Pictures have been posted!

A week after my arrival back in Boston & I have finally gotten around to sorting through all the pictures we took. After painful deliberation, I managed to choose the best 223 to post. For now I’ve¬† uploaded them to Facebook, so you’ll have to check out the albums there (there are two – although the second only has 20 or so pictures).

Enjoy, and feel free to comment on them! ūüôā

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Reflections, and Atlanta, Savannah and Charleston Pictures!

A final Google Map/list of all our stops throughout the trip

It’s only been two days since I’ve been back in Boston, but I’ve already had a half dozen people ask me what my favorite part of our trip was. I made a list of all the states we were in over two weeks – it totaled 28!¬†It’s pretty insane that we were in more than half of the states in the country in just 14 days. Of course some, like Delaware, we just drove through, while others, like South Dakota, we really spent quality time in. So¬†on that note, I’ve decided to make a list of some of my favorite places I saw throughout the trip.

– I loved Utah, which sounds really bizarre, but the natural beauty of the state was absolutely incredible. I really loved Arches National Park, despite the bizarre weather, and Canyonlands, even if driving through the park was a bit of a pain. Beyond that, I really enjoyed simply driving through Arizona and Utah – the landscape kept changing drastically but everything we saw along the highway was so beautiful, whereas the drives through other states, like Minnesota or Mississippi, was painfully boring.

– I really enjoyed Chicago, and despite the fact that it’s miserably cold there during the majority of the year I think I can really see myself living there. The city is both urban and sleek, yet at the same time very clean. It had a very young professional feel, which I liked, but not necessarily the ‘college city’ feel that Boston often has.

– I loved Charleston & Savannah – both cities were so quaint and historic, and had such a different feel from anywhere else on the trip, and really from any other places I’d experienced in my life. I kept saying to Alex as we drove further north up the east coast how much I felt like we were in a different world. It really does feel like the south is on a whole different time schedule, like the people are almost a different breed. It’s pretty incredible.

I really enjoyed being in New Orleans, and I found beauty in a lot of the homes and buildings there. Even though a lot of the city was older and worn down, it had history and character, and I appreciated that. At the same time, I couldn’t possibly compare New Orleans with Denver, or Denver with Charleston, or any of the cities with the amazing National Parks we visited. The United States is so vast and so different, and that’s something I definitely did not realize before I took this trip.

Somebody asked me about my favorite food from the last two weeks, which I am also having a hard time deciding. So what stands out? I had a delicious sandwich for lunch at Magnolia’s in Charleston, and I also loved our salad and deep dish pizza in Chicago. We had fabulous breakfast at Snooze in Denver, and our breakfast-turned-lunch in Savannah was great as well.

I think one of my favorite moments of the trip was when Alex & I struggled so hard to figure out how to work the shower in Celine’s house that we had to google it – I definitely couldn’t stop laughing about that. One of the best arguments was Alex and I trying to figure out if Buffalo and/or Bison are extinct or still alive, and Alex informing me that when you order buffalo wings, you’re actually getting chicken wings, hahah.

Wasting money on the CNN tour was probably the biggest let down of the trip, although I have to admit that in retrospect was incredibly comical. I think I’m still disappointed in general with our time in Atlanta and that we didn’t really get a chance to see a lot of the city. But like I said earlier, part of this trip was the realization that we were on a time crunch, and Atlanta is a place I can definitely get back to.

Finally, as promised many days ago, here are some of the pictures from our time in the South, since we never got a chance to post them. I plan to post all of my favorite pictures to facebook and flickr so you’ll be able to see some of them there as well, but for now I figured I’d add them here.

Atlanta, Georgia:

View of Atlanta from Pemburton Place

Savannah, Georgia:

The inside of our Hyatt in Savannah – so beautiful!

Kiwah Island & Charleston, South Carolina:

My lousy attempt at trying to capture how nasty our windshield was. I cannot even begin to describe how many dead bugs there were on our car by the end of the trip.

This bizarre tourist attracted called “South of the Border” – a rest stop that was built in Dillon, South Carolina, right at the border of North Carolina. My description really cannot do it justice, so you just have to read this article to understand fully what the rest stop really is. And lets just say – Alex and I got sucked into the 60+ billboards we passed all throughout South Carolina. They really work! We didn’t stop because we knew how late we’d be getting into Richmond, but it was quite the entertaining thing to pass in the middle of nowhere.

The “Sonic” our GPS brought us to that turned out to be a used car lot.

The real Sonic – we made it!

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Days 14 and 15: Mount Vernon, Philadelphia, Newport and Boston

It’s hard to believe, but I am writing this from my apartment in Boston. I’m back. It seems so surreal that the entire trip has already come and gone – it’s actually unbelievable. Maybe it’s because I’ve been anticipating it for so long, now that it already happened and I’m back it seems more like a dream. But trust me, it wasn’t a dream. I have a¬†disastrous pile of crap on the floor upstairs in my room and an incredibly messy¬†suitcase to prove it. That and 3 gigs of pictures!

