When Giving Away Money is Good For Business.

I imagine that tourism is a tricky business. What attractions and businesses do you need in a community to capture and keep a visitor for more than one day? Not every community can have a Disneyland, nor every town an Eiffel Tower.

Personally, I feel it is the simple things that are sometimes the most attractive, but few communities realise they have it in their power, or have the energy and initiative, to create something special.

Greenville, South Carolina, is a living, breathing example of how to create something out of nothing. The residents are obviously passionate and proud of their city and are not afraid to invest their energies, and their all-important dollars, to benefit both locals and visitors alike.

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Main Street, Greenville South Carolina

We visited Greenville as part of a short but convoluted road tour of the USA (see my post about looking for James Taylor). On the surface, Greenville could be viewed as basically another smallish city in the deep south of the USA. It is bustling, super-friendly (Hi Y’all), mad-keen on American football and full of flapping banners from competing universities. It is when you get out of the car and onto the streets that you get the true sense of the city and how it has been rejuvenated to stand out from the crowd.

In the early days, Greenville was a mill town. Cotton mills were prolific, and woollen mills and a paper factory all clustered along the edges of the Reedy River. In 1915 it even branded itself as the Textile Centre of the South. Viewing historical photos, I can only imagine the impact these industries had on the local economy but also the environment.

Today there is little evidence of the negative impacts of the mills, and the Reedy River has been restored and enhanced to make it virtually unrecognisable in comparison to those industrial days.

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The restored Reedy River

The Reedy River, at the foot of Greenville’s main street, is now part of the Swamp Rabbit Trail. This trail stretches a superb 21miles (33.8km) through forests, valleys and riverside parks, linking four communities in Greenville County. Each year the trail grows and snakes (or should that be ‘hops’?) through the picturesque County as funds become available.

While any community can create a park or a trail, the thing that really caught our imagination was that much of it was, and continues to be, funded via philanthropy. Reading the Swamp Rabbit Trail promotional material, opportunities to sponsor and donate abound, and include benches/seating, bike racks, mile markers or even ‘buying’ a section of the trail.

I realise that Australians do not have a strong philanthropic culture but just think what we could create in our communities if we did?

I spent many hours walking through Falls Park and Cleveland Park – adjoining parks in different parts of Greenville – but all connected by the Trail. It was obvious to me just how popular this walk was, with locals of all ages walking and cycling, and visitors such as myself armed with cameras and smartphones.

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Falls Park and the Reedy River – all rejuvenated, replanted and restored.

The valuable thing is that the community has recognised this ‘infrastructure’ as not only good for a healthy lifestyle, but also a solid economic generator. Research conducted in 2014 showed that businesses neighbouring the Trail reported up to 85% increase in trade due to the passing foot and cycle traffic. It also found that 25% of trail users were visitors and they invested $6.7million in the local tourism economy. Yes, there is money in the great outdoors and we, as individual donors, can influence that.

Philanthropy was not only evident by the river, but also up and down Greenville’s main street. The whole street has been converted into a public art space with an easy stroll from one sculpture to the next. I realise sculpture is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if the aim is to slow down the foot traffic and encourage people to spend longer in the CBD (thereby benefiting business and economic turnover), then this is an ideal tool.

The 40-odd sculptures range from bronze busts of civic forefathers, accompanied by panels of historical explanatory information, to exuberant lifelike violin and flute players dancing in the forecourt of some non-descript corporate structure. The majority of these works were funded by private individuals or families in memory of someone, or for their own posterity I guess.

All the sculptures were linked together as part of an informal walking trail which moves you from the top of the main street to the bottom – yes, sharing the love amongst the business community.

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One of the many Mice on Main. Photo courtesy: Zan Wells

The really clever thing they have done in this city is to include sculpture targeted at children. A dedicated Mice on Main sculpture trail has been developed which is literally one great mouse hunt. Nine tiny bronze mice are hidden in mysterious places along the main street and children use a treasure-hunt-type map to discover them all. How tricky is that? It engages the younger members of a travelling party, captures the whole family for longer (eating, drinking and shopping) as they walk, systematically moves visitors throughout the community, AND it is community-funded.

