has been a lot more impressive than this one. Maybe because we already had explored the beautiness of this immense big country the first time around. So we were quite used to the giant sized burgers and gallons of coca cola. However, the East side of this country doesn’t have the same beauty, that we experienced at the West side. I am talking about the beautiful nature of the USA. Still, there was a lot to enjoy and to explore. And this already started at day one, when we travelled from Leerdam to Amsterdam, and then on to New York City.
Please join us on this next adventure, when we describe what we saw, who we met, and like always I will also take small sidesteps and give you my thoughts about things, that came to discussion during this trip and are typical for this area. It’s good to spend some words on these matters as well and to give you an idea, that our holidays are not only based on discovering new things, travelling and enjoying life, because we keep focussed on other things as well, as you will read later on in this story. Let’s start with day one, when we travel from The Netherlands to the USA. So fasten your seatbelts, because we will soon be leaving Dutch territory!

Day 1: Leerdam-New York

I guess, I must update you on a few things first, before we can actually start this trip. You must know, that I was involved in an awful accident in August 2004, when my hand caught fire during an explosion at work. After a very slow, but successful recovery, I really felt like I just had to get away on holidays to get rid of all the stress, caused by this whole situation. Not only for me, but also for my wife Rita. She had to change my hand bandage every day, while I was walking around like a crippled zombie. And besides this whole mess, we were also working our asses off to finalize our magazine for the printer’s. Captain Hook was typing his articles with two fingers, while Florence Nightingale took care of the layout. When this was done, we could leave it all behind and finally start our well-earned vacation. My hand had recovered pretty well in the meantime and it was good enough to travel. Two days before we took off to the US, I went back to work, made a schedule for the upcoming three weeks, and told them that I would be back soon. Bye, bye, dear colleagues and…. hello America!
In the latest issue of our magazine, we’d been in touch with Ben of TWILIGHT ODYSSEY. We had done an interview with the band and told them, that we would be visiting New York on our summer holidays, for just one day. Ben lives in Brooklyn, New York and he offered to show us around a bit. He knows every interesting record store in this area and that’s just what we needed: a good start of our holiday season. If the beginning is good, the rest will follow without any problems. Rita’s parents would pick us up and bring us to the airport, so we didn’t have to parc our car at Schiphol airport for two weeks.
When our alarm clock went off early in the morning, we knew that we would be walking around in New York City, later that same night. What an amazing thought to start your day! There wasn’t too much traffic on the highway and we reached the airport without any traffic jams. Usually, we’re checking things three or four times, before we are going away on holidays. This time, we only had one thought: getting away as quickly as possible. We were so fed up with the whole situation, that we just packed our bags and took off. If we would need anything, we would simply buy it there. Because we are ‘experienced’ travellers by now, this didn’t happen. After saying goodbye to Rita’s parents and thanking them for dropping us off at the airport, we decided to check in right away. Yes, we were so destined to leave our small country, that we didn’t take the time to think clearly, and we directly queued up. But that’s not the standard procedure anymore at Schiphol. You have to check in first at a computer desk, before queing up to check in your luggage. At the desk, you just type in your destination, scan your passport, a code and the papers come rolling out. We checked in our luggage and went to the security point, where they check your passport. Okay, that’s a peace of cake, now we just have to wait for about two hours before our plane would leave. Plenty of time to relax and walk around a little. We waited and waited and finally, we got the sign, that we could go on board of the plane. After the whole ceremony of settling yourself and following the instructions of the stewardesses and stewards, we were finally ready for take off. This KLM flight had a video screen at the rearside of the seat in front of you. You could listen to music on your headphone set, but you could also play games or watch a video or a movie on the TV screen. That’s a good thing, because you’ll have to spend the next nine hours in a room, where you can hardly move any part of your body. Or you’d better sit down and relax and read the newspapers, that are handed out to you, when you enter the plane. Try to enjoy yourself, because it may take a while before the flight is over and you are ready to set foot on the ground again. After our flight, we collected our suitcases (everything was there!) and went to the passport control desk straight away. Because we would meet the travel guides in New York on the third day of our trip, we were on our own now. But we knew in advance, that we had to take a taxi to New York City and the best way would be to share one (and the cheapest way, as you can share the costs!). When we entered the hall, we noticed some people, wandering around with suitcases, who were probably planning on doing the same trip as we are (they had the same suitcase labels!). And, friendly as we are, we started talking to them and some other people as well, asking if they would be interested in sharing a taxi with us. Two people, that we talked to, became very good friends of us for the rest of the trip. They were called Ben and Ank, and they came from Uden in Noord Brabant. A small but cosy town, which we knew pretty well from the many gigs, we have visited there before at a venue, called “De Nieuwe Pul”. We introduced ourselves and decided to share a taxi buss with one another. We also found out, that they were giant music fans as well. But they were more specialised in country music. No wonder that they made this trip, because we were heading to the mecca of country music in a few days from now. They were also buying lots of CD’s, DVD’s, etc. So we shared the same passion, so to speak. And it was also their second visit to the US. Like some kind of a late honeymoon trip. They were a little bit younger than we are, but we knew right from the start, that they would be very nice people to hang out with every now and then, like we did the first time in America with the Corstjens family. There was a lot of traffic going on, but the driver told us that it would only take us about half an hour to get to the centre of New York City, where we would stay…. down town Manhattan. The taxi driver delivered us at the hotel lobby with our suitcases. We were ready to check in. Because Ben would show us all the good (and more specialized on metal and rock) record stores the next day, we decided to check out the Virgin mega store, which was right down the street, after unpacking our bags. Broadway was only a two-minute walk from our hotel and the Virgin mega store would be the perfect start of our holiday! Because we were very tired, we decided to get into bed after visiting Broadway and get a good night sleep. Ben would take us for a long walk down New York City the next day, so it would become a very full day for us tomorrow. The wheather was just perfect, by the way. What else could we wish for? Well, maybe a dose of good heavy metal music, but that was taken care of by our good friend Ben the very next day.

