Sunday, May 29, 2011

Portland, Maine after 10 states and $94 in tolls

We made it safely into Portland, Maine around noon today.  It was an exhausting 16 1/2 hour drive up the east coast from the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  It is pretty amazing that in 2 days, we have driven through 10 of our 50 states (North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, & Maine).  Matt was so impressed that he drove 7 states yesterday!!!  These small states are not quite like we are used to in the Western US.

It was a pretty exhausting trip complete with lots of 4 lane state highways with Matt's favorite, stoplights.  Nothing like going from 55 to 0 for a stoplight towing a 12,000 pound trailer.  Once we reached Dover, Delaware, the toll roads and interstates began.  Now, the driving was easier until we had to drive through New York City via the George Washington Bridge and the Bronx Expressway (I95).  We would pay $94 in tolls to drive the 485 miles between Dover, DE and Portland, ME.  Wow, this has to be our most expensive driving day ever.

We are settled in here for the next week for me to study for the GMAT that I have scheduled next Saturday.  After that, we will most likely spend a couple more days here so that I can explore a bit.  We will then start our trek further north into Nova Scotia and New Foundland where we will spend the bulk of the summer.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Our thoughts are in Missouri...

As many of you know, I am from Joplin, MO and my family has been affected by the deadly, devastating tornado yesterday.  Thank goodness all family members are accounted for and safe, but several homes including my brothers and grand parents were very heavily damaged or destroyed.  For those of you who know TJ, his home was heavily damaged.

Here is a photo of what remains of my grand parents home on the eastern side of Joplin.
Photo from April

Here is a photo of the devastation of the high school where I attended for 1 year before moving to Neosho.
Photo from April

I don't have any photos of my brothers home, but they were 1/2 block away from the areas that are completely gone.  He is almost directly east of the hospital below.  Here is a photo of the hospital that was one of the first areas hit as the tornado cut a path from the western side of town to the eastern side of town right through the central heart of town (over a mile wide).  This is one of two hospitals in town (the other hospital is less than a mile from this one).

Photo from Denver Post - Notice NO windows in the hospital - Reports are that only 6 people perished in the hospital.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Biltmore - Asheville, NC - May 16, 2011

Today was the big outing to the Biltmore.  Now, I don't know exactly what to call it, but mansion just doesn't seem quite appropriate.  

It was busy as you can tell from all the buses and people outside but not too bad.  They said that during Christmas they would see 10,000 visitors per day - No Thank You!!
 Lets play another round of "Did you know???"
  • The home is still owned by the descendent's of the Vanderbuilt family\
  • The home has 175,000 square feet in 250 rooms - I really have nothing to compare this to and could not picture how large it was until I was actually inside
  • It took 6 years to build (1889 to 1895)
  • The current estate includes 8,000 acres, but it was originally 125,000 acres
  • The home was originally opened to the public in 1930 to help boost tourism to the Asheville area
  • Over 1 million visitors will visit the home each year...  At an average ticket price of $60 per person, well, you do the math...  quite the $60 million dollar revenue generator...
  • Was built by George Vanderbuilt for his wife Edith...  Don't know about you, but I've never received such a gift before...
We had a great time marveling at both the interior, exterior and gardens of the "home".  The interior was every bit as spectacular as the outside with 7 story rooms and amazing wood and stone carvings everywhere.  With 65 fireplaces, the mantles themselves were amazing, not to mention the entire carvings from floor to ceiling on them.
Here are a few textures that I captured from the limestone of the exterior:
Beautiful stone carvings
More Stone Carvings from around the entryway
The front doors of the "home"

We had a great time photographing the outside and the gardens.  The old Conservatory was beautiful and served as a great display area for the many varieties of flowers grown on the grounds. 
The Conservatory filled with many beautiful varieties of flowers and shrubs

We toured the home in the morning and then headed over to Antler Village on the grounds for lunch at Cedric's Tavern.  Once we finished with lunch, we did a quick tour through the winery and had a few samplings at the Wine Tasting Room.  Back over to the house area for the afternoon stroll through the gardens and some time for more photos as things cleared out around the house.

Gorgeous Flowers in the Conservatory
More wonderful flowers

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Looking Glass Rock Trail - Asheville, NC (May 15, 2011)

The weather forecast was better for today so we decided to do our long hike the the top of Looking Glass Rock. Boy have we spent too much time on our butts at sea level. Although We only hiked from 2,300 ft up to 4,000 ft in 3 miles, we both realized we are out of shape and out of breath when we reached the top.  Needless to say, our feet weren't too happy either to go from sandals to hiking boots.

