*This is going to be a long blog post, so buckle up buckaroos (in my best Caitlyn Jenner Southpark voice) and enjoy the ride!*
In my 28 years, I’ve traveled via many modes of transportation: plane, train, ship, and of course, car. No form of travel is quite like traveling by car. You are in control the entire time (to a certain extent, of course), which means way more flexibility and freedom, but it also means when sh!t hits the fan, it’s all on your shoulders. There’s no flight attendant to annoy with questions and requests, no cruise ship employee at your beck and call, and no train attendant to make your trip more comfortable. It’s a no-man’s land on the open road. Mad Max-ish, if you will.
Luckily for my friend and me, nothing went seriously wrong on our road trip, other than the regular, minor annoyances of traveling via car 24/7 with somebody. As wonderful as this road trip was, it was also a major learning experience. Before I delve into details, here are 5 important lessons I learned from this time on the open road:
SeeWorldNotSeaWorld’s 5 Rules for Road Trips
- Rule #1: Don’t be a cheap-ass on the hotels. It’s enticing, because – if you think like I did – you’re only sleeping there, right? Why would you need a fancy, schmancy hotel room for one single night, in which you’ll probably spend 15 hours, max? Well, I’ll explain why later.
- Rule #2: If you think one, full day is enough time to see any major U.S. city – it’s not. Cities like NYC, Pittsburgh, Philly, D.C., Boston, or any other major city require a minimum 3 full days. The people, the traffic, the lines to the attractions – cause everything to take forever.
- Rule #3: Never drive more than 7 hours a day. After 7 hours, everyone in the car gets a bit crabby and cramped, especially when driving through traffic congestion or areas with tons of construction – of which highways tend to have a lot.
- Rule #4: Don’t try to cram a bunch of things into one day, no matter how minor or un-time consuming they may appear. You may think, “Oh, we’re gonna be driving and can stop whenever we want, for however long we want, why not plan all these things?” Well, because, you will not, without a doubt, get to even half of those things and someone in your car is going to drive away disappointed. Guaranteed. It’s best to plan a select number of big stops/things, *and if you have time*, do the other little things.
- Rule #5: Don’t pre-book your hotel. The last rule is strictly for road trips – if you’re flying or taking a train, you should book your hotel in advance. This is probably the most controversial rule on the list, and even I have mixed feelings about it. There are two types of people, pre-bookers and non-pre-bookers, and both will swear they are correct. I used to be an avid pre-booker (there are advantages); however, after what I experienced during this road trip, my mind changed. You should pre-book for larger cities, like NYC, but other than that, if it’s not a busy time of year such as on or around a holiday, you should be fine booking your hotel the day of, or the day before. This is because during road trips, PLANS CHANGE, and they change fast. Having that ever-looming cloud over your head that you already booked and paid for a hotel in some city 8 hours away, when you’ve gotten a late start or there is a ton of traffic… is not a good feeling. If you do insist on pre-booking, you can pay an extra fee (usually $20+) to be allowed to cancel the reservation; however, most hotels won’t let you cancel past the 24-hour mark anyway (some are 48-hours), so keep that in mind. A LOT can change in 24 hours on a road trip.
Now onto the good stuff, the trip itself.
*Note: NYC and Washington D.C. will have their own blog posts. We spent full days in each city and each deserves its own blog. *
Indiana to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
The drive from southern Indiana to Pittsburgh is b-o-r-i-n-g. Mind-numbingly boring. Probably 80% of the drive is through the state of Ohio, the most boring state to drive through in America (even Texas is better in my opinion, and that says a lot, my friends). It’s just endless 4-lane highways, with farmland and small, rural towns scattered in between. The only part that is even remotely pretty is in the first hour or two, between southern Indiana and Louisville, Kentucky – before you even get to Ohio – which is hilly and slightly mountainous (if you read my cave blog, this is where those caves are located). However, once you get past Louisville, it’s onto the flat, plain, mundane bore-fest that is the Midwest, and if any state perfectly encompasses the Midwest, it’s Ohio.
We stopped in Cincinnati to *attempt* a “donut trail” that Kristi had read about. It’s a rough “trail” of donut shops in the Cinny area/surrounding areas, composed of 12 shops, and if you print out a list from their website to be signed by each of these donut shops, you get a t-shirt at the end (after you buy a donut at each store, of course). We encountered a few problems. First, both of us forgot that Cinny is in a different time zone, one hour ahead of Indiana and Illinois. Second, literally half of the shops closed at noon (this was a Saturday). Third, we got a late start. So, after combining all three of those things, it was virtually impossible for us to make it to all 6 of the shops that closed before noon in time; therefore, no matter what, we weren’t getting a t-shirt, which was the whole point of the damn thing. We ended up going to only two, so if you’re serious about the donut trail, I’d suggest doing it while staying in Cinny or if you’ll be passing through starting very early, or not doing it on a weekend at all, perhaps. After abandoning our donut trail plans, it was onto the Palace of Gold. Oh Lorty, is that a story for y’all.