As you can tell, Greenville certainly left an impression and inspired us to think about what we could be doing in our own home town to enrich our community and add to the tourism arsenal. Greenville is a fantastic example of a community with a bit of vision and a lot of energy to bring their dreams to life. Their efforts have built a rich and vibrant community with a very high quality of life for themselves, but they have also created cultural and environmental tourist attractions that encourage people to visit, stay and spend.

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I love those meeces to pieces. Photo courtesy of: http://www.visitgreenvillesc

Win, win, win.

March 2013

 

The Basics

What: Greenville has a population of around 62 000 people. We stayed at Hampton Inn and Suites situated on the Reedy River in downtown Greenville. Access to the Swamp River Trail and the sculptures is free but you can also join themed walking/cycling/segway tours with a variety of commercial tour companies.

Where: Greenville is in the north-west corner of South Carolina, USA. You can fly in/out of Greenville/Spartanburg International Airport or access it by every other mode of transport.

When: We were there in early Spring and the flowers were just starting to pop open.

Why: Greenville is a picture-perfect introduction to the southern states of the USA. Friendly and warm people, interesting arts, tempting shopping, historic architecture, southern cuisine, a jazz scene and plenty of outdoor activities.

How: We drove from Washington DC (as you do) in a hire car. The road network is excellent.

Who: One man pretending to be on a serious research project (well yes, he actually was) and me being a serious tourist!

Related Posts: Looking for James Taylor 

Related Blogs: for the low down on all things Greenville, have a look at this blog: http://www.lovegreenville.com/blog/

Road Trippin’……

It was mid-Winter 2016 and The Brave Man* decided it was time to escape the depressing grey skies and horizontal rain. I am not sure what happened to our normal blue sky Winter days but maybe there is no such thing as ‘normal weather’ anymore.

Last year the escape destination was Hawaii. This year it was a road trip up the NSW North coast. Hardly comparable but just as enjoyable and a classic case of ‘same, same but different’.

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Tuncurry – on a sunny day – apparently it does happen!

With the ute loaded to the gills (why do we need so much stuff?) we escaped rainy, grey Mudgee to arrive about five hours later in rainy, grey Tuncurry. We hoped that this was not a sign of things to come but the weather is the one thing we have absolutely NO control over.

Tuncurry reminds me of one of those sleepy coastal towns that existed in my childhood. Naturally it now has all the ‘mod cons’, but there is not much to it other than a gorgeous long beach and a netted rock pool. And to me, that simplicity is a good thing!

I remember when we first started visiting Tuncurry, a local asked me one morning after our early walk/swim ‘if there had been many teabags in the rock pool this morning?’ I must have looked a bit flummoxed as I searched my memory for images of Twinings or Dilmah teabags carelessly discarded and adrift in the water. As it turns out, this is a term of endearment for the senior citizens who congregate in the pool every morning and just dunk up and down! You’ve got to love the Australian sense of humour.DSCF0048

I love heading to the coast (even in the rain) from inland NSW because of the contrast in landscape and climate. There were tons of roadworks along the way and these enforced stops, waiting for a green light to proceed at snail’s pace, provided the perfect opportunity to study roadside vegetation.

The forests are dense and lush. The trees are like tall, lean electricity poles that have magically sprouted green shoots. Tree ferns appear as giant, bright emerald umbrellas that delicately shade the understorey and provide a layered, 3D-depth to the foliage.

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An animal trapeze across a highway. Source: austouring.com

One thing really puzzles me though, and it relates to those koala/possum trapezes that are suspended high above and across the highways. How do the koalas know which ‘tree’ to climb to access the trapeze and thereby safely cross the road? Perhaps it is like that saying, ‘you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince’. Those poor animals have to climb a lot of trees before they find the right one connected to the trapeze. I can picture a unique brand of koala frustration and bad language!