I’ll start where I left off – Richmond. We woke up in time to indulge in the Sleep Inn’s glamorous breakfast buffet, went back upstairs so I could use the internet exactly at 10 AM to purchase Something Corporate tickets (hey, I gotta get my priorities straight, and Erin was on the bus and couldn’t do it!) and then got back on the road. We drove up from Richmond to Mount Vernon, about 100 miles, or 2 hours, of driving. To be honest, I didn’t even know Mt. Vernon existed until a few days ago. For those as ignorant as me, Mount Vernon is the property located just south of Washington DC that was once owned by George Washington. The land is home to his mansion, farmlands and gardens and is one of the most visited historic landmarks in the country. Nestled right on the banks of the Potomac River, the area is absolutely beautiful.

There was a bit of a miscommunication between Alex and I about what our plan was once we actually got to Mount Vernon, but eventually we decided to pay the $15 so we could get onto the actual property. We waited in line to get into the Mansion for about 40 minutes – almost like a line for a disneyland ride! We had some interesting couples standing behind us to¬†eavesdrop¬†on and a slightly whiny, obnoxious kid with his parents ahead of us but Alex and I took turns standing in line so that the other one could wander the gardens adjacent to the house. Seeing the mansion was definitely neat – especially knowing that such important events in American history took place in the same rooms we were standing in. Of course most of the property has been restored and refurbished, but the doorways that the¬†Washington’s and¬†their 677 annual guests walked through are all the same.

Alex chose to stay and sit by the river and check out the gift shop while I wandered the rest of the property – I walked in a loop through the other buildings that had once been home to the laundry rooms, slave quarters, stables, blacksmiths shops and greenhouses on Washington’s property. I also got to see where Martha and George Washington are currently buried, as well as the original building which held their remains before the construction of the new tombs. I walked down to the memorial that was built in¬†recognition¬†of the slaves that worked on the property, and to the banks of the Potomac where the wharf that docked incoming ships has been reconstructed. I saw some of the farmland Washington kept, in addition to his multiple gardens on either side of the house.

After meeting up again, we left the area by about 3 PM and sat in pretty horrific traffic up through the DC and Baltimore areas. Driving in the north east is certainly different than driving through South Dakota and Mississippi, thats for sure. We got to Philadelphia around 6:30 PM, unloaded our stuff at Alex’s apartment, parked the car and walked back. After a half hour of down time during which Alex napped and I uploaded pictures we headed out to dinner at a mexican place with a few of Alex’s friends. We split a pitcher of margaritas, delicious guacamole that they make right in front of you, and a number of different entrees. Even though dinner was great, I wasn’t feeling too hot, so I headed back to Alex’s apartment to pass out.

The next morning we woke up at 10:30, got ready and headed to ABP on Penn’s campus for a quick breakfast. We grabbed the car, loaded my stuff into it and picked Alex’s friend Melissa, who we were driving back home to New Jersey. After dropping her off and spending some time talking to her parents, we were back on the road by about 3 PM. The drive from New Jersey up to Newport was rough – we hit some pretty bad patches of traffic, especially in New York City on the George Washington bridge. I probably should have known better considering how many times I’ve traveled those 200 miles, but that’s life. We finally made it to Newport by about 8 PM, where we parked and walked down Thames Street to check out a pottery shop owned by one of Alex’s family friends. It was not as warm out as we had hoped, although we realized comparing the weather in the north east to the heat and humidity of the south wasn’t quite fair – at least not at the end of May. We had dinner at the Red Parrot, which was¬†recommended to us by my friend Alex. The 22 page menu was pretty overwhelming, but we were starving and finally chose. We split a flat bread, Alex had a jerk chicken wrap and I had a chinese chicken salad. The food was good but our waitress was incredibly slow, which was slightly frustrating since we still had another 70 miles to drive.

We left Newport by about 9:30 PM. The area is beautiful, and I’m bummed we only got to spend an hour there. Thankfully it’s close enough that I can hopefully get back there some time soon.

We drove the hour and a half up north to Boston, during which I fell asleep for about 20 minutes – the only time the entire trip I managed to sleep in the car, and it was the last drive! Clearly it was the exhaustion catching up to me! We unloaded all of my crap from the car (it’s pretty amazing how much you can accumulate without even realizing it) and parked before finally heading up to my apartment. After going over all of our expenses for gas, parking and hotels so that I could write Alex a check and¬†transferring¬†all my pictures onto Alex’s flash drive, we called it a night. Alex showered and passed out and I stayed up for a while catching up with my roommate before finally heading to bed.

I think he’s completely insane, but Alex is driving the rental car right back to California, this time on a slightly different, much more direct route. He’s going to see some friends along the way and meet his dad back in Denver, where they’re going to see more of the city and then drive the rest of the way back to Los Angeles together. ¬†The initial plan was for Alex and I to spend some time in Boston at the end of the trip, but after two weeks straight together the two of us were getting a bit sick of each other, to say the least. I don’t think either of us anticipated how spending so much time alone with somebody can really make you see them in a different light, and the two of us certainly learned a lot about each other. We had our fair share of disagreements and learned that we don’t see eye to eye on much. Even though there were definitely some moments that I wanted to absolutely kill him and I’m sure he wanted to do the same, overall we had a really amazing time and I’m so glad that we actually made this trip happen. Despite how empty my bank account is feeling now, I really am so thankful that we had this opportunity – seeing the country the way we did in such a short amount of time was pretty insane, but I have the rest of my life to go back to the places that I didn’t get to fully explore, and I’m so excited I got to see the United States, even if it was just a glimpse.

