Day trips from Naples – part 2



Amalfi Coast is truly spectacular. If you haven’t been there yet, make sure to include it in your future holiday plans. We only managed to see Positano, apparently the most picturesque of the Amalfi coast towns, but we already know that we’d love to go back one day and see more of this area.



Getting from Naples to Positano takes time. I think during summer there might be a direct ferry, but there wasn’t one when we there in May, so we took my favourite Circumvesuviana all the way to Sorrento (€3.6 per person one way). There you have a few options: cheap and cheerful and quite frequent local bus departing from the train station (€1.8 per person one way), the City Sightseeing bus (€10 one way, €16 return) and the not so frequent but more pleasurable and more expensive ferry (€16 single per person).

We opted for the local bus and were the last people to get on the bus that was just about to leave. That meant standing position but at least right next to the driver so not too bad for possible motion sickness.

The road along Amalfi coast really is quite winding and in many places you’re staring right at a massive drop to the ocean. The bus driver was unfrazzled and confident so our journey to Positano wasn’t as bad as we expected. Especially that the views were amazing.

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As soon as people got off the bus, everyone started to battle for the best place to take the picture – the selfie sticks were out! But of course it wasn’t the last picture taking spot, so we just passed the queue and moved on to see what Positano had to offer. The first thing (apart from the views) we both noticed were the beautiful, colourful ceramic table tops in the restaurants we were passing by. And then we discovered shop after shop full of ceramic handicraft, where we spent quite some time marvelling on all those cute items and deciding what we’d bring home with us.

Lovely ceramic table top

Lovely ceramic table top


Ceramic items are everywhere you look

Ceramic items are everywhere you look…


...even signs are ceramic!

…even signs are ceramic!

The whole town is just totally picturesque – at every corner there’s something to make you smile or go ‘wow’. Everything is neat, tidy and very colourful. The hotels scream expensive luxury – white gloved chauffeurs seem to be the norm. But I’m sure there’s affordable accommodation somewhere out there, or so I hope because I would love to stay somewhere in this region next time we come to visit.

Colourful houses of Positano

Colourful houses of Positano

All the Mediterranean charm is here – narrow lanes, steep staircases, little shops, lovely scented climbers covering the walls and the relaxed atmosphere. As usual we did what we do best – we walked aimlessly around the place. The seafront looked very pleasant and inviting but since we weren’t yet hungry or going to sit on the beach, we walked back up to get a better view from the top. To cool down a bit we stopped for the trademark drink of the region: a refreshing ‘lemon slushie’ – simple yet delicious and a must.

'Shopping mall'

‘Shopping mall’

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More huge lemons

More huge lemons


Very inviting indeed

Very inviting indeed


Positano from the top

Positano from the top


Wonder where this road might take us...

Wonder where this road might take us…

After some more walking we decided it was time to sit down for some lunch. As you can imagine there are plenty of restaurant to choose from, but we had our eye on a particular spot with a terrace overlooking the sea. A couple of cold beers, seafood risotto and a pizza and we were in heaven.

I want to have lunch over there!

I want to have lunch over there!


Table with a view

Table with a view

And there was one more surprise to top it all up – a little box with a pretty, shiny engagement ring! We actually got engaged while travelling in Australia three years ago (mentioned here) and at the time I got a shark tooth necklace instead of a more traditional ring. So since I wasn’t expecting it, it was a lovely surprise.



After such a lovely day, even the return trip to Naples couldn’t spoil our mood. So first there was a delayed bus to Sorrento. I think most people at the bus stop (many would be a good estimate) expected it to come from Sorrento, turn around, take us on and leave. Instead it came from somewhere along Amalfi coast and was mainly full. Luckily we managed to get onboard – as last people, again. Most of our fellow queuers were left behind… The bus driver this time was definitely Italian – angry, impatient and swearing, making us fear for our lives most of the trip. He also overheated the engine, so we had to stop in the middle of that narrow road and wait until the engine cooled down sufficiently so we could carry on. There were also two crashes that created a massive traffic, so instead of 20 minutes, the route from Positano to Sorrento took more than an hour.


The train journey to Naples would have been uneventful, but at some stage a woman sitting opposite us spotted something, closed the windows and announced that it was ‘for safety’. She then told me to put away my camera and warned us to be very careful and watch for pickpockets.


Yes it was a lovely day but we were glad to be back in our hotel after all.




Capri is a yet another beautiful island, very popular with tourists. And it shows – multiple ferry departures, throngs of tourists, tidy streets and ridiculous prices. But it’s well worth the visit and as it was in our case, a great culmination to our Italian adventure.

Welcome to Capri

Welcome to Capri

We took a morning ferry from Naples (€20 each one way), which was, unsurprisingly full. If it is a day trip and you have an idea at what time you might want to get back, buy your return ticket to avoid queuing again as soon as you get to Capri or missing out on a ferry you planned to take, simply because it might be sold out if you leave ticket purchase shortly before the departure. We didn’t do that and when we wanted to buy a ticket to get back to Naples our preferred ferry was sold out and we had to wait for the later one. Lesson learnt.


It takes less than an hour to get to Capri, unless you take a slow ferry, in which case you may double that time. Upon arrival be prepared to fight your way through the crowds to get a ticket for Funicular (€1.80 one way) and then stand in a long queue to get inside. The ride itself doesn’t take that long, but the town itself it quite high up, so it does save a rather steep walk to the main Piazza Umberto, where pretty much everyone starts their Capri experience (although getting there certainly qualifies as an experience already).

Queue to Funicular

Queue to Funicular

Capri town is absolutely charming so having an aimless wonder along those very narrow and very steep streets is a pleasure itself, especially that you won’t come across any mad mopeds. There is no motorised traffic allowed, except for a few local service cars, which don’t come around too often. Fabulous. Then there’s of course Grotta Azurra, Anacapri, Monte Solaro and many other things to see and do, but a day trip may not be enough to experience it all. At least not if you don’t want to rush from one point to the other like a headless chicken.

Narrow lanes in Capri town...