I am also interested to understand how the small towns will cope once the road works, and the many bypasses currently under construction, are completed. Can they reinvent themselves? Do they have enough energy and initiative to provide reasons for travellers to abandon the highway, even for a short time? Or will the towns return to their original sleepy state?

We used the road trip to visit many old friends, long out of touch, and to visit all the little towns and villages that we had only ever heard about. Fabulous names such as Clybucca and Wizzenbucca literally whizzed by as we made our way up into the hinterland to Bellingen and Dorrigo.

As you leave the coast road, the countryside changes once again but this time into fertile, rolling hills. The green growth threatens to overtake every manmade structure and I can imagine that it is watching and waiting for its chance. Just as we turn our back, the green tendrils will extend and envelope everything. It is so luxuriant that even the livestock seem to be bored by the fodder growing up to their knees. ‘Ho hum’, they seem to say, ‘more delicious pasture’.

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One of the beautifully restored buildings in Bellingen.

The pastoral landscape is deceptive though, as it neatly contrasts with the original timber industry that was the origin of Bellingen. I find it interesting that such harshness and deprivation was the forerunner to the quirky, cosmopolitan town that is Bellingen. You are under-dressed if your dreadlocks are not on show as you sip on your soy, skinny, decaf chai latte. It is wall-to-wall alternative life-stylers and, while that makes for an interesting day trip, I couldn’t possibly live amongst all that creative and organic energy. I am just too plain and boring.

After climbing the 14 kms of winding road and hair-pin bends, we popped up onto the Dorrigo plateau and it almost felt like arriving in a different country. We emerged from dense and choking rainforest into an open, rolling landscape revealing a traditional, wide-street rural town. While I could sense a creative streak bubbling under the surface of Dorrigo, the utes and dogs that dominated the main street made me feel like I was closer to Mudgee than to the beach.

A rather sad highlight of the Dorrigo township, is their impressive train graveyard. We seem to have a thing for driving long distances to visit closed museums (see my blog post: Looking for James Taylor), and this trip was no different. The Brave Man* is a train fanatic and had heard about the locals’ ambitious vision to establish a train museum and working tourist railway. Unfortunately the energy behind the vision ran out once the enormous collection of trains, carriages, stations and sundry rail memorabilia was assembled. From peering over the fence, it looks like the site will be the desolate, final resting place for much of the gear as it slowly crumbles and rusts into the paddock. Pure heartbreak for The Brave Man*.

But we had places to be and sights to see, and with a tear in his eye, he pointed the ute back towards the ocean.DSCF0036

The pursuit of warmth continued all the way up the NSW coast until we arrived at Queensland’s Gold Coast. It appears we must have mightily offended the Weather Gods as, even though the thermometer reluctantly crept higher, we seemed to travel under a permanent rain cloud.

Next year?

We need to find a closed museum in a DRY destination!

 

July 2016

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

Sit down, Shut up, Hang On!

These rather harsh words were uttered by The Brave Man* as we collected the tiniest hire car from Heraklion airport and joined the madness that is the Crete road system. The two children sardined into the backseat quickly realised that their usually mild-mannered father was definitely NOT joking and decided that in the interests of personal longevity they should do exactly as they were told.

The Crete Adventure had begun.

2003 was a year of momentous change – the year The Brave Man* decided it would be a good experience for us all to move to England for his 12-month teaching stint. While this probably deserves its own detailed blog post, it certainly was the year we ‘seized the day’ and gorged ourselves on European history and culture. Naturally, this was only possible with meticulous planning, plentiful cheap and cheerful budget airlines, and much scrimping and saving.

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Chania

I remember studying Crete in Ancient History at high school, and with a cheap package deal booked, a week in Crete was just the ticket (so to speak) to escape a gloomy British Spring. Maybe it’s an Australian thing but, even before leaving our home in Mudgee, we had decided to fill every waking moment of the year (much to the kids’ disgust at times) with different food, art, history, culture, history, monuments, galleries, history and, oh yes, a small amount of beach time.