After driving for what felt like eternity stuck in purgatory through eastern Ohio, we came to more hilly terrain, and I got excited because I knew we were getting close to the West Virginia border, a state I had never yet visited. I’ve seen plenty of documentaries and reality shows located in WV (The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, Buckwild, and TM2 – Leah lives there – if y’all are interested), and I knew it was a very mountainous and beautiful state.
Our destination was called The Palace of Gold, which sounds pretty cool, right? Well it is, but, and this is a big BUT, it’s apparently a huge pilgrimage site for Hare Krishnas and shouldn’t be treated lightly as a tourist attraction (in my opinion). I regret that I hadn’t investigated it enough before we headed there. We didn’t go inside because we felt it would be disrespectful. Even though it’s beautiful and a holy site, it’s located literally in the middle of nowhere, somewhere in the backwoods of WV, and the road to the palace has an extremely “Wrong Turn” vibe to it. No cellphone service, sharp twists and turns, and the road is so narrow that only one car can fit comfortably at a time (to be fair, we apparently came in the back way, and there is another route with a larger road).
I thought the palace was going to be more like a day park, like Tivoli Gardens in Denmark or Balboa Park in San Diego: a large, open park-like area with cool buildings and peacocks running around. However, it was very clearly a holy site, and we didn’t want to seem like nosy intruders or making a mockery of something sacred. I’m including this part of the trip to educate readers, so they can make their own informed decision on whether they feel comfortable going there. Side note: from what we saw, it’s very beautiful, even if the location gives off a major creep vibe, so there’s that!
After making it out of the Hills Have Eyes (sorry West Virginia), it was on to The Burgh. We hadn’t planned on staying in Pittsburgh but ended up leaving a day earlier than scheduled and it was the only major city within a reasonable distance of our original route, plus I’ve wanted to visit it for awhile. We booked a hotel that night, very easily I might add (hi rule #5). It was a nice hotel near the airport, so we didn’t go into downtown when we arrived, which was fine as we were exhausted. After spending a slightly stupid amount to eat at the hotel restaurant (I wouldn’t advise eating at any hotel restaurant, as they are notoriously ALWAYS too expensive), we called it a night and saved downtown Pittsburgh for the morning.
Pittsburgh to Niagara Falls, New York
We unfortunately did not have much time to spend in the city of Pittsburgh, since we had a 3- hour drive ahead of us, and also planned on seeing Niagara Falls that day. We were there for roughly 45 minutes to an hour. I had read about Picklesburgh, a pickle fest in Pittsburgh, and there was supposed to be a giant pickle hanging on the Roberto Clemente Bridge. I am sad to report, there was no pickle! Regardless, it was cool to go to the bridge since it is a historical landmark, plus you can see the Pittsburgh Pirates stadium from there.
The drive from Pittsburgh to Niagara Falls is an easy one, taking you through the rolling farmland of northern Pennsylvanian. Like legit Amish-country. I enjoyed this drive more than many other areas of the Eastern U.S. that we encountered. Once we started getting closer to the New York border, I began noticing some changes. The traffic obviously increased, and the rage-inducing toll booths began to appear.
The mother-bleeping toll booths.
These things were the thorn in our side for the entire road trip, beginning at the New York border and not ending until we were in western Maryland on day 7, getting closer to the West Virginia border. I was mad that nobody told me about these god-forsaken things, so now I will tell you: TOLL BOOTHS ARE EVERYWHERE ON THE EAST COAST. E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E. They don’t have toll booths just for exits or entrances to the highway – no – they have them in. the. middle. of. the. highway. You could pay $3.50 to get onto the highway, then in 30 miles, BAM, be forced to pay another $4 just for the crime of still being on the highway. One of the things we learned about the toll booths – if you get off at any exit, you’ll have to pay the toll to exit, and then pay another toll to get back on – but if you get off at any of the “service stations” that are placed periodically along the highway, you don’t have to pay. These stations have gas, bathrooms, and usually a McDonalds, Subway, or Starbucks. I really wish we had been informed of this sooner than we figured it out for ourselves. We ended up paying around $50 (if not more) in tolls during our entire trip. I would really recommend looking into the E-Zpass, used by a lot of area residents. If you plan on driving through the east coast states via highways like we did (and have multiple stops), you will pass through a lot of toll booths, so it’s probably the cheaper option.
Our *first* hotel of the night (you’re about to learn why rules #1 and #5 exist) was in Amherst, New York, a suburb of Buffalo. I had pre-booked all our hotels via Hotels.com – something I’ve done before on previous trips, including Kristi’s and my first road trip to California – so I figured it was a safe bet. LOL, WRONG. One major thing I learned about Hotels.com is that even if the hotel has 3 to 4 stars, and decent reviews, be wary. I’m 100% convinced that these lower-end hotels create fake accounts to amp up their positive reviews. It’s the only thing that makes sense. I booked this hotel because it was cheap, claimed to be close to Niagara Falls (close is a loose term), and it had *decent* reviews.