The view from the top - Gorgeous green hills!!!
It was a beautiful hike in the tall green trees.  Not any views until we reached the top and then the view was spectacular.  The hike down was much easier and quicker again showing us how out of shape we have gotten!!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Asheville - North Carolina

2011-05-14 - Asheville, North Carolina - Back to Nature

The forecast called for a chance of rain so we decided not to do an exposed hike today. Instead we explored several of the areas waterfalls. We started out with a drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway. What a beautiful drive but quite the windy road. Our first stop was Graveyard Fields, named due to an old blow down of trees that mounded up over time and looked like a graveyard. We made the short hike to the lower falls and then set out for a longer hike (3 miles) to the upper falls. Quite beautiful.

Matt taking photos at the Lower Falls
The lower falls - notice all the layer of falls.
We left the Blue Ridge Parkway to an even curvier road. I was getting sick and I was driving. We found the Whitewater falls and made the short walk down to the viewing platform. This waterfall is the highest east of the Rockies. We were just finishing up photographing the falls when the first rain drops started.  By the time we were halfway up the stairs, it started pouring and we were soaked by the time we made it half way back to the car.

White water falls
Did I mention that it was raining cats & dogs - We were soaked by the time we reached that little roofed structure that you can see in the middle of the photo.

 We arrived back in town and decided to go photography a huge patch of flowers at the rest area that we had seen on our drive in.  Unfortunately, the blooms were past their peak, but you get the idea of what it would have looked like from the photos.  
Anyone recognize these flowers???

I have also updated my last post with some photos, so if you receive this in an email, be sure to click HERE to see the photos.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina - May 2011

May 13, 2022 - Atlanta, GA to Asheville, NC 

We left Atlanta about 9:30 and made the 3+ hour drive into Asheville, NC.  Matt was so excited that he would drive through 3 states today (GA, SC & NC).  It was a fairly easy drive for the first half, but the last half was a bit tougher as we drove though lots of small towns, however, it was beautiful with lots of rolling green hills.

When we got into Asheville, our first reaction was "Oh My Gosh, It's Beautiful - How Long Can We Stay???".  There are so many great hiking trails, waterfalls, etc that we have decided to extend here for just a bit.  We drove through town today to get an idea of where everything is and of course to scope out the Biltmore.  We can't believe how big the estate is (or how much the entrance fee is $69), but we are hoping for a bit better weather to visit the house and grounds.  We spent the evening planning our hikes and trying to get a handle on all the wonderful things to do around here.

May 12, 2011 - Atlanta, GA

We woke to another hot day in Atlanta so we decided to enjoy some indoor activities today.  We drove downtown to visit the "World of Coca Cola".  Now, we were expecting a nice exhibition on the bottling of Coke, but were we ever surprised.  We were first greeted by huge lines of school kids on field trips.  We braved our way into the building and found ourselves in the midst of a mini wonderland.  

This was the ceiling in the initial room we went into.
 We were first ushered into a room filled with wonderful memorabilia and a quick story on how Coca Cola was started.  Our next stop was the Happiness Factory Theater - A great animated film that the kids loved.  We were then released in to the general exhibits to explore on our own.  They had a great exhibit on the history of Coca-Cola that we really enjoyed.  Did you know that Coke does not bottle its own soft drinks but sells the syrup to bottlers who do the actual bottling and distribution?  We then made our way up to an art gallery dedicated to pop culture of Coke art.  We then donned our 3D glasses (well it was advertised as 4D) for a great little film complete with moving seats, air flows and water sprinklers.  We then made our way down to watch some glass bottles of Coca Cola being bottled.  This is the smallest bottling activity at 20 bottles per minute while some of the larger bottling plants can do 2,200 per minute.

Cool glasses!!

Our last major site was the Tasting room, over 60 different brands of Coke products from all over the world.  Needless to say about 1/2 way around the world we were both feeling a little queasy from all the carbonation and different flavors.  And needless to say, not all products tasted good but we quickly moved onto the next tasting.  Now remember that I mentioned that there were bus loads of kids in there, imagine the sticky mess on the floors.  My shoes are still sticky!!!  I am guessing that as bad as we felt when we left that there were a lot of puking kids on the buses, NOT where I want to be. 

After lunch, we did a bit of shopping and then headed back to the RV to get it all packed up to leave on Friday as we have decided that we are going to leave Atlanta a day early and extend our stay in Asheville, NC.

