For my travel-loving family and me, these past years have been depressing.
Last summer, my youngest son and I went to see my mom in the US. My son needed to go to sprints training in Texas, and instead of flying, he asked if we could road trip from Washington, DC to Texas, making plenty of stops along the way.
Although I was the only driver on this crazy road trip in two loops that took us 4000+ miles through twelve states, it was exactly what we needed – and an awful lot of fun.
It was great to be out on the open roads, exploring new places and others I haven’t been back to in years, chatting to strangers and making it clear we need to get back to life before the wasted COVID years. If we needed any convincing, by the end of our road trip we were even more certain it was time to get back. Not to the New Normal, or Building Back Better for the Great Reset – but to the road trips of yore (aka, 2019 and times before), freedom on the open roads, and conversations and exchanges that enriched our lives and brought us together.
Here’s to bringing back the American roadtrip – and returning to our old lives before the Great Interruption…
The first leg of our trip took us from Washington, DC through Virginia – where we stopped a bit in the mountains of the south and on along the long drive through Tennessee. (I’d forgotten just how long the state is!).
Checking out the ducks in Memphis
We stopped off for a night in Memphis, Tennessee. Many years earlier, as a child, I’d been to the Peabody Hotel to see the duck parade, and I wanted my son to see this fun tradition, too. We enjoyed staying there and visiting Beale Street – home of the Blues – on a busy Saturday night.
It was also the first time my son saw the Mississippi River, and he enjoyed watching the sun set along its wide banks. The down side? Sadly, like many urban centers in the US today, Memphis is far less safe than it used to be, and we didn’t have a huge desire to linger.
Stretching our legs in Little Rock
I’ve driven by Arakansas’ capital many times, but admit I’d never stopped off there. But my son was eager to visit – and it made for a good place to stretch our legs and have lunch. It’s a small city, with a cute downtown stretch along the river.
There are good views to be had from the industrial bridge, beneath which is the “Little Rock” for which it is named. We also found a great Mexican place by the river and filled up before getting back in the car to tackle the last leg of the trip to Texas.
Making a base in McKinney, Texas
An injury meant my son couldn’t do the full days of training we had originally planned, so he just had mornings in the McKinney facilities. But that also meant we could spend afternoons seeing Dallas and Fort Worth under the hot August sun.
Little McKinney was also cute for walks – and we quickly discovered his favorite downtown restaurant for mouth-watering local steaks. Every (scorching) day ended in the pool – the best way to beat Texas heat.
Seeing the Baylor Bears in Waco
My son is a sports fan, so halfway between Dallas and Austin, we had to stop off in Waco to see the Baylor University campus on another scorching hot day. We enjoyed the beautiful campus and its impressive football stadium in a picturesque spot along the river. Really beautiful facilities in a sports-mad school.
Of course we had to take a look at the track and field facilities, too. A fun detour and seems like it would be a great college town. Fun fact: Birthplace of Dr Pepper.
Underwhelmed in Austin
Although I have been several times to Texas, this was my first visit to Texas’ capital. Until recently, Austin was snapping up recognition for most liveable city, and its pretty positioning and natural springs make these kudos understandable, but to our eyes, Austin was an example of urban management experimentation gone terribly wrong.
The well controlled state capital building and University of Texas campus were clean and safe, but the downtown area was filled with tents and encampments, with drug addicts passed out on the streets, sometimes naked. Young women clearly exiting offices scrambled to walk alongside us, seeking safety walking alongside my sixteen-year-old son, which stunned us. We had planned two days in Austin, but escaped after one. A shame, because a first time visitor can see the city has a lot to offer – if only city managers were up to the task. Another depressing aspect of these COVID wasted years is the obvious decline of so many once vibrant US cities.
