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Oct 16

America – On the road for 30 days (Part I)

 

 

 

 

We left NYC on a Tuesday and we were finally in the car on our roadtrip … super excited. The inside still had that new car smell and being in an SUV the views across the dashboard is somewhat better coz you sit higher. Getting out of the city was easier than expected; thank goodness for GPS. Once we were on the freeway all the stress of navigating thru inner city traffic just melted away and I began to relax into the drive. It was still roasting outside but it was a good day to be on the road.

First stop was Philadelphia to find me a Philly cheesesteak sandwich. It was lunch anyway so I thought we might as well make a pit stop. We were actually meant to be heading down to Delaware en route to Virginia Beach, but I didn’t think a minor detour would hurt anyone. Besides, this was for the travel blog and Philly is a historic city.

We got a bit lost in the outer suburbs in our quest for Philly cheesesteak sandwiches. We took a wrong turn and ended up in a very impoverished part of town. Houses were either run down and shops were boarded up. Broken furniture littered the pavement and the people there looked at us funny as tho they just knew we were outsiders. Suppose the panic and anxiety written on our faces didn’t help either. Every corner we turned the suburb did not come to an end … it just got worse! Eventually we made it to a main road and entered a little main street where shop fronts looks a little more welcoming and alive. At this point I didn’t care where we ate … I just wanted to grab food and leave.

We chanced upon this little diner across the street called Joe’s Steaks + Soda Shop and thought “fine, this will do us”. Little did we know we were walking into a little bit of history. This diner used to be called Chinks, after the original owner Samuel ‘Chink’ Sherman way back in 1949. Chink’s was renowned even back then as the place to go when you wanted the best Philly cheesesteaks around. Current owner, Joe, used to work at Chink’s as a young man and when Samuel died he bought over the business from the Sherman family.

 

 

 

 

This was our first time tucking into this iconic fare. I think the boyfriend was a bit skeptical but seeing the success of Katz Deli he was willing to give it a go. The place was empty and we took a seat by the window and placed our orders. I also asked for a Dr Pepper and I must say I am a fan now.

The sandwiches did not disappoint, OMG … they were amazingly good and I was happy we decided to detour for this. The bread was fresh and crusty, the meat juicy and tender … then add melted cheese and fried onions and you have a mouthful of heaven in every bite. Note to self: next time order American cheese and not Provolone with my next sandwich.

 

 

Lunch done, we got back on the road with happy bellies and headed south towards Delaware. Dinner was at Chincoteague on the Bay, a lovely evening we spent eating seafood and digging our feet into the warm sand, looking out over the water backed by a glorious sunset. Food was a bit lackluster but it was really nice being able to eat outdoors with a beautiful view. At this point I was still pinching myself over the fact that I was in USA on a roadtrip.

On the way to Chincoteague Island we actually passed by the NASA Wallops Flight Facility Visitor Center – Building J20 Route 175, Chincoteague Rd, Wallops Island, VA 23337, USAWe didn’t go into the visitors centre but we did stop by the road for a few mins to marvel at the facility and to take in the sights of the few rockets that were on display. Never seen a space shuttle before and it was an amazing feeling. Giant satellite dishes were lined up pointing up into the sky like ceramic bowls. I got chills staring at them from outside the fencing … it all looked so ‘Gattaca’. If you haven’t watched that movie I strongly suggest you do.

 

 

 

 

Our first stop for the night was a motel ~ now, I don’t know if many of you can relate but this was a very BIG DEAL for me. I have never been a fan of roadside motels and I did not know what to expect in America. All my references of roadside motels have come from TV shows where you see criminals on the run from the law and they lay low in these really rundown motels where drug deals and dodgy things happen … and then the cops show up and a shootout takes place. Also, don’t forget the neon sign that says ‘VACANCY” with a hula girl doing a dance next to it … not a real girl, the neon kind … you get my drift.

 

Anyway, we get tired of being on the road, full of food and R decides to pull into the Shore Stay Suites – 26406 Lankford Hwy, Cape Charles, VA 23310, USA. I really didn’t know what to expect. The place didn’t look at all like the image in my head. In fact it looked charming and inviting. Prices were reasonable, less than $100 for the night. The room was BIG, i mean seriously I was not prepared for this. When I first moved to Europe I guess I got used to how small hotel rooms are, so scale was somewhat of an issue when I stepped into this motel room for the first time. There was a kitchen. ffs! A fully decked out kitchen complete with full sized fridge and a cooking stove. The thing I liked best was the A/C … everywhere in America air-conditioning is like turbo charged and it’s really nice to step into a cold room after a long hot day driving about in the car.

