Wednesday, October 5, 2016

8 States + 3 Friends + 2 Oldies Playlists + 1 Rental Car = 1 Awesome Road Trip

Now that we've been back from our trip for almost three months, I felt it was high time to write a blog about our adventures on the east coast!

June 29th
On the morning of June 29th, Sara, Katy, and I (The Three Musketeers, as we're sometimes called) set off on our trip to the east coast.  After a short layover in Atlanta, where we had our traditional and compulsory meal of Chick-Fil-A and a piece of cake from, you guessed it, Piece of Cake, we arrived in Richmond, Virginia that afternoon.  We picked up our rental car and drove off into the greenery that is the east coast during the summer time.
 My Aunt Karen and Uncle Ronnie graciously offered us dinner at their home after which we played a game of Kuub on their back lawn.  I need to get this game for myself!  My Viking ancestors would be proud!
My cousin Katie offered to have us stay at her place for the two nights we were in the area.  I am grateful for generous relatives!

June 30th
Our detailed itinerary began the next morning.  We drove to Colonial Williamsburg and learned all about what life was like in Revolutionary America and several valuable life skills like basketweaving and wearing wigs properly.  Having grown up on the west coast, I don't get to stand in and tour that many old buildings or towns so it was cool to be in a place that was founded in 1632.  (By contrast, my hometown of Concord, California was founded in 1869 and incorporated in 1905.)

After that we moved on to other places of historical significance.  All three of us watch the TV show Turn, which takes place during the American Revolution, and much of it is filmed in and around Williamsburg.  So we set off to find a few more sites where the show was filmed.  On the way, we encountered a very old home on the York River where the grounds are open for tours.  We were outside the old ice house when I spotted two large black dogs bounding towards us and barking.  No sooner had a I said, "Guys, I think we're gonna die," than Sara and Katy ran into the ice house and shut the door, leaving me to the mercy of the beasts.  My life flashed before my closed eyes as I waited for sharp teeth to sink into my legs and arms.  But luckily the horrific mauling I had anticipated never took place.  I finally opened my eyes to find the dogs circling around me and barking loudly.  The dread I felt quickly dissipated when I heard the voices of the dogs' owners call them away.  Sara and Katy opened the ice house door, looking around to see if the coast was clear.  Realizing they had basically abandoned me to my death, they quickly apologized.  After I was somewhat recovered from that terrifying encounter, we decided to move out of the reach of scary dogs and enter the house's (fenced) garden area.  My phone was acting up so I didn't get any pictures but there were some extremely old graves (by American standards anyway) and some lovely greenery that allowed me to relax a little bit following my near-death experience ;).

We were too late to see some of the other historical sites but we got cake in Richmond that made up for that.  This stuff was so good!
July 1st
We said goodbye to Richmond and set off to tour some of America's most well-known and grand estates.  Our first stop was Thomas Jefferson's home, Monticello, in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Jefferson was a very interesting figure in our nation's history and so is his house.  He was an inventive and scientifically-minded person and that curious personality was reflected in the way his home was built and his belongings.  There were pulley systems and strange gadgets throughout the house to make life easier.

After strolling through Monticello's underground section, we decided to drive to our next destination: George Washington's Mt. Vernon in Alexandria, Virginia.  I visited the mansion a few years back when I went to Washington, D.C. on vacation but it definitely wasn't as hot then as it was on this trip.  George Washington is my favorite founding father so I love his home but...MAN, IT WAS HOT!!!  The tour guides weren't as good as I remember them being before but it was still fun to see the famous bright green room, the bedrooms, and the grounds.  You can't help but admire the ingenuity of the people back then when visiting places like Monticello and Mt. Vernon, but you also can't help being grateful you live in the modern age when things like electric stoves, indoor plumbing, and air conditioning exist.

We settled into our hotel room in Alexandria, got a chocolate Capitol Building from Costco (which provided almost all of the sweets we needed for our entire trip), and ate at Gadsby's Tavern.  The tavern was established in 1785 and I ate the best steak of my life there.  Alexandria was founded in 1749 so it was another awesome historical city to visit with its old streets and plaques marking historical buildings on almost every corner.

July 2nd
We got up early to spend the day seeing the sites in Washington D.C. We rode the Metro to our destinations, Katy's being Arlington National Cemetery and mine and Sara's being the the White House and the Holocaust Museum. I visited D.C. a couple of years ago and it was fun to be back walking the streets of our nation's capital and be a part of the politically-charged atmosphere, surrounded by monuments and buildings dedicated to historical figures. We met up again with Katy for lunch and then went to the Smithsonian Museum of American History. I still love the Americans at War exhibit. We spent a few hours in the museum and then made our way down the National Mall to see the Monuments. It was a beautiful day in DC!

