Ah, North Carolina. Land of the Wright Brothers, the Tar Heels, the Outer Banks, and James Taylor. And Krispy Kreme.
Danielle, Lydia (a great mutual friend of ours), and I departed from the DC-area to pick up our other roadtrip companion, Laura (another great mutual friend) to start our southeastern adventure to Atlanta and back. So, three girls in one car to visit 8 states in one week you say?
First up? North Carolina.
However, what started as a nice, leisurely springtime drive through the southeast quickly turned into a girls vs. singular boy roadtrip. As the lone male, I was clearly on the wrong side of the gender ratio.
As a result, I was appointed official photographer for the bunch. Sounds easy, right?
Riiiiight. I don't think you've met these three.
Frankly, I’m surprised we didn’t have to stop to charge the cameras or buy new memory sticks on the trip. Yep, that’s how many pictures I’m talking about. Every shot, every time, and every pose ‘absolutely needed’ to be captured by 3 separate cameras. Now, I’m a logical man, but this just didn’t seem logical to me. My thoughts didn’t matter much, though, based on the simple fact that I’d always be outvoted. Story of my life.
I did get outvoted on a very regular basis. That meant we spent far more time shopping, photographing, wandering, and just generally doing girl things than I had want to. Don’t get me wrong – I really like the three of them (Danielle especially) – and we did travel really well together. However, I’m pretty sure my mom scarred me as a kid because of the sheer number of pictures she’d make me pose for – so needless to say I was less than thrilled to be back in that spot. But I quickly learned that the happier I made them as the resident photographer, the better off the trip would be for me.
So after a brief stop at the Raleigh airport to pick up Laura, we set out to try some Carolina-style food and drink. It didn’t take long til we had food on plate and beer in hand. While the vinegar-based Carolina BBQ isn’t my favorite style in the world, it was a must-try when in the state. Probably the same thing goes for grits.
Overall, we’d spent one day and one night in the state: just enough time to have dated and stated North Carolina!
State #20 started off with something completely new. Something not yet attempted before in the 50 states challenge. Something that could potentially have a HUGE impact on the quality of each state and date…
Two guest star travelers!! Oh, yeah.
Yep, Jacek (as the only boy) was now officially outnumbered 3:1.
We had managed to pick snag two Beautiful, Adventurous, Blonde Explorers – or complete BABEs ;) well – make that two and a half – Lydia’s little bun in the oven had managed to start her cross-country journey before even being able to walk! Laura, on the other hand, was well on her own way to hitting the same goal as us – 50 states (with or without a date)!
Luckily, we are all on the same traveling page: bring it on North Carolina!!
However, we never actually surprised the new traveler with our fancy Dollar Store arts-n-crafts. In fact, she somehow managed to slip right by us and beat us back to the car! Yep, the girl “arrived” in the departures area, called our chauffeur (aka: Jacek), and made her way to the backseat faster than I can finish a box of mac-n-cheese. Damnit.
Sidenote: Laura did admit that now she knows why she got into all those debates with her mom about where to be picked up and dropped off at the airport. Glad we were able to straighten that out – even if it was waaay too late! Whatevs, it’s the thought that counts! We still had our photo-op in the terminal and then set off to explore the city.
Onward and upward.
Having driven ALL damn day, we were ready for some food, drink, and sleep. In. that. order.
What’s the only state to end in 3 consonants? That’s right: Massachusetts! Yeah, I had to kick it off with a trivia question. Bonus follow-up: what is the only state that contains 4 consonants in a row? Hint: it’s pretty close to this state. (stay tuned for the answer)
So we took some time off to drive up to MA from DC. It took a while, but it was worth it. Not only did we spot lighthouses along the (wicked freezing) waterfront, I also paid my first visit to the Plymouth Rock and Sam Adams brewery.
One stop was super amazing playland for adults, and one stop was a rock.
I’ll let you figure out which is which.
Now, since I was raised in California and live in Oregon, I’m not – how should we say – used to such extreme weather. The freezing wind and chilling temperatures were not doing any favors for my sensitive eyes. It didn’t actually snow per se, but I imagine it would take a whole lot of it for any true Bostonians to notice. Danielle always raves about having four separate seasons, but to me, how can you turn down the perpetually sunny days of SanFran? Just doesn’t make sense.