May 11, 2011 - Montgomery, AL to Atlanta, GA

We had probably the easiest drive of all today.  The 3 hour drive from Montgomery, Alabama, to Atlanta, Georgia, was all on Interstate 85 and very well signed and even going through the middle of Atlanta at mid day was a breeze - Why can't all drives be like this one???  Its still very hot with temperatures into the 90's but I think we are supposed to get some storms beginning tomorrow and it will cool down some.

We left Montgomery about 8:30 this morning and arrived around 1 pm (Eastern time, darn it, lost an hour).  A quick setup of the RV and we were off to explore Atlanta.  Our stop today was Margaret Mitchell's home when she wrote Gone With The Wind - Yeah...  you knew I had to stop there....  

Lets see how up to date on your "Gone with the Wind" trivia:  Did you know 
  • that Margaret Mitchell actually wrote the book from end to beginning?  She knew how the book would end but had no idea how it would get there.
  • that Margaret heard stories of the Civil War from relatives and did not understand until the age of 10 that the South had lost the war and not won it?
  • that she wrote Gone With The Wind while recovering from a broken ankle in the small apartment we toured today (she called the apartment the "dump" even though her ice box is larger than the one we have in the RV).
  • that she did not want anyone to know that she was writing a book so she hid her typewriter under a towel when anyone would visit and also used manila envelopes to hide portions of her book in all parts of her home?
  • that the actual writing of the book would take 2 years of her time?
  • that the editing of the book to bring it all together would take 8 years?  (Imagine piecing together hidden portions of type written pages)
  • that she never wrote another book and wanted no part of writing another one after Gone With The Wind was done?
  • that Scarlet's name was not originally Scarlet but was changed to Scarlet in the final editing process?  The original name was "Pansy" - Just doesn't sound right...
  • that the movie won every award the year it was released and beat out the Wizard of Oz for all awards?
  • that Gone With The Wind is the #2 best selling book of all time?  What is the first?  The Bible.
OK, so maybe I got a bit carried away, but it was a very entertaining tour about her life and I definitely learned some things about both the book and the movie that I did not know before.

May 10, 2011 - Montgomery, AL

We left the RV a bit before 10 and after finally finding parking in downtown Montgomery, we set off for the visitors center to find the trolley that goes through downtown. We found that it was actually a bus but it was nice to not walk in the hot sun across town.

Our first stop was The First White House of the Confederacy. This was the home of Jefferson Davis for a few short months in 1861 before the capital of the Confederacy was moved to Richmond. It was a beautiful town home. The unique feature of this home was that the man of the home had his bedroom on the first floor of the home next to the front door to protect the home and it's occupants.

The White House of the Confederacy

Our next stop was Old Alabama Town. Two blocks of historical buildings representing life in the 1800's complete with homes, a schoolhouse, cotton gin, store and blacksmith.

The school room of Old Alabama Town
 We retired back to the RV to cool off, although our poor air conditioner is running constantly to keep us cool on this 90+ degree day.

May 9, 2011 - Vicksburg, MS to Montgomery, AL

We left Vicksburg about 8 am to make the 5 1/2 hour drive to Montgomery, Alabama. We arrived at our campground, Capital City, and found it very nice and clean. Boy is it ever hot & muggy here. We relaxed at the RV and planned our site seeing day tomorrow.

May 8, 2011 - Vicksburg, MS

We spent a relaxing day around the RV today with only a short venture out to check out the flooding in town.

We definitely saw the waters had risen in several areas around town, but no major flooding was making it past the walls surrounding the town.

We leave for Montgomery, Alabama tomorrow so we will spend the evening packing up the RV and getting ready to head out early in the morning for the 5 1/2 drive.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Natchez, MS - May 7, 2011

We made the 1 1/2 hour drive from Vicksburg, MS back south to Natchez, MS.  We had a great day touring 5 different antebellum estate homes (well maybe I had a great day and Matt tagged along).