Narrow lanes in Capri town…


The only traffic you're likely to come across in Capri Town

…and the only traffic you’re likely to come across

From the very crowded and very small Piazza Umberto (it’s called Piazzetta for that very reason) we walked to Giardini di Augusto. The gardens aren’t very big but are lovely and have the most amazing views of Faraglioni and Via Krupp. Most people carrying selfie sticks, come, snap and go, while others can’t get enough of the magnificent views (note: we don’t have a selfie stick).

Crowded Piazzetta

Crowded Piazzetta

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View from Giardini Augusto

View on Faraglioni from Giardini Augusto


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Via Krupp looked very inviting from up above but it turned out it was closed due to the danger of falling rocks. Typical.

Breathtaking views

Breathtaking views


Via Krupp

Via Krupp…


...all the way to Marina Piccola. Closed.

…all the way to Marina Piccola. Closed.

So instead we went to see Arco Naturale.

And instead of something like this:

Arco Naturale

Arco Naturale

We saw this (due to work to reinforce the rocks forming the arch):




...but at least the views on the way were good.

…but at least the views on the way were good.

Oh well…

It was beach time. Marina Piccola, on the south side of the island was our destination. And it didn’t disappoint – yes it was crowded and there were pebbles not sand, but the colour of the water and the scenery was breathtaking. We even went for a refreshing swim.

A few seconds when no one was in shot

A few seconds when no one was in shot


Sheltered by the cliffs - Marina Piccola

Sheltered by the cliffs – Marina Piccola

After some relaxing time it was time to head back to town and to the port. So it was another ‘up and down’ walk – first steeply up back to Piazzetta and then instead of catching Funicular we walked steeply down back to the ferry terminal. Well worth the sore knees in the end.

To queue or to walk?

To queue or to walk?


...walk of course.

…walk of course.


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At this point we got our ticket (available not preferred as mentioned above) and set down for some very expensive aperitivo, while waiting for a ferry to take us back to Naples.


Even though we both found Capri very touristy and rather pricey, we enjoyed our day there very much and would certainly want to come back to see all the things we didn’t get to and hopefully walk the Via Krupp…



Day trips from Naples – part 1

When you travel to a distant and exotic place you might experience what is called a cultural shock – the senses overload and general unfamiliarity creating confusion and disorientation. I might not be the most seasoned traveller but I have been to a few places and apart from my first visit to US, many years ago, when I stepped out of JFK terminal and was faced with all those big trucks, yellow cabs I recognized from the Hollywood movies and later on with loudness and massiveness of Manhattan, I never really struggled with absorbing ‘the new’.

But Naples surprised me. I didn’t know how to cross the street without being run over by a car or a moped! The city was messy and disorganised – I think it just wasn’t what I expected and what I’m used to back home. So it didn’t take much convincing to get away from this madness and go on a trip to a nearby island of Procida the very next day after our arrival to Naples.

Smaller and faster of the ferries between Naples and the islands

Smaller and faster of the ferries between Naples and the islands

Evening beforehand we went to a ferry terminal to check the departure times. There are three ferry terminals in Naples and a few operators that sail from different terminals. The schedule doesn’t specify where the boat departs from. There must be some sort of logic to it since loads of people use them every day and somehow manage to get to their destinations, but I wouldn’t be brave enough to share publicly what that logic might be. In any case the following morning we ended up at the wrong terminal and had to walk back 2km in the direction where we just came from. Good job we’re organised people and allowed enough time for all those shenanigans.

Ferry tickets aren’t particularly cheap. Depending on the distance and speed of the boat you’re looking at about €10-€20 one way per person. But at least they are reliable and depart on time – at least from our experience. If you’re going to a very popular destination like Capri, make sure to book your tickets in advance – the ferries are big and carry lots of people but such is the demand that you might find that all the tickets for your chosen route are already sold out.


Procida isn’t one of those ‘must see’ places and that’s exactly why we decided to go. It’s a tiny (4 km²) but very picturesque island south of Naples, relatively undisturbed by tourists. It has been used as a set for quite a few movies, most well know of which would be Talented Mr Ripley. The colourful houses of Marina Coricella are the first buildings on the approach to the island and make for a great first impression.

Colourful building in Procida

Colourful building in Procida

We had no plan and no map for the visit. So we just went for a stroll: more narrow lanes, lovely Mediterranean houses – some run down and sun beaten, some well-manicured overlooking the bay of Naples, lots of massive lemons, smell of jasmine and of course a few mad scooters.

The rustic look

The rustic look

and the more 'looked after' look

and the more ‘looked after’ look

Wouldn't fancy driving there

Wouldn’t fancy driving there

or here for that matter...

or here for that matter…

Massive lemons from rich volcanic soil

Massive lemons from rich volcanic soil

Those scooters look so picturesque

Those scooters look so picturesque

Procida being an island has of course a few beaches, although they wouldn’t be considered the best. So it wasn’t a big shame that when we finally reached some of them, the sun decided to hide behind the clouds. Instead we walked back to Coricella and enjoyed our coffees and pastries in one of the cafes overlooking the marina, before we caught a ferry back to Naples.

On the beach

On the beach



One of the things we wanted to see when in Naples was Vesuvius – the infamous volcano that in AD79 destroyed the Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

So we’ve done our research on how to get there, checked the train timetable and set off to the Porta Nolana train station. Porta Nolana is the first/last stop on a few routes in Naples and only about 10 minute walk from the main station on Piazza Garibaldi. It so happened that it was closer from where we stayed, but it’s worth starting your train trip from here if possible, as the train gets full before it leaves this station.

Using the trains was one of the things I did not enjoy in Naples. Yes, they are cheap but the few times we used them they were never on time (and I’m not talking about a few minute delay; more like one train went missing sort of delay), they were rather rough looking, people were smoking on the station, platforms and once even on the train (though there were ‘No Smoking’ signs everywhere) and it was a haven for pickpockets (we saw a tourist who got off and realised that his wallet was stolen on the train). So beware and be prepared and you’ll be fine.

For Vesuvius it’s best to get off in Ercolano Scavi and catch one of the Vesuvio express buses (€10 return per person plus another €10 entry fee to the park). Once the bus actually arrives it’s about half an hour to the entrance to the park. There you’re told you have 90 minutes to get back to the bus. Otherwise your ticket is invalid. It’s probably a good estimate but I can imagine if you’re slower of it’s particularly busy on a path you might be rushing to make it on time.

