The Last Leg + the Journey Home

IMG_1032IMG_1025Day 46.

Miles Driven: 611

Montana looked like cowboy country. Fields of grass and grain mixed with cow, horse, and bison ranches. The farmland and big sky were beautiful. Montana became Idaho and the grain fields continued. We drove through the cute lake-side city of Coeur d’Alene and turned south towards Lewiston to see another of mom’s old friends from her days at Mattel, Elaine. Lewiston sits on the Idaho state line with WaIMG_1033shington. Just across the boarder is Clarkston. Get it? Lewis and Clark. We had to come down a very long and steep grade from the high prairie bluffs into the lower oasis where Lewiston and Clarkston are situated. I think we passed seven runaway truck ramps!

Elaine was very kind to let us stay with her on our journey. And as always, I really enjoy hearing the stories of when my mom was my age.

IMG_1042IMG_1037Day 47.

Miles Driven: 401

We had a lovely breakfast at Elaine’s favorite diner joint, Waffles and More. We crossed the Snake River into Washington for a bit before driving into Oregon. East Oregon was covered in dry farmland. But the second we hit the Cascade Mountains and crossed into the Columbia River Gorge at The Dalles Dam, the pine trees began to sprout up and we saw signs for waterfalls. The river was busy with sail boats and parasails.

IMG_1049We passed through our future home, Portland, and made our way to my Uncle Martin and Aunt MaryEllen’s home in Salem (our home base while we find a place to rent in Portland). We also made perfect time to see my Uncle Rupert and Aunt Diane, who were visiting from the east coast, for one more day before they flew back.

Total Miles: 10,510

The End. (but not really)

The saga continues…

We spent the next two weeks staying with my generous family, checking Craigslist every morning, and driving back and forth to Portland in search of a place to live. This was much more difficult than I expected and finding our new home to rent almost seems like fate when I look back. Any perspective house did not meet all of our criteria (ie. Allows cats, has washer and dryer hook ups) and then rented before we really had time to think and follow up. While looking at one house that was not quite right, the landlord’s wife gave us a flyer for her home that she also was renting and we had not seen the ad for. After taking a look and liking the location and layout and checking off all of our needs, we applied. And waited. And somehow, we got the very cute, blue, 1915 bungalow. Move in date set for September 1st.

After signing the lease, we had just over two weeks to kill before moving in. We drove down to Stockton to visit our good friends Katie, Andy and Heidi, then over to San Francisco to attend o10635895_10204511769101206_6743707697810196240_nur friend Beth’s wedding and explore the city a little. Then back to my hometown to prepare for the move. Our dear friend Luanne was also so generous to host us while we booked the rental truck and began the packing process. It was good to see our friends and church family again before heading off.

The drive back to Portland took two days and involved mom driving our 16ft truck with one car towed and me following in the other car with the two cats. Packing and the entire drive went mostly smooth. We are back at Uncle Martin’s for one more night. Tomorrow is move in day!!!

– – – – –

IMG_1050What a blessing these last three months have been. We were given such a great opportunity to make a change in our lives and try something new. The road trip was eye opening to the diversity in landscape, people, food and culture that spans our country. America is so beautiful as it changes from coast to coast. Rolling hills, valleys, deserts, red rocks, rocky mountains, farmland, bayous, forests, fields and prairie. All of these landscapes offer something unique to our country. Everyone needs to experience America at some point in their lives by visiting the national parks and learning about its history. Plus, the whole trip was just plain, old fun!

And let me just say, thank you SO much to our friends and family who hosted us along the way. Thank you for feeding us, giving us a place to sleep, and letting us do laundry. We love you all so much. And please know that you always welcome in our home too.

Here is to a new adventure!

– – – – –

The Grand Totals:

31 States + 1 territory

12,406 miles driven (CA and back again)

# of bug bites: countless

cheapest gas: $3.19 in Alabama

most expensive gas: $4.29 in California

favorite place: you can never pick just one spot in America the Beautiful

Those National Park Days: Grand Teton + Yellowstone

IMG_0997IMG_0995Day 44.

Miles Driven: 310.

We woke to a beautiful morning and drove the last 45 minutes into Grand Teton National Park. What a beautiful park! Green prairie grass of Jackson Hole valley juts up to snow caped IMG_0989peaks. French explorers named the range “Les Trois Tetons” or The Three Breasts, the tallest being the Grand Teton. Glaciers and snowmelt created many lakes that are now used recreationally for canoeing and swimming. The mountains and lakes are named for backcountry explorers and trappers that worked in this area. We cooked a wonderful breakfast on the shores of Jenny Lake. We walked around a bit, visited the info center a bit, and marveled at the spectacular scenery a lot!

