Monday, October 27, 2014

Snacking our way into the South

From Maryland we headed to Virginia, and visited the colonial town of Williamsburg, which was an interesting look back in time. Our favorite part of the town was the little garden and nursery we found, full of rusty old tools, cute sheds, drying flowers and herbs. After a day of exploration, we decided to spend the night in Charlottesville, a college town. We sampled some beers at Three Notch'd Brewery, and then wandered around a bit before climbing up onto a stone wall overlooking a bustling street to drink beers and people watch. We ended up making friends with a few chatty college students that climbed up to talk with us about our adventures for a while.

We were urban camping in front of a fratty-looking college house, and when we returned to the van there were ton of bros milling about on the front lawn, so we figured we should check in about camping out, and while they didn't seem to mind, they did mention that they'd spotted Finn and were plotting about how to "break him out" of them van. We reassured them that Finn was quite set with food, water, litter, and toys, and that we figured if the van was enough space for us to sleep in nightly, it seemed to us that he was fine to hang out for a bit in there as well. We put Finn on his leash and introduced him to everyone and they seemed convinced, as well as a little incredulous about our whole set up.

Kelsey's aunt, possibly one of our most enthusiastic supporters, Carole, lives near Asheville with her boyfriend, Danny, so we headed there to hang out with them. They have a beautiful hilltop property with an amazing view, and took us driving along the Blue Ridge Parkway and then downtown for a zesty "thai-dye" pizza and some beer. There were SO many cute dogs in downtown Asheville, it was hard to contain ourselves. That evening, Kelsey baked a scrumptious apple cake and we had a relaxing movie night. After a leisurely morning breakfast and some much needed van-organization, we said our goodbyes.

Our next stop was Charleston, West Virginia, where we were excited to meet our couchsurfing host, Justin, and his canine companion, Pearl, who he said would be fine to hang out with our feline Captain! We had a chatty evening with Justin and Pearl, sipping on Sierra Nevada and watching the two critters get to know each other. They got along marvelously, and Finn was quite bold, batting at Pearl from beneath the couch at first, and eventually coming right up to her and giving her a careful sniff. The next morning, we attempted to take Finn for an autumnal hike, but were thwarted by rain, so while Kelsey jogged, Tressa holed up to work in a little cafe, where a few people spotted our van decal and eventually we were chatting with a man named Charles who had returned to West Virginia three years prior, as an experiment in rediscovering what it meant to be West Virginian, and had been thinking a lot about home and place. We ended up meeting up with him and a friend later at a nearby bar, to drink beers and discuss West Virginia, which they were incredibly enthusiastic about, as well as disappointed that our time there was so limited. As the night drew to a close, Charles took us to Tudor's Biscuit World, a West Virginia standby that consists of tasty biscuits topped with greasy breakfast food.

Our host in Lexington, Kentucky, was an incredibly cheerful Japanese translator. His name was Chuck, and he had a big ole ginger cat that Finn was soon chasing and romping with in some truly glorious wrestling matches. Chuck has a radio show at the WRFL college radio station, so we accompanied him to the station and even got on the air briefly to promote our trip and play some California tunes (California Honeydrops)! When the show was over, we drove around Lexington for an impromptu night-tour of the local street art, and then headed back to the house for a dinner of tortellini with some fresh herbs from Chuck's garden. In the morning, we decided to go check out the horse races, and afterwards we headed to Red River Gorge, which Chuck said was one of the most beautiful places he'd ever been. It did not disappoint, it was all autumnal colors, breathtaking views, and gorgeous rock formations. We didn't quite realize how much we had been missing the woods until we got to stand beneath the deciduous trees, listening as the leaves fell all around us, and we felt a great sense of peace.

We were a bit torn about where to go in Tennessee, but ended up Knoxville, where we ran some Halloween-related errands (it's hard to get costume crafting time in when there's so much to do and see!) and then checked out the Sunsphere at the World Fair Park, where we even sneakily harvested some chard that was growing in planters which appeared to be mostly decorative, and then had some work time at Old City Java, which is apparently the oldest coffee shop in Knoxville and is also adorable, found some dollar pizza nearby, and then meandered around Market Square for a bit. We decided we'd attempt to return to Tennessee to check out Memphis when we explore Mississippi and  Arkansas. The next day, on our way to Charleston, South Carolina, we stopped at the Smoky Mountain National Park, which Justin had highly recommended to us. We made breakfast in a picnic area and let Finn explore a bit, before heading out on a little hike, where we met a gregarious retired military pilot, who had spent the last seven years living in his motor home and was looking for an adventurous older lady to share his life with.

In Charleston, SC, we met up with Ben, an old high school friend of Tressa's who had moved to the area for Navy training. We hung out at a dive bar that is the self-proclaimed #2 seller of PBR, and the next day went for a beach excursion with Finn, who we even let romp around sans-leash for a bit. We were a bit pooped, so we meandered lazily through town, lounging for a bit in a park where a few men were yelling at each other, before checking out Pepper Palace, where we did some extensive hot sauce sampling, and then returning to Ben's to make an epic lasagna and watch a movie.

We're writing you now from the Blind Tiger, a cute little pub we were recommended by a gorgeous lady that lived in the house we were parked in front of this morning, who popped out and asked to say hello to Finn and then informed us that her pub was animal-friendly. We spent our day wandering through Battery Park and checking out the historic water-side houses and cannons, before coming in here for wifi, coffee, and fried green tomatoes — perhaps an odd combo, but a delicious one. Finn is a bit of a celebrity, of course, and even the waitress keeps taking his photo.

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