Day 2: New York City with Ben and PJ of TWILIGHT ODYSSEY

We had an appointment with Ben of TWILIGHT ODYSSEY at ten o’clock sharp, in front of our hotel. From there on, he would take us here, there and everywhere. Before we went to the US, we already did have a good look at the pics from the TWILIGHT ODYSSEY guitar player, because it’s always nice to know the face of a man, who will be showing you around in The Big Apple.
We were awake very early in the morning... I think, this is partly of the so-called jetlag. We decided to visit the Virgin mega store again and get a cup of coffee and a doughnut, before starting our first real day in New York City. For a couple of dollars, you can buy your breakfast, and there is nothing better to wake me up than a good cup of coffee (America size!). After our early coffee break, we decided to go back to the hotel lobby and search for Ben. The hotel had two entrances. One at the front and another one at the backside of the hotel. Rita said, that she would have a look at the backside for a moment, while I should stay in front, just to be sure that we wouldn’t miss our date. When I saw Ben entering the lobby, before I could stop him, I knew that he was the man from the pictures. I went after him and almost at the same time, Rita came to us from the other side already. Ben was a bit later, because of the heavy traffic, but he did have a nice list of places to check out and we knew that this would become a really nice day with lots of rock and metal and more music. Ben became our friend from the very first moment on. He also was the best guide, that you could wish for. He took the time to show us around and he sure had some great ideas to make this day as comfortable as possible for us. We used a cab and the subway to reach our destinations and we also walked for miles and miles. Which I liked the most, because then you get a good view of everyhting. Sometimes the distances were too long and then you would need a cab to get there quicker. The first record store we went to was already a very good one. It had a good metal section and a basement with vinyl, t-shirts, DVD’s and some second hand stuff. We were not really looking for anything at all in particular, but a record store is a good place to hang out and a nice place to get to know Ben a little better. That may sound odd in a way, but Ben was in his natural habit here and talked about many bands, that he liked and some other topics as well. And we soon found out, that he and PJ (who joined us later that day) were not just regular bandmembers of a cool heavy metal band. Instead, they were huge music fans, just like us. They listened to almost everything, as long as the music has got melody and loud guitars! And their knowledge of heavy rock music didn’t stop with names like IRON MAIDEN and JUDAS PRIEST. Even when we talked about the most obscure bands, Ben and PJ knew them well. And they both seemed to know an awful lot about the US metal and NWOBHM scene as well. No wonder, that we had a great time hanging out with them. Ben bought a DVD of JUDAS PRIEST for PJ, from the “Screaming For Vengeance” tour, because he knew that she would like it very much. That’s the way, these people get along with each other and I like that attitude very much. The second record shop, we visited was called ‘Bleecker Bob’. We went there, after we met some people at Ben’s work, when he had to pick up his guitar and some stuff. Nice and very friendly people, who made us feel welcome from the very first moment on. They gave us so many suggestions for a nice day out, that we could easily enjoy ourselves for a whole week. On our way to Ben’s work, we passed a music store, where Ben wanted to buy some stuff for his guitar. It was a nice place to look around, because they had an awful lot of promo pix hanging on the wall of the shop. And some of them were very old and extremely rare. Old promo pics of bands like KANSAS, STYX, RIOT and JOAN JETT and tonz more. I would have loved to spend more time there checking out all these pictures, but hey, you can’t have it all and we still had a full schedule ahead of us. ‘Bleecker Bob’ is a very nice store, specialized in the older stuff as well. And they even sold some items, that you won’t find anywhere else that easily, if you know what I mean. We also noticed two good friends of ours, sitting on top of the giant CD racks. They had these two giant Ren & Stimpy puppets sitting there, who were overlooking the whole situation. Happy, happy, happy, joy, joy, joy! The first thing, we bought however was at a HMV store, or was it another Virgin mega store?? I forgot, but anyway, it was in one of these shops, that Rita found herself a copy of the “Edgeplay” soundtrack by THE RUNAWAYS and SUZI QUATRO. Another very satisfied customer, so to speak, because in Holland you would only find it a few months later, if you were lucky. Then it was time to meet PJ. Therefore, we had to visit a gallery, that showed an exhibition of pictures of heavy metal fans in the USA during the eighties. These pix were taken from a newly released book, called “Too Fast For Love: Heavy Metal Portraits” by David Yellen and some of the pix were shown at this exhibition. Ben took us there, and we would meet PJ there as well. And guess what, it felt like magic! The minute we walked in, PJ also arrived at the gallery. All dressed up in one of her most heavy outfits. A sleeveless jacket, covered with lots of IRON MAIDEN buttons and a JUDAS PRIEST “Painkiller” t-shirt. It was like we’ve been friends already for a very long time. This lady breathes metal and isn’t narrow-minded at all. She knows a lot about our favorite music style, and she was super friendly. She liked the exhibition a lot and even bought a copy of the book. Some of the pictures in there were really too hilarious for words. And if you look at them from a ‘normal’ people’s point of view, then I can imagine that some of these people pictured in this book would have risen an eyebrow or two, when entering a concert hall.
Anyway, it was time for a bit of relaxing and we went to an Irish pub-like accomodation, where Ben seemed to be a regularly guest. We had a drink and something to eat there and we had a chat about the Raise Your Fist Festival and the possibility of the band playing there in the near future. We also gave them some copies of magazines like Headache, Rock Hard, Metal Maidens, etc. for all the things they had done for us that day. It’s a real shame, this didn’t work out in the end and TWILIGHT ODYSSEY would not be able to play at the festival. But the contacts with Martjo of Headache magazine (which is now called Fury mag) were made and who knows what will happen in the future, now the debut album by TWILIGHT ODYSSEY is a fact? We’ll keep our fingers crossed for them. We also met Dimitri there, a Russian guy, who also played in a metal band. Nice guy! Our ‘deligation’ was slowly growing and we decided to check out another CD shop. It was there, that we found out some terrible news. We didn’t hear about it yet, because we had been in the plane the day before. But we heard so much music of THE RAMONES that day, which couldn’t be a coincidence. Then PJ told us, that Johnny Ramone had died, the day before. I was in shock for a couple of seconds. One of my true heroes died. And I didn’t know about it. Well, life goes on of course, but this was really bad news. Anyway, we found our second item there: a double live CD plus enhanced DVD of FLEETWOOD MAC, called “Live In Boston”. I paid 18 US Dollars for it. When we arrived back in Holland, we saw the same package for 35 Euros, which is about 40 US Dollars. Need I say more? We were only a few blocks away now from the rehearsal room of TWILIGHT ODYSSEY, where we would have a ‘private session’ for a couple of hours. There we met the rest of the band and some more friends and relatives of the band. The music was great. Ben showed us some of his skills, and PJ let the beast in her voice loose, which sounded like magic. I really love this band, who are not only playing great music, but they are also so much fun to hang out with. We have closed PJ and Ben in our hearts forever and I think, that nothing can come between our friendship anymore. Heavy metal creates a very strong bond and I think, you will need ten elephants to destroy that. At the end of their set, we got another surprise. A TWILIGHT ODYSSEY t-shirt, that we wear with pride from now now. Thanks again so much for that, you beautiful people! Outside the rehearsal room, we did a short photo session, because we wanted to have a long lasting memory about this day. Then the whole group seperated, but not without having a late night dinner at Tic Toc with the rest of the band. And this late night dinner was also a treat from the band members to us. This was just too much and we can’t thank you enough! Then the hardest part of the day came. We had to say goodbye to Ben and PJ. It felt like saying goodbye to friends, that you’ve known for a very long time. We exchanged email addressess and we made sure, that we would write each other as soon as we would return home after our trip. A trip, that was ready to begin. It was almost midnight and we only had to walk for a couple of blocks to reach our hotel again. What a marvellous start! If the rest of our trip would be half as good as this, we would be very happy. This day would be something really special to remember and that’s why we spend so much space in our travel report to the special time we had with Ben and PJ. Thanks again for this great day, my friends and we hope, that we can meet with you again soon! If we can’t do it in New York, maybe we can do it in Amsterdam, when you come over to Holland. We’re already looking forward to it very much! You can imagine that we had a good night sleep, maybe a bit too short, but we don’t care. This was something, that they couldn’t take away from us anymore....