_MG_1306In the afternoon, we drove a short distance north into America’s first National Park: Yellowstone. Signed into law in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant, Yellowstone is one of _MG_1331the most active geothermal points on the planet. “What is geothermal?” you may ask. Well, let me tell you. Yellowstone National Park is a volcano, like the Hawaiian Volcanoes, that sits in the middle of a tectonic plate. However, we do not see the typical cone and cauldron. Here, the crust of the earth is very thin, maybe seven miles deep, compared to 20-miles everywhere else. A pocket of magma (molten rock) sits below the crust and heats up any water pockets that flow below the surface creating geysers, hot springs, and mud pots. Beyond the thermal activity, Yellowstone has a very busy ecosystem too. The entire park is busy with birds, bison, bears, and wolves.

_MG_1330_MG_1325My good friend Joel had worked in Yellowstone for several summers and gave us the ins and outs on what to see and where to stay. Somehow, we got a last minute reservation at Canyonlands Campground. We were so relived that we did get a reservation because once at the park, every campsite was FULL!

_MG_1320From the start, we started seeing animals. A bison walked right in front of our car. As dusk began to set in, we made our way to Hayden Valley, and so did everyone else. Park visitors would gather on little knolls lining the valley with their binoculars, telephoto lenses, and spotting scopes on tripods to watch the animals. There was lots of activity during our stay. I heard that earlier in the week, a bison had died which was drawing the bears and wolves into the valley. I saw the wolves feeding and some bears playing just a football field away. So cool!

I spy two bears and a bison!

I spy two bears and a bison!

For dinner, we bought some bison meat at the Yellowstone grocery store and cooked the burgers on our campstove. The grass-fed meat was rich and lean and oh so tasty.

Day 45.

The campsite was so quiet in the morning. Even the birds slept in. We cooked breakfast, packed the car, and took off for the upper, middle, and lower geyser basins. Once in the geyser basin, we began seeing plumes of steam rising up between the trees. Our first stop _MG_1350was at the Grand Prismatic Pool. WOW! This pool was gorgeous and the colors ranged from bright blue to deep brown. What is unique about these pools, is that heat-loving, microbacterias thrive in these waters. At the center of the pool, the water is over 200 degrees and noting lives there letting the clear water reflect the blue sky. But, as the water laps over the edge of the pool and cools, the colors change to green, then orange, then brown. The national park had build boardwalks around the pools letting us get close and smell the sulfur escaping.

IMG_1009IMG_1010We continued to the lower geyser basin to see the iconic Old Faithful Geyser! We had a little time to explore the visitor’s center before we joined all the other guests around the vent and waited. Old Faithful has a sense of humor and would spurt out a little water and steam, just enough to excite the crowd, before going quiet for a bit. Then, woosh! Old Faithful stood up to its name and shot up 150 feet into the air, right on schedule. The crowd cheered and that’s all.

_MG_1367_MG_1358We explored the historic Old Faithful Inn and marveled at the towering main lobby that was made entirely in the log cabin style.

After lunch, we made our way back towards our campground with stops at various other geysers and paint pots. I also enjoyed the sulphur caldron! Hot and acidic, this boiling pool of mud has a pH of 1.3 and could melt the skin off IMG_1016your finger! And smelled oh, so “wonderful” (not really). Plus, a huge bison almost joined us on the boardwalk by the mud volcano.

We drove through Hayden Valley again to try and spot more wildlife. I think I got a picture of a grizzly bear. At sunset, we paid a visit to Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon which sure lives up to its name. The golden sunlight light up the yellow sandstone and made the whole canyon glow.

IMG_1025IMG_1023Day 46.

We woke up at 6:00 to get an early start because we still had a lot to see and a long drive ahead of us.

_MG_1395We drove past more geysers to the Mammoth Hot Springs that spew up over two tons of calcium carbonate creating travertine terraces. The beautiful white cliffs look like a giant wedding cake that is slowly growing. The calcium carbonate flows just quickly enough to build the travertine around trees.

We ate our breakfast outside the historic Fort Yellowstone and admired the beautiful buildings before heading out. We crossed the 45th parallel (half way between the equator and the north pole) and the Montana boarder before we even left the park through the north entrance. What a great idea our national parks are. They truly are “for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Total Miles: 9,500

A Day With Mr. Lincoln + Sensational South Dakota

IMG_0961IMG_0943Day 41.

Miles Driven: 365

We spent most of the day in the Illinois state capital: Springfield. (Did you know that Springfield is the most common town name in the USA?) This town is also known for being President Abraham Lincoln’s hometown. Born in Kentucky, Lincoln’s father moved his family to Indiana after losing all his land because of faulty property titles. The family then moved to Illinois after the death of Lincoln’s mother. As a young man, Lincoln helped sail goods down river to New Orleans. It was here that he first witnessed slavery and he walked back home to Illinois.