But before you go anywhere look up and check the sky! If there’s a big cloud over the mountain you won’t see anything. Simple, yet we were among those, who didn’t look and as a result didn’t see a thing up on Vesuvius.

Our memories of Vesuvius

Our memories of Vesuvius

From the entry there’s still about 900m walk uphill to the crater. Whether it’s a challenging climb or not is a matter of physical ability and opinion. If you’re used to walking you’ll be perfectly fine. But the path might get congested as all those busloads of people need to get up as well. And I can only imagine that on a nice sunny day, the views must be spectacular, so that would probably slow anyone down even further.

A brief glimpse of what the views could have been like

A brief glimpse of what the views could have been like

But for us it was a very brisk walk up and down in a dense cloud. It was cold and although we wore warmer clothes than were required in Naples, up on the mountain it was a complete different climate zone and we were freezing, hence the near-run up the hill.  We looked, we blew at the cloud and we hoped it would go away, but it didn’t. So we didn’t see anything and we were just glad to get back down to Ercolano where it was significantly warmer and surprisingly cloudless…although Vesuvius remained in the cloud for the next couple of days, so we were somewhat mollified that it wasn’t just one 90 minute window of unfortunate weather.

Once back in Ercolano we decided that we needed a lunch of sorts and stopped at a random tratorria on the main road to Herculaneum. We ordered the usual pizza and beer and were amazed how delicious the pizza in this random place was! That just proves the point that you can’t go wrong with pizza in this region!

Happily filled we headed to the archaeological site of Herculaneum – the lesser known and more recently excavated Roman town destroyed by Vesuvius eruption in 79. The question which one to see: Herculaneum or Pompeii is a very popular one and you’ll find many opinions if you check the net. Since we only went to one, I don’t feel I’m in a position to give any advice. I can only say why we decided on Herculaneum: we were already there and it was meant to be more compact yet still contain more original structures and relics (those of Pompeii were moved to the Archaeological Museum in Naples). And since the site was covered by meters of hot volcanic material, it was well sealed and even things like wooden elements are still preserved for us to see.



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The original mosaic

The original mosaic

and frescoes...

and frescoes…

...and even wooden door!

…and even wooden door!

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And we both thought we made the right call and after visiting the site we didn’t feel the need to go and see more of the same (I’m quoting a person we met in Ercolano, who saw both sites) in Pompeii. But visiting at least one of them should be on everyone’s agenda.

Naples – pizza, gelato, pastries and mad mopeds

I did not fall in love with Naples. It was the scooter madness, the omnipresent cigarette smoke, the unreliable public transport and the general roughness and loudness of it. This is not to say that I would discourage anyone from vising and experiencing it for themselves. After all we all have different tastes. And judging by the amount of tourists and positive feedback you can find on internet, I just might be in the minority.

Fountain of Giant

Fountain of Giant

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Piazza del Gesù Nuovo

Piazza del Gesù Nuovo

The uglier side of Naples

The uglier side of Naples

and what seems to be a normal driving practise

and what seems to be a normal driving practice

We went to Italy at the end of May for a long overdue holiday break. Since our ‘Big Trip’ we haven’t really gone anywhere – we were too busy relocating, finding jobs and buying our first house. It was time to go somewhere, to see something, to be a tourist.

Being a tourist in Italy

Being a tourist in Italy

Naples looked like a good spot – big enough city with plenty of options for if the weather wasn’t great and also a good base for day trips to the surrounding attractions.

The hotel we stayed in was a quirky little thing – one of those places that just isn’t great, yet you can’t complain about too many things, unless you’re really picky of course. We ended up with a bathroom that was disabled friendly, but in the process not very comfortable for others. But since it was clean I decided to overlook the other aspect. Besides we got our breakfast delivered to our room daily – always the same (sweet pastry, very strong coffee, hot chocolate, juice and a basket of little rusks with jams and butter) and always 10 minutes before the specified time. There was free wifi, but the signal didn’t penetrate the walls and could only be used in the common area or on the staircase. We switched on the tv only twice – on the first day to find out there was nothing to watch and on the day of the UEFA Champions League final. Good detox from media.

And it was only a short walk from the Centro Istorico and the main train/bus station, yet in a quiet enough alley off the busier streets, plus, plus and plus.

Centro Istorico at night

Centro Istorico at night

We did a good bit of walking, as we always do when faced with a new city. But is there a better way of discovering what the place is all about, then to go for a walk, with your map in a pocket (alternatively, for the younger or more technically advanced crowed, with a GPS in your phone), just in case you get totally lost and need to actually find your way back to the hotel? Because getting lost is very much recommended – taking a random turn into a random street to pass a woman hanging her washing or a man sitting by his window, with a cat on his lap, watching the world go by?

Lost in the maze of narrow streets

Lost in the maze of narrow streets

We didn’t visit any museums, catacombs, churches or galleries. We’ve researched ‘Things to do in Naples’ and a good few people recommended visiting some of them but what we tend to do is to read the reviews and then not do what most people say.

What we enjoyed the most was the walk along the waterfront, where the joggers and walkers don’t need to fear for their lives as moped traffic is not allowed. With magnificent Vesuvius on the horizon, noble tall buildings in the Santa Lucia district, charming Castle dell’Ovo and multitude of bars and restaurants tempting with cold Prosecco it really is a pleasant, relaxing stroll.

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Ovo Castle

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Santa Lucia with Vesuvius in the background

Aria to the sun

Aria to the sun

If you fancy bit of a climb up to the Castle Sant Elmo, you’d be rewarded with amazing views of the city and the bay. What’s more – you’d be able to soak it all in, in peace and quiet as this location doesn’t seem to be on most tourists’ agenda.

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View from the Vomero

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We also visited the Botanical Garden, which although quite far off the beaten track, was really quite nice – the cacti collection was truly amazing. And if that isn’t a quiet enough space for you (school trips do happen), then head for the Museo di Capodimonte – the surrounding gardens are perfectly manicured and very pleasantly quiet. The museum itself has quite a collection of artwork – including Caravaggio, Titian, Raphael and Botticelli to name just a few. And surprisingly no crowds.

