November 2, 2013

Babymoon Road Trip through South Appalachia

We went on an actual babymoon this pregnancy!

I really wanted to take a vacation before our first child was born but since we were wedding and honeymoon planning, a babymoon was not top priority. So now after having experienced life with a newborn and truly understanding sleep deprivation, a babymoon was essential this time around!

So we really did it! We took our first road trip together and spent five days exploring some of the larger cities in the Southern Appalachia region. We stopped so frequently and got plenty of walking exercise so there was no problems for my third trimester pregnant self!! =) This was our last getaway before our son arrives sometime around January 6, 2014. We chose the following cities to explore because we also are thinking of relocating next Spring. [Read Thoughts on Relocating Family Out of State]

[Cities in order of road trip visit]
  • Lexington, Kentucky
  • Knoxville, Tennessee
  • Asheville, North Carolina
  • Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Charleston, West Virginia
  • Ashland, Kentucky

We started our trip around 6:00pm after my husband got out of work. Our goal was to drive the longest stretch of the trip that night, so we could officially start touring the next morning. It was a nightmare driving through Indiana because there was so much construction and we could only drive 55mph. My husband was forced into work two hours early (4:00am) so we were really happy to finally reach Kentucky. That's when the speed limit kicked into gear and we felt like we could actually reach our first destination! We ended up stopping at a nicely remodeled Motel 6 north of Lexington.

I drove first so obviously I needed my picture taken! ;)

I never took any pictures downtown Lexington, Kentucky for some reason... I simply forgot. But we started our first morning off by taking a good hour walk around town. It was a fairly nice city. We wanted to eat at a local cafe for breakfast but ended up not finding one so we headed to the nearest Waffle House. We passed so many Waffle Houses on the way and had never tried it before so it all worked out. I ordered waffles and hashbrowns, country style with sausage gravy! Yum. My favorite thing about the southern states is that the hotels serve biscuits and gravy! I don't know why that doesn't catch on in Michigan. It's so delicious. After walking downtown, we stopped at Fayette Mall in Nicholasville, Kentucky on our way out of the city. I bought a scarf... which is super cozy and visible in most of my pictures throughout the trip. Then we headed to Knoxville. On our way, we visited Fort Boonesborough and Cumberland Falls. 

Our first room at Motel 6 outside of Lexington, Kentucky
I thought this was going to be a cool picture so I had to take it. Plus it shows a Kentucky license plate. =)
So many colorful cows!! That white gate on the right is open... Cows could have easily walked out. 
Fort Boonesborough, Kentucky

Daniel Boone settled here from 1775-1780. Each cabin had people in costume assuming roles of various positions in the settlement. It was very intriguing to see how the people actually lived back then. And of course, it's always great to catch up on a little history. For more information about this location, visit the Kentucky State Park website here.

Fort Boonesborough State Park 
Inside Fort Boonesborough in Kentucky
Inside Fort Boonesborough, Kentucky
Entrance to Fort Boonesborough
Cumberland Falls, Kentucky

Looking down at Cumberland Falls
Mist from Cumberland Falls
Lower view of Cumberland Falls
Proof we were here!

Knoxville, Tennessee

This was my absolute favorite city from the entire trip. The whole road trip, I kept wanting to go back to this wonderful city. The atmosphere was so welcoming and people were very friendly. A random guy (aged 30-45) told us both "Congratulations" as he passed us in the street. I smiled and thanked him. At first I didn't realize why he said it... Then duh-- I am obviously pregnant and he was congratulating us on our baby. HOW NICE! We visited the Knoxville Visitor Center and they offered us free parking for two hours and extended it so we could stay to watch a free concert hosted by the local radio station. A police officer even said, "Howdy" to me! (Yes I realize only northerners would be excited about such things!)

The State Theatre of Tennessee
The State Theatre of Tennessee
Tennessee River
Interesting art near Knoxville Market Square
Knoxville Radio Station WDVX 89.9 FM Hosts Free Concert
Year of October playing live on air WDVX 89.9 FM at the Knoxville Visitor Center
Black Cadillacs played next at the Knoxville Visitor Center
We ate lunch at Bella Luna restaurant in Market Square. Cheap, delicious Italian food in a fancy setting!
Leaving Knoxville, Tennessee. (I never wanted to leave!)  Asheville, North Carolina bound.
Beautiful scenery on our way out of Tennessee
 More beautiful scenery on our way out of Tennessee
Tunnel through the Mountain
Welcome to North Carolina!