IMG_3548Back in Illinois, Lincoln owned a general store and ran for General Assembly. Though he lost, he was post master while teaching himself law and ultimately becoming a lawyer. He ran again and was elected to the state legislature. Once becoming a lawyer, he moved to Springfield where he met his future wife, Mary Todd.

Here in Springfield, he became a very successful lawyer. With strong opinions about slavery and creating a modern America, he ran for senator but lost. In 1860, following many speeches, Lincoln was nominated by the Republican Party to run for president. And the rest is history.

Springfield was always considered his home because he lived, worked, and had four sons in this home over 17 years. After leaving to be president in Washington D.C. he never returned to Springfield. But, his home has become a landmark ever since he stepped into the political limelight. Now, the National Park Service has preserved the four blocks surrounding Lincoln’s Springfield home including over 30 buildings that are being restored to their 1800s glory.

IMG_0952IMG_0954We really enjoyed visiting his home and seeing the living history characters wander the streets and acting like Lincoln and Mary. It was amazing how intelligent Lincoln was. He was an inventor, great orator, and seemed like an all around nice guy. On the house tour, we were not allowed to touch any of the original furnishings but it was great to be in the rooms where he developed much of his political stances. However, when we climbed the stairs we were told these were the original handrails and to use them just as Lincoln did.

We drove past the capitol later and enjoyed a picnic lunch before heading out on the next stretch towards the west coast. We crossed back across the Mississippi River and stopped for the night in Des Moines, IA.

IMG_0969Day 42.

Miles Driven: 667

We drove and drove and drove for, yes, 667 miles across through more cornfields, across the Missouri River and into South Dakota. The second we crossed the Missouri, the landscaped changed from crop fields to prairie. We learned that prairie is a unique kind of landscape. It is too dry to sustain trees but not dry enough to be called a desert. Just grass as far as the eye can see.

IMG_0960IMG_0964IMG_0974Our straight shot across south South Dakota was long and our game to keep us awake was to count all of the billboards for Wall Drug. Wall Drug is a unique shopping mall and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in South Dakota. You can find and eat just about everything in this store. So, how many billboards did we see? 81 while driving west on I-90.

_MG_1277From Wall, we drove just half an hour to the west entrance of the Badlands National Park. Both the Lakota and French explorers named the area “Bad Lands” or “Land that is bad to cross” which describes the eroded buttes, pinnacles, and spires that sink down from the prairie. Upon entering the park we were greeted by a herd of big horn sheep. We drove down to the base of the pinnacles and cooked dinner at a picnic area. At sunset, the landscape seemed to become more and more desolate. We felt like we were on the moon. It was so quiet and our only company were the bugs. Eventually, the emptiness turned to creepiness and we were consumed by bugs. We quickly jumped in the car, hot rice still in our cook pot, and sped off to our campsite in Rapid City.


IMG_0985Day 43.

Miles Driven: 522

Rapid City sits at the base of the Black Hills State Park. We set off into the Black Hills to see one of the most incredible National Memorials: Mount Rushmore.

IMG_0973My first impression of the monument was that it would just be a tourist trap, but the exhibit was so interesting! We did not realize how much skill was put into the creation of the four faces in the mountain. In 1927, the governor of South Dakota commissioned sculptor Gutzon Borglum to create a great monument of the west, such as a sculpture of Lewis and Clark out of the pinnacles of the Black Hills. Borglum suggested using the granite face of Mount Rushmore to carve a memorial of national importance. He chose the faces of the presidents who helped progress the American dream. George Washington for birthing the nation, Thomas Jefferson for the Declaration of Independence and the Louisiana Purchase, Abe Lincoln for perusing equality and preserving the union, and Teddy Roosevelt for guiding the nation through economic expansion, constructing the Panama Canal, and creating the National Park Service.

_MG_1281_MG_1283I was so amazed by how the faces were created. The sculptor, Borglum, had initially planned on using a chisel to carve the faces but quickly switched to controlled dynamite. The workers would hang on lines that dangled over the cliff face, drill carefully calculated holes and fit the small charges of dynamite, blast at lunch, and repeat again in the afternoon. They could easily make an eye or lip in a day. They would then burnish the stone to make it smooth. Over 12 years, they created the four faces that is now Mount Rushmore and would have continued to add more detail had finances not been diverted to WWII.IMG_0982

Seeing Mount Rushmore almost felt like a little conclusion to our Grand Adventure (not quite because we still have a few more stops) because we were able to see a great monument to many of the presidents we have and had visited during our trips. It was a heart warming memorial that made me feel proud!

IMG_0986We spent the afternoon continuing our drive west through the Black Hills, into Wyoming, and over the Rockies. We wound our way through passes and valleys. It was a beautiful drive even through a huge truck kicked up a rock and put a big chip in our windshield. Gah! We drove till dark and found a room in a little inn just outside of Grand Teton. So excited for tomorrow!

