Next morning, I was awake bright and early (and I mean early). The previous evening had quite worn me out. What with getting up at 6.00 the previous morning in Belgium, and with jet lag, I reckoned I'd been awake for over 24 hours. Even so, I couldn't stay in bed.
But going back to last night, I'd driven down Interstate 95 as far as Fredericksburg. "Why Fredericksburg?" I hear you ask. Well, there's a good reason. And if you read on, you'll find out.
First thing I did when I arrived in Fredericksburg was to go for a good drive round. For two reasons really - one was to find a decent budget-priced motel, and the second reason was to do some sightseeing. Those of you who have read my pages in the past will know that from my coach-driving days, whenever I'd dropped off the passengers in a strange town, I'd always go to spend an hour driving around it. That way, I could acclimatise myself to the town, see what there was to see, and find the quickest way out next morning (Driving coaches and passengers around places like Minsk and Novgorod in the 1980s made that a very useful thing to do, and it still works today in some places).
I found a "Home Depot" which was quite a useful thing to do, for reasons that most of you know by now and a few other places too - but no cheap motel. Then I remembered that just before the previous exit I'd seen a sign for a "Motel 6" at 33 dollars the night. Now I've stayed in these motels before and I quite like them. They are owned by "Accor" - a French company, the same that own the Formule 1 chain, so their motels are basic but comfortable, clean and tidy. And at 33 dollars the night, that was more than good value. So I turned round and headed back up the Interstate to the Motel 6.
7 o'clock saw me up and about. Regardless of how late it was when I hit the sack, I still couldn't sleep any longer. Remember that back home, it was 1 o'clock in the afternoon.
I had a good shower, put my suitcase back in the car, and went to check out and to pick up my free coffee (I told you, I like "Accor" motels). I explained to the girl at reception what I was hoping to do, and she helped me out with a good map of the city, some brochures, and lots of friendly advice, all of which was much appreciated. I got my money's worth here.
Just as I was leaving, someone else came in to check out. Now he had difficulty communicating, and after he'd said only a couple of words, I knew why. He was French and didn't speak much English. So I helped him out, and then we had a long chat, mostly about putting the USA to rights. I bet he was amazed at finding someone over here who could (and would) speak to him in fluent French.
Next step was to go outside to take some snaps and have a look round. And it was 7.30 in the morning and it was boiling hot. What on earth was it going to be like at 2 o'clock in the afternoon?
On the left, you can see Interstate 95 and the exit where I turned off. If you are interested (and why not - you might want to use the motel) it's exit 133. You probably know (because I've told you before) that exits aren't numbered consecutively like in Europe. They are numbered according to the nearest mile marker, and change sequence as you cross a state boundary. So you find, say exit 133 and the next one is, say, 147, the next is, say, 160, and the following one is, say, exit 4. It's a much more sensible system.
But why this photo is so significant is because here you can see the sign pointing to the two capitals of the Civil War, and I'm all for symbolism.
Now, yesterday, you saw me go on about all the foreign cars and buses that are infesting America's roads right now. So it was really a pleasure to find that, right opposite my motel here in Fredericksburg, was Lee's Coaches, or was it Lee's Coach Company, with a collection of MCI coaches. Yes, that was a real find.
And the sun was burning down right in my face here. I'm really going to have to organise some sunglasses before much longer.
Also next to the motel was a 7-11 so I bought some rubbish for breakfast and sat in the car and drank some coffee. This gave me an opportunity to check the paperwork on the car, and that too had me laughing. Budget had obviously known it was me who was coming, because the hire car (or should I say "rental car") was first registered on 29 June 2004 - 10 months ago. That's old for a hire car, but not (I suppose) for one for me. The mileage was disproportionally low too - only 14166 when I picked it up. I'll have to do something about that!
I drove down into the town centre to have a good look around in daylight. Yes, it was quite a neat, pretty town.
The site of the city was chosen because it was situated on a bend in the River Rappahannock which formed the boundary between civilisation and "the savages" (and bends are really useful - they avoid the need for construction of stockades on the sides against the river), and upstream was a set of falls, which prevented marine navigation higher up. It was named after Prince Frederick, heir to the throne of King George II, and first settled in 1671.
As the frontier was pushed farther back and the area became more settled, a prosperous tobacco industry took off, and a port was established here in 1728, which brought more prosperity and gave a great deal of impetus to the expansion of the town.
George Washington lived just down the road here at Ferry Farm. He once, apparently, threw a silver dollar over the river on one occasion and I'm not sure why. During the rebellion of the colonies the city contributed heavily to the cause of the colonists.
After the end of the war, the city established itself even more prosperously and the port was thriving. However, the Civil War put an end to much of that. Occupying a vital river crossing more-or-less midway between Washington and Richmond, the armies clashed here for the first time at the end of 1862 in which much of the town was destroyed, and several major battles, such as Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania and the Wilderness took place later in the war in the outskirts of the town.
Economic revival after the war was very slow, but the town was restored. There's much evidence of the city's colonial past, with many of the houses having either survived destruction or having been faithfully rebuilt.
