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Days 137-138: South Carolina (Part 2)

Day 137 (10/15/14): Myrtle Beach, SC | Charleston, SC

Well, Myrtle Beach was not the glamorous destination we had been hoping for, so we left today. We’re not done with South Carolina yet though. The city we were most interested in seeing was Charleston, and that’s where we’re going today! As we approached Charleston, there was a slightly tropical, Tommy Bahama vibe with palm trees dividing the road. Just outside of Charleston was the suburb of Mount Pleasant, SC. The shopping centers looked really nice, so we made a mental note to spend more time exploring the area later.

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Arthur Ravenel Bridge

Next, we crossed the Cooper River by way of the Arthur Ravenel bridge. With a length of 2.5 miles, this is the longest cable-stayed bridge in North America. While driving through Charleston, we noticed quite a few unique restaurants along the way. We also saw a thrift store named “Re-TAIL” with all proceeds going to animals! What an amazing concept! Our campground was just past all the action. This location worked out well because it allowed us to scope things out on the way.

As soon as we had everything situated with the trailer, we headed back to have lunch at one of the cafes we had driven by. We chose to eat at The Glass Onion, which coincidentally turned out to be a Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives restaurant! For our meal, we shared the Frenchaletta sandwich and the “Fish of the Day” Po Boy. The Po Boy was tasty, but the Frenchaletta was outstanding with intense flavor and flaky yet soft bread. Justin also had a Cheerwine for his beverage. The soda tastes like a cross between Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper and is officially Justin’s new favorite drink.

After eating, we wanted to see downtown Charleston. But, first, we took a detour to Folly Beach, a barrier island along South Carolina’s coast. We drove to the end of the road and ended up at Folly Beach County Park. This was the perfect day to be there. The weather was gorgeous, and the beach was practically empty.

When we reached downtown Charleston, we were surprised by the lack of a typical city skyline as there were no skyscrapers or even tall buildings. Most of the structures seemed to be the same height, which we found to be odd. Charleston’s downtown was unlike any other downtown area we had visited for a major city. We figured there had to be a reason for the low city skyline, so we did some research.

Come to find out, the first shots of the Civil War were fired in Charleston, and the city was captured during the war. Despite this, there was minimal property damage, leaving many of the historic buildings and houses intact. In an effort to preserve these structures, Charleston was the first U.S. city to pass a historical preservation ordinance. It is because of this ordinance that downtown Charleston remains such a historic place. As for the low-rise cityscape, we discovered that Charleston has a city height restriction stating that buildings cannot be taller than the church steeples.

The College of Charleston is located in the midst of the downtown area, giving the city a college town feel. The school’s presence was apparent with droves of young adults filling the sidewalks. This section seemed to be mostly residential with numerous historic homes, which probably house the majority of the college students. The nearby King Street appeared to be the primary commercial section and consisted of a variety of both high-end and low-end shops with a few dining venues mixed in.

Not far from King Street is Waterfront Park bordering the water of the Charleston Harbor off the Atlantic Ocean. There’s also Rainbow Row, a section of colorful historic private houses on the west side of East Bay Street facing the harbor. Even though the city of Charleston is a decent size, it has a small town feel due to the charm of the historic buildings remaining in the city.

 

Day 138 (10/16/14): Charleston, SC | Moncks Corner, SC

The famous swan scene from "The Notebook"
The famous swan scene from “The Notebook”

To witness more of the South’s captivating charm, we visited Cypress Gardens today in Moncks Corner, SC. The swamp-garden is the location of one of the famous scenes from “The Notebook” where Noah rowed Allie through swan-filled water. Come to find out, the swans were brought in for 5 days to film 2.5 minutes for the film, but the outcome was unforgettable. In addition to “The Notebook,” another movie that was filmed at Cypress Gardens was “The Patriot.”

We paid $10 per person to enter the gardens and quickly decided the entry fee was worth every penny. The payment not only covered our entry, it also included all the exhibits as well as a boat ride. We took full advantage, starting with a ride in a flat-bottomed row boat. The boat ride allowed us to tour the eerie swamp at our own pace. Justin insisted on rowing us the entire way. This was such a romantic gesture, which did not go unappreciated on my part. I was left to relax and truly appreciate the beauty of the bald cypress trees piercing through the wetland as they reached upward toward the sky.

Spanish moss hung hauntingly from the tree branches while lily pads blanketed the reflective water. The black-water swamp appeared to reach hundreds of feet down below the surface. But, we learned that the water was actually only a few feet deep. Upon first glance, the pitch-black water seemed murky, but, with a closer look, it was actually quite clear. The water’s dark tone is caused by the tannins from decomposing leaves and other plants. This feature added to the ethereal beauty of the swamp-garden. The serene boat ride through Cypress Gardens was truly magical. We were practically alone in the swamp and were completely enthralled with the tranquil setting. Words and photographs cannot properly depict the wondrous ambiance of the Gardens as we slowly floated through the mirror-like water.

While in the boat, we saw plenty of turtles but no alligators. After the boat ride, we took the nature trail around the swamp by foot. Towards the end of the path, we finally saw 2 small alligators each of which were only approximately 1-2 feet long. While tiny, we were still excited to spot the alligators, as they were the first ones we had ever seen in the wild. We finished the nature trail and then moved on to the exhibits, the first of which was the alligator exhibit. Here we saw several much larger alligators, but they were behind a fence instead of being out in the open. We also visited the aquarium where we viewed live rattlesnakes among several other snakes, fish, etc. Lastly, we walked through the butterfly exhibit, seeing (you guessed it) butterflies as well as a working beehive. We thoroughly enjoyed everything about the gardens!