Anyway, since Sam Adams is a huge brand, they did the tour right. It was informative, yet entertaining, and of course: it had a lot of beer! I mean, the beer was no Natty Light, but it’ll do. We savored some sips at the brewery and enjoyed a full pint post-party trolley. All in all, I survived the winter of the northeast, but can’t say I’m in any rush to return when it’s so wicked cold!
Oh, and the state with 4 consonants in a row: New Hampshire!
Looking back on it, driving our cah to Boston in February wasn’t too wicked smaht. After all, 6 inches is barely a ‘dusting’ here. Couple that with drivers who think that a turn signal is optional, a lack of New England teams in the Superbowl, and Jacek’s terribly sensitive baby-blue eyes in the gahdawfull winter cold – we probably could’ve picked a better time of year.
Nonetheless, Sam Adams is pretty darn tasty no matter what time of the year it is!
Having seen commercial after commercial of hairy-faced, jolly men in suspenders dancing around in between the barrels of barley and buckets of wheat, we decided it was high-time that we paid a visit to the famous brewery.
Now, I’ve been to my fair share of breweries (heck, I’ve even lived in Brussels – one of the beer capitols of the WORLD), so when I say that I am impressed by Sam Adams brewery, I was really (or should I say wicked) impressed!
So I believe it is Massachusetts state liquor laws that say any establishment can’t give out more than 21 ounces of beer to an individual for free. So Sam Adams makes very sure to serve exactly that! (however, the tour guide did say that since he can’t pour the remaining beer back into the tap, he’d turn around for a hot second and wouldn’t say anything if said beer happened to disappear!)
Now, after you had a good series of sampling, the next step is only logical: the PAHTY TWOLLEY!
For those of us living in the other 49 states: it’s a paRty tRolley.
Yep. The very first pub in Boston that served Sam Adams now has its own dedicated trolley that will chauffeur tipsy guests from the brewery directly to their front door. Pretty dang sweet. Not to mention the fact that you get to keep the Sam Adams glass when you order a pint! Or, even better, the driver. Imagine Rocky meets Snooki meets Robin Williams. I mean, this guy was in a league all his own. His entire job was to drive a trolley, decked out with a speaker system, neon lights, and a disco ball. How could you not be happy?
So despite the weather, wind, and worry – we had a wicked good time!!
How in the world can this teeny-tiny microscopic blip on the US map be the the smallest state in the union AND also the 2nd most densely populated?? Damn, the east coast sure packs in the peeps.
We barely had time to stop for "kaw-fee" before we were at the other end of it. Seeing no obvious tourist attractions in Little Rhody, we did manage to stop and grab a nice dinner on our way through to Massachusetts (again, to visit Danielle's abnormally large clan of kin).
I was really hoping that there would be a bar called "the Drunken Clam,"just like the one that you would see on TV.
SPOILER ALERT: it is closed!!
So, we left as parched as we had entered. However, I would imagine that that would be a very popular bar if someone opened it up. Hmmm, mentally noting this for future business opportunities. Any takers??
Oh, Rhode Island. You are like Delaware, only more north. People don’t drive to Rhode Island, they drive *through* Rhode Island. I think probably the only exception is our good friend Carrie, who went to college in Providence. GO FRIARS!
We were on the road from DC to Boston. After taking a right turn in NYC, we spent maybe 2 hours driving across Connecticut, then we finally hit Rhode Island. Careful, though, if you blink you’ll miss it!
Basically, we hugged the most southern border of RI on the way up to Boston. The ‘dating’ part of this ‘stating’ had to be pretty quick: we had 45 minutes border to border. That, and the fact that it was 30 degrees outside in February meant we did not want to be out of the car that long!
Jacek + iPhone + his amazing sense of direction = a solution.
