Category: North Carolina

Lesson Learned: What 2020 Taught Me About Travel

Lesson Learned: What 2020 Taught Me About Travel

There is a wonderful children’s book called The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. It’s a fantasy tale full of puns and cleverness. One of the places in the book is called the Doldrums. It’s a rather nondescript sort of place, generally bland and boring with overcast skies. The people who live there are called Lethargians — they do nothing all day, every day. Nothing ever changes in the Doldrums.

Overall, I feel like I have been visiting the Doldrums for the greater part of 2020. Thankfully, I did something in 2020 that I normally don’t do — I took a trip in January. Spain, you were amazing and I miss you even more than I thought I would!

Outside the Antigua Casa de Talavera in Madrid, where I spent too much money.

Six weeks after my return, the US went on lockdown and travel was pretty much forbidden. We thought it would be just a couple of weeks… but it ended up being months… and, in fact, it still isn’t over. Here’s what 2020 taught me about travel.

Lesson Learned #1: Embrace Being Home When You Aren’t Traveling

I’m not gonna lie. At first I thought it was kind of cool that I had to stay home. Suddenly, I was able to catch up – and stay caught up – on laundry. I got plenty of quality time with my family and pets. The busyness of life was pretty much gone. And when it occurred to me that with all of us at home, it was the ideal time to get a puppy – well, a miracle happened and somehow my husband didn’t object. Meet Chewie:

The day we got him! He’s 3/4 Corgi and 1/4 Elkhound… but he sounds like Chewbacca,
Chewie now. He will be one year old on inauguration day!

Lesson Learned #2: You Can “Travel” Without Going Very Far

After a while, though, even with a puppy to wreak havoc keep us busy, I grew tired of being home All. The. Time. When warmer weather came, I ventured out to my local beach. I enjoy being there – it’s peaceful, there’s a bountiful supply of sea glass, and I generally have the place to myself in the off-season. Once I learned that it was not closed to the public, I started going more often, usually once or twice a week. It was the only thing that kept me sane in those first few months. Also, I found a lot of sea glass:

This vase is about 18 inches tall and 10 inches in diameter.

The beach wasn’t far away or a popular spot, or even all that special (aside from the sea glass). But it was a much-needed escape and when you’ve been cooped up in your house for weeks, getting in the car and driving to a beach 30 minutes away kinda does feel like a vacation.

Lesson Learned #3: Travel Doesn’t Always Have to Mean Catching a Flight Somewhere

Summer came and restrictions started lifting. Hubs decided to buy us an RV. Driving around in a small house on wheels is not my preferred method of travel by any stretch of the imagination. When I brought up the puppy, he brought up wanting an RV. At the time I didn’t know how serious he was, so we sort of agreed to get both an RV and a puppy. Joke’s on me – he was very serious! Like, 32 feet long serious.

Chewie thinks the RV is pretty cool too!

While this isn’t my preferred method of travel, I have to admit, traveling this way does have its perks, especially during a pandemic. It’s all self-contained, so there is no need to worry about how thoroughly the place was cleaned after the last guests left. The only people staying there are you and your family with your own germs.

So, with the RV, that gave us a few options that we did not have before. And at the beginning of July we took it to Williamsburg Virginia for a trip to celebrate my husband’s birthday. We toured a winery, played a scavenger hunt, and visited the Virginia Aquarium. All activities featured masks and social distancing. It almost felt normal.

Lesson Learned #4: Visiting Friends Counts as Travel

For Labor Day weekend, we took the RV to another part of our state and met an old friend of mine there. (We’ve known each other since kindergarten!) We went to an all-outdoors sunflower festival which was really enjoyable. As my friend said, there’s something about sunflowers that makes everyone feel like a five-year-old.