Not far from Cypress Gardens was the small town of Summerville. We visited the suburb to determine if it could be a potential home if we decided to live in Charleston. However, we quickly realized that it was too far from the action. The modest Main Street boasted a few cafes and stores but was mostly unremarkable. Surprisingly though, Summerville was apparently the Birth Place of Sweet Tea (according to the sign proudly displayed in the town). As we traveled back to Charleston, we drove through the Historic Ashley River Plantation District and passed by Middleton Place & Magnolia Plantation. We didn’t tour any of the plantations along the route though because we were planning on touring the Boone Plantation the next day.

At this point, we were starving. Justin had worked up an appetite from all the rowing he did at Cypress Gardens (and I had worked up an appetite from watching him). We wanted to try some southern barbecue since South Carolina claims to be the birthplace of barbecue. When we were eating at The Glass Onion yesterday, we saw that the establishment next door was a barbecue restaurant named Swig & Swine (what a great name for a BBQ joint!). We went back and ate there based on the name alone. We shared the Pulled Pork Sandwich with a side of Mac & Cheese and the Brisket Sandwich with a side of Hash & Rice.

There were four different BBQ sauces to choose from – Sweet Red, Vinegar, Mustard and White. We tried a little of each and couldn’t decide which one we liked best. Next we tried some sauce combinations. For all we know, it could be taboo per South Carolina BBQ standards to mix the sauces, but we loved the combo of the Vinegar and White sauces. I think if we each had to choose a favorite sauce, Justin’s favorite was the Vinegar Sauce and mine was the White Sauce. Normally I can’t get enough mustard, so I was surprised that the creamy horseradish-type white sauce was my actual favorite. The barbecued meats on the sandwiches were succulent, but the sauces took their flavors to stratospheric heights!

The sides were also good. You’d think you couldn’t go wrong with mac and cheese, but after the gelatinous version we received in Raleigh, we knew we were taking a risk ordering it again. Our risk was rewarded though at the Swig & Swine with the kind of authentic mac and cheese we had been hoping for in the South. As for the Hash & Rice, we didn’t know what to expect from the ground pork cheek mixture. But, the “hash” was delicious with a somewhat sweet tomato based sauce and a hint of heat that soaked into the rice. With the perfect balance of sweet, savory and spicy, we thoroughly enjoyed the Hash & Rice! We didn’t try the ribs, so we can’t compare them to the amazing ribs we had at Pappy’s Smokehouse in St. Louis, MO (best ribs ever!). However, the sandwiches at Swig & Swine may have been the best BBQ sandwiches we’ve ever had!

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Days 135-136: South Carolina (Part 1)

Day 135 (10/13/14): Myrtle Beach, SC

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Across from our RV site

While in Myrtle Beach, we were actually staying right at the beach. This morning, we took advantage of our beachside location and drank coffee overlooking the ocean. After living in Southern California for five years, we had been missing the beach.  Even though the weather was somewhat grey and dismal, we still relished the water views.

We were looking forward to see Myrtle Beach but were shocked to see how rundown it was with shady looking motels and no shops or restaurants along Ocean Blvd. The beach area was completely lacking in charm and reminded Justin of Laughlin, NV or the Bahamas (which he hated). We suddenly missed our old stomping grounds in Manhattan Beach, CA.

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Main Street in North Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach was quite disappointing. It’s somewhat tragic because the coastal town has a lot of potential with nice houses and neighborhoods, but it dropped the ball on the commercial side. We continued driving through Atlantic Beach and headed up to North Myrtle Beach. The Main Street of North Myrtle Beach was the most eclectic area we saw, but that’s not saying much.

When we reached the end of the road in North Myrtle Beach, we parked and walked out to Cherry Grove Beach. On our way back to our campground, we stopped to have lunch at The Market Common. The outdoor shopping center had some upscale boutique shops and restaurants. This was what we expected to see by the actual beach and seemed like it must be the nice area of Myrtle Beach.

 

Day 136 (10/14/14): Myrtle Beach, SC | Conway, SC

We’ve experienced some crazy weather on this trip! Last night was up there with the tornado we almost experienced in Nebraska. There was a torrential rainstorm that seemed to last all night. With sheets of rain hammering the roof of the trailer and vicious winds rocking it back and forth, sleeping was impossible. Since we were on the East Coast, we were worried it was a hurricane, something we had never experienced before!

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Giving Meaty a haircut

Luckily, we survived the storm despite the nerve-wracking weather and lack of sleep. We were able to make up for lost shut-eye by sleeping in this morning. When we finally woke up and dared to look outside, there seemed to be at least an inch of rain on the ground. Even with all the precipitation throughout the night, Mother Nature wasn’t done. The rain continued during most of the day, forcing us to stay inside. Nonetheless, I used the rainy day to give the dogs a much-needed haircut. The trailer actually makes a decent dog grooming station.

The rain eventually let up in the afternoon, so we jumped on the opportunity to go exploring. We ventured up to Conway, one of the oldest towns in South Carolina. The downtown historic district consisted of a few businesses along the primary road. From there, we took a short stroll to the nearby Waccamaw River and walked alongside the water on the River Walk.

We loved the eerie trees lining the streets with moss dangling from them. Conway seemed as if time there passed at a slower pace. I could picture people sitting in rocking chairs on their front porch while drinking sweet tea and waving to their neighbors. While Conway had its charm, the small Southern town was much too small for us.

