On Wednesday, we got back from a big family road trip. In 19 days, we drove over 3600 miles to visit friends and family and to show the boys parts of America and American history that they hadn’t seen before. It was tiring, but a lot of fun.
June 8 – Memphis
We started our trip with a short drive to Memphis to visit our friends, Dawn and Tim. We walked on Beale St. and saw the ducks at the Peabody Hotel. We thought about going to see a game with the Memphis Redbirds (the Cardinals’ AAA affiliate), but the boys were just too tired after the drive. We were worried that this was a bad omen for the rest of the trip (we had a lot of driving left), but it thankfully was an aberration.
June 9 – A Long Day of Driving that Culminated in Cake
We spent most of the day in the car, driving through several states to get from Memphis to Hilton Head, where we would be spending a week with the Finney clan (my parents, my sister, and her family). The boys were really good with the 11-hour drive, and we managed to get out only once per state (to satisfy the family rules to count visiting a state or country that one must leave the means of transportation).
When the driving was over and we reached Hilton Head, we spent the evening celebrating our niece’s 17th birthday in the lovely house that the Finney Grandparents had rented for the week. In a way, that birthday was the catalyst for our whole trip – my parents were celebrating their 45th anniversary by spending a full week with all of their family before the oldest grandchildren scatter to college hither and yon. So, when the week in South Carolina was planned, we decided to make use of the drive we had invested to get to the coast to see more of that part of the country. It eventually grew to a 19-day trip.
June 10 – Savannah, GA
The whole gang, all 11 of the Finneys and Andersens, spent the day in Savannah. Jenny was particularly interested in visiting Savannah because of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” which specifically inspired us to visit the main cemetery in town. I really wish that our photos captured how beautiful and haunting the cemetery is, with the Spanish moss hanging from ancient oaks over the peaceful stones.
Before the cemetery, we went to Tybee Island to have lunch at The Crab Shack. It was a feast of fresh seafood and a chance to look at some live alligators.
After the cemetery, we went to the baseball field to see some minor league baseball. Unfortunately, the game was rained out, but we had fun anyway with the $1 hot dogs, $1 beers, and family.
June 11 – Hilton Head
We had a simple day of playing in Hilton Head, including enjoying a couple different beaches and swimming in the pool.
Speaking of the pool, we had a lovely house on Hilton Head. We were in the Sea Pines Resort, which is a gated community and the oldest part of the Hilton Head resort system. Our house was right in the middle, so it wasn’t particularly convenient to the beach, but we had a private salt-water pool and enough room for all three families. It was great – thanks Grandma and Grandpa!
June 12 – Hilton Head
We stayed on Hilton Head again this day. We did a little shopping and had a nice early dinner, but otherwise we mostly played in the pool or at the beach.
Unfortunately, at the end of the day, my sister was stung by a stingray. We had some scary times since we had to get a car from the house, which wasn’t too close to the beach, but she recovered well and had a good sense of humor about it later.
June 13 – Beaufort, SC
With my parents, we left Hilton Head for the day to see the nearby town of Beaufort. Beaufort has been used in lots of movies to represent southern charm, and it’s easy to see why. There are lots of beautiful old homes here, lots of atmospheric Spanish moss, and an old church with a graveyard dating back to before the Revolutionary War.
This town is where we started the history lesson part of the trip for the boys. “Why did they want to leave the country?” “Why did they have slaves?” “Why did they have a different flag?” We would cover a lot more Civil War history later in the trip with visits to other secessionist towns in South Carolina and to the Manassas National Battlefield, but it started here.
We drove around the outskirts of Beaufort a bit to see some old tabby ruins (tabby is a type of concrete made with oyster shells), to see Martin Luther King Jr.’s planning center, and to check out a lighthouse on the shore.
June 14 – Hilton Head
For our last full day in Hilton Head, we decided to enjoy nature a bit. We spent the morning at the Sea Pines Nature Reserve and saw lots of birds, turtles, swamp life, and even a few alligators.
After that, we relaxed on the beautiful beach with the cousins.