In May 2003, Crete had the highest number of road fatalities per capita and per annum of any European country. We were not aware of this statistic as we joined the throng in our matchbox car, on the wrong side of the road, sitting on the wrong side of the vehicle – but it soon became self-evident. Clearly, this was way before the time of GPS systems, so navigating a road network with the locals overtaking on blind corners in the rain was not the most relaxing way to start a holiday.

Despite a few close calls and a potential divorce, we arrived at our accommodation undamaged and the kids immediately abandoned us for the pool. As is their way, they quickly made friends with other children poolside. Sadly, in our opinion anyway, one English boy spent the entire time at the pool as his father drank beer and played with his mobile phone. Every day we would be out exploring the island’s rich history while Diego (yes, not quite the English name we were expecting either) did not leave the grounds of the resort. What a loss – but each to his own.

Crete is a compact island just dripping with history – both ancient and modern. Our little buzz box hire car gave us the flexibility to dig deep into historic sights – and sites – such as Knossos, or to simply enjoy the rugged countryside and isolated beaches.

Knossos

The obligatory postcard.

Struggling to remember my Year 12 Ancient History, I was awe-struck as I stood in the grounds of Knossos. Knossos was the capital of Minoan Crete and its first palace was built around a mind-boggling 1900BC. That palace had a series of iterations over the centuries as it was repeatedly destroyed by earthquake and then rebuilt with increasing complexity and sophistication. The palace ruins, home of the legend of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur, were uncovered in 1900 and we spent the best part of a day there – exploring the rooms, corridors and grounds. It was also well worth adding on the visit to the Archaeological Museum in nearby Heraklion, which houses many of the treasures excavated from the Palace.

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Elafonissi Beach…heaven.

In a short reprieve from all that history, we escaped to the Crete countryside and the beach at Elafonissi. This is the Crete you may see in all the tourist brochures – clear, azure water and long, white sandy beaches. Needless to say we visited historic sites on the way to and from the beach, including some Roman ruins high on a hilltop in the village of Polyrinia. The village provided some interesting history and spectacular views but was dominated by a few nervous moments. Driving blithely into the village we realised – too late – the narrowness of the streets. Lucky me, it was my turn to drive that day, and we all held our breath and sucked in our stomachs as we edged back down the hill with only millimetres between the car’s side mirrors and someone’s beautiful whitewashed home. My imagination was running wild as I pictured the explanation to the hire company that the car could not be returned as it was firmly wedged in a tiny side street of a tiny village in Western Crete!

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Dinner overlooking the Libyan Sea

A Crete adventure would not be complete without an intensive introduction to Greek food – olives, Greek salad, souvlaki and dolmades. The kids quickly learned that in restaurants, a strategically placed ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ in Greek would be rewarded with free ice cream. No flies on them! At other times we self-catered and I became firm friends with a young Crete woman who was the check-out chick at the neighbourhood supermarket. She grew up in Melbourne and was desperate to chat and hear an Australian accent, regardless of the long, disgruntled queue growing behind me.

Preveli Monastery

Preveli Monastery

Australia has strong links with Crete outside of immigration, with Australians taking an active role in WWII on Crete. Preveli Monastery, on the southern edge of Crete and overlooking the Libyan Sea, was used an evacuation base for Allied soldiers to escape the advancing Germans. Not all history has a happy ending though and there is an extensive war cemetery at Souda Bay which contains the remains of far too many Australian soldiers who fell during the Battle of Crete.

It is safe to say that Australians are still held in high regard by the local people and we received a warm welcome wherever we went. Perhaps it was the Greek-speaking children in our party, our passion to learn or our willingness to absorb as much of Crete as we could in a short period of time that won them over, but efcharisto Crete for the beauty and insight into your country…and for delivering us safely back to the airport!!

 

May 2003

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

The Wheels on the Bus Go…..

The Brave Man* decided that we needed to escape the chills of Winter and he had his heart set on Hawaii. Hawaii was nowhere near the top of my bucket list but as I have been known to go to an envelope opening, who was I to argue?