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Days 132-134: North Carolina & South Carolina

Day 132 (10/10/14): Raleigh, NC | Kill Devil Hills, NC | Buxton, NC

Originally we were planning on heading south from Raleigh, NC, down to Myrtle Beach, SC. But, we’ve learned on this trip that plans change frequently. Based on suggestions from several different people, we decided to take a slight detour back up north and further east to the Outer Banks (also referred to as simply “OBX”) of North Carolina. The Outer Banks are a narrow strip of barrier islands stretching 200-miles long from the southeastern corner of Virginia along the coast of North Carolina.

While we were driving, we saw several cotton fields along with a few rivers. I was shocked when I learned that one of the rivers was named the Alligator River. The body of water was so incredibly wide, I thought it must’ve been a lake. But no, the name clearly states river. We also drove over three long bridges, each several miles long and ridiculously bumpy. Driving over the bridges felt like we were riding a bucking bull! We’ve learned that towing a travel trailer does not make for a smooth ride.

Between two of the bridges was Roanoke Island, home of the infamous Lost Colony as well as America’s first English born child. With the entire colony vanishing in 1587, Roanoke has always intrigued me. You might remember from our time spent at the Eastern State Penitentiary that I’m slightly obsessed with abandoned places. They fascinate me, and the story of the Lost Colony from Roanoke is one I’ve always been curious about.

IMG_0594When we reached the Outer Banks, we also reached the end of the road. We turned left and drove roughly 11 miles north to our campground in Kill Devil’s Hill, NC. Once we had finished getting settled in at our camp, we headed back south down the narrow strip of land nearly 59 miles to the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse at the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. We assumed that, while driving, we would have an ocean view the entire way. There were a few times when we were treated to glimpses of the ocean. But, we were disappointed that sand dunes mostly blocked our sightlines of the water. We were also disappointed that there were no cute seaside villages like we had hoped to see.

I hate to admit this, but if I’m being honest, we weren’t impressed with the Outer Banks. Before arriving, we had envisioned quaint beach towns, but that wasn’t the case at all. The Outer Banks felt Spring Break-ish and only featured a few restaurants and gift shops. I could picture it as a great summer destination for families to spend on the beach. IMG_0600But other than that, there didn’t seem to be much to do or see. The island is actually a sand bar with most of the land completely undeveloped except for a few small towns. The majority of the houses were tall and had an average of 4 stories with decks on each level. They were also built up on stilts for potential flood protection. Apparently hurricanes are a major concern in the area.

After traveling through the small towns of Rodanthe and Avon, we reached the Cape Hatteras Light, the tallest brick lighthouse in America with a height of 210 feet at its new site. For $8, you can climb to the top of the lighthouse. There are a total of 257 steps to take, which is equivalent to climbing up a 12 stories! By the time we got there, though, it was already closed for the day. My back and I were actually relieved to not be able to climb to the top of the lighthouse! Haha! And, luckily, we were still able to see the lighthouse and talk to a Park Ranger about it. An interesting fact we learned from the Ranger was that, in 1999, the 4,830 ton (9.66 million pound) lighthouse was actually moved 2,900 feet over a period of 23 days!

The move path of the lighthouse (photo from the National Park Service website)
The move path of the lighthouse (photo from the National Park Service website)

This was due to shoreline erosion causing the lighthouse’s location to become dangerously close to the ocean’s edge. At its completion in 1870, the lighthouse was safely located 1,500 feet from the shore. However, over the next 100 years, the tides had drastically eroded the sand, leaving just 120 feet between the lighthouse and the ocean! The only way to save the lighthouse was to move it in its entirety, so that’s what they did. The lighthouse was relocated 1,600 feet from the water and should be safe for at least another 100 years. What an amazing feat to preserve the Cape Hatteras Light!

With the daylight dwindling, we traveled up the road to a nearby beach where we were provided with a view of the lighthouse from a distance. As we eventually made our way back north towards our campground, we were compelled to pull over at one point. This allowed us to take a moment and fully appreciate the sun setting over the water on the sound side of the island. Sunsets must be one of the features people enjoy about the Outer Banks!

 

Day 133 (10/11/14): Kill Devil Hills, NC

For our last day in the Outer Banks, we visited the Wright Brothers National Memorial, which happened to be right down the road from where we were staying. This is the location where the first powered flight took place! After paying an admission fee of $4 per person, we parked and entered the Visitor Center, which houses a museum about the Wright Brothers and their achievements in flight.

Outside of the Visitor Center are a couple of exhibits, including replicas of two wooden sheds that represent the world’s first airplane hangar as well as the living quarters for the Wright brothers. There are also markers, which show the take-off and landing points for the first four successful flights made by the brothers on December 17th, 1903. And, sitting atop Kill Devil Hill is the memorial tower, a 60-foot tall stone monument, honoring the accomplishments of the Wright brothers.

We didn’t spend too much time at the outdoor sites as it was a hot and humid day. Later in the evening, we had dinner at The Colington Cafe located in-between the memorial and our campground. With all the fast-food meals we had been eating lately, it was time for us to treat ourselves to some surf and turf ! The restaurant was actually a quaint house with a mix of country and Victorian charm. This was quite different from all the other establishments we had seen in the Outer Banks. It began raining, and we enjoyed our meals while we looked outside at the rain showering the restaurant’s garden. We found the charm we had been hoping for and had a lovely end to our time in the OBX.