Alex is driving back to Philadelphia today, stopping to pick up a friend in Connecticut and visit another in Princeton, and he decided that since he had a lot of driving to do it didn’t make sense to stay in Boston since he’s been before and could easily visit any other time. We said goodbye and he left my apartment at about 10 AM to get back on the road. And now here I am – reflecting on it all and completely in shock that we actually did it. I think the odometer read something around 5600 miles when we finally got here last night – pretty crazy.

I probably should shower and start unpacking so that I can do some laundry, but for now I think I’m going to relax and catch up on the hours upon hours of TV that are stored on my DVR. It’s been a while since I’ve had a day to do absolutely nothing!

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Days 11, 12 and 13: Atlanta, Savannah, Kiwah Island & Charleston!

I know, I know. I’ve been slacking. I’m so sorry. The momentum of the trip caught up with me, and the combination of no internet on our night in Savannah and having actual work to do last night meant I just haven’t had time to sit down and blog.¬†We have so much to catch you up on, so be warned now: this will a long entry. There are also a million pictures that I want to post for you guys, but the wireless at this Sleep Inn is incredibly slow and is taking so long to upload all of them. It’s already 1:30 AM and I have to get to bed since we have a ton of driving to do tomorrow, but I promise to post more pictures as soon as I can.

Wednesday, May 19 – Atlanta & the drive to Savannah, Georgia

On Wednesday morning we woke up at our Sleep Inn 10 miles outside of Atlanta and drove into the city for Southern style breakfast at Gladys Knight and Ron Winan’s Chicken & Waffles. Alex and I split a peach waffle and a fried chicken omelette, which were both unique and delicious. From there we found all day parking for $5 right in the downtown area and headed to the Georgia Aquarium. I’m obsessed with aquariums and can spend hours staring at the fish and various sea creatures, so I begged Alex to let me drag him to this one, since we hadn’t been to an aquarium yet this trip. The Georgia Aquarium is the largest in the country with over 8 million gallons of water. The biggest fish tank holds four Whale Sharks, the largest sea animal in the world that can grow to be more than 60 feet long. It was incredible seeing these giant creatures swim around – at one point you can walk through a tunnel that goes straight through the tank, so the whale sharks are literally swimming above your head – quite the experience. Of course Alex’s favorite part of the aquarium was learning about how the whale sharks were secretly transported from Taiwan to the United States via UPS. We also saw the beluga¬†whales along with tons of other sea creatures, including some tropical tanks and a section that was modeled after the Amazon river. The aquarium is incredible – you can read more about it on¬†the Wikipedia page or check out it’s¬†webpage.

After the aquarium we headed over to Coca Cola World, which was built because Coke was invented in Atlanta during the 1890’s. We watched a few short movies, one of which was an insane 4-D piece that jolted your chair and flung water at you, saw a miniature assembly line and read about some of the history of Coca Cola in the United States and the rest of the world. They save the best for last – the tasting room that has soda fountains where you can sample an unlimited amount of soda from around the world. Alex went a little crazy and tried the entire world of Coca Cola products. I tried a bunch, most of which tasted like crap and I proceeded to dump out. My favorite was the Fanta Apple Kiwi sold in Asia and Alex liked Simba, a citrus soda from South Africa. We were given a free 8 ounce glass bottle of Coke, bottled on the assembly line we saw earlier in the tour.

From Coca Cola World we headed over to the CNN headquarters building a few blocks away. We managed to get on a tour of the building with a large group of senior citizens who were with some tour group led by a woman named Jane. Now let me tell you, this tour takes you up the longest free-standing escalator in the world and then back down eight fights of stairs. Trying to get down eight flights of stairs with thirty-five 90 year olds is quite the experience. We should have known what we were getting ourselves into as one of the ladies went through security and had to warn the woman at the metal detector that she had a titanium hip. One of the women actually asked if there was somebody who sat in front of the computer all day and typed in the headlines that scroll across the bottom of the TV screen during CNN’s broadcasts. Another woman asked where you get the news and how you pick what is put on TV. The best part were the identical twin ladies who, at age 85, were wearing the exact same green jumpsuit. I kid you not, I almost died when I first realized it. The tour brought us into a room set up with a fake anchor desk where Kodak attempted to convince us to pose for a picture we would later have to pay $15 for and the end of the tour featured a cheesy video with Anderson Cooper and Larry King telling us how great CNN was. Not to mention our guide, JR, was mostly incompetent. As a journalism major who knows only a minimal amount about broadcast journalism, I could have easily led a better tour. To summarize, CNN sucked and I’m not happy I coughed up $11 (the student rate) to take the tour. Bust.