June 15 – Bluffton, SC
At this point, our week at the beach with family was over. We were heading north to see friends and learn more about history. Of course, later in the trip, we wished we had done things in reverse; walk for hours through big cities at the beginning of the trip and then relax on the beach. Oh well.
Anyway, we left Hilton Head and started our slow drive north. But first, we stopped for a bit in Bluffton, SC, right outside Hilton Head. It’s a pretty small town now, mostly an artists’ colony as far as we could tell, but it was the original hotbed of secessionism, where only a few of the original houses survived the Civil War.
This was another day of lots of questions: “Why did the North destroy the town?” “Why didn’t they destroy all the houses?”
After Bluffton, we drove to the Charleston area to visit Phil and Amanda Freeman, friends from college who recently relocated to South Carolina.
June 16 – Charleston, SC
With the Freemans, we went to old town Charleston to see some Southern history. Specifically, we toured the Old Exchange & Provost Dungeon, which bills itself as the Southern equivalent to Independence Hall. I’m not familiar enough to Southern Revolutionary War History to know how much to buy that, but it was interesting nonetheless.
We also saw the waterfront park and the fun market before we had to leave. We really enjoyed what we saw, and we would like to spend a lot more time there some day. Instead, we headed north after lunch to get to a hotel in Virginia to be able to start the DC leg of our trip.
June 17 – Manassas & Udvar-Hazy
For our first day in the DC area, we saw some sights on the Virginia side, the Manassas National Battlefield and the Steven Udvar-Hazy annex to the Air and Space Museum.
Manassas Battlefield was the location of the first major land battle of the Civil War, and then the location of a second battle a few years later. We brought the kids so that they could learn a bit about American History, but it was a warm day, and the battlefield really don’t seems like a place of war. Unfortunately, the boys didn’t seem to get much out of it.
At our next stop, though, we all got a lot out of it. The Stephen F. Udvar-Hazy Center is an annex to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum near Dulles airport where they keep a lot more craft than they can display on the National Mall. It was amazing to see some of the craft there:
- The Discovery Space Shuttle orbiter (which we actually saw a couple years ago in Florida after it was retired)
- Enola Gay
- An SR-71 Blackbird
- A Gemini capsule
- A Concorde
- The Gossamer Albatross
Of course, most impressive for the boys was the little display about the scene from one of the Transformers movie that was filmed here. Oh well.
June 18 – National Mall, Capitol, & Library of Congress
For our first day actually in DC, we focused on the ends of the National Mall – seeing the monuments at the West end in the morning and then touring the Capitol and the Library of Congress in the afternoon.
After a quick trip through the visitor’s center at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (which you can get into without a ticket – top tip!), we looked at the monuments and memorials. There are an amazing number of monuments at the West end of the National Mall: Washington, Jefferson, George Mason, FDR (which we confusingly went through backwards), MLK, Korean War, Lincoln, Vietnam War, and WWII (which didn’t seem very interesting, but maybe we were just tired and crabby by that point). One of our guidebooks recommended not seeing all the monuments the way we did, but we really got a lot out of it.
We think the boys a lot about our country, its leaders, and its wars. This was really helped by picking up the guide for the National Park Service’s Junior Ranger Program, which was essentially a free guide and workbook, with the promise of getting a plastic badge at the end. They got three badges each during the trip, from the National Mall, Fort McHenry, and Independence Hall.
After lunch, we sped over to the Capitol for a tour. The new Visitor’s Center is really nice, but it’s disappointing how much less of the building they show now compared to before 9/11. After that, we snuck into the Library of Congress to see the beautiful architecture and exhibits before closing.
Finally, we had dinner with one of Daddy’s old friends. Hi Sarah!
June 19 – Smithsonian
For our second day in DC, we focused on the Smithsonian Institution. But first, we circled the Washington Monument, picked up Junior Ranger badges for the boys, saw more of the WWII monument (it’s much nicer when it’s not the 9th monument within three hours), and checked out the White House from the South Lawn.