 

Day 134 (10/12/14): Kill Devil Hills, NC | Myrtle Beach, SC

Back to our original route. We left the Outer Banks this morning, drove back through Raleigh and headed south to Myrtle Beach. We passed numerous cotton fields and several rivers, including the Tar River and the Cape Fear River outside of Wilmington, NC. The driving directions eventually took us through took some back roads, and we prayed not to break down for fear of having a Texas Chainsaw Massacre experience. Fortunately, we avoided any issues and subsequent involvement in a horror story.

As we pulled into Myrtle Beach, SC, we were reminded of Pigeon Forge, TN. We had a case of déjà vu when we saw another upside down building, Planet Hollywood, Hard Rock, and more dinner show billboards, go kart tracks, and miniature golf courses. This was not what we were expecting, but it should be interesting!

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Days 130-131: Virginia & North Carolina

Day 130 (10/8/14): Richmond, VA | Raleigh, NC

IMG_0790 Having our fill of Richmond, we were ready to leave Virginia. Since we were working our way down South, we’d be going back through North Carolina and wanted to check out Raleigh. While driving, we saw numerous cotton fields as well as billboards for BBQ. We finished setting up at camp early and were craving some Carolina BBQ, so we headed into downtown Raleigh in search of a good BBQ joint.

We found The Pit Authentic Barbecue and decided to have a late lunch there. With a name like “The Pit,” you would expect an authentic casual BBQ place, especially since it also has the word “authentic” actually in the name. However, we didn’t see any type of a pit and there was no smoky aroma in the air (those should’ve been a red flag). The restaurant actually appeared to be somewhat upscale. We were hoping to be able to take advantage of a happy hour, but we were reminded that tragically there are no happy hours allowed in North Carolina. Strike two.

The Pit Authentic Barbecue
The Pit Authentic Barbecue

With no happy hour appetizers to load up on, we chose the family-style option for $14.99/person, This included 2 appetizers, 2 entrees, 2 sides and a dessert. We started with the Fried Pimento Cheese and Bacon Bruschetta for our appetizers. The bruschetta was decent, but the fried cheese was delicious with it’s crispy outside, cheesy interior and sweet accompanying sauce. I wish I would have made a meal out of the cheese because everything else was extremely disappointing.  For our entrees, we chose the Brisket and upgraded to the Carolina Ribs for an extra $4 per person.

First of all, the brisket was dry and tough. It seemed overcooked and wasn’t tender at all. As for the ribs, we had wanted to try Carolina style ribs since we were in North Carolina. However, they were a waste of additional money. We were only given 2 ribs each, and there was absolutely no meat on them. As we attempted to eat the ribs, we felt like dogs gnawing on an old bone. Our sides weren’t any better. We had the Mac & Cheese, which was cold and gelatinous, and the Potato Salad tasted store-bought. Lastly our dessert of Carrot Cake was dry. Overall, this was a horrible, overpriced meal. It literally left a bad taste in our mouths for Raleigh.

We didn’t want our food experience to ruin our Raleigh experience though. While exploring the downtown area, we came across City Market. The shopping area looked inviting with quite a few boutiques and lights strung up over the cobblestone streets. We continued driving and ventured over to Whole Foods. The surrounding neighborhoods seemed nice. As we headed out of downtown Raleigh, we got stuck in traffic. It really does seem like traffic is everywhere nowadays, even in mid-size cities like Raleigh. We’ve now been to three different places in North Carolina: Raleigh, Charlotte and Asheville. Of those three, Asheville was our favorite.

 

Day 131 (10/9/14): Raleigh, NC

We were in desperate need of a day off from the road (both from our long drives between stops and our shorter drives exploring the downtowns). Hence we made this a leisure day. We’ve been going non-stop. At this point, traveling is becoming more of a chore than an enjoyment. Exhaustion had set in, and we knew if we kept going at this rate, we were going to burn ourselves out. We’ve realized that it’s impossible to see and do it all.

Even if we spent a year in each state, I doubt we’d be able to see everything.  As it is, we’re on a budget and somewhat of a timeline.  We’re only spending a few days in each place.  Therefore, we have to trust our gut feeling of the areas we’re able to see.  That’s why we start with the downtowns and then go from there.  It’s our strategy to make the most of our time.  Hopefully down the road we can go back to some of the places we enjoyed and spend more time at them exploring their surrounding areas.

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Days 127-129: Maryland & Virginia

Day 127 (10/5/14): Baltimore, MD | Annapolis, MD

While driving to our campground in College Park, MD, we passed by Baltimore. Our friend Susan from Lake Michigan had told us she was surprised by how much she enjoyed Baltimore. Based on her recommendation, we decided to go back and actually experience the city of Baltimore. When we first entered the downtown area from the west, I won’t lie, it was pretty sketchy. Many of the businesses were closed, and it appeared as though there were quite a few homeless people inhabiting the sidewalks. But despite the negative vibe we were feeling, we were determined to find the Baltimore our friend Susan must have been referring to. We kept exploring and eventually reached the water of the Inner Harbor seaport of Chesapeake Bay.

This must be the area Susan had seen! The Inner Harbor seemed like a more upscale area with hotels, numerous shops and several restaurants on the water. This must be where Baltimore got the nickname “Charm City.” The neighborhoods surrounding the Inner Harbor were rather charming and had some personality with numerous brick buildings. The Federal Hill neighborhood just south of the Inner Harbor had a small town feel to it. There was also a quaint Little Italy section proudly displaying its Italian colors. Apparently, Baltimore has some nice pockets. We’re glad we didn’t let our unfavorable first impression deter us from venturing through more of the city!