*Sigh*. For lack of a better analogy, this place was the kind of motel (you can’t even call it a hotel) that you bring a hooker to or go to get a quick fix. To those reading this, please know, I have never been uber picky about hotels. I’ve stayed in 5-star hotels like in London, and I’ve stayed in hotels like in Oklahoma that had wet carpet floors and smelled slightly of mold and cigarettes. Nonetheless, I walked into this motel room and immediately walked out. First, the staff was using stolen Target shopping carts as hotel carts. Secondly, there were giant fairground-type trashcans scattered around, most of which were located next to the motel room doors (puke). Thirdly, inside the room, it smelled strange and the smoke detector was ripped out of the ceiling, leaving dangling exposed wires. Lastly, there were windows to the outside that looked extremely flimsy – it was an “exterior corridor” hotel, with all the doors on the outside – and looked like they hadn’t been cleaned in 17 years. We had picked up food in downtown Buffalo, fully prepared to eat when we got to the room, but ended up eating in the car outside the room while booking a new hotel. The name of the hotel is Rodeway Inn, in case anyone was wondering *cough cough*.
Kristi found a quaint little hotel located in Lewiston, New York, a small town about 10 minutes north of Niagara Falls. It’s a beautiful, old little town, and claims to be one of the most northern stops on the Underground Railroad. It’s also supposedly haunted, which me likey (I’m convinced our hotel was haunted, although I couldn’t find any historical information online about it). It’s called the Niagara Crossing Hotel & Spa, but as our luck would have it, the spa was closed while we were there. Shocker, I know. It was considerably more expensive than the crack motel, but remember rule #1.
We couldn’t check in until 4 pm, so it was off to the main attraction, Niagara Falls. I’ve dreamed about visiting The Falls for years, but if I could do it over, I would do things slightly differently. One, I would bring my passport so I could drive to the Canadian side, which offers an extraordinarily better view of all three falls (American Falls, Bridal Veil Falls, and the big boy, Horseshoe Falls). Two, I wouldn’t come in the middle of summer, when everyone and their parakeet is off from school or work and traveling. It was sooo packed, but more on that in a second. Third, if I couldn’t go to the Canadian side, I would take the boat ride, which is the only way to really see the Falls full-on if you’re from the American side.
Like I said above, it was ridiculously packed, as should be expected in July. It was very deceiving, because driving into the park and finding a parking spot was a breeze, so we wrongly assumed there weren’t that many people. There were a bazillion people – whether it was in the gift shops, waiting for the bathrooms, waiting in line for the boats or tram, lining the rails to catch a glimpse of the Falls, or just walking around. We had to wait and fight for our opportunity just to take a picture, unencumbered by tourists from all over the world and U.S. crowding our shot. It was easier getting a picture alone with the Lincoln Memorial than one with ANY of the 3 falls, if that tells you anything.
There are numerous things to do at Niagara Falls, mainly the Maid of the Mist boat ride and Cave of the Winds, where you get to walk to and around the base of Bridal Veil Falls and get absolutely drenched in the process. We, unfortunately, did not get to do either of these things. The lines were as expected; ridiculous 1- to 1 ½ hour waits. It was far too hot, humid, and crowded to deal with. Having said that, looking back, I wish we had sucked it up and stood in the line for the Maid of the Mist since it’s the only way to get a good look at the Falls for us geographically unfortunate Americans. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.
Once we had our fill of literally peeking at the Falls, since that’s basically all we could do, we headed to our hotel to freshen up for dinner. Kristi and I like to go to Rainforest Cafes whenever we can. We’ve been to 3 together – Detroit, Michigan; Nashville, Tennessee; and now Niagara Falls. The prices are a little steep, but you pay for the atmosphere and experience, plus they have some pretty cool mixed drinks if you’re into that sort of thing. We met up with two of her work buddies that were also in the Falls for their summer shutdown vacation.
Once we had our fill of Rainforest Café, we had to wait around until 10 pm, since that is when the “Fireworks Over Niagara Falls” begins. It comes from the Canadian side (surprisingly, since America is alllll about fireworks), and runs nightly from June 18th – September 3rd (weather permitting). However, if you’re not there during that small window of time, don’t fret, because they have periodic showings starting in May – October (mainly on the weekends), and the schedule is on their website: www.niagarafallstourism.com. The fireworks were “meh” to me. Ya know, just your normal run-of-the-mill type firework display, but Kristi went absolutely gaga over it, so to each her own. I’m sure it would have been more mesmerizing and beautiful from the Canadian side, since you’d be able to see them going off with Horseshoe Falls as your backdrop. All we got was Toronto.
One strange thing that happened at The Falls was all the static electricity in the air! It only happened at night, and none of us could remember it happening during the day. Kristi and I googled it the next day, but nobody on the great wide web offered an explanation. If anyone reading this knows the answer, please drop it in the comment section because I am dying to know!