July 3rd
We left Virginia and drove up through Maryland to see the reenactment of the Civil War battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania on the morning of July 3rd.  Thus began my adventure into unknown territory.  I had been to Virginia, Washington D.C., and Maryland on previous trips but I had never stepped foot in Pennsylvania or anywhere north of there.  We arrived in Gettysburg and made our way to the battlefield.  It was really cool to be there on the anniversary of when the battle was fought.  There was a patriotic spirit in Gettysburg and it was a great place to be just before the 4th of July.  My skin decided to get into the spirit of the season, too.  Though the temperature was fairly moderate for a summer day on the east coast, the sun was still beating down on us while we watched the reenactment and my face and neck turned lobster red.  If I had been wearing a blue and white striped shirt, all of the colors of the flag would be represented on my person.  Despite the scourge that now afflicted my poor epidermis, I actually really liked the small town of Gettysburg.  I think it would be a great place to live know...the whole winter season just didn't exist. :)

July 4th
On Independence Day, our ultimate destination was Philadelphia but we took some time to stop at a few places on the way.  After leaving our hotel in Gettysburg, we drove off into the Pennsylvania countryside (which is beautiful, by the way) and got off the freeway a couple of times to check out some local attractions.  We saw a sign for the Cornwall Furnace and felt like we needed to check it out.  The Furnace was built in 1742 and is a unique survivor of the American iron industry.  We didn't want to pay money to tour the building so we just walked around outside and saw the gift shop.  We also stopped in Hershey, PA and saw how they make some of their chocolates.

We got to Philadelphia in the late afternoon and immediately got in line to tour Independence Hall.  Being in the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4th was AWESOME!!! I had a kind of special moment of reverence there in Independence Hall as I thought about all that the Founding Fathers had sacrificed to bring this country into existence.  That was probably one of my favorite parts of the trip.

Then we crossed the street to Washington Square and saw the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where I had another emotional moment.  A word of advice: If you are an emotional person, don't read the inscription out loud or you might get choked up while reading it.  I may or may not be speaking from experience.  After that, we went and saw the Liberty Bell which was impossible to get close to because of all the people crowded around it.

The sky was looking a little cloudy so we decided to get to our hotel in Mt. Laurel, New Jersey before we got rained on.  It was a great day in Pennsylvania!

July 5th
I'll be honest...almost everything I've heard about New Jersey has given me a somewhat negative impression of the state.  Movies had basically led me to believe that the whole place was a polluted, crime-filled, urban wasteland.  I am happy to report that this impression was misguided!  We did have an interesting experience at our hotel that morning when going back to our room that put a bad taste in our mouths after an otherwise uneventful breakfast.  We saw an old woman with a walker trying to get through a door so Sara kindly held it open for her.  The woman, who looked slightly crazed, then barked, "Get out of here!  You witch!  Go back to your country!"  Afraid that a woman who could barely walk was going to inflict bodily harm upon us, we walked quickly to the elevator, her shouts following us down the hall.  We packed up our things (I may have sarcastically called Sara a witch a few times in the process) and then headed to Trenton to see the monument for General Washington's victory over the Hessians during the Revolutionary War.  We spotted the monument but decided it would be best to not get out of the car since the neighborhood looked a little rough.  We drove a few miles down the freeway and were soon engulfed by the beautiful New Jersey countryside.  Katy looked on her phone to see if there were any historical sites nearby and found that there were markers that showed where Washington's army had crossed the icy Delaware River in December of 1776. We stopped to take some pictures and crossed a bridge over the Delaware River back to Pennsylvania to see the actual museum dedicated to Washington's crossing.

We continued on our way to our hotel in Secaucus, New Jersey, listening to my Oldies playlist on Spotify while driving up the New Jersey Turnpike.  The song "America" by Simon & Garfunkle came on and we had a funny moment when the line, "...counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike" played. ("Oh my gosh! We're on the New Jersey Turnpike right now!")  After about an hour in the car, the New York City skyline began to appear in the distance. Excitement and nervousness filled me as I anticipated our upcoming venture into such a big city.  We got to our hotel in Secaucus, rested for a bit, then drove to Hoboken, NJ to see the Cake Boss' bakery, Carlo's Bake Shop.  We wandered around town, stopping into a little book store (for mine and Katy's benefit) and getting pizza for dinner.  We headed back to our hotel and prepared for a busy day in the Big Apple.

July 6th
We got up early to take the ferry and see the sites on the Hudson.  We got to the ferry building in Jersey City around 7:45 and it was already very warm.  We could tell it was going to be a hot, sticky day.  We got there a little earlier than we needed to so we explored the area around the ferry building.  There is a simple yet powerful memorial for the victims of 9/11 who were from New Jersey.
We boarded the ferry bound for the Statue of Liberty.  After being landlocked in Utah for a while, it was nice to see the water again.  It was really cool to see New York City from the direction immigrants on their way to Ellis Island would have seen it.

We hopped back on the ferry and headed for Manhattan.  Our first stop was the 9/11 Memorial and Museum.  It was a very sobering museum but I thought it was put together very well in honor of those who lost their lives that tragic day.  It was the first and only time so far in my life that I have gone to a museum or monument dedicated to an event I personally remember.

We stepped back outside and immediately felt how insane the heat was.  We walked around the city for a bit, finally stepping into a bakery to both eat delicious food and escape the ridiculous temperature and humidity outside.
We then went to a Subway station and caught a train headed for Central Park.  Central Park is beautiful and it's kind of amazing that such a beautiful, lush park is in the middle of such a big city.  We had to sit down on benches a few times (mostly at my urging because my feet are weird and start to hurt too easily after a moderate amount of walking) but it was awesome to be in such a famous park.