Once we felt that we had seen a enough of Baltimore, we decided that we wanted to get a better look at Chesapeake Bay. Since it was still early in the day, we drove further southeast to Annapolis, MD. What a pleasant surprise! We loved the small seaside town overflowing with character. And we happened to be there on the right day because there was a First Sunday Arts Festival! A street was closed off for the street fair to make room for all the artsy vendors. There were also sidewalk cafes, live music and lots of dogs walking around with their humans (there was even a goat!). The sidewalks were filled with people strolling to and from all the restaurants and shops along the one-way Main Street heading down to the water. Annapolis seemed to be very dog-friendly and was such a lively, quaint coastal town.


Day 128 (10/6/14): College Park, MD | Richmond, VA

Virginia SignOur time in Maryland was well spent, and we were ready to move on. Soon Maryland was in our rear-view mirror as we traveled south to Richmond, VA. We were enjoying the short drives between the smaller Eastern states, especially with how worn out we had been lately. Between all the walking and sightseeing in Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., we were exhausted from being on the go so much. Luckily we arrived at our campground early, which allowed us to spend the rest of the day unwinding with some much needed relaxation.

 

Day 129 (10/7/14): Richmond, VA

Time for another oil change. After putting over 23,000 miles on our truck, this is our 3rd oil change in the 4 months we’ve been on the road. Once the oil change was completed at the GMC dealership in Richmond, VA, we ventured into downtown Richmond. The town seemed quiet. There weren’t any skyscrapers, but the colorful buildings created a somewhat funky edge.

Past the downtown, we crossed the James River. The service guy guy at the GMC dealership warned us that the area south of the River could be rough, and we saw what he meant. I would classify Richmond as a “small big city,” which might be what we’re looking for size-wise. However, Richmond seems rather industrial and doesn’t have the vibe we’re looking for. We want it to feel right. I guess we’re waiting for the “ah-ha” moment to hit when we reach a city.

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Days 125-126: Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland & Washington, D.C.

Day 125 (10/3/14): Narvon, PA | Delaware | College Park, MD

This was a driving day. We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Pennsylvania and appreciated all the historic places we were able to see. But with our tour of the state now complete, it was time to move on. So we left Pennsylvania today and began heading south. While en route to our next destination in Maryland, we drove about 20 miles out of our way to take a detour to Delaware. On our way through Delaware, we passed by the town of Wilmington, the largest city in the tiny state. A few hours later, we made it to Maryland and passed through Baltimore, MD. We were staying at an RV park in College Park, MD, because it was the closest one to Washington, D.C. Tomorrow is the big day to visit our nation’s capital!

 

Day 126 (10/4/14): College Park, MD | Washington, D.C.

Map of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Map of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Not far from our campground in Maryland was a subway station. From there, we took an easy subway ride into Washington, D.C., early this morning. Our goal was to visit the landmarks in the National Mall. The name would suggest a shopping mall, but that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth. The National Mall is actually a national park in downtown D.C., which mostly consists of the area between the United States Capitol building and the Lincoln Memorial. When we arrived, it felt as though the city was still waking up. It was a crisp, overcast morning. The streets were quiet, and the sun was just beginning to pierce the clouds and illuminate the buildings.

Being in Washington, D.C., a place I had previously only seen on TV and in photos, was utterly surreal. Before we planned this extensive road trip, I never thought I would have visited the federal district. We had always been so busy with work in the past. Anytime we went on vacation, I just wanted to relax and had no desire to sightsee. But now I was thrilled to have the opportunity to tour our country’s capital!

Th National Archives Museum
The National Archives Museum

We began by walking a few blocks to the U.S. Capitol building atop Capitol Hill. From there, we could see the Washington Monument standing tall and proud in the distance. There is a large grassy common area spanning the space between the Capitol building and the Washington Monument.  The sun was now fully shining, and people were taking advantage by playing flag football in the expansive stretch of lawn. We took the unpaved path alongside the grass and then crossed the street over to the National Archives Museum. After waiting in line, we were able to view the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights! Sadly, we weren’t allowed to photograph anything, so you’ll just have to go there yourself to see the historic documents in person. 🙂

We then walked to the Washington Monument, which somewhat marks the center of the National Mall. At just over 554 feet and 7 inches high, the memorial is the tallest obelisk in the world as well as the world’s tallest stone structure. Standing in front of the obelisk and stretching our heads back as far as possible, we still couldn’t see the top. We laid on our backs in front of the memorial and placed our feet up on the side of the building. As we looked up, it seemed as though the obelisk ascended indefinitely into the sky. From this vantage point, we could see that the marble stones composing the structure are two different colors. There is a definite dividing line of the varying shades of marble about 150 feet up. This is because construction began on the memorial in 1848 but was delayed from 1854 until 1877. Hence, you can see where the construction began again on the two-tone obelisk.

Past the Washington Monument was the World War II Memorial with fountains and pillars holding a wreath-like metal ring for each state. There is also the Freedom Wall, which consists of 4,048 gold stars. Each star represents 100 Americans who died in World War II or remain missing. The wall densely covered in gold stars really emphasized the number of casualties from the war and gave me an amplified appreciation for the soldiers.

The Lincoln Memorial was our next stop. On our way there, we strolled alongside the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, the site of numerous historic political events. After scaling dozens of steps and squeezing our way through the crowds, we were standing next to the iconic statue of Abraham Lincoln. Looking out from the memorial, we could see the Reflecting Pool, the Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol. It was amazing to see all of these landmarks at the same time. At this point, there were now thousands of people around. I usually hate having random people in my photos, but I actually liked observing all the people surrounding the Lincoln Memorial. Everything seems to be so white and beige in D.C. The juxtaposition of the monotone governmental shades with the rainbow of people dotting the steps of the memorial was definitely welcomed.