After CNN we walked back through the downtown area, checking out the Olympic Park, and then headed to The Varsity, a famous Drive In in Atlanta, and the original Sonic. We each had chicken sandwiches and onion rings, which were good but nothing too fabulous. Overall, I liked Atlanta but don’t really feel like I got to see the city. We kind of got stuck in the tourist trap area of Pemberton Place downtown, and didn’t do much walking or exploring. We also spent a ton of money on tickets to the three places, which was a bit frustrating, but of course the nature of traveling. Atlanta is definitely a place I’d like to go back to eventually, and even though Alex and I discussed staying an extra night and skipping Savannah since we hadn’t booked a hotel yet, we eventually decided Atlanta was relatively accessible for the future, where as Savannah was a bit further off the beaten path.

I’m definitely glad we made that decision. Savannah was an amazing town that I’m so glad I got to see. After using the free wi-fi at The Varsity to book a hotel on Priceline, we drove the 4 1/2 hours to Savannah. We ended up at the Hyatt Regency, which was absolutely beautiful and we only paid $70 for the night, but because it was a much nicer, more expensive hotel we forgot that parking would be exorbitant and that internet wouldn’t be free. Since we couldn’t waste away in front of our computers once we got to the hotel, we dropped off our luggage in the room and went for a walk since it was a perfect warm summer night. The city is located right on the banks of the Savannah River and has a lot of history, although it’s a bit like a touristy resort town now. After walking down to the river front less than a block from the hotel I had an ice cream and Alex bought a bear claw at a local candy store, and we wandered a bit down the river. We had wanted to go to the Moon Brewery, right across the street from our hotel, to get a local beer sampler which was recommended to us by the concierge. Of course, we walked into the brewery at 11:05 and were told that they couldn’t serve any alcohol past 11 PM. Bummed, we walked back down to the river front to a local bar we had noticed earlier to grab some draught beers and so that I could watch the end of the Lakers game. We ordered a local Atlanta Pale Ale, which Alex liked and I discovered I am not a fan of. Regardless I was a happy camper since I had a beer in front of me with the Dodgers game on one TV and the Lakers game on another. After we had finished our beers and the Lakers beat the Suns we headed back to our hotel to pass out.

Thursday, May 20 – Savannah & the drive to Kiwah Island, South Carolina

Thursday morning we woke up, stuck our luggage in the car and went to B. Matthews Bakery Eatery, a restaurant a few blocks from the hotel we’d read about on Mr. Breakfast. We had hoped for a late breakfast, but since it was 11:30 AM they already had their lunch menu out. Instead, I had a black bean veggie sandwich with sweet potato fries and Alex had an open face Turkey sandwich on Focaccia, both of which were fabulous. At the hotel that morning, I had seen a brochure for one of the trolley tours that takes tourists on a 3 mile loop through the historic district of town. The brochure had the trolley route mapped out, with labels at each stop showing the important landmarks. Clever me, I grabbed the brochure and decided Alex and I would make it our own walking tour instead of paying the $30 the company charges to drive you around. So we spent the next 3 hours wandering through the town, past dozens of beautiful historic Southern homes, one of the oldest practicing reform Jewish temples in the United States and through a handful of parks and adorable squares lined with bricks, big Oak trees and gorgeous fountains. Lots of the historic homes had tours you could pay $10 – $20 for private tours of, but we decided to skip out and just read the plaques posted outside and take pictures instead.

Even though it was incredibly hot and humid out, we made the best of it, at one point stopping in an air-conditioned cafe in the main park in the south part of town to cool down & grab iced coffee. After all of the time we’ve spent sitting the car over the past week and a half it was great to be out walking, even if we were sweating to death at some points. It was also nice to be hot, especially thinking back to last week when we were wearing layers and driving through snow! We headed back to the river front to get a glimpse of it during the day and back to the candy store where Alex bought a piece of fudge he’d been eyeing the night before. We discovered that the S.S. Savannah was, in 1818, the first steamship in the world to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

After our walking tour we reclaimed our car and drove the 2 hours to Kiwah Island in South Carolina, about 45 minutes from Charleston, where Alex’s friend Celine lives. We made our first official stop in South Carolina at the Piggly Wiggly to pick up ice cream and wine (the essentials!) and then headed to the island, which is a private gated community that has about a hundred homes, a number of golf courses and beautiful beaches. We took a walk along the beach with Celine’s boyfriend Simon, another one of Alex’s friends from Penn, and got our first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean. After an hour or so on the beach, we headed back to the house where Celine had made us delicious chicken, salad & sweet potatoes for dinner and we shared the bottle of wine we¬†brought. We then dipped into the Haagen-Dazs before settling down to a game of Scrabble.

By then it was already 11:30, Celine had to be up early and I had work to do for a job I am applying for, so we headed to bed. ¬†After a slight mishap attempting to figure out how to work the shower (don’t worry, eventually we googled it hahaha), Alex went to bed and I, unfortunately, stayed up until about 3 AM doing my work.

