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Days 101-105: North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia & Ohio

IMG_8726Day 101 (9/9/14): Charlotte, NC | Fort Mill, SC

After having to put the trip on hold to fly out to Las Vegas for a family emergency, I returned to Charlotte late last night. While in Vegas, I managed to catch a cold. However, even though I was sick, I didn’t let it get me down. I was anxious to see Charlotte. Justin had already scoped out the area while I was away and was looking forward to showing me around.

He began the tour by taking me to the upscale South Park neighborhood, home to Charlotte’s Nordstrom, Whole Foods and the high-end SouthPark Mall. We enjoyed driving through the surrounding woodsy residential section near Randolph Road. It seemed like a really nice area. Next we headed into downtown Charlotte. We noticed several chain restaurants though, which led us to believe that the downtown area wasn’t as edgy as we had been hoping it would be.

We continued driving and ventured into the hipster sections of Plaza-Midwood and NoDa. They seemed somewhat rundown and were bordered by some sketchy neighborhoods. However, they also appeared to be amidst the early stages of a revitalization. Also, while somewhat rough, the small areas packed in a lot of diversity with their colorful storefronts.

We ended up having lunch at Amelie’s French Bakery in NoDa. We loved the eclectic cafe with it’s random pairings of furniture, decor and lighting. It definitely had the funky factor I had been looking for in Charlotte! Plus, the food was good too.  🙂 If we lived in Charlotte, we would be regulars at Amelie’s!

 

Day 102 (9/10/14): Charlotte, NC | Fort Mill, SC | Virginia | Milton, WV

We left Fort Mill, SC and the Charlotte, NC area today and continued north into Virginia. The narrow west end of Virginia seemed to be green and hilly with a good balance of trees and grass. We didn’t stop in Virginia though because we plan on spending some time in Richmond, VA when we work our way down the East Coast. We passed through the beautiful Jefferson National Forest in the Appalachian Mountains.

After taking a long tunnel through the hillside, we reached West Virginia. While driving in the small state of West Virginia, we had to pay 3 separate tolls, each for $2.50 totaling $7.50! Have I mentioned how much I hate toll roads? We eventually reached Charleston, WV, which seemed like a very industrial town. After driving over the Kanawha River and continuing west for another 30+ miles, we made it to our campground in Milton, WV where we hunkered down for the night.

 

Day 103 (9/11/14): Milton, WV | Walnut Creek, OH

Instead of spending the day in Charleston, WV, as we originally planned, we decided to press onward to Ohio where we would be visiting my dad’s side of the family. I was really excited to see my family members, some of whom I hadn’t seen in over 15 years! It was a rainy and foggy day as we drove through West Virginia. Eventually the clouds cleared and we passed the Ohio River, which divided the state lines of Ohio and West Virginia.

Once in Ohio, we were pleasantly surprised with the scenic landscape and how pretty it was with it’s variety of colors. Rather than just strictly green, there were golds and rusty plum shades mixed in as well. The vibrant yellow wildflowers scattered along the freeway also added to the scenery.  We decided to stay in Amish country because Justin had never been before. It was pretty far from my Grandma’s house in Canton, OH, but I’m glad we stayed there. The rolling hills of the countryside were beautiful!

The first RV park we went to didn’t work out though because there were no public restrooms. This might not seem like it should be an issue since our RV has a bathroom, but when we first picked up our trailer, we agreed to only use our toilet for #1 (urine). TMI (too much information)?

After seeing the sewer hose disaster in the movie RV, we knew that was something we never wanted to encounter! Watch the movie trailer below to see what I’m referring to (fast-forward to 1:53 for the sewer scene). Plus, it’s unpleasant enough dealing with just urine in the sewer hose as the tank is emptied. We didn’t want to add to the stench and messiness.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekLssgCEvzo

Therefore, anything more than #1 needs to be handled in a public restroom. We really didn’t want to have to start using our toilet for “more.” All of the RV parks we had been to up to this point had restrooms, so we were shocked when this one didn’t. I’m glad we noticed the lack of a bathroom though before we got checked in and set up at the campsite. Luckily we found another campground with a public restroom just a few miles down the road.