By the time the trip rolled around we were both longing for some warmth. We got that in spades on Kauai Island, one of the many islands that make up the Hawaiian Island group.

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Source: Pinterest

It was like stepping onto the set of Gilligan’s Island – swaying palm trees, thatched roofs and a profusion of frangipani. If MaryAnn had stepped out of the jungle bearing a coconut cream pie I would not have blinked. Or maybe that was just the jetlag kicking in.

Kauai is called the Garden Island – picture lush green as far as the eye can see. The main road hugs the edge of the coast, almost completely circling the island, perfect for exploration – just keep the sea on your right or left depending on the direction travelled.

I believe that half the fun of travelling to other countries is the opportunity to experience a place on a whole range of different levels – from the tourist high spots to the local haunts. Nothing enables this more than using public transport. Yes, I could get somewhere more quickly, more easily and in more comfort if I hired a car, but where is the fun in that?

Kauai has a fantastic public transport system with air-conditioned buses almost every 20 minutes. You can ride east or west, as far as you like, for the princely sum of US$2.00. The bus system is pushbike-friendly too and each bus has a clever racking system attached to the outside of the front of the bus to easily and safely transport bicycles. That would be handy if you were planning a cycling tour of the island – simply ride for as long as you like and then pull up at the first bus stop and wait for your $2 chauffeur

We went East the first day to Hanalei Bay. It is lovely to sit and watch the world go, or to idle, peering into backyards, down small streets and dusty lanes, and past shops and buildings giving into age or giving up to the jungle. Not all of it was pretty but all of it was interesting.

Needless to say we were a bit of novelty – a couple of tourists on the local bus and Aussie ones at that. Perhaps it is the gentle rhythm of the road but it seems to encourage people to get to know their neighbours. One fellow passenger shared his concerns about the amount of Chinese investment in the island locking the locals out of property ownership. Conversations like these, eerily familiar, give a small insight into the ‘real’ life of the island rather than just the tourist gloss. The bus driver looked a bit puzzled as we rode the bus to the very last stop. We had nothing better to do and we had to get our $2 worth.

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Source: Wikipedia

Hanalei Bay is the Hawaiian town of your imagination – wall-to-wall sarong shops interspersed with ukulele and surf shops. If you are not interested in any of this kitsch then retail pickings are slim, but the scenery makes up for it. This piece of paradise has been the setting for many movies including South Pacific and The Descendants. George Clooney was nowhere to be seen that day but we did strike up a conversation with a man who “loved the idea of traveling to Australia but there were too many things there that could kill you!” I guess that is one way we can manage our tourist numbers.

After the success of our bus journeys on Kauai, we thought we would adopt the same approach in Honolulu on Oahu Island. This is a completely different undertaking in a large city with multiple bus lines going every which way plus hotel shuttles, trolley buses and taxis. But being over-confident we were not deterred.DSCF4239.JPG

The Brave Man*, in need of some retail therapy, decided we needed to visit the Outlet Centre and bag a bargain or six. The concierge at the hotel recommended a shuttle bus ($10 each) but we were convinced we could navigate the public transport system for $2.50 each. What could go wrong? It was only a short, direct ride out there on the #42 bus.

Starving, dying of thirst and in dire need of a bathroom, we arrived at the Outlet Centre nearly four hours later! We had seen the seedier side of Honolulu, thousands of tents of the homeless and more graffiti and rundown businesses than we cared to count. We had changed buses, we had sat in the sun with the locals at the bus non-shelters, and had had plenty of time to consider our actions. All of which could have been avoided by investing in a 40 minute shuttle bus ride and $10.

A shuttle bus was immediately booked for the return trip to the hotel and we ran to make the most of the remaining 45 minutes shopping time! At least that limited the amount of damage to the credit card.

Lessons learned:

  • Taking the easiest option is sometimes the best option.
  • Take the time to travel simply but be prepared for things not to go to plan.
  • These little inconveniences are ‘first world problems’, so chalk it up to experience and enjoy it all regardless.