Impressive cacti collection in Botanical Gardens

Impressive cacti collection in Botanical Gardens

Suicidal snail?

Suicidal snail?

Museo di Capodimonte

Museo di Capodimonte

Not that we strayed away from the famous Centro Istorico – in fact we went there every single day. Getting lost in those little alleys overhung with still dripping laundry is a must, just to emerge back on the busy Via Tribunali or San Biagio dei Librai where again you need to watch for those mad moped drivers! Another little alleyway you cannot possibly miss is Via Gregorio Armeno – it’s basically one ‘so – called’ souvenir shop after another, but good luck finding something you would like to bring home with you. It’s famous for its nativity scenes but you’ll find all sorts of rural life scenes of very tacky quality. Fascinating! The place is full of old buildings and many beautiful churches and you can’t walk a few paces without passing a little café, cosy trattoria or pizzeria or a gelato stand.


How many Italians does it take to fix one scooter?

How many Italians does it take to fix one scooter?

The delights of Via Gregorio Armeno

The delights of Via Gregorio Armeno

Pulcinella - symbol of Naples

Pulcinella – symbol of Naples

Just another church in Naples

Just another church in Naples

You have to eat pizza while in Naples – this is a law. Never in my life have I ordered a simple margherita before. But I did here and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact you can’t go wrong with any pizza in any place, although we have tried the fried calzone (from Di Mateo as recommended) and we were not impressed. But any other pizza and occasional pasta we had were simply amazing. For dessert or as a cool down snack we had the delicious Gelato and the prised selection in Gay Odin did not fail to excite our taste buds. I am not a chocolate flavour fan but I tried a few of their concoctions (chocolate with cinnamon and sacher torte) and got converted. So I would urge anyone to give them a go; but don’t neglect other flavours either – the pineapple sorbet was pretty spectacular too!  And last but not least – the pastries! Pasticcerias are dotted all over the narrow streets with selection of all sorts of tempting sweets. The ones that you must try are Baba (it’s a spongy thing soaked in rum flavoured syrup – I found it ok, Geoff was done after one bite), Sfogliatelle (my favourite – crispy flaky pastry filled with sweet ricotta with a hint of apple and cinnamon – yum!) and Cannoli (it’s not typically Neapolitan sweet but Geoff’s favourite so I had to mention it too).

Lunch madness @ 'Di Mateo'

Lunch madness @ ‘Di Mateo’

Don't miss Gay Odin for a scoop (or two) of amazing gelato

Don’t miss Gay Odin for a scoop (or two) of amazing gelato

As I mentioned earlier Naples for us was a city break/base for other day trips. It has plenty of bus, train and ferry connections to many interesting and beautiful places around. Next post will be about where we went and what we saw (or not as the case might be)…

Coca – Cola, CNN, Panda and our way back to Orlando

We had to visit Atlanta. For quite a while Geoff had this idea in his head, that he’d love to see one of the biggest and most famous aquariums in the world – the one in Atlanta. So we planned to stay for a few days and see what else was worth a visit. As it turned out  – quite a lot. Getting a City Pass was the cheapest option and allowed us a choice of a few, different attractions around the city. We chose to explore the inside of CNN’s global headquarter, see the vault holding the most desired recipe for a drink at World of Coca-Cola and made friends with a panda in the city zoo. How exciting!

We decided to kick off with the zoo, but apparently it was too cold for the primates and we were advised to come back another day. So instead we went to Fernbank Natural History Museum, which quite frankly, compared with the one in London, which I love, and the rest of attractions in Atlanta, wasn’t all that good. We watched a show in their IMAX (neither of us remembers what it was, although we both remember that we didn’t watch the butterfly movie!), had some fun creating massive bubbles and concluded the visit with me becoming a weather lady for the news at Fernbank.

Look I’m a Weather Girl

In the evening we went to our couchsurfing home. Our hosts – Adam and Kacy were out, but gave us instructions how to find their house and how to get in, in their absence. They turned out to be amazing hosts and we had really great fun with them. They introduced us to ‘smores’ (short for some more for those who didn’t know) – Americans’ camping favourite: roasted marshmallow sandwiched between two crackers with a piece of melting chocolate added to the mix. Yum. Our ‘camp’ was happening in front of the TV, and our marshmallows were roasted over fireplace. On the last morning, Adam has prepared for us a typical Southern breakfast: sausage gravy and biscuits. Now the biscuit isn’t a cookie as English speaking people (as opposed to American speaking) might think, while making horrified faces. In fact it’s a savoury leavened bread resembling English scone, so it went really well with this thick sausage sauce (that took well over an hour to cook!). It was delicious despite what it might sound like, but we definitely wouldn’t have it everyday –it was very filling and high in calories, not to mention cholesterol.

Second morning in Atlanta welcomed us with some miserable drizzle. So instead of heading straight for the panda meeting we went to CNN instead. The guided tour through corridors of global headquarters of this leading news station was a really interesting experience. You start in the lobby from where the longest free-standing escalator in the world takes you up where CNN offices are. You get to see the control room full of monitors showing what’s currently on and what will be on in a few minutes. Then passing over the newsroom (huge open plan office where all the news are being researched) you get to appreciate just how many people it takes to deliver all those breaking news straight to your telly. In a smaller recording studio 7E a volunteer from the group can try their luck at reading the news from the teleprompter before you finally get to see the real action – CNN live from Studio 7 (while we were there Christine Romans was hosting Your Money program). It really was great fun, even for those who aren’t news junkies.

In front of CNN building

Inside the lobby; longest free standing escalator to the right

Control Room

CNN Newsroom – not that busy on a Saturday morning

After our CNN tour we headed to the zoo. The sun didn’t come out but the drizzle eased up a bit so it wasn’t too bad, yet still kept the crowds away. It wasn’t the greatest zoo, but it was pretty good and it had pandas – which not that many zoos can be proud of. Apparently in the summer, to see those cute bears, you have to queue in line for over two hours! And we had two pandas almost exclusively for ourselves – another plus of travelling off-season. We were also quite lucky to see and hear active lions: they roared, chased each other around their enclosure and in the end posed for the pictures. I must admit that lion’s roar really sent a shiver up my spine, especially as I didn’t find the fences to be high enough…

All this eating made me tired

Do you want to be my lunch?