Once the show was over, we headed back to our very old, haunted hotel, and what I’m about to say next is meant wholeheartedly as a warning to anyone considering staying at this hotel (or any old hotel for that matter), and not as a joke or to be crude. We discovered the walls of this hotel were extremely thin (due to it being so old and stuff), and you can hear a lot from the rooms next to you or on top of you. You hear the regular stuff, like heavy walking or suitcases being hauled about, or you can hear more…. interesting things… like people having sex. Yep. That kept us up for about an hour (this was around midnight to 1 am), and we ended up having to sleep with our TV on the entire night to drown it out. The hotel built an addition a few years ago, so I’m sure those walls are a bit thicker and is something to consider when booking. Side note: if you’re going to have sex in a hotel, an old-ass hotel at that, AND late at night, be considerate, people!
Niagara Falls to a lot of places
Other than our very last day of driving, we did the most driving in one day on day 3. After factoring in small detours and stops, we were probably on the road for 12 to 13 hours that day. We headed east, away from Niagara Falls, and our final stop for the day was Salem, Massachusetts. That drive itself is only roughly 7 hours and 45 minutes, but we were going through Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine first, because there was NO WAY I was going to the east coast and miss three whole-ass states. The direct route from the Falls to Salem completely bypasses all three. If I could do it over again, I wouldn’t change this, but would stay in Vermont, then head to Salem in the morning, cutting the driving down exponentially for day 3 (Day #3 is where rule #3 was born).
New York State is whatever. It looks stupidly like Ohio… or Missouri… or Indiana… or Illinois… you get the picture. I’m honestly not sure what I expected the landscape to be, and looking back, I feel a bit foolish for thinking that it could possibly be any different than the Midwest. I think I was expecting everywhere to look like quaint historic fishing towns, with lighthouses on every corner. The truth is, the east coast is basically identical to the South or Midwest; a lot of green, trees, and highways.
The only interesting thing to happen to us during the 5 1/2 hours it takes to drive through eastern New York state from Niagara Falls, is when we got caught in the mother of all storms. Living in California, rain is a strange wet substance that falls from the sky twice a year and causes mass panic, but out in the east coast, a flash storm can swamp you at any moment. Kristi happened to be driving as the storm approached, and ended up having to pull over on the side of the highway. I didn’t blame her for one second, because driving through it was nearly impossible. Many other drivers pulled over as well, which was good, because people really shouldn’t try to drive through storms so bad that it looks like sheets of water pouring down the windshield.
The one and only state that truly blew me away was Vermont. O. M. G. I fan-girled so hard over Vermont. It’s so beautiful! Named by the French as “Verd Mont”, its name literally means “green mountain” and its official nickname is “The Green Mountain State”. They really hit the nail on the head with this one, let me tell you. I absolutely loved Vermont, and I think much of that was due to our route taking us away from the monotony of the interstate, and onto small, 2-line highways that allowed us to really capture what Vermont had to offer. We drove through small towns and villages that were all so cute and charming. We drove though mountains and next to streams and rivers and were just washed in the picturesque landscape. It’s odd because who really thinks about Vermont, and certainly who plans an entire vacation there? I don’t even know anybody who’s from Vermont, sans Bernie Sanders. It’s a shame really, because this state is breathtaking and has much to offer. If I ever head back to the east coast, I fully plan on spending 3 to 4 days in Vermont alone.
The weirdest thing happened as we began edging closer to the Vermont/New Hampshire border. The serene, tranquil, mountainous landscape of Vermont began to fade, and we were teleported back into the Groundhog Day that is the east coast. I was beyond taken aback because I had envisioned New Hampshire being just like Vermont – mountainous, beautiful, and with old-school towns everywhere – but it looked exactly like upstate New York, or Massachusetts, or Connecticut, or any other east coast state. I was beyond perplexed that New York and New Hampshire were alike, with picturesque Vermont plopped in the middle. My only explanation is that the rest of New Hampshire IS like Vermont, and we just happened to get super unlucky and drive through the part that isn’t.
Our stop there was the capital, Concord. It was going to be a very short stop, mainly to say that we’ve been to New Hampshire, plus I enjoy state capitals for the architecture and history. Once we made our way into downtown, I quickly found a parking spot, and left Kristi in the car (she was tired and crabby from driving all day, plus I didn’t want to pay the meter fee), and power-walked my way to the capital building. It was as grand and beautiful as I expected it to be, but due to time restraints (enter rule #4), I couldn’t go inside and tour it. I snapped as many pictures as I could, including New Hampshire’s very own “liberty bell”, and it was off back to the car. New Hampshire is also on my list of states I’d like to revisit and spend much more time than we did.
