Maria and Derek's Travels

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

US Roadtrip - North Carolina and Virginia

August 29, 2017

States:  2 (North Carolina, Virginia)
Capitals:  2 (Raleigh, NC, Richmond, VA)
Distance Traveled: 330 miles today / 775 miles total
Time Traveled: 6 hrs today / 14.5 hrs total

Starting off the day, I had breakfast with a former client/friend of my in Raleigh while Maria caught up on work, and we soon made our way to the Raleigh capitol building.  Once again, we were impressed with the surrounding area.  The capitol itself is not a huge or ostentatious building, but the downtown area around the building has a nice, walkable feel, surrounded by a mix of high rises and restaurants.  The weather wasn't looking great, but we drove around the city a bit and then headed North, making our way up to Virginia.

Lots of rain and low visibility slowed us down a bit, so after a lunch stop at a sheltered rest area, we continued down the road and made it up to Richmond.  Without having ever visited, we expected a large, bustling city, but Richmond was strangely quiet.  Even just a few miles out from the city, there was some development, but it was not nearly as built-up as we expected.  Finally, just before getting to the city, we saw the small square of high rises, government and corporate buildings, standing tall from our view of the interstate running right towards the city (which reminded us of the approach into Cleveland with an elevated freeway heading right towards the city).

The Virginia capitol building is actually an impressive one, sitting tall on a big grassy hill, overlooking some of the city.  Instead of the traditional stone building with a dome on top, this one is a white building with huge pillars, looking much more like the White House than many of the capitols that I have seen.  The area was nice, but we were amazed at how quiet the city streets and surrounding area were, given that we were there at 3:00 pm on a weekday.  Fortunately, the rain had stopped for a few minutes while we wandered the downtown area, and soon enough, we were off again, heading up to Washington DC to visit my brother and some other friends.  We had also been hauling a huge piece of furniture in the back of Toasty to give to my friend near DC, so we were able to drop that off, and it feels so much lighter and less crowded without having that massive dresser in the back, with our small bags tucked in around it.

Looking South from the park around the capitol in Raleigh.  The area has a nice mix of business and walkability, so we were impressed and liked the feel of the place.

In front of the Raleigh capitol, a monument stands to "Presidents We Have Given the Nation" (or something to that effect):  Polk, Jackson and Johnson.

Fortunately, the rain had stopped temporarily, so we were able to get a few pictures before moving on.

Some of the stately buildings just outside of the Raleigh capitol.

Moving on to Richmond, we had some heavy rains, but it again cleared up a bit when we got to the city.  Taken from the capitol grounds, this is the US Court of Appeals building, with Bank of America in the background.

It's not easy getting the timing just right with our jumps, a tripod and a 10 second timer, but this one was pretty close. 

The Richmond capitol definitely has a more presidential feel than most, looking rather similar to the White House.

A monument to many of our founding fathers and important politicians standing just outside the capitol in Raleigh.  The city was pretty, but it was surprisingly quiet and not as developed as we expected (apart from the compact business district in the middle of the city).

Monday, August 28, 2017

US Roadtrip - South Carolina

August 28, 2017

States:  3 (Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina)
Capitals:  1 (Columbia, SC)
Distance Traveled: 445 miles today / 445 miles total
Time Traveled: 8.5 hrs today / 8.5 hrs total

Day one of the journey took us from our home in Atlanta up to Greenville, SC for our first stop to have breakfast with a fellow actuarial instructor.  The leafy avenues of Greenville and ever-growing skyline make for a very quaint and livable downtown area, full of bustling restaurants and cafes.

Our next stop took us to the capital, Columbia, a place where my only prior memory was of a sweltering heat during a summer week spent here during soccer camp.  Luckily, a breeze and cooler weather had blown in this morning, so we found the city surprisingly pleasant and enjoyed a stroll around the capitol and surrounding park.  We also took the opportunity to drive through the University of South Carolina campus - a nice collection of buildings and greenspaces just a few blocks from the capitol.

