Jacksonville , the port city from which I started my last ship contract, represents the American style in all its splendor, specific to the conservative South. The flight to get there was very long, and although we missed our last connection in JFK Airport in New York due to the long ques and long VISA , ID and security checks in the airport, it was no stress: our ship was running late
anyway so we got to spend a few days in the city.
The first thing that will strike you at first when you come out from the airport terminal is the sight of huge pickup trucks everywhere you look. The agent who picked us , was an old man driving a Toyota Tundra. That car in any European city would take up 2 parking spaces and be almost impossible to drive in the tight historical centers of Europe. Our Agent was an old man with cowboy hat and an Texan accent. He welcomed us and then went to fight with the parking lot ATM. I was amused to hear lines like “Stupid machine, shut up and take my money “. After 3 flights and a serious jet lag, when I finally reached the hotel , I fell flat on the bed and had a very good and deep sleep.
In the morning when I looked out the window of my hotel room I saw a suburban landscape, a neat green lawn was surrounding the hotel, nearby there was a Wall Mart , and in the distance in the background the highway that we come on from the airport. The Americans took full advantage of the open spaces that they were blessed with. The whole city is developed horizontally, Jacksonville is the second largest city by surface in the US , second only after Los Angeles area, although the city population barely reaches 800,000. With a few exceptions in the central area, few buildings exceed one or two levels in height, most people living in stand alone houses with spacious yards. The car here is not just a fad, but a real necessity because of the long distances, most families owning several vehicles. [Read more below the photos]
Eager to explore , after breakfast I made a run at the Wall Mart, bought a SIM card starter kit from T-Mobile , a local package cost $ 25 and includes the sim card and $ 10 credit. I also choose the unlimited mobile internet option, which costs $ 3 a day and offers unlimited traffic for 24 hours at 4G speed. Once I was online and with the power of Google Maps in my hands , quickly checked where the nearest bus stop is what line goes to Downtown. The Company dealing with public transportation in Jacksonville has good coverage of the city, mostly by bus. A smart feature that I liked: while you are waiting for the bus in the station, you can send an SMS to the number displayed on the station panel, and after sending this SMS, shortly you will receive back an automated SMS that tells you how long you have to wait for the next bus to arrive. After 15 minutes of waiting at the station, the bus came almost on time like the SMS said. Getting on the bus is done only through the forward door, and you show the driver your ID or pay on the spot the fare in the amount of $ 1.25 coins that are inserted into a jukebox, and the ticket is printed there and than. In the bus I noticed that the passengers sit on various ethnic groups. Another nice feature of the public transport that I noticed is the easy access for people in wheelchair. In the 11 km trip to Downtown, two people in wheelchairs got on the bus. When the driver sees such a person waiting on the station platform , uses the controls of his bus to leans it toward the bus station and launches a special ramp from the bus deck for easy access. Once the person in the wheelchair is in the bus, the driver goes and locks it with special brakes brakes … now that’s patience.
After we passed a huge bridge across the Saint John River, we arrived in the center, Downtown. After 11 kilometers of streets full of houses, start to appear the first high-rise buildings , lively streets, pedestrian traffic, shops with large showcases and a familiar urban landscape. In the center there is also a small monorail line that connects the bus terminal with the hotels area across the river, which fortunately was free to ride on that day. Going down on foot towards the river, I found Hemming Plaza next to City Hall, which is a modern neat plaza full of palm trees and very lively area filled with young and street performers. The central area , like in other American cities, is very clean, generous with multi-storey car parks, and filled with skyscrapers. After we passed the Wells Fargo tower, reached the “The Jacksonville Landing”pontoon , from where starts the pedestrian promenade starts and runs parallels the river. [Read more after photos]
On the Jacksonville Landing there is a small mall with a large open area, full of restaurants and terraces. On the pedestrian promenade , the city hall installed various informative placards with pictures of the city’s colonial history, a very good idea I could say. From the promenade , walked towards the massive state court and a little further found a huge Railway station which was closed due to lack of passengers and now used as a convention center. Disappointed that I found the convention center closed I went on the monorail and crossed to the other side of the river in the hotels area. Here we found a large square with a big fountain by the river where you can admire the best view of the city on the opposite bank. [Read more after photos]
By this time I was quite tired so decided that’s enough for today and made my way back to the bus terminal. After a shower and dinner , I could not stand still and went back to the center to check out nightlife scene there.
I did not expect it to be much during week night and it seems I was right. Except for the stadium area where there was an important Football match, all downtown seemed to be downright abandoned. Only at “The Landing” pontoon area seemed to be some activity in the bars , mostly people who came to watch the football game I was talking about earlier. Even tough I was alone there , I found some friendly people in the bar , nice welcoming people with who one can drink a couple of beers and exchange stories. In my country of Romania if you come alone in a bar , everybody will look at you strange , and you will probably have a hard time starting a conversation with someone (everybody comes with their own group) but in the US I found is quite easy to mingle with strangers in the bar. At 23:30 , quickly went to catch the last bus back to the hotel. [Read more after photos]
On the third and last day in town, while having breakfast, I looked on a map with recommended attractions in the area and decided to see checkout the beach area of the city , called Atlantic Beach. Atlantic Ocean is 14 kilometers away from downtown but there is a direct bus line to take you there. On the way to the bus station I chose another route, although it was longer , it gave me the opportunity to walk cross a typical gorgeous suburb. This community of houses and apartment buildings with 2 floors , surrounded by walls and gates , had in its center an artificial lake , and between the lake and houses the space was filled with numerous well maintained lawns and playgrounds for children … .Although I never saw any children. [Read more after photos]
After another forty minutes I reached the end of bus the line the in Atlantic Beach. Here I found a residential suburb mixed with numerous hotels that line the beach. One aspect that I like: between the beach area and the hotels there is a buffer green space. To reach the beach one must cross one of the many wooden walkways. All the space beyond the green curtain is exclusively for beach and leisure activities. This regulation has been a successful urban experiment, the untouched and unspoiled beach and simply gorgeous. When you look on the beach you will see that all buildings are lined nicely beyond the green curtain, the only building on the beach is a massive and very wide pier that extends a considerable distance offshore. After passing the hotels we arrived in a nice quiet wealthy area comprised of tiny wooden beach front houses that just reminds you of the America that you see in movies, with white houses and white picket fence, a Mustang parked in the yard, where children are playing with skateboards on the street, the old man is swinging peacefully on the balcony or terrace , and the milkman comes from door to door and delivers bottles of fresh milk. I must admit that this people really seem to live the American dream and for a few moments I was very jealous. [Read more after photos]
The US may not be the perfect country and I admit that there are many things that bother me when it come to them, and there are many cities and areas with bad reputation, but they also have many beautiful areas, with nice friendly people who live a good life. Although they are not the smartest of Earthlings, Americans tend to focus on their own business and very rarely say they will turn you down when you ask for their help , as long as you do it a polite way and you don’t present any threat. Enjoy the rest of the photos in the gallery below.
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