The last site we visited was the White House. It was smaller than I expected it to be, but wow…I couldn’t believe we were standing in front of the actual White House! This was something I could now cross off my bucket list! In all honesty, I’ve never really been into politics or history. But being able to see so many historically symbolic buildings and memorials in person was incredible!

After all the walking we did, we had developed a voracious appetite. However, the dining choices seemed limited in the National Mall area. The closest restaurant to the White House that we came across was the Old Ebbitt Grill. When we discovered that the famous grill had been open since 1856 and is the oldest bar and restaurant in Washington, D.C., we knew we had to have lunch there! Unfortunately, the food was average, but the interior was plush with rich wood paneling, brass fixtures and green velvet booths. By the time we left the restaurant, exhaustion had set in. Since we had seen everything we set out to see in D.C., we hoofed through the downtown area back to the subway. We came, we conquered, we called it a day. 🙂

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Day 124: Pennsylvania (Part 2)

Day 124 (10/2/14): Philadelphia, PA

For our last Pennsylvania destination, we visited Philadelphia, known as the “birthplace of American democracy” and “The City of Brotherly Love.” Wondering how Philadelphia received the “brotherly love” nickname, I discovered that it’s not so much a nickname as it’s actually a literal translation. Philadelphia in Greek basically means “brother” and “love,” hence the name “The City of Brotherly Love.” Aren’t little random facts fun? Enough with the linguistics lesson though.

Map of Philadelphia
Map of Philadelphia & the Independence National Historical Park

We were dying to have a Philly Cheesesteak in Philadelphia, but first things first. With only one day to see all the historical sites in Philadelphia, we had to make the most of our visit by having a strategic plan (these websites were helpful for planning our trip to Philadelphia: www.nps.gov & www.visitphilly.com).  Initially concerned about parking our truck in Philadelphia while sightseeing, we were relieved to find that there was ample (affordable) all-day underground parking at the Independence Visitor Center. This was the perfect starting point for the Independence National Historical Park, known as America’s Most Historic Square Mile.

From the visitor center, we walked across the street to the location of the Liberty Bell. But, unfortunately, the line to enter the Liberty Bell Center was ridiculously long. Since we were anxious to see a number of famous places in Philly, we decided to return to the Liberty Bell later. We kept walking and crossed another street to Independence Hall. Free tours are given of the significant building where both the Declaration of Independence and United States Constitution were written and signed. Travel Tip: between March and December, you must get advance tour tickets for Independence Hall, which you can pick up at the Ranger’s Desk in the Independence Visitor Center.

After our guided tour of Independence Hall, we entered the West Wing where we saw a draft of the Declaration of Independence written by Thomas Jefferson (sadly, no photos were allowed). There were also surviving copies of the Articles of Confederation and the United States Constitution. Seeing the aged documents handwritten centuries ago by the Founding Fathers of the USA was a privilege.

We then visited Congress Hall where both George Washington and John Adams were inaugurated President.  From 1790 to 1800, Philadelphia was temporarily the capital of the United States.  During this time, Congress Hall served as the seat of the United States Congress.  This is also the building where the first U.S. Senate and the first U.S. House of Representatives sat.

Next we headed back to the Liberty Bell Center. Luckily, the line was much shorter this time around. Before we knew it, we were standing next to the Liberty Bell, one of the most iconic historic items not only in Philadelphia but in the entire country as well. Being so close to such an important piece of history was surreal. We were able to walk completely around the Liberty Bell and get pretty close to it, giving us a good view of all sides of the bell and its famous crack.

For lunch, it was finally time to begin our hunt for the best Philly Cheesesteak in town. We settled on Sonny’s and each ordered a cheesesteak the original way – with Cheez Whiz! That was an interesting discovery. We never knew authentic Philly Cheesesteaks were made with Cheez Whiz. In the past, we had always had them with provolone and peppers and were skeptical about having jarred cheese-like spread instead. But since we were in Philly, we had to have our cheesesteaks the official Philly way and so, Cheez Whiz it was.

As soon as we had our first cheesy bite, all doubts had vanished and we were hooked! Outstanding! The soft crusty hoagie roll with savory, tender strips of beef and gooey cheese sauce is practically an out-of-body experience, one that will not be forgotten. Like eating a Chicago deep-dish pizza while in Chicago, having a Philly Cheesesteak in Philadelphia can’t be beat!

Once we had scarfed down our scrumptious cheesesteaks and licked every remaining bit of Cheez Whiz from our fingers, we continued our walking excursion. Next up was Christ Church, referred to as “The Nation’s Church” due to many of the church’s members being leaders of the Revolutionary War, such as George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. We also wanted to visit the church’s burial ground because Benjamin Franklin is buried there. However, we quickly learned that the burial ground is actually located several blocks away from the church.

On the way there, we came across Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest continually inhabited street in the United States. While walking down the narrow street and looking at the centuries-old row houses, it felt as if we had stepped back in time. With the oldest home built in 1702, it’s hard to believe that people still live in the original brick houses in this charmingly patriotic alleyway. Almost to the burial ground, we took a brief look at the Betsy Ross House and saw Betsy Ross’s gravesite in the garden courtyard.

After another short walk, we finally made it to the Christ Church Burial Ground. There we saw the graves of Benjamin Franklin and four other signers of the Declaration of Independence. You hear about important historical figures, but seeing their final resting place somehow gives even more meaning to their lives. The gravesites are proof that they really existed, making them feel like a real person rather than a fictional character you learned about in school. In an extremely ironic way, seeing where these famous people are buried almost brings them to life, if that makes any sense (excuse the poor expression).