Total Miles: 9,190

A Tale of Two Houses

IMG_0933Day 38.

Miles Driven: 463

IMG_0897Westward-ho! Now we start our journey back to the West coast. I had no idea Pennsylvania was so wide! Now, our must-see attraction in Cleveland was the house used for the cult-classic holiday film A Christmas Story. This is a great film that hits home with many of the strange holiday traditions and events that can happen in any American family. Known for lines like “you’ll shoot your eye out kid,” “show me how the piggies eat,” and “fra-gi-le, that must be Italian.” After 24-hours of A Christmas Story on TBS, this film has become a yearly tradition at my house.

The 1983 film was based on Jean Sheperd’s collection of short stories, In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash and was set in Hammond, Indiana. Director Bob Clark found that Hammond no longer displayed the 1950s America where Sheperd’s stories were set, but Cleveland, still a busy steel town, did. The exterior of the house and neighborhood were used for all outside shots while interior shots were recreated on a sound stage.

IMG_0898IMG_0900In 2004, the house was put on sale on ebay and purchased by Brian Jones who then restored the home to its stardom. He even gutted the interior and recreated the Parker Family’s home inside, exactly like the sound stage. The house and museum now hold much movie memorabilia and is very fun to visit at any level of fandom for this movie.

IMG_0914After spending a few hours at the house, we drove over to Cleveland’s Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame. The museum was designed by I.M. Pei, the same architect who designed the pyramid addition at the Louvre in IMG_0916Paris. We did not have time to tour the museum, but they have an awesome gift shop. I did buy a neat 45-record of Elvis, one of the first artists to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.

A bit more driving and then camping tonight.

Day 39.


Miles Driven: 276

_MG_1246I am so excited today. We backtracked south east a bit into the south-west corner of Pennsylvania. Here, just south of Pittsburg is one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s most famous homes: Fallingwater. Commissioned by the Kaufmann Family, founders of the Kaufmann department store in Pittsburg, in 1936, it was a mountain escape from the smoky steel town.

Wright’s design was like no other. It’s 30’ cantilevers stretched out over the waterfall below and appeared to be floating in the trees. The architect and the Kaufmanns shared a common love of nature and innovative designs. Wright based his design off the many natural elements he saw while exploring the site, in particular two rock ledges that hung over the waterfall. Though a unique design, a visitor can see its relationship to previous works by Wright, for example, the horizontal lines of the prairie house and its Japanese influence. All of the stones were quarried locally and many boulders were not removed from the site but built on top of and integrated inside the house.

_MG_1255The home was stunning and the tour very interesting. It was fun to compare this home to the other Wright houses I have seen. Mom kept saying that I can design her a little suite like this some day for her.

We drove back into Ohio and camped at Buckeye Lake just outside of Columbus.

IMG_0943IMG_0938Day 40.

Miles Driven: 472

Another surge westward. We drove through Ohio, through Indiana (we made a pitstop in Indianapolis at our favorite grocery store, Trader Joe’s, to get supplies), and into Illinois. The whole drive, all we saw was corn. Corn fields on corn fields with a few soy beans thrown in. We took a small detour through a little Amish town where we bought some desserts at an Amish restaurant and enjoyed seeing the horse drawn carriages. The museum containing the world’s largest broom collection closed right before we got there. Oh darn. But we did get to see the Hippie Monument next door, complete with an actual hippie standing in front. We found another nice campsite to stay at outside of Springfield. We met two Canadian men who were both traveling by motorcycle. It is always fun to trade road trip stories with fellow campers.

IMG_0947IMG_0950Total Miles: 7,636

Upstate New York

IMG_0876IMG_0883Day 35.

Miles Driven: 302

We left Philly early to make the final push up the east coast. My Uncle Peter and Aunt Lois live in upstate New York and my Uncle Rupert and Aunt Diane would be meeting us there for lunch. Our lovely GPS got us there safely while taking us on every toll road. Being from California, toll roads are a very rare sight for us and we were quite surprised when we had to shell out $16.00 on the New Jersey Turnpike. Oh well, but we did get to see a great view of New York City from across the Hudson River. I was amazed by how tall the new World Trade Center towers are.

IMG_0884We all were at Uncle Peter’s by noon and enjoyed BBQ pork, rice, and bean salad. Yum! I love it when my mom and her siblings get together. They are so funny to listen to as they trade stories of the past. Uncle Peter and Uncle Rupert were excited to see our car-RV sleeping arrangements and gave us ideas for fixing the leaky car and the vibration while braking.

We had a huge thunder storm tonight. Lots of thunder and lightning and the lights went out for a while. We all spent the evening play cards by candlelight.