As much as we love to take our state pic in front of the state sign (usually saying something like “welcome to our state, home of [insert random major crop we export here]”), they tend to be located on the side of a major highway. I’m sure my mother would not be terribly happy knowing I pulled off to the side of a 6-lane highway to take a picture while crazy east coast drivers whizz by at 70+ mph. At least when her and I did a roadtrip, we just took an ‘action shot’ as we whizzed by at 70+ mph. Wilsey women weren’t stopping.
Anyway, back to Rhode Island - or Lil Rhodes,as I like to call it.
Since there are only so many roads that enter/exit the lovely state, odds are that they’ll all have a “welcome sign” next to them. You know what? We bet right. So, iPhone in hand, Jacek directed us. Hopping off the last exit before the end of the state, we snaked down a windy state road paralleling the highway. Probably pissing off the locals with our slow-moving, out-of-state license plate, we searched for that little blue sign!
Finally, we saw it. Bazinga!
There it was, tucked away next to a Dunkin Donuts (sidenote: the BEST northeast staple ever)! Of course, we had to stop there first for some coffee. Or as us New Englanders prefer: kaaawww-feeee. Afterwards, hot yumminess in hand, we tip-toed past the overgrown brush to snap a pic with the sign – we made it! State #18 is in the books!
The smaller, squarer, sort-of-afterthought redheaded step-child of Massachusetts and New York, Connecticut is known as the "Land of Steady Habits". Obviously (?). I'm not even quite sure what that means. According to the state's library website, apparently it's an allusion to the "strict morals habits of its inhabitants". Yeah, tell that to the crazies driving along 95.
The fact is, there really isn't much that I can say about Connecticut. It was mostly a transitional state on our way to Massachusetts to visit Danielle's ginormous family. We did manage to stop at a couple small towns and explore this little wonder of New England. Emphasis on little. Just as you'd imagine any small town in the northeastern part of the US, they ALL remind me of the "Blair Witch Project." Somehow I can see why witchcraft was feared around here. We stopped to eat at a small town called New London. It was the epitome of "dainty". But, the people seemed a little slower than normal - especially for East Coast standards. I couldn't really complain about the food though. I think Danielle wanted to find the place where they filmed Mystic Pizza, but that just wasn't in the cards. I don't know if I actually care to return to Connecticut - it just didn't seem like there was a lot going on. If we do manage to return, we will need the help of a local Connecticotian... or Connecticutensian... or Steady Habit Person - or whatever the heck they call themselves - to point us in the right direction! See ya later "Nutmeg State".
Continuing on our road trip to Massachusetts, the next stop: Connecticut. While not quite as small as Rhode Island, it came in a close second. I was actually a bit nervous that we’d drive straight to the end of the state without hitting something picture worthy (kinda like Delaware). However, iPhone in hand, Jacek made sure that wasn’t the case. Thank god he’s a skilled navigator! Before him, I was in a rather tumultuous relationship with Tom-Tom. Enough said.
Only a half hour into the state, he announced that we weren’t actually that far away from the ocean. Moreover, his most favorite thing on the internet (google earth) was telling him that there were quite a few lighthouses dotting the shore.
Jacek: 1, Connecticut: 0
We pulled off the highway to the first public park-ish area where we knew for sure we’d hit a lighthouse along the water. Driving a couple miles south, we eventually saw the ocean and knew we were getting close. We quickly spotted the lighthouse off in the distance to the right. I went to make a right turn and was abruptly greeted with a frozen sign stating “Park Closed for Winter”.
Jacek: 1, Connecticut: 1
A half-dozen U-turns later, we were back on the highway and continuing on towards our next attempt. I’m guessing that Connecticut doesn’t have too many major cities, so the next civilized area we hit, we pulled off again. This time, things looked promising. We drove only slightly out of town towards the southern suburbs where google assured us there was another lighthouse to be found. As the city shrunk and the farms grew, we knew we must be headed in the right direction. Pretty soon we spotted it again in the distance. I hung a right and off we went. The lighthouse quickly popped up on the left hand side of the car overlooking the ocean: it was going to be the perfect photo opp. Turn signal on, I was ready to go. Until we were met with another frozen sign: “Private Property, Keep Off”. Seriously?