The beds, 2 large queens, were very comfortable and the pillows were really fluffy and fat. Best night sleep ever! I think out of all the places we stayed at I liked this place the best. Maybe it’s just like your first kiss …. maybe it’s not reaaaalllly the best but you remember it the fondest anyway. Haha. But yeah, if I had to return I would be happy to stay here again.

 

 

 

 

The next day dawned bright and sunny. We felt refreshed after a good nights sleep (thank you Shore Stay Suites!) … and now onward to the next exciting stop: Virginia Beach. R. really wants to go there for reasons unknown to me … something to do with naval bases and an aircraft carrier. Personally I had no real objections to seeing Virginia Beach, it is pretty iconic in its own right. I was also hungry and I wanted to get there pronto.

 

Our drive there would take up to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge crossing and boy was this a marvel of engineering! Two highway bridges spanning the gap of water all the way from the cape to Virgina Beach … it was incredible. I only wish I took better photos. There is a toll to pay and we paid $13.00 – possibly the most expensive toll we paid during our entire trip around the various states.

 

 

 

 

We did not stay long in Virginia Beach. We literally just walked along the beach for a bit and then found a place to have breakfast coz we were starving by then. A good waffle and scrambled eggs later and we were back on the road. R. wanted to swing by the naval base to catch a glimpse of their aircraft carrier but alas, most of the area was restricted access with no good views of the vessels. We did see it eventually while crossing and overhead pass but could not stop to marvel at it; he was quite disappointed.

 

We drove on towards Virginia’s historic triangle and decided to spend the afternoon at Williamsburg – oooh, I do love me a good day at historical sites!
This was going to be one of those living museum type places where actors dress up and stay in character to give visitors a sense of what life was like back in the day.
Williamsburg town itself just oozes historic significance, I only wish I had read up more on my American Revolution history before setting foot here, but I was happy enough to just bask in the atmosphere and try to imagine a time when America went to war with their colonial overlords. Alexander Hamilton the musical comes to mind.

 

 

 

 

Now when I say this place is big I really mean HUGE. Visitors can buy a multi-day pass and comb through the park over a number of days. The carpark and visitor centre are far away from the actual site itself and you can hop a shuttle bus to the historical site. Tickets were expensive … I think they cost us $40 each. For more info visit the official website.

The park has houses, taverns, workshops … basically it’s a replica town 200 years ago. People (actors) walk around in costume and go about their daily business as they would in that time. There is a lot of walking involved as the park area is so big so do come in comfortable shoes and if you are visiting in summer omg, a hat is a necessity. I got burned to a crisp within 40 mins and we had to cut our visit short because it was that uncomfortable to continue walking in the sun … and this was SEPTEMBER!!

 

 

 

 

We had a good time albeit a short time at the historic park. Hunger soon set in and we retreated to find a good place to refill and recharge … the sun really does sap you of energy.
When I saw a Cracker Barrel sign I pounced on the opportunity to eat there as it came highly recommended by the few American friends I know for decent southern-style cooking.
I have to say I was not disappointed. It had all the essentials on their menu : catfish, mac n cheese, meatloaf, fried okra, chicken fried steak, corn bread, sweet tea … etc. I was sold. My first experience having southern food and it was everything I wanted it to be. The service was good and everyone was so polite and warm … it is true what they say, the further south you get the nicer the people become. And we saw this time and time again on our visit to the southern states.

 

I homed in on the spicy grilled catfish with a side of green beans and mac n cheese. The boyfriend had the meatloaf, fried apples (which really was just stewed apples) and mashed potatoes. For dessert we tucked into a peach cobbler to share. Ticked off soooo many things on my food list in one meal. Happy as Larry. Prices were very reasonable and everytime I am in the US southern states I always want to go back to Cracker Barrel for a meal … it is really good food.

 

 

 

 

The rest of the afternoon we drove and drove along country roads and motorways en route to Waynesboro – the starting  point of our adventure into Shanendoah National Park and  drive the Blue Ridge Parkway – one of Americas great iconic drives that you see on calendars and tourism adverts.

 

We pulled in to yet another random motel lodging for the night – I fail to remember the name of this place but it was a very comfortable stay and once again I had the best sleep. I think it all comes down to good air-conditioning, haha. The room was another huge room which I am not used to. Two big beds and a lot of space left over to walk around without stubbing your toes into furniture. Oh, I remember now – it was the Quality Inn – 640 W Broad St, Waynesboro, VA 22980, USA. Cheap and comfortable.