Friday, May 21 – Charleston & the drive up to Richmond, Virginia

This morning we woke up, had homemade pancakes and then drove the 45 minutes into Charleston. We parked our car at Celine’s apartment in the city, left Simon to do some work and walked into downtown. We walked down King Street, a main street in town with lots of shops and art galleries that eventually turns into a residential area, all the way to the Battery, which is the park at the end of the peninsula. From there we walked back up East Bay Street along the ocean, where we sat for a bit admiring the view before we headed to the Nathaniel Russel house. We sucked it up and paid the $10 for a tour, especially since we hadn’t done any of the official ones in Savannah. Not exactly the most exciting tour, but was definitely worthwhile and we learned a lot. The Russel residence is a beautiful old house that was built in 1808 and despite having 4 private owners since it was sold out of the family in the 1850’s, is in remarkable condition. The inside has been relatively well-maintained, and has since been decorated with a number of antique pieces of furniture from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. We met Celine, Simon and Celine’s friend Bachman at Magnolia’s, a delicious restaurant right in the city. Alex had the stereotypical southern meal – buttermilk fried chicken, collard greens, creamed corn, mashed potatoes and biscuits. I had an amazing veggie and buffalo mozzarella sandwich ¬†with sweet potato fries (yes, for the third time in two days – I am obsessed with sweet potatoes!) Afterwards we made our way back to the car, said goodbye and headed out of Charleston.

Last night, we decided to be ambitious and book a hotel room in Richmond, Virginia, 460 miles north of Charleston. Even though we knew it was a lot of driving to be doing, especially considering we weren’t planning to leave Charleston until 4 PM, we wanted to get as far up the east coast as we could and Richmond is just about the halfway point between South Carolina and Philadelphia, our next, and one of our last, stops. We don’t plan on doing anything in Richmond except sleeping, so we found a Sleep Inn a few miles outside the city for $66.

Today’s drive has been quite the adventure. Alex drove the first 150 miles, we stopped to get gas and I took over to drive the next 200 miles. We decided a little while after I had taken over that we’d have a late dinner somewhere quickly since we had a pretty late, heavy lunch. Since I had yet to go to Sonic and we’ve been talking about it throughout the trip, we decided to make that our goal. After searching on the GPS, we found one 70 miles north, right on our way. When we finally exited the highway and drove the mile and a half to the address Samantha gave us, we discovered a used car lot in place of where a drive in used to be. Laughing hysterically but totally frustrated, we got back on the highway and found another Sonic, this time 40 miles north of us. To be sure this one actually existed, Alex called while I continued to drive. This time we actually found the Sonic, parked and placed our order. I was quite excited, since I’ve heard tons about Sonic but never been, and got a bit over eager in my order. I got the popcorn chicken, tater tots and a cherry limeade chiller and Alex had a burger and fries. Overall I wasn’t that impressed, and although I’m glad I tried Sonic along with The Varsity on Wednesday, I still think In n Out is far superior. Maybe I’m just biased.

Alex took over driving so I could blog since I had so much catching up to do, and we are currently cruising through Virginia, about 15 miles outside of Richmond. It’s been a long day, but the last few days experiencing the South have been fabulous, and I’m so glad I got to see this part of our country. It’s pretty incredible, but now that we’re back up in Virginia everything feels completely different again. I’m partially sad, partially excited to be heading back up to the northeast again – it means the end of this trip and going back to the reality of searching for a roommate and a job, which is stressful and exhausting, but it also means seeing all of my friends and finally being back in my apartment. As great as it has been experiencing random hotels across America, it will be nice to not live out of my suitcase, and to have my own bed & shower again!

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Days 9 and 10: NOLA!

My apologies for the lack of post yesterday night, but I promise to catch you up with this one!

Once again, I’m writing this as we drive. We left New Orleans around 3 PM this afternoon and I just drove the first 5 hours of the drive back through southern Mississippi and into Alabama towards Atlanta, Georgia. It’s about 9:15 and we’re just passing through Montgomery, Alabama, about 160 miles¬†southwest of Atlanta. Anyways, back to the last two days.

On Monday morning we let ourselves sleep in for a bit in Jackson, MS and had the luxury of setting our alarms for 11 AM. The hotel we stayed at was absolutely beautiful – an old inn that the Hilton had taken over and restored. It was so typically “southern” and even though we didn’t arrive until almost 2 AM, I could still appreciate the beauty.

The lobby of our Hilton in Jackson, Mississippi

After getting some solid sleep, we drove 45 minutes south of Jackson to a Cracker Barrel, which Alex had raved about and insisted I try. I had eggs, hash browns, biscuits & grits (which I am not a fan of, btw) and Alex had the apple pancakes.

Alex in a tiny rocking chair outside Cracker Barrel

We got back on the road through Mississippi and decided that we were not huge fans of the state.¬† Nothing seemed particularly impressive in Jackson and many towns seemed rather run down (at least along Interstate 55).¬† We also noticed that for some strange reason, all along the side of the highway in Mississippi there are dozens of randomly parked and abandoned cars. It doesn’t appear that the cars are in horrible shape, and even if they are broken down why aren’t they towed away to be repaired? Alex and I are truly baffled by this, and every few miles we would see yet another abandoned car or truck.

In Louisiana, we decided to drive slightly out of our way to take the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, a 28 mile bridge across Lake Pontchartrain that is one of the longest bridges in the world. Definitely well worth the extra 45 minutes in the car and the $3 toll, and it let us off right in New Orleans.

View from the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway

We drove to our hotel, the Bourbon Orleans, in the French Quarter and dropped our stuff off before hopping on the St. Charles Streetcar which we took to the end of the line at City Park.