I embarrassed myself a bit at the last stop by getting excited about seeing a professionally-dressed middle-aged African-American woman at Michelle Obama’s Kitchen Garden. Was that really FLOTUS!??! Well, no – the Obama family was all in Ireland. Oh well.
After that, we spent the afternoon in the National Museum of American History and the American Museum of Natural History.
June 20 – Annapolis, MD
After a couple busy days in DC, we took a break to see Annapolis instead. We found Annapolis to be a walkable historic city, with a really important old State House.
The Naval Academy in Annapolis was an interesting place to stop – we’re simply not naval people, so seeing all the naval artifacts was unusual for us. Also, Daddy remembered visiting the Academy when he was a kid, and there was no security to get on campus back then. In a post 9/11 world, it’s always different.
After Annapolis, we went to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center near DC. Compared to the Udvar-Hazy Air and Space Museum from a few days earlier (or Kennedy Space Center from a few years ago), it wasn’t that impressive, but it’s still cool to be at a place where actual work for space exploration gets done.
June 21 – Baltimore
We left the DC area, and spent the early part of the day around Baltimore. The boys really enjoyed visiting Fort McHenry, where we learned about the War of 1812 and the writing of the “Star Spangled Banner.” They’ve really been into the National Anthem from baseball games and from a book they have, so it was good to put the song into context. Of course, through questions.
From there, we spent a bit of time around the harbour and had lunch with our college friend Gila. Then we drove up to our friends, the Thorntons, in New Jersey (with a pit stop in Delaware – to make the state official).
June 22 – Philadelphia
We used the Thornton house in Central Jersey as our home base for the next few days. Thanks, Rob and Leeann! Our first foray from there was to go into Philly.
Right after college, I traveled around the world with my friend, Eugene. He recently moved to Philadelphia, and this was my first time visiting him since then. We’ve kept in daily contact through twitter and email, but it was good to see him again. So, we drove into the city, saw his apartment, and then walked to Independence Square to see the Liberty Bell (we didn’t get into Independence Hall that day, but we made it in two days later).
After lunch at the Reading Terminal Market and gelato, we went back to Eugene’s place, where the boys played chess against him.
Finally, we took the train to see some Phillies baseball.
June 23 – Central Jersey
Sunday was a calmer day, in which we went to church with the Thorntons, went to the park, and just spent time with our friends.
Douglas remembered their older daughter from when the Thorntons used to live in St. Louis, and the two of them got along very well. It was funny to see them holding hands without prompting as they walked, which is something they did five years ago when they were on their Daddies’ backs during a joint trip to Montreal.
June 24 – Philadelphia
Since the Thorntons had to work on Monday, we went back to Philadelphia to tour Independence Hall. It was really cool to be in the very room in which the Founding Fathers risked their lives by writing the Declaration of Independence and later the Constitution.
We also headed back to Reading Terminal Market for lunch. That market is a great place for lunch, with a lot of variety. If we worked in downtown Philly, we would eat lunch there every day.
From there, we walked around City Hall and Macy’s a bit (both of which were featured in 12 Monkeys) before heading back for more playtime with the Thorntons.
June 25 – Hershey and Harrisburg
After a little bit more playing, we said goodbye to our friends the Thorntons, and headed back to St. Louis. It’s hard to say goodbye to the Thorntons; even after all these years since they left St. Louis, they are still dear “refrigerator friends”.
Along the way, we stopped briefly in Hershey, PA to take a quick tour of Hershey’s Chocolate World (and eat some samples) and take some pictures of the Kiss-shaped lampposts. We also drove around Harrisburg a bit to see the capitol.
When that was done, we spend the rest of the day driving.
June 26 – Kentucky and Home
Our final day was simply a driving day, though we pulled off the interstate in Louisville so the boys could see Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. But otherwise, it was just a day to return to the oven that is St. Louis in summer.
Overall, it was a great trip. It wasn’t as adventuresome as our recent trip to Israel and Palestine, but taking a road trip with the kids is a different kind of adventure. We listened to books on tape (Laura Ingalls Wilder was the favorite), we learned about American history through its cities, Presidents, and wars, and we spent time with wonderful friends and family.