I have to be honest: the US was never on my travel wish list. Like not even at the bottom of it. I thought it wouldn’t be different enough from home, that all Americans were superficial and that the country didn’t have much to offer from a cultural point of view. BOY WAS I WRONG!
My boyfriend had been wanting to visit the US and in a relationship sometimes you have to find a compromise. So we booked 2 tickets to New York and even though it wasn’t my dream destination, I got excited about our trip really fast. Traveling is always an adventure, so the destination isn’t really the most important part for me. The next thing we had to do was decide where exactly we wanted to go in the US. We had a whole list of things we wanted to see all over the country and it was clear we weren’t going to squeeze all that into a four weeks’ trip. So we had to choose and rather than to visit all the highlights in the whole country, we decided to pick 1 region and leave the rest for another trip. See, at first I didn’t want to go and there I was already thinking of going back! 🙂
So we decided to begin with the East and South and started with a week of city tripping in New York and Washington DC. The cheapest option was to travel from NYC to Washington DC by train rather than to rent the car a few days earlier and leave it at the hotel in Washington DC for 3 days, so that’s what we did. When it was finally time to start our road trip, we headed to Reagan national airport, armed with my great homemade road trip CD and ready for the adventure!
We picked up the car and drove to Arlington National Cemetery, which is only a few miles from the airport. I dind’t find any songs about Washington DC so we left the airport singing New York New York. We did visit New York a few days before, so it was only a little bit weird 😉 After a short visit to the cemetery, we exchanged the city for the countryside and started our trip through Virginia. We drove to Front Royal through the never-ending horse pastures of ‘Horse Country’ and stopped in picturesque towns like Middleburg, Warrenton and Little Washington.
The next day, we drove down Skyline Drive, which lead us through the magnificent Shenandoah National Park. It’s a 100 miles’ drive with numerous overlooks that offer spectacular views of the valley, and hundreds of miles of hiking paths.
“Take me home, country roads, to the place I belooooong…”
OK that’s actually a song about West-Virginia but we sang along cheerfully anyway. Well actualy I sang along cheerfully, my boyfriend was already starting to get a headache :p
We entered the park around 9am, did a 4 miles’ hike around noon, stopped at many of the overlooks and left the park again around 6 or 7 pm. If you want to do more hiking, I’d definitely recommend staying longer and sleeping in the park.
Our next stop was Charlottesville, about 30 miles further, where we went to learn about the beginning of the US at Monticello, Jefferson’s home. The house and gardens – that are completely designed by Jefferson himself – are beautiful and the guided tour taught us quite a lot about Jefferson’s life. Too bad not much was said about the lives of the slaves that lived and worked at Monticello and that the few things our guide did say were almost hypocritical.
He talked about the huge influence Jefferson had on civil rights and education, about how well-traveled he was and about how he was interested in things like architecture and literature. He spent 20 minutes explaining where the Declaration of Independence was written and pronounced the most famous passages in a stately manner and with big gestures.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”
Don’t get me wrong, I can understand and appreciate that when you’re in a former president’s house, a word or 2 is said about his achievements – especially when one of those achievements is the Declaration of Independence. But what about the 300 slaves Jefferson owned in his life? Apart from the fact that he had 3 children with one of them after the death of his wife, not a word was said about the slaves.
It seems to me terms like equality, liberty and happiness don’t rhyme with slavery in any possible way.
When asked, he only answered things like “but Jefferson respected his slaves so it wasn’t that bad” and “it wasn’t the time to stop slavery, it was too soon, so he left it for the future generations”. I don’t know what it was like in those days so I won’t judge, I only wished the tour would have given a little bit more attention to the less flattering ‘behind the scenes’ part of this particular part of history.
After our visit to Monticello, we stopped at the University of Virginia, also designed by Jefferson, for a nice walk and then drove on to our motel in Williamsburg.