 

Days 104-105 (9/12/14-9/13/14): Walnut Creek, OH | Canton, OH

Initially I didn’t want to leave the Amish country. It was so beautiful with it’s hilly sprawling farmland, rich with shades of green and covered in swaying stalks of corn. We even saw some Amish folk and horse-drawn buggies! I’ve always been intrigued and charmed by the simple Amish lifestyle.

However, the enchantment quickly wore off after driving through the winding back roads of the Amish country a few times. There were no major highways, and the narrow 2-lane roads we had to take seemed to zig-zag back and forth, making the 30-some miles to and from my grandma’s house feel as though they were doubled.

Also, there are no lights while driving at night through the Amish country. The pitch-black farmlands were pretty spooky. We kept waiting for someone to pop out from the cornfields on the side of the road. During the long drive, our imaginations produced quite a few typical horror movie scenarios. Luckily we survived though. Haha!

In addition to the long, dark route through Amish country, Justin also lost his interest in the area when he realized there was a constant manure scent to the air. Plus, there were no Starbucks. Justin needs his modern conveniences, and I suppose I don’t mind them either.

IMG_8795The next few days were spent with my family at my grandma’s house in Canton, OH. It felt like a small, intimate family reunion. This was also the first time Justin had met my family in Ohio. Rather than sight-seeing, we thoroughly enjoyed being able to focus on catching up with family.

 

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Days 78-80: Wisconsin, Indiana & Kentucky

Day 78 (8/17/14): Mukwonago, WI | Indianapolis, IN

IMG_7590After spending the past few days in Wisconsin, it was time for us to move on. As we venture further southeast, we’ll be passing through Indiana again. We already drove through Indiana and spent a night in Indianapolis on our way to pick up our trailer in Michigan. However, we didn’t get a chance to see the downtown, which Justin was bummed about. Since our route is taking us back through Indiana, we decided to take advantage and spend a day there this time around to visit Indianapolis.

To reach Indiana, we crossed into Illinois and drove back through Chicago. As we traveled through Chicago, we hit some major traffic. We also had to take several toll roads, which happened to be more expensive for a truck towing a travel trailer versus just a car. For example, one of the tolls was $2.80 for a car but $4.25 for a trailer! After having to take several toll roads, the fees started to add up, but luckily we had enough cash on us (they don’t accept credit cards come to find out). As much as we loved downtown Chicago when we visited, the traffic and toll roads (cost) reminded us why Chicago probably won’t be the best option for us. Plus, let’s not forget about the horrible winters there.

 

Day 79 (8/18/14): Indianapolis, IN

We were finally able to get a good look at Indianapolis today. Our visit began at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, home of the famous Indy 500 races. We’re not really into car racing, but it was still neat to see the track for one of the most celebrated motorsport events in the world.

From the racetrack we headed to Long’s Bakery to try their donuts. As a self-proclaimed donut connoisseur, I’m on the hunt for the best donut in the nation. Therefore, I had to try the donuts at Long’s Bakery when we saw that it’s currently the #1 restaurant in Indianapolis on Tripadvisor.  However, we were hugely disappointed in the selection, size, taste and quality of the donuts. The employees were also extremely unfriendly and unhelpful.

IMG_7456 IMG_7458We were hoping the donuts would make up for the horrible customer service, but sadly that wasn’t the case. They were small and dry, and there was nothing special about them. If Long’s Bakery is supposedly the #1 restaurant in Indianapolis, what does that say about the other restaurants there? I’m sorry to say that the donuts left a bad taste in our mouths for Indianapolis (no pun intended). In case you’re curious about the best donut we’ve had so far on this trip, it was the blueberry cake donut at Tonalli’s Donuts & Cream in Portland.

