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December 13

US Country folk are great!

 We have often been told that the US is in fact a number of different countries. To this point, this is proving to be the fact. While New Yorkers were far more civilized than we had anticipated, they are not a patch on the ‘country folk’ of New England. People say ‘Hi’ on the street. Drivers stop to let you out of side streets. The slightest brush against someone elicits an ‘excuse me’. Every door is held open for those following.

A bright day greeted us again this morning but, after spectacular views in the Franconia National Park, we were enveloped in heavy, frosty fog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mid-morning we were back in tax-free New Hampshire. Cheap booze at the state-run liquor shops was gleefully taken advantage of. Then on to the villages of Grafton and Chester. Covered with clean snow and lit by the fog-filtered sunlight, they were as advertised – the best in New England!

 Very few Black Americans seem to live in the rural areas of New England. Replacing them as the generally poorer group in the community are poor WASPs. Some of these communities have very obvious socio-economic divides. Shopping in a ‘Dollar Tree’ shop (where nothing is more than $1) is an amusement to impoverished Australian travellers, but to many locals, it is survival.

 December 14

 The weather turned nasty today. Rain! However, temperatures through most of New England were milder and noticeably so as we wandered about without coats.  

 We spent the morning mooching around fabulous downtown Brattleboro, Vermont, followed by a look at the revolutionary battle site of Bennington, which also houses a museum containing the largest collection of Grandma Moses paintings in the world !!Then a very long drive through Vermont, New York and Pennsylvania to where we are entrenched tonight in the cheapest motel yet! US 29.99.

 Tomorrow we are off to the battlefields around Gettysburg, PA.

 Interstates and their navigation are getting to be far easier to deal with than we had anticipated. Directions are managed by numbers. As long as one knows what direction you want, everything just flows. North–South Interstates are odd numbered. Those going East-West are even. Exit numbers are the number of miles from some known point. The only draw back is knowing what that ‘known’ point is! Sometimes it’s the state line. Others, it’s a large city. Just to make matters more interesting, exits are even numbered by the distance from the start of the Interstate…!

 None of this is half as complicated as it might sound and the highway system that was the vision of President Eisenhower is right up there with the Autobahns. Autopistas, Autostradas and Motorways of Europe AND here, they are mostly toll free!  

December 15

 Perceptions that America is a uniformly wealthy nation are actively fed by the conspicuous consumption that is promoted by TV and other media. True, the vast marinas of the New England coast and the ‘well-to-do’ walking on Park Avenue reinforce this image. But a drive through the poor rural villages of southern Vermont and the industrial cities and towns of western and southern Pennsylvania will certainly balance this perception. Sad as it is, it is very easy to see where the derogatory terms, ‘white trash’ and ‘trailer trash’ came from.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It must be extremely difficult for those who hover at the fringes of the ‘American Dream’, particularly given the lack of the social ‘safety nets’ provided by democratic socialist nations like Australia and Europe.

 In the midst of what is today one of the poorest industrial/rural slums areas of Pennsylvania, lies the Gettysburg battleground. Here in early July 1863, General Robert E Lee led his Army of Northern Virginia into what has been described as the decisive battle of the Civil War. Confronting him was the Union Army of the Potomac led by General Joseph Hooker. Lee was on the road to Washington in a daring move to capture Washington, the Union’s capital. Hooker’s orders were simple. ‘Stop him’. That he did.

 To cut a long, but interesting story short, from there on in it was all down hill for the gallant gentlemen of the South. The battlefields are dotted with hundreds of monuments to various units and individuals who fought and died here. It is a peaceful place on this fine but hazy day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our battle with the high cost of motel accommodation has taken a positive turn since we moved away from the ‘trendy’ areas of the North East. While some of the locations are less than picturesque and one has to be able to sleep through periodic freight trains that seem to be coming through the car park, the rooms are always clean and at prices around US$35 (AUS$60) compared with some at US$70+, we are hauling back our budget deficit.

 One gripe, the lack of Internet facilities. In New York, we were able to take advantage of Anne-Marie, but since then, we have only been able to access the Net from public libraries  - free, but with limited times. Internet cafes have been invisible. This, plus the absence of the comforting presence of the mobile phone, makes us feel a little isolated compared to our last trip when everybody and everything was as close as a button away. The much-heralded centre of the telecommunications world seems to be behind - or at least - apart from the rest of the world – the isolationist policy continued????