The last stop of the day before Salem was Kittery, Maine. I feel such disappointment when I think about this part of the trip. I can now say I’ve been to Maine, but honestly, it feels like a lie. We were in Maine for a whopping 15 minutes, if that, and our feet never even touched Maine soil. We had already been driving for hours at this point, it had begun to lightly rain which caused a tremendous amount of fog, and I had no real point of destination in Kittery. I was under the impression there would be a downtown or marina we could go to, but it was so damn foggy that it was nearly impossible to see it if we found it. We ended up getting turned around and
found ourselves in a cute downtown of some city. I was fully prepared to step out and take some pictures, but figured I better check to see if we were really in Maine anymore, since we had just crossed a bridge. Well, wouldn’t ya know it, we were in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Somewhere in our foggy confusion we had crossed back over the state line (the bridge should have been a clue but plenty of states have bridges in them, so cut me some slack). I said, “Screw this” and just got back into the car. Sure, we could have driven back over to Maine, but as I’ve mentioned, we had been driving for 12 or so hours already. We were tired, crabby, and hungry, and still had one more hour to drive, so we decided to just make our way to Salem.
Getting to Salem from the interstate is no easy feat if you’re coming from the north like we did. We had to travel along many 2-lane highways, with a lot of turns, and through various towns. We eventually found our hotel, checked in, and headed to dinner. We ate at 99 Restaurants, a restaurant chain on the east coast. It was good, not great and nothing fancy, but somewhere I’d recommend. They have seafood and non-seafood options, and the prices are average.
We didn’t attempt to see any of the iconic Salem sights that night, heading straight for our hotel. We stayed at the Clipper Ship Inn, and it was… alright. It wasn’t the worst hotel we encountered on our trip, but it certainly wasn’t the best. The outside looks nice – it’s also an “exterior corridor” hotel – and the inside is decent, albeit plain and simple. However, Kristi swears on her life that she found and killed a bedbug in one of the beds, which meant neither of us were sleeping in that bed that night. I cannot confirm if what she squashed was in fact an actual bedbug, but she killed something. Again, Rule #1, people.
Salem to New Jersey
Day 4 was jam-packed as well, minus a ton of long, boring highway driving. Most of what we planned to see that day was close together, but once you factor in bathroom and gas breaks, weather, and traffic, everything takes far longer than MapQuest claims.
First on our agenda, of course, was exploring Salem. We packed up, loaded the car, and drove the very short distance (like less than a mile) into downtown Salem. We easily found parking on the street (which of course meant throwing away more money; I didn’t fully comprehend just how much a trip like this would cost, due to minor things like paying for parking) and headed off to walk around the downtown area. Luckily most of the iconic hotspots in Salem are near one another and can be easily walked to.
We were given a map of downtown by the hotel, and our first stop was the centuries-old cemetery, known as The Burying Point, which was the first space set aside in 1637 for burying the dead. As Salem’s first cemetery it is therefore the oldest. Some of the more prominent and famous people buried there are Governor Bradstreet, Chief Justice Lynde, an architect of Salem named Samuel McIntire, a Mayflower pilgrim named Capt. Richard Moore, Reverend John Higginson, and the most infamous of them all – John Hathorne, a notorious Witch Trial judge. Even though none of the 19 “witches” are buried
there, the cemetery is still extremely cool and eerie to visit since most of the graves date from the 1600s to 1800s. It’s free to enter and is located directly next to the Witch Trial Memorial, which is just a plaque and sitting area with flowers. All the tours of Salem go to this cemetery, so it is best to get there early, when nobody else has arrived. We were there around 8 am and there was only one elderly couple, but when we walked past it again at around 10 am, there were full-on tour groups going through. I shouldn’t have to say this but it’s 2018: even though it’s open to the public and free, there are actual people buried here, and although they’ve been dead for hundreds of years, it’s still best to be respectful.
We left The Burying Point and continued our self-guided walking tour of downtown Salem. Unfortunately, most places (including 99% of all the shops) didn’t open until 10 am, so we were a full two hours early for anything. We couldn’t go inside the House of Seven Gables aka The Witch House, although we did get some pretty epic pictures on the outside since nobody was there yet. We couldn’t tour any museums, nor were we able to go
inside The First Church of Salem; however, we were still able to see it, so that’s cool I guess. Keep this in mind if you’re planning a jam-packed road trip like ours. Truthfully, we didn’t even think to look up the times that everything opened, which is a total rookie mistake which I will not make in the future. We took pictures together of the Bewitched statue that’s located downtown (a kind lady smoking a joint took it for us), and while it’s a nice statue, I need to talk with the architects because they have her sitting on what looks like a giant turd. Not cool.
Overall, Salem was one of my favorite places to visit – due to the history and the fact that I’ve read and watched things about this place since I was a child – even though I feel like we were shortchanged a proper visit and I absolutely need to go back for a few days. We could have stuck around for a couple more hours to visit all the places that hadn’t yet opened, but we had multiple things planned that day and had to be at our hotel in New Jersey that night (Rules #2 and #4 come to mind).
So off we went, leaving the bewitching town of Salem behind us (ha ha), and it was on to another famous and iconic location: Plymouth Rock.