Beautiful Forest Covered Mountains in Fall at North Carolina Welcome Center
At Rest Area/North Carolina Welcome Center
Forest Covered Mountains in Fall
Asheville, North Carolina

Before walking through Asheville, I had expected to absolutely love this city. I was certain that I wanted to relocate our family here because it was a larger city in the mountains that attracts a lot of tourists. The housing prices are out of our ideal price range but we figured it was worth checking out anyways. We were lucky enough to get a taste of the Friday night atmosphere to see how weekends could be downtown. There were a lot of college students and older people wearing the craziest outfits ever! I wanted to take pictures of the people but that would have been inappropriate! Now I can't judge a city based on clothing... That is just silly. But the city seemed to be filled with overpowering inscents and hippies of all ages! Many of the shops were tailored to that lifestyle. It did not appear ideal for raising kids... and therefore an inappropriate choice for our family. -- Normally I am very liberal, open minded, and such, but this place reminded me of my visit to Amsterdam, which was quite creepy. (I should have taken more pictures of the street shops but I think I was in too much of a shock from my previous expectations of Asheville!) The city was very compact with narrow roads, which also reminded me of being in Europe.

Band from Washington playing Downtown Asheville, NC
Outdoor Chess Tables
Double D's Coffee & Dessert shop in Bus
Random Cat Statues
We debated about staying the night in Asheville but after viewing the city, I wanted to eat dinner and sleep outside of it! I think my feelings were affected by the fact that I am large and in my third trimester. The hustle and bustle of pot smoking, inscent burning, and dreadlock headed people was just too much to take in at the time. I feel horrible for feeling this way about a possibly great city but it is important to remember that we only stopped by for a short visit! We didn't really have time to give the city a chance.

We ate dinner outside of Charlotte at Binion's Roadhouse in Hendersonville, North Carolina. The waitress was extremely nice and the food tasted great!

Binion's Roadhouse in Hendersonville, North Carolina
We spent the night on the west side of Charlotte in Gastonia at the Budget Inn. We probably should have continued driving to a better area but we were too tired to continue. I did not feel safe here. The area was filled with run down buildings. I felt certain that the lady standing in heels, smoking a cigarette outside of her room at midnight was a prostitute! I could have been wrong... But the fear was there because my husband tells me little bits about the prostitution and drug related emergency calls from cheap motels in Grand Rapid. Yeah...

So, no I do not recommend staying at The Budget Inn. It was run by a kid behind a glass window. We did not get our discount from the coupon book (given at rest stops). They told us they stopped serving breakfast entirely, which was partially why we wanted to go there in the first place. The rooms were filled with excess decorations; couch, metal decorative table and chair set, lots of random curtains, paintings, and several large mirrors. I had to look behind the mirrors to make sure they weren't two way mirrors or covering holes in the wall! (I've seen way too many horror movies...!) It was odd because everything else was so awful that it seemed like they could have spent their money better. There was a static filled TV that did not turn off once we turned it on. I had to unplug it entirely. The coffee pot came with cups, spoons, sugar and creamer. Everything but the coffee! BUT HEY-- It was cheap and we saved money! =)

Budget-Inn Gastonia, North Carolina
Charlotte, North Carolina

We only stayed a couple hours here Saturday morning. Their major employers are within the banking industry and the shopping area was closed on weekends. I found the downtown area to be very well kept up  and clean. We had a quick snack at a delicious creperie located inside a hotel before heading north towards Charleston. Overall, I really liked the atmosphere in Charlotte. It was quite lovely. The northern suburban areas were very nice too. We gassed up in Middleville, North Carolina and all the buildings looked brand new and well spaced out. It seemed like a very nice place to live. Just no mountains of course. 

Welcome to Charlotte!
Downtown Charlotte, North Carolina
New park downtown Charlotte, North Carolina

Look how tall this Bank of America building is! 
Cool decorative statue thing in front of Bank of America... looks like it would fall!
Mirror Art in Charlotte... We need something shiny like this in Grand Rapids!