Before we hightailed it out of town, my son did enjoy a swim in Barton Springs, and we both loved eating at Blacks Barbeque – the latter made it worth the trip. He’s still talking about the brisket…
Almost Paradise on Galveston Island
By the time we reached Galveston Island – my first time there – I didn’t want to drive anywhere. So we swapped the car for bicycles and explored the island by bike. It was hot – and we thoroughly enjoyed diving into the waves from those endless stretches of white sand beaches, and evenings in our hotel’s relaxing pool.
Lots of southern charm with art deco mansions dotting the island, great seafood and friendly people. But the hotel made a real difference on this trip. I love historic hotels dripping with history (even better, when a ghost is rumored to wander its corridors), and that was the spectacular Galvez Hotel. We loved it here and can’t wait to get back.
Sweet Home Alabama
We lucked out with great weather all along our trip, with the exception of the day we made the killer drive through Texas, Lousiana, Mississippi and Alabama … where my son obviously had to cue up “Sweet Home Alabama” for our entry into the state.
As a sports fan, my son had to see the campus of the Roll Tide. University of Alabama is a beautiful campus – and we made a point to see where Harper Lee lived when she was a student there. A fun stop!
Gatlinburg, Smoky Mountains, Tennessee
I left an option open for my son to choose a destination on our journey back to DC – and he chose Gatlinburg, Tennessee and The Great Smoky Mountains.
The nature and the mountains were stunning. The urban sprawl and tacky tourist attractions around Gatlingburg were … well… original. But we’re truly glad we went, and enjoyed those mountains. The stay wasn’t long enough to explore all the trails we would have liked to have seen. But that’s what return visits are for….
We learned everything about making moonshine and listened to plenty of bluegrass music at outdoor performances – two things we definitely don’t get back in Italy! We’ll chalk that up to educational. A fun trip.
Bourbon in Lexington, Kentucky
We were only back in DC one day before we made our next loop, driving on to Kentucky. We stayed in a really nice hotel/converted carriage house in the center of downtown Kentucky, and enjoyed a good wander around. The town seemed much larger, because the University of Kentucky students were getting back to campus, and swelling the population size.
The campus is right on the edge of town, so we also enjoyed walking around its pretty campus.
Kentucky is, of course, famous for one specific beverage.
How could we be in Kentucky and not have bourbon? When in Rome and all…
Along the Scioto River in Columbus, Ohio
We went to Ohio’s capital city, where my older son was working over the summer. Mostly, we were running errands for him – so lots of shopping at the outlets and the wonderful Easton Mall. Shopping isn’t usually the highlight of my vacations, but I do think the Easton Mall is worth a visit if you’re in these parts.
We also had some walks downtown and along the Scioto River.
The city still seemed pretty deserted, and too much closed. Hoping this is another urban center that can rebound.
Charming college town Granville, Ohio
Loved having both my sons together for a short time, even if we had to say goodbye to my oldest when we left him in pretty Granville, with its picturesque Denison University campus and tiny downtown.
Home of the Mountaineers in Morgantown, West Virginia
Driving back to Washington, DC, we stopped off in a place I enjoyed visiting before – Morgantown, West Virginia. This is another university town that was gearing up for the start of the school year. I enjoy its position on the river, its hiking and biking trails, and its picturesque University of West Virginia campus.
A nice way to break up the drive.
Spectacular views in Cooper Forest Park, West Virginia
This was also a return trip for me. Love this state park, with its stunning vistas and hiking trails. We scheduled in a little time to hit some of the hiking trails before the long drive on the “country roads, take me home.” Yes, as we go through West Virginia, we always seem to have the John Denver hit playing on a loop…
Enjoyed the stunning nature and easy trails – will be back for more!
Back in Washington, DC
And then it was back to Washington, DC and dropping off the rental car to spend our last day before our return to Italy exploring by foot. Road trips are great, but after all those miles, it’s also nice to park at the end of a long journey.
We enjoyed our long roadtrip – and I’ll expand more on some of the places we visited and things we saw in future posts, but we were both happy to be On The Road Again…