Day 36.

Uncle Peter had to leave for work very early while we took the morning easy. We were able to meet up with him in the afternoon near the town of New Paltz. We wanted to visit the Historic Huguenot Street.

The Huguenots, a group of French Protestants trying to escape religious persecution in Catholic France, had established this beautiful town and historic street. They first left France for Germany and then settled in, what was, America’s Dutch Colony. They became a very eclectic town filled with people from several different cultures. The tour was very interesting and brought us through their worship building and several original homes. Many homes were built in the 1680s and have recently been restored by their decedents. Two of the homes even had characters acting like people from that era and interpreting the current political climate. A very nice tour.

Day 37.

Miles Driven: 239

We packed in the morning and spent some time at the car mechanic. Turned out, our rotors warped at some point, causing the car to vibrate when we braked. All fixed now! We drove an hour to Uncle Peter’s work where he is the supervisor of the wood shop at a construction company. He does custom cabinetry and other wood details for new construction and historic restoration jobs. He can do some amazing work. It was fun to peek into his workshop and see what he can do. Currently, his company is working at Vassar Collage and restoring a beautiful ceiling with lots of crumbling plaster work. He was able to salvage a few florets, make a mold of brushed on silicon and create exact copies. He also made us a new cheese board and showed us how to use all the machines. Watching him reminded me of how skilled my grandpa was and his work restoring the churches in Germany after WWII. Uncle Peter must have inherited that talent from Opa.


IMG_0892We had a long drive ahead of us. We had no idea that Pennsylvania was so wide or so hilly or so green! Having never been here before we imagined it as flat farmland. We had dinner in Scranton (where the show The Office takes place) and found a KOA campground along the way.

Total Miles: 6,425

Continuing up the Eastern Seaboard. Monticello to Philly.

IMG_0870IMG_0860Day 33.

Miles Driven: 356

We left my cousin’s home in North Carolina and continued north to Virginia. Our destination: Monticello, home of our third President, Mr. Thomas Jefferson. Visiting Monticello exposed that Jefferson was more than just a president. He was a brilliant man who also wrote our Declaration of Independence, was a farmer, spoke six languages, and was a self taught architect. Pretty cool guy.

IMG_0863Monticello was built on a hilltop near his birthplace and boyhood home near Charlottesville, Virginia. We took a tour of his home and saw many of the custom features and gadgets he designed into his home, including a bed that was built into the wall so to provide more floor space and a rotating book stand so he could read multiple books at once. In his IMG_0861dining room, with its bright yellow walls, we could imagine the intimate dinners he had with friends like John Adams, James Madison, and James Monroe. Monroe also lived just down the street from Monticello.

Since he was a farm owner, for the time period, this also meant he was a slave owner. This was something he struggled with his entire life because it contradicted what he had written in the Declaration of Independence, that “all men are created equal.” Now, you may ask, “If he struggled with this, why did he not free his slaves?” Slavery was a part of the culture of the 1700s. If he freed them where would they go? No one would hire and pay them. So he treated them well, kept them happy and well fed, and most importantly, kept families together.

The home is bright with high ceilings, extra bedrooms upstairs, and staff below. From Monticello, you can see to downtown Charlottesville and to the University of Virginia, which he also founded and designed.

Next time you look at a nickel, think of Mr. Jefferson and all the foundations he laid for our country. Monticello is even imprinted on the back.

IMG_0876IMG_0875Day 34.

Miles Driven: 173

After Monticello closed last night, we drove to the outskirts of Washington DC. In the morning, we had brunch with a friend who just moved to Maryland for a new adventure, like us. It was fun comparing stories and learning about her home/job hunt. Kristen seems very happy with her decision to more to the East coast.

After breakfast, we drove up to my cousin near Philadelphia. Matt and Jess have the cutest home and Matt has become quite the chef. They took very good care of us.

They drove us into Philly to visit the Reading Terminal Market where I was on the hunt for a few food items. One, the best canoli I have ever had was here at the Termini Bros. booth. Amazing. And two, a chocolate bar created by my favorite travel writer Anthony Bourdain.  I was successful in finding both along with a bit of liverwurst from a German butcher.

IMG_0879IMG_0877We spent the evening playing Settlers of Catan. Great day.

Total Miles: 5,884


The Carolinas

Day 31IMG_0828IMG_0854

Miles Driven: 222

We stayed the night in the Yemassee KOA, just off the I-90. On our way back to the _MG_1221freeway, we discovered the Old Sheldon Church. The church had been built while South Carolina was a British colony and was burned during the Revolutionary war. It was rebuilt and burned again during the Civil war and has now stood in ruin for the past 140 years. The stone walls and surrounding grave yard still stand.