Fish fountain in park area middle of downtown Charlotte 
Post of all other cities named Charlotte around the United States!
These poems were scattered throughout the park area.
Statue of Books
Hazelnuts Creperie

We drove through Virginia to get to Charleston, West Virginia and found a nice little town up in the mountains called Fancy Gap. It was a great scenic detour with amazing views and a delicious restaurant at the top.

Not very flattering outfit that shows my third trimester body pretty well. Oh well! #LOVEVA
Virginia is for Lovers!
Interesting Creature
Fancy Gap, Virginia
Off main road atop a mountain in Fancy Gap, Virginia
Rolling Hill Pasture atop a mountain in Fancy Gap, Virginia
Lake View Motel Restaurant in Fancy Gap, VA (Seriously one of the best places we ate at- Cheap, Friendly, Delicious!)
We traveled on the Blue Star Memorial Highway through Virginia.
Driving through the mountains
Driving through more mountains
West Virginia

The mountains were really fun to drive through in this state. They lasted forever! However, the housing alongside the highway consisted of rundown trailers, junk cars, and refrigerators in the lawns. As we got closer to Charleston, it got a little better though.

Bridge in Mountains
Mountain Drive in West Virginia
Mountain Drive in West Virginia
Charleston, West Virginia

We arrived in Charleston on the Saturday night before Halloween so the streets were filled with zombies. It was definitely cool to see, even though it was creepy because we were unfamiliar with the city! We ended up getting super lucky and getting an excellent deal at the Holiday Inn Express downtown Charleston. We were willing to spend a little bit more after the previous night's hotel experience. It was also the last night of our road trip. The hotel receptionists were very friendly and told us a little bit about what to see and where to eat in the city. We ended up ordering in though because we were exhausted. The next morning we toured the city and viewed the beautiful Kanawha River. Charleston felt really foreign to me because it is a very long city packed in between the mountains and runs along the river. All the surrounding cities were packed together near the river too. The mountains were on both sides and towered over us. It was sort of mystical at night.

Holiday Inn Express located downtown Charleston, West Virginia
Downtown Charleston, West Virginia
Kanawha River, Capitol building in the distance
At the Daniel Boone Park in Charleston, WV looking at the Kanawha River
Charleston Capitol Building
Leaving Charleston, West Virginia
On the way home

I wanted to stop at one smaller city called Ashland located in Kentucky. It ran along the southern banks of the Ohio River and ended up being more industrial looking than I had anticipated. I thought it would be further into the mountains but it rested in the smaller foothills. We just drove through it quick and then headed home. I didn't capture any pictures of the area other than the state welcome signs.

Welcome (Back) to Kentucky!
Welcome to Ohio!

I have never liked the state of Ohio... mainly because I am from Michigan and Ohio just seems lame, except for Cedar Point. Plus, I am strongly against Ohio State University's football team. I AM A MICHIGAN STATE FAN!! Go green! Anyways, I truly loved everything I saw in Ohio. The suburban areas and farmlands were all very comforting and nice. Nothing from the highway looked run down. It appears to be a thriving state. However, we did not stop anywhere but a gas station and simply drove through the entire state. I was surprised that southern Ohio residents have a southern-like accent. (Northern Michiganders have an accent too so it looks like lower Michigan is the only people without an accent! HA. :P) 

Ohio's Appalachian Gateway
Colombus, Ohio
Farmland in Ohio
My husband said we have to beware of "JUMPING DEER"... like we don't have a billion of these signs throughout MI!
More farmland in Ohio... I actually find farmlands quite comforting and enjoy the scenery.
I love our Pure Michigan sign!
To be fair to my state, I stopped at our welcome center for a picture!
Sunset in Michigan sky 
And that was the end of our trip! We had a blast touring these parts of the United States! I had never been to North Carolina, Virginia, or West Virginia before so it was awesome seeing parts of those states. We were also very excited to get back home and break from driving so much. We rushed to grandma's house and picked up our daughter that we missed so so dearly! (I have never missed her so much!!)

I hope I didn't offend any readers who live in the states I briefly reviewed. We were only there for a very small amount of time and those were my first impressions! Everyone in all the cities was really nice to us. I would like to revisit Asheville one day and look around a bit more. But as for new cities to move to, we will probably focus more around Knoxville and other big cities in Tennessee. We both liked that part of our trip the best. I can't wait to start applying for jobs outside of Michigan! But first things first, I gotta birth a healthy son and let him plump up a bit! =)

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Thanks for reading!
xx Monica xx

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