Day 3: New York City-Philadelphia-Washington DC

When we checked out at the hotel, we got in contact with our guide for the next two days. He would bring us to Washington DC, there we would mix up with another group for one day and then we would finally have our own group and spend the rest of the trip with them. A very strange way of changing people and groups all the time, but who cares? As long as the sun shines brightly and we have a lot of nice things to see and to do, we don’t see a problem. Ben and Ank also had a great day in NYC. They also took a long walk through the city and did some shopping. Now we were off to Washington DC, but first we had a stop in Philadelphia. The weather wasn’t that great and we realized that we’ve been very lucky to have a nice dry day yesterday. It was the hurricane season and this was a piece of a giant storm, that overwhelmed the East side of the country with its immense strength. But more about that later, when we come to the Florida part of our report. We’ve been in Philly before. Actually, it was my third time there. But we saw a different part of the town as well. Although you have been there before, it doesn’t mean that you know the entire city of course. We first went to the visitor centre, where we would all meet up after the city tour. A tour, that brought us to a very important sight in American history. A place, were you can find the ‘Liberty Bell’. We’ve written about this ‘monument’ already in our 2001 report of the USA. Apparently, they’ve moved the giant bell to another location. A location, you can only enter, when you queue up for a long time, get a comprehensive security check up (!!) and and then take a short peak at this giant bell. A much safer place, as they’d call it. We didn’t do this of course, because we’ve seen the bell before. Together with the whole group, we went to the printing office, where Benjamin Franklin used to print his important documents. A friendly lady showed us an example of a print and how it was made back in those days. Very interesting indeed. During this visit, we also got familiar with some of the other members of our group, like Panc and his wife. Panc had some very strange thoughts and he was constantly asking for attention, while his wife assured us that this was not his normal behaviour, when he was at home. He used to bother people with strange questions in very bad English. For me, all the more reason to stay away from this man as far as possible. In the printing office area, there were also some ladies, dressed up in old fashioned clothes, who told the story of Benjamin Franklin like some kind of play. While our guide told his own story in the pouring rain. After this visit, we all had our lunch break in The Bourse. A mall, where you could eat food from many different countries. And of course there were some nice shops as well. Afterwards, we were free and on our own for a couple of hours. So we had a look at the shops and when the rain didn’t come down too heavily anymore, it was time to walk around a bit. It’s a shame, that I’d miscounted myself for a full hour. We could have easily checked out the local Hard Rock Café, if we wanted to. Instead, we went the opposite direction. Anyway, we’ve been to the Hard Rock Café several times before, but it’s a perfect place to eat and a good place to hang out. Maybe next time. What we did see was the house of Betty Ross. Now this could be a nice joke, if Betty was just someone whose name you saw on the thousands of doors in Philadelphia. Not too many people would know who this lady is and might come up with the most beautiful stories, if you’d say that she was a world famous person. Well, she is a world famous person, but especially for American people, I guess. She was the seamstress of the American flag. Which makes her quite an important person in the rich history of this country. A slow walk back to the bus and off we go for a long drive towards Washington DC, where we would spend the next two days. Our hotel is situated very close to the Washington Zoo, at a place where you can find many shops and restaurants.

Day 4: Washington DC

This day we should stay in Washington and we would get to see a lot of important things in American history. But first there was a strange situation with the busses again. We weren’t sure, which bus would travel to the centre of Washington and which guide would take us there (apparently, they were all going). We just waited for everyone to step in and we would go with the bus, that was not full yet. Main thing is, that we get to see everything and I don’t really care with whom I do that , as long as Rita is next to me. First up, we went to Arlington Cemetary. We have been there in 2001 already and people, who want to have some more information about this giant cemetary, can check our USA travel report of 2001 on this website. I don’t know, if I mentioned how many people have been burried at Arlington, but we heard that there are approx. 290,000 people laid to rest at Arlington. The many lanes are beautifully arranged and in one of the big halls, there was an exhibition about the history of America and some of the huge wars, this country has been involved in. You could also ask for information about the graves there. This was a good help for some of the veterans, that we saw walking around and who were about to pay a visit to the graves of those, who died in the many wars (Vietnam, Iraq, etc.). Of course we paid a visit to the grave of John F. Kennedy, who is one of the most well-known people, to find a final resting place at Arlington’s. After that, we went to the White House, where a guide would show us around a bit. And I believe, that it was the same guide, that we had in 2001. He told us some ins and outs about the White House. One particular thing that he mentioned was very interesting. Well at least, I think it was. He told us that behind the ballustrades on the front side of the White House, on the first floor, there are rockets ready to fight the enemies in case of an emergency. I didn’t doubt his words for a second. And he also told us, that there’s a complex of escape routes running from the White House to different places. I enjoyed this part of the inside information a lot. Plus the fact, that there are always a lot of people asking for someone’s attention. Mainly because someone from their family had died during the war or because of this bloody war against Iraq in general. But hey, let’s not make this a political statement. It’s a shame, that so many innocent people have died during the many wars everywhere. After a while, our guide decided that his time was over and done and we would drive up to The Mall, where we would get some time off to visit some museums, that you can find there. That was probably the biggest deception or at least one of the biggest disappointments of this whole trip. First of all, we didn’t have the time to get a proper meal, so we decided to buy a hot dog and a bag of crisps, and something to drink with it. We already knew, that we would like to visit the Holocaust museum, which was only two streets away from The Mall. Because there were no drinks allowed inside the museum, we decided to eat first, before standing in line to get in. We already knew, that in the museum there was a good exhibition about World War II, including some of the ovens, that were used to destroy the Jews in Auschwitz. The safety precautions, that you have to face, before you could even come near the museum, were so strict and out of proportion, that we thought this whole museum was more like a concentration camp already than the exhibition could ever show. A museum with so many rules is not worth visiting. And besides that, we already have been and seen the real remains in Auschwitz itself. And this museum only shows rebuild models of these real things, that we saw. All the more reason to leave the queue and to start looking for something else to kill our time. The museums in general are so huge, that you can easily spend a whole day there, so we decided to pay a short visit to The Museum Of American History, where they showed an exhibition about THE BEATLES. After this short visit, we wanted to go to the Smithsonian National Zoological Park to see the pandas. And so, after an hour or something, we went to the subway and back to our hotel. From there on, we would walk to the Park. The place is very large, but because we had a good map, we could easily find the pandas. And we were lucky to be right on time to see the feeding of these beautiful animals. However, the two pandas were only interested in their food and didn’t care for any spectators. They received their bite in a big cardboard McDonalds box, which seemed to be a feast meal for the twosome. Because the weather was just perfect, we took the opportunity to walk down the Park a little more and enjoy the sunshine. We knew, that opposite the Park was a good restaurant, called Samuel Eddy’s Zoo Café, so we decided to enjoy our diner there as well. In the meantime, people were preparing to set up a stage, because in the evening there would be a female singer performing a live show at this club. On our way back to the hotel, we discovered that opposite our hotel was a street, full of nice restaurants (French, Chinese, etc.), but we already had a good meal, right? All we needed was a good night sleep, before we could continue our journey. From there on, our group would remain the same for the rest of our journey. This was the second time, that we visited Washington, a multi-cultural city, which is so much different from that other multi-cultural city, that we had just visited, New York City. To be honest with you, I liked the relaxed atmosphere in New York City so much more than the more severe atmosphere in Washington....