Plymouth is delightful! The main attraction – Plymouth Rock – is located right on the beach and in such a tranquil and scenic location. The rock is completely encased in a mausoleum-type structure, and you can view it from above. It’s free and completely open to the public, and getting a good view of the rock wasn’t an issue. Kristi wasn’t as impressed with Plymouth Rock as I was (in her words, “I wasn’t expecting it to be so small”), but I thought it was amazing, probably because I’m the history nerd. We stayed mainly around the beach area, because that is where the rock is, as well as souvenir shops and restaurants. We were starving at this point, so after getting our pictures with the famous rock, we walked a short distance to where all the dockside restaurants are located. We ended up going to The Cabbyshack, which is mainly seafood but has plenty of non-seafood options as well. I liked it a lot, and they have indoor or outdoor seating, located right on the ocean.
While Plymouth is wonderful, cute, and holds one of the most famous pieces of American history, there isn’t that much to do there other than visit the rock. After we had our fill, we got back on the road and headed to another equally iconic location: Harvard University.
Oh Harvard, how you have fooled the masses. If like me, you have the impression that Harvard is some majestic, old, and beautiful college campus, I am like a massive pimple on your wedding day, ruining it for you. All those times you think you’ve seen Harvard in movies or on TV, you’re wrong. You probably saw Johns Hopkins University, which is in Baltimore, Maryland (in the movie about Facebook, “The Social Network”, the “Harvard” you see is
actually Johns Hopkins). Harvard is NOTHING like I expected and was one of the major letdowns of the trip. Not only is getting to Harvard an exercise in patience and driving ability, once you get there you are greeted by ugly, normal buildings that are spread across the grounds with zero conformity or sense of direction. Scattered between these buildings are endless apartments, houses, and stores, and people walking EVERYWHERE. It was complete chaos, even though it was summertime. I cannot even begin to imagine the horrendous state this place is in during actual classes. We didn’t even stop to get out, because why would we? I could take the exact same picture of such boring, ugly buildings at my local college campus and call it Harvard – nobody would know the difference.
We eventually abandoned our Harvard attempt, called it a wash, and got the hell out of dodge. By this time, we were tired, cranky from all the traffic and confusion, and ready to get to our hotel, so stopping in Boston was not an option. I regret it, but as per Rule #2, it didn’t really matter that we missed it since we had basically no time to visit it anyway.
Our final stop of the day was Newport, Rhode Island. This state has always perplexed me, mainly because it’s 48 miles north to south, 37 miles east to west, and 1.06 MILLION people live there. I needed to go to this tiny state with the booming population to see for myself where all these people live. Apparently, most are stacked in the major cities, because Rhode Island had far more open space and woods than I think it should have had given its population. It also looked just like every other state we had been to (besides Vermont). I chose Newport as our destination because I had read online that it was a beautiful beachside community, with mega mansions, and the route from Newport to our hotel in New Jersey appeared to take us along the Rhode Island and Connecticut coasts (spoiler alert: it didn’t).
Newport was disappointing, because there was nothing spectacular about it. Plymouth and Beach Haven were far cuter beachside towns, and we basically only hung around Bowen’s Wharf, which is apparently famous. I wasn’t impressed with Newport in the slightest, but hey, at least we tried.
Unfortunately, the drive from Newport to the NJ hotel was marred by endless and unforgiving rain. Even though on a map it looks like the highway takes you right down the Connecticut coast, it didn’t, and it was back to Groundhog Day Highway, except this time it was pouring and almost impossible to see. It literally rained the entire time we were in Connecticut, so we didn’t get to enjoy it even if we wanted to.
We decided to just make our way to the hotel in New Jersey since we had a BIG day ahead of us the next day: New York City.
New York City
*See NYC blog.
NYC to Washington D.C.
Leaving our hotel in New Jersey was one of my happier memories. I was so ready to get out of that place, it isn’t funny. Someone recently said to me, “You either embrace New York City or it spits you out”. Well, it spit out both of us, so we were more than ready to get the hell out of there.
Our final destination of the day was our hotel near Washington D.C., but we had some stops along the way. First was one of Kristi’s “must-sees”: a beach day. We looked extensively into which beach town to visit in New Jersey, and Beach Haven won. The most famous beachside community in New Jersey is Seaside Heights, thanks in no small part to a certain little show called Jersey Shore, but I was advised by locals via Twitter that it’s a money trap not worth going to. Apparently, a huge portion of the town and pier was completely destroyed in Hurricane Sandy, and while they’ve rebuilt a lot, it’s simply not the same as when they filmed the show. I was also told that the iconic house was completely renovated and different looking, and you must pay to use the beach, so we opted for other locations. Ocean City and Atlantic City were also contenders, but those are too touristy and crowded. Beach Haven was the porridge at the perfect temperature.