We wandered the park and took some pictures, then walked back about half the distance of the trolley and hopped on again. We got off the streetcar and realized we were pretty hungry, so we headed in the direction of a restaurant that had rave reviews on Trip Advisor. Of course we got to the restaurant to discover it is only open for dinner on Thursday, Friday & Saturday nights, so we continued to venture through the French Quarter to find a decent place to eat. We settled on Cajun Cabin, which at first glance seemed great but in reality wasn’t so fabulous. I ordered a shrimp po-boy, a traditional New Orleans sandwich, and Alex had a burger. Overall, our food was way too expensive and relatively underwhelming, which was pretty disappointing. Alex did try the local New Orleans Golden Ale which was really good, and we were able to sit up on the upstairs balcony and people watch right on Bourbon Street, which was fun. I guess we’ve been pretty lucky thus far with finding good restaurants, so I probably shouldn’t complain too much about our lack of decent food.

After dinner we headed back to the hotel to relax for a bit and change before heading out onto Bourbon Street for the night. We left the hotel and made a pit stop at the Tropical Isle for a drink called the hand grenade, which is what the bar claims is “New Orleans strongest drink.” The ingredients are apparently top secret, but were most likely fruit juice and rum. Although the plastic hand grenade shaped glass was fun to drink out of, Alex and I weren’t too impressed. We walked up and down the street, wandering through some of the tourist shops and noting the bizarre mix of people. We walked down Canal Street to the water front and then walked back to Bourbon Street, where we grabbed pizza and beer to make up for our unimpressive dinner. Full and exhausted, we headed back to the hotel to call it a night.

Bourbon Street, New Orleans at night

This morning we were up and checked out of the hotel by about 10:30 AM, and we stored our luggage and ventured out of the French Quarter and down Magazine Street to a breakfast place I read about on Yelp with rave reviews. Although it was quite the walk, it ended up being well worth the extra time trudging through the heat. And let me tell you, it is hot in New Orleans. It’s the kind of heat that makes your body sticky from just standing outside, the type that makes your hands and feet swell like balloons and force you to take off your sunglasses because instead of protecting you from the sun, they just make your face sweat. Regardless, it was nice to be in the heat as opposed to the freezing weather of Denver and South Dakota.

Our breakfast in the lower garden district was delicious – I had a fabulous lox sandwich, and Alex tried the huevos rancheros. From there we walked back into the downtown area and onto Julia Street to walk past the art galleries and out onto the waterfront. We walked down and through the Riverwalk mall, a long indoor strip of stores right along the edge of the city with a view of the Mississippi River.

I had a phone interview at 1:30, so Alex and I found a quiet spot in the lobby of the Marriott where I could sit and talk without being distracted. From there, we walked back through a different section of the French Quarter and to the original Cafe du Monde which serves nothing but coffee and the famous Benoit New Orleans pastries.

After devouring the powder sugar coated treats, we headed back to the hotel to claim our luggage and our car. We headed out of New Orleans by 3 PM, and have been driving ever since. We took the scenic route through Southern Mississippi to get a glimpse at the Gulf of Mexico, which wasn’t too exciting and the water was definitely not very inviting. Regardless it was a cool to see the gulf, and I made a lame joke about how we were driving past lots of oil, which is really not very funny at all. Another discovery of this afternoon was that there is a Waffle House every mile along the interstate, literally. I could not for the life of me tell you what exactly a Waffle House is, besides a sketchy looking fast food place that apparently has 15 different meals for under $5. Regardless, Alex and I were happy to leave Mississippi behind and get into Alabama.

We stopped at Ruby Tuesday’s for dinner in Bay Minette, Alabama which is apparently quite the dressy, happening joint in town. At the end of the meal the restaurant lost power and all the lights went out, which Alex thought was cool and for some bizarre reason is insisting I mention in this post. We followed up dinner with buy-two-get-one-free candy at Winn Dixie, which Alex insisted we visit since he’d heard of the chain and wanted to check it out. (FYI, it looks exactly like every other grocery store on the inside).

Overall I’m really glad I got to see New Orleans. I was surprised by how much of the city still looks run down and how many houses I noticed in the eastern part of the city that are still boarded up and abandoned, even 5 years later. Regardless of how weathered some of the houses looked, I really fell in love with the southern architecture – there’s something endearing about the wrought iron gates, columns and adorable balconies everywhere. I could definitely live without the humidity of the south, but thats probably non negotiable!

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Day 8: St Louis & 500 miles of driving to Jackson, Mississippi

Once again, I’m writing this entry from the car, as we are doing some late night driving to get down South. We just left Memphis, where we made a pit stop for some bbq dinner. In retrospect Alex and I agree that it may have been smarter to book a hotel in Memphis instead of our chosen Jackson Mississippi, which is another 200 miles south, but that’s life, and we’re now paying the price with a 2am arrival time.