Day 5: Washington – Williamsburg – Roanoke

On our trip to Williamsburg we found out, that our travel group would contain people from Holland, mixed with German (formerly Eastern Germans) and Australian people. That this would eventually lead to serious trouble, we could not have foreseen at that point. But we will give you some examples later on in this report. Williamsburg is a small place, which could be compared to a big outdoor museum of life in the ancient times. In a couple of streets, you can wander through an atmosphere of the 18th Century. Old shops, churches, school, town hall, etc., including some people, who are dressed up the way, it was done back in those ancient times. You can drive around with horse and car, buy herbs from an old lady and Rita was put in an old scaffold for some nice pictures. She could open the scaffold herself, so I was not able to throw away the key and run away. Not that I intended to do so, but it would have been the ultimate chance. When you leave Williamsburg, you slowly return to 2004 again. We had to drive our buss to the ferry, that would take us to the other side of the river, where we would continue our trip to Roanoke. And after a relatively small trip, we arrived in Roanoke, where we first visited a Wall Mart store. I bought a new jeans jacket, because the old one was ready for the bin. In Roanoke, we would also spend the night. I thought, that things went pretty smoothly up until now. This would change very soon though....

Day 6: Roanoke – Asheville

It was still quite early in the morning of day 6, when the fire alarm went off in our hotel. A big panic broke out, especially wuth me. Mainly because Rita was already up very early this morning and decided to check our email at the hotel lobby. So I was all alone. Because we always get a good training at our work on how to handle things, when the fire alarm gets off, I quickly packed all our stuff, closed the door of our room and went outside as quickly as possible. I assumed, that I would meet Rita somewhere outside. The fire guards were already there. But everything happened…..no Rita. Panic all over! The bus started loading our suitcases…..but still no Rita. I decided to have a look inside the hotel again to see, if she was there somewhere. Then I spotted her in the internet room behind a computer. “I was surfing on the internet and we have received an email from Jac Hustinckx”, was the only thing she said to me, when I found her…..still in panic. “Didn’t you hear the fire alarm at all??”, I shouted. “Yes, I did, but the people at the hotel said that it was OK, so I didn’t see any reason to leave”…. Is it strange, that I got mad at her?? I was really pissed off! How could she be so stupid and pretend that there was nothing going on? Great safety drill! The reason for the alarm was, that someone left some bread too long in the toaster and the smoke, that was coming out, hit the smoke detectors in one of the restaurants at the top floor. At least the smoke detectors worked properly, but the instructions of the hotel staff was quite poor. They should have evacuated the whole building, until the fire brigade would tell them, that it’s safe to be inside the hotel again.
What a poor beginning of day six, while today we would travel to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Virigina, which remembers me at once of the funny song by Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. I must admit, that it’s quite difficult to describe my feelings, when I am walking in a National Park in the woods or through the mountains. Mainly because this feeling is simply beyond all descriptions. The Blue Ridge Mountains are very beautiful too, and our tour would bring us to Asheville in the end. I remember that we stopped at a small place, where you could see some colorful rural life experiences. Some people where even dressed up in clothes from a long time gone. One of the most pictured scenes happened to be the Historic Mabry Mill, which we didn’t do. It was really nice to enjoy the beautiful landscape. This part of the country is also well-known for its tobacco industry. During our stop at Mabry Hill, we caught a glimpse of how people lived in ancient times. A very nice peak back in time in a very relaxed surrounding. A few hours later, we arrived in the State of North Carolina and left the State of Virginia. We stopped at one of the many visitors centres, that we saw during our trip through this wonderful landscape. Our destination is the Museum Of North Carolina Minerals. A small, but very nice museum, which tells you all about the minerals which can be found in this area. However, our interest really goes out to some local Harley Davidson bikers, who happen to be passing through. Hanging out with locals can be fun and it’s always great to meet interesting people!!! The museum tells us, that the bottom of North Carolina is richly filled with minerals and some examples are shown here. After an hour or so, we have to get back in the bus again. Our Blue Ridge Mountains tour is (almost) over. We would continue our tour a little longer through the mountians and then take the highway to Asheville. Asheville is a beautiful place. Many people are into zen and new age. Not that they constantly walk around in colourful wide robes and wear flowers in their hair and sell herbs on the streets. But these people are a bit more intelligible to the lifestyle, called zen and new age. The town has got a lot of small boutiques, that sell essences, tarot cards and fine herbs. We parked our bus in the middle of the centre, near a big fountain. There we would get out and spend some quality time in the town centre. Of course our major goal was to find some good record stores. And very soon, we did find a little store, specialized in country music. After another good search we found a record store with a very good selection, including some nice DVD stuff. And in that very shop, we bumped into our friends from Uden, who had just bought some CDs there. An hour is much too short, when you walk around in a nice record store, so we arrived at the bus stop just on time, before it took off.
A good night sleep and we would prepare ourselves to go to Nashville, Tenessee, where our friends from Uden would have the time of their life. At the hotel lobby, we got in touch with the road manager of KIDD ROCK, who was planning on doing a tour with PUDDLE OF MUD at that time. It was nice hanging out with him for a few minutes, before we would have dinner. He noticed directly, that we were rock/metal fans and somehow you get connected with eachother a bit easier that way. Not that we are huge KIDD ROCK fans, but hey, it’s a small world and when most of your travel companions are the age of 50+, you’re glad to meet someone, who ‘lives in your world and speaks your language’ so to speak. Tomorrow, we would step into a whole new world though. The world of country and western, the world of line dancing and the world of large hats and horse back riding. Well, at least that’s our vision.