Located 2 hours south of NYC, it’s a very easy drive and a terrific little beachside community. It’s located on Long Island, New Jersey, and you can literally see both sides of the ocean from either side on the main road. After visiting a souvenir shop since we’re dingleberries and forgot to pack towels, we just guessed our way over to where the entrance to the beach was located. We easily found free parking alongside some of the beach houses close to the entrance and made our way to the sand and water. Now, two things; you technically must pay to use this beach (we didn’t), and I didn’t see any kind of bathroom or changing area anywhere, so be forewarned. You’re supposed to buy something called a “beach pass”, but when we called the number on the sign, they said to just buy one from a lifeguard or beach employee (I guess that’s what they’re called??) if they ask to see it. They never asked us, so guess who scored a free trip to the beach?
The water on the east coast is so amazing and warm, and nothing like the cold, harsh mess that is the Pacific Ocean. For some reason, everyone thinks that the Pacific Ocean near California is super warm and lovely, and it’s simply not. It’s usually very cold and unpleasant. I’m not an ocean person – never have been – but it was fun to frolic in the water for at least an hour. We did have one little blond oopsie moment – we knew nothing about this beach, so we just wandered up to the first available spot of sand straight ahead of us, laid down our towels, and headed into the water. We were perplexed as to why there was nobody else swimming, but we thought, “Hey, whatever” and minded our own business. We were only in the water for like 2 minutes before a lifeguard informed us that were swimming in the no-swimming zone, which was because it was the fishing zone. So, there we were swimming around sharp fishing hooks, and not even one of the bleepholes just sitting around said anything to us! A simple “Hey girls, don’t go in there, that’s the fishing zone, the swimming zone is over there” would have been mega helpful, but nope. At least the lifeguard was nice about it, even though I’m sure he thought we were stupid tourists.
We shamefully picked up our towels and belongings and scurried over to the spot we were supposed to be. We spent about 2 hours on the beach, swimming for a bit and tanning, and not a single soul asked us for our beach pass (score). Even though we still had Philadelphia and more driving ahead of us, we needed to eat and got lunch in Beach Haven, at a local hangout called The Chicken or the Egg. We heard these girls talking about it as we eavesdropped on them at the beach (to be fair it was hard not to, they were loud as hell). I highly recommend it if you’re in the area because the food was good, decently priced, service was quick, and they gave us A LOT of food. We ended up having to box most of it up, knowing damn well it was going to go bad in the car during the drive. We just didn’t have the heart to tell our waiter that we messed up and ordered way too much food.
The drive from Beach Haven to Philadelphia was another long, boring, monotonous drive, filled with endless 4-lane highways, trees, and douchebag drivers. We had only one destination in mind for Philly: the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, which are located right next to one another. When it comes to this point in the trip, Rule #2 applies, because we were IDIOTS to ever think we could just whisk in, see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, and whisk out. It simply doesn’t work like that in high tourist spots in the dead of summer. The traffic around the area was ridiculous, with tourists walking around everywhere, like a complete infestation. We eventually
were able to find parking in a parking garage and made a beeline for the Liberty Bell. I was under the impression that it was outside, like Plymouth Rock, and viewing it would be a quick and painless process. Well, wrong. It’s inside a building and they filter in a certain number of people at a time, so the line is absurd. We didn’t even attempt going into the building, and instead opted to view the bell from the outside through a large window. You get a clear view of it, but you obviously are not right next to it like you would be if you were inside. Whoever oversees the building where the Liberty Bell is kept was very considerate of us impatient people, because they set up an automated history box on the outside next to the window, and we got to listen to a bit of history while viewing it.
The story was the same for Independence Hall. We saw a gigantic line outside of the hall, moving at a snail’s pace. I asked a worker (I assumed he was a worker since he was dressed in 1700’s period garb), and he said that was simply the line to get through security to view the hall. Had we arrived in Philly sooner, with more time to enjoy it and to drive to our hotel later, we probably would have stood in the lines, but we simply weren’t up for it. It’s a shame because I don’t know when I’ll get the chance to go back to Philly, but at least I can say I have indeed seen the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.
After our short-lived Philly visit, it was time to drive to the hotel in D.C. and call it a night.
*See D.C. blog.
D.C. to Indiana via West Virginia
This day was not meant to be our last, as we planned to stay the night in a hotel slightly south of Charleston, West Virginia; but after noticing that the pre-booked hotel was only $63, it scared the jeebus out of me, and both of us said, “We’ll take the $30 loss”. Rule #1 was seared into my brain at this point and I wasn’t about to stay at any $63-per-night hotel. We decided to just drive the entire 12 hours home in one go. We had one stop along the way, something I’ve been looking forward to for years… the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. Buckle up buckaroos!
The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum. The name alone invokes a special kind of something inside the hearts of paranormal lovers and fans of shows like Ghost Adventures. This place is a mecca for paranormal enthusiasts and quite famous among that circle. It routinely makes lists of “most haunted locations” in the United States, and sometimes even the world. It’s a big f’ing deal.
Located in the small town of Weston, West Virginia, it began construction sometime in the 1850’s (and was originally to be called the Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum) but work halted due to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. There was a brief fight over money issued to build the hospital, but eventually building resumed in 1862. After West Virginia became a state in 1863, the hospital was renamed the West Virginia Hospital for the Insane, and the first patients arrived the following year (then later renamed again as Weston Hospital).