From the burial ground, we visited the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia to view the free Money in Motion Exhibit. After being required to walk through a metal detector, we were able to see an actual $100,000 bill as well as a cart filled with $1,350,000 in $5 bills! There were also other forms of our national currency dating all the way back to the 1600s, including currency from the original 13 colonies! Tragically we weren’t allowed to take any photos of the cash, but trust me, it was impressive! And as a parting gift, we were given a free souvenir bag of shredded dollar bills. Thanks, Philadelphia! 🙂

Lastly, we went to the Declaration (Graff) House, the recreated home where Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence in 1776. We had hoped to tour the inside of the house, but it was closed. Now that we had seen everything we had wanted to in the Independence National Historical Park, we drove around downtown Philadelphia where we saw the pink fountain at JFK Plaza (also known as “Love Park”). We also passed the famous steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which Rocky ran up in the movie “Rocky.”

Before leaving Philadelphia, we stopped at the Eastern State Penitentiary, a National Historic Landmark. Opened in 1829, not only was this America’s first penitentiary, it is also considered to be the world’s first true penitentiary. Once the largest and most expensive public structure ever constructed, the crumbling building now sits in ruin. We arrived at the old penitentiary about 30 minutes before they were closing. Even though we knew we probably wouldn’t be able to see everything within half an hour, we still wanted to tour the penitentiary, as this would be our only opportunity to do so.

Luckily, it was a self-guided tour, so we could take as much (or as little) time as we wanted in each area. While we weren’t able to listen to the entire audio tour, we still had enough time to view plenty of the eerie, decrepit building. I have a strange fascination with abandoned places and could have spent the entire day photographing every nook and cranny. I’m just glad we had time to see the interior of the world’s first penitentiary!

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Day 123: Pennsylvania (Part 1)

Day 123 (10/1/14): Gettysburg, PA



Today marks the 4th month of our journey! While in Pennsylvania, we have several different places we want to see. Yesterday was Hershey, today is Gettysburg, and tomorrow will be Philadelphia. We tried to stay somewhere central to all of our PA destinations, but we quickly discovered that while the RV park in Dutch Country seemed geographically convenient, it wasn’t close to any major freeways. From where we were staying in Narvon, PA, the drive took about 2 hours for us to reach Gettysburg.

Downtown Gettysburg
Downtown Gettysburg

After driving through the quaint downtown area of Gettysburg, we visited the Gettysburg National Military Park Museum & Visitor Center. Our history lesson began with a film about the Civil War. We then viewed the Gettysburg Cyclorama titled “The Battle of Gettysburg”. The 360 degree circular oil painting measures 42 feet high and 377 feet long, making it 4 stories high and longer than a football field.

The sheer size of the painting is impressive on its own. But add in the supplementary 3D props, lighting effects and battle sounds, and the painting suddenly comes to life with an entertaining interactive experience. Nevertheless, I was disappointed that the cyclorama didn’t rotate. Having the different battle scenes pass by while being encircled by the painting definitely would have increased my viewing pleasure. However, the massive cylindrical painting was still an incredible sight.

After leaving the cyclorama, we entered the Gettysburg Museum of the American Civil War and were instantly overwhelmed. The museum seemed never-ending with countless historical items from the Civil War, including clothing, equipment, weapons, etc. You could probably spend days in the museum and still not see or read it all. I must say, I had never really enjoyed history or museums in the past. This journey has forever changed that, igniting my appreciation for our country’s history and artifacts.

Map of Gettysburg Self-Guided Auto Tour
Map of Gettysburg Auto Tour

Knowing we still had much more to see of Gettysburg National Military Park, we pried ourselves away from the museum. From the Visitor Center, we headed out in our truck on a 24-mile self-guided auto tour of the battlefield. While my attraction to history has grown significantly, I’m still about as far off from a “war buff” as one can be. As we drove past the battlefield sites, I wasn’t interested in the battles themselves. Countless canons, monuments and statues lined the streets, ranging in size and detail. The surrounding countryside was also breathtakingly beautiful and serene.

Much like the Freedom Trail in Boston, following the map was like being on a scavenger hunt. As we drove along the route, I was perpetually eager to see the next site marker. There were 16 stops on the auto tour, and we made it to all of them.

The self-guided tour concluded at the Gettysburg National Cemetery, the setting for Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. As the final resting place of more than 3,500 Union soldiers, the cemetery was a fitting ending point for the tour. Seeing the graves gave even more significance to the battlefield sites where these men were killed defending the beliefs of our now united country.

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Days 121-122: Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey & Pennsylvania

Day 121 (9/29/14): Oakham, MA | Connecticut | New York | New Jersey | Narvon, PA

Yesterday we said goodbye to my family in Massachusetts and left this morning. Back on the road, we headed south along the East Coast. First we passed through Hartford, CT, then the states of New York and New Jersey. While in Jersey, we stopped for gas and were reminded that the gas station attendant has to pump the gas for you (like in Oregon).  I have now officially decided that I am not a fan of this awkward arrangement. I hate feeling helpless at the pump, waiting for someone else to do it for me. Luckily this would be the last time during our trip in which we weren’t able to pump our own gas.

Eventually we made it to Pennsylvania, our 5th state in one day! That’s a record for us! We didn’t stay in Connecticut or New Jersey because we’ve discovered that a lot of campgrounds close for the winter sometime around October or November. It feels as though we’re on a time crunch to get down south before the campgrounds in the northern states close for the rest of the year. Our drive for the day ended in Pennsylvania Dutch Country at a campground in Narvon, PA.