_MG_1222Our friend in Alabama, Nancy, recommended we visit the town of Beaufort on our drive north. We stopped in for brunch at Blackstone’s Cafe and learned that Tom Hanks, himself, would come eat at this diner while filming Forest Gump. Much of the film was shot in Beaufort and the surrounding plantations and roads. For brunch, mom decided to try the shrimp and grits, a southern favorite. Beaufort has some of the most beautiful homes too. Mom and I enjoyed driving through the neighborhood and window-shopping for home ideas.

IMG_0831We spent the afternoon in Charleston (pronounced “Chaaaaston” by the locals). A must do attraction is taking a horse and buggy tour of the historic downtown. We made reservations with Palmetto Carriage Tours. (A palmetto is the state tree, a small palm.) In order to control buggy traffic on the streets, the city has organized three routes the tour groups can take, and each buggy is assigned a route randomly. We were given route 1, a tour by the beautiful homes at the water’s edge.

During the hour-long tour, we saw Rainbow Row, where each of the townhomes is painted a different pastel color. Once we got to the water front, each home tried to outdo the one before it and became more extravagant. What was interesting is that each home had some sort of side sleeping porch for the family to use when the weather was hot. One home along the water front was at a slightly different angle from its neighbors. Our guide told us that the waters in the harbor were hard to navigate because of many hidden sand bars and that this home’s builder was in shipping. He designed the house at an angle so his crew could line up the columns and use it as a guide for navigating in.

IMG_0845IMG_0842We learned many fun facts on the tour. From the harbor, we could see Fort Sumter, where the first shot of the civil war was fired. Do you know the difference between a graveyard and a cemetery? A graveyard surrounds a church, and a cemetery is free standing.

At the end of the tour, we visited Market Street. Here, local artisans sold their wares including hand woven sweet grass baskets. These baskets are a craft preserved by the Gullah culture and can range from $10 for the little ornament we bought to over $100. Researchers believe that this craft and the Gullah culture were brought over from Africa and developed in America as the many different African cultural groups learned to work and live together on the plantations. They shared stories and traditions and developed an English-based Creole language.

We spent the night at the Mt. Pleasant KOA where we had the first cool, sleepable night in days. Situated on a lake, we had a nice breeze flowing through our car-rv.

Day 32.

Miles Driven: 205

We returned to Charleston this morning to visit the Calhoun Mansion. Built by one of the wealthiest merchants in town, (you can tell by all of the rope motifs used as decorations) George W. Williams was a blockade runner during the civil war. The Union occupied Fort Sumter and blocked the harbor from Confederate Charleston. Williams was so wealthy he was even able to build homes for his children across the street and down the block. Eventually, the home was sold to become a hotel, navy outpost, and was almost sold to a developer. After being restored, the current owner now uses his home to display and preserve his many collectables.

After the house tour, we stopped at King of Pops popsicle stand for a refreshing treat. I had discovered them yesterday by Market Street. Yesterday, I enjoyed a cantaloupe pop and today I had watermelon while mom had peach. Yum!

We got on the road and headed towards North Carolina. Did you know that King Charles was ruling Britain when the Carolina’s were established as colonies? And Carolina is feminine for Charles?

On the drive, we were caught in the most torrential downpour that lasted about 40 minutes. I had to drive so slowly with my wipers on high and the flashers on. We could barely see 15 feet in front of the car. And do you remember that little leak in the car? Well so much water came in, it was like a small foot bath for mom.

IMG_0856But we made it to Raleigh regardless of the weather. We are staying with family from my dad’s side. His brother’s wife Shirley, my cousin Beth, her husband Matt, and two kids Michael and Katy. I had so much fun with Michael and Katy. Two bundles of energy, we danced and played Mario Kart Wii together. I could not keep up with them!

Total Miles: 5,355

Savannah, Georgia

IMG_0792IMG_0791Day 28.

Miles Driven: 224

Sunday morning, we left our gracious Florida hostess, Barbara, and started the drive up the east coast. Barbara was so great. She let us come and go from her home while we went to the US Virgin Islands and to the theme parks. She was always eager to hear about the fun we had that day.

We were invited to lunch in Ocala with friends of my Tante Elke. Sue and Bill provided us with a nice pit-stop at their beautiful home on our way up the Florida peninsula.

Some segments of the drive north were on smaller highways and took us through small towns where a church was on almost every corner. As we passed into each state, we have been taking photos of the “welcome to…” signs, but, somehow we missed the Georgia sign, so we had to circle back and try again.

Now that we are back to camping, Bill and Sue recommended that we try some of the Georgia State Parks for our campsites. For this night, we narrowed it down to Crooked IMG_0793River and Jekyll Island for camping. We settled on Crooked River and decided to visit Jekyll Island the next day as we continued north.

Day 29.