While a Ground Hornbill wanted to share his lunch with us

Georgia Aquarium was truly amazing: there was the underwater corridor, so you could ‘dry dive’ and watch the Gentle Giants up close; there were dancing dolphins and in interactive pools you could touch stingrays, starfish and even small sharks! It really is a huge aquarium – covering over 51,000 square metres and holding 30,000 m3 of water in its tanks it still is one of the largest in the world (the land had been donated by Coca – Cola). And it is home to massive whale sharks and beluga whales. Astonishing!

Whale Shark swimming by – mesmerizing

Beluga Whale – he’s smiling isn’t he?

Jellyfish – always so pretty

Last but definitely not least, we went to the World of Coca -Cola. We may not be Coke addicts – occasionally we’d have the zero option (although I’m more of a Pepsi MAX person myself), but we loved this place. It’s quite amazing to witness how much influence this company and its logo has. Naturally it is very red all around and the place is full of collectibles (we especially liked the pants covered in Coca – Cola logo) and artwork (3 original pieces by Norman Rockwell as well as some by Andy Warhol).

Surprisingly Red in World of Coca Cola

I’d love to see somebody wearing those!

There is also a 4D cinema (nothing exciting), a Perfect Pauses Theatre that plays the best of Coca-Cola TV ads over the years and across the globe and of course the massive vault, in which you can first learn about the history of the product and the various conspiracy theories related to it, before you get to the real vault, guarding one of the most wanted secret formula in the world. At the end the long-awaited moment: tasting of over 100 different Coca-Cola beverages from around the planet. One massive hall holds several drink fountains – separate for each continent, with a choice of unique flavours from different places: very sweet flavours of Fanta from Africa, well known to us crazy yellow Inca Cola from Peru, my personal favourite – sour green apples Fanta from Asia, the infamous Beverly from Italy (it tasted like tonic, so I’m guessing its disrepute must result from insufficient amounts of sugar), and many others that we no longer remember. And this still wasn’t it – after all that you’re faced with Coca – Cola Freestyle fountain – with more than 120 flavours (Coke Zero alone has 8! For the curious ones, you can find the full list here). Such fountains are located in almost every Burger King and when we first saw it we had to pick up our jaws up off the floor. At the very end you get a bottle of Coke straight of the bottling line whizzing over visitors heads. Of course all this is one massive product advert, but certainly one that gives a lot of fun , and if you manage to sample all drink flavours (and it really is quite a challenge), you’ll be leaving not only satisfied but also rather bloated 😉 .

The Vault guarding Secret Formula

Do you have what it takes to sample all the flavours?

Our time in the south eastern states was slowly coming to an end, so we had to start heading back to Orlando. We set our return rout through Charleston in South Carolina, Savannah in Georgia, and Jacksonville back in Florida.

Both Charleston, and Savannah are very old (by American standards anyway) and charming cities. It’s really worthwhile to stop in them even if just for a short bit to experience a slightly different America – much slower and more relaxed. Take a walk through the old streets and admire the beautiful architecture and gorgeous Spanish Moss hanging off the ancient trees. Make sure to sample some delicacies too; there are some tempting options with pretty much every step you take: nuts of all kinds in amazing array of flavours (free tasting too!), chocolates and fudge, frozen yogurt (you can chose and serve your own toppings from big dispensers, and pay for the total weight – great idea) and another speciality – taffy candy (chewy sweets which we didn’t find that great). In Charleston there’s also an old market, founded in 1807 full of original souvenirs and famous, Gullah sweetgrass baskets, hand – woven on site. Not very far from the city grows an Angel Oak – 20m tall but with the branch span of nearly triple that (almost 56m) it produces shade that covers 1,600 m2. Quite a tree.

Savannah, GA

Lovely Spanish Moss

Charleston Market


Angel Oak

In Savannah we met another strange personality of the CouchSurfing community. He seemed to lack any social skills, and to pass the time we had to watch some very bloody scenes from the anime, preceded by more than an hour long lecture from YouTube on the 5th Amendment rights and why you should never talk to the police officer (I don’t think same laws apply to other countries, and I can’t imagine the situation where I’d just ignore policemen questions with total silence…). Well, the exception does prove the rule, because our next hosts in Jacksonville yet again were super nice and very friendly.

Jacksonville is the largest city in the United States. Really – in terms of area it beats even the mighty Los Angeles! But not a whole lot is happening over there, so after a nice, short walk along the river and seeing yet another big tree – Favourite Oak this time, our tour of the city was completed. All that was left was to get back to Orlando (quite a stressful drive since we took an option to return our rental car with an empty tank and Geoff was making sure we didn’t leave any fuel in!), drop the car off at the rental parking and spend the rest of the night at the airport, awaiting our morning flight to Los Angeles. And thus our adventure in the eastern states ends, and a new stage begins, on the west coast.

Jacksonville, FL – peaceful

Al Capone, Elvis and a bottle of Jacks

Texas was as far west as we were going to go on this leg of our American adventure. The time was ticking and since there was still a lot to see before returning to Florida we decided to start making our way back. The return route to Orlando led through Arkansas, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina. We only stayed one night in Arkansas, in the spa town of Hot Springs. Not that there’s nothing to see in Arkansas. It may not be the most visited state, but nature lovers would find a lot of interesting places. The state tourist brochure looked promising anyway. But mid March wasn’t quite the time for the outdoors.

Scott, our couchsurfing host, despite having some nasty cold, turned out to be a great companion. His young neighbour Kyle, who came over to do some washing, joined us as well and the four of us, plus a cat on my lap, spent the evening chatting and making fun observations on various differences between living in the United States and Europe, with a focus on American love of HUGE things.

In the morning we went to see what Hot Springs was all about. It turned out to be a pretty interesting place. Apart from the hot springs themselves, for which it’s known as a spa resort, it owes its fame to the fact that here, president Bill Clinton, spent his childhood years. Undeniably the golden period of Hot Springs falls at the beginning of the twentieth century, when many baseball teams chose Hot Springs as their training ground, while Hotel Arlington used to be a favourite spot of gangster Al Capone. Not bad for such a small town.