Today was another slightly dreary, overcast day, although it was much warmer in St. Louis than it was in Chicago yesterday. We were supposed to be up by 8:30 this morning, but I ended up snoozing my alarm for longer than anticipated (oops) and we got a bit of a later start than expected. We stayed at the Hilton last night, which was absolutely beautiful inside, and was right in east downtown, walking distance from the arch. We wandered over to a nice grocery store a few blocks away and grabbed bagels for breakfast. You’ve probably noticed a trend, but in reality this is an excellent money saving tip – our bagels only cost us 69 cents this morning, and my cream cheese was a whopping additional 33 cents. I also grabbed an iced vanilla latte – my first caffeine of the trip. I was trying to hold out, but alas my body is starting to feel the sleep deprivation.

After breakfast we walked over to the arch, where we waited in a security line to go get into the museum and visitors center area. Little did we know, but the arch has an entire area beneath it dedicated to the Museum of Westward Expansion, which is a free exhibit that documents Jefferson’s acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase and the settlement of the West. We bought our tickets to ride the tram up to the top of the arch and after asking if they offered a student or AAA discount discovered that had we brought our national park pass we could have saved $6 off our ticket prices. Bummer, since our card was stuck in the car. We wandered the museum for a bit before hopping in line for our tram ride. Once in line, we discovered that riding to the top of the arch requires sitting in a tiny car that seats 5 and is definitely not meant for the big or the tall. Luckily, Alex and I are both small people who aren’t claustrophobic so we didn’t have a problem, but neither of us were expecting the tiny cars. Once at the top there are narrow rectangular viewing windows that look out at the city and the Mississippi River. In order to get a good view out of the windows, you kind of lean on your stomach against a sloping wall, and poke your face into the glass. It was a pretty spectacular view, and Alex and I were definitely impressed. At some of the windows, you can turn all the way to the left or right and see the legs of the arch, which is a pretty surreal, gut wrenching feeling.

From the arch we went back to the hotel, grabbed our bags from the concierge, hopped in the car and headed a few blocks away to the St. Louis Bread Company, better known as Panera in the rest of the US. Apparently, the chain was started in St. Louis, and when it expanded they changed the name to Panera. Although we’ve each eaten at Panera before, it was kind of cool to be eating our delicious paninis in the city they originated in! We headed to the City Museum, which is called a museum but is really a space meant as an active playground for children and adults. The space is meant to be touched and explored – every aspect of the museum is hands on. Located in a giant warehouse, most of the museum is made up of found objects from the city. There are tons of climbing spaces and fun slides meant for younger kids, but all sorts of intricate details, including beautiful tiling and painting, really make the museum a spectacular space for everybody to enjoy. I climbed up ten stories and slid down this incredible twisted chute slide while Alex stayed downstairs and explored, and we wandered the rest of the inside of the museum. There’s also an outdoor area with a giant steel climbing area that leads up to a small airplane nestled in the sky. Sounds strange, but really, its an incredible sight.

After the City Museum we drove down the Anheuser-Busch factory, which is almost a city in and of itself. The scale and size of the buildings, all located within a single area that I’m tempted to call a campus-like space, was pretty incredible. We took the hour long free tour which showed us the inside of the bottling building, the giant kettles and aging tanks as well as the Clydesdale horses and their stables. The factory is so big that we even took a tram ride from one side to the other at the end of our tour. Since I was designated driver at our Milwaukee brewery tour, it was my turn to drink. I got to try the Wild Blue, which is the Budweiser blueberry beer, and was actually quite impressed considering I’m not normally a huge Bud fan. I managed to sneak my empty glass into the bathroom where I washed it out and stashed it into my purse to add to our growing glass collection from the trip. I’m going to make it my goal for the rest of our time on the road to acquire some other cups and mugs, they make great souvenirs! We also learned some fun facts on our very large, corporate tour, which include the statistic that 50% of all beer consumed in the United States is a Budweiser product. Although I’m slightly disappointed, I’m not surprised and my guess is that us college kids certainly contribute to that statistic with our Bud Light kegs and beer balls. We also learned that the yeast in Budweiser is the “secret” ingredient and is kept under lock and key at the factory – only two people can access the storage area where it is kept. We also learned that they bottle 2000 beers a minute and that their storage room can hold a half million cases of beer – that’s a lot of booze!

Being at the Anheuser-Busch factory was a completely different experience than the Lake Front Brewery in Milwaukee. For one, our tour guides didn’t try very hard to be funny, where as our LFB tour guide was incredibly entertaining and engaging. Alex and I also noted how a lot of the Budweiser factory tour consisted of the tour guides noting how that the Budweiser factory and company was the only one, tthe biggest or the greatest at one thing or another. Regardless, it was awesome to see such a huge factory and to experience two such different breweries.

Around 4:15 PM we finally left the factory and got back on Interstate 55. We drove the 4 hours through Missouri and Arkansas to Memphis in a massive thunderstorm, which at one point was so heavy we could barely see out of the windshield. I love rainstorms, so it was awesome to watch the lightening grow closer and closer and streak through the sky every few seconds. Plus, our very dirty white car got a fabulous free car wash! We finally passed the storm and made it to Memphis, where we stopped at the famous Corky’s BBQ joint for some southern style dinner. Alex and I each had BBQ Chicken dinners with beans, coleslaw and delicious homemade rolls. After taking a slight detour back through the city downtown to check out Beale Street, we got right back onto 55, headed out of Tennessee and into Mississippi, where we are currently cruising down the very empty highway at 70 mph. According to Samantha we are 142 miles away from our Hilton Garden Inn in Jackson, Mississippi, which is a gorgeous restored hotel that Alex scored on Priceline for $69.