Miles Driven: 197

We woke to a beautiful view of the Crooked River. We packed and headed out to spend the morning on Jekyll Island and then finish the drive to Savannah.

IMG_0802Jekyll Island, we learned, was part of the undiscovered south, back before Palm Beach became the vacation destination. This small island was purchased as a vacation retreat for the Jekyll Island Club, members of which were the poobas of their time like Rockefeller, J.P. Morgan, Marshall Field, and Joseph Pulitzer. Many of these great men had summer vacation homes in Newport, RI and Jekyll Island became their winter retreat. They had a beautiful clubhouse where they could stay but eventually members began building their own “cottages” (mansions really) to stay in.

As the rich and famous began vacationing elsewhere, the island became open to the public. The Clubhouse has become a hotel and restaurant. We really enjoyed the lunch menu at the restaurant and had the most excellent service. I highly recommend it!

IMG_0811We drove around the island a bit to see all of the cottages and visit the beautiful driftwood beach. Many vacationers were fishing or crabbing off the pier.

By late afternoon, we were in Savannah and checked into our second Georgia State Park campsite at Skidaway Island. We drove into Savannah for dinner and found a neat Farm-to-Table restaurant 22 Square where we enjoyed a meat and cheese plate and shrimp salad. Mom’s drink came in the coolest copper mug.

Day 30

Miles Driven: 65

Savannah is the oldest city in Georgia and was America’s first planned city. It was established by General James Oglethorpe for Britain, as their thirteenth colony. He had designed the city before even setting foot on Georgian soil. The city plan was designed in a grid with 24 public squares integrated into the city. Each square is unique and has different statues or memorial in the center. Only 22 of the squares still remain, and there would be even less if the historical society had not stepped in and began preserving the historic downtown. The Savannah College of Art and Design has also aided in preserving the historic buildings by buying, restoring, and using them for classrooms all over the city. The historic architecture and great weather have drawn both tourists and film makers. Forest Gump and Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil are just two of the many movies to be filmed in Savannah.

While driving from our campsite into Savannah we passed over the actual Moon River. I saw the sign and started humming the song. Of course I had to look up the lyrics and we discovered that Johnny Mercer, the singer/song writer who wrote the song Moon River along with 1000s of other notable songs, was born and raised in Savannah. You might know his songs like “Jeepers, Creepers!”, You Must Have Been a Pretty Baby, and One for My Baby (and One More for the Road).

On our way towards downtown we visited Bonaventure Cemetery. Sitting along the Savannah River, this cemetery is filled with family plots adorned with memorial statuary (mostly statues of young ladies looking mournful). Live oak trees with Spanish moss shade the graves. Here, we found a nice memorial to Johnny Mercer and his family.

IMG_0816Our good friend from church, Diana, gave us extra tickets she had for the Old Town Trolley Tours. We were able to use them in Savannah. This hop-on/hop-off tour was much needed to help us escape the sultry heat and learn about the city. After taking an initial loop around, we first stopped at the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low, founder of the Girl Scouts of America. We also visited the park from Forest Gump where we see him sitting on a bench with his box of chocolate and telling his life story.IMG_0821IMG_0819

The afternoon passed with a walk through Forsyth Park, a bus ride to get some delicious ice cream at Leopold’s, and a visit to the Paula Dean restaurant and shop, Lady and Sons. We were told that Paula often likes to surprise her customers whenever she is in town. Butter anyone?

The trolley tour ended at 6:00 so we hopped into the car and drove off into the sunset, (north really) towards South Carolina.There was so much to see in Savannah and so many historic buildings to restore! Maybe a job here in the future? I’ll be back!

Now, let me leave you with the lyrics of Johnny Mercer. We feel like they describe our motivations and need for our road trip perfectly.

“Moon River, wider than a mile
I’m crossing you in style someday
You dream maker
You heart breaker
Where ever you’re going I’m going your way

Two drifters off to see the world
There’s such a lot of world to see
We’re after the same rainbow’s end
Waiting round the bend
My huckleberry friend
Moon River and me”

Total Miles: 4,928

A Peek into Harry Potter’s Magical World

photo 1Day 27.

Miles Driven (back and forth to parks): 146

Today is the day to visit The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. I first began reading the Harry Potter collection when I was in fourth grade and in a way, I grew up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione. They were my friends and I joined them on their adventures. When the movies can out, that was even better! Harry’s world came to life! Two years ago, when mom and I were in London, we visited the Warner Brother’s studios and their preserved collection of sets and costumes.

And now, NOW, we get to see the theme park inspired by the world J. K. Rowling created. I’m so EXCITED!

I was a little disappointed when I heard that the new section of Harry Potter world, Diagon Alley, would not be opening until July 8th, but that’s ok. I’ll just have to come again some day.