We started off at Melrose Estate which is in the care of the National Park Service.  It was built in 1845 and is a beautiful Greek Revival Structure.  Now, I had no idea what a Greek Revival structure was, but turns out, its a really neat design.  Large open rooms with a central hallway but instead of a large central stairway, the stairway to upper floors was located on one side of the home.  This estate home was unique as most of the furnishings were original to the home.
This is the dining room of the Melrose Estate.  Notice all the Green, it was very uncommon and a sign of being extremely wealthy. 
The front parlor of the Melrose Estate - Again notice the green everywhere.
We next visited Longwood which was by far the most unique.  This 6 story octagonal home was begun in 1860 and as you can imagine, due to the civil war, it was never completed since the Philadelphian builders left immediately on the onset of the war.  The family lived in the finished main floor of the home and due to funding the rest of the floors were never completed.  We did get to view the construction on the unfinished floor and it was pretty amazing.  This was Matt's favorite of the day.  
This is the front of Longwood - The floors visible are all unfinished - The only finished floor is what we would term the basement.
 We then hit the downtown area of Natchez and found it lined with wonderful old homes on every corner.  Magnolia Hall was next on our list.  It was another Greek Revival home with large open rooms on each floor.  The unique characteristic of this house is that it appears to be built out of brownstone, however that material was not available so the stucco over the brick construction was scored to resemble brownstone.
The front entryway of Magnolia Hall
 Our next stop was the Rosalie mansion with its commanding view of the flooding Mississippi River.  This home was built in 1823 and was a beautiful structure that was wonderfully furnished with most of the second owner's original furnishings.  
Isn't the Rosalie just gorgeous?
 Our last stop of the day was Stanton Hall.  This was the most ornate of all the homes with wonderful crown moldings and medallions on all the ceilings in the lower floor.  The chandeliers were very unique and the few pieces of the original owner's furniture was very Gothic in nature.  The home occupied an entire city block and was completed in 1857.  
This is Stanton Hall - She is even more elaborate on the inside!!
Needless to say, we were exhausted and out of time for the day.  We made the drive back to Vicksburg around 6pm and had dinner at the RV.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Louisiana - Oak Alley Plantation (May 2, 2011)

Louisiana - Oak Alley Plantation - May 2, 2011

Our last plantation was Oak Alley. If you can think of a quintessential southern antebellum plantation, this should be it. The alley leading to the front door of the "big house" was lined with 28 300 year old live oak trees. Picture Twelve Oaks from Gone with the Wind and double it!!! Amazing setting and much more of what you expect of a southern mansion with beautiful marble and wide open central hallways. All three plantations offered a little different view into the life of the pre-civil war era in Louisiana's sugar cane plantations.

I include this photo just for a sheer size comparison of the beautiful 3+ story plantation home and the magnificent 300 year old live oak trees.  Did you know that live oaks are called that because they are green all year round?
Here is a panoramic image that Matt took of the plantation showing the wonderful tree lined entry.  Be sure to click on the image for a full size image as this smaller one does not do it justice.

Here is a view from the levee along the Mississippi River towards the front of the home that I took.  All 28 trees are pictured here.  What an amazing view and definitely what I think of when I think of a tree lined entry way.
For more information on this wonderful plantation, visit their website at

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Vicksburg, MS - National Military Park

May 6, 2011 - Friday

We had a leisurely morning this morning at the Rv before setting out for the Vicksburg National Military Park.  Since we drove up from the South, we thought the landscape was pretty flat, so we were very surprised at the rolling hills and steep ravines in the park.  Its easy to see how the landscape provided a natural defense for the citizens of Vicksburg and why it took so long to fall to Union troops.  

The National Park Service has done a very good job of documenting troop placements and various key battlefields along the park's 16 mile roadway. Each state who had troops in the battle also have very magnificent monuments within the park.  Overall there are over 1300 monuments and plaques throughout the park so it can be a bit brain numbing.  Our RV park loaned us a CD on the auto tour so it was great to hear more details about the various battles while we were driving along the park road.
Here a Union cannon looks out onto the Battlefield.
The Shirley House is the only surviving structure in the battlefield.  Its owners hid in caves behind the home during the battles.
One of the most impressive sites was the USS Cairo which was a sunken ironclad steamship that was sunk in December of 1862.  I was amazed at the size of the ship as I expected it to be much smaller.  
The USS Cairo - Very impressive and pretty scary to imagine her and her counterparts floating down the Mississippi.

One of the 13 cannons on board the USS Cairo.
 We had a picnic lunch at the site and then off to explore the cemetary where more than 17,000 union troops were buried with over 13,000 unknown soldiers.  If you look at the photos of the grave markers, the smaller square stones were placed for those whose names were unknown at time of burial.
The Union Cemetery - Notice the sheer number of smaller gravestones on the left of the photo.
 Once we finished touring the battlefield, we headed into the historic downtown.  As many of you have probably heard, the Mississippi River is on track to have its worst ever floods this year.  We walked down to the banks of the Yazoo River (it flows into the Mississippi) and found the town erecting additional railroad-tie barriers against the rising flood waters.  The town gates had already been shut and water was seeping through them.  My guess is that in a couple of days, the flooding will make itself more known here in town.  The majority of the town sits high above the water and will not be affected.  We were not overly impressed with the downtown of Vicksburg as it seemed really depressed with lots of vacant storefronts.
The new walls going in to guard against the river.