We didn’t want to let the bad experience with the bakery ruin Indianapolis for us, so we continued our tour by heading to the center of town. I’m afraid though that the downtown area wasn’t as eclectic as we were hoping it would be. It seemed to be fairly basic consisting primarily of banks, healthcare buildings and hotels. We did enjoy Monument Circle, but overall, Indianapolis isn’t what we’re looking for. Sorry, Indy! At least we were able to see more of you and rule you out for our next place to live.

 

Day 80 (8/19/14): Indianapolis, IN | Frankfort, KY | Lexington, KY

Updated Map of Our Route
Updated Map of Our Route

Since we’re seriously considering some locations in the South, we thought it would be a good idea to visit some of them in the summer to experience the humidity. Just as snow is a big concern of mine, Justin is worried about humidity. We decided to change our route in order to travel to some of the southern states earlier than we were originally planning on. This new plan will help us determine if we can handle the humidity (and the bugs!) everyone warns us about when it comes to the South.  Take a look at our original route HERE, and compare it to the map of our new and improved updated route HERE to see how we changed up the plan.

IMG_7597Leaving Indiana, our initial plan was to go to West Virginia next. But since we switched things up and decided to head South sooner rather than later, we now went to Kentucky instead. On our way to our campground in Frankfort, KY, we passed over the Ohio River and drove through Louisville. Once we were out of Louisville, the freeway was lined with dense trees and gave an occasional peak through at vibrant green fields. So far, Kentucky has been quite scenic!

We reached our campground and got set up by early afternoon, which gave us plenty of time to go exploring. Frankfort is a nice central location between Louisville and Lexington. Since we already had a glimpse of Louisville when we first reached Kentucky, we decided to venture into Lexington. I’m afraid that we were disappointed in Lexington though. It didn’t have a large downtown like we had hoped. And for some reason, the name “Lexington” seems somewhat fancy to me, but the city wasn’t as charming as I thought it would be.

Weisenberger Grit Fries
Weisenberger Grit Fries

However, we did end up having dinner at a charming restaurant called Coles 735 Main. It actually ended up being one of the best meals we’ve had on this trip! We began by sharing a couple of appetizers. The stuffed Panko Fried Avocado was good, but the Weisenberger Grit Fries were outstanding with their crisp exterior yet rich, creamy center. Also, I’m not a huge ketchup fan, but the herb ketchup they served with the Grit Fries skyrocketed the intense savory flavor of the “fries”!

Beef Shoulder Tender
Beef Shoulder Tender

Next for an entree, we split the Beef Shoulder Tender. The meat was cooked perfectly and seasoned deliciously. We thoroughly enjoyed every bite, hoping it wouldn’t be our last. Sadly though, we finished our plates. Not wanting our dining experience to end, we ordered a piece of the Key Lime Pie. The surprisingly light, fluffy texture and delicately tangy lime flavor was the perfect finale to our meal.

In addition to the fabulous food, the service was also impressive. Our water glasses never went empty (a huge pet peeve of mine for restaurants), and the waiter was happy to give us advice for our time in Lexington and Kentucky. When we told him we were staying in Frankfort, he showed us an alternate route to take back to our campground. The serendipitous detour took us on the Kentucky Scenic Byway, also known as the Dreamer Driving Tour.

Dreamer Driving Tour (our route is highlighted in yellow)
Dreamer Driving Tour (the route we took is highlighted in yellow)

It was an incredibly scenic drive through lush, green pastures bordered by white fences. There were numerous horses grazing in the distance, and the sublime scent of freshly cut grass permeated the air. As the sun set, it cast a surreal glow over the countryside, making for a glorious scene. This drive has been one of our favorite experiences during this trip so far. I highly recommend taking the Kentucky Scenic Byway on Versailles Road and Dreamer Driving Tour turn-outs between Lexington and Frankfort!