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Road Trip, Day 6: My Jeffersonian Birthday

My 28th birthday was a dreary, rainy Monday in central Virginia. But it was still a success because we spent it immersed in the life of Thomas Jefferson.

We got to Monticello at 9 a.m., and spent about 2 hours at the estate.

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It really is a cool place to visit. First, we took a 40-minute guided tour of the first floor, where we learned about how the retired Jefferson spent his days, who all lived there, and what he all invented around the house.

Next, we toured the slave grounds, gardens, and visited the grave site. We finished with a 20-minute film back at the visitor’s center.

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After our visit to Monticello, we stopped at the Michie’s Tavern for lunch. This was a place for lodging and eating in the 18th century. Today, they offer tours and serve a Southern-style buffet in a historic atmosphere.

For one last time, we loaded up on Southern cornbread, cole slaw, and mashed potatoes.

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And Dave indulged in pulled pork and chicken legs.

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They used authentic plates and mugs for drinks, and the ambiance was reminiscent of colonial America. The staff was even dressed in traditional garments.

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The only bummer was that it was totally overpriced – $17.50 per person for the buffet, which has a pretty narrow selection, with drinks and deserts being separate.

After lunch, we made the five-hour drive back to State College, through Northern Virginia, a tiny part of West Virginia, and Southern Pennsylvania. Now that we’re back, I have been to 43 out of 50 states. Only seven to go! On the way, I read the entire Wikipedia article on Thomas Jefferson out loud to Dave, Because we’re ridiculous people.

Back in Happy Valley, we stopped at Wegman’s for our first healthy dinner in 5 days and some grocery shopping.

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Portobello mushroom, carrots, and bulgur with some Kombucha. My stomach was so grateful for its usual healthy fare.

Back at home, as it was still raining and we didn’t feel like unpacking, we watched a four-hour documentary on Jefferson on Netflix. These things happen to me.

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Road Trip, Day 5: Virginia

We slept in on Sunday morning after a late night of dancing in Wilmington. We left the hotel around 11:30 a.m. to drive 5 hours to Richmond. We had no specific reason to visit Richmond other than wanting to see as much of Virginia as we could in our limited time and it being on the way to Charlottesville, where we made reservations to tour Monticello for Monday morning.

Richmond was pretty empty on this Sunday afternoon, probably due to intense humidity and heat. We parked in the historic downtown by the James River and started our visit by walking along the canal.

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Honestly, Richmond reminded us a lot of Milwaukee, at least the part of it that we saw. Maybe that’s because of the historic downtown + river combination, maybe due to it being deserted on a perfectly good weekend day, maybe because of the way the roads are laid out. In any regard, we didn’t feel like spending too much time exploring, and opted for a nice air-conditioned Japanese restaurant for dinner, discovering that most of the downtown restaurants were closed on Sundays or did not open until 5:30 p.m.

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After all the Southern Cuisine, I’m sure my body was thrilled to receive some food that was not full of carbs. Well, white rice is still carbs, but surely better than cornbread, hushpuppies, and fries.

After dinner, we drove to the Oregon Heights neighborhood to check out Hollywood Cemetery, where about 1,800 Confederate soldiers are buried. We got there five minutes before it closed, which was a bummer, but the guard allowed us to drive through it briefly to take some pics.

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It looked really interesting and I hope we can come back for a longer visit sometime. 

We got into Charlottesville around 8 p.m. and decided to go check out the outdoor pedestrian mall we had heard some good things about. 

First order of business once we got there: get ice cream.

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Once that was accomplished (I got pistachio and heath bar), we walked around. It was drizzling a bit, but the temperature was pleasant. There were tons of little shops, businesses, and restaurants. We were surprised that such a small university town has such a cool downtown area – good for UVA students, State College cannot compare. 

After walking up and down the mall several times, we went back to the hotel to get some sleep before touring Monticello in the morning.

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Road Trip, Day 4: Bonus Day in Wilmington

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Saturday was all about the beach.

Tropical storm Andrea was moving up the coast, so we didn’t want to follow her and delayed our trip to Virginia by a day.

Finally, we got to swim in the ocean. The waves were really high, and the water was pretty warm. We walked along the shore, swam, and relaxed in the sun.

Then we decided to go find some lunch before coming back for a second serving of beach time.

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The Oceanic was exactly what we had in mind – ocean front, seafood lunch specials, and free parking for customers.

Here, we had our first serving of hushpuppies ever.

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They seem to be deep-fried cornbread? You may have noticed that this is not a health-food trip, despite my good intentions. But we have been getting a good idea of Southern Cuisine!

Dave and I both ordered Oceanic Cranberry Seltzers, which we enjoyed in the shade on their outdoor patio, overlooking the ocean.

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I ordered the lobster salad wrap from the specials menu. It was very good.

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With full bellies, we returned to the beach, walked up and down the shore enjoying the salty breeze, sat at the edge of the water for a while, and then ended up going back into the water for more wave action.