Lesson Learned #5: Play the Game, then Walk Away (with money still in your pocket)

Back in the summer of 2019, Holiday Inn Vacation Club made me an offer I couldn’t refuse: Pay $250 and get a three-night stay at one of their properties PLUS $149 in cash after sitting through a sales presentation. I know plenty of people who have timeshares and have lived to regret it. One even paid someone else money to get rid of hers! So I was confident I could resist the sales pitch and I figured $101 for three nights was a good deal. I told them to sign me up and I later booked a trip to Orlando for April 2020.

But then, COVID. So I canceled and asked for an extension of the expiration date. Holiday Inn Vacation Club was very understanding and gave me an additional six months to take advantage of the deal.

(Side note: Spirit Airlines tried to give me a voucher for my canceled airfare that would have expired in September 2020. Armed with the knowledge that the DOT was requiring airlines to give full refunds for COVID-related cancellations, I pushed for a refund – and got it.)

So we rescheduled the timeshare trip for September, right around my birthday. And since at the time we thought our daughter would be away at college by then, we chose a different destination – Galveston, Texas. I was able to get a pretty good deal on airfare, so I guess that’s one positive thing that came out of the pandemic.

When it came time to go, I did not anticipate the stress caused by the people in the airports and on the planes not wearing a mask and/or not wearing it correctly. I also did not expect that the planes would have EVERY seat filled. By the time we got to Texas, I was almost certain we would be coming home with COVID.

The accommodations were nice enough. The sales pitch was as awful as we had expected.

THEM: This is an investment that you will own for the rest of your life!

US: We are 54. We are only going to be traveling for another 15 years or so. Twenty years at most. (Secretly hoping for much more!)

THEM: But you can will it to your kids when you’re gone!

US: Hah! They can pay for their own vacations!

Yeah, they kind of regretted the day they saw us in the lobby. And let me just say to anyone that is considering getting a timeshare: don’t do it. These people were offering us ten years of payments at 16-point-something percent interest. THAT IS NOT A GOOD DEAL. And then there are maintenance fees. Ask anyone you know who has a timeshare about their maintenance fees. Basically, a timeshare is paying a second mortgage on a property that you don’t really own and will only get to use a couple of weeks a year. Does that sound like a good deal to you?

Heck no.

As for Galveston, we didn’t really see or do a lot because (a) the pandemic had a lot of places shut down and (b) Hubs has an Army buddy who lives about an hour away from there, so we spent most of our time just visiting with him and his wife.

BUT! I did get a tip that the nearby Bolivar Peninsula (pronounced like Oliver with a B, not like Simon Bolivar) was a good place to look for sea glass, so we checked it out. I looked for a solid three hours and found plenty of great glass and shells. Then, at my very last stop, I found this beauty:

A sea glass stopper – a rare find!

Lesson Learned #6: Travel Can Be Just for a 1-Day Event

When I met up with my friend over Labor Day weekend we decided that we would go to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire together. The first date that we both had available was Halloween. So we planned on it, booked our tickets, and when the time came, we loaded up the RV and headed up to Pennsylvania for some costumed fun. We decided to go as pirates.

Arrrrrr

Lesson Learned #7: It’s Never a Bad Idea to Travel to that Place You’ve Been Meaning to Check Out

At this point, I could tell that our time of relative travel freedom would soon be coming to an end. It was starting to get cold. Outdoor events would become a distant memory. We debated whether to take a trip somewhere as one last hurrah before cold weather and the holidays hit. (Of course the answer was an emphatic yes!)

Since we wanted to (a) head south to minimize the risk of cold weather and (b) go no farther than a 5-6 hour drive away from home, we opted to go to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I have lived in Maryland my entire life and had never been to the Outer Banks before. Now, that may seem strange, but I have Atlantic beaches about 40 minutes from my house, and that’s not only closer, but it’s also easier to get to.

We drove the RV down and stayed at Oregon Inlet Campground. It didn’t offer a whole lot in the way of amenities but it was just a short walk to the beach. On our first morning there, I got up early with Chewie and took him out for a walk to explore… and found a stunning Atlantic sunrise!