On the 3rd day of our road trip we visited Colonial Williamsburg, a partly restored, partly rebuilt colonial village. The concept is nice: there’s actors/guides in typical clothing that welcome visitors in the streets and buildings and give lots of explanations. They also perform plenty of shows all day long. You have to like the concept and it might sound more appropriate for children but it actually is a great place to learn about the history of the US if you don’t know much about it, which – being from Europe – was our case.
The next day we visited the battlefield of Petersburg, but were a bit disappointed. There was not a lot to see, so we only visited part of it and decided to drive on.
So we drove 400 miles south on Interstate 95, to Charleston, South-Carolina. Enought time to listen to the whole CD 6 times! Needless to say we were half deaf when we arrived, so luckily we stayed a couple of days.
We stopped for waffles along the way and that was the first time we saw this…
I must admit it was kind of strange for us Europeans… We did get 3 free fill-ups of coffee without asking for it, just like in the movies, and thought it was so great! OK I can imagine you had to be there to find it as great as I did but anyway… 🙂
We fell in love with Charleston’s picturesque city center and the plantations nearby, such as Magnolia Plantation with its superb gardens or Boone Hall Plantation with its magnificent Oak Alley. We also saw the reverse side of all this beauty when we visited the slave’s cabins and heard their stories. We were in Charleston for the 4th of July and were really looking forward to participating in all the activities that were planned, but unfortunately they were cancelled because of a big storm… so we went to eat burgers in a super typical diner instead.
Because what’s more American than that?!?
After 4 days in Charleston, it was time to get ‘Georgia on my mind’. We headed to Savannah, and stopped in Beaufort, South-Carolina on the way, to look (oh who am I kidding – stare with our mouths wide open, almost drooling) at the magnificent houses and streets filled with Spanish moss draped live oaks.
From there it was only a 2 hours’ drive to Savannah, another lovely city we adored and where we stayed 1,5 days, just wandering around in the picturesque streets.
Next, it was time for a 700 miles and 1,5 day drive through Georgia, (sweet home) Alabama and Miiiiiiiiiiihiiiiiiississiiiiiippiiiiiii (you’ll be oooon my miiiind) to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
We only spent the night in Baton Rouge and drove to New Orleans along River Road the next day for a glimpse of the Mississippi river plantations. We visited Nottoway Plantation and Laura Plantation. and had clearly saved the best for last. Nottoway is without any doubt the most beautiful plantation we saw and Laura the most touching one, with the most honest stories about the plantation owners and their slaves. On the way from the plantation to New Orleans, I turned off the radio. There wasn’t a song on my CD good enough to accompany my tears…
Before bringing back the car and discovering New Orleans, it was time for some ‘big fun on the bayou’, so on the last day of our road trip we did a swamp tour at Honey Island swamp, at about an hour from New Orleans. The mysterious realm of cypress trees rising up out of the muddy water and the alligators luring in the distance have something magical an were a perfect ending of our trip.
Two weeks and 2100 miles after the start of our trip, we arrived in New Orleans, where we dropped off our rental car and stayed another 3 days to visit this extraordinary city. We had such a great time on this road trip. We saw and did plenty of things, the drive itself was fantastic and the people… the people were just soooooo great, warm and kind! We felt welcome everywhere we went! I’ll write a seperate post about this because there’s so much to tell, it definitely deserves its own story!!!
Let me give you some facts and figures about this road trip:
- Distance: 2100 miles
- Duration: 14 days
- 8 different motels
- 7 states crossed: Virginia, North- & South-Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana
- Check out this post for my travel budget for this trip (including a week of city tripping in NYC and Washington DC and 3 days in New Orleans)
For the full itinerary of my US-trip, click here. Check out my USA-page for more articles and information about the different destinations I visited and read this post for tips about saving money on rental cars.
If you want to keep on driving some more, go to The Daily Adventure of Me’s Ultimate Road Trip Guide for more road trip inspiration from other travel bloggers.
(More articles about my visits are comming soon, so please come back later if you want to read all about it or subscribe to my newsletter to get updates in your mailbox!)