The waves were really intense. First, we just kind of stood there and jumped up when a wave was particularly high. But, with time, we got more daring. We swam out and met the waves before they were actually breaking. Eventually, Dave showed me how to stand directly where the wave will break without getting swept away. I was not very good at it, so I was swept off my feet several times. Then, he actually jumped into a wave and let it carry him ashore. I thought that looked really fun and decided to give it a try. Not a good idea. All I remember is that the wave somehow grabbed me and spun me around under water before violently smacking me onto the ground. My lower back felt sand-burned immediately, and I emerged out of the water proclaiming that I was done.

As we walked back to our towel, Dave realized that my back was bleeding badly, and I got pretty worried. We took our stuff, went to wash it out at the showers, and returned to the hotel. It stopped bleeding after the shower, but still hurt pretty badly. At the hotel, I could see that it was fortunately not as bad as I had imagined – at least, the injured area was a lot smaller than I had feared. Dave went to the store to get some antibiotic ointment and some huge band-aids, which he then helped me apply. I was pretty shaken up, especially imagining how much worse it could have been, so I took a nap and watched some Netflix before we had to leave to meet our friends at the last conference event.

The event was at Dirty Martini, which was conveniently located right by our hotel. We walked over there and found yet another elaborate buffet and drink offering.

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I had spinach salad, lobster pasta (soooo good), crab dip with crackers, and some cheese cubes with grapes. For my two free drinks, I got an Old Fashioned both times.

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Oh! We also had shrimp & grits cocktails. How could I forget?

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Another fantastic Wilmington location. There was a little pond along a mall of small restaurants and boutiques. It was a humid night and the mosquitoes were out, but at least their bites don’t itch as badly as Wisconsin mosquitoes’ somehow.

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I enjoyed my last night with these two ladies. Living away from good friends is not fun…

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… especially when they’re not all in the same place somewhere else, but scattered across the globe, so opportunities to get several of them together at once are extremely rare.

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Good thing I have this guy to keep me from getting lonely.

Anyway, we had so much fun again, First, we danced outside to an amazing live band, who played classic rock. Then, we continued dancing inside to current club music.

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Two nights of dancing in a row = happy Suzan. At midnight, it was my friend Ally’s birthday, so we stayed until a little past then.

These three days in North Carolina have been the best. We got the perfect mix of warmth, historic sightseeing, great food, friend time, intellectual stimulation via the conference events, dancing, beach time (minus the wave incident and sunburn), and cultural immersion (the Carolina accents are awesome, along with their people’s extreme friendliness).

I hope to be back here in the not too distant future!

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Road Trip, Day 3: Wilmington

Friday started with a 9 a.m. panel presentation at UNC Wilmington with my two grad school friends. We drove to the campus, which is really beautiful, and met up with them in the conference building.

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The panel was on our experiences pursuing our Masters’ degrees in communication, and how we’ve benefited from them since we’ve graduated. It was really fun to reflect on our Marquette experience together and to answer questions from the audience.

Dave and I headed out after the panel, while our friends stayed at the conference. Our desire for vacationing and sightseeing trumped our academic inclinations. Instead, we headed to downtown Wilmington, where the Cape Fear River provides yet another gorgeous waterfront.

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I recognized multiple places from Dawson’s Creek, although many have apparently been torn down since the show was filmed 10-15 years ago. This river walk is definitely featured often.

Tropical storm Andrea was causing extremely strong winds, so sitting outside for lunch wasn’t an option. But we found a waterfront place, The Pilot House, that had a covered porch.

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Dave ordered shrimp & grits. I tried some and it was amazing. I could get used to Southern cuisine.

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I got a crab cake melt with home-made chips. Really, really good.

When we got back outside, the winds had only worsened, and rain was coming down with strong gusts.

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I got out my rain coat and Dave opted for his new umbrella, which he carried with the pride of a Southern gentleman.

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We decided that our next activity should probably be indoors, so we headed across the river to tour the USS North Carolina Battleship.

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This was probably one of the most awesome historical sites I’ve ever toured. The lower decks were just like a city, with dining rooms, sleeping quarters, a barber shop, a whole sick wing, convenience stores, a post office, etc. The info boards all had a crew memories section, and the excerpts from interviews always were relevant to the very place you were standing.

We took about three hours to walk around the elaborate decks. I got a vivid idea of what it was like to be an enlisted sailor in the South Pacific on this Navy battleship. The sense of camaraderie and positivity surprised and impressed me given that sailors were faced with the threats of World War II and lived without privacy in extreme heat, away from their loved ones.

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We ended the tour with a visit to the pilothouse, where I rested my feet on the captain’s chair.

After the tour, we headed back to the hotel to change, and then drove right back downtown, to 128 South, for the conference dinner and keynote, with subsequent outdoor dancing.

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Dinner was buffet style. I chose fried catfish, a veggie blend, a salad, and some bread. And for my drink, a Merlot.