 

Day 122 (9/30/14): Hershey, PA

With Justin’s insatiable sweet tooth (or should I say “teeth”?), he loves all sugary treats, ranging from candy to cake and everything in-between. And while he doesn’t discriminate against any sweets, chocolate is his absolute favorite delicacy. As a lover of all things chocolate, Hershey, PA was one of the stops on our trip that Justin was looking forward to the most. Today was the day to visit “Chocolatetown, USA”!

Thrilled to be at “The Sweetest Place on Earth,” Justin was expecting the sweet aroma of chocolate to smack him in the face as soon as we exited the truck. But he was greatly disappointed when he discovered the air was void of a candied cocoa scent. Also, we assumed we would be able to tour the factory where the Hershey chocolate is made, but apparently they no longer offer tours. Tragic! Instead, we went to Hershey’s Chocolate World, which is basically a huge gift shop of Hershey’s related items.

We did the Free Chocolate Making Tour along with the Chocolate Tasting class. The tour didn’t show a live chocolate making process as we had hoped. It was actually more of a ride with us sitting in an amusement park type cart as we passed singing cows and models of chocolate equipment. Truthfully, I thought the entire experience was rather hokey, but Justin simply enjoyed being surrounded by chocolate. And at least we scored some chocolate samples! 🙂

After leaving Hershey’s Chocolate World, we briefly explored the town of Hershey. IMG_9938The streets are named after chocolate, such as Cocoa Avenue and Chocolate Avenue. In addition to the chocolate themed roads, the street lights are also in the shape of Hershey Kisses, adding a whimsical flair to the town. While searching for a place to have lunch, we came across The Hershey Pantry. When we discovered that afternoon tea was served at the quaint cafe, the deal was sealed for our lunch’s fate.

IMG_9940To be honest, the tea selection was extremely limited and disappointing. I like to feel spoiled with fancier tea options than basic Lipton tea bags. However, the food more than made up for the lackluster tea. As an appetizer to the typical tea fare, we were given a cup of rich, creamy seafood chowder. This was our first time having soup with afternoon tea, and we definitely appreciated the additional food item.

Afternoon Tea
Afternoon Tea

The next courses included fluffy fresh baked scones, savory sandwiches and an assortment of desserts. The sandwiches were scrumptious and much larger than the usual petite tea sandwich. By the time we reached the massive caramel covered cream puffs, we were beyond full. We had to take the leftover desserts to go to enjoy later (which we did!). Even though the tea itself was average, the food was incredible for an afternoon tea! In fact, it was probably the best I’ve had with tea. What a randomly pleasant surprise in Hershey, PA!

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Days 119-120: Massachusetts & Rhode Island (Part 2)

Day 119 (9/27/14): Leominster, MA | Providence, RI

We began this beautiful sunny day by taking a scenic drive up to Leominster (pronounced “Lemon-ster” by the locals). As we traveled north, we appreciated bursts of autumn colors in the foliage bordering the highway.   But while it was starting to look like fall, it sure didn’t feel like it. At 82 degrees, this was an unusually warm autumn day for Massachusetts, and it called for an ice cream stop!

In the afternoon, we visited Providence again where it was even warmer at 86 degrees. 86 degrees in New England on September 27th?! Unbelievable! After driving through Downtown Providence, my mom wanted to show me the colonial homes in the area. We parked near the Rhode Island Historical Society on Benevolent Street. As we walked around the neighboring streets, we admired the architecture of the older homes. Many of them were built in the eighteen hundreds! It’s incredible that these houses are still being lived in.

For a late lunch/early dinner (or what my family likes to call “linner”), we had afternoon tea at The Duck & Bunny, a “snuggery.” I wasn’t exaggerating when I said I like to have tea every chance I get. 🙂 The cafe is located in a funky little part of town with a few other random eateries and shops. Stepping inside the older house feels like you’ve entered someone’s actual home. Each room has its own charming personality. The interior is eclectic with a much more laid back environment than other places where I’ve had tea. I like that they’ve made afternoon tea more accessible and mainstream. The atmosphere feels like a typical coffee house rather than a pretentious tea parlor. If I lived in Providence, I would be at The Duck & Bunny weekly!


Day 120 (9/28/14): Holden, MA

For our last day with my mom and stepdad in Massachusetts, we started with breakfast at Holden Spa in Holden, MA. With the word “spa” in the name, you would expect to get a massage instead of breakfast, but it’s actually a little diner-type cafe. Next we decided to have separate outings for the guys and gals. While Justin and my stepdad played golf in Leominster, my mom and I went for a drive to Wachusett Mountain State Reservation.   My mom has a phobia of heights, but she powered through her fear and managed to drive us all the way to the top of Wachusett Mountain. Making it to the summit of more than 2,000 feet was an impressive task for her. Good job, Mom!

The nerve-wracking drive paid off. There’s an observation tower at the peak of the mountain with sweeping panoramic views. You can even catch a glimpse of the Boston skyline way (way) out in the distance. When we made our way down the mountain, we passed Wachusett Lake and came across Mountain Barn Restaurant in Princeton, MA. We were starving, so we called the guys up and had them meet us for lunch. With a wide range of menu options, we all enjoyed our varying meals in the cozy cabin-like restaurant. Sadly, this concluded our time with my mom and stepdad since we’ll be leaving Massachusetts tomorrow.  🙁