I think one of the best parts of exchange in DC is the access to national parks that are within driving distance whether in Virginia, West Virginia or Maryland. Being located in such a prime location on the east coast meant that hiking the Appalachian Trail is possible for a day trip and without the added cost of camping and plane tickets.
So on Saturday, the 5 of us rented a car and took a day trip to Harper’s Ferry and Shenandoah National Park. Aiming to cover 2 destinations in a day was really ambitious, and to top it off, it rained while we were at out first destination so we could not do much. That being said, we decided to head off to Shenandoah National Park ahead of schedule and it was probably the best decision made that day.
Harper’s Ferry is situated at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers where Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia meet. It is the easternmost town in West Virginia. Driving in, you will be greeted with the sight of a quaint historical town that very much resembles colonial days and this is probably because it was an important site of the American Civil War. We took a break there from an hour’s drive and treated ourselves to some food and ice cream.
While I recommend hiking up the Maryland Heights trail, we were simply not blessed with good weather.
Next stop, we drove for another hour to Shenandoah National Park via the Thornton Gap Entrance (There are four entrances but this is the nearest from DC and also intercepts the Skyline Drive halfway). With national parks, cellphone reception is always a problem so I do recommend downloading the park’s map before you enter for ease of navigation (unless you’re an expert at reading analog maps, which we found out that we were inept at a little too late).
Shenandoah Park is filled with many wonderful viewpoints and waterfalls but due to time constraints, we chose to do the Hawksbill Trail, which led us to the highest point in the park. Man, the view was all sorts of spectacular despite the cold and unrelenting weather – I managed to get some pictures but the cloudy backdrop didn’t do it justice.
Kudos to the drivers who survived the nearly 6-hour drive, it was really not easy for them while us non-drivers simply snacked and napped at the back!
This weekend we rented a car, hit the open road and headed down south for the great American road trip. We stocked up on snacks, blasted some Johnny Cash and began the eight-hour drive to Bristol, Tennessee. We decided on our way to stop at every random roadside attraction – from the tacky to the spectacular. First stop was the Luray Caverns, followed by lunch at the Pink Cadillac Diner, we checked out the coffee pot house and got lost looking for foamhenge.
A small town of 30,000 Bristol isn’t your typical tourist destination. Known as the birthplace of country music we were in town visiting some friends of a friend. The South fulfilled every expectation and stereotype I had hoped for. Southern hospitality, fried chicken, more churches than I could keep track of – it was a world away from DC! On Sunday we did the one thing you have to do whilst in the South – go to a shooting range. Politics aside it was something on my bucket list whilst I’m in the US. For $50 we shot everything from a 22, revolver and a rifle.
We left Tennessee and headed to Asheville, North Carolina. We only had a night in the city and as Sunday isn’t the liveliest of times in the South we decided the best way to make the most of our time was to eat our way through the city. We had the best Spanish tapas at Cúrate and Jamaican food at Nine Mile. Everyone we had encountered in our travels had been exceptionally friendly (even by American standards) and North Carolina was no different. All the staff and strangers we met told us the best places to go and wanted to know what brought us to America.
Monday afternoon it was time to say ‘goodbye’ to the South and begin the 450-mile journey back to DC. Monday night also happened to be the final of NCAA March Madness where the Gonzaga Bulldogs faced off against the North Carolina Tar Heels. As we made our way up the I-40 we passed the exit for Chapel Hill and made the split decision that this was something we didn’t want to miss. Twenty minutes until game time, we pulled in and scoured the town for somewhere to park and watch the game. The whole town was out and people were spilling out of every bar and restaurant in town. We managed to find a spot in Imbibe and took a seat amongst hundreds of other Tar Heels fans.
It was a close game from start to finish and the emotion of the crowd alternated between elation and disappointment. Within the final 30 seconds, the Tar Heels gained a 5 point lead and secured their 6th NCAA championship. The whole crowd erupted into celebration and exploded into the streets. Tens of thousands of people began pouring into the main street in Chapel Hill. People climbed up into trees, traffic lights and lamp posts. Fireworks and flares lit up the sky as frat boys carried a couch into the center of the crowd and proceed to light it on fire. It was like something out of a revolution that just by coincidence we were fortunate enough to experience.
After joining in in the celebrations it was time to head back to DC. We were only halfway to DC and still had 270 miles to go. We pushed through and finally arrived back home at 6 am. If you get the chance I highly recommend visiting the South. It was so different from DC but it helped me understand just how diverse America (and its politics) is.