Day 7: Asheville – Great Smoky Mountains – Nashville

When leaving Asheville, we slowly start our musical trip, that will bring us to Nashville, Memphis and New Orleans. But first we’re gonna visit the Cherokee Indians in Qualla Boundary. Don’t think of Indians the way most people do. You will hardly recognise cowboys and Indians nowadays. They don’t wear feathers anymore, and they also surf the internet. However, it’s always nice to say that you’ve visited the Cherokee Indians during your holidays. The Indians behaved a bit shy, but they were very friendly. It’s almost scary to see, that the original habitants of America are still glad to live there, while other Americans have stolen their land and they have to live in giant resorts. Instead of being the head citizens of their country. There are still quite a lot of Indians around and many have found a new future into gambling, poker palaces and casinos. Which is a totally different environment, but they earn a lot of money in this business. They even bought up the whole chain of Hard Rock Cafés in the US. As you can see, they’re not an uncivilised group of people anymore, still hunting wild deer with bow and arrow all the time. Today, they are one with the big businesses in their country and I think that’s a good development. Anyway, for us it was time to buy some postcards and stamps and have a look around in the souvenir shops, maintained by the Cherokees. When you enter the resort, you are greeted by a giant wooden statue of an Indian. From that moment on, you’ll know that you have to keep your bow and arrow with you at all times, in case a wild tribe of Indians will attack you. Just joking! It was really nice to see, that the Indians still know how to survive. Their resort is situated right next to the Great Smokey Mountains. It’s a shame, that we couldn’t walk in the woods for some time, but we did get plenty of time to take some pictures of this nice piece of space, that mother nature created for us. The views were excellent and a good way to load our batteries for our trip to Knoxville, where we will have our lunch.
The city of Knoxville probably won’t ring a bell to many people. Same applies to me, but there’s one thing, that I remember Knoxville from. And that’s the fact, that Randy Rhoads played his very last show in Knoxville, Tennessee (before the fatal plane crash in 1982). It’s just a minor detail, that other people tend to forget real easy, but to me this is something I will never forget in my whole life! Within a few moments, we will cross the border of Tennessee. Not too far away from here, there is a place, called Oak Ridge. This may not ring a bell to everyone either. But when I tell you, that the world’s first nuclear power station was build here, I think that will refresh your memory. Remember Tsjernobyl? Anyway, that’s just some information we hear, while driving through the beautiful nature in this area. Time to hit the road to Nashville. Of course Nashville is the hometown of country music, but it’s also a very big city here in Tennessee. When we enter the centre of Nashville, we’re welcomed by a giant red guitar, that gas got the Hard Rock Café logo on it. Chauffeur, here it is, let us out, please! But first we do a nice city tour by bus through Nashville, which is fine with us. We approach the well-known White Horse Saloon…. Wow, that is cool! Now our Uden friends want to jump out of the bus, but we hold them very tight, so they can not escape. After the city tour, we stop at a parking lot, only a few blocks away from the Hard Rock Café. On the roof top of this club there’s another giant guitar. And inside the club, you can see one of the suits, that Nikki Sixx has been wearing on stage. And there is also a bass guitar of this MÖTLEY CRUE hero. There’s also a traffic sign, used for the original cover of the COVERDALE/PAGE album. After a short drink, we decide to explore this mighty city a little bit better. Mainly because this is the valhalla for every music fan! Let’s make one thing clear: we’ve been heavy metal fans for many years now, but we have a very wide taste in music, ranging from THE BEATLES to VENOM and all there is inbetween. And if you’re visiting a city like Nashville, you easily switch your interest to the bit more country-oriented music, while walking around. I do remember from the past, that I’ve seen a lot of records by the CHARLIE DANIELS BAND. A man, who’s been really huge in the country and western scene, but also cooperated with people like TED NUGENT for example. There is a little museum about CHARLIE DANIELS, which is pretty interesting. Even if you’re not a big fan of this music, it’s interesting to see what he has accomplished with his music over the years. Also, you’ll get a good view of the many rock stars, that he has been playing with over the years. And I’m especially talking of Southern Rock bands, like DOC HOLIDAY, THE ALLMAN BROTHERS, LYNYRD SKYNYRD, THE OUTLAWS, etc.etc. It’s also nice to walk around in a street, that has so many cowboy outfits/stores. We look at this as an uncommon thing in The Netherlands. You don’t see clothes like that at all here. In Nashville, these outfits are bought and sold like any other clothing. Cowboy boots and hats are a regular view there. And almost all the record stores are specialised in country and western music and gospel music, instead of hip hop, rock or disco. When we entered one of the bigger record stores in town, we noticed that a candle was lit and held a photo of country legend SKEETER DAVIS, who had lost her battle against breast cancer this very day. The moment the news came in, the music changed to SKEETER DAVIS, and her picture was placed in the shop with a candle next to it. What a devotion! So in just a few days, we saw JOHNNY RAMONE and SKEETER DAVIS being taken away from us. A bad year for music fans. But life goes on and we still have a lot to explore. Our tour through the streets of Nashville also brought us to The Grand Ole Opry. In the evening, we decided to visit the world famous White Horse Saloon with Ben and Ank. They were dressed up in their best country outfit and they would show us a real amazing dance show tonight. And not only by the dancers, who are paid for it. No, they both danced the night away, like it was their profession instead of their hobby. It was marvellous to watch and to see people enjoying their music so much. Just the way like we do. The White Horse Saloon is not just an ordinairy café. It’s a big entertainment club with three floors. You can enjoy the dancing show and the live music on the bottom floor or shoot some balls on the second floor. Or just enjoy a beer and have a talk on the third floor. There’s a lot of business going on there and almost every day, they have a different band on stage. There are dancing demonstrations, but you can also join the dancers on the dance floor for some dancing, or take some dancing lessons during the evening. It was already very late, when we had to say goodbye to this amazing experience. A cab would bring us back to our hotel, which we only saw for the night, and for a good breakfast, to start our next trip to Memphis, Tennessee.