July 2015

*The Brave Man refers to my husband. He is indeed a brave man for marrying a crazy woman like me!

Looking for James Taylor

Is there anything more stressful than driving out of a foreign city, on the wrong side of the road, sitting on the wrong side of the car, and next to your husband?

Perhaps this would be a good pre-marriage test for the young and in love. If you can survive a road trip in another country and are still talking to each other by the end of it all, then you were meant to be together.

In 2013 my husband received a scholarship to the USA. I was the bag carrier and played tourist while he did scholarly things. We sampled parts of California before landing in the wonderful city that is Washington DC. Our ultimate destination was Greenville, South Carolina.

My husband is a massive James Taylor fan and, before leaving Australia, had trawled the Internet and found that James Taylor’s home town of Chapel Hill, North Carolina had
established a museum celebrating JT’s musical life. The resident JT fan thought that rather than flying, it would be a brilliant idea to drive from Washington DC to Greenville, SC via Chapel Hill. After all, on a map it is only about 5cm.

We set off into the DC dawn, doing our best to avoid the onslaught of grim-faced commuters. We were Aussies, on an adventure and on a mission – what could possibly go wrong? Our first real mistake was to place our faith in the GPS lady. We had no real idea where we were heading or how to get there other than to keep driving south. The precise directions were her responsibility.

All seemed to go quite smoothly until we argued against her spoken directions which conflicted with the printed directions on a good, old-fashioned paper map. Like rebellious teenagers we set off cross-country, heedless of her constant “recalculating, recalculating”. Honestly, that woman has the patience of Job.

No doubt the locals complain about the state of their roads but on the whole, we found them excellent. Beautiful, dual lane highways were described as minor roads on the paper map. If only the minor roads in rural Australia were as good.

After getting the hang of this “stay right, stay right” driving, and now talking to each other again, we felt confident that we could leave the highway in search of breakfast. As tacky as it might sound the neon of The Waffle House also had our names all over it with the bonus of being on the correct side of the highway and a car park bursting at the seams. That had to be a good sign.

Imagine our surprise as we opened the door of the diner to be greeted by a chorus of

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Carb loading at The Waffle House

“Hi y’all”. We quickly glanced behind us to see who had followed us in. No, the greeting was for us and obviously we were nearing the South.

It was an unspectacular breakfast but fuelled us for the rest of the journey to Chapel Hill. By this stage we had been driving for about three hours and had another five hours to go. Did I mention my husband was a JT fan?

Staying on the highways – and avoiding arguments with the GPS lady – we zipped through the early-Spring countryside. All around us the paddocks were dark and moist with the trees only hinting at greenery.

After eight hours on the road we slowed, took the highway off-ramp and rolled into Chapel Hill. My husband was on the edge of his seat as if there was a chance JT would be strolling the footpaths or perhaps putting out his garbage bin. The GPS lady counted down the distance and, at last, the official James Taylor Museum appeared.

To be honest it was a rather non-descript building with a very empty carpark. I couldn’t help myself – I started to giggle. The gardens were overgrown and random litter blew around the ground. Yes, it was closed. The JT fan leapt from the car, in disbelief that he could be so cruelly tricked. The doors were chained closed, the windows grimy and the rooms empty. Not only was the museum closed, it had been closed for a very long time.

Still not wanting to face reality, we drove in search of a Tourist Information Centre (also closed) or an alternate JT museum (non-existent). Instead we found a Chapel Hill resident who thought the museum had closed three years ago, and yet its website was alive and well.

Undeterred the JT fan knew that Chapel Hill had also named a bridge after their favourite son and our pilgrimage continued.

I couldn’t help but feel l a little silly taking a photo of my husband in front of a fairly stock standard, concrete bridge. We attracted the attention of a car load of locals who cheered us266 when I told them we had travelled all the way from Australia and driven eight hours to see a bridge! Maybe they were cheering our dedication but more likely our ridiculousness.

And Greenville SC was still another four hours drive away…

 

March 2013