We waited in line for our entrance tickets and requested one park passes. The ticket agent whispered to us, “Are you here for Harry Potter?” “Um, yes. Yes we are.” “I heard they might be opening Diagon Alley around 2pm today for an early run. You should get a park hopper so you can ride the train too.” – What! Really?! We can see the new part early? Yes please!

photo 2With tickets in hand, we set off for Hogwarts (the school Harry goes to). We ventured through Jurassic Park and had lunch before crossing the bridge into Hogsmeade Village. The Hogwarts castle loomed above us. I felt like I was in a little snow-covered village in England, only it was 95F. All of the employees were in character and enthusiastic. First shop was Ollivander’s Wand Emporium where we watched two sisters receive their wands (they had to buy them of course).

photo 5There was so much to look at. Each shop window was detailed with items and props from the books and movies. All around the village were interactive windows where someone with a wand can practice a charm and cause something to happen in the window. It was very fun to see what magic would occur at each window.

I rode the ride inside the castle, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. It was like Disney’s Sorin’ on speed. A combination of video and built scenes, we were chased by a dragon, played quidditch, and fought off hp4dementors.

My favorite part was riding the Hogwarts Express to London. We sat in real train cars and watched the English countryside zoom past while Hogwarts students pressed their nose against the glass of our compartment. Everything felt so real!

hp3photo 3

photo 4The train dropped us off at King’s Cross Station and we exited onto platform 9¾. We could even see people disappear through the wall between platforms 9 and 10 (magic or illusion?) and walked through the London underground onto Piccadilly Circus. We could see no. 12 Grimmauld Place (Kreature the house elf would look out the window) and the Night Bus. Ernie the conductor was a hoot! We passed through the secret passage into Diagon Alley. Everything was there from Weasleys’ Wizard Weezes joke shop to Gringotts bank complete with fire-breathing dragon and live goblin. Knockturn Alley was just as spooky as described!

We spent the day just looking at everything and inspecting all of the details. I was so impressed!


At 6:30 we met up with our friends, Brandon and Korie, from church who had recently moved to Florida. Brandon got a job at Disney and just loves working there. We had dinner at the Universal City Walk and talked about everything Harry Potter and Disney (we received some insider information!) A great end to an excellent day!

Total Miles: 4,442

Feeling Patriotic and how EPCOT helped me realize that

photo 1It is now day 26 of our great American road trip! We are in Florida, it’s Independence Day, and photo 5who has the best fireworks? Disney of course! Lets go!

We had been on a Disney only trip to Florida before and we really wanted to see EPCOT again. The rides are easy and fun but the best part is the World Showcase, featuring many countries along the shores of the central lake.

From the minute you step out of the car, you are showered with Disney magic starting with the background music, a quick tram ride, and you are whisked in through the gate. Disney recently started new FastPass+ tickets that are linked to your entrance ticket and allow you to reserve rides days ahead of time. I think this really helped keep the wait relatively short.

photo 4Our first ride, Spaceship Earth, inside the EPCOT sphere, brings you on a journey through time visiting all of the great inventions that helped develop today’s civilization, culture, and technology. At the end of the ride we were asked questions on what parts of your future are most important. Disney sees my future as living in a floating house in the city with lots of trips to my under water vacation home, plus I’ll have a robot to take care of the cats when I’m away. The future looks bright!

We rode Mission to Mars and Test Track, but the informational boat ride, Living with the Earth, was fascinating! It brought us on a tour of some of Disney World’s growing grounds and showed some of the newest technology for growing crops. Did you know that Disney World grows almost all of its produce on the Disney property? Anything they can’t grow, they source locally. We had no idea that the orange groves we drove through to get to EPCOT would eventually become the juice available at the restaurants.

photo 2The rest of the afternoon we spent exploring the World Showcase. We had a lunch of wurst in photo 3Germany and crème brule in France for dessert. I was so impressed with how detailed the architecture was. As we passed from country to country I felt like I was in San Marco Square in Venice or a little street in Paris. We enjoyed watching all of the short films that showcased the beautiful scenery and customs from each country. In a way, EPCOT is the perfect example for America. It is a land full of many foods and cultures all living together. They share their customs and history and welcomes everyone.

In the evening, Disney presented the most fantastic fireworks accompanied by patriotic music. The finale was so intense and close, I almost ducked!

The past years, I have been so anxious to get out and go somewhere new. I got the chance to study abroad and travel all over Europe and it was so hard to come back. But now, on our Great American Road Trip, I notice that the USA has so much different scenery, cultures, and food than what is in my little hometown. I can appreciate, travel, and learn about this beautiful country that is America. On the way out of the park, I could not get one of the songs that was played during the fireworks out of my head:

“I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.
And I won’t forget the men who died, who gave that right to me.
And I’d gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today.
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt I love this land God bless the U.S.A.”