Hot Springs in Arkansas

As I already mentioned, from Arkansas we drove to Tennessee. Certainly, one of the smaller states (36th by total area to be precise), but still full of American icons. Our first stop in Tennessee was a place well known around the world – Memphis, the city where Elvis Presley, BB King and Johnny Cash recorded their first hits. Aretha Franklin was born here, and Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated. It’s also a city in which John Grisham places the action of many of his great crime novels. Simply put, there’s a lot going on in Memphis.

Memphis, where Rock and Roll was born

We started as usual – in tourist information centre (there’s a huge statute of Elvis and BB King right in the middle of it!) where we picked up a pile of maps and leaflets. From there we took a walk along the Mississippi river, admiring the Hernando de Soto bridge and the new-ish Memphis landmark – the Pyramid. Next we visited the famous Beale Street – a place full of quaint cafes and blues clubs. And once we walked the street up and down and took in all the atmosphere of the place, it was time to head to our next couchsurfing hosts. We were their first travelling guests ever and despite that they trusted us enough, to leave us alone in their house in the morning when they left for work. They really were an awesome couple and we had a great time together. When it came out in the conversation that Geoff was a big NASCAR fan, Philly, the hostess, rushed to search for a souvenir Matchbox set from a race sponsored by FedEx, for which she worked as a marketing manager. FedEx has its global super hub at Memphis Airport, making it the second busiest (right after Hong Kong) cargo airport in the world. Apparently they take up most of the air slots in the area, making commercial flights more expensive than from any other airport in USA. Jason on the other hand gave us some discount coupons for Memphis attractions, so adding to The NASCAR souvenir, the delicious coffee we were served, pizza for dinner and a very comfortable bed for the night, we really were rather spoiled with this hospitality.

Out of so many places worth seeing, we decided to visit Graceland – home of Elvis. But because we only like him and are not quite mad about him, we chose not to take a tour of the house. The whole place is so steeped in all things ‘king of rock n’roll’, that for us, having a quick peek at his planes, browsing through shops with Elvis memorabilia and signing the wall outside his house was more than enough.

Graceland and Elvis mania

After a morning visit to Graceland we drove to National Museum of Civil Rights – highly recommended by Jason. It is situated right outside Motel Lorraine – place of the assassination of Martin Luther King. Apparently it is really interesting and quite emotional, but we did not get to check it for ourselves because we were trying to visit it on the only day of the week (Tuesday!), when it was closed…

Motel Lorraine in Memphis

As a consolation we went to Sun Studio – a recording studio, where Sam Phillips discovered the great Elvis, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. Every nook and cranny of this small and run-down building was full of equipment and memorabilia of the great stars of rock and roll from the fifties: a microphone quite probably used by Elvis (someone has already licked it so be aware), a guitar, on which Johnny Cash played his magic sounds and all the equipment used to record hit tracks we’re still listening to today. And even Bono and U2 came to this studio over twenty years ago to record some of their own hits.

Sun Studio

Love me tender...

Apart from Memphis, in Tennessee there’s one more place where music plays an important role – Nashville. For Americans, Nashville is probably even more important than Memphis, for a simple reason – it is a place where country music, not all that popular outside of US, reigns. And because the big names of country music meant little to us, we weren’t too keen on Nashville tourist attractions, such as Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum or Grand Ole Opry House. We will remember the city for its full size replica of the Greek Parthenon (in our opinion, even without the scaffolding it doesn’t come even close to the original) and our host Martin, who is an absolute enthusiast of old vinyl records – he has over 7,500 titles in his collection and it’s constantly growing!

No scaffolding to be found on this Parthenon, in Nashville

Our Host in Nashville Really Enjoyed Old Records

While in Tennessee you cannot miss a visit to the famous Jack Daniels distillery. Although Lynchburg is not on any main road, it is well worth to add on a few miles to see where every single bottle of Jack, in the world originates. There are two tour options: one completely free, the other, for a small fee ($10 per head) with tasting. For me, Jack is all about a well designed bottle, I am not a huge fan of the gold liquor, nor is Geoff, so quite happily we joined the non-drinking group. And the tour really exceeded our expectations – it was really interesting and fun!

It is a Great Bottle Design

Did you know that Moore county, where Lynchburg is situated, is a dry county, which means that sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited and that the distillery only recently received permission to offer whiskey tasting? And that every drop of Jack comes from a spring flowing right through distillery’s grounds? That Jack himself was a short man and died because one morning he could not remember the combination to open his safe? Frustrated he kicked it and broke his toe. Eventually gangrene set in and killed him. Apparently the famous black label was introduced in honour of his passing. So even though now you know it all, we still highly recommend visiting this place, if you ever are in the area.

Where Every Drop of Jack Comes From

The Safe That Killed Mr Daniels

Next time we will be in CNN and Coca Cola HQs!

Texas – mad rodeos, crazy roller coasters and a pot of iced tea

Texas is huge. It is the second largest state in the United States, an area slightly larger than France. When we crossed the border between Louisiana and Texas, the first road sign informed us that El Paso (on the border with Mexico) was about 850 miles away (almost 1,400 km). Thankfully this was not our destination, but it is no wonder that the Texans drive faster and more aggressively than any other US state we visited – they have a long way to go to get anywhere!

Welcome to Texas, and please drive fast

Our first stop was in Houston, and since there is little to see – we stayed for whole three days. Maura (such an Irish name!) – our couchsurfing hostess , Mrs. Dermatologist in training and many of her pets received us very warmly. Her husband, a lawyer, was on a business trip in Dubai. Apparently in Houston, there are only two main professions – doctors and lawyers. There are over 100 hospitals in the city, compared with around 70 in London (population of London is over 8 million while there are only over 2 million people living in Houston!). The lawyers protect the very rich and lucrative oil industry.