Needless to say, that became our morning routine while we were there! Because of the pandemic and also the fact that we were there in mid-November, our options for things to do in the Outer Banks were somewhat limited. We did a lot of walking on the beach – I found one piece of seaglass and plenty of well worn, beautiful shells. We also went to Jockey’s Ridge State Park, where Hubs had visited in his youth.

This little boy climbed all the way to the top of the dunes with us!

We also visited Bodie Island Lighthouse. Visitors couldn’t go inside, but we still enjoyed seeing it up close and taking photos of it.

I really enjoyed our trip to the Outer Banks, and I’m glad we went. Even though we didn’t get to go to all the cool places or see all the things we normally would have, I found it a place of beauty. In fact, it was quite different from the beaches that are close to my home. I’ll definitely go back at some point in the future!

In Summary

2020 had a profound impact on the ability to travel. But it did not kill it. My biggest lesson learned from the year was to be flexible and adapt to circumstances. Being open to traveling in different ways and to different types of places gave me a handful of experiences that I will cherish. 2020 also taught me just how vital traveling is to my psychological well being. It is certainly not something that I will ever take for granted again!

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The Ultimate US Road Trip: Blue Ridge Parkway

The Ultimate US Road Trip: Blue Ridge Parkway

A Tale of Two Travelers…

For Thanksgiving this year, we decided to head out of town for a break. Our destination was Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg, Tennessee. If we had ridden solely on interstate highways, we could have arrived there in ten hours. That’s my preferred way to drive. The quicker you can reach your destination, the better – that way you have more time to go places and see things and do stuff.

Road trip Blue Ridge Parkway so you have a better view than this.
My usual view as we travel along the Interstate.

Hubs, however, is my polar opposite when it comes to driving. He can’t stand driving on big highways and prefers long, circuitous, and scenic drives instead. He had been on the Blue Ridge Parkway earlier this year with his motorcycling friends and insisted that we drive at least part of the way to Tennessee on the Blue Ridge Parkway.

We knocked out about four hours of the drive the very first night and got a hotel room in Charlottesville, Virginia. As we were discussing what time we wanted to get up in the morning, my husband said to me, “Well, we need to get up early. We have 12 hours of driving to do tomorrow.”

I just about had to pick my jaw up off the floor. I was thinking that with six hours left to travel via interstates, his route would take us eight or nine hours at most. But twelve?!?!? I was so flabbergasted I could not even speak. When I recovered my ability to form sentences again, I calmly informed him that being in the car for 12 hours was neither practical nor desirable.

Fortunately, he revised his plans and pared down our road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway to a 50 mile stretch. I was quite relieved.

But First, History!

I am nothing if not a history geek. Please bear with me…

The Blue Ridge Parkway is 469 miles long, running through the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. (If you’ve never heard of the Blue Ridge Mountains, it’s helpful to know that they are a section of the Appalachian Mountains.) The parkway runs from Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina to the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. The parkway actually continues on through Shenandoah for an additional 105 miles, but the name becomes Skyline Drive.

The original name for the route was the Appalachian Scenic Highway, and it was begun as a project in Franklin D Roosevelt’s New Deal. During World War II, conscientious objectors serving in the Civilian Service Program worked on the project.

Over 50 years passed before the construction of the parkway came to an end. The route has:

  • 26 tunnels constructed through the rock (1 in Virginia, 25 in North Carolina)
  • Six viaducts
  • 168 bridges
  • Elevation of 6,053 feet at its highest point (Richland Balsam – Mile Post 431)
  • No tolls/fees for usage

Our Drive

Even though I was reluctant to go from 70 mph on the interstate to 45 mph on the parkway, once we got on the parkway and started driving, I kinda fell in love with the scenery.  The roads were a bit twisty and 45 was probably the safest speed at which to travel. Some of the trees still had leaves, but most were bare.  I couldn’t help but imagine how gorgeous it must be in peak autumn foliage season (mid to late October, depending on the elevation).