We got back on the Subway to go eat dinner at a barbecue place near Times Square (because it was cheaper than everywhere else) and then we walked through Times Square and looked around at the large screens and all the activity around us until we spotted some basically naked women and decided it was time to head back to the Subway and then on to the ferry.  I think I will have to go back to New York City on a day when it isn't so miserably hot so I can fully appreciate its splendor.
The hotel in Secaucus wasn't in the best part of town or anything but it felt like heaven to come back to after such an exhausting and hot day.  And the hotel let us check out movies from their movie collection for free! So we borrowed the movie Joy and rested our feet after walking probably 20,000 steps that day.

July 7th
July 7th was, hands-down, the best overall day of the trip.  It was Sara's birthday so she wanted a nice, restful day where we didn't have anything in particular planned and we just stopped wherever we felt like it on our way up to Boston.  The first place we stopped was in Nyack, New York.  Back when all three of us still lived in California, we would take road trips to Tahoe and stop in Nyack, CA to get gas, so the town of "Nyack" has some sentimental value for each of us.  We bought pie at Pie Lady and Son, which is famous apparently, and then headed off back into the countryside of New York.
We crossed the border into Connecticut which was exciting for me because I have wanted to go to the New England area my entire life and I was finally there!  We stopped at Costco to get our traditional road trip snacks of bread and goat cheese and then continued down the road until we saw a sign advertising the PEZ Visitor's Center.  Sara quickly and brilliantly maneuvered the car across three lanes so that we wouldn't miss the turn off to the Visitor's Center.  I'm not going to lie...that museum was pretty dang magical.  I'm pretty sure we were more excited about it than all the little kids there combined.

When we got back on the road, Katy was looking up random places on her phone and found that the self-portrait of John Andre was in the library at Yale University in New Haven, CT.  John Andre, a British soldier during the Revolutionary War who is portrayed in the TV show Turn, drew his self-portrait just before he was executed in 1780.  We set off for Yale in the hopes of seeing the self-portrait.  While I think BYU has a lovely campus with some pretty cool, innovative buildings, I have to admit that Yale is pretty awesome.  The university was founded in 1701 so the buildings are very old and have amazing architecture.  We found out quickly, however, that there was no getting into Yale's library without a student ID so we started walking back to the car, only to get caught in a TORRENTIAL rainstorm.  I'm talking about some serious rain, the kind that soaks through your clothes in a matter of seconds.  I brought an umbrella but that barely did anything for me.  We ducked under an archway for a quick breather before making a run for it back to the car.

Our hope was to get to the beach at some point during the day since Sara hasn't seen the ocean since our move from California.  On the way to the beach, however, we saw a restaurant that we couldn't pass up.  Simply called The Place Restaurant, they advertised that they serve the meat and customers can bring their own sides.  We pulled out our bread and goat cheese and headed over to the tented restaurant.  Not only did they have delicious meats, they also served the best corn on the cob in the world!  It was so good!

It was starting to get dark so we decided it would be best to get to the beach as soon as possible.  There was a small beach just a few miles away and, luckily, it stopped raining just as we stepped onto the sand.  Jacob's Beach is a cute, very well kept neighborhood beach.  The last time I saw the Atlantic Ocean was when I was four years old so it was nice to see it again.

The sun was going down as we drove through the rest of Connecticut, through Rhode Island (which takes all of 30 minutes to drive through) and came to our hotel on the border of Providence, Rhode Island and Seekonk, Massachusetts. It was a great day of spontaneous stops and fun random adventures.  Connecticut was good to us!

July 8th
That morning we headed into Boston to walk The Freedom Trail, a path through downtown Boston that passes 16 locations significant to the history of the United States.  Because the Revolutionary War is my absolute favorite historical event, I have wanted to visit Boston, the place where the revolution began, all of my life!  We were also very fortunate that the storm that blew through the New England area dropped the temperatures significantly so we didn't have to walk through the streets of Boston in horrific heat like we had in NYC.  Out of all of the bigger cities we visited, Boston was my favorite.

We stopped at Paul Revere's house, a building where the Declaration of Independence was first read to the public, and sat in the Old North Church.  I loved the cobblestone streets and how well Boston has preserved the history of the city.  After my feet had had their fill of walking, we drove to Concord, MA and checked out the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery where famous authors like Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Louisa May Alcott, and Nathaniel Hawthorne are buried.  I am a huge fan of the book Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and the movie of the same name that came out in the 90s.  I loved seeing Orchard House and visiting a cute little city that shares the name of my hometown in California.

Exhausted and perhaps a little "historied-out" (I know, I just said that), we went back to the hotel, watched the Shawshank Redemption on TV, and packed up our things before our flight back west the next morning.  While it was sad to see our vacation come to a close, I think we were all looking forward to going back to the stability of our normal lives after so much driving and moving around.  And to get away from all the toll roads!  They love them toll roads back east!  It was such an awesome trip!  I highly recommend it to anyone who likes road trips and history!