Day 8: Nashville – Memphis

From country music to the blues is only a couple of miles away. If Nashville is being considered the city of country music, then Memphis would definitely be the city of the blues (next to Chicago, of course). Before arriving in Memphis though, we still have to travel a very long day. First up, we arrive at the Casey Jones Railway Village. If you’re a fan of trains, you will love the old trains, shown in this old village. There is a big store as well, where you can buy many nice things. They sold some good ice cream too and it was really nice to walk around a little and slowly wake up. And most important was the fact, that you could buy some hot coffee there and go to the ladies room. Some Dutch people in the group were still a bit sleepy from the night before…. ; 0 ) Especially the coffee was a real treat to our poor bodies! The sun was shining brightly and we had a terrific day coming up, including this slow start. But why bother? It’s our holidays and we are heading to another highlight on this trip: the world of ELVIS AARON PRESLEY!! Now that will be something special!! We know, that ELVIS may not be the king of heavy metal. But in the fifties, he was the king of rock and roll, while heavy metal still had to be ‘invented’ back in those days. Rock and roll is the father of heavy metal, so ELVIS is definitely one of the forefathers of the heavy metal to us…
Before you will enter the actual estate of Graceland, you’ll stay at a museum site for a while, which is opposite Graceland. There is a store, where you can buy all kind of memorabilia from the King, ranging from calendars, DVDs, books and CDs to all and everything you can possibly imagine. There’s even a museum with all his cars and motorbikes, that you can visit. You can take a look inside his private planes and there are some restaurants, where you can watch Elvis movies all day. You don’t have a dull moment, when you’re an ELVIS fan. There’s so much going on. And there are so many fans from all over the world, that pay tribute to their hero. People, who dress up like ELVIS, people singing his songs, elder people, who were present at his shows in the US and a lot of tourists, who want to have a glimpse at the glitter and glamour world of the King. On the wall outside the estate of Graceland, there are thousands of messages from fans all over the world. You’ll get an immense feeling of togetherness, when you are near the house. And everybody wants to have their picture taken near the well-armed fence, that is covered with musical notes. For sure, Elvis was a legendary rock star! After a good meal, we queued up for our tour to the house of ELVIS at Graceland. When arriving at the house, you have to queue up again and you’ll get the anouncement, that you are not allowed to take any pictures inside. That made us decide to buy a book of Graceland, including the whole tour inside the house, described in many details and covered with ome great pictures. Was it worth the wait to get inside? Yes, indeed. Graceland is a must, even if you’re not an ELVIS fan. The house is completely decorated in the seventies style with many orange, green and brown colors. You can’t do that in 2004 anymore, but during the seventies, it looked pretty cool. The decoration of the house is definitely not overdone. The only thing you will notice is, that almost everywhere in the house, you can see a TV set. ELVIS was a news/TV addict, and it shows. You can walk through the house as long as you please. Your headset will tell you, what’s to be seen in each room. Well, at least if you know how to handle the damn thing. Rita’s tour only lasted ten (?) minutes. I was still in the second room, when she’d already finished the whole tour. The many golden records, his enormous amount of suits and other interesting memorabilia are to be seen and the tape on your headset tells you the interesting story of this legendary singer. A man, who helped the poor with his money. A man, who loved his parents very much and a man, who died much too early. He just couldn’t handle all the success. Or the stuff that comes with success, like drugs, food and booze. Anyway, the end of the tour was the most impressive part (at least for me it was!). The last room of the house is covered with all his golden records and stage clothes. Very impressive indeed!! On a TV screen, you can watch his later shows and the music of the later ELVIS albums are being played in this last room. After that, you could go outside and take a small walk through the gardens, which would bring you to the swimming pool. On your headset you’ll hear one of the many beautiful gospel songs, that ELVIS recorded. Opposite the swimming pool is the grave of The King, who is burried next to his father and mother. After this comprehensive tour in the house of the King, you’ll probably get tears in your eyes. At least I did. You’re brought back to the other side of the street, where we visited some of the ELVIS planes. His private jets, also decorated in the well-known seventies style, including a massive TV set, mark the end of our trip to Graceland. Very impressive and I have no other words for it!
But we weren’t done yet for today, because we would visit something else related to ELVIS, which impressed me a lot. We would visit the world famous Sun studios in the afternoon. Nobody will probably say, that this is so special, but to a music fan it is indeed something to look forward to. The studios are so much smaller, than I expected it to be in my imagination. It’s situated on a corner and if five people enter the main building on the ground floor, it’s pretty crowded there already. The big yellow sun on the brown stones tells you, that this is indeed the well-known studio, where famous artists like JERRY LEE LEWIS, CARL PERKINS and ELVIS PRESLEY have recorded millions of selling records. You have to pay to see the actual recording studios. We didn’t have time for that, which is a shame. But I’m glad, that I’ve seen the studios with my own eyes now. It’s really amazing how many stars have recorded their records here. And although the name of the studio is world famous, it was an amazing experience to actually be there yourself. Before we are heading to our hotel in Memphis, we first pay a visit to another hotel in Memphis. It’s the world famous Lorraine Motel in Memphis. The hotel, where Martin Luther King was brutally shot. The hotel is still in the same condition, like it was in 1968. Two big American cars are in front of the hotel and the original sign of the motel, that was used back in those days, is also still there. It’s an important part of American history, which gets a different angle, when you look across the street, opposite the hotel. People are asking your attention for civil rights in general and not only the story of Reverend Martin Luther King. An interesting place to visit, which shows the many aspects to the whole matter of civil rights.
Finally, we arrive in the city of Memphis. A very important city, not only for the music fans out there. A lot of research has been done there for cancer. There are many universities and hospitals, specialised in cancer research. Our hotel is situated just a few blocks away from the centre of the city. When we look out of our room, we can see the well-known Memphis Pyramid. A huge basketball building in the shape of a pyramid. We are about to invade Memphis though and we decide to walk downtown with a whole group. We have our evening dinner at a place, called “Thank God It’s Friday”, where I ate some marvellous spare ribs. We also visited the huge Tower Records store, that was right on our way to the lively city centre. There is a lot going on in the biggest streets in Memphis, like Beale Street and Front Street. In Beale Street is all the action, when you’re a music fan. BB King’s, The Hard Rock Café and countless other cafes, where mainly blues bands play live. But all the fun is happening on the streets, where you are able to enjoy the many blues bands even more in the open air… While our German ‘friends’(uh, friends…) are enjoying a large beer, we are enjoying the many shops, that are still open and the good music that you can hear outside. In the early days, this was very well-known as The Cotton Row. The cotton dealers were situated here and they made Memphis to a very rich city. Although we all know, that the slavery also ruled in those days. Every coin has two sides, but a town like Memphis is the place to be for people, who like the blues. After a walk back, it was time to prepare ourselves for two days in the city of jazz and dixieland, New Orleans.

Day 9: Memphis – Jackson – New Orleans

Before we leave Memphis, there are a few things, that I would like to mention here. First of all, there’s the fact that Martin Luther King was born and raised in Memphis. On the other hand I would like to mention, that the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) were founded in Memphis as well. A group of racist people (who hide their faces underneath a white cap), that will certainly raise some eyebrows, but have managed to survive for many years now. And unfortunately, it seems they’re still growing and growing year after year. In that context, I’d like to tell you the story of Rosa Parks. It was back in those days, that white people and coloured people weren’t allowed to mix up in buses. In the back, there was place for the coloured people, while the white people could sit in the front of the bus. Rosa Parks was a coloured lady, who had the guts to sit in front of the bus one day, when she was going to work. Despite being threatened by other passengers and the bus driver, she decided not to move to the back of the bus. At the end of the drive, she was collected from the bus by the local police. Rosa was one of the very first ladies, who stood up for the rights of the coloured people. I have deeply respect for Rosa Parks and what she did for human rights. She died not long thereafter, but what she did back in those days was a very cool and rebellious deed, which changed many things after that. We leave Memphis behind.
I did hardly tell you about life inside the bus. I won’t go into details too much, because this is supposed to be a positive review. What happened was, that there was a shifting going on during the tour. The Germans and the Dutch didn’t mix very well together. The Germans didn’t speak a word English and they even tried to make ‘reservations’ for the nex day, when they had found a nice spot in the bus. The Dutch people didn’t care too much and sometimes they started singing songs, when the Germans wanted to sleep in front of the bus. So our experience of travelling with a group consisting of mixed nationalities didn’t really work out positively. Except for the two Australian people, who are very friendly and social people. Having told you the story of Rosa Parks, it shows that things didn’t change much in 2004. There was no racism going on in the bus, but still people just couldn’t deal with each other. In fact, this is almost the same. Does it never stop, that people can’t act normally towards each other?? I don’t know, but we can at least try….(and adapt oneself) Well, enough said, let’s move on to Jackson. In Jackson we visited a store, called “For Your Entertainment”. It’s there, that I first discovered this nice new ‘system’, where you can hear pieces of a CD, that you want to buy, by scanning the barcode of this particular CD on a machine. You could also watch some DVD parts this way. Reason enough to check things out and buy a live CD of JOHNNY WINTER, that I didn’t have in my collection. We also visited the Jackson information centre, where the friendly staff provided us with coffee and information about this part of the US. And in case you didn’t notice yet, we had just entered the so-called Bible Belt of America... I don’t know, if you are familiar with it, but we do have some kind of Bible Belt in Holland as well. And Staphorst is the capitol city of it, for your information. Even Leerdam is part of the Dutch Bible Belt. Other well-known cities of this Dutch belt are Kampen, Urk and a few smaller cities in Zeeland. Here in the South, you have strong religious communities as well. The ‘good book’, as STRYPER used to call it, rules in these towns and their religion and faith in our good Lord comes in first to these people. Or at least, it’s a very big part of their lives. In Jackson, the town centre for that matter, we go out for a meal at a restaurant, that was especially chosen by our driver. You could eat ‘soul food’ there. There was a buffet, from which you could chose. The only thing you had to tell the waitress is what you wanted to drink with your meal. The rest was provided from some kind of a food bar, where you could take whatever and as much as you liked. There were many fresh vegetables and fruit cocktails and everything looked very tasty. I made my choices and Rita did too. And when we would take our plate to a free table, Rita stumbled over the carpet, that was lying there on the floor. Her drink was spilled on the floor and all faces were pointing at her. In some occasions, you might expect that you will be slaughtered. Not at this place. Two people cleaned up the floor and a third person came to ask, what Rita had to drink. In a minutes a new glass was put on our table, with the apologies this had happened. The food was really delicious and I think that the positive behaviour of the people here was more the food for our souls. When we left the restaurant, two elder people followed us. What was that? Didn’t we pay our bill? Did we forget something? No, they spotted my STONE VENGEANCE t-shirt, with on the rear side a print of Jesus wearing his crown of thorns. Maybe the t-shirt wasn’t suitable for a place like this and they kindly asked me, what the t-shirt meant. When I told them, it was a gift from the band STONE VENGEANCE from San Francisco, they knew that it was an heavy metal band, who had chosen this logo and picture. So they tried to invite me to one of their evening services, which would also have a lot of music. That’s the main reason, why I don’t want to have anything at all to do with religious groups. They always try to convince you, that their religion is right and they are bothering people with their views and ideas. Most of these people are ever so friendly, but they have only one purpose, to make you one with their holy community. So I kindly thanked these people for their offer and off we went to New Orleans, the town well-known for its jazz and dixieland culture.
We arrived in New Orleans in the early evening, so we still had some time left to explore this beautiful city. We stayed at a hotel in the city centre and after only a five minute walk, you were right in the centre. We went to the Hard Rock Café and saw Tower Records and a lot of nice souvenir shops. A very nice start of our two days stay there. Tomorrow we would explore this city a bit closer and we decided to have our dinner at the Hard Rock Café. We know, that the food and environment is really excellent in this food chain. At the moment we arrived at our table, there was also a birthday party going on and people were celebrating and singing. Very nice! Later on that evening, we walked along the Mississipi for a while. Tomorrow we would go to Gator County to do a swamp tour… sounds exciting!