Our first stop to pull over and admire the scenery was a rocky overlook with a couple of big boulders and a view of the valley below.

Road Trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway - there are many opportunities to stop and admire the scenery.

As I looked out at the patches of green fields and the blue-purple mountains, I realized this was waaayyy better than anything I could have seen on the interstate.

If you look at this shot, you might notice a spot of blue just below and to the right of the center.  That’s a river running through the valley.

Beautiful scenery abounds on a road trip through the Blue Ridge Parkway

We drove along through the Peaks of Otter, where my husband stopped on his previous trip through the area.  (Fun fact: you can get one of those oval shaped abbreviation stickers here. It says POO for Peaks of Otter.  He totally got one the last time he was there.) We didn’t stop at Peaks of Otter, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there is a lodge right there, with mountains behind it and a lake in front of it.  What a gorgeous setting!

We stopped a little farther along at another overlook. This one reminded me of Yorkshire, with the patchwork of fields decorating the valley.

Stopping at scenic overlooks while on a road trip through the Blue Ridge Parkway will provide you with many beautiful vistas.

We even got to see a dam!

Taking a road trip on the Blue Ridge Parkway will provide you with many interesting sights, like this dam.

If you’re traveling north or south between Virginia and North Carolina and/or visiting either the Great Smoky Mountain National Park or Shenandoah National Park, I highly recommend taking the Blue Ridge Parkway, even if only part of the way. The views were breathtaking, the weather was gorgeous, and it was a much nicer drive than I-81!

 

Traveling through Virginia and/or North Carolina? Visiting the Great Smoky Mountains and/or Shenandoah national parks? The Blue Ridge parkway is a great road trip, showing off some of the Appalachian Mountains' most beautiful scenery.
50 of the Strangest Place Names in America… and How They Came to Be

50 of the Strangest Place Names in America… and How They Came to Be

I love looking at maps and checking out the names of places.  Some of them are unique, while others are funny and a few are just downright weird.  Here are some of my favorites, including how they got their names.

Scratch Ankle, Alabama got its name from train workers who always saw the locals scratching their ankles from mosquito bites.

Mary’s Igloo, Alaska took its name from an Inupiat woman named Mary, who welcomed miners, trappers and others into her home for coffee. During that period, Mary’s Igloo was a transfer point for supplies for the gold fields upriver.

Why, Arizona derives its name from the fact that two major highways, State Routes 85 and 86, originally intersected in a Y shape. As a result of Arizona law that required city names to have at least three letters, the town’s founders named the town “Why” as opposed to simply calling it “Y.”

strange town names why arizona

Smackover, Arkansas comes from the name that French settlers gave the town in 1686: “sumac couvert,” which translates to “covered in sumac bushes.”

Weed, California has nothing to do with marijuana or poor landscaping.  Rather, the town gets its name from the founder of the local lumber mill and pioneer Abner Weed, who discovered that the area’s strong winds were helpful in drying lumber. The town motto is “Weed like to welcome you.” (ha ha ha!)

Troublesome, Colorado takes its name from nearby Troublesome Creek.  The creeek got its name because soldiers had difficulty crossing it.

Yeehaw Junction, Florida got its name in the 1950s. Some say the community’s name comes from how locals would yell “Yeehaw!”  Others believe the name is close to the Seminole language word meaning “wolf”. According to town historians and several original newspaper articles, the town’s original name was either “Jackass Junction” or “Jackass Crossing.” That strange town name stemmed from local ranchers ring burros to visit the Desert Inn (the local brothel).

Experiment, Georgia took its name from the University of Georgia’s Agricultural Experiment Station, which is located there.

Dickshooter, Idaho received its name from Dick Shooter, a man who “established a homestead there.”