Here Matt stands in front of one of the gates of the city - You can see the muddy river water seeping up behind him.  We could visibly watch it coming in and the water level rising slowly.
 A dinner at a Mexican restaurant and back to the RV for Matt to play guitar and me to study!  Off to explore Natchez tomorrow and most likely stay overnight there so we can see all the homes on tour.

Friday, May 6, 2011

New Orleans to Vicksburg

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Our last full day in The Cresent City.  We walked down into the French Quarter in the morning.  After sharing an order of beignets at Cafe du Monde, we met at the 1850 House for a walking tour of New Orleans with the Friends of the Cabildo.  We walked through the square and french market before heading out into other areas of the french quarter.  

We had lunch at a sidewalk cafe with a banjo player playing for us.  Some time for some photos of the St. Louis cathedral and Royal Street concluded the afternoon.  We walked back to the RV for a short rest before venturing out to gas the truck up and go to dinner.
Here are a few photos from the French Quarter:
This is Royal Street - Just a block off Bourbon Street and so much nicer (and not urine and vomit smelling) - Our favorite street to walk up and down.

The wrought iron work throughout the quarter was amazing.  Here is a gallery (not a balcony).  I had no idea of the difference between a gallery and a balcony until we took our guided walk through the city.  A gallery has the support posts extending to the street while a balcony will be unsupported.

Another example of the unique European style architecture that is prevalent throughout the Quarter.  These building surround the square behind the cathedral.
Annie had recommended a little restaurant over near the Universities called Jacqu'Imo's.  It was quite the unique little place and was packed wall to wall with people.  Very good food and a unique atmosphere made for a very good night.

We gassed up the truck for tomorrow's journey into Vicksburg, MS.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
We left the RV this morning for one last trip into the French Quarter for pastries at Crossaint D'Or.  They were so good that we had to get a few for the road (lunch that is).  

Since our Natchez, MS RV park was closed due to the Mississippi River flooding, we called ahead to Vicksburg (our next stop) to see if they could accommodate us for a few extra days.  We are planning on making the 1.5 hour drive back and forth to Natchez to still be able to view some of the beautiful antebellum homes there.  

We were hitched up and on the road by 10am and made the 228 mile drive all on interstates pretty easily (except the awful bumps and bouts of road construction) and had the RV parked and all unpacked by 2pm. 

A quiet evening and dinner at the RV made for some great relaxing and studying.  Sorry, no photos from today.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Louisiana - Laura Plantation (May 2, 2011)

May 2, 2011 - Laura Plantation - Promised Photos

Our second plantation was a Creole plantation named "Laura". Of course, I had to check out my sister's namesake!! I don't know about you, but I had no idea of the difference between a Creole plantation and an American (southern) plantation. As it turns out, the Creole's took a very different view of the plantation. The Creole's view of the main plantation home was an an office while their residences were normally in New Orleans town. As such, the home was much smaller and more focused on business meetings than lavish entertaining. As a matter of fact, the American Southern Gentlemen were scandalized when they viewed the Elizabeth's (the owner and president) bed while meeting with her for business purposes. This particular plantation had its last family owner write her memoirs in a book that I purchased. A great plantation to challenge your thoughts of how all plantations worked.

The Creole Plantation - You can tell from the beginning that this will be a different home.

The front door to the home that no one except cats, dogs & mosquitos used.  The side doors into the plantation offices were used instead of the front doors.

The dining room - Much simpler than the typical American Plantation of the time.

The store room for kitchen supplies just off the dining room - Notice the unique brick and wooden pillar construction of this home.
 For more information on the Plantation or the book, visit their website at

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Louisiana - San Francisco Plantation (May 2, 2011)

May 2, 2011 - San Francisco Plantation - Promised photos of the plantation:

We stopped first at the San Francisco Plantation. We were quite surprised as we were driving along the river road towards it at the huge oil processing plants and tanks everywhere. We found the gorgeous home nestled on a small but beautiful lot surrounded by huge oil tanks. The home was very nicely restored and the tour guide painted a great picture of what life was like during the plantations most prominent times. We also found out that the land was purchased by Marathon OIl and that the oil company had preserved the home and its small acreage right around it. I would highly recommend a visit to this plantation.

This is the rear of the home.  What beautiful colors!

The front doors of the home invite you in.

Matt enjoying the wonderful wide verandas on the front of the plantation.
This is a remaining example of a slave cabin that I photographed.  Can you imagine two families living in this structure?
 For more information on this wonderful place, please visit their website at