Day 10: New Orleans - Gator County Swamp Tour

Before starting our swamp tour, we walked to our lunch address, called “The Two Sisters”. During this walk, we could see the nice metal balconies from which they throw colars during the parades and the mardi gras. These balconies have been inspired by the Spanish architecture. “The Two Sisters” served us a very good meal, and there was even some live jazz music available, playing in the back. So with a good filled stomach, we were ready to take off to a place, a few miles outside of New Orleans, for our swamp tour. We all had to go onboard of a boat. But before we did this, we could also watch some animals outside, where the boat was, like racoons, rabbits and some snakes. On the boat we made a tour through the swamps just outside New Orleans. Not only we were able to see gators swim right in front of us, but the shipper also showed us some alive animals like a giant turtle and of course a small (ali)gator. We could also hold these animals in our hands and pose with them for a picture, which we did of course. The swamp tour was very exciting and it really gave you the idea, that you were out in the wilderness or on a safari.
The temperature rose enormously and after the tour, we went back to the city for another visit to this beautiful town. We visited Tower records and saw the Armstrong parc, named after the late trumpet player, entertainer Louis Armstrong. And because we didn’t do the evening tour with the steamer on the Mississippi river, we had plenty of time to take a walk down Bourbon Street and surroundings. So we walked with the rest of the Dutch group towards the steamer and from there on, we were free to do whatever we liked. We were lucky enough to be able to see a wedding in New Orleans jazz style, including a street parade. Then we had another drink at the Hard Rock Café, where the machine gun shaped guitar of Kane Roberts of ALICE COOPER is shown, next to a beautiful guitar of SAMMY HAGAR and a piano part of New Orleans’ very own FATS DOMINO. In the evening we ate Jambalaya, a specific dish for this part of the country. On our last evening walk back to the hotel, we decided to end the day with a McFlurry at the local McDonalds. And then the almost impossible thing happened. While we enjoyed a nice McFlurry, Ben and Ank came to the McDonalds to eat some ice cream as well. There you are in a metropolis like New Orleans and you have the same idea, at the same time. Incredible that this could happen. The four of us take the short walk back to the hotel. The journey gets a different way now, because of the hurricane season. [Note: one year after we visited New Orleans, this beautiful city got hit by hurricane Katrina. The whole city centre has been flooded and many people died. It’s morbid to know that one year after our first visit to New York, two plains fly into the Twin Towers. And one year after our visit to the beautiful city of New Orleans, Katrina takes so many lives and changes the centre of this town into one big mess.

Day 11: New Orleans – Mobile – Pensacola becomes New Orleans – Mobile Dothan

We heard in the bus, that the Mississppi boat trip was very nice, but the diner afterwards was a bit of a disappointment. I’m glad, that we made the decision of eating in the centre of New Orleans.
It’s hurricane season and we’re heading to Pensacola. Due to the severe storms, we had to detours to Dothan in the State of Alabama. There was just no other option, because we were unable to reach Pensacola and the hotel over there was facing major problems, because of the bad weather. Anyway, a day we would rather like to forget. Well, in the end it really wasn’t that bad at all. Maybe I can tell you a bit more without giving away too many details. When we arrived at the hotel, we were quite excited about the holidays so far. The weather was hot and one thing led to another. Without noticing it, we forgot to close the curtains while having sex in our room. The weather wasn’t suitable though for people to walk around. When we noticed our small mistake, we felt quite embarassed in a way, but on the other hand it was very exciting, too. It was certainly a good appetizer for the Chinese food, that we collected on the other side of the road, that night. Apparently, other people from the group came up with the same idea, because the whole restaurant was packed with German and Dutch people. It was not a good idea though to order a beer with your food, because ‘they don’t serve liquor on Sunday in the Great State of Alabama’. Time stood still here for about fifty years and the bible still rules. This could have been Leerdam city. Where they do sell liquor on Sunday, by the way. Just one more negative thing maybe. That was about the bathroom, that we had. When Rita wanted to get out of the bathtub, she used the handle that they’d mounted to the wall, on which you could hold yourself, when you want to climb out. The whole handle came off the wall without using too much force. Nice memories and you’ll probably laugh about it later on, but at that moment we added a second embarrassment in this nice hotel in Dothan. The swimming pool was right at our frontdoor. If we would have stayed another night, I would definitely go for a swim for a couple of hours. After the bathroom incident, we went to bed early…….after we’d closed the curtains this time….