Goofy Ridge, Illinois was a camp near the river bank where moonshiners and other carousers met weekly to do their drinking. One night, a local game warden declared his relative sobriety by vowing that he could shoot a walnut off the head of a volunteer. The game warden placed the target on the volunteer’s head, aimed his .22 rifle, and shot the nut right off. A witness described the incident as “one damned goofy thing to do,” and the camp was consequently known as Goofy Ridge.

French Lick, Indiana (also hometown of NBA legend Larry Bird) was originally a French trading post built near a spring and salt lick.

strange town names french lick indiana

Fertile, Iowa got its name due to the quality of the soil in the valley there.

Protection, Kansas received its name from a political issue in the 1884 presidential selection.  There was a lot of popular support for a protective tariff, and the town drew its name from that.

Monkey’s Eyebrow, Kentucky got its name because when looking at a map of Ballard County, it resembles a monkey’s head. The town Monkey’s Eyebrow is, of course, where the monkey’s eyebrow would be.

Boring, Maryland‘s name was not chosen for the pace of life, but for postmaster David Boring.

Hell, Michigan offers multiple theories for the origin of its name. My favorite: the original settler, George Reeves, was asked what to name the town when Michigan achieved statehood. His response was a surly, “I don’t care, you can name it Hell for all I care.”

strange town names hell michigan

Sleepy Eye, Minnesota took its name from Sleepy Eye Lake, which was named after Chief Sleepy Eye of the Sioux. Chief Sleepy Eye was known as a compassionate person with droopy eyelids.

Tightwad, Missouri got its name when a store owner cheated a customer, who was a postman, by charging him an extra 50 cents for a better watermelon. (Some sources claim the transaction involved a rooster rather than a watermelon.)

Two Dot, Montana got its name from the cattle brand of George R. Wilson, who donated the land for the town. “Two Dot Wilson” had a cattle brand of two dots, placed side by side on the hip of his cattle.

Searchlight, Nevada (hometown of US Senator Harry Reid) received its when George Frederick Colton was looking for gold in the area in 1897. He supposedly said that it would take a searchlight to find gold ore there.

Loveladies, New Jersey began as a small, 10-acre island in the bay adjacent to a US Life-Saving Station was owned by a man named Thomas Lovelady. The area was called Lovelady’s, which eventually evolved to Loveladies.

strange town names loveladies new jersey

Rush, New York was either named after the rushes growing along the creek, or after Dr. Benjamin Rush, Founding Father of the United States.

Whynot, North Carolina came from residents debating a title for their community. A man asked, “Why not name the town Whynot and let’s go home?” Nearby towns at the time with equally interesting names include Erect, Hemp, and Lonely.

Zap, North Dakota got its name because of a coal mine at the edge of town. The railroad company official in charge of naming new villages knew a coal-mining town in Scotland called Zapp, and thought that would be a good name here. However, he chose to Americanize the name and spelled it with only one “p”.

Pee Pee Township, Ohio took its name from Pee Pee Creek.  The creek got its name when an early settler inscribed his initials (P. P.) on a tree along its banks.

Okay, Oklahoma took its name from the OK Truck Manufacturing Company. Okay? OK.

Idiotville, Oregon got its name because of its remote location.  People said that only an idiot would work there.

Intercourse, Pennsylvania in Amish country, received its name in 1814. In those days, the word ‘intercourse’ meant the social interaction and support shared in the community of faith.

Ninetysix, South Carolina has several different theories for the origin of its name. My favorite is that it is an interpretation of a Welsh expression, “nant-sych,” meaning “dry gulch.”

strange town names ninety-seix south carolina

 

Two Strike, South Dakota received its name in honor of Lakota Chief Two Strike, whose native name was “Nomkahpa,” meaning “Knocks Two Off.” The chief’s claim to fame was that, in a battle with the Utes, he knocked two warriors off their horses with a single blow of his war club.

Sweet Lips, Tennessee received its name from settlers who declared water from a creek to be “sweet to the lips.”  Alternative versions of the story say it was wandering hobos or thirsty Civil War soldiers.