If you don't like walking around, you can get yourself a guided tour by tractor and trailer, but not at 8 o'clock in the morning.
The following two photographs show the waterfront of Petersburg.
The first one just here is looking upstream towards the falls. Unfortunately you can't see them from here.
These photographs give you a good impression of the waterfront and it's not too difficult to imagine just how it must have been 150 years ago. Unfortunately, there's nothing remaining of the old port or of the buildings that would have been here that would have contributed to the prosperity of the city.
This photograph is looking downstream towards Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. THe ships would have arrived at the port from this direction.
The bridge you can see is actually the railway line. Fredericksburg became an important railway junction in the mid 1850s and was another reason for the interest that Federal forces showed in the city during the Civil War.
While I was walking around the town, two interesting things happened. Firstly my friend Peter rang me up from Belgium (it was nice to hear from him), and secondly a woman took me under her wing and spent quite a few minutes nattering to me about nothing much in particular.
As I said before, Fredericksburg was an important city in the Confederate States, and a considerable number of battles took place around here. There were several battles in the town itself, and in the immediate neighbourhood are places like The Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Spotsylvania and the North Anna River. What I'm doing therefore is having a change of structure on my site.
Normally, I run my pages chronologically where I can, and in date / time order where I can't. But this chronological arrangement is based on where I am at a given moment, not on where the clock is or where everyone else is.
One of my reasons for being in the former colonies, and in Fredericksburg in particular, is because the Civil War holds something of an abnormal interest for me. It occurs to me that many people won't actually share my enthusiasm for this, so I've cut out the Civil War stuff and posted it on some separate pages.
But if you've come to my pages for the adventure and travel, then keep straight on.
But if I can digress slightly, and on three counts.
Firstly, there was a group of schoolkids aged about 10 or 11 being shown around the site of the Battle of Chancellorsville by a park ranger. She announced at the top of her voice "right, let's go and re-enact the Battle of Chancellorsville" and disappeared with the children and their teachers. A short while later, I caught up with one of the teachers.
"How many did you lose?" I asked
"None" she replied, with an air of total disappointment and disillusionment.
Secondly, I was looking at the statue that was erected to mark the spot that Stonewall Jackson was shot. A passing guide told me that it was in the wrong place - that he had been shot on the other side of the visitor centre.
I replied that "Surely someone would have noticed which side of the visitor centre he was on when he was shot". I had the feeling that she didn't appreciate my remark.
Finally, you may recall my comments in Canada 18 months ago when I'd seen an old mini parked up near Springhill. I never thought they'd been exported to North America. Nevertheless, driving from the Wilderness to Spotsylvania, I came across another one. This was amazing. What was even more amazing was that before the journey was over, I was to see yet another.
But back to the plot. I'd planned to stay around the battlefields until maybe 12.00, but I was not even close. Even cutting down as much as possible (and missing out on my walk around Spotsylvania Court House) it was well after 2.00 when I left. Going to see Jackson's grave at Guinea Farm was out of the question. I had a long way to go, and not much time to get there.
But what did the guy driving the hire car shuttle bus tell me? That the weather wouldn't last? He was dead right too. It started to break round by Spotsylvania, and on the drive down the I95 through Richmond the rain had started to fall. (I didn't get off the Interstate to visit Richmond, that was for another time. And what I saw from the Interstate didn't impress me at all).
One of the places I promised myself I'd visit on this journey was my home town. No, not Crewe, Cheshire, but its namesake, Crewe, Virginia. As you can see, it's only a couple of miles from Burkeville. Sounds about right. After all, we did live in Shavington.
I'd seen Crewe on a web site on the internet some time ago. It was apparently named after the real Crewe, as it had several things in common, such as the railway. Another of my interests is steam trains, so at the slightest chance of a steam museum, I'm on my way.
But as you can see, this was something of a disappointment, that's for sure. It did make me wonder why I bothered
As far as I could see, this was the railway museum. The odd caboose, a brake van and a fairly modern diesel locomotive with not very much historical significance
Furthermore, the site was closed. I suppose it saved me the entrance fee which was just as well. I couldn't see myself getting steamed up about visiting these exhibits.
However, I could quite easily see myself getting steamed up about these exhibits. Just like my home back in Crewe.
I could quite happily live in a museum with this sort of exhibit in my garden, as those of you who remember me from those days will happily confirm.
There were a few chassis that I didn't recognise, a demountable camper body for a pick-up truck, and this delightful van (or panel truck) - was it a Chevrolet?
Anyway, I couldn't resist taking a photograph of this lot. This is why I come to the States.
But this exhibit is puzzling me quite a lot. What on earth is a Peugeot 505 doing in the USA? I know that Citroen was chased out of the USA some years ago, and I imagined that Peugeot would have suffered the same fate. In any case, the 505 wasn't a patch on the 504 so even if some Peugeots did make it to the USA, I didn't expect it to have been one of these.
Talking to an American colleague in work a while later, he did say that some modern Peugeots, mostly the smaller ones, are sold in New York, where they are quite popular with city dwellers.
Still doesn't explain this 505 though. Maybe someone will and tell me about it.