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It was one of the most fun nights I’ve had all year. Living in Pennsylvania, I am away from my college and grad school friends, so I rarely get the chance to go dancing with the right people at the right places. But I love dancing. So I savored every moment of this event.

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There were also a lot of line dances (Electric Slide, Cotton Eyed Joe, Cupid Shuffle, etc.). I loved everything about that.

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Dave was talking to one of the conference attendants from Germany, trying to get a sense for what teaching at an English-speaking campus there would be like. It’s so cool to meet people from across the world at events like this.

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The view from this balcony/porch was amazing. We could see the river and the battleship, as well as many downtown buildings.

We were initially supposed to say goodbye to our friends after this event, so we could head up to Virginia on Saturday morning. However, tropical storm Andrea has now moved North, and we have no desire to follow her. Instead, we’re going to hang around Wilmington for another day and finally get a chance to go to the beach and swim in the ocean. That’s why I didn’t want to plan ahead for this trip, but just kind of see where life takes us. I could get used to this.

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Road Trip Day 2, Part 2: Arrival in Wilmington

After a 3.5-hour drive in the rain, which has been announcing tropical storm Andrea for two days now, we arrived in the “Port City” in the later afternoon. We checked into our Hampton by Wrightsville Beach, freshened up, and drove over to Dockside, where we were meeting our friends.

The conference they are attending, and in which I am presenting with them, had its welcome event here. Dockside is a Wilmington water-front restaurant and apparently a true staple of the city. To my delight, it is situated just a little ways down from where Dawson’s Creek was filmed. I am pretty sure the marina here is where Dawson crashes his dad’s boat in season three, and the dock in the background is the dock of Dawson’s house. This is all very exciting since Dawson’s Creek was my absolute favorite show in high school and college and also taught me most of my colloquial English.

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It was absolutely beautiful and the air smelled rich like saltwater and vacation.

First, we had some of the free dinner and drinks at the event while catching up with our friends.

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Some pita slices, crab dip, shrimp, and veggies. I also had a Merlot and a cocktail.

Then we headed outside for some reunion photots.

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Grad school love.

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Also grad school love.

The evening went by way too fast, like good times always do.

We headed back to the hotel early enough to get a solid night’s sleep before Friday’s morning presentation and more Southern adventures.

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Road Trip Day 2, Part 1: Exploring Charleston

We got up at around 7 a.m. this morning after sleeping super well due to travel exhaustion. We had a quick breakfast at the Hampton, and then headed out to walk from the center of the Charleston penninsula down to the waterfront.

We chose King Street as our route and were not disappointed. First of all, it’s lined with palm trees and amazing Southern buildings. The buildings often were lavish, some with red brick walls and elaborate court yards, others with French colonial accents. Second, in those buildings were so many cute stores and boutiques, ranging from organic bakeries to handmade jewelry shops to J.Crew, Starbucks, etc.

Although it was only 80 degrees, it was extremely humid, so we got the true South East experience weather-wise.

Here are some pics from our walk

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Me on King Street.

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Dave by a cannon on the water front.

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Me enjoying the salty breeze and the view of the port of Charleston, incluing Fort Sumter!

Next, we went to the Old Slave Mart museum in the French Quarter. It was crazy to imagine all the lives that changed forever, completely at the mercy of traders and buyers, in that building. I learned a lot, and it put the historic beauty and romance of the city into perspective.

When we got done at the museum, we were already hungry for lunch. I had spotted a place named Black Bean Co. on our walk earlier that looked like it may have some great vegan options.

And I was right!

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I went for the Mega Veggie wrap with a side of couscous.

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I had never seen red wraps like this before, maybe it was a beet wrap? Anyway, it was very good. Besides fresh veggies like broccoli and peppers, it contained candied, sliced almonds, apples, and shredded carrots. No sauce needed because of the mix of sweet crisp and juiciness. The couscous was good too.

We headed back to the hotel to freshen up and check out. Then we drove about 15 minutes to the Old Towne Landing, where South Carolina was first settled by the English. It’s mostly and outdoor museum, so we got pretty wet in yet another down pour. But actually, it was kind of nice considering the humidity!

The walk around took us about 90 minutes, and we had audio guides to help us understand the history of each site.

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The tree trunk fence settlers built as a defense against the Spanish.

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Dave exploring the rugged bunk house.

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Small trading ship settlers used to navigate the rivers.

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Antebellum-style plantation house. The people who built this also planted an amazing garden full of oaks and other beautiful trees. They later sold it to a preservation society.

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Me in front of a 700-year old oak tree – the last stop on the audio tour. The whole fortified area/museum was lush and green and smelled absolutely amazing of a mix of salt water and blossoming plants.

Now we’re driving up to Wilmington, excited to see our friends. However, I think Charleston just won a dear spot in our hearts, and we’ll be back in the future to see more of it. What else does it take to create a perfect vacation spot besides history, impressive architecture, amazing food, and the ocean?

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