Uncertain, Texas derives its name from surveyors who were attempting to delineate the border between Texas and Louisiana.  They were uncertain as to which side of the line they were on, hence the name.

Humptulips, Washington comes from a local Native American language, meaning ‘hard to pole’, referring to the difficulty local Native Americans had poling their canoes along the Humptulips River.

War, West Virginia took its name from the nearby War Creek.  The creek got its name from the frequent battles between Native Americans near the stream.

strange town names war west virginia

Spread Eagle, Wisconsin got its name from the Spread Eagle chain of lakes. When seen from above, the lakes resemble an eagle with its wings spread.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road: A Wizard of Oz Road Trip

Follow the Yellow Brick Road: A Wizard of Oz Road Trip

Are you a fan of the classic 1939 film, The Wizard of Oz? Well, have I got a road trip for you! (Technically, it may be more of a bucket list than a road trip.  These sites are on both coasts of the USA and a few places in between. It really isn’t practical for driving unless you have a lot of time.)

Start in the northeast with Chittenango, New York.  This town is the birthplace of The Wizard of Oz author Frank Baum, and also the home of the All Things Oz Museum. According to the museum staff, “All Things Oz is more than a tribute to a book series; it is a fascinating trip through the life of its author, his wife, Maud Gage, and all the many experiences that shaped his imagination and his world.” The museum also coordinates a yearly Oz-stravaganza festival.

wizard of oz road trip All Things Oz Museum
All Things Oz Museum, Chittenango, NY

From New York, head south to our nation’s capital and visit the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington DC.  There you will see one of the four original pairs of ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in the movie. (Size 5!)

wizard of oz road trip dorothy's Ruby Slippers judy garland
Ruby Slippers, National Museum of American History, Washington DC

From DC, keep heading south. If you’ve scrolled through Pinterest, you may have seen an abandoned Wizard of Oz theme park in North Carolina. Well, it was a theme park, and it is in North Carolina, but it is not abandoned. The Land of Oz is a privately owned property that is under 24 hour surveillance, and trespassers are prosecuted. Fortunately, however, the site is open to the public at various times throughout the year.

Wizard of oz road trip Land of Oz NC
Land of Oz theme park in Beech Mountain, NC

In Chicago, visit Oz Park.  Take a stroll through the park and you’ll be greeted by statues of the Tin Man, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion, and everyone’s favorite, Dorothy & Toto.

wizard of oz road trip_park_scarecrow_statue
Scarecrow Statue, Oz Park, Chicago

In Wamego, Kansas, there is the Oz Museum, which features a collection of over 25,000 Oz artifacts. Since the founding of the Museum in April 2004, other small businesses with the Oz theme have opened, including the Oz Winery and Toto’s Tacoz. In addition, on the first weekend of October, Wamego holds its Annual OZtoberFEST, an Oktoberfest-type celebration with an Oz theme. OZfest typically features Hot Air Balloon Rides, Tallgrass Brewery Beer Garden, the Yellow Brick Road Bike Ride, and a local stage or music production.

Wizard of oz road trip Oz Museum Wamego Kansas
The Oz Museum, Wamego KS

And now, head west to the California coast.  We’re going to Hollywood!

Visit the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, and look for the stars of Judy Garland (Dorothy), Ray Bloger (Scarecrow), Jack Haley (Tin Man), Frank Morgan (The Wizard), and Billie Burke (Glinda). The Munchkins’ star, added in 2007, is the most recent Wizard of Oz addition to the Walk of Fame.

Wizard of oz road trip Munchkins Star walk of fame hollywood
Hollywood Walk of Fame

After visiting the Walk of Fame, head over to the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.  The cemetery contains a memorial to Terry the Cairn Terrier, also known as Dorothy’s dog, Toto.

wizard of oz road trip Toto Memorial hollywood
Toto Memorial in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

And when you’ve finished touring all of these great locations, remember to click your heels three times and say, “There’s no place like home…”