Heading away from the city, we eventually got to the North Carolina border, welcomed by the incessant billboards advertising a place called "South of the Border."  With it's Mexican theme and Pedro icon, the place is definitely strange, but it features a mini golf course, observation deck topped with a huge sombrero, six restaurants, fireworks shop, hotel, camping ground, gas stations and many strange cactus and stereotypical Mexican cartoon statues with a mustachioed man in a poncho and sombrero.  Despite the kitsch, it's actually a pretty funny place and was far bigger than I expected based on the billboards, covering 3-4 strip malls along the road.  The name is a play on the fact that it literally sits at the NC/SC border, on the South side.

For our first evening, we're staying with old friends just outside of Raleigh, so Toasty will get the night off before we have our first night in the car a few days from now.

The South Carolina State House.  Amazingly, with the camera on a tripod and a ten second timer, this only required three takes to get it right.

As with much of the area, the original state house was burned down at the end of the Civil War, so this stately building was rebuilt following that time.  In front of the capitol is a large statue of a confederate soldier, something that has come under much scrutiny recently.

Standing tall next to the capitol is the state tree - the palmetto, as featured on the state's lovely flag.  The building and surrounding park were surprisingly nice and peaceful.

Toasty in the foreground with one of the pseudo-Mexican shops and some of the ridiculous (but entertaining) signs at "South of the Border", a crazy little strip mall sitting on the border of North Carolina and South Carolina.

Derek, Toasty and Pedro - see if you can guess which is which.

A bit cheesy, but we couldn't help but laugh at some of the huge statues and weird buildings at South of the Border.  One of those great roadtrip kind of spots that you would never make as a separate destination but turn into a great place to stop for 10 minutes to wander around.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Art of the Roadtrip - Eastern US Capitals

August 28, 2017 - September 21, 2017

48 state capitals and one long roadtrip.  That was the original idea, though it has changed a bit since inception.

Back in Atlanta and needing a trip to fill some time between some bigger trips and family events this summer, we decided a roadtrip was in order.  So we searched the area and found a reliable used car that doubles as a mini campervan.  A 2003 Honda Element.  These are great little cars with a very unique look - people either love them or hate them, and we were in the latter group until changing our mind on them a few years ago.

We found a great used Element - high mileage but still in very nice condition with a great service history, so we had it checked out by a few mechanics, talked our way into a week long "test drive", did some bargaining and were ready to go.  Turns out that Elements are a kind of cult car with a very devoted following, and now with "Toasty", we're part of the club!

Being able to convert the car and use it as a camper will save us a lot of time and money, and more importantly, it will be a great adventure.

We came across a helpful and inspirational website of a professor that did some work with optimizing routes (similar to the Traveling Salesman problem in mathematics), and he came up with the "optimal" route to hit all 48 state capitals (capitol buildings).  So we're doing a truncated version of this, covering 23 states and Washington DC, and we'll hopefully do the Western portion of this next year.  Here's his site, in case you want to learn more.

Please follow along with our journey and be sure to leave comments for us...otherwise I feel like I'm just talking to myself...

Our projected route - beginning in Atlanta, heading Northeast up to New England, circling around, West through Pennsylvania, up to Michigan and then winding our way back down to Atlanta by the end of September.
"Toasty" - our 2003 Honda Element passing by the skyline of Atlanta.  (The name comes from the fact that many people think these boxy cars look like a toaster on wheels.)

The Elements are super versatile, so we're using it as a car and a mini campervan for our trip.  In one configuration, the front seats and back seats fold down flat together, creating a great place for sleeping in the car.  Note the sunroof and huge windows, giving the car a lot of light.  In addition, the boxy style gives us tons of headroom.

The back seats can also be folded up against the side of the car to provide plenty of room for carrying stuff or sleeping on the floor of the car.  We will be picking up a storage platform in New York from a fellow Element enthusiast and will have our bed on top of the platform and our gear stored underneath.

Instead of true camping mattresses, we're using two small foam mattresses cut to fit perfectly into the car.  In this picture, you can see how they fit perfectly with the front seats folded forward.  When we get the platform, we'll simply put these up on top of the platform and have plenty of room to store our things below.

Brief Bio

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Taking advantage of our laptop lifestyle and wandering this world together. Maria Renee is an online health and fitness coach, and Derek is an actuarial seminar instructor. Traveling together since 2015. Also see

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