Jacek: 1, Connecticut: 2
Aren’t these things national parks or something? Who lives in a lighthouse besides the purple dragon in that weird kid’s movie. Screw it! I’m going in anyway. That is until I saw that the sign was firmly attached to a metal chain that blocked off the entire entrance. Fail.
So we drove down the street a bit until we hit the next farm and had the lighthouse (as well as the ocean and snowy scenery) in the background. I pulled off the side of the road and Jacek balanced the camera perfectly on the post of a wooden fence so that it would capture everything behind us so we could finally get our state pic!
Jacek: 2, Connecticut: 2
One take and we were golden. That and the fact that it was about 40 degrees below what Jacek is used to! :) Sprinting back to the car, we pulled another U-turn and headed back towards the city. On the way, though, we found the cutest mom-and-pop diner and popped in to have lunch. While the service was a bit slow, the sandwiches were definitely worth the stop.
And since this competition can’t end in a tie, I’m going to award Jacek another point simply for being awesome (but mostly for having an awesome girlfriend). You know, because I can.
Whoa man, where do I start? Well, since Danielle is from (upstate) New York, I would imagine that she would have a lot more to say about it than I do (one of those rare occasions where I am actually right about something). We have already been to New York a couple times - coming or going. However, our true date in New York would probably be the first time she took me to her home in Poughkeepsie.
Being only 1.5 hours outside the city, you'd expect it to be a lot more populated and more New York style, but that wasn't the case. Actually, turns out that both NJ and Rhode Island are more densely populated (?!) Nestled along the Hudson River, her town seemed almost rural, yet it held all the mansions of the people that built America (ie: Vanderbilt,Roosevelt, etc). It Is also the home of a couple universities. Yeah, blah blah history blah - but here's the best part: it also hasan abandoned insane asylum! Of course, that was quite literally the ONLY thing that was forbidden from our sightseeing to-do list. Since Danielle can't even handle watching Jurassic Park - yes, a completely fictional movie that can never ever happen in real life - there was probably a snowball's chance in hell that she'd be able to explore a real-life insane asylum.
It is amazing to see the huge differences in people, geography, (and driving style) once you leave the boroughs. I would never have thought that we were in New York based on what I saw in Po-town. The attitude, speed of life and vibe of New York City is usually too much to fit on my plate, even though I was raised just outside of a big city (SanFran). Danielle's town seemed almost the exact opposite though: life seemed a little bit too slow here. There were a few small local bars and restaurants here or there. To me, it seemed like there was a lot to see in the daytime, but there really isn't much going on at night. Unless you happen to come across a Snooki-sighting. Yes, unfortunately, that's a real thing. Don't encourage it. Despite that 4-ft tall terror, overall, I guess it would be a good place to raise a family.
Unfortunately, we did not have nearly as much time as we needed to explore one borough, let alone the entire city (or state for that matter). You see, we were driving through downtown Manhattan on our way from DC to the Boston area for a long weekend. And if I remember correctly, we were passing through the city right around rush hour – so we sure as hell wanted to hightail it on outta there!
While I’m a born-and-raised New Yorker, I’m a self-proclaimed upstate-New-Yorker. The city is an entirely different PLANET. Even though my hometown of Poughkeepsie is only about an hour and a half drive from Times Square, you might as well be boarding a spaceship. The volume, the traffic, the people, the culture – to quote Jasmine, it’s “a whole new world!” While we would eventually visit Poughkeepsie itself in April of the same year, our first tandem trip into the Big Apple came as a means to another destination, not an ends in itself.
When we did make it back to Po-town in April, like Jacek said, we toured the sites old-school style: Vanderbilt, Roosevelt, the Hudson River Walkway. No biggie for me - but my super duper history buff boyfriend loved it! :)
However, our very first lightning-speed date in NYC included paying an $8 toll, getting stopped by a drawbridge for an insanely slow-moving boat, taking a slight detour (no, we weren’t lost!), and enjoying the skyline from inside my Chevy Malibu.
Needless to say a return trip is definitely due! Stay tuned for our adventures back to the boroughs and to upstate as well!