 

 

 

 

From here we popped into a local supermarket the next morning to pick up breakfast on the go, then we drove to the start of the Blue Ridge Parkway road. Much anticipated drive this. You grow up as a kid listening to old country songs your parents played on the radio with words like “Almost heaven, West Virginia. Blue Ridge Mountains. Shanendoah River” … and suddenly you’re actually here in the very place they were singing about all those years ago. By all means take me home country road!

We took the road south towards North Carolina coz we were going to see a gamer friend in Raleigh. It was not quite leaf season yet but there was a fair few trees that were already turning colour and the temperatures up in the mountains were definitely more forgiving compared to the day before. If you drive north you will be taking the Skyline Drive towards Shanendoah NP. Along the road south there are some very convenient overlooks from which you can pull over and take picture of the mountain range and the valley below – Afton Overlook and Rockfish Valley to name a couple. The views are STUNNING! Photos just don’t seem to be able to capture the majestic scenery your eyes come in contact with while you are there in person.

The Blue Ridge Mountains get their name from the blue hazy tinge when seen from a distance. Something to do with stuff the trees release into the atmosphere (much to science-y for me).

 

FYI, a section of the Appalachian Trail also starts at the north entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway and generally runs parallel to the road all along the mountain range. Man, I would love to do a hike like that but I know I’d probably give up within the day and say fuck it, where is the nearest Comfort Inn?!

 

 

 

 

Further along you will come across random points of interest like an old farmstead or a historic monument and if you have the time you should definitely get out on foot to explore further. We stopped a couple of times to just take a look about and to take pictures at the old farms and to listen to the sound of streams and rivers … I love rivers.

 

 

 

 

We exited the Blue Ridge Parkway after visiting the Peaks of Otter Visitors Centre to get to Bedford. Being history junkies we wanted to visit the Bedford National D-Day Memorial – 3 Overlord Cir, Bedford, VA 24523, USA.
This place commemorates the war veterans and all those who died on that fateful day of June 6th, 1944 during the Normandy D-Day landings of WWII. Entrance fees cost only $10 and the area is very well laid out. The monument itself I found to be very well designed and evocative, utterly sobering to be there. The walls are lined with plaques and the names of all the fallen are inscribed … I got rather emotional reading them. To think so many young men died before they even set foot on Normandy beach having been shot right in the amphibious boats or drowned because they jumped overboard in too deep water and the weight of their backpacks pulled them down. Many more allied forces died trying to cross the beach.

 

 

 

 

The monument captures the feel and atmosphere of the Normandy landings by cleverly mimicking bullets hitting the water with the use of underwater fountain jets.

You will notice the word ‘Overlord’ a lot during your visit. Operation Overlord was the codename used by the allies to storm the coast of France in an effort to liberate it from German hands with the help of 1,200 airplanes, 5,000 amphibious boats and close to 160,000 troops crossed the channel on that first day. By the end of the operation over 2 MILLION troops had landed. Total casualties on both sides of the D-Day landings : 425,000 either killed, wounded or missing.

The photo below is one of the famous photos that depicts the chaos and the struggle the infantry had to face getting off the boats under heavy machine gun fire, wading in the water then having to cross the open beach in order to reach the cliffs. This exact scene was recreated at the Bedford National D-Day Monument.

 

 

Picture source – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Omaha_Beach

 

 

We made this visit just in time as we arrived pretty late in the day. We had just over an hour to tour the monument and then the park was closing for the day.

After a sobering and emotional visit one must replenish ones spirit and what better way to do that than by eating hearty food. Pulled in to the Old Liberty Station Restaurant – 515 Bedford Avenue in Bedford, Virginia, famous for it’s homemade cheesecakes apparently. We just found this place by total accident and were very happy we did coz food was AMAZING in here. As the name suggests this place used to be an actual railway station but soon air travel and cars diminished the need for rail travel, so it got turned into a family restaurant.

 

 

 

 

Food was cooked to perfection, great varierty … you can find anything on their menu to suit your taste and prices are all very affordable. Sometimes it is hard to find a good place to eat when you don’t know the area and you don’t have recommendations. Most of the time we randomly pick a place and hope for the best and so far I think we have been pretty darn lucky. I am not usually a big beef eater but this rib-eye steak R ordered was the best I have ever sampled. So if you are in the area do drop in and enjoy a great meal.

 

After a very good night sleep at yet another lovely motel (I now love American motels and look forward to staying in them any chance I get), it was time to head off to yet another historic site – the American Civil War kind – Appomattox Court House, 111 National Park Dr, Appomattox, VA 24522, USA

Appomattox is where the American Civil War basically ended after 4 long years of bloody battle between north and south. Most of my knowledge on the American Civil War has come from watching movies like Gone With The Wind and North & South … highly informative and I learned a lot from them even though the main reason I watched them in the first place was to see the dresses on the women. Subconsciously tho I was getting a history lesson.