The hospital became defunct and abandoned in 1994, when a large portion of the hospital was destroyed due to vandalism by county and city police officers playing paintball in it. Yes, really. A couple ended up buying it in 2000 and restored it enough to the point where they could give tours and add three small museums to the first floor. It’s been a pretty successful tourist attraction ever since, as well as a hotspot for ghost hunting crews, including many with TV shows.
TALA, as I will now refer to it, is right off I-79 in WV, the same interstate that goes from D.C. back to Princeton, Indiana; our destination. We would have been major fools to skip it, something I wasn’t willing to do. Even though Kristi isn’t into haunted stuff like me, she begrudgingly agreed (not that she had a choice, let’s be honest; I wasn’t missing this for the world), and ended up having some experiences herself while there.
We didn’t see or hear any ghosts; however, some weird things happened. One of the guests on the tour brought along his ESA (emotional support animal), a cute little bull terrier, who was NOT down with the ghosts of TALA. His owner said he was acting strangely from the start, not even wanting to enter the hospital, and had to be basically dragged inside. Once on the tour, he was extremely alert and on edge the entire time and would bark without warning at what appeared to be nothing – something his owner said was “unusual behavior” for him. In one of the day rooms/smoking rooms where the patients would regularly hang out – and where they have caught numerous EVPs (basically audio recordings of ghosts), as well as pictures – we were doing an EVP session ourselves. The guide asked a young boy, maybe aged 12 or 13, to ask the ghosts questions and we were going to listen for answers through this EVP box. He asked normal questions like “what is your name”, “who are you”, “is anyone here with us”, just basic stuff like that, and we weren’t getting any answers. Then, without warning, the dog began barking, stood straight up with ears alert, and locked eyes directly on the boy and the guide holding the EVP device. It freaked out everyone, including the guide, who quickly put away the EVP device and decided to move along out of the room. This behavior from the dog continued throughout the entire tour.
The guide took us to various floors and rooms of TALA, including solitary confinement, where they did lobotomies, and the lobotomy recovery unit, floors housing the most violent patients, floors where teens were held, and floors where both females and males would have been held. They were all basically the same; extremely small rooms with a single barred window in it. The rooms that hit me most were the solitary confinement rooms, because it was just so barbaric. They chained
patients to the walls, with one arm attached to one side of the room, and the other chained to the other side, so the patient’s arms were spread out like a giant T, forcing them to stand the entire time. There was just a hole in the ground, directly beneath them, to use for the bathroom. The guide said it was common practice that whoever put the patient in the room was the only one allowed to take the patient out, so if some sadistic nurse or doctor put someone in on a Thursday and left for a long weekend, that poor patient would remain, strung up like an animal, until Monday when that nurse or doctor returned to work. They have removed the holes in the ground and the chains, but there are remnants of where the chains used to be attached to the walls.
As for our “experiences” … Mine: I felt extremely lightheaded for much of the tour. My legs shook slightly and became weak, and I would lean against the wall for support. It wasn’t like I was going to pass out (I’ve passed out before, so I know the signs) but it was as if there was some kind of energy in the building sucking out mine to use as its own. I also got extremely cold from time to time. I would go from being hot and almost sweating, to shivering and covered in goosebumps. Kristi’s: in the area where the guide told us about a young boy who was jumped and stabbed, and had to literally crawl to the nurses station (he didn’t make it), Kristi felt that someone was pulling on her ankle (as someone would if he were crawling and needing help), and a weird sensation like her foot was becoming too big for her shoe. She also felt lightheadedness and got cold chills.
I could write 5 more paragraphs on TALA alone, but since this blog is already borderline too long, I will save y’all from that. All I’ll say is that this place is amaze-balls and if you ever get the chance to go, do not pass it up, especially if you’re a lover and believer of the paranormal. I would absolutely love to do an overnight there, but given that I live in California, and TALA is in BFE West Virginia, chances are that will likely never happen. So, if you get the opportunity to do that, TAKE IT!
Overall, this road trip was a lot of fun, a major learning experience, and far more work than I expected it to be. We definitely had highs and lows on this trip, but we got to see some amazing things that people wait their entire lives to see (and some never see). It’s not something I take lightly or for granted, and I’m beyond thankful I had the chance to do this. Although both of us couldn’t see or do all of the things we individually wanted, the amount of stuff we did get to see/do was excessive, so we can’t complain too much. We visited SIXTEEN states, saw the iconic Plymouth Rock, visited infamous Salem, got to witness the power and beauty of Niagara Falls, made our American pilgrimage to D.C., went to a beach where the water wasn’t as cold as my ex’s heart, saw the American symbol that is the Statue of Liberty, visited a major haunted hospital, and so much more. It was a whirlwind trip full of unexpected roadblocks and minor tribulations, but man, it was sooooo worth it!!