When travelling, there are always locations that I look forward to more than others. These are the places that I meticulously plan and prepare for because I want to be able to get as much out of them as possible. Places I’ve dreamt of visiting for a long time such as Austin or New Orleans. The kind of places that top my bucket list for years before I finally make a point to get there.
Then there are the places and their moments that are discovered in a completely organic way. The bits and pieces that leave a smile on your face and create stories to tell your friends and family when you arrive home. The joy of driving across the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time. Having your first kolache in Houston and craving a dozen more. Meeting the caretaker of Lafayette Cemetery and having him take the time out of his day to give you a personal tour.
St. Augustine, Florida was such a surprise to us. We first heard about it when discussing the last leg of our trip with my Aunt; we were leaving Orlando, stopping in the Everglades and then heading up to Jacksonville for a final night in Florida. She mentioned that we should stop in this little town just south of Jacksonville and at least walk around the downtown area, if nothing else. It was really pretty and full of history, two of the most important things we look for when we are planning a trip. And Ryan and I had just agreed to always take the advice of locals when it’s given, and my Aunt definitely qualifies as a local.
After a disastrous night in the Everglades, we needed pretty. Rejuvenation was needed because we were certainly feeling down. We had a million bug bites and about two hours of sleep between us, and it would have been sad to end our road trip on a low note. Our stop in Jacksonville was only to sleep before driving 13 hours to Pennsylvania. We needed a high note, and St. Augustine provided just that.
There is a lot of tragedy and sadness in our world. I would be remiss to write a post about our time in Orlando, however brief, without taking a small moment to pause and reflect on what occurred there just days after we left. I don’t feel like I really have the words to write anything that could be more poignant and eloquent than what I’ve already read; the stories and posts on the news, Facebook and other social media are much better equipped to comment on everything that happened. I just want to acknowledge the shooting and urge anyone who stumbles upon this post to hug their loved ones and reach out to anyone in pain.
Our visit to the Orlando area was full of family, love and a lot of laughter. I want to share this, because there can never be too much of any of these things in the world.
If you had told me that one day I’d willingly step foot into a cemetery, I wouldn’t believe you. If you told me that I’d get rained out of the first visit and go back a second time, I would laugh in your face. If you told me it would be my favorite part of a trip to New Orleans, I’d probably just walk away in disbelief.
Let me explain myself a little bit. Growing up, I had a love-hate relationship with the idea of going to my grandparent’s house. I loved going there, since my Nan was such a good baker and my Pap was a superhero and their house was full of interesting treasures to explore. They had the creepiest basement, but if it was daytime you best believe I’d go down and see what I could find. But I hated it because across the alley from their house was a cemetery. Not just any cemetery, but the creepiest cemetery you could imagine (at least it felt that way to child-Susan). My Pap would tell us the best ghost stories that would scare me senseless, making it almost impossible to fall asleep at night.
I learned to hold my breath when passing a cemetery for fear that one of the deceased would steal my life. I never strayed from my parents side when we attended funerals because I was terrified of stepping on someone’s grave. Upon researching New Orleans and Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, I realized I recognized it from various movies and television shows. As I read more and more about it, I came to the conclusion that it was a place we needed to go. What was coming over me?
Do you have an image that comes to mind when you think of New Orleans? I think of po’boys and gumbo, Mardi Gras and liquor. Brass bands flit across my imagination, as well as the pictures I remember seeing in the news after Hurricane Katrina. I had a vague idea of what to expect, but I also knew that in reality I knew nothing about the heart and spirit of New Orleans.
This was probably the first place where we really played tourist. In San Francisco, we were there during the week and spent a lot of time in coffee shops working. We were trying to blend in, which I think we did pretty successfully. In Mesa and Houston we were with friends who were locals so we got a free pass. But in New Orleans, we were by ourselves with three days to fill. We ended up taking a few tours while in town and spending the rest of the time walking around, being sure to take food breaks every few hours. This post will be heavy on the “we did this, then we did that”, I hope you don’t mind!
Some of the most relaxing moments on this trip have happened when we’ve stayed with friends. We have college friends in both Mesa and Houston and both cities made really great stopping points along the way. We were able to sit back and recharge our batteries and get some work done.
While we were in Houston, our friend offered to go with us to Austin. In our planning phase I had wanted to stop there, but I had to cut out some locations when our trip turned into a six week journey. So when the opportunity arose to spend the afternoon in Austin, we jumped on it! There are so many cool things to see and do in the city. With limited time, we chose to focus our attention on art, going to a sculpture garden and walking around town to find murals. I would LOVE to hear about any other suggestions for things to do in the city.
It’s 5AM. You’ve lost count of how many hours you’ve been on the road, you just know you left Mesa last night. After changing time zones somewhere east of El Paso everything got blurry. There are two different energy drinks running through your system, making you both tired yet strangely awake at the same time. There are very few cars on the road in west Texas at this time, just you and the few trucks that are also coming off an overnight trip.
You know you won’t make it to your destination until 4PM today. You can’t even comprehend how many hours left to go, you just know you have to keep going. San Antonio or bust.
We made it to Florida! We are officially on the home stretch of this trip, both in time and mileage. We’ll be back in Pennsylvania by next week! This week will be spent with family outside of Orlando, hanging out, relaxing and taking a trip to Universal Studios to see The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
But this isn’t about Florida. Today is about the Grand Canyon.
Before entering Death Valley National Park itself the landscape changes. Coming from Yosemite, we were lucky enough to drive through the Sierra Nevada Mountains with high, snow-capped mountain peaks and plenty of green vegetation. But that slowly gives way to multiple shades of browns and tans, drier air and cacti. There is just heat. But it’s beautiful.
Coming around a bend in the road you can see a valley in the distance. If you look closely enough, you can make out a road that stretches all the way across and into the next mountain range. Don’t get excited – this isn’t Death Valley, but rather Panamint Valley. There’s no sign of human life here, just blowing dust and another road that seems to head nowhere. You have to follow 190 even further over some mountains to reach Death Valley.
Just warning: this post contains tons of pictures!
A (relatively) short four-hour drive from San Francisco will get you all the way to Yosemite National Park. But before you hit the park, you drive through Stanislaus National Forest. We didn’t have the time to stop here, but we did pause at the vista point Rim of the World, which is worth it!
“No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite.” – John Muir
First inhabited by the Ahwahneechee people, Europeans didn’t discover Yosemite until the mid-1800’s, when the gold rush brought many miners and settlers to California. Today, almost 4 million people make the journey to view Yosemite’s natural wonders every year! On October 1, 2015 the park celebrated it’s 125th anniversary. I was so excited to experience this park!
Have you ever stepped foot in a new place and realized, almost instantly, that you absolutely loved it there? That’s what happened to me in San Francisco this past week. We had spent the day driving through the Redwoods and I was exhausted, dead on my feet. But when we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge, I instantly woke up. It was like a shot of adrenaline!