Alex and I were just talking earlier about how lucky we feel to have the opportunity to be doing this trip – it occurred to us that for some people, driving from Chicago to St. Louis or even St. Louis to Memphis is a huge family vacation, and that we’re fortunate to be doing it all in the span of just a few days. Even though seeing some of these cities for just a few hours is somewhat of a tease, its awesome to be able to get a glimpse of the country the way we are, especially knowing that we have the rest of our lives to travel back to some of these places and stay for longer. I am so fortunate that we got to actually do this!

Another realization of tonight is that today marks one week that we’ve been on the road. It seems like years ago that we were arriving in Flagstaff and anticipating the Grand Canyon, but that was only 7 days ago. In those seven days, we have seen thirteen states (California, Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Minnesota, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi), stayed in 7 hotels (tonight will be 8) and as of just a few minutes ago, officially driven 3600 miles. Pretty crazy!

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Day 7: Chicago!

As I write this, Alex is driving south on Interstate 55 and according to our slightly cracked out GPS Samantha, we are approximately 90 miles away from our hotel in St. Louis. In anticipation of how exhausted I am, I decided to get a head start on blogging in the car so that I can pass out as soon as we get to our hotel. Since we wanted to get a full day in Chicago, we didn’t leave the city until about 7 PM, meaning we wont actually arrive in St. Louis until about midnight.

Today was a fabulous, although slightly chilly, day exploring Chicago. As mentioned in the last post, I had never been to Chicago and it was definitely on my list of top cities to see. I am so excited I got to visit – it truly is an amazing city. Alex had been to visit with his dad a few months ago, but the two of them managed to be in the city during one of their miserable snow storms, so his experience this time was much different since the temperature was a solid 40 degrees warmer.

We stayed at the Chicago Inn, which Alex and I scored on Last Minute Travel for $108 instead of the normal $200. The lobby had a great modern feel and our room was beautiful, but the concierge who checked us in last night was slightly cranky. We woke up, got ready and were checked out of the hotel by 11 AM. We checked our baggage downstairs and ventured out into the city, where we walked about half an hour to the adorable Lou Mitchell’s diner. The diner opened in the 1920’s and used to be the first stop at the eastern end of the historic Route 66. We were handed donut holes as we walked in and once we were seated the bustling feel was an awesome breakfast atmosphere. The old fashioned booths and metal bar tops were truly authentic. Alex ordered an omelette and I had eggs, both of which came in their own saucepans, which was really fun.

Alex and I seriously over estimated how warm it would be outside – even though my blackberry weather app said it would be in the upper 60’s, it was definitely overcast and much chillier than expected. After breakfast we headed over to Millennium Park and Buckingham Fountain and walked down through the park where we happened upon on a Self Magazine work out session on the grass. From there we walked over to the art institute, the bean and the outdoor concert arena in the center of the city.

We then decided to head out of the city to check out the Frank Lloyd Wright home in Oak Park, a 40 minute train ride away. Although it was a bit of a shlep, seeing the house was pretty incredible. I have long been a fan of Wright, as my parents love his work and I visited some of his houses when I was younger. His original home, which he built and added additions to for his six children, is absolutely beautiful and the Oak Park neighborhood he helped to develop (there are over 70 homes designed by him just within the neighborhood!) is adorable. There was an event going on at the home but we were still able to take a tour, and it didn’t take us long to realize that we were the youngest ones at the house by about 30 or 40 years.

After heading back into the city we went up to the observation deck of the John Hancock Building, which although was pretty pricy ($15 just to ride a damn elevator up 94 floors) was definitely an amazing view. The light was slightly dim because of how overcast it was outside, but the views of the skyline were awesome, and I’m glad I sucked it up and paid the price.

We grabbed dinner at the food court in the Water Tower Mall next door. The set up of the food court was something I’d never seen before – when you walk into the food court, you are seated at a table and given a plastic card for each person in your party. There are a number of different counters, each with different types of cuisine, and you pick what you want and they swipe your card to add that item onto your tab. At the end of your meal, you check out and pay at the register. Kind of a cool concept, and nice that you don’t have to fight and search for a table.

After dinner we walked the few blocks back to our hotel, grabbed our bags, loaded the car and said goodbye to the Windy City.

Alex managed to score us a room at the Hilton in downtown St. Louis, right near the Cardinals Stadium for only $70, which is awesome. Too bad parking is an additional $18 – they really know how to get you with parking rates, we had to pay $36 for overnight parking in Chicago!

Anyways, I’m excited to be in St. Louis soon, although tomorrow is going to be a long day considering we’re touring the city in the morning, driving to Memphis and spending some time there before we continue on to Jackson, Mississippi, which is about 2 hours north of New Orleans, our next destination. I’m excited to be finally reaching the South soon – it’s a region I’ve heard so much about and am definitely anticipating seeing the area, not to mention finally reaching some warmer weather!

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