Day 12: Dothan – Orlando

Today we will enter the State of Florida. Known for its oranges and the many Walt Disney theme parcs. Another day, in which we wouldn’t do that much but traveling. The weather was getting better and nothing would stop us from having a beautiful trip to Disneyworld tomorrow.
Slowly, the atmosphere in the bus was sinking to below zero. Groups were formed and the German delegation was slowly separating from the Dutch. People were trying to hold their seats, because they didn’t want to take turns anymore and things slowly went out of hand. A nasty situation, when you are on holidays. One thing’s for sure: I never want to get into a situation like this ever again. Either we travel with a Dutch group or we don’t travel at all. It’s a pain in the butt, that nobody enjoys themselves anymore, because of some disagreement in the group. Another problem, that occurred was that there were many people as sick as a dog, because of the airco system, which was nicely spreading around in the whole bus. Anyway, I decided not to infiltrate in the war between different cultures. I decided to have a great vacation and enjoy every minute of it. At the end of the day, we gained speed to see something spectacular. I’ve never seen anything like it in my entire life. People come from all around the world to see this happening. We arrived just in time to see it all. Four or five ducks, who had been swimming in a big fountain in the hotel, march over a big red carpet towards the elevator. With the elevator, they are transported to a place, where they are fed and stay the night. The next morning, the same ritual starts all over again, but then in reversed order. It’s really an amazing view and I think this can only happen in America. The Orlando Peabody Hotel, just remember that name, when you’re in the neighbourhood.
After that, it was just a few minutes drive before arriving at our hotel. It was out in the middle of nowhere again. But in the neighbourhood of a few shops, which we visited during the evening with Ben and Ank. The shops were beautifully shaped from the outside and invited you to take a peak inside from afar. Big dragons and wizards were on the outside to catch your attention. And they did. For the younger people they’d even situated a rollercoaster and a midget golf place for the elder people, who visit the shops and are searching for some entertainment as well. We decided to stroll around a little and hit the sack early, because tomorrow we would go to Disney World.

Day 13: Orlando - Disney World

Today we will leave the real world and enter the world of fantasy. The bus drives us to a pier, where a boat will arrive to collect us and bring us to the other side of the water, where Disney World is waiting for us. We’re treated like real VIP’s and welcomed by Chip and Dale, who we know in Holland as Knabbel and Babbel. From the moment we enter the parc, we start to feel young again. That’s the magic that happens, when you’re walking around in the bright sunshine of the State of Orlando, and you’re surrounded by lots of funny creatures, animals and fairytale figures. I think, that we didn’t miss a single ride, although there were two rides unavailable because of Katrina and the enormous amount of rain, that came down here these past few days. But we had loads of fun with Pinochio, Peter Pan, The Country Bears Jamborree, Winnie the Pooh, Donald Duck, The Big Haunted House, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and lesser known Disney figures. Actually, Disneyland Paris is the same as in Florida. Taking this into account, it might have been better to discover one of the other parcs, that was available. But on the other hand, it was wonderful to discover the world of Disney again. Towards the end, there was a giant parade, which is really a whole lot of fun to watch! Mainly because of the fantastic weather, but also the fact that it was just the two of us, away from the group and reliving our childhood again. Just try it! I am sure, you’ll have a whole lot of fun going to Disney World.
The boat brings us back to the real world again,and a shuttle bus takes us back to the hotel. We ordered some spaghetti to eat in our room, cause tomorrow there would be another day full of excitement. This time we would enter the world of space and science by visiting the Epcot Space Centre.

Day 14: Orlando – Kennedy Space Centre – Miami Beach

This journey is slowly heading towards the end. But we will not go home, before we have explored the wonderful world of the Kennedy Space Centre. When we arrive at Cape Canaveral, we are told that this enormous piece of land is not only used for space travelling. Instead, it’s also a breeding place for different species of birds and animals. Because of that, people who are interested in fauna regularly visit this place to spot birds. We focus on the space and science part of this place though. The rockets along the road already invite us, when we enter the centre. Rocket scientism always seemed to be so far away, until we are walking around the models and real rockets ourselves, that are shown there. The plant is giant and we also see the platform, where they launch the rockets. Inside the museum, you’ll get an idea of what it looks like inside a rocket or a space capsule. Or if you’re really fanatic, you can watch 3D-movies in the giant IMAX theatre as well. This visit to the giant NASA complex opened our eyes a little and we will never forget it. The giant space outside mother earth became more accessible after today’s visit.
This also meant, that we were together as a group for the last few moments. Our bus would drive to Miami Beach from here and the people from our group were brought to several different hotels at Miami Beach. Inside the bus, people started exchanging addresses, as we continued our trip to Miami Beach. Maybe one last warning… If you’re not the person, who likes to go to the beach and enjoy the sun and the water, then you’d better avoid Miami Beach and go to Miami City instead. We drove through the city for a short moment and saw all the excitement in this big city. However, once we arrived in Miami Beach, we only noticed huge hotels, more hotels and even more hotels. When going outside the hotel, you are directly on the beach, fronted by miles of hot sand. But this was our last day in the US and a long one as well. We were one of the very last people, arriving at our hotel. Meaning that the restaurant was already closed. No worries! We know how to speak English, and we will surely find something to eat, even after nine o’clock in the evening! Read this line very carefully though, because somethig really funny happened. Well, at least I thought it was quite funny, thinking back of the whole situation in the bus. We were in the same hotel as Pank and his wife and two German couples. As youngsters we would find our way and when we went out to find a restaurant, we noticed that the other three couples were following our example. It was getting later and later and about three blocks away from our hotel, we finally found a club, where they served some pizza. We were hungry, so what the hack, let’s go for a pizza. Our example was followed by the three other couples. We made our choice. I ordered a ‘hot and spicy’ pizza and Rita wanted a ‘pizza hawai’. The other couples also made their choice. After a few minutes of waiting, our pizzas arrived. The German people were hungry, I think and they wanted to eat right away, without noticing they had our pizzas. They just wanted to eat whatever the waitress served them. We decided to leave it and waited patiently for our pizzas to arrive. When we told the waitress, that she had probably made a mistake and served our pizzas to the German couples, they apologised and offered us free drinks for the inconvenience caused by this mistake. So now the German people had something different than they ordered, which was much more expensive and they had to pay for their drinks, too. We had a nice much cheaper meal and drinks for free. They didn’t even notice, that they were punished for their greed, but I really felt pity for their brutal behaviour. After this ‘last’ meal, we took a short walk back to our hotel, alone. The Germans decided to have another drink. Tomorrow, we would be leaving home again and look back to a mighty fine trip through the South Eastern part of America.

Day 15: Miami Beach – Detroit – Amsterdam

In the early morning, we called a taxi, which would bring us to the airport. But before it would arrive, we did have some time to take a short walk on the beach, which was right at the back of our hotel. It was already hot this early morning and the first people were already jogging along the coastline of Miami Beach. After our walk, we collected the bags from our room, because the taxi would arrive soon. Checking in at the airport took quite some time, because not only our passports were checked, we also had to take off our shoes, belts and coat, so they could do a more intensive check of our body. When they discovered a nail scissor, we were kindly asked to deliver it to the customs agent. We were not allowed to take it with us.
We had a short flight to Detroit, which is totally different than a long flight. It felt more like sitting in a living room, instead of being in a plane. The switch in Detroit happened pretty smoothly and we were off to Amsterdam again. We enjoyed a movie, some music and tried to sleep a bit, which is quite difficult with long legs. When we arrived in Amsterdam, we were wearing our thick coats, because the temperature was indeed much lower than in Miami Beach. And of course we’re on the last day of our trip, because during our flight back day went into night and night turned into day again. Do you still follow me?

Day 16: Amsterdam – Leerdam (home, sweet home!)

Early in the morning we arrived at Schiphol airport and started our trip by train back to Leerdam Rock city. Our wonderful holidays had just come to an end. Soon, we would be off to work again, thinking about our next summer holidays in 2005, which we would spend in Rumania. Talk about something different. You can read our Rumania report somewhere on this website in the (near) future. Oh, and by the way: America, watch out, ‘cause we’ll be back!!!!!