During our stay Maura convinced us to try the crawfish (yum, yum, although very messy) and invited us to her favourite Tex Mex restaurant Chuy’s, where during Happy Hour Margaritas were half price, and the nachos bar was totally free. If you are hungry and looking for a quick dinner – I do not recommend crawfish! As nice as they are, it takes a lot of work and some skill to get a tiny morsel of meat out of the rock hard shell. We were also introduced to one of those strange TV shows – Duck Dynasty. We did laugh but we didn’t get hooked.

Williams Tower, Houston

Hermann Park - one of the nicest places in Houston

Apart from hospitals and petrochemical companies, there’s actually very little to see in Houston. Of course you could visit NASA’s Space Centre and probably hear the famous quote: “Houston we have a problem” but after the ‘amazing’ rocket launch in Florida I had enough of space stuff. We were in luck though – the annual festival Live Stock and Rodeo was in town. So we went and what a day we had – fun in a true southern style. There was pretty much anything and everything going on there: best cow and best horse competition, pigs races, horse boxes and ranch gates for sale, dozens of food stalls, roller coasters, a petting zoo (an attraction intended primarily for children, but I could not resist the temptation) and sellers of miscellaneous cowboy items.

It's a law in Texas to have a pair of these...

What Can I Say?

How could I skip a cuddle with little goat?

Our favourite attractions (except the petting zoo) included racing pigs and a competition called “Mutton Button”. The latter involved a bunch of kids of average age of six, to be set down on a back of a sheep. The sheep is then released and instinctively tries to get to its buddies on the other side of the field. The running sheep is like a bucking bronco to the kids and the challenge for the kids is to hang on for grim death until the sheep gets to the other side. No children or animals were hurt, the same cannot be said for the competitors or audiences pride…

Hold on Tight Kiddo

We had to try food favourites of such events – namely corndogs (for those of you who don’t know, a corn dog is a sausage on a stick dipped in corn batter and fried in hot oil – surprisingly tasty), and typical southern specialties – deep fried stuff: cheesecake , ice cream, chocolate bars and apparently even stick of butter!  We picked fried Oreos. An interesting experience, but not to be repeated – cookies lost their crunch and changed their usual taste, not to mention the unnecessary thousands of calories.

It's Food Time!

Fried Oreos

From Houston we drove to Austin, with a little stop in charming San Antonio along the way. San Antonio is famous for Alamo, a place of a battle between the free Texan state and Mexicans in 1836. And although the Texans were defeated, they remained a free state for another ten years, untill they joined USA as its 28th state. But besides the queuing crowds of tourists, San Antonia really is a charming place, with lovely buildings along the San Antonio River and plenty of cafés, bars and restaurants.

Alamo - San Antonio

Busy Wednesday Afternoon in San Antonio

Bells of La Villita

 Austin, the capital of Texas, is one of the favourite cities in the US and not just amongst Texans. So we had to find out what’s so great about it. And we found the crowds. It turned out that we arrived just in time for a great big musical event, which brought thousands of people from all over the country and beyond to Austin. This event was a festival South by SouthWest (written as SXSW if you are cool). Music was omnipresent. Standing anywhere along the famous 6th Street you could hear at least 3-4 bands playing in the nearby bars, at any one time . It was noisy, hot and crowded. And if this is how I define this festival, it just shows that I’m getting old … well, I guess I am. But we did enjoy the celebration we accidentally happened upon while passing a clothing store Patagonia. The shop was offering live music and free pizza and beer. How could we say no?

6th Street Austin During SXSW Festival

TEXAS Spelled in Light Bulbs, inside Capitol Building

In Austin, we experienced for ourselves that in the U.S. there really is no room for pedestrians. We went for a walk to the park and not having any map whatsoever, we simply got lost. Scampering mile after mile, jumping over hedges and wandering along the side of a fairly fast and busy road (in the ditch to be precise because there simply was no other option), we both remembered the pain of our favourite writer Bill Bryson in his book “Walk in the Woods” (we highly recommend reading it – it’s hilarious!) We did somehow finally get back to the house. A house, that for our two day stay in Austin, Sharon kindly shared with us. She wasn’t looking to host any couchsurfers during the festival, but took pity on us when she realised that we were travelling and just happened to hit Austin during this mad festival. Sharon was really cool -a nurse, at night studying business and marketing and investing in rental properties. A true business woman, though without a made-to-measure suit.

The Lone Star of Texas

The last thing we planned to see before leaving Austin was Mount Bonnell, that promised a nice panorama of the city. When we got to the top, we were approached by a young guy asking to take some pictures of him and his girlfriend. So I took the camera and trying to find the best background, shot a few photos. I was ready to give the camera back and move on but the guy looked a bit dissatisfied with what I had taken and asked me to take a few more. So back I went to my previous spot, and just as I was pointing the lens at them, the guy dropped to one knee and popped the question! I was a bit shocked and moved at the same time. I started shooting like the paparazzi. Afterwards Geoff said that it was a good job I had the camera, as he probably wouldn’t have taken a single picture after the guy asked his girlfriend to marry him. He likes to see unique things through his eyes not the camera, which would not have been useful for this couple. In all fairness you don’t witness moments like this every day. Hopefully they are pleased with the photos and one will end up framed and standing somewhere on top of the fireplace.

Unexpected Proposal Scene

Our next stop was Fort Worth. We stayed with Pamela and Mike in their huge, amazing house. It had to be big – they had nine children! Not all of them living with them anymore, but it still was a friendly and busy place. Pamela introduced us to another typical southern speciality – iced tea. You can buy it in McDonalds and in supermarkets in gallon containers. It’s pretty much everywhere and man it is SWEET.  Mesmerizingly so…

Geoff really wanted to experience the thrill of Six Flags amusement park, famous for having some of the world’s largest roller coasters. Why someone who does not like heights, wants to get into one of those cars, that climbs painfully slowly to a height of 25 floors, to roll almost vertically down the other side at a speed of 137 kph, is beyond me. Not that I’m such a tough cookie – maybe I’m not fretting while waiting in a queue for over an hour for this two minute scare ride, but when the cars begin to roll down, within seconds I have no clue where up or down is and I can’t control the horrendous squeak coming out of my mouth. Everything would be hunky-dory if it wasn’t for the massive queues and technical difficulties with the rides … in a few hours that we spent in the park we were able to ride only two rollercoasters. Three separate times we had been in a queue for over an hour only to be told to go away due to one problem or another. Never underestimate the power of complaint email though – we got full refunds, so we can’t really complain. A couple months later we read in the news, that a woman actually fell out of one of the cars during the ride on Texas Giant (one of the two we did get to ride on!) and died. I don’t think we’ll be going on any more rollercoasters, ever.