The surrender of the southern army took place in the parlour of the home of Wilmer McLean on the 9th April, 1865. General-in-Chief, Robert E. Lee of the Confederate States Army sat at a plain wooden table surrounded by his officers in that room and surrendered to Commanding General Ulysses S. Grant of the Union Army.

 

 

 

 

You can walk around the place and visit the various buildings in the area or you can attend the tour. I love places like this because I like to imagine what it was really like living back in the day when all this history was taking place.

 

After Appomattox we headed south towards the Virginia-North Carolina border. We took side streets sometimes just to avoid the monotony of the free-ways and to drive into small towns. I love small towns coz they have so much charm and character. It is also very sad to see so many of them suffering the effects of motorways that take business away from the local trades people. Many shops were boarded up and the high street felt dead. As much as we could we would pop into local diners in small towns coz we believe in supporting small local business rather than the big conglomerates.

 

We kinda got hungry round about the 1 p.m mark but did not find anywhere suitable to refuel. We were either somewhere near Halifax or South Boston when we pulled up to a gas station for a toilet break, a stretch of the legs and for gas. Inside the gas station we noticed they were selling hot food and a fair few people were lining up to buy. I had a bit of a nosey and discovered that on the menu was fried chicken, meatloaf and gravy. There were a few other things but for the life of me I can only remember these two things; I experienced something akin to tunnel vision and I partially blacked out I think. Before I knew it I was walking out with 5 wings and a box of meatloaf and gravy for R. It was all SO GOOD, especially the meatloaf which they put in bread to make it a hot sandwich. Only photo evidence of the chicken exists as the meatloaf sandwich was gobbled up before I even had the change to remove my lens cover.

 

 

 

 

We stopped again for a lunch “top-up” for R because obviously a meatloaf sandwich just wasn’t enough … pffft! So we got another sandwich at the West Side Deli – 618 Virginia Ave, Clarksville, VA 23927, USA (no website available). They made pretty decent sandwiches based off NY city favourites. Once he felt totally filled up and ready to drive again we did not stop until we came to Raleigh, N.C where we would break the journey and stay 2 whole nights and catch up with a few more gamer boys. 

We had booked a lovely Airbnb apartment right in the middle of town and we called it home for 2 nights. We also managed to do a load of laundry … hooray!
The place was lovely and felt homey and modern. I did not realize just how tired I was until I had a shower and lay down on the bed. When it came time for us to head out for dinner to meet up with Dom I could barely move. I wanted to stay where I was and just sleep forever.

 

 

 

 

Dinner was at Mellow Mushroom pizza place –  with ‘Dom’ for a quick hello and a catch up. Dom would later fly over to Kenosha where we would meet again at the Team Pizza weekend getaway. Dom is a great lad and out of all the gamer friends we have met up with him the most. I first met Dom in Iceland when we attended the Cheap ventolin in Hong Kong way back in 2013.

 

The following evening was a traditional North Carolinian BBQ dinner at The Pit Authentic Barbecue – 328 W Davie St, Raleigh, NC 27601, USAI was adamant on having authentic BBQ and ticking a few things off my food list. Table was booked for 6 people and when we got there the place was packed. We had to wait for 30 mins before a table became available … even tho a reservation was made. 

The menu appeared interesting and it had all the right things I wanted to sample … too many choices if you ask me. Luckily they had platters that allow you to order 3 different meats in smaller portions, and this suited me just fine.

I tried hush puppies and fried okra for the first time and I was hooked. Now every time I am back in the south I want hush puppies and fried okra … they are the bomb! The meats were good but somehow I honestly preferred the side dishes more.

 

 

 

 

Dinner was really really good and the company was even better. The boys got on great and I simply enjoyed the experience of being there and being able to tick off food off my food list. Thrilled at my discovery of hush puppies. And for dessert we tried banana pudding for the first time and loved that as well. What’s not to love anyway? Its Nilla wafers, fresh banana slices, vanilla custard pudding and whipped cream.

The night wore on and eventually we all felt tired enough to say our goodbyes. Dom left to attend a gig with other friends at a bar. Ataal drove home to Charlotte with his brother and we walked back to our rented apartment and fell into bed. This marks a big break in our roadtrip. We hang around Raleigh for a total of 2 days and really catch up on rest. Our next leg will consist of driving further south to Ashville to meet ‘Shard’ who is a chef, have dinner at his restaurant, then embark on a long drive the following day into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the hopes of catching a glimpse of some wildlife. End of Part I. Join me in Part II.

 

 

…. to be continued.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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