While I was walking around taking photographs of the place, this diesel coal train pulled into the town. It was stil pulling into the town as I was pulling out later. That was what I call a long train, that. If you've read some of my previous pages, you will have noted my theory about the length of American trains. It seemed that I had well-underestimated that!
But have you noticed all the waste land between the road and the active railway line? Over the past 50 years the American railway system has been decimated and a lot has been pulled up. This looks like it was all sidings at one time, but it made me wonder why there were so many sidings just here. Crewe is a small American rural town miles from anywhere, with no apparent industry that I could see. There aren't any big towns in the area for which it might have served as a railway junction either.
Even more eerily, there was no-one at all around to ask. So if you know the answer, .
This photo shows you what I mean. You can see the sign for Crewe station, and for the business district. But this is the principal road junction on the principal road that (according to the map) goes right through the town. Ah well! The fact that there was no mobile phone signal in Crewe (can't remember what it was that made me decide to check that) just about summed up the place in my opinion.
You would think that if they were going to have a "Crewe" somewhere in the States, you'd have it somewhere interesting or exciting like Southern California or Texas, not in Virginia.
As I pulled out of the town, I noticed on the right hand side of the road at Crewe an old Sherman tank parked up! I'd have got out of the car again to photograph it, but by now, the rain had started to fall quite heavily.
After writing all of this, I received a mail from Larry Smith of Chester, Virginia, who tells me that the tank is a Stuart, not a Sherman (not that I would notice the difference) and it's at the Veterans' Club. In fact Larry gave me so much information that rather than paraphrase it, I reckoned I'd just quote it verbatim -
"The panel truck is either a GMC (General Motors Company) or a Chevrolet -
can't tell from the photos.
The rail park at Crewe really isn't much. Norfolk Southern doesn't support it too well. Basically what the town can scrounge. I don't think there's a charge, but locked up to prevent vandalism.
Peugeots were imported for about ten years ending in the early 90's"
Thanks (or should I say, tanks), Larry. Don't forget, if anyone else wants to comment on anything on my site or give me some more appropriate information or some local knowledge, I'd be pleased to hear from you.
So, back to the weather. It really was bizarre. Sometimes the sun was out and shining then you drove through a rainstorm, before hitting the sun again. I was comforted however to note that I was definitely heading out into the sticks, and started to see old cars from the 1950s and 1960s parked up in people's gardens and fields. That was reassuring. Highway 360 over the foothills of the mountains around here was a really beautiful drive, with trees and nice scenery. The sun kept on coming out too, to add to the enjoyment.
I stopped and fuelled up at Burkeville. It somehow seemed appropriate. But of course, isn't petrol always cheaper at the service station after the one you've just fuelled up at.
At Danville, I didn't have time to visit the old Civil War prison or the site of the wreck of the old '97. I got on Interstate 97 to head south towards Columbia. This was a beautiful road too through hills and forests. I could see what had attracted William Byrd to the area in the 1720s. It was he who named the river here the "River Dan" - after the "Dan" - the area of plenty - in the Bible. I wish I'd had the time to stop and take some photographs - you've no idea how late I was running by now. I doubted that I would make Columbia tonight.
Just after here I crossed into North Carolina, heading for Greeensboro. And the scenery changed round here too. By the time I'd got onto I 85, the hills and forests had gone and there was just boring ordinary flat scenery to contend with. But it didn't last long however. As I passed the "Charlotte 65 miles" sign, about 10 miles north of Lexington, I started to climb back into forests again. This area is, according to my boss at The Conference Board whose parents live around here, called the "Piedmont".
What was even more pleasant was that this wide 6-lane blacktop had practically no traffic at all on it. I drove for miles without seeing another car. It was marvellous.
But the forest didn't last long. And neither did the light. It was starting to get late. And neither did the empty road. Shortly afterwards I came to a set of roadworks at Kannapolis, and an enormous traffic jam. So that was where all the traffic was! And at 8.00 at night too. Incredible! Even more incredible was that not a single driver had put on his hazard warning lights. I appreciated that too. I hate people doing that when they start to slow down. But the long queue had mystified me. There wasn't that much traffic to start with, and the roadworks were only about a quarter of a mile long. It was these roadworks that were the final nail in the coffin. I'll never make Columbia now.
As I drove through Charlotte on Interstate 85, I noticed that the city centre presented a glorious panorama of illuminated buildings that would have been well worth a shot. When I turned onto Interstate 77, the view was even better! But I was driving too fast to get a good moving shot, and there was nowhere to pull over and take a photo. I just wish I had the time to come off and go for a drive around the city. That was a real shame. The city looked quite beautiful from here (although of course the though hadn't escaped me that if I had arrived here any earlier, it wouldn't have been so dark so the view wouldn't have been so impressive). I'll have to ask Tainea to take a few pictures for me - this is where her sister lives and she comes here quite often.
So in the end, I didn't make Columbia. I was feeling really tired and hungry, and I noticed a sign for Chester. I'm sure Rhys wouldn't mind me being a few hours late tomorrow morning. The wedding rehearsal wasn't until the afternoon. I'd spent some of the day in Crewe, so why not spend the night in Chester? I pulled off the Interstate and headed north.