Texas Giant looked scary even from the bottom

Some People Waited Way Too Long For Their Ride

In Fort Worth we had to check the Stock Yards too. We even managed to get into a rodeo show – a bunch of crazy guys trying to ride the rather furious bulls…and how do they manage to put a lasso around those animals too?

On our way out of Texas we passed through Dallas. Not much there for tourists apart from the obvious. We stopped for a couple of hours to see Dealey Plaza – the place of the assassination of President Kennedy. There’s an ‘X’ on the street marking the position of the car, when the bullet hit the young president. The building from which Lee Harvey Oswald ALLEGEDLY pulled the trigger, is now a museum. I did write ‘allegedly’ because this is exactly what the information plaque at the front of the building says. There are plenty of conspiracy theories, a lot of which you can hear if you stop just for a few minutes outside the Sixth Floor Museum. We did and I must admit that there’s something in them…


Conspiracy Theory Masters Draw Attention Outside 6th Floor Museum

Plaque at Dealey Plaza

JFK Memorial in Dallas - a scary looking concrete structure

And so, still debating about the conspiracy theories we heard in Dallas, we were leaving Texas, heading towards Arkansas, and slowly making our way back to Orlando.


Where’s all that Jazz?

So we’re back. Although can you be BACK if you’re not exactly in the same place from which you took off? In any case, by ‘back’, I suppose I mean we are done travelling, back in everyday reality. Currently we’re in Northern Ireland, trying to sort and organise our future. But the memories of the trip are still with us and probably will stay with us forever.

 Just in case the memories fade with time, I’m going to eternalize them here, on this blog. And there’s still quite a bit to write about.  I must admit that posts were very random and few and far between so now I have a challenge to go back in time as far as March 2013 and revisit some of the places we had seen.

So far I managed to cover our first couple of weeks in America, which we spent in Florida, the breathtaking beauty of national parks and shared our tips on how to tackle USA on a tight budget.

Now it’s time to revisit south eastern states.


Jackson Square, NOLA

New Orleans is one of those places that pull you in like a magnet. There’s something about that city – its history, music, wild festivals – that makes you want to experience its atmosphere for yourself.  We were no different. We were late for Mardi Gras, so we didn’t get to witness the madness, but at least we managed to get a spot with a couchsurfer Pat – bit of a Mad Hatter and Mardi Gras enthusiast himself (had a huge collection of hats and costumes of all sorts). He also introduced us to a crazy discipline of ‘hashing’ – essentially running around a predetermined area, dressed up in costumes reflecting a chosen theme for the occasion, with a beer in hand, followed by more beer drinking and singing songs known only to fellow ‘hashers’. It certainly was an unforgettable, if slightly bizarre experience for us…

Only a small sample of Pat's hats and costumes

NOLA (for those who can’t be bothered saying ‘New Orleans, Louisiana’) certainly has a unique atmosphere. Whether it was one we were expecting is a different story. I had this image of smoky bars with a guy playing a trumpet or a piano somewhere in a corner, while the clientele sipped their bourbon. How different Bourbon Street turned out to be – neon lights everywhere, strip clubs, bars playing very loud music straight out of Top 40 Charts, offering fluorescent drinks in the most randomly shaped glasses. The street itself was pretty dirty, smelly and full of people wandering around with drinks in their hands (New Orleans, along with Savannah in Georgia, are the only two places in USA where you can legally drink alcohol out in the open).

Bourbon Street

But as much as Bourbon Street was disappointing, the rest of French Quarter still had its charm. The architecture of old colonial buildings with the elaborate ironwork balconies kept me in awe, while the upbeat music of the superb street performers made my feet tap along with the rhythm. Add to this many interesting galleries, delicious food (we tried po’boys, muffulettas and some pecan pies – yum yum) and great opportunities for people watching. It’s easy to see how you can spend hours and hours on the streets of New Orleans…

Streets of French Qarter

Street Music in NOLA


Cemeteries are also on a 'To See' list

Art Galleries in New Orleans are pretty amazing

You can’t mention New Orleans without highlighting the impact Hurricane Katrina had on the city back in 2005. The iconic French Quarter wasn’t actually badly affected but other regions of the city took an awful toll. We went to see the 9th Ward, where the devastation was still visible – although some people came back and rebuilt their houses, many still stand abandoned as a reminder of the tragedy that affected so many lives. But this doesn’t stop the New Orleanians from getting back on their porches, sitting in the old wooden chairs and doing what they do best – singing their hearts out.

Humbling Experience in 9th Ward

While in Louisiana we also took a rest stop at Lake Martin – a swampland reserve full of birds, snakes hanging off the trees and little alligators minding their own business on the trails, unaware of the danger that one of us could have had imposed on them. Geoff was so engrossed in bird observation that he nearly stepped on one tiny alligator that stopped motionless in the middle of our path. Fortunately I saw him in time, and instead of squashing him, Geoff decided to give him a little pat. Mr Alligator was having none of that and he very nearly bit his finger off.  Luckily the finger was untouched and no angry mother alligator rushed out of the bushes so we could move on with our travels…

Trees Growing in the middle of St Martin Lake

Feisty Baby Gator

Our further journey in Louisiana took us from NOLA, across Lake Pontchartrain and the longest continuous bridge over water (over 38km!) in the world, to state capital Baton Rouge, where Monster Jam was taking place. So we went to have a look. It was deafeningly loud and smelled of burnt rubber while monster trucks were intent on flattening vehicles right out of the salvage yard – only in America! To sum it up – highly entertaining! We probably wouldn’t go again, but it certainly was worth experiencing it.

Lake Pontchartrain Csway - 38 km long bridge

Ironman doing Donuts during Monster Jam

From Baton Rouge we drove west and crossed into the Lone Star State. And this will be a subject of the next post.